1 December OS 2018 – Nativity Fast; Friday of the 11th Week of St. Luke; Holy Prophet Nahum; St. Philaret the Almsgiver
Today’s daily Gospel reading is Luke 20: 19-26.
And the chief priests and the scribes the same hour sought to lay hands on him; and they feared the people: for they perceived that he had spoken this parable against them. And they watched him, and sent forth spies, which should feign themselves just men, that they might take hold of his words, that so they might deliver him unto the power and authority of the governor. And they asked him, saying, Master, we know that thou sayest and teachest rightly, neither acceptest thou the person of any, but teachest the way of God truly: Is it lawful for us to give tribute unto Caesar, or no? But he perceived their craftiness, and said unto them, Why tempt ye me? Shew me a penny. Whose image and superscription hath it? They answered and said, Caesar’s. And he said unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which be Caesar’s, and unto God the things which be God’s. And they could not take hold of his words before the people: and they marvelled at his answer, and held their peace.
Most commentary relates this teaching of the Lord to the relationship that a Christian or the Church as a whole should have to the civil government. St. Theophan the Recluse extends this to examining the relationship we should have to secular society in general:
“Render therefore unto Caesar the things which be Caesar’s, and unto God the things which be God’s.” This means that each gets what is his own. In our times, instead of “the things which be Caesar’s,” we should substitute “the things which are worldly,” and say that worldly things have their turn, while the things of God have theirs. But everyone has rushed toward earthly things alone, and they leave the godly things behind. That is why godly things not only are left out of their proper place – that is, in the first place, as they ought to be – but are completely forgotten. A consequence of this supposedly unintentional forgetfulness is that the godly is darkened in one’s consciousness, and then both its content and foundation become unclear. From this come weakness of conviction and vacillation of faith. Then there is alienation from the Faith and the influence of the winds of various teachings. Everyone goes down this path when be begins to be careless about godly things; society takes this path when in its customs it begins to ignore what God requires of it. When godly things are left in the background, then emancipation from godly requirements begins to be established in society, in the intellectual, moral, and aesthetic sense. There occurs secularization (serving the spirit of the time) of politics, customs, entertainment, and then of education and all institutions. At the current time, people do not think, speak, or write about what is God’s, nor do they even keep them in mind – not in any of their undertakings. Is it surprising, given such a state of mind, that teachings contrary to the Faith find access to society and that society is inclined toward mass unbelief? – Thoughts for Each Day of the Year, pp. 270-271
The author wrote these words in the late 19th century, a time when the nations that dominated the earth were all officially Christian, including Russia, which was not simply any kind of “Christian,” but was in fact Orthodox. He could see that the spirit of worldliness was already so great among a critical mass of the Orthodox people – and especially among the leading classes – that the fall of the old outward Christian structures and their replacement by the rule of some kind of anti-Christian elite was a matter of time, unless there would be profound, nation-wide repentance in Russia and throughout the Orthodox nations – which did not occur. Despite the witness of many holy people, prophets whom God raised up at the eleventh hour, the Orthodox nations as a whole rushed to worship the Golden Calf offered by the apostate West, and they fell into the abyss.
The society we live in today has “progressed” far beyond mere worldliness into purposely engineered demonic insanity – legally sanctioned, inexhaustibly funded, and violently imposed by the single, two-headed monster of big government/big business through its mind-control system, that malevolent thing which has murdered and inhabited the corpses of the mainstream churches, education, the arts, politics, and journalism. We are living with the logical outcome of the systemic fall into worldliness that St. Theophan was writing about in 1881.
All of this, however, should not surprise us or cause us to give up. It should certainly make us sober, but it need not steal our hope. This world has been perishing since our First Parents were expelled from Paradise. Truly Christian societies, in which the influence of the Church was paramount and a critical mass of the people lived by Her standards, are the exception, not the rule, in history. God’s will to save us is still as great as ever, and His will to save us is far greater – infinitely greater – than our own desire to be saved. He loves us, and He will never abandon us. Lot was saved when he was the only righteous man left in Sodom. Though the world in which we live has turned into Sodom, unlike Lot we are not alone. As at the time of the Prophet Elias, there survive even now the hidden seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal. The Lord, from all eternity, has purposed to put us exactly in this situation, precisely for our salvation, and He is both invincible and all wise. We have only to cooperate.
What, then, must we do? The answers are, as usual, obvious, and they involve doing what St. Theophan is talking about in the passage above: putting the things of God first. Let us take the energy we spend obsessing over everything that is wrong – like deer staring at the headlights of the oncoming car – and put it into prayer, spiritual reading, going to Church, and giving support to our brethren, who are hurting as we are, through acts of love like spending time with them and listening to them. We have to be proactive about cutting off destructive influences and replacing them with the good things God wants to give us and is waiting to give us, things we still have access to, if only we will choose them over worldly things. It is a matter of setting our priorities and sticking to them.
Let us pray with heartfelt fervor – today, now, the minute we are finished reading this post – for a permanent and insatiable desire for the things of God, and the wisdom and courage to put them first in our lives.