Orthodox Survival Course, Class 63: Returning to Ourselves, Session 4 – The Idolatry of the Body, contd.

You can listen to an audio podcast of this post at https://www.spreaker.com/user/youngfaithradio/osc63

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

The tempting word would not have led into sin those who were tempted if the tempter had not been guided by their own desire. Even if the tempter had not come, the tree itself by its beauty would have led their desire into battle. Although the first ancestors sought an excuse for themselves in the counsel of the serpent, they were harmed more by their own desire than by the counsel of the serpent. – St. Ephraim the Syrian, Commentary on Genesis, Chapter Three

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Idolatry of the Body, continued

At the end of my last talk, I promised to do something rather uncomfortable but necessary:

“In our next class, we plan to continue our discussion of the idolatry of the body by critiquing specific aspects of contemporary society that trap us in this problem, and by offering practical ideas to help us form an alternative, Orthodox way of life that puts our priorities in the right order, and sets the body, soul, and spirit in right order to each other.

May God grant! “

Why is this both uncomfortable but necessary? It is because to do this honestly, and actually to help anyone, we must not simply discuss abstract errors like Epicureanism or philosophical Hedonism, but we must also identify specific idolatrous patterns of behavior that have come to form an integral part of the lives of many if not most Orthodox Christians. It is easy to speak in generalities that don’t make anyone uncomfortable – a kind of cheap virtue that does not cost the speaker anything – but it does not help anyone if you don’t apply the general principles to real life. This is when people start to squirm, because no one likes to have his false beliefs and excuses for sinful behavior pointed out. The most difficult thing is that people who regard themselves as religious will make pseudo-religious excuses for their behavior, often, sadly, backed up by authorities – clergy, parents, et al – who misuse churchy, pious-sounding talk in order to justify behavior that is obviously sinful.

The two sub-topics relating to the human body that I shall address in this talk and our next talk are the worship of medicine and the worship of erotic pleasure. Each of these problems, of course, requires much more in-depth discussion than I can offer in these short talks, but, with God’s help, we shall try to live up to the old Latin expression multum in parvo – to say much in a few words. Today we shall speak chiefly of the worship of medicine.

We Forge Our Own Chains

As we have said more than once, the totalitarian world government that is rapidly coming into power over us was made possible by our compromises and our cooperation

with evil over many generations. They have been “boiling the frog slowly” for a long time, but now the process is nearly complete. The Luciferian elite have exploited sinful man’s two greatest motivators – the fear of pain and the desire for pleasure – in order to enslave men to their passions and make them amenable to being dominated by these people who control the vast mechanism of contemporary governance, a “happiness machine” that promises security from suffering and an unending supply of pleasure without negative consequences, on the condition of our forswearing any higher allegiance and sacrilegiously rendering unto Caesar that which is God’s – control over our bodies and our souls. In the quote above, St. Ephraim states that our First Parents’ own desire was a greater enemy than the devil. So too, our sinful desires are our real enemy: the devil and all his invisible and visible servants are but a circumstance that God allows so that our wills may be tested in the arena of spiritual struggle. If only we can be brought to recognize how our own ignorance and passions have brought about the state in which we find ourselves, we can begin truly “to come to ourselves” and by God’s grace to become free within, no matter how much our enemies act to enslave us from without.

The Return to Human Sacrifice

Our two topics for this talk – the worship of medicine and the worship of erotic pleasure – are closely related, because both the medical art and the procreative function

are godlike powers: by procreation man brings life into being, and by medicine he preserves it from illness and death. Of course both of these powers are in themselves goods, and they are not only good but extremely good: They are gifts of God, intended for the good, though ultimately not merely for an earthly good but for our salvation. The secondary goods of procreation and the preservation of physical life are truly good only insofar as they serve the primary good of eternal salvation. In this temporal and fallen world, man’s use of these gifts is neither intended to be unlimited nor is it without the tendency to sin, because man is both limited and sinful. Because both of these gifts are so powerful, however, they can give man the illusion that he is God, that somehow these powers are absolute and that he can wield them arbitrarily, according to his own fallen desires and fallen will, and not according to God’s commandments. And, dreadful to relate, because these gifts are so godlike man not only abuses them but even endows his abuses with a religious garb and fashions a demonic cult of magical medicine on the one hand and “sacred sex” on the other, both culminating in the ultimate satanic ritual, which is human sacrifice. Abortion means murdering your own child in order to escape God’s laws governing the procreative act. Abortion is ritual murder disguised as a medical procedure, an offering of innocent blood to the demon of fornication.

To be completely sober, then, about the situation in which we find ourselves, one must arrive at the understanding that the power behind the New World Order consists of demonic energies and demonic intelligence granted to evil men in return for their promotion and sponsorship of human sacrifice in the form of the unspeakably horrifying ritual murder of living human beings, either as so-called vital organ donors or as infants in the womb. More recently, also, we see the ritual mutilation of children and young people in “transgendering” procedures, which is also murder, because it condemns them to a living death. The fact that all of these rituals take the form of medical procedures does not change their essential spiritual character, but, on the contrary, serves to emphasize the reality that, as we have said earlier, scientific technology and magic are twins, and that in the hands of graceless and demonized men, scientific technology naturally tends to become an advanced form of magic. Magic is the demonically inspired and demonically energized manipulation of nature for the acquisition of power over men’s bodies and souls, and the current power structure of the technocracy bases its power precisely on this.

A lot of ordinary people are coming to this dreadful realization, that with this New World Order we are dealing not just with men, but with demons, and that abortion, trafficking in vital organs and fetal body parts for transplants and research, transgenderism, genetic engineering, and so forth, are somehow integral ritual aspects of the power system of the global elite. On the other hand, when views like this are presented to highly credentialed people – not the truly wise or even well-read people, but merely the social elite who hold advanced formal degrees from universities – they are usually both shocked and incredulous that you or I see it this way, and they hold such views in contempt. “How medieval, how paranoid, how bizarre!” they say. “This has nothing to do with religion or magic or demonic powers. Globalism is just politics and economics. Medicine is just science. These are secular matters that have nothing to do with ‘spirituality’.” Of course, this reveals not a true or deep education, not true learning, but rather a boring, bland, and uncritical groupthink combining a naive 18th century trust in “reason” with a naive 19th century trust in “science,” springing from a childish, woefully superficial, compartmentalized, and materialistic conception of life, according to which religion is purely a matter of individual psychological experiences – what secular people call “spirituality” – while familial, institutional, societal, and political life in the supposedly enlightened contemporary world is rightly governed by the dictates of human reason unfettered by outmoded religious conceptions.

By contrast, our whole project in this Survival Course has been to acquire an integral and coherent Orthodox worldview from which to view current events in the light of history understood from the framework of the Scriptures and the Fathers, and we are not at all surprised that apostate man has come full circle back to the idolatrous worship specifically and graphically described and condemned by the prophets of the Old Testament, which offers its practitioners power through the magical manipulation of nature based on perverted sexual behavior, human sacrifice, and alchemical financial dealings that make money not from honest labor but from trickery and manipulation. The Old Israel, the Old Testament Church, never succeeded in uprooting these practices among Her members, but, on the contrary, Her leadership persecuted and killed the prophets who spoke against them. It was only with the coming of grace through Christ that the New Testament Church powerfully went forth and cleansed entire nations of these terrible practices, of the religion and “science falsely so-called” of the demons, which two things go hand in hand.. But with the falling away of the Western Church in the High Middle Ages, an entire millennium of degeneration began, and now, at the end of that millennium, both the Western Christian world, and now the formerly Orthodox nations, have been returned to a society dominated by paganism.

As we have seen, then, throughout our Survival Course, the entire trajectory of Christian civilization since the High Middle Ages has gone farther and farther away from God in every succeeding epoch, and therefore all you have to do is to extend the lines in order to understand that the whole process would necessarily and naturally culminate in open satanism. What is going on today is precisely what we would predict. The Renaissance in Western Europe re-introduced classical paganism as the standard by which to judge art, literature, and philosophy. Meanwhile, in secret, the supposedly rational neoclassicists, including high ranking churchmen, were indulging in occult religion and founding secret societies for this purpose, which bifurcated their own lives into private, occult practices and associations on the one hand and public Christian worship and institutional identification on the other hand. In the 17th and 18th centuries the Enlightenment intensified this worship of Reason on the one hand, while preparing the ground for the wildly irrational and destructive power of Revolution to overrun Europe, beginning with the French Revolution.

It is telling to note that at every stage of this revolt against God, the anti-Christian movements invoked “science” and “reason” as their justification for what they were doing. But it was always science as they defined it, which makes no room for the true God Who is the source and foundation of all true science. Of course, throughout this modern period, there have continued to be scientists who were truly Christian, and, especially, physicians and medical institutions often operated not only under the auspices of the Church but with an expressly Christian outlook on the body, the art of healing, and the purpose of life, which ultimately is the salvation of the body and the soul for eternity. Sadly, however, with the violent overthrow of the Christian order that finally succeeded in the 20th century, even these outposts of goodness and sanity have fallen under the rule of the anti-Christians.

But remember: Our purpose is not only to point out the evil and identify the evildoers. For our exploration to be salvific and not merely voyeuristic or Pharisaical, we must also identify within ourselves the delusions, ignorance, and sinful desires which allow the evildoers to take power over our souls and bodies. Our Lord promised that the truth will make us free: Let us resolve to be free indeed, by acceptance of the truth and its fruit, repentance, through grace.

Killing the God Your Worship, and Killing Yourself

Worshipping medicine and worshipping erotic pleasure are, then, forms of idolatry. The irony of idolatry is that one ends up hating and ruining the thing that you have set up as your false god. You end up killing this god that you have worshipped and, finally, destroying yourself. After awhile, someone addicted to sexual pleasure hates sex, because the more he indulges himself, the more miserable he gets. The godlike power and thrills have disappeared: by making it a god, he has destroyed its authentic purpose and reduced from being something truly godlike to something diabolical. After awhile, someone who puts all of his trust in doctors and drugs, hates the doctors and hates the drug companies, because they are not the gods he set them up to be; they are just limited and sinful people, mere creatures like himself. Let us examine ourselves honestly and recognize to what extent we have fallen into these idolatries ourselves. To what extent are we subject to such illusions and act upon them?

The Medical Art Is Not an Absolute or Autonomous Good

It is essential, a matter of life or death, that the Church not abdicate her authority over Her children’s fundamental moral decisions regarding the stewardship of their bodies, which St. Paul tells us are the temples of the Holy Spirit. We can go to the medical researchers and practitioners to benefit from their technical knowledge, but they must not become the new arbiters of what constitutes ethical behavior. The medical art is simply that, an art, τέχνη (techne), and any art can be used for good or for evil: the technical expertise of the artist does not qualify him as a guide for the spiritual and moral decisions of other people’s lives, including those relating to the application of the technician’s art to their lives. As with any art, medicine can be good or evil, and increasingly we see today that its practice is often not unto good but unto evil.

It is true, however, that at one time, and not long ago, many if not most physicians in the Christian nations were in fact not mere technicians but also truly learned and sincerely religious men, and they understood that the practice of their art must be submitted to the judgment of the Church. Physicians today, however, for the most part, even if they are nominally Christian (which increasingly most are not – medical organizations today are dominated by Jews, Moslems, Hindus, and plain old atheists) are not truly learned or truly believing – neither deeply read in humane letters (much less Christian theology!) and history, nor deeply cultured nor humanly wise nor capable of independent judgment. Simply from going up in the environment we all live in, they tend to be superficial corporation men, typical of their generation, creatures of the Matrix like everybody else, products of the Great Stereopticon who think in cliches and follow orders from above, mechanics who work on human bodies as if they were machines, in order to make money, have power, and achieve social status. This or that doctor may indeed have a lot of knowledge in the isolated fragment of science and technology which he has made his life’s study, but this does not make him a wise or a moral human being, only a highly trained technician. You should be grateful for whatever limited good he can do for you, but don’t entrust him with guiding decisions about your religious and moral responsibilities! There are exceptions to this general characterization, of course – thank God! I am blessed to number among my friends learned and pious Orthodox doctors, nurses, and medical students who struggle daily to practice medicine wisely, morally, and with compassion. But, again, they are exceptional, and the exceptions are not the rule.

How did such a misunderstanding that one hears today – that the Church should hand over Her authoritative role in bioethical decisions to the medical practitioners – come about? Ironically, it is the very success of the Church in baptizing and guiding the medical art for so many centuries that has created this assumption that the practice of medicine is always unquestionably trustworthy and good. Historically, up to very recent times, most Christians did experience that their family doctor was a religious and truly educated Christian man, with a wise understanding of life guided by the Church, a kind of second priest after one’s parish priest, a deeply self-sacrificial person dedicated primarily to the service of God and neighbor, and not to money. Hospitals in Christian nations were either directly owned by a church institution or even if not, they still had a chapel with daily services and clergy ministering regularly to the majority if not all of the patients. Last year, for example, Bishop Christodoulos, of our Church of the Genuine Orthodox Christians of Greece, produced a short film about the power of Holy Communion over earthly diseases. This film includes testimony from his father about his father, the bishop’s grandfather, who was an in-house, full-time priest at a leprosarium and afterwards in a tuberculosis ward at a hospital on the island of Chios. The unquestioning faith, dedication, and courage of such a man typifies the traditional synergeia between the Church and the medical profession. The film is very edifying, and I encourage you to watch it, here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j81vYUp273A&list=PLCKW16X–kPyxDbetRXmU_mKsKAzeGWHg

In non-Orthodox but historically Christian nations also, people of my generation have distinct memories of such wonderful people from our Roman Catholic or Protestant childhoods, and perhaps it is true that most people our age, by inertia, act on the basis of believing that this beneficent, wise, and fundamentally Christian medical establishment still exists today. But the sad reality is that, for the most part, it does not.

Once Again – We Must Repent of the Illusion of Earthly Immortality!

I am not saying all this to beat up on the doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and others who work in the medical field. There are still real Christian – or simply moral and thoughtful – people in the field, and they are suffering too! We are all suffering. We are all alike guilty of creating this monster, because of our idolatry of the body. We accept the Cartesian dualism, isolate the body from the soul, worship the wellbeing of the body, and ignore the good of the soul. Yet simultaneously we somehow also worship Descartes’s god – reason – as an autonomous entity that will give the body earthly immortality through the unlimited and uncontrolled progress of science. As with all idolatries, we want too much of a good thing. We isolate it and blow its importance out of proportion, and it becomes a monster. There is such a thing as too much medicine and too medical technology. Its unlimited growth and application are not pleasing to God, because they partake of hubris, the self-worship of the religion of the Tower of Babel. And, again, remember: When the people at the top of this Tower are the ones making the decisions about the direction that science and medicine will take, it is bound to be the wrong direction. We must approach our own making use of this great art with humility and sobriety, always remembering that the purpose of Christian medicine is not the unlimited extension of life or the continuous avoidance of suffering, but only that moderate degree of health we need to serve God and neighbor, with humble allowance for the suffering we all need and cannot escape, to attain our salvation.

How can we repent of this idolatry of the body in respect to medicine? Let us examine ourselves and see to what extent we have these false – indeed heretical – assumptions, and let us repent and deeply believe the countervailing truths that correct them:

False Belief: That the body is essentially a machine and can always be fixed by mechanical techniques, whether chemical or surgical. This is not true. The body is integrally connected to the soul as a unified organism, and its true character is ultimately sacred and mysterious, known to God alone and to His deified saints. A good doctor approaches the care of the body with great humility and restraint, with prayer and sobriety, not thinking he knows everything and can fix everything. The good patient understands this, too, and does not lay a burden of continuous, godlike perfection on his physician, who is a mortal and limited creature like himself.

False Belief: That science and medicine are an all-encompassing system, a new paradigm by which we define ourselves. This is not true. It is catastrophic to regard the therapeutic paradigm and therapeutic institutions as a system of which we form a part, rather than as an instrumentality, a tool, outside of ourselves and below ourselves like any tool, which we use when we need them. At one time, and not long ago, doctors and hospitals were something one made use of on occasion when needed. Normal life meant health and healthy activity, and was not dominated by concern over pathologies. You lived, you suffered, and you died. That was all right. Not only was it all right: It was noble, and there was an art to dying which informed our art of living, with joy, courage, and gratitude. But today we have reduced ourselves to passive and fearful recipients of constant attention from and control by a vast and impersonal system or network, which defines us in terms of actual or potential pathologies, and which holds life or death power over us. This is idolatry on several levels: It grants Godlike status to this impersonal thing, a kind of blind, technological god of Fate that holds a sword over our heads at all times, and it destroys the nobility of man, the image of God, and takes away our capacity for independent thought and action. Any art, including medicine, is simply a tool, an instrument used by man, not a god over man. With medicine, as with any technique, when man places himself in subjection to his technique, to his tool, he makes himself something less than human. We will see this illustrated again when we give our talk about electronic addictions.

False Belief: That concern over our bodily health should dominate our daily consciousness. This is not true. Remember, the health of the body is a secondary, not a primary good. The body is an instrument of virtue, not virtue itself. If a violinist spent all day caring for his violin and never played it, he would be a poor violinist indeed! When an Orthodox Christian spends countless hours thinking about, researching, and trying this or that remedy or this or that doctor, to treat or prevent ailments, he is wasting his life on a vain pursuit, because we are all going to get sick, and we are all going to die, and God wants us also to use illness and death also – not only health and biological life – for our eternal salvation. As with all good things, there has to be a limit! We see this passionate, obsessive behavior not only in the “normies,” those who trust the Big Brother of the medical establishment, but also, and perhaps even more strikingly, in the “red-pilled” anti-establishment alternative medicine devotees. Whether you believe in mainstream medicine or in alternative medicine, you should not spend all your time thinking about medicine, unless it is your profession, and even the professionals need to leave time for other pursuits and, above all, time for prayer!

False Belief: That somehow with the right medicine we can live forever in this world. Of course, consciously and rationally we know this is not true, but unconsciously and irrationally, in the depths of the heart, the fallen ego does have this conviction and this desire. We inherit this lie of Satan at our conception and birth, in the heart, because of the Fall of our First Parents. So we make a god out of the doctor, and when our god doesn’t prevent us from getting sick or from dying, we resent it. How foolish! Let us be grateful for the limited and temporary good that medicine offers, but always look forward to our true life, which is not of this world.

May all of us, Orthodox Christian practitioners of the medical art and patients alike, pray fervently to the Holy Unmercenary Physicians to teach us by their example and help us by their prayers, to understand where true healing lies, both in this age and the age to come, with Our Lord Jesus Christ, the only true Physician of our bodies and our souls. To Him be the glory with the Father and the Holy Spirit unto the ages of ages, Amen.

Lagniappe

As we record these words in the spring of 2021, we are approaching the Great and Holy Week of Our Lord’s Passion. Here is one of the most beloved Passiontide hymns of the ancient Western Church, the hymn to the Holy Cross titled Vexilla Regis, by Venantius Fortunatus. It is from the 6th century.

VEXILLA Regis prodeunt;
fulget Crucis mysterium,
qua vita mortem pertulit, Et mortem vitam protulit.
ABROAD the regal banners fly,
now shines the Cross’s mystery:
upon it Life did death endure,
and yet by death did life procure.


Quae vulnerata lanceae,
mucrone diro criminum,
ut nos lavaret sordibus,2
manavit unda et sanguine.
Who, wounded with a direful spear,
did purposely to wash us clear
from stain of sin, pour out a flood
of precious water mixed with blood.
Impleta sunt quae concinit
David fideli carmine,
dicendo nationibus:
regnavit a ligno Deus.
That which the prophet-king of old
hath in mysterious verse foretold,
is now accomplished, whilst we see
God ruling the nations from a Tree.
Arbor decora et fulgida,
ornata Regis purpura,
electa digno stipite
tam sancta membra tangere.
O lovely and refulgent Tree,
adorned with purpled majesty;
culled from a worthy stock, to bear
those limbs which sanctified were.
Beata, cuius brachiis
pretium pependit saeculi:
statera facta corporis,
tulitque praedam tartari. 
Blest Tree, whose happy branches bore
the wealth that did the world restore;
the beam that did that Body weigh
which raised up Hell’s expected prey.




O Crux ave, spes unica,
hoc Passionis tempore!
piis adauge gratiam,
reisque dele crimina.
Hail Cross, of hopes the most sublime!
Now, in the mournful Passion time; *
grant to the just increase of grace,
and every sinner’s crimes efface.
Te, fons salutis Trinitas,
collaudet omnis spiritus:
quibus Crucis victoriam largiris adde praemium. Amen 
Blest Trinity, salvation’s spring
may every soul Thy praises sing;
to those Thou grantest conquest by
the Holy Cross, rewards supply. Amen.
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Orthodox Survival Course, Class Class 62: Returning to Ourselves, Session 3 – the Idolatry of the Body

Listen to the audio podcast of this talk at https://www.spreaker.com/user/youngfaithradio/osc-62

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

Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway. – I Corinthians 9: 24-27

Thanks and Request for Donations

Again, thanks to our donors. May the Lord reward your love with His grace! To our other listeners: please consider a gift to help me out. If you have PayPal, you can send a gift to my account at frstevenallen@gmail.com. If you wish to send a check instead, contact me at that email, and I can give you my mailing address.

Returning to Ourselves, Session 3

We are going to continue our series of talks on the various errors that all of us have imbibed from our childhood, as the result of growing up in the delusional mental matrix of the contemporary world. As we know, these errors have been implanted in us by that Great Stereopticon that Richard Weaver talks about in Ideas Have Consequences: the vast, all-encompassing mechanism of education, the media, the academic, scientific, and medical establishment, the traumatizing 24/7 theater of absurd political drama, and so forth, which the anti-Christian global elite use to brainwash the masses into desiring – or at least accepting – a New Age of some kind of promised materialistic utopia under totalitarian control. The problem here is that on one level, in one part of our minds, so to speak, we want to love Christ and we want to be sincere Orthodox Christians; on another level, in another part of our minds, we either consciously or unconsciously believe in, or at least acquiesce to, ideas that are completely incompatible with being Christians, and it is these ideas that actually determine a lot of our day to day priorities and choices, whether we are aware of it or not.

As explained in Classes 60 and 61, I’m calling this part of our course “Returning to Ourselves,” because its purpose is to bring to our awareness these errors that take us far down the prodigal path leading away from our heavenly inheritance, so that we can return to our true selves and deeply repent of becoming “citizens of a far country,” the anti-Christian world of contemporary society, and thereby return to our true allegiance as citizens of the heavenly kingdom. According to the words of Christ, though we are in the world, we are not of the world. To live this reality energetically and not simply possess it potentially – so that our Baptism is for our salvation and not unto our condemnation – we must act energetically to root out the sin of worldliness, which cuts us off from God.

In our last class, we pointed out that worldliness is really an entire ensemble of errors, all of which are related, but are also distinct and can be analyzed separately. We then discussed one of these errors, which is the delusion of worldly immortality and the forgetfulness of death, and its correction, which is the constant remembrance of death. Today we shall begin our discussion about the idolatry of the body, and the correction for idolatry of the body, which is love for the salvation of the soul energized in the life of the mind and of the spirit, along with godly and prudent care for the body. Right now, as we speak in the spring of 2021, we are beginning the season of Great Lent, and therefore disciplining the body as a foundation for disciplining the mind and soul should be uppermost in our minds. So it is a very appropriate time to begin our discussion of this topic!

As an introduction to today’s topic, I’d like to paraphrase one of my favorite accounts from the Desert Fathers. Once a monk traveled to see a great elder, in order to receive “a word,” that is, a life-giving spiritual instruction. He came to the elder and said, “Abba, teach me about spiritual things.” But the elder would not even look at him, much less talk to him. Downcast, he went to the disciples of the elder and said, “Why will the abba not speak with me?” So they went to the elder to intercede for the visitor. When questioned, the elder said, “He asked me about heavenly things – I don’t know anything about that!” When the disciples told the visiting monk the elder’s reply, the light bulb went off: He was asking for something too advanced – how could he learn about the higher reaches of prayer and heavenly realities if he had not even yet mastered the basic, earthly disciplines in order to master his bodily passions? So he returned to the elder and said, “Abba, teach me how to control the passions of the body.” At that point the elder turned to him smiling and said, “Ah, now open your mouth, and I will fill it with good things!”

Our bodies are a great gift from God, part of His creation that He pronounced “Very good!” on the Sixth Day. But we must realize that 1. They are to serve the rational soul, and not vice versa, and 2. Because of sin, the body, like the soul, is subject to manifold passions. In the correct order of spiritual life, we must begin by understanding what the body really is and then bring it under subjection to the soul. The soul in turn must be ruled by its highest faculty, the nous – the spiritual intellect – which in its turn is ruled by God’s holy will and taught by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Then all will be in order, and we will be at peace with God, with other men, with creation, and with ourselves. But the path to attaining such a blessed state must begin with the ABC’s of spiritual life, and that means we have to start humbly, dealing with that part of ourselves which, if we are honest, is not only the most basic but the most real to us: our bodies.

Quick Review: What is Idolatry?

Idolatry is, simply put, worshipping the creature rather than the Creator. As we all know, this does not mean only setting up a statue and doing pagan rituals. Our idols are any of the created things to which we enslave ourselves, forgetting their original purpose, distorting their character, and, exaggerating their importance, giving them undue emphasis in our lives, and making sacrifices to them: For these false gods, people sacrifice their time, their energy, their sacred duties to the Church, their family and to society, and, ultimately, they sacrifice themselves to these idols, rejecting God and losing their salvation. They kill that which is higher within themselves as a sacrifice to appease that which is lower within themselves, and by so doing they kill themselves.

When we place the demands of the body over the needs of the soul, this is a form of idolatry.

Body Worship: Making a god out of dust and ashes

Most people would say that they don’t want “Big Brother” to control their lives, but in fact they never escape this control, because they worship their bodies, and “Big Brother” easily dominates them by guaranteeing freedom from physical pain on the one hand and unrestrained carnal pleasure on the other hand. Man is part angel and part animal, and the angelic part – the soul – is the higher part and should rule the lower part. But contemporary man, blinded by the lie of philosophical materialism – the idea that the material world is all there is – and irrationally consuming himself in the tormenting, endless, and futile pursuit of uninterrupted pleasure and total freedom from physical suffering, has cast aside his angelic character and lives entirely like an animal – or, rather, as something lower than the animals, since they in their innocence fulfill their telos, the purpose for which God created them, while carnal men disobey God’s command to lead spiritual lives, and by living exclusively carnal lives, actually become – in their actions, though not in their essence – demons in the flesh.

The Church, of course, provides us the cure for this terrible disease, which is the true teaching about our human nature and what constitutes a a truly human life, along with the power to lead this life, which is the infinite, uncreated grace of God so abundantly available to us in the life of the Church. I think that a lot of us are realizing that at some point in our lifetime “Big Brother” may take away our outward freedom. But if we have been freed from our passions and sins, he can never take away our inner freedom, the eternal and invincible freedom of the sons of God. Let us remind ourselves of what the Scriptures and the Fathers teach us about our body-soul organism, and in light of this teaching, we shall see clearly how the priorities and choices based on the idolatry of the body take away our freedom by blinding us to our true nature and our vocation to holiness.

The Creation of Man

First, then, we need to go back and refresh ourselves with the beautiful truth of what our composite nature of soul and body – God’s most beautiful creation – really is, and this will make us peaceful, happy, and confident as we prepare to take action, because we will remember the firm foundation of Truth on which we stand, which, ultimately, is Truth Himself, the Incarnate Word of God, Our Lord Jesus Christ. Let’s put aside, for a few minutes, all of our anxiety about the defilement we are suffering in the present and take a refreshing plunge into that great sea of truth, the Biblical and Patristic teaching, which washes us clean of the all the defilement put into our minds by the great philosophical error about our origins, which goes by the name of Darwinism.

The Great Stereopticon has implanted this gigantic error of Darwinism in men’s minds, so that even Orthodox Christians are tempted to believe the myth of microbe-to-man biological evolution, and the idea that we are descended from apes. It’s easy to see how, if you accept this teaching, you will think that the bodily life is all there is, neglect your soul, and become obsessed with the needs – or just the desires – of the body to the point of falling prey to the spiritual and intellectual idiocy which characterizes today’s mainstream culture. Darwinism is the philosophical foundation in modern times for the this idiocy; it is actually an entire ensemble of errors, characterized by, among other errors, the idolatry of the body.

Thank God, in recent years, more and more courageous scientists are constantly coming out to challenge the false science of evolution, which is really not an up-to-date scientific theory at all, but rather a 19th century hoax propagated by militant atheists in the service of the Revolution, men who hated the God of the Bible before they invented the pseudo-science of evolution explicitly in order to fight Him, and not the other way around. Yet, in spite of all the scientific evidence against evolution, not to mention the Church’s unbroken teaching going back to God’s revelation of the Creation to Moses on Mt. Sinai, even Orthodox Christians are confused by the lies of Darwinism, because they have had them pounded into their heads in the schools and the media since childhood. Sadly, there are even officially sanctioned modernist “Orthodox” teachers who twist themselves into pretzels struggling to accommodate the pure truth of divine revelation and legitimate science to this absurd and worn-out theory, which is actually just a bunch of pseudo-sophisticated nonsense. Yet it continues to dominate public discourse, because those in power, for their own reasons, promote the researchers and professors who teach it, and they marginalize those who don’t, even to the point of destroying their careers an ruining their lives. Then they use the vast power of the Great Stereopticon to propagate the fairy tales that their well-paid establishment academics are willing to invent in order to earn their thirty pieces of silver. On the other hand, thanks be to God, we still have true teachers, both in the realm of the natural and physical sciences, as well as in theology, philosophy, and history, who absolutely refuse the lies of Darwinism and actively fight them.

One of these true teachers in our Orthodox world was the man who inspired these Survival classes to begin with, Fr. Seraphim Rose, whose Creation, Genesis, and Early Man provides a comprehensive and trustworthy resource for studying the teaching of the Fathers on the first eleven chapters of the book of Genesis. In Chapter Four, “On the Creation of Man,” Fr. Seraphim quotes St. Gregory the Theologian’s Second Oration on Pascha (Oration 45), in which the great Theologian states clearly that intelligent essences, such as angels and the soul, are higher than the material creation and more akin to the divine nature:

“He gave being to the world of thought [i.e., the world of intellectual beings, angels], as far as I can reason on these matters, and estimate great things in my own poor language. Then, when His first Creation was in good order, He conceives a second world, material and visible; and this a system of earth and sky and all that is in the midst of them; an admirable creation indeed when we look at the fair form of every part, but yet more worthy of admiration when we consider the harmony and union of the whole, and how each part fits in with every other in fair order…This was to show that He could call into being not only a nature akin to Himself [i.e., the angelic, invisible world], but also one altogether alien to Him. For akin to the Deity are those natures which are intellectual, and only to be comprehended by mind; but all of which sense can take cognizance are utterly alien to It; and of these the furthest removed from It are those which are entirely destitute of soul and the power of motion.”

St. Gregory of Nyssa also states that the soul is that part of man that is more akin to God, in this passage from his treatise On the Making of Man:

“…While two natures – the Divine and incorporeal nature, and the irrational life of brutes – are separated from each other as extremes, human nature is the mean between them: for in the compound nature of man we may behold a part of each of the natures I have mentioned – of the Divine, the rational and intelligent element, which does not admit the distinction of male and female; of the irrational, our bodily form and structure, divided into male and female: for each of these elements is certainly to be found in all that partakes of human life. That the intellectual element, however, takes precedence over the other, we learn as from one who gives in order an account of the making of man; and we learn also that his community and kindred with the irrational is for man a provision for reproduction…”

The editor of Fr. Seraphim’s book, in a footnote, also quotes St. Gregory Palamas and his disciple, Nicetas Stethatos, regarding this question of the relative dignity of the soul and the body. In his treatise On Spiritual Knowledge, which can be found in Volume Four of the Philokalia, Nicetas Stethatos writes, “Only in ignorance would one claim that man is created in the image of God with respect to the organic nature of his body. He is in the image by virtue of the spiritual nature of his nous [i.e., the spiritual intellect, which is the highest faculty of the soul].” St. Gregory, in Topics of Natural and Theological Science (also in the Philokalia), writes, “To know that we have been created in God’s image prevents us from deifying even the noetic world. ‘Image’ here refers not to the body but to the nature of the nous.”

Man, then, has a compound nature of soul and body, in which the rational part, akin to the angelic intelligences – the soul – is the higher and ruling part, while the irrational part, akin to the animals – the body – is the lower part, which receives its dignity from being united to the soul and therefore should serve and obey the soul. Before I go on, however, I want to clarify a couple of things:

First: As St. Gregory Palamas writes, just because the soul is higher than the body, we must not make an idol out of the soul or the intellect. God created our bodies from the dust of the earth, and He also created our souls, including our nous, though not from the earth, but ex nihilo, from nothing. Our souls are not a piece of God, an emanation from the Divine nature, which was somehow trapped in the body, as is taught by the gnostics and Oriental religions. Just because they are more akin to God does not mean that they are somehow part of God. Just as we must not make an idol out of the body, we also must not make an idol out of the soul.

Second: Though, as St. Gregory of Nyssa writes, the soul takes precedence over the body, this is an ontological not a chronological precedence; i.e., the soul take precedence by virtue of what it is, not because it was created prior to the body. Both came into being in the same instant, and neither ever existed apart from the other. The pre-existence of souls, a teaching we see in Plato, Origen, the gnostics, and the Oriental religions, is a very serious error, and it was one of the errors for which Origen was condemned at the Fifth Ecumenical Council. Souls do not pre-exist, and they do not pass from one body to another (transmigration). Because of death, which is the fruit of sin, the soul has to leave the body for awhile, to await the General Resurrection, but this is unnatural for man, an aberration, not God’s original plan for us. Man is ontologically a body-soul unity: It was as a body-soul unity that each of us came into being, and it will be as a union of body and soul that each of us will live forever after the Second Coming and General Resurrection, whether in eternal happiness or eternal torment.

Third: We must absolutely deny the error of Cartesianism. Rene Descartes, among his other errors, taught that man is, in his famous phrase, a “ghost in a machine” – that the real “me” is my soul, especially my mind, and that the body is this separate thing a mere glorified machine, that the soul happens to live inside of. This kind of radical dualism leads to the two philosophical errors of Rationalism and Empiricism (see Class 18), as well as the heresies of various pseudo-spiritual sects like the gnostics, the Manicheans, the Cathars, the Bogomils, and so forth, who on the one hand pretend to be purely “spiritual” and so deny the reality of the Incarnation, reject the Holy Mysteries, and denigrate marriage as “carnal” and “unspiritual,” while on the other hand giving in to periodic orgies of the worst bodily excess, because for them the body is totally irrelevant, totally unrelated to “spirituality,” and so it is not important what you do with it.

By the grace and mercy of God, we Orthodox Christians are not Cartesians, and we know the truth: Our human nature, and each of us personally, is an organic body-soul unity, and this is why Our Lord Jesus Christ, in His Incarnation, took on both a real human body and a real human soul, to free both body and soul from sin, the devil, death, and hell, and restore us to blessed incorruption and immortality. The entire sacramental economy of the Church ministers to the soul through actions performed by and upon the body, and every divine Mystery of the Church is given for the “health and salvation of the servant of God,” in body and soul. So the Church, obviously, does not denigrate the body – the resurrection of the body and its ultimate glorification in the Kingdom of heaven is a dogma of the Church!

The Church, however, also does not idolize the body: Orthodoxy teaches us to put the body in its proper place, as subservient to the rational and immortal soul. When we reverse this hierarchy, we forget the soul, and treat our bodies like little gods on earth. On the one hand, perhaps we pamper our bodies and ultimately destroy them with excessive comfort, indolence, and pleasures. On the other hand, we perhaps (even at the same time!) fixate on our bodily health and spend countless hours and energy on exercising or finding the most perfect foods or obsessively searching out the latest medical treatments, in order to eke out a few more years of our corruptible and doomed biological existence in this temporary life. (Or we do both! Motivated by our lower passions, we mistreat our bodies through gluttony and other bodily sins, and then, angry at ourselves, we become motivated by our vanity to do some kind of worldly “self-help” program to “become a better person.” But both behaviors are sinful – both involve obsessing on our bodies and temporary well-being.) Thus we reverse the hierarchy in man established by God, in which spiritual concerns come first, intellectual concerns come next, and bodily concerns come last. The body is to serve the rational soul, and not vice versa. When we reverse this hierarchy, we disobey God and leave the path of salvation.

Two Forms of Body Worship: Hedonism and Epicureanism

For most people nowadays, body worship takes the form of sheer hedonism, which is the pursuit of pleasure, pure and simple. This involves the obvious, gross sins like gluttony, drunkenness, drug addiction, sexual sins, and so forth. Of course, the entire culture of consumerism and sexual license surrounds us with incentives to do this, and nowadays everyone is affected by it. But even when people get disgusted with themselves for wallowing in the mire of their carnal passions and resolve to change, nowadays what most of these people turn to as the alternative is a form of Epicureanism; that is, they use therapies and methods – exercise programs, diets, therapies, support groups, self-help books, etc. – which motivate them by the promise of a happier life in this world, a life of worldly but moderate pleasures, a feeling of psychosomatic well-being. The ancient philosopher Epicurus, from whom this school of philosophy takes its name, was a materialist: he believed that the material world is all there is, and that the universe is the result of a mindless and random concourse of atoms, just as today’s evolutionists believe. Since this life is all there is, one should pursue pleasure, but since the desire for of constant and extreme pleasure can never be satisfied, and since at some point the pursuit of greater and greater pleasure leads to physical and psychic illness, one needs to moderate and refine one’s pleasures, in order to lead a contented and virtuous life. Instead of promiscuous sexual activity, one fornicates discreetly now and then, but not so often or so carelessly as to threaten one’s health or one’s career. Instead of gorging oneself on McDonald’s hamburgers and becoming morbidly obese, one watches gourmet cooking shows, shops for the best foods, and makes small but exquisite meals to be enjoyed with fine wine. One is still pre-occupied with the body, but in a more intelligent way. One disciplines the body, but only in order to please the body. Pleasure remains the basis for contentment and, what is worse, this self-deceit disguises itself as virtue!

What is missing here, of course, is the Cross. I am not saying that we should not eat healthy food or enjoy a traditional and properly cooked meal, but that the pursuit of such things can also become an idol, no less an idol than the grossly sinful addiction to large amounts of bad food, and perhaps more dangerous because it is less obviously sinful. When Orthodox Christians resolve to fight their passions, it must be in order to please God, putting aside worldly ways of thinking and living, no matter how refined and respectable, in order to take up our cross and follow our Lord to Golgotha. We should do everything for his sake.

When the Holy Fathers teach us to live moderately, not going to an unhealthy extreme of asceticism on the right hand or the indulgence of the passions on the left hand, they do so not to advocate a sophisticated, Epicurean pursuit of pleasure, as if that were something spiritual, but rather in order to teach us to employ prudence as we advance on the path of a self-denying Christian life, gradually denying ourselves more and more as we grow in our love for God and neighbor. We have to advance in bodily discipline wisely, under the guidance of the Church, and humbly recognizing the limits imposed by our particular bodily constitutions and by the specific kinds of spiritual gifts, of charismata – graces – that the Lord gives each one of us, which vary greatly from one person to another. We don’t practice moderation in order to enjoy ourselves more, like the Epicureans, but in order to grow closer to God.

Health and Fitness: What is the Orthodox Approach?

So we all know that we destroy ourselves when we overeat, smoke, commit sins of impurity, get drunk, and so forth. But the devil has a different weapon for different kinds of people: those whom he cannot destroy through the gross passions of self-indulgence, he destroys through a sinful pre-occupation with physical health and appearance. The vast, multi-billion dollar industries devoted to fitness and physical beauty do not exist to help us save our souls and bodies for eternity, but rather to trap us in an endless cycle of gross consumerism and self-indulgence alternating with humanistically inspired disciplines for self-improvement, which are in reality just more refined forms of the same consumerism and self-indulgence!

What, then, is the Orthodox approach to health, fitness, and physical appearance? It is to regard ourselves as stewards of our bodies, which belong to God. We do not destroy God’s gift of the body by carelessness, but neither do we become preoccupied with it. We should aim at a moderate regime of exercise, a moderate diet, and, in general, have a moderate concern for our physical health, without the pursuit of fitness or health dominating our priorities. We neither neglect our personal appearance, nor do we become obsessed over it, but rather aim at the humble – and real! – beauty of truly pious people: an intelligent cleanliness with a modest and dignified appearance in our bodies and our clothing. That is, we should so develop and adorn our bodies in order to attract the grace of God, not to attract the passionate admiration of men. A disciplined life of prayer and fasting, with a proper number of prostrations added to our daily prayer rule, according to our strength, forms the basis for our spiritual health and, by extension, also psychological and physical health. Time and concern attached to other activities, such as exercise, diet regimes, and so forth, form a secondary priority after the exercise of the traditional Orthodox discipline.

Next Class –

In our next class, we plan to continue our discussion of the idolatry of the body by critiquing specific aspects of contemporary society that trap us in this problem, and by offering practical ideas to help us form an alternative, Orthodox way of life that puts our priorities in the right order, and sets the body, soul, and spirit in right order to each other.

May God grant!

Lagniappe – A hymn for Great Lent:

Here is the text and translation of the Vespers Hymn for Great Lent from the ancient Roman rite. It is attributed to Pope St. Gregory the Great, the Dialogist, who reposed in the year 604. http://preces-latinae.org/thesaurus/Hymni/AudiBC.html (For you Gregorian chant buffs and Western Rite Orthodox: You can find it on p. 539 of the Liber Usualis.)


AUDI, benigne Conditor,
nostras preces cum fletibus,
sacrata in abstinentia 1
fusas quadragenaria.
O MERCIFUL Creator, hear!
To us in pity bow Thine ear:
accept the tearful prayer we raise
in this our fast of forty days.
Scrutator alme cordium,
infirma tu scis virium;
ad te reversis exhibe
remissionis gratiam.
Our hearts are open, Lord, to Thee:
Thou knowest our infirmity;
pour out on all who seek Thy face
abundance of Thy pardoning grace.
Multum quidem peccavimus,
sed parce confitentibus,
tuique laude nominis 2
confer medelam languidis.
Our sins are many, this we know;
spare us, good Lord, Thy mercy show;
and for the honor of Thy name
our fainting souls to life reclaim.
Sic corpus extra conteri
dona per abstinentiam,
ieiunet ut mens sobria
a labe prorsus criminum. 3
Give us self-control that springs
from discipline of outward things,
that fasting inward secretly
the soul may purely dwell with Thee.
Praesta, beata Trinitas,
concede, simplex Unitas,
ut fructuosa sint tuis
haec parcitatis munera. Amen.
We pray Thee, Holy Trinity,
one God, unchanging Unity,
that we from this our abstinence
may reap the fruits of penitence. Amen.

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

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

Thanks and Request for Donations

Again, thanks to our donors. May the Lord reward your love with His grace! To our other listeners: please consider a gift to help me out. If you have PayPal, you can send a gift to my account at frstevenallen@gmail.com. If you wish to send a check instead, contact me at that email, and I can give you my mailing address.

Returning to Ourselves, Session 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today let’s start with error #1:

The illusion of immortality and the forgetfulness of death

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen.

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

Amen.

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

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

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

Thanks and Request for Donations

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

A Prefatory Note

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

The Signs of the Times

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

Returning to Ourselves.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Catalogue of Errors

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

Scientism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thus Scientism.

Freudianism and “Personal Fulfillment”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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In Thy light shall we see light

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Extraordinarily well,” I said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Holy Father Seraphim, pray to God for us!

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Herod’s men come a’knocking at the door

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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2021: Let us live in hope

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

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

The Gospel reading is Mark 9: 10-15 –

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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And I meditated on Thy commandments which I have greatly loved

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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My words shall not pass away

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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