The Morning Offering:
The fierce individualism found in much of what claims to be Christianity is in opposition to the Orthodox understanding of faith. The Church as the Body of Christ is where we are united in Christ, becoming part of community.
The ancient Greek word for Ecclesia literally means to be called into authentic community. It is within the Church that our personal transformation is intimately connected with the interaction we have with others and runs side-by-side with our fellow believers.
Ecclesia in modern usage refers to the Church and her role as a spiritual hospital, a place wherein we receive healing that comes from Christ. This truth is demonstrated by the fact that we are called by the Scriptures to be at peace with our brethren before receiving the Holy Mysteries. We are asked to forgive others as we would be forgiven. We are even called by Christ to love our enemies.
Our Christian faith cannot be lived in a vacuum. Our personal transformation requires working out our salvation within community. Even the confession of our sins takes places within this community, for each time we sin, we sin against the whole Body of Christ.
The personalism of Orthodox asceticism in the life of a hermit is inseparable from the life of the Church. St. Seraphim of Sarov tells us that if we acquire the Holy Spirit a thousand around us will be saved.
Hermits, although distancing themselves from the world, enter into direct communion with God and become intimately connected to our community through their contact with God. Their prayers and asceticism build up the very community they’ve left behind, because they’ve become closer to the life of the Church by entering the Heart of God.
In Orthodoxy, a monk within a brotherhood cannot gain a blessing from his abbot to become a hermit unless he already has attained a certain height of holiness. Those blessed to live as hermits are not people who want to flee from other people, but rather those who want to flee into the heart of God. Therefore they are so united to the Body of Christ that they are closer to the rest of us than we who are living in community.