As we enter into Pascha I thought that it would be important to discuss the importance of attending Divine Services to the spiritual life of the Legionnaire. The road to becoming a Legionnaire is one that no one can complete until they take their final breath. The journey through life is one where all Orthodox believers must work through their salvation with “fear and trembling,” as Scripture tells us. The Orthodox believer must choose to live a life of humility, love, service, duty and repentance that begins inside each of us. Daily prayer and good works are the stepping stones to greater connection with God and a life more aligned with His will, not our own.
The role of attending and participating in the Liturgy and the Mysteries of the Church cannot be understated as being a crucial part of our spiritual growth. One cannot be a Legionnaire without being an active participant in the liturgical life of the Orthodox Church. From baptism and chrismation to the final funeral prayers our life, hope, health, peace and salvation begins and ends inside the walls of an Orthodox Church alongside our brothers and sisters in Christ.
There are many privileges found in life when it comes to job or society, but the greatest privilege is being able to enter into a small piece of Heaven during the Divine Liturgy. The liturgy engages all of the senses to break you out of being in the world and transports you a realm that is both in the world and outside of it. The icons, incense, the lesson from the priest, the chants, and especially the Divine Mysteries engage the believer into the realm of the supernatural.
Saint John of Kronstadt famously said that the “Church, through the temple and Divine service, acts upon the entire man, educates him wholly; acts upon his sight, hearing, smelling, feeling, taste, imagination, mind, and will, by the splendor of the icons and of the whole temple, by the ringing of bells, by the singing of the choir, by the fragrance of the incense, the kissing of the Gospel, of the cross and the holy icons, by the prosphoras, the singing, and sweet sound of the readings of the Scriptures.”
The icons of the Saints surround the believer inside the Church just as we will be surrounded in Heaven by our brothers and sisters from every nation who have run the race in their lives throughout the centuries as we worship the Almighty God together.
The icons are not just mere pictures of the Saints, they are windows into Heaven where we on Earth can see the Saints as they are in Heaven. While many of the Saints were beaten, tortured, burned or beheaded, in Heaven they are made entirely whole in both body and soul, which is shown to us in the iconography of the Church.
The Saints have gained eternal life through their humility, sacrifice and love of Almighty God, an example for the believer on how to live and the hopeful future for the believer if we truly aim to follow the lives of the Saints whose icons adorn the walls of our beautiful and holy temples.
Incense has been used in worshiping God since God Himself revealed the proper form of worship in the Old Testament, a tradition continued in the New Testament and by the Church for the past two thousand years. Exodus 30:7 gives the example that worship to God begins every day with the burning of incense as a part of liturgical prayer “Aaron shall burn fragrant incense on it; he shall burn it every morning when he trims the lamps. ‘When Aaron trims the lamps at twilight, he shall burn incense. There shall be perpetual incense before the LORD throughout your generations.” Incense shows our devotion to God and a respect for the temple in which we pray for the Trinity, the Theotokos, the Saints and the holy relics inside the Church.
Incense is both a demonstration of sacrifice to God and is also for the believer to be able to send up his prayers as the sweet swelling clouds of incense that rise to the Heavens. Psalm 141.2 says “May my prayer be set before you like incense” indicating that the Christian prayer be found as a sweet and fragrant offering before the throne of God. Incense also represents the unending grace that God pours into the souls of those who pray and worship just as incense pours fragrance throughout the Church building.
Bishop Eusebius of Caesarea wrote to early Christians that incense was an offering that was to be “offered to God in every place.” Incense is a small demonstration of our sacrifice to God in thanks for His eternal goodness. Our Christian lives as Legionnaires should resemble incense by being lives that are sweet smelling sacrifices to God through our good works, our prayers and our devotion to helping those in need and spreading the Faith to others.
Everything we do in our lives is a reflection upon where our heart and soul are, either with God or with the world. To offer God a sacrifice of things that will decay, the things of this world grounded in pride or selfishness is not pleasing to God, but offering Him our acts of charity, compassion and chastity is pleasing to God and makes our lives a sacrifice, just like the incense we burn.
The tradition of incense being used is not simply a worldly part of prayer and praise to God, it will also be continued in Heaven. Revelations 8:3-4 says that “an angel came and stood at the altar, with a golden censer; and he was given much incense to mingle with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden Altar before the Throne of God; and the smoke of the incense rose with the prayers of the Saints from the hand of the angel before God.” To hold true what happens in Heaven on Earth to the best of our abilities has incense as a very important part of the life of the Church and the individual Christian in his or her prayer corner in their home.
We must also remember the importance of building a home that is a reflection of our Faith. The home of every Orthodox Christian is supposed to be a little Church and should reflect the atmosphere of the Church to the best of one’s ability with both icons and incense in the home for personal prayer and reflection, the foundation of spiritual growth.
Legionnaires are called to make every place that they inhabit or work to be a garden of Christian virtue. Corneliu Codreanu said when comparing the call of the Legionnaire to that of those following the various political ideologies of the day that “Legionarism is preoccupied by something much deeper: by the soul (namely by its strengthening through the cultivation of Christian virtues and its preparation with final salvation in mind, salvation dealt with by the Christian Church in the most perfect fashion).” To prepare for our death we must live a life where in every opportunity we pray and live honorably in a Christian fashion, a process which begins and ends by being an active part of the Church and Her blessed services.
Saint John Chrysostom said “Are you a sinner? Do not become discouraged, and come to Church to put forward repentance.” The mindset of remaining faithful and coming to Church as a part of our Christian walk is important. Modern American Christianity is all about the idea of being “spiritual but not religious” with increasing numbers of supposed Christians refusing to participate in any form of liturgical or organized worship. The idea of “going it alone” is the opposite of what the Bible and the Church Fathers tell us to do.
The Books of Acts in 2:42 says that the early Christians “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” This passage from the beginning of the Christian Church demonstrates the importance of coming together as the Body of Christ to participate both in the Mystery of Communion and praying together, the foundation of what we now know as the Divine Liturgy.
Hebrews 13:17 reinforces that there is a clear hierarchy in the Church in which the clergy are the spiritual shepherds of the Orthodox faithful, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” The idea of rejecting the Church community and the hierarchy of the Church is a purely modern invention without any basis in either Scripture or Tradition.
To be united with the Church is to be united with Christ because Scripture tells us that the Church is the bride of Christ who has become united together, just as a husband and wife and united in holy matrimony to become “one flesh.” God loves His Church as a bridegroom loves his bride and that loves is reflected in how Christ continually bestows forgiveness, love and grace upon Christians, even as we daily fall into rebellion and sin due to our addictions to the passions of the flesh.
To be separated from the Church is like being separated from something more important than food, water or even oxygen. The Church is the ark of salvation and one must do everything you can to be in good standing with the Church and be an active and loving participant of the Mysteries. St. Hilarion Troitsky wrote that “We know and are convinced that falling away from the Church, whether into schism, heresy, or sectarianism, is complete perdition and spiritual death. For us there is no Christianity outside of the Church. If Christ established the Church, and the Church is His Body, then to be cut of from His Body is to die.” To be united with Christ we must be members of His bride, the eternal Church.
Confession and communion are two wings of the bird of salvation, and both should be taken seriously and with reverence. To prepare for communion a Legionnaire must fast and engage in a healthy life of prayer. To be able to be freed from your sins you must truly repent of them, which means turning away from them and engaging in spiritual warfare against the demons and passions that assail you throughout your life. Saint Maximos the Confessor tells of the importance of confession in saving ones soul because “Every genuine confession humbles the soul. When it takes the form of thanksgiving, it teaches the soul that it has been delivered by the grace of God.”
Confession allows the believer to confess, repent and to work with his or her spiritual father to find ways to overcome the sinful and worldly passions. One cannot be a Legionnaire without working every single day to overcome the addictions and passions of our sinful condition. Legionnaire life is not made up of a political struggle, it is a spiritual struggle in which the transformed man and woman will reflect a change in their local communities and thus politics.
First and foremost Legionnaire life is a spiritual fellowship with fellow Orthodox Christians to help one another strive to salvation, spread the Faith and battle the demonic forces that plague our sick and sinful world. Confession is a sword and shield to fend off the attacks of the enemy and prepare yourself to take part in the Mystery of the Holy Eucharist. We must take full ownership of our sins and shortcomings in order to be repentant but also to be able to truly engage in the spiritual warfare against us. Legionnaire’s must be honest with themselves, their brothers, their priest and most importantly their God in regards to their conduct.
Saint Anthony the Great told a fellow Saint that “the great work of man: always to take the blame for his own sins before God and to expect temptation to his last breath” is one we should take to heart. Spiritual warfare never ceases in the life of a Legionnaire and neither should repentance, we are called to be warriors every second of every day, without exception.
With a clear conscience, a soul washed clean from sin and a repentant heart, the Legionnaire then must partake in rigid fasting and prayer prior to attending the liturgy and participating in the Mystery of the Eucharist.
The Church fathers and mothers have preached the importance of regular confession and communion throughout the centuries, and if we truly care for our own salvation we should heed the words of Christ and the Saints when it comes to these spiritual Mysteries.
The Mysteries of the Orthodox Church are the most profound and awe inspiring part of being a participant in the Christian life. The body and blood of Christ is perhaps the most important part of becoming one with Christ and with His Church. While Protestant churches increasingly say that communion is just a “symbol” or “remembrance” Jesus Himself said in John 6:53-58 said “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me. This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he that eateth of this bread shall live for ever.” Without partaking in the body and blood of Christ, Christ does not live inside you and you will not inherit eternal life, thus is cannot be overstated how important frequent communion is the to spiritual life of the Legionnaire.
Saint Cyril of Alexandria told his flock the importance of regular participation in the Eucharist when he said “If the poison of pride is swelling up in you, turn to the Eucharist; and that Bread, Which is your God humbling and disguising Himself, will teach you humility. If the fever of selfish greed rages in you, feed on this Bread; and you will learn generosity.If you feel the itch of intemperance, nourish yourself with the Flesh and Blood of Christ, Who practiced heroic self-control during His earthly life; and you will become temperate.” Our bodies and souls are nourished by the body and blood of Christ through communion and the process of theosis grows as we make partaking in the Mysteries along with prayer, fasting and good works a regular part of our lives.
The march of the Legionnaire is not one filled with worldly glory or fame, but it is one that is dedicated to Faith, family and folk. We must work to save the souls of ourselves, our families, our racial kinsmen but also the world by spreading and living out the Faith in everything we do. This is a battle between the forces of good and the forces of evil, you are either on the side of Christ or you are serving the Devil, even if you do so without knowing it. Saint Justin Popovich said “Our world is guided by two principles and sources: God and the devil. All that is better in the world of men has its source in God, and all that is bad has the devil as its principle and source. In the final account, all good comes from God, and all evil from the devil.”
To be a Legionnaire is to answer the call of serving God and the Church above all things and to answer it means to be a loyal servant in both public and private. Partake in the Mysteries, love your brothers and sisters, defend the Church and strive to climb the ladder of salvation, for salvation is the greatest gift that a man or woman could ever be given. May you all have a blessed Pascha. Christ is Risen!