by Fr. Theodore Stylianopoulos –
Genuine faith is not a theoretical affirmation of the idea of the existence of God but a personal search for God as our loving Father and unfailing hope.
Much of everyday life in our divisive and confused times, which people call modern and post-modern, is marked by disconnectedness. Because of busy schedules and innumerable distractions, not to mention our own evil passions and the social and political problems all around us, a spouse is often disconnected from spouse, a parent from child, a friend from friend, a neighbor from neighbor. Disconnectedness harms families, schools, places of work, communities, nations, and even churches. The worst kind of disconnectedness, and the root cause of all others, is disconnectedness with God.
Christians know God primarily as revealed in the person and the life of Jesus of Nazareth. According to the Orthodox faith, everything in the Church begins and ends with Jesus the Lord. The specific person of Jesus and the specific things he taught and lived by way of example, define the character and will of God as love, goodness, mercy, forgiveness, kindness, truthfulness, justice, compassion, joy, and gift-giving.
It is the incarnate God the Son who speaks to us: “Come to me…and I will give you rest. Learn from me…and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:28-29). And again: “I am the vine and you are the branches… Abide in me…abide in my love…and you shall bear much fruit” (John 15:1-9).
But how can one, even if desired, make the connection in the context of a whirlwind personal and cultural world? Whether one is new or old to the Christian faith, whether one is a lay or clergy person, there can be no other starting point, than an honest assessment and acknowledgment of one’s own condition.
Ask yourself: What are my goals? How do I think and live every day? How is my time spent? What is God’s role in my life? What is His will for me? Do I believe in Christ? Am I attentive to find what to do, and how to do it, according to where God has placed me and according to the provisions He has made available to me?
A Christian, whether clergy or lay, may not be truly devoted to Christ; indeed, he or she may no longer have the inspiration and strength for such devotion. He or she may not be knowledgeable about the true significance of the Church, the Bible, and spiritual matters. But every one can have an earnest will and seeking spirit. Each person can choose to have faith by personal decision and commitment. By faith we mean a yearning for God, recognition of our need of Him, and a willingness to turn to God with courage and repentance.
Genuine faith is not a theoretical affirmation of the idea of the existence of God but a personal search for God as our loving Father and unfailing hope. A simple prayer is effective, if it is humble, sincere, persistent: “Lord, I belong to You; help me in my unbelief; create a new spirit in me; give me understanding; strengthen my soul that I may be obedient to Your commandments. You, Lord, are my refuge and my strength, my light and my hope!” God looks straight into the depths of the soul. He responds to the longings of sincere and obedient hearts. God’s grace becomes active as desired, as needed, as asked for, as prayed for, as welcomed, as applied in humble obedience each day.
The new life in Christ is not an achievement of human wisdom, academic skills, or efficient methods. It is a gift that is received by the redirection of our souls and minds to God, working to do the right thing in all situations, and at the same time loving God and putting our trust in Him. As long as the Christian remains prayerful, humble, open, and sincere in his daily obedience to Christ’s teachings, God’s grace will empower and guide him in astonishing ways.
Christ said: “I came to cast fire upon the earth” (Luke 12:49! This is the fire of the Holy Spirit, the fire of God’s healing and renewing love. It is the holy fire that moved the Apostles, the saints, and myriads of men and women throughout the centuries. The same fire is real and active today for those who love God and commit themselves to live by His love within the life of the Church.