Persevere and Avoid Irritability

Original article appears here.

We are quickly approaching the middle of Lent! Our refrigerators have been depleted of non-fasting foods that happened to be there and are restocked with simple but satisfying foods. Our palette, having gone a few weeks without rich fats and proteins, is becoming more sensitive and easy to satisfy. Our stomachs, having at first rebelled against the fast, are now humbled and happy to have just about anything. Raw carrots are surprisingly sweet, and a plain piece of bread has a great variety of favors!

Yet our adversary, the devil, seeing our honorable efforts and the calming of the passions that is blossoming within us, has a new phase of temptation in store. Our humbled and wearied flesh is not so easily moved by his impulsive and carnal temptations any more, so he falls back on a simple, but effective weapon: irritability.

The Church teaches us clearly that when we restrain ourselves for the sake of virtue, which is to deprive ourselves of worldly things in exchange for heavenly things, we are tempted almost immediately by irritability. We are not used to being deprived of the things we desire, and the spiritual energy that was devoted to that which we’ve given up backs up within us, causing a state of spiritual imbalance. The self-restraint is a good thing! But we must redirect the surplus of spiritual energy, or the imbalance will burst out in ways such as irritability, anxiety, frustration, or simply accepting back what we’ve given up. So how do we redirect this energy? Prayer and prayerfulness.

We are taught that fasting is always accompanied by prayer. This means corporate worship, personal prayer, and a general sense of increased prayerfulness: that is, awareness of divine things, watchfulness, and a longing for God. When we feel tempted or pulled towards irritability during a fast, for no apparent reason or for typical “Lenten” reasons (car breaks down, irritable neighbor, increased demands, plans interrupted, that sense of “when it rains it pours,” etc.), we must consciously take hold of that energy going the wrong direction (towards anger, escape, despair, etc.) and turn it towards prayer and prayerfulness. In the moment of temptation, take a deep breath, acknowledge inwardly that these things are attacks against the spiritual focus you have committed yourself to, accept what is as God’s providence in your life at that moment, and pray inwardly, “Lord have mercy . . . Lord, I trust You will reward me for my feeble perseverance . . . Lord, my life is so soft and easy most of the time, yet I am thankless. Glory to You for all things!”

In this way our fasting takes life spiritually. It is transformed from a dead list of rules to which we submit into a way of life, a new existence, a spiritual experience, a journey by which we, with the grace of God, will increase in faith, depth, and wisdom. Christ endured crucifixion for our sake. May we endure for His sake also.

-ARCHPRIEST THADDAEUS HARDENBROOK

On Personal Interpretation of Scripture

2 Peter 1:20-2:9

Personal Interpretation

This passage begins with perhaps one of the hardest lessons in the New Testament for Western (read: American) Christians. This is so hard for us to truly embrace, “no prophecy of Scripture is for personal interpretation.” And that’s hard for us to comprehend, because we’ve spent our whole lives being taught that what we believe is true, is what is “real for us,” and that no one can tell us that we are wrong. I was speaking to someone yesterday who was complaining about bullying being a horrible thing, and, while I agree with that statement, bullying is horrible, but the line at what is considered bullying has shifted considerably. To me, we do our children no justice when we teach them that simply participating in an event is worthy of admiration, and it is to their detriment that we have refused to recognize someone as a winner vs someone who has lost. And it becomes even worse, a hundredfold worse, when we tell them that there is no right or wrong, something that is wrong for one person can be right for another. And this is sort of what Peter is touching on here. When I read the Scripture and when you read the Scripture, we can very realistically obtain two different meanings from the exact same passages. I think of Luther and Zwingli, who with the exact same Scripture derived to diametrically opposing positions on the topic of the Eucharist. However, this fact does not imply that we are both right…to the contrary, Peter tells us, there is one definite right, and all of the rest are wrong.

What Peter is teaching us here is that when we read the Scripture, we must always do so through the lens of the teachings of the Church. We must consider what the Church has always taught, going back much further than 1517, and we must always bear those teachings, those traditions, in mind. Anyone who would deny this fact would be arguing against St Peter himself here. And he goes further to warn of the many false teachings and heresies that have spawned from this refusal. He warns of the false teachings which had already begun to spread from those who had interpreted the Scripture based on how they understood it, rather than relying on the teachings/interpretations (in further generations, the traditions) of the Church.

See, when we read the Holy Scriptures, when we study them, we must always seek to reference those readings with the lessons which have been passed down from generation to generation. I see this all the time, even in protestant churches, who constantly quote Spurgeon, Luther, MacArthur, and Moody. However, there are many who preceed those, whose teachings have been all but forgotten in our culture. For me to assume that I have more knowledge, more wisdom, more “enlightenment” than not only the monastics who had dedicated their lives to God, but the thousand plus years of Holy Martyrs who gave their lives to defend those teachings, is the pinnacle of arrogance, the plateau of pride. And yet, this, regretfully, fits our Western mindset perfectly. I attending a very strict theologically sound church for years, and yet had never heard the names Chrysostom, Basil, Athanasius. I had read entire volumes of JI Packer, but had never heard the name Evagrius, and had studied Oswald Chambers at length, but never once heard of John Climacus. And ultimately, this was because the teachers that I had heard of all taught the same thing, that Scripture alone was the sole authority, and that was all you needed to know. We sort of forsook the fact that each of them did lay ground work for what the Christian life should look like, and instead studied the very thing that Jude warns about, “”turning the grace of our God into indecency.”

See, when we read the Holy Scriptures, in absentia of the traditions of the Church, we are free to find whatever we want in them. I remember one Protestant pastor clearly stating, “pick a sin and I can find you a verse to defend it.” While he was speaking in hyperbole, that is fully the mindset of most Christians in the West. I have had friends argue that there’s a verse in Isaiah that justifies the use of marijuana, because she happened to like it. And that’s where the trouble sets in. We must read the Holy Scriptures, but when we do so, it must be in a manner that allows the words of Holy Scripture to change us, not vice versa. When we interpret through the lens of our current times, we allow the current mindsets, the current “trends” to warp our interpretation of Scripture. Rather, when we read the words of Scripture through the lens of the Church, it is we who change, not the Scripture. So often, we look for what is comfortable, what is “fitting” for our times. But, the words of Scripture are never comfortable. The messages, the commands, the warnings of Christianity can never be comfortable, they are never “politically correct,” nor have they ever been. That’s how 12 fishermen and tax collectors were able, through the grace of our Lord, to change the world. And our God never changes based on current trends. No, as Peter references here, the traditions are imperative for that very reason, because they have not changed. And this is how the Church changes the world, and we must cling to that fact. It never bends to the will of the world, it is never open to personal interpretation with personal bias. It can never change the world if it changes with the world. Rather, Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. And we, my brethern, must cling to that fact, rather than trusting in our own wisdom, which will always be tainted with the wisdom of the age.

May we always read the Holy Scripture, study it, and apply it to our lives. According to the words of the Scripture itself, and the Church, which gave it to us.

Christ is in our midst.

Crying Out For Mercy

Article originally published on Pravmir by Fr James Guirguis . Original article here

The reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke. (18:35-43) 

I notice something interesting as I read through the gospels. There is never a time where someone asks the Lord Jesus Christ for mercy where the Lord does not show the individual great mercy. It might seem quite obvious but it is really a very fundamental point. We call Christ, “the merciful one” and the “lover of mankind” and indeed it is true that the Lord perfectly embodies and lives and pours out His mercy upon all who draw near to Him and cry out to Him for mercy.

Why do people ask Jesus Christ to have mercy on them? In the gospels we see this happen because people feel miserable and hopeless in their lives. They are often in desperation due to their sicknesses or disabilities or their sense of deep unworthiness and sinfulness. All of these are reasons that cause men and women to cry out for the Lord Jesus Christ to have mercy on them.

In our own lives, we are encouraged to find the same cry within our hearts. We are encouraged to go to the deep place where we are sick and tired and hungry and feel unworthy and once we are there we transform all of those feelings of weakness and defeat into a cry to the Lord, “Jesus, have mercy on me!” St. John Climacus says “Let your prayer be completely simple. For both the publican and the prodigal son were reconciled to God by a single phrase.” (Ladder of Divine Ascent, Step 28.5) It didn’t take much, just one phrase. We see the same thing here with the blind man in today’s gospel. The Lord didn’t hear him because he said many words, but because he said a few heartfelt words to Christ. So we have to find this deep cry within ourselves, because the Lord is eager to hear this and to help us.

Sometimes it is easy for us to find this deep cry because things around us are difficult. When our circumstances are difficult or when we are sick and suffering, it is easy to cry out to God, isn’t it? But often we are comfortable and or distracted and for these reasons we have to work harder to scratch below the surface of our hearts and go deeper to the place where we feel our real need for the Lord’s mercy and compassion. How do we do this in the Christian life? The Church gives us some tools for softening the heart and going deeper in our prayers. The ascetic disciplines are key stepping stones in this regard.

One of the tools in the ascetical tool kit is fasting. Another tool is to do prostrations. Both of these should be undertaken after speaking with your spiritual father for guidance. Yet another tool for softening the heart is prayers in the middle of the night. Sometimes we can’t sleep. This is a perfect reason to get out of bed and fall on your knees with a prayer rope and spend some time beseeching God, saying the Jesus prayer. You will be surprised at how effective and energetic your prayers can be when you have just a little bit of discomfort. And if all of these aren’t enough we can also go out of our way to give to the poor and do works of charity. These exercises help others physically but they benefit each of us spiritually. You can even come and ask if there are extra things that need to be done around church. I assure you that there is always work to be done.

What is the goal? It is to be able to cry out to Christ with a real cry of need and desire for the mercy that He alone can provide. But how do we get to that point of crying out to God unless we allow ourselves to feel some brokenness? How do we get to that point if we are always distracted with phones and shows and games? The spiritual fathers of the Church have all recognized that our prayers won’t be very profitable unless we aim for stillness. Part of our fasting regimen should be fasting from social media, fasting from the news, and fasting from movies and games for a time. Sometimes we should do this for an hour or two before bed. Sometimes we need to extend our fasts to go for a day or two or a week or two, maybe even longer. If Prayer is the most profitable thing that we can do in life, why don’t we give it more time? No sacrifice is too great when God offers us Himself in return.

Each of these little steps will help us build an awareness of our sins and our need for healing. The worst kind of delusion, which is abundant within some Christian traditions is the sense that one is perfectly well and has no further need of Christ’s healing and forgiveness. So we have to actively engage in the battle and know that we will struggle and through our honest struggle, by God’s grace, we will grow and bear spiritual fruit. St. Theognostos writes “Pursue your goal forcefully, dedicating your whole life to God, in all your actions, words and intentions seeking by all possible means not to fall away from Him.”

If we do this and pursue Christ faithfully, then there is no doubt that He will shower us with great mercy and He will speak to our hearts as He spoke to the blind man saying, “your faith has made you well.” Glory be to God forever AMEN.

On Partiality

James 2:1-13

James here is addressing a very real issue that began in the early days of the Church and has perpetuated throughout the generations, and continues to be very real in the Church today. The favoritism and partiality of the wealthy. Just think of how much more renown a church begins to receive should a celebrity happen to enter the doors of that church, as though their mere presence justifies the church. Even on a more local level, I’ve personally been to churches in my life where the more wealth one has attained, the more openly everyone receives them. The man in the expensive suit is greeted with open arms, whilst the poor beggar entering into God’s house for the first time is all but shunned. And yet, when we look in Scripture, favoring the rich to the poor is very contrary to Jesus’ teaching. Consider the fact that Jesus chose to be incarnate to a poor family, one who could not even afford to pay the temple fees properly in his presentation. In Leviticus, we find that after the birth, the mother shall bring a one year old lam without blemish, and a pigeon or turtledove for sin offering, to purify her. But if the woman can’t afford the lamb, then she will bring two turtledoves or two pigeons for the purification offering (Leviticus 12). And in the Gospel account, we read that Mary brought “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons (Luke 2:24), signifying that they were not a wealthy family. Thus, to show partiality to the wealthy to begin with is stand opposed to Christ. Also, bearing in mind that he “had no place to lay his head” (Matthew 8:20) and had to borrow a coin to illustrate a lesson (Mark 12:15), we see throughout the life of Jesus that wealth is no indication of God’s favor. A person’s dignity and worth come from God alone, and when we deign to judge others based on their wealth, their appearance, their ethnicity; then we place ourselves in the position of being an unjust judge.

If anything, it should be the inverse of how we normally react. James reiterates this by asking, “has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom of God?” Jesus, in today’s Gospel reading, declares that “it would be easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:25). While God is not partial to anyone (Acts 10:34-35; Romans 2:10-11), the poor are more likely to repent and renounce the world because they see the emptiness of earthly things. To the contrary, the rich tend to prize earthly things and find their joy, their contentment, their security, in them. Remembering the rich young ruler who asked Jesus what he must do to obtain eternal life. Jesus responded to him, “go, sell what you have, give it to the poor, and you will have a treasure in heaven. Then, come and follow me.” (Matthew 19:21). And the Scriptures tell us that man “went away sad, because he was a man with great possessions.” (Matthew 19:22).

James concludes this passage with a strong warning. The “royal law” that he references, he defines as the second greatest commandment, to love your neighbor as yourself. When we show partiality, when we judge someone based on any of these earthly labels, we willingly violate that commandment. You become a willing transgressor of the commandments of God. And he notes that whoever sins by any transgression sins against the whole of the law, because he sins against the giver of the law. The same law that states “you shall not murder” also states that “you shall not commit adultery,” thus if you commit adultery but do not murder, you have still violated the same law because you have transgressed against the one who gave it. And while we all will accidentally sin, the Scripture is pretty clear that anyone who is walking with God will not willingly sin; thus when we judge another based on these things, we are willingly sinning against God, and therefore not walking with Him. And just as forgiving is a condition for receiving forgiveness (Matthew 6:15), so too being merciful is a condition for receiving mercy.

We have to remember that each one of us is equally valuable in the eyes of God. He doesn’t value the wealthy more than the poor, or the Greek more than the Russian or the Hebrew or the American or any other ethnicity. And, as such, each one of us is equally deserving of the love and respect that statement would dictate. Jesus tells us in the Gospel that “whatever you have done to the least of these, you have done to me.” Contemplate what that statement means. Think of whom you consider to be the lowest. If I welcome with open arms a doctor, and yet shun a homeless man, I am shunning Christ. If I love a lawyer, and yet despise an addict, I am despising Christ. If I forgive the sins of a rich man and yet judge the sins of a poor man, I am judging Christ. And yet, thrice daily we pray, “Lord, forgive us in the same manner that we forgive others, judge us in the same manner that we judge others.” And yet, that statement should be enough to make us ask, in what manner am I forgiving others, in what manner am I judging others, especially the “least of these.”

God has shown mercy to us, let us in turn show mercy to others. Let us never allow these “worldly labels” to stand in the way of Christ’s commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves. And let us never question who is “worthy” to be our neighbor, as the lawyer who questioned Christ. But rather, let us love one another, remembering that our job is never to judge, but rather our job is simply to love and to pray for the salvation of all.

Christ is in our midst.

On Active Faith

2-4-2021

James 1:19-27

James here begins this passage with a warning about our speech, and about anger. “Let every man be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger.” In having declared us as the first fruits of his new creation through baptism; he goes on to explain what he means by this. And notice for a moment the descriptive words he uses in this passage. Quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger. Quick to hear, to listen attentively to what is said and pay attention to all that is going on. Slow to speak; not silent, mind you, but slow, discerning. All too often, we observe something being said or done and react impulsively, lost in our passions. And while there are certain things that we should speak out against, that speech must always be well considered, never impulsive. And lastly, slow to anger. We must constantly fight against this impulse to merely react to a given situation. The wrath of man is unjust, proceeding from uncontrolled passions, and never produces the righteousness of God.

And then James goes on to admonish us to be “doers of the word, not hearers only, deceiving ourselves.” This is such an important statement. In Isaiah, we read the word of the Lord, “This people approach me with their mouth, and with their lips they honor me, but their heart remains far from me.” (Isaiah 29:13 LXX), a statement which Jesus quotes later (see Matthew 15:8). Further, in the parable of the two sons, Jesus teaches us of two sons who are told by their father to go and work in his vineyard. The first son says no, but then goes and does the work anyway. The second son agrees, only to not go. And Jesus asks which of the two did what the father asked, and the answer of course is the first. This was to teach the Pharisees that they were doing everything in word that the Father had commanded them, but not in action, because it is not the declaration of obedience which equaled true obedience, but the actual obedience itself; the actual living of the commandments.

See, when we know the word of God, and we know his commandments, but we do not allow those words to change our lives, those commandments to guide our actions, we become the second son in that parable. We become those who draw near to God and honor him with our lips, but keep our hearts far from him. We become the son who doesn’t go to work in the vineyards, even though we say “yes, you are my Lord.” To which he responds, “Why do you say to me Lord, Lord, and not do what I tell you?” (Luke 6:46). And James warns us that when we do that, we deceive ourselves. We are self-proclaimed Christians, in name only, rather than intentional Christians, in word, deed, and thought. He describes it as though a man looks in a mirror and sees his true self, only to walk away with a distorted image in his mind of what he looked like. Rather than remembering the true image that he saw, he remembers only what he chooses to remember.

This kind of cuts to the heart of the matter. We are magnificent at deceiving ourselves. And we are even more gifted at justifying those deceptions. We constantly convince ourselves, whether out of pride or sheer foolishness, that we are better than we truly are. I’ve often heard it said that the reason the monastics are so humble is that, since they are removed from the world, rather than comparing themselves to other sinners, they can only compare themselves to God. We, on the other hand, tend to compare ourselves to the world, which is full of sinners. And we usually choose someone far worse than ourselves to compare ourselves to, thereby feeding our own self-righteousness. We do our Bible studies, attend Church, and in comparing ourselves to others, tend to feel as though we are truly pious; especially compared to so-and-so who constantly jokes that the church would catch on fire if they entered.

Forgive this digressions for a moment, but it is fully relevant. I remember hearing one day a Protestant Pastor who told a story about his daughter. He said that he told her to clean her room. A day later, the room was not clean. So, he asked her about it, and she responded that no, she hadn’t cleaned it, but she had thought a lot about it. She had some friends come over and they did a study about what it would take to clean it. She contemplated what it would look like if she had done it. She even learned how to say it in Greek. But, she didn’t actually clean it. Yes, this was hyperbole (I hope), but it drives home a very serious point. We would never accept this sort of behavior from our children, yet we expect our heavenly Father to be content with it. He has told us many things to do, what he expects from us, and yet, rather than doing them, we expect him to be content with us studying them, memorizing them, learning his commands in Greek, Russian, Hebrew and every other language; but not actually doing them.

“Lay aside wickedness,” James tells us. “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue, his religion is useless” he warns. “What proceeds from the mouth flows from the heart, (Matthew 15:18), thus our speech will ultimately reveal our love, our faith. Pure and undefiled religion, James tells us, is to care for those in need, to be the grace of God manifest in the flesh for those who most need the grace of God, those who are lost in the world. And also, to keep ourselves unstained, uncorrupted, by the world. Not to be separated from the world, but rather to not allow the precepts of the world into our hearts. Jesus himself spent a large portion of time with sinners, with harlots, drunkards, tax collectors. But, in so doing, he never once allowed himself to be corrupted by those sinful passions. He never partook of those sins, but he also never once offered harsh words of judgment on those who were tethered to the bonds of sin. Rather, he loved them and offered them the grace to become freed of their bondage, freed from the power of sin.

And he calls each of us to do the same. To visit the patients in their illness and offer them the medicine to heal their infirmity. But not in hateful words. He calls us to love the loveless, to care for those who most need care. To be the love of Christ manifest for all the world to see. Mother Teresa once said that “if you judge someone, you have no time to love them.” And I love that saying. We are called to help those who need help, to visit those who are most in need, and to show them the love of Christ that they may never have been exposed to.

To merely profess Christ as God is never enough. In fact, James teaches us here that so doing is merely deceiving ourselves. If that profession of faith doesn’t radically alter the way we live our lives, the things we do, our priorities, then it is merely saying, “yes father, I’ll go and do the work that you require,” and then not going. We must instead allow our faith to be living, actively seeking to do the work that God has called each of us to do. Our lives must be worthy to bear the name of Christ. Otherwise, we are merely deceiving ourselves.

Christ is in our midst.

On the Grace of Christ

So, apologies for this post. It is much much more a matter of personal reflection rather than any sort of “Biblically based study.” But I was given revelation concerning my own shortcomings recently, and I feel that quite often it is in these falls that we truly gain knowledge about the kingdom of God.

So, much as St Paul so often wrote about the “thorn in his side,” there are many sins that I struggle with daily. I have always held my belief that it was neither physical infirmity nor a “party of Jews” about which Paul referenced when he wrote those things, but rather a sin which he constantly struggled with, and in so praying to the Lord to remove that thorn, the Lord refused, knowing full well that those struggles would keep Paul humble.

Anyway, there are many sins that I struggle with daily, and at one point recently, I realized that I had overcome many of them. And the moment I realized that, I became very proud of myself for having overcome them. Rather than turning to the Lord with thanksgiving, I became proud of myself for having overcome them. Thus, I learned on a personal level what is meant by the expression that “pride always comes before the fall.” And within two days of having realized this and become proud of the fact that I had defeated those sins, I fell immediately back into them. And I immediately became overwhelmed with personal anger and self-loathing for having stumbled, followed by the inevitable “I’ll never do that again” statement, which often follows these lapses.

And then I read something that cut to my heart like a knife. It was the teaching that (to paraphrase), when you become angry or despondent about failing to achieve holiness, you have already failed because your source of healing is not correct. To focus on your sinfulness means that you are not focusing on the grace and love of Christ in your life. When I become proud instead of grateful for having overcome a sin, it is not the grace of Christ that I am looking to for my salvation, but rather my own willpower. Likewise, when I become angry about a failing, it is also myself that I am looking to, rather than the grace of Christ. I become angry with myself for having failed to achieve the perfection that I can only achieve through Him, my own human nature will never allow me to become perfectly sinless.

See, it was revealed to me that the enemy would love for us to conquer our sins and become very proud of those progressions, but it is at those very moments that the Lord will allow us to fall back into them, to humble us. As He instructed Paul, “My grace alone is sufficient.” It is not that we should ever strive for sinfulness, as St John the Theologian instructs us, “whoever says he knows God and walks in darkness lies and the truth is not in him,” however, it is imperative that we accept the fact that we will sin. We will stumble, and it is not in the stumbling or the sin that we are saved, but rather in our reliance on God’s grace that will help us to overcome. As St Paul teaches, “shall we continue in sin so that grace may be multiplies, NO.” Our salvation is fully reliant on our striving towards the perfection, the “sinlessness of God,” but not in our own power. We must fully realize what is sinful, and turn to the Lord in full repentance, each time we recognize that we have missed the mark. However, we must also fully recognize that it is not in our own power that we overcome those sinful tendencies, but rather full reliance of the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ to get us through them, to overcome them, and to become a true child of our Lord Jesus Christ. When I focus on the sin itself, then it is the sin I’m empowering, not the grace of our Lord. And when I become distraught over a failing, it is usually because it is myself I’m trusting in to overcome it, rather than the grace of our Lord.

Christ is in our midst.

The Great Reset

Original article appears here:

Pravmir: The Great Reset

What should we do about the Great Reset?  About once a week I get a message from one or another of my parishioners with a link to a video that I “have to see.”  Many of these videos are of a monk on Mt. Athos (or a monk from some other place reputed for holiness), or it is a video by a conservative religious or political commentator decrying the loss of religious freedom that is or will be brought about by the secular powers that be.  The not usually spoken but very strongly felt subtext of these messages is that if we are true Orthodox Christians we should do something to stop it.  What that something is, is generally left for us to decide.  Which is probably why my parishioners are wanting me to tell them what I think after I watch the video they sent me, a video decrying the Great Reset and the terrible loss of religious freedom that is taking place and will certainly get worse. 

Now let’s just lay aside for the moment the fact that according to the canons of the Church, the bishops are the ones who lead and teach the faithful, not random monks, not even very holy monks.  That is not our Tradition.  You or I may visit a holy monk and receive advice if we like, but for anyone to broadcast a message for the faithful into a diocese without the blessing of the local bishop is a violation of the most basic and oldest canons of the Church.  And as far as trusting the reliability of media, left or right, I will leave that to your common sense.  Can you really trust a news source that increases its revenue precisely by making you angry or frightened enough to stop what you are doing and listen to them—again and again, all day and night long?

But like I said, let’s lay that aside right now and just assume the worse case scenario.  Let’s assume the monk on Youtube or the political commentator who has gotten you all worked up in a sweat of anger and fear and righteous indignation, let’s just assume that they are 100% bang on.  Let’s assume that it’s the beginning of the End, that the Great Reset will create a world in which Christians will be persecuted and traditionally Christian cultural values will be wiped out.  Let’s assume that this is what is happening right now.  

Dèjá vu.

Hasn’t this been the experience of Christians since the beginning?  Whether it was the pagans of the ancient world, or the Muslims or the Communists or the western secularists, it’s all the same thing.  Didn’t Jesus say that the world would hate us because it hated Him first?  What’s new here?  Perhaps what is different here is that too many of us have gotten so accustomed to an easy life in bed with the world that when the world wants a divorce, we fear the loss of our cozy place more than we fear God.  Perhaps not.  Maybe this is how it has always been.  God saves His people as He knows how.  

Thinking about this has brought to mind a passage from St. Sophrony Sakharov’s book, We Shall See Him As He Is (p.69).  

Formed of the dust of the ground, we make up a tiny fraction of the massive body of mankind from which it is not at all easy to escape, especially in our day when practically the whole universe is under the control of officialdom in general.  One cannot appeal to the princes of this world for help: a small good turn from them and we risk losing our liberty.  Our best ‘gamble’ is a childlike trust in God’s providence in the pursuit of a life where first place is given to Christ.

St. Sophrony then goes on to quote the Sermon on the Mount to illustrate what “a life where first place is given to Christ” looks like.  Particularly what caught my attention are Jesus’s words, “do not resist evil”  or “an evil person.”  What a radical response.  You are slapped on the left cheek and what does Jesus tell you to do?  Turn the other cheek.  Jesus tells us to love our enemies.  Jesus tells us to bless those who curse us and to pray for those who despitefully use us and persecute us.  

But I am reminded here of a story in the Life of St. Isaac the Syrian.  He had just been made bishop of Nineveh, and was asked to settle a dispute between a creditor and a debtor.  When the case had been explained to St. Isaac, he suggested that according to the Gospel the creditor should forgive the debt.  The creditor then said, “this is business, let’s leave the Gospel out of it.”  St. Isaac then said, “if we are going to leave the Gospel out of it, then why am I here?”  That’s when St. Isaac went into the desert to pray for the world.

I get it.  I don’t want to be persecuted.  I don’t want to be slapped on the face economically or socially and certainly not physically.  And I’m pretty sure that I would not turn the other cheek—at least not without a superabundant outpouring of Grace in that moment.  I like being cozy and comfortable in the world.  

But if history is a reliable teacher of what’s to come, then we can be pretty sure of at least one thing: the world will change.  Regimes come and regimes go.  The Church finds favour and the Church loses favour in the eyes of the world.  If it’s not the current Great Reset that brings severe persecution on the Church, it will probably be the next one.  But whether it’s here or there, now or then doesn’t really matter much.  If we love the world and the things in the world, then any change in the world will be traumatic.  If we are comfortable in the world then an economic reset or political upheaval will evoke fear and anger, and if we are able to frame it as a religious war, it will evoke righteous indignation.   

But if this world is not our home.  If we are but salt and light, sojourners in a strange land, then we will adjust.  We will find a way.  We will carry on, looking for a City whose foundations and builder is God.

– Archpriest Michael Gillis

Духовная жизнь – это не хобби, не развлечение, на которое у нас может хватать или не хватать времени. Это основание, на котором мы строим все остальное.

Святейший Патриарх Московский и всея Руси Кирилл

“Spiritual life is not a hobby, not entertainment for which we may or may not have enough time. This is the foundation on which we build everything else.”

-His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia

Следует знать вот что: когда лекарства не помогают – это значит, что болеет не тело, но душа. А исцеление души мы можем обрести только лишь у Христа. Понимаете? Нашу душу исцеляет только Христос.

— Преподобный Порфирий Кавсокаливит

“You should know this: when medications do not help, it means that it is not the body that is sick, but the soul. And the healing of the soul we can find only from Christ. Do you understand? Only Christ heals our soul.”

  • Venerable Porfiry Kavsokalivit