The One and Only

October 12, 2015

 

     There is more than one Jesus. In fact, there are hundreds and thousands and maybe more. Modern Christianity has so popularized the notion of a "personal Jesus" that today many people talk openly about Christ as if He was their own private Savior and their own creation. I once had a conversation with a woman who insisted there was no Hell and who stated matter of factly that, "My Jesus would never send anyone to Hell." When I pointed out to her that in the gospels Jesus warned about the dangers of Hell she said, "Well that's not my Jesus. My Jesus would never send anyone to Hell." Her "personal Jesus" was someone - or, rather, something - different than the Jesus of the gospels.

     This is nothing new, however, for already in the first century the Apostle Paul warned that there were those who were preaching a different gospel (Gal. 1.6) and trying to make Jesus in their own image. The “personal Jesus” custom made to fit our own desires is a heresy almost as old as the Church itself.

     If we are going to protect ourselves against this corrosive Christianity of a million different Christs we must always be returning to the apostolic tradition. One of the most important ways that we do this is by reading and hearing the writings that make up our New Testament. In fact, the reason that the New Testament exists is precisely so that the Church can preserve the witness of the Apostles to the true and living Christ, not the "personal Jesus" of our imaginations and machinations.

     Take, as an example, St Paul's letter to the Philippians. With false teachings regarding Christ already cropping up and creating schisms in the Church, the Apostle wrote urging them to a common faith preserved through unity of mind.

      A church where everyone has their own "personal Jesus" is little more than a club. "Oneness of mind" is, on the other hand, a reflection in the Church of the one Christ. If Christ were simply an empty cipher into which we pour our own meaning, goals, and aspirations, then truly the "personal Jesus" would be a hallmark of the Church. But if the Christ of the Apostles is the living and true Son of God, what is needed is not diversity of opinion but rather the communion and union of those who are being conformed to his image.

     All of which explains why St Paul keeps talking to the Philippians about their minds. He tells them again and again that they must have "the same mind"; he warns them of those whose minds are only on this world; he gives Timothy, Epaphroditus, and even himself as examples of those who are right-minded.

     But the heart of the epistle, to which St Paul builds and from which everything flows, is the Hymn of Christ in chapter two. For ultimately what is essential for the Philippians and for every Christian is to have the mind of Christ.

      The living and true Christ who is known and confessed by the apostles is not our "personal Jesus", the Christ of our selfish and narcissistic imaginations. He is the Christ who empties himself, Who pours himself out. Though he is the eternal Son of God equal to the Father he makes himself nothing, descending in humility all the way to the depths of the Cross and death for our sake. And through this self-emptying he raises us, who were in the depths of despair, sin, and death, to the right hand of the Father.

     St Paul's words to the Philippians and to us are clear: there is no other Christ but the self-emptying Christ, the Christ of the Cross. Every other "Christ" is a fabrication of our imagination and of our passions. The unity of the Church, which is given in Christ, is realized in Christians to the degree that we have the mind of Christ. This mind, while being faithful to the apostolic teaching of the true Christ and the Cross, does not consist merely of adherence to proper dogma. For the mind of Christ is the humble mind, the lowly mind, the ascetic mind. In fact, there can ultimately be no true dogma without the ascetic mind. For every understanding of Christ that is formed apart from the humble and lowly mind of Christ will be false. It is as Fr Sophrony (Sakharov) says:

 

With love in Christ,
Fr John

 

 “Give me a word!”

 

The foundations of sure dogmatic cognizance are laid when man first experiences grace; and if this aspect of the spiritual life – one and undivided – is not immediately apparent, it is not because God’s gift is flawed but because a lengthy interior process is required for its assimilation.

~Archim. Sophrony

 

In the measure to which a man cuts off and humbles his own will, he proceeds toward success. But insofar as he stubbornly guards his own will, so much does he brings harm to himself.

+St Ephraim the Syrian

 

Just as those who are deprived of light cannot walk straight, so also those who do not behold the ray of the Holy Scriptures must necessarily sin, since they walk in the deepest darkness.

+St John Chrysostom

 

Orthodox Christians must steadfastly remain in Orthodoxy, preserve oneness of mind with one another and unhypocritical love, guard purity of soul and body, reject evil and unclean intentions, temperately partake of food and drink, and above all adorn themselves with humility, not neglect hospitality, refrain from conflicts...but instead await a reward from God: the enjoyment of heavenly goods.

+St Sergius of Radonezh

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