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Finding True Connection in an Era of Loneliness

Finding True Connection in an Era of Loneliness

While recently sitting at an airport, I couldn’t help but notice that amidst the bustling crowd, there was a distinct absence of conversation. Virtually everyone was looking down at the device in their hand, which has become a substitute “significant other” for many. But engaging online is not the same as having a genuine connection with others, and loneliness often hides behind a mask of happiness, casting a shadow on a person’s life.

As an Orthodox Christian priest, I have long been aware of this phenomenon because of the unique role I play in the lives of my parishioners. I’ve witnessed the longing for connection and the profound impact of loneliness on one’s spiritual and emotional well-being.

Recently, the Surgeon General of the United States, Dr. Vivek Murthy, affirmed what I have seen throughout my years of service: America is in an “epidemic of loneliness and isolation.

In the report, the Surgeon General highlights that loneliness is more than a negative emotion; it is a health crisis for individuals and society. Shockingly, the impact of loneliness on a person’s well-being is comparable to smoking 15 cigarettes a day, significantly increasing the risk of heart disease, stroke, and depression.

The report also says that “one-in-two adults in America reported experiencing loneliness,” and other reports show that depression and loneliness are especially hitting those between the ages of 15 to 24. During these formative years, they can experience a deepening disconnection and sense of isolation.

In my parish work, I’ve encountered many young adults searching for solace through self-harm, substance abuse, and even death by suicide. All while our culture encourages them to seek an inwardly constructed version of “truth” that can never truly satisfy their longing for purpose and belonging.

However, rather than resorting to self-medication or self-harm, there is a profound truth waiting to embrace the lonely, sorrowful, and weary. God beckons us to come to Him and discover true rest for our souls, and Orthodox Christianity offers a distinctive path toward connection and healing.

Dr. Murthy rightly emphasizes the importance of rebuilding connections with others, but often that is easier said than done.

I believe those struggling with loneliness can find solace and healing in embracing Orthodox Christianity. Through the Church’s sacramental life and the beauty of ancient traditions, the Orthodox faith offers a profound understanding of the human experience and spiritual home where one can encounter the transformative presence of Christ.

We believe that Jesus Christ is the initial step towards healing the soul because He also experienced loneliness. The book of Isaiah refers to Him as “a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief,” and so Jesus empathizes with our struggles.

We also affirm that Jesus is an inseparable part of the mystery of the Trinity, the eternal relationship between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Just as the Trinity is indivisible, we also should not be disconnected. And because we are created in the image and likeness of God, we also believe that each of our identities is found in that mysterious relationship.

We may be unique, but we are never separate, like how our hands and feet are different parts of the same body— individual but still part of a whole.

Confessing Jesus’ personal experiences and the interconnectedness of each other and the Trinity is our first practice of complete reliance on the truth that we are designed for joyful and loving relationships.

Another characteristic of our ancient faith and tradition is the confidence that we are never truly alone but are surrounded by the Communion of Saints. In the New Testament, the author of Hebrews assures us that we are “surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses.” The Saints lived in complete obedience to God and now intercede and pray for us in the presence of God. Many of these Saints themselves endured overwhelming loneliness and feelings of inadequacy.

Take, for example, St. Nektarios, a 19th-century priest and preacher in Egypt. Despite being an instrument of God’s healing, he experienced profound rejection and loss. Today, he is the Patron Saint for those afflicted with heart conditions, cancer and other illnesses.

Or consider St. Dymphna, a 7th-century Celtic and the Patron Saint for those suffering from mental health, anxiety and depression. Of course, it is essential to remember that the Saints don’t heal; Jesus heals. But the Saints bring our prayers to Jesus.

When we’re suffering, often all it takes is a humble request for help. Just as I would ask a fellow priest or friend to pray for me, I also implore the Saints to intercede on my behalf, knowing they understand the depths of human struggles and can uplift us in prayer.

And in the most desperate of moments, there is an ancient invocation called the “Jesus Prayer.” It is deeply rooted in the Orthodox tradition and encompasses the essence of our faith and says, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

The beauty of this prayer lies in its simplicity and profound impact. By repeating these words, we humbly acknowledge our deep longing for the presence of Christ. In times of loneliness, it reminds us that we are never alone as we join the countless others throughout history who have sought refuge in Christ for their souls.

The Greek word in the New Testament for “soul” is psyché. It means seeing the whole human being from their internal feelings, desires and motivations. In other words, as people created in God’s image and likeness, our soul is our very essence and is a gift from God. And as Jesus says, “For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul?”

If you’ve left the faith, we invite you back. If you’re searching, we invite you in. In a world losing its soul while also yearning for genuine connection and healing, Orthodox Christianity invites everyone to embrace the transformative power of communion—with God, with one another, and with the Saints—and discover that even in our loneliest moments, we are enveloped in the embrace of divine love and healing.

Fr. Christopher Metropulos is the founder and host of the Orthodox Christian Network.

© 2023 RELEVANT Media Group, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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