by Father John Dresko
“And to the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write,
‘These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God: “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth.... Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me. To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.”
(Revelation 3:14-16, 20-21)
A relatively recent phenomenon in American culture (within about the last five years) is that a great number of Americans (mostly the so-called “millenials”), when asked about their religious preferences, respond that they are “spiritual but not religious.” In news articles, they are even referred to as “SBNRs.” They find “spirituality” wherever they choose to find it, but refuse to participate in a church. They say things like, “I find spirituality in the sunset,” “I find spirituality when I walk along the beach,” etc.
Is this even possible?
We are now in the middle of our Paschal celebration, but the Church has already pointed us to the coming of Pentecost. When Jesus ascended to His Father from the mountain, it was with the promise that He would send the Holy Spirit to be poured out upon the Apostles. Then, the Spirit-filled Apostles would go to the ends of the earth, preaching the Good News of Jesus Christ risen from the dead and establishing the Church in places that come down to Las Vegas, Nevada today. He established the Church when He sent the Holy Spirit.
To be “spiritual” for anyone who knows and follows Jesus Christ is to belong to His Holy Church. Now, I am in total agreement with Fr. Alexander Schmemann of blessed memory when he said, “No to religion.” But what he meant wasn’t “no” to the Church. It was an emphatic “no” to the dead falsehood of empty ritual and the preaching of and adherance to the forms of religion and not substance. But that is not the “religion” that today’s “spiritual” people reject. They reject the Church.
Orthodox Christians are not called to be “religious.” We are called to be faithful, Spirit-filled followers of the Lord Jesus Christ. That means, first and foremost, that we belong to His Body — the Church. But the rituals of the Church (including the Sacraments and the liturgical life of the Church), the rules and guidelines for living (fasting, prayer and almsgiving), the moral compass that we are to receive from our families and by the grace of Baptism, are meaningful and powerful only in so far as we ourselves receive the Spirit given by God through His Son. In other words, only in so far as we ourselves live Pentecost.
But what does that mean for me? Today? It means we go back to the beginning. When the priest placed each of us in the baptismal font, the Rite was not completed until he gave us “the seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit.” We each received our own personal Pentecost.
That gift is what gives us the assistance, the ability and the power to live out the Christian life in the Church. To understand and proclaim the words of the Creed. To pray with faith and assurance not only to God, but to the Saints and His Mother, for their intercessions and prayers. To see Grace being given to each of us through the Sacraments of the Church. To be able to crucify ourselves with Him and live for the Other. Saint Paul says that we cannot even call God “Abba! Father” unless the Holy Spirit gives us the words (cf. Galatians 4).
It is a miracle to live a Christian life and it is impossible to do so without the Holy Spirit making us “spiritual.” To truly be spiritual, we cannot be like those who claim to be “spiritual but not religious.” As a matter of fact, if we hear the Word of God, we know that it is exactly the opposite. We must lose ourselves and our wants and desires and seek the one good thing — the Lord Jesus Christ. Our path is not an individual path of ease and comfort. It is the path that is narrow and hard.
The proclamation of so many today that they are proudly “SBNR” is the ultimate in selfishness. I will be the first to say that I find serenity and peace, even good feelings, in a beautiful sunset or a walk along the beach, but that is not living a Spirit-filled life. A Spirit-filled life leads me to my knees and to the Church. To find “spirituality” in whatever so moves us while ignoring God’s Word, His commandments, and His Church is neither hot nor cold. It is lukewarm. And we see above what God does to the lukewarm.
We have the great blessing of entering once again into the Great Feast of Pentecost. Let us not denigrate it by neutering the Spirit with our own ideas and images of “spirituality.” The Spirit will guide us to all Truth if we let Him. Let’s!