Illumine our hearts, O Master Who lovest mankind, with the pure light of Thy divine knowledge. Open the eyes of our mind to the understanding of Thy gospel teachings. Implant also in us the fear of Thy blessed commandments, that trampling down all carnal desires, we may enter upon a spiritual manner of living, both thinking and doing such things as are well-pleasing unto Thee. For Thou art the illumination of our souls and bodies, O Christ our God, and unto Thee we ascribe glory, together with Thy Father, Who is from everlasting, and Thine all-holy, good, and life-creating Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.
Seated next to me, my daughter opened her prayerbook at Liturgy to show me the page she’d been reading while I took the Divine Mysteries. It was a list of things to consider before going to confession, questions to ask oneself to determine what to say before the priest. She shook her head. “It seems like a lot of rules.”
Orthodoxy contains a vast number of rules and guidelines and written prayers and petitions. The Liturgy is the same from place to place. The words said vary only a little. It’s one of the pieces that holds us all together no matter how we disagree on ethnic idiosyncrasies. The list of questions to ask oneself disturbed my daughter but it encourages me. The part of me that is always afraid I’m overlooking something thrives in that structure even as I struggle to throw it off like a coat that keeps me warm when the sun finally comes out. It seems like a lot of rules and it is.
For years, Orthodox friends have said that things like this feel different from inside the tradition and I finally know that they are right. The rules are not daunting or oppressive to me. They’re not held above my head while I jump and then fall. It’s important for me to remember that the climb isn’t designed to show my failures. The way to knowing God isn’t laid with traps to keep me from Him and the rules, the standards, the fasting, the prayers, they are all there to guide, not discourage me. It’s not boot camp, meant to weed out the weak. It’s rehab, made for those of us who want to move toward Him and need the structure, need the standards, need the compass set in the middle of the room. If some think that religion is for the weak then so be it. We’re all weak in one way or another. It’s arrogant to think otherwise. I’m keenly aware of my weakness and I’m deathly afraid it will kill me in the end. It’s not weakness to admit it. It’s not weakness to want strength instead.