Postcards from Greece:
What is the essence, the center of our Christian life? Throughout our day; throughout our life, it’s very easy for us to become distracted, to focus on things that are secondary, even worldly, and to confuse them for the essence and the purpose of our Christian life. In today’s podcast, I’d like to try to help us all focus on the center of our Christian life, the central message of the Gospel, and the purpose, and the key criterion of salvation for us, especially in these difficult days.
The essential oneness of all Christians, whether they be in the monastery or in the world, is found in our common love for Christ – a love which is above all other loves, a love of truth which is Christ Himself. Our love for Christ can be expressed in an endless array of ways. We see this in the life of each saint, which is a story of unique expression of this love.
Everything we do as Christians should be an expression of our love for Christ. Indeed if our offerings, our ascetic struggles are to be efficacious, to be life-giving, they must be an expression of our love for Christ. Any other reason is not life-creating. We must enter into what Elder Porphyrios called the theia trela, the Divine Madness. That is, we must go beyond religion, beyond irrational rationalism and outward piety, beyond moralism and being good boys and girls to embrace wholeheartedly Christ; to be in total love with the truth.
As I said, there are 1,001 ways to express our love for Christ, but I’m going to focus on one today, which I think is often neglected by Orthodox Christians and yet is perhaps the most necessary in today’s society and I think is really the heart of the Gospel, and that is the love of the truth; loving and witnessing to the truth in every aspect of our lives and in every aspect of society.
Today we are, with the help of technology and the rise of atheism and general apathy for the truth, swimming in a sea of lies on a daily basis. There are lies all around us – lies about the world, about nature, about human origins, about our neighbor, about our country, and about God Himself. There are also lies within us about ourselves. In fact we are even encouraged and truth be told oftentimes acquiesce to make an idol of ourselves; to live the lie that is worshipping a lie or creating a lie or delusion about who we are.
Self-knowledge is absolutely necessary. Without it, no true spiritual life can be established. We must realize that insomuch as we live and swim in lies; tell or believe them; retain them within us, we are working for the enemy of our salvation, the father of lies, about whom Christ said, “He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own for he is a liar and the father of it.”
On the contrary, the number one characteristic of being a Christian is being in the truth; having a clear vision of the truth; having a discernment that is understanding not only who God is, but what is going on around us in the world of ideas and relationships; to understand that there is Truth with a capital T so to speak and truth with a lower case t.
Now Truth with a capital T is obviously the person of Christ Himself; truth with a lower case t refers to ideas as they play out in our actions and our relationships. The first we could say is truth on the vertical plane, and the second is truth on the horizontal plane. Both are essential and inseparable, just like the two bars on a cross. Loving and knowing the first, Christ as a person, enables ones to discern and acquire the second, truth and ideas. Loving and knowing the second, truth in the form of ideas and relationships, leads one ever closer to the first, the person of Christ, Truth Himself.
Now how do we know if we love Truth as a person, Christ Himself? Well, we live in Him; we acquire His mind. These are all the same thing. The state of being is expressed in a variety of ways, such as the following, quoting St. Paul who says, “The truth of Christ is in me. It speaks in me. It lives in me.” Obviously, this is an internal relationship an internal reality.
If we love Christ, we acquire Him who is Truth. As St. Seraphim of Sarov says, “Acquire the Holy Spirit and a thousand around you will be saved.” But the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth and Christ Himself says, “I am the Truth.”
Next week, we’ll hear the famous words of our Lord the pilot. “For this cause, I came into the world that I should bear witness unto the Truth. Everyone that is of the Truth heareth my voice.” So hear the reason for the Incarnation is to witness to the Truth, to witness to Himself, to reveal Himself, and to make God known to man that He might have communion with God. The second thing that we see here in the words of our Lord is that everyone who is of the Truth receives this witness. So these words of Christ illustrate the interrelation of Truth as a person and truth in the realm of ideas and actions in our daily life and the way we live.
So this is key, Christ came to set us free by getting us to know the Truth. So being a Christian is not defined by becoming a good “moral” person only. It’s not defined by performing acts of religion. It’s not defined by carrying out charity work or feeding the hungry. Now these are all fruits of a Christian life, but the defining characteristic of being a Christian is being in and expressing the Truth and loving Truth, loving Christ – Truth as a person and truth in the realm of ideas, truth of our daily life and our actions.
Now a sure sign that we love the person of Christ is that we have acquired his mind. St. Paul says these extraordinary words, “We have the mind of Christ.” That is, we see and we speak the truth. To have the mind of Christ means to have discernment – to be able to discern truth from falsehood; to be able to discern the spirits, whether they are of God as the Apostle John says.
Now discernment, that is separating the wheat from the chaff; the lie from the truth, is the highest of virtues and it is not acquired easily or quickly, but with much labor, love, and patience. No wonder then, that it is the rarest of virtues in our world today. And yet, this is also a great opportunity for the Church; for the truth to be heard and embraced. Orthodox Christians are in a position to speak truth in the realm of ideas in society and lead many toward Truth, who is a person, Christ Himself.
Now some may object that Christians shouldn’t be involved in society and public life and expressing ideas and challenging those in power. But these well-meaning folk lack discernment. They are not reading the signs of the times correctly. Listen to Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain, who has this to say about this issue. He says:
In former times if a pious Christian was involved in public life, he probably wasn’t too well. They would have considered him crazy. Today, it’s the opposite. If a pious person isn’t concerned and pained by the way things are in the world, he is the one who has lost his mind.
I think the Elder’s points here are two as he goes on to say later that today’s leaders are out to destroy the Church, the family, and the youth. You can’t trust them. You can’t leave matters to them as if they are benevolent and looking out for our good interest. And secondly, the Elder sees caring and witnessing to the truth in society as a form of Confession of the Faith, because today’s leaders are attacking the Truth, the Faith, and the Church.
Now the second thing he says; the second quote I want to relay to you, he says the following. And I think he’s saying that too many Christians are motivated by self-interest and not by love of the Truth. He says:
They don’t want to take on and remove an evil in society so as to maintain their peace and quiet, the status quo. This means they have no love, but later we see these same people working hard for their own interests. That is why a certain kind of spirit reigns today. So-and-so need to have good relations, so he’ll say good things about us. Some others we need to have it good, so he doesn’t drag us through the mud and so on. And others keep silent; they don’t talk for fear they’ll write about them in the newspapers, etc.
Here we see the Elder equates silence and indifference to the triumph of lies and delusions in society as lack of love. How different that is from the prevailing idea of love in our society, which is self-serving; it’s usually fleshly, having to do with fleeting pleasure. No, here love means love of the brethren, love of the truth, and sacrifice for them and for Christ.
This means that our love of Christ, of Truth as a person, cannot mean that we are indifferent to truth in ideas and actions in society. Just the opposite is the case. When we are in pain and suffer out of love for things in society, the situation, the suffering of the people for lack of love of truth, then we are approaching love of Truth as a person.
The love of Truth as a person is all the more a lover of truth in ideas; all the more concerned with the fate of his brothers who are mired in the muck of lies and delusion; all the more ready to speak a prophetic word to the world. We cannot be indifferent to the questions of our day; to the questions of truth on the horizontal plane in our society and think that we love Truth as a person, Christ Himself.
The words of the Apostle John are clear here. He says, “If a man say ‘I love God’ and hateth his brother, he is a liar. For he that loveth not his brother, whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?” So just as one cannot claim to love his brother and be indifferent to him as he stands hungry or naked, so to and even much more, one cannot claim to love his brother and be indifferent to him as he is fed lies and is bereft of the truth.
Christ Himself said that He came to “preach deliverance to the captives, give sight to the blind, and set at liberty them that are bruised.” Obviously, He is not only talking about political or social freedoms and liberties. He’s talking about spiritual liberty. If we are to be His disciples and He is to live in us, then we must imitate Him in this deliverance of the captives, and sight to the blind, and give the world the truth of Christ and in society generally.
Everywhere, people are held captive today by lies and the realm of ideas; blind to the truth and enslaved. This slavery; this blindness on the horizontal plane makes it nearly impossible for them to approach Truth on the vertical plane and to draw near to Christ. The Church, which means you and I, must stand and speak truth to them with boldness and in a prophetic way. The Church, if it ceases to be prophetic in this world, it ceases to carry out its mission; it ceases to be the Church.
Speak with boldness and in a prophetic way. This bold witness will necessarily mean that, as Elder Paisios says, “The believer or heterodox person will feel uneasy.” But this is a good uneasiness according to Elder Paisios; a necessary and a beneficial uneasiness, which awakens the conscience and brings the soul to salvific knowledge.
So if you and I know Truth as a person, we will easily know truth and ideas, and if those outside the Church love truth in the realm of ideas and come to know them, they will be that much nearer and closer to accepting Truth as a person. Our world today is indifferent to Truth as a person and confused and blind to truth in the realm of ideas many times.
If there is a hope that our brothers and sisters outside the Church will come to Truth as a person and to the Church, which is Christ’s Body, it will be largely because His disciples shine in word and deed the light of truth, both as a person and in the realm of ideas, leading them from the darkness of ignorance to the knowledge of the Son of God.
St. Paul, in speaking of the last times, gives the following very instructive and revealing teaching to guide us. He says the spirit of illusion works “with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved.”
So, and with this I conclude, clearly St. Paul has the love of truth as a criterion of salvation and of our salvation in the Church. In the kingdom of lies, in which we all live today, the love of Truth is the key to Heaven.