IN THOSE DAYS, Jesus looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son so that the Son may glorify You, since You have given Him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom You have given Him. And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ Whom You have sent. I glorified You on earth by finishing the work that You gave Me to do. So now, Father, glorify Me in Your own presence with the glory that I had in Your presence before the world existed. I have made Your Name known to those whom You gave me from the world. They were Yours, and You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word. Now they know that everything You have given Me is from You. The words that You gave to Me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from You. And they have believed that You sent Me. I am asking on their behalf, I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom You gave Me, because they are Yours. All Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine, and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to You. Holy Father, protect them in Your Name – the Name that You have given Me, so that they may be one, as We are one. While I was with them, I protected them in Your Name that You have given Me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the son of destruction, so that the Scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming to You, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have My joy made complete in themselves.”
Christ is risen!
"And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ Whom You have sent." What does it mean to know someone? And what is the eternal life? In this reflection I will try to give a short answer to both of these questions.
When you say that you know someone, what exactly are you talking about? Let's say a cashier at your local super market or the mailman. You may know their names, you have conversations with them from time to time, so you sort of know them. How does this compare with how you know your spouse or best friend? In this case you know them intimately, emotionally, deeply. You know what they like and dislike, you know how to be a healing presence for them in tough times and how to push their buttons at other times. It's as if they are part of you and you are part of them.
This second type of knowing someone doesn't just happen, even if there was a connection right away with your future spouse or best friend. Deep and intimate relationships grow and develop over time, as we experience joys and sorrows, happiness and heartbreak together. It requires a lot of patience, humility, and love to go from two individuals to soulmates or best friends.
When Christ says that the eternal life is to know God, He does not mean in general terms, like you would know your local super market cashier or the mailman. He means it on a deep and intimate level, a relationship that grows and develops with time. In fact, the Greek word for "to know" in this sentence means something more like "to learn to know."
The question now becomes, how do we get to know God? It would begin with realizing that God exists, and that He is a Power greater than us. At the same time, He desires to have relationship with us as much as, if not more, than we with Him. This is the initial step.
In your intimate relationship (with a spouse or best friend), things are not always perfect, but you work through things because you have a connection. That's where patience and humility and love come in. To exercise them, both of you are present, both of you work on your relationship. If only one of you puts in the effort to maintain the relationship, then sooner rather than later it will fall apart. In deep and intimate relationships both parties are present and active.
In order to know God, both parties need to be present and active as well. We know that God participates in our life because He has given us life. In order to grow our relationship with God, we need to participate in His divine life and in communion with Him. That's where the Church comes in.
The Church is neither the beginning, nor the end of our relationship with God. The Church is an integral part of it. Christ's teachings are preserved, and we learn them, in the Church. We participate in God's divine life through the Church, as the messengers of His Kingdom. We commune (become one) with God in His Church, not only through the sacrament of the Eucharist, but through prayer, participation, and all-encompassing life in the Church.
We may know something about God outside of Church, but we can never know Him on a deep and personal level. In the Church we also get a glimpse of the eternal life with God. We embark on this journey of eternal life the moment we are conceived. And, since it is eternal, the journey never ends. As we learn to know God and grow in this knowledge into a relationship with Him, we learn of the eternal life (as opposed to the eternal death; just as eternal, but not as pleasant).
The Orthodox Church teaches that in the Church we get a foretaste of God's Kingdom. Now, why would we say that? From what we know about the Kingdom of God, and it is not much, all the angels and the saints and all creation, spend eternity in constant worship, praise, and communion with God. In this life, we commune with God physically, through the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. In the eternal life, this communion is continual and beyond physical or spiritual, but something like all-encompassing.
When we gather in Church, we, sort of, practice what is going on in the eternal life - we worship, praise, and commune with God. But as Christ says, if we know God (on a deep and intimate level), we are already participating in the eternal life. At the same time, the eternal life is not lived out alone, but rather in a community, in Church.
So when we talk about an eternal life with God, we are not talking about something in the future or "in the next life." We are talking about something right here and right now. And it begins with developing a relationship with God and knowing Him.
For last year's reflection, click here.
Yours in the risen Lord,
Father Aleksey - your friendly Singac priest