Tuesday, February 21, 2017

What is True Religion?

Today many Orthodox Christians call themselves religious but do not practice a true religion. What do I mean? Let me give two simple examples. One person comes to church periodically. When she comes she makes many prostrations, crosses herself many times, cries, venerates all the icons on the iconostasis, makes a generous donation to the church. Another comes most Sundays and often on a week day and sits quietly in the back. The first, when she leaves the church immediately begins to complain about her health and other problems she has. The other, even though she sufffers from several ailments always has a warm smile and the first thing she is asks in broken English is, "are you OK" . So who has the true religion?

Saint Porfyrios says that the true religion is based on our love of God, not on the form but on substance of this love. He calls it Eros or love with passion. He says when we have this kind of love for God we receive His grace. We live in His light. When we have this light there is no darkness. No matter what we face we find goodness.

He uses the example of ancient people who lived in a cave and blocked the entrance to keep the wind out. Inside it was dark and there was little oxygen. They were not healthy. When they would go outside they would receive the sunlight and fresh air and be rejuvenated. The same he says happens when we receive the light of Christ. Without this light we are like the cave dweller, in darkness. With Hia light we are changed and what was bad becomes good. Darkness becomes light. This is the nature of a True religion.

We can follow all the rules, fast, pray, do metanias, cross ourselves, come to church, read scripture and still not have a true religion.

Saint Porfyrios says,
Often neither labor, nor prostrations, nor crossing ourselves attract God's grace. There are the mysteries. The most important thing is to go beyond the formal aspects and go to the heart of the matter. Whatever is done must be done with love.
With Christ a person is filled with grace and so lives above evil. Evil does not exist for him. There is only good, which is God. Evil cannot exist. While there is light there cannot be darkness. Nor can darkness encompass him because he has the light. 
The true Christian religion transforms and heals. But this requires our humility. True religion is love. We long for God always and seek union with Him, to live in His light. Without this, religion is a struggle and leaves us confused and weak. We grasp for pious actions. We seek charitable activities, we make prostrations. We try many things but remain confused, quarrelsome or depressed.

The true religion is not a human one. It is one with the true knowledge of the Trinitarian God and the work of the Holy Spirit. Our aim is to be one with Him based on a passionate love for Him. This love extends to all members. Saint Porfyrios describes this love as enthusiasm, madness, an intense longing for the divine. In this way we attract His grace and are changed and find peace and love in Him.

Reference: Wounded by Love, pp 94 - 95.

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