Where will you find God? You will find Him in the Temple.
Elder Roman Braga used to reminisce about growing up in his little Romanian village. A day’s work revolved around chiming bells calling the faithful to prayer. The year revolved around feast days. Men and women sought a priest’s blessing before starting a project. It was a life built on faith. Such recollections seem fanciful and romantic to the 21st century person, but are nothing of the kind. This life is, quite simply, nothing more and nothing less than Christianity. The Christian life is a communal life centered around the altar.
“When he was twelve years old, they went up according to custom; and when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it, but supposing him to be in the company they went a day’s journey, and they sought him among their kinsfolk and acquaintances; and when they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem, seeking him. After three days they found him in the temple” (Luke 2:42-46).
What is it saying: “according to custom”? The Holy Family made annual trips to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices. The Israelites would never have imagined religion that is private and merely spiritual. In the Jewish mind, faith was tied to holy space and community — not symbolic community, but real, literal community. The Jewish faithful were a people that lived together, bound together by a shared culture and a common calendar. Jesus Christ, the Blessed Virgin, and St. Joseph lived this communal life, “according to custom.”
The Orthodox Christian life is no different. It is as bound to custom, community, and a calendar as real and palpable as it was for the Jews in Jesus’ lifetime. 2,000 years later, we live in a world very different than that of our Savior, and equally as unlike any traditional Christian world before us. Christianity, so-called, has today been so influenced and watered down by secularism, that most Christians in the past would not have recognized us.
What then is true Christianity? What is true Christian community?
The first Christians never saw themselves as separate from the Jewish faith. The New Testament is the fulfillment of the Old Testament, not the abolishment. In this spirit, the scriptures define the Christian Church as the true Jerusalem and Christians as true Jews: “You have come to Mount Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem” (Hebrews 12:22). There is also no difference between the Old Testament Church and the New Testament Church. The Church began with Moses, long ago on Mt. Horeb, when the people were called together on the “day of the ekklesia” (Deuteronomy 4:10). Jesus Christ did not end a religion, he perfected it. The Christian faith is the same faith of the Old testament transfigured and illuminated by the Holy Spirit.
“When he was twelve years old, they went up [to Jerusalem] according to custom.”
Jesus Christ, the Blessed Virgin, and St. Joseph lived their faith within community. They did not “go to church” when they felt like going. They went to “church” when their “bishops” told them to. They based their values, habits, and lifestyles according to those of their religious community. They did not live individualistic lifestyles, picking and choosing what seemed right in their own eyes. They shared and breathed village life, just as Elder Roman did in Romania, and all Christians do in real Christian cultures.
Christian faith is communal.
“The boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it, but supposing him to be in the company they went a day’s journey, and they sought him among their kinsfolk and acquaintances; and when they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem, seeking him. After three days they found him in the temple” (Luke 2:42-46).
Where did they find Jesus Christ? They found him in the Temple. Where do we find God today? We find him in the Church. Long ago, Origin the theologian made this comment on our Gospel reading:
“[Jesus] is not found among the famous of the world, because He is above all fame. He is not found in the company of those traveling; they find him nowhere but in the Temple. And you must therefore seek Him there in the Temple, seek Him in the Church, where you will find the Word and the Wisdom of Christ…the Son of God” (Catena Aurea).
We pray something very similar in the Rosary:
“The Child Jesus lost in the great city…What is my search for Him when He seems to withdraw Himself and my soul is dark? How can I find Him again?” “I went into the temple of God; then understood I these things.”
We find God when we come to the Temple. We discover Jesus Christ, we embrace Jesus Christ, we live Jesus Christ, when we join our lives to the Life of the Church.
Modern American culture is pagan. My wife and I spend a lot of time talking to our children about this. We are unapologetic about it. The way people dress, the forms of entertainment, the music, by and large, it is nothing other than pagan. This is not judgmental, nor driven by fear. We say it lovingly and freely, but hoping to paint a clear depiction of our world. We are Christians. To be Christian means to be different.
Does this mean we should feel superior? No. God judges us according to how we use what we have been given, and he will look at each man and woman’s heart separately. Is our lifestyle superior? Absolutely. There is only one way that leads to life — that is the Way of Jesus Christ.
We see this everywhere. Our culture is deteriorating, quickly. The farther society moves away from Christianity, the more family values, purpose in life, basic morality and sanity falls apart. When did it happen? It happened when Christians started becoming progressive — keeping up with the Joneses. Eventually, we will have to come to terms with it all: we wanted to look normal, we abandoned traditional family roles, we stopped wearing head coverings and dressing modestly, we conformed to the world, and the world swallowed us up.
Is there any hope? Unquestionably. There is as much hope today as there was 2,000 years ago. Our hope is in repentance. We can become healthy again. We can rediscover what it means to be men and women. We can flourish as individuals, families, and community. How…when we retreat back to our Mother — when we turn to the traditions and lifestyle of Holy Church.
Today, we celebrate Blessed Epiphany. We proclaim that God is with us. Nothing exemplifies the spirit of this season more than the Epiphany Proclamation, when we chant the dates of our Church calendar as we would the Holy Gospel. Why do we do this? The dates set as Days of Obligation are first and foremost in our Life in Christ, taking precedent over everything. Family vacations, graduations, weddings, nothing is so important as drinking from the Chalice on Sundays and High, Holy Days. These days marked the life of Christ and the Holy Family, and they mark our lives today — as a life set apart for God.
The Church is a metronome that aligns our heart for heaven. Jesus Christ was the member of a Holy Family. We are members of a Holy Family too, the same Holy Family, the life-giving Church. We share the same faith and the same heartbeat, lived out this year as it was 2O23 years ago. Here in our parish life, in our shared faith, in our calendar carved into the heart of everything, we share the life that makes men and women.