As members of God’s family, we belong to one another, and so we live an active Community Life as Church. Most importantly, we join one another in worship. Our style of worship in the Eastern Churches reflects the presence of the risen Christ among us in glory and joy. All the senses take part in our worship to express this glory. We see icons, vestments, candles; we smell incense and perfumes; we hear continual singing; we taste blessed foods and use physical gestures such as bowing, prostrating and crossing ourselves to express our wonder at the glory of God.
Another important aspect of our community life is our joy in each other’s company, expressed in the frequent meals and social times we share. Finally, we open ourselves to support one another in the trials of daily life. In this way the unity we celebrate at the Eucharist is lived out day by day.
Besides this public Christian life, the Eastern Churches also stress a personal spiritual life “… in secret, so that your Father, who sees all in secret, will reward you” (Matthew 6:6). Chief of these is personal prayer in the silence of our own hearts, where we can speak honestly with God. Thus one of the most popular prayers in the Christian East is the ‘Jesus Prayer’, which sums up our need for God’s love: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner”.
In addition, Eastern Christians are called to fast and to share their goods in secret as Jesus commanded (Matthew 6:1-8). By refusing to gratify ourselves endlessly whenever we want, we reflect our need to continue our conversion day by day.
Though we are called to be divinized, we realize that this process is long: “The gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life” (Matthew 7:14). The most difficult obstacle to our growth is the weakness and brokenness of our personalities. This is why the Eastern Churches call on their members to engage in a spiritual warfare in the arena of their hearts, learning to subject their weaknesses to the divinizing power of the Holy Spirit working within them. Eastern Christians are urged to conduct this warfare with the help of a spiritual guide. Counseling, then, is not something for those with problems, but for all of us who seek to grow in our relationship with God.
All these beliefs and practices date from the earliest days of Christianity in the Holy Land. By continuing to observe them, we maintain a living connection with the early Church. We cherish our Tradition as a continuous stream flowing from the first Christians to us under the guidance of the Holy Spirit: the “living water” which enlivens the Church.