Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Towards a spiritual understanding of civil war, strife, political unrest, and political opinions. Part 2

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Spiritual activity in times of strife and discord

24. As Christians, we need to cleanse ourselves through deep repentance, a change of life, and guard ourselves with prayer, fasting, and self-denial, make amends by good works, and nourish our souls with the teachings of the Holy Fathers.

25. A believer can reach the Heavenly Kingdom only through a sober, Christian life, according to the teaching of the Holy Fathers. A very central part of Christian life is repentance. Without repentance, no one can be saved… Thank God that the Church accepts sinners!

26. God forgives those who repent sincerely. We must also forgive our brothers who may sin at one time or another through the deception of the devil – whether on a personal level or a societal, political level.
This is a commandment of God, which each Christian is obligated to fulfill. If we do not forgive our brothers’ sins, we sin gravely.

For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
Matthew 6:13-15

We are not obliged to agree or accept every one of our brothers’ opinions, but we are required to live in love.

27. In today’s difficult situation, we must pray sincerely for one another, and treat each other with great love, in order to save our souls through love. Separating from our brothers on account of any opinions, apart from heresy is not an option for a true Christian. Christ died for these brothers.

Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned:
1 Timothy 1:5

28. And so, what should we do? We should be humble, and obediently submit to the Church. The Church is our first and most dear homeland. Only after this spiritual homeland are we citizens of specific countries, and members of specific nations.

And when you hear “give unto Ceasar what is Ceasars” (Mt 22.21), then understand by that only what in no way harms piety; for everything that harms piety is no longer a tax to Ceasar, but rather, tax and a payment to the devil
St John Chrysostom (4th century)

For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (Luke 12:34)

29. You who love Russia, and believe She has a special, God-given place in the history of mankind! Perhaps you sense Her time of great significance has come? The unbelieving, apostate west does not understand, and appears to be attacking Her! Russia is, after all, the portion of the Mother of God on earth.
Brothers, stop and calm your souls. Yes, your view is pious and patriotic, informed by many prophesies. Many fathers of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad have also loved Russia fervently, and believed She has a unique mission in the world…
However, there is a possibility you still could be experiencing an attack from the Evil One.
Remember, these prophesies are conditional. Russia will not have the spiritual strength to take a special part in the history of mankind if Her people do not repent and return to God.

30. You who believe communist, God-fighting atheism is still at work in Russia, and that the nation today is far from Holy Russia! Perhaps you think the people of the Ukrainian region are genuinely seeking freedom from the God-fighting ideology…You seem to see the God-fighters advancing and attacking, and you think all should support the fight for freedom, together with whoever comes to their aid (even unbelievers and heretics from western lands)…
Brothers, stop and calm your souls. Yes, your view grows from love for Holy Russia, which you perhaps believe only exists in a spiritual sense today…You are following the opinion of many fathers of the Russian Church Abroad. Yet there is a possibility you still could be experiencing deception.
If you do not repent and live a conscious spiritual life, the fact that you have been nourished by the Russian Church Abroad will not help you. Encouraging people to fight against the God-fighters is worth nothing if you yourselves are shown to be God-fighters, within your own souls, in your families, parishes and communities.

31. You who feel you understand how the Mystery of Iniquity is evolving before our very eyes, and see how people are deceived in every possible way! You wonder at how Christians can fall prey to the various snares set up by the contemporary antichrists…
Brothers, stop and calm your souls. Yes, you understand that we have no one but God to deliver us. However, remember that you could nevertheless be under deception regarding other aspects of your beliefs. You also must live as true Christian, according to the rules of the Holy Church. You must repent , pray, learn about the Church and all Her soul-saving practices, and not remain engrossed in the study of the manifestations of evil. Study good instead of evil, and most especially, perform good, acquire the practical virtues.

32. Brothers! Your beliefs are not all incorrect.
However, we must all realize that our first priority is our personal spiritual work, repentance, partaking of the Holy Mysteries, acquiring Grace.
Understanding the world and our times, and knowing what influences our society and surroundings is – secondary. This secondary knowledge sometimes inspires beginners in the faith to turn to God.
It is important to understand that even if such knowledge perhaps formed our first steps toward God, this knowledge should not be the end of our path. We must grow. The end of our path is holiness, God-likeness, in eternity.

But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life.
Romans 6:22

33. Brothers, let us ask ourselves some necessary questions:
Do you personally repent deeply? Do you personally live up to the Law of God? Is your heart always at peace and full of love? Are you constantly in communion with God? Do you love those who think differently? Can you exist in the one Church with them, tolerating their thoughts? Can you exist together with your brothers, without condemning their enthusiasm for the one or the other party? Or would you rather cleanse the Church from such ignorant ones?
These are all forms of pride, which never leads a person closer to God. We should know where pride may lead…

Our view cannot be perfect – it is partial.

34. Let us not be deceived in our opinions. They are at best a partial understanding of Truth, but at worst, and unknowingly to us, demonically inspired. Let us rather follow the commandments of Christ, the first of which is love for God, and the second, love for our brothers:

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing. Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.
1 Cor. 13:1-13

35. Love is not passionate and emotional. True love is self-sacrifice. Let us with patience bear one another’s weaknesses, and preserve brotherly love.

Remove yourself from temptation and the passionate world

36. The Christian may not yet be able to keep total peace in his soul in the heat of the current discussion. In this case, he should be very careful not to speak (or write) against his brothers.

37. The believer can and should remove himself from temptations that he senses are too great for him to endure. However, this is merely a physical separation, and never a spiritual break. A Christian should not separate spiritually from the souls of those brothers that cause temptation to his weak soul– he should never consider leaving the Church. She is the Mother of us all, and the only Vessel of Salvation. How will we reach the Kingdom of God if we abandon the Church, which is the only Ship that can bring us there?

38. In modern times, removing oneself from temptation includes not reading opinions of brothers in Christ, including on the internet, if the believer knows that these opinions upset the peace of the soul, hinder prayer, shake his fidelity to Christ, and his hope in God’s Providence. When we do not know beforehand, but start to read or watch something, and then feel in our heart and soul that this is causing us temptation, we should stop, pray, and resolve to not expose ourselves to this temptation.

39. St Theophan the Recluse instructs us on the necessity of leaving the world, its temptations and passionate interests, one of which is politics. He explains why our seemingly innocent quest for information is connected with spiritual falls:

Whoever seeks the Lord must remove himself from the world. By “world” is meant everything passionate, vain or sinful that enters into personal, family and social life, and which becomes the custom and rule. (…) Citizenship and family life are blessed by God, therefore we should not turn away from them or have contempt for them, nor for anything belonging to their essential good order. By everything lustful or passionate that has come into them like a malignant tumour that tempts them should be held in contempt and renounced. (…) The vain, passion-soaked world is inevitably transmitted to our souls, and arouses or infuses passions.
St Theophan the Recluse: The Path to Salvation (19th century)

40. In order to preserve our spiritual life, we should follow St Theophan’s advice. If we do not preserve ourselves from sin, all our knowledge of evil in the world will be useless.
It may seem risky or foolhardy for a soul to leave behind its customary diligent investigations of the world. “If I do not find out what is happening, I will not know how to act, I will not know how to make decisions in life!”, says the worldly man…
We should nevertheless consider leaving these habits for the sake of conducting a more thorough investigation of our own souls, and God will give us all that we need, as He is the God above everything.

Let us guard our mind with humility, not allowing it to rush indiscriminately towards the acquiring of knowledge, however much their novelty and importance are attracting our curiosity….At first, the narrow path of obedience to the Church is sorrowful; but it will lead us to the expanse and freedom of the spiritual mind, in which will disappear all the supposed incongruity, which the fleshly and emotional mind finds in exact obedience to the Church.
St Ignaty Brianchaninov (19th century)

Part 2 of 3. To be continued

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