A Primer on Christian growth
Home | Articles | Christian Growth

“I am maturing in LIVING THE CHURCH’S LIFE”? or
“I am learning how to “LIVE THE SACRAMENTS”?

In the Bible footnotes supplied by the St Athanasius Academy for Hebrews 5:11-14 and 6:12 we learn that “when Christians are not growing spiritually, doctrine is difficult to explain to them.  Let us repent of being dull of hearing - a constant criticism of Christ and the prophets had of God’s people – and habitually and vigorously exercise ourselves in spiritual matters.”  St John Chrysostom taught persistently that “The primary spiritual exercise is the study and knowledge of the Scriptures.”

Like the physical growth of our bodies, or the development of our feelings-emotions and thoughts-minds, our growth “in life, in faith and in spiritual understanding” also comes in overlapping stages.

STAGE 1. Our "Everyday Time" is interrupted now and then by "Church Times".  “When do I have to go to church?” is a big deal at this “spiritual baby” stage of Christian development. This is done when – if we are able to – we go to Church on Sundays and not on all of the 12 major Feast days, but only some of them, which are called “holy days of obligation”. Also, very important at this stage are the questions, “When is the service going to begin?”  “When is the service going to end?”  “Why is it so long?”  Our involvement stays utterly passive.  The underlying motivation for attending church services and living a Godly life is like that of having an uncomfortable job working in a factory, but one that pays my bills, so: I’m not attached to this factory and will work here only so long as the benefits are good to me; I don’t know, and don’t really want to know the boss or owner, all I want is to punch the time clock so as not to get into trouble; I get it over with, out of the way, as soon as possible; this is what I have to do in order to get back to the things I actually like and want to do; tell me what is the least that I have to do in order not to get kicked out, etc.  We are still so infected with modern spiritual illnesses (for example: minimalism, individualism and hedonism) that we do not yet even realize that we are suffering from them.

STAGE 2. When we become more actively involved in worship and prayer, we are like “spiritual children”. We start attending services regularly. We celebrate days other than merely the “Obligatory” Sundays and feasts, for example: All Soul’s, Wednesdays and Fridays of Lent, minor feast days, Major Feast days that are not obligatory, etc. We begin and maintain a daily discipline of prayer. We only just begin to realize that God has a time all His own that is different from our own time and that even if we have not yet figured it all out, our intuition tells us that God has a good reason for it, and it has nothing to do with His being a Taskmaster, or factory foreman, over us.  It begins to dawn on us that we may have picked up willy-nilly from our surroundings some “spirits” (i.e. ideas) which are inconsistent with a true Life in Christ, for example: individualism (What’s in it for me?), hedonism (If it feels good, do it, if it feels bad, run from it!) and mini­mal­ism (What’s the least I have to do in order to be a member of the Church and to squeeze into heaven?).  It begins to dawn on us that we need to do something about disentangling ourselves from “the spirit of this age” because it is not at all a healthy way of being, thinking, feeling, etc.

STAGE 3.  We start accepting – rather than explaining away or fighting against – there being a “God’s time” and “our time” which are different.  This reality becomes OK with us.  We no longer fuss over it, but live by two calendars: our "Everyday Calendar" and our "Church Calendar."  At first, one of the calendars will dominate.  We are like “spiritual teenagers”, not yet really adults, but not really children anymore.  Gradually we begin to put the two calendars together through (a) daily prayer, (b) regular and willing attendance at most worship services, which we now begin to understand and participate in, (c) seeking to do the will of God at all times.  Good deeds and the so-called “Precepts of the Church” start becoming more and more second nature to us, rather than being a target, which we merely hit every now and then.  We choose to fight daily against the prevailing evil spirits of our day and age: the spirits of minimalism, individualism and/or hedonism.  We do not pray, fast and do good works because we have to, but because we choose to do them for the glory of God.

STAGE 4. We become fully “orthodox” (true in faith, relationship with Christ is relationship with Truth itself, I believe what He believes) and catholic (universal in love, relationship with Christ is relationship with Love itself, I love the way He loves).  Pope John Paul II (the Great), of Blessed Memory, specifically said that our Ukrainian, Catholic Church is called to be, in his words, “orthodox in faith and catholic in love” when he spoke to us at our Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on April 10, 1987.  It is the will of God that all of us are meant to become “spiritual adults” who have reached full maturity: “the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13 and Hebrews 6:1-3).  Our calendars should be integrated as one.  In this stage of growth we become aware of how the "Church Time" penetrates the "Everyday Time".  Our "Church Time" informs and brings hope of the Kingdom to our "Everyday Time".  The practice of the Theological and Cardinal Virtues, and the Gifts of the Holy Spirit (Isaiah 11:2-3) and the Fruits of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) become more and more real in us.

Thus, Living the Church’s Life, or Living the Sacramental Life, is about integrating a process, or what St. Paul calls “working out one’s salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12).  Those who teach that salvation is a legalistic event, or a magical moment, or a one-time declaration of faith in Christ often intimidate unprepared Catholics and Orthodox by saying “Are you saved?”, but they are unfortunately quite mistaken.  We should learn to respond to such bully tactics by “living the Truth in Love” (Ephesians 4:15), saying firmly, but kindly, that:

“I was saved when Jesus died for me on Calvary,

I am being saved to the degree that I participate in the life of Christ and that of His Body, the Church, and

I will be saved when Jesus returns to judge heaven and earth and it is He who will proclaim definitively that I did accept and live a real Life in Christ.”

A mature Life in Christ is about consistency and persistence in repenting for our sins as a result of embracing belief in the message of His Holy Gospel.  Every baptized and chrismated (confirmed) Catholic Christian, whether Byzantine or Roman, is called to this Spirit-filled Life in Christ.  It is not just for “professional Christians”, like priests, deacons, monks, nuns, and religious brothers and sisters.

Jesus described the Kingdom of God as a seed.  How is that seed implanted and nurtured in us?  How does the seed grow, so that everything in our lives becomes a "means of grace"?  How does the seed mature so that we see the whole world as a "sacrament" of God?  How does the seed grow and make us partakers of the Kingdom of God?  The answer is ... by our regular and faithful participation in the Sacramental Life of the Church!  Through the "leaven" of the Holy Mysteries-Sacraments, our lives are filled with the Life of God, the world is transformed into God's Kingdom, and our reality is transfigured to reflect the reality of the radiance of the Glory of God.

If not the warning of Hebrews 5:11-14 and 6:12,
then at let us at least heed the warning of St. Gregory the Dialogist (Pope St. Gregory the Great of Rome), + 12 March 604, given in his “Sermon on the Gospels, Matthew 22:1-13,” paragraph 8:

“And it should not frighten you that in the Church the bad are many and the good few. For the Ark, which in the midst of the Flood was a figure of this Church, was wide below and narrow above, and at the summit measured but one cubit (Genesis 6:16).  And we are to believe that below were the four-footed animals and serpents, above the birds and men.  It was wide where the beasts were, narrow where men lived: for the Holy Church is indeed wide in the number of those who are carnal minded, narrow in those who are spiritual.  For where she suffers the morals and beastly ways of men, there she enlarges her bosom.  But where she has the care of those whose lives are founded on spiritual things, these she leads to the higher place; but since they are few, this part is narrow.  Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it.  How narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it (Matthew 7:13-14)!”  The Ark is made narrow at the summit, so that it is but one cubit wide: because, of those in the Church, the holier they are, the fewer they are.  She reaches her highest perfection in Him Who alone among men was born Holy, and there is none to be compared with Him Who, in the words of the Psalmist, has become as “a sparrow all alone on the housetop (Ps. 101 8).”  And so the more must we suffer them in patience; for on the threshing floor few are the grains carried into the barns, but high the piles of chaff that are burned with fire.”