Maintaining an Undefiled Conscience in the World of Distraction–Part 4

The article continues from….Maintaining an Undefiled Conscience in the World of Distraction —–Part 3

Conclusion:

Each of us should examine our life to measure whether our values, desires and actions are in conformity to the world or in conformity to Christ. Through a regular discipline of self-examination or preparation for the Holy Mystery of Confession and reception of the Eucharist, we can come to understand the subtle and blatant influences (temptations) we are subjected to in our so called secular, politically and religiously correct and relativistic society.

We can then conform our heart, mind and deeds to Christ and measure our values and actions against Christ. In the words of St. Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians we have to attain “the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting.” (Eph 4:13–14). To clearly understand this verse from the Scripture an attempt has been made in the article by mentioning and explaining the various subjects/distractions in the world like paganism, heresies, secularism and the like. In this context the virtue of discernment has to be practiced to maintain an undefilDISCERMENTeconscience in this world of distraction.

St. John Cassian from 5th Century writes:

“Discrimination [discernment] is no small virtue, but one of the most important gifts of the Holy Spirit … [it is] … nothing worldly or insignificant. It is the greatest gift of God’s grace … the ability to discriminate between spirits that enter into him and to assess them accurately.” St. John quotes St. Antony of the Desert who considers discernment the “mother of all virtues and their guardian,” and describes what is entailed in discernment: “scrutinizing all the thoughts and actions of a man, [distinguishing and setting] aside everything that is base and not pleasing to God, [and thus keeping] him free from delusion.”

Jesus told His disciples:

“Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” (Mt 10:16).

St. Peter of Damaskos of 8th Century tells us:

“For without discrimination nothing that comes to pass is good, even if we in our ignorance think that it is. But when through discrimination we learn how it lies in our power to attain what we wish, then what we do begins to conform to God’s will.”

St. John of the Ladder of 7th Century points out:

“Among beginners, discernment is real self-knowledge … it is the spiritual capacity to distinguish unfailingly between what is truly good and what in nature is opposed to the good.”

It can be seen therefore that the practice of discernment is an active process. It does not occur automatically, but must be done in the light of Christ which can only illumine us when prayer and His presence are cultivated.

In order to see God’s Will in all we encounter, we must have put Christ at the center of our hearts. The prayers of the Church, the Holy Traditionimages9 passed on to us, the Divinely-inspired Sacred Scriptures as understood by the Holy Spirit guided Church must be the measure of all attitudes we have, all decisions we make and all deeds we do.

This is exactly to follow the teachings of Christ: “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is sound, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is not sound, your whole body will be full of darkness.” (Mt 6:21–23). The illumined eye leads to an illumined heart that discerns the treasure that is of God from the treasure of this world.

To withstand the pressures of the world, St. Paul told the Ephesians (6:11–12) what to do: “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against … this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness …”

The psalmist (90:1–4) outlines for us what this entails: “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High, who abides in the shadow of the Almighty, will say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust.’ For He will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence; He will cover you with his pinions, and under His wings you will find refuge; His faithfulness is a shield and buckler.” To abide in God’s fortress, to have Him as our shield, we must have a continual sense of His presence.

We should always be aware of the reality, that humanity is placed between two HUMAN PLACEbasic relationships.

  1. To the source and ground of its being.
  2. To the created world in which humanity is placed.

This is the true Christian way of understanding reality.

 

The message of Genesis in terms of man’s relationship to the source and ground of its being (God) is that all is created by God and for God; but the account of creation goes further than this: it tells us who that God is and, by extension, what man is, for man is made in His image as in Genesis 1:26. Its fundamental message is that man was made by God to worship Him, to make good use of the Image of God in man.

Connection, relationship, unity – this is an emphatically Christian way of seeing the world. Ecology is the study of connections, relationships, how an ecosystem is a unified whole. Ecological distress results when connections are broken, relationships are severed; unity is dissolved – as when an ecosystem breaks down. Spiritual distress results when a man sees no connection between his actions and their consequences; when he lives without concern for other living things, especially human beings; when he believes salvation is private and individualized, involving spirit but ignoring matter; then that man leads a life of self-absorption that inflames the passions and damages the world. However, Greek Church Father, St. Gregory Palamas from 14th Century writes, “we are responsible for the world.”

Life for the Christian is a process of forming connections, healing relationships, and restoring unity. By simple virtue of his faith, the Christian is ecological. Like his Lord, he cares about the condition of the cosmos. But that is precisely the challenge, isn’t it? To care. Sometimes, understanding helps us care. So, let’s take a look at what might be one of God’s intentions for creation and for man’s special role as steward.

From the Genesis story we learn of creation’s “very goodness,” and of man’s responsibility to maintain it accordingly. “Then the Lord God took man and put him in the Garden of Eden to tend and keep it.” Genesis 2:15. The nuance of the “tend and keep” mandate is revealed in the original Hebrew: Adam is to ‘abad’ and ‘shamar’ the land in which he is placed. Abad, often translated as “to tend” or “to dress,” implies not mere improvement, but completion, as when seeds are carefully cultivated from planting to harvest. To abad the garden is to serve the garden so that the garden may fruitfully serve man.

To shamar or “keep” the garden is to be vigilant against anything that might desecrate that which is being tended or dressed. Loving watchfulness and parental protection are implied here. For a poignant description of how ancient Israel understood the shamar principle, we may turn to another biblical text to use the word:

“The Lord bless you and shamar you; the Lord make His face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace.” Numbers 6:24

So, the creation mandate of Genesis 2:15 and Aaron’s blessing in Numbers 6:24 form a striking vision of stewardship: man is to keep the land as God keeps man. That is to say, man is to bestow upon the natural world – especially his share of it – the same good measure he receives from God – blessing, favor, grace, peace. To abad and shamar the land is to undertake its dominion lovingly, thoughtfully, sacrificially. It is to honor God Who imbued creation with this reciprocity: if man is good to the land, the land will be good to man.

Now, notice a connection. As long as man is good to the land, the land will remain productive and life-giving.  Life-giving for whom?  For all who partake of its bounty. An act of goodness toward the land, then, is an act of goodness toward every man, woman, and child who live by the land’s nourishment. Want to love your neighbor? Preserve the forests that clean the air he breathes; protect the land that grows the food she eats; purify the sources that provide the water she drinks. “God is emptied,” wrote St. Maximus the Confessor, “and descends without change to the last extremities of nature.” Love for God is love for nature; love for nature is love for neighbor.

If God is love, then God is also freedom, because love is something that can only be freely given; it cannot be forced. Love, as the Church understands it, is not an instinct; it is not implanted in us by nature. We love because we choose to. Man being made for fellowship with God and his fellow human beings is summed up in biblical language as ‘in the image and likeness of God’… The image indicates freedom and reason, while the likeness indicates assimilation to God. In short: we become like God by making the right use of our freedom and reason. This is why the Church believes so strongly in free will. Without it, we are no more accountable for our actions than animals, and can never come into union with God.

If the likeness of God is something that man had to obtain through correct use of God’s image, then it means that man had to develop. He was made perfect in the sense that he was flawless and sinless, but he had yet to attain full union with God. The likeness of God was something that man was given the potential of achieving through God’s grace and providence and man’s free will together. (Things fell to pieces when man made wrong use of his freedom).

All of humanity is responsible for the state of nature – God’s creation. Resource spiritual rebirthdepletion, and environmental pollution, amid rising world population, raise with special urgency the question of concerted efforts by all nations to preserve the variety of life, the diligent use of natural resources, and the prevention of environmental disasters provoked by human activities. Ancestral sin resulted in a distortion of primordial nature. Scripture testifies to this: “the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but by the will of him who subjected it” (Rom. 8:20). Pollution and destruction of nature is a direct consequence of human sin, its visible embodiment. Various manifestations of the sinful attitude toward nature are characteristic of modern consumer society, which emphasizes the main purpose of making a profit.  The only possibility to restore the health of nature is spiritual rebirth of the individual and society, in a true Christian, ascetic, human relation to one’s own needs, curbing the passions, in consistent self-restraint.

The Church, confessing biblical teaching about the relationship between man and the created world, is ready to contribute to the understanding of philosophical bases of environmental research and environmental performance. The Church testifies to the unity of the God-created world, and offers a complete picture of human existence. 

The Church has always responded with prayer and labor for events that required interaction between man and nature, in situations in which the elements of nature could become hostile to humanity. The Church prays daily for “seasonable weather, abundance of the fruits of the earth,” and performs special prayers for people laboring on the soil, to be delivered from natural disasters and malicious animals. In terms of environmental crisis and disasters, people are in desperate need of prayer support.

The Church maintains that a person changes the world in accordance with his inner world, therefore, the transformation of nature should begin with addressing the spiritual crisis of humanity. A real alternative to consumerism is the Christian way of life. Orthodox Christianity teaches people to cultivate moderation and restraint in the necessities of life, responsibility for their actions, avoiding excesses, including the wasteful use of food, respect for the needs of others, and understanding the importance of spiritual values ​​for each person. The Church has as its Divine mission the healing of the total person, and not only in a temporal sense. Healing ultimately leads to theosis, the sanctification of the entire person.

Clergy and laity are called to active efforts to protect the environment. This activity should first be directed to evidence that only restraint, respect for others, and responsibility for each person, based on consciously obeying commandments of God, will enable humanity to overcome environmental problems. Along with this The Church is a hospital for the healing of our infirmities and diseases. The model for the synergy of spiritual and physical healing is traced back to Christ Who is the physician of our souls and bodies, the Holy Evangelist Luke, and the physician saints of the Church, and also to mention two great Church Fathers: St. Basil of Caesarea (370–379) who was trained in medicine and was reported to have worked with the monks in ministering to the ill and infirm and St. John Chrysostom, patriarch of Constantinople (390), who used the wealth of the Church to open hospitals and other philanthropic institutions. This perspective provides the rationale for employing psychological science in understanding and healing the spiritual ‘cancer’ of secularism in the 21st century. However, the spiritual fathers did not make use of the developed terms and concepts uncovered in modern, medical-psychological scientific definitions of healing in their writings.

The need is increasingly urgent for the Christian to recover the Gospel’s cosmic vision in his heart and hand; he cannot be an integrated Christian without it. Christianity is a Faith rich in symbols. The liturgy in an Orthodox Church is not merely text but an action, to be precise ‘corporate action’. This is to say, in Orthodox Christian viewpoint of liturgical worship is the corporate worshipping action of the entire creation, i.e. in the liturgical worship the whole creation is a part. Actions, gestures and symbols too are parts of the liturgy. The symbols signify the presence of elements of eco-spirituality in the worship. The symbols and rituals used in liturgy guide us from the conceptual level to the level of personal experience. Symbols imbibe a divine reality which is beyond comprehension of the senses. During this mysterious process, the symbol and the reality merge into an inseparable single whole. The transformation of bread and wine offered through the celebration of the Holy Eucharist illustrates this mysterious identification.

The community or we as Christians that perform this act of love has three dimensions.

Firstly the liturgy (Holy Eucharist) is not a form of words but an action of the whole body of Christ that is the whole Church (where each local church is the whole church in its local manifestation) in heaven and earth— in all time and space. The commemoration of the departed and of the saints of the Church is not an optional matter in the Eucharist. It is they with us and us with them that lift up the offering, and we have to be aware of each other in the body of Christ.

Secondly the Eucharist is fundamentally a response of love and gratitude, not a means of getting something free called the grace of God. It is the response of the Creation to its Creator. It is an expression of gratitude on the part of the creation both for having brought it into being from non-being and for redeeming it in Christ, when it had moved away from being to non-being again by its own willful choice. The Eucharist is offered on behalf of all mankind, and not just Christians. Even those who are not united to Christ by faith and baptism are linked to Him by the fact of the Incarnation. It is human nature that Christ assumed and not Christian nature. The whole humanity is now linked to the Incarnate Christ, whether they recognize it or not. True, there are fundamental distinctions to be made between the relationship of Christians to Christ through faith and baptism and of all mankind to Christ. But both relationships exist, and we as Christians and human beings share in both. Our fundamental solidarity with all mankind has to find expression in the liturgy, particularly in the prayers of intercession and in the offertory prayer.

Thirdly the whole Church, the whole Mankind and the whole Creation—the three realms in which we as created Christian human beings participate, have all three to be lifted up to God in the Eucharist, along with Christ’s self-offering on the Cross. This third aspect has become doubly important in our time when the environment crisis has begun to explode. It is the fruit of the earth, wheat and wine that we offer up to God. With the elements, the whole of material and organic creation is lifted up to God. Man, Christian humanity in Christ, thus becomes the spokesman, the utterance—giver, the high priest of Creation as a whole (The Church in Christ offers the Eucharist as the mouth-piece and High Priest of the Creation).

The Eucharist is the response of the creation to her Lord. Mankind and the Church are units within the creation where the Creation has developed greater consciousness and deeper awareness. When we offer ourselves (the whole mankind and the whole creation), God again gives Himself to us in that continuing act of love called the Communion. His Body and Blood, God’s own body becomes united with us and through us with the whole mankind and creation.

HTOC_Mural

And so, it is above all at the Divine Liturgy that we truly fulfill our calling as ‘sacramental beings’. The Church calls for the grace of the Holy Spirit not only for humanity, but also for the whole world around us. The Holy Spirit cleanses, sanctifies, removes barriers and makes the love-offering possible. The Divine Eucharist sanctifies the created cosmos.

Clearly, this sacramental vision does not confuse the Creator with His creation – that distinction (between the Uncreated God and the Created world) is firmly in place. St Paul, in the first chapter of Romans, speaks for our Tradition when he cautions those who would “worship and serve the creature more than the Creator.” We are not idolaters, but neither are we dualists. No fundamental antagonism exists between spirit and matter, for both were assumed and both are saved by our Incarnate Lord. The Christian worships a God Who is utterly transcendent and presently immanent, and Who has filled His creation with astonishing lessons about Himself – if we just cared enough to look for them.

St. Paul writes in the same chapter, “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse.” Rom 1:20….We therefore conclude the article by the Word of God considering St. Paul’s caution directed towards each one of us through his letter to the Romans.

The same verse is quoted by St. Basil in his homily 6, an extract which we have taken as the prime subject to this article ….. As quoted below

“You will finally discover that the world was not conceived by chance and without reason, but for an useful end and for the great advantage of all beings, since it is really the school where reasonable souls exercise themselves, the training ground where they learn to know God; since by the sight of visible and sensible things the mind is led, as by a hand, to the contemplation of invisible things.  “For,” as the Apostle says, “the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made.” 

ROMANSRomans Chapter 1:18-32 speaks about the wickedness of the Nations and God’s wrath on the Unrighteous.

St. Paul addresses Judaism by proclaiming the universality of salvation for both the Greeks as well as the Jews. He does not start by exposing the evils and failings of the Jews. On the contrary, he openly and clearly speaks about the wickedness of the Gentiles. This serves as a lead into his criticism of the Jews as well. In this manner, he could condemn and answer all their claims and excuses without being accused of bias. He had been blamed as they accused him saying: “…that you teach all the Jews which are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children, neither to walk after the customs”, (Acts 21:21). This is what drove the Apostle to start by revealing the evils of the Gentiles and their responsibilities. His intention was not to despise or degrade them, but to open the door and attract converted Jews to accept the Gentiles with them as equals and members in the One Body. Therefore he proclaims that the Gentiles were prisoners to natural (physical) law (refer (Romans 2: 14-15)), and the Jews prisoners to the Law of Moses. Consequently, they all were in need of Divine intervention: they all needed to become righteous through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ who is the Savior of all mankind. This could neither be achieved through natural law nor through the Law of Moses.

In his discourse about the wickedness of the Gentiles who embraced natural law, the Apostle underlines the following: 

First: While God had entrusted the Jews with the Law of Moses, He did not neglect the Gentiles or leave them with no one to witness for Him. He had revealed Himself to them through the visible nature. St Paul explains: “For the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse”, (v 20).

God has not left Himself without a witness, for ‘The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handiwork’, (Ps 19:1). He declares His eternal power and divinity through His sublime acts of creation which He has established by His word. He did so not to display His power but to reveal the depths of His love towards us. Indeed, God’s sublime and invisible love is experienced by us through His amazing care for He has offered all this creation to cater for our well-being.

While St. Paul blames mankind for ‘suppressing the truth in unrighteousness’ images 12(v18), and for going to great lengths to invent various wicked means to suppress ‘the truth’, he indicates they do not proclaim it. God, however, proclaims His ‘love’ to us in various ways through His blessed creation which is formed by His own hands. Mankind struggles to the point of death in order to suppress the truth, whereas God is sacrificed to proclaim His eternal love! 

Augustine interprets this apostolic statement as an indication that God offers us this world as a gift for our own benefit but not for the indulgence of our desires. Through His creation, we need to see His invisible deeds, and grasp the spiritual and heavenly matters through things which are material and temporal.  

St. Ambrose comments on the words ‘his eternal power’ as follows: [Since the Lord Jesus Christ is God’s eternal power, then the Lord is Eternal].

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness. (Rom 1:18). The truth that the unrighteous suppress are the truth about God’s character (v 19-20), which they distort by idolatry (v 23).

images2In the Part 1 to 3 of this article we have looked at the various ways (like paganism, heresy, secularism etc) by which the truth about God’s character in today’s world is suppressed and how important it is that we learn to discern what is good. However, those who repent and turn to Him hear His divine voice saying: “Come, my people, enter your closets and shut your door; hide yourself for a very short while, until the anger of the Lord is past. For behold, the Lord is bringing wrath from His holy place upon the inhabitants of the earth, and the earth will uncover its blood and will not cover it’s slain,” (Is 26:20, 21). What are the chambers that are entered and which lead to the secret life with the Lord Jesus Christ? Where is this place where we can hide from His wrath and become the object of the Father’s pleasure? Concerning the words of Isaiah: “…the Lord cometh out of his place to punish…” they indicate that God wishes to remain in His place and proclaim His love and mercy but the insistence of the earth’s inhabitants to sin obligates Him to inflict punishment!

Let us look at the example of Noah. In Genesis Chapter 6:9 we read “….Noah was a righteous man, who was perfect in his generation and well-pleasing to God.” Noah’s righteous living was well-pleasing to God. Why was he well pleasing to God? Further in Chapter 6:22 we read “Thus Noah did according to all the Lord God commanded him, so he did”. Thus we see Noah was perfect through the grace of the Holy Spirit, he obeyed everything God told him to do.

What happened to the unrighteous during his time?

noahFrom Genesis Chapter 6:11-13 we understand the earth was corrupt before God and filled with unrighteousness(v.11) because of man’s willful refusal to become righteous through the grace of the Holy Spirit. (v. 12 “…..corrupted their way on the earth”). The unrighteousness was their own fault (“…through them” (v.13)), for they had every                                                                                                     opportunity to come to repentance.

In Genesis 7:1 “The Lord said to Noah “Enter the ark, you and all your family because I have seen you righteous before Me in this generation.” The Lord God made Noah righteous through faith, by which he pleased God (Hebrew 11:6, 7). Through the grace of the Holy Spirit he obeyed everything God commanded him to do. So he and his family entered the ark, which typified salvation.

From Genesis 7:2-15 we see Noah’s faith saved also the animals. The whole creation will be saved through the children of God (Rom 8:18-22).

Then in 7:16 “Then the Lord God shut him in the ark.” And in 7:23 “He blotted out all living things…” By connecting to what was said earlier in this article in Isaiah 26:20, 21 “Come, my people, enter your closets and shut your door; hide yourself for a very short while, until the anger of the Lord is past. For behold, the Lord is bringing wrath from His holy place upon the inhabitants of the earth” we note here that after the righteous Noah shut himself inside the door, The Lord God brought his wrath in the form of rain on all the livings things and destroyed all the unrighteous. Therefore we get to learn from the example of Noah, how important the virtue of discernment is….It was Noah’s discernment that helped him to be righteous and well pleasing to God. He chose to stay away from the unrighteous. Noah’s righteousness and well-pleasing life became the object of father’s pleasure and Noah entered the chamber to lead a secret life with Christ.

In another example from Exodus Chapter 12:22, 23“Then you shall take a bunch of passoverhyssop, dip it in the blood in the basin, and strike the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood in the basin. But none of you shall go out from the door of his house until morning. For the Lord will pass through to strike the Egyptians; and when he sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the Lord will pass by the door and not allow the destroyer to come to your houses to strike you. ” In v.27, This is the Paschal sacrifice of the Lord…, which saves us even today through the Holy Qurbana (Eucharist). In the Eucharist, his body and blood saves us from death. We are marked by the blood of Christ through the Holy Eucharist; the same way the Israelites were saved through the blood marked on the lintel and doorposts. Here also as in the example of Noah after the command of the Lord to shut the door of the house we see in (v. 29) At midnight the Lord struck all the firstborn in the land of Egypt…(v.30) there was a great cry in all the land of Egypt. The wrath of the Lord arose a great cry throughout Egypt. Similar comparison is made here to that of Isaiah Chapter 26:20… hide yourself for a very short while. In case of Noah the short while was for 40 days and 40 nights and in case of Israelites it was until morning.

These examples from the Bible serve as an eye opener to each one of us, to practice the virtue of discernment by keeping ourselves shut inside the doors of righteousness and not allowing ourselves to fall into the distractions as mentioned under various subjects in this article and guarding ourselves from the wrath of God during these end times.

But you when you pray, enter into your closet. And when you have shut the door, pray to your Father in secret, and your Father who sees you in secret shall reward you openly” (Matthew 6:6)

quoteOur Lord Jesus is telling us to find our innermost secret room where we may learn how to pray. Our first problem is to find such a closet where we can be all alone with God. Even if it were soundproof room, clear of all material distractions other than perhaps a simple table and chair, we no sooner sit down and compose ourselves, then a dozen memories invade our minds; and we realize that our inner closet is filled with more clutter than a busy street market. Recall our Lord Jesus Himself, who made the whole barren wilderness a closet, only to be attacked by Satan. However, nothing is hopeless. With God all things are possible, even inner serenity. Besides, we have the instructions of the spiritual ascetics to help and guide us. The monks and nuns almost always begin with the above scriptural verse about the inner closet.

Personal prayer must be in secret. In the spiritual tradition of the Church, Christ’s words “go into your room” have been interpreted both, literally, and also to mean that the praying person must enter within himself, a unification of the mind and the heart, within the soul. It can be the totally silent inner attitude of the soul before God, the fulfillment of the words of the psalmist: ‘’Commune with your hearts… and be silent (Ps.4:4). Be still, and know that I am God (Ps 46:10).’’ Christ also says, “Kingdom of heaven is within you” Luke 17:21

Finally what happens when we have the remembrance of God (prayer) always in our lost coinheart (closed room)? In Luke 15: 8-10, we see the woman (who is Christ himself – portrayed as women because Church is Bride of Christ) searching for the lost silver coin with the burning candle (which is Christ’s sacrifice for Human race), cleaning the dirt (influence of the world/devil) away from floor, so that the silver coin is found… So from God’s side there is always this effort of reaching out to us by cleaning off the dirt, but we need to become like a silver coin… And to become a sliver coin, there is a process, and this process goes like this…

Scraps of silver goes into a casting furnace which is heated up to 2100 deg Fahrenheit, where due to high temperature the scraps of silver get transformed into a molten state… coin1then the molten metal is casted into a continuous bar, then this continuous bar is cut into small bars. These small bars then go into rollers, which apply up to 9 tons of pressure to make the bars into a flat shape, then it goes under various rollers to give it the right thickness needed for the coin. After this, this flat metal sheet goes into the cutting machine, where it is cut into the exact shape of the coin. Next stop for the cut blanks are the rimming machines, where the rims of the blanks get softened. Then the blanks go to a tub filled with water, cleaning solutions and steel beads. The beads act as a polishing agent, smoothening the blanks. After the water is drained out, blanks are collected and then dried. Now the metal blanks becomes brittle and may break with a strike, so the blanks go through annealing furnace at various stages, where through fire it is hardened to the required hardness. Then the coins are made one at a time at the coin press, there are two dyes per coin, one for each side, positioned above and below the blank, they strike simultaneously, not once but twice to create a high quality impression.   

And the above process to become a silver coin is the true Orthodox Christian Life, going through the tribulations and hardships of this world to be melted down, to be pressed down to a flat sheet, to be cut into shapes… The pressure of the rollers will be on us when we fix our eyes on Christ and use discernment and vigil to cut ourselves from the world. But there is also the annealing process throughout whenever the blanks become weak, so is the church through its sacraments and word of God giving us the needed strength. And finally there is the coin press which presses into the coin the image, here the image is that of Christ, the original image in which man was created, where there is possibility for each man to become like Christ, truly human and divine, hence two dyes for two sides of the coin…

When we become like the silver coin, shining in the image and likeness of God, with a pure heart, we see God. This is what great prophet Moses experienced in Exodus 33: 20 “But He said, “You cannot see My face; for no man can see My face and live.” Moreover, the Lord said, “Here is a place by Me: you shall stand on the rock, so it shall be, while My glory passes by, that I will put you in the cleft of the rock, and will cover you with My hand while I pass by. Then I will take away My hand, and you shall see My back; but My face shall not be seen.”   

This is what happens when we live our life in Christ based on the True Faith, our hearts in prayer, in that stillness we encounter God. This is the fulfillment of promise, Matt 5:8, ‘Blessed are the pure at heart, for they shall see God’. And to make our Hearts clean we need to practice discernment, and become like a Silver coin, this is the key the Orthodox way of life…

Second: The Gentiles could not be saved in spite of what had been revealed to them through both the tangible nature and the recorded law. On the contrary, they adopted a resistant attitude which was evident in the following manner:

(a) Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things, (v 21- 23).

According to St. John Chrysostom, this accusation is a far more serious one than the previous one. The matter did not end with their rejection of God who had revealed His love and power through all His wonderful creation; for when they got to know Him, they neither glorified nor thanked Him. Moreover, they substituted the worship of the living God by the worship of idols. God speaks through Jeremiah and says: “For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water,” (Jer 2:13). The reason for their corruption is their dependence on their on human wisdom and their rejection of God’s assistance. Therefore, “professing themselves to be wise, they became fools…” According to St. John Chrysostom, they became like mariners navigating in unknown waters. Consequently, their boat ran into hard rocks and got destroyed. This was the result of their attempt to reach up and attain the heavens after having turned off the light within them; and of depending on the darkness of their own thoughts. 

Augustine considers that the reason for their fall was their ingratitude and insensitivity. He remarks that: [Due to their insensitivity, they became stupid. God withdraws from the ungrateful that which He grants freely (i.e. wisdom)]. He also notes that: [They learned how they should live, but they praised themselves for the insight that God had granted them. Having fallen into the sin of pride, they lost their vision and relapsed into the worship of idols, statues, and devils. They worshipped things created and abhorred the Creator].

Augustine indicates that those who had claimed to be wise and had fallen into the corrupt worship were the Romans, Greeks, and Egyptians. These had glorified themselves under the claim of wisdom.

(b) Because they had abandoned God who reveals Himself in nature, God abandoned them as well. This is what the Apostle conveys in his words: ‘Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonor their own bodies between themselves’ (v 24). They abandoned Him by their own free will, for God acknowledges man’s free will and honors it. Therefore He granted them their heart’s desire and relinquished them. In this manner, they indulged in their evil lusts as men and women committed atrocities that were unacceptable even by the law of nature, (v 26, 27).  

St. John Cassian considers that when a person becomes proud- even though he could be physically pure- God abandons him. As a result, he engages in physical lust that he perceives to be wrong. In this manner, he is enabled to realize the hidden pride which he could not formerly perceive.

That is why we see many youths submitting to physical lusts in spite of their regular observance of spiritual means of salvation, such as Bible study, prayers, confession, and communion…however, the main weakness and reason for sinning is the pride which governs their hearts. Pride strips a person of God’s grace which grants sanctification. Consequently, a person surrenders under the weight of the lusts and corruption of the flesh.

St. Befnotious explains that we ourselves cause this corruption and that is why God allows this kind of sinfulness. It is due to our own pride or our negligence, and he goes on to say: ‘We need to know that everything that happens occurs either by God’s will or by His permission. Everything that is good occurs by His will and protection. Everything that is contrary to that occurs by His permission ,and when God no longer protects as He abandons us due to our sins, or due to the hardness of our hearts, or due to our submission to Satan and submitting to shameful physical lusts which we allow to dominate us. The Apostle instructs us about that and confirms it in his words: ‘…for this cause God gave them up unto vile affections’ (v 25); and ‘even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting’, (v 28).

God speaks through His prophet David saying: ‘But my people did not hear My voice; and Israel would pay no attention to Me. And I sent them away because of the desires in their hearts; They shall walk in their ways of living’ (Ps 81:12 -13).

Fr. Hanna states: [‘The fairness of God’s wisdom is evident as He grants good talents to the humble, and these are withheld from the proud who are rejected and of whom the Apostle says that: ‘God gave them over to a debased mind…’ (v 28)].

This is how man, in his wickedness, chooses corruption. Therefore corruption inhabits him, and not God ‘ who is blessed forever. Amen’, (v 25). It is evident that what man practices just backlashes on him and is not inflicted by God. St. John Chrysostom accordingly says: ‘ [Just as a philosopher is unaffected by humiliating remarks of ignorant people; so- and to a greater extent- God’s unsurpassed and unquestionable glory is untouched by the arrogance of men]. 

St. John Chrysostom stops here for a moment to ask us to imitate God who tolerates the wicked and is unaffected by their evil. His nature is too sublime to be affected by them. Similarly, as we imitate Him, we are enabled to tolerate the evil of the wicked. He states: [It is appropriate for us not to attempt to flee from humiliation. Conversely, we need to tolerate the wicked, for such long suffering is an honor in itself. Why? Because it is in your power to tolerate whereas correcting others is another person’s task. Do you hear the echo of the pounding hammer as it falls on a diamond? You might say that this is the nature of diamonds. Correct. And it is within you to practice what the diamond intrinsically possesses. Have you not heard how the three youths were unharmed? And how Daniel remained safely inside the lion’s den? What happened to these can possibly happen to us for we are surrounded by lions. Lust and anger are ready to tear up those who fall victim to them. Therefore be like Daniel and remain steadfast. Do not allow reactions to tear, with their fingernails, your soul. You might think: This is the effect of grace. True, but grace springs from training the will. When we are ready to train ourselves following the model of these men, grace will flow within us. Consequently, savage beasts will humbly crawl before us in spite of their hunger. If beasts have retreated before slaves, shall they not retreat before the members of the Body of the Lord Jesus Christ (i.e. before us)?!].

(c) Some might find an excuse for their wickedness by claiming that it is the fruit of the weakness of human nature and of humans in the uncontrolled pursuit of pleasures. That is why the Apostle indicates that it is man’s wickedness that drives him to practice matters that are contrary to nature. People damage their original human nature, and this transforms their lives into torture. According to St Paul: ‘For this reason God gave them up unto vile passions: for even their women ex-changed the natural use for what is against nature. Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one another; men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due’, (v 26, 27).

Homosexual behavior, men with men, is a vile rejection of God’s order of creation. These passions are against nature and therefore spiritually devastating. Error in above verse means ‘delusion’.  St. John Chrysostom states: St Paul speaks on behalf of the world and states that mankind could enjoy the pleasures of their nature with confidence and heartfelt joy while avoiding shameful acts. However, they do not have the determination to do so…for they humiliate Nature herself…they bring shame to Nature and trample human laws at the same time.

St. John Chrysostom finds that man has turned his life into an internal fight and unbearable torture. He explains that while God has granted men and women to be naturally inclined to marry and become one flesh, and to live in harmony as they share love and intimacy; both sexes have humiliated themselves and each has entered into an inner war. The women have sought each other and the men have acted in the same manner. As a result, human life has been transformed into heated disputes and unending inner wrangling. These conflicts do not solely arise between a man and his wife, but they also occur between same sex individuals- whether they are men or women. Consequently, they have deserved to receive ‘in themselves the penalty of their error’, (v 27). Many holy fathers have underlined that sin carries corruption within it, and ultimately pours it out on the doer. Consequently, that person bears the penalty, not only outwardly in the form of a judgment issued against him, but also inwardly as he commits that sin itself.

(d) First, St Paul presents a horrendous picture of mankind’s submission to wickedness. He reveals how men do not seek the pleasures they have been naturally granted. They have corrupted nature rather than uplifting it. Instead of progressing in the spirit to elevate his animal instincts, and so sanctify his body and instincts to the Lord; man has become an evil and destroyer of nature. He commits what beasts do not do through abnormal physical relationships which occur either between two or more women or between two or more men. Next, St Paul presents a bitter list of trespasses committed by fallen mankind. St John Chrysostom notes that the Apostle uses the following expressions in his list: ‘filled’, ‘with all’, ‘burned in their lust’. It is as though these evils are no longer temporary matters in a man’s life, but they flood his inner being and charge him fully so that he performs ‘all unrighteousness’ and not just one or two evils!

(e) The amazing thing is that sin and corruption destroy man’s inner peace and joy, yet they drive the doer to pride and arrogance. That is why the list describes them in this manner: [backbiters, haters of God, violent, boasters…v 30]. St John Chrysostom comments that [ pride coupled with sin is a great falling…a person who does a good act but is guilty of pride loses his reward, so how much greater would the sin be of someone who adds to his evil deeds the sin of pride? Indeed such a person would be unable to practice repentance].

(f) When we contemplate this list of sins and evils, we feel that humanity has subjugated itself willingly to rebellion and resistance to God who is the source of life and its sanctity. Every sin engages a person so that it delivers him into other sins, and this continues so that he becomes the laughing stock of all sins and evils. We could summarize here the order of this list in the following manner:  

* A person begins to indulge in physical pleasure so he/she surrenders to adultery (v. 29).

* As that person encloses himself within his physical pleasure, he seeks his own satisfaction though outwardly seeming to be generous and lavish. Yet he is ruled by greed and that drives him also to devious ways in order to satisfy such lusts, (v. 29).

* Greed leads to envy, separation, and slyness. These could lead to murder, (v. 29).

* This envy and slyness drive a person to conceit and haughtiness, (v.30).

* The lust for greatness leads a person to inventions and departure from truthfulness, (v.30).

* The rejection of truth drives a person to infringe on nature and to disobey his parents, (v.30).

* By violating even the simplest codes of nature, man loses his discernment (v.31), and breaks all covenants-natural or written. This ultimately leads to the loss of his natural tendency to love and to be tender (v.31). Consequently, man is guilty of a fall to which the Lord has alluded: “And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold”, (Matt 24:12). Finally, men become worse than savage beasts who come together as gangs. Whereas beasts are controlled by their instincts, men are driven by their hatred towards their brothers. 

(g) This descent and fall of mankind into the lowest natural state has produced hardened hearts. Men have not only befriended wickedness, they have become supportive of those who fall like them. The Apostle states: “Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them”, (v.32).

In general, note that this Epistle speaks about the Gentiles. He therefore proclaims the role of natural law which is the Law of God (Jeremiah 31:33,”I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts”.) Therefore the Apostle states: ‘For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law …’ (2:14). 

In this chapter, St Paul speaks about nations who have broken the Law of nature and describes them as those who ‘do those things which are not fitting’ (:28). Examples of their deeds include women who ‘exchanged the natural use for what is against nature…’ (1: 26). 

Similarly the example of paganism in the article (Part-1) can be related to Romans 1:21-23…. Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things.

“The difficulties which educated men of our time experience in both public and private worship point to a deep intellectual and spiritual crisis in the total development of man. The issue goes deeper than the question of language and forms. The reality of God  is no longer obvious or sure to many. The self-evident God which many cultures too easily assumed as a projection of highest values has begun to disappear and even among the baptized, thinkers have started either to deny God altogether  alleging that he is dead, or to interpret the meaning of Gospel purely and entirely in “secular terms without any reference to the transcendent, The difficulty of worship in our time is thus the difficulty of apprehending God-which has never been easy or normal. When both faith and worship become unduly or mainly intellectual and conceptual, as happened in our time of unprecedented advancement in scientific thinking and technological practice, then new intellectual problems crop up in both faith and worship”- Dr. Paulose Mar Gregorios, from his book Worship in a secular Age.  ” When both faith and worship become unduly or mainly intellectual and conceptual, as happened in our time of unprecedented advancement in scientific thinking and technological practice, then new intellectual problems crop up in both faith and worship”… These sentences by Paulose Mar Gregorios Thirumeni highlights the example of going against natural law thus giving rise to secularism, pluralism and the like.

Therefore a Christian is required to obey the Law of Nature. Moreover, not only is he required to fulfill the Law of Moses; but he also needs to progress in order to fulfill the golden rulesublime gospel commandment. Mathew 7:12 “Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the law and the Prophets”. This is the “Golden Rule”(also refer Luke 6:31). The “Golden Rule” fulfills the demands of the Law and the Prophets and is the practical application of the commandment of love one’s neighbor as oneself. St. Cyril the great remarks on this statement (“The Golden Rule”) saying “It was probable these sanctified apostles would think they did not have the ability in carrying out these commandments from mere thoughts to a practical life. Christ knew their thoughts, and He relied on the instinct of loving of one-self as a judgment among people together. He thus commanded each one to do to others what he would like them to do to him. For if we would like others to deal with us mercifully and compassionately ,then we too, have to deal with them the same way. Jeremiah prophesied previously that a time will come when believers will no longer be in need of written commandments, because this doctrine will be engraved on the hearts; for it has been said (Jer.31:33) “I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts.”

Thus God has charged His whole creation with His glory. He has endowed each human being with the privilege to tend and keep it. The Christian, who grows in theosis, in ceaseless motion toward the very likeness of God, will increasingly become a healing instrument of the Holy Spirit.

 

One thought on “Maintaining an Undefiled Conscience in the World of Distraction–Part 4

  1. Pingback: Maintaining an Undefiled Conscience in the World of Distraction —–Part 3 | Orthodox Christian Life (of being and remaining in orthodox way of life)

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