Avoiding the millstone

Monday of the Ninth Week of St. Matthew

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In today’s reading from the Holy Gospel, the Lord states the penalty for defiling the innocence of children: 

At the same time came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them, And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me. But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh! Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire. And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire. Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven. For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost. – Matthew 18: 1-11

I emphatically recommend the careful study of The Path to Salvation by St. Theophan the Recluse. It may be difficult to carry out the concrete program for spiritual life he details in the latter part of the book. One has to glean that which one can and put it to use. But the English translation of the book, published by St. Herman Press, does something essential for us – perhaps uniquely so in English language Orthodox literature – because the earlier chapters describe precisely the right way to rear children, the psychological and spiritual process by which adolescents and college-age students fall away from the Faith, and the path of return after one has fallen away.  These chapters, excerpted and printed as a separate volume, have been republished in the form of an inexpensive booklet named Raising Them Right, that is readily available to be ordered online.

The willful refusal of contemporary parents, including churchgoing Orthodox Christians, to combat the influences destroying their children, is astounding. It provides prima facie evidence that we have passed beyond the post-Christian age to the post-human age, a time in which those in power have succeeded in destroying not only spiritual aspirations, but even ordinary human instincts and reactions in a critical mass of the population. Those of us who still act on these normal instincts constitute a dwindling race of human beings living in the midst of a growing zombie population who are human only according to their human nature but not according to the energetic expression of their human potential. They have become post-humans.

One looks over one’s shoulder and wonders, “Who is next?” Which friend or neighbor whom one values as a fellow Christian – or at simply a reasonable person – will say, “We know this soccer league has Sunday morning games, and Junior will miss a lot of church services, but that’s just the price you have to pay for him to have a ‘normal’ childhood,“ or “We have to give our ten year old a smartphone because all of his friends have one…” or, far worse, “Our daughter threatened to move out and live with her boyfriend, and we invited them to live with us, and we’ll give them their own bedroom [next to the younger daughter’s bedroom, perhaps?], because we feel that we need to ‘support her choices,'” or, even worse, “Our son told us he is ‘gay’ [i.e., a sodomite] and, well (sigh), we don’t like it, but we just feel that we need to ‘support his choices,’” or, horror of horrors, worst of all: “Our thirteen year old girl believes she is a boy, and therefore we will begin to use chemical and surgical means to mutilate her and destroy her life.   God made a mistake, and we are going to fix it.”

Judgment is at the door for the hierarchs and clergy who just feel  they need to support such “choices,” by their silence if not their open encouragement, as well as for the parents who make such choices. Since such irrational behavior evinces a total loss of reason and common sense, much less Christian morality, one starts to wonder if repentance is even possible, not because God is unwilling to receive the sinner, but because a formerly rational person who has destroyed his mind on purpose is highly unlikely to recover his senses. When people poke their own eyes out, when the eye of soul has become darkness, then, in Our Lord’s own words, “how great is the darkness.”   At some point argument no longer penetrates such minds, and one can turn only to weeping and to prayer.

How shall we avoid joining this great zombie army of the post-humans? The best defense is a good offense. As the world around us goes ever more radically in the wrong direction, we have to go ever more radically in the opposite direction. Monasticism or faithful monogamy (of a man and woman, of course) or celibate virginity in the world are the only three options for an Orthodox adult who does not want to go to hell. It’s really that simple. Let us diligently study and cheerfully embrace the life-giving teachings of the Church, and strive more energetically both inwardly and outwardly: Inwardly in a more attentive and sober spiritual life, and outwardly in forming monastic communities, parishes, and families that provide a support system for all those who are striving valiantly to lead a pure life in the midst of a corrupt generation. Let us state the Church’s immemorial and divinely revealed commandments openly, and let us live by them courageously.

It is impossible to overestimate the grace you receive when you firmly resolve to do what is pleasing to God.

Yes, God is with us. We may be a minority in the eyes of the world, but with us are the real majority: countless angels and saints who look upon our struggles rejoicing, and who by their intercessions will call down upon us inexhaustible wisdom and strength from the infinite God Life is short, death is certain, judgment is eternal. Let us run the race set before us, with firm hope in the invincible Victor, Our Lord Jesus Christ, so that we may escape the fate of those whom He condemns today in the Gospel and find eternal joy in the light of His countenance.

The destruction of Sodom.
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