Word Magazine September 2000 Page 21



By Fr. Michael Massouh

Ever wonder about the spiritual life? Is it open to mystics and monastics only, or can ordinary folk experience its joys? You may not realize it, but you may already have taken a step in the spiritual direction.

Have you ever wondered if there is an alternative to the life you lead in the world? When you think of getting away from it all and going some place special, you are acknowledging that there is another dimension to you that needs attention. When you work out at a health club, or insist on golfing or jogging, or select a special health food diet, you are acknowledging that the everyday life is insufficient for you.

To your credit, you began a first step in your spiritual journey — a desire for something authentic, for something beyond the ordinary, for something or someplace to nourish your soul. All these paths to a better life are commendable. Yet, after a few years of them, you sense that something is still missing. So, you re-double your efforts or else you try another path.

What you are discovering is that trying to pursue happiness on your own terms leads to temporary satisfaction, but ultimately to frustration and disenchantment. True joy and happiness occurs only with Christ. Without Christ your life is less than fulfilled. With Christ your life is as full as you allow Him to make it. You learn that it is not you who lives, but Christ who lives in you: a major reversal in thinking and one of the paradoxes of Christian living. It is indeed this turning around and focusing on Christ that provides the fulfillment we seek, because he came to redeem us, i.e., to bring us back to what God the Father wanted for us from the very beginning.

Many people, however, are frightened by the prospect of following Christ, because it suggests that they are no longer in control. And, if modern western culture has inculcated anything, it has inculcated the notion that one is master of one’s destiny. Surrendering to anyone is abdication of our personhood. This is the view from the western perspective.

The eastern perspective, particularly the Orthodox perspective, is that we are children of God, heirs to the kingdom, one of the family. We surrender not to a fellow creature, but to the Creator God, the One who formed us, loves us, nurtures us, and waits patiently for us to acknowledge Him and to return his love. In other words, we belong somewhere. Someone knows us as we really are. No longer do we have to wonder if we are understood. Not only are we understood, we are accepted for who we are. This is liberating. This is refreshing. This is the Christian life.

So, rather than be frightened by the prospect of surrendering our liberty, we should be overjoyed to discover that pursuing the spiritual life will lead to peacefulness, fulfillment, and joy: the very things we go on vacation to find.

How to begin this quest to find peace? One begins with daily prayer, preferably in the morning and evening. But, prayer can be offered anytime of the day or night; for example, before a tough meeting or interview, in the midst of an unpleasant task, while stuck in traffic, or on an airplane. Indeed, scripture asks us to pray at all times and places, because prayer is conversation with God, our best friend, one with whom we can be angry (check Psalm 10), thankful (check Psalm 100), or praising (check Psalm 113).

And, once you have begun your prayer life, then plan to come to Antiochian Village, because it is a beautiful place in the Laurel Mountains, away from the hustle and bustle of city life. We have a chapel with beautiful icons, a museum of icons and religious objects, and a 20,000-volume library. We have a health room with exercise machines, a walking track, football fields, volleyball and tennis courts, and a baseball diamond. A professional ropes course is on site, and it is possible to walk the nature trails, watch the sheep grazing, and the geese and black swans sunning themselves. You may even spot a deer or a wild turkey. For your physical comfort we provide spacious motel rooms with private baths and a dining hall with outstanding meals.

But, most importantly, we have the ambience and the facilities to nourish your soul, to assist you along your spiritual journey. Among the treasures we possess are shrines to St. Thekla, St. Artemius, and St. Raphael, the first Antiochian canonized in America. We celebrate a cycle of worship services in Sts. Peter & Paul Chapel to put you in tune with God, and we have priests available for discussion or confession. Come read, meditate, worship, enjoy the beauty of God’s Creation, and grow in your spiritual life.