January 19, 2010

Can One Be Spiritual Without Going to Church?

A question was recently presented that I thought I should make public my answer to because it seems that even such a basic question is not understood by Orthodox Christians.

The question basically said:

"Can a person be spiritual without going to church regularly?"

One example that was brought up was the ascetics who, like St Mary of Egypt, for years lived spiritual lives in seclusion without going to church. But the questioner mainly intended this answer for laypeople.

Here is my short and basic reply:

If the person believes they can be spiritual despite the Church, they may be spiritual, but only in the demonic sense.

Since ascetics were brought up, I should also say that Orthodox spirituality relies on the divine energies of the Holy Spirit which only come through the Mysteries/Sacraments. The reason we continuously need the Mysteries is because we continuously sin and it is only through the Church that we can be renewed again. The ascetics who fled human contact were ascetics who lived a life of sinlessness and who were renewed beforehand by the Mysteries of the Church and ascended from glory to glory to a union with God without the aid of having to be continually renewed. This is why St Mary of Egypt, before she fled into the desert, received the eucharist and "sinned no more", and also why she confessed her sins to the priest Zossima before receiving the eucharist again before her death, believing she was still a sinner though she could walk on water and levitate in prayer. Still other ascetics were fed the eucharist by the hands of angels when unable to attend Divine Liturgy. One cannot be spiritual unless one becomes purified through continuous renewal and illumined by the Holy Spirit.