There are many things in life, such breathing and the beating of our hearts that are automatic. We take little notice of these functions precisely because they require no learning or effort on our part. However, other than our automatic body functions, nearly everything in this earthly life requires learning and effort. It could be said that living is the act of being a lifelong student and lifelong enactor of our learning. It is a great fallacy to assume that one can be or do anything successfully without both learning and effort.
In fact, the more difficult the task is, the more learning and effort that is required from the individual. Consider the typical American life, one learns and applies effort to ride a bike, drive a car, manage a checkbook, and so on; when we achieve a level of proficiency we can then be called cyclists, drivers, and money managers. This is no less true when it comes being a Christian. Being a Christian requires a level of proficiency. In fact, Orthodox Christians believe it is the one thing that requires the greatest level of proficiency in all of life.
From the Orthodox Christian perspective becoming Orthodox is a lifelong event that is nothing less than arduous. Becoming Orthodox is not something for the weak hearted or the lazy, rather it requires a strong resolve and a maximum effort from birth to death. This is perhaps why Orthodoxy can be either extremely attractive or extremely unattractive, depending upon one’s preferences.
Historically American Christianity has catered to both kinds of people. The conservative sects have taught: “Christ died for your sins and erased them, so don’t worry about the past, but from now on don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t do drugs, don’t dance, don’t curse, don’t lie, dress modestly, be nice, tithe to the church, obey your leaders, and come to church.”
The liberal sects have taught: “Christ was a great example of a human, be who you are, do what you want to do, try not to bother anyone, stand up for the individual’s freedom to do as he pleases, fight for equality, and most of all be happy.”
Post modern Christianity is a hybrid of the two, picking and choosing what a particular sect finds more desirable. Obviously each sect has their hobby horse; however, in all cases the attainment of proficiency as a “sectarian Christian” is fairly easy. Learn the various tenants of the sect’s confession and follow the few basic guidelines, and you are living the Christian life.
Five years into my journey to become Orthodox, I have come to learn that it is not so easy for the Christian Orthodox. There is so much to learn; our faith has a content has two thousand years of substance. It contains the scriptures, the consensus of the fathers, the council’s, the creeds, the canons, the liturgies, the hymnography, the iconography, the monastic teachings.
There so much to apply our effort towards: the healing of our souls, the undoing of our delusion, the destroying of our disordered passions, the hesychast practices, the liturgical cycles, the cycles of life in the book of needs, and most of the endless struggle to attain of Christ likeness. We never expect a time to arrive in the Orthodox life when we can say, I get it, and I have a good grasp on being Orthodox. There is always more, there is always a greater goal out ahead, leading to more beauty and wisdom. In Orthodoxy there is always a bottomless well of learning and struggling ahead to become Christ like.