A Reminder to us that True Christianity is a Struggle
A Reminder to us that True Christianity is a Struggle
by Archbishop Averky [Taushev]
The Lord said:
"Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself,
and take up his cross, and follow Me"
(St. Mark 8:34).
The Great Fast is a season of repentance; and repentance is that struggle to contend against sinful passions and lusts which is so difficult for man that the Lord, the Judge of the contest Himself, likened it to the bearing of a cross. We are vividly reminded of this at the very midpoint of the Great Fast, on the Sunday of the Adoration of the Cross. Just as the Lord bore the Cross for the sake of our salvation, so each of us must bear "his cross" in order to attain the salvation prepared for us by the Lord.
Without the cross, without struggle, there can be no salvation! This is what true Christianity teaches. The teaching on struggle, on the bearing of the cross, runs like a scarlet thread through all the Sacred Scriptures and all of the history of the Church; and the lives of those holy ones who were pleasing unto God, the spiritual athletes of Christian piety, clearly bear witness to this. The Great Fast is merely an annually repeated exercise in the bearing of one's cross in this life, an exercise in spiritual struggle inseparably bound up with the entire life of the true Christian.
But now, in the twentieth century of the Christian era, "wise men" have appeared — "neo-Christians," as some of them refer to themselves — who do not wish to hear of this. They preach a new sort of saccharine, sentimental, rosy-hued neo-Christian love and the unrestricted enjoyment of all the delights of this transitory earthly life. They totally ignore the innumerable passages in Holy Writ which forcefully and eloquently speak of spiritual struggles, of emulating Christ the Saviour in crucifying oneself, of the many sorrows which await the Christian in this life, beginning with the words which Christ the Saviour Himself addressed to His disciples at the Mystical Supper: "In the world ye shall have tribulation" (St. John 16:33). And this is because, as the Lord Himself explained, true Christians are not "of the world" (St. John 15:19), since "the whole world lieth in wickedness" (I John 5:19). This is why Christians must not love this world and "the things that are in the world" (I John 2:15); "the friendship of the world is enmity with God," and "whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God" (St. James 4:4).
These modern "wise men" somehow fail to see the Word of God nowhere definitely promises Christians full spiritual satisfaction and paradisical blessedness in this earthly life, but quite the contrary emphasizes that life on earth will move further and further away from the Law of God; that, in respect to morality, men will fall lower and lower (see II Timothy 3:1-5); that "all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution. But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived" (II Timothy 3:12-13); and that, finally, "the earth also and the works therein shall be burned up" (II Peter 3:10). But there will appear "new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness" (II Peter 3:13) — a wondrous "new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of Heaven" (Revelation 21:2), which was shown to John, the beholder of mysteries, during the revelation accorded him.
All of this is not to the liking of the "neo-Christians." They want blessedness here in this world, burdened with its multitude of sins and iniquities; and the await this blessedness with impatience. They consider one of the surest ways of attaining it to be the "ecumenical movement," the union and unification of all peoples in one new "church" which will comprise not only Roman Catholics and Protestants, but also Jews, Moslems and pagans, each retaining his own convictions and errors. This imaginary "Christian" love, in the name of the future blessedness of men on earth, cannot but trample upon the Truth.
The destruction of this earth with everything on it, although clearly foretold by the Word of God, is considered by them to be something indescribably horrible, as though it were not consistent with the omnipotence of God and, apparently, quite undesirable. They reluctantly admit the destruction of earth (for how can one not accept something prophesied in the Word of God?), but with the condition that it will take place in the far, far distant, mist-enshrouded future, not centuries, but millions of years from now.
What is the reason for this? One might say, because they are weak of faith, or lacking entirely in faith in "the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the age to come." For them everything is in this earthly life, and when it ends for them, everything does.
In a few of its points — especially in the expectation of the blessed life in this world — such a frame of mind closely resembles the widespread heresy of the first centuries of Christianity called "chiliasm." This is the expectation of a thousand-year reign of Christ on earth; therefore the modern manifestation of this heresy may be termed "neo-chiliasm."
One should be aware and keep in mind that chiliasm was condemned by the Second Ecumenical Council in the year 381; and therefore to believe in it now in the twentieth century, even in part, is quite unforgivable. Besides which, this contemporary "neo-chiliasm" is far worse than the ancient chiliastic heresy in that at its basis indubitably lies a disbelief in the "life of the age to come" and the passionate desire to attain blessedness here on earth, using all the improvements and achievements of the material progress of our times. This false teaching wreaks terrible harm, lulling to sleep the spiritual vigilance of the faithful and suggesting to them that the end of the world is far away (if in fact there will be an end?), and therefore there is no particular need to "watch and pray," to which Christ the Saviour constantly called His followers (cf. St. Matthew 26:41), since everything in the world is gradually getting better and better, spiritual progress keeping step with materialism. And the terrible phenomena which we observe at the present time are all temporary; all has happened before, and all will ultimately pass away, and an extraordinary flourishing of Christianity will replace it, in which, of course, the ecumenists will occupy the principal and honored places.
Thus, everything is fine! It is not necessary to labor over oneself, and no spiritual struggle is required; the fasts may be abolished. Everything will get better all by itself, until the Kingdom of God is finally established on earth with universal earthly satisfaction and blessedness.
Brethren! Is it not clear where the ultimate source of this alluring false teaching is found? Who suggests all these thoughts to contemporary Christians with the purpose of overthrowing all of Christianity? As an infectious plague, as fire, must we fear this "neo-chiliasm" which is so profoundly contrary to the teaching of the Word of God, the teaching of the Holy Fathers and all of the centuries-old teachings of our Holy Church, by which many, many thousands of the righteous have been saved.
Without spiritual struggle there is not, and cannot be true Christianity! Therefore, our path does not lie with all the modern movements, nor with ecumenists, nor with the new-chiliasts.
Our faith is the faith of the holy ascetics, "the apostolic faith, the faith of the Fathers, the Orthodox Faith" which, "hath made the whole world steadfast" (from the service for the Sunday of Orthodoxy). This faith and only this faith will we firmly adhere to in these evil days in which we now live. Amen.
Reprinted from The Just Shine Like The Stars,
West Coast Orthodox Supply, 1983
"A Reminder to Us That True Christianity Is a Struggle," by Archbishop Averky, Orthodox Life, March-April, 1981, p. 24.