How to Triumph over Everything

Here is a little more of my translation from Russian of some of the writings of St. Dimitry of Rostov. His topic below is that of the Faith. The reader will note in what lofty terms he speaks of the Faith. I believe this is vital for us to hear at current, most of all when in certain ways the Faith is being treated in action as if it were simply something of this fallen realm. Or It is treated by some as if it were not pure gold, as St. Dimitry says. When reading St. Dimitry’s words, and the words of the saints in general, on this subject they affirm that the Faith is not of the things of this fallen world, that is, It has its foundations, in Eternal and Heavenly things. It undoubtedly exists in this fallen world but it is not of its order, that is the fallen order of sin.

In the very opening words of the saint he reminds us of the great price that has been paid to guard and uphold the Faith. What we receive from our fathers and mothers – even down to the physical manner by which we venerate icons and how holy communion is distributed, as just two examples to note in current circumstances – has been preserved through blood and sacrifice. The ending words of the saints must be engraved into our hearts, “Let us, therefore, hold firm and fast to our Holy Orthodox Faith, not straying to the right or the left.” May the words of the saint inspire us to hold a little tighter to the priceless Faith of Holy Orthodoxy.

Begin Translation –

Our Faith, Orthodox Christianity, is gold. It, like gold in the crucible, is purified through persecution and misfortune. The Lord “Tests … like gold in a furnace” the righteous, those who hold the faith (c.f. Wisdom of Solomon 3:6) . This gold has been purified with stones – many were stoned to death; with saws – sawn in two; pruned with metal – slain by the sword. It has been tried and tested by every means (cf. Heb. 11:37), it has been placed in fire and then in water – we have passed through fire and water.1 The Holy Faith has been subjected to all this, and those who follow It God has tested in every way and “Found them worthy of Himself” (Wisdom of Solomon 3:5).

Gold is crafted into various priceless things, and with the gold of Faith what could you not buy? If someone possesses this golden spiritual faith, even if but the size of a mustard seed, then he will acquire for himself such might, even to move mountains, “If you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, move from here to there, and it will move” (Matt. 17:20). “If you have faith and do not doubt … if you say to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ it will be done” (Matt. 21:21). Our forefathers transformed this gold into whatever they desired. They desired to subject the rulers of the world – “through faith they subdued kingdoms;” they desired to grow in virtue and receive the name of righteous ones – by faith they “worked righteousness;” they desired to be found worthy of the promises of God – through faith they “obtained promises.” They desired to calm beasts – lions, panthers – by faith “they stopped the mouth of lions;” they desired to be courageous in battle, and drive back the enemy – through faith they “out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle turned to flight the armies of aliens;” they desired, finally, to see the dead raised from the grave, and they received this – by faith they “received their dead raised to life” (Heb. 11:33-35). Behold what treasured things are made from this gold!

Our Faith is youth without old age. It is Enoch who was lifted up to heaven and did not grow old, but is alive unto this day. Our Faith is the ark in which Noah was saved; our Faith is childbearing motherhood, because of It barren Sarah gave birth to Issac. Our Faith is living, a bloodless sacrifice, for by faith Abraham brought his son Issac to sacrifice; faith was the knife in place of the physical knife by which he offered his son. Faith is the spiritual eye, which imparted the knowledge how to bless Jacob and Esau. Faith is a prophet, foretelling to Joseph the liberation of the Israelites from Egypt. By faith Moses brought down fear and plagues upon Pharaoh and all of Egypt. Faith is the firm land on which the children of Israel passed through the Red Sea dry shod. By Faith Joshua the son of Nun destroyed the walls of Jericho. O what great and plenteous praises may be sung of the Holy Faith!

The one who does not have faith, “he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord” (James 1:6-7). Everyone receives measure according to his faith; the one who has but little will receive little, but another, having more faith, receives more. One has faith that God’s Providence is upon him, and it is; yet another does not believe, and therefore lacks Providence. The one who has faith that through heartfelt and diligent prayer God will hear him is heard; but another does not have faith and is not heard. The one who has faith that whatever he asks for he shall receive, receives; yet another does not have faith and receives not. Everyone receives measure according to his faith.

Choose for yourself from the Lord God everything good and everything dear, for every desirable thing is in His hands. Ask what you will, and you shall receive. Do you desire long life? Behold, “length of days are in His right hand.” Do you desire wealth and honor? “Wealth and glory” are in His left hand. One may desire great might and lofty power, “the right hand of the Lord lifted me up; the right hand of the Lord hath brought mighty things to pass” (Ps. 117:16). But all of this is temporal; it is far better to seek eternal good things rather than corruptible. Of temporal things it is said, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures” (James 4:3). Once the apostle Peter had it in his mind to walk on water, and this when his faith was still meager. He besought the Lord, “If it be Thou, command me to come unto Thee on the waters” (Matt. 14:28, KJV). Let us take note of what Peter requests, he asks for passing and temporal things only so that he may come to Jesus; thus, the Lord condescends and allows Peter to walk on the water. But Peter’s faith did not endure long. A stormy wind rose up, and the apostle manifested doubt and began to sink; Peter cried out to the Lord, “Lord save me!” Truly, in extreme misfortune one should seek only God’s help, it will not deceive you. At that moment Jesus stretched out His hand, taking the sinking one, saying, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” Through this Peter was strengthened in his faith in the Lord.

Thus, we should begin to imitate Peter, only not in the manner of his first request, but in the likeness of his second. Truly this world is like unto a sea. We must either walk or swim in this sea; the only other option is to perish. When waves of temptations are stirred up and we begin to sink, flooded by the stormy water of our many sins, we cry out with the psalmist, “I am come into deep waters” (Ps. 68:3); let us stretch forth our hands to Christ in these moments of sinful falls, crying, “Lord save us, for we perish!” He will save us.

But let us return to our comparison of our Faith with gold.

Gold is guarded deep and secret in the bosom of the earth; many are those who seek it, but they do not find it quickly. To whom is revealed the profound teachings of Orthodoxy, such for example that of the Holy Trinity? Who perfectly comprehends these depths, or who can boast complete understanding, who has searched them out to the end? Truly Isaiah speaks, reckoning the God of Israel as One “Who hides Himself” (cf. Is. 45:15). Polished gold shines brightly as if giving off rays of the sun. And with what unspeakable shining, what surpassing bright beams, is the Holy Trinity filled? The Saints could not even gaze upon just a tiny part of this radiance, which was made manifest on Mt. Tabor; even the sharp-eyed gaze of the Gospel eagle, St. John the Theologian, had to be turned away, for he could not bear to look upon the Unseeable. Gold makes people wealthy and the Holy Faith fills the whole world with Its rich gifts. Gold is precious to everyone, but how precious is God to the one who rightly believes in Him! “How good is God unto Israel, unto them of an upright heart” (Ps. 72:1).

Let us, therefore, hold firm and fast to our Holy Orthodox Faith, not straying to the right or the left. In truth, our faith is pure genuine gold, guarded in the Eastern Orthodox and Apostolic Church!

1cf. Ps. 65:10-12

5 thoughts on “How to Triumph over Everything

  1. Maxim

    The goal of the Fathers and teachers of the past was to pass on this golden treasure uncontaminated by the dross of their own thought. Much of the time, our teachers are engaged in the pursuit of “Original Scholarship”; they publish carefully-selected excerpts from Patristic texts with Prefaces attached to them three times the length of the text itself, explaining away anything that might prove difficult for a modern audience. They will leap over three more plausible explanations on their way to producing a somewhat strained explanation which casts doubt on some element of the received tradition. I read one book by a purportedly Orthodox scholar in which she somewhat grudgingly admitted that our Father among the Saints Anthony the Great was “probably an actual historical personage”.

    This was one of the things Blessed Seraphim of Platina was good at; he could take seeming contradictions and reconcile them, showing that one Father was speaking in a very different context than another, and show how their teachings were really in complete accord with one another. When one reads Fr. Seraphim, a picture emerges of Church Teaching as a great, harmonious unity; other Orthodox scholars, even some of a relatively conservative bent utilize their not-inconsiderable intellect in looking for contradictions in the Tradition; once such a contradiction is located it frees the industrious scholar to introduce his own thesis, because he can then dismiss the relevant Patristic texts as “contradictory”. This is not always due to a hostility toward Tradition on their part, it is simply part and parcel of their academic training, which teaches them to pick apart anything received from the past so that new interpretations can emerge each generation. Another distorting influence is the “History of Ideas” mentality, which is fairly ubiquitous among academics. The obvious presumption of this model is that Truth is not something which lies waiting to be discovered, but that it is actually the aggregate of all the ideas men have had in the long struggle for Truth, and that one idea influences another in a long unbroken historical sequence which has created the intellectual environment of our own day.
    While it is true that ideas can influence each other, the focus is not on Truth, but on the presumption that Ideas blend into one another, and slowly change their form; it is, in short, the application of Evolutionary thinking to the very thought-processes. While Orthodox academics do not usually deny the existence of an objective Truth, they can still be influenced by this paradigm by being encouraged to search Patristic texts for passages which read similarly to passages in Stoic or Gnostic works; that is why Philip Sherrard presents the section of the Philokalia ordinarily attributed to St. Anthony the Great as the work of an unknown Stoic philosopher. It also causes Orthodox scholars to want to bracket certain Patristic passages as exhibiting Stoic or Gnostic influences. This is a mentality profoundly at odds with Orthodox Tradition; it’s what you get when the idea of Truth is under attack. If one who believes fervently in Truth notices a similarity between two texts, he simply says “Well, that other fellow wasn’t entirely wrong”, recognizing that Truth is ubiquitous, and that the Spirit of Truth works among all peoples; there is truth in Stoicism, there is truth in Gnosticism. They lack the fulness of the Truth presented in the Orthodox Patristic Tradition. When I read Fr. Seraphim or any of his predecessors in the long unbroken chain of the Apostolic teaching, I encounter the Mind of the Church in all of its wholeness and internal consistency. It is a thing of divine beauty, a precious treasure entrusted to the clumsy hands of mortal men; too often, when I read the works of Orthodox academic theologians, this unity shatters into a thousand disconnected fragments.

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  2. Maxim

    That’s a good image; when our eyes are on Christ, we walk on the surface of tumult and uncertainty as if it is dry land. Otherwise we struggle in the midst of the storm, constantly in peril of going under. When there is a great wave, as in our time, the one who is with Christ walks up it as if it is a hill, the one struggling along on his own power experiences a soul-crushing cataclysm.

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