Monday, October 27, 2014

Towards a spiritual understanding of civil war, strife, political unrest, and political opinions. Part 3

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Life on earth will never be free from temptation.

41. We should not demand that all brothers in Christ who in one way or other, upset our peace of soul with their words, be silenced.
It is for individual Christians to resist individual temptation. It is the duty of each believer to resist temptation and reject evil. No other person can perform this spiritual struggle on behalf of the Christian. The believer should take advice from his spiritual father on how to struggle. However, no spiritual father can live the spiritual life “on behalf of” his spiritual child.

42. The duty of a Bishop and other clergy is to teach according to the Gospel, to teach Christians the path to God, and how to resist temptation. However, they do not have power to remove all temptation from the Church on earth (the Church Militant). Indeed, if they did – how could we be saved? How could we prove our love for God? If there was no one to forgive, how could we fulfill the commandment to forgive? If there were no difficulties to bear, how could we fulfill the commandment to be patient?

43. Only the Church Triumphant (that is, the Church in Heaven, consisting of all the Saints of all times who have reposed, and all the sinners who have obtained forgiveness) is free of temptation.
All members of the Church Militant on earth, including the clergy, aim to enter the Church Triumphant – but not one of them can be assured that they will be part of the Church Triumphant until he dies and receives God’s judgment for his soul…

44. Let the Christian be glorified for his virtues of love, prayer, peace, forgiveness, and fidelity to God rather than to man.

…we ourselves glory in you in the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that ye endure
2 Thessalonians 1:4

Spiritual separation is impermissible

45. In extreme cases, the Church may also command us to separate from a brother who continues to sin heavily, disregarding admonition of the Bishop:

I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators: Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world. But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolator, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat. For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? do not ye judge them that are within? But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person.
1 Corinthians 5:9-13

46. The only sinners the Church with a definite, authoritative voice commands us to separate from, are heretics. The local and Ecumenical Councils, anathemas and writings of the Holy Fathers define what opinions are heresy. The Bishops of the Church teach what is heresy. Other opinions are not heresy, but rather, private opinion, which is tolerated in the Church. Opinions are tolerated, even when they are tainted by some element of sin, because the Church wishes to save all sinners.

47. Therefore, those who separate themselves from the Church on account of mere opinion, sin by judging the Church. They pridefully say: “The Church does not agree with me, hence I reject obedience to Her! I will go my own way, and God will be with me.”
This incorrect principle is promoted in western society – where every wife has a “right” to divorce her husband. There is no guarantee that God will “be with” the separatist…more likely, He will be with the Church, because:

…the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
Matthew 16:18

48. The Church requires obedience – submission to a lawful Orthodox hierarch who is correct in his dogmatic beliefs.
Nevertheless, even such a Bishop may have some opinions that are passionate, and he may sin at times. These imperfections do not give the Christian a right to separate from the Bishop. Only if a hierarch teaches heresy, or is in communion with heretics, do the faithful have a right (or indeed, an obligation) to leave him.

49. The Church is based on grace, not on unity of opinions or uniformity of life. The Holy Spirit unites and permeates the Body of the Church, and to the degree we partake of the Holy Spirit, we also are united with the Body of Christ, and live in Christ.

50. To the degree we sin, we separate ourselves from the Holy Spirit and lose Grace. Next, we are deprived of the spiritual gifts of love and hope. This leads to the sins of hatred and despondency. Oftentimes in history, hatred and lack of hope have served as pretexts for schism in the Church. Fear this path!

God’s providence has appointed this time for us sinners.

51. God will not allow the Church, or Her members to be tempted above what we weak ones can bear:

There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.
1 Corinthians 10:13

52. If everything that God allows us to go through is for the good of our soul, then the struggle that the Church presently is going through, is also for our salvation. We should rejoice that God wishes to save us. God is powerful to save every sincere believer through this temptation. Indeed, without temptation, we cannot be saved!

My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations
James 1:2
Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him.
James 1:12
The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished:
2 Peter 2:9
Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth.
Revelation 3:10

God has appointed us to live in this evil time, with its temptations, because it is necessary for the salvation of our sinful souls… By going through this, and every temptation in our life, with the mind of Christ, repentance, hope in God and love for our brothers, we will be saved. Our salvation depends on how we handle temptation – with humility, or with pride and bitterness? This is our Cross, which we must not reject. There is no other path to Heaven than the Cross!

A trial of the latter times?

53. Finally, let us understand that soon enough, Christ will judge us all, and Satan will be finally defeated. He has only been loosed for a very short time to tempt the world, so that the true Christians can prove their love for God. The thousand years of his binding are the time of the Church, when people can save themselves in relative peace (though not without temptation!). In these figurative thousand years, the devil and his servants disturb the world only peripherally, and the Church reigns spiritually over Her children, and through them and their exalted spiritual life, over the whole world.

54. Towards the end of time, Satan will conduct great warfare, particularly against the elect - the Christians.

And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison, And shall go out to deceive the nations…
Apocalypse 20:7-8
…to seduce, if it were possible, even the elect.
Mark 13:22

Many eagerly observe our times for signs of the end. These signs of war, hatred, upheavals and division have often been present - but in our times, they are ever-present. In addition our times display an even more sure sign: Universal unbelief.

55. All revolutions and civil wars are extreme forms of evil where brother kills brother. With all social and political upheavals, the Evil One aims to distract and disturb us from our own personal war with him and his temptations.

Both political and all other forms of social disturbance will be the inevitable result of people’s apostasy from God, Christ and religion, from good and truth
A. Belyaev (1898) “Godlessness and Antichrist

Brothers! It is necessary for us to be very sober.

56. When we by our words or writing produce disturbance and destruction of love in others, we participate in evil.
Those who write and speak will have to answer to God for every word!
And those who read with interest, disseminate, and discuss, will also have to answer to God for every word, every minute they spend in passionate interest, rather than in love for God and their brothers.

57. St Ignaty Brianchaninov advises us:

Let us guard our bodily feelings, not allowing any sin into our spiritual cell. Let us restrain the curious eye and curious ear; let us lay a severe bridle on the small member of our body which produces such great disturbances – our tongue; let us humble our irrational impulses with restraint, vigil, work, frequent remembrance of death, with attentive and constant prayer…

I look at the world, and I see that the nets of the devil have increased, in comparison with the early times of the Church of Christ, they have increased innumerably; The number of books that impart false knowledge have increased, the number of minds that contain and proclaim false knowledge to others have increased; The number of followers of Holy Truth have decreased, decreased to an extreme degree; the respect for natural virtue has been strengthened, the virtue which is open to Jews and pagans; respect for directly pagan virtues has appeared, which are contrary to nature itself, which nature itself sees as evil; I cannot even express how the understanding of Christian virtue has decreased, and active doing of virtue has been nearly completely destroyed; physical life has been strengthened, spiritual life is disappearing, fleshly pleasures and cares devour all time, there is no time to even remember God. And all this is turning into an obligation, to a law. “And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold” (Matthew 24:12), and also the love of those who would otherwise have remained in love for God, if evil was not so every-present, if the nets of the devil had not increased to such an infinity.

The sorrow of St Anthony (when the devil showed him his nets, which were spread out to catch people) was justified. Even more justifiable is the sorrow of a Christian in our times, when he sees the nets of the devil; well-founded is the sorrowful question: “Lord! Who, of all the people, will be able to escape these nets and find salvation?

This question of the venerable desert-dweller was followed by an answer from the Lord: “Humility of wisdom (смиренномудрие) will escape all these nets, and this they cannot even touch”.
Amen

St Ignaty Brianchaninov, 19th century

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