Save your soul with fear of God

Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Matthew 

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The reading from the Holy Gospel today is Matthew 11: 16 – 20. 

The Lord said: But whereunto shall I liken this generation? It is like unto children sitting in the markets, and calling unto their fellows, And saying, We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned unto you, and ye have not lamented. For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, He hath a devil. The Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, Behold a man gluttonous, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners. But wisdom is justified of her children. Then began he to upbraid the cities wherein most of his mighty works were done, because they repented not. 

St. Theophan the Recluse likened the unrepentant sinners to whom Christ addressed these words to his contemporary, 19th century Orthodox Russians who were living mindlessly for this world, insensible to death and God’s judgment:  

The Lord says that we, not heeding the Gospels, are like those to whom merry songs are sung, but they do not dance; sad songs are sung, and they do not cry. You cannot do anything with them. We are promised the heavenly Kingdom, most bright and joyous, but we are unmoved, as if they were not speaking to us. We are threatened with impartial judgment and unending torments, but we are not alarmed; it is as if we do not hear. Downtrodden, we have lost all feeling of true self-preservation. We move as ones being led directly to destruction, and have not a care for our destiny. We have lost heart, given ourselves over to carelessness—what will be, will be! Look at our state! Is not this why suicides are so frequent? It is the fruit of modern teachings and views on man and his [in]significance! There is progress for you! There is enlightenment! It would be better to be totally ignorant, but save your soul with fear of God, than, having attained the title of an enlightened person, to perish unto the ages, never thinking your entire life about what will happen after death. Not a single jot shall pass from the word of God, which describes both the heavenly kingdom and hell—all will be as it is written. Take this to heart, everyone, as something which touches you personally; and take care for yourself, with all your strength, and as long as time remains. Thoughts for Each Day of the Year, pp. 133-134 

Our Lord in His time was rebuking not outsiders, not the Gentiles, but the Chosen People, the members of the Old Testament Church.  St. Theophan likewise applied the words of Christ to members of the New Testament Church, the Orthodox Christians of his own time.  Today, to profit from the Lord’s admonition, we must direct His accusation at ourselves.

St. Theophan accuses the false education of his time for creating this indifference of baptized Orthodox Christians to the hour of death and God’s judgment.  The science, falsely so-called, of the apostate West had by the late 19th century destroyed the minds of a critical mass of the Russian aristocracy, intelligentsia, and clergy, and therefore when a certain foreign element engineered the Revolution, the weakened and effete souls of the Russian leadership class could not resist it, did not even want to resist it; many of them even danced with suicidal joy as the Revolution rose up and devoured them.    Liberal clergy and academics who escaped the wreck of their nation fled to Paris and other Babylons of apostate worldliness like New York, and, they went right on, not missing a beat, setting up academic comfort zones where they could continue to propagate the lies of liberalism and modernism that had enabled the triumph of Marxism, utterly shameless, oblivious to their guilt for the catastrophe which they and their mentors had done so much to create.   Their intellectual heirs today are the superstar academic theologians – so-called – of World Orthodoxy who teach ecumenism, universalism, and the re-interpretation of Holy Scripture in the light of evolutionism. 

What do the teachings of all of these pied pipers of apostasy, who claim to be Orthodox theologians, have in common?  It is the spirit of Antichrist, for they do not claim to attack Christ but rather the opposite:  they claim that they are teaching the truth about Christ !  But behold the fruit of their teaching in their disciples: indifference to the literal reality of the coming judgment, supercilious self-satisfaction posing as virtuous moderation, and an Epicurean enjoyment of the physical and psychic beauties of Orthodoxy without  bearing the cross of confessing the hard truths of Orthodoxy to the apostate world.  Their assignment from the demons, who are their masters, was the task of destroying that single-minded and pure-hearted zeal for the salvation of souls which alone will enable us to escape the wrath that is to come. Judging from the typical sermon one hears from the amvon on any given Sunday, they have performed their task quite well.

The false teachings of these men include a denial of the literal reality of the Six Day Creation and of the universal Flood of Noah; they claim that one can reconcile the fairy tales of Darwinism with the truth of Holy Scripture.    For them and their disciples, the history of the world stretches back endlessly into a time so great as to be unreal, and stretches forward into the future in the same manner:  both the Creation and the Second Coming as taught in Holy Scripture are really just images, metaphors for, well, something or other quite abstract and far away, that can only be described accurately by experts like them, in long, boring pages of mystifying rigamarole.   Those who believe in such things will live according to this belief, which means that they will live for this world and not the next. They will not escape the wrath that is to come.

Another one of their fond imaginings is that heaven and hell are not places but “states of mind.” This is so vague and so incomprehensible to the ordinary mind that it must be highly intelligent, even spiritual…right?    But here is how a real Orthodox teacher, St. Ignatius Brianchaninov teaches us to think about hell:  

Frequently enumerate the eternal woes that await sinners.  By frequently docketing these miseries make them stand vividly before your eyes.  Acquire a foretaste of the torments of hell so that at the graphic remembrance of them your soul may shudder, may tear itself away from sin, and may have recourse to God with humble prayer for mercy, putting all hope in His infinite goodness and despairing of yourself.  Recall and represent to yourself the terrible subterranean gulf and prison that constitute hell.  The gulf or pit is called bottomless.  Precisely!  That is just what it is in relation to men.  The vast prison of hell has many sections and many different kinds of torment and torture by which every man is repaid according to the deeds he has done in the course of his earthly life.  In all sections imprisonment is eternal, the torments eternal.  There, insufferable, impenetrable darkness reigns, and at the same time the unquenchable fire burns there with an ever equal strength.  There is no day there.  There is always eternal night.  The stench there is insupportable, and it cannot be compared with the foulest earthly fetor.  The terrible worm of hell never slumbers or sleeps.  It gnaws and gnaws, and devours the prisoners of hell without impairing their wholeness or destroying their existence, and without ever being glutted itself.  Such is the nature of all the torments of hell; they are worse than any death, but they do not produce death.  Death is desired in hell as much as life is desired on earth.   Death would be a comfort for all the prisoners of hell.  It is not for them.  Their fate is unending life for unending suffering.  Lost souls in hell are tormented by the insufferable executions with which the eternal prison of those rejected by God abounds; they are tormented there by the unendurable grief; they are tormented there by that most ghastly disease of the soul – despair. The Arena, chapter 28, “On the Remembrance of Death” 

The worldly man recoils at such words, not only, or even primarily, at the simplicity and the horror of this description of the torments awaiting him, but primarily because he cannot accept the way of escape that the saint offers to him:  “Acquire a foretaste of the torments of hell so that your soul may shudder, may tear itself away from sin, and may have recourse to God with humble prayer for mercy, putting all hope in His infinite goodness and despairing of yourself.”   The pride of the fallen mind cannot abide such words; it runs instead to fabricate its own imaginary escape from the torments to come in the form of a delusory intellectual construct.    Such a man may say that he believes in God, but in fact he believes in the powers of his own mind.   He will write “I did it my way” on his tombstone and go to burn in hell.  

We, however, most certainly need not go this way of pride, despair, and damnation.  We can choose the narrow but joyful path of simplicity of heart, accepting the Holy Scriptures and the Holy Tradition of the Church as they are taught to us clearly by the saints.  Let us acquire the mind of the saints, which is the mind of Christ, and with non-reliance on our fallen minds and wills, with all-daring hope in God’s mercy towards sinners, obtain that firm hope of salvation that He desires to grant those who believe in His Word with purity of heart. 

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