A Beginner’s Guide To Being An Orthodox Christian

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew. (17:14-23)

Last week we had the tremendous joy and blessing of welcoming new members into the Orthodox Church and into our little community. All week long I thought about how there were so many things I still wanted to say to you. So many things that I still feel are necessary for your continued growth and thriving in the faith. Today I’ve decided to briefly share some of the aspects of your life that should receive attention and focus as you strive to live as Orthodox Christians. For the rest of you, perhaps this will be a gentle reminder and something that helps you as well.

The first thought that I would like to share comes from St. Moses the Ethiopian. He once said “To live with Jesus you need: struggle, humility and unceasing prayer. These are your tools for the hard road ahead.” This word from one of the great desert fathers is full of power if we take it seriously and apply it in our lives. He reminds us of the goal of Christian life: to live with Jesus. Everything in our life should point towards Jesus Christ. He also reminds us that the goal will not be easy to attain. He tells us that the Christian life is a hard road. It is full of struggle. No matter who you are. While we may be allergic to hard work and to toil, it is an absolute requirement for us as Christians. One of the fathers said that the spiritual life is to fall and to rise again, to fall and to rise again. That is an important aspect of Christian faith. Anyone who doesn’t struggle doesn’t grow in Christ. Anyone who doesn’t struggle doesn’t grow spiritual muscles. In the beginning it might be a struggle to pray daily. It might be a struggle to come to worship. That’s ok. That means you are a normal Christian who is developing towards maturity. Embrace the struggle, don’t let the struggle embrace and overcome you. God honors us when we struggle.

Anyone who thinks they are perfect, likewise doesn’t grow in Christ because they refuse to struggle and they add pride to the mix and pride is the poison of poisons. Since this is the case we should do whatever is within our power to avoid anything that will inflame a sense of pride within us such as trying to teach or even arguing with others about spiritual matters whether in person or online. A new Christian (someone who has been Christian for less than a decade), should mostly keep to themselves when it comes to theological arguments and instead focus on their own learning and growth.

This brings me to the next absolute necessity of Christian life: Reading the New Testament every day. There is no one who has the ability to read who should not be able to read a chapter of the New Testament every day or listen to a chapter through audio or to read the prescribed readings of the day according to the Church calendar. This daily discipline will transform your life. If possible, add this to your morning prayer routine. Scripture says “thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.” I don’t want you to walk in darkness and by definition you will stumble and walk in darkness if you don’t measure your way of life against the words of the Scriptures and especially the New Testament.

Speaking of prayer: St. Moses spoke of praying ceaselessly and that is certainly the goal. But we should also have set appointed times of prayer for ourselves every day. At least every morning and evening. This should be a short and doable prayer rule that allows us to focus on Christ. Prayer is not just another item on the day’s to-do list. Prayer is speaking to God, friendship with God, intimacy with God. Prayer is the fountain of love, joy and healing. Without prayer, we are absolutely lost. If you have questions about this, please speak with your priest.

This leads to another part of spiritual life: a relationship with your priest. The Church is not a McDonald’s drive thru, it is a spiritual hospital and also a family, the household of God. We should actively work to cultivate relationships with one another so that we won’t be strangers and that is certainly true with your priest. And guess what? That goes both ways. The priest should actively be working to cultivate a relationship with you. The priest shouldn’t hide in his office when the people are around. I am present with you, but I won’t force you to come and talk. If you choose to hide what is going on in your life, then you choose to carry the burdens alone. You have to desire to allow others into your life and to be part of your support system. Part of having a sound relationship with your priest is coming to confession on a regular basis. Certainly you can come more often if you like. Confession is not only powerful medicine, but a great gift.

One of the biggest aspects of growing in our Christian faith is our love for and obedience to the commandments of God. We can start with the ten commandments and the teachings of our Lord Jesus. Fr. Thomas Hopko says that your ability to be purified and illumined and glorified in Christ are directly in proportion to how seriously you live according to the commandments. The Lord says, “if you love me, obey my commandments.” We can say that the beginning of any spiritual life is keeping the commandments. Whatever commandment is difficult for us to keep is keeping us from knowing Christ more intimately.

If we find it difficult to keep one of the commandments then we have to focus on that as a goal. That also means that if you have an addiction, seek help for it so that it doesn’t become a ticking time bomb in your life. If you have an addiction to alcohol or drugs, don’t be ashamed. Be courageous and go to AA or NA meetings or attend celebrate recovery. If you have an addiction to pornography or fornication then you should consider attending SA meetings. Admission is a sign of humility and humility is one of the pillars to growth in Christ.

While I think that there is much more that could be said, I would like to mention something that we should avoid. I ask all of you to avoid Orthodox internet forums, facebook groups and such. Time and time again this has proved to be one of the biggest downfalls for most new Orthodox Christians in their spiritual life and growth. These sites and those who comment on them, may permanently stunt your growth. Read good books, articles and primary sources. Listen to good podcasts and youtube videos from reputable sources. Study the saints and their lives. Talk to your priest or your godparents. Speak to the living God and to the saints.

I have shared a few thoughts with you in the hope that you will benefit from them because we desire to see you thrive in Christ. I leave you with the words of the Apostle Paul from 1 Thessalonians chapter 2, “For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Is it not even you in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming? For you are our glory and joy.” (1Thess2:19-20) AMEN.

Source: Sermons