I read a very interesting article a few weeks ago that caught my undivided attention. The title was very daring to begin with: “Religious people are dangerous” and, on top of that, it was written by an Orthodox Bishop, so that made it even more thought-provoking. The following passage summarizes it best: “You who go to church, how has the Church benefitted you? As we said yesterday, we went to the shrines, you saw the fathers, you saw the holy relics, you saw Mount Athos, you saw the Panagia in Tinos, you saw everything, and now we have returned. Ultimately of what benefit will all these things be? Have our hearts transformed? Have we become more humble people? Are we sweeter people? Have we become more meek people in our homes and with our families and in our monasteries, where we work?”
Wow! This struck me like a brick, because it is very easy to say “I am churchgoing, I follow this and that father, I say all the prayers required”, but does this really matter if my churchgoing activities are not matched by my behavior and attitude towards God and others at all times?
If I fast and this is making me bitter, lustful and angry, maybe this is not beneficial to me.
If I pray more and my frequent church attendance elevates my mind into judgment and self-praise, maybe it does not serve me well.
If I give more to the poor and I do it half-willingly or showing superiority, maybe I am not doing the right deeds.
Been there? I know I have, but why is this happening? How come that doing something that God wants us to do does not benefit us? Shall we just stop doing them, because they are not good for us then?
All these works are beneficial to us, no question; there is however a fine print at the bottom that has to do with our own willingness to be transformed by them. Just as the external accomplishments alone cannot justify us, we cannot expect either that God will do everything for us. The true transfiguration of fallen Man can only happen as a common work between the transforming Grace of God and the willingness of Man to let himself be transformed.
As we move towards Pascha with rapid steps and we get ready to embark in the great spirituality of Holy Week, maybe is a good time now to stop for a minute and reflect on the transforming power that all the efforts of Great Lent: the fasting, the extended prayers, the almsgiving , should have on all of us who strive to achieve them.
The soul moving hymns of this amazing period need to change us in ways that will make us more accepting of the people around us, at church and everywhere else, more attentive towards the need of others, more willing to step up when our community needs us. We should be transformed as to become willing to joyfully share more of our time, talent and treasure with our Church, for the greater purpose of salvation, not just as individuals, but as a holy community of brothers and sisters in Christ.
If this is not happening, if we are not transformed by what we do, if we don’t become more humble, more accepting, more involved and more loving, then we should probably consider not necessarily what we are doing but why we are doing it. It could mean that we might be following the Orthodox Church as an ordinary outward religion and not as an actual way of life. It may be that we have not yet internalized the purpose and intent of our Faith. It might be time to reexamine ourselves with great care and honesty and consider the help of a Spiritual Father to receive tailored help to diagnose and heal what is keeping us from being transformed from an outwardly religious person into a true faithful person.
The Church, as the Fathers describe it, is a hospital for all of us, who, inheriting a fallen nature, are suffering from various spiritual diseases that keep us from being who God wants us to become . The Church provides the place, the means and the doctors to help us heal, overcoming the shortcomings of our fallenness. The fasting, prayer, almsgiving and everything else that the Church brings to our attention are not a purpose in themselves but healing and transforming tools to achieve the likeness of God, the only doctor of our souls and bodies.
May all these efforts that in these holy days we are all trying to achieve, according to our strength, be rewarded by the glorious sight of the un-waning Light of the Resurrection of Christ. May that Light shine in the deepest corners of our souls transforming us also into light and bringing us all in Communion with Christ, the Sun of righteousness.
A blessed Pascha to everyone!