I have written on modern distortions of “personal relationship” in which “private” relationship is one of its corrupted meanings. I have also noted that, properly understood, “personal” always carries a meaning of “corporate” as well. To be in personal relationship with Christ necessarily means that I am in relationship with His Body, the Church. There is a mutual sharing of life – my life becomes Christ’s – His life becomes mine – and so forth. All of this means that what happens to one happens to all.
There are yet greater depths to the fullness of what is meant by a personal relationship, far more than I can begin to say here, or to say with much experience. But I will frame this depth by saying that when we speak of person in the language of the Church – then we have begun to speak in language which the Church first used and continues to use with regard to the three Persons of the Holy Trinity and the Personhood of Christ (in its teaching on the 2 natures). That is to say that when we speak of personhood, we are not speaking about something that we in fact immediately understand just because we are modern people.
This is one of the great fallacies contained in the popular preaching of “personal relationship with Christ.” There is enough truth in what is said in that preaching that I do not wish to say that it should not be preached. I use such language myself (generally with much explanation). Our modern world believes that it understands a great deal about personhood when, in fact, most of what it knows are only in the distortions of the individual as a private entity and the rights that might be associated with that.
The gift of personhood that we receive from God is intimately involved both with our being able to properly appropriate the fullness of our own human nature, as well as the means by which we are able to appropriate the divine (here it is the energies rather than the nature that we appropriate). This is to say, that personhood is the mode of existence which is given us in our relationship with Christ, through which the whole life of grace, our communion with God and one another, and our likening to God Himself, is made possible.
In this I am abbreviating almost to the point of absurdity – but only to point to the greatness contained in the Church’s teaching on God’s gift of “personal relationship.” This is so much more than modern preaching either says and is certainly something which is utterly unknown to Evangelical thought. However, it is deeply and carefully taught, and lived, in the fullness of Orthodox life (particularly as evidenced in those lives to which we would point as examples of a rightly-lived Christian life).
That people everywhere should learn to call upon the name of Jesus for salvation is a joy to me. That they should come to know more and more what it means to call upon the name of Jesus for salvation is a ministry which God has set before us and with the fullness of Tradition that is given to us we should be utterly derelict in our responsibility should we not teach and preach this fullness.
May God teach us to live by grace through faith.