Good stewards

27 February OS 2018: Monday of the Fourth Week of Lent; S. Procopius the Decapolite 

The first reading at Vespers today is Genesis 8:21-9:7.

The LORD God commands Noah and his sons, as He had commanded Adam and Eve, to “…increase and multiply, and fill the earth, and have dominion over it.”  We do not get back to Paradise by sitting around and dreaming about it. We have to work.

Two opposite extremes distort the meaning of our work on earth. Utopians say that this life is all there is, and our duty is to make heaven on earth. Their scheme distorts the meaning of work by exalting it too greatly, casting it as a pseudo-salvation. Quietists says that what we do on earth does not matter, that we need simply to crawl into a hole, pray, and be “holy,” by which, I suppose, they mean sitting in that hole, and certainly not practicing active love like the saints. Their scheme distorts the meaning of work by detaching it from our eternal destiny.  They could very well summarize their philosophy in the words of Peter Pan – “Think happy thoughts” – and their “heaven” bears close resemblance to Never-Never Land. They lose Paradise through avoiding life in this world, as do the Utopians by worshipping it.

This world is temporary, not eternal as the materialists teach. God expects us to love it without being attached to it, for we look forward to a New Heaven and a New Earth, in which all the labors of man shall cease, and we will spend eternity in contemplation of the beloved God. But this world is also quite real, not an illusion as the Hindus and Buddhists teach. God made it, and He pronounced it good. He loves His creation, and He expects man, His steward, to love it too.

We practice this love by marrying and giving life to children with the courage born of faith and other-centeredness, eschewing the cowardice born of faithlessness and self-centeredness.

We practice this love through honest labor that supports our families and responsible stewardship over the good things God has given us.

We practice this love by laboring for souls, for God’s Church.

In all this, however, we do not aim to create heaven on earth, but rather to acquire heaven by making good use of our time on earth. Contrary to what the Utopians think, life on earth is not all there is – it is the arena in which we work out our eternal destiny. Contrary to what the Quietists think, life on earth requires effort – it is the arena in which we work out our eternal destiny.

Let us resolve to spend the second half of Great Lent in active labor, sacrifice, and deeds of love. At the end of this Lent, and at the end of our lives, may we hear the desired Voice:

“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.”

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Orthodox Survival Course, Class 16

Orthodox Survival Course

St. Irene Orthodox Church

Rochester Hills, Michigan

2017-2018

Class 16: Topic IV, The Art and Architecture of the Renaissance

At the end of our last class, I stated that in this session we would discuss the Art and Science of the Renaissance. I reconsidered, however, the best way to group and connect our topics, and tonight we shall talk only about the art and architecture of the Renaissance, and next time we’ll discuss science in connection with politics and economics, for the three are tied together in what one could call the “Project for the New Atlantis,” a concept I’ll explain then.

The Glorification of Corruptibility

The art of the Renaissance is at the same time justly famous for its enormous technical achievements while, sadly, it illustrates the central idea of the Renaissance, that European man had turned away from God to Man as the center of all things. There is a powerful image I recall from the writings the famous art historian Ananda K. Coomaraswamy, a Platonist who was extremely critical of modern culture. He said that the art of the Renaissance was born in the charnel house (a great common tomb, a building where corpses were piled), and he meant it in two senses – that at this period artists started studying anatomy using dead bodies, and that the art portrayed only corruptible earthly nature, nothing spiritual. Superficially it looks vitally alive, but in essence it’s dead, because it is strictly of this world. A very apt expression!

Painting – Perspective, Contemporaneity, Passion, Immodesty and Fleshiness

Until recently, when Byzantine and medieval art have once more been appreciated by modern critics, it was common to hear that Christian iconography was “primitive” because it was two dimensional and “unnatural,” and that the Renaissance achievement of perspective, of the illusion of being three dimensional, was a great leap forward, was “progress,” because it made art “natural.” But if you think about it, you realize that Christian iconography is, in its philosophic stance, very natural, very realistic, in that it does not pretend not to be art. It is something very humble, no matter how technically perfect. It says, “Yes, I’m just an icon; I point to something beyond me. Don’t get caught up in illusions – go beyond this changing world and seek that which is the really real.” What the technique of 3-D perspective does is actually give the illusion of the natural world, and it traps the viewer in itself, in what is really an unreal world. Perhaps you can imagine going into the picture and walking around in the world the artist has created, but this is purely imaginary and in essence delusional. The technique is very clever, as are many achievements of modern Western man, but it is a dead end. One could excuse using this kind of art for relaxation, perhaps, for “entertainment,” but it actually dominates the religious art of the period. It is the outward, artistic expression of the post-schism “spirituality” dominated by the imagination and various manufactured psychic states.

Another aspect of Renaissance painting that departs from the iconographic tradition is contemporaneity. Icons depict a timeless world; they point to eternity. The Renaissance painter takes great pains, on the contrary, to depict Biblical scenes and figures in the bustling, worldly society of his time, going to great lengths to insert countless details of costume, setting, and so forth that trap the viewer in 16th century Venice or Flanders. He uses specific personalities of his society as models – a cruel, avaricious cardinal to depict a Father of the Church, an immoral woman to depict a holy virgin martyr, and so forth. It is a glorification of his own time, his own society, which he sees as a wonderful period in history, a time of freedom from the old constraints and celebration of the worldly. He has reduced the eternal to the temporal.

While icons depict the Lord, the Mother of God, and the Saints as serene and without the disturbance of the passions, Renaissance painting, with great skill, depicts the most sacred figures, even Christ Himself, exhibiting passion, in which is inherent changeability and corruptibility. Our Lord, of course, voluntarily took upon Himself our blameless passions, in order to suffer with us and ultimately die for us, though He was not of necessity subject to passions or to death. But He was always in control of the blameless passions and of death itself, their ever-calm and absolute Master. Countless Renaissance depictions of the Passion and Crucifixion show a corruptible, merely-human Christ in the helpless throes of pain and death. (One recalls the famous scene in Dostoevsky’s Idiot, in which Prince Myshkin shivers when he looks at a copy of Hans Holbein the Younger’s depiction of the dead Christ in the tomb, hanging in Rogozhin’s house, and says that a man could lose his faith looking at such a thing. The tortured murderer-to-be Rogozhin, a man dominated by his passions, says that he likes it!). In regard to the saints: The purpose of an icon of a saint is to depict him in his perfected, deified state, above all earthly changes, feelings, desires, pleasures and pains, not in the throes of some unhealed sinful or even blameless passion. The Renaissance painters do not have this as their goal, but rather they prefer to show the saints as passionate and sensual people, like the powerful personalities they admire in their own dynamic society.

The “poster child” for Renaissance painting, the example that everyone is familiar with, is Michelangelo’s famous decoration of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican in Rome. It is, of course, an amazing achievement, and it is also a glorification of the human body, depicting extremely fleshly characters in various stages of undress. The subjects are depicted as very fleshy, not ascetic, and immodestly dressed (or undressed!), and they symbolize the entire period’s turn to a kind of neopaganism. The fact that the subject matter is from the Bible does not make this “sacred art,” but rather compounds the sin involved in the enormous expenditure of human ingenuity, labor, and treasure on what is, after all, a celebration of the rejection of the Gospel in favor of worldliness and corruptibility.

Sculpture – The great sculpture of this period, with Michelangelo’s work, again, being the typical example, is a direct throwback to the pagan Greek glorification of the human form. Again, we have an enormous technical achievement in the service of worldliness. Michelangelo’s justly renowned Moses and David do not depict the sanctity, the other-worldliness, for which we revere these holy men who really existed, but rather depict a Moses and David that never existed – powerful mythological heroes, pagan demigods. Again, we have a pretense to naturalness, to conformity with the real, that actually is a form of plani/prelest – delusion.

Architecture – Part of the neoclassicism of the Renaissance is the return to classical architectural features, such as the triangular arch and the three orders of the Greek columns. Certainly these are not inherently anti-Christian or worldly, having been features of the earliest era of church building, examples of which we enjoyed in our earlier class, and these features in themselves do not violate the true principles of sacred art. But there is a specific building project of this period, you might say the building project of the post-schism Western church, that symbolizes the whole complex of problems we have been discussing in regard to the Renaissance: the new St. Peter’s in Rome.

St. Peter’s is not the cathedral of the pope as bishop of Rome. It is a martyrium, a pilgrimage shrine church built over the tomb of a saint, in this case, of course, the coryphaeus of the Apostles, St. Peter. St. Constantine built a beautiful basilica to serve as the saint’s martyrium, and over the centuries countless relics of the saints were translated there. Pope Julius II (the “warrior pope” who also sponsored the Sistine Chapel paintings) decided to tear down the old basilica and began a construction project that would take over a century to complete. Its financing through the sale of indulgences was one of the proximate causes of the Reformation (we’ll discuss that next time, when we talk about the origins of usury economics).

The resulting building, which was eventually a combination of Renaissance and Baroque architecture, is simply enormous. It remains the largest church building in the world, covering nearly six acres and accommodating 20,000 people, and its dome is still the highest in the world. The overall impression is one of vast power and insupportable, overwhelming weight. It is glorious, but it is of this world. It is the perfect symbol of the extreme ideology of papism, which sees the pope as the direct spiritual monarch and indirect temporal monarch of the world, truly a typos of the Antichrist.

Listen to an audio recording of our class at 

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A savor of sweetness

24 February OS 2018: Friday of the Third Week of Lent; The First and Second Findings of the Head of the Forerunner 

The first reading at Vespers today is Genesis 8:4-21.

“And Noah builded an altar unto the LORD, and took of all the clean beasts, and of all the clean fowls, and offered them as a whole burnt-offering upon the altar. And the LORD God smelled a savor of sweetness, and the LORD God considered and said, ‘I will not again curse the ground earth any more for the works of men; for the imagination of man is bent intently upon evil things from his youth. I will not therefore smite again all living flesh, as I have done.”

The first thing Noah does after he comes out of the Ark is to build an altar and offer sacrifice to the Lord.   We, too, when we emerge from some danger, great or small – the first thing we must do is to offer sacrifice in prayer, worship, fasting, and good deeds. For our little sacrifices to be pleasing to God, however, they must be joined to the only Sacrifice that saves, the Sacrifice of Christ on the Cross.

Because the Lord is pleased with Noah’s sacrifice, He decides never to destroy man again from the face of the earth as long as the earth shall last. He promises this, while at the same time He states clearly what is man’s condition, that “…the imagination of man is bent intently upon evil things from his youth.” He knows that man’s fallen nature is such that his heart spontaneously gives rise to evil thoughts night and day, endlessly and every minute. Yet because He has “smelled a savor of sweetness,” He decides that He will give man a chance.

Noah’s sacrifice, and indeed all the Old Testament sacrifices, prefigure the one, unique, and only saving Sacrifice – the Sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. These little sacrifices pleased God because they obtained grace through hope in the great Sacrifice that was to come.  Reaching back in time to the beginning of the world and forward in time to the end of the world, the Sacrifice of the Cross alone destroys the power of sin over man. Only by dying and rising with Christ, partaking of His sacrificed Flesh and Blood, and calling upon the name of the Crucified continually, can we change the thoughts of our hearts from evil continually to good continually.

We have drawn near to the middle of Great Lent, and this Sunday we will once again, God willing, be made worthy to venerate the Cross of Christ with fear and love. Let our kissing the Cross be not an empty gesture but rather a vow to follow Him to Golgotha, to call upon His holy name continually, and to make our lives a sacrifice to His glory.

 

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Being remembered

23 February OS 2018: Thursday of the Third Week of Lent; S. Polycarp of Smyrna, Bishop-Martyr

The first reading at Vespers today is Genesis 7:11-8:3.

In few and simple words, today’s reading recounts an unimaginable catastrophe, the catastrophe of all earth history, the flood of Noah. God lifts His mighty hand and destroys all that has breath, save those in the Ark. We have grown used to the story, and we do not think about it much. If we did, we would feel our real size, our nothingness before God. He is the Almighty, and none can withstand His will.

At the same time, He is unexpectedly close to us, closer than we are to ourselves. Note the end of verse 7:16: “And the LORD God shut the ark from without upon him.” Amid this terrifying display of His total and irresistible might to make and destroy all things, the LORD walks up to the hatch and shuts His friend safe inside. Thus He makes clear, “Do not fear: It is I who take care of you.”

In verse 8:1, we read that God “remembered” Noah and all the beasts. God also remembers us, with His remembrance that never alternates with forgetfulness. He is thinking about us at every moment. If He did not, we would cease to exist, for in Him only “…do we live and move and have our being.”   His Word (Logos with a big “L”) is the blueprint of our existence, and the Breath of His mouth gives us life.   In the infinite Mind of the Father there is a logos (with a little “l”) corresponding to each of us, a little blueprint of each unique existence. From Him did we come, and to Him will we return: “…unto Thee shall all flesh come (Psalm 64:2).” This should make us feel so very small, when we think on how little justice we do to God, Whose plan for us is so very grand.

Let us, this Great Lent, remember Him Who remembers us, and realize who we are.

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In the Ark

22 February OS 2018: Wednesday of the Third Week of Lent; Uncovering of the Relics of the Holy Martyrs at the Gate of Eugenius

The first reading at Vespers today is Genesis 7:6-9.

Today’s reading is short. It states that Noah was 600 years old at the time of the Flood, and it records one event: Noah takes his family and all the beasts, and they go into the Ark. What spiritual lesson can we take from such brief words?

It is often the case that the simple starkness of Holy Scripture puts us off. Like Naaman the leper, who wanted the Prophet Elisha to perform complicated rituals for his cure rather than order him simply to wash in the Jordan (see IV Kings/II Kings 5), we would like something not-quite-so-plain from the Church and from the Bible. We read such a simple thing as “Noah was 600 years old,” and “he and his family and all the animals went into the Ark,” and we say, “Is that all there is?”   But we need to go back and read it again with fresh eyes. It is actually something quite amazing, and it reveals extremely profound wisdom on God’s part, that He would save the race of man by such a simple yet extraordinary plan. And delightful – every major human culture remembers the Flood and Noah’s Ark, every child delights in the hearing of it, and the images of this amazing thing run countless through the history of art.   God made sure that we would remember how He destroyed us and how He saved us.

This simple, amazing thing really happened. It also provides an image, a typos as the Fathers say, for something even greater. The Ark is an image of the Church; the Flood is an image of this life of upheaval, sorrows, and sin, which rages like a flood and threatens always to drown us; and Noah is doing what we have to do: get into the Ark and stay there while the Flood rages around us. You are either in or out, alive or dead. There is no in-between.

We Orthodox are not a raving apocalyptic sect. We do not rant against everyone out there while we smugly sit in a bunker waiting to shoot the agents of Antichrist with AK-47s in order to “survive.”   The Church is catholic – Her care is for all of God’s creation, for entire nations that have believed in the Gospel, for millions of souls. But She is also enclosed and exclusive, like the Ark: You are either in or out, and you have to decide which it is to be.

We make this choice not once only, when we are baptized, but daily and throughout our lives. When St. Paul says, “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith…(II Corinthians 13:5),” he is speaking to those already in the Church. We have not only to get into the Ark, we have to stay there, and the temptation to jump overboard is always present. Some people do this formally: They renounce the Faith openly and join some heresy or pagan religion or “fraternal society” or cult or something like that. But most do not bother. They simply jump into the sea of life with both feet and do not notice that they are drowning. They even imagine that they are having a great time, and they go on saying, “I am a Christian.”

God gave us this Great Lent, A.D. 2018, to examine ourselves, whether we be in the faith.   It is the time for confession in both meanings of the word: to confess our sins and to confess our Faith. If we have left the Ark – though it be “only” in our way of life and not formally – let us hasten to get back in before the door of life shuts on us. If we are firmly planted within, let us nonetheless remain vigilant: the raging flood exerts a curious, suicidal attraction upon souls, and it has destroyed the best of them in a single moment.

Holy Patriarch Noah, pray to God for us!

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The Sacrifice for sin

21 February OS 2018: Tuesday of the Third Week of Lent; S. Timothy of Symbola, Monk;  S. Eustathios of Antioch, Archbishop

The first reading at Vespers today is Genesis 7:1-5.

God amplifies His command to Noah to bring the animals into the Ark by adding the command to bring not two but seven pairs of the clean animals, those fit for sacrifice to God.   Thus again, as with Abel, He reveals that the true worshippers of the true God have from the beginning practiced sacrifice.

God commands man to sacrifice in order to confess that He is Creator and Lord of all things. God does not need our offering, but rather we need to make it, in order to demonstrate our faith that He is the Creator: as this good thing we are giving up came from His hand, so it returns to Him.

God commands man to sacrifice in order to give thanks to Him. God does not need our offering, but rather we need to make it, in order to demonstrate our gratitude to the One who gave us all that we need, all that we have.

God commands man to sacrifice in order to demonstrate our hope in His providence. God does not need our offering, but we need to make it, in order to acquire the virtue of hope. A true sacrifice comes from our substance, not our surplus. When we sacrifice that which we think we need in order to survive, we are demonstrating in action our hope in God, our absolute trust that He is true to His promise to care for us. We are asking Him to take care of us, because we cannot take care of ourselves.

God commands man to sacrifice in order to be cleansed of our sins. God does not need our sacrifice, but we need to make it, in order to express true sorrow for our sins in action and not words only. The pain of loss, of letting go that which we believe necessary to happiness, if this pain is accepted consciously in repentance, cleanses the heart of sin.

Unlike our fathers in the Faith, the righteous of the Old Testament Church, we no longer sacrifice animals to God. But we must sacrifice, because this is inherent to being in right relationship with God.

We must sacrifice our time in prayer and good works.

We must sacrifice our pleasures in limiting ourselves by ascetic practice.

We must sacrifice our material substance in tithing for the support of the Church and almsgiving to the less fortunate.

But above all, we must join ourselves to the One Unique Sacrifice which takes away our sins, the Sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the Cross, by participating in the Divine Liturgy and receiving Holy Communion.

The Divine Liturgy is not merely an empty memorial, as the Protestants teach. It is not only a miraculous transformation of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ that is somehow not a sacrifice, as some modernist Orthodox teach. It is a real Sacrifice, the Sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the Cross, which took place once in history, in a bloody manner, when Our Lord was crucified for us, but in which we participate mystically every time the bloodless sacrifice of the Divine Liturgy is accomplished. At the Anaphora, the Eucharistic Prayer of Consecration, the priest is not simply offering bread and wine to God; this has already been accomplished at the Proskomedia and the Great Entrance (the two parts of the one action of Offering, what in the Western Church was called the Offertory). He is offering the ever-slain, ever-risen Jesus, the Lamb of God, to the Holy Trinity, for the forgiveness of man’s sins and the re-creation of the entire cosmos. Our Lord transforms the bread and wine into His Body and Blood precisely that we sinful men may really offer Him once more, day by day, to God, until the end of the world, for the forgiveness of our sins and the sins of all who believe in Him, and that we may really partake of Him as our Food, until our last breath on earth, for the attainment of eternal life.

How great is this mystery! How great God’s goodness to us!

Who would not want to be an Orthodox Christian?

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Saving obedience

20 February OS 2018: Monday of the Third Week of Lent; S. Leo of Catania

The first reading at Vespers today is Genesis 6:9-22.

“…Noah was well pleasing to God (6:9).” Why? Because”…Noah did all things whatsoever the LORD God commanded him, so did he (6:22).”

Noah and his family survived the Great Flood and laid the foundation for the whole future of the human race, because one person did “…whatsoever the LORD God commanded him…” Noah, by obeying God, preserved an earthly future for the entire race of man. His obedience foreshadows the perfect obedience of the New Adam, our Lord Jesus Christ, Who bestowed an eternal future upon our race by His obedience unto death upon the Cross.

It is fashionable today to say that Orthodoxy is all about “mysticism” and supposed visions of “elders” and “hesychasm” and so forth, and that insisting on obedience to the Ten Commandments and the moral precepts of the Church is some kind of “fundamentalist” hang-up. People can believe this if they want (and people do tend to believe whatever offers the path of least resistance to their passions), but this approach will certainly lead them into both delusion and immorality. Without struggling to practice the ABC’s of a moral life based on the plainly revealed requirements of the Faith, a Christian never attains genuine spiritual experience. Whatever exalted experiences the deluded person does enjoy are impermanent, illusory, and elusive. He refuses the boring and hard-won security of building his house on the rock of Christ’s words and prefers to wander about a spiritual Disneyland hall of mirrors until a certain monster from the labyrinth comes out and devours him.

It is fashionable today to say that Orthodoxy is just one (maybe the best, but still just one) among many “traditional religions,” and that “many ways lead to God.” To believe in the exclusive claims of the Church is just more “fundamentalism.” “I just cannot believe,” says the “tolerant” nominal Orthodox, “that people could go to hell for not believing in this or that dogma of the Orthodox Church.”

This is your problem, my friend: you cannot believe. You refuse the obedience of Faith. Noah, by contrast, obeyed God. This one person, exercising the obedience of Faith, saved the human race. He believed that everyone except his family was going to drown, because God told him so.

Be like him.

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Noah found grace

17 February OS 2018: Friday of the Second Week of Lent; S. Theodore the Recruit, Great Martyr

The first reading at Vespers today is Genesis 5:32-6:8.

And the LORD God saw that the wickedness of men was multiplied upon the earth, and that every one in his heart thinketh intently upon evil all the days. And God laid it to heart that He had made man on the earth, and He thought upon it. And God said, ‘I will blot out man whom I have made from the face of the earth, even man with cattle and creeping things with fowls of the heaven, for it repenteth Me that I have made them’. But Noah found grace before the LORD God. (Genesis 6:5-8)  

“But Noah found Grace before the LORD God.”   So it is always. In every generation, despite the great wickedness of men, the Lord’s chosen dwell in the midst.   The Lord Jesus Himself, in His High Priestly Prayer to the Father in John 17, says to the Father that His disciples are not of the world and yet also that He does not ask the Father to take them out of the world. The Apostle of Love says, “Little children, love not the world (I John 2:15),” and yet we know from his Life that he spent his entire apostleship dwelling among men, even the very worst men.

How can we do this in our time, in our circumstances? For the devil tempts us either to join the world and love it or to be resentful and curse it.   How do we love fallen men yet not imitate them? How can we love men so much that we are willing to be hated by them when we live according to Truth and speak this Truth when confronted?   There are several things we can do:

  1. Remember that only the grace of God can enable us to do this. It is a life above nature. Only by living in the Spirit can we be like Noah, patiently building the Ark while everyone around us is laughing at us or even cursing us. We must pray and insistently beg God for this grace.
  1. We need to read the Lives of the Saints and be inspired by their courage joined to meekness.   We need to remember that we are not alone, that there is a vast Church in the heavens cheering our every step in the right direction. We must ask them to intercede for us.
  1. We must remain close to the Church. By living in the fragrant atmosphere of Her divine services, Her divine life, and staying close to our spiritual friends, we remain encouraged and in our right minds: encouraged, because the grace of the services and prayers fills our hearts with joy, and in our right minds, because within the sacred cosmos of the Church everything makes sense.

May the Holy Patriarch Noah, our common ancestor, intercede for us to stay happy and faithful in the midst of so much unhappiness and unfaithfulness all around us.   He stayed the course, and God preserved him in the midst of global destruction. God shall certainly do no less for us.

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Friends of God

16 February OS 2018: Thursday of the Second Week of Lent; S. Pamphilos, Hieromartyr; S. Flavian of Constantinople, Confessor 

The first reading at Vespers today is Genesis 5:1-24.

“And Enoch was well-pleasing to God; and he was not found, for God took him up.”

The holy patriarch Enoch and the holy prophet Elias have not yet died. Taken up to heaven, where they live in the flesh by the mysterious decree of God, they await the days of the Antichrist, when they will return to preach repentance, Elias to the Jews and Enoch to the Gentiles. The Antichrist will slay them, their bodies will lie in the streets of Jerusalem for three days, and God will raise them from the dead, putting terror into the hearts of Antichrist and all his followers. Then the end will come.

Our concern is not to know the “day or the hour” of their coming, but to become like them: to become like Enoch, who was well-pleasing to God, and to become like Elias, who remained faithful even when he thought he was the last prophet of the true God left on earth.

Gentle Enoch walked in the pure innocence of the early followers of the true God, and he called upon the name of the LORD.   Fiery Elias denounced idolatry and immorality, calling upon Israel to renounce its adulterous worship of Baal and confess with him that the LORD alone is God.

We must do both if we hope to be saved in the midst of this adulterous generation: We must preserve our innocence, and we must confess our Faith.   To do the first, we must cut out evil influences and spend more time in prayer. To do the second, we must tell the unvarnished truth in simplicity of heart, free of all desire for the praise of men.   We can do neither without the divine grace helping us. Let us cry for this help without delay!

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Those who call upon the name of the LORD shall be saved.

15 February OS 2018: Wednesday of the Second Week of Lent; Holy Apostle Onesimus of the Seventy

The first reading at Vespers today is Genesis 4:16-25.

Contrary to the myth of evolution, man did not evolve from a grunting beast to homo sapiens. “Primitive” man did not advance from “hunter-gatherer” to civilized man. God brought man into the world fully formed and highly intelligent. There have never been more intelligent people than at the beginning of the human race, when, as today’s reading testifies, the children of Cain invented the arts of civilization.

The Flood came later to destroy all of their achievements, however, because their hearts were not right with God.   Lamech witnesses to their merciless character: seventy and seven-fold vengeance!   Thus greatly gifted people can accomplish truly great things and still be far from God.

Today, as then, the spirit of Cain and of Lamech ravages abroad. Man, proudly standing on a pinnacle of material cleverness, is really accelerating in free-fall to ever-greater depths of spiritual corruption: the breathtaking mercilessness of the genocidal infanticide and demonic sacrament of abortion, the unthinkable sexual filth not simply approved but hailed as virtue, the organized extinction of the natural family and therefore the possibility of human love, the organized destruction of reason and the very concept of stable and knowable natures of things, endless wars of the mighty preying upon the weak, and everywhere, fueling all of it, the love of money with its political outcome, which is the hollowing out of all traditional institutions, civil and ecclesiastical, whose still-recognizable facades conceal and thereby further an utterly perverted new purpose: degrading man into something sub-human that can be controlled – or even, if so desired, exterminated – by the planetary high priests of Mammon.

Today, as then, the sons of Cain, though they are the vast majority, are not all the people there are. The sons of Seth are still to be found in the dens and caves of the earth, those who hope to call upon the name of the LORD God. God stays His vengeance in answer to their prayers, their weeping, and their acts of penance on behalf of the human race.

Though we are baptized Orthodox Christians, the spirit of Cain still afflicts us, and day by day we struggle to reject the pride and filth that surround us and, yes, live within us. May we, this Great Lent, decisively choose to call upon the name of the LORD God, place all of our hope in Him, and consistently seek that final purity of heart in which alone we will find the wisdom to live in the joy of our salvation.

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