As I read through Anthony M. Coniaris’ book, Philokalia: The Bible of Orthodox Spirituality, I started to see the importance of prayer, as I mentioned in part 2 of this series.
Theosis (or the process of becoming more like Christ) doesn’t start and end in prayer. I had a basic understanding of this intellectually. I wrongly and sinfully assumed that I could skip the prayer step and moved directly to whatever theological book I could get my hands on. This would make me more mature without having to spend all my time in useless prayer, so I thought.
For a while, I steeped myself in John MacArthur. Then in John Piper, followed by Charles Swindoll, and many others. If I’m honest, I wanted to mature in Christ and be seen as mature by others. Prayer disconnected me from the source of all wisdom and instead of being humbled by the presence of God in my prayer, I became more prideful in my own theological knowledge.
I recognize today that I was nothing more than a modern-day pharisee. I didn’t love because I was too focused on my selfish ambition. Ambition unchecked by the humility that comes with prayer is disastrous.
The next two chapters of Coniaris’ book really called me out on my sin, but then it began my awakening process. Yes, I still strive to know and to read everything I can, but I’m also striving to be more in prayer. I’m working on humility and admitting that there is plenty that I don’t know. I have to rely more on Christ than I ever have before, and rather than feeling shackled by this, I feel free.
The first chapter I wanted to mention was on spiritual growth in Christ (theosis!).
To be spiritual is to keep growing in love and understanding, to keep casting off the old and putting on the new in Christ. You are only young once, but you can stay immature indefinitely. To remain immature is to be unspiritual. Spirituality implies growth toward maturity in Christ. (Coniaris page 38).
This was my error. I had stunted my growth by ceasing to pray consistently. In my guise of knowledge, I proved that I was immature. I had to learn to put Christ back on, to be renewed. Again the Jesus Prayer helped me with this. Daily I begged for Christ’s mercy on me the sinner, and I will do so the rest of my life.
St. Paul wrote of maturity in many of his epistles. It was his condemnation of the Corinthians that they were still “babes” needing milk rather than solid food. I was trying to eat solid food with my baby teeth.
Macarius uses the image of a newborn baby to describe how growth occurs after baptism. Possessing all the limbs it will ever have, the baby is already complete. Yet it still has to grow. Thus it is quite true to say that we receive the life of the Spirit through baptism. Baptism is indeed valid and true. Yet we still have to make progress by growing in the new life. Only so will the Spirit grow in us and become manifest as He makes us perfect. (Coniaris page 40)
I understood from a purely intellectual stand-point the need for maturity. I was recognizing now the need for humility and the need for continual prayer in this process. Rather than have this get old and flat like a coke on the counter for three days, this is actually refreshing. It was a renewal in the spirit. This is the second chapter I wanted to mention today.
As Christians are constantly being renewed; we are new creations in the Spirit of God. I was beginning to experience this renewal the more I studied Orthodoxy. I was beginning to see my pride as detestable and I wanted to separate myself from it fully. I was and still am being renewed daily by Christ. I am still not as humble as I should be. But I hope I’m at least moving in the right direction.
The most needed change today is in man himself. Unless man changes inside; unless he is born from above; unless he replaces selfishness with love, all the changes of science will be of no avail. Indeed they will only hasten his destruction. (Coniaris page 45)
I am grateful that the Holy Spirit began this spark of change within me. Without the power of God, I would be stuck in my pride and not seeing anything wrong with what I was doing. I would be hard-headed, hard-hearted, and lonely.
My prayer today is that I would attain to maturity, that I would be daily renewed by the Spirit of God, and that those around me would experience the same thing.
I’m not there yet.
Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.