Thursday, October 25, 2012

The GREATER church

     There are times when some of us Eastern Christians have considered switching to either the Orthodox church or into an Eastern Catholic church. There are often many reasons for this switch and some very justifiable and pastoral. For example, the proximity of the church, being married into it, or personal spiritual reasons. However, there are those who often display an irrational behavior when they make their switch. It seems that for some people when they make their switch the church that they came from becomes decrepit or even no longer a real church. There are even those who upon switching see the people that they once knew as brothers and sisters as "the lost" or "the deceived". As a result, they take it upon themselves to show these people just how wrong they are. At the same time never truly discovering or forgetting what really gives them their spiritual identity-JESUS CHRIST.
     I know this makes a lot of people uncomfortable but, "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (Rom. 10:13)". It does not matter if you're on a deserted island and discover Christ through reading the scripture for the first time or hearing it from an Orthodox or Catholic Christian for the first time, or even from a Protestant. God does not discriminate in saving people. In hearing the gospel in faith we get the whole thing not bits and pieces of God. What we lack in our churches is a visible communion. A communion that’s possible for the man on the island just as it is for those in our different traditions. Something we don’t always agree on but something very possible for all of us.As a Catholic I believe that this kind of communion is realized by utilizing the gifts that God gave the Church.Gifts that don't leave us with a faith alone in God is enough religion but gifts that manifest a true visible communion among Christians.
     That being said there is nothing stopping someone who calls on the name of the Lord in faith to experience Him where there at. We should know this as Eastern Christians(Byzantine Catholic and Orthodox) who say the Jesus Prayer.Sometimes we think it’s the churches fault to why we are not experiencing God so we go to one, then to another, never being satisfied and always looking for fault in them. While the truth of the matter is that we need to repent of our sins. God will not hold the gift of Himself in Jesus Christ back to anyone who seeks Him in faith. Our traditions that surround the Jesus Prayer, that we share, testify to this truth. The Fathers of the Byzantine tradition have with great detail  explained that spiritual life in relation to this prayer is based in continual repentance. A life available to any who call on Christ in faith.
     It is strange that for some faith is determined by being at the right place or right time. They will readily accept the salvation of a man who in prison picks up a copy of a spiritual book from one of our respected traditions. However, the one who does this in the context of being in communion with a certain church after 1054AD can disqualify them. It is as if the gift of God is mediated by human circumstances and in the case of schism human sin. Maybe they never heard of the radical nature of the Apostle Paul's preaching where he said," For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel (1cor. 1:17)". For the Church was not built on canonical jurisdictions or even the sacraments themselves but upon hope in the power of God.
     You can take away our sacraments and you can take away our churches but you cannot take away hope. It is hope that leads us to return to God. A s St. Maximos teaches, "The return to God clearly implies the fullest affirmation of hope in Him, for without this nobody can accept God in any way at all (Philokalia v2. pg. 202)".Only in hearing the Gospel does such hope become possible to a person and the Gospel does not discriminate. Every other gift that we have in the Church only contributes to this fact. Take away the proclamation that brings hope and everything else becomes meaningless. It is only in this hope that we discover what we are and despite our divisions makes us a spiritual family.
     For those that believe the other church is GREATER or that the grass is greener on the other side I would invite you to look at what makes you what you are. A church is GREATEST where you share the life that’s within you and the grass is greenest where you water it. There is no need to burn the bridges that brought you to where you are today. For just as you were then so you are now. They only thing that brings about a greater experience of God is your repentance. A repentance that is not based on your affiliation but upon the gift of your hope in God.

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