The beauty of the Orthodox Spiritual Tradition

Coptic monk praying in original cave of St. Anthony.
Coptic monk praying in original cave of St. Anthony.

I became Orthodox over 21 years ago in great part because the beauty of the Orthodox spiritual Tradition spoke to my heart and filled me with a desire for the transcendent realities it described. It offered the possibility of an interior union with God which might renew and transfigure our weak humanity and make it a temple of the indwelling Holy Spirit. I had longed for such a deeper and richer experience of God from my earliest years, and gained a wide experience of many different types of Evangelical and Pentecostal Christianity in doing so. But that which I was seeking was not found there, and it was the discovery of the ancient and Apostolic Tradition of Orthodoxy which opened the gateway for me to the spiritual treasures and instruction of those who had participated to the fullest extent possible in this world with the divine life, love and energies of the Holy Trinity.

One of my lecturers at the Evangelical Seminary I attended gave me an audio tape of the Liturgy of St John Chrysostom in English, and it was beautiful and moving. But I did not become Orthodox essentially because of the musical culture of Orthodoxy. I purchased my first printed icon from a Anglican retreat centre, and had it placed in front of me at my desk in the Seminary. But I did not become Orthodox essentially because of the artistic culture of Orthodoxy.

What drew me onwards through many years of obstacles and difficulties was the beauty of the Orthodox spiritual way, of which these others things and many more are certainly a part. It is very hard for one who has been brought up in an Orthodox household to appreciate the effect on the heart in discovering the effective science of prayer which Orthodoxy preserves. How wonderful it is to suddenly find that not only is there a goal in the human experience which is worth giving up all to seek after, but that there is a clear pathway which has been set out for us by those who have gone before and have experienced the increasing union with God which is the foretaste of eternity and the essence of salvation.

I want to write more about the beauty of our Orthodox Spirituality in a series of posts. It troubles and saddens me that so many Orthodox Christians seem satisfied to study the writings of Evangelicals and Pentecostals, while leaving the eternal and saving treasures of Orthodoxy to gather dust, unused and unknown. But I am well aware that to write always in a critical manner is not likely to attract such dear souls to discover what so many have been willing to sacrifice all to receive. I will say that it makes no sense at all to choose as a spiritual guide someone who rejects the spiritual path which our holy fathers and mothers in the faith have travelled. It makes no sense to choose as a spiritual guide someone who rejects almost every aspect of the Christian spiritual tradition – the sacraments, the monastic movement, the saints, the Virgin Mary, interior prayer of the heart, fasting and the daily office. There is very little of the Christian spiritual life left when these things are denied. Yet many find the writings and teachings of those who consider Orthodoxy to be not even Christian at all to be more authoritative and useful than the writings and teachings of the great saints of the Church. This makes no sense.

Orthodoxy requires of us that we be disciples, and a disciple follows the teaching and instruction of his master. In the widest sense we are all to be disciples of the life-giving and renewing spiritual Tradition of the Orthodox Church, preserved for us, by blood and sacrifice, through 2000 years. A disciple does not determine for himself what he will do, how he will act, what he will accept as truth. On the contrary, he submits himself to the Tradition he receives until he has become a master of it himself.

Here is the temptation we face in the 21st century. We are encouraged always and everywhere to be our own masters and guides. Even from our earliest years education is constructed as being student-centred, and little children are encouraged to choose for themselves how and when they will learn. In the secular and anti-Christian market place of ideas everything must be subject to personal opinion and choice. But this is inimical to true and transforming spirituality. It is not possible to become truly Christian, it is not possible to become fully human as God intended, it is not possible to enter into union with God in the heart, while we determine for ourselves how we will live, how we will construct our own spirituality, how we will choose for ourselves to respond to the Christian message.

Of course I am well aware of the obstacles placed in the way of many people such that though brought up in an Orthodox culture they have never properly seen the vision of life in and with God which Orthodoxy invites all to experience. There are reasons why this is so, which I will not describe here. I am sympathetic to all who have not seem Orthodoxy properly lived out or described, so that they have no clear direction in which to turn to discover it for themselves.

Those of us who have become Orthodox are a witness at least to the fact that Orthodoxy is beautiful and attracts the hearts of those who are seeking God, even where the various Christian communities of Orthodoxy are troubled by all to human confusion, ignorance and discord. The beauty of Orthodoxy is found by those who seek, even when it seems that the hospital of souls, which is one aspect of the Church, needs healing itself.

I want to consider some of the aspects of Orthodoxy in detail in due course, and describe the beauty of each part. But for now I want to say that if you have not found this beauty in Orthodoxy, and if you are turning to Evangelical and Pentecostal teachers for spiritual guidance, though I understand why you might do that, nevertheless I believe with every fibre of my being that you have not yet appreciated and experienced the life which you have already turned away from. I want to say from the depths of my heart, try again. Look in detail and with hope at the Tradition which so many of us have found the only source and fountain of life in Christ. Do not be hasty in abandoning a spiritual way which countless tens and hundreds of millions have followed, and in following have become saints and martyrs, shining already in this life with the divine glory of the indwelling Holy Spirit.

Let’s walk together a while, and see what we can discover for our salvation in the Orthodox spiritual Tradition. I could never imagine another way, and I have experience of many, even those that you might find attractive. I could never leave this way, while God gives me grace and understanding. It is life and light to me. It is union with God in the heart. It is peace and joy in the most difficult circumstances. It is healing and holiness and freedom from sinful habit. It is unimaginable beauty. It is God himself.

One Response to "The beauty of the Orthodox Spiritual Tradition"

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.