How We Achieve the Victory of the Cross
Protopresbyter John Romanides
hroughout its history the Church has had to fight sin and corruption within its own members, and often within its clergy. However, in every epoch She knew how to implement the appropriate means, as She always remained able to recognize the enemy. The Church exists in the truth not because all its members are without sin, but because the sacramental life is always present in Her and against Her the Devil is defenseless. “When you often assemble in one place (επι το αυτο), the power of Satan is destroyed” (St. Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Ephesians, 13). Whenever members of a community gather to celebrate the Eucharist and are in the condition to exchange the kiss of peace to commune together in the Body and Blood of Christ, the devil is defeated. However, when a member of the Body of Christ communes unworthily, he eats and drinks damnation (I Cor. 11:29). When a Christian does not commune at all with the Body and Blood of Christ in every Eucharist, he is spiritually dead (Jn. 6:53). The Church has categorically refused to endorse the practice whereby a large number of Christians attend the Eucharist, while a few commune. Guidance, participation in prayer and communion are inseparable (7th Apostolic Canon; St. John Chrysostom, 3rd Homily On Ephesians). “Let no one be deceived: if somebody is outside the sanctuary, he is deprived of the Bread of God...he who does not gather together with the Church has shown his pride and has condemned himself” (St. Ignatius of Antioch, Eph. 5). The Biblical and Patristic tradition is unanimous on one point: The one who is a living member of the Body of Christ is one who is dead to the power of death and who lives in the renewal of the Spirit of life. For this very reason, those who denied Christ during persecution, even after hours of torture, were considered excommunicated. Once a Christian died with Christ in baptism, he was expected to be ready to die anytime in the name of Christ. “Whoever denies me before men I will deny also before my Father in heaven” (Mat. 10:33). The 10th Canon of the First Ecumenical Council does not merely prohibit the ordination of anyone who has denied Christ during the persecution, but declares the automatic invalidation of any such ordination, even if it took place in ignorance of the ordainer. All who have performed such an ordination are themselves deprived of the priesthood. What serious breakers of the vows of baptism are those who are too lazy to go to church. The approval that our clergy today gives our sacramental practice is even more unacceptable! If the Christian was excommunicated for having denied Christ after hours of physical torture, those who week after week excommunicate themselves are all the more condemnable.
The character and methods of the Devil have not changed. He has remained similar to himself, as Paul described, capable of “transforming into an angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:15). The power of death in the world remains the same. The means of salvation, the death of baptism and the life of the Eucharist, have thus remained the same (at least in the liturgical books of the Church). The canons of the Church were never changed. We always read the same Scriptures approved by the Fathers. How then can we explain our modern weaknesses? They have never been so evident.
There can be only one answer to this question. The members of the Church are not fighting evil in the spirit of the Bible. Too many Christians employ the Church for their own interests and interpret the doctrine of Christ according to their own feelings. The essential task of the Orthodox today must be to return to the truth of the Apostles and the Fathers and to not walk according to the laws of the prince of darkness and the elements of this world. It is for this reason that Christ died. To deny this is to deny his Cross and the blood of martyrs. Before criticizing the “inflexibility” of patristic doctrine, the modern Orthodox must return to the presuppositions of life in Christ in Scripture and be careful not to pervert the doctrine of Christ.
”La Vie dans Christ” originally appeared in SYNAXE No 21 (p.26-28) and No 22 (p.23-26).
To God Be Glory, Amen.
Translated from the French with an Introduction by James L. Kelley