We live in strange days, brothers and sisters. I’m not talking about gay marriage, abortion, and the decline of “traditional morality”. I’m talking about Christianity. What passes for Christianity today is, if you’ll forgive my bluntness, a mockery of the Gospel of Christ. Claiming to be followers of Jesus, most people make no attempt to actually read the Gospels which contain His commandments and teachings, not to mention trying to keep those commandments. In what purport to be the fastest growing churches in America today the gist of the teaching is mostly a mishmash of Christian vocabulary with modern, narcissistic, self-help beliefs. This teaching has nothing - I am hardly exaggerating - nothing, to do with the teaching and commandments of Jesus found in the four Gospels.
If you think I am exaggerating then just imagine, for one moment, that a speaker stood up in one of these megachurches and proclaimed the following:
It would be unthinkable. People don’t go to church to hear this! We want a life of pleasure! Climbing to Heaven? We expect to have a good life here and then be transported directly to Heaven without effort when we die.
The above words, by the way, come not from some peasant in the desert but from St Ignatius Brianchaninov, the son of a wealthy Russian aristocrat who abandoned wealth and a promising military career to become a monk in the nineteenth century.
And his question is far from rhetorical: where did we get the idea that the way of God has ever been anything other than the way of the cross and death? Not from the Gospels. Where did we get the notion that we could make some special way for ourselves and travel by it without sufferings? Not from our Lord. In fact, if these ideas sound like anything at all in the Gospels they sound like the words of the Devil when he tempted Christ in the desert.
Our culture is absorbed in a never-ending pursuit to find secrets and principles for making life better, and by better we mean happier, healthier, more fun, and more prosperous. This is so much a part of our life now that we do not even question the premise that we should happy, healthy, and prosperous. It is a given, an unspoken assumption of life in modern America.
But the way of Christ which He gives us in the Gospel is not away of life but, as St Ignatius, says, a way of death. Our Lord says deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me. It is true, of course, that this way of the cross leads to resurrection and, thus, to divine life. But there is ultimately no way to this divine life and thus to true life except through death, the death to self, the death of the cross. The renunciation of my will and of my desires and the death -the crucifixion - of them is the only path to true rebirth and life in the Kingdom of God. And any attempt to turn the Gospel of Christ into a way of life in this world similar to the paths of the gurus of self-help and the cult of narcissism is ultimately a demonic rejection of the Cross.
This is bracing stuff, brothers and sisters. But as followers of the Crucified Lord, where did we ever get the idea that it would be otherwise?
With love in Christ,
“Give me a word!”
Everyone who loves God shows himself patient and steadfast in times of suffering. Whoever bears them bravely becomes strong and obedient to God, and whoever enters the path of following the will of God conquers his natural weakness. On the other hand, whoever does not recognize his own powerlessness is proud and not inclined to submit himself to the will of the Lord. Whoever does not submit to it and hopes only in his own power does not receive the power and help of God and, not having been strengthened in spirit, cannot become patient. But whoever does not endure misfortune and afflictions has not faith, and whoever does not have faith, does not love God.
-St Alexis of Senaki
“Bear ye one another's burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ." One who fulfills Christ's law will be blessed with Christ's peace which is far above normal human comprehension. This peace removes all earthly misfortunes and sufferings; extinguishes all interest in this world; it heals a man's grief; gives birth to love toward everyone, love which covers all weaknesses in one's fellow man, not even noticing them; it constrains him to feel more pity for others than for himself.
-Abbot Nikon (Vorobiev)