In Her wisdom, the Church has always known that faith can’t be reduced to intellectual belief. “Even the demons believe,” according to St James. In other words: they know God exists, but their life is nevertheless a life of rebellion.
Orthodox Christians are called not just to have faith, but to live faithfully. And though there are many different ways to live do this – consider how many saints we have, how different their lives are! – we can’t be faithful without fulfilling the basic obligations of the Christian life.
If we aren’t accustomed to prayer, fasting, almsgiving, regular church attendance, regular confession, and the like, it can be overwhelming to know where to begin.
Consider the following list as “first steps” and take them one at a time. Look at each in order: Am I doing this already? If so, move down the list. If not, focus your will on accomplishing this one task. Consider what obstacles or temptations will discourage you and plan accordingly.
Researchers say that It can take as little as 21 days, or as long as 8 months, to develop a good habit. Don’t give up if you fall – recognize that an “all or nothing” approach is a temptation from the devil. Pick yourself up and try again the next day.
- Attend Liturgy on Sundays without fail. We need the regular nourishment of the Liturgy and the Eucharist if we are to have any kind of spiritual life. This is the first step.
- Keep a morning and evening prayer rule. Daily prayer is not just good but vital. We should place it on the same level as eating, drinking or sleeping. We would never go a whole day without doing these things – we should never go a day without offering our prayer to the Lord.
- Go to Confession regularly (once every 4–6 weeks). We need forgiveness and healing; we also need to see ourselves as we are, not how we imagine ourselves to be. If you still doubt the importance of regular confession, take the scientific approach: test the theory and observe the results. Whatever we are afraid of, whatever keeps us from coming regularly, will be surpassed by immeasurable grace and joy if we come with faith.
- Read the Epistle and Gospel of the day (see oca.org/readings). These are the same Scriptural passages read by our fellow Orthodox all over the world. We see the real Christ, not the one preached to us by the world, which always seeks to replace our faith with a compromising, “de-clawed” Christianity.
- Make the Church’s calendar your own. One of the most difficult but most rewarding steps. There is remarkable wisdom in the arrangement of the Church year: there are periods of fasting, feasting, repenting, and rejoicing; there are restful lulls; there are moments of expectation and moments of fulfillment. Best of all, when we live by the Church calendar, we aren’t alone; we’re participating in the same life as Orthodox Christians throughout the world. It is a major change to schedule vacations, take personal days and plan events around holidays, but if you’ve attended to the first four steps, it will happen on its own.