“And that which fell into the thorns, these are the ones who heard, and while they are going on their way, they being choked by the cares and wealth and pleasures of life, and do not bring forth fruit to perfection” (Lk. 8:14).
In another place our Lord says a similar thing, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:21). If the heart is preoccupied with material, passing, things, then it will labor with all its might to preserve them. For the materialized heart, all that exists is physical existence. The preservation of material existence becomes the primary goal of the material-man; indeed it becomes the all-encompassing driving factor.
The fleeting pleasures of mortal life are very seductive and addictive. It is not without reason the modern man, mostly in the “Western” world, has become satiated on pleasures. He grows ever more numb to old pleasures and tumbles forward seeking new and more tantalizing ones. And the powers that be feed this addiction relentlessly.
Yet, even a more benign comfort and dependency on pleasure is potentially deadly to the spirit. All these pleasures have the potential to act as chains which will keep a person bound and spiritually impotent. There is a very healthy and balanced enjoyment of earthly life, which in the Christian sense is always framed in the context of Eternity. The root ailment of modernity is that it takes the passing nature of material pleasure to be the end-all of human existence. It perverts something good. A Christian should live in thankful enjoyment to God for all the “fruits of the earth” that are His most gracious gifts to His creature man. (It bears noting here, I’m addressing a state of the heart. Wealth or poverty in and of themselves carry no vice or virtue.)
St. Seraphim of Vyritsa, speaking on the days near the end, teaches, “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.”
The “refined and unpredictable character” quite possibly indicates the fact that humanity’s addiction to pleasure and comfort will be used as a strong mechanism for control. Few will be ready to sacrifice the comforts of the times. Why? Because for such these material things are truly all they have.
Moreover, for Christians, it may well be that few will be willing to sacrifice physical comfort so as to hold to Truth. God understands after all. He doesn’t want us to be fanatics. Christians will be unwilling to sacrifice for Truth because they have been cultivated in a field of thorns. The thorns just seem like “normal” Christian living.
The message of “repent for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand” has been supplanted by the message of “let us build an earthly kingdom of well-being for all humanity.” The health and salvation of the soul have been subordinated to the physical preservation and well-being of the flesh and its desires.
The Truth of the Gospel is no longer an all-encompassing eternal standard for the lives of men. Rather, it has been beaten back to the realm of the “individual” and what seems good to him. Thus, a false separation has taken place. The needs of mankind have been compartmentalized into the strictly religious, which is viewed in subjective terms, and the socio-political. It is the latter that is given preeminence in the modern world because it, seemingly, tends the physical needs of man.
Since for modern man the material is the only “real,” that which tends to his material cravings and desires is made divine. Humanity never outgrows idolatry, it only becomes more sophisticated. He will always pinch incense on the altar of the gods of physical comfort.
In such a mindset, Christianity, specifically Orthodoxy, becomes a set of predominately outward rites which may be modified and adapted to meet the “needs of men.” The Truth may be sacrificed for the “greater good” of the physical well-being of humanity. It is, thus, easily molded to promote the gospel of the times, the preeminence of the physical well-being of man in the world. At this point serving as a minister, a priest, becomes just a profession.
Yet if the Church is reduced to only an institution primarily concerned with physical well-being, then it is indeed useless and is sealing its fate as being obsolete. For there are plenty of other organizations that tend to material well-being in a far superior manner.
It is precisely the Revealed Truth, which is the essential reality of true Christianity, that guarantees its eternal relevance. Once these treasures are sacrificed in the name of mortal material existence then it truly becomes savorless salt.
In some sense, as “western” Christians, we stand in the direst of positions, saturated as we are with physical “comforts and pleasures.” We are indeed to be pitied the most! Is our “standard of Western living” simply a prison in which we have become spiritually anemic? Will it be the means by which we softly accept the pillaging of the treasures of faith so to at least maintain external structures?
In a sobering article written in the 20th century during the crisis of Communism entitled “The Epoch of Apostasy,” the author, Pr. Boris Molchanov makes this prophetic observation, “The situation is completely different in the West, where people are fully and solely immersed in their material interests. This is leading people unto a total indifference towards faith and submerging them into spiritual blindness. This doesn’t allow them to see the tortuous path, which leads towards the Antichrist. God’s grace is departing from the bustling and materialistic masses and thus they will fall.”
And so the great danger of the thorns. Those who grow there will believe that such a place is indeed “Christianity.” In realty, all fruit is choked out and the spiritual life begins to die away. “Christianity” becomes Indifferentism; as such it begins to preach another Christ (cf. Gal. 1:6ff)
May we of the “West” examine our hearts most diligently. If we find thorns growing in abundance, we may, by God’s grace, begin the labor of weeding them out. “Keep your heart with all watchfulness” (Prov. 4:22/23), “Nobel and good … held fast in patience” (cf. Lk. 8:15).