“It is especially necessary for us Christians to have a pure heart, because with the eyes of the heart we must see God as He is, with His love for us and with all His perfections. We are called to contemplate the beauty of the angels, the glory of the Holy Virgin, the beauty of Her soul, Her greatness as the Mother of God, the beauty of the souls of God’s saints, and their love for us. We must see them as they are in themselves; we must contemplate the truths of the Christian faith, with all its sacraments, and feel their greatness; we must see the state of our own souls, especially our sins. An impure heart, that is, a heart occupied with passionate, earthly attachments, a heart that sustains itself itself carnal desires, the lust of the eyes, and worldly pride, can see none of these things.”
“Watch your heart during all your life–examine it, listen to it, and see what prevents its union with the most blessed Lord. Let this be for you the science of all sciences, and with God’s help you will easily observe what estranges you from God, and what draws you towards Him and unites you to Him. It is the evil spirit more than anything that stands between our hearts and God; he estranges God from us by various passions, or by the desires of the ﬂesh, by the desires of the eyes, and by worldly pride.”
“While praying, we ought without fail to take possession of the heart and turn it to the Lord, but never allow even one exclamation to God which does not proceed from the depth of the heart. When we shall learn during prayer to speak from the heart only the truth – that which we actually realize and feel then sincere or true prayer will cleanse our heart from falsehood and we shall not permit ourselves to lie in life either”
The Gates of Hell Shall Not Prevail
Orthodox Life, 1961
“I will build My Church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against It”
Matthew XVI, 18
We have just recently celebrated a great holy day. every year on June 29th our Holy Church commemorates the glorious martyrdom of two of the greatest Apostles, who more than all others have laboured in spreading the Gospel, – Saints Peter and Paul. In the church services songs of that day the Holy Church can hardly find words with which to worthily give honour to their apostolic zeal, to bring to remembrance their self-sacrificial deeds.
“Apostles nearest to the Heavenly Throne”, “Universal Teachers”, “First witnesses for God’s Truth”, “the hands of Gospel’s Grace”, “the feet of true preaching”, “rivers of wisdom”, “the frightful swords of the spirit”, “Universal Nurturers”, “The tables of God’s written New Testament”, “the foundation of the Church, true pillars and walls”, “intercessors for the whole world” – it is with such lofty names and expressions that the Church exalts these her own loyal servants, both equal – this let us note – not giving preference either to one or the other, but equally naming them both as “primary” and first sentinels.
Great should be the joy and spiritual rejoicing of the faithful, whom not in vain the Holy Church prepares to meet this day by means of a special, so-called “apostolic” St. Peter’s lent as it occurs before only a few other important holy days, and it would seem that in this celebration of faith all Christians who consider themselves to be followers of the leading apostles should unite.
But, alas! – powerful is the enemy, and that which should serve as an incentive toward stronger inner unity, it cunningly transformed into cause for separation. Even as far as the inspiring and most exalted teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ concerning His founding of His Church and of Her firmness, and of her invincibility before the gate of hell, spoken to Apostle Peter in reward for his utterance of confession of faith in the Lord as the Son of God, – the enemy gas contrived to make this an object of argument and dissension among Christians, and thereby brought a great schism in the Church of Christ as a result of which the whole Western half fell away from Her. The heart of every true Christian contracts with pain at the thought of the ruinous consequences of this schism, and one fears for the ones who are guilty of it. The severe words of the great pillar of the Church, St. John Chrysostom, involuntarily come to mind: “Nothing so arouses the wrath of God as division in the Church: Even if we were to do the most perfect of deed – in disrupting unity, we are to be punished the same as though we were to have torn asunder the Body of Christ … even the blood of martyrs does not expiate such a sin” …
Where are the basic causes of this schism?
The fundamental cause of all divisions is always one and the same. Division arises when anyone, forgetting his lawful and direct designation, begins to exalt and pride oneself in his calling, abandoning humility taught by Christ the Savior, taking a stand on the path of allurement by soul-destroying pride.
“… Not to think of himself more highly than he ought to …”, the holy Apostle teaches (Romans 12:3). This profound warning was abandoned during their time without worthy consideration by some of he Bishops of ancient Rome, bedewed with the martyr blood of the first rank apostles. Not being content with the high honour and glory of he Bishop’s calling even without this, they began to think of themselves more highly than they ought to have, and being supported by human flattery they finally went so far as to declare themselves to be infallible vicars of God the Son on earth. Having forgotten about the true nature of pastoral service, which has to be carried out in the spirit of humility, and with the acknowledgment of one’s unworthiness, sinfulness and worthlessness before God, the One Lord of all living creatures, both pastors and flocks, they boldly usurped unto themselves the honor that belongs to God alone and began to demand that all Christians the world over should pay almost divine homage before them and that they should obey them in all things, not only as Bishops of the Church of Christ, but also as absolute rulers in whose hands all authority on earth was to reside, not only spiritual, but also worldly, as “substitutes” of God Himself on earth.
In support of their incredible pretension, they invented a teaching about the person of St. Peter unknown to the ancient Church, that on his individuality as on a foundation the Church of Christ has been established and for that reason the Roman Bishops, or Popes, as successors to St. Peter’s chair, belongs all higher extraordinary authority and right from God over the whole Church of Christ.
Apostle Peter himself, as is plainly seen from his Epistle (I Peter 2:4–8), knew nothing of such a fanatical teaching. And the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, his first rank Apostles and the Holy Fathers witness with full understanding and intelligence that the corner stone on which the Church has been founded is our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, or to be more accurate, – faith in Him as The Son of God (Matthew 21:42; Acts 4:2; Romans 9:33; I Cor. 10:4).
“Thou are Christ, the Son of the Living God” – that is the great truth confessed by Apostle Peter on behalf of all the Apostles, – a Truth that is firm and immovable as a rock, upon which the Church of Christ is founded (Matthew 21:16) which for that reason will remain invincible before the gates of hell.
Only where this pure and uncorrupted faith, maintained in sacredness and unchangeability and openly confessed without any fear, is confessed in the Deity of the Incarnate Son of God here for the sake of us human beings and for our salvation, this namely is the True Church of Christ. All else where this clearly expressed faith does not exist, or where this faith in one way or another is altered or perverted, is not the True Church. She is, of course, also not where hiding behind the name of Christ He is not served, but some one “else”, where “other” lords are pleased entirely “different” aims are served, “different” strivings are satisfied, not having anything in common with the matter of salvation, for which purpose the Church has been funded.
And this latter condition now is very, very widespread. For “Satan himself”, according to the teaching of St. Paul, “will transform himself into an angel of light” and for that reason “it is not a great work”, as it is said further by the Apostle, “if his servants take on the appearance of servants of truth (II Cor. 11:14–15).
That is why it is in no way astounding that during our evil time there arose so many self-styled “churches” of all kinds, or rather, as they are called here, “denominations”, pretending to be churches, and which have nothing in common with the true Church.
But it becomes very frightful when representatives and leaders of separate local churches which are part of the One True Church of Christ, forgetting their high calling to be servants of the task of Christ here on earth, enter into affiliation and cooperate most friendly with the enemies of the Church and give themselves over to Satan, and already thinking not of serving Christ the Saviour,but only about pleasing their new lords. The worst and most dangerous idea of modern times is the idea of reconciliation, of “coexistence” with evil. And very many servants subjugate themselves to this idea, the servants of the Church are not to be excluded.
But is it possible for the True Church of Christ to reconcile Herself somehow with evil, which comes from the enemy of mankind’s salvation – the devil? Is it possible for Her to coexist with it, without carrying on a most decisive struggle with it?
Of course not, for, according to the words of Christ the Saviour, no one can serve two masters (Matthew 6:24). And it is namely for this reason that they who broke away from the True Church, the so-called movement of the living Church, the movement for reform which wanted to compromise Christianity with their world, that lies in sin, and “Sergianism” which preaches “co-existence” with the godless power of Communism, and participation in the so-called “ecumenical movement” that recognizes the equality in rights and dignity of all groups and “denominations”, all this is in essence already a departure from the true Church.
Can that organization be called a Church which calls for “loyalty” to the servants of Satan?
This of course already is not The Church, but a false church, or according to the word of God “the congregation of evil-doers”, and to remain in such a Church is not only not helpful toward salvation, but, on the contrary – it is ruinous.
It may be asked why do we speak and write about this so often?
For the reason that it is our sacred pastoral duty – to warn our believers about those countless numbers of subtle temptations which now have been abundantly sown about everywhere. We are obligated to teach them to discern the True Church – to be able to distinguish it from the false church and the “congregation of evil-doers”. Christ our Saviour gave us the great promise that the gates of hell shall not prevail over His Church, that is to say all the forces of hell in all their maximum endeavor. But believers, separately, and pastors individually, and even separate hierarchs and whole local churches headed by them, can fall away from the One True Church, preparing for themselves and their followers eternal perdition in the depths of hell.
It was not in vain that the Lord named the members of His Church as “the little flock”, and foretold that when He would come back to earth again the second time, He hardly shall find faith on earth (Luke 12:32; 18;8). The circle of true believers in Christ shunning all compromises with the evils of the devil, at the time of the end of the world and the Second Coming of Christ will be contracted to an ever greater extent, and corresponding to this, the diapason of the True Church of Christ will lessen more and more. But the True Church of Christ, which did not involve itself in “co-existence” with the evil one and did not bow before the Antichrist, will not end its own existence, in spite of all the difficult hardships, shocks and persecution, to which it will be subjected to up to the very end of the world. It will exist to the very Second Coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, even if only one bishop exists who retained and kept loyalty to Christ the Saviour with a most insignificant group of clergy and laymen.
Our age doubly intensified in materialism is characterized very much by its almost complete loss of the most valuable and important in the life of people – this being a correct conception of the Church of Christ, as a God-man organism – as the Body of Christ, the Head of Which is Christ Himself. The Church in complete agreement with the accepted course of “democracy” has begun to be considered as only one of many among common human organizations. From here proceeds all evil, all the disorder, conflicts, schisms in this most important branch of human existence on earth – in church life, which in fact should serve as a threshold, as a preparation towards future eternal life. And this, of course, results from the lessening of faith in this future life to come.
Much has been done and continues to be done in this direction by the enemy of mankind’s salvation – the devil, through the people who sold themselves to him in exchange for earthly goods. It is he who through sowing of animosity and schisms amongst people has been able to convince modern man, that Christ’s words: “I will build My Church and the gates of hell will not prevail against Her” turned out to be false and in reality unattainable: that the True Church of Christ has ceased to exist long ago on earth, and that now in the twentieth century of the Christian era we only need to strive toward founding her through the so-called “Ecumenical Movement”, with which already many of the hierarchy of the contemporary Orthodox Church have come into union, having dreams of an arrival of some “new era”, the “third cosmogeny” (words of Patriarch Athenagoras).
In reality this “new era” will be nothing else but the brief period of rule of the Antichrist on Earth, who will “unite” all under his blasphemous authority.
Save us, Oh Lord, from such “unity”, from any kind of participation in the establishment of such an ecumenical false-church!
For us Russian Orthodox people, there is no other way or salvation beside the way outlined for us by the great Enlightener of Russia, co-equal to the Apostles St. Vladimir, the St. Vladimir way, the bright exponent and ideologist of whom was our recently departed Abba Archbishop Vitaly, having built here in far off America for the edification of Russian people who found here for themselves a shelter, the St. Vladimir Monument Church, and made it the place of his eternal repose. It was not by accident that he wanted to have in all parishes St. Vladimir societies of youth, realizing that only by training in the spirit of the principles of St. Vladimir, can our youth be saved from assimilation and complete loss of identity, – the loss of one’s faith and nationality. That is why the enemy arms himself against this clean, healthy and idealistic organization, striving to vulgarize it and draw it away from the right path, toward the wide and open spaces of this world that lies in evil.
The frightful and sanguine misery of the Revolution that convulsed our unfortunate Homeland Russia, and achieved its apotheosis in the horrible evil deed committed of the enemy of mankind’s salvation upon our Homeland, because for a period of almost a thousand years she bridled and restrained its godless efforts, being a firm defense of the one true, saving faith and Church of Christ on earth. And along with this also the allowance of God’s punishment for the Russian people’s not maintaining unto the end their in truth exalted and honorable calling.
Let us keep in mind: the striving toward knowing God, firmness in sacred Orthodoxy, decisive irreconcilability towards the devil’s evil – this is what is written on our St. Vladimir banner! And for this reason let us not surrender to any kind of evil modernism no matter how alluring it may appear to us. Let us firmly hold on to that True Church of Christ, which has been founded already 2000 years ago by Christ the Saviour Himself, and to which is given the great promise, that the gates of hell will not prevail against Her!
God is born on earth, and moreover He is born as a man:
perfect God and perfect man–the unique God-man. And He has forever remained as the God-man both on earth and in heaven. Indeed, the God-man is the first perfect man on earth. Perfect man? Yes, because only in the God-man is man without sin, without evil, without death, totally filled with God, and thereby with all divine perfections.
The God-man has demonstrated and proved this most convincingly: man is only a true man when he is completely united with God, and in everything and every way completely lives in God, thinks in God, feels in God, acts in God, is virtuous in God, is immortal in God, is eternal in God. Only and solely in God is man a man, a true man, a perfect man, a man in whom all the fullness of the Godhead lives.
We can analyze this fundamental, evangelic, Divine-human truth about man.
The soul of man?–Only and solely as the Divine Soul in the God-man does it become and forever remain sinless, immortal, God-like, holy, perfect eternal.
The mind of man?–Only and solely as the Divine Mind in the God-man does it become and forever remain sinless, immortal, God-like, holy, perfect, eternal.
The heart of man?–Only and solely as the Divine Heart in the God-man does it become and remain sinless, immortal, God-like, holy, perfect, eternal.
The conscience of man?–Only and solely as the Divine Conscience in the God-man does it become and remain sinless, immortal, God-like, holy, perfect, eternal.
The will of man?–Only and solely as the Divine Will in the God-man does our will become and forever remain sinless, immortal, God-like, holy, perfect, eternal.
The body of man?–Only and solely as the Divine Body in the God-man does the body become and forever remain sinless, immortal, God-like, holy, perfect, eternal.
The life of man?–Only and solely as the Divine Life in the God-man does our life become and forever remain sinless, immortal, God-like, holy, perfect, eternal.
Everything that man is, and everything that is of man perfectly lives, works, thinks, feels, is human, immortal, divine, and eternal only and solely in the God-man and through the God-man. Only through the God-man Christ is man divine majesty and the highest value next to God in all worlds. For this reason God became man, and has remained the God-man for all eternity. With the God-man Christ, all that is God’s has become man’s, human, ours, so that each of us individually and all of us assembled together in the Divine-human body of Christ, the Church, might become god-men, having attained “to the perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:12-13).
Therefore Christmas, the day of the birth of the God-man, the Lord Jesus Christ, is the greatest and most important day in the history of all the worlds in which man moves and lives. Truly this is “great joy”–truly the only true joy, the only eternal joy of a human being in all worlds.
The God-man?–This is the most important Event of all the worlds of man: the Ultimate Event.
The God-man?–This is the most important Justice of all the worlds of man: the Ultimate Justice.
The God-man?–This is the most important Love of all the worlds of man: the Ultimate Love.
The God-man?–This is the most important Good of all the worlds of man: the Ultimate Good.
The God-man?–This is the most important Man of all the worlds of man: the Ultimate Man.
The God-man?–This is the most important God of all the gods of man: the Ultimate God.
On account of all this, the Nativity is our only eternal Joy:
the Ultimate Joy. The Joy of all joys, the Joy above all joys. Therefore, again and again: Hristos se rodi! Christ is born! The God-man is born! Our deification is born! Our divinehuman transformation is born!
In the beginning of the movie JFK by Oliver Stone there is some very true words by Ella Wheeler Wilcox , which have came to my mind now and then since the dictator Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople put his nose unlawful in the church life of Ukraine:
We must remember the words by the Divine St John Chrysostom :
”But I entreat you,let us not pay heed to these people, let up stop up our hearing
against them, and let us believe the Divine Scripture, and following
what is said in it, let us strive to preserve in our souls sound
dogmas, and at the same time to lead also a right life, so that our
life would both testify of the dogmas, and the dogmas would give
firmness to our life… If we live well but will be negligent over
right dogmas, we can acquire nothing for our salvation. If we wish to
be delivered from Gehenna and receive the Kingdom, we must be adorned
both with the one and with the other – both with rightness of dogmas,
and strictness of life.” (St. John Chrysostom, Homilies on Genesis 13:4, p. 107.)
Maybe St John Chrysostom had said : Once again the dictator in Constantinople have revaled his true identity : that of the antichrist .
When Elder Cleopa of Romania was asked, “Why does the Lord allow evil?” he answered with the following story.
A long time ago in the Egyptian desert there lived a hermit monk. Sometimes he would go to Alexandria to sell the baskets he wove. The hermit would give almost all the money he made on his baskets to the poor, leaving only enough to buy himself the bare necessities.
One day while walking to the city he asked himself the question, “Why does the Lord allow evil in people’s lives if He is Good, Just, and Almighty?” His mind was disturbed because he had seen so much unhappiness and sorrow when he was last in the city.
Along the road he met another monk who was also going to Alexandria. They talked with each other, and he told his new travelling companion about his anguish. Seeing that the hermit was troubled, the monk comforted him and told him that the Lord will reveal the truth to him when they arrive at the city, but he will have to pray ceaselessly and never ask questions, no matter what happens.
The hermit promised to do as the monk said, and they continued along their way. They stopped at one home to spend the night. The householders received them with love and generously fed them. On the table was a beautiful silver vessel. Before they left to go to sleep, the monk surreptitiously took that vessel and put it in his rucksack. The hermit wanted to reproach his companion, but he remembered his promise and said nothing.
In the morning they came to the river. The monk took out the vessel, made the sign of the cross over it, and put it into the river.
By lunchtime the travellers had arrived at another village. They were invited to one of the houses for a meal. When they were leaving the house, a dog was barking in the yard. The monk killed it. Immediately a boy ran out of the house and started screaming. The hermit’s travelling companion grabbed him by the right arm, yanked it and broke it, then calmly continued his way. The indignant hermit wanted to tell him what he thought, but remembering his promise he again kept silence.
When dusk fell, the monk and the hermit decided to spend the night in a ramshackle house, which turned out to be inhabited by some children. Their parents had died and they had no one to take care of them. The travellers spent the night there, but in the morning before leaving the monk took a firebrand out of the furnace and burned down the house. And again the hermit was indignant, but again he could say nothing.
They came to a third village. There they saw a ruined church, but it was still possible to go into it and pray. The monk took up a stone and flung it through the church window, shattering it. Then he took his bemused brother to a tavern. When he entered, the monk made three prostrations. The hermit by now had resigned himself to his companion’s strange behavior and just prayed.
On the last night the travellers were invited to spend the night in a house on the edge of a wood. There lived a young couple who had no children. In the morning the couple set out to work in the field, and the travellers went on their way. But suddenly the monk returned and burned down that house as well.
Finally they arrived at Alexandria. The hermit could no longer wait to understand the essence of what had happened to them on the road. So he asked his companion, “Tell me after all, who are you?”
“I am an angel,” the other replied.
“You! An angel?!” the hermit scoffed disdainfully. “You are a real devil! Only a demon could do all those dreadful things you’ve done. Those good people showed you hospitality you repaid them all with black ingratitude. You were a thief, an arsonist, a murderer, and a sacrilegious desecrator. And you even wear monastic clothing!”
“You are mistaken,” the travelling companion answered. “I really am an angel. And I was sent to you because the Lord saw your anguish and wanted to answer the questions that tormented you. I know that you want to know why I did all those things. I will start from the beginning.
“Why did I steal the vessel? I’ll answer you. Our host’s grandfather stole it from one monastery church, and because of that sacrilege his family was punished for three generations with illnesses and other problems. As a sign of gratitude for their hospitality I decided to deliver them from this punishment. I signed the vessel with the sign of the cross and put it into the river. Some monks will come there to wash their clothes, find it and return it to the monastery.
“I knew that the dog was already rabid. It would have bitten its owners and that is why I killed it. And I broke their son’s arm because I could foresee that when he grows up he would become a robber. But with a bad arm like that you can’t do much robbing.
“Why did I burn down the children’s house? Those children would soon have died without any care, and now in the place of their burned house they’ll find the silver their parents hid, and they can now go to Alexandria to their grandfather who is a bishop—he’ll take care of them. When they grow up, the boys will become priests and the girls will marry.
“I know that you are puzzled as to why I threw the stone through the church window and made prostrations in the tavern. I saw that the demons were dancing at the church window and I chased them away with that stone. That church will soon be repaired. In the tavern was a wealthy merchant who had promised the priest that he would pay the cost of repairing the church. That is why I bowed to him.
“And finally, about the last house. I burned it down in order to save the young couple from the curse of childlessness. The husband had made a dirty deal and built that house with the money he got from it. That is why they didn’t have any children. I saw that he is repenting of his deed and doesn’t know how to get rid of his house. Now he will build a more modest house but on honestly earned money. And the Lord will bless them with children.”
Do you understand? God’s mercy for people is shown in everything, but they don’t see it and can’t understand it. The Lord never commits evil. But people look at His works as misfortunes and sorrows, while the Lord does these things only for the sake of good and for their correction. Therefore do not look at the external side, but try to see God’s all-encompassing justice in everything.