There Are No Rules In Christianity
There are no rules in Christianity. This statement may come as a shock especially if you are an Orthodox Christian. In essence being a Christian means that our life is no longer ours. “I have been crucified with Christ, it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal. 2:20). I love this verse of scripture, but we tend to focus on who Christ is and never contemplate what it means to be a person. Christ lives in me. Our unique “personalities” are not obliterated when our union with Christ becomes a reality by God’s grace in our baptisms. In fact it is through our union with Christ that we have the potential to become real persons. Saint Gregory the theologian says that “man being in the image and likeness of God, can neither be considered a numeric unit nor can he become part of a mass.”1 In the Orthodox Church both the person and communion among men is a given reality. In which case man can neither be enclosed in a barren individualism or be transformed into part of a mass. The reason there are no rules in Christianity is because we are not trying to live up to a moral code of behavior. In essence our goal is to become by grace what God is by nature. In the Orthodox Church we call this “Theosis”.
It is very daring for someone to talk about Theosis without first having tasted it. But we have dared what is beyond our power because we have faith in the mercy of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ. This is done so as not to hide from our Christian brothers the highest and ultimate purpose of our life; that for which we were created. This is done so that it will become clear that the only truly Orthodox form of pastoral guidance is that which is intended to lead to Theosis, and is not, as in Western Christianity, aimed at a moral perfection for man which does not depend on God’s Grace. This is done so that all may desire what is best and struggle for the highest. This is the only thing able to quench the depth of the psyche’s thirst for the Absolute, the Triune God. This is done so that we will overflow with gratitudetowards our Maker and Creator for His great gift to us, Theosis by Grace. This is done so that we realize the irreplaceability of our Holy Church as the only community of Theosis on earth. This is done so that the magnificence and truth of our Orthodox Faith should be revealed as the only faith that teaches and provides Theosis to its members. This is done so that our psyches should be consoled, for regardless of the degree to which they have been poisoned and darkened by sin, they yearn for the light of Christ’s face. Merciful Lord, in Your boundless love, be pleased to make us worthy to enter the path of Theosis before we leave the present temporal world. Merciful Lord, in their quest for Theosis, guide those of our Orthodox brethren who do not rejoice because they are unaware of the magnificence of the fact that they are “called to be gods.” Merciful Lord, also guide the steps of heterodox Christians to become aware of Your Truth, so that they are not left outside Your Bride chamber, deprived of the Grace of Theosis. Merciful Lord, have mercy on us and on Your world! The Abbot of the Holy Monastery of St. Gregorios of the Holy Mountain Athos † Archimandrite George2
Christ is the measure of all things. The purpose for our life is seen in our union with Christ.
In Galatians we read: “But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, ‘Abba, Father!’ Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ” (Gal. 4:4-7).
In Christ Jesus we encounter both true and perfect God and true and perfect man. In other words, we see in Him not only our God and Savior (Tit. 2:13), but also what or who we have been called to become—sons and heirs of God the Father.
The fact that Jesus is fully God and fully man in no way diminishes the possibility for us humans to follow His example (John 13:15) after which “in all things it behooved Him to be made like unto his brethren” (Hebr. 2:17).
“If it is true that Christ is the ‘Son of Man,’ consubstantial with us, then it follows that everything that He accomplished in His earthly life must be possible for the rest of the ‘sons of men.”3
“We know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is. And every man that hath this hope in Him purifies himself, even as He is pure” (1 John 3:2-3).
“We shall be like him; for we shall see him as He is.” So, if we want to be eternally with Christ, we must become like Him; and this process of becoming Christ like, this purification, always involves repentance—a fundamental change in our whole way of life, a transformation at the core of our being.
In this there are NO rules. When I use the word “rule” in the last sentence I am referring to a law that is imposed from the outside. If we use the word “rule” as a standard or what is normal or typical then our “rule” is Christ.
There are no laws that will enable us to conform our lives to Christ. But in the same breath we will never say that following Christ is something that we can accomplish by wishing it to be so. Following Christ means that our entire being is engaged in the process and it involves effort on our part.
We are saved not as individuals but as persons, as members of the Body of Christ, of which Christ is the Head. We are united with Him—and through Him, with the other members of His Body.
Father Sophrony says that “if we confess His full and perfect Theosis, it behooves us also to hope for the same degree of Theosis for the saints in the age to come.”4
The fundamental criterion by which a person may measure his or her likeness to Christ is love for our enemies.5
Christ prayed for the people who were crucifying him: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). Stephen the first Martyr prayed for those who stoned him, that the Lord “lay not this sin to their charge” (Acts 7:60). And we, if we wish to preserve grace, must pray for our enemies.
Not only pray for them but really love them and be willing to give our own lives for them.
If this sounds a little bit like what our Lord has done for us it’s because it is. If we want to follow Christ it means that we follow Him in every aspect of His life.
The transformation that takes place in our hearts in order for us to love our enemies is not automatic. We have to struggle against the “old man” in us.
The Orthodox Church has the most valuable experience in this battle. The proof of this fact is in the Church’s long list of saints and martyrs. Not just in the first few centuries of the church, but even today, especially in Eastern Europe.
But what about us today in 21st century America? Is it possible to lead a spiritual life of sanctity and holiness? The answer is absolutely “yes!” The most effective weapons in or struggle against the old man are the ascetic disciplines, they include but are not limited to prayer, fasting, and prostrations. All of these things are entered into willingly. There are no rules in Christianity.
It’s very easy to say that we love God. How do we know that we really do love Him? If we love Him we will keep His commandments. Not because we are required to, but because the only context we see the world in, is the context of His love. The purpose of the ascetic disciplines are to conform our life to His. Spiritual life, according to Orthodox doctrine, is a collaboration between our free will and the will of God. The best ambassadors of Christ will be those whose spiritual life in Him is a living reality. If we conform to the path that the Church has mapped out for us, then it is possible for us to acquire what Saint Paul calls the mind of Christ. This does not mean that our personhood gets lost. It means that we are becoming whole and complete.
The words from Father Sophrony’s We Shall See Him As He Is best explains what I mean in saying that there are no rules in Christianity:
“Through His incarnation the everlasting Logos of the Father gives us to partake of His Blood and His Flesh in order thereby to pour into our veins His eternal Life, that we may become His children, flesh of His Flesh, bone of His Bone (John 6:53-57)”6
View Sources 1. Hierotheos of Nafpaktos. The Person in the Orthodox Tradition (Birth of the Theotokos Monastery, 1999). 2. Archimandrite George. Theosis: The True Purpose of Human Life (Holy Monastery of Saint Gregorios Mount Athos, 2006). 3. Veniamin, Christopher. “‘Theosis’ in Saint Silouan the Athonite and Starets Sophrony of Essex” The Magazine of the Diocese of Eastern Pennsylvania,
Orthodox Church in America. Vol. XIII N 3 (1997). 22-27. 4. Ibid. 5. Matthew 5:43-45 6. Sakharov, Sophrony. We Shall See Him As He Is (Essex, England: Stravropegic Monastery of St. John the Baptist, 1988). Featured image courtesy of Ghazaleh Ghazanfari
1. Hierotheos of Nafpaktos. The Person in the Orthodox Tradition (Birth of the Theotokos Monastery, 1999).
2. Archimandrite George. Theosis: The True Purpose of Human Life (Holy Monastery of Saint Gregorios Mount Athos, 2006).
3. Veniamin, Christopher. “‘Theosis’ in Saint Silouan the Athonite and Starets Sophrony of Essex” The Magazine of the Diocese of Eastern Pennsylvania, Orthodox Church in America. Vol. XIII N 3 (1997). 22-27.
5. Matthew 5:43-45
6. Sakharov, Sophrony. We Shall See Him As He Is (Essex, England: Stravropegic Monastery of St. John the Baptist, 1988).
Featured image courtesy of Ghazaleh Ghazanfari