The original can be found here.
There is no doubt that today the development of the sciences, especially the practical sciences, reflect negatively upon man’s view of himself and thus upon his relationship with God. Today man feels that he is more capable and more powerful than at any time in history. Knowledge is power! For this reason man’s arrogance generally speaking has increased because “knowledge puffs up” while his active faith in things divine has become weak. Why has it become weak? Historically, faith in things divine accompanies in the mind man’s reliance on God (or the gods) to meet his needs and to face the dangers of existence., In the past, when the sciences were only beginning and were unavailable except to the elite, mankind’s reliance on heaven was great. When scientific knowledge increased and modern inventions were developed and became available to most people, man’s reliance on them increased and consequentially his reliance on heavenly things weakened. However equilibrium returns when people feel that what they have is insufficient and ineffective and their taking refuge in God increases anew. In the minds of many people, both now and in the past, God is for humanly difficult circumstances. At the deepest level, most people’s reliance on God is of a utilitarian nature. Even if a person prays and refrains from sinning for a time and visits places that are considered holy and makes sacrificial gifts, his aim in most instances is in order to get what he desires and not what he needs and if he receives it, then his coldness towards God quickly returns once more. Of the ten lepers whom the Lord Jesus healed, only one returned and thanked Him. Nothing is new under the sun! A relationship with God has no stable place in one’s consciousness if one wasn’t raised with it and if it is not given from above. This is true even when a person has within himself a natural inclination to divine things. In general, the Fall has made man look at God (or gods…) in a bargaining way: you give me and I’ll give you!
If we go back to the past and examine the relationships of peoples to their idols, we would find that this relationship was always based in their minds on a framework of pleasing and placating the intended gods in order to attain moral or immoral ends and they secure for man protection and his needs that he is unable to secure himself. This is the reason why gods are divided into various specializations, like medicine, agriculture, war, sex, and other things. Every aspect of life and death had its god. Among the Romans, for example, the number of particular gods exceeded three thousand. In this framework, temples were places for erecting images generally resembling the gods and people would frequent them in order to offer the necessary gifts and sacrifices in order to secure their needs and their lives. These gods remain the same to a great degree, even as people adopt contemporary religions. Man’s heart is still the same! Idolatry is not in the material images but in the mental images in the consciousness of the people. Human experience is still the return to the worship of mental idols even though the Lord God has revealed himself! With His self-revelation mankind can even adopt Him as an idol! Thus regardless whether contemporary man divinizes science in one way or another or returns to divine things out of a sense of weakness, his deep problem remains his worship of himself, in his adoption of science or in his reliance on things divine, it’s all the same!
The religions, in the imagination of many today, provide two things: One is securing the needs of people and societies, including moral deterrents and immoral means such as war, for example. The second thing is securing life and happiness after death. In this sense, contemporary religions are continuations of ancient paganism! The issue isn’t whether you say that you worship one god or several gods! The issue us how you deal with the god or gods you worship. What place is there for this god or these gods within yourself? As long as you ask for things for yourself in this world or the next you are in one sense worshiping the god or gods you claim for yourself, but in effect you are worshiping the intellectual, psychological, spiritual or even material embodiment or embodiments, call them what you like, of lusts rooted in yourself that you desire and consider to constitute your life. In reality, people are eclectic, picking what suits them from among available gods and combining or, more honestly, fabricate out of what they borrow, adding to it their own personal whimsies and desires, their own private gods. This is true today even more than in the past because man has become individualistic to an extreme degree and has started to invent his own private gods. Man has always been inclined toward his idols and today we find him thus more than before because he feels more powerful than before and thus he is more able to hone is worship of himself.
In Christianity, to not speak of other religions, there is a strong tendency both within and outside of the Church to make an idol out of the Gospel in practice, to use the Church as a support for the political, social, and economic goals of individuals and groups. The rapprochement between religions or even efforts made to unite them—in the sense of considering what one religion has to be the property of another religion only under another name or another form—is entirely motivated by the human desire to attain a form that would comprise man’s worship of himself. This, it is thought, would unite all mankind in one language and one Babel and one power representing the summit of what the nations desire in an imaginary earthly paradise ruled by peace, harmony, comfort, and affluence among all people. In this framework, no matter what is said of Christianity, it is just one of the religions having its points in common with the others, though there is a small number of people who know that Christianity is not, as is claimed, a religion in the sense common to the other religions because its concern is not the fulfillment of the worldly needs of people and not to prepare them for eternal life and happiness. Just the opposite—Christianity is the call to deny yourself in this world and the next. It does not necessarily offer you what you need or what you want in this world and it does not permit you to make bargains in the pagan way, give me and I’ll give you! Christianity offers you a cross! “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me (Luke 9:23).” Christianity preaches a crucified God and calls to crucifixion according to the example of its teacher! Who sees Him and can worship on his own a God who empties Himself and takes the form of a servant?! People look for a strong god, not one who makes Himself weak, for an attractive god, not an unattractive god. But Christ the Lord was without form and without beauty! This is a natural stone which the builders reject but He is the same one who became the cornerstone! A crucified God meant and continues to mean a scandal to the Jews and folly to the gentiles! The wise people of this world search for a god made from the stuff of their thoughts, their imaginings, their reckonings. They look to themselves in their worship, but Christ the Lord has made foolish the wisdom of this world. Christ did not stop at healing the sick, feeding the hungry, and raising the dead. He continually desired to bring people to realize that He himself is the healing, feeding, and life of mankind. He is the way and the truth and the life! The God of the Christians came as a stranger and desired to estrange man from his worldly society and its members! “I did not come to bring peace to the earth, but a sword!” Not only His disciples left Him and went away. All mankind turned their backs on Him! However, it is precisely through the cross that joy came into all the world! To die to yourself, to your thoughts, to your will, to everything you have, just like your Christ, this is exactly what Christianity calls you to! To empty yourself of your passions and your will! The body is of no use! Christ offers you a cross because He wants to offer you a new life! In exchange for the old man, full of himself and his passions, Christ offers you a new man, a man born of water and the Spirit, a man of the Kingdom, a god in the image of God, not a god according to the image of human lusts. Thus the Gospel is a criticism and a refutation of all human religions! Since the time of the Romans, Christians were considered deviants because they refused to take part in the gatherings of the religions. Today things are exactly the same. Today, however, the assault is coming both from within and outside the Church, threatening to dissolve the Gospel in the acid of other religions. Apostasy is present everywhere and attacks on Christ the Lord culminate from every side. The mystery of sin is at work and God sends workers of delusion to those who are happy with sin in order that they will believe falsehood (2 Thessalonians 2)! But there are seven thousand who have not bent their knee to Baal. The chosen apostle says to them, “ Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle. Now our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God, even our Father, which hath loved us, and hath given us everlasting consolation and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts, and stablish you in every good word and work (2 Thessalonians 2:15-17).”
These are days of sifting in the widest sense, but he who perseveres until the end shall be saved!
Archimandrite Touma (Bitar)
Abbot of the Monastery of St. Silouan, Douma
May 2, 2010