Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Techno Buddy Jesus and Orthodism.

It is, at times, costly to be an Orthodox Christian.

Christ the Lord calls His followers to humble repentance. The Faith instructs us to seek Christ Jesus, and Him alone. Don't expect to be a superstar. Don't even seek the gifts that He can give. Love only Him, desire only Him. All things pass, only Love remains. But just around the corner, one can learn to be an “anointed one,” or give improv “words” from God over a cup of coffee. I discern in these coffee grounds …. So convenient, and “I” feel special too.

Orthodoxy is not cool. We are guarded and guided by a very ancient Christian way of life. It calls us to simplicity, constancy, and steadfastness. But a few blocks away one can jump on all the latest bandwagons of religious and philosophical fluidity. Smoke machines and disco lights (are they even still hip?) and rock music (or whatever floats your boat). “God is good” on a repetitive loop multiplied times one hundred. No need to think too deeply because God is not into doctrine and all that stuff. Feel the beat. Easy power and shallow pools, everything can be quite well known and comfortable.

The Church Fathers; saints? Aren’t they just quaint old folk of yesteryear? Charming grandfathers who speak of times past. How cute. I mean, they do add a hue of credibility and stateliness. But we need the vigor of the modern! Psychology will save us! After all the Father's did not live in our times, they don't really understand the problems facing us. Let's sit around and talk about how we feel; then we'll turn and give our neighbor a massage. Hip Jesus can be the group facilitator! He is so relevant and unoffensive. Fall backward into a quilted mass of comforting arms. Do you feel safe now, is this a safe place? Warm and fuzzy. I'm so special. God loves me just the way I am. Do you accept me, am I accepted? Orthodism: just want to be one of the guys; it is neither hot nor cold, and it will never be as sensational as the pulsating mass of mutability that it seeks as its guru. Teach us. We also desire to be hipsters. We are important too … do you approve?

Orthodoxy calls us out of the self-approved masses into the depths of God, where our human intellect fails. My feet cannot touch the bottom. How deep is it? What is down there, in the depths? Where does it end? No one knows. As far as the eye can see, there is no land. What if I drown? I am helpless. Who will know that I have sunk down into the depths? I am in such great need of God. Our humanity recoils in fear. All earthly safety has fled away. Our self is shuttering at the revelation of its own decrepitude. It will die in the depths. Only death bears resurrection.

No! Give me the comfort of the kiddie pool where I can get wet, touch the bottom, and be the master of my own domain. Here, so many choose to dwell.

True Christianity calls us to take up the cross and follow Christ, to lose our life and thereby save it. Modernity instructs us to exploit Christ as a means of self-aggrandizement. The True Christ teaches us to lose our life, take up the cross, and follow Him. The gospel of Me says, seek self-fulfillment, seek spiritual power, seek to be recognized as special, seek comfort, seek safety, be nice. Contemporary Jesus has come to save the self. Twisting, flashing, mesmerizing, and fluttering like an enormous multicolored neon sign. So shiny. Did Buddy Jesus just wink at me from his technicolor aura? What is that catchy tune he is humming? Follow me, I'm all-powerful, and you can be too! Repentance, what the heck is that? I'll empower you in twenty seconds flat … Feel the beat. How grand it seems!

How drab the humble cross, only dull brown wood after all. Will I get a splinter? It's not even electrified, and with no wifi!?

We may muse with a character from Fahrenheit 451, “I often wonder if God recognizes His own son the way we've dressed him up, or is it dressed him down? He's a regular peppermint stick now, all sugar-crystal and saccharine when he isn't making veiled references to certain commercial products that every worshiper absolutely needs.” Ah, the magic sugar daddy in the heavens, who's one job it is to cater to my every desire!

As a lamb to the slaughter despised and rejected, so went our Lord and so must we. Leave the glimmer of show-time christs. Come, follow Me, says the Lord, take up your cross, which is foolishness to this world and its christs. It will cost you your self. Be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world.  

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Living the Faith

By St. Philaret of Moscow.

Ah, friends, without faith in the Lord Christ there is no salvation!
We must by all means kindle in ourselves the spirit of faith, that is, stimulate it, feed it with prayer, the Word of God, patience, sincere remembrance of the Savior Who suffered for us. All of this can be done every day.

What to Do in the Morning

When you wake up, first of all let your soul and heart say "Glory to Thee, O Lord, Who has preserved us this night! Glory to Thee, Who has shown us the light! Lord, bless this day for us!" In doing this, think about how God gives you the day which you could not give to yourself, and devote the first hour, or perhaps the first quarter hour of the day given you and offer it as a sacrifice to God, in grateful, supplicatory prayer. The more zealously you do this, the more you will sanctify your day, the more strongly you will protect yourself from the temptations that we meet every day.

The Dwelling and Clothing of the Christian

From the start of the morning and throughout the day, make the thought about Christ the soul of your life, the moving force of your actions. So, for example, if you glance over your dwelling, remember Christ in the manger, in swaddling clothes, lying on straw, all this life not having a place to lay His head, finally imprisoned, nailed to the Cross, and thank God for your house, your shelter, however humble and poor it may be. Do not envy magnificently decorated mansions: the mansion of Christ is a pure heart!

As you dress in your simple clothing, remember Christ stripped naked and then robed in the clothing of mockery. Do not dwell on apparel, do not follow slavishly the whims of fashion, but try to garb yourself in goodness, humility, meekness, long-suffering, gazing mentally on the meek and humble heart of Jesus.

If you are eating a meal, remember the vinegar and gall that Christ tasted, and do not demand plentiful, luxurious food and drink: the heavenly Guest loves to enter not the house of feasting, but always to the one that opens the door of his heart to Him. Place in your heart Christ suffering and dying on the Cross, and in His unseen presence mortify your passions and lusts.

Contact with people

Later, when you deal with people, both relatives and others, before saying a word, think about what will be its effect, and think even more seriously before you do something in their presence, for actions speak louder than words.

Worldly Affairs

If you are undertaking anything, before asking any other adviser, ask the advice of faith. Appeal in the words of the Apostle: Lord, what wilt Thou have me do? (Acts 9:6). Is what I would undertake pleasing to Thee, Lord? If it is pleasing, bless it; if not, do not let me do what is displeasing to Thee. And then listen to what the Lord tells you in your conscience, in your reason, in the counsels of pious and wise people and, having begu n the course that you select, pray in your heart, O Lord, make haste to help me (Ps. 69:1).

If you are going anywhere, go with God, as our pious forebearer said as a farewell, walk before me as the Lord Himself demanded (Gen. 17:1); always see Him before you, for He is at thy right hand (Ps. 15:8). As much as possible keep in your thoughts and in your heart that God sees you, so that you may be both ashamed and afraid to attempt anything unworthy before the eyes of God.

Word and Feelings

If you enter the company of people, behave with extreme caution. If you hear a word of praise for yourself there, be careful: praises frequently conceal flattery and can arouse in you self-satisfaction and neglect of your further improvement. If you hear an insulting or humiliating word, take care not to become inflamed with anger which worketh not the righteousness of God (James 1:20). Answer the one who insults you either with silence or a meek word of truth. If you hear a word that accuses a neighbor, be careful that you not take part in the sin of someone else's tongue. Do not join in words that are more harmful to the one who judges than to the one being judged. If you hear a word that saddens one with bad news, be careful lest your sorrow become stronger than your common sense; dissolve it with hope in God's mercy and with the warm prayer: O my Rejoicing, deliver me from them which have encircled me (Ps. 31:7). Endure without complaint sorrows and misfortunes. Sorrows are inescapable on the path leading to the Kingdom of God! Many are the sorrows of the righteous! Christ Himself endured them; the Mother of God endured them as well. Without sorrows we will not be saved, but even in the depth of sorrow believe that the Lord loves you truly, and is only testing you. Remember: you sometimes return home from afar by a bad road, in a storm, in frost, or in terrible heat, but you go patiently, willingly; likewise patiently go by the difficult and sorrowful path to the heavenly home, the Kingdom of God.

Caution Regarding Harmful Books

If you see in a letter or a book a word of unbelief, irreverence, or indecency, turn your eyes away from it quickly, do not entice yourself with the thought of reading it out of curiosity or for amusement. Do not touch filth. Do not play with fire. Do not desire to experience the taste of poison.
In general, in your relations with people be peaceable, just, compassionate, do good even to your enemies, imitating Him Who shines His sun on both the evil and the good.
If you will live and act in this manner, then, when you pray, nothing will obstruct your prayer's path to heaven.

Attending Church

When the time comes, and especially the time put aside for God and His temple, a feast day or the hour of Divine Services, hurry to tear yourself away from business and worldly cares and voluntarily and zealously offer yourself to God in His church. When you enter the church bring to mind the promise of the Lord to those that gather in His name: there am I in the midst of them (Matt. 18:20), and stand reverently in church, as before the very face of Christ, and pray to Him that he sanctify you by His holiness, animate you by His prayer, and enlighten you with the word of the Gospel and the Grace of the Mysteries. Take note of this, too: in the church, angels serve with us and guard the holiness dwelling there. Once, in the Lavra of Saint Theodosius near Jerusalem, Abba Leontius, coming one Sunday to church to receive the Holy Mysteries, saw an angel standing on the right side of the Holy Table, and when the elder, being afraid, turned to run to his cell, the voice of the angel called to him: "From the time this Holy Table was consecrated, I have been charged to stay by it." Remember this, beloved, and stand reverently. And, if you feel that only your body is standing in church, while your mind thinks of home, or the market, or a place of merriment, collect yourself. Hurry to bring back your mind that has strayed, join it to God in your heart, force it to strive towards God, Who looks upon you. When you hear the word of God, open up not only your bodily ears, but your spiritual ones as well, open your heart, receive this heavenly Bread and with it nourish not only your memory, but also your life and work.

On Communion

When you are preparing to be a communicant of the Body and Blood of Christ, or are simply present at this Mystery, cleave in mind and heart to the Cross and the Tomb of the Lord, to the Body of Christ, suffering, dying, buried, risen, glorified and believe that your faith's touching Him will be more substantial than the touching of His garment by the woman with an issue of blood, and Christ's power [will] go out (Luke 8:46) to purify and elevate your powers of soul and body.

How to Celebrate Feast days

Having left church and returned home, do not rush to worldly business on days dedicated to God: business that you illicitly conduct in festal times will bring you no benefit. Realize most of all that if you do not come to thank and glorify God in His church, then you can be sure that He will not send down His blessing on your business outside the church (Haggai 1:9). And if sometimes you decide to excuse yourself from attending the church, be in fear lest you suddenly be overtaken by death and lest it be said of you: Remember that thou in thy lifetime received thy good things... but now (in eternity) thou art tormented (Luke 16:25). God preserve you from this fate.

Never forget that your soul is also God's temple, and if at any time an impure thought and evil desire draws near to your soul, and will draw your body as well towards sin, hasten to protect yourself with the words said to the first Christians, and consequently to you: Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? (I Cor. 3:16). Then say to yourself: how can I dare to ruin the temple of God, by sin and inequity! How can I be so bold as to insult and alienate the Holy Spirit!

What to do in the evening

Now the day has ended - you are going off to sleep. Ponder the thought that God gives you rest from labors, and take the first fruits of the time of your rest and dedicate it to God with pure and humble prayer. Its fragrance will draw an angel close to preserve your rest. While preparing for sleep, remember death, of which sleep is an image and threshold, and with a prayer of faith surrender yourself to Him that is the Resurrection and the Life (John 11:25). But when you can conquer sleep, or when it does not conquer you, remember [the Lord's] name in the night (Ps. 118:55). Such should be the constant disposition and activity of the believer that he may gradually draw near to that state of soul in which the holy Apostle Paul says of himself: I live by the faith of the Son of God, Who loved me and gave Himself for me... Yet not I, but Christ liveth in me (Gal: 2:20)!

Translated by Seraphim F. Englehardt From "Orthodox Life" [in Russian], No. 10, 1952 

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Last Days Great Revival? The Charismatic Experience and Orthodoxy, the perspective of one Orthodox Priest, part 3

This is a continuation of a series, the reader may find links to part 1 & 2 below:
Part 1:
Part 2:

As previously indicated (see part 1), the Pentecostal-Charismatic movement (P/C movement) is heavily premised upon a very particular doctrine: the Church (again using this word loosely) fell into darkness just after the year 300AD. Beginning with the Protestant Reformation in the 1500's the Church, it states, has been in the process of being rebuilt and restored; in the last days, there will be a great revival (move of God, an outpouring of the Holy Spirit with signs and wonders). The expectation is that this last times event may even surpass the events recorded in the book of Acts.

Between roughly 300 and 1500AD, sterile form and ritual became the substitute for the dynamic living experience of the early Church, so the teaching goes. Every group within the P/C movement, regardless, claims a unique reconstitution of the “Early Church.” A profound ignorance of Church history is manifested; moreover, a deep ignorance of the real intent and significance of Liturgical worship, priesthood, sacraments, and so forth is revealed. Purportedly, Liturgical worship is “dead religion;” priests “stand in our way of God,” and on their objections would go. They war against the very nature of Christianity while claiming to do so for the sake of Christianity. All such groups claim to be restoring the power of the Early Church, be they my former Bible school, Brownsville Revival School of Ministry, or The Last Reformation, Morning Star, Bethel, and so forth. All teach that the Church went astray and is/was in need of restoration. They all hold, in basic, to the previously outlined historical timeline. They all teach a “last days great revival," move of power, and a super-abundance of miracles. And they all claim to be the ones chosen to bring such a grand event to fruition. (Signs and wonders may be a broad term, in this article it is used as a synonym for miracles, events of a seemingly supernatural quality worked at the hands of a person.)

One must understand that Protestantism is a movement with change in its DNA. Its whole original claim and premise were to restore authentic Christian practice. It has ever debated what precisely that is down to this day. Nevertheless, a founding idea of Protestantism is “Sola Scriptura:” the teaching that the Bible alone is the only genuine and reliable source for Christian doctrine (teaching). So, holding them to their own standards, the central doctrine, for a doctrine it is, of the P/C movement regarding the corruption of the Church and “last days great restoration revival” should be evident in the Bible. If not, according to Protestantism's own standards, it should be rejected. Of course, the Orthodox Church has never taught Sola Scriptura. Nevertheless, one may rightly expect that such a purportedly paramount happening as the corruption of the church, its downfall and subsequent restoration in a “last days revival” would be clearly revealed, if not plainly indicated, in the Scriptures. One would also expect Early Church Fathers to foresee such a catastrophic happening.

First, we must ask, did Christ Jesus ever indicate that His Church (Ekklesia)1 would be overcome by the world? No. Rather we do have an indication (moreover a promise!) that the Lord will protect and keep His Church. "I will build my Church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it" (Mat. 16:18). We may safely deduce two things: 1) Christ is the source of the Church, 2) hell will not prevail against it. Hell is the very personification of corruption. It is safe to understand this to mean that the Church will never fail in Her essence. Clearly, Church history is full of ignominious and glorious events. She has welcomed the good and the evil in the hopes that all may repent and be saved. Because evil men have been a part, at least nominally, of the Church, does not mean that she is corrupt. This would be akin to insinuating that Jesus failed as a teacher because Judas failed to apply His teaching. The Church (using that word specifically) is always pure and true as is Her Lord.

Did St. Paul ever indicate the coming (from his perspective) fall of the Church? No. St. Paul tells us that Christ is the head and the Church is His body (cf. Eph. 1:21-23). This imagery is potent. Physically we understand that the head and the body are inseparable; a perfect union connects them. Separation of the head from the body is physically unnatural. One does not find a bodiless head, or vice versa, only if they are dead. But Christ is alive, as is His Church. Thus, to assume a failure of the body is to imply a failure of the Head. If the Church, the body, went corrupt, then one could plausibly lay blame on the head, Christ. This is madness, yet this is the madness that is insinuated in such teachings. We are further told that we have received an unshakable kingdom (cf. Heb. 12:28), it is no leap to understand this kingdom to be the Church of Jesus Christ. The Church is also called “the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15). Clearly, the Church shares in the virtue of Her Lord. More examples could be given, but these suffice to show that the Biblical vision is not that of the P/C movement. Christ is the foundation of the Church, which shares in His life as the body does with the head. She is unmovable, and a sure foundation. In fact, to say that the Church fails is to call the Lord Jesus a liar, for He clearly says that the “gates of hell shall never prevail,” that is, the Church will never fail. The doctrine that the Church went corrupt is clearly against all sound Christian teaching. (People may separate themselves from the Church, but this does no violence to the essential and physical unity of the Church; the Church is always One. We are either united to Her or not. History is full of people disuniting themselves from the Church and uniting themselves. Simply because there are a plethora of groups claiming to be "Church" does not indeed mean that the Church is broken or split. The Church is One as is Her Lord, cf. Eph 4:4-6.)

The claim that the Church went "corrupt" must be used by the P/C movement because otherwise, they could not claim any similarity to, or continuity with, the "Early" Church. Thus a twister game like approach to Church History must be adopted (or it is altogether ignored). The testimony of Church life during the time period that they claim was corrupt and dark is so contrary to their vision, and thus it must be disregarded and degraded. Having no living continuity they must claim an ephemeral "spiritual" unity. Rather than listen and learn from the life of the Church they choose to disregard it so as to justify their own way of life, but it is not the Life of the Church.  

Secondly, is a “last days revival” at least indicated in the Scriptures? Let's see. I will limit myself to the Words of our Lord Jesus regarding the Last days in, Mat. 24, Lk. 21, and Mk. 13. St. Paul's epistle of 2 Thessalonians, a spattering of other Pauline references, and the Book of the Apocalypse (Revelation). Clearly, since this is a short(ish) article, space does not allow an exhaustive study.

In all the accounts of our Lord Jesus' instruction regarding the last days, the picture is not all that bright. Persecution. War. Betrayal. Godlessness, and so forth. Of interest for the topic at hand are the opening words of our Lord in Matthew, “See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying 'I am the Christ,' and they will lead many astray” (v. 4). “Christ” simply means “anointed one,” thus it is possible to understand that many will come claiming to be anointed ones. The Lord continues, “If anyone says to you, 'Look, here is the Christ!' or 'There he is!' do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect” (v. 23-24). In Christ Jesus' teaching concerning the last days the only signs and wonders spoken of are false ones. No other signs and wonders are mentioned. Christ clearly does not indicate a last days revival as described by the P/C movement. Rather the picture presented is one of an increase of sin and evil together with many false christs (anointed ones) moving with spiritual power; signs so great that even the elect could be seduced, if possible (but by God's grace the Church will stand even this!). The situation seems so dire that Christ Jesus tells His disciples, “Be on guard; I have told you all things beforehand” (Mk. 13:23). What did He tell us? In the Last days false anointed ones will abound and they will use signs and wonders to justify themselves, “See we are from God!” but, "Do not believe it" (Mat. 24:23).

St. Paul prophesies regarding the last days, “Understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having an appearance of godliness, but denying its power” (2 Tim. 2:1-5). Again, not a rosy picture. There will be an appearance of godliness, and this correlates to the many false christs of which the True Christ warned. In 2 Thessalonians St. Paul instructs that in the last days a rebellion will come, a rebellion against God and His Church. Lawlessness will be revealed (cf. 2 Thess. 2: 3-4). Again, the only signs and wonders referenced are false ones, “The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved” (2 Thess. 2:9-10). Is it not significant that when speaking of the last days the only signs and wonders spoken of by both Christ and St. Paul are false ones? Clearly, they are telling us to be vigilant; there is no indication of a last days revival as taught by the P/C movement. The only last days revival is a revival of sin and evil, together with a “spirituality” free from the “constraint” of the Church. And what is the guard against deception? Love of the truth; St. Paul told us that the Church is the pillar and ground of truth, thus we may conclude that a love and holding to the Church as it has manifested for 2,000 years is a love and holding to truth.

In St. John the Theologian's revelation of the Apocalypse we see a general vision of the rise of sin and lawlessness, brutal persecution of the righteous, war, suffering, and so forth. Clearly, this book is cryptic and requires great wisdom. Of interest for this article is not the specific meaning of each character and image, but merely whether or not a great last days revival is evident. We see the two witness, who testify against the Antichrist and his system. They are given the power to work wonders (cf. Rev. 11). Besides this positive reference to signs and wonders, the other reference is to the Antichrist himself and the beast (cf. Rev. 13). They use great signs and wonders to deceive the multitudes. Yet there is no clear and explicit teaching that the Church will fail and be in need of a last days restoration. Indeed the Church is persecuted and attacked throughout Revelation (cf. Rev. 12:17). Signs and wonders are predominately used to lead the multitudes astray. The culmination of all things is the return of our Lord Jesus Christ, which will truly be glorious (cf. Rev. 19).

A Charismatic Meeting
Nowhere are Christians instructed to seek a last days “restoration” of power. Indeed, the Church has always taught that obsession (the P/C movement is obsessed with power) with signs and wonders will only act to predispose people to accept false christs and ultimately the Antichrist. The power of the P/C movement has great emotional charge, I know I have moved in it. “The willingness of our fallen human nature to mistake illusion for truth, emotional comfort for spiritual experience, is much greater than you think,” astutely observes Fr. Seraphim (Rose).2 True Christianity has always had miracles and always will, but they are not an end-all indicator of truth. They may be mimicked, and thus the underlying principles of the one working the miracles must be weighed and tested. Is the source true and sound? Is the fruit true unity in Christ Jesus and His body the Church? Many times power flatters us into thinking that we are spiritual people and that we deserve to have the “Holy Spirit;” that we are “anointed” and even to a degree special. In Orthodoxy, this is called prelest. Let us remember the mandate to test the spirits to see if they are from God (1 Jn. 4:1-3). The chief appeal of the P/C movement is to emotional experience, and all “truths” are subject to this experience. Most of the time the experience is never tested by some greater and abiding Truth; untested experience simply justifies the experience. The assumption is, “I experienced power, thus it must be from God.” The “I” is set as the great discerner of truth, and the safety of the pillar and ground of the Church is cast aside. A great arrogant assumption is made: I am spiritual; therefore I can discern correctly! Moreover, the power in the P/C movement is fairly easy to attain, one need not be bothered by pesky ideas like a life of repentance, humility, and self-denial. No, Christ wants me to be super! I have been there. I have done this. My hope is that people will also, by the mercy of God, come out of this prelest into the eternal freedom and Truth of Holy Orthodoxy. 

To what do the Scriptures call Christians, most of all those living in these times? Our Lord Jesus Christ says, "In your patience possess your souls" (Lk. 21:19). "The one who endures to the end will be saved" (Mat. 24:13). Christ revealed the way, the Apostles preached it, and we must patiently endure in it holding fast; not being led astray by false shows of power. “Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith of Jesus” (Rev. 14:12). "Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering" (Heb. 10:23). "Stand firm and hold the traditions that you were taught by us (the Apostles), either by our spoken word or by our letter" (1 Thess. 2:15). "Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong" (1 Cor. 16:13). "Contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3). We constantly see in the Scriptures an exhortation to stand in what was given once for all and never do we see a teaching telling us to look for a coming "new" work and revelation. Christ Jesus is the only New and Eternal Revelation of God, the job of a Christian is to hold fast to that revelation. This is the Faith of Jesus. (How can one hold fast to a faith that is in constant change due to ever-evolving experiences and new "words" and teaching, many times contradicting former ones, as in the P/C movement? To what teaching should one hold fast? The conundrum multiplies from here.) The Church has been founded on Christ once for all. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost affirmed the revelation of Jesus Christ to and in His Church. The Orthodox Church has proven through Her faithful and long endurance to be that very Church founded by our Lord. All other “new” revelations are condemned in the Scripture. Jude goes on to tell us, "certain people have crept in unnoticed ... who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” (Jude 4). This denial is not so much a verbal one (they continue to teach in the name of Jesus), as one wherein they preach their own message in the Name of Jesus. Woe to such ones. In this way, they deny Christ and preach rather their own selves (but it sounds much more authoritative if someone says "Jesus told me!"). St. Paul tells the Galatians, "Even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed (anathema)" (1:8).

It is vital to note that the whole of Christian life and history for 2,000 years never expected a “last days revival.” To expound upon this would be very lengthy. Nevertheless, it is imperative to note that the teaching at hand is novel. The Christian Church, Orthodoxy, has never held it. In fact, all Her teachings regarding the last of the last days are in line with the Scriptures: they will be extremely difficult days, many will lose their faith, evil will abound as will false signs and wonders, but those faithful to the Revelation of Christ in His Church shall be saved.

In light of such testimony, one has but few choices: either accept them as true and proven by the True Church for over 2,000 years or throw them out and listen to what the new “spirit” is saying.

There is something indeed new at work, but it is neither from the wellspring of the Holy Spirit nor the pillar and ground of truth in the Church.

Let it be briefly noted that this is in no way a denial of signs and wonders per se, for truly they have been at work in the Church since the day of Pentecost. It is a refutation of a novel doctrine that asserts the “restoration” of the church which, so it alleges, was corrupted; the primary justification it provides for such a teaching is an emphasis on signs and wonders; power untested and accepted easily with the assumption that Christ is the source. As we have seen such a doctrine is not in Scripture nor the life and teaching of Christ's Church. Christianity has always understood that there exist false signs and wonders, and they are very deceptive; thus miracles are never the paramount ideal.

How much, then, must Orthodox Christians walk in the fear of God, trembling lest they lose His grace, which by no means is given to everyone, but only to those who hold the true Faith, lead a life of Christian struggle, and treasure the grace of God which leads them heavenward. And how much more cautiously must Orthodox Christians walk today above all, when they are surrounded by a counterfeit Christianity that gives its own experiences of 'grace' and the 'Holy Spirit' and can abundantly quote the Scriptures and Holy Fathers to 'prove' it. Surely the last times are near, when there will come spiritual deception so persuasive as to deceive, if it were possible, even the elect (Mat. 24:24).” Fr. Seraphim (Rose).

Please keep in mind that this series is an examination of a system. While I cannot but reject what is a faulty system, I understand that there are persons within it. The persons I leave to God. May He grant them enlightenment, repentance, and salvation. This is an examination of a novel system and teaching that claims to be from God.

1 It is good to note that our English word church does not come etymologically from the Greek word ekklesia, but from the Greek word Kyriacon, “of the Lord” or loosely “the Lord's house.” In old English it was Cirice from the west German Kirka, which is the same in old Saxon, from these words we have our word “church.” The word ekklessia is more properly “the gathering, or the community” the Greek is a compound of ek – out, away from; and a derivative of kaleo – to call. Thus literally it means “to call out from.” I will use the word Church in its current common usage as the translation of ekklesia.

2Fr. Seraphim (Rose). Orthodoxy and the Religion of the Future. St. Herman Press, p. 141.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Are We Truly Orthodox Christians?

by St. John of Kronstadt

So were rivers of blood shed for the preservation of the Orthodox Faith by apostles, prophets, and martyrs; much suffering was endured be reverend fathers and other champions of the faith.

What about us, children of the Orthodox Church? Do we preserve this most precious heritage, the Orthodox Faith? Do we follow its teachings, commandments, rules, statutes, advice? Do we love to offer this service to God, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name (Heb. 13:15)? Are we renewed by it? Do we sanctify ourselves every day, do we correct ourselves, do we attain the perfection the saints attained? Do we perfect ourselves in our love for God and neighbor, do we cherish our faith, do we consider it the greatest mercy of God, the very first and greatest benefit of life the fact that we are fortunate to belong to the Orthodox Church, which is the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church?

What is our answer to these questions, if we desire to answer honestly? To our shame we must confess that many, many Orthodox Christians not only do not have the Orthodox faith in their hearts and lives, but also do not have it even in their tongues, and faith has either completely disappeared from their lives or they have become completely indifferent toward any faith: Catholicism, Lutheranism, Judaism, Islam, even paganism. We hear from many people that you can please God in every faith, that is, as if every faith is pleasing to God, and as if God is indifferent to truth and falsehood, right and wrong. Look at the consequences of ignoring one's faith, of the ignorance of the spirit and history of their Church, alienation from its life and divine services, the consequences of ignoring concepts of Orthodoxy, Heterodoxy, and other faiths!

A Christian as a member of the Church, must know his faith and try to live according to it, be saved by his faith, because the enemies of our salvation do not sleep, and seek our destruction at every hour; a Christian must not abandon his faith …

No other religion except Orthodoxy can bring man to moral perfection or holiness and perfect agreeableness to God, as evidenced by the history of the church and the incorrupt and wonderworking remains of the holy saints of God, and by the wonderful feats of the saints of the Orthodox Church … so it should be, according to common sense, only a perfect faith can bring one to perfection, with all divine powers, all the spiritual armor of God against the passions of the flesh, the world, and the devil.

If nowadays many Orthodox Christians live worse than Muslims and pagans … this truly impious life of the Christian must not in the least, of course, be blamed on the Orthodox Faith, which is unwavering in its principles of truth and holiness, according to the promise of the Savior Himself and the testimony of history. Such people, even though they came from us, were never one of us in essence, but only in name.

Yes, my brethren, only the Orthodox Faith purifies and sanctifies human nature stained by sin; it renews the corrupted, especially through the mysteries of baptism, repentance, and communion. It illumines those who are darkened and heals those who are wounded by sins … Would you like to be convinced of this? Read the lives of the saints, the history of the Church, and you will see firsthand all of these miracles in the lives of the saints.

Why does it not also effect such saving changes within us? Because of our lack of faith, or unbelief, because of our frivolity, corruption, and the impenitence in our hearts; because of the passions that grow stronger within us and have complete control over us, because of our falling away from the Church, and because many of us do not in the least instill within ourselves the spirit of the Church, and many others insincerely, weakly, and only slightly more formally belong to it.

For us to be true Orthodox Christians, we must first of all have a living, constant communion with the Orthodox Church; that is, we must partake in its prayers, teachings, and mysteries; we must diligently study our faith and be instilled with and live its spirit; we must be guided by its rules, commandments, statutes, and more important, we must restore within ourselves the image of true and deep repentance of a true Orthodox Christian according to the image of the saints, old and new, or better according to the image of our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, Who said: For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you (Jn. 13:15), so that the Lord may say of us, as once he said of Nathaniel: Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit (Jn. 1:47). Amen.

From: Season of Repentance, Lenten Homilies of St. John of Kronstadt, Holy Trinity Publications.
Sermon on the Sunday of Orthodoxy, p. 92ff.

Monday, February 20, 2017

On Casual Frequent Communion

On casual frequent Communion.

Elder Paisius

Question: It is observed in some places Confession is neglected, and Holy Communion is given very often. What's the best thing to do in this situation?

Answer: We have no right to renounce the holy canons and the age-old practice of the Church. Let us follow the path of the Fathers and our predecessors, on the canonical path of holy tradition. Frequent Communion does not bring us to perfection, but repentance with tears, frequent Confession, abandonment of sin, and prayer of the heart do. The zeal of some for frequent Communion is a sign of the weakening of faith and of pride, and not of spiritual advancement. Our correction and advancement on the path of salvation begin with frequent Confession, and continue through fasting and tearful prayer, through the abandoning of sins, almsgiving, reconciliation with everyone, and humility. Only after we do all these things may we have Communion more often, as the holy canons and traditions of the Church show us. Otherwise, how can you receive the Lord of Heaven and earth into your house, when your soul is unclean, unconfessed, a slave to passions, and especially, full of pride? First we have need of tears, prayer, and frequent Confession, then all other gifts will be added to us.
From: A Little Corner of Paradise, St. Herman Press, 2016, p. 209

"If you approach them [the Most-Pure Mysteries] with uncorrected hearts, unworthily, then you commune to your own judgment and condemnation and will be 'guilty of the body and blood of the Lord' (1 Cor. 11:27), and after communion will be no better; on the contrary you will have made yourself worse."      St. John of Kronstadt
From: Season of Repentance: Lenten Homilies, Holy Trinity Publications, p. 75

Friday, December 30, 2016

A Morning Prayer

By St. John of Kronstadt

"O, God! Creator and Master of the World! Mercifully protect Thy creature, adorned with Thy Godly image, in these morning hours: Let Thine eyes, millions and millions of times brighter than the rays of the sun, vivify and enlighten my soul, darkened and slain by sin. Deliver me from despondency and slothfulness, grant me joy and vigor of soul, so that with a glad heart I may praise Thy mercy, Thy holiness, Thy boundless greatness, and Thy infinite perfections, at every hour and in every place. For Thou, Lord, art my Creator and the Master of my life, and to Thee Thy reasonable creatures every hour send up glory and praise, both now and for ever and to the ages of ages. Amen"

From, "My Life in Christ," pg. 24.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

The Charismatic Movement and the Orthodox Church: the perspective of one Orthodox Priest, part 2

This article is part two in a series. 

A “Charismatic” Movement in the Early Church

In the town of Phrygia, central Asia Minor, about the year 160AD, a man named Montanus claimed to be “seized” by the Holy Spirit. He began to receive “special” messages, “speak in tongues,” prophesy, and so forth. Two women “prophetesses” soon join him: Priscilla and Maximillia.

This occurrence takes place well before the above given general date of 311AD (according to the Emerging Church scheme, when the Church allegedly enters a time of “darkness;” see part one of this series). Thus, even for a person subscribing to an Emerging Church philosophy, this incident should bear weight. It transpired when the Church, according to such thought, was still “being led by the Spirit.”

The History of the Early Church by Eusebius gives these details,There is said to be a certain village called  Ardabau in that part of Mysia, which borders upon Phrygia. There first, they say, when Gratus was proconsul of  Asia,  a recent convert, Montanus by name, through his unquenchable desire for leadership, gave the adversary opportunity against him. And he became beside himself, and being suddenly in a sort of frenzy and ecstasy, he raved, and began to babble and utter strange things, prophesying in a manner contrary to the constant custom of the Church handed down by tradition from the beginning … Thus by artifice, or rather by such a system of wicked craft, the devil, devising destruction for the disobedient, and being unworthily honored by them, secretly excited and inflamed their understandings which had already become estranged from the true faith. And he stirred up besides two women, and filled them with the false spirit, so that they talked wildly and unreasonably and strangely, like the person already mentioned. And the spirit pronounced them blessed as they rejoiced and gloried in him, and puffed them up by the magnitude of his promises. But sometimes he rebuked them openly in a wise and faithful manner, that he might seem to be a reprover. But those of the Phrygians that were deceived were few in number … And the arrogant spirit taught them to revile the entire universal Church under heaven, because the spirit of false prophecy received neither honor from it nor entrance into it.”1

The Montanists, based on the brief description above, experienced similar manifestation to those of the P/C movement, and the Universal Church at that time condemned it as heresy and delusion. As the Scriptures profess and caution, and as the Church indicated in Her dealings with the Montanists, not all “Charismatic” experiences are from God.

The Montanists declared that they were ushering in the age of the Holy Spirit, and with it renewed focus on prophecy, speaking in tongues, and the other gifts of the Spirit. To reject their message was, they claimed, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. The Montanists prophesied in the first person, something unheard of in the Old and New Testament. It appears that Montanus would say, “I, the Holy Spirit, say to you ...” Whereas the Old and New Testament prophets all spoke in this manner, “Thus says the Lord ...” (cf. Act. 21:11; Is. 8:1). They also fervently expected the immediate return of Christ, even professing to know location and date. One author states, Montanists, “Claiming to receive revelation directly from God that fulfilled and superseded the revelation given to the Apostles, Montanus emphasized direct, ecstatic, and highly emotional spiritual experiences for all believers … (they) did not claim to be messengers of God but rather claimed that God 'possessed' them and spoke directly through them.”2

I will interject here a little personal experience: first, I remember at various meetings (while I was still a Charismatic) hearing people speak in the first person “I, the Lord, say ….” Second, when I first encountered the Montanist account, even before I was Orthodox, I was struck by its similarity to what I had hence experienced. One has but a few options: either push the date when the Church enters “darkness” back before 160AD so as to disregard the response of the Church to this movement, or admit that my experiences, and their strong resemblance to Montanism, had been at best very questionable. I went with the latter option.

Further testimony of the early Church has also come down to us in a letter of one Miltaides. He duly witnesses, “But the false prophet falls into an ecstasy, in which he is without shame or fear. Beginning with purposed ignorance, he passes on, as has been stated, to involuntary madness of soul. They cannot show that one of the old or one of the new prophets was thus carried away in spirit. Neither can they boast of Agabus, or Judas, or Silas, [Acts 15:32] or the daughters of Philip, or Ammia in Philadelphia, or Quadratus, or any others not belonging to them … For the apostle thought it necessary that the prophetic gift should continue in all the Church until the final coming. But they [i.e. Montanists] cannot show it [i.e. continuity with the Universal Church]...”3

Evidently, Montanus also used his newfound power to take up large-scale collections of money. He, “named Pepuza and Tymion, small towns in Phrygia, Jerusalem, wishing to gather people to them from all directions; who appointed collectors of money; who contrived the receiving of gifts under the name of offerings; who provided salaries for those who preached his doctrine, that its teaching might prevail through gluttony."4 Obviously Christian ministers have throughout the ages received their “due wages,” in earthly terms, for their labors. What is being decried here is the turning of “ministry” into a money making racket. This was also done at Asuza though extensive mailing lists.

Based upon the available accounts regarding Montanism, the small reconstructed picture bears a remarkable similarity, most of all, to that of the Azusa Street movement, which, keep in mind, was the catalyst for the whole modern “Pentecostal” experience, and its subsequent fruit.

The early Church decisively condemned Montanism at several local councils in Asia Minor, and Bishop Zephyrius of Rome condemned it around the year 200. Although the movement lingered on for a number of years, the answer of the Christian Church was clear: such “charismatic experiences” do not have their source in God. It is false charisma. It has its origin in another spirit. The Christian Church has never known such “manifestations.”

I by no means claim that every aspect of Montanism parallels the P/C movement, but there exist sufficient similarities to cause pause, most of all in the realm of "spiritual" gifts and manifestations.

The carefully deliberated response of the early Christian Church to Montanism and its self-professed “spiritual” gifts and power should cause circumspection for the modern Christian. Are the very recent and current (one hundred years is not that long ago) claims to “spiritual” renewal and power be trusted? Have people put faith in a power, because undoubtedly there is a power involved in the P/C movement, without trying and testing it? Has much of modern Christendom failed to, as St. Paul admonishes, “Prove all things, and hold fast to the good” (1 Thess. 5:21)? Are signs and powers in and of themselves an end-all proof that something is of God? Or are we to test signs and wonders, so as to see where they lead? “If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, 'Let us go after other gods,' which you have not known, and serve them, you shall not listen to the words of that prophet ...” (Deut. 13:1-3).

It is no critical statement to simply say, the “Christianity” introduced by the P/C movement has a fundamentally different orientation from that of the Ancient Christian Church. Are its signs and wonders worth heeding? And is it restoring the long lost Church? Are Christians to expect a great last “revival” and the final restoration of the Church?

In the next series, I will undertake to test these claims.

1Eusebius, The History of the Church, 5.16.
2Damick, Andrew. Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy, Conciliar Media Ministries. Chesterson, IN. p. 21.
3Eusebius, The History of the Church, 5.17.

4Ibid. 5. 18.