How to Become a Friend of God
The Scriptures are clear: “Abraham was called the friend of God” (James 2:23) …
A Sunday School teacher told me once that we should read the Bible every day, and I was an intense, introverted child: I followed her advice, opening my third-grade presentation edition after my evening shower, my hair dripping dimples onto the onionskin pages.
Jesus, on the cusp of his crucifixion, called the disciples friends, not servants (John 15:15). I was raised in a Biblical Literalist tradition: it must be true. As an almost-but-not-quite-friendless pre-teen, I grasped onto Christ’s promise. Later, I learned that we are co-heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17). And so I envisioned not the American “Buddy Christ,” but Christ as big brother. In so doing, I overlooked St. Paul’s crucial insight, which was much less appealing: if we suffer with Christ, we will be glorified with Him.
Unfortunately, the Bible was exasperatingly silent on how to become a friend of God. Similarly,the myriad of churches I attended throughout my twenties and thirties were unable to tell me how to make these promises a reality.
But somewhere along the way I encountered the Orthodox Church. (Sometimes “church-shopping” works.) One miraculous Theophany—the West calls the feast “Epiphany”—the Peace That Passes Understanding met me. And I knew that all those scriptural promises must be true. Even better, the Orthodox Church could tell me how to become a friend of God—after all,he has two thousand years of experience.
Orthodoxy offers a multifaceted approach to developing this relationship. Self-discipline as a spiritual practice, called ascesis, is one such facet. We pray, ideally multiple times throughout the day. We fast at various points throughout the year, notably during Lent and the other “smaller Lents” like Advent, the June Apostles’ Fast, and a two-week period in August in honor of the Mother of God. We are encouraged to offer alms, attend services, and participate in the sacraments of Eucharist and Confession regularly. These disciplines are provided to encourage humility and remind us to depend fully on God.
Another tool in our Orthodox “toolbox” is a prayer rope—a knotted cord often used as a bracelet, although clergy and monks and other pious laity may have longer cords. Each knot represents a prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner” or any variation thereof, even perhaps a simple “Lord have mercy” or one word “Mercy!” We follow the example of the tax collector or Publican of Luke 18 and acknowledge our own need for God’s mercy. I am told that the practice of the Jesus Prayer with every (or almost every) waking breath will enable my inner soul to set aside my worries and “thinky-ness” to be able to open unto God. It takes silence; it takes listening; it takes humility.
Saints of our Church have achieved this. St. Seraphim of Sarov, an eighteenth-century Russian saint, had a face which glowed like Moses’ with the glory of God. And he Church teaches that we are all called to know God with similar intimacy.
“This is eternal life,” Christ prayed, “to know God” (John 17:3). That process doesn’t start in the next world, with our deaths. It starts here and now, nourished by our prayers, ascetical disciples, and humility. For now, I see dimly, but I know that someday, by the grace of God, I will see Him face to face.
Cynthia Long is a librarian and writer with an interest in fairy tales, Celtic mythology, and the intersections between Christianity and folklore. She has an MLS in Library Science from Simmons College and an MFA in Writing from Rosemont College. She recently spoke at the 2017 Doxacon Prime convention on C.S. Lewis’s oft-quoted phrase that “someday you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.” She blogs about literature, folklore, and faith at cynthiajunelong.wordpress.c