"I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else."
C. S. Lewis

Saturday, September 29, 2012

A Note on Morality

hile I certainly agree that there is a huge (and self-centered) lack of morality  in our country (and most of the rest of the world), and sometimes even supported by some within our Church, I have to say that historically, going back thousands of years, this is nothing new.  

A large part of the morality gap within the Church is due to the fact that there are those within the Church who have never been introduced to, or expected to live a life as a repentant sinner and follower of Jesus Christ. It is usually enough to be of the proper heritage and pay the mandatory dues. It is especially helpful if you are a really large donor – you know, the ones who have large plaques with their names on them attached to buildings. Our country, on the other hand, does not have a consistent witness to the Truth – a role that the Church ought to fill – and so it goes whichever way it will under the influence of our common spiritual enemy, and largely in absence of the witness of Truth. 

In the earliest years when the Church was severely persecuted there was no question what is meant, and what it may cost, to be a Christian. At the same time, the Church was increasingly persecuted precisely because it WAS a consistent example of Truth, following Christ's Great Commandments even unto death. Dioclesian personally travelled to Egypt to participate in the persecution and martyrdom of Christians because the Christians were unlike any other in their willingness to hold steadfast to the Truth of the Gospel in the face of the horrors visited upon them.

Today a person can preach morality at folks, even to folks within the Church, all day long, and some people will only become more set in their contrary ways – ways contrary to Christ. Thus, it is not the responsibility of the priest or bishop to preach Christian morality. It is a priest's responsibility to teach the Gospel of Jesus Christ Who by His Grace has established a new and better Kingdom, not of this world. It is his responsibility to teach that to partake of that kingdom does indeed require us to make a certain sacrifice – ourselves.

 Jesus specifically warned his followers that if "they”, those who are not His followers, hated Me, they will hate you as well. We, in turn, are commanded to love those who hate us even more than we love ourselves. It has been thus for two-thousand years. Yes, and we ought to be model citizens no matter what country we live in, to the extent that we are not required to compromise our singular devotion to God. Model citizens in a democracy vote. Yet nowhere in the Gospel do we hear that we are commanded to transform our society with our politics.  As committed Christians, if such a transformation is to take place, it must be through our living example bearing witness to the Truth. Rhetoric is cheap and unappreciated, while actions are honest and, sometimes, hated for their honesty.

If we love our God like we are called and ought to simply as His special creation, we should strive to live a life wherein even we may participate in the glory of the Transfiguration. Godly morality is the result of knowing God, not of good rhetoric. That, as I understand it, is what a priest's responsibility is – leading first by example in love, in humility, in Christ-likeness and ascesis, in guarding the Holy Chalice, and in standing in for our bishop who cannot serve everywhere in his diocese at the same time. Such actions require the willingness (of bishops first) to have, at first, far fewer "members" in our parishes. The Truth that those members bear witness to will draw thousands whose hearts are waiting to see Truth.

Monday, September 24, 2012

No Christianity, No Life, Apart From Love for Our Enemies

"Master, which is the great commandment in the law?"
Jesus said unto him, "‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.  This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.  On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets." (Mt. 22:36-40)
“And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.  For if ye love them that love you, what thank have ye? For sinners also love those that love them.  And if ye do good to them that do good to you, what thank have ye? For sinners also do even the same. And if ye lend to them of whom ye hope to receive, what thank have ye? For sinners also lend to sinners, to receive as much again.
“But love ye your enemies, and do good and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest; for He is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil. Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful.” (Lk. 6:31-36)
"Everyday experience shows that even people who in their inner depths accept Christ's commandment to love one's enemies do not put it into practice. Why? First of all, because without grace we cannot love our enemies. But if, realizing that this love was naturally beyond them, they asked God to help them, they asked God to help them with His grace they would certainly receive this gift.
"Unfortunately, it is the opposite that prevails. Not only unbelievers but people who call themselves Christians are afraid of acting towards their enemies according to Christ's commandment. They think that to do so would only be of advantage to the other side, seeing the enemy refracted through the distorting prism of hatred as having nothing good in him, that he would take advantage of their 'indulgence' and respond to their love either by crucifying or shamelessly crushing and subjugating them, thus letting evil, as generally personified by his enemy, triumph.
"The idea that Christianity is 'wishy-washy' is profoundly mistaken. The saints possess a force powerful enough to sway people, influence the masses, but theirs is the reverse method – they make themselves servants of their brethren, and thus win for themselves a love in its essence imperishable. By following this course they gain a victory that will obtain 'world without end', whereas a victory won through violence never lasts and by its nature is more to the shame than to the glory of mankind...
The Staretz spent many years in prayer for the world and – we do not know how – God apprised him that so long as such love and prayer continues in the world, God will preserve the world but when love for enemies vanishes off the face of the earth, then the world will perish in the flames of universal discord...
...only good can defeat evil – using force simply means substituting one sort of violence for another." (St. Silouan the Athonite)