“This world is not my home. I’m just a’passing through. My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue. The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door. And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.” That’s an old spiritual that I use to sing as a boy in church. And it strikes me now as a wonderful and terrible song. Wonderful in the sense that it preserves the Christian hope that this temporary place isn’t all there is. And Terrible because it reinforced a weak theology of the physical as if even my physical body was just a temporary thing unworthy of honor and respect.
The truth is we are made for a permanent place, an eternal city, AND we are going to forever have physical, though changed, bodies. We are never going to be disembodied spirits just flitting about from cloud to cloud. That’s a pagan idea and unworthy of our Christian theology, especially since even our Lord became flesh for us and kept His flesh, taking it into the eternal to “go and prepare” a place for us! Normal Orthodox life is a life lived daily with that eternal wisdom and destiny in mind!
Look at our lesson today in Hebrews 13:7-16:
Brethren, remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God; consider the outcome of their lives, and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings; for it is well that the heart be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited their adherents. We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go forth to him outside the camp and bear the abuse he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city which is to come. Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.
So many religious and even irreligious voices out there today want to distract you from the solid foundation of the Orthodox Faith. But St. Paul reveals that this was the case even in his day as he writes this powerful passage calling on these Hebrew Christians not to abandon the Orthodox Faith.
And he does this by telling them about “the city which is to come.” Imagine that, our eternal home is described as a “city.”
Of course, a city is a community of people, and the Church is a community of persons. But that makes sense since God knows Himself as “Persons in Communion.” So our everlasting home is a place where the love of God permeates the whole “city” of His new community, the Church.
And a city is a place of both dwelling and working. Our eternal home isn’t a place of self-centered leisure because our purpose, our reason to exist is to become like Christ. St. Athanasius of Alexandria early on revealed that “The Son of God became man, that we might become god.” (little “g” on purpose!). If our truest destiny is Theosis, to become by grace what Christ is by nature, then we will never be finished in this journey. We will need a community to eternally become who we really are! What a busy place heaven is going to be!
And finally, a city is a place of encounter. Our eternal and truest home is not a place of loneliness or despair. That’s the “other place.” Our eternal home is solid, real, and based on relationships: our relationship with God in Christ and our relationship with each other.
The spiritual disciplines of the Orthodox Faith are meant to form in you the character of Christ so that you will be at home in that “city which is to come.” And come it will. The only matter to be decided is whether will you know how to live forever in that eternal city?
Today, are you attentive to the purpose of your Faith? Are you actively participating in the powerful formation of your life for citizenship in that city that is to come? As we remember the great hierarchs of Alexandria, Athanasios, and Cyril who led the Church to both realize and protect the eternal wisdom of the Faith, we are called to do the same. Your daily practice of the Faith isn’t optional if you ever hope to have a Normal Orthodox life.
P.S. Shining forth with works of Orthodoxy, you quenched every false belief and teaching and became trophy-bearers and conquerors. And since you made all things rich and with true piety, greatly adorning the Church with magnificence, Athanasios and wise Cyril, you both have worthily found Christ God, Who grants great mercy unto all.