Orthodox Christian Life: Voluntary Obligations

A close relative of mine expressed her misgivings about my converting to Orthodox Christianity several years ago. To her, the faith seemed complex and ridged with the ancient prayers, praying at certain times of the day, iconography and so many other things that are absent in modern denominations and non-denominational churches. “Do you really need all of that to worship the Lord?”

Me in my “monastic cell”

The discipline of praying the Hours was a draw for me. Long before becoming a catechist, I read about and saw a great value of remembering the specific periods of our faith journey during the day. The Jesus rising from the grave at the first hour, the Holy Spirit coming into the world at the third hour, Jesus being nailed to the cross at the sixth, His death on the ninth, the liturgical day starting at Vespers, a prayer before bed, and another at midnight as we don’t know the day or hour of the Lord’s return. It was intriguing to learn that an Orthodox Christian can take up a prayer rule so strict that it would make the Islamic pillar of prayer five times a day look like child’s play. My priest gave me a word of caution. We don’t have to follow any set prayer rule. But, if we love Christ and seek to be connected to him, why wouldn’t we?

A monk on a pilgrimage

We don’t have pillars of prayer, fasting, and making a holy pilgrimage that one is obliged to perform in Orthodox Christianity as one will find in Islam. Not that these are bad practices. Far from it. These things, along with almsgiving, reading holy text, and other virtues, are a part of every religion. But, when they are mandates imposed and enforced upon us, they are not acts of love. An act of love is voluntary and this nature of the act is a foundation for a relationship with God. In our faith, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are in relationship with each other and are One. Our purpose is to be in relationship and be one with God.

Fr. James Purdie making a prostration before the Holy Cross

Just because we don’t have such mandated obligations as Christians does not mean that we need not do, or be careless in doing them. A man in a dating relationship is still single. But, imagine him flirting with other girls, approaching his girlfriend only desiring ecstatic moments without wanting to learn more about her, or giving gifts without any thought of what really pleases or meets her needs. This is not the way of a loving boyfriend. He is merely a user. This is not to say that ever non-Orthodox Christian has such a shallow faith. I am sure that there are Muslims who practice their faith out of love for Allah.

All Saints (Great Cloud of Witnesses) icon

Orthodox Christianity offers an ancient, tested, and true faith in Christ that gives believers the freedom and ways to love God. We have existed 500 years before the birth of the Prophet Muhammad with a depth of spirituality from African and Middle Eastern Desert Fathers to monastics of the British Isles, Balkans and Siberian forest. Our Christian way of life extend past the Reformation, Great Awakenings, megachurch movement with liturgical worship that does not readily change with every passing fashion or technological development.

The Orthodox Christian life is not done out of obliged legality, but voluntary love.

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