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.

 

Maintaining an Undefiled Conscience in the World of Distraction —–Part 3

……article continues from Maintaining an Undefiled Conscience in the World of Distraction—Part 2

Secularization and Secularism

Within Orthodox Christianity, the faith is generally “encultured.” It does not exist apart from the culture, but within the culture – transforming, shaping and secularismmaking the faith of Christ incarnate in the world. Christianity first expressed this model in the context of first-century Judaism.  The disciples in Jerusalem met together on Solomon’s Porch. Small asides in St. Paul’s writings and in the book of Acts, show that despite dropping the requirement for circumcision, early Christians continued to observe many Jewish practices (St. Paul, for example took a Nazarite vow for a time Acts 18:18). The same can be said for the Church’s encounter with the broad culture of Hellenism. The Hellenistic language of Platonism provided the vocabulary (though the meanings were altered) for most of the theological expressions of the great doctrines. The vestments of the Church, and some sense of its ceremonies, clearly reflect both the Church’s roots in Judaism as well as the life of the Roman royal court [i].

This is not only how things should be, it is utterly inevitable. Our faith is not lived on a planet or world apart from the one on which we live. The language of the culture, the deeper, and unspoken ethos of the world in which we live, will find its way into the life of the Church. Normatively, the inner life of the Church finds its way into the greater culture as well. This is probably the true meaning of symphonia, the theory often used to describe the relationship between Emperor and Church (not all cultures have emperors).

The modern world presents new challenges to this model. The secular construct of the world, the hallmark of the modern age, offers perhaps the most cogent and pervasive alternative to traditional Christianity since the Hellenistic period. More complicated still, is the fact that this construct is itself a product of certain expressions of Christianity, and thus has something of an acquired immunity to classical Christianity. In the modern world, Orthodox Christianity encounters the secularized God, the secularized Church and the secularized sacraments. The tragic results can occasionally be a secularized Orthodoxy. What does this mean?

Before looking into the fact that how this secular worldview has influenced the perspective of an orthodox Christian individual or the church as a whole let us look into the fact as to how this ideology has crept into this world system.

The word “Secular”[ii] as an adjective qualifying our time connotes the presence in our age both of secularization as an accelerated process, and of secularism as a complex of assumptions.

Secularization as an English word goes back to 1706 at least, while the adjective Secular was already current in English before 1350(Seculer in Old French). Both are derived from Latin saeculum and Saecularis, the age, the world, pertaining to the world or to the age.

Secularization should be understood in its double aspect- the intellectual and the institutional.

The acceleration of the process of intellectual secularization in the west begins with the view developed by Duns Scotus and Ockham[iii] positing radical discontinuity between faith and knowledge, between revelation and reason. Others developed the line of demarcation further. While for Scotus and Ockham the emphasis was on reason[iv], for Luther it was on Revelation[v]. The cleavage grew wider in the Italian Renaissance, and the search of reason for complete freedom from revelation received further impetus from Descartes[vi], Hobbes, Spinoza and Leibniz, in their attempts to construct a rational picture of the universe based on empirical data alone[vii].

The European process of secularization has two-fold aspect- the liberation of human thought from religious presuppositions, and the liberation of human institutions from ecclesiastical control. The nature and function of the State, for example, began to be thought of in autonomous, independent, immanent terms rather than in terms of a transcendent order subsidiary to the saving purpose of God through the Church. In political terms this meant liberation from papal control, and thus national “sovereignty”.

In the English language, when the word was first used (as far as we know) in 1706, it meant “the conversion of an ecclesiastical or religious institution or its property to secular possession and use” (Shorter Oxford English Dictionary). In French and German also the word was used at this time in much the same sense, when monasteries and church lands were placed under non-ecclesiastical possession and control. In 1789, the French National Assembly placed all church properties at the disposal of the nation, and in the French language the word secularization was more or less synonyms with laicization.

In the European Enlightenment, secularization came to stand for emancipation from the overruling power of God Himself, who was till then assumed generally to have full control of everything in the universe. Enlightened European man “came of age” and accepted responsibility for running the world. In a sense this was a lay revolt against clerical domination, and the denial of the existence of God was often an effective weapon against the influence of the priest. The denial of the “other world” was only a prelude to the denial of the God who inhabited that “other world”.

The emphasis on this world led men like Fontonelle, Montesquieu, Helvetius (enlightenment philosophers) to rule out all idealism and metaphysics and deal only with the immediately experienced and the directly tangible.

The current picture of secularization in our age is quite complex, the word itself being used with a wide spectrum of meaning by different groups.

We shall mention only three groups:

(1) Those who substitute for the norm of revelation some form of normal law, usually received from stoicism- these are philosophers of secularization.

(2) those who commit themselves, without an acknowledged transcendent authority, to the ideal of using our best human efforts to achieve maximum of social justice and human welfare in this world- these may be called the prophets of secularization- and

(3) Those who seek to be as open as possible in their understanding of this world and in choosing the immediate goals to be achieved in this world by man and society. These may be named the pragmatists of secularization.

Secularism as an English word goes back to 1846, when it meant a morality based solely on the welfare of men in this world. In 1863 it came to mean taking a stand for an education which excluded religious subjects. In our time it is often used to refer to a complex of assumptions which deny all reference to any reality that is “beyond” the world of our experience. The distinction between secularization as a process and secularism as a complex of assumptions should not be pressed too far, but is discussed here mainly to distinguish between two aspects of the same secular movement of thought and action.

An Orthodox Christian’s secular worldview[viii] is one that does not deny the existence of God, but distances Him from the everyday world. Human beings are seen strictly in individualized terms, communities only existing through the sharing of ideas and practices. Religious groups can exist in abundance in such a setting, but largely as expressions of individual choices. The world (and culture) is understood to be religiously “neutral” territory – places in which the presence of religious concerns is inherently unnatural. God is a preference, a choice, but never truly integral to daily life.

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In secular cultures, Orthodoxy becomes a choice: “I am Orthodox because I like it.” This sounds perfectly normal (why else would someone be Orthodox?), but it is a subtle shift within the mind and heart of a believer. The kinds of cereal we eat in the morning, the kind of beverage we drink in the evening, are equally choices – products of our preferences. In the modern secular world, particularly in its current dominant form of consumer secularism, the believer consumes his religious preference. His God, his community, his set of practices, are subtly diminished to the set of consumer decisions. The result is often a lifestyle that is largely indistinguishable from that of other consumers. The pressure of Church on the culture of believers is rebuffed: the culture wins. It often means an Orthodoxy that is similar to surrounding secularized groups. Church attendance becomes sporadic, limited to Sunday mornings, prayers in the home diminished (if present at all), and the liturgical rhythm of the year reduced to Sundays, Christmas, Lent.

imagesCAH8VUNZThese observations are not made in order to criticize or judge. They are made in order to describe the outlines of the modern cultural challenge. The nature of all cultures is marked by their unconscious nature. If you live in a culture and are part of it, you don’t have to think in order to be at home. An unconscious Orthodoxy, in the modern context, is likely to become a secularized version. The modern culture in which we live is a secularized culture – thus we have no choice but to think about what it means for the faith and this indeed becomes a challenge for us to enculturate the faith in a culture that inherently spurns the nature of that faith.

Religious Pluralism

Unfolding within our secular culture is the ever-expanding reality of globalization that has given rise to religious pluralism. On the one hand religious pluralism is not something new. For millennia various religious groups have co- existed either as friends or as enemies in which case one group seeks to forcefully persecute, subjugate an even convert the other.

As Orthodox Christians, we peacefully co-exist with other Christians as well as with many who are not Christians. We live in a country where there is no state church. And though we are not persecuted, as were the Christians of the first three centuries, the religious pluralism of our time has more in common with the pre-Constantinian era than with the Christian empire. We live in a country where the religious makeup of its citizens is anything but monolithic. Being a small, sociologically insignificant and           poor church allows us once again to be dependent on and thankful for the gifts of the Spirit who makes possible the proclamation of the Gospel.

 

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A Practical Approach to make the Orthodox Christian Faith Firm and avoid religious pluralism

Religious pluralism can instill insecurity and  vulnerability in the minds and hearts of those adhering to a particular belief system. Comparing and contrasting one’s religion with those with which it co-exists is inevitable. Consequently, one of the greatest challenges accompanying religious pluralism in a free society is the possibility to choose and therefore the possibility to leave one religion – one creed – for another. The changing of one’s religion is often preceded by doubt brought on not only by ignorance, indifference and/or insecurity in the life and tenets of a given faith but also by what is perceived as new, challenging and vivifying in other belief systems. Doubt and change also occur when one’s religion espouses or is perceived to espouse enmity and even hatred towards a particular group or groups that question and challenge the status quo of a given faith system. The absence of dialog and the unwillingness of a given faith to re-examine or cross-examine what it perceives as its unchangeable ethos is basically an invitation for many to leave what is most loved and cherished in their lives. With this exodus one is left with two options, either to assume another religious identity or to remain outside organized religion all together.                        

Indigenization

 

Early Christian thinking on non-Christian religions was conditioned by the pagan polytheism of the Roman Empire, religious aspects of Greek philosophy and links between Christianity and Judaism; including the incorporation, not without some hesitation, of the Jewish sacred books into the Christian Bible. Some early Christian fathers, especially St. Justin Martyr (c.100–c.165) had a cautiously positive view concerning the existence of elements of truth among pagan philosophers and Jewish sages, while Tertullian (c.155–c.240) represented a less tolerant view, which became more dominant in later Christian thinking. Later in history, Orthodoxy had extensive historical experience, not entirely negative, of life as a religious and cultural minority under non-Christian regimes in Persia, the Arabic Middle East and the Ottoman Empire. For long centuries Christian communities were in a ‘survival mode’ under Muslim rule in these areas, which made theological reflection on the meaning of religious diversity in God’s plan for salvation difficult. Only in recent times have Orthodox theologians begun to reflect more systematically on the theological significance of non-Christian religions, especially as Orthodoxy is increasingly confronted with this reality both in countries of Orthodox immigration, and increasingly in countries of Orthodox tradition. Contemporary Orthodox attitudes towards religious diversity are often linked with thinking on secularism, human rights and the religious policy of the State. Several notions concerning non-Christian religions which have come down to us from the ancient Fathers are still relevant. The most important is no doubt from Justin Martyr, who applies the Hellenistic notion of the “seeds of the Logos” (logos spermatikos) in a Christian sense. Justin recognizes that pagan philosophers, especially Socrates and Plato, had a degree of knowledge of truth, but that the fullness of truth resides only in Christian revelation. He even goes so far as to refer to certain Greek philosophers and various Jewish figures as Christians:untitled4

We have been taught that Christ is the First-born of God, and we have suggested…that he is the logos of whom every race of men and women were partakers. And they who lived with the logos are Christians, even though they have been thought atheists; as, among the Greeks, Socrates and Heraclitus, and people like them; and among the barbarians, Abraham, and Ananias, and Asarias, and Misael, and Elias (Justin Martyr 1997, First Apology, l.46).

For whatever either lawgivers or philosophers uttered well, they elaborated according to their share of logos by invention and contemplation. But since they did not know all that concerns logos, who is Christ, they often contradicted themselves (Justin Martyr 1997, Second Apology, l.10).

In his polemical treatise Against the Heathen, St. Athanasius of Alexandria (c.296–373) recognizes, like Justin before him, the possibility that pagans can rise to knowledge of truth. Possessing a rational soul and free will, pagans can abandon idolatry and return to the true God:

Just as they turned away from God with their mind and invented gods from nonexistent entities, so they can rise towards God with the mind of their soul and again turn back towards him. They can turn back if they cast off the stain of all desire which they have put on, and wash themselves until they have eliminated every addition foreign to the soul and show it unadulterated, as it was made, in order that in this way they may be able to contemplate therewith the Word of the Father, in whose image they were made in the beginning (Athanasius 1971, l.34).

Other early Christian thinkers, who recognized the existence of goodness and elements of truth in pagan religions, and especially in the philosophers, include St. Clement of Alexandria (c.150–c.215), Origen (c.184–c.253), St. Basil the Great (329–379), St. Gregory Nazianzus (329–390), and Augustine (354–430). But a critical evaluation of other religions also found support in early Christianity, inheriting the negative attitude towards pagan idolatry in both the Old Testament and the New Testament.

Even though all the above Church fathers have opened a window in understanding the goodness and elements of truth in other pagan religions, the detailed theology behind this understanding is provided by St. Gregory of Nyssa (335–394) through his various writings.

Today in the 21st century also we find ourselves in the same situation as our early Christian Fathers were. We live in the midst of various religious and cultural diversities. The question that we need to ponder here is that

Are we trying to live our lives the way our early church fathers lived?

Are we reaching out to the those who are ignorant in the Truth in love like how are church fathers in early centuries reached out by being rooted in the faith of the Church or Are we mixing ourselves with the false teachings and moving away from “The Truth” ?

During the centuries the different Christian communions have developed their own traditions of historical study and their own particular ways of viewing the past. The views of the many churches and their traditions appear very differently from the one “Tradition of the Church”. To many of our contemporaries a concern with the past will immediately appear suspect, as revealing a desire for the mere resuscitation of old customs and ideas, which have no relevance for the urgent questions of our time. In this age of scientific and technological achievement many tend to regard the heritage of the past as unimportant. It is for this reason that it is important to understand “The Tradition of the Church”. This past of which we speak is not only a subject which we study from afar. It is a past which has value for us, in so far as we make it our own in an act of personal decision. In the Church it becomes a past by which we live by sharing in the one Tradition, for in it we are united with Him who is the Lord of history, who was and is and is to come; and he is God not of the dead but of the living.

Church and its Tradition are inseparable. The Tradition of the Church is not an object which we possess, but a reality by which we are possessed. The Church’s life has its source in God’s act of revelation in Jesus Christ, and in the gift of the Holy Spirit to his people and his work in their history. Through the action of the Holy Spirit, a new community, the Church, is constituted and commissioned, so that the revelation and the life which are in Jesus Christ may be transmitted to the ends of the earth and to the end of time. The Tradition in its content not only looks backward to its origin in the past but also forward to the fullness which shall be revealed. The life of the Church is lived in the continuous recalling, and transmission of the once-for-all event of Christ’s coming in the flesh, and in the eager expectation of his coming in glory. All this finds expression in the word and in the Sacraments in which “we proclaim the Lord’s death till he come” (I Cor. 11.26).

Now that we have recognized how the Tradition of the Church is important to our present and to our future… The Church is sent by Christ to proclaim the Gospel to all men; the Tradition must be handed on in time and also in space. In other words, Tradition has a vital missionary dimension in every land, as in St. Mathew Chapter 28:19, the command of the Lord is “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations”.

The emergence in our time of a global civilization, shaped by rapid technological advances, and grounded in a scientific outlook is transforming our concept of the universe. The new cosmology which is taking shape, challenges our traditional conceptions of man and of nature, both in themselves and in their inter-relationship with one another. Amid these developments, and to some degree because of them, radical changes in social structure are taking place in every part of the world.

It is in such testing circumstances as these, that the serious problems have to be faced of how the Church (we the members as each brick of the Church) may become truly indigenous, bringing into the service of Christ all that is good in the life of every culture and nation, without falling into syncretism (the union or attempted fusion of different systems of thought or belief- especially in religion or philosophy).

What is indigenization?

The Dictionary term for indigenous is defined in two ways and each deserves attention.

—existing, growing or produced naturally in a region or country, belonging as a native

—innate, inherent, inborn

An example of indigenization….Christianity, came to be called as the revelation and fulfillment of the Hebrew Scriptures. It began among the Hebrew people. The instructions revealed by God to some chosen people like Moses and others, were practiced as an indigenous religion by these people. In the present day they are living in what we call the Middle East, and practice Judaism.  In revealing Truth through Moses, God’s words were necessarily translated into the language of the people, which was Hebrew.  Although Hebrew may be the pure language of angels, conquering cultures as well as surrounding cultures and languages molded the Hebrew nation.

By the time of Christ, Aramaic, not Hebrew was the common language of these people of God. Their traders and scholars also spoke Greek, the most widely used language of the pagan Roman Empire. It is most likely that Jesus of Nazareth spoke to his followers, disciples and apostles in Aramaic.  It is also recorded that he could read and speak Hebrew even as a boy.  This is the beginning of the integration of indigenous qualities into Christianity.

Here in this example we see that Christianity is indigenized by adopting the local language.

Let us look at the important factor in indigenization[ix] by taking the example of the Eunomian crisis (a controversy between Eunomius and St. Gregory of Nyssa, the Cappadocian father, named by everyone as the “Father of Father’s” or the “Universal Teacher”).

Eunomius was a contemporary and chief adversary of the Cappadocian Fathers. He was also a Cappadocian from Oltiseris in Cappadocia on the border of Galatia. Eunomius was a son of a farmer. He learned shorthand, went to Alexandria and became the disciple and secretary of the arch-heretic Aetius (the sophist disciple of Arius). From Aetius, Eunomius learned the technology of sophistic (plausible but misleading) reasoning.  He became the bishop of Cyzicus in 360 A. D. by Eudoxius of Antioch, who was a semi-Arian himself. Eunomius had an impressive capacity for the display of dialectic that was deceptively pleasing and pernicious, and was able to make out quite a name for himself. But he could not keep up this image among people for long. Within a year he was forced by his people to resign.

Arianism had different variants like the Anhomoian party and the Homoian party. When Julian the Apostate became the Emperor (361A.D-363 A.D), the Anhomoian party of the Arians reorganized themselves under the leadership of Aetius and Eunomius. During this time, the Anhomoian party fought both the Orthodox (led by the Cappadocians) and the Homoian party of Arians (led by Eudoxius of Constantinople and Euzious of Antioch).

Around 363 A.D, when Julian died, Eunomius began organising a Church of his own, and ordained bishops of his party in various sees. Around 366/367 A.D with the death of Aetius, Eunomius became the unquestioned leader of the Anhomoian party, and moved to Constantinople as his headquarters, only to be exiled by Emperor Theodosius.

The importance of Eunomian crisis is seldom recognized by Church historians. It was as much a peril as the Arian crisis (A crisis that happened two generations earlier, with which the battle was joined at Nicea by St. Athanasius). But precisely because the Athanasian-Nicean settlement did not deal adequately with the philosophical problems involved in Arianism, it continued to survive among intellectuals and ordinary people alike. Aetius with his sharp sophist knowledge spread the doctrine far and wide. There was a new form of liberal “Christianity” developing which denied the very foundations of the Gospel, but was eminently acceptable because of its conformity with current philosophical trends.

Thus there appeared two different approaches to indigenization.

  1. Aetius and Eunomius were seeking to indigenize Christianity by domesticating it within the current and acceptable philosophical framework, also referred to as the Alexandrian philosophy.
  2. St. Basil, St. Gregory of Nazianzen and St. Gregory of Nyssa saw that the kind of indigenization that Aetius and Eunomius did, would destroy the Gospel itself which was sought to be indigenized. The Cappadocian Fathers (Basil, Gregory of Nazianzen and Nyssa) were equally or even better at home in the current philosophy when compared to Aetius and Eunomius.

It is thus of utmost importance to see the two different approaches of indigenization. All the great Orthodox thinkers of the fourth century found it necessary to compose treatises against Eunomius because of the wrong way Eunomius tried to indigenize.

 What was the essence of the difference between the two attempts to indigenize theology?

 The Cappadocian Fathers representing the Nicean Orthodoxy, indigenized by adopting secular philosophy to the Christian Gospel. Example: It’s interesting to see how St. Gregory of Nyssa accepts and radically Christianizes the basic notion of sumpnoia of the Stoics, a doctrine that states the whole universe breathed together as a single organism (This will be later discussed in another article on indigenization).

 Whereas

Eunomius, coming in the Arian-Aetian tradition, indigenized by adopting Christianity to secular philosophy (meaning Christian Gospel was changed to suit the secular philosophy).

 This is the fundamental difference, extremely relevant to the problems of theology today. What is the central criterion which is the cornerstone of our way of theological thinking? Does it come from the Christian faith or from secular philosophy? This question is basic.

For the Cappadocians the basic category is Trinity-Incarnation. untitled11For Eunomius the foundation is the unity, simplicity and absolute uniqueness of the One— a category that reigned supreme in the Alexandrian “secular “philosophical milieu.

In the Alexandrian philosophy (the philosophy sought by Eunomius) there is no room for Trinity, a distinction of persons, within the one Godhead. Neither is there room for God becoming Man. Only a created being could become Man, according to Eunomius. Eunomius states that only the Father is the absolute One without a beginning or cause and not shared with anyone else, whether Son or the Holy Spirit. He states that the Son is the created being by the Father whereas the Holy Spirit and everything else in the cosmos, is created by the Son.  That is the only way he could find to integrate the doctrine of the Incarnation within the prevailing philosophical system.

untitled12Thus it can be concluded that it is very important to be grounded in the faith of the Church for any kind of indigenization. It can be harmful, if one, who is trying to indigenize, is not striving in the path of deification and does not live in the faith of the Church. St. Gregory of Nyssa speaks of the faith of the Church as of divine origin and as the light that guides to the truth, in our understanding of Scripture as well as in our sifting of “outside knowledge (knowledge and wisdom of pagan schools)”.

Thus from Part 1 to Part 3 of the article on maintaining an undefiled conscience in the world of distraction we have seen the few of the notable distractions that are responsible for clouding the true Christian faith.

Maintaining an Undefiled Conscience in the World of Distraction —–Concluding Part 4 continues…….

[i] “The use of contextual representations and images in order to render dogmatic truths comprehensible by people with different cultural backgrounds is often not only legitimate, it is even imperative. This is a fundamental missionary and educative principle, which is deeply rooted in the History and the life of the Church. However, the use of these contextual representations and images needs to be confined, only to the morphology of the dogma, leaving its essence intact and unalloyed. This is precisely the stance that was upheld by both the Apostles and the Fathers of the Church; although borrowing virtual representations and terminology from the contextual cultural background of the Hellenic world, they nevertheless confined themselves exclusively to the morphological level and did not alter the message of the divine Revelation […]  Characteristic examples are in both the characterization of the Son of God by John the Evangelist with his Stoic or Philonian term “Logos”, as well as the usage of the Stoic perceptions of the poets Aratus and pseudo-Epimenides by the Apostle Paul during his oration on the Hill of Aries, in order to highlight the omnipresence of God and His relation to the human race.”

[ii] Source- Worship in a Secular Age by Dr. Paulose Mar Gregorios

[iii] William of Ockham (c. 1287–1347) is, along with Thomas Aquinas and John Duns Scotus, among the most prominent figures in the history of philosophy during the High Middle Ages. He is probably best known today for his espousal of metaphysical nominalism; indeed, the methodological principle known as “Ockham’s Razor” is named after him. But Ockham held important, often influential views not only in metaphysics but also in all other major areas of medieval philosophy—logic, physics or natural philosophy, theory of knowledge, ethics, and political philosophy—as well as in theology.

[iv] Reason is the capacity for consciously making sense of things, applying logic, establishing and verifying facts, and changing or justifying practices, institutions, and beliefs based on new or existing information. Reason, or an aspect of it, is sometimes referred to as rationality. Reason, like habit or intuition, is one of the ways by which thinking comes from one idea to a related idea. For example, it is the means by which rational beings understand themselves to think about cause and effect, truth and falsehood, and what is good or bad. It is also closely identified with the ability to self-consciously change beliefs, attitudes, traditions, and institutions, and therefore with the capacity for freedom and self-determination.

[v] In religion and theology, revelation is the revealing or disclosing of some form of truth or knowledge through communication with a deity or other supernatural entity or entities.

[vi] Descartes laid the foundation for 17th-century continental rationalism, (rationalism is the view that “regards reason as the chief source and test of knowledge” or “any view appealing to reason as a source of knowledge or justification”. More formally, rationalism is defined as a methodology or a theory “in which the criterion of the truth is not sensory but intellectual and deductive”.) Later advocated by Baruch Spinoza and Gottfried Leibniz, and opposed by the empiricist school of thought consisting of Hobbes, Locke, Berkeley, and Hume. Leibniz, Spinoza and Descartes were all well-versed in mathematics as well as philosophy, and Descartes and Leibniz contributed greatly to science as well.

[vii] Empiricism is a theory that states that knowledge comes only or primarily from sensory experience. Empiricism in the philosophy of science emphasizes evidence, especially as discovered in experiments. It is a fundamental part of the scientific method that all hypotheses and theories must be tested against observations of the natural world rather than resting solely on a priori reasoning, intuition, or revelation.

Empiricism, often used by natural scientists, says that “knowledge is based on experience” and that “knowledge is tentative and probabilistic, subject to continued revision and falsification.” One of the epistemological tenets is that sensory experience creates knowledge. Empirical research, including experiments and validated measurement tools, guides the scientific method.

[viii] Source- Secular Orthodoxy by Fr. Stephen Freeman

[ix] Source- Cosmic Man by Dr. Paulose Mar Gregorios

Maintaining an Undefiled Conscience in the World of Distraction–Part 1

St. Basil’s Hexameron – Homily 1 — 6th point–

  1. Such being the different senses of the word beginning, see if we have not all the meanings here.  You may know the epoch when the formation of this world began, it, ascending into the past, you endeavor to discover the first day.  You will thus find what was the first movement of time; then that the creation of the heavens and of the earth were like the foundation and the groundwork, and afterwards that an intelligent reason, as the word beginning indicates, presided in the order of visible things. 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.” Rom. 1: 20.  Perhaps these words “In the beginning God created” signify the rapid and imperceptible moment of creation.  The beginning, in effect, is indivisible and instantaneous.  The beginning of the road is not yet the road, and that of the house is not yet the house; so the beginning of time is not yet time and not even the least particle of it.  If some objector tell us that the beginning is a time, he ought then, as he knows well, to submit it to the division of time—a beginning, a middle and an end.  Now it is ridiculous to imagine a beginning of a beginning. Further, if we divide the beginning into two, we make two instead of one, or rather make several, we really make an infinity, for all that which is divided is divisible to the infinite. On the inconceivability either of an absolute minimum of space or of its infinite divisibility.  Thus then, if it is said, “In the beginning God created,” it is to teach us that at the will of God the world arose in less than an instant, and it is to convey this meaning more clearly that other interpreters have said:  “God made summarily” that is to say all at once and in a moment. But enough concerning the beginning, if only to put a few points out of many.

Introduction:

Orthodoxy is the way of life in Christ through True Worship, where each member of the Church is set out on a journey towards deification by partaking in the Holy Sacraments, built firmly on the Holy Scripture and, preserved and handed over by the Holy Tradition. It is not a theory. In other words it is the life in the faith of the church – especially the teaching about the Incarnation of God [i.e. Jesus Christ as one and only Incarnation of God]; and the teaching about the Holy Trinity [ God- The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit worshipped as one Undivided Trinity in Unity]. Orthodox Christianity offers a fullness of truth and beauty in its quest for holiness.

Orthodoxy is established upon a sound and inviolable foundation: fidelity to the teaching of the fathers of the ecumenical councils, the age-old experience of the spiritual and grace-filled life in Christ. The Martyrs, Confessors, Wonderworkers, Holy monastics and other Saints by their God pleasing lives and righteous deaths are witness to the truth and the salvific nature of the Orthodox faith…

This is what we understand about the Orthodox faith today.

Mankind was created by God and was originally in direct communion with Him. Having forgotten God, man still longs for Him in his soul. That having been forgotten, it is still God’s will to be known by man. Therefore it is sensible, even predictable, that in every human community, society and culture throughout history, evidence can be found of man’s longing to know God, and God’s will to be known by man.

From times immemorial all through the human history man’s ignorance to know God have resulted in many religions in the world. One of the tasks of the early Church (till 5th century) was defining, and defending, orthodox theology against the battering waves of heresies. These heresies often appeared in disputes over the nature of the Trinity, or how Jesus could be both God and Man. Would the early Church identify with present day Roman Catholicism and Protestantism? This is the challenge that we face today in our quest for “The Truth”. Church Councils were called to put into words the common faith that could stand for all ages. From this time, the Church has been called “Orthodox,” which means “right belief” or “right praise.” The Nicene Creed originated at the Council of Nicea in A.D. 325, and is the central Orthodox statement of faith. Built on the foundation of Christ and His Apostles, nothing has been added or can be added to our faith. We now live in an age where lives and acts (secularism and the other ‘isms’) are contrary to this Christian heritage of Orthodox faith. As a result, many have separated themselves from this tradition, hence our perception and understanding of Christ and His Church has become clouded.

We read in Genesis 11: 1-9 the incident at the tower of Babel.

tower of babel

“Come let Us(The Holy Trinity as shown in the icon)  go down there and confuse their language”……. Therefore its name is called Babel, because there the Lord confused the languages of all the earth; and from there the Lord God scattered them abroad over the face of all earth.”

“Now the whole earth was one language and one speech. And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar, and dwelt there. Then they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks and bake them in fire”. They had brick for stone and asphalt for mortar. They also said “Come, let us build ourselves  city and a tower, whose top will reach to heaven; and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered broad over the face of the whole earth.” But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the sons of men built. Then the Lord said, “Indeed, the people are one race and one language, and they have begun to do what they said. Now they will not fail to accomplish what they have undertaken. Come let Us go down there and confuse their language, so they may not understand one another’s speech. So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they ceased building the city and the tower. Therefore its name is called Babel, because there the Lord confused the languages of all the earth; and from there the Lord God scattered them abroad over the face of all earth.”

Here we learn how human race was scattered over the face of the earth because in our pride we wished to build a tall tower reaching unto heaven. The people of Babel wanted to be like God but without God or apart from Him.

Similarly according to Isaiah 14: 12-15 we read `How you are fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, who rose up in the morning! He who sends forth all the nations is crushed to the earth. For you said in your mind “I will ascend into heaven; I will place my throne above the stars of heaven; I will sit on the lofty mountain, on the lofty mountain towards the north. I will ascend above the clouds; I will be like the Most High”. But now you shall descent to hades to the foundations of the earth.’

The `I will’ in the above verses show how Satan pursued his own will which made him go away from the “Most High God”, his pride was the reason for his fall. The pride of Adam and Eve was defeated by God when they were thrown out of the Garden of Eden.

The question to ponder here from the above paragraphs is, Are we really that different than the ancient people of Babel trying to make a name for ourselves? Let us look into history. The discussion that follows points out to certain facts that paved a way to move away from The Truth.

We take an extract from the homily 1 point 6 of St. Basil‘s hexameron which justifies the discussion 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.”

Taking this small extract from the homily, let us examine ourselves, in the midst of the world of distraction (the different subjects of discussion below), to make a choice whether we as reasonable souls are using this world as the training ground in doing God’s will or our own fallen will or the will of the devil. As it say’s in Luke Chapter 21: 34-36 “ But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly… Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man”

Historic paganism and neo-paganism

Early apologist, scholar and Christian synergist, St. Justin Martyr of Alexandria and Rome, made the point to the Roman government, that Christians were inherently good citizens.  Why? Because Christians believed in the Logos (Gospel of John) that is also understood as “reason.” Therefore, St. Justin explained, Christians believe in reason and therefore are reasonable people.  “Whatever things were rightly said among all men,” wrote St. Justin in his second apology “is the property of us Christians.”

St. Justin went further to say that since the demons also knew that salvation would come to humanity through Jesus Christ, they made up legends and myths of the Olympian gods that were similar to historic events, using the same (or very similar) images and symbols.  In essence, St. Justin confirmed the legends and myths were truth to a point. However, they were distorted, he said, to create confusion among mankind. 

Now looking into Historic paganism and neo-paganism, the term “historic paganism” will be used to denote the ancient, polytheistic, nature worship and fertility cults of pre- and early-Christian eras; while “neo-paganism” will be used to describe contemporary efforts to revive historic paganism in the facts described below.

Orthodox Christianity fears no slander, criticism or challenge of any sort; every variety has already been dealt with at some point. Orthodoxy zealously embraces the mystical revelation of God in Trinity, through His Son, the incarnate Sojourner among men, who appeared on earth at a specific time and place in history. At the Annunciation to the Theotokos by Gabriel, the chronological history of fallen humanity intersects with divine Kairos [interruption] i.e. God became Man to save us from our fallen state; Orthodoxy is submission to, and preservation of, this salvific opportunity as it occurred in history. The historical context of the Incarnation was not coincidence but providence. This being the case, Orthodoxy is not stumbled by such facts as that of paganism predating Christianity.  Fallen man, having forgotten God, contrived nature worship prior to God’s revelation to Moses or the salvific incarnation of Jesus Christ. Paganism’s pre-Christian existence does not prove that it is the source of Christianity but only that man’s longing for the divine predates Judeo-Christian revelations. The seemingly logical progression that pagans predate Christians, and pagan gods are myths, therefore the Christian God is a myth as well, does not hold. And yet, today, it is a popular idea to which many subscribed.

Another popular belief is that because Christian theology, worship, and mysteries share common terminology and symbolism with paganism (elementals, chant, altars, liturgy, etc.) that they must share a common origin. But again, this only demonstrates that there are metaphors and symbols that are universal to human psychology; which suggests a common origin for all men (i.e. Adam and Eve) but not for all religions. We could perhaps designate this as the law of psychological identity. Some of the sensible images or symbols, created by man to reflect spiritual truths, are indeed common to many peoples and races because their basis is the same human nature or experience. This basis of psychological identity explains many rites, words, and ideas common to Christianity and paganism.

Depending on studies done by various scholars the problems of historical, conceptual, and genetic relationships between the mysteries of the Christians and those of the pagans are breathtaking in their complexity. But Orthodox Christianity is at ease with the seemingly universal signs, symbols, rituals and even prophecies that predate the life of Jesus Christ. Mankind was created by God and was originally in direct communion with Him. Having forgotten God, man still longs for Him in his soul. That having been forgotten, it is still God’s will to be known by man. Therefore it is sensible, even predictable, that in every human community, society and culture throughout history, evidence can be found of man’s longing to know God, and God’s will to be known by man. Orthodoxy has no need to claim originality in its rites and rituals. Quite the opposite, it glories in the infinite fulfillment that Christ offers mystically to that which is already familiar; in other words, sanctification, deification, and theosis. God becoming man, that man might become god.

Lastly, regardless of the projected confidence of neo-pagans, it is a simple fact that all conjecture regarding historic paganism is made in a near void of critical data. We have extant but a few literary works dealing with the [pagan] mysteries, many scattered references, verses of poetry, fragments of hymns and prayers, mutilated inscriptions, damaged papyri, cult emblems, bas-reliefs, frescoes, painted vases, ruined chapels and temples. These are the varied and imperfect material out of which we have to attempt reconstruction. Our difficulties are much heightened by the insecurity of chronological sequence, and the uncertainty as to the particular usages or beliefs of a cult at a particular period of the long history of the [pagan] mystery religions from the sixth century B.C. to the fifth century A.D. “And the only mystery ritual which has survived in its entirety is the one belonging to the Mithraic cult.” Not coincidentally, the cult of Mithras is the only source cited consistently by those subordinating Christianity to paganism.

In contrast, consider the sheer volume of Judeo-Christian documents and literature produced from approximately 1500 B.C. to 800 A.D.: Old Testament, New Testament, Apostolic literature, the catacomb experience, Christian Byzantium, and the Holy Ecumenical councils! In light of this tremendous outpouring of Judeo-Christian literature that encapsulates the dark age of paganism (600 B.C. to 500 A.D.), one might be compelled to argue that every enduring aspect of paganism, other than its rightful claim to the Mother-Goddess of agrarian fertility worship, and the Greek philosophical terminology of the time, is in fact a borrowing from Judeo-Christianity practices.[1]

As part of the Church’s tradition, it is believed that during Christ’s flight into Egypt, statues to the native gods crumbled and fell at His presence; this led to the conversion of some of the inhabitants.

Flight of ChristGiven below are some selective acts of saints who destroyed religious images[2]

The Apostle Paul (+67 A.D.)

As recounted in the Book of Acts 19: 11-20, the miracles of the Apostle Paul led many pagan sorcerers in Ephesus to convert to Christ, whereupon they publicly burned their spell-books. Scripture concludes this episode with the words: So the word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed.

The Apostle John (c. +97 A.D.)

Some accounts of the Life of John the Evangelist state that his exile to Patmos was a result of the Apostle causing pagan idols to fall through his prayers. In the Anglo-Saxon homilies from the 10th/11th centuries, there is an explicit mention of the Apostle John turning the idols to dust by the power of God.

Empress Helena (+ 329 A.D.)

brosen_icon_constantine_helenaThe pious Christian mother of Constantine the Great, Empress Helena is best remembered in the Orthodox Church for finding the Holy Cross on which Jesus Christ was crucified during a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. On the site of the finding she erected the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Less well-known perhaps, but no less significant, is that a temple to the goddess Aphrodite (Venus) needed to be flattened for the church to be built. St. Helena probably also ordered the destruction of a temple to Zeus (Jupiter) in order to build a church dedicated to St. Cyrus and St. John.. The finding of the true Cross is commemorated on September 14, and is one of the Great Feasts of the Church.

Nicholas the Wonder-Worker of Myra (+ 345 A.D.)

st-nicholas-destroying-the-idolsOne of the most celebrated Saints of the Orthodox Church worldwide, the wonderful feats of this miracle-working bishop abound. Among these acts is the destruction of all the temple of Diana and other pagan shrines in his city of Myra, after he was reinstated as bishop there during Constantine’s reign. Much of the demolition was carried out by his own hand, though he also had to struggle in prayer to overcome the demons that inhabited the temples. That this act of Nicholas is celebrated is evidenced in later church frescoes showing the event.

 

Martyr Mark, Bishop of Arethusa, in Syria (suffered 360 A.D.)

Under Constantine the Great St. Mark, with the help of his deacon Cyril, had torn down a pagan temple and built a church in its place. When Julian the Apostate became emperor, idol-worship again grew, and the pagans wished to take revenge upon the now elderly bishop. Beaten, slashed with knives, his ears sliced off with linen, and with his hair pulled out, St. Mark steadfastly refused to offer up any money in order to rebuild the pagan temple he had demolished. Even after the pagans kept lowering the price, St. Mark refused to pay a single coin. Exhausted, and seeing that people were converted to Christ through his endurance, the torturers let St. Mark go! St. Gregory the Theologian writes highly of St. Mark, and uses his example in his writings against Julian the Apostate.

Spyridon the Wonderworker of Tremithus, in Cyprus (+ 348 A.D.)

st spiridonA shepherd who gave all his wealth to the poor, St. Spyridon was made bishop of Tremithus after the death of his wife, under the reign of Constantine the Great. The life of the saint speaks of the amazing simplicity and the gift of wonder-working granted to him by God. Through a word of the saint the dead were awakened, the elements of nature tamed, the idols smashed. At one point, a Council had been convened at Alexandria by the Patriarch to discuss what to do about the idols and pagan temples there. Through the prayers of the Fathers of the Council all the idols fell down except one, which was very much revered. It was revealed to the Patriarch in a vision that this idol had to be shattered by St. Spyridon of Tremithus. Invited by the Council, the saint set sail on a ship, and at the moment the ship touched shore and the saint stepped out on land, the idol in Alexandria with all its offerings turned to dust, which then was reported to the Patriarch and all the bishops.

Saint Porphyry of Gaza, Bishop and Confessor (+ 420 A.D.)

porphyry-of-gazaAfter many years as a monk, St. Porphyry was elected Bishop of Gaza, a city where the Christian population numbered less than three-hundred, and idolatry was wide-spread. Discriminated against by the pagans, St. Porphyry went to Constantinople and gained the support of Emperor Arcadius and the Archbishop, St. John Chrysostom, to close down the idolatrous temples. Officials sent to close down the pagan shrines of Gaza were often bribed, and so after much laboring, St. Porphyry undertook the destruction of the temples personally with his flock of Christians. Many temples were destroyed, including those dedicated to Aphrodite, Hecate, the Sun, Apollo, Kore (Persephone), Tychaion, the shrine of a hero, and the Marneion, dedicated to Zeus. In their place, Christian churches were erected. The pagan idols were burnt, and the marble from their temples were used to pave the way to the new Christian churches, so that all Christians on their way to worship would trample upon the remains of idolatry. These acts, along with much preaching, prayer, and humiliations suffered by St. Porphyry, won the entire city of Gaza over to the Christian faith. The Life of St. Porphyry, recounting his struggles against the pagans, was written by the deacon Mark.

What to take from all these above facts from history? As with other miraculous deeds of the Saints, the destruction of the idols can be understood symbolically as the victory of right-believing Christians over all other idols, whether they be demons pretending to be gods or man-made constructs that lead our minds from the contemplation of God. This can be done without denying the historical fact of the Church’s Saints physically destroying non-Christian religious images. Of course, when considering other deeds of the Saints, we try to use their acts as an example for our own conduct. In the case of idol-smashing, most Christians today would shy away from literally following the Saints’ example, even though non-Christian idols abound. Perhaps this is wisest thing to do, though the courage of these idol-smashing Saints is certainly something worthy of imitation. In striving for this, we can pray to Christ that we may emulate the martyr’s strength.

The above information on Saints who destroyed religious images (or idols), gives a considerable list of Saints who in their lives courageously and physically confronted the practice of worshiping idols. Most of the examples come from the First Millennium A.D., which shouldn’t be surprising as this is when idol-worship was widespread in the world and at its most aggressive towards Christianity.

Looking back over so many centuries it can be difficult to imagine just what these heroic Saints did in publicly taking a stand against something so anti-Christian, yet so popular. Even in today’s times so close to ours we get to learn about a story from the life of Elder Gabriel (Urgebadze), a Georgian priest-monk considered locally to be a Saint, publicly denounced the idolatry of a people.

The article continues as…. Maintaining an Undefiled Conscience in the World of Distraction —–Part 2

[1] Alexander Schemann. Orthodox Christianity and Paganism.

[2] Source: iconreader.com

Is Science a Laborious Vanity? — Part 3–

The article continues from…Is Science a Laborious Vanity? — Part 2

Conclusion:

From the understanding about astronomy and astrology we have read through in the previous two parts, clearly explains the deceit of the King of the world—Satan, the great deceiver.

The greatest deceit, the great victory of Satan is not that he is leading a willing world to destruction, it is that he is, sadly, often able to deceive and lead astray the Christian person who is struggling to be transformed more and more into the image of Christ (see in particular Rom 12:2). Satan deceives the Christian by convincing him to take his attention off Christ and to doubt the power and promises of God.

christ's-temptation-in-the-wildernessHow do we resist this deceit? What should be the response of the Christian person to the wiles of the Devil? The Holy Scriptures are clear. The two Epistles of St. Peter the Apostle that are contained in the New Testament are wondrous builders of faith. In the introductory notes that we find at the beginning of the Second Epistle of Peter in the Orthodox Study Bible, there is a marvelous summary of the theme of Peter’s Epistles:

“Though the world disbelieves, deceives and mocks, Christians must maintain apostolic doctrine and an Orthodox Christian way of life. We are to grow continually in holiness and virtue and pursue an entrance into ‘the everlasting kingdom’ which is to come”.

The answer for the Christian is to continually seek God and His Kingdom; to fight the deceits of the Devil, despite the pain and suffering he can cause, with a faith founded upon the All-powerful and All-loving God.

Be reliant upon God and His holiness; be close to His Church, receive often the Sacraments that he freely offers to us. Resist evil and cling only to God.

“Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and he will draw near to you.” (James 4:7-8a).

Satan can only deceive he cannot pluck us out of the hand of God; he cannot send us unwillingly from the kingdom of God. If God no longer becomes the focus of our vision and life, it is not He who has moved, it is that we have taken our gaze from him!

There are three short Homilies by St John Chrysostom (the Golden-mouthed). They are entitled collectively as ‘Three Homilies Concerning the Power of Demons’. The first is referred to as being “Against Those Who Say That Demons Govern Human Affairs” and the second and third “On the Power of Man to Resist the Devil”.

St. John Chrysostom warns his listeners against this despairing because of the power of the devil.

“For he (i.e. Satan) is an enemy and a foe, and it is a great security to know clearly the tactics of your enemies … when he overcomes by deceitfulness, he does not get the better of all men … he does not overcome … by force, yet by deceitfulness” (Homily II-1).

Thankfully, Satan does not deceive all in the Church. The saints, many of whose icons are surrounding us, can be our examples of faith and Christian life because they can be our guides encouraging us to continue with our eyes fixed upon God – the one who brings salvation and life.

“The Devil is wicked; I grant this indeed, but he is wicked for himself not towards us if we are wary” (Homily III-1).

When we sin, we cannot blame Satan or another for our failing. Our sin is our own because we have committed it by the exercise of our own power and free will, or by our own lack of faith. Likewise, when one in the Church falls away from God, we cannot say that Satan’s power has taken him by force away from the presence of God. God forbid that we should allocate to Satan the power that he so desperately seeks. Our sin is our own and, likewise, our falling away is our own. We fall away because Satan has convinced us, through deceit that our place is not in the Kingdom of God.

St John Chrysostom is careful to show that Satan’s deceits are many, but his intention is one. He seeks only to make us leave the presence of our loving God and to prevent us from allowing God to guide us. Satan seeks this by either convincing us that God cannot do what he has promised, by tempting us with the pleasures of this world, or by deceiving us to think that he, Satan, has the power which he actually does not have. The power of Satan can only lead us from God if we allow him the opportunity to do so.

Some of the other great writers of the Church can be cited to give us strength against this deceit of the Devil. In these (St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures 12 15) we are exhorted to see that ‘in the sacrifice of Christ, the devil has been defeated’. Satan is vanquished already and, only by deceit, can he lead astray those who are in Christ; tempting them through promise of treasure, power or letting them fall into utter despair.

We are instructed elsewhere (St. Ignatius’ Epistle to the Smyraeans III & IV) to be firm, guarding ourselves from those who seek to influence evil upon us. Not just to turn away but even to flee from them. We must understand that Satan has enticed men and women from the beginning. It is only then that he has him in his power. However Satan is ultimately bound by the power of God. His power over man is only through delusion (St. Irenaus’ Adversus Haereses). We are to keep our lives fully in God and not to fall into the temptation that the Devil puts in front of us.

In the Gospels, Christ uses the common things of life to teach the truths of God. These well-known things are weaved by him into a story that conveys God to the hearers. The spiritual writers of our Church followed the example of our Lord. In teaching their hearers many of these writers spoke of everyday things, things like grain, fields, birds, and every day events from life. Some even used widely known stories to describe the action of Satan, for example the Fables of Aesop.

In the fable called THE DOG AND HIS REFLECTION. It goes something like this:

“A dog was crossing a plank bridge over a stream with a piece of meat in his mouth, when he happened to see his own reflection in the water. He thought it was another dog with a piece of meat, so he let go of his own and flew at the other dog to get his piece, too. But, of course, all that happened was that he got neither, for one was only a reflection and the other was carried away by the stream”.

The moral of the story is:

“Envy not your neighbors lot; and
be content with what you’ve got.”

We can apply this fable to the Church and to ourselves who see ourselves as part of it. The deceit here is the reflection that the dog saw. What he thought was real was in fact only imaginary. When applying this story to that of the human person we can ask, why do we ‘bring ourselves, by own accord, into subjection to the enemy of this life?’ What is it that encourages us to push away eternal life to fall into sin? It is Satan the great deceiver who tempts us with the imaginary security of a life of wealth, comfort, pleasure and power – a life without God.

Satan can be seen in this story of our greedy dog; he is in the stream trying to convince the dog that even though he has all he needs, there is still more. Alas, this desire is based not on what God has given us, but on what we image we can and should have. Satan cannot offer the dog a real piece of meat; he can only reflect the image of the meat that already exists. Satan’s promises of peace without God are false. He tries to convince us to take his offer by copying the things of God. However, these copies are not real; they will disappear as easily as ripples do to a reflection in a stream. Satan does not take the meat from the mouth of the dog; he does not have to. He only need convince the dog to grab at more and by doing so lose what he has already been given. He plays on the greed and pride of the dog. Greed and the constant desire to be better than those around us is a common way of the world, it is not the way of a life in Christ. The temptations of the Devil often involve what we think we should have. The grace that God has given us is enough for our needs; we should use what we have been given with thankfulness and not worry about what we do not have.

Another fable concerning a reflection in a stream (in The Stag and the Hounds):

“A stag one autumn day came to a pond and stood admiring his reflection in the water.
‘Ah’ said he, ‘what glorious antlers! But my slender legs make me ashamed. How ugly they are! I’d rather have none at all’.

The stag was soon distracted from his vain musings by the noise of huntsmen and their hounds. Away he flew, leaving his pursuers a vast distance behind him. But coming upon a thicket, he became entangled by his antlers. He struggled to free himself as the baying of the hounds sounded nearer and nearer.

‘At last’ he thought, ‘If I am meant to die at the fangs of these beasts, let me face them calmly’.

But when he ceased to tremble, he found his antlers had come free.

Immediately he bounced back, delighting in his legs, which carried him far away from danger. As he ran, he thought to himself,

‘Happy creature that I am! I now realize that, that on which I prided myself was nearly the cause of my undoing, and that which I disliked was what saved me’.

Satan again lies within the flowing stream in this fable. Previously, we saw how Satan often deceives us into desiring what does not really exist. Here the deceit differs. Here the stag is convinced that what he has is inadequate. Previously it was pride and greed that was the downfall of the dog. Now we are reminded that vanity and extreme self-resourcefulness can be fatal. The stag knew what he wanted. However, his assessment of what was necessary or adequate for him was not right.

It is rather amazing to hear many in the Church say “I would really like to contribute more to the ministry and life of my Church, but I don’t have the necessary talents to do anything”. It’s not a matter of my antlers being just right or my legs being too thin and scrawny, but it is often a matter of “it would be too embarrassing for me to contribute anything in my Church youth group”. Perhaps it is “I would really like to say something at my youth group, but everyone would think I am stupid, or pushy”.

All of us have spiritual gifts from God; they were given to us by God at our Baptism. The Church cannot function properly, especially in times of need and challenge unless all of its members use the gifts God has given them. How can we expect the Church to stand fast against a world that rejects the Kingdom of God when the very members of that Church are not completely relying upon God?

Thankfully, it is not the combined self-reliance of all the members of our Church that makes us the ‘Body of Christ’ (I Cor 12:27). It is the power and grace of God that transforms the individual members of the Church into the functioning ‘Body of Christ’ in this world.

The stag allowed his own vanity and his self-judgment to cloud his opinion of himself. Satan often deceives the members of the Church into believing that even God’s promises will not be fulfilled in them because they in themselves do not ‘have what it takes’. It is not up to us, it is up to God!

“But how are men to call upon him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without a preacher? And how can men preach unless they are sent?” As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel; for Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes by the preaching of Christ (Rom 10:14-17).

Satan cannot defeat the Church that is filled with the purpose and Spirit of God. He will, however attempt to deceive those who are part of it. The Church cannot be the vehicle of God’s salvation in this world if those who see themselves as belonging to that Church are not going to use what God has given them because of fear of ridicule, vanity, embarrassment or pride.

Perhaps our stag should read the verse above that mentions “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news”! In the end it is the scrawny feet that saved the stag from the fangs of the hounds. So too, it is the feet that carry the preaching and the teaching and those who are living out their faith in this world that will save us from the deception of the snapping Devil – however scrawny and ugly those feet might appear to be!

One of the greatest dangers for those within the Church is what is called ‘The New Age Movement’. What has the ‘New Age Movement’ got to do with the deception of Satan? It certainly has nothing to do with us who are members of the Church! Or does it?

Sadly, the ‘New Age Movement’ in its variety of forms, has influenced all aspects of life, and even many who see themselves as members of the Church of God are so easily influenced by this great deception of Satan.

Many see the “New Age Movement” as just a way of life; living in respect of all creatures, practicing non violence, being sensitive, respecting others right to believe in their particular religion. Nothing could be further from the truth. The “New Age Movement” is in fact one of the greatest attempts at deception by Satan upon Christians today!

The “New Age Movement” is not simply some broad descriptive title for a range of unrelated philosophies or teachings. It is a highly organized and motivated movement that, in its least organized form, seeks to distract Christians from concentrating upon the things of God. At its most dangerous, it seeks to destroy Christian faith and replace the historical and theological Christ with a ‘new’ and ‘more relevant’ Messiah figure.

“According to New Age sources, the New Age Movement is a worldwide network. It consists of tens of thousands of cooperating organizations. Their primary goal or the secret behind their ‘unity-in-diversity’ is the formation of a ‘New World Order”. The Movement usually operates on the basis of a well-formulated body of underlying esoteric or occult teachings”.

A far more subtle and potentially more dangerous satanic deception lies behind the more basic unorganized expression of the “New Age Movement”. It is not the expression of ‘New Age’ in the world that should concern us, as much as its influence within the Church of God.

Sadly we can find particular ‘New Age’ practices and beliefs even with many members of the Orthodox Churches. Seemingly simple activities such as reading one’s stars, experimenting with the occult, using ‘healing crystals’, practicing eastern forms of meditation and certain ‘holistic medicine’ practices etc are expressions of what the “New Age Movement” is encouraging. These things are destructive to one’s Orthodox Christian faith precisely because they seek to take away from the uniqueness and central importance of Christ and the ‘Kingdom of heaven’. Anything that can do this will also slowly but surely chip away at the prime place of importance that Christ and the Gospel has in our lives as Orthodox Christians.

Referring to quotes from a onetime Confessor Priest-Monk from Mount Athos:

“The activity of the Antichrist and the beast, regardless of how much power they are allowed to have from God, will never acquire any authority over the souls of God’s servants. As it was with Job ‘… but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it’ (I Cor 10:13b).

“Only the conscious denial of Christ deprives man of salvation. No hidden action or symbol of the evil one can harm or have an influence on the believer.

Truly, Satan is the great deceiver because he portrays himself as having power and influence that he does not really have. He is the greatest trickster because he casts an image that strikes fear and despair even into the hearts of those touched by the power of God.

Satan deceives because he seems to appear where he really cannot be and he tries to tempt all people, in venturing where they should not go.

stock-photo-ancient-orthodox-icon-73253788“Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that in due time he may exalt you. Cast all your anxieties on him, for he cares about you. Be sober, be watchful; because your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experience of suffering is required of your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, establish, and strengthen you. To him be the dominion forever and ever” (1 Peter 5:6-11).

Amen.