Home Message of the Month Orthodox Links Prophecies Life of St. POIMEN About Our Brotherhood
Receive Our Periodical Order Orthodox Homilies / PublicationsContact Us
MESSAGE OF THE MONTH
O u r H o l y O r t h o d o x y
By Fr. Demetrios Carellas
FROM THE EDITOR of "Orthodox Heritage:" The following homily was delivered by Fr. Demetrios Carellas in a past Sunday of Orthodoxy. We have been prompted to include it upon learning of another high-power ecumenical meeting that is forthcoming during the latter part of November, 2006. The pope will be visiting Constantinople to “co-celebrate” with Patriarch Bartholomew the holy feast of St. Andrew the Apostle. In a pertinent announcement, the pope indicated that the trip “will strengthen ecclesial fraternity and facilitate collaboration in common initiatives…” He further added: “May the Lord help us to move forward with renewed confidence toward the day when we will be able to celebrate together the holy Eucharist of the Lord as a sign of full communion.”
Our position remains that the current ecumenical movement is (at its best) a sell-out of Orthodox dogma, tradition and values. May our Lord and Savior grant His mercy and protect Orthodox faithful from the treacherous progression of ecumenism whose primary goal is the wipe-out of Orthodoxy!
The Faith which I was taught by the Holy Fathers, which I taught without adjusting according to the times, this Faith I will never stop teaching; I was born with it and I live by it.
St. Gregory the Theologian spoke these Spirit-filled words over 1700 years ago. They are timeless words, my dear brothers and sisters in Christ, for they make reference to: the Faith that our Lord Jesus Christ established Himself, through sending the All-Holy Spirit upon His Apostles, on the Day of Pentecost; the Faith for which millions have willingly shed their blood—from Apostolic times to this new millennium—rather than deny or compromise Her Truth; the Faith, whose triumph over all heresies we have been honoring on the First Sunday of the Great Fast for over 11 centuries.
But is this Faith also my Faith—your Faith? Do our thoughts, words and actions find comfort in these words of St. Gregory, or condemnation?
I propose to you this evening that many of us—myself included—should be convicted by these holy words. How can the Holy Fathers teach me the essence of our Faith, when I rarely—if ever—read from their writings? How often in my 28 years as a priest have I callously adjusted the true teachings of my Faith, in order to make them more palatable to others and myself? If today was the Day of Judgment, could I honestly tell my Saviour and Lord Jesus that I have lived the Faith that He gave me as a gift on the day of my Baptism? No, my beloved brethren, I could not. For to live our Holy Orthodox Faith, then the Gospel of my Lord Jesus Christ must “take flesh” within me—I must become the Gospel in all of my thoughts, words, and actions. Those who truly live our Faith do not need to say any words, for the “presence” of Jesus Christ in them speaks volumes to any soul that has “ears to hear.”
Can we find this true Faith, which St. Gregory never stopped teaching, in our American society? Most definitely! Permit me to offer this example: In 1994 St. John Maximovitch was officially canonized. He fell asleep in 1966, and continues to bring the Gospel of Christ to those who seek his intercessions. One Saturday evening before his departure from this temporal life—as he was about to begin Great Vespers—he noticed that no one was in Church. This was highly unusual, so he asked his deacon if he knew why everyone was missing. The deacon informed him that there was a big ethnic party at the Mark Hopkins hotel. Without appearing at all angered upon hearing this news, the Saint told the deacon to drive him to the party so that he could see his spiritual children. When the little frail hierarch walked into the ballroom, all the dancing, drinking, and loud talking immediately stopped. Everyone looked at their humble Bishop in fear; however, St. John simply blessed the people silently, bowed before them and left. But Christ in him “spoke” without using words, and everyone immediately left the party to attend Great Vespers with their Shepherd. Glory be to God! This happened because St. John was a living ikon of the Ascetical/Mystical life of our Faith.
Unfortunately, we do not have many examples like St. John to describe the impact of our Faith during Her 200+ years in the United States. In fact, although we have five or six American saints, only one, St. Peter the Aleut, was born in our nation. Why don’t we have more American-born saints? Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlahos rightly states in one of his books that the purpose of our Faith is to “make relics”—to produce saints! What is the problem here in America? The answer is simple: too many of us are not trying to live the ascetical/mystical life of Orthodoxy in the trenches of our daily lives. Our ego-worshipping, secular-humanistic, politically correct society, has infiltrated our attitudes and actions; not only ourselves individually, but also our families, parishes—and beyond.
This evening, we can see one of the examples of this “infiltration.” Where are the anathemas against the heresies, and those who both produced and followed them? Where are the joyous “eternal memory” chants for those champions of Holy Orthodoxy—like St. Athanasios the Great, and St. Theodore the Studite—who were God’s chosen instruments to protect from corruption the true dogmas given to us by the Holy Spirit? I heard at least some of these 28 years ago at the OCA Cathedral in Chicago, IL, but they have been omitted in the last 27 Sundays of Orthodoxy that I have attended. In one Sunday of Orthodoxy service in which I participated several years ago, an Anglican Bishop—fully vested—stood at the Bishop’s throne; and several other clerics from other denominations were on the front row. In our lifetime, the feast of the triumph of Orthodoxy seems to have been discarded; and replaced by a politically correct, ecumenical gathering that has no historical reference and does not commemorate any historical event.
Some have said that these anathemas are being omitted as an act of love. What love? Can the Church be truly a loving mother to her children when she looks upon those who teach false dogma with indifference, and allows these heretical teachers the liberty to destroy the souls of her flock? Consider this example offered by St. Theophan the Recluse: “Would a mother permit a snake to freely crawl up to and bite her child? …If some immoral person were to gain access to your family and begin tempting your daughter, or your son, would you be able to regard their actions and their speeches with indifference? Fearing to gain a reputation of being inhumane and old fashioned, would you tie your own hands? Would you not push such a person out the door and close it against them forever? You should view [the anathemas] of the Holy Church in the same manner. She sees that individuals of a corrupt mind appear and corrupt others, and she rises up against them—driving them away and calling out to those who are her own: ‘Beware, so-and-so and such-and-such people wish to destroy your souls. Do not listen to them; flee from them.’ Thus, she fulfills the duty of motherly love.”
Because we seem to have chosen to ‘benignly neglect’ the heresies and the anathemas proclaimed against them—heresies which are still very present in our American Society—we are hearing many of our own people say such things as: “We all worship the same God.” “It is not necessary to pray to the Mother of God and the Saints.” “Fasting is only for the monastics.” “Our Church has too much ritual, and the services are too long and archaic.” Many of them have left our Faith—being attracted by the apparent simplicity and openness of other Christian formations. What a great tragedy, my brothers and sisters, and we must accept much of the responsibility. Our persistence in trying to make Orthodoxy appear more like all other Christian formations is not bearing good fruit. On the contrary, consider the example of the World Council of Churches (WCC). Since its inception over 50 years ago, we have been very active participants. How many protestant denominations have renounced their heresies against God’s true Church and embraced our faith? None! On the other hand, being in the midst of all these non-Orthodox teachings seems to have affected our own understanding of who we are. Please listen carefully to what follows: In 1957, Fr. George Florovsky of blessed memory composed the following official statement of the delegates of the Orthodox Church:
“The Orthodox Church teaches that She has no need to search for a ‘lost unity,’ because Her historical consciousness dictates that She is the ‘Una Sancta’ and that all Christian groups outside of the Orthodox Church can recover their unity only by entering into the bosom of that Church, which preserved its identity with early Christianity.”
This is a most correct description of who we are as a Church. However, in a statement made by Orthodox delegates at the WCC assembly only 18 years later, we see clearly that our understanding as to who we are made a negative transformation: “…[T]he Orthodox Church does not expect that other Christians be converted to Orthodoxy in its historical and cultural reality of the past and present, and to become members of the Orthodox Church. Its desire is that all should strive in their own churches and traditions to deepen the fullness of their apostolic faith, embodied in a full ecclesial life.”
I tell you without hesitation that this statement does not speak for this worthless priest. Far more importantly, however, neither does it speak for Holy Orthodoxy! It is blasphemy against God’s true Church, and we have every right to reject it. What should bring tears to both our eyes and hearts, my dear brothers and sisters in Christ, is that when we make—or accept—comments that express something that goes against the true teachings of our Faith, then we actually separate ourselves from the Church. As St. Theophan the Recluse reminds us, “It is not inscription in the Baptismal records that makes one a member of the Church, but the spirit and content, of one’s opinions. I just had a frightening thought: Is it possible that the true reason we no longer verbalize the anathemas on the Sunday of Orthodoxy because, in doing so, we openly condemn ourselves? God forbid!
I beg your forgiveness for opening my sinful heart to all of you, but it is my belief that, before we can address others regarding the Orthodox Faith, we must first establish—firmly—the priority of knowing one another and the Faith that we share. As St. Gregory the Theologian reminds us: “It is necessary first to be purified, then to purify; to be made wise, then to make wise; to become light, then to enlighten; to approach God, then to bring others to Him…” Would that we declare a three-year sabbatical from all involvement with non-Orthodox (except, of course, acts of philanthropy to those in need), so that we can repent, remove the darkness from our own eyes, and become Orthodox Christians in essence instead of just in name. Would that we share a table of discussion and fellowship with the Orthodox Old Calendarist not presently in communion with us. They are TRULY our brothers and sisters in Christ, and they should be here with us tonight. (Grant this, O Lord!) You and I must RETURN to the pristine Faith that has been passed down to us from the Holy Apostles until this evening, through the holy Church Fathers.
Listen to these Spirit-filled words of Blessed Father Justin Popovich: “The watchword that should be heard within the Church today is: Let us return to the Christ-bearing ascetics and to the Holy Fathers. … [For] today, only [the Ascetical/Mystical Life of Orthodoxy] can bring about sanctity in every soul. …The Ascetics are Orthodoxy’s only missionaries. Asceticism is her only missionary school. … The development of asceticism: this ought to be the inward mission of our Church amongst our people.”
Notice that Blessed Fr. Justin did not say “monastics,” but “ascetics.” This is because—while only a few are called to the holy life of monasticism, ALL Orthodox Christians are called to be ascetics; and this is made possible when we daily partake of the sweet, pure milk of the Ascetical and Mystical life that flows spiritually from the breasts of our Holy Mother Church. What is an ascetic? It is someone who strives—with each new sunrise—to surrender more of his will to Christ. By seeking to live the Ascetical/Mystical life provided for him by his Church, the ascetic begins to find that everyone that he encounters in a given day has the ikon of Christ within him or her. And he begins to feel a growing love for everyone and everything in God’s creation. By God’s grace, as he fasts from various foods and as much of the worldly attractions as possible, he begins to desire more to read God’s Word, the lives of the Saints, and the writings of the Holy Fathers. He looks forward to reading the Compline service every evening with his family, and worshipping God—especially in the Divine Liturgy—becomes the center of his life. With much thanksgiving, he carries the Holy Name of Jesus wherever he goes—keeping the Prayer of Jesus in his mind, his heart and on his lips. In short, he truly becomes the Gospel in human flesh.
Such an Orthodox Christian can be a ‘light on a hill’ that brings thousands of souls to Christ. I would like to share a moment in the life of two such ascetics—one a monastic, the other a layman—both of whom may still be living today. Fr. Arsenios is now a monk somewhere on Monk Athos. Shortly after the end of WW II, while living in the Soviet Union, he was sought by the KGB; because he was leading many souls to Christ. When they came to arrest him, he tried to run away. The KGB agents were told to bring him in alive for interrogation, so they chased after him instead of shooting him. A helicopter overhead kept informing the agents of his position. Finally, he found himself running in the direction of a cliff. He had no other way to go. Upon arriving at the cliff’s edge, he simply made the sign of the Cross, and began walking on the air, for quite a distance, until he reached a mountain. When the helicopter pilot saw this, he simply flew away in utter disbelief. Like his forefather Adam before the Fall, Fr. Arsenios was able—by the grace of God—to control nature.
I do not even know the name of this ascetic layman from Thessalonica, Greece, whose amazing story we now share with you. He was about 38 years old. Both his parents had died, and he was an only child. In his daily prayers, he began to ask God to send him a pious woman to marry, and that his future wife should have two parents; so that he could have the joy of taking care of them as if they were his own. The Lord soon answered his prayer. He was so thankful for his wife and new parents, but one thing concerned him: the father was always blaspheming God. Therefore, this pious man begged God not to allow his new father to die, until he was healed of this terrible sin. After some time, the father became very sick and was hospitalized; so now the humble man’s daily routine was as follows: Before work, he would stop by his Church, light a candle for his father’s health, then briefly visit his father. After work, he would first go to his mother’s home to see if she had a need, then go to his home and have supper with his wife; after which he would visit his father again—staying much longer. This went on for some time, and he was constantly praying for his father’s healing—both of body and soul. One day after supper, when he went to his father’s hospital room, it was empty. Thinking that perhaps they had moved him to another room he inquired of one of the nurses. “Did no one call you”, she said? “Your father died a short time ago.” The poor man could not accept this. After all, he had begged God to keep him alive until he no longer spoke blasphemy; and he had not yet stopped the blaspheming. Therefore he asked to be permitted to go into the morgue and be alone with the father’s body. Behold the miracle my dear brethren! Trusting so totally that God received his constant prayers for his father’s soul, he boldly went over to the corpse, grabbed his hand and said. “Come, Papa, let us go home!” Immediately life came back into the father’s body. He lived another couple of years, during which time he was totally healed of his blasphemy; and he died in peace. Great is God’s power within the ascetic Christian—whether he be a monastic or living in the secular world.
What are some of the characteristics that would be present in the life of an ascetic Orthodox Christian of the new millennium? He, or she, would have a greater desire: to read the life of a Saint rather than a secular novel; to listen to the Spirit-filled hymns of the Church, rather than the cacophony of today’s music; to attend a spiritual retreat rather than a weekend in Atlantic City; to read or chant the Paraklesis to the Most Holy Theotokos, rather than watch sports, or the news, or any ‘sitcom’ on TV. In fact, he, or she, would most likely have lost his desire to watch any TV. The 21st century ascetic is: more “at home” worshipping God in Church, than attending a party on Saturday night; more eager to read daily from God’s Word than from the daily newspaper; more naturally inclined to have the Jesus Prayer (Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me) on his lips, than crude language or unkind words about others. To the Orthodox ascetic: worshipping God is the blood of his soul; prayer, its breath; and the words of the Holy Gospel, its food.
For the past 2,000 years, the God-given, Ascetical/Mystical life of our Holy Orthodox Faith has produced tens of thousands of known Saints; and tens of millions of Saints, most of whose names are only known to God. Before me this evening, I give thanks to our Lord Jesus as I gaze upon several hundred potential ascetics—holy relics-in-the-making that God will use to bring healing to future generations; and all that you and I need in order to become the ascetic missionaries of today, is available in our Holy Church. However, our All-compassionate Lord will never force us against our will to embrace this proven salvific way of life; because He respects the freedom that He Himself has given us. Therefore, it is up to you and me to choose this path.
Holy Orthodoxy, as God’s One True Faith, cannot simply be a part of our lives. It cannot be lived, when we compromise it by our words and actions. It cannot be something that we turn on and off like the appliances we use. Our Holy Faith must be present in all aspects of our lives: from the way we worship God in the Divine Liturgy, to the way we drive our cars; from the manner in which we make the sign of the Cross, to the manner in which we prepare a meal, perform our secular work, or play a game of softball. Only by striving with all of our strength to live the Faith in this manner can we come to truly know Christ—to truly know ourselves.
It is certainly not an easy path on which to travel. The devil will trouble us more intensely when he notices that we are struggling to become ascetics, to become the Gospel of Jesus. But as St. Paul reminds us, “The sufferings of this present time are not worthy in comparison to the future glory to be revealed in us.” We may notice a change in the circle of our friends. Considering how evil the times are today, and how the spirit of compromise and being politically correct in expressing Orthodoxy is being proclaimed by both Orthodox laity and clergy, some of us here this evening may even be called to die for Christ and His Church; so that the shedding of our blood might lead others to repentance and the glorious Ascetical/Mystical life.
Our personal ascetic journeys may not call for us to walk on the air, like Fr. Arsenios, or raise someone from the dead. But God will—in His time and His way—make use of us to glorify Him. Perhaps one day in the grocery store, a stranger might approach us and say, “Why do you have such a presence of serenity about you?” That is why, as St. Peter tells us, we must be “ready always to give a defense to everyone who asks [us] a reason concerning the hope in us.” Perhaps we can then bring that person to his true Home, so that he too can embrace the True Faith; and soon be able to share with us, that which God gives freely to all of His ascetics: the victory over all demonic attacks; the “peace that surpasses all understanding;” the hope that “does not disappoint;” the joy that “no one can take away;” and the love that “never ends.”
I beg your forgiveness if any of these words have offended you. And I pray that all of us, by striving—daily—to become ascetics, will be placed by our All-compassionate Lord amongst His sheep; when He comes again to judge the living and the dead. And if we do not see each other again in this life, may God grant that we spend eternity together in Paradise!