“Go to church. Say your prayers. Observe the fasts. Do good works. Read your Bible.” These few words, or some variation, were the advice your grandmother probably gave you. It was good advice then; it’s still good advice.
The spiritual disciplines of prayer, fasting, philanthropy and study are the hallmarks of the Orthodox Christian way of life. They have been taught since the first days of Christianity. These are not abstractions but concrete practices that each one of us can perform, from the youngest to the oldest, from the beginner to the master. For these reasons, we have devoted this issue of PRAXIS [2015 Volume 14 Issue 3] to the spiritual practices.
Scholar Dorothy Bass, editor of Practicing Our Faith: A Way of Life for a Searching People (Wiley, 2nd ed., 2010), has described and expanded thinking on the practices of faith. Her primary purpose in the book is to introduce people to spiritual practice; for them it is the rediscovery of an old idea. Her definition will sound very simple to many of us, but she writes that “Christian practices are things Christian people do together over time in response to and in the light of God’s active presence for the life of the world” (page 5).
We can see how this applies to the Orthodox practices. But have we considered the connection between our practice and the life of the world? Do we consider that our fasting practices might influence the whole world? Most PRAXIS readers live very comfortable lives, yet we are called to live simply, to “become poor,” for a season. Bass also identifies characteristics in these practices that are worth deeper reflection by Orthodox:
- Practices address fundamental human needs and conditions through concrete human acts.
- Practices are done together and over time.
- Practices possess standards of excellence.
- The Christian practices help us see how our daily lives are all tangled up with the things that God is doing in the world.
In study we address the basic need to know and can use study to understand the causes and reasons of the issues of the world. Study can take a lifetime and with dialogue partners. When we meet a wise or well-informed person, we are encountering a person who has mastered the discipline. Study can also help us make connections between faith and life. When we understand the poverty of the world, perhaps our fasting becomes even more meaningful, as it prepares us for the feast of a major Church holiday.
In her book, Bass reminds us that there are other concrete practices of Christian faith: hospitality, forgiveness, keeping the Sabbath and more. These too are worthy of reflection. How might your life be influenced by observing the Sabbath, involving attending Liturgy and being a day for family, usually over the “big family dinner” (as it used to be for so many
of us)? I hope that this issue of PRAXIS is raising questions for you about how we practice our faith and the discipline it requires.
Anton C. Vrame, PhD