For a thousand years in Thine eyes, O Lord, are as but as yesterday that is past, and as a watch in the night. – Psalm 89
When I therefore was thus minded, did I use lightness? or the things that I purpose, do I purpose according to the flesh, that with me there should be yea yea, and nay nay? But as God is true, our word toward you was not yea and nay. For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by us, even by me and Silvanus and Timotheus, was not yea and nay, but in him was yea. For all the promises of God in him are yea, and in him Amen, unto the glory of God by us. – II Cor. 1: 17-20
You can listen to a podcast of this lecture at https://www.spreaker.com/user/youngfaithradio/osc-41
The two Scripture passages above were not chosen by me but rather chose themselves, for Psalm 89 struck me this morning as I routinely read the First Hour, of which it is the second psalm, and the verses from St. Paul are from the Apostle reading assigned for today, the Friday of the Tenth Week after Pentecost, which in this year of Our Lord 2019 falls on the 10th of August OS, the feast of St. Lawrence the Martyr, Archdeacon of Rome. Today’s talk will therefore begin with a summary of the past thousand years and of our situation today, and will end with plain talk – yea, yea, Amen – about what we need to do about it. The first part is titled “Situation Report,” and the second part’s title is “Faith Comes First.”
Before going on, I’d like to introduce everyone to an essential work newly begun here in our Church in North America, the St. John of Damascus Orthodox Education Initiative, which starting next month will conduct online classes for adults and middle and high school students in Orthodox apologetics, logic, Ecclesiastical Greek and Latin, classical composition, life sciences, and algebra. Here is the link: https://orthodoxlearninggoc.com/ Look into it; I think you’ll like it. (I’ll be teaching Latin, by the way.)
I ask everyone’s forgiveness for it’s being so long between these lectures in our Survival Course. It takes me all or most of one working day to write one of these talks, record it, and publish it, and necessarily this takes a back seat to my prior commitments to being a parish priest, the head of a family, a senior clergyman involved with the affairs of our Church at large, and, most recently, an advisor, willy-nilly, to a growing diaspora of isolated laity who contact me through this absurd, terrifying, and yet apparently indispensable gadget of the Internet. But on the other hand, this thing we are doing with the Survival Course is important – as they say, scripta manent, “that which is written endures.” I’ll try to do a better job in the weeks ahead.
Furthermore, I got stuck and did not do the next class till now not only due to my other responsibilities, but also because I did not know what to talk about next. There is too much to talk about, and too many directions in which one could go. We had just concluded Class 40, a significant number in Scriptural, mystical, and liturgical symbolism, as we all know, and a good round number at which simply to call it quits – “All right, y’all, that’s enough.” The encouragement and thanks of so many people, however, for what we’ve done so far, won’t let me quit, and therefore I determined to keep going. I would feel terrible if I did not respond generously in turn to such a response. So, now, what next?
With Class 40, you could say that we came to a symbolic stopping point, a point at which one should pause and take stock of what we’ve learned so far, what our current situation is, and in brief what we need to do about it. So that’s what we’ll do today. We’ll have a brief summary of the course so far, a portrait of the times we now live in, and then a brief statement of the one sure thing that needs to be done first amid the myriad things that we do need to be doing.
I. Situation Report: A Summary of Where We Have Been and Where We Are
Back in Class 26, before we began the section on nihilism and the twentieth century, I summarized our story up to that point. Let’s go back and review this review, and then bring it up to where we stand today. I don’t think any of us entirely remember all of it, and I don’t think we’ll be bored with it. Also, if anyone is jumping into our course at this point, this will be a good introduction for them. And, after all, repetitio est mater studiorum. Rather than send you back to the notes of Class 26, I’ll just reproduce the pertinent section below:
The Church of the First Millennium (Classes 1 through 9) – in the First Christian Millennium, East and West share the same understanding of how one knows what is true, good, and beautiful, which is the revealed theology correctly understood by the deified mind of the saint. Thus man has access to direct contact with the logoi, the divine ideas in the realm of the uncreated energies, which are the patterns for created things. The monastic and ecclesiastical culture based on this fundamental grasp of reality becomes the basis for culture at large. It is unified on every level – spiritual, intellectual, psychic, and material. Each life of a saint, and each life of a local community and Christian nation at large becomes a means of transparent access to the eternal life of the Kingdom to come. Though within this life, creativity – true creativity – takes place, it is within strict boundaries. Life as a whole is characterized not by passion, by change – which is corruptibility made manifest – but by stasis, by the divine immutability manifesting itself in the stability of the life of soul, the community, and the nation.
The High Middle Ages, the First Departure (Classes 10 through 13) – by departing from the Church, the Western church and nations lost the uncreated grace of God, though it afterwards took many centuries to use up the spiritual capital of the first millennium. Besides the loss of grace, or, rather, concomitant with it, was the loss of the understanding of true spiritual life and true theology. Spiritual experience is lost and replaced by delusion. The true theology based on tradition, liturgical life, and ascetical experience, is put aside, and a new direction arises: Theology as an activity of the fallen reason using syllogistic methods. Theological writers use the old vocabulary of the Bible and the Fathers, but now they use it differently, as “grist” for the “mill” of their fallen reason, and thus they make the gradual deformation of theology inevitable.
The 14th Century, Anti-Hesychasm, and Nominalism (Class 14) – The turmoil of the 14th century – the Plague, the Avignon Papacy, etc. – shakes the confidence of Western Christendom in the magnificent structure it had achieved in the 13th century.
But more important than these outward problems is that in the 14th century, the East and West definitively part ways over the question of the distinction between the essence and energies of God. The Orthodox Church, in the course of the so-called Palamite controversies, defines dogmatically what the Fathers always taught, which is that God in His essence is unknowable and unattainable, and that what we experience of God is His energies, but also that His energies, His operations, are uncreated, not merely created effects. Thus grace is uncreated, a real participation in the divine. The Western church rejects this revealed reality in favor of a rational, philosophical basis for “natural” theology, the concept of Absolute Divine Simplicity, that God’s essence and energies are the same. Thus grace is a created effect, not an actual indwelling of God Himself. Obviously this causes a large difference in how the two “sides” view the question of sanctification. The Latins’ faulty theology of grace and sanctification, coupled with the ever-fragmenting and multiplying of differing schools of “spirituality” with their loss of discernment of what constitutes genuine spiritual experience, means that they can no longer produce real saints. This is the greatest disaster of all, of course.
But another effect of this problem – and the one that starts the whole unraveling of Western philosophy as we have examined it historically – is that it undercuts a coherent theory of knowledge. This brings us to the problem of the universals, and how the Greek Fathers’ understanding of the uncreated logoi in the one Logos of God as the archetypes for the created universals gives us the basis for a coherent theory of knowledge. Recall that the Fathers accept Aristotle’s epistemological theory of “moderate realism”: Essences of things – what we call the “universals” – do exist, but only instantiated in individuals (there really is such a thing as “humanness,” but “humanness” is not off in a cloud somewhere as a separate thing; it only exists as experienced in Peter and Paul). All Christians, East and West, believe the universals are created by God, and also, that they correspond to ideas in the mind of God. But because of Absolute Divine Simplicity, which denies all real distinctions in God, the Western teachers must maintain that these archetypes are in the divine essence, and therefore they must be merely notional not real, for otherwise you would posit a multiplicity within the One essence of God. The Greek Fathers, most notably S. Maximos the Confessor, solve this problem by teaching that the uncreated archetypes, the logoi, are real distinctions that exist in the realm of the divine energies, and their unity in the one Logos of God, One of the Holy Trinity, does not destroy their distinctions. Our minds, created according to the image of the Logos, can perceive the universals on the created level and, when purified through grace, also begin to perceive the eternal meaning of things according to the uncreated logoi. Thus all knowledge is unified and real, coming from God.
By definitively rejecting the essence/energy distinction, then, the Western scholastics not only create problems in soteriology, but they also undercut the possibility of a coherent theory of being and of knowledge. But at least they do insist that the created universals do exist, and that we can know them. In the 14th century, however, the new teaching of William of Ockham and his followers – nominalism – appears and gains a following. Nominalism teaches that the universals arepurely conventional, tags we place on things that seem alike but are not necessarily truly alike. Thus a unified theory of ontology and epistemology becomes impossible. Religious faith, ultimately, must be fideistic – “Ah believes it cuz the Bahble (or the pope or Martin Luther or whoever) says so!” and scientific knowledge is not directed to a knowledge of things as they are but degenerates into the unceasing exploration of the phenomenal world for the sake of manipulating these phenomena for pragmatic ends.
The Renaissance (Classes 14 through 17) – One might say that in the Renaissance, the philosophical project is put aside in favor of the return of the sophistic approach to life first criticized by Socrates. “We don’t care about truth, we care about power and glory and political intrigue and magnificent sensate art and ‘the good life.'” Scholarship is directed, in the humanities, towards a technically brilliant but spiritually empty revival of the classics. In the physical and natural sciences, the occult philosophy expressed in Bacon’s New Atlantis highjacks the scientific project and puts it at the service of a power elite, to be used in order to dominate others. Cut adrift from Orthodoxy now for several centuries, the Western church splits in countless ways – outwardly in the “Reformation’s” endlessly fissiparous sects and inwardly in the proliferation of numerous “spiritualities” under the deceptively unified umbrella of the papal organization. The Counter-Reformation brings tremendous outward order to the papal church but without returning it to Orthodoxy and thereby restoring and unifying the inner life of the spirit. Thus a vast edifice is constructed on fragmented spiritual foundations, and only outward discipline and organization can keep it together. In the Protestant nations, the secular domain becomes completely dominant and church life is reduced to private, subjective experience. The march towards total secularization of life has openly begun.
The 17th-18th Centuries, Rationalism and Empiricism, the Leviathan State (Classes 18 and 19) – Descartes restarts the philosophical project, and he is followed by fellow rationalists such as Spinoza and Leibniz. They are seeking a foundation for true knowledge, and they locate it in the mind. Their British counterparts, the empiricists such as Locke, Berkeley, and Hume, locate the foundation for true knowledge in sense experience. Hume demolishes the arguments of previous thinkers, which brings the philosophical effort into the realm of complete skepticism. Kant tries to rescue knowledge from skepticism by positing two separate ontological realms, the noumenal (the really real, which is inaccessible) and the phenomenal (the “stuff” we can perceive and process through categories of understanding built into the mind), but “knowledge” as such remains subjective and there is no effective bar to irrationalism. Hobbes and Locke formulate a basis for an all-powerful state apparatus which will use scientific method to control all aspects of life. (One sees here how, as the inner life of man atrophies, greater and greater outward technique is needed to prevent chaos).
The 18th Century and the French Revolution (Classes 20-22) – Ironically, in the same period in which Hume (d. 1776) is demonstrating that autonomous reason, as such, cannot give true knowledge, the French philosophes and Encyclopaedists are preaching the absolute reign of reason, the rejection of the Church and tradition, and the overthrow of the monarchy and traditional authority in favor of republican institutions created out of thin air by the “brains” of the rationalists. But this exaltation of reason – essentially empty, as Hume demonstrates – covers a darker and opposite reality: the power of revolution lies not in “reason” but in the demonic lust for destruction, the reign of the passions, and the will to power. True reason was left behind by the West long before, when it departed from Orthodoxy. The impoverished, graceless, and misled fallen intellects of philosophers and policy-makers cannot hope to guide the irrational tide of revolution, which is instigated by secret societies acting upon demonic instructions using profoundly immoral methods, and which brings about, in less than a decade, the bloody, chaotic destruction of an ancient and renowned Christian society.
Napoleon (Class 23) – Napoleon brings to the table nothing new in religious or philosophical thought. He is a great organizer and military leader who packages the product of Revolution in a usable way and exports it through military conquest. He puts into action the philosophy of the Leviathan State by creating the first openly secular state in the former Christendom. The Roman church in France is tamed and reduced to one among various competing influences on national life. The modern, truly secular age has begun in earnest.
Reaction, the 19th century (Classes 24-25) – Though Alexander I and his allies defeat Napoleon, and the Congress of Vienna restores the outward balance of Europe and props up the Christian monarchies, the ideas and the mechanism of Revolution simply go underground – or not so underground – and are bound to resurface. Outwardly Christendom is given a kind of lease on life, and there is a religious revival of sorts in the 19th century, but in the West it is inherently powerless, because it is laid on heretical foundations, and in the East and Russia, though a genuine Orthodox revival is taking place, it is constantly being combatted by Masonic infiltration, and the new Orthodox nations of the Balkans are born with a mixed identity, not entirely Orthodox. In Russia, the fatal split between Holy Russia and post-Petrine modern Russia creates the conditions for the coming revolution.
So by the 19th century, we have a heretical West which, though at the height of its worldly achievement, has run completely out of the inner resources for spiritual renewal. The Orthodox East cannot rescue the West, because it is weak and fighting for its life. Rather than the East being able to help the West, the infection from the West spreads to the East and combats the nascent Orthodox revival we describe in Classes 24-25.
The philosophical project in the West has exhausted itself. If there is no basis for genuine knowledge, then there is no morality and no reason to control one’s sinful desires. Only one force remains to propel human action, which is the will to power, that can take either the form of the unlimited pursuit of the domination of others or suicide (or both). The inner content of this kind of life is demonism, often in the form of direct occult worship. The outward expression is revolution, and the philosophy of revolution is Nihilism.
And Now, the 20th and 21st Centuries: At this point in my Class 26 notes, I write, “In our next few classes, we will try to summarize the main insights Fr. Seraphim Rose offers in his book, Nihilism: The Root of the Revolution of the Modern Age.” Of course, that’s what we did, in Classes 27 through 31, and it would be hard to improve upon Fr. Seraphim’s summary of the situation: The present age in which we live, which is a continuation of the revolutionary age begun in the French Revolution and carried forward by the Bolshevik Revolution, is dominated by the demonic spirit of nihilism, in which the only motive for action is the lust for power, the perverse will to contradict the will of God. Let’s be clear: Everything that the current global elite does always gets back to one thing: the will of Satan to contradict the express will of God. Everything in the dominant culture officially approved and disseminated – and, increasingly, coercively enforced – by the dominant power structures, in all of its spheres – geopolitical, economic, social, moral, domestic, artistic, you name it – is done to fulfill the Satanic will to replace what is of God with what is of Satan – to replace truth with falsehood and call it truth, to replace good with evil and call it good, and to replace beauty with ugliness and call it beauty. The world being constructed by the global elite is the Luciferian inversion of reality. We must reject it radically, in toto, entirely, and perform an act of profound repentance in which we hate whatever there is in ourselves which belongs to this Satanic realm and ruthlessly uproot it from our own souls and minds, and, yes, even our bodies. We cannot do it all at once, and we have to use prudence in the ways in which and the speed at which we abjure the dominant culture, but we have to do it somehow – we won’t do it perfectly, but we have to do something, anything! The Lord sees the intention of our hearts, and He will help us.
Of course, this radical vision is nothing new. It is simply the otherworldly, ascetical, martyric, and eschatological vision of the Early Church (see the notes on Class 1!). We have returned to the Age of the Catacombs. Matters have come full circle. We live in a demon infested world, as our Metropolitan Demetrius likes to say; we are pilgrims and strangers; we sojourn in enemy territory. But we are not discouraged, for we do not live for this present age and its corruptible goods – its passions, desires, and obsessions – its delusions. We live for the Age to Come. But while we are still in the flesh, passing through this vale of tears, we need to see things around us as they are and learn how to survive the chaos of the times. That’s we call our little course a “survival course,” after all. Where are we now, and, more to the point, what should we do about it? Which step must be taken first?
Part II: Putting First Things First: Faith Comes First
Actually, up to this point I have said very little about our contemporary situation. So far I have only covered – or, rather, have made a few observations about- just one aspect of our contemporary situation, which we called the Great Stereopticon, that is, the media machine used to brainwash the masses and thereby incite the Gadarene swine of humanity to rush off the cliff and to join their god Satan drowning in the Lake of Fire. I have talked about how “they” have instilled wrong opinions and behaviors into people at large, but I have not, so far, said much about what those wrong opinions and wrong behaviors actually are. What are the delusions and sick behavior of contemporary life in all of its spheres? What are these spheres? One could divide it up in various ways, but let’s try make it simple: Faith, Family, and Society. We shall construct the rest of our course using this threefold structure.
Notice that I put Faith first, because Faith comes first, and that’s because God comes first. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what wonderful work you do to combat evil in Family and Society, if you do not seek to know the Truth about God, to do the Will of God, and to love God as the ultimate Beauty, the Ultimately Lovable One. You can talk all day about Family Values and Traditional Society, and so forth, and, moreover, not only talk but act, but ultimately what matters is the true knowledge, worship, and service of God. The two Great Commandments are to love God and neighbor, and you can’t have one without the other, but the love of God is higher, and if you don’t put God first, you can’t really love your neighbor. Faith comes first.
It is essential to remind ourselves of the primacy of Faith not only in the realm of absolute truth – because it’s true in and of itself – but also in the realm of action – because putting Faith first also gives us the first practical step in our program of action. When one looks at everything going wrong today, one can feel like an isolated swordsman in the middle of a circle of enemy soldiers, all of whom are poking you with their swords and spears. Which enemy do you strike first? How do you break out of the circle? It’s enough to confuse and overwhelm anyone. But if you recognize that all of these enemy soldiers have a commanding officer, and that if you attack him first, the others may very well scatter in fear of your prowess, you suddenly have a good plan, and you have a strong hope of victory. Life is like that, reality is like that – it’s hierarchical. Put first things first, and suddenly everything becomes clear.
So here we are, surrounded by this crowd of enemies – the demonic chaos of the sexual revolution in all of its endlessly ramifying, constantly fragmenting manifestations constantly spinning more out of control and destroying the family and therefore the very possibility of a moral life, or even a human life (abortion, contraception, divorce, pornography addiction feminism, LGBT agenda, transgenderism, etc, etc.); the control of nearly all the earth’s resources by a tiny oligarchy of satan-worshipping nihilists and the resultant powerlessness of poverty on the part of anyone who wants to fight back; endless wars conducted with every increasing technological impersonality against helpless populations; genocide of unwanted demographic groups, most notably our own European race; the destruction of mind itself, of the very possibility of rational thought, of an inner life, by social media and smartphone addiction and virtual reality technology; this list goes on and on, and by now we are all familiar with it. I won’t beat a dead horse. But in the list above, I have not named the commanding officer, I have not yet pointed out which enemy to attack first. The real enemy, the source of all these troubles, is not they, not the outsiders – demons, pagans, Jews, Muslims, leftists, bankers, journalists, movie stars, Big Pharma, the military-industrial complex, abortion doctors, whoever – yes, “they” are doing things to us, but God is allowing them to do it; they are subject to the unbreakable chains of His will; they, even they, are fulfilling His plan for all of history. They are not primary or independent agents in this drama. They are the circumstances in which God has placed us in order to test us, in order to enable us to do His will and be His friends. His focus is not on them; it’s on us. One of the ancient fathers once said that you will not have peace until you realize that in all the universe, there is just your soul standing before God. This is where victory or defeat takes place. Our only enemy, ultimately, is our own sins. Our only task is to do God’s will.
The primary enemy in our day, the problem we have to attack first before being able to deal with any of the others, is the apostasy of the historically Orthodox hierarchies and their being enabled by their followers, who either agree with the apostasy or disagree with it but make excuses for it. In the Apocalypse, it is written that in the last days the stars will fall from the sky. The consensus of the Fathers is that the stars are the bishops of the Church, and their falling from the sky is their apostasy. The primordial, foundational problem of our day is the unrepentant, institutionalized rejection of the Orthodox Faith by the leadership of the historical institutions of the Orthodox Church. In the immortal words of Pogo, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”
Go back again and look at the summary of the last millennium we rehearsed above. The unraveling starts with the apostasy of the Pope and the Western church leadership. Now, in the 20th and 21st centuries, we can say with confidence that we have witnessed the undeniable apostasy of the historical Orthodox patriarchates and synods, by way of their now century-old participation in the pan-heresy of ecumenism in the realm of church life and their servile collaboration with the global elite in the ordering of civil society. It does not matter that individual bishops or priests or elders or theologians have private opinions that differ with their leadership. What matters is that, as a hierarchically constituted body, whose direction – ontologically, by the nature of what a church is – cannot be other than that of its leadership, this or that local church is committed to the apostasy. Directly or indirectly, all of the “official” churches are so committed; they are all committed to the Great Apostasy. That is their direction. That is the big picture. You cannot get around it.
So before we go on to the Family and Society, we have to address this primary topic, which is The Faith. We could also label this topic, The Church, because the True Faith and the True Church are inseparable. Apart from holding the true faith, you cannot be in the true church (much less lead the Church!). Apart from being in the Church, there is no salvation – extra ecclesiam nulla salus. Everything we care about, everything that makes life worthwhile, everything we hope for and fight for – it all gets back to this. Where is the Church? How do I get into it? How do I stay in it? This is the Great Matter of our Time – not Family or Society, but the Church. If we are in the Church, in the Ark of Salvation, we can ride the waves of the Great Deluge of our time and come to our goal, the Heavenly Jerusalem. If we end up outside the Church through this primary rebellion of apostasy, it does not matter how eagerly we identify the secondary revolutions, the conspiracies and evils of our day, or even how much we courageously combat them. We will be lost.
So, yes, finally we have come to this and we must address it, this most agonizing topic of the state of world Orthodoxy and the criteria for attaining a moral certainty that one is really in the Church or just kidding oneself. Before we go on to talk about the sexual revolution and geopolitics and economics and race relations and all of the other “hot button” topics, we have to put first things first: Faith Comes First. If we have moral confidence that we are in the Church, we can approach all these other questions with hope in God’s mercy, in His determined will to save us. If we do not have such confidence, we will build the house of our lives on sand. It’s really that simple.
In our next talk, we will give an overview of the history of ecumenism, an evaluation of the official hierarchies’ current status vis-a-vis ecumenism, and some recommendations as to what you can read about all this.
May the merciful Lord, Who desires our salvation, keep us all in the Ark of Salvation, His Holy Church. May He bring us all together to the Heavenly Kingdom. Amen.