Sunday, September 12, 2010

Who Are You...

…to Tell Me How to Live My Life?

I’ve been told that in England this question expresses a common attitude of the people toward the Church of England. When I first heard it, I was so startled by the question I didn’t know what to say. I was taken aback because this question does not usually arise among the Orthodox. And this is not because we are more pious than they or more trustful of authority or any such thing as that. It’s that the Orthodox Church does not work that way. Nobody, normally, behaves so preposterously as to try to lord it over us. (And if someone in abnormal cases does try to, we usually laugh him out of court.)

We do indeed have among us people who can tell us how to live our lives. Who are they? They are people in such intimate communion with Christ that they have been transfigured into His image. They are so like Him we want to weep with joy when we meet them. (Emily and Ben Harju have a priest in Indiana who is like that.) They are people in whom Christ’s Incarnation continues, people who have given their minds, hearts, souls and bodies to be His, for Him to live in, and their lives are in fact His own deathless Life. They are “Christ with skin on”. Often they have given up all earthly things, too, not just in principle, as all of us are called to do, but in fact. They may have only the clothes they are wearing and literally nothing else. They are humble and mild as a baby, full of compassion and wisdom and charm. They move you in the depths of your soul.

When anyone who loves Christ encounters such a person, he yearns to be more like him, to attain to the same richness of spirit, the same love, the same faith, the same peace and joy. So it is only natural to ask this person for advice on how we may attempt to become who he or she is, Who Christ is.

The thing is, such people will never tell you how to live your life, never tell you a single thing, unless you ask. This, out of respect for you, as well as the realization that unsought advice, however wise, is usually worthless. In fact, it’s worse than useless; it can be detrimental, because it’s better for you not to know the Way than to be told it and reject it.

Showing up for a sermon is of course a form of asking, but you still aren't going to be told how to live your life. Instead, you will hear general advice and elucidation of the Christin teachings. What you do with it will be left entirely up to you. Nobody tries to "bind your conscience" or control your thought or your behavior.

Thus, a holy person will only guide you insofar as you ask him or her to do it. And even then, s/he will only tell you as much as s/he perceives you are ready to hear and heed. You will be offered one baby step at a time, and if and when you do that well, and if you continue to ask, you will be given further advice, tailored with wisdom and compassion, specifically to you.

Now I’ve told you the ideal, but in practice it is not always easy to find this kind of person. Fortunately, also in practice, I only need for my guidance someone a bit further along the road than I am, and finding that person is never difficult!

That’s how it works among us, and that’s why the question so startled me, and why I do not know any answer to it.


Emily H. said...

It's our priest's anniversary to his ordination next Sunday. Many years to him! We are so blessed by him!

margaret said...

Isn't it the question most modern people ask any authority (except the kind that can throw them in jail!)? There is a notion that the church (any church) is a dictator and it's very, very strong in the UK. I was having dinner with a dear, non-religious friend a while back and she'd had a little bit more wine and was saying things like, "how awful to have to do things because the church tells you to..." And I said there is no have to because there is no coercion in love and Christianity is a religion of love. She was gobstopped, as the less posh of us say here, because despite being a 53 year old, well educated woman she had never considered Christianity as anything but an oppressive rule book. She is, I suspect, in a majority here.

Genevieve said...

I'm glad you posted this. It's funny. We have a rock that says "the 1st stone" written on it at church. And It's in the narthex. Someone also put one in the bookstore. Well, a girl, who i must say was the most inappropriately dressed person I've ever seen in a church,( she is only 13) picked up the rock in the bookstore, and said, i want one of these....I've seen this before. Well, I said, do you know what this means? She didn't. She had no clue at all. Another lady next to me told her the meaning (the gospel), with a smile. Maybe it will be important to her sometime. I can't imagine what her life or future will be, and hope that God will help her. I was thankful that she asked, and did listen to the answer.