Monday, April 27, 2015

Finally become human

‘Human beings are creatures of habit.’ I have to put this thought in quotes because the idea is not mine. The whole of humanity is its author, whether verbally or out of experience. This fact of our nature works both to our welfare and our demise, just as everything else about us does. The appearance of civilization, as we call it, came about by the natural selection of habits. Good habits produce good civilizations; bad ones, the reverse, or no civilization at all. It all depends on where you draw the line.

Looking at civilizations and world cultures with this in mind usually makes us think that ours is better than most others, maybe even the best, or, if we are habitual malcontents, will make us dismiss ours as corrupt, bankrupt, or savage. Youth is inexperienced while still laying the foundations of habit, and so does not suffer from pessimism as much as Age does. Age sometimes dismisses optimism because it’s been roofing its life with the leftovers of bad habits yielded to in careless Youth.

This is the human condition.

Now, Christ has appeared, you know, the God-man that we Christians say we believe in. He interrupts our trains of thought and our chain gangs of habit, overturns our money-changer tables, and shoos us out of the confines of make-believe spirituality. We are dragged kicking and screaming as babies to the baptismal bucket, or as pensive, intentional adults to the tank, the former habitless, the latter besmirched with banal sins, and after that initial washing, find ourselves just as habit-formed as ever.

There is a difference.

Christ is not only the Savior of the world—of anyone who listens to His words and does what He commands—but knowing our nature, He has provided us with a new roster of, not laws, but habits, so that we may finally be ‘finished’ beings, not mud-clay spirit-breathed animals kept unfinished by our almost involuntary—and therefore, almost blameless—bad habits. The way He has provided us with this new roster of habits is by His establishment of the Church. Yes, even the institution, maybe, especially.

For the Church—I am here speaking in a special sense, meaning what is called ‘Orthodoxy’, yet without pitting it against other Christian associations—for the Church has very quickly, and from its beginnings in apostolic times, produced a universal and pervasive body of wisdom called ‘the Holy Tradition.’ This is composed of all of its liturgical life—prayer, worship, teaching, customs—a vast array of habit-forming mechanisms for us habit-formed people, so that we can become ‘finished’ humans, if we want to.

When modern people think of the Church, theirs is picture-thinking, much of it conditioned by experiences good or bad, expressed in prejudices for or against. They see it as an institution, whether positively or negatively. Even believers who regularly ‘go to church’ can fail to apprehend that when they enter the temple they are coming to Christ, the Only Teacher of mankind, whose real Presence is conveyed in the liturgical cycle, designed by Him to develop in us the habits that will make us human.

Yes, the Church is an institution. It is a social organism. It connects people. It unites them for mutual welfare and good endeavor. As an institution, it wears all the defects of humanity’s bad habits, though not all at once or all the time. There is still something about it—even most of its detractors admit this—that transcends its failures and keeps it going. What is this ‘something’? It is that divine and holy Liturgy, not just the Sunday service but all of its accumulated liturgical life, and that is ‘Christ in our midst.’

This is why it is unfortunate that people neglect the services of the Church, though at times they do so with good reason. People are not stupid. They know when they are being treated as infants. When those who offer the divine services are themselves only ‘performing’, they ‘prevent others from entering the Kingdom of God without going in themselves’ (Luke 11:52). They speed-speak the psalter. They keep to the Greek, which very few understand. They chant so no one can follow along and sing. Bad, bad habits.

Then, is it any wonder that people, being creatures of habit that we are, find ourselves drifting into ruts of earth-bound profanity instead of being raised by Christ who teaches, heals, upholds and saves us, and delivers us into the heaven-bound way of true humanity? The Church’s most precious mystery is the ‘whole Christ’ who lives in the praises of His people when we worship ‘in spirit and in truth’ which is He. Let us, then, beloved brethren, priests and people, allow ourselves to be formed by good habits, by Christ.

He is the Only Lover and Teacher of mankind,
and it is through listening to Him and doing what He commands
that we finally become human.

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