Monday, December 22, 2014

The spirit of this age and the Spirit of Christ

By, Hiero-Martyr Damascene (Tsedrik)

The purpose of the Church is constant battle; this is why it is called the 'militant Church', battling with the prince of this world – that is, with all those who by all possible means and ways press the spirit of man, bind it, as it were mix it with matter, gradually suppress and in it the call from heaven, deprive it of the opportunity even to feel its own true nature, the true purpose of its life in this world, and even harden it against the eternal light. For the spirit that has become attached to earth, this Light even now becomes painfully tormenting, which is why there is occurring a rebellion against the light, an effort to put out its remaining rays in this world. All this is contained in a single word: evil. As long as there is occurring a conscious battle with evil, so long will the 'day' of Christ's Church endure …. It is joyful to realize that only this Light possesses the life-giving quality of constantly creating, igniting noble lamps of the light in the midst of the darkness which to all appearances has already covered everything. Therefore, let it be that darkness has temporarily covered the earth (form the sixth to the ninth hour), let it be that the lamps of certain Churches are hidden under bushels so as not to be put out by the satanic whirlwind (as has occurred with the majority). After a short time of rest from the Lord (perhaps even the time when darkness will imagine that its work has already been completed), the lamps will be revealed, will come together, will ignite a multitude of others which had been put out, will pour together into a great flame of faith which, when efforts are made to put it out, will burn yet brighter; for many which have been put out and have felt the torment of the darkness and the cold of Tartarus will prefer to burn upon the bonfire of the flame of faith that again to be immersed in darkness ….

No matter how few we might be, the whole power of Christ's promises concerning the invincibility of the Church remain with us. With us is Christ, the Conqueror of death and hell. The history of Christianity shows us that in all the periods when temptations and heresies have agitated the Church, the bearers of church truth and the expressors of it were few, but these few with the fire of their faith and their zealous standing in the Truth have gradually ignited everyone … The same thing will happen now if we few will fulfill our duty before Christ and His Church to the end.

Why is it that the seal of the Antichrist, as St. John the Theologian affirms, will be placed not upon the forehead and the hand simultaneously, but upon the forehead or the hand? Likewise, St. Andrew, Archbishop of Caesarea, writes: 'He will strive so that the mark might be placed on everyone' … In some it will be on the right hand, so as to instruct those who have been deceived to be bold in their deception and darkness. This will occur because at that time there will be people who will affirm that it is possible and permissible to recognize the God-fighting authority of Antichrist if only one remains a Christian in one's soul. From such ones the Antichrist will not demand that they share his way of thinking; in other words, upon all such ones he will not place the seal on their forehead, but will demand of them only recognition of his authority, which is, according to St. Hippolytus, the seal on the hand, since through recognition of the human authority which will be God-fighting and against God, lawless and filled with every impiety, a Christian by this very fact will cut off from himself every possibility of doing good and righteous deeds, for in his faith there will be missing the chief sign of uprightness – the confession of God as God and the recognition of Him as Being that stands above all. All such ones, even though they might bear the name of Christian, in very deed will be, according to the works of their hands, true servants of Antichrist, who has deceived them by the worship of his image, which is the mark of the beast. Repentance is impossible for such ones, according to the teaching of the Holy Church; and it is impossible only because the seal of Christ and the seal of the Antichrist are incompatible with each other, and the reception of one banishes the presence of the other. The banishing of the grace of the Holy Spirit through the mark of the beast fills the heart of all such ones with the first sign – fearfulness – which will bring them to an easy destruction. St. Hippolytus writes: 'On the contrary, if anyone will be deprived of the Holy Spirit, that is, if one will not have upon himself or has lost the seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit which was given in Holy Chrismation, he will fight with fear in a cowardly manner, will hide, will be afraid of the present temporal death, will conceal himself from the sword, will not endure chastisement, since he is constantly thinking about this world.”

From: Russia's Catacomb Saints, pp. 227-228, 222-223.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Confusion and Peace of Soul

by St. Theophan the Recluse

Why does a soul, existing in sin, all confused, not arise?

This is due to the fact that it has lost equilibrium.* Equilibrium imparts to the soul fear of God and a calm conscience. When the conscience is at rest and its relationship with God is peaceful, then the soul abides within itself and holds itself in sobriety. When the conscience is anxious and has offended God, then it is difficult for the soul to be within itself, as if in a malodorous and smokey room; thus the soul runs away and seeks itself on the outside, looking for something to quench its inner melancholy, running from one thing to another so as not to remain with itself even for one minute. Yet only when the thought descends, like an angel, of reconciling itself with God and its conscience does the soul return to itself, like a runaway slave with a lowered head, and from that moment it begins again to be made steadfast. 

* Tochka oporii, Literally- Fulcrum, center point, focal point, point of balance, point of support.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Fasting: Feeding on Divine Grace

By St. Dimitry of Rostov 

Revere fasting and temperance if you desire to be made whole in your thoughts and have a clear victory over the passions. Guard against overeating and drunkenness – they are the root and beginning of every sin and behind them comes impurity and fornication, which bring preparation for eternal affliction. Adam, our first father, was not guarded and thus in bitterness he lost paradise and fell under death.

From overeating and drinking the soul becomes weighed down, the reason becomes muddled, the flesh is stirred up and makes constant battles, the demons approach easily, and estrangement from God ensues. From overeating and drinking not only is the soul harmed but the body also becomes sick. They rob a person of not only eternal but even temporal life; they also destroy the soul and body, making them useless to God and people. Fleeting carnal pleasures prepare the way for everlasting grief. The one who guards himself and is temperate in this life is even now in paradise, but the one who is unguarded and sinful is even now in hell and heaviness of soul.

Be then one who overcomes, not one who succumbs. Master pleasures, do not let them master you if you want to be free in the coming life. “To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God” (Rev. 2:7). It is also written, “Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life” (Jn. 6:27).

Be moderate in everything if you desire to find peace of soul; without moderation, you will never find stillness and peace. If some food were incredibly delightful but poisonous, you would not eat it. Therefore scorn having a full stomach so that you will not fall into the bonds of the passions and be held by them. Through enduring hunger and thirst, you will be freed from heaviness of soul and satiated with Divine food. The one who cannot endure even the smallest deprivations will suffer from falls into the passions. The pleasures of the flesh, compared with the sweetness to come, are but burdens and momentary comforts are but bitterness of soul, therefore strive to estrange yourself from bodily pleasures. “For the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom 14:17), as the Apostle says. Do not deem your comfort to be found in food and drink, but in seeking the best Heavenly grace in God. Even if you enjoy every kind of food and drink in abundance, remember that they are neither eternal nor immutable, but Heavenly blessing is.

If you were able to call to mind every kind of food you ate and every type of drink you drank from youth on up, it would be clear: although you have consumed much, it has all disappeared as if it never were; you can not even remember most of it! It is the same then and now, from food and drink comes but a little comfort and much sorrow, only a little sweetness, and great heaviness. They are sorry comforters, carrying behind them sadness and bitterness. No one unreasonably enslaved to overeating and drinking has ever done anything worth remembering or of merit in this world. Instead, they lose not only this life but eternal life as well.

You yourself at some point have experienced and known that fleshly pleasures bring heaviness, they bind the soul and produce confusion in it. More than once you have burdened your soul with overeating, drinking, sleeping, and other such things. From now on keep yourself at least from fleshly desires, so that in doing so you will be kept from evil. Do not seek comfort in such pleasures, but in the Lord; do not be a slave to the imprudent pleasures of appetite, but instead it is necessary to exercise them with prudence. If you subjugated yourself to the flesh then it will never leave you in peace, it will only push you into the depths of sin.

Do not count on receiving heaven either without effort or without living the heavenly life; if you still have not learned to rule over your passions, do not count on inheriting the Kingdom of Heaven for free. It is written, “Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards … will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor. 6:9-10). You will go to the next life with whatever you have acquired here. Look to it that you do not hear, “In your lifetime you received your good things” (Lk. 16:25). All these pleasures of appetite are not new to you, more than once they have caused bitterness and confusion, and more than once they may have seduced you, but stop now; no longer be your own unmerciful enemy.

“Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Mat. 4:4). Fleshly pleasures are not natural to mankind's soul, they appeared after the fall of Adam, for a particular time, in the generation of humanity. For we have not yet learned to eat the divine spiritual food, but instead we imprudently turn away from it. The constant satisfying of the flesh brings only ailment, weakness, affliction, and sadness. The more you satisfy the flesh, the more you will weaken. The more you try to please it, the sicker you will become. No one has ever seen a drunk and a glutton in perfect health. Do not be like a fly or an ant, which are attracted to the sweetness of honey and then end up drowning in it; nor be like a swine that, no matter how many times, is driven away from a vegetable garden and immediately it forgets and returns again. Do not be so irrational and do not labor for worldly sweetness; remember, it is only given for a short time. It is better to be free than enslaved. Serve God alone and not your various desires, so that you may attain salvation.

In the eternal age, we will not feed on this earthly food but the Divine grace of the Most Holy Spirit. Concern yourself with receiving that food, because there is no peace or rest in fleshly sweetness, but only constant strife and rebellion, gloom and darkness. Yet the Divine and spiritual food imparts to the soul peace, quietness of life, freedom of spirit, joy, and gladness. As it is written, “They shall be drunk from the plenteousness of Thy house, and Thou shalt give them drink of Thy pleasure, as out of a river” (Ps. 35:9).

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Orthodox Christianity Must Remain Eternally Unchanging

By St. Theophan the Recluse

It reached my ears that, as it seems, you consider my sermons very strict and believe that today no one should think this way, no one should be living this way and therefore, no one should be teaching this way. “Times have changed!” 

How glad I was to hear this. This means that you listen carefully to what I say, and not only do you listen, but you are also willing to abide by it. What more could we hope for, we who preach as we were ordered and as much we were ordered? 

Despite all this, in no way can I agree with your opinion. I even consider it my duty to comment on it and to correct it, since – even though it perhaps goes against your desire and conviction – it comes from something sinful, as though Christianity could alter its doctrines, its canons, its sanctifying ceremonies to answer to the spirit of each age and adjust itself to the changing tastes of the sons of this century, as though it could add or subtract something. 

Yet, it is not so. Christianity must remain eternally unchanging, in no way being dependent on or guided by the spirit of each age. Instead, Christianity is meant to govern and direct the spirit of the age for anyone who obeys its teachings. To convince you of this, I will put forward some thoughts for you to consider.

Some said that my teaching is strict. First of all, my teaching is not my own, nor it should be. In this sacred office nobody should, nor even can, preach his own teaching. If I or someone else ever dare to do so, you can put us outside the Church.

We preach the teachings of our Lord, God and Saviour Jesus Christ, of the holy Apostles, and theHoly Church, which is guided by the Holy Spirit. At the same time, we make sure to do everything possible to keep these teachings whole and inviolate in your minds and hearts. Every thought we present and every word we use, we do so very carefully, so as not to overshadow this brilliant and divine teaching in any way. Nobody can act differently.

...a single raising of your mind to God, and a single humble genuflexion to His glory and in His honor has infinitely more value than all the treasures of the world... --St Nicodemos and Theophan the Recluse (Unseen Warfare: Chapter 20)

Such a law that calls for each man’s preaching in the Church to be "God-sent," was established at the creation of the world, and should thus remain valid until the end of the world. The Prophet Moses, after the delivery of the commandments from God Himself to the people of Israel, concluded: “You shall not add to the word which I am commanding you, nor take away from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God, which I command you.” (Deut. 4:2)

This law of constancy is so unalterable that the Lord and Savior Himself, when He was teaching the people on the mountain, said: “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” (Math. 5:17-18)

Then He gave the same validity to his teaching, before interpreting the commandments in the spirit of the gospel, by adding: “Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven.” (Math. 5:19)

This means that anyone who wrongly interprets the commandments of God and lessens their validity, will be an outcast in the future life. This is what He said at the beginning of His preaching. He assured the same thing to Saint John the Theologian, the beholder of ineffable revelations, to whom He described the final judgement of the world and the Church, indicating in the Apocalypse (Book of Revelations): “I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book.” (Apoc. 22:18-19)

From the time of His first appearance in the world until the Second Coming, Christ has given the Holy Apostles and their successors the following law: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations…teaching them to observe all that I commanded you.” (Math. 28:19-20)

That means “for you to teach, not what anyone else could possibly imagine, but what I ordered, and this to the end of the world.” And He adds: “And lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. Amen.” (Math. 28:20)

The Apostles received this law and sacrificed their lives in order to keep it. And to those who wanted to keep them from preaching what it was they preached under the threat of punishment and death, they replied: “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:19-20)

This clear law was delivered by the apostles to their successors, was accepted by them, and has timeless effect in the Church of God. Because of this law, the Church is the pillar and the ground of truth. Can you see then what an inviolable steadfastness it has? After that, who would be so bold as to stubbornly disturb or move anything in Christian doctrine and law?

Next listen to what is said of the Prophet Ezekiel who for seven days was in the ecstasy of prayer and after seven days heard the word of the Lord: “Son of man, I have made you a watchman to the house of Israel: therefore hear the word at my mouth” (Ezek. 3:17), and he declared to the people: Here is the law for you! If you see a wicked person committing iniquity and you do not tell him: leave your iniquity and change your way, “that wicked person shall die for his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand.” (Ezek. 3:18) Conversely, “if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, or from his wicked way, he shall die for his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul. Again, if a righteous person turns from his righteousness and commits injustice, and I lay a stumbling block before him, he shall die. Because you have not warned him, he shall die for his sin, and his righteous deeds that he has done shall not be remembered, but his blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the righteous person not to sin, and he does not sin, he shall surely live, because he took warning, and you will have delivered your soul.” (Ezek. 3:19-21)

What a strict law! And though it sounds in the consciences of all pastors during their election and consecration, when a heavy yoke is put on them, namely the instruction of the flock of Christ that He entrusted to them, big or small, not only to guide it but also to preserve it. How could anyone be so bold, to pervert everything in the law of Christ, when this involves the destruction of both pastors and flock?

If the saving power of this teaching depended on our opinion of it and our consent to it, it would make sense for someone to imagine rebuilding Christianity according to human weaknesses or the claims of the age and adapt it according to the sinful desires of his heart. But the saving power of Christian law does not at all depend on us, but on the will of God, by the fact that God Himself established precisely the exact path of salvation. Beyond this there is no other way, nor could it exist. Therefore, anyone who teaches in any other way, is deviating from the true path and is destroying himself and you. What logic is there in that?

Notice how strict judgment was mentioned when something similar happened to the nation of Israelduring the difficult years of their captivity. Some prophets out of pity for the suffering and sick talked to the people, not as the Lord had ordered, but as their heart dictated. Concerning them the Lord gave the following commands to Ezekiel: “And you, son of man, set your face against the daughters of your people, who prophesy out of their own minds. Prophesy against them and say, Thus says the Lord God: Woe to the women who sew magic bands upon all wrists, and make veils for the heads of persons of every stature, in the hunt for souls.” (Ezek. 13:17-18)This means: Woe to those who order any kind of special treatment and suggest such leniency, so no one feels the slightest displeasure, either from those on top or those at the bottom, not caring whether this is for their salvation or destruction, whether it is pleasing to God, or repulsive. Woe to them, because “thus says the Lord God...your pillows and veils,” namely your candied and comforting teaching, “upon which there you are perverting souls, I will tear from your arms and I will let their souls that you are perverting, go away...” (Ezek. 13:20-21) from this teaching of yours and I will destroy you corrupters.

This is the benefit of this special treatment and leniency, such as you want to hear from preachers! When you put all this deep in your heart, it is not right for you to want us to make any concessions in Christian doctrine, having the wrong desire to be pleased by us. On the contrary, you are obliged to persistently demand from us to remain true to doctrine, as strictly and firmly as possible.

Have you ever heard of the indulgences of the Pope of Rome? Here is what they are: special treatment and leniency, which he gives defying the law of Christ. And what is the result? From all of this, the West is corrupt in faith and in their way of life, and is now getting lost in its disbelief and in the unrestrained life with its indulgences.

The Pope changed many doctrines, spoiled all the sacraments, nullified the canons concerning the regulation of the Church and the correction of morals. Everything has begun going contrary to the will of the Lord, and has become worse and worse.

Then came along Luther, a smart man, but stubborn. He said, “The Pope changed everything as he wanted, why shouldn't I do the same?” He started to modify and re-modify everything in his own way, and in this way established the new Lutheran faith, which only slightly resembles what the Lord had commanded and the Holy Apostles delivered to us.After Luther came the philosophers. And they in turn said, “Luther has established himself a new faith, supposedly based on the Gospel, though in reality based on his own way of thinking. Why, then, don't we also compose doctrines based on our own way of thinking, completely ignoring the Gospel?” They then started rationalizing, and speculating about God, the world, and man, each in his own way. And they mixed up so many doctrines, that one gets dizzy just counting them.

Now the Westerners have the following views: Believe what you think best, live as you like, satisfy whatever captivates your soul. This is why they do not recognize any law or restriction and they do not abide by God's word. Their road is wide, all obstacles displaced. Their way is broad, all the obstacles taken out. But the broad road leads to perdition, according to what the Lord says. This is where leniency in teaching has led!Lord, save us from this broad way! But it is better to love each difficulty that the Lord has appointed for our salvation. Let us love Christian doctrines and let us compel our mind with them, pushing it not to think otherwise. Let us love Christian morals and let us compel our will in them, forcing it to lift the light yoke of the Lord humbly and patiently. Let us love all Christian rituals and services which guide us, correct us, and sanctify us. Let us compel our heart with them, encouraging it to convey its desires from the earthly and perishable, to the heavenly and imperishable.

Let us confine ourselves as though in a cage. Or better, let us drag ourselves, as if we were passing through a narrow passage. Let it be narrow, so no one can deviate neither to the right left, nor the left. Yet undoubtedly, through this narrow way we will obtain the kingdom of the heavens in return. For as you know, this kingdom is the kingdom of the Lord. The Lord laid this narrow way and said, “Follow exactly this route and you will obtain the kingdom of heaven.”Could anyone then doubt whether the traveler will get to his destination? And what mind would one have who starts wanting all kinds of annulment of the commandments, when by doing this he would immediately lose his way and be lost?

Once you have fully understood this assertion, do not worry if something in our teaching seems to be strict. The only thing you should strive for is to carefully make sure if it is from the Lord. And after you have made sure it is from the Lord, accept it with all your heart, no matter how strict or obliging it may be. And not only avoid wanting special treatment and leniency with doctrine and the ethics, but even flee from all these, as though fleeing from the fire of Gehenna. Those who cannot escape from this are those who think up such things and with them lure those who are spiritually weak to follow them. Amen.

December 29, 1863  Sunday after Christ's Birth

Taken from the website of the Holy Monastery of Pantokrator (MelissohoriGreece).
Originally from: St. George (periodical) 1995, vol. 20.

Reposted from:

Monday, October 20, 2014

Early Christianity in the West

By Fr. Seraphim Rose

The 20th century Orthodox Christian will find little that is strange in the Christianity of 6th century Gaul; in fact, if he himself has entered deeply into the piety and spirit of Orthodoxy as it has come down even to our days, he will find himself very much at home in the Christian world of St. Gregory of Tours. The externals of Christian worship – church structures and decoration, iconography, vestments, services – after centuries of development, had attained essentially the form they retain today in the Orthodox Church. In the West, especially after the final Schism of the Church of Rome in 1054, all these things changed. The more tradition-minded East, by the very fact that it has changed so little over the centuries even in outward forms, is naturally much closer to the early Christian West than is Catholic-Protestant West of recent centuries, which had departed far from its Orthodox roots even before the present-day “post-Christian” era arrived.

Some historians of this period, such as O.M. Dalton in the Introduction to his translation of St. Gregory's History of the Franks (Oxford, 1927, two volumes), find much in Christian Gaul that is “Eastern” in form. This observation is true as far as it goes, but it is made from a modern western perspective that is not quite precise. A more precise formulation of this observation would be the following:
In the 6th century there was one common Christianity, identical in dogma and spirit in East and West, with some differences in form which, at this early period, were no more than minor and incidental. The whole Church met together in councils, both before and after this century, to decide disputed dogmatic questions and confess the one true Faith. There were numerous pilgrims and travelers, especially “Westerners” going to the east, but also “easterners” going to the West, and they did not find each other strangers, or the Christian faith or piety or customs of the distant land alien to what they knew at home. The local differences amount to no more than exist today between the Orthodox Christians of Russia and Greece.

The estrangement between East and West belongs to future centuries. It becomes painfully manifest (although there were signs of it before this) only with the age of the Crusades (1096 and later), and the reason for it is to be found in a striking spiritual, psychological and cultural change which occurred in the West precisely at the time of the Schism. Concerning this a noted Roman scholar, Yves Congar, has perceptively remarked: “A Christian of the fourth or fifth century would have felt less bewildered by the forms of piety current in the 11th century than would his counterpart of the 11th century in the forms of the 12th. The great break occurred in the transition period from the one to the other century. This change took place only in the West where, sometime between the end of the 11th and the end of the 12th century, everything somehow was transformed. This profound alteration of view did not take place in the East, where, in some respects, Christian matters are still today what they were then – and what they were in the West before the end of the 11th century.” (Yves Congar, O.P., After Nine Hundred Years, Fordham University Press, 1959, p. 39, where he is actually paraphrasing Dom A. Wilmart.)

One might cite numerous manifestations of this remarkable change in the West: the beginnings of Scholasticism or the academic-analytical approach to knowledge as opposed to the traditional-synthetic approach of Orthodoxy; the beginning of the “age of romance,” when fables and legends were introduced into Christian texts; the new naturalism in art (Giotto) which destroyed iconography; the new “personal: concept of sanctity (Francis of Assisi), unacceptable to Orthodoxy, which gave rise to later Western “mysticism” and eventually to the innumerable sects and pseudo-religious movements of modern times; and so forth. The cause of this change is something that cannot be evident to a Roman Catholic scholar: it is the loss of grace which follows on the separation from the Church of Christ. And which puts one at the mercy of the “spirit of the times” and of purely logical and human ways of life and thought. When the Crusaders sacked and desecrated Constantinople in 1204 (an act unthinkable in earlier centuries for the Christian West), they only revealed that they had become total strangers to Orthodoxy, and therefore to the Eastern Christians, and that they had irretrievably lost what their own ancestors in 6th century Gaul had preserved as the apple of their eye: the unbroken tradition of true Christianity. 

From: Vita Patrum by St. Gregory of Tours, Introduction by Fr. Seraphim Rose, pp. 69-71.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

What is Orthodox Christianity?

By Archbishop Averky of blessed memory

Alas! How few people there are in our times, even among the educated, and at times even among contemporary "theologians" and those in the ranks of the clergy, who understand correctly what Orthodoxy is and wherein its essence lies. They approach this question in an utterly external, formal manner and resolve it too primitively, even naively, overlooking its depths completely and not at all seeing the fullness of its spiritual contents.
The superficial opinion of the majority notwithstanding, Orthodoxy is not merely another of the many "Christian confessions" now in existence, or as it is expressed here in America "denominations." Orthodoxy is the true, undistorted, unperverted by any human sophistry or invention, genuine teaching of Christ in all its purity and fullness — the teaching of faith and piety which is life according to the Faith.

Orthodoxy is not only the sum total of dogmas accepted as true in a purely formal manner. It is not only theory, but practice; it is not only right Faith, but a life which agrees in everything with this Faith. The true Orthodox Christian is not only he who thinks in an Orthodox manner, but who feels according to Orthodoxy and lives Orthodoxy, who strives to embody the true Orthodox teaching of Christ in his life.

"The words that I speak unto you are spirit and life"—thus the Lord Jesus Christ spoke to His disciples of His divine teaching (Jn. 6: 63). Consequently, the teaching of Christ is not only abstract theory merely, cut off from life, but spirit and life. Therefore, only he who thinks Orthodoxy, feels Orthodoxy and lives Orthodoxy can be considered Orthodox in actuality.

At the same time one must realize and remember that Orthodoxy is not only and always that which is officially called "Orthodox," for in our false and evil times the appearance everywhere of pseudo-Orthodoxy which raises its head and is established in the world is an extremely grievous but, regrettably, an already unquestionable fact. This false Orthodoxy strives fiercely to substitute itself for true Orthodoxy, as in his time Antichrist will strive to supplant and replace Christ with himself.

Orthodoxy is not merely some type of purely earthly organization which is headed by patriarchs, bishops and priests who hold the ministry in the Church which officially is called "Orthodox." Orthodoxy is the mystical "Body of Christ," the Head of which is Christ Himself (see Eph. 1:22-23 and Col. 1:18, 24 et seq.), and its composition includes not only priests but all who truly believe in Christ, who have entered in a lawful way through Holy Baptism into the Church He founded, those living upon the earth and those who have died in the Faith and in piety.

The Orthodox Church is not any kind of "monopoly" or "business" of the clergy as think the ignorant and those alien to the spirit of the Church. It is not the patrimony of this or that hierarch or priest. It is the close-knit spiritual union of all who truly believe in Christ, who strive in a holy manner to keep the commandments of Christ with the sole aim of inheriting that eternal blessedness which Christ the Savior has prepared for us, and if they sin out of weakness, they sincerely repent and strive "to bring forth fruits worthy of repentance" (Lk. 3:8).

The Church, it is true, may not be removed completely from the world, for people enter her who are still living on the earth, and therefore the "earthly" element in her composition and external organization is unavoidable, yet the less of this "earthly" element there is, the better it will be for her eternal goals. In any case this "earthly" element should not obscure or suppress the purely spiritual element—the matter of salvation of the soul unto eternal life—for the sake of which the Church was both founded and exists.

The first and fundamental criterion, which we may use as a guide to distinguish the True Church of Christ from the false Churches (of which there are now so many!), is the fact that it has preserved the Truth intact, undistorted by human sophistries, for according to the Word of God, "the Church is the pillar and ground of truth" (I Tim. 3: 15), and therefore in her there can be no falsehood. Any which in its name officially proclaims or confirms any falsehood is already not the Church. Not only the higher servants of the Church, but the ranks of believing laymen must shun every falsehood, remembering the admonition of the Apostle: ''Wherefore, putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbor" (Eph. 4:25), or "Lie not to one another"(Col. 3:9). Christians must always remember that according to the words of Christ the Savior, lying is from the devil, who "is a liar, and the father of lies" (Jn. 8:44). And so, where there is falsehood there is not the True Orthodox Church of Christ! There is instead a false church which the holy visionary vividly and clearly depicted in his Apocalypse as "a great whore that sitteth upon many waters, with whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication" (Rev. 17:1-2).

Even in the Old Testament from the prophets of God we see that unfaithfulness to the True God frequently was represented by the image of adultery (see, for example, Ezek. 16:8-58, or 23:2-49). And it is terrifying for us not only to speak, but even to think that in our insane days we would have to observe not a few attempts to turn the very Church of Christ into a "brothel,"—and this not only in the above figurative sense, but also in the literal sense of this word, when it is so easy to justify oneself, fornication and every impurity are not even considered sins! We saw an example of this in the so-called "Living Churchmen" and "renovationists" in our unfortunate homeland after the Revolution, and now in the person of all the contemporary "modernists" who strive to lighten the easy yoke of Christ (Matt. 11:30) for themselves and betray the entire ascetic structure of our Holy Church, legalizing every transgression and moral impurity. To speak here about Orthodoxy, of course, is in no way proper despite the fact that the dogmas of the Faith remain untouched and unharmed!

True Orthodoxy, on the other hand, is alien to every dead formalism. In it there is no blind adherence to the "letter of the law," for it is "spirit and life." Where, from an external and purely formal point of view, everything seems quite correct and strictly legal, this does not mean that it is so in reality. In Orthodoxy there can be no place for Jesuitical casuistry; the favorite dictum of worldly jurists cannot be applied: "One may not trample upon the law—one must go around it."

Orthodoxy is the one and only Truth, the pure Truth, without any admixture or the least shadow of falsehood, lie, evil or fraud.
The most essential thing in Orthodoxy is the podvig of prayer and fasting which the Church particularly extols during the second week of the Great Fast as the double-edged "wondrous sword" by which we strike the enemies of our salvation—the dark demonic power. It is through this podvig that our soul is illumined with grace-bearing divine light, as teaches St. Gregory Palamas, who is 'triumphantly honored by the Holy Church on the second Sunday of the Great Fast. Glorifying his sacred memory, the Church calls this wondrous hierarch "the preacher of grace," "the beacon of the Light," "the preacher of the divine light," "an immovable pillar for the Church."

Christ the Savior Himself stressed the great significance of the podvig of prayer and fasting when His disciples found themselves unable to cast out demons from an unfortunate boy who was possessed. He told them clearly,`"This kind (of demon) goeth not out save by prayer and fasting" (Matt. 17:21). Interpreting this passage in the gospel narrative, our great patristic theologian-ascetic, the hierarch Theophan the Recluse asks, "May we think that where there is no prayer and fasting, there is a demon already?" And he replies, "We may. Demons, when entering into a person do not always betray their entry, but hide themselves, secretly teaching their hosts every evil and to turn aside every good. That person may be convinced that he is doing everything himself, while he is only carrying out the will of his enemy. Only take up prayer and fasting and the enemy will immediately leave and will wait elsewhere for an opportunity to return; and he really will return if prayer and fasting are soon abandoned" (Thoughts for Each Day of the Year, pp. 245-246).

From this a direct conclusion may be reached: where fasting and prayer are disregarded, neglected or completely set aside, there is no trace of Orthodoxy—there is the domain of demons who treat man as their own pathetic toy.
Behold, therefore, where all contemporary "modernism" leads, which demands "reform" in our Orthodox Church! All these liberal free thinkers and their lackies, who strive to belittle the significance of prayer and fasting, however much they shout and proclaim their alleged faithfulness to the dogmatic teaching of our Orthodox Church, cannot be considered really Orthodox, and have shown themselves to be apostates from Orthodoxy.
We will always remember that by itself totally formal Orthodoxy has no goal if it does not have "spirit and life"—and the "spirit and life" of Orthodoxy are first and foremost in the podvig of prayer and fasting; moreover, the genuine fasting of which the Church teaches is understood in this instance to be abstinence in every aspect, and not merely declining to taste non-Lenten foods.

Without podvig there is altogether no true Christianity, that is to say, Orthodoxy. See what Christ, the First Ascetic, Himself clearly says; "Whosoever will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me" (Mark 8:34). The true Christian, the Orthodox Christian, is only he who strives to emulate Christ in the bearing of the cross and is prepared to crucify himself in the Name of.Christ. The holy Apostles clearly taught this. Thus the Apostle Peter writes: "If when you do well and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is accepted with God. For even here unto were ye called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that we should follow his steps" (I Pet. 2:2-21). In precisely the same way the holy Apostle Paul says repeatedly in his epistles that all true Christians must be ascetics, and the ascetic labor o' the Christian consists of crucifying himself for the sake of Christ: "They that are Christians have crucified the flesh together with the passions and lusts" (Gal. 5:24). A favorite expression of St. Paul is that we must be crucified with Christ that we might rise with Him. He puts forth this thought in a variety of his sayings in many of his epistles.
You see, therefore, that one who loves only to spend time enjoying himself and does not think of self-denial and self-sacrifice, but continually wallows in every possible fleshly pleasure and delight is completely un-Orthodox, un-Christian. Concerning this the great ascetic of Christian antiquity, the Venerable Isaac the Syrian, taught well: "The way of God is a daily cross. No one ascends to heaven living cooly (i.e. comfortably, carefree, pleased with himself, without struggle). And of the cool path, we know where it ends" (Works, p. 158). This is that "wide and broad way" which, in the words of the Lord Himself, "leadeth to destruction" (Matt. 7:13).

This then is what is Orthodoxy, or True Christianity!

(Originally appeared in Orthodox Life, vol. 26, no. 3 (May-June, 1976), pp. 1-5. )

Saturday, July 5, 2014

The Pools of Narcissus and Siloam

Know thyself. 

The Christian understanding of self- knowledge is substantially different from that of the world. 

The Christian call is not one of egocentric self-fulfillment or self-gratification. The danger of a quest to “know thyself” outside the bounds of Christ Jesus is that, to some degree or another, it has elements of philautia (self-love). 

The search for self is toxic if its goal is only to please the self and confirm its desires and inclinations, thereby discovering more pleasure with which to indulge; seeking spirituality devoid of the Spirit.  The peril is to become like Narcissus of mythology, forever seeking an elusive reflection in the waters of psychological self-infatuation. Staring alone into the pool of self, one becomes entranced by the aura of one's own self-reflection (many time mistaking it for spirit), which is deceptively sweet at first but leads to death in the long run.  All self-centered searching will end in a loss of true existence and life, like Narcissus who perished in his attempt to embrace his own reflection. “He who loves his life shall lose it” (John 12:25), the God-Man Christ clearly proclaims.

Christ tells us in the Gospels “he who desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it ” (Mat 16: 25). The Christian search for self-knowledge is not predicated on the narrowness of modern individualistic "self-expression." The standard for knowing one's self is the boundless God-Man: Jesus Christ. In the beginning, mankind was created in the image and likeness of God. The reference point of true self-knowledge is placed concretely and objectively outside of mankind; this preserves a man from self- delusion. Thus only in God is the true image of mankind found, mankind must orient himself by a higher image: to be Godlike. Without God, mankind embraces a phantom and drowns in the depths of self-deception.  

Mankind is not able to search his interior depths without the illuminating light of Christ the Creator. After the fall repentance was set as the standard for restoration of true human self-knowledge. “When we are immersed in sins, and our mind is occupied solely with worldly cares, we do not notice the state of our soul. We are indifferent to who we are inwardly, and we persist along a false path without being aware of it. But then a ray of God's Light penetrates our soul. And what filth we see in ourselves! How much untruth, how much falsehood! How hideous many of our actions prove to be, which we fancied to be so wonderful. And it becomes clear to us which is the true path” (St. John Maximovich).

Man is intended to grow in the image of Christ, for Christ is the image of God (2 Cor. 4:4). In becoming conformed to the image of Christ, we become conformed to that image for which mankind was intended, in doing this we find our true “self.” By rejecting and dying to the image of the sinful world we become alive to the Image of God, and by returning to It, we begin our return to our true and originally intended state. “A righteous man whose heart is filled with consolations of the Holy Spirit, wherever he may be, everywhere will be Paradise because the Kingdom of Heaven is within us (Lk. 17:21)” (St. Innocent of Alaskan, Indication of the Way into the Kingdom of Heaven).

To come to Christ means that the image of the fallen old man is being crucified, it must die. We do not gaze into the Christian Faith like Narcissus gazed into the waters of the pool, we do not seek to enjoy our own beauty or vain self- affirmation. We seek to heal our souls and to confront the wellsprings of darkness which we many times so easily excuses in our lives. This is done only by conforming to the great Physician and His revelation of true spiritual health. If we soberly and vigilantly weigh all things: our thoughts, our deeds, the inner movement of our hearts, and walk in the light of Christ's grace, then as St Theophan the Recluse says, “you will carry a Teacher within you, wiser far than any earthly teacher.” For it is “through Him (Christ) we fix our gaze on the heights of heaven. In Him, we see the mirror of God's pure and transcendent face. Through Him, the eyes of our hearts are opened. Through Him our foolish and darkened comprehension wells up to the light” (St. Clement of Rome).

We are called to approach our Orthodox Faith in simplicity of heart and the firmness of conviction that Christ Jesus has given us His very Self, in the revelation of the hypostatic union, as the Archetype of knowledge of true humanity. Yet, If we gaze at our own “beauty” and seek to measure faith according to it, we become idolaters and worship and praise our own image (although we may frequently give it the name “Jesus”).

In pure vision sanctified by the Holy Spirit we come to the mirror of the revealed Faith, not to be infatuated by our own “self” but to seek the image of Christ, the only True Man. This encounter necessitates kenosis - self-emptying. Whenever our own self-obsession occupies the high place of our being, taking the place of Christ, it keeps us in self-delusion.

Through the Cross, we are given true vision, and with spiritual eyes being enlightened and washed by the flesh and blood of Christ we then, with great eagerness, lose our fallen self-life for the sake of Christ and thereby find true Life in Him (cf. Mat. 16:25).  

In seeking to learn and evaluate our self in the revelation of Christ, shining in the Church, there are none of the Narcissistic drivings of the worldly pursuit for self-fulfillment and “knowledge.” Let us turn from the Narcissistic pools of modern self-infatuation and indulgence, most of all concerning faith, and set our gaze upon the Living waters, seeking to wash in the pool of Siloam, according to Christ's words: “Go, wash and see” (cf. Jn. 9: 6-7). We must know our self and the authentic nature of our humanity in the light of Christ the True Man. As St. Cyprian of Carthage says, “How can you expect to be heard by God, when you do not hear yourself? How do you expect God to remember you when you pray, if you do not remember yourself?” Pure remembrance comes when we turn from the delusional reflection of self-love. “The one who hates his life in this world shall keep it to eternal life” (John 12:25).  

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Without Saints there is no Christianity

Saint. Sanctus. Agios. Svyatoy. Holy. We have journeyed through the whole drama of Christ's redemptive work, through which our very nature was hypostatically united to God, and through this union humanity is given to be united to God by grace: Theosis. We become participators in the Divine Life by grace. Even now from the right hand of God the Father the God-Man, the Theanthropos, Christ Jesus beckons to us: “Come follow me.” The journey, the life of a Christian is one of ascent from this fallen world to heavenly God-like living, an abiding in the Life. This is an ascent that begins here and now, it is an ascent of transfiguration. I have heard that the Greek word for saint, or holy one, agios, means not of this earth, not of this world. There is a subtle insinuation in much modern non-Orthodox theology: Christ has achieved everything (which is true) and now all a person has to do is mentally believe and confess Christ and His work and this brings about salvation. Salvation is primarily a complete transfer of status from “not saved” to “saved” via confession on the part of man and decree on the part of God. In some regard this passive faith brings about a slight apathy in spiritual life. Christ has achieved it all, all I have to do is believe it (and claim it)! In believing one is said to go from the total state of being condemned to the total state of having been saved. True personal transfiguration is not of primary importance, in fact it contributes very little to actual salvation. Of course there are moral standards that must be kept, but in many modern groups there is a strong impression that we, humans, cannot really live God-like lives. Theosis is impossible, and thus the whole phenomenon of saints.

The whole reality of saints, holy ones, in the Christian experience testifies against this new teaching, indeed it testifying to the fact that all of us today, in committing to be Christians, have committed ourselves to deepening our abiding in the Divine Life by grace.

I would conjecture that one reason why many western confessions do not have holy ones, saints, besides a very egalitarian take on the issue - we are all saints and there are no “special” saints - is the fact that to have men and women as examples of holy living is to challenge our current comfortable worldly standard. Our times are quickly losing any value or like for standards. Most things, from education to exercise are being dropped to a lower standard. Standards and challenge might make someone feel bad, so instead of helping people work to meet a higher measure society seeks to create environments of egalitarian “standards.” Now everyone can not be challenged and feel good about it! This is first and foremost a spiritual malady. What has been passed as Christianity in the Modern world has so lowered Christian living that now we can all be saints because there really are no saints! And if there is the off chance there are, their lives are most likely quaint mythical stories only meant to inspire (or possibly fantasy stories made up after the style of ancient legends that are intended to awe the uneducated). In other words, I do not really have to personally strive to emulate them, and thus, in the long run Christ. And so we are conveniently not spiritually challenged from the “status quo:” we can indulge our passions and be “saved” all at the same time! We can neatly pursue the obese acquisition of innumerable things, most of them unnecessary to life, to satiate our desires and attain to heaven too! We can live in comfort and easy, after all I worked hard to earn all this, and “pray to Jesus in our hearts.” Salvation is easy, anyone can be an armchair saint. The modern gospel has become: you do not have to be holy, you do not have to be ontologically not of this world (all you have to do is get a bumper sticker).

It is not pleasant to hear about fasting while our bellies are full; it is not convenient to hear about ascetical living while we live our life of ease. After all isn’t Christ suppose to make us feel good? All these examples of self-denial do not allow me to pat myself on the back and say “you are doing just fine.” Instead they say, “there is much that you have yet to do in Christ, arise work while it is day; repent for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”

Christianity is always incarnational. And the saints are those flesh and blood epistles that prove Life in Christ is real. Without saints Christianity is a philosophical teaching of the mind. Saints are special in the sense that they have applied in a concrete and serious manner the teachings and life of Christ Jesus: “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me” (Matt. 16:24). Saints are those who have applied themselves to being true humans. Most of us are simply use to living in a state that is often devoid of true holiness. Yet in truth human nature is in God, in Christ. Thus the truly human manner of living is holiness, not the “norm” of enslavement to sin that we have become sadly accustom to. We are all called to be saints, to be holy in Christ; but we have not all fully desired this with all our heart. Mankind's true vocation is to be made God-like, and the saints prove this.