Contend earnestly for the faith

“Contend earnestly for the faith” (Jude 1:3)

“The sin of Adam is becoming full”. These words are an opinion expressed by Hieromonk Raphael (Noika). Hieromonk Raphael was mentored for many years at the Monastery of St. John the Baptist at Essex in England under the direction of Archimandrite Sophrony. Again, I repeat: “The sin of Adam is becoming full”. It was in the year 2001 when Father Raphael recognized this, so then, how much more is it true now. The evil effect of sin is increasingly infecting man and there is a worldwide distortion of the reasoning of mankind. We find ourselves surrounded with this, and little-by-little, the Church is lured into the mindset of this world. How can we guard ourselves from this? In one word: Faith. Another monk of St. John the Baptist Monastery, Archimandrite Zachariah, has written something very awesome concerning faith. I need not say anything myself, but I will continue with a long quote from Father Zachariah’s book, Remember Thy First Love.1

If we are to belong to the Church of Christ, the new creation, we need the gift of faith. This gift is the most important of the many gifts which the Holy Spirit bestows upon the members of the Body of Christ. Our gift of faith will attach us to this glorious Body, the Church, of which Christ Himself is the head, and will allow us to enter into communion with the abundance of divine life that flows from the Head of this Body into its members. In this wise, we, small and weak members though we be, become, through our communion in the Body of the Lord Jesus, partakers of the gifts of the strong members of this Body—the Saints, who dwell both on earth and in heaven.

Thus we are able to grow strong and overcome sin, and to become rich even though we are poor. We are regenerated, and in our turn become precious in the sight of God. But if we live negligently in the Church of Christ we fail to be in harmony with the life of this Body, we fail to honour the gift contained within it—the Holy Spirit—and we become a burden to all its other members, that is, our brethren in Christ. It is therefore, infinitely important that we discover and explore our gift of faith so that in due time it may bear such fruit as will sustain both our own life and that of our brethren.

At first, our faith is necessarily immature and needs to grow and develop within us. This first faith involves the turning of our whole being toward God; it orientates our spirit towards the One God Who is without beginning. Our faith, then, gradually enters upon an intermediate stage, which consists of hoping and trusting in God, particularly in situations where humanly speaking everything seems to be without hope. And eventually, we grow into a more perfect form of faith: the disposition of the soul is now stable, and she begins to live the words of the Apostle: ‘For unto you it is given not only to believe on Christ, but also to suffer for his sake.’

We should add, however, that our faith is not simply an inner matter; it always reflects the times we live in as Christians. The Fathers of the fourth century—a time of great flowering for the Church—repeatedly said that the Christians of the last times would neither have the strength to endure ascetic hardship nor be able to perform the godly works of the Fathers of old. But they added that those who would succeed in simply keeping the faith would be more greatly glorified in heaven than those Fathers who had worked miracles and even raised the dead to life. In other words, it is the privilege of our time to preserve the fullness of our faith, and this requires a greater measure of grace than that by which our Fathers raised the dead. The Lord Himself asked, ‘When the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?’ His words reflect the same thing: if faith be found among men at His Second Coming, this will be something very great indeed. We see that God judges us with respect to the generation in which we live. Father Sophrony would say we are all leaves on the same tree of humanity and nothing can separate us from the life of this tree. So if our time is characterized by a general falling away from the faith of our fathers, our success in preserving it will be the more sublime because of the apostasy surrounding us.

But we must be resolute: either we live according to our faith or we do not. The Book of Revelation says we must not allow ourselves to loiter, to become lukewarm in the false security of a kind of middle ground. In our day, we are witnessing a dynamic increase of evil, and we find ourselves caught in a surge of iniquity even as it gathers force. As Christians we must place ourselves in a different, indeed contrary, dynamic increase which grows not away from but towards God, so that evil itself will spur us on to do good. Father Sophrony had the gift of discerning God’s purposes when people asked him how to cope with distressing situations: he knew that even the most tragic circumstances can have great spiritual benefits hidden within them. But we are wholly responsible for the direction we choose to follow, we can either remain inert and lifeless, or we can engage with the dynamic increase of life in God. (pp. 17-9)

So this is how Father Zachariah speaks of faith. His words are not a mere intellectual definition but they speak of a faith active in the heart and are full of inspiration. He was inspired; such words are born in the heart of man who is in a prayerful state of abiding in God. And so, as we find ourselves in a frightful atmosphere where “the sin of Adam is becoming full”, his words motivate us to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered unto the saints” (Jude 1:3). May God grant us a living faith which is active in the heart, through the prayers of our Holy Fathers. Amen.

1. This is available from Mount Tabor Publishing, http://www.mounthabor.com

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