Thursday, January 30, 2014

Church, Truth, and other currently unpopular words

By St. Hilarion (Troitsky) the New Hieromartyr

"The truth of the Church was greatly distorted in the West after Rome had fallen away from the Church. In the West, God's kingdom began to be viewed more as an earthly kingdom. Latinism obscured the Christian concept of the Church in the consciousness of its members with its legalistic account of good deeds, its mercenary relationship to God and its falsification of salvation. Latinism gave birth to a legitimate, although very insubordinate, offspring in the form of Protestantism. Protestantism was created from the soil of humanism which was not a religious phenomenon; on the contrary, all its leading ideas are purely earthly, human. It created respect for man in his natural condition. Protestantism, having carried over the basis of humanism into the religious field, was not a protest of genuine ancient Church Christian consciousness against those forms and norms which were created by medieval Papism, as Protestant theologians are often inclined to claim. Far from it; Protestantism was a protest on the very same plane. It did not re-establish ancient Christianity, it only replaced one distortion of Christianity with another, and the new falsehood was much worse than the first. Protestantism became the last word in Papism, and brought it to its logical conclusion. Truth and salvation are bestowed upon love, i.e., the Church - such is Church consciousness.

Latinism, having fallen away from the Church, changed this consciousness and proclaimed: truth is given to the separate person of the Pope, and the Pope manages the salvation of all. Protestantism only objected: Why is truth given to the Pope alone? - and added: truth and salvation are open to each separate individual, independently of the Church. Every individual was thus promoted to the rank of infallible Pope. Protestantism placed a papal tiara on every German professor and, with its countless number of popes, completely destroyed the concept of the Church, substituting faith with the reason of each separate personality. It substituted salvation in the Church with a dreamy confidence in salvation through Christ in egoistic isolation from the Church. In practice, of course, Protestants departed from the very beginning and by roundabout ways, by contraband, so to speak, introduced some of the elements of the dogma about the Church, having recognized some authorities, although only in the area of dogma. Being a religious anarchy, pure Protestantism, like all anarchies, turned out to be completely impossible, and by that, testified before us to the indisputable truth that the human soul is Church-prone by nature. Still, the theoretical side of Protestantism appealed to human self-love and self-will of all varieties, for self-love and self-will received a sort of sanctification and blessing from Protestantism. This fact is revealed today in the endless dividing and factionalism of Protestantism itself. It is Protestantism that openly proclaimed the greatest lie of all: that one can be a Christian while denying the Church.

Nevertheless, by tying its members by some obligatory authorities and church laws, Protestantism entangles itself in a hopeless contradiction: having itself separated the individual from the Church, it nevertheless places limits on that freedom. From this stems the constant mutiny of Protestants against those few and pitiful remnants of Church consciousness which are still preserved by the official representatives of their denominations … It is easy to understand that Protestantism corresponds to the almost completely pagan outlook generally approved in the West. There, where the cult of individualism blossoms luxuriantly, finding prophets in fashionable philosophy and singers in the belles-lettres, Christ's ideal of the Church can, of course have no place; for it negates self-love and self-will in people and demands love from them all … Even independently of Protestantism, however, many now come to the denial of the Church, assimilating, in general, the western European attitude which developed outside the Church and which is completely alien and even hostile to the spirit of the Church … love is forced out by pride and self-love (which is called "noble" - although the holy fathers of the Church speak of self-love and pride only in connection with the devil), when self-denial is substituted by self-assertion and meek obedience is replaced by proud self-will, then a dense fog shrouds the truth of the Church, which is inseparably linked with directly opposite ideals … Thus there is nothing easier than to re-interpret Christ's teaching according to one's personal taste and to invent "Christianity," passing off, under this name, the dreams of one's heart and the images of one's own idle fantasy. The sacred books of the New Testament were written by practical, unscholarly apostles. Throughout the centuries there have been "correctors of the Apostles," as Saint Irenaeus of Lyons calls them, ones who considered themselves higher than the Apostles, those "Galilean fishermen." Does it become a highly educated European of the twentieth century to accept on faith all that is said by some "fishermen"? So many free themselves from the authority of the Apostles and desire to interpret Christ's teaching while being guided only by their personal whims.

One can marvel greatly at how far people go in their "interpretation" of Christianity. Whatever they might desire, they immediately find in the Gospel. It would appear that it is possible to cover one's every idle dream and even ill intentioned thought by means of the Gospel's authority. No, the faith of Christ becomes clear and definite for man only when he unhypocritically believes in the Church; only then are the pearls of this faith clear, only then does the faith remain free from the pile of dirty rubbish of all possible, self-willed opinions and judgments. The Apostle Paul had already spoken of this when he called the Church of the living God the pillar and ground of the truth (cf. 1 Tim. 3:15)."

Excerpted from "'Christianity' or the Church?"

Friday, January 17, 2014

Living in Peace and Rest

Christ Jesus says, “Come to me, all ye who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am meek and humble in heart; and ye shall find rest for your souls. For My yoke is good and my burden light” (Mat. 11:28-30). Further the Apostle Paul calls to us, “Let us fear then, lest perhaps, being left a promise to enter His rest, any of you seem to have come short of it … He said somewhere concerning the seventh day thus; 'And God rested from all His works on the seventh day ... there remaineth a sabbath-keeping to the people of God. For he who entered into His rest, he also did rest from his works, even as God did from His own. Let us give diligence then to enter into the rest, lest anyone should fall into the same example of disobedience” (Heb 4:1,4,9-11).

True rest and peace according to the Scriptures and the Saints is participation, by grace, in the very life of God. As God rested on the seventh day, so now the Christian is called to cease from his own work and enter into the rest of God. This participation begins at the moment of baptism and a Christian is called to deepen and expand it as he progresses in Christ. St. Symeon the New Theologian says, “God is light … He is the supreme light, the repose of all contemplation for those who have attained it.” Rest is an attaining to the Light of God; it is the vision of God. St. Augustine tells us, “The reward of virtue shall be God Himself, the Author of virtue; and He promised Himself … For thus too is that to be rightly understood which the Apostle says:'That God may be all in all.' He Himself will be the end of our desires. He shall be seen without end. He shall be loved without surfeit. He shall be praised without weariness … There we shall rest and we shall behold, we shall behold and we shall love, we shall love and we shall praise. This is what shall be in the end without end.”

True rest is beholding God, the unveiling of our eyes; it is the transformation of our being, as St. Paul says, “We all, with unveiled face reflecting as a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, even as the Lord, the Spirit” (2 Cor 3:18). Godly rest is transformation by participation. This beholding is not the looking of one person outside himself to another, for not only does the soul “behold the glory of God, but from it also receives a certain splendor” as St. John Chrysostom reveals. The righteous one beholds and is ever beheld by the Lord, as St. John of Damascus says, “those who have performed good actions will shine like the sun … with our Lord Jesus Christ, seeing Him forever and being ever in His sight.” The true vision of God by the soul signifies a union by grace. St Symeon the New Theologian says of God, “Your divine glory is seen by us as pure light, a gentle light. It is revealed as light, it unites itself with us as light.” The soul that beholds God possesses God in himself, as St. Gregory Palamas says, “To him who mysteriously possesses and sees light, he knows and possesses God in himself … he is never separated from eternal glory.” Rest is union, it is a foretaste of that complete union that will happen at the general resurrection. It is a union that must have been entered upon while in the body. It is the ceasing of the works of the flesh, the perfection and completion of the embarking of the new creation that was energized in a man while sojourning in the flesh. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold all things have become new” (2 Cor. 5:17). This is the Life given to those who are willing to lose their life in the flesh, as Christ the Lord spoke, “Whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” (Mat 16:25).

If in this life Christ is taking form in us then He “assuredly transforms us, re-creates us, and changes us into the image of the Godhead,” teaches St. Symeon. Rest is the believer entering into God, and God entering into him. St. Symeon the New Theologian again says, “He (Christ, my note) mingles with the soul but does not blend with it. The One who is pure essence is entirely united with the essence of the soul … How, I cannot tell. The two become one. The soul is united with its Creator and the Creator is in the soul, totally with the soul alone.” This is eternal life, to be in God and have God abiding in us.

Those who choose to live without Christ, dwell without Christ. By willful sin they willfully cast themselves from life. Having hardened their souls through love for sin they cannot be penetrated and illumined by Christ. St. Nicholai Velimirovich tells us, “A heart filled with evil is harder than granite. A mind darkened by sin cannot be illuminated by all the light of heaven.” God is all around them, but not the one place He desires most to be - inside them, in the heart.  

The goal of the Christian life is to know the Lord, One God - Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This is not something that will happen only in the future, but is a process which must be embarked upon now. It is here and now that we may fall down in repentance before the Creator of all things. It is right here and now that we may abide in that life which Christ the Lord spoke of, “I have come that they may have life and that they may have it more abundantly” (Jn 10:10). Thus, dwelling in the grace of God (by the grace of God) a Christian may have faith, “for we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (1 Cor. 5:1). If our life is hidden in Christ we will dwell in Christ, and abiding in Him we will remain in that peace which pass understanding and is truly not of this world.