Orthodoxy: The Way to Christ - Part 2
by George Aramath
As a summary from the first part of this series, man is created in the image and likeness of God. But in this fallen world, man gets sidetracked, chasing after other gods, and therefore all throughout life he longs to return back to this image. As St. Augustine eloquently wrote, “our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee”. The Church, the body of Christ, is instituted by God to continually bring back His children. Being the house of God, the Church is the place to which the prodigal son returns after his meaningless journey in life. The Holy, Universal, and Apostolic Church holds the map that leads to Christ.
We will first examine its prayers, for this is what we experience mostly within the Church. If you examine these Orthodox prayers, an often-repeated but rarely understood word is “mercy”. Our prayers are overflowing with it. For instance, the Trisagion ends:
O thou who was crucified for us, have mercy on us. Lord have mercy upon us. Lord
be kind and have mercy. Lord accept our prayers and worship and have mercy on us.
Our songs are also filled with this word. For instance, we sing a beautiful song written by St. Ephrem during evening prayer that begins:
Lord have mercy upon us,
Kindly accept our prayers
Grant us mercy, redemption
From thy treasure above
Besides mercy, Kurielaison is constantly chanted and sung. And this Greek word means “Lord have mercy”. So here again is the word mercy. It seems as if our Church is constantly asking for mercy. Look at most of our prayers, and you’ll come across it. In fact, our prayers are structured into different sections with a portion always for redemption and mercy. Why so?
First of all, the Greek word for repentance is metanoia. The prefix meta- means “a change”. Metamorphosis, for instance means to change form. Repentance and mercy is all about change of mind. It’s taking a 180-degree, turning from sin to God. It’s about reconfiguring our journey to the proper way and destination. Mercy and repentance is turning from the devil and the many false gods and a turning to Christ, the One true God.
In the Orthodox understanding of life, this reconfiguration is continuous. There is no concept of “once saved, always saved”. Though I myself have confessed Him as my Savior, I have spit upon Him many times thereafter. Lord have mercy! Orthodoxy therefore is a continual call to holiness. Man is continually called to return to union with God. In this sense, life is a pilgrimage, filled with stages of growth “known in the monastic tradition as purification, illumination and finally deification”. We become deified when “it is no longer I that live, but Christ who lives in me”. This is our calling and mission in life; it is our destination.
But on this path towards deification, our Fathers write about how all of life is mercy-filled:
As Abba Sisoes lies on his deathbed, surrounded by his disciples, he is seen to be talking with someone. “Who are you talking to, father?” the disciples ask. “See,” he replies, “the angels have come to take me and I am asking for a little more time—more time to repent.” “You have no need to repent,” say the disciples. “Truly,” the old man replies, “I am not sure whether I have even begun to repent.”
St. Isaac the Syrian teaches: “During every moment of the four and twenty hours of the day we stand in need of repentance.” This journey to Christ is constantly reaffirmed with our mercy’s and Kurielaison’s. Mercy is properly seen when examining the Hebrew root for it, hesed, meaning steadfast love, a love that perseveres to save the beloved. It is not so much a mercy that makes us feel worthless but more so a healing mercy. We, like the prodigal son, make many journeys hoping to find fulfillment. But eventually “he came to himself” it is said of the son. Through God’s grace we too come to ourselves and return back to Him. The prayers and songs of our Church call its faithful to return back to Christ, acting as a constant reminder of our proper way and destination.
Represented visually, these all-encompassing prayers continually bring man back to the Way:
They act as safe barriers so that His children will not wander too far. If these prayers are said genuinely, then man cannot but return back to Him, filled with repentance and change. On a personal note, during those times when I stray away from God, saying these prayers are difficult. But in doing so sincerely, it allows us to return with a repentant heart, asking for His mercy.
So the challenge given to us by Christ through His Church is to build a discipline of prayer everyday, using the prayers written by our Fathers, inspired by the Holy Spirit. The goal of prayer is to encounter Christ and to live “in Christ”. So saying these prayers with an open heart and attentiveness is most important.
So in summary, the Orthodox Church continuously leads one back to Christ. The first and most noticeable path is through its prayers and songs filled with mercy.
Kurielaison, Kurielaison, Kurielaison.