Audio length: 18:49 minutes
Transcript published: June 22, 2012
Fr. Peter speaks on the 'PNEVMA of PYTHON at St. Andrew Orthodox Church in Riverside, California.
Christ is Risen! Truly He is Risen! Christos Anesti! Alithos Anesti! Christos Voskrese! Voistinu Voskrese! Today, the Holy Church presents before us, as we continue the celebration of Pascha, the celebration of the Resurrection, the following very important truth for our day and age; a very important criteria for us to understand how to avoid the traps of the evil one and to reach the harbor of salvation. I read to you from the Acts of the Apostles again, and then we will comment on it.
Now it happened as we went to prayer that a certain slave girl possessed with a spirit of divination met us, who brought her masters much profit by fortune telling. This girl followed Paul and us, and cried out, saying, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to us the way of salvation.” And this she did for many days. But Paul, greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her!” And he came out that very hour.
In the Greek text, which as the translation does not communicate, the text here says a spirit of divination. But in fact the Greek text is pnevma pythonos, and this is from the ancient Greek mythology. And the term represented in Greek sculpture and vase paintings as a serpent – the earth dragon of Delphi. Now he presided at the Delphic oracle.
And so ancient Greeks would come here and seek answers to their questions; much like people go to fortune tellers to seek answers to their questions in the future. And many times when people go, even today, to fortune tellers, they walk away with some truth. And that’s exactly what happened in ancient Greece. They came away with some truth.
And the question is, how does the father of lies tell us truth? He does. He did to Adam in the garden. At first he said the lie that you will not die, but then he said a truth, “Ye will become gods.” And he wanted to trick Adam and Eve into following this truth that they had heard from the Master. They knew that this was what they were destined to become and to arrive at.
He wanted to take them away from the path to salvation and the method that the Master had given, which was obedience, and trick them into supposing by disobedience, they will arrive at the same end. And the devil continues to do the same today. This pneuma pythonos is throughout our society. Throughout our lives on a daily basis, the devil is coming and presenting half-truths or truths that are not salvific ultimately – truth in ideas; truth in our daily lives.
What is truth on this worldly level but a recognition of reality? And so we make a distinction in the Church between Truth as a Person, who is Christ Himself and truth in ideas. The Church is the place where the discernment of spirits takes place. And this is the great difference between being in the Church; the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church; it being a continuation of the apostolic experience as we see here in St. Paul and the difference between being in a heresy among a heterodox group, where the discernment of spirits is not present.
This is the key that will save Christians in the end times. They will be able to discern the tricks of the devil. They will not fall into the trick of the devil again as did Adam and Eve, but they will see and discern. And Paul saw and discerned today in the epistle. And he understood that the truth was being told by a demonically possessed girl.
The devil spoke the truth through her for what purpose? That when he left, and the devil knew that he would and continue his mission, they would listen to her. And then he would say and lead them to damnation and to outside the Church and outside the experience of Christ. And so Paul cast the demon out of her so that this half-truth might not end up leading, as it did Adam and Eve, to the damnation and to the loss of salvation of the people of God in Philippi.
So the father of lies teaches truth and yet the demons tremble and believe, do they not? They know the truth, but this is not salvation for them, because why? Because they do not humble themselves before the Truth. They do not humble themselves and submit to the Master. So knowing the Truth alone, knowing about the truth that Christ is God is not yet salvation. But having communion with the Truth; submitting ourselves to the Truth as a person, this is salvation.
Truth in ideas, truth about Christ, truths in society are important and they can lead people if they love those more than their own lives and more than this passing life. If they love these truths, God may lead them step by step to His Person. And that’s why He came to reveal Himself; to reveal the Truth. But in and of themselves; knowing about things; knowing the truth of things is not yet salvation.
We have in the Church, two kinds of faith. We confess the truth; the reality when we confess in the symbol of faith. I believe in one God. I believe in Jesus Christ. I believe in the Holy Spirit. This confession of the Orthodox faith is essential. Otherwise, we know that we are outside of salvation. This is the border of salvation; the border of the truth. When we confess that in the ark of salvation, this is key; this is the foundation. And yet, it is not yet salvation. It is not yet salvation.
And this is a trap for many of us. We think that simply being in the Church and saying this confession, we have been and arrived at salvation. This is not yet salvation. This is a protection from damnation. This is a protection from delusion, and it is essential. But salvation is when we have communion with the Person we are confession. We have communion with Christ, and that means we must trust Him.
And this is the second kind of faith we have. We have as the first confession of the faith, but the second is trusting the Master. In Greek the word for trust has faith in it. Pistis is faith. empistosini is trust. After receiving and embracing the faith of the Orthodox and becoming members of the Church, we begin the path to trust, which is the second and most important faith. And when we develop that faith and develop that trust, then we enter into communion and then we begin to experience what we confess and experience salvation for ourselves.
Then, we are on the path to salvation. Then, we have moved from earth toward Heaven. But simply saying that Christ is God is a recognition of reality. And the demons know this, and they tremble, and they accept. Are they going to be saved with this acceptance? No, because they do not submit to the Christ. You see here that we must be in the Church and submit to the Church. Submit to Christ with our life, which means humility and obedience. Then, we are on the path to salvation but not yet.
This is a process that never ends. It grows day by day, more and more. And the more that we progress on this path of trust in the master, the more we will be purified; illumined; and then if God deems, we might even be glorified or deified.
So there are many traps today, and we must be careful as Orthodox Christians not to fall into them. Many times the heterodox will come to the Orthodox and praise Orthodoxy and say, “What beauty the Church has and what truth you teach!” And yet, they will not submit to the Church. And yet they have not at that point found salvation.
And we hear the praise and think that they love the truth, yes perhaps on the level of ideas. But to love the Truth is to love the Person of Christ and to submit to Him, and that person is here in the Church. In fact, St. John Chrysostom says, “Christ is the Church.” He is the head of a body, but it is His body. And so here in this church; in the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church is where we meet the person of Christ and we begin to enter into salvation.
So when they come and say, “Orthodoxy is the fullness.” Truths are recognized by the heterodox, or even dogmatic truths are recognized. This is not yet salvation. Truth is a person and we meet Him here in the Church. Many times we say that Orthodoxy is the fullness of Truth. And the implication is, and it is accepted by Roman Catholics and Protestants today, therefore other churches are somehow half-truths or almost the fullness of Truth. And yet that’s not what the Scripture means when it uses the term pleroma or fullness.
Fullness is equal to Christ. Is there somewhere where there is a half-Christ? Can we split the Person up into pieces? Can we divide Him and make Him into truths? And therefore you have a little bit of truth and I have a little bit of truth, and therefore we’re all more or less in the truth. This is the delusion of our age, because we’ve moved away from a personal relationship with the Person of Christ in the Church. And now we think of salvation as knowledge about something, which is not salvation.
It is not salvation. Salvation is communion with the Person of Christ. And so fullness means only Christ our Lord. There is no half-Christ anywhere. There is no deluded Christ. There is only the fullness, which is Christ Himself. And there is only the Church. There is only one Church, and in that Church there is salvation.
So we must witness to the Truth in society. Absolutely. In the realm of ideas, it is essential for the Church to go out and witness to the Truth. Those who have good disposition will hear and be aided, and they may even come to salvation. But this is not the truth that saves. This is not salvation. Knowing about Christ is not yet salvation.
St. Gregory Palamas says, “Where the truth is, there is the Church.” But this is not and cannot mean simply the truth about Christ. He means where the Person of Christ is, there is the Truth. Salvation is knowing and loving and submitting to Christ. When the demons confessed here, through this woman, in the epistle that Paul was speaking the truth, they were speaking and saying the truth about the Lord and Paul. But they were not submitting. They had no plan to submit or lead others to submission, to obedience, and to humility.
So the spirit of Python; this possessed girl; the aim of the devil was to gain the trust so that afterwards Paul when he departed would submit to the devil. This is the opposite of what happens in the Truth in the Church. We confess Christ and then on our path we gain and we increase in the trust in the Lord.
So in conclusion, acquiring or speaking about Christ; confessing the reality; confessing even the Orthodox faith is not yet salvation. There are many in the Church, because they turned away from this communion and this personal relationship, will not and have not reached the harbor of salvation. Let us not have this delusion that we know a lot.
Many of us convert. We know many things about the Church. We go very far on the horizontal plane. We become experts on theology. We go to theological school. We have PhDs, and we are still far from salvation because we are full of pride. We are full of pride, and this is the enemy of salvation. This is the fall of man.
Submitting ourselves, humbling ourselves, and putting away our ideas. Many of us come in the Church, we have much baggage from our past. We carry many ideas, and many times, we don’t even realize it, and when push comes to shove many of us refuse to put that baggage away, because we are proud. But know at that point, you are not choosing submission, humility, obedience, or salvation. Our salvation is worked out step by step, moment by moment, thought by thought.
How do the saints arrive at deification? Each thought is a thought that is humble with a disposition to obedience. And the Lord illumines step by step, and therefore they arrive at deification and glorification. Those of us who make one step forward but three steps back, we are in a treadmill. And we are not making progress in our salvation and our spiritual life, because we do not realize on this plane of the thoughts in this daily life is where our salvation will be achieved and attained.
It is not in our pocket because we are Orthodox. We have not arrived, because we confess. We will arrive when we are in total communion and total love. The Lord is a jealous God. He does not want half of your heart. He wants your whole life, your whole soul, your whole mind, all of your strength! The Lord wants all of you. Your whole being He wants to fill with His Divine Spirit.
And this is not something you do on Sunday morning. And this is not something you do once a day with a few prayers. It is a whole experience; all day long; every day; submitting to the Master; submitting in our thoughts, words, and deeds to His Will and His Spirit. And then we can speak from experience that this is the Master. This is salvation—Christ Himself. And this is the place in the ark of salvation.
I pray that all of us make progress on this daily crucifixion of the intellect; this daily putting aside of the world. Throw away the television! Turn off the radio! And turn on the words of the Master – every day and all day. Say the prayer. Come closer to the Master every day in our thoughts. And then we will speak from experience about salvation.