“Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith, prove your own selves” (2 Cor. 13:5).
The Scriptures are replete with the call to self-examination. For the believer, this includes the examination of “whether ye be in the faith.” That is are we striving to hold fast to sound doctrine and teaching?
St. Paul even gives this warning to all true Christians, “Let us fear lest any of you seem to have come short of it …” (Heb. 4:1).
Thus, every Christian is called to watchfulness. “Watch therefore” (cf. Matt. 24:42, 26:41; Mk. 13:33ff; Lk. 22:40; 1 Pet. 5:8; Rev. 16:15). This watchfulness is primarily internal, that is of the heart. When the heart is sound and watchful then it will rightly discern outward events.
When a person encounters and even to a degree possesses the true faith and then steps back from it, such an action is called apostasy. To apostatize one must first have the true Faith. St. Paul speaks of the great apostasy in 2 Thess. 2:3; he also speaks of it in different terms in 1 Tim. 4:1ff; 2 Tim. 3:1ff, 4:3ff. He is writing to right-believing Christians and warning them to guard the faith. Such a warning implies that it is possible to step back, apostatize, from the right faith.
My point here is simply to encourage self-examination (starting with me! It is not to point fingers at anyone or anywhere). For if we take for granted that we are “Orthodox” we stand in danger of being like the Pharisees who believed that simply because they were “sons of Abraham” they held right faith. The great Forerunner himself, John, warns them that God can raise up from the stones sons to Abraham, “And think not to say within yourselves, we have Abraham as our father, for I say to you, God is able of these stones to raise up sons to Abraham” (Matt. 3:5).
For to be truly Orthodox means to be striving to hold fast to the true teaching of the revelation of Jesus Christ.
So, it seems profitable to soberly challenge ourselves with some serious words of warning regarding the real possibility of apostasy. In this way we may identify some of the “symptoms” and guard ourselves, as the Scriptures and Saints say, from it. Most of the quotes that I will provide are very clear and straight-forward, so I will only add limited commentary.
St. John Maximovich warns in his grave sermon on the Last Judgment that one of the primary marks of apostasy will be compromise, and that straight-forward confession will be scorned. Under Antichrist, there will be an immense falling away from the faith. Many bishops will change in faith and in justification will point to the brilliant situation of the Church. The search for compromise will be the characteristic disposition of men. Straight-forwardness of confession will disappear. Men will cleverly justify their fall, and gracious evil will support such a general disposition. There will be the habit of apostasy from truth and the sweetness of compromise and sin in men. (I quoted this passage in an older post called “Antichrist is a nice guy”.)
Unworthy as I am, I am a priest. And it seems good to contemplate that there are numerous words about clergy falling away and even becoming messengers of apostasy and the antichrist spirit. Lord have mercy. St. Ephraim the Syrian warns, “Being thrown into confusion by this commotion, terror shall invade the hearts of all. Sons will deny their fathers, and follow the evil one. Priests will leave their altars; and going forth, they shall become his (Antichrist’s) heralds” (On the Antichrist).
St. Cosmos Aetolos speaks frankly, “Clergy will be the worst and most impious of them all.” He also says “The clergy will become like laity and the laity will become like animals.”
Notice how St. Ephraim says that confusion and terror will be modes by which to invade hearts and lead them astray. This seems very applicable to the events that are transpiring around us. Fear and confusion are being used to manipulate people and to drive what is a godless agenda.
St. Ignatius Brainchaninov recommends studying the modes in which apostasy is brought about if the believer desires to avoid it. “The spirit of the age will reveal the apostasy. Study it, if you wish to avoid it, if you wish to escape this age and the temptation of its spirits. One can suppose, too, that the institution of the Church which has been tottering for so long will fall terribly and suddenly. Indeed, no one is able to stop or prevent it. The present means to sustain the institutional Church are borrowed from the elements of the world, things inimical to the Church, and the consequence will be only to accelerate its fall. Nevertheless, the Lord protects the elect and their limited number will be filled” (As quoted by Archbp. Averky).
Archbishop Averky of blessed memory also identifies compromise as one of the main roots of the spirit of apostasy, “Unfortunately, there have appeared in the very bosom of the Church, even among the hierarchy, opinions expressed by well-known individuals which are detrimental to Her. The desire to “march with the times” makes them fear that they will not be recognized as “cultured”, “liberal” and “progressive.” These modern apostates to Orthodoxy are “ashamed” to confess that our Orthodox church is precisely the Church which was founded by our Lord Jesus Christ, the Church to which appertains the great promise that “the gates of Hell will not prevail against Her,” and to which He confided the plenum of divine Truth.”
He goes on to warn that apostasy will create a pseudo-orthodoxy, “Repudiation of and preservation from the apostasy which has made such enormous progress demands that we stand apart from the spirit of the age (which bears the seeds of its own destruction). If we expect to withstand the world, it is first necessary to understand it and keep sensitively in mind that in this present age all that which carries the most holy and dear name of Orthodoxy is not in fact Orthodox. Rather, it is often “A fraudulent and usurped Orthodoxy” which we must fear and eschew as if it were fire.”
Both St. Ignatius and Archbp. Averky instructs that the believer should “study” and “understand” the spirit of apostasy. St. Paisios of Mt. Athos echos this when he says, “ignorance cannot be justified in the world today.”
Archbp. Averky then notes that the only end to the spirit of compromise with the world is in the depths of hell, “The sure path to perdition is indifference and the lack of principles which is euphemistically called ‘the larger view.’ In opposition to this ‘larger view’ we put the ‘rigor of ideas’ which, in modernity, it is fashionable to label ‘narrow’ and ‘fanatical.’ To be sure, if one adopts the ‘modern mentality,’ one must consider the holy martyrs—whose blood is ‘the cement of the Church’—and the Church Fathers—who struggled all their lives against heretics—as nothing less than ‘narrow’ and ‘fanatical.’ In truth, there is little difference between ‘the broad way’ against which the Lord warned and the modern “larger view.” He condemned the ‘broad way’ as the way to ‘gehenna.’”
He prophetically warns that those who desire to hold fast to the Truth of Orthodoxy will be labeled as fanatical, narrow, and rigorous.
St. Paisios of Mt. Athos says a similar thing, “Today we say that we are Orthodox Christians, but unfortunately we often only have the name Orthodox but not the orthodox way of life … People are being lulled to sleep. They [worldly powers] want people in the dark, carefree having a good time. One must not dare to speak about impending war, or that we must prepare for ourselves for the Second Coming. God forbid that we should cause people to worry over such things! … so they have a false sense of joy … Some others again, out of supposed ‘kindness,’ give the following advice: ‘Don’t tell the heretics that they are in error, to show them love.’ So everything is leveled. If these people had lived during the early years of Christianity, we wouldn’t have had a single Saint. In those years Christians were told, ‘Just throw some incense in the fire for the emperor and do not deny Christ.’ And they would not accept this. ‘Just pretend you’re throwing incense.’ Again they refused. ‘Don’t talk about Christ and go quietly to some other area.’ Again, they did not accept any compromise. But today one sees so many lukewarn people” (Spiritual Awakening).
I hope that you the reader (and me the writer!) perceives how integral compromise is to the spirit of apostasy. May we fervently guard ourselves against it!
St. Paisios warns that a “false meekness” will appear, and that compromise with the world will disguise itself as “meekness.” The enemy always offers pseudo-virtues so to lead astray the undiscerning. In reality, people will seek to cover their spiritual apathy under the guise of “being meek and humble,” which will be false manifestations St. Paisios says that “Christians should be distinguished by spiritual heroism.”
There is no spiritual courage or heroism in apostasy. May the Lord keep us!
And as if speaking to us today, St. Seraphim of Vyritsa forewarns, “The time will come when there will be no persecution, but money and the attractions of this world will draw people away from God and many more souls will perish than during the period of open militant atheism. On the one hand, they will raise up crosses and gild cupolas, but on the other hand, the kingdom of lies and evil will come. The True Church will always be persecuted. Salvation will only be possible through sorrows and illness, persecutions will take on a very refined and unpredictable character. It will be terrible to live to those times.”
Hear this important spiritual law which cannot be circumvented by any means, The True Church will always be persecuted! Any attempt to modify the faith to appease the world and avoid persecution is apostasy. When the faith is compromised the only result is that the faith is destroyed (but God will preserve those who are His!).
These writings exist by the Grace of God so that we may examine ourselves, are we in the Faith? Are we holding fast in word and deed? Are we willing to suffer persecution for the preservation of right faith and practice? Or are we being tempted by the spirit of compromise which is the path of apostasy?
I have gone on long enough, but I do want to offer the vision of St. John of Kronstadt to the reader for further contemplation. In it is addressed many of the temptations which are facing us today.
May God keep us all!