Saturday, November 30, 2013

Falling away

Falling Away
by Mary Hardy, found at Mary Hardy Art, Selected Works
The following is a quotation adapted from The Prologue of Ohrid which I found posted at Aunt Melanie's blog, Walk in Wisdom
Why do some people, well-educated and baptized as Christians, fall away from Christianity and give themselves over to philosophy and to learned theories, pretending these to be something more truthful than Christianity? They do so for two principal reasons: either out of a totally superficial understanding of Christianity or because of sin.
This short quote brings to mind so many things. One of them is a quatrain I have memorized from my high school days' reading of the English poet, Alexander Pope:

A little learning is a dangerous thing.
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring.
There, shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
but drinking largely sobers us again.

But what is said in the quote from the Prologue is more direct, applicable and specific, dealing as it does with a subject of greater importance than just 'learning' in general.

As an Orthodox Christian I believe in infant baptism, and for the reasons that the Church defends it, but I also understand and sympathize with the idea of believer's baptism, and I see how it would be an antidote to the abuse of the ancient Church's established practice.

In Orthodoxy, baptism into Christ is not seen as a kind of magic operation which, once done, somehow guarantees the recipient of the grace of God and of salvation. Before one is aware of the grace of baptism, it does operate in a way as if by magic, but this is pure grace. Once a baptised person comes to the age of reason, where they can be held accountable for following the commandments and understanding what sin and grace are, and who Christ is, then grace can be resisted, and a person can fall away.

The ancient Church evolved over the course of a few centuries the whole structure of customs and what are now seen as traditions to provide an environment in which a person could live and mature in Christ from infancy to old age, yes, from cradle to grave, but in a real sense, not in the blasphemous and sarcastic sense and practice that many people have come to hold it. Even today, a woman bringing a baby into the church off the street and asking for it to be baptised is not (supposed to be) allowed in Orthodoxy, because the Church only baptises infants on the assurance of the faith of the parents (or godparents).

Although this protocol is followed in most places, its application can still fail, because whole families can be ‘in the Church’ publicly, while at home they are anything but ‘in the Church’—they go through the motions of Christianity, without discipleship, without real faith. This is why in Orthodoxy, the insistence on the family being the basic unit of the Church: this is what the ancient Church based all of its public structures on, those same ones we follow to the letter today, but without that primary foundation, the Christian family, the tradition doesn’t work.

The family must be ‘the Church’ and not just ‘in the Church.’ This is what antiquity expected, this is what Orthodoxy relies on, but if the reality of the day-to-day existence of the Church in the world is simply the maintenance of the externals of public worship with a nominal veneer of shepherding and instruction, that cannot be enough. Hence, the dissatisfaction with, and the apostasy from, the Church as social institution. This is not something that has only recently become a problem, but in every age the Church vacillates between the extremes of daily faithfulness and nearly total apostasy.

On the personal level, why individual Christians fall away from Christianity, is simply and amply put by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovic in the Prologue from Ohrid, ‘either out of a totally superficial understanding of Christianity or because of sin.’ The superficial understanding of Christianity is, I think, due to a lack of fellowship with and following of Jesus Christ, seeing Him only as a religious figure to be ceremonially worshiped, but not as one’s personal Master, Lord and Savior. It’s not enough to see Him only as one’s Savior and Lord: one must see Him and follow Him as one’s Master. That is what it means to be a disciple.

And what do we make of those who fall away from Christianity because they are giving in to even as little as one sin from which they cannot tear themselves? In everything else they can be the most moral and just people, and yet they live in sin, knowing it is sin but accepting it as inevitable and even normal or because ‘everyone is doing it.’ These too stay away from the Church, though they may have been baptised into it as infants or even as adults. What we usually find when we talk to them about the Church is that, when they look at it, all they can see are its faults, and these they use to justify themselves, following the laws of human nature.

The Church is that family from which no Christian can exclude himself, and from which no Christian can be excluded. On the one hand, once you accept Christ you have nowhere else to go but the Church, unless you believe you are the last and only Christian on earth: in which case, yes, stay away. On the other hand, no one who truly confesses Christ and follows Him can be or ever will be excluded from that great company of the saints which is the Church, no matter what say the rules and regulations of men. For all, this should be both a comforting and sobering thought.

We are all living waking and sleeping lives, but as followers of Jesus, we want to stay awake as much and as long as we can.

Father, keep waking us up, even when we are tired, until after our longest sleep, we finally awake to gaze our fill on Your likeness.

No comments: