The Gates of Hell Shall Not Prevail
Orthodox Life, 1961
"I will build My Church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against It"
Matthew XVI, 18
We have just recently celebrated a great holy day. every year on June 29th our Holy Church commemorates the glorious martyrdom of two of the greatest Apostles, who more than all others have laboured in spreading the Gospel, – Saints Peter and Paul. In the church services songs of that day the Holy Church can hardly find words with which to worthily give honour to their apostolic zeal, to bring to remembrance their self-sacrificial deeds.
"Apostles nearest to the Heavenly Throne", "Universal Teachers", "First witnesses for God's Truth", "the hands of Gospel's Grace", "the feet of true preaching", "rivers of wisdom", "the frightful swords of the spirit", "Universal Nurturers", "The tables of God's written New Testament", "the foundation of the Church, true pillars and walls", "intercessors for the whole world" – it is with such lofty names and expressions that the Church exalts these her own loyal servants, both equal – this let us note – not giving preference either to one or the other, but equally naming them both as "primary" and first sentinels.
Great should be the joy and spiritual rejoicing of the faithful, whom not in vain the Holy Church prepares to meet this day by means of a special, so-called "apostolic" St. Peter's lent as it occurs before only a few other important holy days, and it would seem that in this celebration of faith all Christians who consider themselves to be followers of the leading apostles should unite.
But, alas! – powerful is the enemy, and that which should serve as an incentive toward stronger inner unity, it cunningly transformed into cause for separation. Even as far as the inspiring and most exalted teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ concerning His founding of His Church and of Her firmness, and of her invincibility before the gate of hell, spoken to Apostle Peter in reward for his utterance of confession of faith in the Lord as the Son of God, – the enemy gas contrived to make this an object of argument and dissension among Christians, and thereby brought a great schism in the Church of Christ as a result of which the whole Western half fell away from Her. The heart of every true Christian contracts with pain at the thought of the ruinous consequences of this schism, and one fears for the ones who are guilty of it. The severe words of the great pillar of the Church, St. John Chrysostom, involuntarily come to mind: "Nothing so arouses the wrath of God as division in the Church: Even if we were to do the most perfect of deed – in disrupting unity, we are to be punished the same as though we were to have torn asunder the Body of Christ ... even the blood of martyrs does not expiate such a sin" ...
Where are the basic causes of this schism?
The fundamental cause of all divisions is always one and the same. Division arises when anyone, forgetting his lawful and direct designation, begins to exalt and pride oneself in his calling, abandoning humility taught by Christ the Savior, taking a stand on the path of allurement by soul-destroying pride.
"... Not to think of himself more highly than he ought to ...", the holy Apostle teaches (Romans 12:3). This profound warning was abandoned during their time without worthy consideration by some of he Bishops of ancient Rome, bedewed with the martyr blood of the first rank apostles. Not being content with the high honour and glory of he Bishop's calling even without this, they began to think of themselves more highly than they ought to have, and being supported by human flattery they finally went so far as to declare themselves to be infallible vicars of God the Son on earth. Having forgotten about the true nature of pastoral service, which has to be carried out in the spirit of humility, and with the acknowledgment of one's unworthiness, sinfulness and worthlessness before God, the One Lord of all living creatures, both pastors and flocks, they boldly usurped unto themselves the honor that belongs to God alone and began to demand that all Christians the world over should pay almost divine homage before them and that they should obey them in all things, not only as Bishops of the Church of Christ, but also as absolute rulers in whose hands all authority on earth was to reside, not only spiritual, but also worldly, as "substitutes" of God Himself on earth.
In support of their incredible pretension, they invented a teaching about the person of St. Peter unknown to the ancient Church, that on his individuality as on a foundation the Church of Christ has been established and for that reason the Roman Bishops, or Popes, as successors to St. Peter's chair, belongs all higher extraordinary authority and right from God over the whole Church of Christ.
Apostle Peter himself, as is plainly seen from his Epistle (I Peter 2:4–8), knew nothing of such a fanatical teaching. And the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, his first rank Apostles and the Holy Fathers witness with full understanding and intelligence that the corner stone on which the Church has been founded is our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, or to be more accurate, – faith in Him as The Son of God (Matthew 21:42; Acts 4:2; Romans 9:33; I Cor. 10:4).
"Thou are Christ, the Son of the Living God" – that is the great truth confessed by Apostle Peter on behalf of all the Apostles, – a Truth that is firm and immovable as a rock, upon which the Church of Christ is founded (Matthew 21:16) which for that reason will remain invincible before the gates of hell.
Only where this pure and uncorrupted faith, maintained in sacredness and unchangeability and openly confessed without any fear, is confessed in the Deity of the Incarnate Son of God here for the sake of us human beings and for our salvation, this namely is the True Church of Christ. All else where this clearly expressed faith does not exist, or where this faith in one way or another is altered or perverted, is not the True Church. She is, of course, also not where hiding behind the name of Christ He is not served, but some one "else", where "other" lords are pleased entirely "different" aims are served, "different" strivings are satisfied, not having anything in common with the matter of salvation, for which purpose the Church has been funded.
And this latter condition now is very, very widespread. For "Satan himself", according to the teaching of St. Paul, "will transform himself into an angel of light" and for that reason "it is not a great work", as it is said further by the Apostle, "if his servants take on the appearance of servants of truth (II Cor. 11:14–15).
That is why it is in no way astounding that during our evil time there arose so many self-styled "churches" of all kinds, or rather, as they are called here, "denominations", pretending to be churches, and which have nothing in common with the true Church.
But it becomes very frightful when representatives and leaders of separate local churches which are part of the One True Church of Christ, forgetting their high calling to be servants of the task of Christ here on earth, enter into affiliation and cooperate most friendly with the enemies of the Church and give themselves over to Satan, and already thinking not of serving Christ the Saviour,but only about pleasing their new lords. The worst and most dangerous idea of modern times is the idea of reconciliation, of "coexistence" with evil. And very many servants subjugate themselves to this idea, the servants of the Church are not to be excluded.
But is it possible for the True Church of Christ to reconcile Herself somehow with evil, which comes from the enemy of mankind's salvation – the devil? Is it possible for Her to coexist with it, without carrying on a most decisive struggle with it?
Of course not, for, according to the words of Christ the Saviour, no one can serve two masters (Matthew 6:24). And it is namely for this reason that they who broke away from the True Church, the so-called movement of the living Church, the movement for reform which wanted to compromise Christianity with their world, that lies in sin, and "Sergianism" which preaches "co-existence" with the godless power of Communism, and participation in the so-called "ecumenical movement" that recognizes the equality in rights and dignity of all groups and "denominations", all this is in essence already a departure from the true Church.
Can that organization be called a Church which calls for "loyalty" to the servants of Satan?
This of course already is not The Church, but a false church, or according to the word of God "the congregation of evil-doers", and to remain in such a Church is not only not helpful toward salvation, but, on the contrary – it is ruinous.
It may be asked why do we speak and write about this so often?
For the reason that it is our sacred pastoral duty – to warn our believers about those countless numbers of subtle temptations which now have been abundantly sown about everywhere. We are obligated to teach them to discern the True Church – to be able to distinguish it from the false church and the "congregation of evil-doers". Christ our Saviour gave us the great promise that the gates of hell shall not prevail over His Church, that is to say all the forces of hell in all their maximum endeavor. But believers, separately, and pastors individually, and even separate hierarchs and whole local churches headed by them, can fall away from the One True Church, preparing for themselves and their followers eternal perdition in the depths of hell.
It was not in vain that the Lord named the members of His Church as "the little flock", and foretold that when He would come back to earth again the second time, He hardly shall find faith on earth (Luke 12:32; 18;8). The circle of true believers in Christ shunning all compromises with the evils of the devil, at the time of the end of the world and the Second Coming of Christ will be contracted to an ever greater extent, and corresponding to this, the diapason of the True Church of Christ will lessen more and more. But the True Church of Christ, which did not involve itself in "co-existence" with the evil one and did not bow before the Antichrist, will not end its own existence, in spite of all the difficult hardships, shocks and persecution, to which it will be subjected to up to the very end of the world. It will exist to the very Second Coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, even if only one bishop exists who retained and kept loyalty to Christ the Saviour with a most insignificant group of clergy and laymen.
Our age doubly intensified in materialism is characterized very much by its almost complete loss of the most valuable and important in the life of people – this being a correct conception of the Church of Christ, as a God-man organism – as the Body of Christ, the Head of Which is Christ Himself. The Church in complete agreement with the accepted course of "democracy" has begun to be considered as only one of many among common human organizations. From here proceeds all evil, all the disorder, conflicts, schisms in this most important branch of human existence on earth – in church life, which in fact should serve as a threshold, as a preparation towards future eternal life. And this, of course, results from the lessening of faith in this future life to come.
Much has been done and continues to be done in this direction by the enemy of mankind's salvation – the devil, through the people who sold themselves to him in exchange for earthly goods. It is he who through sowing of animosity and schisms amongst people has been able to convince modern man, that Christ's words: "I will build My Church and the gates of hell will not prevail against Her" turned out to be false and in reality unattainable: that the True Church of Christ has ceased to exist long ago on earth, and that now in the twentieth century of the Christian era we only need to strive toward founding her through the so-called "Ecumenical Movement", with which already many of the hierarchy of the contemporary Orthodox Church have come into union, having dreams of an arrival of some "new era", the "third cosmogeny" (words of Patriarch Athenagoras).
In reality this "new era" will be nothing else but the brief period of rule of the Antichrist on Earth, who will "unite" all under his blasphemous authority.
Save us, Oh Lord, from such "unity", from any kind of participation in the establishment of such an ecumenical false-church!
For us Russian Orthodox people, there is no other way or salvation beside the way outlined for us by the great Enlightener of Russia, co-equal to the Apostles St. Vladimir, the St. Vladimir way, the bright exponent and ideologist of whom was our recently departed Abba Archbishop Vitaly, having built here in far off America for the edification of Russian people who found here for themselves a shelter, the St. Vladimir Monument Church, and made it the place of his eternal repose. It was not by accident that he wanted to have in all parishes St. Vladimir societies of youth, realizing that only by training in the spirit of the principles of St. Vladimir, can our youth be saved from assimilation and complete loss of identity, – the loss of one's faith and nationality. That is why the enemy arms himself against this clean, healthy and idealistic organization, striving to vulgarize it and draw it away from the right path, toward the wide and open spaces of this world that lies in evil.
The frightful and sanguine misery of the Revolution that convulsed our unfortunate Homeland Russia, and achieved its apotheosis in the horrible evil deed committed of the enemy of mankind's salvation upon our Homeland, because for a period of almost a thousand years she bridled and restrained its godless efforts, being a firm defense of the one true, saving faith and Church of Christ on earth. And along with this also the allowance of God's punishment for the Russian people's not maintaining unto the end their in truth exalted and honorable calling.
Let us keep in mind: the striving toward knowing God, firmness in sacred Orthodoxy, decisive irreconcilability towards the devil's evil – this is what is written on our St. Vladimir banner! And for this reason let us not surrender to any kind of evil modernism no matter how alluring it may appear to us. Let us firmly hold on to that True Church of Christ, which has been founded already 2000 years ago by Christ the Saviour Himself, and to which is given the great promise, that the gates of hell will not prevail against Her!