Orthodoxy in the World: Key Practices (A)

This is the 13th blog in this introductory series to the Orthodox Faith.  The First blog is Orthodoxy in the World & Light to the World.   The previous blog is Orthodoxy in the World:  Teachings (D).

Orthodoxy like any religious tradition is primarily a way of seeing the world.   The Orthodox Church would claim that it has “the mind of Christ,” meaning it shares the viewpoint of the world held by the incarnate Son of God, the God of love.   To fully enter into the Orthodox tradition is to come to see the world as God sees it.

 The first basic assumption of this view of the world is that the created order and humanity itself are naturally good.  Humans are given by God a free will and can and do make  choices both good and evil.    Humans were not created by God as automatons programmed to do God’s bidding.   Rather, God endowed humans with free choice so that humans could choose to love – God, their fellow human beings, and creation itself.    Love is the ultimate good and virtue in Orthodox thinking.   Love is “normative” for human choice, but humans are free to choose the opposite of love, namely self-love.    The history of humanity is one in which humans obsessed with their own (self-)good, have chosen self-love to their own destruction.   For we humans are primarily relational beings (in relationship to God, fellow humans and the created order), and when we chose self-good at the expense of love, we contribute to the continued downfall of humanity.   Self love is what becomes the seed bed for evil itself.

            Traditionally Orthodoxy saw the human struggle in the world, and the “light” offered to the world through Jesus Christ, as being a struggle against self-love in order to restore proper relationships between God, humanity and rest of creation.    The Torah was given to the Jews to help them learn right relationships.   But the Torah was not able to convert the inner heart of humans, for it remained an external law attempting to impose upon a rebellious humanity the right way of life.    Christ came into the world as love incarnate, to heal and transform humanity from within, since the Law could do little more than reveal how self-centered, rebellious and sinful humanity really is.  As humans we cannot perfect ourselves, but we can humble ourselves and we can repent asking God for mercy and His Spirit to guide us.

The Orthodox way of following Christ is an effort to call humans to self denial in order to return them to beings focused on the love of others.    As such, the monastic way of life emerged the exemplary way to follow Christ through self denial.   Fasting, abstinence, simplicity, purity, self sacrifice and obedience were seen as the common tools for all Orthodox to help overcome our own self centeredness.   Marriage was idealistically viewed  as a martyrdom of self denial in order to live a life of love.  And celibacy was held in even higher regard as the best way to deny the powerful desires of the self.

Next:  Orthodoxy in the World:  Key Practices (B)

Orthodoxy in the World: Teachings (D)

This is the 12th blog in this introductory series to the Orthodox Faith.  The First blog is Orthodoxy in the World & Light to the World.   This blog continues the section on basic teachings of Orthodoxy, the previous blog is Orthodoxy in the World:  Teachings (C).

Christ Enthroned

In Orthodoxy, Jesus Christ is not merely a model of or teacher of morality.  If the Torah had been enough to heal the separation of God and humanity which is so evident throughout the Old Testament, then there would have been no need of an incarnate messiah.   If repentance was all that was needed to reunite humans to God, then prophets and angels could have called humanity to that.   But Orthodoxy believes that what was ailing humanity – separation from God resulting from death – needed to be healed.   And it is in the God incarnate, in Jesus Christ, that divinity is reunited to humanity and is not separated from humankind even in death.    Because of Christ’s incarnation, death and resurrection, no aspect of being human is now separated from God.     The Orthodox believe that only if and because Jesus is fully God incarnate and also fully human is there an end to the fracturing of the world caused by sin.  Only in Christ is the human will once again in union with God’s will, only in Christ is the soul and body permanently united despite death, only in Christ are humans reconciled to God, only in Christ are males and females reunited, only in Christ does humanity regain its proper role as microcosm and mediator, only in Christ is all of creation restored to God.  For all of these reasons we can understand why in the earlier centuries of the Christian movement they felt it so essential to have a correct understanding of who Jesus is.   All Christian understanding of the scriptures, of God, of humanity, of creation is founded in the question, “Who is Jesus Christ?”, at least according to Orthodoxy.

            For Eastern Orthodox Christians the Good News of the Gospel is that God so loves the world that He chooses to become flesh in the person of Jesus Christ.  God unites himself to all that is human, undergoing even death itself, in order to reunite all of humanity with divinity.     Despite the willful rebellion of humans who wanted to overthrow the lordship of God, God enters into the human condition and suffers death in order to save humanity from the consequences of their own sin.   Just as God saved the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, so now God has saved all of humanity from slavery to sin and death.  God has brought us not just from Egypt to the Promised Land, but from death to life and from earth to heaven.   Christ in Orthodoxy is the victor, not the victim.  Christ is the liberator who saves us from death, giving us eternal life through uniting us to divinity.   He has offered this salvation to every human who has or will exist.

            And Orthodoxy fully recognizes human free will and the necessity for humans to cooperate with God for their own salvation.   Humans must want this union with God.   Mary, the mother of Jesus is called the Theotokos, the one who bears God in her womb.   She is the ultimate sign of human cooperation with the will of God – a supreme act of love which results in human and divine union.

Next:  Orthodoxy in the World:  Key Practices (A)