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January - February 2010

INDIVIDUAL VS. COMMUNION

In this present "Age of Self" our language is filled with phrases that glorify personal choice above all other values: self-determination, self-knowledge, self-esteem, self-help, even do-it-yourself.

Salvation is based upon the notion of participation in God. We believe God is certainly a personal God, but we believe that none of us is saved in isolation from others. We are saved together in Christ in His Church. In Orthodox cultures the encounter with God and the flash of insight that conveys religious meaning occurs not so often in private reflection as in encounter with another... It emerges through the act of embrace. Not only have we been created with the same image of God, but we are inter-connected with each other as we grow in the likeness of Christ.

Saint Paul says we are "members one of another" in the Body of Christ. (Ephesians 4:25) Therefore, we embrace and are embraced because we are related to one another in Christ in a profound way. As the Body of Christ, we partake of the ultimate meal together at our Divine Liturgy. It is no coincidence that it is called "Holy Communion" because through the Holy Spirit we actually become the Body of Christ in this sacramental act of communion with God and with other Orthodox Christians. The Church is neither a building nor an institution. It is the people of God, both clergy and laity, in Eucharistic communion with one another, through the Holy Spirit in Jesus Christ.

In the early Christian world, Christians stood out from the rest of their culture by their unusual love for each other in their communities. This was not a simple matter of good feeling, but a way of being together - a way of prayer, and a way of living in the world, rooted in their experience and understanding of God, who had come to them in Jesus Christ. This Christian love, virtue, and prayer spilled over into how they interacted with the rest of the world, outside their Christian community. But in the sixth century, St. Dorotheus of Gaza (Abba Dorotheus) needed to remind some of the monks at his monastery in the Egyptian desert what they were all about. He did this with an exercise in geometry, specifically the forming of a circle. He said:

"Draw the outline of a circle. The center point is the same distance from any point on the circumference. Suppose that this circle is the world and that God is the center; the straight lines drawn from the circumference to the center are the lives of human beings. Let us assume for the sake of analogy - that to move toward God, then, human beings move from the circumference along the various radii of the circle to the center. At the same time, the closer they are to God, the closer they become to one another; and the closer they are to one another, the closer they become to God."

Taken from Orthodox Faith, November 2009

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