11 September OS 2015 – Thursday of the Seventeenth Week after Pentecost (Fifteenth Week of Luke), Afterfeast of the Nativity of the Theotokos, Venerable Theodora of Alexandria
In today’s Gospel, the Lord silences the chief priests, the scribes, and elders, by challenging them with a question about St. John the Baptist
At that time, as Jesus was walking in the temple, there come to him the chief priests, and the scribes, and the elders, And say unto him, By what authority doest thou these things? and who gave thee this authority to do these things? And Jesus answered and said unto them, I will also ask of you one question, and answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John, was it from heaven, or of men? answer me. And they reasoned with themselves, saying, If we shall say, From heaven; he will say, Why then did ye not believe him? But if we shall say, Of men; they feared the people: for all men counted John, that he was a prophet indeed. And they answered and said unto Jesus, We cannot tell. And Jesus answering saith unto them, Neither do I tell you by what authority I do these things. – Mark 11: 27-33
These “leaders of the people” hated St. John the Baptist, and they wanted to say that he was not from God. But they dared not, since most of the believing people revered John, and therefore their attacking him would cause them to lose popularity. They were motivated by the desire for power, not by the desire for truth and God’s righteousness. Essentially, they were in revolt against the God Whose servants they claimed to be, for they worshipped themselves.
This self-worship, this fundamental egotism, which goes by the name of pride, is the cause of the irrational blindness of unbelief. If people are determined not to believe, you could raise the dead before their eyes, and they would find some materialistic explanation for it. They prefer to live as though there were no God, no matter the consequences to themselves and to others, because anything for them is preferable to humility and obedience. Rather than serve in heaven, they prefer to rule in hell. This spirit of hatred for God and for Truth has, of course, its origin with the original anarchist, Satan. St. Theophan the Recluse puts it thus
…Thus unbelievers never believe, no matter what you tell them and how convincingly you prove the truth. They cannot say anything to the contrary, while they nevertheless do not believe. One might say that their mind is paralyzed; after all, they reason sensibly about other things. Only when the issue touches upon faith do they become confused in their concepts and words. They also become confused when they present their opinions as a substitute for the tenets of the Faith given by God. Here their doubt raises such a buttress that it is like a mighty cliff. If you hear their entire theory through, you will see that a child could figure out that this is a spider’s web; but they do not see it. What unfathomable blindness! One can explain the obstinacy of unbelievers as their not wanting to believe, but where does this lack of desire come from? Why in this case does it get such power that it makes a sensible man consciously cling to an illogical way of thinking? This is darkness. Is it not from the father of darkness? – Thoughts for Each Day of the Year, p. 205
Now let us apply these words to ourselves, for our purpose here is not simply to criticize atheists and agnostics, but to avoid becoming one of them. “There but for the grace of God go I.
Most people lose their faith because of their sins. It is not as if the typical apostate is someone leading a pure life. Usually he is someone who has a known or secret passion that he cannot overcome, and instead of resolving to humble himself and keep struggling, he looks for some kind of “Get Out of Jail Free card” that will exempt him from the unpleasant prospect of a possibly lifelong struggle. “Ah, I know,” he says, “all of this Christianity stuff is repressive propaganda made up by priests in order to control people! Now I will be free!” Therefore he disposes his mind to believe any theory, no matter how foolish, which will provide a basis for a life without interior moral struggle. And he feels much better! “Ah, I feel good now, and therefore my new theory of life must be true.” This form of “reasoning” is absurd, dreary, and most ignoble, but it is the level on which most people operate nowadays
If you or I think we cannot lose our faith, we had better think again. St. Paul writes, “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates? (II Corinthians 13:5)” This is a daily contest, a daily wrestling match, with our fallen will – to turn away from evil and do good – and with our fallen mind – to turn away from falsehood and believe the truth. The two go together. St. Nikon, Elder and New Martyr of Optina, writing at the time of the terrible antichrist revolution in Russia, says the following
“…A time of trial has now come; do we have faith? A person can maintain his faith who believes fervently and sincerely, to whom God is the dearest of all. Only he who guards himself from every sin can guard his faith, according to the Gospel: Light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than the light, because their deeds were evil. (John 3:19)” – from Living Without Hypocrisy, Spiritual Counsels of the Holy Elders of Optina; Holy Trinity Monastery, 2005
The same antichrist revolution has arrived now on our shores – actually it did some time ago, though perhaps we did not notice. Only a heroic struggle for virtue will enable us not to fall away. Let us fall down before the God Who made us and Who saved us, and beg Him for the humility to know our true state, for complete belief in Him and total reliance on His mercy, in order to keep our consciences free of stain and thereby be able to stay in the Faith without which we cannot be saved.