Orthodox spirituality does not allow our love of Christ to remain unexamined or unchallenged. In some other bodies of which I have been a member in the past, this is not so; a person is free to entertain a highly exaggerated notion of his faith and of his love for Christ. But when one becomes Orthodox, suddenly, he is called upon to put that faith and love into practice.
Okay, so you love Christ; can you fast with the Church, for His sake? Okay, so you can, you say, but you didn’t. You try again, with the same result, or at least a result very little better.
Okay, so you love Christ; can you control your temper, for His sake? Okay, so you think you can, but is that true? You try again, with the same result, or at least a result very little better.
Okay, so you love Christ; can you pray 30 seconds without distraction, sacrifice your money for the poor, make time in your busy schedule to visit the sick? You love Christ, so how come you sat in that traffic jam cussing for half an hour when you could have taken the opportunity to say the Jesus Prayer? You love Christ, so why are you judging your brother every day when Christ commanded you not to?
And so forth. The Orthodox Christian, after a (usually short!) while, begins to wonder whether he ever loved Christ at all, much less with the great and ardent love he had formerly imagined he harbored. He begins to wonder what became of the faith that in his fantasy was so firm, so strong, precious, so devoutly held. And if it really is anything like what he had imagined it to be, how come it keeps flunking out when put to the test, almost any test?
This may be part of the reason other communions encourage their members not to look at themselves, to “keep your eyes on Jesus.” It is frightening to behold the disease and disfigurement within ourselves, and the extent to which we are slaves to our own bodies. Yet if you don’t look, you never know yourself. You have no way of knowing whether your faith or your love is authentic. You have no way of testing your faith. “Faith” is easy to have if you blind yourself to the reality within, but when you see the dragons there, then what?
Worse, if you don’t look, you never find Christ there, within you, as He promised to be. You will remain a stranger to the Holy Spirit, who dwells within the Christian.
There never comes a time when the Orthodox Christian, if he is really following the spirituality taught by the Church, ever says to himself, “Alright, I seem to be in good shape now. I can rest secure.” Such self-satisfaction is not on the Orthodox menu! Seeing that one has made some small progress in this or that can never be grounds for pride, because advancement in Orthodox Christian spirituality clarifies a person’s vision, thereby causing him to see how small is the healing so far, compared with the disgusting enormity of the remaining disease. What one might say to himself is something like, “God seems to have granted me to fast a little better, yet I have been grumpier than before and have been mistreating everybody!”
Even St. Paul wrote,
Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind; and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you. Nevertheless, to the degree that we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us be of the same mind. (Philippians 3:12-16)
It doesn’t mean if St. Paul had dropped dead midway through writing that passage, he would not have made it to heaven. It means the object is to love God with all our heart and all our mind and all our strength. Therefore, the question, “How much faith (or love, or obedience) do I need to be saved?” is wrong-headed and self-centered, not loving at all, and not relying upon Christ at all, either.
Instead, we seek perfect conformity to His image, Whose perfections are infinite. Christ Himself is our heaven, and the more one is conformed to Him, the more one already lives in heaven. And the Orthodox know two things. One is that we are already living and moving and breathing in that heaven. The other is, we are doing it very imperfectly; like St. Paul, we haven’t made it, yet. We live in hope, we walk by faith. But our faith is not in our faith. It is in Christ.