"The heavens were opened to show us that our baptism will open the heavens for us. God is made accessible to us. We can know the Unknowable. We can be changed. A good work is done in us, and we have the means to have the promise fulfilled in us."
~St. John Chrysostom on the feast of Theophany
Yesterday, we celebrated the feast of Theophany, also called Epiphany. This feast day s especially near and dear to me as I was chrismated into the Orthodox Church on this feast five years ago.
I began my journey into Orthodoxy filled with lots of enthusiasm and determination. I loved the whole experience- participating in the sacraments and the church year, diving deeper and deeper into my questions about God, struggling against myself through prayer and fasting, telling everyone of the great jewel I had found.
Looking back now, I see that time as a honeymoon of sorts. It was like when Nathan and I were first dating- everything was wonderful, fresh and new- I was completely preoccupied and in love. My relationship with God was exciting and fulfilling and I felt like I was growing towards Him in leaps and bounds. I wish that this particular time of my journey had lasted longer, or that the same wonderful feelings could be something that I could experience again any time I wanted.
After my initial entrance into Orthodoxy, the real work began. Fasting was no longer new and glorious, but was tedious and ordinary. The beautifully scripted prayers stopped fascinating me and began to feel repetitive. I began to feel like a bit of a failure. Why was I not as motivated or disciplined as at the first? Why was this so hard?
Discouraged, I confessed all of this to a priest at a women's retreat a few years ago. He was very understanding and helpful. He reminded me that in all serious, long term relationships, there is an initial exciting period. But then, just as in marriage, the hyped emotions die and the day-to-day routines set in. Our struggle towards Christ (or towards our spouse) becomes less glamorous and more about being faithful and finding joy in the rhythm of daily life. This was encouraging to me.
I still struggle with being discouraged in the day-to-day Christian life, and in my many failings. 5 years out, I wish I was in a better place. However, one important thing that I have learned from Orthodoxy is that salvation is a process. We are not instantly victorious Christian people (as I often wish were the case).
When I feel discouraged these two things give me particular hope:
1) The words of St. John Chrysostom that I quoted above: "We can be changed. A good work is done in us, and we have the means to have the promise fulfilled in us." We can change- God became man that he might enable us to become like Him and participate in His divine life.
2) A well known Orthodox story: A monk comes to his priest distraught and confesses that he continually falls into sin, and askes what to do. The priest tells him to get up when he falls, and to keep getting up each time he falls until the day he dies. We are to do the same
So, five years in, I am fallen and humbled. But, tomorrow is a new day, and God willing, I will get up and begin again.