Sunday, November 24, 2013

A new law of existence

…strictly speaking, those who have accepted baptism, and kept the grace of baptism, should not die even a physical death; they die ‘by economy’, by a special dispensation, says St. Maximus the Confessor, the greatest theologian of our Church. They die by a special dispensation, so that the same judgment of Christ might be repeated in them, that death also be put to shame in them - as unjust…. And in those faithful, who keep the grace of baptism and are continually fed by the Body and Blood of Christ, the same judgment takes place in that occurred in the Person of our Lord Jesus Christ. Every time we perform a commandment, every time we participate worthily in the Body and Blood of Christ, we abolish death in us, we make death unjust…. Through Christ a new law of existence was inaugurated. What begins with an unjust death, or even with unjust suffering that leads to death, has glory, says St. Peter (cf. 1 Peter 4:13), and leads to life…. This is the new law, which the Lord established by His voluntary Passion, Cross and Resurrection.

—From The Enlargement of the Heart: ‘Be ye also enlarged’
(2 Corinthians 6:13) in the Theology of Saint Silouan the Athonite and Elder Sophrony of Essex by Archimandrite Zacharias Zachariou (South Canaan, PA: Mount Thabor Publishing, 2006), pp. 238-241.

No one, but a mentally ill person, wants persecution, wants others to persecute him, seeks it with single-hearted passion, goes out of his way to put himself into situations that he knows will arouse the world system to persecute him, so he can glory in suffering for Christ, or for whomever or whatever it is he follows—no one but a mentally ill person, or maybe a “fool for Christ” (and maybe there isn’t a real difference between the two; maybe God just uses us in the condition He finds us at our call, electing not to heal us just there and then, but letting the result of sin condemn itself in us, in our diseases).

The hope of the Christian, the expectation, is that by following Christ in fellowship with other followers of His, we can live our lives “in peace and quietness” and reap the earthly as well as the spiritual benefits of the Kingdom of God. In modern terms, live an abundant life, grow up, marry, raise a family of God-believing children, prosper reasonably, be spared more than our share of calamities. In modern terms again, we hope to claim the promises we find in scripture or which our pastors in Christ have taught us are there. That seems to be the hope and expectation of the average church-going Christian, anyway, our inheritance as heirs of emperor Constantine’s “peace of the Church,” whether we know it or not.

The problem with this rosy picture is that the “peace of the Church” is rapidly vanishing before our eyes (which in most cases are looking the other way). Where many of us live it is already entirely gone, except in worn-out ceremonial.

The peace of the Church meant that Christians were the protected class, the privileged citizens not only of the heavenly kingdom but also of the kingdoms of this world. The Church seems to have jumped ahead in prophetic terms and seized upon the words written down by John the Revelator, that “the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and His Christ” (Revelation 11:15), but was it justified in doing this, or is its claim rather premature? The rest of the cited verse says, “and He will reign for ever and ever.”

There is no question in my mind that these words of holy and divine scripture are true and to be literally fulfilled; the question is when—the Church has acted, in the past, as though they were fulfilled already, yet as the vestiges of Christian cultural hegemony sink below the horizon, we see that perhaps something else is indicated by them.

Ever since I stole the quotation placed at the head of this post from another blog, the words have not let me go, but have driven deeper into my soul. There is great meaning in them for the Body of Christ today, and though they are written by an Orthodox ascetic, they are applicable to everyone who confesses Christ.

What has taken hold of me is the idea that by the close and persistent following of Jesus in this world, we will draw down upon us persecutions—Christ Himself tells us so, “who will not be repaid a hundred times over…not without persecutions” (Mark 10:30), and “if they persecuted Me, they will persecute you too” (John 15:20). Especially telling in this regard is what Christ said later in the same discourse, Himself quoting scripture, “They hated Me for no reason” (John 15:25 citing Psalm 35:19). As holy apostle Paul writes, “since they refused to see it was rational to acknowledge God, God has left them to their own irrational ideas and monstrous behavior” (Romans 1:28).

This is what we, brethren, have to deal with, at the present time. With Jesus we have to go to Jerusalem, “to suffer grievously, to be rejected…to be put to death and after three days to rise again,” and to any voice that tries to convince us otherwise—that we should do our utmost to preserve ourselves in our Christian “bubble”—we have to with boldness say, “Get behind me, Satan! Because the way you think is not God’s way, but man’s!” (cf. Mark 8:31-33).

Why? Because the Lord speaks to us from the scriptures, and His Word is always true, “For anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it” (Mark 8:35).

Life, yes, this could mean physical life, but it can mean a lot of other things as well—lifestyle, livelihood, health, wealth, and the pursuit of happiness, “the American dream.” It’s whatever it is that makes us feel, safe, secure, at ease, at home with ourselves. It’s what we always wanted and hoped we could have in this world. And we were so close to having it, but then…

The choice was put before us, to witness to the Truth, or to keep quiet, for fear of reprisal.

Let the world legislate against the Truth. That makes it all the more visible when the Truth appears in the form of its witnesses. Can the Christ-bearers escape the judgment that Christ Himself chose not to escape? No, and neither do we choose to escape.

Our choice is to follow Jesus, and to say and do what we see Him saying and doing, come what may. This is the outworking of a new law of existence in us, and the only way to hold out to a lost world the offer of salvation, an offer which it really can accept, or really can reject, deliberately and not with excuses.

As archimandrite Zacharias wrote,
“What begins with an unjust death, or even with unjust suffering that leads to death, has glory, says St. Peter (cf. 1 Peter 4:13), and leads to life…. This is the new law, which the Lord established by His voluntary Passion, Cross and Resurrection.”

Yes, a new law of existence, and it leads to life.

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