That which makes a person Orthodox isn't simply conformity to the external aspects of tradition; it's also the experience of its inner life conveyed through the ascetic method of the Church: purification, illumination, and deification. These are the stages of the spiritual life through which everyone must pass.
Spiritual life is more than simply being a good, moral person. It's a gift granted by the Holy Spirit. The life of the Spirit is inseparably connected with the Church and the Sacraments -- specifically to our experience of divine grace poured out in the Sacraments.
However, the true spiritual life is predicated on acquiring the virtues of humility, self-denial, and repentance; that is to say, it's connected with our ascetic struggle. According to the holy Fathers, this is the only sure path leading to purity of heart and the knowledge of God that's beyond knowledge.
Spiritual life has three elements: Sacraments, Mystical Experience, and Martyrdom.
All of the services of the Church assume that we are active liturgically and sacramentally. Both are preconditions to mystical encounter, and to acquiring the mind of Christ.
Christ is invisibly present with us; He inhabits the praises of His people, He walks among us. Yes, we’re united to Him through the sacraments of the Church. In addition, we’re united to Him mystically through encountering Him, as all the Saints before us have done.
That is to say, He purifies the heart of the human being and illumines the soul. Thereafter, the Saints come to behold God. God appears to them. The Saints see God. We read about this in many lives of the Saints.
The Lord comes to them and they are united to Him mystically. He grants them freedom from passions, life-experiences in the Holy Trinity. Their souls become bright. They’ve been taught of God; they’re granted perception.
We also love Jesus; yet, these things are often beyond our experience. Nevertheless, you are His child. Will He not come to you? Ask, seek; be patient. Endeavor to put off sin and acquire purity of heart.
Call out to Him as much as you can throughout the day, “Come and abide in me, O Lord.” After a short time, you will begin to feel His presence. We must call upon Him mystically, noetically.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God (Matthew 5:8).
The Christian life is a life of joy. Life in this world, however, is also filled with pain and sorrow. A forgotten aspect of the Christian life is martyrdom, which the early Church knew very well, as have all the Saints. Their heroism shows a depth and greatness worthy to be imitated.
The thought of martyrdom today, however, is often misunderstood and misrepresented by Christians. It’s viewed as morbid and gloomy, which nurtures a poor self-image in the human being, and is contrary to the Gospel.
The opposite is the case. While the Christian life is a dance of joy, it’s also heroic. Christians know how to live; but we also know how to die. How then should we live, step into the arena, demonstrate our heroism, and our martyrdom?
We all encounter difficult times, moments in life that are full of pain, sorrow, sickness, failures, disappointments. Let us say, as all the Saints have done: “Glory to God in all things.” Let us show courage and strength of character. Let us show our spirit of heroism -- our martyrdom.
For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain (Philippians 1:21).