My Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
During the summer, we see a penchant for summer camps, trips, and vacations. I am not immune. I will be traveling to Fanari Summer Camp with our Children and I will be taking my vacation as well, but just because we have these breaks from the norm, it is important for us not to forget about God. Too often, we see a huge break in parishioners from Memorial Day until Labor Day. The tragedy of this is less about the lack of people in the pews on Sundays and Feast Days at 6th & Jenning and more about the lack of going to Church in the places we go.
The issue is that we must not look at going to Church, especially during the summer, as some sort of moral obligation. Too often we hear of guilting individuals to go to Church, when the reality is that we should be seeking to develop our relationship with Christ. Church one part of the ascetical life.
The ascetical life is not reserved only for monks and nuns and we should not allow ourselves to fall into the trap of saying, “I am not a priest!,” “I am not a monk/nun!” as though a prayerful life is left only to these select few.
The priest, the presbytera, the nun, the monk, should lead us by example, but their example is not a replacement for our own efforts. Indeed, we participate fully in the Liturgies with our voices as we complete the prayers when we say “Lord have mercy,” “Grant this, O Lord,” and especially when we give our ascent by stating “Amen.”
The meaning of life, as you have heard me say many times, is to become like God. “God became man so that man could become like God,” -St. Athanasios On the Incarnation. We become like God by acquiring the Holy Spirit, by drawing closer through prayer and scripture.
We do this by wanting to be close to Him. Too often we look to going to Church or praying as visiting that relative that we have to visit, but don’t really want to. It becomes an obligation, a duty, and less a joy. God loved us first and we should respond to that love. That love is expressed in its entirety.
AGAPE: Selfless love. This perfect love is often quoted and understood as He selflessly gave His life for us. The Father selflessly gave His only begotten Son for us.
STORGI: Filial love. God loves us as his children. Jesus Christ asks us to call God Father, and if we read the Aramaic, Abba (Daddy). The unique love that a father has for his child, He has for us.
FILO: Friendly love. Jesus Christ told his disciples that they are His friends. A friend is someone who always gives and is present for those He cared about. Jesus Christ exemplified this in His entire ministry.
EROS: Passionate love. In Song of Songs, we see the passionate love Jesus Christ holds for us. This sort of love is the kind of all-consuming love that an individual has for another individual. Husbands and wives understand this love. To want to know everything about that person, to want to be with that person always, to be sad when that person is not around. Jesus Christ has this sort of all consuming love for each and every one of us. This is not a general love, but a unique love for the individual in which the love of Christ is personally felt.
Ought we not to have these same qualities for our God? AGAPE -Shouldn’t we selflessly put Him first as He put us first? STORGI—Shouldn’t we obey Him the way that we obey our parents? FILO—Shouldn’t we want to be with His friends, the Saints, so that we can enjoy the true community? EROS—Shouldn’t Jesus Christ be our first and most important priority, above every other person and desire?
The love of God does not pause for us during the summer months. He does not stop longing for each of us wherever we are. He does not stop crying when we forget about Him or mourning when we hurt ourselves through our sins just because we don’t think about Him.
Therefore, we should try to remember a few tools when we pack for our trips.
- Our Bible—Reading Scripture brings us more understanding
- Our Prayer Book—Our daily dialogue with God in the morning, the evening, and throughout the day strengthens our relationship
- Our Icon—Whatever icon you take, be it Christ, the Theotokos, Guardian Angel, or a particular Saint, we remember the icon is a window into Paradise and allows us to participate with the Holy.
If there is no Church where you go, at least pray. But if there is a Church, go! The Body of Christ is the same wherever you go, and importance of participating in the Eucharist cannot be overstated.
Let us not make excuses for ourselves. We know what we can and cannot do. God, Who loves us, is waiting. Let us not delay but engage in the ascetical life to draw closer to him.1 John 4:19- “We love because God first loved us.”
I remain your servant in Christ,
Fr. Dimitri Tobias,