|All Saints Orthodox Church, Bellis, Alberta|
|Holy Gospel Book|
What was I doing between the ages of 24 and 37 years? Well, let's just say that I was a catechumen for 13 years. Actually, right from the beginning I believed myself to be an Orthodox Christian, identifying with that radiant cluster of Christians I had seen worshipping the living Christ in the village of Bellis, and I hadn't yet grasped that Orthodox Christians belong in the Orthodox Church. I thought the Episcopal church was as close to Orthodoxy as I could get. After all, there were even Greeks going there (at my first parish, Good Samaritan, in Corvallis, Oregon). So the Lord was patient with me. He didn't mind waiting 13 years for me to gradually come to my senses.
But back to the topic. What I experienced when encountering Orthodoxy for the first time was not a ‘one time’ event. The same thing hit me when I entered the Greek church of Aghía Triás (now my family church) for the first time, an incredible sense of mercy, experienced as—love, respect and awe—not just for God, but for one another. This initial impression became the foundation of what Orthodoxy essentially means to me.
After being joined to the Church, and growing up in it, as it were, I came to realize what everyone does who becomes an Orthodox Christian—it cannot be learned from books: only in living the life can it be truly comprehended in all its mystery. Theology is a practical science. A trinitarian God may be incomprehensible to the mind, but He can be experienced and understood by the heart of one who lives in the Body of Christ. It is because Christ is in our midst that the Holy Triad also is. Praying for the Church, Jesus says,
May they all be one, Father, may they be one in us, as you are in me and I am in you, so that the world may believe it was you who sent me. I have given them the glory you gave to me, that they may be one as we are one. With me in them and you in me, may they be so completely one that the world will realise that it was you who sent me and that I have loved them as much as you loved me.
John 17:21-23 Jerusalem Bible
|Veneration of an ikon, by kissing the picture, is a testimony of one's faith.|
The relationship that the brethren share in the Body of Christ with one another is in fact and must be the primary qualification of the Church. This is what we learn from overhearing the high-priestly prayer of Christ recorded in the 17th chapter of the gospel according to John. How we are to treat one another with love, respect and awe is found throughout all the apostolic writings of the New Testament, but particularly in the first letter of the evangelist John. Yet, even in the Old Testament we are taught how to love one another.
We read of Jonathan entering into a covenant with David (1 Samuel 18:1-8). This is a prophetic image of what relationship should be like in the body of Christ. ‘Jonathan's soul was knit to the soul of David.’ The word for ‘knit’ (נקשרה, niksheráh, ‘was knit’) is the same root word (קשר) used in Nehemiah 4:6, which describes the wall of Jerusalem being built (ותקשר, vatikashér, ‘was joined’) so there were no gaps in it. Jonathan's heart was knit with David's without a gap—no space between their hearts for the enemy to come through. Jonathan loved David as himself. This is our calling in the body of Christ too, ‘that they may be one as we are one,’ such that there is no gap between us of misunderstanding, jealousy, or suspicion through which satan can slip to divide us.
Jonathan made a covenant with David and, as a symbol, removed his royal robe and placed it on David. This act symbolized Jonathan's desire to die to himself as the next king of Israel and to make David king. The holy apostle Paul writes, ‘Love each other as much as brothers should, and have a profound respect for each other’ (Romans 12:10 JB). We are to die to ourselves and sincerely long that our brothers will be regarded as greater and higher than ourselves—we even take our "robe," if necessary, to cover a brother's nakedness, wherever it is seen. Thus can we make our brothers glorious in the eyes of others. This is the kind of relationship we should have with one another in the body of Christ.
If we can have this kind of relationship, by all means we must.
Love, respect and awe—because Christ is in our midst.