Spirituality

Orthodox Spirituality

One of the most characteristic aspects of the Orthodox Church is its deep sense of spirituality, which is not to say that the Church is anti-materialistic.

Spirituality in the Orthodox Church means the everyday activity of life in communion with God. The term 'spirituality' refers not merely to the activity of man's spirit alone, his mind, heart and soul, but it refers as well to the whole of man's life as inspired and guided by the Spirit of God. Every act of a Christian should be a spiritual act. Every thought must be spiritual, every word, every activity of the body, every action of the person. This means that all that a person thinks, says and does should be inspired and guided by the Holy Spirit.

. . . whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
(1 Corinthians 10:31)

Doing all things to the glory of God is the meaning and substance of life for a human being. This practical life is what Christian spirituality is about, it's not about false mysticism or any attempts to seek out-of-body experiences directly of God.

The only way to experience God that we have available to us in this lifetime is to invite him into our hearts and minds; in other words, to have him come to us. The Kingdom is not to be found in some faraway galaxy at the end of time, or just in some higher plane of existence that we dissipate into after we die: it may be experienced in our lifetimes.

Prayer, Fasting and Almsgiving

Christ prescribes these three as cornerstones of our Christian life in the Gospel according to St. Matthew, chapter 6.

Prayer is the main spiritual tool available to every Orthodox Christian. It forms the basis for our entire relationship with God. Prayer is supposed to be done in secret, it's not for flashy display of piety. The morning and evening prayers are the foundation of our lives in prayer, but in the Orthodox tradition, that is only the start. The Church teaches that "unceasing prayer" is the goal of every Christian, and it has often relied on the short "Jesus Prayer" for that constant "prayer of the heart." The Jesus Prayer is very brief, but expresses all the essential elements of our relationship with God:

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.

Orthodox fasting is easily misunderstood as "justification through works," which is not what the Orthodox Church holds true as a prescription for salvation. Salvation is a gift from God, which we cannot ourselves do anything to make ourselves worthy of. What we can do, however, is attempt to remove all the obstacles that stand in our way, so that we can receive God's grace of free will and a ready spirit.

Satan has many means at his disposal to keep us from moving closer in our relationship with God, and our passions for worldly things is one of them. Fasting is about controlling those passions: eating good food, and plenty of it, is generally one of the most pleasurable things that we do as human beings. Fasting is therefore merely a practical exercise in abstinence from something that we enjoy so much that it keeps us from the balanced spiritual life that God intended for us.

Oftentimes, it is not until fasting is attempted that one realizes just how strong a hold our worldly passions have over us. The Devil's greatest victory in modern times is that people have stopped believing in his existence. With that, ignorance of what binds us to what is evil, or not godly, has increased, and the effort put into combating it decreased.

Furthermore, as fasting is really quite hard work, it focuses our attention on God instead of ourselves and allows us an opportunity to think about something else than our own desires, but it does not buy us a place in the Kingdom of God. It's an opportunity to think very concretely about something but ourselves and thus a gift to be savored.

Almsgiving, the giving of money, clothing, food, or other necessities to those in need, either directly or indirectly, is an important part of the Christian life. We are all born with different abilities and talents, and not all are given the ability to provide for themselves and their families. We have a common responsibility for each other as Gods people, and therefore those who can generate excess must share their wealth with those who cannot.

Piety
Piety, or being virtuous, is almost a forgotten term in today's society where self-fulfillment is the overriding goal. The Orthodox Church teaches that in order to be fulfilled, Man needs to reestablish the relationship with God that existed before the Fall. The Church teaches that this is every individual's personal responsibility, and that it is quite possible to accomplish in this life.

The universality of Right and Wrong, everywhere and in all ages, is essential for the existence of Man, which is exactly why God has revealed Himself to us through Jesus Christ and continues to do so through the Holy Spirit. Without it, Man is just a biological machine that eats, sleeps and procreates.

Piety is simply a practical method to prepare oneself for God's grace. Not to deserve or earn it, but to prepare oneself for it, so that when it is given, it finds fertile soil to grow roots in, or it will be of no consequence as we will be unable to receive it. As mentioned in Matthew 13:3-8:

Behold, a sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds came and devoured them. Some fell on stony places, where they did not have much earth; and they immediately sprang up because they had no depth of earth. But when the sun was up they were scorched, and because they had no root they withered away. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up and choked them. But others fell on good ground and yielded a crop: some a hundred-fold, some sixty, some thirty.