Orthodox Survival Course, Class 53: Recent History, the Great Imposture – Session 1

Listen to the podcast of this talk at https://www.spreaker.com/user/youngfaithradio/osc53

Thanks and Request for Donations

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Introduction – We are Back; Apologies; Some Changes

I ask everyone’s forgiveness for waiting so long to record another class. But I do hope, and have reason to believe, that many did benefit, during Great Lent, from my recording the daily Genesis readings and my little commentaries, which, published in book form, I call The Eternal Sacrifice. If my words helped you in any way to enjoy a more profitable Great Fast, I am deeply grateful to the Lord who enabled me to do this, and Who granted you the grace to grow in understanding, and in love, for His Holy Word.

Last time I indicated that we were going to be back at St. Irene doing real classes with our parishioners and recording them, but it has not turned out that way. In this, as in so much of what I am doing here, I ask your pardon for changes of direction, for saying we are going to do one thing and then doing another. This Orthodox Survival Course is a work in progress, and thus you are saddled with me thinking out loud as we go along. If the world goes on, and one day a more disciplined mind than mine hammers these talks into a more respectable shape, your children can say to their grandchildren, “Mom and Dad were there when Fr. Steven was muddling through all this for the first time!”

So we may have some real classes at St. Irene and record them, or we may simply go back to this solo recording approach for the most part. I much prefer the former, and probably you do too, but we shall struggle to keep going at any rate. You will also probably notice that I have returned to writing an entire script of what, more or less, I am going to say, rather than simply writing an outline and then extemporizing. This deprives us of the greater liveliness of an extemporaneous talk, but it also it prevents me from using unguarded language that could detract from the seriousness of the talk’s content.

And here is another change of direction: Last time, we talked about specific theological mistakes that disable the Church’s mission to prophesy, to correct, and to teach, mistakes that run rampant through the Orthodox milieu today, in both “World” and “True” Orthodox circles. I announced that I would devote the next few classes to correcting these mistakes by means of teaching what the Scriptures and the Fathers really say about them. Well, now, we are going to make a little change: I still intend to deal with these theological subjects, but we are going to alternate theology talks with history talks. One of our listeners wrote awhile ago and said, “Why did you leave off your history course before the Bolshevik revolution? Are you going to get back to it?” And he is right. The purpose of our course, oft-repeated, is to construct an Orthodox lens through which to view history and current events. Today, in the spring of A.D. 2020, we are certainly suffering current events that call for accurate viewing, and therefore now, during the Third Week of Pascha, I recognize an urgency that I did not recognize at the beginning of Great Lent, an urgency to provide an historical understanding, from an old-fashioned, traditional Orthodox mindset, to help you deal with something specific that is going on right now and profoundly affecting everyone. Of course I am am talking about this COVID-19 or Corona virus thing, or whatever you want to call it. Let’s call it the Corona Chaos, or CC for short.

To grab everyone’s attention, I suppose I should have entitled this talk, “Orthodox Survival Course: Our Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic,” since everyone else, from heads of state to the corner hotdog vendor, has published something like that, exuding grave urgency, the most approved humanitarian sentiments, and altruistic civic piety. I beg pardon for the spirit of lofty unconcern reflected in today’s title. Seriously, though: I know that a lot of you who have listened to our little course have probably been saying to yourselves, “When is Fr. Steven going to talk about this Corona thing? After all, the Orthodox Survival Course is not an academic exercise but a practical project to help us deal with what is going on around us. Well, something big is going on now, so let’s hear it! Come on, Fr. Steven, say something.” And you are right: I have indeed waited for what, in the 21st century, is a coon’s age, as the saying goes, to say anything. But things worth saying take time. My thoughts had to gestate for a bit, and now I shall offer a few thoughts. The few thoughts today will address the CC, but my larger purpose is to link those thoughts to our history course, in order to provide a framework to understand not only the current madness, which is, after all, but one stage in something much bigger that has been going on for awhile now and will continue, a stage that will pass and give place to another, more advanced stage of the same process. The framework – the tools, the lens – you use to understand the Corona Chaos, you can take with you to the next stage to understand that when it happens, and say, “Oh, yes, I was expecting this. I see what is going on.”

Well, let’s get on with it.

I. The Great Imposture: Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Antonio Gramsci

I entitle this new section of our history course, “The Great Imposture.” I could have called it The Great Revolution, but the revolutionary stage of this thing – what, earlier in our course, I called the Age of Revolution – is, for practical purposes, over; it has, for now at least, succeeded, and we, who oppose this Revolution, are now forced to be the revolutionaries, albeit counter-revolutionaries. I could have called it The Great Conspiracy, but “conspiracy” has by now become such a controverted and overused term that it has also become nearly useless, though I plan to discuss this term before I finish today. I settled on the term “imposture,” because that describes well what is going on, which is this: the Revolution (or the Conspiracy if you prefer) has now succeeded, and the former Revolutionaries, who are now the People in Charge, have constructed a vast Imposture, a great fake, a new order that pretends to be legitimate order, and even clothes itself with the legitimacy of the old order, but which in fact is an engine of disorder, a nihilistic mocking substitution for legitimate order, a constantly mutating phony order that is not order, that in fact is a pandemonium of chaos, a lunatic juggernaut, driving itself and us, with satanic energy, into an endless process of centrifugal spiritual fragmentation, a measureless mess whose messiness the People in Charge use to justify their imposing greater and greater outward control; and as they squeeze harder and harder, guess what? The mess gets worse and worse. The only constant is their will to power. Their god is the Devil, and they worship his nothingness, as he worships his own nothingness but can never be happy, because he cannot really destroy anything God has created, including himself. Because God’s creation, God’s order, is so vast – one human heart, after all, is larger than the entire physical universe – these people could go on for a long time trying to destroy it, and they will go on, until God puts an end to it. And He will put an end to it. We have only to be loyal to Him in the time that we have been given.

Here is an image to help us understand what is going on here: In the 1950’s science fiction movie, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, aliens from outer space try to take over the world by inhabiting the bodies of real human beings. Their great power lies in the affection and reverence that people naturally feel for their friends and relatives. When the person in front of you looks like Uncle Joe, it’s really hard to accept that he’s not Uncle Joe, that Uncle Joe is dead but his body is being animated by an evil thing that wants to destroy you. The power of today’s Imposters lies in the affection, reverence, loyalty, and love people have for their traditional, reliable institutions and the leaders who are the face of those institutions: Church, government, education, medicine, science, and so forth. When the people in front of you bear the revered titles of patriarch or bishop or president or governor or professor or doctor or priest, and so forth, and you naturally want to trust them and follow them, it’s really hard to believe that what you are looking at are merely the old shells of those authorities, now inhabited by some evil thing that wants to destroy you. This is the diabolic genius of what in political theory is called the Gramscian method or the long march through the institutions.

Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937) was a Marxist theorist who advocated, instead of violent overthrow of the old Christian order, a gradual, quiet takeover, in which, instead of destroying the old institutions, the revolutionaries would gradually, by a long and patient process, place their men in higher and higher, and more and more, positions of authority within the institutions. This kind of revolution, he argued, would be both less visible and therefore less effectively opposed, and its results would be permanent and predictable, unlike violent revolution, which of its nature is unstable and unpredictable, as war by its nature is unpredictable.

As it turns out, we have, in the Age of Revolution which began with the French Revolution, suffered from both methods, the violent and the gradual. Spasmodic bouts of enormous violence and bloodshed – the French Revolution, the Napoleonic Wars, the American Civil War, World War I, the Bolshevik and other Communist revolutions, World War II, etc. vast, orchestrated nihilistic orgies of physical destruction – have alternated and have have gone on side by side with the quiet, steady placement of nihilists in all the time-hallowed positions of greatest power. These people are not completely in charge – only God is completely in charge, and even in the visible, human sphere there are still localized centers of legitimate authority trying to carry on and do their best. But at the top levels, the Body Snatchers are firmly in place. If they are the “World-Something,” you can with complete confidence, for all practical purposes, act on the working assumption that they are up to no good, and that it they are guided with diabolic wisdom by diabolic intelligences. You have, say, a 99% assurance that this is the case. If it is the “National-Something,” you have a 75% assurance, and so forth on down. I don’t mean the numbers literally, of course – you get the idea. And I do not mean to say this applies only to the government; it applies to the media, the banks, corporations, universities, and so forth, as well. The bigger and more prestigious it is, the more likely it is that evil people have been put in charge. That is the nature of the Gramscian revolution.

II. The Katehon Has Been Taken Away

Earlier in our course, we have referred more than once to the consensus of the Holy Fathers regarding the words of St. Paul in II Thessalonians, chapter two. Here is the entire chapter, so that you may see the key term in context:

[1] Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him,
[2] That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand.
[3] Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition;
[4] Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God.
[5] Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things?
[6] And now ye know what restraineth that he might be revealed in his time.
[7] For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now restraineth will restrain, until he be taken out of the way.
[8] And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming:
[9] Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders,
[10] And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved.
[11] And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie:
[12] That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.
[13] But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth:
[14] Whereunto he called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.
[15] Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle.
[16] Now our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God, even our Father, which hath loved us, and hath given us everlasting consolation and good hope through grace,
[17] Comfort your hearts, and stablish you in every good word and work.

The key term here is to be found in verses 6 and 7. In verse 6 it is το κατέχον – “that which restrains – and in verse 7 it is ο κατέχων ῏- “he that restrains.” The consensus of the ancient Fathers is this: “That” which restrains is the lawful Christian government considered as an institution and “he” which restrains is the Christian emperor. Our most recent Holy Fathers, including holy men of the Russian Church Abroad like St. John Maximovich, St. Philaret of New York, Archbishop Averky and Archimandrite Konstantin of Jordanville, et al, all agree that the Russian Empire and the Tsar-Martyr St. Nicholas correspond to these two restraining powers, and that therefore the reign of the demons, preparatory to the period of Antichrist, began with the Bolshevik revolution. All of the circumstantial evidence of historical events since that time, and all of the direct evidence of the often and openly publicized intentions of those who have seized the civil and ecclesiastical power since the matryric death of Tsar Nicholas, corroborates this application of St. Paul’s words by these saints to our time. For an Orthodox teacher today, it is far more speculative and risky- dare one say irresponsible? – to ignore or to downplay this interpretation of the present situation than to teach it and to emphasize it.

This is not to say that we should hope confidently to apply each eschatological prophecy of Holy Scripture – especially in the apocalyptic literature – in a one on one correspondence to particular current events. Many have tried and failed. But to grasp this overall understanding – that the spirit of Antichrist now dominates the public sphere and that actual forerunners of the Antichrist hold the levers of earthly power – is not speculative, risky, or deluded. At this point in our history, to reject this understanding is in fact the far less tenable position, if we are to believe revealed Truth, the guidance of the saints, the historical evidence, and common sense.

III. The Corona Chaos

A few thoughts now, on the CC (the Corona Chaos). We have the “official” or “establishment” position on the topic, and we have various dissenting opinions. The official position – eerily and absurdly uniform throughout the world – is that this is an illness so deadly and so contagious that it requires that unrestricted power be given to those in authority to wreak an unprecedented destruction on the most basic forms of social relationships, human freedom – including religious freedom – and economic activity throughout the inhabited earth. And, ironically, to wreak destruction on the entire medical system and on our very bodies’ own immune systems. That by itself is so drastic and self-contradictory a claim as to be self-evidently absurd: “We are going to save you, ” in other words, “by destroying you.” One immediately calls to mind the Orwellian principle that Big Brother always uses Newspeak, in which the meaning is always the opposite of the words: War is Peace, Evil is Good, and so forth. When people talk like this, we may safely conclude that they are up to no good.

The dissenters from the establishment vary widely, as dissenters always do, because unlike the establishment, which by nature is highly controlled, the rebels are by nature a disorganized lot. But all of the dissenters agree on one thing, which is that, quite apart from the question of the origin of this disease, which we need not determine, regardless of its real potential for spreading and causing people to die, which is highly controverted, the Usual Suspects are using the disease as an excuse to establish, by means of threats and coercion, far-reaching, unprecedented control over the bodies and minds of the entire populations of the nations of the world. Viewed through an Orthodox lens, this project obviously reeks of the spirit of Antichrist, the mind of Antichrist. It is obviously the Babel Tower project all over again. We don’t need to know when the person of The Antichrist will show up in order to know when the mind of Antichrist, which expresses perfectly the mind of Satan, is at work. There have been many antichrists since the beginning of the Church, as testified by St. John the Theologian (I John 2:18). Our duty is to resist them in every generation, not to beg be excused from the struggle because we cannot obtain scientific knowledge of the precise date of the Second Coming of Christ and thereby work backwards to calculate the time of the coming of the personal Antichrist in order to mark it on our social calendar.

IV. Conspiracy Theorists and Paranoiacs

Therefore, as an Orthodox pastor – God knoweth how – and, also – God knoweth how – willy-nilly, a bumbling but well-meaning minor league Internet voice, I have the responsibility to encourage all of you not to be silent when you see that there is devil’s work in all this COVID-19 business. After prayer, counsel, and careful consideration, speak the truth as you see it. Do not let anyone discourage you by saying that you are a “conspiracy theorist” or that you are “paranoid.” These words are not arguments; they are just insults, and they don’t prove anything. Let’s examine these two terms:

“Conspiracy” – A conspiracy has two elements: concerted action by a group of people acting towards a common end, and secrecy. Unless you believe that history is an utterly random series of unconnected events, and that the great events of history were the result of atomistic individuals bumping into each other – an idea utterly at variance with sanity, with all human experience and common sense, much less with a Christian philosophy of history – you must accept that groups of people do get together to make things happen. As for secrecy: The plans of today’s global elite have been laid out clearly and publicly in their own published books, articles, interviews, movies, broadcasts, and so forth – the entire array of communications media we have called the Great Stereopticon – at least for one hundred years, if not more. At this point, I fail to grasp how anyone need speak of a secret plan. It is an open plan, and a great deal of it is already openly accomplished. Nowadays the shoe is on the other foot: it is those who oppose the theomachist authorities who are forced often to conspire, to act in secret. The theomachists may parade their intentions in broad daylight. So much for “conspiracy.”

“Paranoid” – I get nervous when I hear anyone accusing anyone else of being “paranoid.” Paranoia, strictly speaking, is a diagnosable clinical condition, an actual psychosis. I realize that most people mean it in a careless fashion, meaning only to say that the person so categorized is simply overly fearful or suspicious. The problem, however, with the widespread, careless habit of using such a powerful term to stigmatize another person’s mental state is that it creates the social conditions in which a critical mass of people will go along with the authorities in identifying their opponents as being mentally ill and locking them up. The Soviets did this all the time. I am extremely grieved when I hear Orthodox Christians, and especially those in authority, stigmatize pious and intelligent Christians as “paranoid” simply for expressing a healthy skepticism of the intentions of civil authorities who have a long track record of opposing the most fundamental goods of Church, society, and family.

V. Where to Next

In our next class, we will return to the great holocaust of the Orthodox Christians and the suicide of Christian Europe, which began with World War I and the Bolshevik coup against the Imperial Russian government. Meanwhile, let us redouble our prayer and struggle for attentiveness! “Be of good cheer” saith the Lord. “I have overcome the world.”

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Thou Who alone knowest the secrets of our hearts

23 April OS 2020 – Third Wednesday of Pascha; Holy Great Martyr George

In today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 8:18-25), St. Peter rebukes Simon Magus for trying to buy the grace of the Holy Spirit:

In those days: When Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them money, Saying, Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost. But Peter said unto him, Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money. Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God. Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee. For I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity. Then answered Simon, and said, Pray ye to the Lord for me, that none of these things which ye have spoken come upon me. And they, when they had testified and preached the word of the Lord, returned to Jerusalem, and preached the gospel in many villages of the Samaritans.

St. Theophan the Recluse takes St. Peter’s expression, “…the thought of thine heart…” and expounds upon it:

St. Peter says to Simon: “Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God. Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee.” Thou hast no part…But Simon did not even begin to think that he had gone so far astray. Outwardly he had not done anything outrageous; only his thinking was wrong – so wrong, that the Apostle was uncertain as to whether it would be forgiven him even if he repented and entreated God. That is how important the heart’s disposition is, and the thoughts that proceed from it according to this disposition! Judging by this, a person may be one way on the outside, and completely different on the inside. Only God sees this inner state, and those to whom the Spirit of God, Who tries all hearts, reveals it. With what fear and trembling must we work out our salvation! And how sincerely and zealously must we pray to God: “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me (Ps. 50:10). Then, at the Judgment, something terrible and amazing will happen. The Lord will say: “I know you not (Matt. 25:12)” to those who not only were sure of their own godliness, but who also appeared godly to everyone else. What remains for us to do? Only to cry out: “Thou who knowest all things, save us, O Lord” As Thou knowest, grant a saving formation to our heart!   – Thoughts for Each Day of the Year, p. 96

People with depraved minds misuse this teaching of the Church – that we cannot know the inner workings of the heart, that God alone knows the heart – to justify all kinds of evil today.   They proclaim that people performing the most abominable and filthy deeds, leading lives openly opposed to God’s Law, and teaching others to do the same, have “good hearts,” and therefore we must not “judge them,” thus giving a free pass to every kind of evil under the sun. Apparently, to this way of thinking, only those who try to uphold God’s Law are evil, because they are “mean,” and everyone else – especially the most openly defiant of God’s Law – has a “good heart.”   No doubt St. Theophan the Recluse, not to mention the Holy Apostle Peter, would be extremely surprised by this interpretation.

The truth is quite otherwise, of course. We must believe in the Faith that God Himself has revealed, fulfill the outward Law of God, and in addition cleanse the inner man constantly to fight even the least thought that contravenes His holy Law. Without this foundation – the true Faith (orthodoxy) and the moral struggle to fulfill God’s Law (orthopraxy) – we cannot even begin to work on the heart, which is a fathomless abyss, and in which we will discover new evils every day, if we look closely enough.  A good heart does not mean being “nice” instead of “mean.” It means being cleansed of all the passions and of all ignorance, acquiring profound humility, and being in constant converse with God, constant awareness of one’s sinfulness and unworthiness, and constant gratitude, with tears, for His great and abundant mercy. A person who actually has a good heart constantly regards himself as a debtor to every commandment of God’s Law. Until one acquires this inner state, one should never claim to have a good heart. And if one does acquire such an inner state, the idea that he has a good heart will never occur to him.

The Orthodox concept of salvation, then, is maximalist to an extent inconceivable to modern man, something forgotten or not noticed by many purported apologists for Orthodoxy today.   I do not know where the idea started, but I have noticed that one “pitch” that modernized “salesmen” for Orthodoxy use today is that the Western Christian God is “mean,” because He is all about laws and punishment, while the Eastern Orthodox God is “nice,” because He is all about “healing” and “love.” Of course, a one-dimensional paper doll “God” like this, all hugs and lollipops, appeals to people today, who would rather not be inconvenienced: “Give me pleasant experiences, only, please!” The reality, however, is that the Orthodox God makes the Western Christian God look like a pansy. If one really took seriously the lofty ascetical and mystical writings these “salesmen” claim as evidence for their “nice” God, one would doubt seriously the likelihood of salvation for most contemporary Orthodox, much less for most people one meets today.

The right response to this Orthodox maximalism, however, is not gloom and doom, but humility and hope.   We are in the Church, we plan to stay there – God’s grace helping us – and therefore we have a firm hope in our salvation, if only we keep working out our salvation “in fear and trembling.” Humility is the key. We have to put our heads down, accept God’s mysterious judgments with all our hearts, trust in His all-wise Providence over us, and constantly cry with the voice of the Publican, the Thief, and the Harlot: “Have mercy on me!” Hope in salvation will spring up, with the quiet joy of salvation, which we must guard with all the vigilance we can muster. Just never, ever, think that you have arrived, and never, ever, claim to have a “good heart.” Our hope is in God, not in ourselves.

O Thou that  knowest the hearts, spare our souls!

O Holy Apostles, pray to God for us!

Thou hast taken to Thyself, O Lord, the firm and divine-voiced preachers, the chief Apostles, for the enjoyment of Thy blessings and for repose; for Thou didst accept their labors and death as above all sacrifice, O Thou Who alone knowest the secrets of our hearts.

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VI Lent Friday – Going Home

You can listen to a podcast of this blog post at https://www.spreaker.com/user/youngfaithradio/vilentfri

And Jacob ceased giving charges to his sons; and having lifted up his feet on the bed, he died, and was gathered to his people. And Joseph fell upon his father’s face, and wept on him, and kissed him. And Joseph commanded his servants the embalmers to embalm his father; and the embalmers embalmed Israel. And they fulfilled forty days for him, for so are the days of embalming numbered; and Egypt mourned for him seventy days. And when the days of mourning were past, Joseph spoke to the princes of Pharao, saying, If I have found favour in your sight, speak concerning me in the ears of Pharao, saying, My father adjured me, saying, In the sepulchre which I dug for myself in the land of Chanaan, there thou shalt bury me; now then I will go up and bury my father, and return again. And Pharao said to Joseph, Go up, bury thy father, as he constrained thee to swear. So Joseph went up to bury his father; and all the servants of Pharao went up with him, and the elders of his house, and all the elders of the land of Egypt. And all the household of Joseph, and his brethren, and all the house of his father, and his kindred; and they left behind the sheep and the oxen in the land of Gesem. And there went up with him also chariots and horsemen; and there was a very great company. And they came to the threshing-floor of Atad, which is beyond Jordan; and they bewailed him with a great and very sore lamentation; and he made a mourning for his father seven days. And the inhabitants of the land of Chanaan saw the mourning at the floor of Atad, and said, This is a great mourning to the Egyptians; therefore he called its name, The mourning of Egypt, which is beyond Jordan. And thus his sons did to him. So his sons carried him up into the land of Chanaan, and buried him in the double cave, which cave Abraam bought for possession of a burying place, of Ephrom the Chettite, before Mambre. And Joseph returned to Egypt, he and his brethren, and those that had gone up with him to bury his father. And when the brethren of Joseph saw that their father was dead, they said, Let us take heed, lest at any time Joseph remember evil against us, and recompense to us all the evils which we have done against him. And they came to Joseph, and said, Thy father adjured us before his death, saying, Thus say ye to Joseph, Forgive them their injustice and their sin, forasmuch as they have done thee evil; and now pardon the injustice of the servants of the God of thy father. And Joseph wept while they spoke to him. And they came to him and said, We, these persons, are thy servants. And Joseph said to them, Fear not, for I am God’s. Ye took counsel against me for evil, but God took counsel for me for good, that the matter might be as it is today, and much people might be fed. And he said to them, Fear not, I will maintain you, and your families: and he comforted them, and spoke kindly to them. And Joseph dwelt in Egypt, he and his brethren, and all the family of his father; and Joseph lived a hundred and ten years. And Joseph saw the children of Ephraim to the third generation; and the sons of Machir the son of Manasse were borne on the sides of Joseph. And Joseph spoke to his brethren, saying, I die, and God will surely visit you, and will bring you out of this land to the land concerning which God sware to our fathers, Abraam, Isaac, and Jacob. And Joseph adjured the sons of Israel, saying, At the visitation with which God shall visit you, then ye shall carry up my bones hence with you. And Joseph died, aged an hundred and ten years; and they prepared his corpse, and put him in a coffin in Egypt. – Genesis 49:33-50:26

Joseph keeps faith with his father and buries him on his own land, not foreign soil. In his old age, he adjures the sons of Israel to do the same for his bones when at length the Lord, the God of their fathers, delivers them from Egyptian bondage and leads them back home. This return provides an image of man’s return to Paradise, his true home.

Each human heart longs for home. To the extent the heart does not, to that extent it is become inhuman. “Cosmopolitan man” is a contradiction in terms. Say rather “cosmopolitan monster.” To love one’s own – one’s flesh and blood kith and kin, native soil, native language, native culture – is bedrock for psychological health, a pre-condition for the sane life. That our planetary rulers have decreed this love a crime shows plainly that they intend to drive us mad.

Exile, says S. John of the Ladder, is the mother of mourning, and mourning the mother of repentance. God wants us to love home, family, and people intensely, insatiably, to the point at which losing them hurts so much that we feel we will die without them, for only at this point does one realize that one actually needs God and that ultimately God is all one needs. Just as forgiveness does not exist unless sin exists, so exile does not exist unless home exists. Christians are not universalists, not cosmopolitans: when they lose that which is native to them, they mourn and weep. The Apostles were not sent out to baptize the atomistic individuals of a postmodern dystopia. They baptized the nations.

Today we stand on the brink. We are about to lose everything visible that makes life worthwhile. Nation, family, native place, native tongue, native loves – all are being swept away by the demon-chiefs of this age and their lickspittle lackeys, the global elite. Let us rejoice then, and be glad, for exile is thereby abundantly available to us, having become the common setting for human existence. In the divine Providence, as Joseph explains today to his worried brothers, all is arranged perfectly for our salvation. Today only the life of the Church remains, and that most often not in the splendid cathedrals and ancient sees, but in nooks and crannies, in the dens and caves of the earth. But ultimately the Church is all we need, because, ultimately, God is all we need. When a man dies, there is only his soul standing before God, and he realizes, finally, that this was in fact the case all along.

At the end of our Genesis journey through Great Lent, then, we have come back to where we started, back to Paradise, back to our true home, which no one can take away from us. In the next life, this will take place openly; in this life it takes place mystically, every day, in an Orthodox heart prepared by sorrows and pierced by compunction. When we know with all the powers of our soul, with our whole being, without a doubt, that our heart is larger than all this world, because it holds the Holy Trinity, then, at last, we have come home.

This commentary was taken from The Eternal Sacrifice: The Genesis Readings for Great Lent by Fr. Steven Allen. You can order a copy from Lulu at http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/FrStevenAllen

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VI Thursday – Let Us Die With Him That We May Rise With Him

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And Israel departed, he and all that he had, and came to the well of the oath; and he offered sacrifice to the God of his father Isaac. And God spoke to Israel in a night vision, saying, Jacob, Jacob; and he said, What is it? And he says to him, I am the God of thy fathers; fear not to go down into Egypt, for I will make thee there a great nation. And I will go down with thee into Egypt, and I will bring thee up at the end; and Joseph shall put his hands on thine eyes. And Jacob rose up from the well of the oath; and the sons of Israel took up their father, and the baggage, and their wives on the wagons, which Joseph sent to take them. And they took up their goods, and all their property, which they had gotten in the land of Chanaan; they came into the land of Egypt, Jacob, and all his seed with him. The sons, and the sons of his sons with him; his daughters, and the daughters of his daughters; and he brought all his seed into Egypt. – Genesis 46:1-7

In this brief passage, we read how Jacob went down into Egypt with all his family and possessions, in obedience to God’s command. What guarantee did Jacob have that all would be well? Only God’s promise: “And I will go down with thee into Egypt, and I will bring thee up again at the end, and Joseph shall put his hands upon thine eyes.” As always, God fulfilled His promise, first to Jacob personally, and four hundred years later, when He delivered all of Jacob’s posterity from slavery in Egypt and returned them to the Land of the Promise.

In the typology of the Fathers, Egypt represents the territory of the demons and the flesh, fallen society with all of its temptations. Pharaoh represents Satan, and just as Pharaoh enslaved the Hebrews, so in our lives Satan strives to enslave us to the passions and to sins. The New Moses, our Lord Jesus Christ, leads us out of Egyptian slavery to the Promised Land of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Just as God sent Jacob down into Egypt, knowing that his descendants would undergo so great a trial, so He allows us to confront manifold temptations, both in the sense of physical trials of various kinds and in the sense of the combat with sin, not so that we will be lost, but rather that we will learn to trust in God and to fight sin.

The greatest descent of all is the voluntary descent of the God-Man to the very depths of death and hell, in order to raise up Adam who had fallen. Surely He Who willed to descend to the uttermost abyss for our salvation will raise us up, too, from our trials and our temptations, when we call upon His name.

As we prepare to celebrate the God-Man’s suffering, death, descent into Hades, and glorious Resurrection, let us ask Him for the grace to trust Him to take us by the hand and lead us on the path of this life, as did the patriarchs of old, the course of whose lives we have pondered this Lent. They put absolute trust in the Lord in the midst of their trials, though they could only look forward to a future deliverance. The Lord in Whom they trusted has now come to us in the flesh and has saved us. We have no excuse not to trust in Him.

This commentary was taken from The Eternal Sacrifice: The Genesis Readings for Great Lent by Fr. Steven Allen. You can order a copy from Lulu at http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/FrStevenAllen

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VI Lent Wednesday – Go to Joseph

You can listen to a podcast of this blog post at https://www.spreaker.com/user/youngfaithradio/vilentwed

And Joseph entered into the house, and they brought him the gifts which they had in their hands, into the house; and they did him reverence with their face to the ground. And he asked them, How are ye? and he said to them, Is your father, the old man of whom ye spoke, well? Does he yet live? And they said, Thy servant our father is well; he is yet alive. And he said, Blessed be that man by God; —and they bowed, and did him reverence. And Joseph lifted up his eyes, and saw his brother Benjamin, born of the same mother; and he said, Is this your younger brother, whom ye spoke of bringing to me? and he said, God have mercy on thee, my son. And Joseph was troubled, for his bowels yearned over his brother, and he sought to weep; and he went into his chamber, and wept there. And he washed his face and came out, and refrained himself, and said, Set on bread. And Joseph could not refrain himself when all were standing by him, but said, Dismiss all from me; and no one stood near Joseph, when he made himself known to his brethren. And he uttered his voice with weeping; and all the Egyptians heard, and it was reported to the house of Pharao. And Joseph said to his brethren, I am Joseph; doth my father yet live? And his brethren could not answer him, for they were troubled. And Joseph said to his brethren, Draw nigh to me; and they drew nigh; and he said, I am your brother Joseph, whom ye sold into Egypt. Now then be not grieved, and let it not seem hard to you that ye sold me hither, for God sent me before you for life. For this second year there is famine on the earth, and there are yet five years remaining, in which there is to be neither ploughing, nor mowing. For God sent me before you, that there might be left to you a remnant upon the earth, even to nourish a great remnant of you. Now then ye did not send me hither, but God; and he hath made me as a father of Pharao, and lord of all his house, and ruler of all the land of Egypt. Hasten, therefore, and go up to my father, and say to him, These things saith thy son Joseph; God has made me lord of all the land of Egypt; come down therefore to me, and tarry not. And thou shalt dwell in the land of Gesem of Arabia; and thou shalt be near me, thou and thy sons, and thy sons’ sons, thy sheep and thine oxen, and whatsoever things are thine. And I will nourish thee there: for the famine is yet for five years; lest thou be consumed, and thy sons, and all thy possessions. Behold, your eyes see, and the eyes of my brother Benjamin, that it is my mouth that speaks to you. Report, therefore, to my father all my glory in Egypt, and all things that ye have seen, and make haste and bring down my father hither. And he fell on his brother Benjamin’s neck, and wept on him; and Benjamin wept on his neck. And he kissed all his brethren, and wept on them; and after these things his brethren spoke to him. And the report was carried into the house of Pharao, saying, Joseph’s brethren are come; and Pharao was glad, and his household. Genesis 43:26-31, 45:1-16

Righteous Joseph the All-Comely, now governor of all Egypt, makes himself known to his brothers and demonstrates his greatness of soul in forgiving them and providing for them. As Joseph explains matters to his brothers, who are cowering in fear lest he should take revenge on them, he is at peace, because he sees that all that has happened to him, including their betrayal, was part of God’s plan to save their family from the great famine. From childhood, when he dreamed that his father and brothers bowed down to him, until now, when his brothers are actually prostrate at his feet, he has pursued a tranquil course of doing the will of God amid the storms of personal disaster – betrayal by his brothers and being cast into a pit, being sold into slavery, and being thrown into prison because he would not sin with another man’s wife, who then falsely accused him of the very thing he refused to do with her. The God Who chose him from his youth and guided his every step has not disappointed him in his hope.

On Great Monday, we will remember Joseph as a typos, a prophetic prefiguration, of Christ Himself, both in His humiliation and in His glory. As Joseph was betrayed by his brothers, so Our Lord was betrayed by His disciple. As Joseph was falsely accused when innocent, so with Christ. As Joseph was exalted to the right hand of Pharaoh, so Christ is exalted to the right hand of God.

We can imitate Joseph in his likeness to the Savior by imitating his patience and his hope, and by a firm determination to accept the will of God for ourselves. When life throws us into a pit, let us realize that it is God Himself Who has allowed us to be helpless, so that we might accept deliverance from Him and Him alone. When falsely accused, let us face it calmly, knowing that our vindication is from Him. When He delivers us, let us show greatness of soul in forgiving our enemies, seeing His profound wisdom in all that has happened to us.

The Patriarch Joseph the All-Comely is also a typos of Righteous Joseph the Betrothed, the guardian of the Most Pure Virgin and the Infant Christ. Like the Old Testament Joseph, the New Testament Joseph is a man of action. He proves himself obedient not by words – of which not a single one is recorded in the Gospel – but by deeds. When the famished Egyptians come to Pharaoh crying out for bread, he says, “Go to Joseph,” for has made Joseph the steward over all the grain of Egypt. As we languish in Egyptian slavery to the passions and sensual pleasures, and we cry to God for deliverance, He says to us, “Go to Joseph,” whom He made steward of the True Bread Who was born in Bethlehem, the town whose name means “House of Bread,” for our salvation.

May we prepare with humility and love to receive this True Bread in Our Lord’s Precious Body and Blood, at this Passiontide and Radiant Resurrection. May we, like the two Josephs, always do the will of God with undoubting serenity and unwavering firmness, and so be found worthy to receive the reward of the good steward:

“Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord (Matthew 25:21).”

This commentary was taken from The Eternal Sacrifice: The Genesis Readings for Great Lent by Fr. Steven Allen. You can order a copy from Lulu at http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/FrStevenAllen

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VI Lent Tuesday – True Riches

You can listen to a podcast of this blog post at http://orthodoxtruth.org/uncategorized/vi-lent-tuesday-true-riches/

And the Lord said to Jacob, Return to the land of thy father, and to thy family, and I will be with thee. And Jacob sent and called Lea and Rachel to the plain where the flocks were. And he said to them, I see the face of your father, that it is not toward me as before, but the God of my father was with me. And ye too know that with all my might I have served your father. But your father deceived me, and changed my wages for the ten lambs, yet God gave him not power to hurt me. If he should say thus, The speckled shall be thy reward, then all the cattle would bear speckled; and if he should say, The white shall be thy reward, then would all the cattle bear white. So God has taken away all the cattle of your father, and given them to me. And it came to pass when the cattle conceived and were with young, that I beheld with mine eyes in sleep, and behold the he-goats and the rams leaping on the sheep and the she-goats, speckled and variegated and spotted with ash-coloured spots. And the angel of God said to me in a dream, Jacob; and I said, What is it? And he said, Look up with thine eyes, and behold the he-goats and the rams leaping on the sheep and the she-goats, speckled and variegated and spotted with ash-coloured spots; for I have seen all things that Laban does to thee. I am God that appeared to thee in the place of God where thou anointedst a pillar to me, and vowedst to me there a vow; now then arise and depart out of this land, depart into the land of thy nativity, and I will be with thee. And Rachel and Lea answered and said to him, Have we yet a part or inheritance in the house of our father? Are we not considered strangers by him? for he has sold us, and quite devoured our money. All the wealth and the glory which God has taken from our father, it shall be ours and our children’s; now then do whatsoever God has said to thee. – Genesis 31:3-16

In fourteen years, God has given Jacob both domestic happiness and material success, despite all the efforts of Laban, his crafty father-in-law, to cheat him. The Lord has demonstrated, once again, that man’s cleverness is powerless against His wisdom and His will. God willed to make Jacob a great patriarch in His plan of salvation for mankind, and He has acted according to His will.

Jacob’s new status as a great householder gives him what today we call “financial freedom”: he is his own master, not beholden to an employer or creditor who can take the bread out of his mouth at any moment. God alone, the Master of wind, weather, the tides of warring nations, and the health of man and beast, can now give or take away his prosperity. He has obtained his freedom, however, not by going around or against God’s will, but by fulfilling it. He has done his part in the plan of salvation; he has conformed his will to the will of God.

Jacob’s earthly wealth provides a typos,a prophetic image, of the true wealth the Lord wants to give us, new and permanent properties of soul and body, gifts of His uncreated grace: pure prayer, harmony with God’s creation, lasting peace of heart – all the joys of friendship with God. Jacob’s earthly freedom provides a prophetic image of the eternal freedom God intends for us, the freedom of the sons of God: freedom from sin, the devil, death, and hell. We must conform our wills to the will of God, and we will become free.

A fatally mistaken idea about freedom grips the minds of men, who equate freedom with the permission to disobey God and get away with it. They want to make their own rules and create their own reality. It does not seem to occur to them that the further they go in this direction, the more miserable they become. This present misery only faintly presages what is in store for them. What is doubtless going to happen to them after they die, apart from an unrevealed miracle of God’s mercy upon which no one can rely, is something we cannot – and would prefer not – to imagine.

Mentored by Satan, men mistakenly imagine that the permission to do evil is inherent in having a will, in being free and rational creatures, but it is not. Our natural will is most free when conformed completely to God’s will; we are most ourselves, most free, most rational, and possessed of will in its ultimate degree, when we do God’s will at every moment. What men mistakenly call “free will” is what St. Maximus the Confessor identifies as the “gnomic” will – a diseased condition of the will based on ignorance, conflicting opinions, and moral weakness, the result of the Fall. It is this condition of the will that we experience every day when our choice wavers between good and evil, between God’s Law and the law of sin and death.

We overcome the stress and misery of this wavering, uncertain state by unrelenting work on ourselves. Yes, we obtain the glorious freedom of the sons of God by God’s gift, but also we must labor. We find an example in Jacob, who did indeed receive all as gift from God but also was not idle. Last week we recalled his labors while chanting the Great Canon:

In privation Jacob the Patriarch endured the burning heat by day and the frost by night, making daily gains of sheep and cattle, shepherding, wrestling, and serving, to win his two wives. By the two wives, understand action and knowledge in contemplation. Leah is action, for she had many children; and Rachel is knowledge, for she endured great toil. And without toil, O my soul, neither action nor contemplation will succeed. from Ode Four of the Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete

May the sweetness of Holy Pascha that we will soon enjoy give us a taste of the eternal wealth and freedom that cannot be taken away. May it encourage us to serve the Lord in active virtue and find rest in Him through prayer. Let us conform our wills to His holy, peaceful, and perfect will, and we will find glorious rest, the freedom of the sons of God.

This commentary was taken from The Eternal Sacrifice: The Genesis Readings for Great Lent by Fr. Steven Allen. You can order a copy from Lulu at http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/FrStevenAllen

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VI Lent Monday – Man of Divine Desires

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And it came to pass after Isaac was old, that his eyes were dimmed so that he could not see; and he called Esau, his elder son, and said to him, My son; and he said, Behold, I am here. And he said, Behold, I am grown old, and know not the day of my death. Now then take the weapons, both thy quiver and thy bow, and go into the plain, and get me venison, and make me meats, as I like them, and bring them to me that I may eat, that my soul may bless thee, before I die. And Rebecca heard Isaac speaking to Esau his son; and Esau went to the plain to procure venison for his father. And Rebecca said to Jacob her younger son, Behold, I heard thy father speaking to Esau thy brother, saying, Bring me venison, and prepare me meats, that I may eat and bless thee before the Lord before I die. Now then, my son, hearken to me, as I command thee. And go to the cattle and take for me thence two kids, tender and good, and I will make them meats for thy father, as he likes. And thou shalt bring them in to thy father, and he shall eat, that thy father may bless thee before he dies. And Jacob said to his mother Rebecca, Esau my brother is a hairy man, and I a smooth man. Peradventure my father may feel me, and I shall be before him as one ill-intentioned, and I shall bring upon me a curse, and not a blessing. And his mother said to him, On me be thy curse, son; only hearken to my voice, and go and bring them me. So he went and took and brought them to his mother; and his mother made meats, as his father liked them. And Rebecca having taken the fine raiment of her elder son Esau which was with her in the house, put it on Jacob her younger son. And she put on his arms the skins of the kids, and on the bare parts of his neck. And she gave the meats, and the loaves which she had prepared, into the hands of Jacob her son. And he brought them to his father, and said, Father; and he said, Behold I am here; who art thou, son? And Jacob said to his father, I, Esau thy first-born, have done as thou toldest me; rise, sit, and eat of my venison, that thy soul may bless me. And Isaac said to his son, What is this which thou hast quickly found? And he said, That which the Lord thy God presented before me. And Isaac said to Jacob, Draw night to me, and I will feel thee, son, if thou art my son Esau or not. And Jacob drew nigh to his father Isaac, and he felt him, and said, The voice Jacob’s voice, but the hands are the hands of Esau. And he knew him not, for his hands were as the hands of his brother Esau, hairy; and he blessed him, and he said, Art thou my son Esau? and he said, I am. And he said, Bring hither, and I will eat of thy venison, son, that my soul may bless thee; and he brought it near to him, and he ate, and he brought him wine, and he drank. And Isaac his father said to him, Draw nigh to me, and kiss me, son. And he drew nigh and kissed him, and smelled the smell of his garments, and blessed him, and said, Behold, the smell of my son is as the smell of an abundant field, which the Lord has blessed. And may God give thee of the dew of heaven, and of the fatness of the earth, and abundance of corn and wine. And let nations serve thee, and princes bow down to thee, and be thou lord of thy brother, and the sons of thy father shall do thee reverence; accursed is he that curses thee, and blessed is he that blesses thee. And it came to pass after Isaac had ceased blessing his son Jacob, it even came to pass, just when Jacob had gone out from the presence of Isaac his father, that Esau his brother came in from his hunting. And he also had made meats and brought them to his father; and he said to his father, Let my father arise and eat of his son’s venison, that thy soul may bless me. And Isaac his father said to him, Who art thou? And he said, I am thy first-born son Esau. And Isaac was amazed with very great amazement, and said, Who then is it that has procured venison for me and brought it to me? and I have eaten of all before thou camest, and I have blessed him, and he shall be blessed. And it came to pass when Esau heard the words of his father Isaac, he cried out with a great and very bitter cry, and said, Bless, I pray thee, me also, father. And he said to him, Thy brother has come with subtlety, and taken thy blessing. And he said, Rightly was his name called Jacob, for lo! this second time has he supplanted me; he has both taken my birthright, and now he has taken my blessing; and Esau said to his father, Hast thou not left a blessing for me, father? And Isaac answered and said to Esau, If I have made him thy lord, and have made all his brethren his servants, and have strengthened him with corn and wine, what then shall I do for thee, son? And Esau said to his father, Hast thou only one blessing, father? Bless, I pray thee, me also, father. And Isaac being troubled, Esau cried aloud and wept. And Isaac his father answered and said to him, Behold, thy dwelling shall be of the fatness of the earth, and of the dew of heaven from above. And thou shalt live by thy sword, and shalt serve thy brother; and there shall be a time when thou shalt break and loosen his yoke from off thy neck. And Esau was angry with Jacob because of the blessing, with which his father blessed him; and Esau said in his mind, Let the days of my father’s mourning draw nigh, that I may slay my brother Jacob. – Genesis 27:1-41

Jacob’s deception offends our sense of fairness. Yet by this deception Jacob becomes the ancestor of the God-Man. He burns with desire to receive God’s blessing, by whatever means, and thereby he becomes the instrument of God’s will to save us.

Jacob’s unfairness does not have to meet our approval before inspiring us to emulate his zeal. He demonstrates absolute faith that his father’s blessing will convey irresistible divine power. He believes without doubting that Isaac’s words convey a permanent grace: once Isaac speaks them, he cannot take them back. He burns with desire, with a divine eros, to have this blessing, and God rewards his fervor with His grace.

Esau, by contrast, in an earlier incident, has already demonstrated his lack of zeal for divine things and greater desire for earthly pleasure, when he sold his birthright to Jacob for one hot meal. He has also demonstrated his love of pleasure and disregard of God’s Law by running after loose women. By preferring the things of earth to the things of heaven, he has lost both his birthright – the right to be and to be called a son of God – and has lost his blessing, lost the grace of God.

Each of us must ask himself whether he is a Jacob or an Esau, whether he prefers heaven or earth. Of course, the answer is that we are both: we waver and undulate; we are hot one day and cold the next. But we should take heart from Jacob’s example: If we want divine blessings, we have only to ask for them. When is the last time we asked for such gifts as

– the love of prayer?

– zeal for heavenly things?

– constant remembrance of death and God’s judgment?

– the grace to see and remember all of our sins and to make a good confession?

– the grace of perseverance in the Faith and repentance until death?

Let us entreat the Lord to ignite our hearts with the divine eros that sets apart the saints. He waits for us to ask, and, desiring with His own divine desire, He desires to give.

“…this one thing I do: forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:13-14).”

This commentary was taken from The Eternal Sacrifice: The Genesis Readings for Great Lent by Fr. Steven Allen. You can order a copy from Lulu at http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/FrStevenAllen

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V Lent Friday – Thy Will Be Done

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And it came to pass after these things that God tempted Abraham, and said to him, Abraham, Abraham; and he said, Lo! I am here. And he said, Take thy son, the beloved one, whom thou hast loved—Isaac, and go into the high land, and offer him there for a whole-burnt-offering on one of the mountains which I will tell thee of. And Abraham rose up in the morning and saddled his ass, and he took with him two servants, and Isaac his son, and having split wood for a whole-burnt-offering, he arose and departed, and came to the place of which God spoke to him, on the third day; and Abraham having lifted up his eyes, saw the place afar off. And Abraham said to his servants, Sit ye here with the ass, and I and the lad will proceed thus far, and having worshipped we will return to you. And Abraham took the wood of the whole-burnt-offering, and laid it on Isaac his son, and he took into his hands both the fire and the knife, and the two went together. And Isaac said to Abraham his father, Father. And he said, What is it, son? And he said, Behold the fire and the wood, where is the sheep for a whole-burnt-offering? And Abraham said, God will provide himself a sheep for a whole-burnt-offering, my son. And both having gone together, they came to the place which God spoke of to him; and there Abraham built the altar, and laid the wood on it, and having bound the feet of Isaac his son together, he laid him on the altar upon the wood. And Abraham stretched forth his hand to take the knife to slay his son. And an angel of the Lord called him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham. And he said, Behold, I am here. And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the child, neither do anything to him, for now I know that thou fearest God, and for my sake thou hast not spared thy beloved son. And Abraham lifted up his eyes and beheld, and lo! a ram caught by his horns in a plant of Sabec; and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a whole-burnt-offering in the place of Isaac his son. And Abraham called the name of that place, The Lord hath seen; that they might say to-day, In the mount the Lord hath seen. And an angel of the Lord called Abraham the second time out of heaven, saying, I have sworn by myself, says the Lord, because thou hast done this thing, and on my account hast not spared thy beloved son, surely blessing I will bless thee, and multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of heaven, and as the sand which is by the shore of the sea, and thy seed shall inherit the cities of their enemies. And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because thou hast hearkened to my voice. And Abraham returned to his servants, and they arose and went together to the well of the oath; and Abraham dwelt at the well of the oath. – Genesis 22:1-18

God commands Abraham to sacrifice Isaac as the ultimate test of his faith and obedience. Beyond all hope, He had given Abraham a son in his old age, the son who furthermore was the living pledge of God’s promise that Abraham would be the father of nations. Now He says, “Give him back to me, but go on believing that I will do what I promised.”

Abraham does it. Of course, the Angel stays his hand, and he receives his son back beyond all hope, as from the dead. But morally Abraham has sacrificed him. In his will and in his heart he has given him back to God. After he receives him yet a second time from God, as from the dead, neither his relationship with God nor with his son will ever be the same again. Both will be incomparably higher, holier, and more permanent.

Everything Abraham is, everything he hopes for, everything he believes in, is wrapped up with Isaac. To give him up means to give up everything, everything except God. By his obedience, he is saying in action, “You, Lord, are everything, and I am nothing. Do with me as You will.”

Thus one could say that there are three types, three pre-figurations, of Christ in His Passion in this history of Abraham’s sacrifice: Isaac prefigures the Only Son of the Father, carrying the wood of the sacrifice on his back, as Christ carried the Cross. The ram caught in the bush and sacrificed in Isaac’s stead prefigures the Lamb of God, Who suffered in place of guilty man. Usually in the typology Abraham is seen as a type of God the Father, Who offers His Son for our salvation. Yet, if I may be so bold, I shall venture to offer that Abraham in his crushing, utter abasement before God, in his Job-like submission to the will of God, is also a type of the Paschal Christ in His Extreme Humility, His emptying Himself to the uttermost for us.

Each and every saint, each and every Orthodox Christian who goes to Paradise, will have one or perhaps several crises when he has to give up his “Isaac,” i.e., someone or something he thinks he cannot live without. There is no getting around it. The door of Extreme Humility is the door to Paradise.

During these closing days of Great Lent, as we prepare to glorify the Lord in His Passion, let us quietly pray for true humility, to realize very deeply within ourselves that God is God, and that He is holding us in the palm of His hand. Let us pray for the grace of an unchanging firmness to make an act of absolute faith and hope in Him, so that when the crisis comes, and we must sacrifice our particular Isaac, there will be no doubt of the outcome.

O Lord Jesus, Who emptied Thyself for us to the uttermost, glory be to Thee!

This commentary was taken from The Eternal Sacrifice: The Genesis Readings for Great Lent by Fr. Steven Allen. You can order a copy from Lulu at http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/FrStevenAllen

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V Lent, Thursday of the Great Canon – The Consuming Fire

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And the Lord said, The cry of Sodom and Gomorrha has been increased towards me, and their sins are very great. I will therefore go down and see, if they completely correspond with the cry which comes to me, and if not, that I may know. And the men having departed thence, came to Sodom; and Abraham was still standing before the Lord. And Abraham drew nigh and said, Wouldest thou destroy the righteous with the wicked, and shall the righteous be as the wicked? Should there be fifty righteous in the city, wilt thou destroy them? Wilt thou not spare the whole place for the sake of the fifty righteous, if they be in it? By no means shalt thou do this so as to destroy the righteous with the wicked, so the righteous shall be as the wicked: by no means. Thou that judgest the whole earth, shalt thou not do right? And the Lord said, If there should be in Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will spare the whole city, and the whole place for their sakes. And Abraham answered and said, Now I have begun to speak to my Lord, and I am earth and ashes. But if the fifty righteous should be diminished to forty-five, wilt thou destroy the whole city because of the five wanting? And he said, I will not destroy it, if I should find there forty-five. And he continued to speak to him still, and said, But if there should be found there forty? And he said, I will not destroy it for the forty’s sake. And he said, Will there be anything against me, Lord, if I shall speak? but if there be found there thirty? And he said, I will not destroy it for the thirty’s sake. And he said, Since I am able to speak to the Lord, what if there should be found there twenty? And he said, I will not destroy it, if I should find there twenty. And he said, Will there be anything against me, Lord, if I speak yet once? but if there should be found there ten? And he said, I will not destroy it for the ten’s sake. And the Lord departed, when he left off speaking to Abraham, and Abraham returned to his place. – Genesis 18: 20-33

Abraham pleads with the Lord not to destroy Sodom if only ten righteous men can be found there. The two angels sent by God will not find ten, but only one, the righteous Lot, and only he and his daughters will survive.

Living, as we are today, in the midst of Sodom, we must be absolutely determined not only to remain moral ourselves, but also to speak and to act against the lies of Sodom with absolute and consistent clarity and intransigence, not giving one inch. The lies of Sodom are that white is black, good is evil, the abnormal is normal, and the perverted is sacred. These thoughts, constantly repeated and shoved down the throats of everyone who will listen, corrode the mind and will, and only a militant state of soul burning with righteous indignation will resist.

The biggest lie is that the Christian virtue of non-condemnation means calling evil good, that “forgiveness” means saying that sin is not a sin. This is absurd, of course: if it is not a sin, then there is nothing to forgive. The reality is that the sins of Sodom are explicitly among those that cry out to God for vengeance, that God will indeed avenge them, and that it will be terrible to behold. Our God is a consuming fire, and nothing impure can stand in His presence.

We need to wake up and beg God to renew in us manly and righteous wrath against the sodomites, both those who practice these abominations and those who sanction them and propagandize them. If we are not indignant against such insults to God’s holiness and honor, if we are not wrathful against the present destruction of innocence and purity on a catastrophic scale, we will have neither hope of turning the tide nor of escaping God’s wrath ourselves, as aiders and abettors of these most satanic sins.

If we are destined to play the part of Lot, and destruction is inevitable, let us stand firm, and the Lord will send His angels to rescue us in time.

This commentary was taken from The Eternal Sacrifice: The Genesis Readings for Great Lent by Fr. Steven Allen. You can order a copy from Lulu at http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/FrStevenAllen

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V Lent Wednesday – Father of Nations

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And Abram was ninety-nine years old, and the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, I am thy God, be well-pleasing before me, and be blameless. And I will establish my covenant between me and thee, and I will multiply thee exceedingly. And Abram fell upon his face, and God spoke to him, saying, And I, behold! my covenant is with thee, and thou shalt be a father of a multitude of nations. And thy name shall no more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham, for I have made thee a father of many nations. And I will increase thee very exceedingly, and I will make nations of thee, and kings shall come out of thee. And I will establish my covenant between Me and thee, and thy seed after thee, to their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be thy God, and the God of thy seed after thee. And I will give to thee and to thy seed after thee the land wherein thou sojournest, even all the land of Chanaan for an everlasting possession, and I will be to them a God. And God said to Abraham, Thou also shalt fully keep my covenant, thou and thy seed after thee for their generations. – Genesis 17:1-9

Again God repeats His promise and renews His covenant with Abram. The reading begins by stating that Abram was ninety-nine years old at the time. The Lord waits until it is humanly impossible for him and Sarah to have children, in order to make it clear that Isaac’s birth, the fulfillment of the promise, is God’s work and not man’s. He is inaugurating the covenant of faith and of grace. All is from God.

At this particular repetition of the promise and renewal of the covenant, God makes a further revelation. He gives Abram a new name: Abraham, Father of Nations. Note that he is not the father of “the nation” or “a nation” but of “nations.” This title looks forward to the mission of the Holy Apostles, who converted the nations – the Gentiles – to the Faith of Abraham, after Pentecost. Abraham is the father of all the nations who come into the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.

God promises Abraham that His covenant will be “everlasting.” One day the same Lord Who makes this promise to Abraham will stand as a man before Pontius Pilate and reveal to him that “My kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36).”

Let us trust in God and believe that all comes from Him, abandoning our trust in ourselves. Let us love the Church. And let us look forward to the Kingdom which is to come. Through our confession of the Faith and Holy Baptism, the God of Abraham has made an everlasting covenant with us. We have only to be faithful and to hope in His promise.

This commentary was taken from The Eternal Sacrifice: The Genesis Readings for Great Lent by Fr. Steven Allen. You can order a copy from Lulu at http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/FrStevenAllen

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