Author’s Introduction from In Christ I am New Creation, Part 1
Our Regeneration by Grace as Orthodox Christians
“Divine grace confers on us two gifts through the baptism of regeneration, one being infinitely superior to the other. The first gift is given to us at once, when Grace renews us in the actual waters of baptism and cleanses all the lineaments of our soul, that is, the image of God in us, by washing away every stain of sin.
The second – our likeness to God – requires our cooperation. When the intellect begins to perceive the Holy Spirit with full consciousness, we should realize that grace is beginning to paint the divine likeness over the divine image in us. Artists first draw the outline of a man in monochrome, and then add one color after another, until little by little they capture the likeness of the subject down to the smallest details.
In the same way the grace of God starts by remaking the divine image in man into what it was when he was first created. But when it sees us longing with all our heart for the beauty of the divine likeness and humbly standing naked in its atelier, then by making one virtue after another come into flower and exalting the beauty of the soul ‘from glory to glory’ (2 Cor. 3:18), it depicts the divine likeness on the soul.”
St. Diadochos of Photiki
As St. Diadochos of Photiki has so beautifully expressed, after our first baptism we have the opportunity to embark on a remarkable journey in Christ in which we are continually being converted, transformed and gradually returned into the likeness of God by the grace of the Holy Spirit. For this regeneration to blossom forth in us, however, we must learn to cooperate with the will of God in a sacred collaboration, willingly born from love, humility and obedience to Christ, our Beloved, our Bridegroom, and our Savior.
As we struggle to bend our will towards our Creator as Orthodox Christians, we inevitably encounter the chief stumbling block to our cooperation: thankfully enduring with love our sufferings for and in Christ. Perhaps this is the most challenging aspect of becoming an Orthodox Christian: how to come to peace with and be thankful for our suffering. During my conversion, most of the strivings for Christian asceticism presented to me prior to my baptism seemed far beyond my grasp.
For the love of God and the deepening of that love, I literally took the plunge into the baptismal font of Eastern Orthodox Christianity. However, inwardly I was trembling when I realized that by becoming an Orthodox Christian, I was going to be learning how to voluntarily suffer with love as Christ did for me. I had no idea how to truly do this.
I did feel illumined and transformed by my baptism, but unlike other spiritual experiences I had had, I could not share my experience of illumination easily with others outside of Orthodox circles. I was a newly baptized Orthodox Christian with a milieu of Western, New Age, pagan, and Eastern philosophies, beliefs and occult encounters ingrained into every fiber of my being. Alas, a lifetime of Western culture and twenty plus years of New Age and Eastern religious indoctrination did not simply wash away with my baptism.
Being new to Orthodoxy, I also had no idea how God would accomplish the purification and illumination of my soul that St. Diadochus spoke about. I did not have his quote to ponder then when I first entered the Orthodox Church. I knew I needed to be healed on many levels, for I was quite spiritually sick, but just how sick was yet to be revealed to me. If I had truly known the depth of my spiritual illness in 1997 when I became an Orthodox Christian, I would have fallen into utter despair. But God was and is compassionate. He knows us better than we know ourselves. God gives us what we can handle when the time is right, even if we, in the depth of our despair and suffering, do not understand His wisdom - when we can only repeatedly utter, ‘Out of the depths I have cried to Thee, O Lord!’ (Ps. 129) while praying, ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner,’ and await deliverance.
Here are other stumbling blocks I encountered in my early years in Orthodoxy that may strike a chord in you:
- I did not realize there was a relationship between Holy Scripture, the teaching of the Holy Fathers, the conversion of our hearts and our ongoing regeneration by grace.
- When I read the lives of the Saints I would sometimes grow fainthearted or fall into despair. It was hard for me to compare my life to those of the Saints. I think others grapple with this comparison as well. Most of us are not praying daily, for hours, in seclusion. We rarely, if ever, receive visions. We struggle to uphold even minimal fasting. We are running around in the world taking care of family and friends. Is there really a second baptism occurring in our life?
- I could not make sense of my struggles physically and spiritually for years as a newly converted Orthodox Christian until I read and re-read most of the quotes that are footnoted and shared in this book. It is for this reason I am telling my story, personal experiences and struggles in relation to Holy Scripture and the experiences of the Saints. It is my hope that you as the reader will find new meaning to some of your spiritual struggles. God brings good out of everything, especially from our adverse and stressful experiences. There is a purpose hidden within our suffering.
“God is with us, understand all ye nations and submit yourselves, for God is with us.” (Is. 8:10)
God is indeed with me. He is transforming my soul by grace everyday – if I submit myself to His will and cooperate with Him. Therein lies the key to unlocking so many spiritual treasures and being at peace with my suffering, rather than trying to escape it, or personally willing my self through my suffering without God.
It is only when I patiently endure my sufferings in Christ with love that I am purified, illumined and sanctified. It is through my adversities, struggles and even seeming tragedies that God is actively refining my soul. God is truly only interested in our love and the salvation of our souls. Thus, He uses our earthly attachments, passions and struggles to break our hardened hearts open so His Light can enter and illumine us.
“A heart that is humbled and broken, God will not despise.” (Ps. 50)
I am forever grateful to all who have supported me and continue to support me as an Eastern Orthodox Christian through my temptations and trials. After almost 20 years in Orthodoxy, only now am I becoming somewhat pliable and cooperative with the will of God. May my Pearls of Great Price, and those of the Saints and Elders of the Church I have included in this book be of service to you, dear reader, in understanding better your own regeneration in Christ by grace.
 A studio or workshop where an artist works.
 The Philokalia, Volume 1, #89, pg. 288