Should I become Orthodox?
The Eastern Orthodox Catholic Church (also known as the Orthodox Christian Church or, simply, the Orthodox Church) is the oldest and second largest Christian body in the world. But is this reason enough for me to belong? Why should I bother being part of the Church? What can the Church offer me? Why can't I simply avoid the institutional Church and just have a direct relationship with God? Why the Church? In the Orthodox Tradition, we might find some thought-provoking answers to such questions...
According to the Orthodox Christian viewpoint, it is not an exaggeration to say that the Church is necessary because of our very reason for being. We are all meant to be in union with God. We achieve this union through a process called theosis or deification union with God by acquiring the Holy Spirit. God communicates himself to us and we become participants in the Divine Nature.
How is this possible? How can a human being be brought into the life of the Trinitarian God? This is where Christ comes in. Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the second person of the Holy Trinity. If it were somehow possible to be incorporated into Christ, then we too could be brought into the divine life which deifies.
The Church provides this possibility. Through the Church, Christ himself is with us. By belonging to the Church, we are taken up into Christ and we become members of his Body (cf. Rom. 12:4-5; 1 Cor 12:12-14,27). By our membership in the Church, we are incorporated into Christ himself and receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit. How does this happen? The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and rests on the Son. Because we are part of the Church and incorporated into Christ, the Holy Spirit, in coming to rest on the Son, comes to rest on us.
However, union with God is not automatic. We must be transformed through prayer, sacramental participation and self-discipline. In the Church alone are these means of spiritual transformation found in their fullness.
The Church fosters our prayer. To be able to enter into a relationship with God through prayer, we must first come to know the God we are addressing. We come to this knowledge by hearing the proclamation of God which the Church provides. If we are to offer acceptable worship, we must worship in spirit and truth, understanding what we worship (John 4:22-23). But to worship in spirit and truth, we must stand in the Tradition of the Church.
The Church gives us a way to pray – and even specific words for prayer. Furthermore, in the Church time and space are shattered in a way. As members of the Church, we are mystically joined to believers everywhere, both living and dead. The prayer of one member of the Church is enhanced and echoed in the prayers of the entire communion of saints. We pray for one another. We enlist those gathered about the throne of God to join their prayers with ours. By virtue of our membership in the Church, our personal prayers are amplified and bolstered by the prayers of our fellow members in the Body of Christ.
It is in the church alone that we have access to the sacramental Mysteries. In these Mysteries the divine touches and transforms the human. The creature is brought into union with the Creator for whom he yearns. Christ himself gave the Apostles the power of communicating the gifts necessary for the life of the Church. After the Apostolic period the administration of these gifts became the duty and privilege of the bishops and presbyters. The primary function of the ministers is to administer the Sacred Mysteries (Sacraments), which, because they communicate the divine life, assist us in the process of theosis.
The demand for self-discipline is a call to penitence and purification. The weakness of our nature, disfigured as it is by sin, often leads us to neglect this call. To be able to do penance and be purified, we need the sustenance which the Church provides in its liturgical life and its sacraments. In addition, the support we derive from one another as we respond to the call to penitence and purification cannot be overlooked. When we fall or tire, we can depend on our fellow believers to help us persevere.
Why the Church? Because Christ himself willed its existence in order that we might achieve the goal to which we are called: theosis - participation in the divine life. Why the Church? Because through its fostering of prayer, its sacramental life, and its sustaining of self-discipline, the Church brings us to the communion with God for which we were destined.