True Orthodoxy and the Contemporary World

A Hymn to the Theotokos:

Who is able to bless and praise thee as it meet, O Maiden wedded to God; since through thee the deliverance of the world has come to pass.  Therefore in giving thanks we cry out to thee saying: Rejoice, thou who art the deification of Adam and bonding together of the divided [natures].  Rejoice, the illumination of our generation through the Resurrection of thy Son and our God, therefore the race of Christians unceasingly bless thee. (The Theotokion of the Saturday Small Vespers in Tone 2)

This post is something of a sequel or appendix to the former post on: “The Last Hour”.  I want to share something I recently read which is quite relative to the subject at hand. So then I will quote introductory material written by Fr. Seraphim Rose in the book he translated by Archbiship Averky of Jordanville entitled: “The Apocalypse of St. John – An Orthodox Commentary”.

In an introductory section called, “About the Author,” Fr. Seraphim heavily quotes another book by Archbishop Averky, “True Orthodoxy and the Contemporary World” (I also chose to use this as the title of this post), and so, Father Seraphim writes:

In such an age, he [Archbishop Averky] writes, “to be a true Orthodox Christian, ready unto death to preserve one’s faithfulness to Christ the Saviour, in our days is much more difficult than in the first centuries of Christianity” (p. 17). Although often open (in the lands under communist control), the persecution against Christianity today is more often hidden. “Under the covering of a deceptive outward appearance that looks good and leads many into error, in actuality there is occurring everywhere today a hidden persecution against Christianity. . . .This persecution is much more dangerous and frightful than the previous open persecution, for it threatens a complete devastation of souls—spiritual death” (p. 18). He often quoted the words of Bishop Theophan the Recluse about the latter times: “Although the name of Christian will be heard everywhere, and everywhere there will be churches and church services, all this will be only an appearance, while within there will be a true apostasy” (p. 21).

In fulfillment of these words in our own days, Archbishop Averky writes, “The Christian world, it is frightful to say, presents today a frightful, cheerless picture of the most profound religious and moral decadence” (p. 22). The temptation of worldly comfort and prosperity drive God away from the soul. “The servants of antichrist more than anything else strive to force God out of the life of men, so that men, satisfied with their material comfort, might not feel any need to turn to God in prayer, might not remember God, but might live as though He did not exist. Therefore, the whole order of today’s life in the so-called ‘free’ countries, where there is no open bloody persecution against faith, where everyone has the right to believe as he wishes, is an even greater danger for the soul of a Christian (than open persecution), for it chains him entirely to the earth, compelling him to forget about heaven. The whole of contemporary ‘culture,’ directed to purely earthly attainments and the frantic whirlpool of life bound up with it, keeps a man in a constant state of emptiness and distraction which give no opportunity for one to go at least a little deeper into his soul, and so the spiritual life in him gradually dies out” (p. 29).  All of contemporary life, on the public level, is a preparation for the coming of Antichrist: “All that is happening today on the highest levels of religion, government, and public life. . . is nothing else than an intense work of preparation by the servants of the coming Antichrist for his future kingdom” (p. 24), and this work is being done as much by “Christians” as by non-Christians (p. 18).

After painting such a grim picture of the present and future, Archbishop Averky calls on Orthodox Christians to struggle against the spirit of this world that lies in evil. “All who in the present day desire to preserve faithfulness to Christ the Saviour must guard themselves especially against every attraction towards earthly goods and against being deceived by them. It is extremely dangerous to give oneself over to every desire to make a career for oneself, to make a name for oneself, to obtain authority and influence in society, to acquire wealth, to surround oneself with luxury and comfort” (p. 28).

To those willing to struggle to preserve their faith, Archbishop Averky offers a sober and inspiring path of confession: “Now is the time of confession—of a firm standing, if need be even to death, for one’s Orthodox faith, which is being subjected everywhere to open and secret attacks, oppression, and persecution on the part of the servants of the coming Antichrist” (p. 28). We must be true Christians, not giving in to the spirit of the times, making the Church the center of our lives (p. 26)…

The path ahead of us, despite the deceptive promises of modern “progress,” is a path of suffering: “The Lord has clearly said that it is not ‘progress’ that awaits us, but ever greater tribulations and misfortunes as a result of the increase of lawlessness and the growing cold of love; when He comes, He will scarcely find faith on earth (Luke 18:8).”

The strength of the true Christian in the terrible times ahead is the apocalyptic expectation of the Second Coming of Christ: “The spirit of a constant expectation of the Second Coming of Christ is the original Christian spirit, which cries out in prayer to the Lord: Even so, come, Lord Jesus (Apoc. 22:20). And the spirit opposed to this is undoubtedly the spirit of Antichrist, which strives by every means to draw Christians away from the thought of the Second Coming of Christ and the recompense which follows on it. Those who give in to this spirit subject themselves to the danger of not recognizing Antichrist when he comes and of falling into his nets. Precisely this is the most frightful thing in the contemporary world, which is filled with every possible deception and temptation. The servants of Antichrist, as the Lord Himself has forewarned us, will try, ‘if possible, to deceive the very elect’ (Matt. 24:24). The thought of this, however, should not oppress or crush us, but on the contrary, as the Lord Himself says, Then took up, and lift up your head’s, for your redemption draweth nigh (Luke 21:28).” [The Apocalypse of St. John, pp.15-7]

In continuing I would like to add a few words of advice of my own as to how one might cope with the days to come; so now, I will quote the introduction of another book, a biography with spiritual instruction of St. Seraphim of Sarov, with the title, “In the Footsteps of a Saint”.  But first I must give a warning.  Those who are complacent in their Christian lives will read such things as this post and not realize anything is wrong.  I believe it is because many of us who call ourselves Christians measure ourselves by our peers in this world rather than the saints who have attained holiness.  So remember, we must all examine ourselves by looking to our Lord and His saints; by what is taught in the Gospel as seen in the lives of our Holy Fathers and expounded in their writings.  So now, we can move on to the excerpt from the above mentioned book on St. Seraphim:

The lives of the saints and their teachings are a guide and rule for us by which we can order our own lives.  As we observe the path to holiness trod by different saints, we can use the same ascetic practices or tools which they made use of on their particular path.  We can employ those we are moved to follow according to the measure of our ability.  We can implement the same tools the saints employed in order to reach the aim of our Christian life — which is, as St. Seraphim tells us, the acquisition of the grace of the Holy Spirit.  In addition, we can say that in the end it is divine virtues or the fruits of the Spirit that we hope for.  The Apostle Paul writes of these in his epistle to the Galatians, in a passage which is read in the Church services for most of the monastic saints: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance” (5:22-23).

So now, for us, in our day and age, what can we learn from the way of St. Seraphim, from his path to holiness?  Today’s world, more than ever, is full of noise, entertainment, and seemingly endless distractions which, although they may not bring any acute, immediate harm, deaden the soul little by little.  Therefore they are often unnoticed, imperceptibly rendering the soul cold towards God, and this state comes to be accepted as the norm.  We need to be concentrated within, but these things disperse us outside ourselves; yet most people in this state are ignorant of the fact that they have been thrown off track.  Because of this, such distracting temptations are more dangerous than those which are more obviously sinful.

In his long years of solitude and silence St. Seraphim was enkindled with the grace of the Holy Spirit.  Then the Mother of God Herself called him out of this solitude, so that the light of Christ in him might shine upon others.  And indeed, he radiated a divine peace into the souls of others like beams of light, bringing warmth and comfort.  It is St. Seraphim’s inner peace and stillness that would seem to be most needful for us today.  As we have already mentioned, we live in a world that is generally high-paced, and permeated with constant noise. The distractions with which Christians are bombarded in a normal day from the surrounding society – especially the media – are numerous, and most of them are outright evil.  All these destroy one’s ability to keep watch over oneself and to keep God in mind.  To help us in our struggles in such an environment our Venerable Father Seraphim bequeaths to us these prime ascetic tools: separation from the world, prayer, silence, heedfulness to oneself, stillness, and in short, interior work.  These exercises are what the saint himself practiced diligently and exemplified par excellence in his path to holiness, and his instructions bear witness to his manner of life.  We too, in order to step back from the flood of the temptations of today’s world, in our measure and according to our life’s circumstances need to implement these tools.  [pp. 4-5]

So let us abandon this world and “commit ourselves and one another and all our lives unto Christ our God”.  Amen.

For more more writings of Archbishop Averky online: http://archbishopaverky.blogspot.com/

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