Monday, February 20, 2012

Essence of a Spiritual Community

When we decide to join the Church we are joining a community of believers in the Trinitarian God who promises us eternal life.  As we come together in worship, we come as equals of all differing backgrounds, occupations, and ages. There are no earthly status parameters in this gathering.  We are all equal in our quest to be united with God in eternal life.  We realize that it does not matter what worldly success we achieve, but that our relationship with God is what is most important. The place of worship is beautiful with many icons and symbols of our community’s long history. We see images of martyrs who gave their lives for God over a thousand years ago. There are images of Jesus Christ and the Mother of God. We see the Crucifix and numerous icons about different aspects of the life of Christ.  This space is quite different that our normal worldly space, lifting us up to the reality that we are gathering together to enter into a heavenly realm, a place where earth and heaven are one.  This is the nature of the Divine Liturgy.  It takes us from our daily lives of worldly care to a heavenly realm where we are joined with the saints and angels to have a direct communion with God. In this egalitarian and beautiful environment with its 2000 year history and traditions we are humbled and are able to let go of our egotistical nature and seek mercy from God.  We praise and glory Him with prayers and hymns. We are surrounded with others who share our belief and quest to become united with Him and supported in His teaching that to love God we must love all those gathered with us as well as our enemies.  In this gathering we feel connected and one with each other as well as God.  We feel nourished, secure, and peaceful in our hearts. We experience a true sense of community that cannot be found in any other way except through our common relationship with God.
 St. Cyril of Alexandria (ca. 376-444) writes the following about the reason we all come together in this place of worship.
The Savior Himself declares, “Whoever eats My Flesh and drinks My Blood abides in Me and I in him.” By this statement it is to be seen that Christ does not say He will be in us only after the fashion of some relation that is solely intellectual, but also through a participation truly according to nature. Just as if someone were to entwine two pieces of wax together and melt them with a fire, so that both are made one, so too through participation in the Body of Christ and in His Precious Blood, He is united in us and we too in Him. In no other way can that corruptible nature be vivified except by being united bodily to the Body of Him who is, by His very nature, life: that is, the Only-begotten. (Commentary on John, on 15:1) 
Through our partaking of the true Blood and Body of Christ we are in a real sense united as one Body in Him. This is the essence of an Orthodox Christian community based on 2000 years of Christian Tradition.
There is a new Book out titled Religion for Atheists by Alain de Botton  which was recently reviewed in the Wall Street Journal.  The author uses the surface attributes of our worship to theorize that we can build communities based on the outward elements of our worshiping community. He thinks we can take God away and use the artifacts of our worship to create meaningful communities. Without God, without our faith in His saving power, without joining with Him in Communion through partaking of His Blood and Body, there can be no such unity that this provides.  This atheist’s view is doomed to failure as he does not understand the true nature of the Church and our gatherings. We should be concerned about such secular views as it can easily permeate our own as well as our children’s world view.  True community only comes from a shared faith and a shared worship that includes Holy Communion of His real presence. We must practice it with faith and zeal for His love.  It is through our example that others such as this author clamor for the kind of community we too often take for granted.

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