Orthodox Survival Course, Class 61: Returning to Ourselves, Session 2

And when he came to himself…he arose, and came to his father – Luke 15:17, 20

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Returning to Ourselves, Session 2

As you will recall from our last talk, we have begun a series of talks on the false ideas, the delusions, which have been placed into all of our minds from childhood by the great propaganda machine, the Great Stereopticon as Richard Weaver calls it. We all have breathed in some or most or all of these false beliefs and attitudes all our lives, unless we are blessed to be among the few that have been lived in monastic seclusion or a pre-modern village most of our lives. The image Fr. Seraphim Rose uses is that the very atmosphere, the air we breathe, is pestilential. We become spiritually and mentally infected simply by breathing in these deadly delusions that form contemporary man’s normal mental atmosphere. We need to recognize and understand what these delusions are, cast them out of ourselves, and beg the Lord to enlighten our darkness – to cleanse our hearts and minds, so that we, like the Prodigal Son, can return to ourselves. Only God can do this for us, only grace! We can’t do it for ourselves. This is the only way we can recognize the delusion that we are in and escape into the light of truth.

We do not know precisely what is going to happen in the months and years ahead. The various so-called national governments – which are in fact not national, because they are dedicated to the destruction of national sovereignty, having become by long and careful design organs of global, not national, governance, nor are they even governments in the traditional sense, but rather an administrative interface, a managerial structure that private oligarchic interests use to enforce their program – are announcing various plans to advance the agenda of trans-humanism, which we discussed in our last talk. It is hard to know in advance what precisely they plan to do to us and when they plan to do it, and we should not spend too much time trying to figure that out, which robs us of spiritual focus and energy and does not get us anywhere. But we can work on ourselves and be prepared spiritually to respond when we are confronted with the demand to violate our conscience or be punished. The more that our minds and hearts are purified, the more clearly we will see what we need to do and the more likely it will be that we shall have the moral will to do it when the time comes.

The Catalogue of Errors, continued – Worldliness, an Ensemble of Delusions

Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. – I John 2: 15

Let us admit a fundamental problem, that we have the spirit of worldliness, and it is this spirit, this love of the world, that has made us so weak and so ready to compromise our Orthodox conscience in order “just to get along.” Worldliness in its essence is the unconscious conviction that this world is all there is. We all inherit this conviction at our conception and birth, in the depths of our hearts, because of the Ancestral Sin. When our first parents accepted the lie of the serpent, that they would be gods, they lost authentic spiritual insight and became trapped in carnality, the grossness of fallen nature, which is naturally akin to the corruptible things of this world and alien to the things of heaven. The undeserved and free grace of Our Lord’s Death and Resurrection, given to us at Baptism, frees us from the cycle of death and corruption, but we have to cooperate with this grace by a life that does not serve death and corruption, by an otherworldly life. The entire program for life that Our Lord gives us in His teaching in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew chapters five through seven), in the supreme example of His own life on earth and His death for our sake, and in the countless examples of the Lives of the Saints, is explicitly a program for an otherworldly life. There is no other way to fulfill the Great Commandments to love God and our neighbor, and to be saved.

We Orthodox all know this, and we are used to hearing sermons and reading books telling us to say our prayers, do spiritual reading, fasting, and so forth. But, let’s admit it, sometimes the sermons and the readings become like religious Muzak, – “dentist office music” – a little soundtrack going on in the background of life that is rather pleasant and consoling to a religious person, but does not really change anything about how we live. In the foreground, meanwhile, is the constant, loud, and insistent great brassy noise of the World, which has grown exponentially louder in our lifetime, and which threatens to dominate our minds and feelings completely. Orthodoxy becomes not the whole of our life, but the “religious component” of our life, a subjectively and selectively employed method for psychological comfort, engaged in when we feel like it and then shelved when we go on to the real business of our life, which is loving and serving the World. If we really thought like Orthodox Christians, then spiritual things, the spiritual world, would be more, not less, real than this world. When you see things this way, all of the Church’s practices – the prayers, the fasting, the strict way of life described in the Lives of Saints and the holy canons, the long services, etc. – make complete sense. But if this world is more real to you than the next world, then the Church’s practices appear as a burden and an intrusion into your life, relegated to a little compartment of “required things” that you just do as minimally as possible, so that you can get back to the so-called real world of earthly concerns.

This love of the world, worldliness, can be understood at root as one thing, that is, the unconscious conviction deep in the heart that this world is all there is, and it can also be understood in its manifestations as more than one thing: a disharmonious ensemble of various delusions and passions. Man has always suffered from these delusions and passions, but today our situation has become acute: we are in the midst of a great apostasy, the love of the many has indeed grown cold, and we are choking on the poison gas of the spirit of the world. It is tempting to panic, throw up our hands, and give up, but we don’t need to do that. We still have the power, given by God, to realize which of these delusions we are subject to, return to ourselves like the Prodigal Son, and change the priorities we have control over in order to lead a more otherworldly, truly Orthodox life.

A young man from our community here in Michigan recently went to St. John Maximovich Monastery in New York to be tonsured sub-deacon by Metropolitan Demetrius. When he returned, he told me, “At the monastery, I realized that this was not extraordinary Orthodox life; it was just the life that we should all be leading.” The daily round of the divine services, frequent and prepared reception of Holy Communion, continuous prayer in the name of Jesus, sacred study, and an orderly round of obedient labor to care for one’s brothers, – this is Christian life, plain and simple. This program for life is the antidote to the poison of the devil, the idea that “this world is all there is.” We visit monasteries and experience this, and we try to bring this spirit into our parishes and homes, but the world and worldly thinking quickly attack us and threaten to overwhelm us at every turn. We must fight back.

What are some of the errors, the delusions that comprise this ensemble of worldly thinking? Let’s describe some of them and also offer practical ideas to combat their control over our life. Here is a list of a few of these errors and the corrections to the errors. It is a partial list, but it certainly gives us enough to work on for now. All of these errors are interrelated, of course. They reinforce each other, but the good news is that as we fight one error, that weakens the hold on us of the other errors as well! All of the passions are interrelated, as are all the virtues.

1. The error: The illusion of immortality and the forgetfulness of death. The correction: Memento mori! – the remembrance of death.

2. The error: Idolatry of the body. The correction: Love for the salvation of the soul energized in the life of the mind and of the spirit, with godly and prudent care for the body.

3. The error: The glorification of youth. The correction: The love of wisdom, seeking spiritual sobriety and maturity.

4. The error: “Big is better” – the reign of quantity over quality. The answer: “Small is beautiful!” – quality over quantity.

5. The error: Life is all about guaranteed peace and security. The answer: This life is a dangerous but beautiful adventure, and we are in the hands of God.

6. The error: Our electronic addictions cannot be overcome. The answer: They can and must be overcome if we are to be saved. With God all things are possible.

7. The error: Egalitarianism and enforced uniformity. The answer: Divinely established hierarchy which fosters a delightful variety with unity.

Today let’s start with error #1:

The illusion of immortality and the forgetfulness of death

I’d like to tell you about something from my childhood which bears on this. Most of us who have converted to Orthodoxy from a heretical confession still recall many incidents and influences in our pre-Orthodox lives in which the Lord worked through the people and the life that we knew then in order to lead us to the Church. This was certainly true in my life, starting from my earliest memories. Very early in my life, the atmosphere in my French Catholic grandparents’ home impressed me very deeply with the reality of the next world. The sacred images on the walls, the crucifix, the little holy water font at the door of their bedroom, my grandparents’ quiet and serious bearing, seeing them kneel in prayer before going to bed at night, and spending hours wandering in the old-fashioned European-style Catholic cemetery directly behind their home: All of this conveyed very powerfully to me that death was real, just as real and just as imminent as going to bed that very night, and that there was life after death, and there was God’s judgment, and heaven and hell, and that we should to be very afraid to sin and must be very sorry for and truly hate our sins, for we could die any moment and be separated from God forever by our un-repented sins. Simultaneously, however, these thoughts were not at all gloomy to me, but rather they became extremely sweet to my little mind, and from that time I knew that God loves me and has a place for me in His heavenly home, and therefore the thought of this life being very short and death being real was a happy thought. It was the thought of death that made me realize that God is worthy of all love for His own sake, which, really, is the most consoling thought one could have. This persistent conviction, which lasted throughout my childhood and sustained me during the turbulent years of adolescence and early adulthood, made my conversion to Orthodoxy, that most thoroughly otherworldly Faith of all faiths, seem quite natural.

Of course, all this kind of thinking opposes the trend of today, which is to live for this world only and pretend that death is not real by not thinking about what really happens at death. The sin of lightmindedness, reinforced by constant distraction,is a real “pandemic” today, even among Orthodox people. Even after we see someone die and we go to the funeral home and see the dead body, one hears no serious talk, no awareness of God’s judgment, heaven, and hell, but only a forced and superficial, cheerful foolishness: “He is in a better place now,” “He is not suffering now,” “He was a good person,” and so forth. Then the next moment they go on to talk about the weather or politics or tomorrow’s football game, and the next day they try to forget all about death and funerals, and they go about their business.

How do they know he is in a better place? How do they know he is not suffering? Do they not know that there is only One Who is good, and that is God alone? Do they not realize that what is called for at this moment is the most earnest prayer, with tears, for the salvation of a fellow sinner like ourselves, and that his death should inspire us to give up our worldly ways and return to spiritual sobriety? This kind of talk and this attitude to death is astonishingly unserious for Christian people. But sadly, this is the kind of worldly talk a priest today often hears when he conducts funerals among supposedly Orthodox people, so deeply have they imbibed the spirit of this world.

What has brought about this obliviousness to the reality of death? First of all, there is the ignorance or forgetfulness of the most fundamental teachings of the Church: the critical need to cleanse the soul before death through Confession, the deeply desired worthy reception of Holy Communion, the Prayers at the Parting of the Soul, the encounter of the soul with demons as it leaves the body, the Particular Judgment, the Final Judgment, and, finally, eternal happiness or eternal damnation. These things cannot be taught too often, too vividly, too plainly, or too forcefully, given the distraction and light-mindedness of the typical person today. (A now reposed pious Greek grandfather of a friend of mine used to have a saying: “All problems start from the amvon,” i.e., spiritual and ecclesiastical problems can be traced to what we priests are preaching and emphasizing – or what we are not teaching! – in our sermons and teachings.) Good old fashioned talk about the Last Things – Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell – has never been more needed than today!

This labor of the Church to bring these matters to the forefront of our minds is an age-old struggle, of course: We resist these salutary thoughts because we inherit from our First Parents the lying thought that they accepted into the heart from the serpent: “You will be gods.” Along with this thought is the illusion of immortality, that we are the source of our own existence, and that somehow, if we are just clever enough, we will avoid dying. Of course, we know theoretically that this is not true, but we still struggle with this lying thought, because of our fallen nature. And today the advances in medical science and in technological control over nature reinforce this lying thought with the delusive promise that “science” will solve the problem of sickness and death, that we really don’t need to die. The “scientistic” establishment even encourages propaganda that there is such a thing as a medical cure for aging and death: sure, we all know this is crazy, but it still appeals to the worldly spirit we all struggle with. St. John Chrysostom, in one of his homilies, says that worldly people always call death an “unexpected calamity.” If this was true in the fourth century, when infant and childhood mortality was very high, and one could die any time from a simple infection or an accident, and yet the illusion of immortality was still so strong that it blinded the people at that time, how much more true is it today, when, because of the idolatrous religion of “scientism” that we talked about in our last class, people think that “science” can solve everything!

The correction to this error is the Church’s age-old teaching: Memento mori! Remember death! The Holy Fathers teach us that we should draw in the remembrance of death with every breath, and that if we remembered death constantly, we would never sin. There are practical ways to make the remembrance of death a habit of mind, for example:

The nightly reading of Small Compline, and especially, at the end, the slow and attentive reading of the long prayer to the Theotokos, which speaks specifically of the demonic warfare at the hour of death, the day of judgment, and the final outcome of eternal torment or the reward of sharing the glory of Christ. Prayers before sleep, in general, naturally have the theme of preparation for death, of which our nightly sleep should be a constant image and reminder. The prayer books in the Greek Church tend to have the Small Compline, while the prayer books from the Russian and other Churches often have instead a series of prayers before sleep which frequently recur to the thought of death and God’s judgment. The important thing is not which ones we do, but that we say these prayers nightly and with attention, and always go to sleep with the uppermost thought in our minds not being those of the temporal cares of the day, but of the hour of death and our eternal destiny.

The night prayers should always be preceded or followed by the nightly examination of conscience. Remember, each day could be our last! Now, in the evening, we realize that the Lord has allowed yet another day in the short span of this life for our repentance. How have we used that day? We examine our thoughts, words, and deeds of the day, repent sincerely for our sins, thank God for the good He has enabled us to do, and go to bed for our nightly sleep – from which we may or may not awake in this world – with a light heart and a pure conscience.

The study of the Funeral Service at home and attentively listening to it when we attend a funeral. These amazing texts perfectly combine sorrow over sin and fear of God’s judgment with godly, joyful hope in the salvation of the soul and the final resurrection unto eternal life. The spirit of the funeral service is the uniquely Christian, uniquely Orthodox spirit of compunction, of the Paschal “Bright Sorrow” that ineffably intertwines a grace-filled conviction for our sins with the unconquerable hope in God’s mercy through the Sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. Today when everyone can own the service books or print services from the Internet, there is no reason why every household cannot have the text of the Funeral Service, which can be read aloud quietly, in order to impress on the mind the teaching of the Church regarding death and eternal life, and to arouse in the heart feelings of compunction, sorrow for sin, and hope in eternal life.

Reading the traditional Orthodox literature on death and the future life: The Lives of the Saints in the Synaxaria, Prologues, and similar literature, convey the otherworldly spirit of the Church’s teaching on the future life on nearly every page, especially through the witness of the martyrs both in their words spoken prior to death and their behavior in the face of death, and in the experiences and revelations of the monastic saints who encountered angels and demons face to face, and who had reliable, un-deluded visions of the experiences of the dying and the reposed, both those within and outside the Church, and both the blessed and the damned. A beloved collection of spiritual sayings and accounts, the Evergetinos, for example, contains accounts like this, drawn from the Fourth Dialogue of St. Gregory the Dialogist and similar patristic texts. If we acquire the mind of the saints, we will think about death and the passage from this life frequently, and this will greatly cleanse our consciences and give us power in the struggle against sin.

Care for the gravely sick and dying: At one time, not long ago, very few people gave the care for their dying family members over to “professionals.” It was done at home. This was especially beneficial to children, who through love of their grandparents were drawn naturally to their deathbeds and could witness a repentant Christian death at an early age. Ideally, care for dying relatives should be done in the home as much as possible, and, moreover, pastors should encourage the practice of the faithful assisting their fellow parishioners in this as well. In addition, we must strive to recover the soul-saving and humanly normal practice of care for bodies of those who have reposed and not rely so much on funeral homes: this is more available, more practical, and more legal than many are led to think, and it would be a great blessing if someone in our Church would research these matters and make information available to the faithful on how to do this. If every parish had a sisterhood of Holy Myrrhbearers whose specific mission was to assist families in caring directly for the bodies of the newly reposed faithful, this would be a tremendous thing for all of us.

Prayer for the Reposed: Here is a link to a short article I wrote awhile ago on how we commemorate the faithful departed – https://saint-irene.com/dead Zealous and frequent prayer for the reposed, alms in their memory, and above all the offering of the Bloodless Sacrifice of the Divine Liturgy greatly help the reposed, and it helps us as well. Who knows, when we die, if there will be someone after us who will remember us and offer the Mystical Sacrifice, kollyva, and other prayers and offerings on our behalf? Let us hasten now to do for our beloved departed – and also especially those who have no one to pray for them! – what we would want done for us! “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall find mercy.”

Gratitude for illness and even for death itself – Most of us are not serious ascetics. We avail ourselves of unnecessary comforts and generally do not punish our bodies as we should to bring them into subjection to the soul. We are inattentive and do not repent thoroughly of our sins. We have unhealed passions. But the merciful Lord gives us a way to make up for this: illness, and, yes, death itself! Especially if we fall gravely ill and realize that we are at the door of death, let us thank God fervently that we can suffer and be cleansed of our unhealed passions and un-repented sins!

Let us pray daily, as we do morning and evening at Matins, the Divine Liturgy, and Vespers, for a “Christian ending to our life, painless, blameless, and peaceful, and a good defense before the Dread Judgment seat of Christ.” Let us recall that we should pray not to die suddenly, but rather to have the grace of a period of conscious preparation on our deathbed, assisted by the prayers of the priests and faithful, and the reception of the Holy Mysteries. Let us resolve, and ask the Lord for the grace to carry out our resolve, not to allow ourselves to be drugged into unconsciousness as we die, and not to be surrounded by television and noise, but rather to struggle in prayerful concentration right up to the moment of death.

Nothing impure or sinful can enter into the presence of God, “For our God is a consuming fire,” burning up every sinful thought and inclination that remains in the soul after death. Let us thank God with tears that these impurities can be burned up here and not there, here by temporal illness, including and especially the final trial of death, and not there by eternal punishment! Death itself, after all, was God’s mercy to man, so that man would not live forever in demonic immortality, which is the unending tormented existence of Satan and his angels, but so that by the blessed sentence of death man would be brought to repentance and hope in the Savior, Who by His death conquered death and transformed it from a final destruction into the gateway to eternal life!

Life is short, death is certain, judgment is eternal. Let us live so as to be prepared to welcome death as the passage to eternal life! These holy practices from the Church’s inexhaustible treasure house of graces and blessings will most certainly help us attain the blessed remembrance of death, which will free us from the burden of anxiety over doing everything possible (or impossible!) to extend our corruptible and doomed biological existence – an anxiety that is so grievous to us and so unbecoming for the believing Christian soul! This blessed remembrance of death will inspire us never to sin and will lead us unerringly to a prepared-for and holy Christian death and passage to eternal life!

I began this talk on the remembrance of death with memories of my childhood, and I’d like to close with one of my favorite accounts from the Fourth Dialogue of St. Gregory, the holy death of a holy child. As throughout the Dialogues, the great pope is speaking to his deacon Peter and recounting the testimony of fellow clerics and monks, as well as pious Roman citizens, about recent holy people they have known personally or who were well-known in their communities.

“I will also include the story [the abbot] Probus told me about his little sister Musa. One night the Blessed Virgin Mary Mother of God, appeared to her and showed her other little girls of her own age dressed in white. Though Musa was eager to be with them she dared not join their ranks. Noticing this, the Blessed Virgin asked her whether she wished to be with them in her court. Naturally, the little girl said she did. Whereupon, our Blessed Lady commanded her not to do anything silly, as foolish little girls often do; instead, she was to keep from laughing and joking, and to remember at all times that in thirty days she would be one of the little girls in white.

“After the vision the girl’s character was completely changed. She took herself in hand and with great strictness avoided every kind of girlish foolishness. Her astounded parents asked her for an explanation of this sudden change. She told them that the Blessed Virgin had given her special instruction and had set the day on which she was to join her companions in heaven. After the twenty-fifth day she fell sick with a fever. On the thirtieth, as the hour of her death drew near, she saw the Blessed Virgin coming to her with the same train of girls. Our Blessed Lady called to her, and little Musa reverently lowered her eyes as she answered with a clear voice, ‘I am coming, my noble Lady, I am coming to you.’ With these words, she gave up her soul. Leaving her virginal body here below, she set out to live with the holy virgins in heaven.” – “The Fathers of the Church” series (CUA), Volume 39, St. Gregory the Great, Dialogues, pp.

“With the saints, give rest O Christ to Thy servants, where there is neither sickness, nor sorrow, nor sighing, but life everlasting!”

Amen.

Lagniappe – In New Orleans, we have this old word “lagniappe,” which means a little extra something, a bonus, that a grocer would slip into the housewife’s sack to say “thank you” for being a good customer, perhaps an extra pound of rice or some sweets for the children. I should like to continue offering a little “lagniappe” at the end of these talks, something historical or cultural that relates to our Orthodox worldview, perhaps a hymn or a song or a story. Today, in honor of our beloved departed Christians, I would like to offer you an ancient Western chant from the first millennium, the famous In paradisum, an antiphon that is chanted as the body of the deceased is taken in procession from the church to be carried out for burial. (Once Mozart said that he would trade all that he had ever written to have been the composer of this brief antiphon!). Here is a link, so that you can hear it chanted more professionally, but I’ll sing it for you now: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S7F-N-Yd8dE In paradisum deducant te Angeli; in tuo adventu suscipiant te martyres, et perducant te in civitatem sanctam Jerusalem. Chorus angelorum te suscipiat, et cum Lazaro quondam paupere æternam habeas requiem.
“May the angels lead thee into paradise; may the martyrs receive thee at thy coming, and lead thee into the holy city Jerusalem. May the choirs of angels receive thee and with Lazarus, who once was poor, may thou have everlasting rest.”

Amen.

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Orthodox Survival Course Class 60 – Returning to Ourselves, Session 1

Listen to a recording of this post at https://www.spreaker.com/user/youngfaithradio/osc60

And when he came to himself…he arose, and came to his father – Luke 15:17, 20

Thanks and Request for Donations

Again, thanks to our donors. May the Lord reward your love with His grace! To our other listeners: please consider a gift to help me out. If you have PayPal, you can send a gift to my account at frstevenallen@gmail.com. If you want to receive a receipt for a tax deduction, contact me at that email, and I can tell you how to donate to our parish, who in turn will pass the donation on to me and send you a receipt.

A Prefatory Note

Just a reminder: My lectures are the result of my own studies and give my opinion, within a spectrum of allowable opinion that does not violate the dogmas, canons, or moral teaching of the the Church, and whose publication does not hinder Her saving mission. There are many listeners who have found my talks helpful, and for this, glory to God. Those who do not like them are, of course, under no obligation to listen to them or to agree with them.

The Signs of the Times

As we speak in January of 2021, there are ominous signs here in the United States and throughout the formerly Christian world that we are swiftly coming under some kind of totalitarian rule by an explicitly anti-Christian and even anti-human oligarchy, which now openly intends to persecute anyone attempting to lead a moral and traditional life of any kind, including, of course, us Orthodox, who, after all, are the principal and, ultimately, only effective enemies of the demons who command the global elite . There is much that can be said – and that we have already said – about this from the point of view of an Orthodox philosophy of history: if you will go back to all of our classes starting with the French Revolution and review all we’ve said since then, I think you will get the picture. But now it is time to put what we have learned to the test: We need to be in immediate preparation for a very different kind of life than what we in the so-called free West have known before, and therefore my task now is not so much to keep expanding on the historical framework as to address specific obstacles which prevent us from living effectively in the period we are about to enter. With this in mind, let us recall one of the points made in our last class: We have to correct the things we have control over, and that starts with our own selves, our own minds and hearts.

Returning to Ourselves.

I’m calling this part of our course, “Returning to Ourselves,” inspired by that moment in the parable of the Prodigal Son when the wayward son realizes that he has departed far from who he really is and become someone else, not the person his father had raised him to be. He sees what he has become and he wants to repent of it, to return to his father, which is also a return to himself, to his real self. At the end of our last class, I told you that in our next few classes we will be talking about deeply ingrained errors that the Great Stereopticon has implanted in our minds, errors for which we have to repent in order to recover our true selves as human beings and as Orthodox Christians. There are two points here that need more explanation: 1. One must repent of false ideas, even if one did not previously know one had them, and 2. Several of the errors we will be discussing strike at the root of our humanity, as well as our Christian identity.

1. Repenting of false ideas: Recall that knowing truth is the basis for right action, and that therefore believing in a falsehood is the most basic sinful state, prior to the misuse of the will. How can you use your will properly if you don’t know what direction to point it in? Our first parents fell when they first accepted the lie of the devil, and then, on the basis of their mental deformation, they deformed their will to disobey God.

We have been brainwashed since childhood by many lies of the devil, through this vast mechanism that in our course we have labeled the Great Stereopticon: An all-encompassing mechanism, or, rather, an entire mental matrix within which we live, created by the spirit of Antichrist in these latter days, which includes all the communications media, the scientific establishment, the educational system, government, medicine, corporate business and finance – in short all of the institutions of public life. They have all been utterly deformed and perverted from their right use, hollowed out by anti-Christian subversives who hate God and hate the human race: the insides of all the public institutions have been hollowed out and only the facade remains – on the inside, behind the facade, animating all “official” public life, there is demonism, the spirit of Antichrist, and the servants of the spirit of Antichrist control all the levers of power (humanly speaking of course – God’s providence and sovereignty remain absolute, but here we are discussing how matters appear on the earthly level). The subversives have become the establishment, and they are using the vast power of this all-encompassing mechanism to destroy not only truth, but the very concept that there is truth, and that it is knowable, in the minds of men.

We need to “come to ourselves,” to wake up and realize what has been done to our minds, because when we are in this state of delusion, it is impossible to sift through and understand everything that is happening around us. It doesn’t matter to what extent we are not to blame: Self-justification and self-pity will get us nowhere. We must love the truth, seek it at all costs, and be willing to suffer for it. Without this, there is no human integrity, much less eternal salvation.

2. Recovering our humanity: All spiritual errors basically are a form of delusion (plani, prelest), and they prevent us from recovering the likeness of God, and, furthermore some of the very basic errors we will be discussing not only prevent spiritual life but also attack something even more basic, the pre-condition for spiritual life, which is simply functioning as a human being, even a fallen human being: that is, they prevent us from retaining even the image of God – they make someone something other than human, not in his essence but certainly in his energies. Remember that the project of the Antichrist elites is no longer only to prevent our attaining the likeness of God. They want to go even further and destroy the very image of God in man by creating a new race of “trans-humans.” Here it would be good to recall the three levels of human life the Fathers talk about: That which is above nature, that which is according to nature, and that which is below nature. Our enemies want to “create” a kind of post-humanity that is trapped in a permanent state below nature, a humanity so deformed as to be unrecognizable.

So, you see, following the one whom Our Lord Himself told their predecessors is their father, that is Satan (see John 8:44), these trans-humanists strive to mock God the Creator by “creating” a supposed post-human race (of course, they cannot really create anything, but only pervert, deform, and destroy). This “trans-humanism” is not a marginal idea one finds only in strange websites. It is the stated and public purpose of the most influential policy makers in the emerging global governance system. They hold highly publicized conferences, write books, make videos, and talk about it all the time now.

Today all of this is out in the open, and we can say with St. John the Theologian, “Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now there are many antichrists; whereby know that it is the last time (I John 2:18).”

Long before they went public, however, with trans-humanism as a goal stated through the mass media, the elites prepared everyone gradually to accept it, over several generations, by means of all the techniques of the Great Stereopticon, which have implanted in our minds, as normal, ideas that are actually very abnormal, not only anti-Christian but anti-human. They “boiled the frog slowly” by getting people to accept as attractive, normal, and necessary for social acceptance, ideas and ways of life that are actually very deformed and very sick, but they introduced them gradually, and only rarely with explicit reference to the end game, which is trans-humanism, the destruction not only of the likeness of God, but even of the image of God in man.

If we are to resist trans-humanism, we have to recognize these false ideas that prepare people to accept trans-humanism, ideas that have been hardwired also into us. We have to recognize that they became part of what we think we need to have sanity and social acceptability; they have become inherent to our sense of self, and therefore to admit that they are wrong and that we have to uproot them and return to traditional, non-Stereopticon ways of looking at life – and living life! – is a painful process, as we discussed last time. But it must be done! Let us arise and return to ourselves, so that we can truly return to the loving Father who awaits our repentance! How can we be Orthodox if we are not even human? Unless we repent of so-called progressive ideas and ways of life that make us function as something other than human, our Orthodoxy becomes just a fragment of life, not life itself: It becomes a mind game, a disembodied fantasy adventure, or an aesthetic plaything, or a pseudo-spiritual hobby disconnected from reality, and not what it really is: the power of God transforming our corruptibility and making our entire psychosomatic organism, in all of its activities – personal, familial, and social – capable of holiness and eternal life.

A Catalogue of Errors

So…what are some of these false ideas? Today we shall begin with two of them, and in the next few classes we shall continue the list.

Scientism

Scientism is the crude religious idea – really a kind of surrogate religion – that there is this amazing, monolithic, unified engine of all human progress called “science,” and that it is always right, that it is always progressing to greater and greater truth, and that you have to believe it and obey it, or you are some kind of a stupid, worthless person who is against the progress and welfare of the human race. What is ironic is that scientism is an outmoded, long discredited way of thinking among honest scientists, who understand the fallibility and imperfection of scientific findings, and who know that so-called discoveries are often driven by purely mercenary and malicious agenda. Even when researchers, along with the engineers and social planners who put the findings of research into action through technology, are well meaning, the very nature of empirical science involves many mistakes, constant revision, and a very limited range of understanding. Yet the scientistic establishment and its propagandists keep presenting each new supposed established fact – often completely contradictory to a previous supposedly established fact – as so true and reliable, and of such unlimited range of application, that public policy must be based upon it, no matter how subversive and destructive to normal, commonsense, and truly human ways of living the policy is.

Thus the anti-Christian elite has successfully brainwashed a critical mass of the population to believe that this trustworthy, infallible institution really exists. An especially dangerous subset of scientism is the worship of the medical establishment, because those who control the doctors and the drug makers have so much power over people’s minds and bodies. As Lenin once said, “Medicine is the cornerstone of achieving Socialism”

It is critical to remember that science is the twin of magic, and that the temptation of the magician – 1. that he can become a superior being by controlling nature through cooperation with demonic forces, and 2. that other people are something less than he is, something less than human – is essentially the same as the temptation of the scientists and engineers, and of those who control the scientists and engineers with their money and thereby control the direction of science and technology. This recognition – that science can become subject to diabolical control and used in diabolic ways to oppose God – is not a wild theory newly created by marginal paranoiacs. It is a great theme within the cultural inheritance of our civilization, going all the way back to the myth of Prometheus and, in modern times, illustrated in literature by the story of Faust. Also, and more to the point, our own Orthodox tradition tells us that there is not a hard and fast boundary between science and magic, between the apothecary and the peddler of lethal potions. It is vanity, and an ignorant, irresponsible and sinful disingenuousness, blithely to trust the vast and explicitly anti-Christian apparatus that holds the reins of earthly power through science and medicine over the bodies and minds of men. It is idolatry, and those who worship this idol will suffer the fate of all idolaters.

Within Christian civilization, of course, the Church to a great extent directed the efforts of science and medicine, and there were many pious and enlightened scientists, physicians, inventors, and so forth, and even today, there are still a few. When the Church is the dominant influence over science, technology, and medicine, this is the best possible situation, not only for the Church, but for science itself, because it is precisely the enlightenment of mind that the Gospel brings, that grace brings, that the recognition of man as a reason-endowed being made in the image of God brings, which makes real knowledge (scientia, episteme) possible. But over the last few centuries, since the Renaissance, and especially in the open Revolutionary Period of the last 200 years, the oligarchy that controls Francis Bacon’s “Atlantis” project of an all-powerful Technocracy (see OSC Class 17 and 58) has gradually and – by now – totally usurped the Church’s rightful place as the sponsor and guide of science and medicine. Instead of claiming to seek the limited and modest good of making a man’s life on earth more bearable as he prepares for eternal life, the Technocracy assumes that this life is all there is, and it seeks unlimited power to create a false heaven on earth. We know where that leads: It creates hell on earth instead.

Naturally, as the scientific establishment and the medical establishment are more and more dominated by anti-Christian and anti-human people, their methods and goals do and will become more and more anti-Christian and anti-human, they “progress” into more and more ignorance, not more and more knowledge, and they become less and less trustworthy, not only because they lust ever for more and more power over others, but also because they have become completely out of touch with reality. Just go to the websites of the United Nations, UNESCO, the W.H.O., the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, George Soros’s Open Society Foundation, and so forth. Read Klaus Schwab’s plan for the Great Reset. Go back to the classic futurist screeds of H. G. Wells and Bertrand Russell, proposing World Government through technological control of the masses. See for yourself. These people are totally out of touch with reality. But these deluded, insanely arrogant people and their fellow-travelers are precisely the ones driving public policy everywhere and forming the mind of the masses of humanity outside the Church, as well as, sorry to say, some individuals who are nominally within the Church.

So it’s extremely important, really a matter of life and death, to understand this and to become an intelligent critic – not a knee-jerk reactionary, but a calm and intelligent critic – of the ubiquitous, impersonal, and mercenary scientific and medical official establishments, viewing everything they say and do very cautiously, and through an Orthodox lens. What you will find is that those who practice real science and real medicine are now often marginalized, and their careers, and even their lives, are destroyed, and their voices are thereby silenced, precisely because they are seeking the goals of true science and true medicine – that is, scientific truth and man’s well-being – and not the goal of the scientific and medical establishment, which is to advance the agenda of the Antichrist elite who control the money that funds the “acceptable” scientists, the drugmakers, and the doctors. ( As a side-note, I’d like to say that we should really reach out to these sincere people, for all science and philosophy that really is true, as St. Basil teaches, belongs to the Church; nothing that is true is alien to the Church. In a way, these marginalized truth-seekers and truth-tellers, who are suffering so much right now, are like secular martyrs and confessors of our time: If only they knew it, they would realize that they really belong to the Church, and we should honor them and listen to them on the matters within their realm of competence. Yes, they may be agnostic libertarians, or Roman Catholics, or Protestants, or even neo-pagans, but if only they would convert to Orthodoxy, they would find the fulfillment of their search for truth, for all truth comes from the Logos of God, Our Lord Jesus Christ.)

So, to get back to our goal, which is repentance and “coming to ourselves”: We need to ask the Lord to enlighten us to see and acknowledge to what extent we have believed in this scientistic myth of unlimited progress and the idea that science and medicine are always benign and moral, an idea that is not a harmless, morally neutral delusion, but rather a preposterous and destructive kind of idolatry. We need to discover within ourselves to what extent we mentally practice this idolatry, driven by cowardice, lack of faith, and infantile desire for pleasure, comfort, freedom from suffering, and even deliverance from death itself. We need to see that the claims of the scientistic establishment are simply a re-statement of the primordial lie of Satan to our First Parents, that he, and not God, are the source of life and immortality. We need to see that man is not progressing into a higher and better way of life through “science,” but rather is descending into an ever lower and worse moral and spiritual state, a completely carnal and sub-human state, by exchanging faith in our Creator for faith in “the sons of men, in whom there is no salvation.”

Let us beg the Lord to give us the eyes to see all this, and to repent. While being grateful for whatever real good that real science and medicine can offer, and supporting our good Orthodox – or simply moral – physicians, scientists, and so forth, we must reject the myth of progress and see this New Atlantis project for what it is: A new Tower of Babel, the radical revolt against God by demon-dominated men who are constructing a World Government based on technological dominance not simply over society in general but over our minds and bodies. We must recognized this is a totally illegitimate form of governance, for it is explicitly condemned by God in Genesis 11 at the tower of Babel; it partakes inherently and completely of the spirit of Antichrist and therefore it is neither established nor approved by God, but only allowed by God because of our sins, for which we need to repent. And to live our repentance and not just talk about it, we must be willing to suffer, to endure the consequences of going “outside the camp” to be with Christ. (See Hebrews 11.)

Thus Scientism.

Freudianism and “Personal Fulfillment”

In one of our earlier talks, we referred to a video series called “The Century of the Self” – look it up on the Internet – which tells the story of how those in power in the 20th century used the insights of contemporary psychology to create the media propaganda machine that they have deployed with such frightening effect to practice mass mind control and thereby create the current global culture of mindless materialism and selfishness based on the idea of “personal fulfillment.” It is not a mere coincidence that the founder of this technology, a man named Edward Bernays, was the nephew of Sigmund Freud. Bernays’s technological project directly fulfilled Freud’s cherished dream, as explained in the latter’s manifesto, Civilization and Its Discontents, the dream of destroying Christian civilization through destroying all moral constraints, all ascetical discipline, and especially the traditional mores relating to family life and sexual behavior. So the Great Stereopticon and the sexual revolution have the same people as their creators and ideologues. That’s why you notice that everything in the media and education nowadays always somehow gets back to some kind of perversion of sex.

Freud presents this destruction of Christianity through the sexual revolution as a great leap forward for the human race, because then the individual will be free to pursue his fulfillment in freedom from Biblical morality, which is really, of course, slavery to the passions. And Freud’s project of destruction has in fact been wildly successful, except that the actual outcome, of course, is that people have become less and less truly fulfilled, less themselves, and more and more mindless, boring automata enslaved to their passions, indistinguishable from one another, subsumed into the mass of atomized post-humanity, the Gadarene herd chasing ever more frantically after happiness and never finding it, leaping off the cliff and drowning themselves in the life of sin.

Freud’s theories, of course, do not remotely resemble actual scientific findings but rather present to the reader a mishmash of quasi-religious gibberish, a grotesque fantasy, which nonetheless exerts a hypnotic, demonic power over the Freudian believer, very much like the demonic power that Marxist gibberish exerts over the true believers in Karl Marx. And it does not only affect conscious students and believers in Freudianism. Though very few practitioners today use Freud’s psychoanalytic method, the Freudian ideology has malformed our culture, has permeated the air we breathe, to such an extent that everyone suffers from acting on Freudian assumptions.

There are other schools of psychology, of course, and the ones that are least pretentious, closest to simple common sense, and are the least intrusive, can offer legitimate practical advice for controlling outwardly destructive behavior, and they do help people, but only when the psychological or psychiatric practitioner is a serious Christian or at least a moral person and not a deviant of some kind, which, sadly, is often not the case. At any rate, an Orthodox Christian has to approach secular psychology very cautiously, in order not to fall into a humanistic and ecumenistic approach to life, where one is looking for truth in all the wrong places, outside of the Church, where alone the whole and undistorted truth can be found.

In addition to our faithful looking for answers outside the Church, an even more dangerous problem for us presents itself today: Regardless of the school of psychology under question, the secular psychologistic mindset, characterized by the focus on the self, constant analysis of the self, and the endless futile quest for happiness centered on the self, has crept into Orthodox circles and has distorted the traditional understanding of Orthodox life as well. Putting aside the Church’s traditional, Scriptural, and patristic practice of calling the sinner to repentance, heroic self-sacrifice, and forgetfulness of self, a newly appeared pseudo-patristic, hyper-therapeutic model of Orthodoxy absolutizes and exaggerates the character of the Church as a spiritual hospital. The ill-informed priest who believes in this one-sided approach to Orthodox life can end up pandering to contemporary man’s obsession with himself as a needy, pitiful victim of someone or something, and willy-nilly promoting the Church as the best shop to go to in order to buy happiness at low prices by crafting a separate, antinomian, and quietistic peace where one can check out of the struggle for moral and civic responsibility and simultaneously be “spiritual.”

The Church, of course, is a spiritual hospital. We all do suffer from the illness of the passions, and we remain in the Church’s therapeutic care to the end of our lives. Without some measure of freedom from the passions, we cannot move on to practice the virtues without delusion, unto our salvation. But moving on should be the goal! Yes, the Church is indeed a loving Mother and a House of Healing where we go for nurture, understanding, condescension, and tenderness. But she is also the Church Militant, a fighting Church of kings, warriors, prophets, martyrs, and ascetics – heroes all, people who are not pre-occupied with themselves, who count their lives as nought, people whose constant concerns are God and other people and things outside of themselves generally. She is the Prophetic and Teaching Church, openly and publicly denouncing evil, calling sin a sin, and especially not mincing words when she denounces the evil deeds of those who hold the reins of earthly power. She speaks the plain truth “in season and out of season,” and she does not indulge in man-pleasing; she has no respect of persons, remembering that God will crush the bones of man-pleasers, as the psalmist writes.

Neglect of the Church’s militant character, because of an exclusive and one-sided hyper-therapeuticism and pseudo-compassionate passivity, goes hand in hand with the catastrophic civilizational process we see going on all around us, which is the the creation of a totalitarian therapeutic nanny state based on the feminization of men and the denial or subversion of male authority. This, of course, involves the error of feminism, which is a profound error, or rather, a witch’s brew of various errors, attacking not only spiritual life but even normal human life, that dominates our society today, and which is another “hardwired” sinful way of thinking we all have to repent of. We’ll address the problem of feminism per se in a later talk.

So, how do we repent of this cult of pleasure and self-absorption masquerading as the way to psychic health and even spiritual growth? To begin with, we must resolutely reject Freud’s call to throw off moral restraint, and we must even more radically take on ourselves the yoke of God’s commandments! The Lord Himself said that He had not come to abrogate the Law but to fulfill it. The plain moral commandments of the Old and New Testaments, as well as the Church’s canons and penitentiary forms, remain in place, now and until the end of the world. Let us ask ourselves: Do we really want to forget ourselves, to count our own lives as naught, to live lives of courage and self-sacrifice? Or do we use Orthodoxy as another “method” of self-absorption and self-pleasing? Do we presume on God’s mercy, which is the sin of audacity? Do we fear His just judgment? To what extent have we unconsciously accepted the lie of Freudianism, of the sexual revolution, the idea that the Church’s restraints on sexual behavior, and on pleasure in general, are “unhealthy” and “outdated”? To what extent do we assume that life is about seeking personal “fulfillment” of some kind? To what extent do we use Orthodoxy to seek a pleasant, falsely spiritual peace based on the abdication of our familial and social responsibilities on the pretext of wanting a tranquil, pleasant, and falsely spiritual existence?

Let us ask questions like this, and ask the Lord to enlighten us, that we may see the truth and return to ourselves. Let us seek this day, this hour, to love God and to keep His commandments.

“If ye love me,” saith the Lord, “keep my commandments.” – John 14:15

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In Thy light shall we see light

2 January OS 2021 – Forefeast of Theophany; St. Sylvester, Pope of Rome; St. Seraphim, Wonderworker of Sarov

Listen to an audio podcast of this post at https://www.spreaker.com/user/youngfaithradio/jan2

Today, the second of January, is the day of the repose of a great saint of recent times, Seraphim of Sarov, who passed over into the heavenly kingdom on this day in 1833. You can obtain a good short hagiography of St. Seraphim here http://ibmgs.org/lives.html and a good short collection of his known sayings (the saint never wrote anything – what we have are recollections of his disciples, as is the case with St. Cosmas Aitolos) here https://www.sainthermanmonastery.com/product-p/lrp1.htm .

In recent times, St. Seraphim has played a critical part in converting many non-Orthodox Christians to the Faith, including me. His Conversation with Motovilov is a short summary of the entire spiritual life from the Orthodox point of view. It tells the potential convert, in a few thousand words, without saying so directly, why non-Orthodox Christians should leave Roman Catholicism and Protestantism and become Orthodox. For the pious cradle Orthodox, it might explain to you, in a few thousand words, “Yes, that is why I could never be anything but Orthodox, though I never thought about it in exactly this way.”

St. Seraphim teaches that the goal of the Christian life is the acquisition of the Holy Spirit, and at the end of this conversation, a visible epiphany of the saint’s attainment of this goal is granted to his disciple, Nicholas Motovilov. Here is a portion of Motovilov’s description of what happened:

...Father Seraphim took me very firmly by the shoulders and said: “We are both in the Spirit of God now, my son. Why don’t you look at me?”

I replied: “I cannot look, Father, because your eyes are flashing like lightning. Your face has become brighter than the sun, and my eyes ache with pain.”

Father Seraphim said: “Don’t be alarmed, your Godliness! Now you yourself have become as bright as I am. You are now in the fullness of the Spirit of God yourself; otherwise you would not be able to see me as I am.”

Then, bending his head towards me, he whispered softly in my ear: “Thank the Lord God for His unutterable mercy to us! You saw that I did not even cross myself; and only in my heart I prayed mentally to the Lord God and said within myself: ‘Lord, grant him to see clearly with his bodily eyes that descent of Thy Spirit which Thou grantest toThy servants when Thou art pleased to appear in the light of Thy magnificent glory.’ And you see, my son, the Lord instantly fulfilled the humble prayer of poor Seraphim. How then shall we not thank Him for this unspeakable gift to us both? Even to the greatest hermits, my son, the Lord God does not always show His mercy in this way. This grace of God, like a loving mother, has been pleased to comfort your contrite heart at the intercession of the Mother of God herself. But why, my son, do you not look me in the eyes? Just look, and don’t be afraid! The Lord is with us!”

After these words I glanced at his face and there came over me an even greater reverent awe. Imagine in the center of the sun, in the dazzling light of its midday rays, the face of a man talking to you. You see the movement of his lips and the changing expression of his eyes, you hear his voice, you feel someone holding your shoulders; yet you do not see his hands, you do not even see yourself or his figure, but only a blinding light spreading far around for several yards and illumining with its glaring sheen both the snow-blanket which covered the forest glade and the snow-flakes which besprinkled me and the great Elder. You can imagine the state I was in!

“How do you feel now?” Father Seraphim asked me.

“Extraordinarily well,” I said.

“But in what way? How exactly do you feel well?”

I answered: “I feel such calmness and peace in my soul that no words can express it.”

(You can find the conversation with Motovilov here: http://orthodoxinfo.com/praxis/wonderful.aspx)

Of course, the light that Motovilov saw is the light of Mt. Tabor, of the Transfiguration. It is the uncreated light of God. What sets authentic, Orthodox, spiritual experience apart from false spiritual experience is precisely the reality that it is spiritual, properly speaking, that is, that it takes place in the realm of the spirit; it is above and other than a purely psychosomatic experience; it is from above, a gift of grace, and grace is the uncreated energy of God. This authentic spiritual experience occurs when, by the free gift of God, the spiritual intellect, the nous, is joined to the heart – that is, when un-deluded logos, thought, is united to a pure will and pure feeling – and a man becomes, in the words of St. Macarius the Great, “all spirit.”

Extraordinary psychic experiences, which take place in the realm of the fallen intellect, imagination, and emotion – even, or especially, those that take place in out-of-body experiences – are not spiritual, and are very dangerous, because they take place on the level of the fallen human nature and the fallen creation, which is under the rule of the prince of this world, the devil. Just as the Son of God came into this world once to break the devil’s chains from us and lift us up to heaven, so the Spirit of God comes every day and hour to lift up above this world our baptized human organism, which by baptism now partakes of Christ’s death and resurrection, and by the Spirit partakes of authentic holiness.

For this to happen, however, a man must confess the right faith and receive baptism. St. Seraphim explains like this:

“And whoever lives and believes in Me shall not die for ever (Jn. 11:26).” He who has the grace of the Holy Spirit in reward for right faith in Christ, even if on account of human frailty his soul were to die from some sin or other, yet he will not die for ever, but he will be raised by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ Who takes away the sin of the world (Jn. 1:29) and freely gives grace upon grace. Of this grace, which was manifested to the whole world and to our human race by the God-Man, it is said in the Gospel: In Him was life, and the life was the light of men (Jn. 1:4); and further: And the light shines in the darkness; and the darkness did not overpower it (Jn. 1:5). This means that the grace of the Holy Spirit which is granted at Baptism in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, in spite of men’s falls into sin, in spite of the darkness surrounding our soul, nevertheless shines in the heart with the divine light (which has existed from time immemorial) of the inestimable merits of Christ. In the event of a sinner’s impenitence this light of Christ cries to the Father: ‘Abba, Father! Be not angry with this impenitence to the end (of his life)’. And then, at the sinner’s conversion to the way of repentance, it effaces completely all trace of past sin and clothes the former sinner once more in a robe of incorruption woven from the grace of the Holy Spirit, concerning the acquisition of which, as the aim of the Christian life, I have been speaking so long to your Godliness.

In another place in the same conversation, the saint says that this gift of being in the Spirit of God is available both to the monk and to the non-monastic, provided both are Orthodox.

Let us, then take great consolation and hope from the words of our great saint of recent times! Though we sin a thousand times a day, yet we are Orthodox Christians, and we belong to Christ, Who has already bestowed upon us through baptism the indwelling grace of the Holy Spirit, which pleads for us even when we are in sin, which cries for us, “Abba, Father!” In one moment, the thief won Paradise. In one moment, like Nicholas Motovilov, we can be in the Spirit, by the merits of Christ and through the prayers of the Most Holy Theotokos, St. Seraphim, and all the saints. It is the free gift of grace, ours for the asking. Let us cry out to the Lord day and night, in gratitude for the gift we have already received and with earnest desire for its increase within us.

Holy Father Seraphim, pray to God for us!

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Herod’s men come a’knocking at the door

26 December OS 2020- Second Day of the Nativity, The Synaxis of the Most Holy Theotokos

Listen to an audio podcast of this blog post at https://www.spreaker.com/user/youngfaithradio/dec26-2020

The Gospel reading for today is Matthew 2: 13-23

At that time, when the wise men were departed: Behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him. When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt: And was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son. Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men. Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy the prophet, saying, In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not. But when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeareth in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, Saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and go into the land of Israel: for they are dead which sought the young child’s life. And he arose, and took the young child and his mother, and came into the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus did reign in Judaea in the room of his father Herod, he was afraid to go thither: notwithstanding, being warned of God in a dream, he turned aside into the parts of Galilee: And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene.

Yesterday we saw all the nations of the earth, in the persons of the Three Magi, bowing down in adoration to the Child born of the Virgin. Today we see the powers of the earth attempting to slay Him. Thus always shall it be: Those with eyes to see and ears to hear, from among all the nations, will come to know Christ, to worship him, and to offer gifts and spiritual sacrifices to Him, Who offered the one saving Sacrifice for us. Those who choose to be blinded by the world, by their passions, and by the unseen enemies of our salvation, will reject Him. And, if they hold earthly power, they will not only reject Him, but attempt to slay Him, for their master, who is, in Our Lord’s own words, the prince of this world, is consumed always by a frenzy to take revenge upon the One Who has entered his house, that is this world, and despoiled him of his goods, that is the souls of men. (See Matthew 12:29)

“Wait,” you may say, “the Lord is risen from the dead and cannot be killed again. Does not St. Paul write … ‘Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him. For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God (Romans 6:9-10).'” Yes, of course, the Lord Himself cannot die: His kingdom is an eternal Kingdom which shall have no end. He reigns over all forever, standing where St. Stephen saw Him when the heavens opened, “at the right hand of God (Acts 7:55-56). ” Yet, in a sense, mystically, as long as this world endures, He does suffer and die again, in the sufferings of His Body the Church, in the sufferings of His confessors and martyrs, and in the sufferings of all men, even the unbaptized, castaways, and unbelieving, who, after all, are made in His image as well, the image of the God-Man, the archetype of all the human race, as determined by the pre-eternal counsel of God announced to the Virgin at the very hour of His taking flesh for our sake.

At one time, the Lord worked a great miracle: the Herods of the earth were replaced by the Constantines of the earth, that is, Christian rulers who protected the Church and extended Her spiritual rule among the nations. Yes: Our Lord in His mercy, to crown the sufferings of His martyrs of the first three hundred years, granted this great dispensation, so that for the next 1600 years countless souls could with greater ease be gathered into His Kingdom on earth, the Church, and into the Kingdom of Heaven. But now Herod has returned to the throne, and for 100 years and more he has raged unchecked, slaying the souls and bodies of men, making this blood offering to his god, the prince of this world. Yes, a vast blood sacrifice unprecedented in all history for its scope and mercilessness: Wars, revolutions, the destruction of the institutions of the Church, the nation, and the family; the unspeakably vast infant sacrifice of abortion that dwarfs the crime of Herod himself by an immeasurable magnitude, the planned technological alteration of the very genetic inheritance of the human race, and, enabling it all, the perversion of the mind and spirit through a merciless and ceaseless bombardment of gigantic lies crafted with supreme artistry and told with breathtaking cynicism – we can all recite this dreary catalogue by now, and I need not expand upon it again for you today. Today it seems that Herod has more power than ever, and, as millions now perceive on the dawn of 2021, something new and even more dreadful portends to befall us.

How shall we respond? What witness shall we give when the agents of Herod knock at the door? Let us take St. Joseph the Betrothed for our example: St. Joseph is a man of action, not of words. From Holy Scripture we know not a single word spoken by him. But his actions speak louder than words. At every crisis, facing trials that the fallen mind could neither comprehend nor justify, he simply practiced obedience. He did the will of God. Let us also, this day, this hour, follow his example in everything great and small. We need constantly to immerse ourselves in God’s holy Word through prayer, reading, and the Church’s daily sacrifice of praise, so that we can purify our minds, strengthen our wills, and love God with all our hearts. If He is with us, no one can be against us. But for Him to be with us, we must choose to be with Him, and this choice is made not once but countless times in all the little decisions we make every day, so that when the hour of the great decision arrives, we will be in practice to do the right thing.

Life is short, death is certain, judgment is eternal. Let us rejoice in the Lord and run to do His holy will. He took on all of our humanity, even unto death, that we might share in His divinity. What should we not be willing to do and to suffer, for His sake? Whether a man likes it or not, he owes God a death. It is but once. Think only on that which awaits thereafter: “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him (I Corinthians 2:9).”

O dearest Lord, become Man for our sake, glory be to Thee!

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2021: Let us live in hope

18 December OS 2020 – Thursday of the Thirteenth Week of St. Luke; Holy Martyr Sebastian

Today is the secular New Year’s Eve, and naturally everyone is thinking about 2021 and what it will bring. This year it happens that this day – 18 December on the real calendar – coincides with the Thursday of the Thirteenth Week of St. Luke in our cycle of daily Gospel readings, and providentially St. Theophan the Recluse, while commenting on today’s reading, offers an insight into our situation as we face a new year.

The Gospel reading is Mark 9: 10-15 –

At that time, the disciples kept that saying with themselves, questioning one with another what the rising from the dead should mean. And they asked him, saying, Why say the scribes that Elias must first come? And he answered and told them, Elias verily cometh first, and restoreth all things; and how it is written of the Son of man, that he must suffer many things, and be set at nought. But I say unto you, That Elias is indeed come, and they have done unto him whatsoever they listed [wanted], as it is written of him. And when he came to his disciples, he saw a great multitude about them, and the scribes questioning with them. And straightway all the people, when they beheld him, were greatly amazed, and running to him saluted him.

When the Lord says that Elias has already come, and “…they have done to him whatsoever they listed…” He is referring to St. John the Baptist. The Baptist came, and the evildoers – Herod and his crowd – did whatever they wanted to him: they imprisoned and murdered him. St. Theophan the Recluse takes this event, along with the sufferings of Christ Himself, as a starting point for a meditation on the place of man’s choices in the flow of history:

History flows on and, it seems, inexorably determines individual events. How many preparations there were to receive the Savior! At last, His closest witness, John, came – but what came of it? “They have done…whatsoever they listed” to John, and the Son of man suffered and was humiliated. The flow of events could not be broken; it took its own course. So the flow of history always draws everything after it. People now ask, “Where is freedom? What would it be, given such an order of events? Nothing but a phantom?” Thus do fatalists usually reason. But this all-determining necessity of the flow of events is only an appearance. In reality all human events, both common and individual, are the fruit of man’s free undertakings. The common [history] flows exactly the way it does because everyone, or a majority, want this. And individual events enter into agreement with common events because someone or other in particular wants this. The proof of this is obvious: in the midst of general good there occur bad elements, and in the midst of general bad there occur good elements. Also, in the midst of a firmly established commonality are born elements which, spreading and becoming stronger and stronger, overpower the former commonality and take its place. But these elements are always a matter of freedom. What did Christianity have in common with the character of the time in which it was conceived? It was sown by several individuals who were not a result of the necessary flow of history; it attracted those who desired it, spread vigorously, and became the common cause of the humanity of the time, yet all the same it was a matter of freedom. The same is true in a bad direction: how did the West become corrupted? It corrupted itself. Instead of learning from the Gospel, they began to learn from pagans and adopt their customs – and they became corrupted. The same will happen with us: we have begun to learn from the West which has fallen from Christ the Lord, and have transferred its spirit to ourselves. It will end with us, like the West forsaking true Christianity. But in all of this there is nothing that necessarily determines the matter of freedom. If we want to, we will drive away the Western darkness. If we do not want to, of course, we will immerse ourselves in it. – Thoughts for Each Day of the Year, pp. 280-281

The author was writing in the 1880’s, a time when the intelligentsia in Russia were running after the latest false teachers from Western Europe, including Hegel, Darwin, and Marx, all of whom, in one way or another, taught that history is an impersonal and unstoppable process of evolution, a juggernaut that will crush you if you do not jump on the bandwagon and go along for the ride. Of course, this error was really nothing new – man without Christ, without the revelation found in Holy Scripture, had always believed in Fate.   But in St. Theophan’s time, because Christian Europe had been falling away from the Gospel for several centuries, this old delusion took on new form as a powerful idea gripping everyone’s mind.   It certainly grips everyone’s mind today: How often do we hear that we must go along with the times and there is nothing you can do about it? To a great extent, Christians, including nominally Orthodox Christians, have given up fighting the spirit of the age or have even reached the point at which they cannot recognize that it is diametrically opposed to the Faith.

As we face the new year of 2021, we must decide if we will exercise our freedom to make spiritual and moral choices opposed to the spirit of this age…or not. The good news is that this freedom still exists and that the Lord will give us the grace we need to exercise it. But we have to make the choice to exercise it: He does not force us. We are not “fated” to go one way or the other. What steps should we take? How will we avoid getting crushed by that juggernaut of the times we live in?

The first step is to tear our minds away from the things that the world tells us are the real things.   Perhaps we are content to be captivated by the so-called news from mainstream media, as if it represented reality and were not what it actually is: a gigantic brainwashing machine. Or perhaps, having grasped the reality that the official establishment organs – the so-called state, the media, the medical establishment, the big corporations, the “official” church structures, et al – hate us and are simply lying to us all the time in order to destroy us, we busy ourselves daily hunting through the alternative media to find out what is really going on out there. The latter is far preferable, of course, and if we are discerning, we can find valid and useful information. But if we spend all of our time on this, and not on the ABC’s of Christian life – including prayer, serious study, and doing the corporal and spiritual works of mercy – we can still become the proverbial deer in the headlights, paralyzed by the specter of an omnipotent, unstoppable, and incomprehensible evil which demands that we surrender or be destroyed.   We have to tear ourselves away from this suicidal fascination and feed our minds on God’s Truth.

For there really is no secret to what is going on out there. God is working out His plan in history, and we can freely choose to cooperate with Him or not. There are evil people who have now gotten all the levers of worldly power into their hands, and they are doing the will of their god, Satan. Their time is short, and they are in a frenzy to accomplish their master’s will before he and they are cast into the lake of fire where they will burn for all eternity.   It will certainly be rough for us while this short-lived frenzy endures, but we are looking forward to a better time, in fact to eternity, where we hope to live with God forever.

This word – hope – is the key. We often hear sermons about Faith and Love, but rarely about Hope. Yet in our time how essential it is to have Hope!   Along with Faith and Love, it is one of the three supernatural virtues, and we must pray for it. But what is it? The supernatural virtue of Hope is linked intimately with the cardinal virtue of Courage (also called Fortitude). It is the grace-filled habit of believing courageously that God will in fact take care of us, that God’s promises are true, that God is to be trusted, that everything will turn out all right, just as He said. Faith is the virtue of believing in God. Hope is the virtue of believing God, trusting in His promises.

Let us choose to be the Church of Philadelphia from the Apocalypse. We are not big people. Let us choose freely to be the little ones who in humility, despite our obvious human weakness, choose the path of faithfulness, of loyalty to God and love for the brethren (philadelphia). Let us live in Hope.

And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write; These things saith he that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the key of David, he that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth; I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it: for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name. Behold, I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee. Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth. Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown. Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches. – Revelation 3: 7 -13  

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And I meditated on Thy commandments which I have greatly loved

16 December OS 2020 – Tuesday of the Thirteenth Week of St. Luke; Holy Prophet Aggaios (Haggai), St. Modestos of Jerusalem, St. Theophano the Empress

Today’s Gospel reading for the daily cycle is Mark 8:22-26 –

And he cometh to Bethsaida; and they bring a blind man unto him, and besought him to touch him. And he took the blind man by the hand, and led him out of the town; and when he had spit on his eyes, and put his hands upon him, he asked him if he saw aught [anything]. And he looked up, and said, I see men as trees, walking. After that he put his hands again upon his eyes, and made him look up: and he was restored, and saw every man clearly. And he sent him away to his house, saying, Neither go into the town, nor tell it to any in the town.

St. Theophan the Recluse comments on the gradual healing of the man’s sight as an image of the gradual enlightenment of the human race in the Old and New Testaments:

The Lord did not heal the blind man of Bethsaida immediately – He first healed him a little, and then completely, so that he began to see everything clearly. Why the Lord did this is known to Him alone. We can take from this the following thought: if it was considered necessary to heal bodily vision gradually, then even more so is such gradualness indispensable in the enlightenment of the eyes of our mind. That is how it has been. During the period of the [Old Testament] patriarchs, Divinely revealed knowledge was not complicated. During the period under the law it became more complex and detailed. In our Christian period, it is even more detailed and exalted; but is this the end? Do not expect anything higher on the earth, but in the other world there will be [something higher]. Two Holy Apostles assure us of this: Sts. John and Paul. “Now we see everything through a glass, darkly (I Cor. 13:12),” but then we will see everything clearly. But even there, there will be degrees of enlightenment of the mind, for the realm of the knowledge of God is boundless. God’s revelation on earth is already complete; there is no point in dreaming about something higher. We have everything we need; learn it and live by it. Christian revelation does not promise new revelation in the future, but only that the Gospel will be known in the whole world, and that this universality and generality of the knowledge of the Gospel is the limit of the current order of things. After this, faith will weaken, love will dry up, life will become difficult – and God’s goodness will put an end to the world. – Thoughts for Each Day of the Year, p. 279

There is a lot for thought here, but three main points are as follows:

1. After the original knowledge of God in Paradise had been lost to man through sin, the Lord gradually, patiently revealed Himself to the human race, not in spectacular announcements to entire populations, but to a few people, His chosen ones before the Law (the patriarchs) and after the Law (the prophets and holy ones of the Old Israel). When He deemed the time was right, He Himself came in the flesh He took from the Virgin, and this is the complete and perfect revelation of Who God is: the God-Man Jesus Christ. When the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost, it was not to give a new revelation, but to enlighten the minds of the Apostles to understand what they had already received.

2. Through the Apostles and the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, we have been given everything we need to know – in the Orthodox Faith.   No new revelations are needed, and none will be given, and we could spend all our lifetimes studying the Faith that has already been revealed and only scratch the surface.   All “new revelations” after the New Testament, such as the Koran and the Book of Mormon, are full of falsehood and deception, coming as they do from the Father of Lies. The true Fathers and Teachers of the Church never claimed to have a new revelation but rather only expounded on what they had received. All that remains is for us to live our Faith and to share it. When it has been shared to the extent possible – according to the foreknowledge and plan of God – God will put an end to this present, temporal order of things, for this world will have served its purpose.

3. In the Kingdom of Heaven, there will be unlimited and eternal progress in the knowledge of God.   God is not only infinite but also infinitely knowable, and He made our minds to know Him.   The nous, the mind, does not perish with death. Between the Particular Judgment and the General Resurrection, the souls of the saved will use their minds to know God more and more, and this will be all the more true after they will have received their immortal bodies at the Resurrection.   Eternity for the blessed will be – is – an infinite progression in the knowledge and love of God.

If we do not like to pray and to do spiritual reading, this is because our fallen nature and the demons fight it, in order to prevent our becoming who we really are and are supposed to become.   We must force ourselves to pray and to study our Faith, and by so doing we will attract God’s grace, by whose power alone we can acquire a steady appetite for spiritual things. If we do not acquire such an appetite before we die, heaven will be quite uninteresting for us – as a matter of fact, we will not want to go there. Think about it.

We are about to celebrate the Birth of Our Lord from the Holy Virgin.   Was she an automaton, a robotic tool of God’s purpose, as many Protestant sectarians seem to think?   Did God merely use her as if she were an uninvolved, indifferent bystander to His plan for the salvation of mankind, some random woman among any number of random women He could have seized upon? By no means – perish the blasphemy!   Quite the opposite is true, as St. Gregory Palamas makes clear in the following passage from his great Second Homily on the Entry of the Theotokos:

Who ever loved God more than she, whom we now extol? What other creature could ever be purer than she, or equal to her in purity, or anywhere near as pure? For this reason, she alone of all mankind throughout the ages was initiated into the highest mysteries by these divine visions, was united in this way with God, and became like Him. She then accomplished the super-human role of intercessor on our behalf, and brought it to perfection by herself, not just acquiring this indescribable exaltation of mind, but using it for the sake of us all, and doing this supremely great deed by means of her boldness towards God. For she did not merely come to resemble God, but she made God in the likeness of man, not just by persuading Him, but by conceiving Him without seed and bearing Him in a way past telling. Having been fashioned by God through grace – which is why she was addressed as “thou that art full of grace” by the Angel – she shaped God in human form – which is why she was given the good tidings with the greeting, “Rejoice” (Luke 1:28). – from Mary the Mother of God, Sermons by Saint Gregory Palamas (Mount Thabor Publishing 2005), pp. 48-49.

In other words, Panagia was incomparably the greatest created person of prayer who ever was and ever will be, the greatest doer of hesychastic prayer. And she is also therefore the greatest theologian, for she used her created mind to the utmost, to do what the mind was made to do: to know God. Through her incomparable purity of soul and mind, she acquired the utmost boldness before God, and she interceded all-powerfully, invincibly, for the salvation of man. In response to this prayer, God came to save us, by becoming a man in her womb.

When we have no appetite for divine things, when we are sluggish and dull, uninterested in prayer and divine study, let us run to the Holy Virgin and beg her to ask her Divine Son to give us that divine eros, that burning desire to know and to love Him, which she possessed to the utmost. Let us push ourselves, as well – we have to do some of the work! – and the Lord, seeing our humble efforts, will graciously give us the divine desire to know Him, not only in His mighty works, but also in His infinite perfections – to love Him not only because of what He has done, but pre-eminently because of Who He Is, because He is worthy of all love.

This is a fitting gift to the Christ-Child at this holy season!

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My words shall not pass away

11 December OS 2020 – Thursday of the Twelfth Week of St. Luke; Righteous Daniel and Luke the Stylites

Today’s Gospel reading for the daily cycle is Luke 21: 28-33 –

The Lord said to his disciples, Look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh. And he spake to them a parable; Behold the fig tree, and all the trees; When they now shoot forth, ye see and know of your own selves that summer is now nigh at hand. So likewise ye, when ye see these things come to pass, know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand. Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass away, till all be fulfilled. Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words shall not pass away.

Today is Christmas Eve in the non-Orthodox, formerly Western Christian society around us, and the secular New Year is around the corner. As 2021 approaches, it would be fair to say that great numbers of people – at least those not completely oblivious through substance abuse or the various forms of manufactured delusion provided so generously today to those who wish to be deluded – face the future with dread. The familiar world of yesterday – even the world of ten years ago, much less 25 or 50 or 100 years ago – has disappeared through an engineered cataclysm, an Antichrist revolution in morals, family life, and social structure so systemic and ubiquitous as to make even comprehending it, much less fighting it, seem impossible. Surely, one thinks, the chastisement of God must be around the corner: He has already passed sentence on man, and we are just waiting to learn what form the punishment will take – World War III? Famine? Plague? Anarchy and chaos followed by the police state with its concentration camps, torture, and genocide?   Who knows?

In the midst of these justifiable apocalyptic fears, the Lord tells us today not to fear but to have hope: “Look up and lift up your heads, for your redemption draweth nigh.”   He has just completed His great discourse about the end of the world, relating the terrors that will precede His Second Coming, but at the end He assures the disciples that all of these things, no matter how terrible, will, like everything in this life, pass away. Indeed, heaven and earth – the entire visible cosmos – will pass away. His words, however, will never pass away. Those who cling to His words, who make Him the foundation of their life and do not leave the house built on this foundation – the Life in Christ – will not perish: “In your patience possess ye your souls (Luke 21:19).”

In the passage immediately following today’s reading, the Lord instructs the disciples how to keep their faith and hope alive in the midst of apocalyptic trials:

And take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares. For as a snare shall it come on all them that dwell on the face of the whole earth. Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man. Luke 21: 34-36

Therefore, to survive spiritually, to be still on Christ’s side when He returns and not on the other side, we must take heed to ourselves, which consists of a temperate and moral life characterized by watching and praying always.   Without a continual, conscious spiritual life according to the Church’s teaching, we will not survive spiritually: we will fall.

We see people falling all around us, including “practicing Christians” of various kinds – sadly, not excluding Orthodox people: they throw in the towel and adopt the latest delusion, the latest false teaching, the latest moral “Get Out of Jail Free card” from the teachers of the demonic New Order, some moral or intellectual or religious poison they would not have dreamed of swallowing even a year ago. All is well: there is a big party going on and they do not want to be left out. But they are sheep being fattened for the slaughter. And any day, any time, something inside us could snap, and we could become one of them. Our vigilance must be ceaseless, while our reliance on God must be total.

The means to this ceaseless vigilance are well within our grasp, and they are so well known to us that we take them for granted (and fail to use them): daily prayer at set times, the constant struggle for the Jesus Prayer, frequent confession, frequent Holy Communion, spiritual reading, constant examination of conscience and daily inner repentance, and all of the instruments of the spiritual life according to the tradition of the Orthodox Church. This “normal life” of Orthodoxy that has been going on all along has actually always been an apocalyptic life, an eschatological life, a life oriented to the End of the World; we just did not notice.   The times we are living through now and will be living through in the near future are what we have been chanting about and praying about and preparing for all along, if only we had known it.   The rehearsal is over: it is Show Time.  The curtain has risen, and we stand in the full glare of the lights. How will we play our part?

Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity. Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock. And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.Matthew 7: 22-27  

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The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness comprehends it not

9 December OS 2020 – The Conception of the Theotokos by St. Anna  

Today we celebrate the conception of the Most Pure Virgin Theotokos in the womb of St. Anna, who by her husband St. Joachim conceived in great old age after a lifetime of barrenness, by the will of God.

The Gospel reading for today’s Feast is Luke 8: 16-21 –

The Lord said: No man, when he hath lighted a candle, covereth it with a vessel, or putteth it under a bed; but setteth it on a candlestick, that they which enter in may see the light. For nothing is secret, that shall not be made manifest; neither any thing hid, that shall not be known and come abroad. Take heed therefore how ye hear: for whosoever hath, to him shall be given; and whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he seemeth to have. Then came to him his mother and his brethren, and could not come at him for the press. And it was told him by certain which said, Thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to see thee. And he answered and said unto them, My mother and my brethren are these which hear the word of God, and do it.

These words of Our Lord apply most fittingly to His holy grandparents. Their virtues were hidden for many years before being made known – their prayer, their almsgiving, their fervent trust in God in the midst of their great sorrow – and they were derided by their neighbors for being childless, for many of the Jews (especially those who belonged to the sect of the Sadducees, which included the priestly and aristocratic classes) had no belief in eternal life, thinking that immortality meant only living on through one’s descendants and believing therefore also that childlessness meant that one was cursed by God.

The Lord in His great wisdom indicated two things through His miraculously giving St. Anna the ability to conceive by her husband in her old age: He indicated that the Holy Virgin so conceived was His elect vessel, chosen for a very specific role in the salvation of mankind, and He indicated that Ss. Joachim and Anna were not cursed but indeed blessed above all others before them, for their hope and courage were greatly rewarded, indeed rewarded beyond all expectation: they became the parents not simply of a saint but of the flower of the human race, of the human person who, in the expression of St. Gregory Palamas, stands at the boundary of the created and the uncreated realms, the Mother of God Incarnate, who is more honorable than the Cherubim and beyond compare more glorious than the Seraphim.

We cannot compare our level of piety to that of Ss. Joachim and Anna. Their example, however, does give us hope, for often we feel that we labor for our salvation in isolation, and that no one understands us.   There are those who not only do not understand our Faith but also believe that we are bad somehow for practicing it!   When we try to help them by telling them the truth about God or morality or society or any other important topic, they may even hate us somehow for it, recalling St. Paul’s experience with the Galatians when trying to correct them: “Am I therefore become your enemy, because I tell you the truth? (Galatians 4:16).” But we must remember that their hatred should cause us not to hate them in return, but rather to grieve over them, for they are trapped by their fallen nature, fallen human society, and the fallen spirits. The degree of their anger reflects the corresponding degree of their misery.

Let us, therefore, pray to Ss. Joachim and Anna when we are experiencing spiritual loneliness, when no one, even perhaps our Orthodox brethren and relatives, seems to sympathize with our spiritual struggles.   The Lord sees, and the Lord will judge! “For nothing is secret, that shall not be made manifest…” Let us only humble ourselves and be faithful, as they were faithful in their loneliness.

I would also ask everyone to pray to our dear St. Anna that she will, in particular, intercede with her divine Grandson to send good spouses to our children.   It is so hard today to find the right person to marry, the person who will help us find our salvation!   St. Anna, pray to God for us!

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Serene faith

3 December OS 2020 – Wednesday of the 11th Week of St. Luke, Holy Prophet Sophonias (Zephaniah)

Today’s daily Gospel reading is Luke 20: 1-8

At that time, as Jesus taught the people in the temple, and preached the gospel, the chief priests and the scribes came upon him with the elders, And spake unto him, saying, Tell us, by what authority doest thou these things? or who is he that gave thee this authority? And he answered and said unto them, I will also ask you one thing; and answer me: The baptism of John, was it from heaven, or of men? And they reasoned with themselves, saying, If we shall say, From heaven; he will say, Why then believed ye him not? But and if we say, Of men; all the people will stone us: for they be persuaded that John was a prophet. And they answered, that they could not tell whence it was. And Jesus said unto them, Neither tell I you by what authority I do these things.

Of course, these questioners – the chief priests, scribes, and elders – were not asking Our Lord this question because they sincerely sought the truth. Their minds were made up, and they were simply trying to trick Him.   Their minds were poniro, as we say in Greek – sneaky, twisted, and evil-intended – and they could not think straight or see straight or talk straight. For them, language was a tool to get power over others, not a holy medium of heart to heart communication.   St. Theophan the Recluse comments on this encounter to illustrate the difference between the mind of Faith, which is also the deep and reasonable mind, and the mind of hardened unbelief, which is superficial and unreasoning:

The priests, scribes, and elders did not believe in the Lord. In order to raise them up to faith, He offered them a question: “The baptism of John, was it from heaven, or of men?” Consider this without bias, and your reasoning will bring you to faith. What is said about John’s appearing can be said about every event accompanying the Lord’s advent in the flesh, and about His very advent, and all that comes into contact with it. Let each person consider all of this, and the conclusion will be the same: “Truly this was the Son of God (Matt. 27:54).” Various thoughts can come, confusion can arise, what seem like incongruities can be encountered; but at the end of all investigations one universal conviction will result: that it is impossible to think any other way than as is shown in the Gospels and apostolic writings. “Great is the mystery of godliness: God is manifest in the flesh (I Timothy 3:16).” This remains a mystery, but if the mind compels itself by a spiritual need to investigate it, then this mystery will become clear to the mind – and it will confess this way, and in no other way. Unbelievers either do not investigate it at all as they ought to, or they investigate it superficially, with a mind alien to it, or they take on a miserable state of mind that is opposed to what is required by the Faith. To justify their unbelief, they are satisfied with the most insignificant trifle to refute the Faith. The words of unbelievers shake believers, who, being satisfied with simple faith, do not seek clarification of the foundations of the Faith. Those words take them unawares, and hence they are shaken. Thoughts for Each Day of the Year, p. 268

Why are we sometimes shaken by the specious (i.e., seemingly valid but actually worthless) arguments of the faithless? It may be that we have not studied our Faith enough, but that by itself is easily remedied – the books are all out there, and we have only to immerse ourselves in the tremendous wisdom and insight of the Church expressed by Her various exponents, in order to see how the Orthodox Faith is far and away the most satisfying explanation to life’s puzzle.   The underlying problem is not lack of knowledge but the lack of godly confidence caused by a passion we all suffer from, which is vanity.

This may be surprising to some people, for they often mistake timidity for humility, and imagine that if they are mealy-mouthed this shows that they are not vain. But what is humility? It is not groveling and acting like the doormat of the human race (a la Uriah Heep, for you English literature fans). True humility is knowing Who God is, who you are, and what life is really about. It is accurate knowledge of reality, that’s all.   If you know white is white and black is black, it is not humble to say that white is black, just because that will stroke someone else’s ego. On the contrary, it is extremely vain and proud, because it means that you think you have permission to overturn reality in order to luxuriate in the good feelings of some other finite creature. It is playing God.

A truly humble person is courageous.   Since he knows that God in His Providence is taking care of him, that nothing can be done to him that will defeat God’s plan for his salvation, he is not afraid of those who attack his Faith or of what they will do to him if he does not go along with them.

A truly humble person is confident in the truth.   Even if he does not understand every detail, even if he cannot answer every specific objection to his Faith, he knows that the Big Picture of Orthodoxy is as good as it gets, insofar as having a worldview, an understanding of what life is all about. If there is some little thing that has not been explained completely, he trusts that it is explainable to the extent he truly needs it to be, and with prayer and trust he seeks to grow in the knowledge of his Faith.

A truly humble person is meek. He does not have to snarl at someone who raises objections to his faith; he does not have to bite.   With the calmness and courage born of heartfelt certainty, he can serenely and patiently ward off the powerless arrows of false objections, even when his critic is unkind to him personally.

A truly humble person is compassionate. When he sees the unbelief of the other person, he says, “There but for the grace of God go I.” Having accurate self-knowledge, he knows the capacity of his own heart for self-deception, and therefore he recoils from condemning another person who has the same problem. With true sympathy, he wants this person in front of him to be delivered from deception, for he wants what God wants, and God is He “… Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth (I Timothy 2:4).”

Let us immerse ourselves in the treasures of our precious Faith’s priceless theology, pray for more accurate self-knowledge, and beg the Lord to save our neighbors who labor so painfully in the darkness of unbelief!

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Your names are written in heaven

29 November OS 2020 – Saturday of the 10th Week of St. Luke, Holy Martyr Paramon

Today’s daily Gospel reading is Luke 10: 19-21.

The Lord said to His disciples, Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you. Notwithstanding in this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject unto you; but rather rejoice, because your names are written in heaven. In that hour Jesus rejoiced in spirit, and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes: even so, Father; for so it seemed good in thy sight.

Again, today, the Lord speaks of our need to receive His revelation like little children: the Father, Lord of heaven and earth, has hidden His mysteries from the “wise and prudent,” and He has revealed them to “babes.” Only the pure in heart, only the innocent, can really receive the Gospel into their hearts. Any kind of calculation, guile, and dissimulation chases away grace and makes a man blind.   He may think himself very clever, but he is the most foolish of the foolish. He sees nothing.

How can we keep our sight intact? How can we retain our warm, childlike vision of Faith and of the Church in this time that is so cold and so cynical?   Out there, the vision of Darwin has prevailed – bankrupt as science, it has nevertheless become what it was always intended to be: the world religion.   The law of the jungle prevails, and only the “fittest” (i.e., the power hungry and unscrupulous) survive. Where do the babes who love the Gospel fit into such a scenario? What is the answer?

Now, more than ever, we must immerse ourselves in humility. Let us thank God that we live precisely in the times we live in, times in which we can have no illusions of thriving Church life, just civil governance, or decent human culture on the grand scale, times in which only tiny pockets of intact humanity, much less the true Faith, survive.   There is no getting around it: life is hierarchical, and when the leaders go astray, the great mass of people will follow. Those who do not go along will be, in the eyes of the world, precisely Nobody.   This is who we are: Nobody.   And what could be better for our salvation? Glory to God!

We start, then, with humility: let us accept our true condition and give ourselves over to weeping, mourning, and heartfelt prayer for our salvation, for that of those around us, and for the whole world, for suffering mankind which has gone astray.   We have no virtues, no great works – nothing to brag about.   We must cling to the Lord in simplicity of heart and ask for one thing only, that His holy will be done.     May He forgive all of our sins and take us by the hand, leading us securely on the path of salvation.

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