The original can be found here.
The Great Annihilation
In the life of St. Pachomius, founder of coenobitic monasticism, it is said that when he was a soldier and he and his companions were in bad shape, hungry, thirsty, exhausted, while on a military mission, local residents brought them food and drink. Pachomius, who was then a pagan, asked, “How can these people take pity on us when they don’t know us?” He was told that they were Christians, and that they were doing what the God of Heaven taught them to do. So Pachomius decided that if he survived he would become a Christian and serve those in need. By God’s providence he was released from the army and he returned and was baptized and then became a monk and father of coenobiticism and served many who were in need.
The most distinctive mark of the first Christians was their love for each other and for strangers! Over the centuries, this warmth has not lasted. The love of God has gradually faded in our hearts until they have grown cold!
Last week I was reading something about prominent personalities and religious movements in the history of Christianity. The Bogomils in the Balkans and that Cathars in Germany, Italy, and the South of France, were perhaps a copy of the first. They started off and flourished from the eleventh and twelfth centuries. They taught teachings that were strange to the Church and were judged to be heretics. Among what they taught was the Manichaean dualist teaching that the world and the body are from the god of evil and the soul is from the good god. What struck me, though, was their insistence on poverty as a way of life and for them this was connected with caring for the poor! Poverty for them was the path for the “perfect”. I am inclined to think that what attracted people to them, since they lasted for a few centuries, was the emphasis they put on poverty in their life as it was the best confirmation of their sincerity among the people. With regard to their dogma, what remains are details, some of which appear late, and of which the average convert to the heresy did not necessarily realize its full contents and their dangers.
I also read about Peter Waldo of Lyon who lived between the end of the twelfth century and the beginning of the thirteenth century and was a wealthy merchant. He distributed his money to the poor and worked to translate the Gospel from Latin into the local language and then went out preaching the word of salvation with great zeal as one poor before the Lord. Pope Alexander II at first blessed his vow of poverty but he put his preaching under the authority of the clergy, which is natural. The confession of faith which he submitted was at first flawless. However it seems that the shortsightedness of the local clergy, their lack of understanding and hardheartedness alienated Peter and so he left his obedience to the institutional Church and went astray. They embarrassed him and they kicked him out! He gained many followers in the south of France, Spain, Germany, and elsewhere. They were all persecuted violently and handed over to the courts of the Inquisition and to death. But it lasted for centuries and their specific dogmas evolved. Here too I am inclined to think what strongly motivated this group was not a certain belief, but rather the movement’s commitment to poverty and the poor. It seems that the clergy pushed them into heresy because they did not embrace with wisdom, thoughtfulness, and love. The beginnings for many, through history were perhaps often sound and upright but when they do not find the climate favorable to embrace them they deviate as a reaction for self-preservation.
Last week also Pope Benedict XVI made a visit to Britain which caused controversy between those who have faith in Christ and those who follow secularism as a religion. I happened to hear on the BBC a discussion between a believing woman and a secularist man. Among what the secularist said was, “We are a secular, democratic society we do not need religion and its values. During the disaster which struck Pakistan (20 million were affected) Britain, a secular state, was the one who most helped that unfortunate country! There is nothing to indicate that religious countries are better than secular countries in this matter. The need, in any case, is for mercy, and that is common to all people and does not come from religion.”
Naturally these are words, but even if they are in need of revision and clarification they are not, in our opinion, without truth. And so we consider them to be a terrible and painful judgment on account of its accuracy and on account of the picture that it reflects of the Church in the eyes of many who do not believe in Jesus. It is not that the belief of the Christians is false but that they lack mercy, even on a human level. This makes them empty, to a great degree, of the love of God because even if it won out within them, it would frankly overshadow in its exertion the counterfeit (!) love between people, as became clear to St. Pachomius. Naturally, the love of God has not ceased to be active among many Christians here and there, if not then all of us and the whole world would cease to be. But let us confess that legitimate love has altogether lessened among those who are considered to have faith in Jesus. Where once it was considered to be the most dominant and prominent feature among them, it is now an exception! Whatever the case may be, this is a given, even if it raises questions, it requires reflection and re-thinking and a return to ourselves and perhaps… group repentance!
Everything in the Church of Christ comes from and is shaped within one commandment. For this reason the Lord taught: “A new commandment I give unto you, that you love one another. Just as I loved you so too you love each other. In this way all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for each other” (John 13:34-35). Dogma, canons, liturgy, hierarchy, parishes, organizations, institutions, and everything else, without true Christian love within the Church is a lamp without oil. It does not give light in this dark world and is worthless! Life in divine love is our sole capital or else we are not of the Church and nothing within the sphere of the divine does us any good!
Most of the problems that believers have encountered across history, as compared to non-believers, are on account of the disappearance of divine love among them. Why did Constantinople fall? Because in general the love of God was no longer active among the people. Why do groups of believers rise up against each other and break communion among themselves? Primarily because of a lack of love. Why did the Lord God permit the emergence of Islam? Because the divine love between us and among us had faded and some of us rose up against each other and so Islam was a great chastisement! Why do some Muslims consider the Christians among us to be crusaders and thus their enemies? Because the Crusaders, in the name of Christ, abandoned the love of Jesus and went to war, maiming and destroying. Why did novel teachings and heresies spread here and there? Naturally, because the Devil is at work, but also because at time because of a lack of love in us we do not properly embrace people and guide them, and so they take offence and go into error. The Lord’s last commandment in the Gospel of Matthew was: “Go and make disciples of all nations and baptize them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit…” (Matthew 28:19). Why have the believers, or those who are considered to be believers, not succeeded in making disciples of all nations after two thousand years, when the Holy Spirit was given in the Church to the world, but to the contrary a very large portion of them have abandoned the Faith? Because they left their first love (Revelation 2:4) and to a large extent behaved in the spirit like pharisaical Jews. From where did disbelief and worldliness enter the world? From the hardness of hearts of a great many Christians and their disbelief in the faith of the Gospel. From where comes blasphemy against the name of Jesus? From the Devil who does not have the love of Jesus in him and from his workers among the non-Christians, but especially from his workers among those who are called Christians who no longer have the love of Jesus in them and they bear false witness against Him in the spirit. There is much talk of theology today: books, libraries, institutes, studies, all the media, internet sites…. But there is only a little of the Spirit! Many personalities but little spirituality! Why? Because the love of Jesus has faded in our hearts and they have grown cold. Where there is no love, nothing bears fruit and nothing leavens. Labor, however shining its appearance, however profound and fresh and valuable it may be, where there is not divine love, the Devil makes for himself a place to live! To a people who have come to sanctify knowledge without faith active through love in the Church except formally, I will recall the words of the Apostle Paul: “If I have all knowledge… but I do not have love, then I am nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:2). I will also say that the richest library of knowledge about God in existence is the Devil’s library! There is nothing more expansive than the Devil’s archives! There, there is everything that can be known about God, but without the Spirit of God and without love!
Today where do you find pure and overwhelming Christian love? There is no longer a difference between most Christians and the rest of the people of the world who do not know Christ. Their morals are like other people’s morals and likewise their vices are even greater! When some of them have something of Christ in them, the devil strives to make them apostatize and to make them the worst sinners on earth out of spite for Christ. Without a doubt, you can find the fruit of the Holy Spirit in some shining faces here and there, but Christian groups have to a great degree become hotbeds of selfishness, enmity, hatred, and debauchery. Not only do we not practice the commandment of love, but we don’t even keep the Ten Commandments! Lying, love of money, avarice, theft, licentiousness, fornication and other vices have to a great degree come to be imprinted within Christian milieus.
I do not say this to incite despair in the reader but to give a picture of reality and to awaken the unaware to the negative trends among us and around us and to encourage repentance and struggle with the self for the commandment of Christ, because most of the body has become sick, from the head to the soles of the feet. The healthy time, when we would imbibe piety with our mother’s milk has passed! We now drink up the spirit of the world with our milk! The spirit of sin blows violently in every area of life and he who does not greatly struggle to preserve himself will easily be swept away! Despite this I also say that the Spirit of the Lord also works strongly today because wherever temptation increases grace greatly abounds. The Church is alive and the gates of hell will not overpower her. There are many icons of God among the people. He who years for the truth and searches it will find them, but they are hidden from the eyes of those who only see with the eyes of their senses and they are not generally seen by the media! Sinners are fooled by the deceits of sin. God sends to them the work of delusion so that they will believe the lie (2 Thessalonians 2:10-11)! However, today much of what is done in the Church in God’s name has no relation to the Church of Christ and does not proclaim the Spirit of God, even if the people praise Him and think that it is a revival and reckon it to be the work of God and they glorify and thank God for it. At its root, their glorification is of themselves and their worship is of themselves! Do not look at the buildings and organizations and outward aspects of the Church and think, “How beautiful they are and well-ordered!” because this is what the Jews did before you when they bragged about the temple in Jerusalem. And what did the Lord God say to them? “Do you see this stonework? There will not remain stone upon stone!” What is the use if the inside is empty, or even almost empty, of divine love and grace and blessing? Look after the temple of the body! It is built through repentance, following the commandments, practicing virtue, prayer, fasting, partaking of the divine mysteries, and love. And love. And love…. It is not built with money and cultural programs and organizations and eloquent preaching which is dripping with the spirit of vanity and self-love, with jealousy, conceit, vainglory, pride, love of power and conflict! They think that they are serving God when in practice they are using Him!!!
The mystery of evil now works strongly and love grows cold (Matthew 24:12) and apostasy increases (2 Thessalonians 2:11). It not only increases with atheism, secularism, and agnosticism but especially through the spirit of worldliness. In most people’s consciousness, the Church becomes worldly! What will its fate be? “Be sober and watchful because your adversary the Devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he will devour. Resist him, steadfast in faith.” (1 Peter 5:8-9) Redeem the time, for the days are evil!
Archimandrite Touma (Bitar)
Abbot of the Monastery of St. Silouan the Athonite, Douma
Sept. 26, 2010