The believing mind

Thursday of the Tenth Week of St. Matthew

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In the Gospel today, we see the chief priests and Pharisees refusing to repent and, instead, hardening their hearts against the Lord:

The Lord said to the Jews which came to Him: Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof. And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder. And when the chief priests and Pharisees had heard his parables, they perceived that he spake of them.
But when they sought to lay hands on him, they feared the multitude, because they took him for a prophet. – 
St.Matthew 21: 43-46

St. Theophan the Recluse remarks that the opposition to the Gospel is always irrational:

The chief priests and Pharisees perceived that the Lord was telling parables on their account, that He was opening their eyes so that they would see the truth. But what did they do with this? They thought about how to kill the Lord. If their common sense had not been distorted by their prejudice, then even if they could not believe, as the clarity of the instruction required, they would at least have carefully considered the truth of the Savior’s words. Their prejudice pushed them onto a crooked path, and they then proved to be God-killers. It has always been this way, and it is this way now. The Germans [i.e., the liberal Scripture scholars in the German universities], and our people who have become Germanized in their mentality, immediately cry out whenever they come across a miracle in the Gospels, “Not true, not true; this did not happen and could not happen, this needs to be crossed out.” Is not this the same as killing? Look through all the books of these clever men – in none of them will you find any indication as to why they think this way. Not one of them can say anything against what the Gospel truth proves, and not one cares to comprehend the arguments which sober-minded people use to convict their falseness; they only continue insisting that [what is written] could not be, and that is why they do not believe the Gospels. And you cannot do anything with them – they are ready to defy God Himself. –  Thoughts for Each Day of the Year, pp. 164-165

St. Theophan likens the blindness of the modern skeptic to the blindness of the Pharisees, and, indeed, it is the same, arising from the same cause: pride and hardness of heart. The materialist outlook, which the humanists and liberals call “rational,” is profoundly irrational, because it cannot explain the existence of mind itself, of knowledge itself. A person would only adopt such a philosophy from the primordial Luciferian urge to pretend to be god in spite of all evidence to the contrary. The offspring of the liberals, the nihilists, are at least honest to this extent: they not only admit but revel in their irrationality, and they not only admit but revel in the fact that the only possible outcome of their philosophy is total destruction.

All of us, living as we are in an “unbelieving and perverse generation,” suffer temptations to doubt, at least now and then. We have available to us excellent works of apologetics to help us overcome this on the intellectual level. But more importantly, we must immerse ourselves in the Orthodox worldview by constant reading of Scripture, of the Lives of the Saints, and other authentic Orthodox sources; by prayer; and by being present, with attention, as at many divine services in Church as possible. Our minds have to swim, as it were, in the Orthodox spiritual and mental universe, because being convinced at one point by an intellectual argument does not give us sufficient strength to stay convinced.  Our minds are naturally attracted to what they are exposed to, and our hearts follow our minds. This is simply human nature.

Such an immersion in Orthodox sources rewards us immediately with clarity of the mind and lightening of the heart. In contrast to the heavy burden of worldly thoughts and worldly subject matter,  God’s truth is the light burden that gives rest to our souls. In contrast to the mental  hell of this world’s confusion, it is Paradise before Paradise.

The next time, then, you are burdened by the world and its “news,” instead of doing something useless and destructive (like surfing to the next website in order to become more confused, helpless, and angry), open the Holy Gospel, stand in your icon corner, and start reading aloud.   Read the Life of a saint that has helped you in the past. Grab your prayer rope, take a walk, and glorify God for His beautiful creation.   We have an entire spiritual universe open to us, wider than the heavens, which no one else has. We need to show our gratitude by choosing to live in it.

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Life with integrity

Tuesday of the Tenth Week of Matthew

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In the Gospel today, Our Lord confronts the chief priests and elders with their self-serving hypocrisy:

And when he was come into the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came unto him as he was teaching, and said, By what authority doest thou these things? and who gave thee this authority? And Jesus answered and said unto them, I also will ask you one thing, which if ye tell me, I in like wise will tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John, whence was it? from heaven, or of men? And they reasoned with themselves, saying, If we shall say, From heaven; he will say unto us, Why did ye not then believe him? But if we shall say, Of men; we fear the people; for all hold John as a prophet. And they answered Jesus, and said, We cannot tell. And he said unto them, Neither tell I you by what authority I do these things. – StMatthew 21: 23-27

St. Theophan the Recluse uses this Gospel passage to describe the mindset of the truth-deniers of every age:

When the Lord asked the question about John the Baptist, the chief priests and the elders thought, “If we answer this way or that, either way is detrimental for us,” and that is why they decided it would be better to use ignorance as a cover. Their self-interest tied their tongue and did not allow them to witness to the truth. If they had loved truth more than themselves, the words would have been different, as would their works. Their interests buried the truth and would not let it reach their hearts. Their interests kept them from forming a sincere conviction, and made their hearts indifferent to the truth. This is how it always is – egotistical strivings are the primordial enemies of truth. All other enemies follow them and act by means of them. If one investigates how all delusions and heresies have arisen, it turns out that this is precisely the source of them all: In words, truth is truth; but in reality, the truth hinders us in one regard or another and must be eliminated, and a lie must be set in its place which is more favorable to us. Why, for example, are there materialists and nihilists? Because the idea of God the Creator, Provider, and Judge, together with the idea of the spirituality of the soul, hinders those people from living in grand style according to their inclinations, and so they push the idea aside. it is clear from the worthlessness of their premises that nihilists are not guided by the truth. They want everything to be just as they think it is, and every phantom that reflects their thoughts is exhibited by them as a witness to the truth. If they would sober up even a little, they would immediately see their lie. But they feel sorry for themselves, and therefore remain as they are. – Thoughts for Each Day of the Year, pp. 164-165

“…egotistical strivings are the primordial enemies of truth.” In the case of both religious and secular power-mongers, this egotism takes the obvious form of the publicly flaunted pursuit of self-interest. But “egotistical strivings” are not the sole property of the rich and powerful. All people, because “…they feel sorry for themselves…” shy away from holding the mirror of truth up to their own lives. Every man has a fallen nature, and therefore every man blinds himself to the truth.   Salvation requires that man assent to the revealed truths of the Faith, receive the grace of faith, and let the light of truth enlighten his darkened mind. The world (society), the flesh (our passions), and the devil fight this every step of the way. But God’s grace is all-conquering, and a man who wills not to feel sorry for himself, who desires to know and to live by the truth at all costs, will receive grace in abundance.

Avoiding heresies and delusions, then, is not simply a matter of the mind but also of the will. Someone has to will to know the truth at all costs, no matter what it takes. Then, for that truth to be his glory instead of his shame, he has to live by it, at all costs, no matter what it takes, for to accept the truth in word but deny it by one’s life is the same – or perhaps worse – than never having accepted it at all.

The age we live in, however, in the apt expression of the late Fr. Seraphim Rose, is an age of spiritual fakery par excellence. It is literally a pandemonium, an age in which all the demons of hell have been let loose, for “he that restraineth” (i.e., the divinely anointed Orthodox emperor, and true Christian authority in general) has been removed, evil men rule the nations, and therefore, in the short run, evil seems to have free rein. Every kind of false opinion and phony “goodness” is exalted, and the hard truth of God’s Word is derided, even denounced as evil itself. To fit in, to serve one’s immediate self-interest of societal acceptance and advancement, one must bury the truth and not let it reach one’s heart, or if one does know the truth, one must tie one’s tongue and not witness to it.  The only path open to integrity is therefore not to fit in, to live as did Noah before the Flood, Lot in Sodom, Joseph amid the fleshpots of Egypt, and Daniel in the court of Babylon.

Obviously, one can live in this way only by faith, by prayer, and by grace.  Only a “man of divine desires,” like Daniel, can keep the truth firmly fixed in mind and heart – and live by it – while surrounded by the enemies of truth and their witting or unwitting slaves. Only the burning love for Christ can give one the ability to keep going when everything in this world militates against the truth of the Faith.   Therefore conscious, attentive, and heartfelt prayer, done daily without fail, is not an “add-on,” an optional adornment of the obvious saints but not required for the salvation of us sinners.  On the contrary, it is the life preserver of every sinner drowning in the sea of life.

The next time, then, you are tempted to skip your prayers, or inattentively to rattle through them, remember that you are indeed drowning, but the Lord is holding out His hand. He is saying, “Struggle a bit, pay attention to Me, and I will save you.”

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The scourge of God’s love 

Friday of the Ninth Week of Matthew 

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In today’s Gospel reading, the Lord Jesus Christ shows forth the wrath of God against the ungodly:  

At that time, Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves, And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves. And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple; and he healed them. And he left them, and went out of the city into Bethany; and he lodged there. Now in the morning as he returned into the city, he hungered. And when he saw a fig tree in the way, he came to it, and found nothing thereon, but leaves only, and said unto it, Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever. And presently the fig tree withered away. And when the disciples saw it, they marvelled, saying, How soon is the fig tree withered away! Matthew 21: 12-14, 17-20 

The wrath of God is not a popular topic today, but the reality is unavoidable. Here the God-Man exercises the divine anger by thrashing those who defiled the Temple and by cursing the apostate Old Israel represented by the barren fig tree. Tough love indeed. 

For a long time now, the enemies of our salvation, visible and invisible, have conducted an unceasing brainwashing campaign to make us believe that Christian love consists in accepting lies, condoning sins, and praising ugliness, and this brainwashing has destroyed family and society, for, of course, we must actively oppose evil, or evil will triumph. Militant, intransigent warfare against evil is the calling of the Church on earth. The Scriptures and Fathers have always taught this, and to deny it is to accept the heresy of pacifism, which claims to be a more spiritual kind of religion than Orthodoxy, but is in fact a religion of demonic false love. 

The late Archbishop Averky of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad (+1976) wrote clear, no-sense article on this subject of true love vs. fake love, and true forgiveness vs fake forgiveness of sins (see below).  Here the holy archbishop states, “Resolutely struggling with every tiniest manifestation of evil and sin in our own souls, let us not be afraid to expose and rebuke evil everywhere it appears in modern life—not out of pride or vanity, but only out of love for the truth. Our main task in these evil times of lying shamelessness is to preserve whole our faithfulness and dedication to the authentic Gospel Truth and to the Author of our salvation—Christ the Life-Giver Who rose after three days from the grave, the Conqueror of hell and death.” 

We cannot postpone speaking the truth until some imaginary day when we are perfect, passionless, hesychasts who never lose their temper and always say everything with perfect wisdom in a calm, quiet voice.  The Church has never taught such a thing. Qui tacet consentire videtur – “He that is silent seems to give consent.” Let us not consent to evil by our silence, but speak the truth firmly with that true love that desires to please God and save souls. 


Archbishop Averky (Taushev)


The following treatise by the ever-memorable Archbishop Averky (Taushev) (born November 1, 1906 in the city of Kazan, died: April 13, 1976 in Jordanville, New York) is part of a larger work entitled, The Christian in the Modern World (in Russian).

The future Archbishop Averky immigrated with his family in the wake of the Bolshevik revolution in Russia to Bulgaria, and there became a monk and a priest. Having witnessed the horrifying result of liberal ideology and apostasy in his homeland, his writings are startlingly relevant to us today.    

One of the most important consequences of the great work of man’s redemption wrought by Christ the Life-Giver Who rose after three days from the dead, was precisely forgiveness, or the remission of sins.

And truly! One of the main consequences of the great work of man’s redemption, wrought by Christ the Life-Giver Who rose after three days from the dead, was precisely forgiveness, or the remission of sins.

This is why after appearing on the first day after His Resurrection to His disciples who were gathered together, the Risen Lord gave them peace; He breathed on them and said, Receive ye the Holy Ghost: Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained (Jn. 20:19–23).

Further in the Book of the Acts of the Apostles we see that in preaching Christ crucified and risen from the dead, the holy apostles immediately afterwards called their listeners to repentance and to receive baptism “unto the remission of sins”.

Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost (Acts 2:38)—that is what the apostle Peter said to the great crowd of people listening to him on the day of Pentecost.

Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out (Acts 3:19), he and the holy apostle John called to the people gathered around them, after the their miraculous healing of a man who was lame from birth. God now commandeth all men every where to repent, said the apostle Paul to the Athenians in his famous sermon at the Areopagus, Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness (Acts 17:30–31).

From this it is clearly seen that this “forgiveness” about which St. John Chrysostom speaks, or, “remission of sins”, are given to us not unconditionally, but conditionally—that is, under the condition of repentance (sincere repentance, of course). Therefore, in giving His disciples the power to “remit sins” by the Holy Spirit, the Lord gave them at the same time, as we see, the power to not remit sins—obviously to those who do not really repent: whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained—which means that they are not forgiven.

How understandable this is, how logical and how completely opposite this clear and definite, pure Gospel teaching is to the propaganda so fashionable today of some pseudo-Christian love and unconditional all-forgiveness, just too all-encompassing, which supposedly extends even to the enemies of the Christian faith who actively war with the Church and faith in God itself and are undoubtedly the servants of the coming Antichrist!

In order to strengthen their shaky “position”, such false preachers of this trendy, pseudo-“Christianity” like very much to abuse the Lord’s famous saying, Judge not, that ye be not judged (Matt. 7:1). This is their very favorite saying, which nevertheless does not hinder them in the least from judging and condemning in the cruelest manner all of those who do not agree with their heresy, which is no more than a totally deceitful distortion of the Gospel teachings—a fraud by which they confuse and disturb many.

In order to correctly understand this saying of the Lord we have to remember that after all, our Lord Jesus Christ Himself Who said, Judge not, that ye be not judged, right afterwards taught: Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you (Matt. 7:6).

Who are these “dogs” and “swine”?

By these “dogs” and “swine” the Lord means morally perverted people who are incapable of accepting the Gospel Truth, for whom everything sacred is alien and even repulsive, because they cannot understand its value. These are morally fallen, impious and evil people who often only mock the Gospel Truth, trample it under foot, and can treat the very preachers of it with fury, causing them various disasters and even death (see St. John Chrysostom, Explanation by Bishop Mikhail and others).

Isn’t it clear from this that by the words, “Judge not that ye not be judged” the Lord by no means forbid us from making a moral assessment of people—to discern the difference between good and evil people? And He not only does not forbid us, but as we shall see further, He even commands us to do so.

Thus, the Lord directly commands that we rebuke a sinning brother.

Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother… (Matt. 18:15).

And that is not all! Such a wise and Christian judgment is not only allowed to us concerning a sinning brother—we are even supposed to bring other brothers into it:

But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established (Matt. 18:16).

But that is still not all! If a brother continues to persist in the evil he is doing, then we need to “inform” the Church about it—that is, the ecclesiastical authorities, who have received from the Lord Himself the blessed right to “bind and to loose”:

And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican (Matt. 18:17).

These last words are the most terrible and totally unacceptable to the perverted pseudo-Christian ideology of those modern propagandists of liberal, fashionable neo-Christianity, for they go completely against its basic principles.

But whether someone likes them or not, they cannot be stricken from the Gospels—after all, they are the words of our Lord Jesus Christ Himself.

How can we not take them into consideration?

But modern neo-Christians, among whose numbers are some learned theologians and many high ranking bishops, have no desire at all to be reconciled with the true, authentic Gospel of Christ, but instead self-willfully fabricate their own personal “gospel”, as their ideological predecessor Leo Tolstoy of dark memory did in his time.

Alas! For many modern, totally unstable “Christians” who are not firm in the true Christian faith, this is a great temptation and scandal that completely knocks them off the right path.

Judge not, that ye be not be judged!

How alluring this neo-Christian distorted explanation seems: “I will not stop you from sinning, and in return, don’t you stop me from sinning!”

This is the horrifying, perverted, criminal refraction of this sacred text, presented to us in our times!

But in fact, we should know and remember that there are different kinds of condemnation.

One condemnation is sinful, while another, as we have already seen, is not only not sinful but commanded of us by the Gospel itself.

And this is quite understandable, for if we never judge anyone under any circumstances we will soon loose all ability to discern good and evil, and we will easily be drawn onto the path of evil.

The greatest of those born of women, to whose sanctity and irreproachable moral heights Christ the Savior Himself testified, the Holy Forerunner of the Lord, John, when seeing the Pharisees and Sadducees approaching him said to them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? (Matt. 3:7).

What is this? Sinful condemnation?

Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself invited His followers to take their example from Him, saying, Learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart (Matt. 11:29); nevertheless, He used the same expression [as St. John the Forerunner used] with regard to sinners hardened in their evil, who did not want to hear His divine teaching: O generation of vipers; and He often addressed people around Him, especially the scribes and Pharisees, with very sharp words of condemnation: wicked and adulterous generation! (Matt. 12:39), O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you? (Matt. 17:17). He constantly called the Scribes and Pharisees “hypocrites”, “fools and blind”, “serpents” (Matt. 15:7, 16:3, 6–12; the whole of Chapter 23); He once called King Herod a “fox” (Lk. 13:32); He “upbraided”, as the Gospel itself says, whole cities: Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum because they “did not repent”. (Matt. 11:20–24).

More than that! We know from the Gospel that the meek and humble Lord Who prayed for His crucifiers, Lord forgive them, for they know not what they do (Lk. 23:34), not only used sharp words of condemnation but at times had recourse to very strong and decisive measures of physical action. Thus, twice—at the very beginning of His service in society, and second, at the very end of it—not long before His sufferings on the Cross cast the money changers out of the temple. The Evangelists tell us about these events vividly and graphically. Not able to abide the shameless commerce they conducted under the protection of the priests themselves and even with the participation of the high priests, who received great profits from the sale of doves, the Lord Jesus Christ came to the Jews in the Jerusalem Temple and made a scourge of small cords, He drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers’ money, and overthrew the tablessaying to the sellers, make not my Father’s house an house of merchandise (Jn. 2, 14–17). And after His triumphal entry into Jerusalem before His suffering He again entered the Temple and said, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves (Matt. 21:12–13; Mk. 11:15-17; Lk. 19:45–46).

So, what is this?

And how far is this from that false Christian “love” and all-encompassing “all-forgiveness” that the modern liberals, the “neo-Christians” preach! And wouldn’t these people who are supposedly more “loving” than the Lord Himself find these words and actions of the Sinless Lord sinful and unacceptable, and contradictory to His own teaching? Wouldn’t they label them with their beloved expressions, such as “obscurantist”, “bigoted”, “dark medieval”, “retrograde”, “inquisition”, and such like?

But can we think that our Lord, the Incarnate Only-Begotten Son of God, Who came to earth for the sake of our salvation, for the sake of teaching us divine Truth and Life, would have contradicted in any way His own Self or acted against His own teaching?

Of course that is out of the question. That would be terrible blasphemy!

But that is what He did!

Following the example of the Lord Himself, His holy disciples and apostles were not afraid when necessary to “judge” people, stubbornly contradicting the Gospel Truth they were preaching, and had recourse at times to the most categorical measures in order to bridle and cut off evil.

Thus, Apostle Peter severely condemned Ananias and Sapphira for their cunning and punished them on the spot with death only because they “kept back the price of the land” that they had sold instead of giving it over completely as an offering to the Church (Acts 5:1–11).

Holy Protomartyr Archdeacon Stephen openly and publicly condemned his fellow Jews at the Sanhedrin, calling them “stiff-necked” and “uncircumcised in heart and ears,” accusing them of “always resisting the Holy Spirit,” that they “persecuted the prophets,” and finally became “betrayers and murderers” (Acts 7:51–52).

Holy Apostle Peter condemned Simon the Sorcerer for his attempts to purchase the grace of the Holy Spirit with money, saying to him, Thy money perish with thee… I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity (Acts 8:18–23).

During his first missionary journey, the holy apostle Paul harshly condemned the sorcerer and false prophet Barjesus, or Elymas, who was trying to turn the proconsul Sergius Paulus away from Christ. The apostle said, O full of all subtilty and all mischief, thou child of the devil, thou enemy of all righteousness! and punished him with blindness (Acts 13:6–12).

What is this? Sinful judging? The apostles’ lack of Christian love?

When the newly converted Christians in Corinth informed the same apostle Paul that the repulsive and wicked sin of incest was being practiced amongst them, that one should have his father’s wife, he did not say to them, “Judge not, and ye shall not be judged!” or, “Why behold ye the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not feel the beam in your own?” No! Nothing of the sort! The holy apostle immediately condemned that sinner and commanded the Corinthians to condemn him, pronouncing a very harsh sentence and punishment against him: To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus (1 Cor. 5:9–13).

The passages from Holy Scripture we have cited above seem more than sufficient to show us how we have to correctly understand the Lord’s words, Judge not, that ye be not judged; to be persuaded that these words do not at all exclude every kind of condemnation of our neighbor; that is, “condemnation” is not only allowable but even necessary, prescribed by God’s Law itself and our conscience. This is because a true Christian cannot relate to barefaced evil and sin indifferently; he cannot refuse to notice it or reconcile himself with it under the cunning excuse of being “nonjudgmental”, having “Christian love”, and “all-forgiveness”.

We have to know well and remember that the malicious Tolstoyan teaching of “not resisting evil” is absolutely foreign to true Christianity (incidentally, that teaching destroyed our misfortunate homeland Russia and thrust it into the terrible horrors of Bolshevism!): Every true Christian is irreconcilable to evil, no matter where or in whom he finds it.

The holy apostles followed the example of the Lord Jesus Christ, and others after them warred against it, even at the cost of all possible and serious deprivations, even of their own lives.

That is how the holy martyrs warred with the evil of dark paganism and idol worship—not only passively dying in Christ’s Name, but also quite decisively condemning, at times with very sharp words and expressions and even actions, the errors and wickedness of the idol worshippers.

The holy fathers of the Church decisively and uncompromisingly fought against heretics, by no means considering the heretics to be people who “think differently” (as it has become fashionable in our time to express it!), to whom we have to show “tolerance”, and whom we have to “approach with understanding”, but to view them as grievous wolves … not sparing the flock, according to Holy Scripture (Act. 20:29), and sternly condemning them at the Ecumenical and Local Councils, the right-believing Christians being cautious of every association with them, and giving them over to anathema.

What is this? Sinful condemnation or a lack of love?

No! It is none other than the lawful application in life of the apostle’s words: What fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? (2 Cor. 6:14-15).

And our venerable monastic fathers and mothers—Christian ascetics—“judged” this world which lieth in evil by the very fact of their departure from it. They followed the call of God’s Word: Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you. And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty (2 Cor. 6:17–18).

And now, in in these terrible times of cynical and openly fierce atheism, we as Christians faithful to Christ the Savior and His True Church cannot but condemn with all our resolve the atheists and blasphemers, the fierce theomachists who are striving to uproot the Christian faith throughout the world and destroy the Holy Church, defiling our Fatherland and desecrating our holy shrines.

We cannot but condemn also all those who cooperate with them, who support them and aid them in consolidating their power, helping them by this in their hellish plans.

We condemn the servants of the coming Antichrist and the Antichrist himself…

Could this really be sinful judgment that is forbidden by the Gospel, as the modern-day smarties—neo-Christians filled with some kind of “super love” and all-encompassing “all-forgiveness”—are trying to persuade us to think?

Let them not lie against the Lord and His Holy Gospel!

Let them not in their pharisaical pride and self-deception ascribe to themselves more love than the very Incarnation of Love, our Lord and Savior, had!

And how we need to correctly understand the Lord’s saying, Judge not that ye be not judged! The great father of the Church St. John Chrysostom explains this beautifully:

“Here the Savior is not commanding us to not judge all sins in general, and He does not forbid everyone without exception to do this, but only those who, themselves filled with numberless sins, reprove others for insignificant mistakes. Christ is pointing here also at the Jews who themselves being evil were the accusers of their neighbors over some unimportant and insignificant mistakes, while they themselves unconscionably committed great sins (see vol. VII, p. 260 [Russian]).

It follows that judgment is not forbidden about a neighbor, nor is it forbidden to condemn his evil actions in and of themselves, but forbidden rather is the evil feeling in the soul for one’s neighbors by a person who himself sins in the same way or even more, without thinking about his own correction.

It is not objective “judgment” of a neighbor that is forbidden, not dispassionate condemnation of his bad behavior, but evil gossip and calumny, which often comes from vain and impure impulses—from pride and ambition, envy or resentment.

In other words, forbidden is all anger and glee for personal reasons over one’s sinning neighbor, and by no means the just, pure, ideological, principled, and dispassionate evaluation of his actions and behavior. This is not only not contradictory to the Gospel and reprehensible, but to the contrary is even necessary, so that we would not end up indifferent to good and evil, and so that evil would not triumph in the world due to our indifference.

Therefore, those modern pastors, whom it would be better to call false pastors, commit a great crime by unconsciously or consciously teaching their flock the Tolstoyan “resisting not evil”.

What terrible, utter deceit!

What true pharisaical hypocrisy!

“To never judge anyone for anything”—such a disposition in modern Christian society is just what the servants of the coming Antichrist want to bring about, so that all would be simple and wide open for them to do their work of preparing a favorable atmosphere for the speedy enthronement of their “sovereign”.

Could it really be that in our time it is still not clear to every honest and conscious Christian that unconditional “all-forgiveness” is needed only by the enemy of Christ—the Antichrist—so that people would finally loose all feeling for discerning good and evil, that they would make peace with evil, readily accept it, and then accept the Antichrist himself without giving a thought to any struggle against him?

This is no more than the hypocritical pharisaical deceit of the enemy who thirsts for our destruction!

After all, if Christian all-forgiveness, given to us by the resurrected Christ the Savior, extended so to speak “automatically” also to those who do not wish to repent and correct their lives, then the Lord would not have given the apostles, and in their person to all their successors—the pastors of the Church—along with the power to “remit sins” the power also to “bind” them, and He would not have said to them when He appeared after His Resurrection, Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained (Jn. 20:23).

Indeed what outrageous and foolish audacity it is to consider yourself more loving than God Himself and to “correct” the Gospel of Christ, inventing your own “gospel”!

Let us make every effort to guard ourselves, brothers, from this evil leaven of modern phariseeism!

Resolutely struggling with every tiniest manifestation of evil and sin in our own souls, let us not be afraid to expose and rebuke evil everywhere it appears in modern life—not out of pride or vanity, but only out of love for the truth. Our main task in these evil times of lying shamelessness is to preserve whole our faithfulness and dedication to the authentic Gospel Truth and to the Author of our salvation—Christ the Life-Giver Who rose after three days from the grave, the Conqueror of hell and death.

If he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican (Matt. 18:17).

We have heard these terrible words of our Lord Jesus Christ Himself in the Gospel reading. We should always remember them, but first of all, we should correctly understand their sense and meaning.

What is this?

When the Lord bade farewell to His disciples at the Last Supper, to console them who were grieving over their imminent separation from their Divine Teacher He said: I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever (Jn. 14:16), Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth (Jn. 16:13), The Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you (Jn. 14:26).

The Lord fulfilled His promise on the tenth day after His Ascension (or on the fiftieth day after the Resurrection). On the great and glorious day of Pentecost, the promised “Comforter”—the Holy Spirit—descended upon the apostles, and on earth appeared the Kingdom of God come with power (Mk. 9:1), about which the Lord spoke many times during His earthly life: it is the Church of Christ. The Lord earlier gave His Church a great promise: I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it (Matt. 16:18).

The Church of Christ is the Kingdom of the Spirit of God; it is the Treasury of the grace of the Holy Spirit, and it is also the Treasury of Divine Truth, because the Holy Spirit, in the words of Christ the Savior Himself, is the “Spirit of Truth”. That is why the great apostle of the nations Paul wrote to his disciple Timothy: the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth (Jn. 18:37).

The Church of Christ is filled to abundance with Divine Truth, and in it is only Truth. There can be no untruth in it, no lie, for it preserves the teaching of Christ Who is the Truth, as the Lord Himself said at Pilate’s judgment seat: To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice (Jn. 18:37).

When the Lord Jesus Christ said, if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican (Matt. 18:17), He of course meant the true Church—the Church that sacredly and unshakably preserves intact and undistorted the pure teaching of Christ, and which is completely foreign to any lie or untruth no matter what kind. Every lie and untruth is completely incompatible with the true Church of Christ, for lies are from the devil, as the Lord clearly said to the Jews who stubbornly resisted believing in Him: Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it (Jn. 8:44).

And truly, homicide and lies are closely bound to each other: Homicide leads to lies, and lies often lead to homicide. Both of them come from the devil and therefore they cannot have any place in the true Church.

We should evaluate everything that is happening in the world from this point of view!

Archbishop Averky (Taushev)
Translation by Nun Cornelia (Rees)
Original Russian text from

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Not to be ministered unto, but to minister

Thursday of the Ninth Week of St. Matthew

You can listen to an audio podcast of this post at

In today’s Gospel, the mother of James and John demonstrates her radically mistaken idea of what the Messianic kingdom is actually going to look like. 

At that time,  Jesus going up to Jerusalem took the twelve disciples apart in the way, and said unto them, Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall be betrayed unto the chief priests and unto the scribes, and they shall condemn him to death, And shall deliver him to the Gentiles to mock, and to scourge, and to crucify him: and the third day he shall rise again. Then came to him the mother of Zebedee’s children with her sons, worshipping him, and desiring a certain thing of him. And he said unto her, What wilt thou? She saith unto him, Grant that these my two sons may sit, the one on thy right hand, and the other on the left, in thy kingdom. But Jesus answered and said, Ye know not what ye ask. Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? They say unto him, We are able. And he saith unto them, Ye shall drink indeed of my cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with: but to sit on my right hand, and on my left, is not mine to give, but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared of my Father. And when the ten heard it, they were moved with indignation against the two brethren. But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many. – Matthew 20: 17-28

We may smile indulgently at the wife of Zebedee’s crude notion that the Christ would be a worldly king whom old ladies could cozen into making courtiers out of men with the right connections, but is it not possible that we, perhaps, grasp the true nature of the Kingdom of God not better than she? On earth we live in the Kingdom of God by living in the Church, but, imitating the mother of the Sons of Thunder, we also may tend to act as though we are here to use the Church and not to serve Her. 

Let us ask ourselves a few questions: 

Is the Church my dear Mother, whom I must reverence and obey, or is She (or it, rather) an impersonal thing, a necessary evil essentially unloved, a rusty old contraption for dispensing salvation, to be kicked, tricked, and otherwise abused into compliance with my wishes for pie in the sky at discount prices? 

Is the Church the precious Body of Christ, to be cared for and ministered to by me, as the Holy Myrrhbearers ministered to the Body of the Crucified Lord, or is She simply an organized religion business, a vendor to dispense benefits as I decide I want them when I want them, with as little fuss as possible? 

Is the Church “we” – my primary place, my primary people, of belonging, identity, loyalty, and love? Or is the Church “they” (bishop, priest, parish council, catechist, coffee hour ladies [fill in the blank]) providing “goods and services” for “customers”… like me.    

When things go wrong in the Church, is it always “they” who are responsible, or do I not have a share in the blame, by my lack of faith, prayer, repentance, dedication, sacrifice, and active doing good to my brothers? 

One of my favorite Southern authors, William Alexander Percy, says that the human race is divided into “lean-ers and lean-ees,” those who lean on others and those who get leaned on. Of course, we all need to lean on someone sometimes, but those who get into the Kingdom we are discussing here have the primary orientation of being lean-ees. At least they want to be leaned on, though human weakness will prevent it sometimes. Such people have always been the minority, of course, and that makes perfect sense, since the Lord did say that only the few even get into His Kingdom, much less sit next to Him. 

Decide today! Lean-er or lean-ee? Make your choice. 

Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many. Amen. 

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Today, if ye will hear His voice, harden not your hearts

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Wednesday of the Ninth Week of St. Matthew

In the Gospel today, Our Lord proclaims His grace and sovereign will to save all men, even those who wait till the eleventh hour to repent:

The Lord said this parable: For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which went out early in the morning to hire laborers into his vineyard. And when he had agreed with the laborers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And he went out about the third hour, and saw others standing idle in the marketplace, And said unto them; Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you. And they went their way. Again he went out about the sixth and ninth hour, and did likewise. And about the eleventh hour he went out, and found others standing idle, and saith unto them, Why stand ye here all the day idle? They say unto him, Because no man hath hired us. He saith unto them, Go ye also into the vineyard; and whatsoever is right, that shall ye receive. So when even was come, the lord of the vineyard saith unto his steward, Call the laborers, and give them their hire, beginning from the last unto the first. And when they came that were hired about the eleventh hour, they received every man a penny. But when the first came, they supposed that they should have received more; and they likewise received every man a penny. And when they had received it, they murmured against the goodman of the house, Saying, These last have wrought but one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us, which have borne the burden and heat of the day. But he answered one of them, and said, Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny? Take that thine is, and go thy way: I will give unto this last, even as unto thee. Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good? So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen. – Matthew 20: 1-16

St. Theophan the Recluse encourages us never to give up hope, even if we have waited until old age to repent:

In the parable about the hirelings, even he who worked only one hour was rewarded by he master of the house the same as the others. The hours of the day in this parable are an image of the course of our life. The eleventh hour is the final period of this life. The Lord shows that even those who lived without serving Him up to that moment can begin to work and can please Him no less than the others. Therefore, old age is no excuse. Let no one despair, supposing that there is no point in beginning to work. Begin, and do not be afraid. The Lord is merciful – He will give you all that He gives others: here, according to the order of grace, and there, according to the law of justice. Just have more fervor, and grieve more contritely about the carelessness in which almost all of your life was spent. You will say, “The master of the house summoned those in the parable – so, let the Lord call me. But is He not calling? Could it really be that you do not hear the voice of the Lord in the Church, saying, “Come unto Me all ye,” and the Apostle’s call, “As though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God (II Corinthians 5:20).”  – Thoughts for Each Day of the Year, pp. 159-160

The Lord did not tell this parable, of course, in order to encourage us to put off repentance, saying, “Great, no problem. I shall live a worldly life, planning to take the salvation of my soul seriously at the eleventh hour and prepare for death.” Those who take this approach usually do not recognize the eleventh hour when they see it, and death takes them at a time they did not expect. The right understanding at all times is to say, “This is the eleventh hour!”   As it is written in the Psalms, “Today if ye will hear His voice, harden not your hearts (Ps. 94),” and St. Paul exhorts us, saying, “For he saith, I have heard thee in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I succored thee: behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation (II Corinthians 6:2).” Every day, every moment, may be our eleventh hour.   It is never too late or too early to repent. The time is always now.

The aggrieved workers of the first hour did not understand their employer’s seeming injustice because they did not acknowledge his right to do what he wished with what was his own. This is an image of our stiff-necked refusal to fall down before God’s infinite wisdom, accept His judgments, and confess His sovereignty over His creation and our lives in particular.

Both attitudes – “I’ll live as I please until old age, and then I’ll ‘get religion’,” and “God is not fair” – simply manifest the blindness of fallen nature. We live in delusion and do not realize it. If we saw things as they really are, we would be running to confess our sins constantly, commune frequently, and prepare for death daily.   If we saw things as they really are, we would be overwhelmed with gratitude that God, indeed, is not “fair.” He is merciful. If He were not, no one would be saved.

Today, if ye will hear His voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation, in the day of temptation in the wilderness.

For your fathers tempted Me, they proved Me and saw My works.

Forty years long was I grieved with that generation, and I said: They do always err in their hearts.

And they have not known My ways; so I swore in Mine anger: They shall not enter into My rest.  Psalm 94:8-11

There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God. For he that is entered into His rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from His.
Let us labor therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief. For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in His sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of Him with Whom we have to do. Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need. 
– Hebrews 4: 9-16

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The joy of the Cross

Wednesday of the Eighth Week of St. Matthew

You can listen to an audio podcast of this post at

In today’s reading from the Gospel, the Lord foretells His suffering and death to the Apostles: 

At that time, Jesus charged his disciples that they should tell no man that he was Jesus the Christ. From that time forth began Jesus to shew unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day. Then Peter took him, and began to rebuke him, saying, Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee. But he turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men. Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. – Matthew 16: 20-24

St. Theophan the Recluse, by way of commenting on this passage, addresses a specific type of temptation in our spiritual warfare, what the Fathers call the temptation from the right side, and how the Lord protects us from this kind of demonic interference by the means of enabling us to endure sorrows for the sake of our salvation: 

When the Holy Apostles confessed the Saviour to be the Son of God, He said, I must…suffer…and be killed. The work had ripened; it remained only to complete it through the death on the cross. The same thing occurs in the course of a Christian’s moral progress. While he is struggling with his passions, the enemy still hopes somehow to tempt him; but when passions have settled down and the enemy no longer has enough power to awaken them, he presents external temptations, all sorts of wrongful accusations, and, moreover, of the most sensitive kind. He tries to plant the thought: “So what did you work and struggle for? No good will come of it for you.” But when the enemy thus prepares a war from without, the Lord sends down the spirit of patience to his struggler, thereby preparing a lively readiness in his heart for all sorts of suffering and hostility before the enemy can manage to stir up trouble. As the Lord said about Himself, “I must suffer,” so spiritual strugglers also feel a sort of thirst for sorrows. And when the suffering and hostility come, they meet them with joy, and drink them in as a thirsting man drinks cooling water. – Thoughts for Each Day of the Year, pp. 154-155 

Here the saint is addressing a spiritual problem common to sincere Orthodox people who are striving to obey God’s commandments and lead a pious life: during the periods of their lives when temptations from the left side arising from the lower passions – such as anger, lust, sloth, gluttony, and so forth – are quiet, and they are having some success in their struggles with these kinds of sins, the enemy of our salvation approaches with temptations from the right side, appealing to the deeper and more hidden passion of pride, which is, of course, the worst passion and foundation of all the passions. These subtle temptations take two forms:  Either to tempt one to spiritual efforts for which one has not received the specific graces from God needed for such efforts,  or to recall past sins and present shortcomings in order to lead one to lose the grace of hope and to despair of one’s salvation.  In his essay today, St. Theophan describes the latter kind, when the demons slander us in our minds and tell us to give up.   Let us speak briefly of the first kind and its remedy, which is quite simple, and then go on to the saint’s description of the second kind and the remedy that the Lord sends for our relief from these thoughts, which are so painful to a sensitive soul. 

When we conceive the idea of adding to our spiritual exercises, such as prayer and fasting, this may be an inspiration that is pleasing to God or it may be a temptation from the right side, especially if the addition is something completely new and somewhat dramatic.  The right way to approach our decision is simple:  to reveal our thought to our father confessor and get a blessing for our efforts.   With a blessing comes grace, and in consultation with our spiritual father, we will discern, after some days of experience, whether these greater efforts are truly according to the divine will or not, before making any promises to God to keep doing them.  If the spiritual father does not give a blessing, we need to obey.  The greatest spiritual efforts, if not done in obedience, are not pleasing to Our Lord, and humility is among the greatest virtues, whereas prayer and fasting are not, strictly speaking, virtues;  they are, rather, instruments in the service of virtue.   

This is the safe path for gradually adding to one’s ascetic routine.  

The other kind of temptation from the right is demonic slander, by which the demons attempt to cause us to despair of our salvation and to give up the spiritual life.   This usually takes the form of recalling our past sins of commission, especially the more shameful sins, or presenting to our minds all kinds of real or imagined sins of omission in our present situation:  “You should be doing this or that, but you are not!   You are doomed!”   

How should we deal with the memories of shameful sins from the past?  In the case of adult converts, most or all of these probably took place before our Baptism.    We need to be absolutely convinced that all sins prior to Baptism are forgiven by God through the grace of Baptism. There is simply no question of this: it is a dogma of the Orthodox Faith.  In the case of serious sins we committed after Baptism but have not confessed, we simply must run to the saving tribunal of Confession, make a completely transparent and honest confession of our sins, believe without doubting in the grace of the absolution pronounced by the priest, and carry out whatever eptimion (kanona, penance) prescribed by the spiritual father. This should set our conscience completely at rest.   

But what of sins we have already confessed, but the memory of them keeps coming back to mind and troubling us?  In the case of carnal sins related to the passion of lust, the Holy Fathers tell us to forget them completely, forcing all remembrance of them from our minds with violence and consistency.  There is no benefit whatsoever from recalling them:  these thoughts will either cause us to despair or they will attract us to commit the sin again.  We absolutely need to look ahead and forget that such things ever happened. 

In the case of the other passions, the remembrance of past sins that have been confessed and absolved is not pleasing to God if it causes us to doubt the forgiveness granted us in the Holy Mystery of Confession.  This doubting thought is usually accompanied by gloom and by the loss of hope in our salvation: it is obviously a demonic slander, a temptation from the right side.   If, however, recalling the past sin does not cause gloom but rather compunction, a sweetly painful sorrow for our sins accompanied by joy and gratitude to the Lord for His mercy to us, and if this memory spurs us on to greater efforts for our salvation, it can be beneficial.  Our Guardian Angel has, perhaps, given us the thought in order to help us repent more deeply of a sin for which we have indeed received God’s forgiveness in the Holy Mystery of Confession but have not yet repented of as thoroughly as we should; perhaps we have not yet replaced the passion with its corresponding virtue and therefore the door of the soul remains open to committing the sin again.  We should reveal all such thoughts to our spiritual father, and in the grace-filled arena of Confession, the Holy Spirit will help us to discern where these thoughts are coming from and for what purpose. 

When not slandering us with devious thoughts about our past sins of commission, the demons may be slandering us with accusations of present sins of omission:  “You should be doing X, Y, or Z, and you are not!  Look at So and So over there, who is so wonderful and prays so much and helps others, and so forth, while you are a worthless person who barely does anything for your own soul or for other people; you are doomed!”    Again, the best medicine is to reveal these thoughts in Confession, and with the unique grace that is in the Holy Mystery, the spiritual father can help discern how much more we should be doing in order to fulfill our duties to love God and our neighbor.   We need to pray for the grace of humility, to be free from vanity, and see ourselves as we really are.   A deluded picture of ourselves brings either exalted notions on the one hand or despair on the other hand, and the two false images will often alternate in order to create a confusion of soul that can become very dangerous.  An accurate picture of ourselves pleasing to God grants humility, stability of purpose, and peace of heart, and, having a mind cleared of delusion, we can, with prayer and good counsel, make prudent decisions and make do-able resolves to serve God and our neighbor.      

St. Theophan offers, finally, the conscious and joyful acceptance of the Cross as the best solution to demonic slander.   “All right, you demons, you can say all you want about me, but I am resolved to suffer all things for my salvation.   May the Lord’s will be done in me, may I receive whatever sufferings I need for the forgiveness of my sins, and may He grant me the patience to endure all things for Christ.”   The Lord will undoubtedly send or allow various sufferings for the cleansing of whatever impurities remain in our souls,  and by embracing these sufferings willingly, with gratitude, we will receive the joy that comes  from the assurance of the hope of salvation.  We will learn to drink sorrows as a refreshing spring,  as the All-Patient Lord patiently trains us to fulfill His holy, perfect, and pleasing will.   

O most gracious and long-suffering Lord, Who endured all things for us, glory to Thee for all things!  Glory be to Thee!   

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The miracle of faith

Monday of the Eighth Week of St. Matthew

In today’s reading from the Holy Gospel, the Lord refuses to give the leaders of the Jewish nation a “…sign from heaven,” but He instead tells them that they will receive “…the sign of the Prophet Jonas,” that is, as Jonas was in the belly of the whale for three days and came forth alive, Jesus would die, be buried in the earth, and rise from the dead on the third day.

The Pharisees also with the Sadducees came, and tempting desired him that he would shew them a sign from heaven. He answered and said unto them, When it is evening, ye say, It will be fair weather: for the sky is red. And in the morning, It will be foul weather to day: for the sky is red and lowring. O ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky; but can ye not discern the signs of the times? A wicked and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given unto it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas. And he left them, and departed. And when his disciples were come to the other side, they had forgotten to take bread. Then Jesus said unto them, Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees. – Matthew 16: 1- 6

Now think about this. These men, no doubt the best informed people in that country, knew perfectly well that Christ had been working a great number of miracles that were both demonstrations of divine power and eminently useful and compassionate – exorcisms, healing, feeding the hungry, even raising the dead. But they still demanded that He prove Himself by something as spectacular as it was pointless, a “sign from heaven,” i.e., lightning bolts, an eclipse, shooting stars, etc. It strikes one as incredibly immature and shallow. Why would the leaders of this captive nation not rejoice that the poor and suffering of their own people, their own flesh and blood, were already receiving a truly great consolation? Why did they so oppose the one who was bringing them, both through tangible physical help and the liberating truth of His preaching, a real deliverance from oppression and sorrow?

Their hatred of Jesus sprang primarily from envy. The patristic commentaries and the services of Great Week state this over and over again. They knew deep down that Jesus was the Real Thing, while they were spiritually bankrupt phonies and power-seekers, and instead of bringing them to repentance, this knowledge filled them with envious hatred. Both parties, the Pharisees and Sadducees, had made idols out of some outward thing: the Pharisees were busily constructing a nitpicking, complicated, oppressive, and ultimately meaningless code of behavior to replace the true practice of the Mosaic Law, while the Sadducees worshipped their own authority as the priestly caste and the glories of the Temple worship over which they presided. Both parties were determined to project a false image of their supposed spiritual superiority, which gave them power over others.

The resulting emptiness of their inner life corresponded precisely to the inanity (literally “emptiness”) of this absurd cosmic fireworks show they were demanding from the God-Man to prove His credentials. Their brand of religion was all about outward show. Today we might say that it was all about marketing.

How do we prevent ourselves from falling prey to false religious leaders who maintain their authority through outward show but are actually apostate by reason of their having renounced the confession of the Orthodox Faith? It get backs to the basic question: Do I want my faith to be the Real Thing? The Real Thing requires the narrow way Christ speaks of in the Gospel. Do I want that, or do I want a reasonable facsimile thereof, a pleasant and, yes, convincing, simulacrum that offers a broad and smooth highway on which one can enjoy the sensations of a pretended spiritual, intellectual, and cultural superiority (“Orthodoxy, the Coolest Religion Ever!”) combined with worldly advantage?

Hebrews, chapter eleven, gives us a criterion of discernment. We must ask ourselves if we honestly agree to pay the price required to spend eternity among that “cloud of witnesses” of whom the Apostle writes that they

…had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect. – Hebrews 11: 36-40

We must daily search our hearts and ask the Lord to enlighten our minds to see our true motivation. The bedrock, essential, and eternally efficacious miracle of our times is simply that we keep the Orthodox Faith, and that we receive the grace to stay in “dens and caves of the earth” in order not to join the great lemming rush to the Great Apostasy. The foundational miracle, the only sign we really need, is the Faith itself. Without the pure Faith, nothing – neither the following of a supposed holy elder on the right nor a fashionable academic theologian on the left, nor seeking security in the historical titles of patriarchs and synods – will save us. The Lord did not say, “When I return, will I find monasteries and cathedrals?” He did not say, “When I return, will I find elders with visions and miracles?” He said, “When the Son of Man cometh, shall He find the Faith on the earth?”

Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. – Hebrews 12: 1-2

P.S. A suggestion for spiritual reading relating to this Gospel text: “On Miracles and Signs” by Bishop Ignatius Brianchaninov, which you can find at

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The still, small voice

Tuesday of the Seventh Week of Matthew 

Today’s Gospel reading recounts Herod’s wickedly killing St. John the Baptist, which ever after tormented his conscience.

At that time Herod the tetrarch heard of the fame of Jesus, And said unto his servants, This is John the Baptist; he is risen from the dead; and therefore mighty works do shew forth themselves in him. For Herod had laid hold on John, and bound him, and put him in prison for Herodias’ sake, his brother Philip’s wife. For John said unto him, It is not lawful for thee to have her. And when he would have put him to death, he feared the multitude, because they counted him as a prophet. But when Herod’s birthday was kept, the daughter of Herodias danced before them, and pleased Herod. Whereupon he promised with an oath to give her whatsoever she would ask. And she, being before instructed of her mother, said, Give me here John Baptist’s head in a charger. And the king was sorry: nevertheless for the oath’s sake, and them which sat with him at meat, he commanded it to be given her. And he sent, and beheaded John in the prison. And his head was brought in a charger, and given to the damsel: and she brought it to her mother. And his disciples came, and took up the body, and buried it, and went and told Jesus. When Jesus heard of it, he departed thence by ship into a desert place apart: and when the people had heard thereof, they followed him on foot out of the cities. – Matthew 14: 1-13

St. Theophan the Recluse points out that Herod jumped to the conclusion that John had been resurrected because the tyrant had an uneasy conscience:

He could have thought of anything, yet he thought of no one but John. Who led his thoughts in that direction? His conscience. From it you cannot hide unconscionable deeds; you cannot correct its judgment with anything…There is a voice within us that we must acknowledge is not our voice. Whose is it? God’s. He Who gives us our nature, gives us this voice. If it is God’s voice, we must obey it, for creatures dare not contradict their Creator. This voice says that God exists, that we completely depend upon Him, and therefore we cannot but have a reverent fear of God. Having this fear, we must fulfill God’s will, indicated by the conscience… – Thoughts for Each Day of the Year, pp. 148-149

Conscience is one of three innate attributes of the human soul which demonstrate undoubtedly that man is the creature of a personal God Who intends for man to know Him, to obey Him, and to love Him.  These attributes are consciencethe fear of God, and the thirst for God.  God placed them in human nature, but the inherited sin of Adam prevents them from performing their proper functions.   Holy Baptism awakens their natural energies, and thereafter the saving and sanctifying liturgical and moral life of the Church, if undertaken consciously, with the fear of God, develops them.  In the saints, we see them developed to the highest degree. 

Conscience speaks first: It is the voice of God telling us what is right and what is wrong. Our gnomic will, the darkened, opinionated, and unsteady will we have inherited from our First Parents because of the Fall, may choose to obey or not obey this voice. Humanistic thinking mistakenly identify this will as “free will,” but in fact this fallen will both frees and enslaves itself by turns, depending on its choice of good or evil. We must force it always to obey God and thereby recover our natural, Edenic will, which always chooses according to conscience and is thus the only truly free will.

Heeding the voice of conscience energizes man’s potential for the fear of God:  As he trains his will to obey the innate Law of right and wrong, man naturally begins to fall down before the Lawgiver in reverent awe, humbly acknowledging God’s absolute right to command and to judge him, fearing lest he should displease his Creator and desiring to offer Him the un-hypocritical worship possible only when he has a clean conscience.

Living according to conscience in holy fear, man begins to feel his thirst for God, that is, he begins to energize his potential not only to know and obey God, but to love Him, to be united to Him, to have Him dwelling within. At this point, the spiritual life properly speaking can begin, characterized by attentive, regular prayer and by the regular reception of Holy Communion for which he has actively and attentively prepared under the Church’s direction. This spiritual life in turn becomes a foretaste of Paradise, and the Christian acquires a firm hope of salvation, disposing himself to receive the grace of persevering in faith and repentance to his last breath.

Sadly, these instinctual powers – conscience, fear of God, thirst for God – planted in each man by the Creator and restored through Holy Baptism, find themselves starved, crushed, distorted, and eventually ignored in the life of of those Orthodox Christians who choose to live in such a way that conscious moral struggle, daily repentance, and attentive prayer are foreign to them.  Their way of life is indistinguishable from that of the mainstream society around them, and their Orthodoxy is purely an external identification.  This may be true even if they go to church regularly and take part in the external functions of parish life. 

Moreover, today we live in an age of unprecedented apostasy by the historical Church hierarchies, so that it is likely that only a small percentage of those identified outwardly as Orthodox Christians actually possess – ontologically, that is, and not only notionally – the true Faith, are in union with a valid hierarchy, and have access to valid Holy Mysteries.   And within that small remnant, the True Orthodox, how many of us really grasp the enormity of the situation we are facing and the radical response that this requires?   Is it not true that many of us, including those who speak freely and often about the apocalyptic character of current events, nevertheless consistently make choices that ensnare them in distraction and worries, a habit that  precludes a repentant life of conscience, fear of God, and thirst for God?  

It is this situation within the historical Church bodies that has allowed the current apocalyptic scenario to come about. The outward forces visible and invisible, the dark powers of evil that we love to blame, as real as they are, constitute in fact mere circumstances allowed by God to test us, fully in accord with His all-wise providence and His sovereign will. 

Thoughts such as these should indeed make us sober, but they should not make us sad, for God is sovereign, the Master over all things. And, what is more, He is paying attention to each of us personally, He desires our salvation infinitely more than we do, and He is waiting to give us His all-powerful help in time of need.  Let us be glad then and fear not. The duty is ours; the consequences are God’s. Let us heed the voice of conscience, live in holy fear, and desire to love God with all our hearts. He will take care of the rest.

For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God? And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear? Wherefore let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator. – I Peter 4: 17-19

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Real courage

Thursday of the Sixth Week of Matthew

You can listen to an audio podcast of this commentary at

In today’s Gospel reading, the Lord Jesus teaches the disciples that He permits the existence and intermingling of both the good and the evil during our earthly life, and how this relates to the Dread Judgment:

At that time, Jesus sent the multitude away, and went into the house: and his disciples came unto him, saying, Declare unto us the parable of the tares of the field. He answered and said unto them, He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man; The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one; The enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels. As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world. The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear. – Matthew 13:36-43

St. Theophan the Recluse takes this occasion to explain the role of evil in the spiritual life of the faithful:

…Thus will be carried out the division of good and evil, light and darkness. Now is the period of time in which they are mixed. It pleased the Lord to arrange that the freedom of creatures should grow and be strengthened in good through the struggle against evil. Evil is allowed, both in connection with inward freedom and outside of a person. It does not determine anything, it only tempts. One who feels a temptation must not fall, but enter into battle. He who conquers is freed from one temptation, and advances forward and upward to find a new temptation there – and so on, until the end of his life. Oh, when will we comprehend the significance of the evil which tempts us, so that we might arrange our lives according to this understanding? The strugglers are finally crowned, and pass on to the next life, where there are neither sicknesses nor sorrows, and where they become inwardly pure like angels of God, free from the sting of tempting inclinations and thoughts. This is how the triumph of light and good is being prepared, and it will be revealed in all of its glory on the last day of the world. – Thoughts for Each Day of the Year, p. 145

One of the stock arguments of atheists is the so-called problem of evil: “How can a good and all-powerful God allow evil? Either He is good but not all-powerful and therefore cannot prevent evil, or He is all-powerful but evil, since He causes or allows evil to exist.” There are several things wrong with this argument, but let us make one thing clear: Only the Christian understanding of evil allows for man’s moral freedom, for man to be a spiritual and free being capable of loving God.   No other explanation makes room for this. God does not will evil, but He allows it, so that man may choose freely to obey Him or not, and so that the existence of evil may provide the arena for man’s spiritual struggle; truly do the Fathers say that without temptations no one would be saved.  Anyone who has engaged in conscious spiritual life in an Orthodox setting understands this immediately.

Our intellects say, “Yes, now that someone has explained this to us, it is quite reasonable,” but we initially received this lofty understanding of man’s vocation through divine revelation, by grace, not by our own mental efforts. We realize that, being of divine origin, this truth is of course incomparably superior to the explanations that the fallen mind of man has created. We perceive that it gives us both peace of soul and the incentive to fight evil and to do good, and therefore not only is it intellectually satisfying but of the highest therapeutic and moral value.   Experiencing this, we ask, “Why would anyone not want to believe in the Faith?”

The answer, of course, is pride of mind, pride of will, and pride of sensuality: Fallen man wants to create his own reality, fallen man wants to disobey God’s law, and fallen man wants to indulge his passions. Even so, man has always wanted to explain evil, and therefore the finite and fallen intellect of man has constructed three basic explanations of evil: either good and evil are illusions because all distinctions are illusions, or all outcomes are determined and you have no freedom, or everything is matter, and so God, soul, mind, and will do not exist.

The Eastern religions – Hinduism, Buddhism, and their variants – say that this world is an illusion, that evil is being trapped in the illusory, material world due to some cosmic accident no one can explain, and that you need to go through various incarnations to get rid of your materiality, in order to realize that even your personal existence and the existence of a personal God are illusions (or, conversely, that you are God, which amounts to the same thing), and that once you get rid of all mental distinctions, you will be absorbed into the World Soul, totally lose your individual existence, and feel no pain. One is eerily reminded of the epitaph of the apostate Greek novelist, Nikos Kazantzakis, who claimed to have no religion at all: “I hope for nothing. I fear nothing. I am free.”

Islam – and, to the extent that they are infected by determinism, schools of Roman Catholic and Protestant thought – say that only God’s will is operative in the universe, that He is not interested in explaining anything to us, that what constitutes good and evil is not even a question open to rational discourse, and that your job is to submit without question or thought to the great Divine Steamroller, Allah, or whatever you want to call it.   Admit His total sovereignty, do not question anything, and jump onto this cosmic juggernaut before it runs over you.   On Judgment Day, all you can do is hope for the best, because you have no idea whatsoever if you have pleased the GUI (the Great Ultimate It) or not.

Materialism says that everything we experience is an accidental concourse of material stuff, and therefore nothing means anything. Eat, drink, and be merry, or seek total power over others for the thrill of it, or commit suicide, or whatever. Since mind does not exist, who cares what good or evil are, anyway, or who could offer a meaningful definition, since what the neurons in your brain invent is an accident, and what the neurons in my brain invent is another accident, and the two do not have anything to do with each other, do they?

What all three explanations have in common, ultimately, is nihilism, “nothing-ism.”   At root, all three deny Who God is, deny who man is, and deny the love of God for man.   All three, at root, are the fruit of pride, of Satan’s rebellion against the All-Good and All-Loving God Who created him, the fruit of Satan’s choice to “reign in hell rather than to serve in heaven.”   To adopt any of these three views and really live by it is to consign oneself to hell in this life, much less the next. Yet people fall very easily into these views, and only with great difficulty, and by God’s grace, do they accept the Truth. Without the miracle of grace, humankind cannot bear too much reality.

The Orthodox Church teaches us the truth, which is that God created man out of love and for love, so that man could freely choose to love God and do His holy will.   Advancing step by step from the fear of punishment to the desire for heavenly rewards to the love of God for His own sake, and thereby attaining the freedom of divine friendship, a man becomes a “god by grace,” and in the process, far from being absorbed into the Cosmic One, and far from being the helpless pawn of an inscrutable fate, he becomes more, and more truly, himself. To accomplish this, however, we must be courageous and full of hope in God’s mercy; we must open our hearts and throw ourselves into the abyss of His love, trusting Him to catch us.   We have to look evil square in the face and bravely hope in the all-loving and all-wise God, Who cares for us, Who became a man and died for us, and Who rose from the dead, giving us the hope of an everlasting life.

Kazantzakis claimed that he had no fear because he had no hope. This is not courage but the very essence of cowardice. We can choose this way – the way of nihilism – or we can go the path of the saints.   Increasingly it becomes clear, from all that is happening around us, that there is no other choice.

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The granary of the heart

Tuesday of the Sixth Week of Matthew

In today’s Gospel, the Lord instructs the disciples on two levels: How to understand heresies and schisms in the Church, and how to understand the warfare between good and evil in the heart.

Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field: But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way.
But when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also. So the servants of the householder came and said unto him, Sir, didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? from whence then hath it tares? He said unto them, An enemy hath done this. The servants said unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up? But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn.
 – Matthew 13: 24-30

St. Theophan the Recluse guides us into an understanding of the Lord’s words as relating to the Church and as relating to our inner life:

The good seed was sown, but the enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat. The tares in the Church are heresies and schisms, while in each of us they are bad thoughts, feelings, desires, and passions. A person accepts the good seed of the word of God, decides to live in a holy way, and begins to live in this way. When such a person falls asleep, that is, when his attention toward himself weakens, then the enemy of salvation comes and places evil ideas in him which, if not rejected at the start, ripen into desires and dispositions, introducing their own spheres of activity, which mix themselves in with good works, feelings, and thoughts. In this way, both remain together until the harvest. This harvest is repentance. The Lord sends His angels – a feeling of contrition and the fear of God – and they come in like a sickle, then burn up all the tares in the fire of painful self-condemnation. Pure wheat remains in the granary of the heart, to the joy of man, the angels, and the Most Good God worshiped in Trinity. – Thoughts for Each Day of the Year, pp. 143-144.

In the Church, the “tares” (weeds) are heresies and schisms. Today clever people have fabricated a novel teaching that the Lord’s command not to tear up the weeds means that we are not allowed to separate from the heretics, and therefore the orthodox who separate from bishops because they are heretics thereby become schismatics, because (according to this novel idea) heretics remain in the Church, like weeds among the wheat, until the Dread Judgment, and the heresy of a bishop – contrary to the teaching of all the Fathers – is a “private” sin that only affects his soul, not the souls of his flock. Therefore (according to this idea), it is required to commemorate and remain in communion with heretics in order to remain in the Church: one must continue indefinitely in communion with heretics, commemorating unrepentant heretical bishops, obeying them, and receiving what purport to be sacraments from them, perhaps until the end of time. This error is ridiculous, of course, despite the fact that recent much-adored pseudo-saints of official Orthodoxy have taught it to their deluded disciples, trapping them in heresy while they imagine that they are preserved from all harm because their elder’s epitrachelion magically preserved them from the apostasy of the bishops whose names they continue to invoke at the Liturgies they serve on antimensia “consecrated” by these heretics. In addition to the abundant historical evidence against this error, St. John Chrysostom also corrects those who teach it in his 46th Homily on Matthew, which you can read online here,, and which you can listen to here,

The great Chrysostom here relates not only his own teaching but also the consensus of the Fathers: The Lord in this passage is not forbidding us to separate from the heretics; He is not forbidding us even from actively opposing them with non-lethal, legal methods of coercion if necessary (and if possible – not likely nowadays!). He is simply saying, “Do not shed their blood; do not slay them.”

St. Theophan, in his commentary on this passage, however, spends only one sentence – less than one sentence, only one clause – on this ecclesiological theme, which he mentions in passing. His chief topic, as usual, is the spiritual life of the Christian soul. The wheat consists of our good works, feelings, and thoughts, and the tares are our bad thoughts, feelings, desires, and passions. Just as, at the end of the world, the Lord will send His angels to gather His enemies and burn them, so now, in this life, He sends His messengers – contrition and the fear of God – to burn up our evil inclinations and gather our spiritual goods – our good thoughts and habits of mind and action, our virtues – into the barn of the heart, where they are kept safe by grace and induct us into the Heavenly Kingdom, which we begin to experience by anticipation even here on earth.

St. Isaac the Syrian also connects our salvation today, in the heart, with our eternal salvation in the Kingdom that Is To Come:

…Be a persecutor of yourself, and your enemy will be driven from your proximity. Be peaceful within yourself, and heaven and earth will be at peace with you. Be diligent to enter into the treasury that is within you, and you will see the treasury of Heaven: for these are one and the same, and with one entry you will behold them both.The ladder of the Kingdom is within you, hidden in your soul. Plunge deeply within yourself, away from sin, and there you will find steps by which you will be able to ascend. – The Ascetical Homilies of St. Isaac the Syrian, Homily 2

Paradise and hell, then, both begin in this life. Let us beg the Lord for His good messengers – contrition and the fear of God – to burn up our sins and passions, and to collect our scattered thoughts into one thought – the Name of Jesus – concentrated in the granary of the heart. There we will have Paradise, both in this life and in the Age to Come.

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