Why, in order to be a believer, it is necessary to adhere to some religion and to observe certain rituals? Can’t you just have God in your soul?
One day an officer told me, “I don’t go to church, I don’t observe rituals, but God is in my soul.” I asked him, “Is it possible to be a military man only in your soul? Can you consider yourself a military man without wearing a military uniform, knowing how to walk with a marching step, not being able to disassemble a Kalashnikov assault rifle and knowing neither the theory nor practice of military affairs? He did not answer.
Of course, religion is not a profession. However, neither is it the mere idea of some higher principle out there. Religion is a way of life. A true believer is not someone who recognizes the existence of God, and continues to live a life that denies this existence. A believer is someone who correlates his whole life to the divine law and tries to live according to the commandments of God, striving to be closer to Him.
Surely, each reader has his own ideal, a role model or a person whom he admires. In this context, it is one thing to know that such a person exists, to read about him on the Internet and to see him on TV. It is another thing to find him in real life, to get an autograph or take a selfie with him. It is still another thing to become his friend, to get to know him and to spend time with him. It is the same with God: you can be aware of His existence, you can communicate with Him from a distance, or you can become His friend and live your life with Him.
True religiosity is living with God and in God. Do not think however that I am calling for some extreme asceticism and rigorism, severity and abstinence, withdrawal from the world including your loved ones and “crawling into your shell”. Quite the opposite, if you read the Gospel, you will see that Christ never called for any of this. He gave simple advice on how people could live with one another, seeking and finding God.
The difference between a believing person and an atheist may be quite marginal. Religion does not pull you out of ordinary life. On the contrary, a believer continues living life as usual, eating, sleeping, working, raising children, traveling and relaxing. However, a dimension appears in his life that is not present in the life of an unbeliever. God’s presence fills his reality with content and meaning.
It often happens that a person seems to have everything he needs, but there is still no peace in his soul. There is no love in such a person’s life, and he does not understand its purpose. Religion reveals to us the meaning of life, opening the perspective of eternity. A religious person knows that beyond the threshold of death, his life will continue, and this fills him with hope.
However, religion is not only a theory; first of all, it is a practice. In Orthodox Christianity, religious practice includes what secular language refers to as “rituals” and what the Church calls sacraments. Each sacrament is related to the spiritual life of a person. Through baptism, we become members of the Church. We receive forgiveness of sins through confession. Through communion, we unite with God spiritually and bodily. The sacrament of marriage consecrates the family union. The sacrament of unction is performed over the sick “for the healing of soul and body.” Without participating in the sacraments, it is impossible to fully be a member of the Church.
Religion is not a profession, but the religious life can be compared to the professional life. Each profession can have a theoretical basis, but only through practice, can one become a true professional. For example, if you are an athlete, then you train daily, wear the appropriate uniform, participate in competitions and win prizes. If you are a musician, this also requires daily practice, constant improvement, and wearing appropriate clothing when performing at concerts. If you are a soldier, then you are required to be ready to take up arms, stand up for your homeland, and if necessary, to give your life for others.
Religion is not a hobby. If religion is on the same level as a hobby to you, then you are not really a religious person, and your religiosity is superficial. Learning to play the piano with three fingers does not mean becoming a pianist. Similarly, “to have God in the soul” does not mean to be a believer. To be a believer means to live with God and belong to the community of His followers.
Source: Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk “Inconvenient Questions about Religion and the Church”