First Steps in the Christian Life
First Steps in the Christian Life

In Her wisdom, the Church has always known that faith can’t be reduced to intellectual belief. “Even the demons believe,” says Saint James. They know God exists but still lead a life of rebellion.

Orthodox Christians are called not just to faith but to faithfulness. And though there are many different ways to live faithfully – consider how many saints we have and how different they are from each other! – we can’t be faithful without fulfilling minimum obligations of the Christian life.

But 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. Move down the list in order. Focus your will and intention on accomplishing the first task you aren’t already doing. 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. Keep in mind that an all-or-nothing approach is a temptation from the devil. If you fall, 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 only good but vital. We should place it on the same level as eating, drinking, or sleeping. We would never go a whole day without attending to these basic needs of the body. Nor should we 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, Gospel, and saint of the day (here). These are the same passages read by fellow Orthodox Christians the world over. In them we see Christ as he is—not the Christ that the world preaches to us. Someone will always want us to replace our faith with a compromising, “de-clawed” Christianity. Consider this your inoculation.
  • Make the Church’s calendar your own. 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 answered by moments of fulfillment. When we live by the Church calendar, we aren’t alone; we are 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, this one should happen on its own.
  • Give proportionally to your parish. "Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Matthew 6:21). You have received, or are preparing to receive, the great gifts of Baptism, Chrismation, and the Eucharist. Each is a priceless treasure. Who can outgive God? Tithing to the parish doesn't preclude us from giving to other charities. But before anything else, we must respond to the great gift of salvation in the place God has called us to life. 
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