The following is a little more of my translation work from Russian of select works of St. Dimitry of Rostov. This Section touches upon the search for Christ. The Reader will note how timeless the Saint’s observations are, many fit our times like a glove. May you the reader find spiritual profit in the text below.
Begin translation –
“You seek Jesus of Nazareth, Who was crucified. He is risen! He is not here” (Matt. 16:6), proclaimed the angel, who stood before the Lord’s tomb, to the myrrh-bearing women … In seeking Christ, first and foremost, one needs to maintain great care so as not to meet a false Christ – a lie. Christ, our Lord Himself, warns of this in His Gospel, “If anyone says to you, ‘Look here is Christ’ or ‘There!’ do not believe it. For false Christs and false prophets will arise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. See I have told you beforehand. Therefore if they say to you, ‘Look, he is in the desert! Do not go out, or ‘Look, he is in the inner rooms!’ do not believe it” (Matt. 24:23-26).
Until the time that the Antichrist arrives, right up until his very coming, many of his forerunners have been and are being revealed, but the true Christ is not in them.
The Psalmist writes, “The Lord is in His Holy Temple” (Ps. 10:3). The Proto-martyr Stephen proclaims, “The Most High does not dwell in temples made with hands” (Acts 7:48), revealing by this that the Lord God loves to dwell in temples not made by hands more than those made by hands. Yet it is not as if the construction and beautification of churches is unpleasant to Him, for in approval of this, the Psalmist says, “Lord, I have loved the beauty of Thy house, and the dwelling-place of Thy glory” (Ps. 25:8).
Although to tell the truth, it happens that God does not even desire to dwell in some man-made temples. This occurs when people are irreverent and devoid of the fear of God and thereby make God’s house into a den of thieves, as the Lord Himself says, “My house shall be called a ‘house of prayer’, but you have made it a ‘den of thieves’” (Matt. 21:13). In this den people gather together as if to pray in church, yet they chatter amongst themselves, gabbing idly about some new person in church, or some latest thing, or wars, or some festive get together; they pass judgment on others, slandering and dishonoring the good name of their neighbor; by these actions they turn the temple of God into a den of thieves.
There are others who stand in God’s holy temple with their lips moving as if in prayer but in reality, in their mind, they are off dreaming about some home project, finding a spouse and raising a family, riches, treasure chests of wealth, money, and on it goes! Others take a little nap, while someone else contemplates filth and evil: this one robbery, another murder, yet another fornication and sexual immorality, while someone else stands in church plotting against his neighbor – all of these turn a temple of prayer into a dark den. Then in truth, the temple of God becomes a den of thieves and not God’s temple. Thus the holy place is desecrated by foul words and irreverence, and the grace of God is chased away like smoke on the wind. Then a person may say, Christ is not here.
There was a time when our Lord made a whip of cords and drove all the merchandisers out of the temple (cf. Matt. 21:12ff, Jn 2:13ff). What if now He came visibly into His holy temple with that whip, would He not drive out all the chatty and foul mouthed people, together with all the idle dreamers who are not attentive to the readings and the hymns! Today, O Lord, how we chase Thee away! And we turn Thy temple into a den of thieves! Making it possible to say sometimes, even of temples dedicated to the Lord: The Lord is not here, He has gone away. Arise, let us go, He is not here.
Where is the temple not made by hands of Him Who is exalted above all things, of which St. Stephen reminds us? Every person who is enlivened, endowed with reason, and illumined through Holy Baptism is a temple of God, according to the words of the apostle, “The temple of God is holy, which temple you are” (1 Cor. 3:17). “Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit Who is in you” (1 Cor. 6:19). If every person of the Orthodox faith is a temple of God, then one could seek Christ in every believer, and it would be good to be able to say: He is here.
Yet, unfortunately, one may doubt the possibility of this. Many, indeed, have been illumined with the right faith and baptism, but there are few in whom Christ would abide as in His temple. Today’s thief, along with the criminal, the adulterer, and every villain, were in childhood baptized and illumined in the right faith, but as they grew older, they consciously departed from Christ.1 The tragic result is that one no longer can find Christ abiding in them; He is not here. There are some who on the surface appear to be virtuous but inside are not; God knows every secret, as the apostle teaches, “It is shameful to speak of these things which are done by them in secret” (Eph. 5:12). Christ is not soon found in such ones, He is not here. Some consider themselves faithful servants of God, those who truly honor Him; yet they only honor God with their lips, but their hearts are far from Him (cf. Is. 29:13); do not look for the abode of Christ in such ones, He is not here.
Others appear to be devout: spiritual laborers, those who strictly keep the fasts, lovers of poverty, workers of good deeds, and yet if these things are done for the eyes of men, in hypocrisy, and for vain glory, Christ is not there, do not seek for Him. Some make a show of humility, but take great pride in their intellect, they flaunt profound wisdom but are in reality defiled in their inner thoughts. They exhibit love and pour forth peaceful words, but in actual fact they are as insidious as Judas; do not hope to find here the presence of Christ, He is not here. Much labor is required to discover a priceless pearl in the deep sea or gold and silver in the bosom of the earth. And so it is hard to find Christ truly abiding in people, for according to the words of David: “They are all gone astray, they are altogether become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no not one” (Ps. 13:3).
It is difficult to find Christ here; yet, without a doubt, He abides in His Church which He loves and has purchased with His Blood, and for which He laid down His life. Therefore in the Church, in the whole gathering of right believers, one should seek Christ; to Her, He has said, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age. Amen” (Matt. 28:20). But what of our unfortunate last-days?! Today the Holy Church is greatly persecuted and humiliated. Many times from outside oppressors and many times from inner schismatics ….
We will continue to seek after the Lord in His Church – Holy, Catholic, right-believing – even though She is insulted, put to tribulation, and rent; nevertheless She is invincible because “The gates of Hades shall not prevail against Her” (Matt. 16:18). The Lord is in Her, and those who remove themselves from Her do not receive salvation. We are seeking Christ our Lord, and it is especially profitable to seek Him amidst the true children of the Church. Indeed, it happens that those who uphold the true faith, clinging to the Church as their Mother altogether never thinking of turning away from Her, are nonetheless foreign to Christ.
The Holy Church is like a field in which grows wheat and tares, and these remain together until the harvest.2 Here the good and the evil are together, the righteous and the sinners, the sheep and the goats. The Church, as a Mother, warms and feeds not only Her good children but the foolish as well; moreover, She shows patience and compassion for them. It is worthwhile to seek Christ amidst the Church’s children, for the Psalmist proclaims that the Lord is in the midst of His people, “The Lord shall give strength to His people; the Lord shall bless His people with peace” (Ps. 28:11). But who are the people of God? Many will answer: “Christians are.”
Thus, one would need to seek for Christ in the midst of Christians. Behold, yet again to what pain of heart one comes, for many of us are Christian in name only. We work deeds worse than unbelievers, and we live our lives like beasts. We protect ourselves with the sign of the Cross, and then like murderers of God, crucify Him again through our foul, abominable, and impure deeds. We venerate the icon of Christ and then trample under foot His most precious Blood, which was poured out for us.3 We glorify the Name of Christ, which we bear, and then turn and blaspheme It.4 We claim to be Christians, and yet we conduct our lives like heathens. Could one claim that Christ is here? No, let us go, He is not here. Before every such Christian stands his guardian angel weeping and saying, “Do not seek Christ here – in the past, He was here, but He has already long ago departed.” Rise, He is not here.
Yet not all Christians are like this; there are good ones. There are tares among the wheat, and sometimes among the tares there happens to be wheat. Even amid evil, someone good may be found who is carrying Christ within; then one may say, He is here. Look and seek this out. Fearful are the words of our Lord, although not originally spoken to us they nonetheless relate, “You will seek Me and not find Me … and you will die in your sins” (Jn. 7:34, 8:21). But, O Lord! Why can we not search for Thee? “Because,” He would answer, “you do not allow Me to abide in you. Sometimes you receive Me, but then you again drive Me away and return to your evil deeds.”
Still we seek Thee, O Lord. We seek Thee amid the ministers of the sacred ranks. Where else would Christ be but in His ministers, amidst those who bear His image? But one hardly finds Christ in them. Practically all of them care only about themselves, they desire good for themselves and not the benefit of the people, they tend themselves and not Christ’s flock. Let us, first of all, turn our attention to the Hierarchy of the sacred ranks, and ask one of them (if only he will answer honestly): with what intent does he govern and does he strive toward the precious purity of his spiritual dignity? Does he serve only for the glory and honor of God, or for his own glory and honor? For the salvation of mankind’s soul, or for his own enrichment? Does he tend Christ’s sheep, or does he feed only himself?
In truth we would find not one who attained his rank so much for the glory and honor of God as for his own love of honor; not so much for the common good, as for his own mercenary profit. He has come, not to serve for the salvation of mankind’s soul, but to receive the service of those under his care; he has come, not to be a father and pastor, but a lord and master. May those in the highest spiritual ranks forgive me! I am not speaking about everyone, only about some – in whose company I am. I know that there are those in the sacred hierarchical rank who are like unto angels in the flesh, but even in the midst of these angels it may happen that there is a person subject to infirmity. Blameless honor and a crown come from Christ the Archpastor, but to those subject to infirmity, like me a sinner, the Lord has said, to one, “I have a few things against you” (Rev. 2:20), to another, “I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead” (Rev. 3:1), and to another, “You are neither cold nor hot … I will vomit you out of My mouth” (Rev. 3:15,16).
Let us look at the lower sacred ranks, among which are deacons and priests. Will we find in their midst those in whom Christ is present? Let us ask one of them, “What brought you to the priestly rank? Was it a desire to save your own soul and the souls of others?” No, it was worries about provisions for a wife, children, and household. It is true that the servants of the altar must be provided for from the altar;5 but if a man comes to priestly service only for this provision, and not for the sake of his own salvation, that of others, and the glory of God, in such a one it is difficult to find Christ.
Therefore, diligently search yourself, each and every one of the spiritual ranks, what were you seeking when you received the holy priesthood? Did you come for salvation, or to be well taken care of – that your flesh would be fed?
Some priests even serve the sheep of Christ to their own detriment and destruction; they not only fail to build up the flock but even become stumbling blocks for the people. Some have removed the key of knowledge, and they neither enter themselves nor do they allow those following to enter in.6 While others have never even received the key of knowledge, they are unfit for their calling; not only are such ones unable to lead the sheep entrusted to them unto salvation, they do not even know the path themselves. They are the blind leading the blind, and both will fall into a pit.7
St. Dimitry of Rostov
1St. Dimitry was writing in a time when most citizens of Imperial Russia received baptism as children.
2Cf. Matt. 13:24ff
3Cf. Heb. 6:4-6
4Cf. James 3:9-12
5Cf. Lev. 7:28-34; 1 Cor. 9:7-12; 1 Tim 5:18
6Cf. Matt. 23:13
7Cf. Matt. 15:14