Theophany Feast Day: Living in the World but not of the World, Part II
Rules, Tools and Consumerism
Let me start off the second portion of this blog post by reminding you that we are given the tools we need to grow closer to His likeness. As the image of God, we can use these tools to be virtuous and through the grace of the Holy Spirit one day be deified. But how can we do this if we are caught up in our daily lives, being of the world, and submitting to Satan and his evil, greedy plots? Christ indeed gave us a new life in Him and revealed to us everything that is important through living it as one of us, but, sadly, to many of us Christ is only a persona; a character of the past; an example to “be good on earth.” It is no wonder that the true meaning of feast days, such as The Nativity (Christmas) and The Resurrection (Easter) is lost in the world’s self-serving interpretations. Songs such as The Twelve days of Christmas truly have the ability to take the Christ right out of Christmas, especially if the origin and tradition is not known or is misconstrued.
So what can we ever do to free ourselves from the chains of the world? Well, we can’t ever do this completely, as even the saints struggled, and even one day, when we witness the Second Coming of Christ, it will not be through our own accord. It is best to take a step back and take a good look at where you are in your relationship with Him. Some of you may be on one side or the other: on one side, you wish you could live in Christ and survive without having to touch the secular at all. You feel you are doing all the right things, and if only you could be rid of the temptations of daily life and hide from the corrupt world. On the other side, many of you may not quite be there yet; instead you may be satisfied with what you have in the world and wish you could get closer to Him at the same time… but find it extremely challenging because of peers or even just finding the time to worship. If one understands this from a high level perspective, however, there is really a synergy – a balance between the two sides. It is necessary to understand that the fine line one walks in this balance is the act of being a Christian as the image of God and struggling to one day realize His likeness through virtue. And what makes this line so fine is that we are limited to the tools we have here on earth that are so easily misinterpreted, and so face losing our focus in each and every single thing we do, every second of our short lives.
We try to stay healthy by taking care of our bodies. After all, this is a sacred gift given to us. We eat right, exercise and stay away from damaging habits. Sounds like a good thing, right? But, what if we are doing this without humility and thankfulness? Pride sets in. Or, possibly we were not being prideful, but instead it causes jealousy in others and instead we are subjected to hateful feelings and thus tempted to respond in kind.
There is no real way to fully avoid these challenges and so we have tools to help us (this is where I find refuge in the Lord):
Theophany Feast Tool #2: Fasting. Through this, we empty ourselves of worldly things and allow the Holy Spirit to instead fill us up.
Theophany Feast Tool #3: Community. With others, in His Church, we can share praise for the Lord through a commonality of love for each other.
Theophany Feast Tool #4: The virtues. By emulating His likeness, we are better prepared to deflect the forces that would otherwise destroy us.
The Orthodox Church of course is big on all four. Where Orthodoxy is misunderstood is that many think we have the previous strict rules to follow. But, they are not rules! They are tools. They are given to us to keep Jesus in our hearts to the best of each individual’s ability. We all have strengths and weaknesses, and by doing our best in a pious and humble way we can then, through our weak senses, not be ruled by sin because we rather utilize the tools given to us by Him. And do not treat them like rules, either. It can be dangerous to not only ourselves, but to those we are trying to help, who could easily walk away from listening to the Word because of pious, yet excessive pandering and proselytizing.
This is not to say that we do not have other tools that can be used during our daily lives. Firstly, for example, we utilize things created in this world such as a book. Our senses are very limited and so through reading we can hear the Word of God through something tangible so that we are able to relate to the concept of God. We can use the material to help us with our association to the immaterial, and like a full circle the immaterial can then give us the strength to properly use the material (the Saint’s lives help show us this, and so that is why we honor them).
Secondly, we have all been given some type of gift by God and this gift can be a tool to help others; to be compassionate and show our love – although many do not realize that they are doing this each and every day. My mother, for example, just underwent brain surgery. Through medicine, she was healed. Some may disagree in looking at this example, which peers into the inner workings of the body, as they fear we may lose the mystery of Him – but it is the contrary! Instead we see how there is still so much that we do not know, and how complex our body, which He has given to us, really is. Does anyone think that we fully understood the body, or ever fully will? Of course not, and so it will simply suffice to state that it is only our understanding – our perception – that has changed and that will continue to change. God already knows of what exists as He created it. He understands completely how each thing works. We, as meek humans, only have been enlightened by a glimpse of the mystery and of His ineffability and so God can still exist despite a discovery of some new technology or medical breakthrough. Simply put, we just haven’t understood God in that particular context before and thus, just as the Church, we are ever evolving yet without our substance changing.
I bid you to now take a moment before each secular holiday to look at the history, tradition and true meaning of the day. Think about the balance between the Church and the secular world, and how important and possible it is to incorporate the virtues available to you in your daily life. No matter where we are in the secular world – at work, spending time with one another or out and about anywhere at all – we can help each other and ourselves with Love in Christ so that we may not lose sight of what He has given us, which is beyond symbolic but rather a reality in our faith. We have been given a world that in its creation reveals to us his power, and if we can use these tools appropriately and have Him as our central focus then by all means you shall accomplish a path toward living in the world, just not of the world.
Love in Christ,