People of God,
A blessed Advent. I will be trying to do a series of these devotions based on a book I’m reading throughout this season.
I have always had a strong devotion to the season of Lent. A time when we might pray and prepare ourselves for the resurrection of our Lord Jesus and connect more deeply with him through his Passion and Cross. Lent is also a time to examine our lives and faith and make a renewed and sincere attempt to reconnect ourselves with Jesus through this Church. Advent, on the other hand, has always been those four pesky weeks standing between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Like so many other things I’ve talked about, seek and ye shall find; come to seminary, and figure out what things mean. So, lo and behold, I’m learning here that Advent is much more than the time away at school which stands between the night for turkey and the night for ham. Advent is a season of great joy when the whole world, making the same renewed effort as Lent, begins to prepare for the Incarnation of the Lord; the night when God becomes Man on Earth. Advent is a season of anticipation and of patient waiting for the arrival of our King.
The connection I mentioned between Lent and Advent is not a small one. To be truly people of God, it is imperative to make a renewed and sincere effort to follow this Church and this Christ every single day; these periods of waiting are like built in practice times in the Church calendar for us to get this right. I have recently begun to read Way of the Ascetics by Tito Colliander. He is writing making reference to the works of the early Eastern Orthodox church fathers, but his points apply all the same to us.
We often hear words like “conservative,” “traddy,” or “out of your mind” to describe the people who remain steadfast in the upholding of Church teaching and don’t change or mess with them. Someone who is this way, actually, is perfectly fine….right, even. The term for them is orthodox. What does it mean to be orthodox? (I am speaking, by the way, in what terms it means to be an Orthodox Roman Catholic as opposed to Eastern Orthodox, ie how, not what you practice). Colliander defines orthodoxy this way, “For orthodoxy is not primarily a system or a correct-ness of doctrinal formulations. Doxa means glory. orthodoxy is therefore concerned with ‘right glory'” (Colliander viii). At the very heart of orthodox theology and spirituality is the concept of theosis, which is the raising of our manhood to God; deification; transforming ourselves into the very character of God. In our Western church, this concept is the same thing as sanctification, or the act of becoming holy. So through our orthodoxy of practice, we are led to theosis, which in turn leads us to sanctification. If this is true, as I believe it to be, the question is not “why should we remain orthodox of heart?” The answer to that is simple: to be sanctified! Rather, the question must be “what is stopping me from being this way?” Many would argue it is the demands of this material world.
In a talk I am preparing, I speak briefly about the demands of the material world versus those of the spirit. The material world seems to demand one thing: that it be separate from and superior to the spirit. The conflict is not that this is the proposition of the outside. No; instead, the problem is that we allow this ludicrous proposition to become a reality in our lives. It’s not entirely our own fault, though. To some degree, the Church, as is her duty, warns us against the material world and the dangers it presents. To be a true person of God during these times means to ignore the demands and musings of society and to be a successful person in the secularized world requires the same ignorance of the Church. Either way, the Church never refers to the material world as the enemy of the spirit. That is something we all, especially myself, make up. The result comes from our realization that “the material world is the vehicle, not the enemy, of the spirit” (Colliander ix). Our spirituality has to have a place and basis inside the material world otherwise it would make no sense to our material selves. Some may argue that the material world is constantly working against us; that makes no sense given the argument of its vehicalality (that’s right, just made up a word). How can the very vehicle which we occupy be at the same time driving against us? We are responsible for using this vehicle as a means of evangelization and awareness of the spirit’s place in the world.
Why is this important? It is imperative we see that the “rediscovery of Orthodoxy in the West…is essential if we are to recover that lost sense of the mystical and prayerful character of all theology” (Colliander x).
So that’s the problem. We need to rediscover our orthodoxy and commitment to the faith in order to restore, protect, and prolong the mystical and prayerful nature of the Church. Advent is the perfect time for this. As mentioned earlier, we are entering a time set aside specifically for preparations and waiting. It is time to examine ourselves and our progress in faith and place in the Church. How do we go about changing this? What are the solutions?
The solution is so unbelievably simple, I will sum it for you in one word: devotion. I love God. I pray to God all the time. I tell Him that His will is my Will and I’ll do whatever He wants. I have prayer cards and statues and saints and crucifixes galore in my room; but am I meaningful? Am I sincere? Or do I go through the motions? Well, truth be told, a little of both sides. Lately, it has been mostly the latter: going through the motions. So while I have a deep devotion to the Lord, am I being devout? I hope the distinction between the two is clear. It is similar to the material world as a vehicle example. Am I using the vehicle or am I actually being the vehicle by which my faith is spread?
I want everything I pray for, which makes sense; why would I pray for it otherwise? But who is it about? I want it. Me, me me. Does God want it? That’s the question and often I am not ready to face the real answer. But if we wish to become sanctified then we have to get our desires for our own will out of our head because our humanly will is going to get us absolutely no where. Rather, we must be our devotion to the Lord and put his will into actions! “If you wish to save your soul and win eternal life, arise from your lethargy, make the sign of the cross, and say: In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” (Colliander 1). Our faith and sanctification will not come through our pondering and musing of God’s will or of us throwing requests at God. No, faith comes through action! If you want the breeze, you have to open the window!
So that’s the what. Arise and go! What about when?
Colliander makes it clear: It can never be too late. There is a reason, after all, Abraham was seventy-five when he set out. In a similar way, it can never be too early. It is never too soon to put out a forest fire; “would you see your soul ravaged and charred” (Colliander 2)? We have wandered long enough; crushed with indifference and swallowed by laziness, we have watched the valuable time go to waste.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, let us arise from our slumber and make this Advent resolution to renew our commitment and devotion to doing and becoming the will of God! As we wait in joyful hope for the coming of Christ this Christmas, let also wait in joyful hope for our own new birth as new Christians and new daughters and sons of the Most High. Be careful in your journey; we may fool our neighbors with our false devotions, but we can never fool God. Be honest, therefore, and open yourself without fear to the perfect, passionate, personal, and perpetual love of God the Father.
Very truly yours, I remain,