Today I posted this Rector’s Message for June at our parish website, saint-irene.com
O Heavenly King, Comforter, Spirit of Truth, Who art everywhere present and fillest all things. Treasury of good things and Giver of life, come and dwell in us, and cleanse us of all impurity, and save our souls, O Good One. – The Prayer to the Holy Spirit
On the night before He died, Our Lord at the Mystical Supper gave His last teaching and testimony to His disciples. Among other great and precious promises, He told them the following: “But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me.” (John 15:26). A few minutes later, after finishing His discourse to the disciples, the Lord lifted His eyes to heaven and prayed to the Father, and when He asked the Father to sanctify the disciples, these were His words: “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth. As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth.”
Truth, then, is an inseparable attribute of the Holy Spirit Whom the disciples received at Pentecost, when ten days after the Lord’s Ascension He fulfilled His promise to send them the Comforter, and truth is inseparable from the sanctification (being made holy) of those who believe in Christ, which is the purpose of Christ’s Sacrifice – He “sanctified Himself” (i.e., He offered Himself to the Father in the Sacrifice of the Cross) that we might be “sanctified through the truth.”
Today it is popular to say that truth is relative or perhaps unknowable. This deceptive teaching is attractive to two kinds of people: 1. The broad masses who voluntarily enslave themselves to desires, fears, and irrational habits, and resist objective standards of belief and morality as an assault on the “freedom” to sin, and 2. The global power elite who hate the objective, God-given truths that reveal and denounce their demonic pursuit of arbitrary domination over the rest of the human race. These two groups of people are made for each other – the sheep and the butchers, as it were, and the sheep, sadly, are probably going to get what they are asking for.
We need not, however, fall into the temporal insanity and eternal horror which are the fruits of relativism. On the great Sunday of Pentecost, we will once again, at the Vespers of Holy Spirit Monday, say the Kneeling Prayers for the reception of the Holy Spirit, Who, as Christ said, is the Spirit of truth. As we read these awesome and sacred prayers, let us ask the Holy Spirit to enlighten our minds and make our hearts firm as rock in the truth of Christ, and to enable us to resist, to the death if necessary, the seductive snare of the illusions preached by the powers of this world. Standing firmly on the revealed Truth of Christ, in the Church, we can by His grace resist all the tricks and threats of the Enemy. Without the Truth, we cannot receive grace, we cannot be in the Church. When we distort or resist or compromise the Truth, we cut ourselves off from the Church and lose the grace of God. May this not be our fate, but rather may we stand firmly in the Truth of Christ – unto eternal life.
Cooperating with GraceThe grace of the Holy Spirit which is given mystically to every Christian when he is baptized acts and is manifested in proportion to our obedience to the commandments of the Lord. That is, if a Christian obeys the commandments of the Lord more, grace acts within him more, while if he obeys them less, grace acts within him less. Just as a spark, when covered in the ashes of fire becomes increasingly manifest as one removes the ashes, and the more firewood you put the more the fire burns, so the grace that has been given to every Christian through Holy Baptism is hidden in the heart and covered up by passions and sins, and the more a man acts in accordance with the commandments of Christ, the more he is cleansed of the passions and the more the fire of Divine grace lights in his heart, illumines, and deifies him. – St. Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain, Christian Morality
The Dignity and Proper Use of the Human MindSince according to the holy theologians, the mind is an image of God, the more the loving mind ascends to its beloved God through the contemplation of His Divine perfections, the more God Who is loved condescends from His height towards the loving mind, and becomes united with it, deifies it, and fills it with gifts. And thus through the ascent to God is achieved the blessed and marvelous union and contact of God with the mind, of the beloved with the lover, of the archetype with the image. – St. Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain, Handbook of Counsel
15/28 May 2020 – Thursday of the Sixth Week of Pascha, The Ascension of the Lord
After the high point of Holy Week and Pascha, a lot of Orthodox slack off and start focusing on their worldly plans for the summer, and one does not see much of them until (one hopes) the Dormition of the Theotokos in August, which takes place when the secular school vacation period has ended and people are feeling that “church season,” along with the “school year,” has arrived again. One of the casualties of this unfortunate habit is a profitable celebration of the Ascension of the Lord, a sublime mystery that reveals the true purpose of life and puts everything into perspective.
When Christ ascended in His resurrected human flesh into the heavens, He glorified our humanity by seating it at the right hand of God the Father, and then He sent the Holy Spirit to us so that we can join Him there. What could be better than that? It should make one happy to be alive.
St. Theophan the Recluse says the following:
St. Paul expresses the power of the Lord’s Ascension in this manner: “When He ascended up on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men (Ephesians 4:8 [quoting Psalm 67]).” Having satisfied God’s righteousness, the Lord opened for us all the treasures of God’s goodness. This is indeed a capturing or taking of spoils after victory. The beginning of the distribution of these spoils to people is the descent of the Holy Spirit, Who, having descended, always abides in the Church and gives everyone what he needs, receiving all from that captive captivity. Let everyone come and take. But prepare for yourself a repository for that treasure, which is a pure heart; have hands with which to take it, that is, unreflecting faith. Then step forth, searching hopefully and praying relentlessly. – Thoughts for Each Day of the Year, p. 112.
The Redeemer’s sacrifice on the Cross, in which He offered His Precious Blood to the Most Holy Trinity and satisfied all righteousness, took away our sins. By His Resurrection, He saved us from the power of death. These mighty deeds, however, as infinitely great as they are, were only the beginning. Not content with saving us, the Lord also glorified to the utmost the humanity He shares with us, ascending beyond every visible and invisible creature and placing our human nature, in His Person, in the bosom of the Most Holy Trinity. Having glorified our nature thus, He then sent the Holy Spirit to enable each of us personally to attain this glory. Knowing this, what steps should we take to get there too and be with Him?
The first step is to understand, accept, and internalize the meaning of our Baptism. St. Paul says in Romans 6, the reading we hear at every baptism, that we have died in Baptism. He says in Colossians 3:3, “For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.” So, to begin with, let us remember that, for all ultimate purposes, in relation to anything that really counts, we are already dead. Once we have put everything in this perspective, we can actually get started. Knowing that we are dead, we have nothing to lose, and we can with absolute freedom and perfect faith do what St. Theophan says: “…step forth, searching hopefully and praying relentlessly” for the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Today, after you read this, tell yourself that in fact you are already dead, and therefore all the things you worry about do not matter that much. Then pray earnestly for the Four Cardinal Virtues: Prudence, Fortitude, Temperance, and Justice. Then pray for the Three Theological Virtues: Faith, Hope, and Love. Make a strong act of will to put absolute trust in the Lord, that He will bestow these seven gifts. Do it again tomorrow and every day.
You will realize that, indeed, your life is “hid with Christ in God,” and that, far from being dead, you really have begun to live.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.
Last time I said that I was going to go back to writing finished essays. Well, I am going to stop announcing new directions like this, because I realize that my pastoral and family duties present such different challenges every week, every day, that I cannot predict how much time I will have for preparing the lecture. And, it seems, the present crisis calls for more frequent instruction, though we must always be measured and not in so much of a hurry that we are just reacting to every new thing. Our mission is to step back and look at the big picture.
So every lecture will simply be what it’s going to be: Sometimes there will be finished essays, sometimes just outline notes, sometimes something in-between. Today it will be a hybrid – I’ve written a rough essay, but I may probably go off-script more than last time. I also hope at some point to get back to real in-person classes at St. Irene, at least on occasion if not every week. But definitely I plan to make no more definitive statements that we’re going to do it this way or that way. This is just a work in progress, and I have to beg you to put up with the roughness of the whole thing. By the way, if anyone wants to volunteer to start listening to the lectures and transcribing them, or to pay someone to do it – given the current economic situation, perhaps we have brethren who need the income! – that would be great. That’s what the text of the Fr. Seraphim lectures is – which I can provide upon request – a transcription of his oral delivery. It is not polished, but it has the advantage of greater liveliness, and reflects the insight of the moment.
Introduction – We Are Part of the Great Story; the Teleology of History
A. You Need the Big Picture: People cannot understand the current situation in the spring of 2020 – they are confused and panicky – because they do not see the big picture, how this fits into the entire story of the human race and God’s plan for us. They are obsessed with the details of the moment, see things in a fragmentary fashion, and get sidetracked and neutralized by endless debate over endless bits and pieces of data. False teachers – whether malicious or simply misguided – can use this fragmentation to mislead them by encouraging them to obsess on the fragments and just argue endlessly, so that their attention is taken away from who the real bad guys are and how we are supposed to resist them.
It is inherent in the teachings of Holy Scripture and the Church that there is a teleology of history – we are part of a Big Story, and that story has a beginning, middle, and end, and it has a purpose, and we understand our relationship to God through understanding our part in that story. No one is exempt from the struggle to acquire this understanding; no one is allowed to disobey the command of Christ to read the signs of the times.
B. The Big Picture is Knowable: We’ve said many times in our course that the Christian Faith is unique, in that it reveals that there is such a thing as history: That things had a beginning, have a middle, and will have an end. Reality is not circular but directional, and the forces directing history are not impersonal but personal, and not only personal but knowable, identifiable. Pointing out who did what and why in the past, who is doing what and why today, and who will probably do what and why tomorrow, is not impossible. Quite to the contrary: under the right guidance and with the right sources it is certainly possible. Moreover, it is morally imperative, for we are required to discern good from evil and to read the signs of the times, in order to make moral decisions. False teachers will barrage you with a lot of disconnected facts and confusing academic jargon, in order to brainwash you to accept the idea that history is so complicated that you cannot discern its main movements and main actors, and you just need to trust the people in power. But this is just to blow smoke in your eyes, so that you will not practice discernment and take action, so that you will be passive and give up. They are not telling you the truth.
C. Two reductionistic approaches to history and current events
1. The reductionism of “leave it to the experts”. According to this idea, history is so complicated as to be, in effect, impersonal and unknowable. You can only compile details not discern patterns. An overall philosophy of history is impossible. “Leave history to the experts.” But actually those who say this do have their own philosophy, either unconsciously, if they are innocent, or consciously, if they are malicious, and they are trying to push it on you. And they claim that they can decide who the experts are! By “experts” they mean their anointed experts, the anti-Christian establishment academia, whose motives and outlook are well-known. With academia and science, you have the same situation as with the Old Testament prophets and the Church’s clergy: Just as there were the court prophets of the Old Testament, and the sell-out, careerist bishops and clergy of the Church, who lie to the people so as to lead comfortable lives, so there are the prostituted professors and scientists of the establishment, who are heavily funded and heavily promoted, who live cushy lives in return for lying to people. Just as there were true prophets in the Old Testament, and there are the God-pleasing and therefore marginalized honest bishops and clergy, so there are the marginalized and suffering truth-speakers in academia and science, who suffer loss of income, position, and reputation, and even risk being assassinated – the ultimate form of “de-platforming”!- in order to bring the truth to their fellow man. If someone’s social acceptability, power, and comfort are being increased – not threatened – by the position he takes, don’t trust him. There are real experts, both in the spiritual and the secular realms, and we must humbly seek them out. But we must also use our own minds! Real experts will encourage you to think for yourself!
2. The reductionism of ignorant self-confidence: “Everything is so simple, and I am so smart, that I can correctly interpret every detail.” This is the reductionism of the self-appointed expert, of the ignoramus. It is obviously extremely foolish. You do need to study expert research, at least to some extent, to acquire the details of history, which the specialization of the scholar enables him to master, and you need to be humble – don’t think you know everything. You do need to study the Scriptures and Holy Fathers under reliable guidance, not trusting in yourself – and the same is true of good secular learning – to acquire the ability to discern the patterns of history, to have a true philosophy of history. There are real experts, not just establishment prostitutes, and you need to seek them out and learn from them. If you think and speak ignorantly and foolishly, you become a “poster child” for the establishment claim that everyone who opposes their “experts” is ignorant and foolish.
Those who promote Reductionism #1 create the straw man argument that the crudeness of Reductionism # 2 discredits everyone (except themselves of course!) who tries to discern the patterns of history and current events. E.g., “If you Orthodox say that this is a period of demonic rule, possibly leading to the reign of Antichrist, you are no different from a radio preacher who tells us that he knows for sure that Russia is Gog and China is Magog, and that Christ will return on January 1st 2021.” Obviously this is a straw man: You don’t have to correctly read every single player and every single detail in a situation to understand the overall picture. Above all, we have to discern the spirit of the age, in order to discern when falsehood and evil are being presented as truth and goodness. We acquire discernment through sharpening the instruments of discernment – the mind and heart – through the active Orthodox spiritual life. But we must also point these instruments at the world around us and use them to discern both what has transpired in history and what is going on now. Discernment is not only an instrument to understand what is going on inside of you – the spiritual life – but also what is going on outside of you – life in this world, life shared with others. We are not exempt from the struggle to distinguish between good and evil in the world, to make moral choices in response to the society we live in, and to live by these choices – and to suffer for them.
D. Ahistorical False Spirituality and Falsely Pious Passivity: In situations like today, with the Corona Chaos, people get overwhelmed and begin to – at least unconsciously – accept the #1 idea above. They give up and go along to get along. But if you just give up and say, “Well, it’s too complicated; I’m just going to sit in my house and pray,” you are throwing yourself off the parapet of the Temple and expecting God to catch you. You are tempting God, and you are not doing your job. Of course we have to pray, but we also have to think, to discern, to work, and to fight. We are beings in motion, active, conscious, sensitive, thinking, and feeling beings; our goal is to heal and re-direct the passions, not destroy them; we are to become even more ourselves – living, acting, feeling, and thinking, not to become insensible lumps zoning out into some kind of passive, pacifistic, pseudo-hesychastic nirvana. Apatheia, freedom from the passions, is not becoming insensible but rather acquiring accurate and appropriate sensibilities; not becoming thoughtless but rather acquiring wise thoughts. Love for brother requires us to defend and provide for others. We cannot sit back and watch the beast devour those we love. We are not allowed to refuse the duties of intelligent thought and of active and intransigent militancy in the face of evil. One corollary of these duties is that we must all become historians.
E. The Right Approach – Acquiring the Big Picture and Practicing Discernment
Just as every man is a philosopher – whether he knows it or not – every Christian is a historian – whether he knows it or not. Every man is required to ask and answer the question “What does life mean?” and furthermore every Christian is required to ask and answer the question, “Where am I in history, and how does that govern my choices?” This is knowable, and, moreover, obligatory. It is not a hobby but a moral obligation. We are not required to be experts, but we are required to acquire the big picture and to practice discernment.
With all of this in mind, let us return to the Age of Revolution:
I. The Age of Revolution – Review
Go back to Fr. Seraphim’s OSC Lecture Six on the French Revolution and my OSC classes 20 through 23 – the French Revolution and Napoleon. Go back to the sources I mention: Abbe Barruel, Nesta Webster, and Fr. Luke’s article on the French Revolution. There are several facts about the French Revolution that help us understand our present situation:
A. Secret societies were and are real, and it was they who engineered the French Revolution. They formed a network of anti-Christian revolution intended to be permanent, and there is indeed a continuity of this network up to and including the present time. Fr. Seraphim, in his approach to the 18th and 19th century revolutions, as well as the Russian revolution, in agreement with all of our recent holy fathers and teachers, clearly teaches this. These societies, this network, created an underground anti-government to overthrow the Christian governments of Europe. Now this network – through a series of violent revolutions as well as the Gramscian “march through the institutions” (see OSC 53) is no longer underground; it is no longer a conspiracy, but rather it has become the establishment. Thus the governments of today are morphing from national governments into a form of government condemned by God since the Tower of Babel: a global super-government. To the extent that any of our authorities become part of the global super-government, they thereby become to that extent “bezbozhnie vlasti,” “godless authorities,” as the term is used in the litanies of the true Orthodox Russian Church – the Catacomb Church and non-MP Russian Church Abroad. Since all of the great national governments are in some stage of this process, the legitimacy of them all has become extremely tenuous, and the principle of our obligation to obey them must be applied with great caution. We must proceed on the working hypothesis that the people at the top are acting in accordance with the spirit of Antichrist and are in obedience to demonic powers, not to “the people,” and certainly not to God.
It is critical, then, to learn from the French Revolution, that the methods used by the criminals then are the same methods used now. They tell lies, create a fake crisis, and they take advantage of the fake crisis to cause catastrophic overturn of the existing order. Recently a priest of the state church of Greece, Fr. Peter Heers, has made a podcast lecture in which he clearly explains how these revolutionary criminals are using these methods right now to overturn what is left of the old order of Christian society and usher in the open reign of some kind of demonic global totalitarian super-state. I don’t agree with Fr. Peter about the New Calendar or how we must respond to ecumenism – he’s butted heads directly with some of us GOC people before, and we all know where we stand on those issues. But in this talk he is totally, exactly spot on, about what is going on today, and you need to accept the truth when you hear it. To say, “Well, he is a New Calendarist and so he must be wrong about this current events issue” is a crude ad hominem, not a legitimate argument. Listen to his talk, and then compare it to Fr. Seraphim’s and my lectures on the French Revolution and to my talk today. Here is the link: https://orthodoxethos.com/post/the-coronavirus-narrative-and-its-demonic-methodology
B. The French Revolution was not a spontaneous rising of the masses but a coup d’etat engineered by criminals.
i. The evils of the Ancien Regime were real, but they did not justify complete overthrow of the existing order: Recall Fr. Seraphim’s important teaching in Russia’s Catacomb Saints and in these lectures, on the difference between primary evils and secondary evils. E.g., that there are abusive husbands, fathers, and male authorities in general is the result of sin, and it must be corrected, but it does not justify overthrowing patriarchy in favor of matriarchy, which is an entire system inimical to Christian life.
ii. Abbe Barruel’s book on Jacobinism and Robinson’s Proofs of a Conspiracy demonstrate beyond reasonable doubt that this was a criminal conspiracy. The behavior of the revolutionaries confirms this beyond all doubt.
iii. The “mainstream” view was created by Carlyle and Dickens, and is perpetuated mindlessly until today. “Yes, the revolution went to evil excesses, but the king was bad and had to be overthrown.” The people who don’t want you to understand the French Revolution try to get you to believe that it was some random event when a bunch of starving peasants played Robin Hood and fought the bad king. This is also what the “mainstream” teaches about Russia and the Tsar. This is obviously as false as it is crude and unintelligent.
C. The French Revolution was not an isolated event but Step 1 of a plan to reshape the whole world. This is made clear by the pseudo-messianism of Napoleon – see OSC #23. Everyone, I mean everyone, at the Congress of Vienna in 1815 – Tsar Alexander I, Metternich, Lord Castlereagh, EVERYONE – understood that the enemy they were dealing with meant to erect an entirely new global order of governance on the ruins of Church and State. This was crystal clear 200 years ago, a working assumption accepted by the greatest statesmen in Europe. How can anyone say that this is an obscure “conspiracy theory”?
D. The 19th century conservative reaction to the French Revolution and Napoleon slowed down the Revolution but did not stop it.
1. The revolutions of 1848
2. Assassinations, anarchism, etc.
3. The new nation states of Europe were controlled chiefly by Masons.
– mixed nature of the new Balkan states
4. Proliferation of both pagan and nihilistic ideologies.
– pagan nationalism vs. pagan nihilism
– disappearance of catholic Orthodox true universalism and true localism
5. Inherent weakness of liberalism in the fact of nihilism. Liberalism in essence is a negation and has no power in the face of paganism and nihilism. See T.S. Eliot “The Idea of a Christian Society,” Lecture I.
E. The great triumph of European material civilization inthe 19th century, the “Proud Tower,” was bound to fall, because it was based on hubris. Man had forgotten God. See Fr. Justin Popovich’s essays on the difference between Orthodox and European civilization, and Fr. Alexey Young’s A Man Is His Faith on the Kireyevsky brothers and Optina. (The Kireyevskys, Khomiakov, and the Slavophils in general, living in the security of 19th century upper class life, were not as savage as Fr. Justin! They appreciated what was good about Europe but wanted to correct it with Orthodoxy. Fr. Justin, a Serb living under Communism, was “done” with Europe, and his views are radicalized by suffering).
F. The bifurcation in Russian life in the 19th century opened the door to revolution. There was a wonderful flourishing of Orthodox life in Russia in the 19th century, inspired by the 18th century work of St. Paissy Velichkovsky and his disciples, and marked by the repentance of the tsars and their return to piety, but Russian society was still bifurcated, and the upper classes, intelligentsia, and even many clergy were dominated either by Masonic and liberal ideology or openly nihilistic, Marxist ideology. Dostoevesky portrays this masterfully.
Thus the conditions for revolution were present.
II. The Bolshevik Revolution – Preliminary Remarks
Today is just our introductory session to the topic of the Bolshevik revolution; we’ll make some preliminary remarks today in preparation for our next lecture. I want to cover some of the lies that establishment academia and media tell about the Bolshevik revolution, as well as two reductionistic theories about who is to blame for the revolution.
A. Lies: Just as the “mainstream” has perpetuated lies about the Ancien Regime in France and the nature of the French Revolution, so the “mainstream” perpetuates lies about Tsarist Russia and the Russian Revolution.
Lie #1. “Revolution was inevitable” – This is one of the Big Lies of Marxist historical thought, that historical events are pre-determined by the “march of history,” some kind of blind juggernaut that just runs over people. As Christians, we believe that men make moral and wise choices, and immoral and unwise choices, and that they make history by acting on their choices. We are free beings with conscience and will, and we are expected to fight evil, not to say, “It is inevitable” and give ourselves over to a pseudo-pious passivity while we watch our brothers suffer.
Lie #2. “The Russian people were oppressed and impoverished.” This is a huge lie. I encourage you to get Fr. Michael Polsky’s The New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia, a very important companion volume to Andreyev and Rose’s Russia’s Catacomb Saints. At the end of the most recent edition of the English translation of the book, as most recently published by Monastery Press in Alberta, there is an appendix giving the real economic data from the reign of Tsar-Martyr Nicholas II. It is abundantly clear that private ownership of land was more widely distributed in Russia than in any of the other modern European states, that industrial productivity and the standard of living grew exponentially, and that Russia simultaneously had the most comprehensive social services combined with the lowest taxes in Europe. All of this, combined with the fact that the Russian population was skyrocketing (estimates are that if the revolution had not occurred, the Russian Empire would have attained a population of 600,000,000 by the 1960’s), made Russia the great power for the international Antichrist cabal to reckon with. It was the great Christian power, the katehon. The revolutionaries had to overthrow the Tsar, not because the people were unhappy, but precisely the opposite: Russia was a successful Christian state, a gigantic proof that the lies of the revolution are lies. It was the great bulwark against Revolution.
Lie #3. “The Revolution was a spontaneous uprising of the masses.” This is grossly false. Just as with the French Revolution, a relatively small cabal of criminals took advantage of the weaknesses of one, specific moment – in this case the specific situation of January and February 1917 during World War I. If the United States had entered the war a month earlier, March 1st instead of April 2nd 1917, it is certain that the morale of the Russian army and people would have soared immediately, that the Germans would have been forced to divert resources quickly to the West to knock out the British and the French before the Americans could arrive, and that the Russians would probably have won the war in the Eastern Front against the Austrians. Churchill – no friend of Russia or of Orthodoxy – points this out in Volume V of his history of WWI (see The World Crisis, Volume V “The Eastern Front,” chapter 24). With the war going well, it would have been easy to put down the orchestrated unrest in Moscow and St. Petersburg, there would have been no mutiny in the armed services, and the Empire need not at all to have fallen. Also, it was a small coterie of aristocrats and officers – all baptized Orthodox Christians but who were in fact apostates, because they were Masons and liberals – who isolated the Tsar in a train car on that fatal day – 3/16 March 1917 – and pressured him to abdicate. This is well known. The Bolshevik October Revolution was the result of the liberal Masonic coup d’etat in the previous spring that created Kerensky’s hopelessly weak Provisional Government. This is the pattern of all recent history: The unbelief, apostasy, weakness, and venality of the liberals opens the door to the destructive and nihilistic satanic malice of the Marxists.
None of this was “inevitable” due to inherent weaknesses in the Russian state, and none of it was a spontaneous popular movement by the common people, the vast majority of whom were both pious Orthodox and loyal to the Tsar.
Lie #4. “The Revolution was God’s will, and so it must have been good and we should not grieve over it or fight it.” This is a pseudo-piety, a clever, diabolical deception put forth by the devil, a twisting of a holy truth into a half-truth, popular among modernist Orthodox. They weaponize this half-truth to de-activate the proper use of our thymos and cause us to be passive, while God really expects from us intransigent militancy in the face of evil. There are choices of man that are directly willed by God, in accordance with His holy will, and then there are evils allowed by God, after man does not obey Him, evils that are then used by the Lord in His wisdom to bring man to repentance. It is true that the catastrophic evils of the Bolshevik revolution – and all of the 20th century revolutions – were allowed by Providence of God, and that we must bow our heads beneath His righteous judgments and find our salvation in the situation in which we find ourselves. Amen! But we are also required by God to discern where these evils came from, who the perpetrators were and are, and how we Orthodox did not respond at that time as we should have, and correct our mistakes. Why? So that we can discern where it’s coming from now, in our own time, and therefore how we should respond today, so that we will be able to do the good that is willed by God and not just have to endure the evil allowed by God. As in Paradise, so today: There is Plan A and Plan B. Plan A is to do God’s holy will, and that should always be our aim. In Plan B, God saves us from the evil our sin has caused. Just because He is good, does not mean that we are allowed to be irresponsible. Let us strive to discern good and evil, and to do His holy will.
B. Two Reductionistic Theories of Blame: Whodunit?
Whenever a man-made disaster occurs, naturally, to understand it, you want to find out who was responsible. (Of course, in the Marxist view, no one is “to blame, ” because everything is impersonal and determined by material processes. But we are talking about two non-Marxist theories). There are two reductionistic non-Marxist theories of blame for the Russian revolution. The “liberal” or “mainstream” view is that the Russians were almost exclusively to blame, and the “reactionary” or “far-right wing view” is that outsiders – whether living outside or inside Russia – were exclusively to blame. The former view is a dishonest and purposeful misdirection, pointing the finger away from the criminal to the victim, to hide the culprits who instigated and orchestrated the Revolution, who were indeed for the most part not Russians or Orthodox Christians , so that those culprits could go on to new crimes, which they have in fact committed and are continuing to commit up to the present moment. But the latter view – that it is all someone else’s fault – is a serious failure of Orthodox Christians to take responsibility for their own sins, their complicity with evil. The demons are a condition for our victory or defeat, not the determinant of defeat. It is true that the devil is our enemy, but a soul falls from within, and the only real evil is sin. The demons are chained by the sovereign might of God and can do nothing apart from His providential plan for our salvation. The devil does his job, and we must do ours. It is undeniable that international financial interests, dominated by powerful Jewish families, and that the Masons, and that the Vatican, and so forth, are the enemies of the Orthodox nations. They are doing their job, and we must do ours. Their machinations are conditions, mere circumstances, part of the plan, for our victory or defeat, not the determining factor. The determining factor is our moral choice, not in an absolute sense of course, but as considered in light of our choices being under the Providence and Sovereignty of God, in synergy with God.
As we go on in successive classes to give a traditional, Orthodox interpretation of the facts of the Bolshevik revolution, we will strive to bring out the reality of both sets of culprits: those who instigated the revolution, and those who cooperated. All are to blame. This is a microcosm of man’s state in general: “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” Romans 3: 23
We need a Savior. The Good News is that we have One.
Today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 8:40-9:19) is the famous account of one of the most far-reaching events in the Church’s history, the conversion of Saul, who became St. Paul:
In those days: Philip was found at Azotus: and passing through he preached in all the cities, till he came to Caesarea. And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest, And desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem. And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven: And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do. And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man. And Saul arose from the earth; and when his eyes were opened, he saw no man: but they led him by the hand, and brought him into Damascus. And he was three days without sight, and neither did eat nor drink. And there was a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias; and to him said the Lord in a vision, Ananias. And he said, Behold, I am here, Lord. And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the street which is called Straight, and inquire in the house of Judas for one called Saul, of Tarsus: for, behold, he prayeth, And hath seen in a vision a man named Ananias coming in, and putting his hand on him, that he might receive his sight. Then Ananias answered, Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem: And here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call on thy name. But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel: For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake. And Ananias went his way, and entered into the house; and putting his hands on him said, Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost. And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized. And when he had received food, he was strengthened. Then was Saul certain days with the disciples which were at Damascus.
St. Theophan the Recluse goes to the heart of St. Paul’s motivation, which was zeal for doing the will of God:
St. Paul at first defended the Old Testament observances as zealously as he did because he was sincerely certain that it was the unalterable will of God that thse observances remain unchanged. He was not zealous because it was the Faith of his fathers, but because in being zealous he was offering service to God. In this lay the spirit of his life – to devote himself to God and direct all his energy toward things pleasing to Him. Thus, in order to bring about his conversion, or to make him stand for the New Testament order of things rather than that of the Old Testament, it was sufficient to show him tangibly that God no longer wanted the Old Testament but rather the New, and that He transferred all of His goodwill from the former to the latter. The Lord’s appearance to him on the road accomplished this. There it became clear to him that he was not directing his zeal where he ought, that he was not pleasing God by acting as he did, but was acting contrary to His will. This vision of the state of things, with the help of God’s grace, immediately changed his strivings, and he cried out, “Lord what wilt Thou have me to do (Acts 9:6)?” And from that moment he directed all of his zeal toward what was shown to him, and he did not forget this event for his entire life, but thankfully remembering it, stirred up his zeal with it – not sparing anything to work for his Lord and Savior. This is how all people act who have sincerely turned to the Lord. – Thoughts for Each Day of the Year, pp. 97-98.
If we were born into an Orthodox family, we should love Orthodoxy, among other reasons, because it is the Faith of our fathers. Filial piety demands no less. This reason, however, is not enough to enable us to find our salvation through Orthodoxy. To love Orthodoxy only as the tradition of our ancestors, and for no higher reason, puts us on the same spiritual level with the Shintoists of Japan, with the same eternal consequences, or perhaps worse, since more is expected of us than of Shintoists. To be Christians truly, we must love Orthodoxy, because every man, regardless of his birth, must be obedient to this Faith and no other if he desires to conform his will to the will of God.
This was the great driving force, one might say the only driving force, in the life of St. Paul: to do the will of God. With the great Elias, he could honestly say, “I have been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts (III Kings 19:10).” To desire to please God, to do His will, to defend His honor, to give Him glory – this was all in all to both of them and those like them. When the Incarnate God, Jesus, revealed Himself to the zealous persecutor Saul, that was all it took for him to make a 180 degree turn and go 100 miles per hour in the other direction. “Done,” as they say.
This kind of person, “the man of divine desires,” may make mistakes, even big ones, but he does not risk hearing those terrible words of the Son of Man to the Laodiceans: “…because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew thee out of my mouth (Revelation 3:16).” As we increasingly appear to be facing apocalyptic circumstances, it is probably time to get off the Laodicean fence and be the good zealots all Orthodox should be.
The late Archbishop Averky of Jordanville wrote an essay on the virtue of zeal which should be required annual reading for everyone in our generation. You can find it at http://orthodoxinfo.com/ecumenism/holyzeal.aspx. Let us all read it (or re-read it), and pray for the determination to put it into practice and the prudence to know how.
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 email@example.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.
Introduction – We are Back; Apologies; Some Changes
I ask everyone’s forgiveness for waiting so long to record another class. But I do hope, and have reason to believe, that many did benefit, during Great Lent, from my recording the daily Genesis readings and my little commentaries, which, published in book form, I call The Eternal Sacrifice. If my words helped you in any way to enjoy a more profitable Great Fast, I am deeply grateful to the Lord who enabled me to do this, and Who granted you the grace to grow in understanding, and in love, for His Holy Word.
Last time I indicated that we were going to be back at St. Irene doing real classes with our parishioners and recording them, but it has not turned out that way. In this, as in so much of what I am doing here, I ask your pardon for changes of direction, for saying we are going to do one thing and then doing another. This Orthodox Survival Course is a work in progress, and thus you are saddled with me thinking out loud as we go along. If the world goes on, and one day a more disciplined mind than mine hammers these talks into a more respectable shape, your children can say to their grandchildren, “Mom and Dad were there when Fr. Steven was muddling through all this for the first time!”
So we may have some real classes at St. Irene and record them, or we may simply go back to this solo recording approach for the most part. I much prefer the former, and probably you do too, but we shall struggle to keep going at any rate. You will also probably notice that I have returned to writing an entire script of what, more or less, I am going to say, rather than simply writing an outline and then extemporizing. This deprives us of the greater liveliness of an extemporaneous talk, but it also it prevents me from using unguarded language that could detract from the seriousness of the talk’s content.
And here is another change of direction: Last time, we talked about specific theological mistakes that disable the Church’s mission to prophesy, to correct, and to teach, mistakes that run rampant through the Orthodox milieu today, in both “World” and “True” Orthodox circles. I announced that I would devote the next few classes to correcting these mistakes by means of teaching what the Scriptures and the Fathers really say about them. Well, now, we are going to make a little change: I still intend to deal with these theological subjects, but we are going to alternate theology talks with history talks. One of our listeners wrote awhile ago and said, “Why did you leave off your history course before the Bolshevik revolution? Are you going to get back to it?” And he is right. The purpose of our course, oft-repeated, is to construct an Orthodox lens through which to view history and current events. Today, in the spring of A.D. 2020, we are certainly suffering current events that call for accurate viewing, and therefore now, during the Third Week of Pascha, I recognize an urgency that I did not recognize at the beginning of Great Lent, an urgency to provide an historical understanding, from an old-fashioned, traditional Orthodox mindset, to help you deal with something specific that is going on right now and profoundly affecting everyone. Of course I am am talking about this COVID-19 or Corona virus thing, or whatever you want to call it. Let’s call it the Corona Chaos, or CC for short.
To grab everyone’s attention, I suppose I should have entitled this talk, “Orthodox Survival Course: Our Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic,” since everyone else, from heads of state to the corner hotdog vendor, has published something like that, exuding grave urgency, the most approved humanitarian sentiments, and altruistic civic piety. I beg pardon for the spirit of lofty unconcern reflected in today’s title. Seriously, though: I know that a lot of you who have listened to our little course have probably been saying to yourselves, “When is Fr. Steven going to talk about this Corona thing? After all, the Orthodox Survival Course is not an academic exercise but a practical project to help us deal with what is going on around us. Well, something big is going on now, so let’s hear it! Come on, Fr. Steven, say something.” And you are right: I have indeed waited for what, in the 21st century, is a coon’s age, as the saying goes, to say anything. But things worth saying take time. My thoughts had to gestate for a bit, and now I shall offer a few thoughts. The few thoughts today will address the CC, but my larger purpose is to link those thoughts to our history course, in order to provide a framework to understand not only the current madness, which is, after all, but one stage in something much bigger that has been going on for awhile now and will continue, a stage that will pass and give place to another, more advanced stage of the same process. The framework – the tools, the lens – you use to understand the Corona Chaos, you can take with you to the next stage to understand that when it happens, and say, “Oh, yes, I was expecting this. I see what is going on.”
Well, let’s get on with it.
I. The Great Imposture: Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Antonio Gramsci
I entitle this new section of our history course, “The Great Imposture.” I could have called it The Great Revolution, but the revolutionary stage of this thing – what, earlier in our course, I called the Age of Revolution – is, for practical purposes, over; it has, for now at least, succeeded, and we, who oppose this Revolution, are now forced to be the revolutionaries, albeit counter-revolutionaries. I could have called it The Great Conspiracy, but “conspiracy” has by now become such a controverted and overused term that it has also become nearly useless, though I plan to discuss this term before I finish today. I settled on the term “imposture,” because that describes well what is going on, which is this: the Revolution (or the Conspiracy if you prefer) has now succeeded, and the former Revolutionaries, who are now the People in Charge, have constructed a vast Imposture, a great fake, a new order that pretends to be legitimate order, and even clothes itself with the legitimacy of the old order, but which in fact is an engine of disorder, a nihilistic mocking substitution for legitimate order, a constantly mutating phony order that is not order, that in fact is a pandemonium of chaos, a lunatic juggernaut, driving itself and us, with satanic energy, into an endless process of centrifugal spiritual fragmentation, a measureless mess whose messiness the People in Charge use to justify their imposing greater and greater outward control; and as they squeeze harder and harder, guess what? The mess gets worse and worse. The only constant is their will to power. Their god is the Devil, and they worship his nothingness, as he worships his own nothingness but can never be happy, because he cannot really destroy anything God has created, including himself. Because God’s creation, God’s order, is so vast – one human heart, after all, is larger than the entire physical universe – these people could go on for a long time trying to destroy it, and they will go on, until God puts an end to it. And He will put an end to it. We have only to be loyal to Him in the time that we have been given.
Here is an image to help us understand what is going on here: In the 1950’s science fiction movie, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, aliens from outer space try to take over the world by inhabiting the bodies of real human beings. Their great power lies in the affection and reverence that people naturally feel for their friends and relatives. When the person in front of you looks like Uncle Joe, it’s really hard to accept that he’s not Uncle Joe, that Uncle Joe is dead but his body is being animated by an evil thing that wants to destroy you. The power of today’s Imposters lies in the affection, reverence, loyalty, and love people have for their traditional, reliable institutions and the leaders who are the face of those institutions: Church, government, education, medicine, science, and so forth. When the people in front of you bear the revered titles of patriarch or bishop or president or governor or professor or doctor or priest, and so forth, and you naturally want to trust them and follow them, it’s really hard to believe that what you are looking at are merely the old shells of those authorities, now inhabited by some evil thing that wants to destroy you. This is the diabolic genius of what in political theory is called the Gramscian method or the long march through the institutions.
Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937) was a Marxist theorist who advocated, instead of violent overthrow of the old Christian order, a gradual, quiet takeover, in which, instead of destroying the old institutions, the revolutionaries would gradually, by a long and patient process, place their men in higher and higher, and more and more, positions of authority within the institutions. This kind of revolution, he argued, would be both less visible and therefore less effectively opposed, and its results would be permanent and predictable, unlike violent revolution, which of its nature is unstable and unpredictable, as war by its nature is unpredictable.
As it turns out, we have, in the Age of Revolution which began with the French Revolution, suffered from both methods, the violent and the gradual. Spasmodic bouts of enormous violence and bloodshed – the French Revolution, the Napoleonic Wars, the American Civil War, World War I, the Bolshevik and other Communist revolutions, World War II, etc. vast, orchestrated nihilistic orgies of physical destruction – have alternated and have have gone on side by side with the quiet, steady placement of nihilists in all the time-hallowed positions of greatest power. These people are not completely in charge – only God is completely in charge, and even in the visible, human sphere there are still localized centers of legitimate authority trying to carry on and do their best. But at the top levels, the Body Snatchers are firmly in place. If they are the “World-Something,” you can with complete confidence, for all practical purposes, act on the working assumption that they are up to no good, and that it they are guided with diabolic wisdom by diabolic intelligences. You have, say, a 99% assurance that this is the case. If it is the “National-Something,” you have a 75% assurance, and so forth on down. I don’t mean the numbers literally, of course – you get the idea. And I do not mean to say this applies only to the government; it applies to the media, the banks, corporations, universities, and so forth, as well. The bigger and more prestigious it is, the more likely it is that evil people have been put in charge. That is the nature of the Gramscian revolution.
II. The Katehon Has Been Taken Away
Earlier in our course, we have referred more than once to the consensus of the Holy Fathers regarding the words of St. Paul in II Thessalonians, chapter two. Here is the entire chapter, so that you may see the key term in context:
 Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him,  That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand.  Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition;  Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God.  Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things?  And now ye know what restraineth that he might be revealed in his time.  For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now restraineth will restrain, until he be taken out of the way.  And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming:  Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders,  And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved.  And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie:  That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.  But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth:  Whereunto he called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle.  Now our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God, even our Father, which hath loved us, and hath given us everlasting consolation and good hope through grace,  Comfort your hearts, and stablish you in every good word and work.
The key term here is to be found in verses 6 and 7. In verse 6 it is το κατέχον – “that which restrains – and in verse 7 it is ο κατέχων ῏- “he that restrains.” The consensus of the ancient Fathers is this: “That” which restrains is the lawful Christian government considered as an institution and “he” which restrains is the Christian emperor. Our most recent Holy Fathers, including holy men of the Russian Church Abroad like St. John Maximovich, St. Philaret of New York, Archbishop Averky and Archimandrite Konstantin of Jordanville, et al, all agree that the Russian Empire and the Tsar-Martyr St. Nicholas correspond to these two restraining powers, and that therefore the reign of the demons, preparatory to the period of Antichrist, began with the Bolshevik revolution. All of the circumstantial evidence of historical events since that time, and all of the direct evidence of the often and openly publicized intentions of those who have seized the civil and ecclesiastical power since the matryric death of Tsar Nicholas, corroborates this application of St. Paul’s words by these saints to our time. For an Orthodox teacher today, it is far more speculative and risky- dare one say irresponsible? – to ignore or to downplay this interpretation of the present situation than to teach it and to emphasize it.
This is not to say that we should hope confidently to apply each eschatological prophecy of Holy Scripture – especially in the apocalyptic literature – in a one on one correspondence to particular current events. Many have tried and failed. But to grasp this overall understanding – that the spirit of Antichrist now dominates the public sphere and that actual forerunners of the Antichrist hold the levers of earthly power – is not speculative, risky, or deluded. At this point in our history, to reject this understanding is in fact the far less tenable position, if we are to believe revealed Truth, the guidance of the saints, the historical evidence, and common sense.
III. The Corona Chaos
A few thoughts now, on the CC (the Corona Chaos). We have the “official” or “establishment” position on the topic, and we have various dissenting opinions. The official position – eerily and absurdly uniform throughout the world – is that this is an illness so deadly and so contagious that it requires that unrestricted power be given to those in authority to wreak an unprecedented destruction on the most basic forms of social relationships, human freedom – including religious freedom – and economic activity throughout the inhabited earth. And, ironically, to wreak destruction on the entire medical system and on our very bodies’ own immune systems. That by itself is so drastic and self-contradictory a claim as to be self-evidently absurd: “We are going to save you, ” in other words, “by destroying you.” One immediately calls to mind the Orwellian principle that Big Brother always uses Newspeak, in which the meaning is always the opposite of the words: War is Peace, Evil is Good, and so forth. When people talk like this, we may safely conclude that they are up to no good.
The dissenters from the establishment vary widely, as dissenters always do, because unlike the establishment, which by nature is highly controlled, the rebels are by nature a disorganized lot. But all of the dissenters agree on one thing, which is that, quite apart from the question of the origin of this disease, which we need not determine, regardless of its real potential for spreading and causing people to die, which is highly controverted, the Usual Suspects are using the disease as an excuse to establish, by means of threats and coercion, far-reaching, unprecedented control over the bodies and minds of the entire populations of the nations of the world. Viewed through an Orthodox lens, this project obviously reeks of the spirit of Antichrist, the mind of Antichrist. It is obviously the Babel Tower project all over again. We don’t need to know when the person of The Antichrist will show up in order to know when the mind of Antichrist, which expresses perfectly the mind of Satan, is at work. There have been many antichrists since the beginning of the Church, as testified by St. John the Theologian (I John 2:18). Our duty is to resist them in every generation, not to beg be excused from the struggle because we cannot obtain scientific knowledge of the precise date of the Second Coming of Christ and thereby work backwards to calculate the time of the coming of the personal Antichrist in order to mark it on our social calendar.
IV. Conspiracy Theorists and Paranoiacs
Therefore, as an Orthodox pastor – God knoweth how – and, also – God knoweth how – willy-nilly, a bumbling but well-meaning minor league Internet voice, I have the responsibility to encourage all of you not to be silent when you see that there is devil’s work in all this COVID-19 business. After prayer, counsel, and careful consideration, speak the truth as you see it. Do not let anyone discourage you by saying that you are a “conspiracy theorist” or that you are “paranoid.” These words are not arguments; they are just insults, and they don’t prove anything. Let’s examine these two terms:
“Conspiracy” – A conspiracy has two elements: concerted action by a group of people acting towards a common end, and secrecy. Unless you believe that history is an utterly random series of unconnected events, and that the great events of history were the result of atomistic individuals bumping into each other – an idea utterly at variance with sanity, with all human experience and common sense, much less with a Christian philosophy of history – you must accept that groups of people do get together to make things happen. As for secrecy: The plans of today’s global elite have been laid out clearly and publicly in their own published books, articles, interviews, movies, broadcasts, and so forth – the entire array of communications media we have called the Great Stereopticon – at least for one hundred years, if not more. At this point, I fail to grasp how anyone need speak of a secret plan. It is an open plan, and a great deal of it is already openly accomplished. Nowadays the shoe is on the other foot: it is those who oppose the theomachist authorities who are forced often to conspire, to act in secret. The theomachists may parade their intentions in broad daylight. So much for “conspiracy.”
“Paranoid” – I get nervous when I hear anyone accusing anyone else of being “paranoid.” Paranoia, strictly speaking, is a diagnosable clinical condition, an actual psychosis. I realize that most people mean it in a careless fashion, meaning only to say that the person so categorized is simply overly fearful or suspicious. The problem, however, with the widespread, careless habit of using such a powerful term to stigmatize another person’s mental state is that it creates the social conditions in which a critical mass of people will go along with the authorities in identifying their opponents as being mentally ill and locking them up. The Soviets did this all the time. I am extremely grieved when I hear Orthodox Christians, and especially those in authority, stigmatize pious and intelligent Christians as “paranoid” simply for expressing a healthy skepticism of the intentions of civil authorities who have a long track record of opposing the most fundamental goods of Church, society, and family.
V. Where to Next
In our next class, we will return to the great holocaust of the Orthodox Christians and the suicide of Christian Europe, which began with World War I and the Bolshevik coup against the Imperial Russian government. Meanwhile, let us redouble our prayer and struggle for attentiveness! “Be of good cheer” saith the Lord. “I have overcome the world.”
23 April OS 2020 – Third Wednesday of Pascha; Holy Great Martyr George
In today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 8:18-25), St. Peter rebukes Simon Magus for trying to buy the grace of the Holy Spirit:
In those days: When Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them money, Saying, Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost. But Peter said unto him, Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money. Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God. Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee. For I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity. Then answered Simon, and said, Pray ye to the Lord for me, that none of these things which ye have spoken come upon me. And they, when they had testified and preached the word of the Lord, returned to Jerusalem, and preached the gospel in many villages of the Samaritans.
St. Theophan the Recluse takes St. Peter’s expression, “…the thought of thine heart…” and expounds upon it:
St. Peter says to Simon: “Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God. Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee.” Thou hast no part…But Simon did not even begin to think that he had gone so far astray. Outwardly he had not done anything outrageous; only his thinking was wrong – so wrong, that the Apostle was uncertain as to whether it would be forgiven him even if he repented and entreated God. That is how important the heart’s disposition is, and the thoughts that proceed from it according to this disposition! Judging by this, a person may be one way on the outside, and completely different on the inside. Only God sees this inner state, and those to whom the Spirit of God, Who tries all hearts, reveals it. With what fear and trembling must we work out our salvation! And how sincerely and zealously must we pray to God: “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me (Ps. 50:10). Then, at the Judgment, something terrible and amazing will happen. The Lord will say: “I know you not (Matt. 25:12)” to those who not only were sure of their own godliness, but who also appeared godly to everyone else. What remains for us to do? Only to cry out: “Thou who knowest all things, save us, O Lord” As Thou knowest, grant a saving formation to our heart! – Thoughts for Each Day of the Year, p. 96
People with depraved minds misuse this teaching of the Church – that we cannot know the inner workings of the heart, that God alone knows the heart – to justify all kinds of evil today. They proclaim that people performing the most abominable and filthy deeds, leading lives openly opposed to God’s Law, and teaching others to do the same, have “good hearts,” and therefore we must not “judge them,” thus giving a free pass to every kind of evil under the sun. Apparently, to this way of thinking, only those who try to uphold God’s Law are evil, because they are “mean,” and everyone else – especially the most openly defiant of God’s Law – has a “good heart.” No doubt St. Theophan the Recluse, not to mention the Holy Apostle Peter, would be extremely surprised by this interpretation.
The truth is quite otherwise, of course. We must believe in the Faith that God Himself has revealed, fulfill the outward Law of God, and in addition cleanse the inner man constantly to fight even the least thought that contravenes His holy Law. Without this foundation – the true Faith (orthodoxy) and the moral struggle to fulfill God’s Law (orthopraxy) – we cannot even begin to work on the heart, which is a fathomless abyss, and in which we will discover new evils every day, if we look closely enough. A good heart does not mean being “nice” instead of “mean.” It means being cleansed of all the passions and of all ignorance, acquiring profound humility, and being in constant converse with God, constant awareness of one’s sinfulness and unworthiness, and constant gratitude, with tears, for His great and abundant mercy. A person who actually has a good heart constantly regards himself as a debtor to every commandment of God’s Law. Until one acquires this inner state, one should never claim to have a good heart. And if one does acquire such an inner state, the idea that he has a good heart will never occur to him.
The Orthodox concept of salvation, then, is maximalist to an extent inconceivable to modern man, something forgotten or not noticed by many purported apologists for Orthodoxy today. I do not know where the idea started, but I have noticed that one “pitch” that modernized “salesmen” for Orthodoxy use today is that the Western Christian God is “mean,” because He is all about laws and punishment, while the Eastern Orthodox God is “nice,” because He is all about “healing” and “love.” Of course, a one-dimensional paper doll “God” like this, all hugs and lollipops, appeals to people today, who would rather not be inconvenienced: “Give me pleasant experiences, only, please!” The reality, however, is that the Orthodox God makes the Western Christian God look like a pansy. If one really took seriously the lofty ascetical and mystical writings these “salesmen” claim as evidence for their “nice” God, one would doubt seriously the likelihood of salvation for most contemporary Orthodox, much less for most people one meets today.
The right response to this Orthodox maximalism, however, is not gloom and doom, but humility and hope. We are in the Church, we plan to stay there – God’s grace helping us – and therefore we have a firm hope in our salvation, if only we keep working out our salvation “in fear and trembling.” Humility is the key. We have to put our heads down, accept God’s mysterious judgments with all our hearts, trust in His all-wise Providence over us, and constantly cry with the voice of the Publican, the Thief, and the Harlot: “Have mercy on me!” Hope in salvation will spring up, with the quiet joy of salvation, which we must guard with all the vigilance we can muster. Just never, ever, think that you have arrived, and never, ever, claim to have a “good heart.” Our hope is in God, not in ourselves.
O Thou that knowest the hearts, spare our souls!
O Holy Apostles, pray to God for us!
Thou hast taken to Thyself, O Lord, the firm and divine-voiced preachers, the chief Apostles, for the enjoyment of Thy blessings and for repose; for Thou didst accept their labors and death as above all sacrifice, O Thou Who alone knowest the secrets of our hearts.
And Jacob ceased giving charges to his sons; and having lifted up his feet on the bed, he died, and was gathered to his people. And Joseph fell upon his father’s face, and wept on him, and kissed him. And Joseph commanded his servants the embalmers to embalm his father; and the embalmers embalmed Israel. And they fulfilled forty days for him, for so are the days of embalming numbered; and Egypt mourned for him seventy days. And when the days of mourning were past, Joseph spoke to the princes of Pharao, saying, If I have found favour in your sight, speak concerning me in the ears of Pharao, saying, My father adjured me, saying, In the sepulchre which I dug for myself in the land of Chanaan, there thou shalt bury me; now then I will go up and bury my father, and return again. And Pharao said to Joseph, Go up, bury thy father, as he constrained thee to swear. So Joseph went up to bury his father; and all the servants of Pharao went up with him, and the elders of his house, and all the elders of the land of Egypt. And all the household of Joseph, and his brethren, and all the house of his father, and his kindred; and they left behind the sheep and the oxen in the land of Gesem. And there went up with him also chariots and horsemen; and there was a very great company. And they came to the threshing-floor of Atad, which is beyond Jordan; and they bewailed him with a great and very sore lamentation; and he made a mourning for his father seven days. And the inhabitants of the land of Chanaan saw the mourning at the floor of Atad, and said, This is a great mourning to the Egyptians; therefore he called its name, The mourning of Egypt, which is beyond Jordan. And thus his sons did to him. So his sons carried him up into the land of Chanaan, and buried him in the double cave, which cave Abraam bought for possession of a burying place, of Ephrom the Chettite, before Mambre. And Joseph returned to Egypt, he and his brethren, and those that had gone up with him to bury his father. And when the brethren of Joseph saw that their father was dead, they said, Let us take heed, lest at any time Joseph remember evil against us, and recompense to us all the evils which we have done against him. And they came to Joseph, and said, Thy father adjured us before his death, saying, Thus say ye to Joseph, Forgive them their injustice and their sin, forasmuch as they have done thee evil; and now pardon the injustice of the servants of the God of thy father. And Joseph wept while they spoke to him. And they came to him and said, We, these persons, are thy servants. And Joseph said to them, Fear not, for I am God’s. Ye took counsel against me for evil, but God took counsel for me for good, that the matter might be as it is today, and much people might be fed. And he said to them, Fear not, I will maintain you, and your families: and he comforted them, and spoke kindly to them. And Joseph dwelt in Egypt, he and his brethren, and all the family of his father; and Joseph lived a hundred and ten years. And Joseph saw the children of Ephraim to the third generation; and the sons of Machir the son of Manasse were borne on the sides of Joseph. And Joseph spoke to his brethren, saying, I die, and God will surely visit you, and will bring you out of this land to the land concerning which God sware to our fathers, Abraam, Isaac, and Jacob. And Joseph adjured the sons of Israel, saying, At the visitation with which God shall visit you, then ye shall carry up my bones hence with you. And Joseph died, aged an hundred and ten years; and they prepared his corpse, and put him in a coffin in Egypt. – Genesis 49:33-50:26
Joseph keeps faith with his father and buries him on his own land, not foreign soil. In his old age, he adjures the sons of Israel to do the same for his bones when at length the Lord, the God of their fathers, delivers them from Egyptian bondage and leads them back home. This return provides an image of man’s return to Paradise, his true home.
Each human heart longs for home. To the extent the heart does not, to that extent it is become inhuman. “Cosmopolitan man” is a contradiction in terms. Say rather “cosmopolitan monster.” To love one’s own – one’s flesh and blood kith and kin, native soil, native language, native culture – is bedrock for psychological health, a pre-condition for the sane life. That our planetary rulers have decreed this love a crime shows plainly that they intend to drive us mad.
Exile, says S. John of the Ladder, is the mother of mourning, and mourning the mother of repentance. God wants us to love home, family, and people intensely, insatiably, to the point at which losing them hurts so much that we feel we will die without them, for only at this point does one realize that one actually needs God and that ultimately God is all one needs. Just as forgiveness does not exist unless sin exists, so exile does not exist unless home exists. Christians are not universalists, not cosmopolitans: when they lose that which is native to them, they mourn and weep. The Apostles were not sent out to baptize the atomistic individuals of a postmodern dystopia. They baptized the nations.
Today we stand on the brink. We are about to lose everything visible that makes life worthwhile. Nation, family, native place, native tongue, native loves – all are being swept away by the demon-chiefs of this age and their lickspittle lackeys, the global elite. Let us rejoice then, and be glad, for exile is thereby abundantly available to us, having become the common setting for human existence. In the divine Providence, as Joseph explains today to his worried brothers, all is arranged perfectly for our salvation. Today only the life of the Church remains, and that most often not in the splendid cathedrals and ancient sees, but in nooks and crannies, in the dens and caves of the earth. But ultimately the Church is all we need, because, ultimately, God is all we need. When a man dies, there is only his soul standing before God, and he realizes, finally, that this was in fact the case all along.
At the end of our Genesis journey through Great Lent, then, we have come back to where we started, back to Paradise, back to our true home, which no one can take away from us. In the next life, this will take place openly; in this life it takes place mystically, every day, in an Orthodox heart prepared by sorrows and pierced by compunction. When we know with all the powers of our soul, with our whole being, without a doubt, that our heart is larger than all this world, because it holds the Holy Trinity, then, at last, we have come home.
And Israel departed, he and all that he had, and came to the well of the oath; and he offered sacrifice to the God of his father Isaac. And God spoke to Israel in a night vision, saying, Jacob, Jacob; and he said, What is it? And he says to him, I am the God of thy fathers; fear not to go down into Egypt, for I will make thee there a great nation. And I will go down with thee into Egypt, and I will bring thee up at the end; and Joseph shall put his hands on thine eyes. And Jacob rose up from the well of the oath; and the sons of Israel took up their father, and the baggage, and their wives on the wagons, which Joseph sent to take them. And they took up their goods, and all their property, which they had gotten in the land of Chanaan; they came into the land of Egypt, Jacob, and all his seed with him. The sons, and the sons of his sons with him; his daughters, and the daughters of his daughters; and he brought all his seed into Egypt. – Genesis 46:1-7
In this brief passage, we read how Jacob went down into Egypt with all his family and possessions, in obedience to God’s command. What guarantee did Jacob have that all would be well? Only God’s promise: “And I will go down with thee into Egypt, and I will bring thee up again at the end, and Joseph shall put his hands upon thine eyes.” As always, God fulfilled His promise, first to Jacob personally, and four hundred years later, when He delivered all of Jacob’s posterity from slavery in Egypt and returned them to the Land of the Promise.
In the typology of the Fathers, Egypt represents the territory of the demons and the flesh, fallen society with all of its temptations. Pharaoh represents Satan, and just as Pharaoh enslaved the Hebrews, so in our lives Satan strives to enslave us to the passions and to sins. The New Moses, our Lord Jesus Christ, leads us out of Egyptian slavery to the Promised Land of the Kingdom of Heaven.
Just as God sent Jacob down into Egypt, knowing that his descendants would undergo so great a trial, so He allows us to confront manifold temptations, both in the sense of physical trials of various kinds and in the sense of the combat with sin, not so that we will be lost, but rather that we will learn to trust in God and to fight sin.
The greatest descent of all is the voluntary descent of the God-Man to the very depths of death and hell, in order to raise up Adam who had fallen. Surely He Who willed to descend to the uttermost abyss for our salvation will raise us up, too, from our trials and our temptations, when we call upon His name.
As we prepare to celebrate the God-Man’s suffering, death, descent into Hades, and glorious Resurrection, let us ask Him for the grace to trust Him to take us by the hand and lead us on the path of this life, as did the patriarchs of old, the course of whose lives we have pondered this Lent. They put absolute trust in the Lord in the midst of their trials, though they could only look forward to a future deliverance. The Lord in Whom they trusted has now come to us in the flesh and has saved us. We have no excuse not to trust in Him.
And Joseph entered into the house, and they brought him the gifts which they had in their hands, into the house; and they did him reverence with their face to the ground. And he asked them, How are ye? and he said to them, Is your father, the old man of whom ye spoke, well? Does he yet live? And they said, Thy servant our father is well; he is yet alive. And he said, Blessed be that man by God; —and they bowed, and did him reverence. And Joseph lifted up his eyes, and saw his brother Benjamin, born of the same mother; and he said, Is this your younger brother, whom ye spoke of bringing to me? and he said, God have mercy on thee, my son. And Joseph was troubled, for his bowels yearned over his brother, and he sought to weep; and he went into his chamber, and wept there. And he washed his face and came out, and refrained himself, and said, Set on bread. And Joseph could not refrain himself when all were standing by him, but said, Dismiss all from me; and no one stood near Joseph, when he made himself known to his brethren. And he uttered his voice with weeping; and all the Egyptians heard, and it was reported to the house of Pharao. And Joseph said to his brethren, I am Joseph; doth my father yet live? And his brethren could not answer him, for they were troubled. And Joseph said to his brethren, Draw nigh to me; and they drew nigh; and he said, I am your brother Joseph, whom ye sold into Egypt. Now then be not grieved, and let it not seem hard to you that ye sold me hither, for God sent me before you for life. For this second year there is famine on the earth, and there are yet five years remaining, in which there is to be neither ploughing, nor mowing. For God sent me before you, that there might be left to you a remnant upon the earth, even to nourish a great remnant of you. Now then ye did not send me hither, but God; and he hath made me as a father of Pharao, and lord of all his house, and ruler of all the land of Egypt. Hasten, therefore, and go up to my father, and say to him, These things saith thy son Joseph; God has made me lord of all the land of Egypt; come down therefore to me, and tarry not. And thou shalt dwell in the land of Gesem of Arabia; and thou shalt be near me, thou and thy sons, and thy sons’ sons, thy sheep and thine oxen, and whatsoever things are thine. And I will nourish thee there: for the famine is yet for five years; lest thou be consumed, and thy sons, and all thy possessions. Behold, your eyes see, and the eyes of my brother Benjamin, that it is my mouth that speaks to you. Report, therefore, to my father all my glory in Egypt, and all things that ye have seen, and make haste and bring down my father hither. And he fell on his brother Benjamin’s neck, and wept on him; and Benjamin wept on his neck. And he kissed all his brethren, and wept on them; and after these things his brethren spoke to him. And the report was carried into the house of Pharao, saying, Joseph’s brethren are come; and Pharao was glad, and his household. Genesis 43:26-31, 45:1-16
Righteous Joseph the All-Comely, now governor of all Egypt, makes himself known to his brothers and demonstrates his greatness of soul in forgiving them and providing for them. As Joseph explains matters to his brothers, who are cowering in fear lest he should take revenge on them, he is at peace, because he sees that all that has happened to him, including their betrayal, was part of God’s plan to save their family from the great famine. From childhood, when he dreamed that his father and brothers bowed down to him, until now, when his brothers are actually prostrate at his feet, he has pursued a tranquil course of doing the will of God amid the storms of personal disaster – betrayal by his brothers and being cast into a pit, being sold into slavery, and being thrown into prison because he would not sin with another man’s wife, who then falsely accused him of the very thing he refused to do with her. The God Who chose him from his youth and guided his every step has not disappointed him in his hope.
On Great Monday, we will remember Joseph as a typos, a prophetic prefiguration, of Christ Himself, both in His humiliation and in His glory. As Joseph was betrayed by his brothers, so Our Lord was betrayed by His disciple. As Joseph was falsely accused when innocent, so with Christ. As Joseph was exalted to the right hand of Pharaoh, so Christ is exalted to the right hand of God.
We can imitate Joseph in his likeness to the Savior by imitating his patience and his hope, and by a firm determination to accept the will of God for ourselves. When life throws us into a pit, let us realize that it is God Himself Who has allowed us to be helpless, so that we might accept deliverance from Him and Him alone. When falsely accused, let us face it calmly, knowing that our vindication is from Him. When He delivers us, let us show greatness of soul in forgiving our enemies, seeing His profound wisdom in all that has happened to us.
The Patriarch Joseph the All-Comely is also a typos of Righteous Joseph the Betrothed, the guardian of the Most Pure Virgin and the Infant Christ. Like the Old Testament Joseph, the New Testament Joseph is a man of action. He proves himself obedient not by words – of which not a single one is recorded in the Gospel – but by deeds. When the famished Egyptians come to Pharaoh crying out for bread, he says, “Go to Joseph,” for has made Joseph the steward over all the grain of Egypt. As we languish in Egyptian slavery to the passions and sensual pleasures, and we cry to God for deliverance, He says to us, “Go to Joseph,” whom He made steward of the True Bread Who was born in Bethlehem, the town whose name means “House of Bread,” for our salvation.
May we prepare with humility and love to receive this True Bread in Our Lord’s Precious Body and Blood, at this Passiontide and Radiant Resurrection. May we, like the two Josephs, always do the will of God with undoubting serenity and unwavering firmness, and so be found worthy to receive the reward of the good steward:
“Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord (Matthew 25:21).”
And the Lord said to Jacob, Return to the land of thy father, and to thy family, and I will be with thee. And Jacob sent and called Lea and Rachel to the plain where the flocks were. And he said to them, I see the face of your father, that it is not toward me as before, but the God of my father was with me. And ye too know that with all my might I have served your father. But your father deceived me, and changed my wages for the ten lambs, yet God gave him not power to hurt me. If he should say thus, The speckled shall be thy reward, then all the cattle would bear speckled; and if he should say, The white shall be thy reward, then would all the cattle bear white. So God has taken away all the cattle of your father, and given them to me. And it came to pass when the cattle conceived and were with young, that I beheld with mine eyes in sleep, and behold the he-goats and the rams leaping on the sheep and the she-goats, speckled and variegated and spotted with ash-coloured spots. And the angel of God said to me in a dream, Jacob; and I said, What is it? And he said, Look up with thine eyes, and behold the he-goats and the rams leaping on the sheep and the she-goats, speckled and variegated and spotted with ash-coloured spots; for I have seen all things that Laban does to thee. I am God that appeared to thee in the place of God where thou anointedst a pillar to me, and vowedst to me there a vow; now then arise and depart out of this land, depart into the land of thy nativity, and I will be with thee. And Rachel and Lea answered and said to him, Have we yet a part or inheritance in the house of our father? Are we not considered strangers by him? for he has sold us, and quite devoured our money. All the wealth and the glory which God has taken from our father, it shall be ours and our children’s; now then do whatsoever God has said to thee. – Genesis 31:3-16
In fourteen years, God has given Jacob both domestic happiness and material success, despite all the efforts of Laban, his crafty father-in-law, to cheat him. The Lord has demonstrated, once again, that man’s cleverness is powerless against His wisdom and His will. God willed to make Jacob a great patriarch in His plan of salvation for mankind, and He has acted according to His will.
Jacob’s new status as a great householder gives him what today we call “financial freedom”: he is his own master, not beholden to an employer or creditor who can take the bread out of his mouth at any moment. God alone, the Master of wind, weather, the tides of warring nations, and the health of man and beast, can now give or take away his prosperity. He has obtained his freedom, however, not by going around or against God’s will, but by fulfilling it. He has done his part in the plan of salvation; he has conformed his will to the will of God.
Jacob’s earthly wealth provides a typos,a prophetic image, of the true wealth the Lord wants to give us, new and permanent properties of soul and body, gifts of His uncreated grace: pure prayer, harmony with God’s creation, lasting peace of heart – all the joys of friendship with God. Jacob’s earthly freedom provides a prophetic image of the eternal freedom God intends for us, the freedom of the sons of God: freedom from sin, the devil, death, and hell. We must conform our wills to the will of God, and we will become free.
A fatally mistaken idea about freedom grips the minds of men, who equate freedom with the permission to disobey God and get away with it. They want to make their own rules and create their own reality. It does not seem to occur to them that the further they go in this direction, the more miserable they become. This present misery only faintly presages what is in store for them. What is doubtless going to happen to them after they die, apart from an unrevealed miracle of God’s mercy upon which no one can rely, is something we cannot – and would prefer not – to imagine.
Mentored by Satan, men mistakenly imagine that the permission to do evil is inherent in having a will, in being free and rational creatures, but it is not. Our natural will is most free when conformed completely to God’s will; we are most ourselves, most free, most rational, and possessed of will in its ultimate degree, when we do God’s will at every moment. What men mistakenly call “free will” is what St. Maximus the Confessor identifies as the “gnomic” will – a diseased condition of the will based on ignorance, conflicting opinions, and moral weakness, the result of the Fall. It is this condition of the will that we experience every day when our choice wavers between good and evil, between God’s Law and the law of sin and death.
We overcome the stress and misery of this wavering, uncertain state by unrelenting work on ourselves. Yes, we obtain the glorious freedom of the sons of God by God’s gift, but also we must labor. We find an example in Jacob, who did indeed receive all as gift from God but also was not idle. Last week we recalled his labors while chanting the Great Canon:
In privation Jacob the Patriarch endured the burning heat by day and the frost by night, making daily gains of sheep and cattle, shepherding, wrestling, and serving, to win his two wives. By the two wives, understand action and knowledge in contemplation. Leah is action, for she had many children; and Rachel is knowledge, for she endured great toil. And without toil, O my soul, neither action nor contemplation will succeed. – from Ode Four of the Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete
May the sweetness of Holy Pascha that we will soon enjoy give us a taste of the eternal wealth and freedom that cannot be taken away. May it encourage us to serve the Lord in active virtue and find rest in Him through prayer. Let us conform our wills to His holy, peaceful, and perfect will, and we will find glorious rest, the freedom of the sons of God.