Monday, August 14, 2017

A GRAIN OF MUSTARD SEED

`While Jesus was on the Mount of Transfiguration with Peter, James, and John, the other disciples were approached by a man whose son "was lunatic, and sore vexed"--but the disciples were in nowise able to cast out the demon.  At our Lord's rebuke, however, the demon "departed out of him: and the child was cured from that very hour."  Afterwards, when the disciples came to Jesus and asked why they could not cast out the demon, He replied, "Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, if ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible to you."  Now a mustard seed is indeed very tiny and seemingly of no significance, but I cannot help but wonder: do you and I, as 21st Century Christians, living in a secular, post-Christian society on the very brink of the Apocalypse have faith even in proportion to an amoeba? 

Compared to the first Christians, fervent in faith and empowered by the grace of the Holy Spirit to work miracles and to endure for the sake of Christ persecutions, sufferings, and martyrdom itself--it would seem that we are a miserable lot indeed.  It seems to me that we are, for the most part, Christians in name only, professing to believe--while hardly daring to venture beyond the limits of our comfort zone.  If our prayers are for the most part feeble and ineffective, it is because we have failed to acquire that living faith through which it is possible to overcome every obstacle upon the path of salvation.

Such a faith truly is, you see, a gift of God... but it is certainly not  a free gift.  It is only given to those who struggle for virtue and persevere unto the end upon the path of salvation.  Thus, our Lord assures his disciples that "this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting."  True it is that it is by faith we are saved, and not by the works of the Law.  Nevertheless, it is an inconvertible truth that "faith without works is dead."  Christ Himself assures us that "straight and narrow is the path" that leads to true and eternal life in His heavenly Kingdom.  But let's face it: we contemporary Christians of the last and final generation are pampered and lazy, accustomed as we are  to think that life in this fallen world should be easy and essentially pain free.  The so-called "good life" is to acquire as many earthly goods as we can, and to strive to achieve a superficial happiness based upon the fulfillment of our own self-centered desires.

"For my yoke is easy and my burden is light," says our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  But this is a promise only given to those who have taken up their cross of sacrificial suffering and followed Him, enduring unto the end the trials and tribulations of this earthly life, putting to death every egotistical thought and desire, that we might say with the Holy Apostle, that it is no longer I who live... but Christ liveth in me.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

THE MIND OF THE CHURCH

St. Paul writes to the Corinthians, "Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment."  The same mind... that is to say, the Mind of the Church.  There is, in fact, no place in the Church for "personal opinion"... so long as that opinion is in any way contrary to that Truth revealed by Christ, preached by the Holy Apostles, and sealed by the blood of the Martyrs.

As the Most Holy Trinity is one and undivided, so it is essential that we all should strive as members of Christ's Body--the Church--"to be perfectly joined together in the same mind and the same judgment."  If, on the other hand, we pridefully insist upon our own personal opinion, we prove ourselves--having rent asunder the seamless robe of Christ-- to be of one mind with Arius, along with all those other heretics who were rightfully cast from the universal Church by the Holy Fathers of the Ecumenical Councils.

Nowadays, of course, to merely mention heresy is considered politically incorrect: decidedly judgmental and counter to that spirit of relativism that infects contemporary society.  Admittedly, this term is too often used as a bludgeon against anyone who dares to deviate from that strict interpretation of the Faith that we ourselves fall short of fulfilling in our daily lives... rather like saying that a certain someone whose views do not align with our own political philosophy is "literally Hitler."

Having said this, however, it must be affirmed that heresy has been from the very beginning and remains to this day a real and present danger to the salvation of human souls.  To deviate from the Mind of the Church--even though ever so slightly--can only lead to a profound spiritual blindness and bondage to those demonic powers of the air whose one and only purpose is to drag, by any means possible, our immortal souls into that place of outer darkness, where there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

The Church of Christ--the Holy Orthodox Church--truly is the Ark of Salvation, the only place of refuge and safety in this storm tossed world.  To depart from the teachings of the God-inspired Holy Fathers of the Church is the sure and certain means of courting spiritual shipwreck and disaster, thereby setting our souls upon a perilous path toward a self-chosen damnation in a hell of our own making.  May our All-merciful God guard and preserve us from this danger--both now and at the moment of our soul's departure from this world.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

EVEN THE DEMONS BELIEVE

The Holy Apostle Paul assures the Ephesians, "For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places."  Here he refers to that vast multitude of demonic hosts that inhabit the air around us, ever striving to corrupt our minds and hearts during the course of this earthly life, while obstructing the course of our path to the Throne of God at that dreadful moment when the soul departs from the body. 

Nevertheless, it is evident from today's Gospel reading that the demons are, in a sense, but paper tigers.  Though Satan has been given leave, according to the providence of God, to prowl the earth, like a ravening lion seeking whom he may devour, his rule is strictly limited to the time preceding the Final Judgment of God, and even so, it is subject to the supreme authority of Jesus Christ the Pantocrator.  And so it is that the demons cry out to our Lord, "What have we to do with Thee, Jesus, thou Son of God?  art thou come to torment us before the time?"

And so it is that even the demons are compelled to confess Christ.  As St. James writes, "Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble."  So it is that even the demons, while confessing Christ, require His permission to enter the swine, "and behold, the whole herd of swine ran violently down a steep place, and perished in the waters."  For truly Satan is a murderer from the beginning, and that very same destruction the demons wrought upon the swine, they would gladly accomplish upon the human race.  Fortunately, though, the demons have not been granted the power to destroy a single human life.  Through their wicked suggestions, they can surely incline us towards that dark path of destruction that leads to eternal damnation in a hell of our own making... but only if we freely and voluntarily submit ourselves to their authority.

Having been baptized into Christ, we Orthodox Christians have put on Christ, and therefore we have been given, through the Church, the armor of God and the weapons required that we might engage in that spiritual warfare to which  we have been called.  For while we should never underestimate the powers of evil arrayed against us, and while the demons are indeed fierce adversaries fully capable of striking abject fear into the hearts of the faithful, we must ever keep in mind St. Paul's injunction, "If God is for us, who can be against us?"  For indeed, through the power of the most sacred and life-giving Cross, "we are more than conquerors through Him Who loved us:" our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

THE WAGES OF SIN

"For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord."  In this passage in St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans, the Holy Apostle refers to that recompense which each and every soul born into this world is due to receive in the life to come, according to how he or she has labored in this earthly life: whether we have striven to acquire virtue and the gift of the Holy Spirit of God in our hearts, or else we have willfully aligned  ourselves with Satan and his demonic hosts by indulging our sinful passions.  The first path leads to eternal life in communion with God, while the second path leads to the spiritual death of our soul and eternal communion with the Spirit of Evil.  It is for this reason that we pray in the Lord's Prayer, "Deliver us from  the Evil One."

The surest way of attaining eternal life in God's heavenly Kingdom is through sincere and heartfelt repentance, combined with humility and a prayerful desire to acquire God's gift of love in our heart.  If, by the grace of God, we are deemed worthy to patiently endure this struggle unto the end, it matters not if we have labored in the Lord's vineyard from the first hour or the eleventh: we shall receive the very same wages: eternal life and salvation in the Kingdom of our heavenly Father.

Truly it is given to every man to die once--and then to be judged according to how well we have invested those talents God has granted to us in this earthly life.  Have we utilized wisely the time and resources allotted to us, or have we, like the Prodigal Son, foolishly squandered the good gifts of God?  According to the unanimous consensus of the Church Fathers and the Holy Tradition of the Church, it has been revealed that in that very moment of death, when the soul is forcibly sundered from the body, we shall encounter not only our Guardian Angel, but a vast multitude of demons as well, intent on dragging our soul into the dark and dismal depths of Hades.  As we rise through the air (the domain of the "principalities and powers," the demonic hosts who dwell in "high places") we shall be required to pass through a series of so-called "toll houses,"  each one devoted to a particular sin or passion--wherein we shall be detained by demons who accuse us of those various and sundry unconfessed sins we have committed during our sojourn on earth--whether in thought, word, deed, or desire. 

It is true, as St. John the Theologian assures us, that "God is love,"  and therefore... He does not desire the death of a sinner, but rather that he should return from his way and live. It is an inconvertible truth, nevertheless, that if we have willfully separated ourselves from God in this life by  participating with the demons in their evil works in rebellion against the Law of Love, then it is only natural that the spirits of darkness should be fully justified in claiming that which is rightfully theirs: our immortal souls.  And so--having defaced the image of God within us--we shall be dragged into the depths of Hades, that place of outer darkness where there shall be weeping and the gnashing of teeth.  And so we shall obtain the wages of sin: eternal death in a hell of our own making.

Let us make haste, therefore, while there is still time, before that dreadful day of reckoning overtakes us like a thief in the night, to live a life of repentance, humbly confessing our sins before God, casting aside the works of darkness while striving to clothe ourselves in the armor of light.  Through the prayers of the Most Holy Theotokos and all the saints, let us beseech our God to have mercy upon us, that in the hour of death, we might be delivered from the dreadful accusation of the demons and be found worthy of ascending to the Throne of God. 

Thursday, June 22, 2017

ALL SAINTS OF RUSSIA

The Holy Apostle Paul writes to the Romans, "For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified."  And thus it is that only those who are actively striving to fulfill the two great commandments of the law--to love God with all one's heart, soul, and mind, and to love one's neighbor as oneself--can be accounted worthy of the gift of salvation and eternal life in God's heavenly Kingdom.  It is, indeed, only by fulfilling in our everyday, practical lives that law of love which God has inscribed within the hearts of believers that we may hope to become partakers of the Divine Nature, inheritors of that eternal and unfading glory which God has in store for those who love Him and abide by His commandments. 

But what is love?....  Our Lord Himself assures us that if we do really and truly love Him, we will keep His commandments.  As St. John the Theologian writes in his gospel, God is love.  And so it is that if we truly love God, we will be ever vigilant to keep His commandments of love, to do nothing that might in any way offend Him.  And this is so not because we fear "breaking" the law and being "sentenced" to hell.  Unlike Judaism, the Christian Faith is in no sense legalistic. It is, rather, a relationship we experience in and through the Church with a living Person: our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ, Who is the eternal Son of God and One of the Holy Trinity.  Genuine love, however, is not an emotion, a warm and fuzzy feeling.  It is, above all, a commitment to remain faithful to the object of our love, despite the consequences.  And there is no greater love than the willingness to lay down one's life for the sake of the beloved--whether it be Jesus Christ Himself, or that spouse to whom we have committed ourselves in the Mystery of Marriage.

Today we commemorate the feast of All Saints of Russia, and indeed, innumerable are the vast array of saints who have shone forth in the Russian land, beacons of holiness for all Orthodox Christians throughout the inhabited world.  It has always been somewhat of a quandary for me, however, to differentiate the saints of Russia from the totality of saints commemorated on the feast of All Saints.  For truly, no nation on this earth has a monopoly on sanctity.  Even the secularized, Masonically inspired land of America has produced a handful of saints.  Nevertheless, I do firmly believe (though there are those who consider this to be a spurious claim) that Russian is (according to the ancient Chronicles) the Third Rome.  The first Rome fell to the barbarians in the Fifth Century, while the Second Rome--Constantinople--fell to the Turks in 1453.  Following this catastrophe, it was Russia alone who can claim the distinction of being the Third Rome... and we can rest assured that the shall never be a fourth. 

It has therefore been given to Holy Rus to proclaim the final word to the world in these final times, before Christ returns to judge the living and the dead.  Significant it seems to me is that a law currently pending within the Russian Duma would restore as the national anthem God Save the Czar, to replace the current, Soviet-inspired anthem.  According to prophecy, the God-blessed monarchy will indeed be restored before the final revelation of the Antichrist, and at that time, our father among the saints Seraphim of Sarov will be resurrected in order to proclaim to all who have ears to hear the truth of the Orthodox Faith--that though sincere repentance, many of the faithful might be numbered among the elect--strengthened by God's grace to faithfully endure the manifold trials and temptations appointed for those Christians of the final days who are destined to endure unto the end, receiving crowns of glory in God's heavenly Kingdom.

You and I, dear friends in Christ, have not yet been called to endure with Christ the sacrificial suffering of the Cross.  We have become soft, lulled into a potentially deadly sleep, paying lip service to the possibility of martyrdom, but not in the least comprehending what this would entail.  But we can rest assured (as Father Seraphim of Platina assures us): that which began in Russia will end in America.  The question is... are we truly prepared to endure those temptations and tribulations that we will undoubted face us in the days ahead?  If the answer is no (as it surely is for most of us), then let us fervently beseech all the saints who have shone forth in the Russian land--that vast cloud of witnesses--that through their holy prayers we might endure unto the end those trials and tribulations God has appointed unto those who love Him.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

THE LIGHT OF CHRIST

The Holy Apostle and Evangelist John the Theologian, whom we commemorate today, proclaims: "God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all.  If we say that we have fellowship with Him and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not tell the truth."  And indeed, the whole goal of the Christian life is to purify our hearts and minds, that we might be enlightened--by the grace of God--with the light of Truth.  We are called, therefore, to strive to overcome the sinful passions, that our spiritual eyes might be opened, that having been illumined by the grace of God, we might be delivered from the tyranny of the Prince of Darkness.

According to the first Book of Moses, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.... And darkness was upon the face of the deep....  And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.  It is plain to see, therefore, that Light is the first and foundational principle of God's creative work.  Take note, however, that this Light is revealed before the creation of the sun and moon.  It is not, therefore, the material light we perceive with the physical eyes of our bodies.  (Nor can it be, as some assert, the uncreated Light of God, but rather a created  light that emanates from God and permeates the entire created order). 

If we reference any concordance of the Scriptures, we will discover that the theme of light versus darkness runs like a golden thread throughout the divine Scriptures--both Old and New.  The works and the powers of darkness, and the very Prince of Darkness himself--the Devil--are set in contrast and opposed to the Light of divine revelation granted unto the sons and daughters of light in the waters of Baptism.  For it is only by receiving into ourselves the Light of Truth that we may hope to be delivered from the darkness of ignorance.  "Ye shall know the Truth, and the Truth shall make you free."

The eyes of the man born blind were opened when he did as Christ commanded and washed them in the pool of Siloam, but it was by means of the immaterial Light of God that he recognized Christ as the promised Messiah and the fulfillment of the long-awaited hopes of Israel. The Pharisees, on the other hand, saw clearly the light of the material world, but their spiritual eyes were utterly darkened by the passions of pride and vainglory.

Truly "the light of Christ illumines all," as the priest proclaims in the Presanctified Liturgy.  But just as a man born blind cannot conceive of what darkness is, since he has no concept of light and therefore has no means of comprehending the contrast, nor can those who have willingly separated themselves from the love of God in Christ Jesus begin to comprehend the nature of that darkness into which they have unwittingly descended.  For how can we "see" darkness if we have no concept of the light?  It is only through God's gift of sincere and genuine repentance  that we may be granted, by the grace of God, the illumination of our spiritual eyes and the salvation of our souls in God's eternal Kingdom.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

THE GIFT OF GOD

Having met the Samaritan Woman at Jacob's Well, our Lord makes a seemingly simple request: "Give me to drink."  And had she merely complied with this request, who knows what might have happened?  Of course Jesus--as the God-man--foreknew the course of events that must inevitably unfold.  When the Samaritan Woman dared to question why He, a Jew, would deign to talk to a woman of the despised Samaritan race, He said to her, "If thou knewest the gift of God, and Who it was that sayest to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldst have asked of Him, and He would have given unto thee living water."  Jesus was referring, of course, to the gift of the Holy Spirit--the Third Person of the Holy Trinity--but the Samaritan Woman--her mind darkened by the sinful passions that held her captive--could not see beyond the literal interpretation of His words.  So Jesus clarifies: "Whoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again; but whoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst."  And even then, her carnal mind can only conceive of his words in a literal sense.  It is only when our Lord exposes her sinful way of life (she has had five husbands, and the man she is currently living with is not her husband) that the truth at last begins to dawn upon her.

In a flash of insight, the Samaritan Woman is given to understand that this is no ordinary man, nor merely a prophet: but rather the promised Messiah.  Illumined by the light of truth, Photini (whose name means "light") sets forth to proclaim the dawning of that transcendent truth so long concealed beneath the types and shadows of the Law.  What is significant is that she could only repent in the true sense of the word (turning 180 degrees from the darkness to the light) in that moment when she was forced to confront the truth concerning her sinful past.  And once having repented, the scales fell from her eyes and she could perceive--beyond the superficial appearance of this earthly life--the possibility of eternal life and salvation. 

So it is for all of us: it is only through the power of genuine repentance that we are enabled to break free from the shackles of ignorance and spiritual blindness, that we might pray from the depth of our heart to be vouchsafed the gift of God: the living water of the Holy Spirit.  It is through repentance alone that we can come to a true knowledge of God: not merely by hearsay, but rather through first hand experience, having achieved through humility, patience, and self-denial an existential encounter with Christ.  For truly to know Him is to love Him, and if our love is genuine and sincere, we will strive at all times and in all places to fulfill His commandments--above all the commandment to love God with all of our heart, soul, and mind, and our neighbor as our very own self. Only then may we hope to be granted the boldness to worship God "in spirit and in truth."