By Jackie Morfesis
As Christians, we have a personal relationship with God. The tragedy occurs when Christians do not understand this simple yet profound truth. Especially Orthodox Christians. How do we have a personal relationship with God? We accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior. We repent for our sins. We are forgiven. We experience redemption and salvation. “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3).
Then the work begins. The work of building a personal relationship with God. We all have friends. Friends that we care about. When something wonderful happens in our lives, we immediately want to share the news with our friends. When something difficult has fallen upon our lives, again, we seek our friends for support and comfort. It is only natural to do so. Why then would we not have the same desire for emotional and spiritual intimacy with our Lord?
Jesus has not left us as orphans. “No, I will not abandon you as orphans—I will come to you” (John 14:8). We are all given the gift of the Holy Spirit, our comforter. The Light that we hold within. And the Light that we are called to share in the world and with others. We are in communion with God.
We come to know God by reading scripture, His Holy Word. We come to know God through prayer. We come to know God through silence. “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). God wants to know us, and God wants to be known to us. We do not go to church to only worship His ineffable mystery, we go to church to develop and deepen our relationship with the Lord.
As a result, God is invited to know us. To be an integral part of our lives. To be our foundation and our anchor. “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come into him and will dine with him, and he with Me” (Revelation 3:20).
The more we trust in the Lord, the more our thoughts and actions will be guided by Him. The more we are guided by Him, the more He will reveal Himself to us. Prayer is not an only petition but praising, glorifying, and being thankful for God’s infinite love and mercy. At its core, prayer is building the relationship.
There are no boundaries or limitations to the relationship we have with the Lord. Certainly, gathering in His name, is what we are called to do as Christians. “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20). Yet, we are also commanded to be the church outside of our churches. “Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: freely ye have received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8). We must freely give. Freely pray for each other. Freely talk to God. And freely open our hearts to receive His word, His protection, and His guidance in however He chooses to reach us. And we must not be afraid to show the world we have a personal relationship with Him and show our Light instead of hiding our Light and His. “Ye are the light of the world. Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matt.5:14, 16).
How many Orthodox Christians lay hands in the name of Jesus? How many Orthodox Christians take full authority of their faith and are moved by the power of the Holy Spirit without reservation? How many Orthodox Christians hunger for God’s Holy Word and study the Bible? How many Orthodox Christians wait for permission by our clergy to fully be a child of God and move in the world as an Ambassador of Christ? Or believe that healing by the Master Physician of our Souls and Bodies is only in their hands? Or at worst, believe our faith is held in the hands of the (GOA) Greek Orthodox Archdiocese or to be meted out to us in increments by our leaders, who like us all, fall short of the glory of God, including His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros. This is our wound, and this is our tragedy, and this is a piercing of not only our own souls as Christians but the piercing of the One we claim to love and follow.
Our sense of church must move beyond the walls of our physical church. Neither God nor our relationship to God is contained by any walls nor excluded to any particular day. If we were to take God’s Word to heart, then we would pray unceasingly. The prayer of the heart, the Jesus Prayer, is well known to the monastics, but it should also be known to every Christian on their faith walk as well. “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” The shortened version is: “Lord have mercy.” Mercy is the cornerstone of God’s love for us, mentioned 267 times in the King James Bible. God’s mercy, love, providence, protection, and guidance is with us always. He will find a way to communicate and reveal to us what is most beneficial to our souls if we are only open to listening. I pray all the time in the most unlikely of places.
Let us not put limitations on the power of God to reach us, teach us, and reveal to us the messages that our soul needs to hear. Scripture is filled with the revelatory nature of God, whether through “signs and wonders”, dreams, visions, and promptings of our hearts. Even a foreboding sense, a weight on our spirit, can be a message from God to prepare ourselves for something yet to come. “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions” (Joel 2:28). We are not supposed to worry and be anxious about the future, but having spiritual discernment, the gift of prophecy, is not heretical. It is scriptural and foundational to the faith serving us in our coming to know God.
Our relationship with God is personal, intimate, and ever-deepening. He created us. He knows our inmost being. He is the God of yesterday, today, and tomorrow. We know this and we know that He is with us in our joys and our sorrows and desires us to seek Him in all ways and for all reasons.