5 May OS 2021 – Tuesday of the Third Week of Pascha; Holy Great Martyr Irene
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In today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 8:5-17), we meet Simon Magus for the first time, as he receives baptism from the Apostle Philip:
Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them.And the people with one accord gave heed unto those things which Philip spake, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did. For unclean spirits, crying with loud voice, came out of many that were possessed with them: and many taken with palsies, and that were lame, were healed. And there was great joy in that city. But there was a certain man, called Simon, which beforetime in the same city used sorcery, and bewitched the people of Samaria, giving out that himself was some great one: To whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, This man is the great power of God. And to him they had regard, because that of long time he had bewitched them with sorceries. But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. Then Simon himself believed also: and when he was baptized, he continued with Philip, and wondered, beholding the miracles and signs which were done. Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John: Who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost. (For as yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.) Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost.
It was a great triumph for St. Philip, at the time, to convert so great a sorcerer as Simon. Yet the triumph proved short-lived, for, as we shall read tomorrow, Simon immediately proposed to St. Peter that he purchase the Holy Spirit from the Apostles. (Thus our word “simony,” the buying of priestly ordination or of the Mysteries in general). Simon went on, with Nicholas of Antioch (Nicholas the Proselyte, one of the seven deacons, who fell away and founded the sect of “Nicolaitans” condemned by the Lord in the Apocalypse), to become one of the fathers of many of the early heresies associated with Gnosticism and described by St. Irenaeus of Lyons (+180, the disciple of St. Polycarp, who in turn had been the disciple of St. John the Theologian) in his great work Against Heresies.
What happened? Was Simon’s conversion totally hypocritical? St. Theophan opines that it was not cynicism, not conscious spiritual criminality or hucksterism involved here, but that Simon carried too much baggage with him, and he could not give it up, and so he fell into delusion:
“Then Simon himself believed also: and when he was baptized, he continued with Philip (Acts 8:13).” He both believed and was baptized, but nothing came of him. One must think that there was something not quite right in the formation of his faith. Sincere faith is the renunciation of your mind. You must bare your mind and present it to faith as a clean slate, so that faith might inscribe itself on the mind as it is, without any admixture of alien phrases and statutes. When one’s former beliefs remain in the mind, then a mixture occurs after the tenets of the Faith are written there. The consciousness will be confused between the mind’s sophism and the operations of faith. Simon was therefore a model for all heretics, and such are all who enter the realm of faith with their own sophistries – both then and now. They are confused in faith and nothing comes of them other than harm: for themselves, when they remain silent; for others, when this confusion is not kept within themselves alone, but breaks out, due to their thirst to be teachers. Hence there always turns out to be a party of people more or less in error about the Faith, with a wretched surety of their infallibility, and with a dangerous drive to remake everyone their own way. – Thoughts for Each Day of the Year, p. 95.
When St. Theophan writes, “Sincere faith is the renunciation of your mind,” he does not mean that our Faith is something irrational (recall his comments last Wednesday on the reasonableness of the Resurrection claims and the lack of common sense on the part of those who deny them). What he means is that we have to learn real rationality and give up our delusions and twisted ideas. Prudently, cautiously, we must distrust fallen reason, with its endless capacity for creating false paths and dead ends by false logic, and come with childlike love and trust to the Church, to have our reason healed by grace and taught the truth by Holy Tradition. Thus the mind becomes what it was meant to be – a pure mirror of God’s Truth.
Whether we are adult converts or cradle Orthodox striving to convert from a nominal to an intentional and fervent faith, if we mix the truths of the Faith with our own fallen ideas (which, of course, are really not our own but come from the world and from demons), we run the real danger of ending up like Simon, who became like the wretched man described by Our Lord in the Gospel, freed from one demon only to have seven come back to possess him, all of them worse than the first.
Simon Magus’s particular baggage was that he could not give up his magical way of thinking about religion. It seemed perfectly normal to him to buy the power of the Holy Spirit, which apparently he regarded simply as a spirit more powerful than the ones he had manipulated previously to work demonic miracles. He had not, then really converted, really given his heart to Christ. He was just looking for a better platform for his career of magical arts. It is quite possible, even probable, that he believed that the Apostles saw matters much the same way. He was probably surprised when they were indignant at his proposal to buy into what he regarded as a professional magicians’ guild that possessed powers and methods which he, understandably, aspired to obtain.
None of us is embarked on a conscious career of sorcery (I hope!). But all of us, because we are human beings, carry a certain piece of baggage common to fallen nature: Deep down, somewhere, is that pride and vanity that says that we can make a deal with God, manipulate Him somehow to give us an independent franchise with His seal of approval, so that we can have the Orthodox brand name but really go off and do our own thing while invoking His power and authority to do so. This is openly manifest in the epidemic we see all around us today, of entire fallen synods of bishops and their natural fellow travelers – modernist academics on the left and false prophets on the right – all of them alike on a disastrous power trip, making them heirs of Simon Magus. This is not only their problem, however, for each of us also, in the depths of his heart, has to fight the urge to use God rather than to submit to Him; each of us has to crucify his fallen reason and his rebellious will, in order to remain in the Church of the Apostles and to retain the grace of the Holy Spirit.
Let us, with fear and trembling, remind ourselves daily of our endless capacity for self-deception and the ceaseless temptation to demand control over our lives independent of God’s holy will and providence for us. By the free grace of Jesus Christ, un-bought and un-buyable, may we always remain in the true confession of Faith, free of all admixture of error, and may we always obey God’s holy, pleasing, and perfect will.