Orthodox observance: what this series is not.
This series of blog posts is about Orthodox observance. And, to say it again, by “Orthodox observance,” I mean the how of Orthodox discipleship: how to live an Orthodox Christian life, day in and day out. It is not primarily about Orthodox spirituality or about the purpose of observance: salvation through repentance, or deification. There are any number of good books on Orthodox spirituality that are available in English that you can read to learn more about these things. Maybe we can talk about good books on Orthodox spirituality in a future post, but that is not our main concern here.
What these blog posts do concern themselves with however, are the ordinary, normal things that Orthodox disciples of Christ do that underlie our spirituality and which Orthodox spirituality presupposes. Authentic spirituality will not succeed without regular observance. Without observance, it is a house built on sand. Salvation involves the whole person, not just the soul or the spirit. This is an important point, especially for those who may be new to Orthodoxy, who, in their zeal, are often captivated by the loftiest aspects of Orthodox spirituality: the Jesus Prayer, the Philokalia, and hesychasm.
“Prayer corresponds with way of life.” –St. Isaac of Nineveh.
Father Thomas Hopko is reported to have said that some people who are interested in the Jesus Prayer are not interested in Jesus or in prayer. This is the very situation we’re trying to avoid. As a contemporary monk once put it to me, “you must learn to be Orthodox plain before you can be Orthodox fancy.” That is, we all need a good foundation in the basics.
Our bodies have to become obedient to Christ just as much as our minds do, and self-mastery in the practical, active life precedes the way of deeper prayer or contemplation. “Indeed, prayer corresponds with way of life,” says St. Isaac of Nineveh (On the Ascetical Life 3.41 [SVS Press, 1989, p. 55]. All of the Fathers agree on this point. If you want to advance along the path of salvation, you cannot skip the “easy part,” but “dull” part, the (seemingly) boring, gritty practica of daily Orthodox observance. They are the foundation for a life of service to the Lord.
If you don’t mind sharing, please comment below on the kinds of things you do to live your Faith daily.
“Indeed, one who does not have the labors of the body does not have the labors of the soul. For the latter are born from the former, as an ear of corn from a bare grain.” — St. Isaac the Syrian, On the Ascetical Life 4.6 [p. 63].
“A man who offers to teach rhetoric and philosophy to someone who is only learning his alphabet, far from doing him any good, will only distract him from what he is learning, and make him forget what he has learned, for his mind will be unable to cope with these subjects. In the same way, a man who discourses about the last degrees of perfection to beginners, and especially to the more lazy ones, far from bringing them any profit will only make them lose ground. For as soon as they look up at the heights of virtue and see how far they are from the summit, they will think it impossible for them to reach it, and will give up even the few useful works they had already begun, as being useless, and be plunged into hopelessness.” — St. Symeon the New Theologian, Practical and Theological Precepts 160, in Writings from the Philokalia on Prayer of the Heart, trans. E. Kadlubovsky & G. E. H. Palmer (London: Faber & Faber, 1973), 135-36.