|THE BRIDGE OVER TROUBLED WATERS IS WITHIN US|
|The bark of the Christian church sails through troubled waters throughout the world. Christian communities have assaulted throughout the United States and other countries – by scandals of a grave dimension, by the encroachment by what only can be described as the pervasiveness of evil, and as the failure of Christians and their leaders to live up to the church’s nature and ministry about which St. Paul wrote in Ephesians: “…to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ and to make known to all men the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might be made known.” (Ephesians 3:8-10) In addition, a number of Orthodox Churches are losing many members steadily in the United States — yet another signal that all is far from well in the household of the faith. Whether it is scandal or persistently declining numbers – something is afoot in the Church.
No Christian community can wash its hands of these developments. Despite our theological differences which are, for us Orthodox Christians, clear and certain, we are disciples of the same Lord. There are not “many Christs.” Again, St. Paul reminds us: “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is over all, through all, and in all.” (Ephesians 4:4-6) The sin of one brings darkness on all. Just as we, by human nature, share the consequences of the ancestral sin of Adam, so too, the sins, scandals, and betrayals associated with various ecclesial bodies today must be “owned” by all Christians. The burden rests on all our hearts. We are complicit, if even by apathy or mediocrity – or denial. None can run from this betrayal within the Church or from outside it. Yet how do we, as holders of the Apostolic faith, protect the koinonia – the communion of belief – from those forces seeking to destroy it, dilute its Truth, or compromise its Spirit-given nature? We must not look to an institution or an organization. It is pointless to see the real problem somewhere “out there” — in a program, afashionable gimic, a fundraiser, or the usual responses. The fact is, we must look to our own hearts, it is there the deceiver seeks to capture our attention. It is there that he toys with our egos, hoping to thwart our path to God!
Our holy Father, St. Silouan of Mt. Athos, provides guidance in his writings for safeguarding Christ’s Church. He wrote: “All our troubles come from pride. If we would have humility, then God would show us all His secrets because He loves us. As the Lord said: “Learn from Me, for I am meek and lowly of heart, and you will find rest unto your souls.” To learn from Christ is to learn to discipline and transform our ego – the seat of pride. Ego is the source of spiritual unhappiness, dryness, and a nagging feeling of estrangement from God. It was his ego that compelled St. Augustine to seek meaning and happiness outside himself rather than in his own restless heart. The self-absorption of the ego can also be a contributing factor to unrest and sin in the Church. God revealed to Schema-Monk Silouan that the root of all human sin is pride/self-centeredness. He taught Silouan that God is humility, and that the man who would “put on” Christ, the man who would be truly happy in life, the Church that would be the most fulfilled, must learn the way of the Humble One.
Because each believer can yield to egotism and control, the Church, the ekklesia, can itself become tarnished and lose its purpose and focus. It can become tepid. Humility is certainly not a fashionable or popular virtue in our “me first–ego drives all–I’m so impressed with myself” culture. Yet humility is the greatest antidote to living with an unbridled sense of one’s own importance in the struggle of my will versus God’s will for me. Humility is the proper spirit for Bishops, priests, monks and lay persons to have if they want to stave off the evil one from causing scandal, disunity, or schism. Left unchecked, these can end in emptiness of soul – being spiritually dead. Orthodox Christian believers have, what is called, the “sensus fidelium” (a sense of the faithful) – a gut feeling when the Holy Spirit has been silenced or muted, when the Church has taken on a false identity, when inspiration has turned to sterile routine and dullness. We begin to listen to the sordid voices of this world and get caught up in the dizzying vortex of meaninglessness. How do we get to that humble place? How do we rediscover the Apostolic fire once again?
In his book The Mountain of Silence, Kyriacos Markides quotes Geronda Maximos, the Athonite Elder: “When human beings completely obliterate their own egotism and reach for union with God, then whatever they wish is what God wishes, and it is given.” To find these dangers to our soul and therefore to the Church, we must first search our heart and soul honestly. St. Silouan wrote that “Pride and self-centeredness entail every disaster and downfall, grace departs, the heart grows cold, prayer is feeble.” Is this true in my life? Have I allowed pride and ego to take over in my person, in my marriage, my family and relationships, in my work in the world? In the battle of wills between me and God (the definition of pride), do I seek to prevail or to surrender? Do I demand the control of my life? These questions require tough discernment. A doctor can’t treat a disease without a diagnosis. Pride and ego cannot be healed without first recognizing them, honestly, in our souls and in our daily living – and in our Church. Second, embrace the pain. Make no mistake, the effort to transform pride/ego into genuine humility will go against our natural impulses. The ego is a greedy and voracious beast. Once we submit to it, once we give it what it wants, it wants more and more of us. Redirecting our will to the will of God goes against that natural and intuitive reaction of our ego towards the self. After all, it is easier not to live as a Christian than to live as Christ lived. Yet St. Silouan assures us that “keeping our souls in hell” is the true path to humility. We need to know that our discipleship will cost us. As St. Silouan wrote of Adam’s battle with God: “There is an aching and deep regret in the soul. Adam pined on earth and wept bitterly, and the earth was not pleasing to him. He was heartsick for God and this was his cry: “My soul wearies for the Lord and I seek Him in tears.” Lived as a destiny everyday, our personal ego, our battle to wrest control from God rather than surrender to Him, will supply us with an endless font of tears and genuine regret.
Lastly, never give up hope. St. Silouan suffered acutely in the spiritual and psychological struggle for some 15 years – but he never gave up. That was the key – he kept focused on the struggle not on what was to be achieved, on the pain of personal change, not its end goal. He kept hope in his suffering because Christ suffered. Hope was a way out of pain, a way out of despair and discouragement, a way out of spiritual death and its trap of self-centeredness and ego-absorption. No matter what you find in your soul-searching, or how painful taming your inflated ego and embracing the way of the humble Christ can be, hold on, always hold on. This is the way that the fire of Pentecost will come back, the way that we become spiritually energized, the way that the Gospel comes to life again – both in the pulpit and in our hearts. Pray for yourself and pray for a re-birth in the Church, that it too might be faithful to its nature and call. Jesus promised “rest for our souls” and he will deliver on His promise! May the Humble Lord touch our hearts and the heart of His Church with His abiding peace and humble way. To Him be glory unto the ages of ages. Amen!Hopefully in the Lord,
(Please find attached a copy of Sunday’s Bulletin for your prayer and preparation.)