Archive for July, 2013

One of those moments…

July 27, 2013

 

The year was 988. The inhabitants of Kiev came to the Dnieper River to be baptized. This event has been classed as a turning point, one that influenced the course of history. This month, all of Russia and the Russian diaspora celebrate the 1025 year of this event with liturgies, celebrations and banquets.  Here, in Harrisonburg, things are pretty quiet.

Someone asked me once why I found myself in the Russian Church since I had no Russian background or heritage. I must admit that I have no sense of loyalty to the Russian State. After all, the motto of my state is Sic Semper Tyrannis! I enjoy many aspects of Russian culture and history, but it is not my culture or my history.  And as the Russians or Ukrainians who attend here can testify, I have no skill in the Russian language. So, why have I stayed in it? Also, what possible significance does this celebration have for me?

Mainly, it is the Russian spiritual tradition which I find my home. St. Ignati, St. Theophan, the Optina Elders, the Saints of the Northern Thebaid, St. Theckla, etc. – it is from this stream that I draw my spiritual water. (Of course, I greatly love and admire the Greek Saints such as Necktarios, St. Cosmas Aitolos, etc.)  It is a rich tradition that would not have existed had this event not occurred.

Today, we remember the Great Prince Vladimir who helped to bring the Faith to the Russian lands.  Little did he know that in about 500 years Constantinople would fall to Islam. If he had not embraced the Faith and led his people to it, the history of the world would be quite different.

After the baptism, the great prince prayed this prayer:

God who didst create heaven and earth:
Look down upon these new people
and grant them to know Thee, the true God,
as the Christian countries has known,
and strengthen in them the faith true and non-deviating,
and help me, o Lord, against the adversary,
so that putting hope in Thee and in Thy majesty I will defeat all his plots.

The spiritual tradition that I mentioned before illustrates that Russian Orthodoxy became a path to know the True God. It remains so today.

What of true faith and a lack of deviation? The Russian people have faced Tartars, Mongols, Islam, the Swedes and the Germans, Napoleon, and the Bolsheviks. They have faced the influences of Europe and the aggression of militant atheism.Despite many days of darkness and defeat, the prayer of the Prince has proven to be true.  The Russia Church clings to the True God and to its holy tradition. The Russian Orthodox Faith and been tried and tested, and yet has remained true and non-deviating. All the plots of the enemy have been defeated. What the future holds is yet to be known, but so far the gates of hell have not prevailed. We especially know this now because the story of millions of New Martyrs has now come to light.

In this world where nothing is certain, where the political and religious ground is constantly moving under your feet, when there are wars and rumors of wars, strife and economic collapse, in a time of rising secularism, materialism, and hedonism, at time of compromise and relativism and nihilism, it is good to be in a Church that despite all thrown against it, continues to stand.  May God make it so for all Orthodox Churches.

So now, it is a question that you might ask yourself. If you stand in a Russian Orthodox sanctuary, why are you there? What does 1025 years mean to you?

Talk the Talk, Walk the Walk

July 2, 2013

 

mr_natural

I knew that my question would cause some anxiety and concern, but by the look on the faces of the study group, I knew that I had hit a nerve. We were in a Bible study on the book of Revelation. I pointed out that one of the things that we learn is that evil imitates the God. Christ is the light of the world, and so the devil is an angel of light. Since Christ was incarnate in the world, taking on the reality of our physical existence, evil also seeks to make itself real and tangible. So, Revelation shows us  that one of the ways evil likes to incarnate is in governments and political systems. The Bible teaches that just as the Holy Spirit is in the world, the spirit of anti-Christ is also in the world. This spirit had incarnated itself many times in the governments of the world. Each time, God brought these systems to an end.

Then I asked the question, “Many of you lived through the Great Depression. Many of you fought in  World War 2 and the Korean and Vietnamese Wars. You have been good citizens and patriots. You have raised your children, paid your taxes, and attended church faithfully for many years. You say the Pledge of Allegiance with true pride and affection. Despite all of this, do you think that our country is becoming anti-Christ?”

The answer surprised me. “No, but we can begin to see signs of it.”  I responded, “And if the time comes when it is clear to you that this has happened, that the United States has become completely anti-Christ, what will you do? Can you still pledge allegiance to such a government?

This is when the room was filled with puzzled and anxious faces. The year was 1992.

Most of my life, I have listened to people proclaim that they would be faithful to Jesus until the end. So many hymns were sung about how we would follow Jesus and there would be no turning back. We would carry the Cross the Jesus, and when He asked us, we would assure him that we are able

It was easy for us, you see, because at the time, we lived in the most secure and prosperous country in the world. We lived in peace behind the greatest and most powerful army in the world. Even more, we held on to the belief that America was fundamentally a Christian nation. At least our religious freedom was secure in the legal power of our founding documents. We came from a time when being a good Christian was synonymous with being a good citizen and we hope that this had remained the same.

How times have changed. Revisionist judges and courts have redefined constitutional rights in ways that we could never have imagined. Under the dubious doctrine of the separation of Church and State,  Christianity is being pushed out of the public realm. The government has grown to monstrous proportions, and now attempts to reach into every aspect of personal life. We learn that the right to privacy has not existed for many years. The IRS goes after conservative and Christian groups, and political opponents. The Government  ignores the Bill or Rights or finds a way to reinterpret them under the excuse that they are doing so to protect us.

The idea that we have inalienable rights and they are inalienable because they derive and are defined from a source outside of the state, God.  Now, the state is the only  authority capable of defining what our rights are. and what the state has the power to give, it has the power to take away. Marriage, a social and religious institution that existed long before the founding of the American political system, is now defined by the state. So, under the rubric of equality, marriage is now granted to same sex couples. How it will be furthered applied is anyone’s guess.

There have always been Christian martyrs, but in America, we were far removed from it. I remember the first time I read the writings of Rev. Richard Wurmbrand. I was a little shocked to realize that someone in the modern world would actually face death for their faith. People died in the past for the Faith, surely not in these modern and sophisticated days. Today, we hear regular accounts of beheading, torture, kidnapping, and oppression inflicted upon Christian communities and believers.

If we believe that we are beginning to witness the incarnation of the spirit of anti-Christ in our American government; if we believe that the process of secularization is removing God from the public realm so that Christians are being treated as bigots or as being irrelevant; and if we believe that we are beginning to see worldwide rejection of Christianity that results in physical death and a large part of the world rejoices in it; then we have a sobering reality to face.

We have talked the talk. Its been easy. We proclaimed that being Orthodox was to be “not of this world.”  Of course, we proclaimed this while living comfortably in the world. Now, that comfort level is disappearing. The time is approaching when we will have to walk the walk. To say that our Faith teaches that the only true marriage acceptable to God is between a man and woman, will immediately mark us as  bigots. We will be accused of hate speech when we say that our Faith teaches that homosexuality is not a lifestyle acceptable to God. I am not a prophet, but I can see a day when to refuse the state will result in the loss of tax exemption, and jail time for priests or pastors who refuse to do gay weddings. If the trend continues in America, it is possible that to proclaim Christ will  mean facing a literal and physical death. (I know this seems unimaginable to Americans). What else can happen? I don’t know if it will happen in my lifetime. I do wonder what our children and grandchildren will face. Only God knows the answer.

Whatever the present reality, whatever the pace of this ever growing evil, it seems clear to me that the time to walk the walk is upon us. Let prayer with ever greater urgency, “And keep us from the Evil One.”.

Holy martyrs past, present, and to come, pray for us to have the courage and grace to walk the walk.