Now I do not fear God, but I love him: for love casteth out fear.

~ St. Antony

January 11 was the tenth anniversary of my chrismation. Chrismation is typically done at the same time as baptism, but since I had already been baptized, and the Orthodox Church confesses “one baptism” in the Creed and thus does not re-baptize, I was received into the Church by chrismation.

As Christ is the Anointed One, we Christians are anointed with chrism. If memory serves, some ancient Christians even attributed the name “Christian” to this. The point of it all, to speak summarily, is that, to quote St. Irenaeus, “our Lord Jesus Christ … did, through His transcendent love, become what we are, that He might bring us to be even what He is Himself.”

This transformation we call salvation. In one sense it is immediate. I’ve been baptized and chrismated and the grace of these sacraments is enough. Yet I often fail to live in that reality. In this second sense, then, salvation is a lifelong process. A path. A Way. We Orthodox tend to use the term more commonly in the second sense, while Protestant Christians tend to focus on the first. I’ve studied enough of the theology of both to know, however, that in the main neither object.

Becoming Orthodox, then, is not so much about the first kind of salvation for me. I already had faith. I had already been baptized. But my chrismation marked not the start but a reorientation of my journey along the Way of Life, the path of salvation.

I have learned a lot. Many of those lessons I have tried to write down here, and it has been beneficial at least for my own purposes to reread them in those moments of life when I forget them.

It is nothing to be ashamed of, but those moments have increased as the size of my family has grown. The Apostle cautioned us that family life has a way of dividing our attention (see 1 Corinthians 7). Sometimes people want to push back against his advice in defense of the ordinary, but I tend to think he said what he did precisely in order to defend the ordinary. We cannot all be monks and apostles. St. Paul said that himself:

Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? Do all have gifts of healings? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the best gifts. And yet I show you a more excellent way. (1 Corinthians 12:29-31)

The “more excellent way” he shows us is love. Not just any love — certainly not the love of pop songs and romance dramas. It is a love, rather, that “does not seek its own.” A love without desire, in a sense. A dispassionate, humble love, that “bears all things.”

Now, monks have things to bear, perhaps in a sense much more than those in the world. But I think those of us in the world wear our burdens a bit more on the sleeve. We bear the additional burden of divided attention, and the more of us there are in one house, the more divided our attention becomes.

But calling this a “burden” is to misunderstand it. It is the fruit of love, and though we find ourselves already forgetting much, hearing less (babies love to yell in your ears!), and altogether feeling much older than our age (though, no doubt, we will pine away for our present youth someday) — though we often find ourselves just … stressed; with eyes to see, we can look around ourselves and see love. And if we can do that, maybe we can live in that love too.

Asceticism is not just for monks. Much of their wisdom transcends their calling and context precisely because it is the wisdom of a love which fills all things — a love not of this world, and so not bound by its faults and failings or the temporality and ephemorality of creation. It is the love that St. John the Divine tells us, “God is” (John 4:16).

Orthodoxy, to me, despite any faults we Orthodox have, has most faithfully preserved this Way of Love and its divine character. Being Orthodox, to me, has been a slow ascent along that path. I’ve discovered that there are plateaus along the way. These are meant to be times to get one’s bearings before beginning again. On this path each day is a new beginning. And at the end, all things will be made new.

Looking to Jesus, we see what that love looks like. Looking to his disciples, we see our own failings and doubts. But we also see what following him looks like. We see how from humble beginnings, Christ can transform anyone; how those who abandoned him at the dark hour of the Cross, rose up again to carry their crosses when their own time came.

If they can, we can. If those who came before us can be saints, so can we. If God can use the everyday once — how about an aging carpenter and his young bride-to-be? a boy with some bread and fish? a man with nothing to offer but his own tomb? a widow’s mite? some fishermen? tax collectors? — well, you understand.

Asceticism ought to be a change of our vision, a transformation of our minds, metanoia, repentance. It is a new way of seeing the world, and anyone can do it, by the grace of God. Love is not the exclusive property of monks; it is no one’s property at all; it is not of this world; it is boundless; it is divine.

These ten years being Orthodox have been good to me, and my faith has been my anchor. Here’s to many more — ages, I hope, even ages of ages. Beginning now, again, right here, each day, every day.

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