Writing to the Galatians, St. Paul utters the cry of a spiritual father:
My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you…(Galatians 4:19)
Though, interestingly, the imagery he uses is that of a mother and her children…
But it is a groaning parents have for their own children as they await their maturation. I can recall with each of my children the first significant (by which I mean, more or less, “adult”) spiritual conversation. It always came as a surprise. There are years of Sunday School questions – mostly information or explaining a word or a phrase. Priests’ children hear a lot of stuff…
But there comes a moment, completely unexpected, when the conversation moves from the interrogative mood to the indicative. There may be questions that lurk within things, but you realize you are speaking with another adult – someone who knows Christ and will know Him even if you cease to exist the next instant. They are no longer having a vicarious spiritual experience but are evidencing “Christ formed in them.”
These things go on for a lifetime. They move from child to parishioner, to spiritual child, to other relationships. Sometimes you find yourself on one side sometimes on the other.
One of the deepest and most reassuring aspects of such conversations is that you know the other with whom you speak knows something (or Someone) whom you know and is not conversing in a merely derivative manner. They know Christ and speak with an authority that can only come from within that knowledge. Such conversations are deeply powerful moments no matter with whom they occur. They are affirmations that Christ is not a derivative but the One from whom we derive our life and knowledge.
I am certain in the history of the Orthodox Church, various “mother Churches” have brooded over the offspring in the same manner. For as there is a formation of Christ within each person, so there is also a formation of Christ within each local Church (“local” in Orthodoxy would mean, Russia, America, Greece, Romania, England, etc.). There is a maturing in ministry, an ability to replicate itself across generations, to discipline, to survive persecution and temptation – many things.
The Church in America, though 200 years old, is still very much an infant. It has not been living 200 years in the same culture. In some ways the Church in America is much younger, the modern culture itself have fallen upon us in more recent times. I suppose the Church may be fairly young in many places as we all face a challenge from a culture that is new and foreign (modernity). But in every case, Christ Himself must brood, like St. Paul, “’til Christ be formed in us.”
Every challenge we face, in our own personal lives, in our parish lives, in the life of a diocese or even jurisdictions, asks the question: “Has Christ been formed in you?” And only time can tell. But the signs of that formation are unmistakeable, for the outlines and behaviors of a Church that bear proper resemblance to the Church in every other place that has reached such maturation become visible.
I rejoice in each of my children and their formation in Christ. I pray for my Church, parochial and local, that we show forth the visible signs of such formation. Priests must behave as priests. Bishops as bishops. The children of God as the children of God. Love must conquer all and the overwhelming mercy of Christ cover everything. The Cross must be taken up and carried and called by its right name. And all of this to endless ages “’til we all come to the fullness of the stature of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13).