The still, small voice

You can listen to an audio podcast of this post at https://www.spreaker.com/user/youngfaithradio/matt7tues

Tuesday of the Seventh Week of Matthew 

Today’s Gospel reading recounts Herod’s wickedly killing St. John the Baptist, which ever after tormented his conscience.

At that time Herod the tetrarch heard of the fame of Jesus, And said unto his servants, This is John the Baptist; he is risen from the dead; and therefore mighty works do shew forth themselves in him. For Herod had laid hold on John, and bound him, and put him in prison for Herodias’ sake, his brother Philip’s wife. For John said unto him, It is not lawful for thee to have her. And when he would have put him to death, he feared the multitude, because they counted him as a prophet. But when Herod’s birthday was kept, the daughter of Herodias danced before them, and pleased Herod. Whereupon he promised with an oath to give her whatsoever she would ask. And she, being before instructed of her mother, said, Give me here John Baptist’s head in a charger. And the king was sorry: nevertheless for the oath’s sake, and them which sat with him at meat, he commanded it to be given her. And he sent, and beheaded John in the prison. And his head was brought in a charger, and given to the damsel: and she brought it to her mother. And his disciples came, and took up the body, and buried it, and went and told Jesus. When Jesus heard of it, he departed thence by ship into a desert place apart: and when the people had heard thereof, they followed him on foot out of the cities. – Matthew 14: 1-13

St. Theophan the Recluse points out that Herod jumped to the conclusion that John had been resurrected because the tyrant had an uneasy conscience:

He could have thought of anything, yet he thought of no one but John. Who led his thoughts in that direction? His conscience. From it you cannot hide unconscionable deeds; you cannot correct its judgment with anything…There is a voice within us that we must acknowledge is not our voice. Whose is it? God’s. He Who gives us our nature, gives us this voice. If it is God’s voice, we must obey it, for creatures dare not contradict their Creator. This voice says that God exists, that we completely depend upon Him, and therefore we cannot but have a reverent fear of God. Having this fear, we must fulfill God’s will, indicated by the conscience… – Thoughts for Each Day of the Year, pp. 148-149

Conscience is one of three innate attributes of the human soul which demonstrate undoubtedly that man is the creature of a personal God Who intends for man to know Him, to obey Him, and to love Him.  These attributes are consciencethe fear of God, and the thirst for God.  God placed them in human nature, but the inherited sin of Adam prevents them from performing their proper functions.   Holy Baptism awakens their natural energies, and thereafter the saving and sanctifying liturgical and moral life of the Church, if undertaken consciously, with the fear of God, develops them.  In the saints, we see them developed to the highest degree. 

Conscience speaks first: It is the voice of God telling us what is right and what is wrong. Our gnomic will, the darkened, opinionated, and unsteady will we have inherited from our First Parents because of the Fall, may choose to obey or not obey this voice. Humanistic thinking mistakenly identifies this will as “free will,” but in fact this fallen will both frees and enslaves itself by turns, depending on its choice of good or evil. We must force it always to obey God and thereby recover our natural, Edenic will, which always chooses according to conscience and is thus the only truly free will.

Heeding the voice of conscience energizes man’s potential for the fear of God:  As he trains his will to obey the innate Law of right and wrong, man naturally begins to fall down before the Lawgiver in reverent awe, humbly acknowledging God’s absolute right to command and to judge him, fearing lest he should displease his Creator and desiring to offer Him the un-hypocritical worship possible only when he has a clean conscience.

Living according to conscience in holy fear, man begins to feel his thirst for God, that is, he begins to energize his potential not only to know and obey God, but to love Him, to be united to Him, to have Him dwelling within. At this point, the spiritual life properly speaking can begin, characterized by attentive, regular prayer and by the regular reception of Holy Communion for which he has actively and attentively prepared under the Church’s direction. This spiritual life in turn becomes a foretaste of Paradise, and the Christian acquires a firm hope of salvation, disposing himself to receive the grace of persevering in faith and repentance to his last breath.

Sadly, these instinctual powers – conscience, fear of God, thirst for God – planted in each man by the Creator and restored through Holy Baptism, find themselves starved, crushed, distorted, and eventually ignored in the life of of those Orthodox Christians who choose to live in such a way that conscious moral struggle, daily repentance, and attentive prayer are foreign to them.  Their way of life is indistinguishable from that of the mainstream society around them, and their Orthodoxy is purely an external identification.  This may be true even if they go to church regularly and take part in the external functions of parish life. 

Moreover, today we live in an age of unprecedented apostasy by the historical Church hierarchies, so that it is likely that only a small percentage of those identified outwardly as Orthodox Christians actually possess – ontologically, that is, and not only notionally – the true Faith, are in union with a valid hierarchy, and have access to valid Holy Mysteries.   And within that small remnant, the True Orthodox, how many of us really grasp the enormity of the situation we are facing and the radical response that this requires?   Is it not true that many of us, including those who speak freely and often about the apocalyptic character of current events, nevertheless consistently make choices that ensnare them in distraction and worries, a habit that  precludes a repentant life of conscience, fear of God, and thirst for God?  

It is this situation within the historical Church bodies that has allowed the current apocalyptic scenario to come about. The outward forces visible and invisible, the dark powers of evil that we love to blame, as real as they are, constitute in fact mere circumstances allowed by God to test us, fully in accord with His all-wise providence and His sovereign will. 

Thoughts such as these should indeed make us sober, but they should not make us sad, for God is sovereign, the Master over all things. And, what is more, He is paying attention to each of us personally, He desires our salvation infinitely more than we do, and He is waiting to give us His all-powerful help in time of need.  Let us be glad then and fear not. The duty is ours; the consequences are God’s. Let us heed the voice of conscience, live in holy fear, and desire to love God with all our hearts. He will take care of the rest.

For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God? And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear? Wherefore let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator. – I Peter 4: 17-19

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Real courage

Thursday of the Sixth Week of Matthew

You can listen to an audio podcast of this commentary at https://www.spreaker.com/user/youngfaithradio/matt6th

In today’s Gospel reading, the Lord Jesus teaches the disciples that He permits the existence and intermingling of both the good and the evil during our earthly life, and how this relates to the Dread Judgment:

At that time, Jesus sent the multitude away, and went into the house: and his disciples came unto him, saying, Declare unto us the parable of the tares of the field. He answered and said unto them, He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man; The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one; The enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels. As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world. The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear. – Matthew 13:36-43

St. Theophan the Recluse takes this occasion to explain the role of evil in the spiritual life of the faithful:

…Thus will be carried out the division of good and evil, light and darkness. Now is the period of time in which they are mixed. It pleased the Lord to arrange that the freedom of creatures should grow and be strengthened in good through the struggle against evil. Evil is allowed, both in connection with inward freedom and outside of a person. It does not determine anything, it only tempts. One who feels a temptation must not fall, but enter into battle. He who conquers is freed from one temptation, and advances forward and upward to find a new temptation there – and so on, until the end of his life. Oh, when will we comprehend the significance of the evil which tempts us, so that we might arrange our lives according to this understanding? The strugglers are finally crowned, and pass on to the next life, where there are neither sicknesses nor sorrows, and where they become inwardly pure like angels of God, free from the sting of tempting inclinations and thoughts. This is how the triumph of light and good is being prepared, and it will be revealed in all of its glory on the last day of the world. – Thoughts for Each Day of the Year, p. 145

One of the stock arguments of atheists is the so-called problem of evil: “How can a good and all-powerful God allow evil? Either He is good but not all-powerful and therefore cannot prevent evil, or He is all-powerful but evil, since He causes or allows evil to exist.” There are several things wrong with this argument, but let us make one thing clear: Only the Christian understanding of evil allows for man’s moral freedom, for man to be a spiritual and free being capable of loving God.   No other explanation makes room for this. God does not will evil, but He allows it, so that man may choose freely to obey Him or not, and so that the existence of evil may provide the arena for man’s spiritual struggle; truly do the Fathers say that without temptations no one would be saved.  Anyone who has engaged in conscious spiritual life in an Orthodox setting understands this immediately.

Our intellects say, “Yes, now that someone has explained this to us, it is quite reasonable,” but we initially received this lofty understanding of man’s vocation through divine revelation, by grace, not by our own mental efforts. We realize that, being of divine origin, this truth is of course incomparably superior to the explanations that the fallen mind of man has created. We perceive that it gives us both peace of soul and the incentive to fight evil and to do good, and therefore not only is it intellectually satisfying but of the highest therapeutic and moral value.   Experiencing this, we ask, “Why would anyone not want to believe in the Faith?”

The answer, of course, is pride of mind, pride of will, and pride of sensuality: Fallen man wants to create his own reality, fallen man wants to disobey God’s law, and fallen man wants to indulge his passions. Even so, man has always wanted to explain evil, and therefore the finite and fallen intellect of man has constructed three basic explanations of evil: either good and evil are illusions because all distinctions are illusions, or all outcomes are determined and you have no freedom, or everything is matter, and so God, soul, mind, and will do not exist.

The Eastern religions – Hinduism, Buddhism, and their variants – say that this world is an illusion, that evil is being trapped in the illusory, material world due to some cosmic accident no one can explain, and that you need to go through various incarnations to get rid of your materiality, in order to realize that even your personal existence and the existence of a personal God are illusions (or, conversely, that you are God, which amounts to the same thing), and that once you get rid of all mental distinctions, you will be absorbed into the World Soul, totally lose your individual existence, and feel no pain. One is eerily reminded of the epitaph of the apostate Greek novelist, Nikos Kazantzakis, who claimed to have no religion at all: “I hope for nothing. I fear nothing. I am free.”

Islam – and, to the extent that they are infected by determinism, schools of Roman Catholic and Protestant thought – say that only God’s will is operative in the universe, that He is not interested in explaining anything to us, that what constitutes good and evil is not even a question open to rational discourse, and that your job is to submit without question or thought to the great Divine Steamroller, Allah, or whatever you want to call it.   Admit His total sovereignty, do not question anything, and jump onto this cosmic juggernaut before it runs over you.   On Judgment Day, all you can do is hope for the best, because you have no idea whatsoever if you have pleased the GUI (the Great Ultimate It) or not.

Materialism says that everything we experience is an accidental concourse of material stuff, and therefore nothing means anything. Eat, drink, and be merry, or seek total power over others for the thrill of it, or commit suicide, or whatever. Since mind does not exist, who cares what good or evil are, anyway, or who could offer a meaningful definition, since what the neurons in your brain invent is an accident, and what the neurons in my brain invent is another accident, and the two do not have anything to do with each other, do they?

What all three explanations have in common, ultimately, is nihilism, “nothing-ism.”   At root, all three deny Who God is, deny who man is, and deny the love of God for man.   All three, at root, are the fruit of pride, of Satan’s rebellion against the All-Good and All-Loving God Who created him, the fruit of Satan’s choice to “reign in hell rather than to serve in heaven.”   To adopt any of these three views and really live by it is to consign oneself to hell in this life, much less the next. Yet people fall very easily into these views, and only with great difficulty, and by God’s grace, do they accept the Truth. Without the miracle of grace, humankind cannot bear too much reality.

The Orthodox Church teaches us the truth, which is that God created man out of love and for love, so that man could freely choose to love God and do His holy will.   Advancing step by step from the fear of punishment to the desire for heavenly rewards to the love of God for His own sake, and thereby attaining the freedom of divine friendship, a man becomes a “god by grace,” and in the process, far from being absorbed into the Cosmic One, and far from being the helpless pawn of an inscrutable fate, he becomes more, and more truly, himself. To accomplish this, however, we must be courageous and full of hope in God’s mercy; we must open our hearts and throw ourselves into the abyss of His love, trusting Him to catch us.   We have to look evil square in the face and bravely hope in the all-loving and all-wise God, Who cares for us, Who became a man and died for us, and Who rose from the dead, giving us the hope of an everlasting life.

Kazantzakis claimed that he had no fear because he had no hope. This is not courage but the very essence of cowardice. We can choose this way – the way of nihilism – or we can go the path of the saints.   Increasingly it becomes clear, from all that is happening around us, that there is no other choice.

pilgrims walking up a hill to a church in Serbia
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The seed of faith

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Wednesday of the Sixth Week of Matthew

In today’s Gospel reading, the Lord Jesus tells the Parable of the Mustard Seed and the Parable of the Leaven:

The Lord spake this parable: The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field: Which indeed is the least of all seeds: but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof. Another parable spake he unto them; The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened. All these things spake Jesus unto the multitude in parables; and without a parable spake he not unto them: That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world.
Then Jesus sent the multitude away, and went into the house.
 – Matthew 13:31-36

St. Theophan the Recluse, commenting on Our Lord’s words, explains how we can apply the images of the mustard seed and the leaven both to the Church and to our own spiritual lives:

The Kingdom is like a grain of mustard seed and leaven. A small grain of mustard seed grows up into a large bush; leaven penetrates a whole lump of dough and makes it leavened. Here, on the one hand, is an image of the Church, which in the beginning consisted only of the Apostles and a few other people. It then spread and became more numerous, penetrating all of humanity. On the other hand, it is an image of the spiritual life revealed in every person. Its first seed is the intention and determination to be saved through pleasing God in accordance with faith in the Lord and Savior. This determination, no matter how firm, is like a tiny speck. Its movement and strength multiply and mature within its own self, and it begins to penetrate all the powers of the soul – the mind, will, and feelings – then fills them with itself, leavens them according to its spirit, and penetrates the entire constitution of the human nature – body, soul, and spirit – in which it was engendered.  – Thoughts for Each Day of the Year, p. 144

The seed, then, of spiritual life, is the “intention and determination to be saved through pleasing God in accordance with faith in the Lord and Savior.” There are three elements to this: Intention and determination to be saved, pleasing God, and faith.

We can check ourselves every day, and ask ourselves, “Do I intend to be saved, am I determined to be saved?” It cannot be a vague wish, as we would vaguely wish for someone to hand us a million dollars, though we neither think it likely nor make any efforts towards obtaining our wish. We have to intend it, choose it, set out decisively to get it, with determination. When our intention becomes unsteady or our determination weakens, we must ask the Lord to clarify our minds and strengthen our wills.

Every day we should ask ourselves, “Do I desire to please God?” and we should ask the Lord to strengthen this desire in us. It is impossible to overestimate the power of the desire to please God, to do His holy will.   Once someone is irrevocably committed to the doing of God’s will, he will receive very great power from God to do so.   The Lord will strengthen his will, and he will experience the truth of the words that with God nothing is impossible.

“Very well,” you may say, “I do intend and I do will, but weakly, and sometimes it seems like such a dry experience.  Often I approach it as though it were a Stoic self-improvement program.”  At this point we must recall the third element in the “program” St. Theophan outlines:  Faith.   We must beg with tears for Faith, which, on our part, is the voluntary assent of the mind to divine Truth, but is also, on God’s part, a free gift of His grace, without which the act of Faith on our part is impossible.

When our will grows weak and the clarity of our intention grows blurry, let us open the Holy Gospel and start reading slowly aloud.  Let us read the Life of a saint.  Let us kneel before the holy icons and carefully, slowly, read the Akathist to Our Sweetest Lord Jesus Christ or His Most Pure Mother.  Let us carefully confess and prepare for Holy Communion.  The sweetness of His love, the vision of His divine beauty, shall once again captivate our hearts, and we will remember why we made our original act of will to be saved, and that will shall grow strong again.  We will remember the end of Faith, which is Charity – Divine Love – and, unable to forget the Beauty of that Divine Love, we will open our hearts to Faith, and the Hope born of courage will be not barren but rather give birth to many fruitful acts of the will to do good.

O Lord, Who desirest our salvation, make to grow the seed of Faith in our hearts, give us firm Hope in our salvation, and deprive us not of the ultimate vision of Love, the beauty of Thy countenance forever. Amen.

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The granary of the heart

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Tuesday of the Sixth Week of Matthew

In today’s Gospel, the Lord instructs the disciples on two levels: How to understand heresies and schisms in the Church, and how to understand the warfare between good and evil in the heart.

Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field: But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way.
But when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also. So the servants of the householder came and said unto him, Sir, didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? from whence then hath it tares? He said unto them, An enemy hath done this. The servants said unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up? But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn.
 – Matthew 13: 24-30

St. Theophan the Recluse guides us into an understanding of the Lord’s words as relating to the Church and as relating to our inner life:

The good seed was sown, but the enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat. The tares in the Church are heresies and schisms, while in each of us they are bad thoughts, feelings, desires, and passions. A person accepts the good seed of the word of God, decides to live in a holy way, and begins to live in this way. When such a person falls asleep, that is, when his attention toward himself weakens, then the enemy of salvation comes and places evil ideas in him which, if not rejected at the start, ripen into desires and dispositions, introducing their own spheres of activity, which mix themselves in with good works, feelings, and thoughts. In this way, both remain together until the harvest. This harvest is repentance. The Lord sends His angels – a feeling of contrition and the fear of God – and they come in like a sickle, then burn up all the tares in the fire of painful self-condemnation. Pure wheat remains in the granary of the heart, to the joy of man, the angels, and the Most Good God worshiped in Trinity. – Thoughts for Each Day of the Year, pp. 143-144.

In the Church, the “tares” (weeds) are heresies and schisms. Today clever people have fabricated a novel teaching that the Lord’s command not to tear up the weeds means that we are not allowed to separate from the heretics, and therefore the orthodox who separate from bishops because they are heretics thereby become schismatics, because (according to this novel idea) heretics remain in the Church, like weeds among the wheat, until the Dread Judgment, and the heresy of a bishop – contrary to the teaching of all the Fathers – is a “private” sin that only affects his soul, not the souls of his flock. Therefore (according to this idea), it is required to commemorate and remain in communion with heretics in order to remain in the Church: one must continue indefinitely in communion with heretics, commemorating unrepentant heretical bishops, obeying them, and receiving what purport to be sacraments from them, perhaps until the end of time. This error is ridiculous, of course, despite the fact that recent much-adored pseudo-saints of official Orthodoxy have taught it to their deluded disciples, trapping them in heresy while they imagine that they are preserved from all harm because their elder’s epitrachelion magically preserved them from the apostasy of the bishops whose names they continue to invoke at the Liturgies they serve on antimensia “consecrated” by these heretics. In addition to the abundant historical evidence against this error, St. John Chrysostom also corrects those who teach it in his 46th Homily on Matthew, which you can read online here, http://newadvent.org/fathers/200146.htm, and which you can listen to here, https://archive.org/details/parables_jesus_christ_commentary_gospel_matthew_1511_librivox/parables_03_chrysostom_128kb.mp3

The great Chrysostom here relates not only his own teaching but also the consensus of the Fathers: The Lord in this passage is not forbidding us to separate from the heretics; He is not forbidding us even from actively opposing them with non-lethal, legal methods of coercion if necessary (and if possible – not likely nowadays!). He is simply saying, “Do not shed their blood; do not slay them.”

St. Theophan, in his commentary on this passage, however, spends only one sentence – less than one sentence, only one clause – on this ecclesiological theme, which he mentions in passing. His chief topic, as usual, is the spiritual life of the Christian soul. The wheat consists of our good works, feelings, and thoughts, and the tares are our bad thoughts, feelings, desires, and passions. Just as, at the end of the world, the Lord will send His angels to gather His enemies and burn them, so now, in this life, He sends His messengers – contrition and the fear of God – to burn up our evil inclinations and gather our spiritual goods – our good thoughts and habits of mind and action, our virtues – into the barn of the heart, where they are kept safe by grace and induct us into the Heavenly Kingdom, which we begin to experience by anticipation even here on earth.

St. Isaac the Syrian also connects our salvation today, in the heart, with our eternal salvation in the Kingdom that Is To Come:

…Be a persecutor of yourself, and your enemy will be driven from your proximity. Be peaceful within yourself, and heaven and earth will be at peace with you. Be diligent to enter into the treasury that is within you, and you will see the treasury of Heaven: for these are one and the same, and with one entry you will behold them both. The ladder of the Kingdom is within you, hidden in your soul. Plunge deeply within yourself, away from sin, and there you will find steps by which you will be able to ascend. – The Ascetical Homilies of St. Isaac the Syrian, Homily 2

Paradise and hell, then, both begin in this life. Let us beg the Lord for His good messengers – contrition and the fear of God – to burn up our sins and passions, and to collect our scattered thoughts into one thought – the Name of Jesus – concentrated in the granary of the heart. There we will have Paradise, both in this life and in the Age to Come.

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Being relatives to the Lord

Thursday of the Fifth Week of Matthew

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In today’s Gospel reading, the Lord Jesus reminds us to realize who our true relatives are:

At that time, while Jesus yet talked to the people, behold, his mother and his brethren stood without, desiring to speak with him. Then one said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to speak with thee. But he answered and said unto him that told him, Who is my mother? and who are my brethren? And he stretched forth his hand toward his disciples, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.The same day went Jesus out of the house, and sat by the sea side. And great multitudes were gathered together unto him, so that he went into a ship, and sat; and the whole multitude stood on the shore. And he spake many things unto them in parables. – Matthew 12:46-13:3

St. Theophan the Recluse, commenting on Our Lord’s words, discusses the meaning of spiritual kinship:

“For whosoever shall do the will of My Father Who is in heaven, the same is My brother, and sister, and mother (Matt. 12:50).”  By this the Lord gives us to understand that the spiritual kinship which He came to plant and raise up on the earth is not the same as fleshly kinship; although in the form of its relationships, the spiritual is identical to the fleshly.  The spiritual also contains fathers and mothers – they are those who give birth to people with the word of truth, or the Gospel, as the Apostle Paul says.  And it contains also brothers and sisters – those who are born spiritually from the same person and grow in one spirit.  The bond between [spiritual] relatives is founded on the action of grace.  it is not external, not superficial, but it is as deep and alive as the fleshly bond, only it has its place in another, much higher and more important sphere.  This is why it predominates over the fleshly and, when necessary, offers the fleshly as a sacrifice to its spiritual interests without regret, in full certainty that this sacrifice is pleasing to God and is required by Him.  – Thoughts for Each Day of the Year, p. 140

Today, as we know, the natural, or traditional, human family is under attack as never before in “mainstream” society, to the point at which it is the exception rather than the rule.  To see a happy family of faithful, once-married, loving father (a man) and obedient mother (a woman) with many happy, healthy children,  surrounded by an extended family of caring grandparents and other relatives – though such families predominated in our society within living memory – is like encountering a vision from a lost world.   When the poor slaves (or, rather, lab rats) of the present day dystopia – brainwashed, addicted, self-mutilated, fornicating, aborting, sodomizing, having children out of wedlock with various “partners,” experimenting with their “identity,” hooked on demonic music and demonic video, feminized men and masculinized women mentally and morally paralyzed by the basest passions and near-complete ignorance – encounter such a vision, they hardly know what they are looking at; they do not know where to place it in their understanding of reality.  The age-old normal has become unfamiliar, even disturbing.

Living as we are surrounded by such a nightmare, it may seem rather hard to us for the Lord and His saints to call us not only to live as traditional families but furthermore to surpass even the natural bonds of family and place greater value on our spiritual relationships.  The truth of the matter, however, is that until we place our natural families in right order to our spiritual obligations and spiritual relationships, the natural family will continue to be lost. As Pushkin once said, if God be not in first place, He shall consent to be in no place.  If we do not subordinate even our traditional, natural, and praiseworthy earthly relationships to His holy will and holy plan for man, God will not hang around as an accessory, a deus ex machina to swoop in and conveniently fix the messes that we make, in order for us to live nice worldly lives according to the chimerical image of a “wholesome” 1950s TV show.

Where do we start? Let Orthodox people who are married and have children construct their family life on the old pattern, as best they can:  Daily family prayer, family meals, faithful Church attendance Saturday night and Sunday morning, and feast days as much as possible.  Let father and mother with their children fast according to the Church’s laws, and practice frequent confession and Holy Communion. Let families prioritize according to the Gospel:  Better to be poor and spend more time at Church and with your children, than for mother and father both to work 60 hours per week in order to afford things people do not need nor until recently even imagined that they needed.  Turn off the media input and cut out all the extraneous “activities,” and make your home a happy, quiet, ordered holy place.

Let the single people earnestly seek God’s holy will for their lives and use their free time to serve the Church. Are they being called to the monastic life?   The Lord will show them the way.  Are they being called to marriage? The Lord knows how hard it is to find a spouse nowadays:  He would not have put them in the situation in which they find themselves if it were not for their salvation.  The main thing is to remain courageous and full of hope, based on faith.

All of the above, though it is actually just a “baseline,” a starting point, may seem too much to most of us, surrounded by circumstances that seem to entrap us in a vicious cycle of worldly cares and compromised principles.  But our situation is not hopeless, not at all.  For – and here is the Good News – the Orthodox Faith is not a self-help program by which we pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps.  It is the power of God working in our lives, based on the confession of the True Faith.  This power, coming by grace, is experienced directly when we put spiritual things first.  Has the Church failed us? Is it not so, rather, that we have failed Her?

When the Lord called us to “…be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect,” He meant it.  We are failing all the time, and therefore we must live in repentance.  Yes, the force of circumstances may be such that normal, much less spiritual, life seems unattainable at times.  But let us, rather than living in alternating denial and rage, look at our circumstances straight in the eye, always tell the truth to ourselves and to others, and weep for our sins and the sins of the whole world! Let us constantly sorrow and grieve over so many souls being lost, and pray more earnestly, more energetically, more faithfully, with tears, to be delivered from the traps that surround us!   “Taste and see that the Lord is good.”  He will hear our prayer, and He will deliver us.

In addition to, or, rather, as the only effective setting for, our own life of prayerful repentance and our own domestic discipline, we have the life of the Church!  St. Theophan, in the passage above, speaks movingly of that special bond felt among spiritual siblings, the faithful who are born of the same spiritual father or mother.  This is seen most clearly in the circles of the pious faithful who have been given new birth by a truly God-inspired monastic elder or eldress; how they see each other with new, spiritual eyes, and cherish each other.  They experience family at a whole new level, and yet – if the elder be genuine and not a cult leader – this new experience transfigures and empowers the domestic church life of their natural families and does not denigrate it.  Truly, as St. John of the Ladder writes:  God is light to the angels, angels are a light to monks, and monks are a light to men.

Many of us – most of us – however, especially in the diaspora, do not have access to such a monastic figure.  We trust, however, in the grace that is in the Church.  If our parish priest is pious and God-fearing, if he preaches Orthodoxy and ministers the Holy Mysteries with godly fear, if he patiently hears our confessions and gives us traditional advice based on the Fathers, we find new birth through him, in virtue of his office, which is from God and not from man. Increasingly we need for our scattered parishes to be true spiritual families, in which the parishioners strive spiritually together, loving and helping each other.  The system under which the various parish churches are viewed only as buildings (albeit holy buildings) among which unaffiliated, uncommitted, and generally unsupportive Christians – whatever their outward show of piety – simply circulate to “light their candle,” and in which the clergy are merely cultic functionaries dispensing services to “customers” on demand no longer works (if it ever really worked!).  Let us commit to our parish churches as our true families, love and respect our priests as fathers in Christ, and help one another!

Finally, we must speak of the role of the godparents.  Time is long past when the godparent relationship may be allowed simply as a social tie ritualistically sealed by an obligatory baptism service grinned and giggled through as a sentimental cute-baby event. Sacramental kinship that is exploited to cement merely worldly relationships is not only less than what it should be, but is positively displeasing to God, as being a perversion of that which is holy.   Every prospective godfather or godmother must put spiritual things first, accept to baptize a child (or adult!) as a sacred duty, and do his best to pray for, encourage, enlighten, and edify his godchild with all fear of God and love.   If this is in place, then the social side – financial help, companionship, etc. – will flow naturally from this, with discretion. How delightful for the soul of a child, when, in addition to his natural father and mother, he has godparents whose pious example and wise words elevate his innocent soul!    All the earthly helps they give – presents, outings, etc. – are transfigured by Faith.  This is a taste, for the child, of Paradise on earth.

When all is submitted to the hierarchy of goods ordained by God, all is well.  Let us take steps today, making a short list of those behaviors we do have control over and can change, and pray earnestly to the Lord to enlighten us regarding our spiritual families and our earthly families, that we may see all things in light of the Gospel, set good priorities, and experience the power of grace.

God is with us.

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I will give you rest

You can listen to an audio podcast of this post at https://www.spreaker.com/user/youngfaithradio/matt4th

Thursday of the Fourth Week of Matthew 

In today’s Gospel, the Lord invites us to cast off the heavy burden of sin and take up the light yoke of His commandments: 

The Lord said, All things are delivered unto me of my Father: and no man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him. Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. – Matthew 11:27-30

St. Theophan the Recluse describes how this change comes about in the heart of a repentant sinner: 

The Lord said, “Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” O divine, O dear, O sweetest voice of Thine! Let us all follow the Lord Who calls us! But first we must feel something difficult and burdensome for us. We must feel that we have many sins, and that these sins are grave. From this feeling is born the need to seek relief. Faith will then show us that our only refuge is in the Lord and Saviour, and our steps will direct themselves toward Him. A soul desiring to be saved from sins knows what to say to the Lord: “Take my heavy, sinful burden from me; and I will take on Thy easy yoke.” And it happens like this: the Lord forgives the sins, and the soul begins to walk in His commandments. The commandments are the yoke, and sins are the burden. But comparing the two, the soul finds that the yoke of the commandments is light as a feather, while the burden of sins is heavy as a mountain. Let us not fear readily accepting the Lord’s easy yoke and His light burden. In no other way can we find rest unto our souls. – Thoughts for Each Day of the Year, p. 135 

Here the saint has given us a step by step explanation of how the good change from walking on the path of perdition to walking on the path of salvation takes place in the soul:  

1. We must feel the burden of our sins, that they are many and are grave. 

2. From this feeling is born the need to seek relief. 

3.    Faith shows us that our only refuge is in the Lord and Savior. 

4. Our steps will direct themselves toward Him, and the soul knows what to say: Take my sins from me, and I will take on the yoke of Thy commandments!  

5. The Lord forgives the sins, and the soul begins to walk in His commandments.  

St. Theophan, of course, was writing for a readership of Orthodox Christians baptized in infancy, who were struggling with the sins that they committed after Baptism.  But the process of repentance is the same, whether one is still in need of the Mystery of Holy Baptism or one is a baptized Christian who needs the second Baptism of the tears of repentance.  And the process is the same for every human soul, for every soul needs Christ for relief from the burden of sin; every soul needs to take upon itself the light yoke of God’s commandments and to find salvation through Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as the only refuge of salvation. 

Not every human soul, however, responds to God’s call to Faith in the same way.  There is the worldly mind, the mind of unbelief, and there is the otherworldly mind, the mind of Faith.   Let us see how these two different minds work at each step of this five step process that St. Theophan has described:  

1.  Every human being feels the pain of bearing the burden of sin, but the worldly mind feels it only unconsciously or, when aware of it, ascribes it to something other than sin; it does not want to talk about sin.    The mind of Faith, on the other hand, says, “Yes, I have sinned; I see that my pain comes from my own choice, and that the only real evil for me is my own sin.  Nothing need separate me from God, if only I can repent!”  

2.  Every human being seeks relief from this pain of sin. But how the worldly mind seeks relief and how the mind of Faith seeks relief are two different things, and between them is a great chasm.  One can only go one way or the other. 

3.  The worldly mind seeks relief in worldly remedies, some that are noble or, for most people, some relief that is ignoble:  Being a do-gooder or being an evildoer;  being a good citizen or being a criminal; taking up some non-Christian ascetic practice like vegetarianism or being a glutton and a drunkard; being a philanthropist or being a miser – either way the result is the same, which is that the worldly relief does not heal the soul but rather only anesthetizes the soul from the pain of the consciousness of sin and the need for humility and repentance.   The mind of Faith, on the other hand, understands that all of these remedies are useless; the soul understands that it can find relief only in Christ, for all human efforts are worthless apart from faith in Christ.  So the mind and the will say, “Yes, I assent to the truths of the Faith,” and God gives the grace of Faith.  

4.  The worldly soul directs its steps on the path of pride, whether according to the higher or lower passions – the result is the same.  If the worldly person delights in the acts of goodness, he says, “I will follow the moral law my own way; one need not believe in this or that religion, but only be a good person.”  If the worldly person delights in the acts of evil, he simply indulges his passions.  But both are following the demonic mind, the mind of pride and self-chosen damnation, and the result is the same.  The former person may find an even greater punishment than the latter, for his pride may have been increased more by his good behavior than the other’s by his bad behavior.   The soul that lives according to Faith in Christ, on the other hand, directs its steps on the path of humility.  He knows that only the Lord Jesus Christ can take away his sins; his own behavior, unaided by Faith and Grace, cannot do this, no matter how hard he tries.  He takes up the yoke not of any commandments, not of some universal moral law or humanistic false virtue,  but rather he takes up consciously,  specifically, and explicitly the yoke of Christ’s commandments in the Gospel, and the experience of his constant inability to rise to the perfection of the Gospel inspires in him humility and complete dependence on grace.   This is why the yoke is light:  because at some point we realize we cannot carry it, and the Lord Who laid this yoke on us also carries it for us!  

5. The person who has the mind of the world finds a pseudo-salvation through temporary worldly happiness, whether of the higher or lower kind.   But his sins are not forgiven, because he has not come to Faith and repentance; he still carries the burden of his sins, because he has not given it to Christ in return for the light yoke of repentance.   The person with the mind of Faith finds forgiveness and salvation.   His soul is as light as a feather, for its burden – the burden of sin, the devil, death, and hell –  has been taken away and replaced by the light yoke of Christ, Who has already carried for us His Cross, which takes away all our sins.  

Dear Orthodox Christians, may we, every day, cast aside our passions and sins, and the dark thoughts that torment us, seeking not to numb our souls with the distractions and false promises of this world but rather to face the pain of our sins consciously and seek the remedy where it is to be found, in the tears of repentance to the Lord, Who takes from us the heavy yoke of sin and grants our souls feeling and light, as we rest in the unassailable refuge, in the shadow of His wings. 

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Orthodox Survival Course Class 71: Two Topics

Class 71: Two Topics – 1. Orthodoxy and America; 2. Male and Female Created He Them, Continued

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Thanks and Request for Donations

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Introduction – 

In our two recent talks on the war in the Ukraine, as in our 2020 talk on the great Corona virus delusion, we attempted to use our Orthodox lens, our Orthodox philosophy of history,  to examine a current event.  In this talk, we shall go back in the other direction:  We shall use a current event as motivation to go back and work some more on sharpening that Orthodox lens in regards to two topics:  a new topic, which is America and its place in our Orthodox history, and a previous topic – God’s creation of the two sexes, male and female, and the purposes for which He created them.  

As we speak in the last week of (new style) June of 2022, we have, just a few days ago, received the news of a welcome decision of the Supreme Court of the United States, which overturned the decision of a previous Supreme Court that purported to discern a “right” possessed by parents and physicians to commit the crime and sin of infanticide in the form of abortion, a right that was somehow mysteriously imbedded in the Constitution of the United States but had previously lain undiscovered by generations of legislators and political philosophers, until the superior wisdom of the sexual revolution liberated the minds of men to discover it.     This decision by itself does not outlaw any abortions – it is a decision on the constitutionality of a law of the State of Mississippi; it is not itself a law for Mississippi or any other state – but it does restore to the several sovereign states that voluntarily compose our federal union their original constitutional right to pass legislation that reflects the religious beliefs of their several peoples. Therefore making and enforcing anti-abortion legislation is once again possible in those states where the people elect representatives that want to do it. 

We know, of course, from our Orthodox point of view, that the unspeakable cataclysm of widespread abortions in our time is in its spiritual essence not simply a legal or political problem, but rather a result of the great apostasy of modern man, his denial of the Law of God and God’s sovereignty over men’s lives.  It is a return to the pagan – i.e., demonic – practice of human sacrifice, and the demons who have been set loose on the world since the removal of “he that restraineth,” – that is, the God-appointed rulers of the former Christendom – incessantly and insatiably demand more and more human blood from their human representatives, the demonized globalist cabal that masquerades as legitimate higher government today, after their overthrow of the God-established order by means of both the violent and the gradual revolutions of the past two centuries.   Abortion is the central sacrament of the New World Order. 

In the midst of this great apostasy, victories for God’s Law, such as the Supreme Court decision of 11/24 June 2022, are a sign of God’s unbroken sovereignty over human affairs, a reminder that all the angels, good and bad, and all men, both the good and the evil, are ultimately held by the unbreakable chains of the will of God and will always, ultimately, even if unwillingly or unknowingly, act to fulfill His divine providence and His will for our salvation. And, as Metropolitan Demetrius, ruling hierarch of our Metropolis of America of the Genuine Orthodox Christians, teaches in his encyclical on this occasion ( see http://orthodoxtruth.org/uncategorized/encyclical-of-metropolitan-demetrius-of-america/), such victories are also a sign that the merciful Lord responds to our repentance with His mercy, and that if we practice thanksgiving to the Giver coupled with further and greater repentance, He will respond with further and greater mercies in the future.  God is over all.

In our talk today, however, we shall not dwell on the details of this Supreme Court decision or spend all of our time on the topic of abortion specifically.   Instead, let us use this occasion to back off and go back.  Back off – that is, not get caught up in the political passions and micro-concerns of the moment, but rather to retreat into looking calmly at the big picture of history and theology that provides us with a framework to understand what is going on around us.  Go back – that is, examine history, both a most recent topic and a most ancient one. Our topic of recent history is the United States of America: We shall strive a little to find an Orthodox way of understanding this attractive but confusing country that God has allowed to influence so much that goes on in the whole world today.  And we shall also go back to the most ancient history – specifically the creation of man and woman – and discuss how the teaching of the Scriptures and the Holy Fathers will help us escape the lies of the sexual revolution that has enslaved the greater part of the human race, producing many and various evils, of which abortion is only one.  

These are both vast subjects, of course, and today we shall cover just a little territory, hoping to continue next time to talk about both.    

I. Orthodoxy and America 

(Prefatory note:  For convenience, I shall use the term “America,” in the popular way, as shorthand to refer specifically to the United States of America. My apologies to our fellow North Americans, the Canadians and Mexicans, and to all of our Central American and South American friends!) 

A)  The U.S.A. and Our Orthodoxy 

By a discussion of the U.S. and Orthodoxy, I do not mean a discussion of the history of the Orthodox jurisdictions here and their boring squabbles over their respective canonical rights to this or that territory, as they fiddle while Rome burns.   As Fr. Seraphim Rose used to say, when asked about the chimerical project of a united Orthodox jurisdiction in America, the problem today is one of bare spiritual survival, the survival of our confession of Faith and our piety, not the outward unity of the episcopacy, which is increasingly in chaos not only in America but also throughout the world.     An outwardly united Church of America would be icing on the cake; right now, we have to save the cake itself!  

What we do mean to discuss are the historical and philosophical roots of the American nation, and to what extent distinctly American ideas and ways of doing things can or cannot accord with our Orthodoxy.  Such a discussion can help not only the Orthodox who live in the United States but also Orthodox everywhere, because American ideas and American culture have by now influenced the entire world.  By listening to the Orthodox who live in America talk about what it means to be Orthodox and American, pious Orthodox faithful in other countries can better evaluate what is good or bad about the American influence in their own nations.  So the two questions are, “How can I, an Orthodox Christian, also be a patriotic American – how do I square my Orthodox Faith with my American identity?” or, for the Orthodox living outside of the United States, including those in the historically Orthodox countries, “What should I accept or reject of the American influence on my country?   What can I learn, both positively and negatively, from the American experience, and apply it to my life as an Orthodox Christian?”  

B) Two Extreme Opinions – America: Love It or Hate It! 

The Orthodox faithful in the United States who take the time to  think about this subject are torn between two radically conflicting approaches to integrating one’s Orthodoxy with being American.   One approach is to embrace the secularist “American dream” wholeheartedly and  create a new “American Orthodoxy” that accords with the modernist spirit.  It is easy to see how this approach rapidly corrodes and finally denatures Orthodoxy to the point of its being utterly devoid of spiritual power, neither saving nor sanctifying, as we see in the typical parish of the new calendar Greek Archdiocese of America, for example, whose ethos is only superficially distinguished from that of the mainline liberal Protestant denominations by disguising the emptiness of the parish’s spiritual life with the morally un-challenging, “fun” secondary aspects of Greek culture such as folk dancing and ethnic food.  

The opposite approach, certainly not as spiritually deadly, but also neither accurate nor helpful,  is to denounce everything in American history and American life as being entirely an anti-Christian project of Masonic origins and diabolic purpose from beginning to end, with no redeeming qualities whatsoever.  This approach, however, presents both theoretical and practical difficulties.   The theoretical difficulty lies in the fact that, despite the well-known Masonic influence on our history, nothing as big, as varied, and as complicated as American history can be reduced entirely and with accuracy to Masonic ideology and activities.  Real history, real life, does not work like that.  Reductionism inevitably leads to the over-simplification and distortion of any serious subject relating to human affairs, which are naturally as resistant to comprehensive understanding as the human heart, and naturally as various as human personalities and human associations. 

The practical difficulty for the Orthodox who live in the United States is that they do live here and they have to deal with that somehow, preserving their Faith without compromise and yet simultaneously somehow not hating and resenting the country that feeds them and shelters them, which is a sin, a form of filial impiety.  Furthermore, for the Orthodox faithful whose families have lived here for several or perhaps even many generations  – both the “cradle” Eastern European and Middle Eastern Orthodox whose families have now lived here for several generations, as well as the new converts to the Faith whose ancestors came to the New World from the British Isles or from Western Europe a long time ago –  this country is not merely a temporary refuge from persecution or some foreign and fundamentally unloved place they took advantage of simply to make money while remaining strangers to the land that feeds them.   This country, the United States, is the only country they have, their native land, their patria.  Their families have lived here for awhile now.  They have put down roots.  It is here that they have built their homes, made their fortunes, reared their children, and buried their dead.  They are Americans. And since this is their country, and since Christians have a moral duty and a fundamental human need to be patriotic, they have to ask the question:  “In what sense can I be both an Orthodox Christian and a patriotic American?” 

Our primary patriotic duty is, of course, to offer to this country  the inestimable treasure of the Orthodox Faith.  But does America have anything to offer to us, beyond mere material subsistence?  Is the current idiotic, so-called American anti-culture artificially created by the malicious Christ-haters that people the Establishment in New York, Washington D.C., Hollywood, Silicon Valley, and the prestigious universities, and spewed like garbage over the rest of our country and the rest of the world – the anti-culture of money worship, celebrity worship, obsession with sports, Hollywood, Disney, perverted sexuality, rock music, social media addiction, “selfie” photographs, and “just having fun,” the anti-culture of gross materialism and slavery to the base passions – is that all there is to America?  This is certainly the image projected to the rest of the world and embraced by the “normie” American today, the person who accepts and lives by what is now called the “mainstream narrative.”  But is there perhaps something more to this country:  something quiet and good hiding in the corners, something older and deeper, something both real and characteristically American that is compatible with our Faith? 

C) Ideological vs. Organic Society: A Tale of Two Americas 

One way of approaching the problem of understanding America is to examine the difference between an ideological society and an organic society.  Let’s start there.  From the very beginning of our country, there has been, so to speak, “A Tale of Two Americas,” America as an ideology on the one hand and America as a real place with real people with a real history on the other hand.  

An ideology is a rigid system of artificially connected abstract ideas, a Procrustean bed into which the ideologue forces his understanding of all human experience by amputating large sections of it.  It is fundamentally reductionistic while being simultaneously ambitious for universal imposition, and it is therefore destabilizing, constantly mutating, and inherently destructive.  If we see America primarily as an “idea,” an “experiment” in an entirely new way of constructing society based on the shadowy abstraction of “equality,” then America is an insubstantial, meaningless thing, a vacuum, a blank slate, a morally indifferent foundation that will tolerate any amount of change and any amount of defilement, upon which fanatic utopians and unscrupulous power mongers can rapidly construct a revolutionary New World without God, dedicated completely to worldly goals and material aggrandizement, inevitably leading to social degeneration and spiritual death.    

An organic society, by contrast,  is one built up slowly and gradually over centuries; it is fundamentally religious and therefore has limited goals deriving from a humble understanding of man’s created and sinful nature. It is the natural fruit of the interaction of Divine Providence with human effort.  It is based not on ideology but on tradition, the accumulated wisdom of the generations.   As an ideological society is inherently unstable, tending to greater and greater inner fragmentation as it paradoxically attempts to enforce by legalized violence greater and greater outward uniformity, an organic society is inherently stable, tending to a natural variety within a natural unity, enforced not by artificial violence but by inherited custom and sentiment.  I hope to demonstrate, in our next talk, that if we look into American history for examples of organic society, we may find, to our surprise and delight, something to inspire us and to inform us, in a way consonant with our Orthodox Faith.  

(I highly recommend a series of articles on Organic Society which you can find here: https://traditioninaction.org/OrganicSociety/000_Index.htm.   The authors of these articles, the late Professor Plinio Correa de Oliveira, and his disciples, write from a traditionalist Roman Catholic viewpoint, but their essential insights on this specific subject are amenable to an Orthodox interpretation. This is not an endorsement, obviously, of all the articles on the website, which is devoted to the cause of pre-Vatican II papism and contains anti-Orthodox polemic.) 

One can, then, understand American history using two different models, the ideological model of revolutionary progressivism and the organic model of inherited traditionalism.   In the progressivist model, America is this brand new thing, something totally new under the sun.  It sprang out of nowhere in the 18th century, when enlightened humanistic idealists finally succeeded in throwing off the shackles of Church, throne, and inherited tradition, and began to build an unprecedented society, superior to all nations in history, based on the abstract idea that all human beings are radically equal and radically autonomous individuals,  and nothing in heaven or on earth may be allowed to impede the autonomous individual’s unending and unlimited pursuit of worldly gain and worldly contentment, as long as he has a fair contractual arrangement with his competitors for the world’s goods that he won’t steal theirs if they don’t steal his.   This was the mainstream model of American self-understanding taught in our schools from the end of the Civil War until the cultural revolution of the 1960s, when it was replaced by the even more secular, more ideological, more radical, and more destructive Marxist model that is, ironically, the complete reverse of progressivist American self-idolatry:  hyper-progressivist self-hatred demanding the complete eradication of our historical identity.   The old progressivism of America as an egalitarian utopia has degenerated logically into the current progressivism of America as a nihilistic nightmare, because egalitarian utopias are not real and can neither be created nor preserved, and being flimsy, unreal, shifting, and shallow, they have no power to protect anyone from criminal oligarchs seeking power for power’s sake.   

The American traditionalist, by contrast, sees our early history, and even the isolated pockets of the “good America” that remain today, as being the story not of an idea, but of a real place with real people, who are the organic products not only of a long history stretching out behind them, but specifically the history of the British and the European Christian peoples.   “Yes,” he says, “ I know that 18th century Enlightenment ideas affected (or, rather, infected!) the founding of the United States and continue even now to distort our American understanding of human beings and human society, but that is not all there is to being American.   Our remarkably stable polity is the organic product of a millennium of the Anglo-Saxon legal tradition, which began when England was Orthodox.   For generations, our nation was not a uniform and unitary society but was in fact a great patchwork of local organic societies that in many places remarkably preserved the faith, language, and customs of their ancestors from Christian Europe.   Our lively traditions of local government and the proliferation of our private associations, marveled at by 19th century European commentators like de Tocqueville, were actually a throwback to medieval society, in contrast to the centralized modern European states who in their rise to power in the 19th century destroyed local languages, customs, and traditions.  The Ten Commandments and the Gospel have exercised just as much influence on who we are as have the murky and destructive tenets of Freemasonry.  If you go beneath the surface and sympathetically examine our history, you will find that there is more to the story of America than you might think!”   

So where do we start in this exploration of the good America, for the benefit of our Orthodox self-understanding in this modern world so influenced by so much that really is or is imagined to be American?   For an accurate understanding, we have to go to the roots of our polity and culture.  We have to start with Orthodox England.  

D) The Nation with an Angelic Vocation 

As we all know, the original United States were formed from the thirteen English colonies on the Atlantic coast, and it was these Englishmen who gave us our political constitution, our original self-understanding, and our common language.   Therefore we Americans, regardless of our ethnic background, must study them in order to understand ourselves. 

We know from Holy Tradition that the isle of Britain received the Gospel in the Apostolic generation, from no less a missionary than St. Joseph of Arimathea, along with St. Aristobulus the Apostle.   In other words, the Orthodox Church in Britain, though its existence was interrupted for a millennium, is just as old as the great Orthodox Churches of the Mediterranean world, and far older than important national churches such as the Russian and Serbian. At the time of its founding, its people were Britons, a Celtic people related to today’s Welsh, Irish, and highland Scots, but they were in the process of being Romanized. Today their descendants live in Wales and in Brittany on the coast of France, because the Old English came from Germany after the Roman legions were withdrawn, and they drove the Romano-Britons out of the part of the British island that we now call England. 

During the fifth and sixth centuries, barbarians from the north of Germany – the Angles, Saxons, Jutes, and Frisians – sailed over to Britain and gradually conquered that part of the island that we call England, driving the provincial Roman Christians into the borderlands and setting up their own pagan societies. One of these groups, the Angles, eventually gave their name to all of them: thus “England” and “the English.” Now and then a Roman nobleman (like King Arthur, if he really existed) would give them a beating and win the Romano-British Christians a breathing space, but by the year 600 AD these pagan Germanic people had thoroughly taken over. They called the Roman provincials they had conquered wealas – “foreigners” – thus our modern words “Wales” and the “Welsh.” (Thus also, strangely enough, “Wallachia” and “Vlach,” because the Slavs who invaded the Roman Empire in the eastern half of the Danube region had borrowed the same word from the Germans to apply to the earlier Roman population. On a personal note, I am happy to say that I am partially descended from Welsh people, and therefore my Romanian friends will be happy to know that I am, at least partially, a Vlach!).

Who, then, made these pagan English into Christians?   It was not the Romano-British Christians, who, sadly, simply hated the English and would not share their Faith with them.  It was other Romans that did it, Romans from Old Rome herself, directed by no less a person than St. Gregory the Great (whom the Eastern Church calls “the Dialogist”), Pope of Rome,  who reposed in the year 604 AD.   Some years before he became pope, St. Gregory was walking through the slave market in Rome, and he saw some handsome Old English youths up for sale.   He asked his companion, “Of what race are these men?” Upon hearing that they were Angli (Angles, i.e., English), the saint, struck by their innocent faces and noble bearing, replied, “Call them, rather, angeli (angels),” and he resolved that one day he would send missionaries to England to convert their nation.   After he became pope, he sent one of his hieromonks, Augustine, to England with a group of priests and monks, to carry out this resolve.   They landed at Canterbury in Kent on the east coast of Britain in 597, and they converted the local king, Ethelbert. Augustine became St. Augustine, the first Archbishop of Canterbury, and thus began a new Orthodox local Church, not the British Church, properly speaking, but the English Church, which lasted until 1066, when the Norman invaders replaced the old native Faith with the newly re-imagined and re-organized religion of the post-schism papacy. 

These English people who had become Orthodox and who remained Orthodox for hundreds of years produced many saints along with a vigorous and colorful, distinctively English national Christian culture.  You can read about them, first of all, in the great Ecclesiastical History of the English People by St. Bede the Venerable, which is both edifying spiritual reading and a fascinating account of an exciting and tumultuous national history.  Among our Anglophone Orthodox contemporaries, Dr. Vladimir Moss and Fr. Andrew Phillips have given us valuable material on the Old English from the Orthodox point of view (search Dr. Moss’s site at https://www.orthodoxchristianbooks.com/   and Fr. Andrew’s site at http://www.orthodoxengland.org.uk/hp.php).  Fr. James Thornton, also, in his invaluable compendium entitled Pious Kings and Right Believing Queens, provides us with the names and short Lives of a great number of sainted royal and noble English rulers, abbots, and abbesses.   Old England breathes the life-giving fragrance of Orthodoxy.  Taste and see! 

We shall leave to our next class an examination of the legacy of Orthodox England as it endures even to our time in those things that are good about the laws, government, and culture of the United States.    Until then, I leave you with a sympathetic and lively insight into the good side of the old English character, their particular potential for holiness, as expressed by a Brazilian Roman Catholic, Professor Plinio Correa de Oliveira.  Every nation has its good side and its bad side, and, while not imprudently ignoring the bad side, we should always focus hopefully on the good side, on that aspect of the national character that is receptive to God’s grace.  Here is what Professor Plinio says about the English:    

“What is the English vocation? I would say that England was called to realize something of an angelic innocence. In the English soul, there is something so honest and serene that it obliged Protestantism to assume a Catholic over-garment – Anglicanism – otherwise it would not have been swallowed by the people.

“Something that still reflects the good side of the English soul is the English landscapes. In them, it is rare to find an astonishingly beautiful panorama, but all of the English landscapes are filled with charming little gardens and corner spots that are called to be appreciated separately. In those ambiences, there is such freshness and such richness that only very innocent souls, almost angelic souls, know how to admire them properly.

“Here is a bridge with a cluster of ducks swimming under it; over there is a mossy stone in the water with small blue flowers; further down the way an ivy climbing a wall is worthy of a painting. Or perhaps a tragic wind blows away the fog to reveal the tower of a castle. It is through flashes like these that we can reconstitute the innocence and purity that the English are called to have when they are faithful. This angelic innocence certainly was the substance of the early medieval English spirit which gave many saints to the Church.” – from the article “Vocations of the European Peoples” by Plinio Correa de Oliveira

II. Male and Female Created He Them, continued 

Such a significant event as the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision regarding abortion reminds us to return to a project we began earlier in our course, forming an Orthodox response to the current sexual revolution on the basis of the Church’s teaching regarding the creation of the two sexes, the vocation of consecrated virginity, the divine institution of marriage, and the gift of procreation.  One could suggest that, at this point, it would be helpful to go back to Class 64 and 65 and re-read or re-listen to them, where we covered some basic teachings of the Church on God’s creation of the man and woman, His institution of marriage at the very beginning of the human race, and the monastic vocation.   For us Orthodox Christians, it is always in light of the Church’s teaching that we must understand current “hot button” issues like abortion, so-called gay rights, and so forth.  We must start with imbibing a completely Orthodox understanding before forming opinions on and presuming to argue about the political and legal questions surrounding these problems in contemporary society.  

In light of this fundamental insight, let us try to think in an Orthodox way about the current Pro-Life movement, whose members deserve so much credit for working so hard to reduce and, if possible, eliminate the scourge of abortion in the United States.  This movement is overwhelmingly led and peopled first of all by conservative Roman Catholics, with some help from conservative Protestants.   We Orthodox, of course, are a microscopic minority in this country, and, from the temporal point of view, we can have but little impact on great political and social movements.   We should, of course, be proud of our Orthodox young people who participate in the Pro-Life movement and always encourage them, but we simultaneously and attentively have to evaluate this movement from the Orthodox point of view, lest we insensibly gravitate to an ecumenist mindset.   To fight to save the unborn is to fulfill the Second Great Commandment –  to love our neighbor – but the command to love God is primary, and if we drift into an ecumenist mindset, even for the sake of a real good, uncritically embracing an “ecumenism of the conservatives,” so to speak, we may risk at some point violating the First Great Commandment, and all of our good works will become void of saving power. 

The primary slogan, and primary argument of the pro-life movement is the phrase, “right to life” – there is a national right to life committee, every state has a right to life organization, college campuses have right to life chapters, and so forth.  Within the framework of the 18th century Enlightenment philosophy of the Rights of Man, which indeed does influence the American legal tradition, the “right to life”  is a perfectly legitimate argument against abortion, and given the ever-increasing scientific evidence supporting the indisputable humanity of the unborn child, it is not only legitimate but irrefutable.  

As Christians, however, we should not be concerned so much with our rights as with our responsibilities, our duties, to fulfill the Law of God and to love our neighbor.  We may have to use the “rights” argument for practical reasons, but we must always strive to lead others  -and ourselves! – into a higher understanding.  A mother and father who want to obey God and love their neighbor – or even a mother and father who have their retained basic human instincts! –  would not need to be told that they will “violate the rights” of their child – that closest and dearest neighbor of all! – if they were to murder it!  We should remember that the coercion of human law become necessary only when the universal law of God, planted in every man’s heart at his creation (see Romans 1), is forgotten.  The love of a mother for her child is so fundamental, so instinctive, so essential to her very humanity, her very sense of her own existence and identity, that only a very great moral disorder, a schizophrenic disassociation from her own mind and heart, a very great spiritual delusion on her part and on the part of those influencing her, could bring about the decision to murder her child.  It should sadden us that, in order to argue against abortion in a way that is comprehensible to our contemporaries, the pro-life argument must reduce the relationship of mother to child to a contest of competing rights, as though they were two autonomous individuals with conflicting interests, and the power of the state would have to be brought to bear in order to force a woman not to “violate the rights” of this other, little creature inside of her whom she has been taught – against all reason and all feminine instinct – to regard as an alien adversary taking away her freedom.  Truly, as the Lord foretold, the love of the many has grown cold.   

In our time, it is this great spiritual delusion, this extreme internal moral disorder, this breathtaking coldness of heart, that has necessitated such a low-level, abstract, legalistic, and adversarial argument as “the right to life” to be used as the primary political weapon of the pro-life cause.  Abortion on demand cannot be fully understood when treated simply as an isolated legal or moral problem involving abstractions like human rights.  The scourge of mass abortions is a logical consequence of the catastrophic insanity of the entire sexual revolution, a whole ensemble of evils of which abortion is only one, albeit a most grievous one.  Let us be clear:   What the pro-abortion-“rights” advocates are saying is that they are so addicted to sexual pleasure whenever they want, with whomever they want, as often as they want, and with no consequences, that they are willing to murder their own children in order to have it.   They are willing to perform human sacrifice in order to have license to perform unlimited, irresponsible, and inconsequential carnal acts in any way they please.   This goes far beyond the consideration of abortion as a legal violation of someone else’s rights: it is the very nadir of the annihilation of the spiritual self.   It is lower than bestial; it is demonic.  It is to live one’s life, even now in this world, crawling about the bottomless pit of the hell that is to come.  

Our first response to such a terrible spectacle, then, must be a spiritual response, for we are dealing with an extremely deep spiritual problem.  Our first response must be repentance.  We must weep over our sins and the sins of the whole world, which have brought about this utter degradation of the whole human race, including a critical mass of the historically Orthodox nations.  It should sober us greatly to realize that some of the formerly Orthodox nations are among the leaders in the world in the number of abortions.   This could have occurred only because of a very profound apostasy on the part of the official church hierarchy, whereby the prophetic voice of the Gospel has been silenced, and the flock has become scattered sheep without shepherds.   As part of our own repentance, let us pray for our own chief shepherds to stand strong, and let us pray for this daily! 

As another necessary part of our repentance, in addition to prayer, fasting, confession, acts of charity, and more frequent reception of Holy Communion,  it behooves us to study the Holy Scriptures and the Fathers in order to recover a pure, simple, and straightforward understanding of the divinely revealed teaching of God’s Law regarding purity, marriage, and childbearing, and to recognize in ourselves and then to uproot the false assumptions that we have insensibly imbibed from the pestilential social atmosphere that surrounds us.  In our next class then, we plan to pick up the thread we began in Classes 64 and 65,  and go more deeply into this essential study, in order to to form the background needed to discuss intelligently and piously the various sub-topics related to human sexuality, and not only abortion, which is, after all, only one evil consequence, among many, of the sexual revolution, and cannot be fully understood in isolation. 

I should like to close today with this exhortation from Metropolitan Demetrius, by which he concludes his encyclical on the subject of “Roe vs. Wade”:  

“Throughout sacred history, whenever the people of God repented, after facing destruction on account of their sins, God showed them mercy and delivered them from righteous chastisement. In the lives of the saints, we see how God, in response to prayer and repentance, overturned the plots of the evil one. So too in our own time, we see the schemes of the demons overturned and undone, and from this we have a firm hope that His mercy will prevail. In this we find great solace, for God is with us. Let us, therefore, continue our repentance and give thanks unto the Lord so that He continue to help us in the struggle to overcome altogether the great evil of abortion. St. Isaac the Syrian teaches that gratitude from the receiver incites the Giver to bestow gifts greater than before… let us continue to repent, for the days are evil. The evil one will never cease to fight the Church. But let us remember: if God is with us, who can be against us?”  

Amen. 

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Encyclical of Metropolitan Demetrius of America

On the occasion of the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court of 11/24 June 2022

Beloved clergy and faithful of our Holy Metropolis,

Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit.

In the Book of the Holy Prophet Jonah, we read that, in response to words of the Prophet of God, “the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them … And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil that He had said that He would do unto them; and He did it not.” (Jonah 3: 5, 10)

In September 2020, the faithful of our God-protected Metropolis undertook a special three-day fast of repentance––a τριήμερον––in response to my hierarchical appeal, for God to protect our Church, ourFamilies, and our Nation and to turn away and dispel the wrath stirred up against us and our neighbors, on account of our many sins. The next day after the fast of repentance, our Lord provided for the future overturning of the infamous “Roe vs. Wade” decision with the nomination and subsequent appointment of another pro-life justice to the Supreme Court of the United States of America.

On June 11/24, 2022, on the feast of the Mother of God “Axion Esti”, the Supreme Court finally abrogated he fifty-year legal precedent that had permitted the murder of tens of millions of innocent infants over the decades. The overturning of the abomination that was “Roe vs. Wade” is an event of great significance. For us, this is not a political matter, but rather a spiritual one. Abortion is murder. To enable it is to be an accomplice to murder. To endorse it is to endorse the murder of innocents––to the extent that being “pro-choice” is entirely incompatible with being an Orthodox Christian.

The abrogation of the decision that permitted and sanctioned abortion throughout the country is a victory for truth, goodness, and justice. But more importantly, it is a demonstration of divine intervention. At a time when our liberties are increasingly hemmed in by the forces of technocratic despotism and, more broadly, when the mystery of iniquity is at work without check, who could have predicted that religious liberty and the principles of God’s law would be upheld in worldly courts?

Ordinary Orthodox Christians do not have access to the halls of secular power to have an audience with the Supreme Court of the United States or to influence policy and legislation. The pious, however, do have access to the Master of all, Who guides history and provides for our salvation. They do not trust in the sons of men, for, indeed, in them there is no salvation. Rather they commend their whole life and hope unto God alone; and our Master, when He sees the genuine fruits of repentance, hears the prayers of His people and grants them their requests which are unto salvation.

Accordingly, the recent decision to overturn demonstrates the power of repentance and prayer to draw God’s mercy and to confound the plans of the evil one. For this reason, I often tell the faithful to never underestimate the power of prayer. Throughout sacred history, whenever the people of God repented, after facing destruction on account of their sins, God showed them mercy and delivered them from righteous chastisement. In the lives of the saints, we see how God, in response to prayer and repentance, overturned the plots of the evil one. So too in our own time, we see the schemes of the demons overturned and undone, and from this we have a firm hope that His mercy will prevail. In this we find great solace, for God is with us.

Let us, therefore, continue our repentance and give thanks unto the Lord so that He continue to help us in the struggle to overcome altogether the great evil of abortion. St. Isaac the Syrian teaches that gratitude from the receiver incites the Giver to bestow gifts greater than before. In gratitude to our Lord for His manifest benefaction and mercy, let all the parishes in our God-protected Holy Metropolis chant a Doxology of Thanksgiving after Divine Liturgy this Sunday, June 12/26, 2022.

Lastly, let us continue to repent, for the days are evil. The evil one will never cease to fight the Church. But let us remember: if God is with us, who can be against us?

Your fervent suppliant before God,

Metropolitan Demetrius of America

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Thy will be done

Wednesday of the Second Week of Matthew

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Today’s reading from the Holy Gospel is Matthew 7: 21 – 23.  

 The Lord said: Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. 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.

St. Theophan the Recluse, in commenting on these words of Christ, connects the doing of God’s will to boldness in prayer: 

“Not everyone that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven (Matt. 7:21).”  You will not be saved through prayer alone; you must unite with prayer fulfillment of the will of God—all that lies upon each person according to his calling and way of life. And prayer should have as its subject primarily the request that God enable us not to depart in any way from His holy will. Conversely, he who is zealous to fulfill God’s will in all things has boldness in prayer before God and greater access to His throne. Moreover, prayer that is not accompanied by walking in God’s will is often not true, sober and heartfelt prayer, but only external reading, during which one’s moral dysfunction is concealed by a multitude of words like a mist, while the thoughts are actually disorderly and wandering. Both must be made orderly through piety, and then there will be fruit. Thoughts for Each Day of the Year, pp. 124-125. 

“And prayer should have as its subject primarily the request that God enable us not to depart in any way from His holy will.”  We know that there are four types of prayer:  Glorification, Thanksgiving, Repentance, and Supplication.  The content of the first three types is fairly obvious:  We glorify God for Who He is in Himself and for all His works, we thank Him for all that He has done for us, and we acknowledge our sins, accusing ourselves in repentance and begging Him for the forgiveness for our sins.   But in our supplicatory prayers, we are often puzzled as to what we should ask for, for discernment often fails us as to what would be truly good for us and for those whom we love.   We think, “Just because we want something, does that mean it is really good for us?  Maybe it is not pleasing to God, and it will not turn out well for me if I get what I want.”  

This honest and salutary doubt, however, should not stop us from asking God for what we think we need or what others need.  Impartial and heartfelt prayer for others, especially, when we forget ourselves and our hearts go out in compassion to our brother,  is pleasing to God in itself as an act of charity, even if we cannot perfectly discern His will in regard to our particular petition.   When we say, “O Lord, heal my sick brother!    O Lord give him a home to live in, food to eat, the means to support his family,” and so forth, we are not saying that we know that God wants this specific thing in this specific instance; we are saying, rather, that in our human weakness we are crying out to Him for help in time of need, acknowledging our absolute dependence on Him and His absolute sovereignty and all-wise providence over our lives.

Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, the perfect model and exemplar for our lives, gives us the perfect model of supplicatory prayer in His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, on the night before He died:   “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.”   Our Lord’s human nature, which was that of the New Adam, was in itself free not only from the sinful passions but also from the blameless passions, including the fear of death.   It was for our sake that He activated the potential of His human nature to suffer the blameless passions, in order to recapitulate in Himself all of man’s temptations and sufferings by His complete taking into Himself the consequences of all our sins, even unto death, though He was naturally immortal not only in His divinity but also in His un-fallen humanity.   Therefore, when He exhibited the fear of death in the Garden, He was not play-acting:  He was really and truly afraid of death, gratuitously but truly suffering the spiritual, psychological, and physical pain of that ultimate fear as no other man ever did or ever will or ever can.    In this voluntary human weakness, He cries out to God His Father in the agony of His soul, “Take this cup,” that is, His passion and death, “away from Me!”   But He immediately adds, “…not my will,” that is, His human will, “but Thy will be done,” perfectly uniting the faculty of the human will that He shares with us with the will of God and thereby reversing the disobedience of our first father Adam.  In a garden Adam disobeyed God and brought death into the world; in a garden, Christ obeys God and through His voluntary death conquers death for Adam and for all His race.  His obedience is expressed in the form of the perfect supplicatory prayer:  “My human weakness wants this, and do please give it to me, but if You want something else then give me that instead. Thy will be done.”  

To imitate the Lord in this regard, to acquire this complete and saving obedience in the core of our inner life, in our thoughts, our will, and our desires, and thereby attain perfect supplicatory prayer, we must practice obedience in our outer lives, obedience to God’s commandments. Today it is fashionable for people to say that they love God while they simultaneously and openly reject the necessity to obey this or that traditional commandment of God’s moral law as taught by the Church.  This is, of course, impossible.  They do not love God; they only imagine that they do.   The Lord Jesus Christ Himself said,   “If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love (John 15:10),” and St. John the Theologian, who reports these words of Christ in his Gospel, reiterates this saving truth in his first Epistle:  “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous (I John 5:2-3).”   

The commandments of God are not hidden; they are well known.  They are given in Holy Scripture and skillfully summarized in the catechetical literature of the Church by wise and loving Holy Fathers for our benefit.  Yet how many today can even recite the Ten Commandments accurately?  How many know the eight principal faults and the standard remedies for these faults taught by the Holy Fathers?  How many know the Seven Corporal and Seven Spiritual Acts of Mercy, two useful lists that instruct us on how to avoid sins of omission, as the aforesaid lists instruct us on how to avoid the sins of commission? How many know the Beatitudes by heart, so as not only to understand the commands of justice but also to rise above these to the counsels of perfection, to that striving required of every Christian towards complete holiness? 

Here is a suggestion:   Obtain the Catechism of St. Peter Mogila, a standard and clear catechism approved by all the Eastern patriarchs at the Council of Jerusalem in 1672, thereby possessing ecumenical (in the original and true sense!) authority, and, in our own time, recommended by recent holy teachers, including St. John Maximovich.   Read it carefully, and at each reading, knowing the weakness of your will and understanding,  say the favorite prayer of St. Gregory Palamas, “O Lord, enlighten my darkness!” Memorize the Creed, the Ten Commandments, and the Beatitudes.   Study the principal faults and pray for the discernment to see them in yourself, so that you can repent.  Resolve to do God’s will in all things, every day and every moment.   

This holy labor is pleasing to God, and He will grant you His grace, to know His pleasing, perfect, and holy will.  And you will learn how and what for to pray, in union with the Incarnate Son of God’s own prayer to the Father.  

O Christ our God, perfect example of prayer to Thy Heavenly Father, teach us to do Thy will, for Thou art our God!  Amen. 

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Virtue above nature

Pentecost Week – Friday of the First Week of Matthew

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In today’s Gospel, Our Lord continues His Sermon on the Mount, the charter of Gospel perfection.

Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths: But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God’s throne: Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King. Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black. But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil. Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. – Matthew  5: 33-41

What does it mean to turn the other cheek? The Church does not teach absolute pacifism, for there are times when we must resist evil on behalf of others: for example, a Christian man who does not resist someone invading his home to kill his family is not only not virtuous but rather the opposite. An Orthodox warrior who fights for his nation to resist alien conquest fulfills Christ’s words that the greatest love is to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. And we must always struggle fiercely, with unwavering intransigence, against the enemies of the Church who devour men’s souls. It is to one’s own enemies that one must turn the other cheek; no one has given us the right to practice non-resistance to the enemies of God, the Church, the family, and the nation. We must practice meekness towards the person right in front of us whom we see every day, the one we live with, work with, worship with. It is he who is constantly offending our self-love; it is he whom God has sent into our lives to help us find our salvation.

Furthermore, meekness gives birth to courage: the man who – not from some defect of his incensive faculty but out of a conscious choice to practice evangelical meekness with the help of grace – does not repay with slander the colleague who slanders him at work, or who does not voice resentment against his brother-in-law for not repaying a loan, or who practices absolute silence in regard to his wife’s defects of character, is more, not less, likely to lead the charge when the battle trumpet sounds. Self-sacrifice has become his fundamental orientation, and virtue to virtue gives birth.

To acquire both the discernment and the power to start practicing lofty evangelical virtues like meekness, however, we must have a conscious inner life. There is no external calculus one can apply infallibly to every single moral situation – you have to construct an inner compass. In the introduction to his Russian translation of the Philokalia, St. Theophan the Recluse states that cultivating the inner life of attentiveness is required of every Christian, not only consecrated ascetics:

Secret life in our Lord Jesus Christ, which is the truly Christian life, begins, develops, and rises to perfection (for each in his own measure), through the good will of God the Father, by the action of the grace of the Holy Spirit present in all Christians, and under the guidance of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, Who promised to abide with us for all time…God’s grace calls all men to such a life; and for all men it is not only possible but obligatory… – Writings from the Philokalia on Prayer of the HeartKadloubovsky and Palmer trans., Faber and Faber 1951, p. 13

The Sermon on the Mount, with its demand for perfection above nature (“Be ye therefore perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect”), is comprehensible only to those leading the grace-filled life of the Church in the manner intended by God, that is, with the struggle for unceasing attention and prayer, under the guidance of the Church and in conjunction with the life of the Holy Mysteries. Teachings created by minds functioning outside of this life, whether on moral philosophy, social reform, or proposed political utopias, all contain fatal flaws. The only way back for us, the only return to sanity – for ourselves, our families, our nations, our civilization – is through the strait gate of the heart.

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