Saturday, March 6, 2021

Letters to My Children - Letter 4: Your Relationship With God

Continuing our discussion of the Orthodox mind, or phronema, we accept that this is a very difficult subject to grasp, but a very important one. I have learned that it is essential if you want to have a loving relationship with God. As I gradually understood it, I found that I began to know myself more deeply. As I increasingly grasped the nature of a loving relationship with God, I could see more clearly my limitations as one of His creatures. I began to understand that I am created and cannot ever fully understand the nature of this awesome Creator. I accepted that I am  like the pot that can never know fully the potter who formed it. As I explored sincerely my faith with this developing Orthodox mind, I  began to open myself to my limited nature and accept the unlimited nature of God our creator. I now understand this to be the true meaning of humility. As you make this exploration, and open yourself to this limitless mystery, you too will begin to know yourselves in a new way.

A key concept in our faith is Theosis, or our union with God. As an Orthodox Christian you learn how it is possible to be united with God and to become always aware of His presence, His loving nature, and His unlimited power. As this way of thinking began to develop in me, I found I was no longer stressed by feeling that  I had to figure out everything intellectually. I found comfort in the awareness that my intellect is limited and is incapable of clarifying what is impossible to resolve with logic. As I realized this,  I was led to a greater understanding, became aware of my soul, and was opened to new experiences.  Trying to understand mysteries like the Holy Trinity, a virgin birth, Christ as both god and man, or the Resurrection, did not distract me, because I realized that I can’t fully grasp these mysteries through my rational mind. As this new mind developed in me, I began to evolve a personal relationship with Christ, experiencing His love, a new kind of freedom, and an inner peace in all situations. This is a never ending-process. Christ continues to  lead me to discover more deeply my weaknesses and errant thinking. 

What is the Orthodox mind, this “phronema “? This is a word that is found in the Bible and used in differing ways. It is often translated as “understanding.” For example, in Proverbs it reads, “The Lord by wisdom founded the earth; by phronema (understanding) he established the heavens (Proverbs 3:18 LXX). In Isaiah 40:28 we read that “His understanding is unsearchable.” Saint Paul often asks Christians to acquire correct phronema. He says it is associated with the idea of “mind of Christ” (1Cor 2:16). The early Christians were exhorted  to develop a way of thinking tied to their way of living. They were instructed in the need for correct phronema. We can see this also in the writing of the Church Fathers in later centuries. This was my challenge, and I hope I can help you see that this is the important challenge for you too, so you can experience a close relationship with God.

I can assure you this is not primarily an intellectual task. We may be helped along by reading of Scripture and the writings of the Church Fathers, but not through an analytical or critical way of study. You must read with a natural, humble mind, accepting what does not make sense as something you are not yet ready to understand. The same with the Sacraments. You will also begin to see the icons not as simple pictures, but as windows to heaven. 

I began developing this new mind through the total immersion, a surrender, to the way of life taught by the Orthodox Church. I was willing to place my trust in the Church and avoid the temptation to substitute its teachings and practices with my own ideas or opinions. 

This Orthodox mind does not accept legalistic thinking. It does not rely on rules or penalties for breaking them. You cannot use the ideas of our legal system to develop a loving relationship with God. Get rid of the idea of sin as breaking a law for which you will be punished. This mind is based on love. The way of the Church is love. It wants only to help you grow closer to Him. This relationship with God is similar to our relationship with our best friends and spouses. 

Free up a rigid mind by limiting assumptions. Orthodoxy is not an ideology. It does not require definitions or rules, even though at the beginning they may be useful guides or starting points. Acquiring this right thinking takes time and a commitment based on your belief in the Trinitarian God and your unconditional love for Him. As you participate regularly with attention and an open mind in the divine services and sacraments, as you read Scripture and the Church Fathers, you will begin to develop an organic inner devotion that overcomes the notion of “I am supposed to,” as you engage in the practices of the Orthodox way of life. You will have ever growing experiences that will lift you beyond the limits of your rational mind, bringing you inner peace, and into a personal relationship with God. I have found that it is through the spiritual practices taught by the Church that this new mind develops, that the greater truth becomes visible and real, and you begin to experience God. A love grows, not just for the Church but for God Himself. This love then permeates your whole way of life. You find peace in all things. You will discover how essential Tradition preserved by the Church is in this process. Just accept that it is the Church that has preserved the fullness of Tradition passed on through the Apostles as they were taught by Christ Himself. Surrender to it and become nurtured by His love.

Some questions to consider:

How close do you feel to God? How do you personally experience Him? Consider the issues that come to you in thinking about surrendering to the practices of the Church. Will they conflict with your current life? Are there some practices that you do not think you can accept?

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