The Eastern Catholic tradition illuminates our heart and mind through a deep personal love for Jesus Christ. This personal love for Jesus Christ is what we call the spiritual life.
Encountering Jesus as Lord and Savior emphasizes a number of beliefs the spiritual life. These include:
- A profound and humble respect for the Holy Mysteries of God, “the sacraments” and “the sacrament of the world” –all of the cosmos understood as gift;
- A focus on theosis (deification, divinization), the partaking the the divine nature of the Triune God;
- A ‘public’ life of liturgical worship, communion with one another and service to neighbor at Sunday worship (cf. The Third Commandment);
- A real belief that we are made into a new creation by the Holy Spirit. In the 10th century Symeon the New Theologian wrote: “As it [the Holy Spirit] regenerates you, it changes you from corruptible to incorruptible, from mortal to immortal, from sons of men into sons of God and gods by adoption and grace.”
- A personal life of prayer, fasting, alms-giving and sharing.
The central emphasis of Eastern Catholic spirituality is on the important belief is that we are called “to become partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4), but not merely to be ‘saved’ from sin. The emphasis is different. Yes we are saved from sin and renewed in faith through the Mystery of Penance. Eastern Catholics believe that we truly do become filled with the Holy and Gracious Life of the Triune God at Baptism/Chrismation, the reception of Eucharist and do become true man or woman of God.
Our participation in the divine nature is called theosis — “divinization” or “deification.” We believe that Theosis is the mystery where Jesus makes His divinity our own. It is seen as a movement toward communion with the divine. Speaking of the Orthodox but it is true of us, too, Father Thomas Fitzgerald said:
“The fundamental vocation and goal of each and every person is to share in the life of God. We have been created by God to live in fellowship with Him. The descent of God in the Person of Jesus Christ has made possible the human ascent to the Father through the work of the Holy Spirit. Orthodoxy [and Catholicism] believes that each Christian is involved in a movement toward God which is known as theosis or deification.”
We are invited, therefore, from the moment of our Chrismation to live the very life of God, to be intimately related to God, to be united to Christ, to be in love with the Lord, and to have the Holy Spirit dwell within us! The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches,
The Word became flesh to make us “partakers of the divine nature”: “For this is why the Word became man, and the Son of God became the Son of man: so that man, by entering into communion with the Word and thus receiving divine sonship, might become a son of God.” “For the Son of God became man so that we might become God.” “The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods” (460).
For purposes here, St. Athanasius, one of the Church Fathers, understood the reason for Jesus’ Incarnation (that is, God becoming man): “God became man so that man might become God.”
According to Divine Revelation to the Prophet Moses, the believer keeps the Lord’s day (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2168-2195). The observance of the Lord’s Day that we have from the witness of Judaism and carried over by Christ and the Church is called Sunday, the first day of the week. “Sunday worship fulfills the moral command of the Old Covenant, taking up its rhythm and spirit in the weekly celebration of the Creator and Redeemer of his people” (CCC 2176).
Sunday, therefore, is the way a Christian is asked by the Lord Himself and taught by the Church to step out of our world as know it, and to seriously consider the world as God created it to be. It is a day to rest, to refrain from servile work and to spend it in worship and with others; we can work for six days, but the seventh is day free from work that is real labor. Having said this, we need to appreciate that some people are required to work by their employer. Nevertheless, we need to have a weekly “sabbath day”, attending the Divine Liturgy, and holding Sunday as a day of holy leisure.
The experience of this type leisure is lived in community. Often we come to Sunday tired or frustrated or resistant to moving to the community’s act of worship. While an understandable feeling it is not a Catholic thing to hold. We know this by experience. The saints and the Catechism teaches us:
“A parish is a definite community of the Christian faithful established on a stable basis within a particular church; the pastoral care of the parish is entrusted to a pastor as its own shepherd under the authority of the diocesan bishop.” It is the place where all the faithful can be gathered together for the Sunday celebration of the Eucharist. The parish initiates the Christian people into the ordinary expression of the liturgical life: it gathers them together in this celebration; it teaches Christ’s saving doctrine; it practices the charity of the Lord in good works and brotherly love:
You cannot pray at home as at church, where there is a great multitude, where exclamations are cried out to God as from one great heart, and where there is something more: the union of minds, the accord of souls, the bond of charity, the prayers of the priests. (CCC 2179)
In a manner of speaking, Sunday is day to reclaim a sense of the beauty of creation as we know from the Book of Genesis. Reclaiming this sense of beauty of creation is to understand and discern what is God-given, what is man-made, what is broken, what is beautiful, what gives God glory and what darkens the beauty of our baptism/creation, and what is possible. We take this holy task very seriously.
For Catholics, and Melkite in particular, Sunday is our central organizing principle. Sunday gives us the rhythm of our week, and ought to be a reminder that things need not be as they are but as God sees things. Daily we ought to remember with a sense of gratitude to God for the blessings known and unrecognized. (Cf. Boon Porter, The Day of Light: The Biblical and Liturgical Meaning of Sunday, 1960.)
Our reception of the Holy Mysteries (the sacraments)
The Holy Eucharist is received by the faithful, child and adult alike. We do so as an act of faith, hope and charity. The Eucharist is often called the medicine of immortality, a sacrament of healing. The Apostle Paul teaches us that we are to receive the Body and Blood of Christ worthily, that is, without sin on our soul otherwise it is understood to be a sacrilege. St. Ambrose of Optina said, “After communion you should ask the Lord that you preserve the Gift worthily and that the Lord help you so that you do not turn backward, i.e., to your former sins.”
Finally, let us consider the thinking of a renowned 20th century Jewish rabbi which may orient our understanding of the spiritual life (meeting Christ, prayer, Liturgy, etc.) “Prayer is meaningless unless it is subversive, unless it seeks to overthrow and to ruin the pyramids of callousness, hatred, opportunism, falsehoods. The liturgical movement must become a revolutionary movement, seeking to overthrow the forces that continue to destroy the promise, the hope, the vision.” –Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, “On Prayer”