Some answer: because God gives me blessings, and so I need Him to remain blessed and prosperous. To that I say, Christianity is not just a feel good religion conferring material prosperity as erroneously preached by many today (such as Joel Olsteen and Joyce Meyer—see this article for more on this). There is no denying that by God’s grace He gives (2 Corinthians 9:8), but at the same time God’s grace is manifested in our lack and in enduring suffering (Matthew 7:14; 2 Corinthians 12:9–10). With or without material abundance, a Christian seeks spiritual compensation now and hereafter. So if prosperity is not guaranteed, then why do I need Christianity, and Orthodoxy? It’s easy to get lost in all the details, so let’s simplify things. The answer revolves around two key matters:
- whether you want to have a relationship with the Supreme Being over this world and
- whether you care about where you go after you die.
To understand, follow this story line, which can be found in every Coptic liturgy (excerpts provided below):
(1) Humanity before Adam and Eve sinned. When mankind was created, they were placed in a beautiful place where they ate of a tree of life, and they were immortal. No death, and all was good in God’s eyes.
O God, the Great, the Eternal, who formed man in incorruption … who … created us, and placed us in the paradise of joy … You have manifested to me the tree of life. (St. Basil & St. Gregory Coptic Liturgical Excerpts)
(2) Humanity after Adam and Eve sinned, before Christ. After Adam and Eve disobeyed God with persuasion from the devil, the tree of life was forbidden to them, all humanity became mortal and subject to death, and everyone from their time until Christ went straight to Hades [a.k.a. hell] after death, no matter how good they were (cf., Romans 5:12). While mankind was separated from God and His kingdom by a “middle wall of separation” (Ephesians 2:14), they were not totally forsaken, as God sent many prophets and holy men to manifest Himself and the future reconciliation of the divine with humanity that was to come through Christ.
[Mankind] fell through the deception of the enemy and the disobedience of Your holy commandment … Death … entered into the world through the envy of the devil, … You have not abandoned us to the end, but have always visited us through Your holy prophets … (St. Basil & St. Gregory Liturgies)
(3) Christ comes and offers healing of humanity. Christ, “went about doing good and healing all” (Acts 10:38). He was then “crucified, and put to death; whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it” (Acts 2:23–24). Death could not hold Him because He showed us that He is “the resurrection and life” (John 11:25) and that truly He is “our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people” (Titus 2:13–14), having fulfilled hundreds of prophecies foretelling His coming (cf., Luke 24:27; Acts 3:18; 26:22; 28:23, Romans 1:2). Christ came and restored mankind’s relationship with the divine, reconciling humanity with God, and gave mankind the means of living a blessed and joyful eternal existence after this life: “For He Himself is our peace, who has … broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, … that He might reconcile [us] … to God … through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity” (Ephesians 2:14–16).
Death … You have destroyed by the life-giving manifestation of your only-begotten Son, our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ…. You desired to renew [mankind] and to restore him to his first state….. You … became for us a mediator with the Father, and the middle wall You have broken down and the old enmity You have abolished. You have reconciled the earthly with the heavenly and made the two into one… (St. Basil & St. Gregory Liturgies)
(4) Means of obtaining a relationship with God and receiving joyous life after death: Divine Mysteries.
- Baptism and Chrismation is how God adopts us, whereby we change from simply being His creation, to being born anew as children of God and heirs of His kingdom (Galatians 3:26–27; 4:1; Ephesians 2:18–20; Titus 3:4–7).
You, because of the multitude of Your compassions, have made us all worthy of sonship through holy Baptism. (St. Gregory Liturgy)
- Repentance and Confession is needed to maintain our status as children and not strangers, for when we live a life away from God after our baptism we are not truly His children, but still strangers (1 John 3:10). To return to our status as children of God received through baptism and chrismation, Christ freely and willingly washes away our misdeeds, forgiving us if we offer sincere repentance and confession of our shortcomings. (See also Titus 3:8; 2 Peter 2:20; Hebrews 10:26–27).
O You who receive the offerings, who have offered Yourself for sinners, accept our repentance, we who are sinners (Liturgical “Fraction Prayer” to the Son)
- Partaking in Christ’s body and blood is necessary to receive “the remission of sins” (Matthew 26:28), as Christ said pointedly: “he who feeds on Me will live because of Me” (John 6:57). “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you” (John 6:53).
This is the life-giving flesh that Your only-begotten Son … took from our Lady … Saint Mary…. He gave it up for us upon the holy wood of the cross … given for us for salvation, remission of sins, and eternal life to those who partake of Him (St. Basil Liturgy)
(5) Source of receiving above: apostolic church. The authority to administer the above mysteries which unite us to Christ was given to the first overseers (the literal translation of the word bishops), the disciples and apostles of the church, by giving them authority to invoke the Holy Spirit in administering the Mysteries, and passing this same authority to other overseers (see Acts 8, and this article I wrote for more explanation). A line of succession granting authority from Christ to the apostles to the present day holders of authority is needed, and it can be found in apostolic churches such as the Orthodox Church.
You also now, O our Master, have given grace through Your holy apostles to those who for a time labor in the priesthood in Your holy Church … (St. Basil Liturgy) Give me, O Lord Your Holy Spirit … and as becomes priests … may he make in me the purifying words that I may fulfill this oblation set forth, which is the mystery of all mysteries in the fellowship and the communion of Your Christ… (St. Gregory Liturgy) We ask You O Lord our God … that Your Holy Spirit descend upon us and upon these gifts set forth, and purify them, change them, and manifest them as a sanctification of Your saints… (St. Basil Liturgy)
CONCLUSION To enjoy a life under God’s presence now and forever hereafter, the Church has been entrusted with the means of our partaking of the tree of life once again and elevating us to adopted heirs of God’s kingdom. Thereby we are “saved” from distance from God now and eternally. Neglecting the Church is neglecting our soul, as many early Christian bishops have stated: “There is no salvation outside the Church.”
FOR MORE ON THIS SUBJECT,