Listen to this quote from St. Symeon the New Theologian: “In the future life the Christian is not examined if he has renounced the whole world for Christ’s love, or if he has distributed his riches to the poor or if he fasted or kept vigil or prayed, or if he wept and lamented for his sins, or if he has done any other good in this life, but he is examined attentively if he has any similitude with Christ, as a son does with his father.”
This focus on becoming like Christ, looking and acting as Christ did, is at the heart of Orthodox Christianity. All the disciplines of the faith, all the liturgies, all the prayers, are solely about making you and me “like Christ.” Because it is our becoming “like Christ” that will give us the family resemblance we will desperately need on that Last Day. But how do we become “like Christ?” The key is in our ability to “hear” and “keep.”
Look at our familiar Gospel Lesson today in Luke 10:38-42, 11:27-28:
At that time, Jesus entered a village; and a woman called Martha received him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving; and she went to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve you alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful. Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her.” As he said this, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts that you sucked!” But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”
The ones who are blessed are the ones who both hear the word of God and keep it! While hearing may seem like the easy part, it isn’t. Hearing the word of God means much more than a mere auditory sound reaching your eardrum. No, to truly hear means both a desire for God’s Word and a humble willingness to actually embrace and practice the Word of God.
Of course, we Orthodox insist that the Word of God is more than merely the printed page, but the actual incarnation of God’s Voice in the Person of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the Word made Flesh for our sakes to enable us to see what God meant by a life that makes us like the Creator. Jesus Christ is the Ikon of the Father AND our Ikon of the True Human Person.
But we have to then go beyond “hearing.” We then must do the hard work of “keeping” the Word of God. I love this image because it accurately reflects the reality of life. There have been so many times in my own life when I have been moved by the Faith and had a moment of clarity, but then had everyday life flood my heart and drown that awareness in the challenges of living every day! No wonder the Orthodox Faith gives me daily disciplines that strengthen my life to “keep” this awareness and not lose it to the pressures of daily living. My challenge is to “keep” what I’ve been blessed to receive, and that takes a daily attentiveness to the treasure of the Faith granted to me by God’s grace!
Today, are you “keeping” God’s Word” by following the example of the Theotokos? The only way to ever do this very hard work is through daily attentiveness to the treasure of your faith. That means both the ability to accurately value your faith AND the perseverance to “keep” practicing your faith. That, my dearest, comes only with a daily choice to “keep” turned towards God. Today, take an Ikon of Christ and “keep” it in front of your eyes and say to yourself “This Is Who I am supposed to be like!” If you do, you’ll find yourself Orthodox on Purpose!
P.S. O Lord, You call me to become Like Your Son, our Lord Jesus. You would not ask this of me if it were impossible! You make this possible by Your grace, Your Divine Mysteries, and Your Holy Scriptures. You invest every tool I will ever need to become what You’ve made me be. Now, O Lord, have mercy on me to give me the strength and attentiveness to pick up these mighty spiritual tools to apply with confidence to my own life every day so that I will become like Jesus by Your grace and mercy! Amen.