“Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” (The words of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Matthew 5:48)
There are a lot of things you can learn about the Orthodox Church and its beliefs. There is much history, many theological truths, lots of detail about the Liturgy, its celebration and meaning. There is much to be said about the Orthodox Christian life, the Faith once and for all delivered unto the saints, and passed along as a living reverence through the centuries; the hows and whys of a life transfigured by God’s love.
However, if it remains merely information, it becomes pointless. The only knowledge that counts, the only theology, in the words of the Holy Fathers, “that saves a person”, is one of participation. Participation in God’s love towards us, and our response of love towards Him and each other. We must understand that the purpose of the Christian life, as well as the joy of the Church, is above all to be united with God.
But how is it possible to become united to God? Saint Nicholas Kavásilas says the foundation for our union with Christ is laid by the three great mysteries of Baptism, Chrismation, and Holy Communion. And to build on this foundation is simpler than you might think. It is possible through kind deeds, through the forgiveness of offenses, through sacrifice for others. It is possible through prayer and reading the Holy Scripture. Every time you say your prayers, make the sign of the Cross, bless your meals, read the Holy Gospel, commemorate the saints, call on the Name of Jesus Christ, you are fulfilling your baptism vow: “Do you unite yourself to Christ?” “I do unite myself to Christ.”
And above all we have the Divine Liturgy. Saint Nektary of Optina says “We have a miracle: the Divine Liturgy is the greatest miracle of all.” Saint Nicholas Kavásilas says again: “Never take the Divine Liturgy for granted.” Indeed, our very life-line is Holy Communion, our Savior’s Body and Blood! “Take eat, this is My Body. Drink ye all of it, this is My Blood. As often as you eat this Bread and drink this Cup, you do confess My death and proclaim My resurrection.”
Participation in these things strengthens us to love, to forgive, to give, to become Christ like. Any heart can become a church, in any cave, any workplace, any desert or city; in what might seem to be the uneventful circumstances of life. It is with children, work, family, neighbor, that love is brought to life. And that makes us like God: “God is love, and he who dwells in love dwells in God and God in him.”(1 John 4:16) It is not just a matter of registering information about various truths, it is participation in bringing them to life. This is the Christian perfection we are called to. It is not an end in itself, it is a “direction,” with small moves, in small steps, that indeed lead and link to great things.
Saint Gregory the Great tells us, “The kingdom of heaven has no set price tag on it: it is worth as much as you have. For Zacchaeus it was worth half of what he owned. For Peter and Andrew it was worth the nets and vessel they had left behind; for the poor widow it was worth two copper coins; for another it was worth a cup of cold water. So, you see, the kingdom of heaven is worth as much as you have.”
“The greatest thing we can offer the world is simply the Reality that the Church offers to us, at all times, all that we need, just where we are, with Whom, and with whom, we have been given.”