by Fr Gabriel-Allan Boyd
“The person who loves God values knowledge of God more than anything created by God, and pursues such knowledge ardently and ceaselessly.” ~ St. Maximos the Confessor
This is the 4th in a 6-part series of articles on, “What Does It Mean To Be The Church?”
Here, we’ll explore the third characteristic,
“The Church actively pursues EDUCATION towards spiritual growth.”
Back in the late 70s, when Presvytera Danita and I were courting, we would do everything possible to learn as much as we could about each other. And that wasn’t such an easy thing back then, since, it’d be more than a decade before the World Wide Web would even be invented, so there were no online profiles to be found anywhere. Since at that time there was no social media…no electronic Facebook trail of pictures, events and feelings, there in the dark ages, we would talk for hours on end, trying to get to know one-another, to build a lasting relationship. We invested all of our time and energy into discovering what the other’s likes and dislikes and dreams were, and learning what made each other tick. It was a lot of work. True love is. So, I also wrote her poetry that would express the depths of my heart, and she wrote me prose that expressed hers, and we both studied each word with genuine devotion. Little by little, it blossomed forth into a real relationship…at least as much as it could be for two people who were so very young. And over the years, as we found that each of us were developing, changing and maturing, we realized that this was an adventure that would never end, because the new possibilities that could be discovered in each other along the way were just as infinite as anything created in God’s image could be. And even today, we still have to put the work into learning about each other, because that’s what love is willing to do for its beloved.
But imagine for a moment if Presvytera never took the time to pour through my poetry. What if she’d just thrown it off in a drawer somewhere without really reading it, without trying to discover the desires of my heart? What if I’d simply put her letters to me on a shelf, unread somewhere. What if I had never invested my heart in studying the deeper meaning, between the lines, in her prose? What if we had ignored those expressions of love from each other? Could you honestly say that two people who so disregarded each other could ever be in love? Of course not!
And yet, there are Orthodox Christians who claim to love God, but who never really invest their time and energy into discerning the depths of His heart from His writings of poetry and prose and hymnology and prayers and the practices He in His grace, offered as courting gifts to His bride, the Church. There are Orthodox Christians who claim to love God, but who would never show up for a spiritual retreat, where they could learn more about, and thus grow closer to, the One who courts and pursues their hearts so persistently. There are Orthodox Christians who claim to love God, but who haven’t even given a thought to attending our WHYs of Orthodox Christianity classes each Wednesday night. Most Orthodox Christians will push around their schedules to attend some cherished form of entertainment or beloved diversion or even weekly sports events for their children, but when it comes to pursuing the adventure of learning more about the One who loves us more than anything, then suddenly, we just don’t have time. Do you merely claim to love God, or does your love for Him actually find its realization in the things you invest yourself in? Love isn’t just a word. Love of God is expressed in what you do.
“But,” you might be saying, “there’s soooo much to read and learn. Why has God written so much for us to become educated upon?” God has written to us so prolifically, because His offerings are life-giving for us, His beloved. Saint Justin Popovich vigorously highlights that very benefit of studying what God has laid out for us when he says, “Let us ask what the goal of education is, if it is not the enlightening of man, the illumining of all his abysses and pits, the banishing of all darkness from him. How can man disperse the cosmic darkness that assails him from all sides, and how can he banish the darkness from his being without that one light, without God, without Christ? Even with all the light that is his, man without God is but a firefly in the endless darkness of this universe.” And with every bit of education about God you can add to your spiritual growth, it’s like adding another candle, and another…and another into the midst of the world’s darkness, until everything around us is transformed into light of Christ…a lighthouse of hope to those who are lost amidst stormy seas.
Remember also, St. Gregory the Theologian taught that Adam and Eve originally fell into sin because they had not gone through the educational stages God intended for them. They were not mature enough to deal with the knowledge for which they reached out. The knowledge of good and evil was a necessary part of the education of humans; they prematurely took hold of the knowledge and suffered the consequences.
Do you Love God? Then in what ways are you studying the words He offers to you…as a gift to His beloved? In what ways have you devoted yourself to intimately discovering the expressions of His heart for His bride? Do you consider yourself to be a part of His bride—the Church? Then, in what ways are you learning and growing in your faith? Are you attending our spiritual retreats and listening to the guest speakers we bring to our Church? Are you attending our WHYs of Orthodox Christianity class each Wednesday at 7PM?
Let’s pray that as we seek to be rooted and established in God’s love, we may have power, together with all those who have set their lives apart unto living God’s will, to grasp how wide and how long and how high and how deep is Christ’s love, and to know this love that is beyond knowing, so that we may be filled to the measure of His fullness.
Here Are the Links to All of the Articles in this Series About
What It Means To Be The Church: