“The whole clue of all this liberation is in the plot against Christ, and not at all in making human life better and more prosperous for the sake of changing one social system for another. Thus it behooves us to carefully preserve, and boldly and firmly stand up for, anything that can safeguard the sacred inheritance of the Faith of Christ. We must protect ourselves, as from deadly poison, from what is being offered to us …” New Hieromartyr Andronicus.
The enemy is clever. He constantly strives to convince Christians to alter or exchange the given Revelation of Jesus Christ for something “new and improved.” Such ploys are frequently framed in the well-being of humanity and others. The proffered promise is to make life better and more prosperous, to make it healthier and safer (or any number of seemingly beneficial endeavors); in short some earthly paradise of sorts is held out as the prize.
Man is always, it seems, “knowing better.”
At current, there is a trend to make Christianity a blind follower of “science,” “medicine,” and even “government.” We have to obey, after all, the Bible says so! And thus, “just trusting the experts” (whatever vocation they may be) is virtue-fied. It becomes a matter of “humility” and “obedience,” and everyone knows “obedience” is greater than fasting, so just obey! The virtues have become as easy as wearing a mask and getting injected with gene-therapy medication! I wonder how people in the past even attained virtue when they didn’t wear masks “for love of neighbor” or get gene-therapy injections to “keep everyone else safe?”
This is the point, the long held Christian therapies of spiritual healing are being cast aside and some different sort of commandments are being engraved for humanity. They are even being peddled in the name of Christianity. One rarely hears from certain places (that are said to be Christian) about the tried and true methods of Christian life and knowledge, but rather the “new” commandments based on secular knowledge are promulgated with fervor.
Undoubtedly the diablos is at work sowing his diabolical deeds. This is why it is vital for Christians to cultivate and pursue discernment. And the point is not some “us -vs- them” stance. No, the point is – what is the clear Christian way for our times? The only Truth is Jesus Christ. This is empirical Truth; this is our inheritance. This is the starting point for any Christian. The labor of discernment, which is also a spiritual gift, comes with much more than providing brief Scripture quotes or even those from the saints. In my articles on the subject of knowledge, experts, and such, I’ve attempted to provide substantial quotes that, I believe, make clear the the teaching of the saints. I’ve been exploring the Christian understanding of knowledge in a few past posts. In one I take the words of St. Gregory Palamas as a guide and in the other, I follow St. Isaac the Syrian.
Because some folks like reductionism and will inevitably just respond, “you are anti-science/medicine/government” etc., it bears stating (again) I’m pro accountable and moral science/medicine/government etc.1 I’m striving, albeit rather weakly, and attempting to dig a little deeper. I believe that the teaching on the Christian understanding of knowledge is very important right now. In it, we find that the saints instruct Christians to discriminate between sources of knowledge and to resolutely reject false knowledge.
I really don’t expect the secular-atheist (or theist) to proclaim the encompassing transcendence of The Revelation of Christ over all things. I do expect it from those who claim to be following Jesus Christ; most of all from those who claim to be upholding long-held Christian Traditions. So, when it appears, at least to my limited view, that the general Truth of Christ is being subjected to a new standard – humanism – I get a little concerned. When I continue to read messages from Christian leaders mostly about the wonders of “science” to save (oh, yes of course it is “inspired by God”) I continue to be concerned. As I’ve pointed out before, an inversion of knowledge seems to be taking place.
In this post I turn to a more recent saint, Ignatius Brianchaninov. I believe his words will aid us in our continued desire, in a godly manner, to understand the nature and hierarchy of knowledge and its right use in our lives.
He teaches, “These days, in many things people have dared to introduce their own decrees into the decrees of the Holy Spirit. For this reason heavenly decrees are made earthly, spiritual are made carnal, sacred are made sinful, and wise are made absurd. People see incongruity, they see the destruction that follows after it, but they do not see the origins from which the calamities flow, because they are looking at things in the light of their own fallen reason, and not the light of God.”
First, and clearly, the saint is calling us to uphold the “decrees of the Holy Spirit.” These are more than evident in the life of the Body of Christ, the Church. Yet, motivated not by the Spirit but rather fallen reason, people attempt to alter this way of life. In doing so, it becomes other than that true life, it becomes a psudo-life. The saint indicates how important understanding the “origin” of a thing is. He teaches that much of our calamities come from the fact that we use fallen reason (knowledge) rather than the light of God.
He continues, “The origin of the calamity consists in their inadmissible and proud disdain for the commands of the Holy Spirit, and in replacing them with their own rules. This is the cause of the general disorder, the cause of the fall of Christianity, the moral fall that always precedes civil disorder and that foreshadows that disorder.”
The life of Christ in His Church is that which restrains the corrupting factors of this world. Once Christians begin to capitulate or alter this Truth, the spirit of disorder is given more freedom. Further corruption ensues. Hmmm … seems pretty applicable to our days.
“There are particular Christians, but lost is the common identical knowledge of truth by which everyone has been united in one spiritual body, in one way of thinking, in one spirit, under one common head – Christ.”
True oneness of mind comes only in the Christian giving himself over to the Spirit of God, and measuring his life according to the clear and ancient means of Christian living. This is only possible in the God-Man Christ. Only God is One. The root problem of our current fractured-ness and rootlessness as Orthodox Christians is found precisely in the reality that we have fallen very far from the way of the Fathers and the Saints who diligently gauged their whole life according to the Revelation of Christ, first and foremost. It bears noting that of course there will be “division” between those who desire to harmonize with the Revelation of Christ and those who seek to introduce a new standard of “christianity.” Harmony with the world (which in reality is cacophony) cannot abide with harmony in Christ.
The question is – what are we using as our main standard for discernment of events and “knowledges” that are all around us?
“Each sheep wanders in its own direction, and no one cares for it. People no longer hear – this is how heavy their hearing has become – the salvific voice of the true Shepherd that resounds in His holy Church, that still loudly denounces their falsehood, that proclaims the right path to them and points to it. They have been deafened by the noise of earthly, fierce concerns, by the din of sensual amusements, by the stir of earthly success. Their souls cling to the earth, incapable of receiving spiritual impressions.”
Sometimes Orthodox Christians simply enjoy using the saints to try and flex on Protestants; we enjoy them as a sort of status symbol. Yet, when it comes to truly hearing and listening to their voices, we begin to excuse ourselves. “Saints get it wrong too, you know!” And we become the arbitrators of where they were “wrong.” How wise we are! At times we play twister games with the saints that would make the best of Protestant cults envious. In such an environment Christianity grows more detached from its inner essence and life, growing more and more anemic, and at some point loses its vital life and ceases to be truly Orthodox. The end is what St. Paul warns of, “Having a form of Godliness but denying the power thereof” (cf. 2 Tim. 3:5).
How are we kept in the true knowledge of God? St. Ignatius elucidates, “But a few chosen ones, up to now, hear the voice of the true Shepherd, our Lord Jesus Christ. They go toward that voice, fighting their way with great force and labor, through the thick crowd which, murmuring incoherently, surrounds them.”
The “thick crowd” is the overflow of other voices (knowledges) that try to direct the believer away from faith in Christ and His life in His Church. They are at times very “reasonable” too! O, how we are assailed by them today.
The saint give us this important tool of discernment, “What characteristic of those sheep is there by which one can immediately recognize them? That characteristic is strict obedience to the holy Church, faithfulness to holy Truth and the Holy Spirit. Led by true humility, they renounce the reasoning of their fallen natural intellect and all human reasoning, no matter how lofty and attractive it seems. In order to preserve faithfulness to God, they are not ashamed that the world calls them foolish.”
St. Ignatius speaks of the way of faith, which is the highest form of Knowledge. When it comes to the life of the Church the only “reasoning” that should be permitted is that which is proved to be seeking to hold “strict obedience” to Truth. (Notice he speaks nothing of obedience to secular knowledge.) Of course this will seem like “foolishness” to the worldly minded!
With terribly sober words, St. Ignatius speaks on the peril involved in “introducing our own, human, decrees into the decrees of the Holy Spirit and allowing our thoughts to be guided by false knowledge. “We, as Christians, are guarded from the delusion of false knowledge when we diligently sift even our own thoughts according to the standard of Truth. “The darkened sons of this world believe that it is easy to have thoughts about God. In their opinion there is no great danger in thinking about God in one way or another. Unfortunate ones! They do not know how important thoughts about God are, how important it is that these thoughts be established in the Truth, and in the Spirit Who always coexists and cooperates with Truth. For this mutual action come man’s enlivening unto salvation, which consists in human nature’s participation in Divine nature. On the contrary, the dark and wicked spirit of delusion always coexists and cooperates with false thoughts. The devil is the father of lies, as the Gospel says (cf. John 8:44). Falsehood is a diabolical trait. He who has assimilated false thoughts has assimilated an attribute of the devil. He has entered into a relationship with the outcast angels; he has made union with God alien to himself and unnatural. He who is a stranger to God is a stranger to salvation.”
What a dreadful thing it is to follow false knowledge! How essential it is for us as Christians to be cautious and discerning! If we permit false knowledge into our being through collaboration with our thoughts, which will be manifest in actions, then we begin to “assimilate an attribute of the devil.” Is it not so manifestly clear how cautious believers must be when touching upon things of the Faith? In matters of Faith and even our own lives, we are called not to blindly follow and obey secular knowledge, no matter how accredited it may be. Rather we are called to place every form of knowledge in the great scale of Faith and measure it wisely.
What are the standards of measurement, of discernment? “Let us acquire true knowledge of God, foreign to error and philosophizing. It shines from the Holy Scripture and the writings of the Holy Fathers, like the light from the sun that brightly shines at the noonday hour from an azure, cloudless sky.”
This is the Science of sciences. This is the Science we as Christians are called to follow after with heartfelt humility and obedience. Let us “just follow” this Science!
Let everything that is done be done firmly founded upon the Holy Scriptures and Fathers. Let them be given the preeminent and primary place of honor; let them be the indisputable foundation from which we are striving to work and answer the spirit of the times. Let any action that is taken, most of all touching upon practice in Church, be made manifestly evident from the clear witness and life of Christ in His Church. Obscure and brief references should not suffice.
Just trust the Holy Faith. Test everything extremely thoroughly by Its unshakable standard.
(All quotes form St. Ignatius are taken from, The Orthodox Word, Nos. 324-325.)
1“Honor the physician …” (Sirach 38:1ff), some may say. Yes, but modern application of medicine has changed drastically over the past 100 years. It has become an industry that makes billions on sickness and provides “medicines” that many times do not heal but rather only suppress symptoms. Healing is not a profitable endeavor. The vast majority of medicines no longer “come from the earth” but are developed in labs. Sirach is speaking about a physician who is Godly and using his art in a Godly manner. It is not an absolute command which demands unquestioning absolute “honor,” it is contingent upon factors. For example I’m quite sure this verse could in no way be applied to Josef Mengele. He was a physician but is owed no honor since he used his knowledge for evil (just one of many examples).