“Be of good courage and let us be strong for our people and for the cities of our God; for the Lord will do what is good in His sight” (2 Kingdom/Samuel 10:12).
The Lord calls His people to be strong and courageous in Him. St. Paul commands, “Keep on watching, standing fast in the faith, conducting yourselves in a courageous way, and being strong. Let all your things be done with love” (1 Cor. 16:13). This command is dynamic and active. Keep on doing these things. The implication is that we could grow tired and fearful. Therefore it is written elsewhere, “And let us not be losing heart while doing that which is good; for in due time we shall reap, if we faint not” (Gal. 6:9).
We are in much need of the grace of courage. The enemy seeks to wear out the saints of God. The Prophet Daniel saw that godless authority will “Speak extremely arrogant words and wear down the saints of the Most High. He will devise a way to change times and law, and he shall be given authority for a time, times, and half a time” (Daniel 7:25). Indeed, more than at any point before us the aggressive attempt is being made to “change” times and law. St. John the Theologian teaches, “And the dragon was wroth against the Woman, and went off to make war with the rest of her seed, those keeping the commandments of God and having the testimony of Jesus” (Rev. 12:17). St. Andrew of Caesarea comments, “The Antichrist will declare war against those drafted for Christ in the world. It says he will begin the war, so that, just as when dust thickens the smoothness of oil, finding them vulnerable in the occupation of life, he will put them to flight. But many among them will conquer him because they have genuinely loved Christ” (Commentary on the Apocalypse, The Catholic University of America Press, pg. 146).
Our Lord warns us, “But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drinking, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly” (Lk. 21:34). The Christian believer is commanded, “Let us not sleep as the others do, but let us watch and be sober” (1 Thess. 5:6), for “The end of all things is at hand; therefore be sober-minded and watchful in prayers” (1 Pet. 4:7).
It is clear that watchfulness, taking heed, and standing in the Faith cultivate a courageous heart. Whereas the compromise of the Faith breeds spinelessness. Without the grace of courage, we will crumble before the onslaught of the times. Sadly, many a one who calls himself by the name of “Christian” has in a cowardly manner greatly compromised with the demands of the fallen world. Some ministers are more concerned about fluffing the pillows of their flock and keeping them comfortable than they are about pursuing truth. Truth can be very uncomfortable. Some folks are more than content to have the comfort of sleepy religion. Some churches might as well simply hang a “do not disturb” sign on their door handles. Some are actively and willfully striving to reconstruct Christianity according to the image of this fallen age. We may be sure that “Evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived. But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of” (2 Tim. 3:13-14).
It is good to be reminded of the words of the great saint and prophet of our times, St. John Maximovich, “A search for compromise will be the characteristic disposition of men. Straightforwardness of confession will vanish. Men will cleverly justify their fall, and an endearing evil will support such a general disposition. Men will grow accustomed to apostasy from the truth and to the sweetness of compromise and sin” (Homily on the Last Judgment). Before this St. John soberly reminds us that this spirit of compromise will even be found in the midst of those who claim to be Orthodox, even among the clergy, “There will be a mass falling away from the faith; even many bishops will betray the faith, justifying themselves by pointing to the splendid position of the Church” (Ibid). The spirit of compromise being addressed is related to the essential teaching and ethos of Life in Christ (again, as a stark example take ecumenism and the “Orthodox” participation in it). In saying that there will be a mass falling away, St. John is speaking of Orthodox Christians. This doesn’t necessarily mean that a physical leaving will take place, rather many will remain and claim to be Orthodox while proclaiming a neo-orthodoxy, which is simply apostasy (may we guard our hearts!). They will then claim that those who do not desire the “new improved” orthodoxy are “schismatics.” For such ones, apostasy will be (and already is) the new standard of orthodoxy.
This spirit of compromise is clear even now to those who strive to stand fast in the Faith. Indeed through the eyes of faithfulness to the holy Fathers, one may visibly behold this sad state being preached and promoted as the better way. Compromise is also not a new manifestation, it has always been a temptation and a pitfall, yet it seems that it will become a dominating feature of our times.
The holy new martyrs of the Soviet yoke, who suffered all across Russia and Eastern Europe, are vital examples to us today of how to stand courageously in the Faith. They were confronted not simply with raw militaristic atheism but also with the subtle spirit of compromise that manifested itself under the Revisionist or “Living” church (among others). The holy confessor Patriarch Tikhon in many ways considered “revisionism” – it may also be called adaptationism – to be a greater threat to the life of the Church than the militantly atheistic Soviets. Those who should be disciples compromise Christ Jesus so to acquire the silver of this world.
In “Russia’s Catacomb Saints,” the recorder of the life of new Hieromartyr Joseph makes this important observation, “When the Church is being betrayed and the faithful led astray, it is no time for compliments and polite ‘dialogues,’ nor for placing ‘sympathy’ above truth. For courageous souls the knowledge that every word may bring prison or death only increases their boldness in speaking the truth without embellishments. And thus it has always been in the Church of Christ; Her outspoken defenders are hymned as champions in the Church’s songs of praise” (Russia’s Catacomb Saints, St. Herman Press, pg 117 [out of print]). Conversely, those who desire compromise will do their utmost to alter the teaching and ethos of true Christianity so to appease the world. Many times they become quite emphatic about it.
The holy new Hieromartyr Joseph himself teaches us, “We will not give the Church as a sacrifice over to the mercy of the betrayers and foul politicians and agents of atheism and destruction … We call upon you to fortify your powers for battle for the independence of the Church, only not at all in the way you suppose is required; not by agreement with the enslavers of the Church and the murderers of Her holy independence, which is manifested now in Her holy righteousness,1 but rather by a loud and decisive protest against every acquiescence, against hypocritical and lying compromise and against the betrayal of Her interests to the interests of godless satanism and a bitter warfare against Christ and His Church” (Ibid. pg. 126).
The new Hieromartyr Victor, speaking to the spirit of compromise that he faced, a spirit that clothed itself in orthodox dress, proclaims, “Whereas not everyone can see through the ruinousness of the latter deceit (i.e. the groups of progressive “Orthodox” promoting compromise), and this is especially difficult for those whose mind and heart are turned toward earthly things, for the sake of which people become accustomed to renouncing the Lord” (Ibid, pg. 143). There is great danger in desiring to maintain earthly existence and things above all else. If the main focus of those in Christianity becomes to maintain some earthly prestige, then they are already on the path of compromise. The true prestige of the Church is not preserved through anything of this earth, in fact, it is quite the opposite, as St. Ignatius of Antioch says, “Christianity is greatest when it is hated by the world” (The Apostolic Fathers, Letter to the Romans, Section 3).
In our times, where it seems that compromise is being more and more normalized as a viable way, it is good to reflect on the courage of true Orthodox pastors. Above, a selection of the words of faithful shepherds have been quoted, here I want to relate the actions of such a one. The incident is from the life of the New Hieromaryr Andronicus. Let us see how he conducted himself when interrogated by the Bolsheviks. “Invited into the office, the hierarch silently sat down in an armchair by the desk. For a long time he did not answer a single question, praying to God and abiding with God, Who made him free and fearless, as one who had attained the perfect love that casts out fear (cf. 1 John 4:18). Then he removed his panagia, which was fashioned in the form of a cross, wrapped it in a purple silk kerchief, placed it before him on the desk, and turning to his executioners and persecutors of the Church, he said, ‘We are open enemies, and there can be no reconciliation between us. If I were not an archpastor and if it were necessary from me to decide your fate, I would, taking the sin upon myself, order that you be hanged immediately. There is nothing more for us to talk about.’ Having said this, he unhurriedly unwrapped the kerchief, put on his panagia, calmly adjusted it on his chest, and immersed in prayer did not utter another word” (Orthodox Word, No. 335, pg. 300). St. Andronicus was executed after being forced to literally dig his own grave.
As always in the Church, we remember with great honor those who courageously stood for the faith, whereas those who sought the wide way of compromise are forgotten or rightly scorned. They may find momentary triumph but their ultimate downfall is inevitable.
My brothers and sister, the tribulations of our days will become more intense. The temptations to compromise will become more pronounced. Apostasy will become standardized. In these times, which are a continuation of what was sown in Soviet Russia, we must acquire for ourselves spiritual courage. We need to ask the Lord to cultivate this grace in our hearts. Indeed, as the Scripture commands us, may we watch, stand fast, conduct ourselves in a courageous way, and be strong in the Lord. May the Lord help us and have mercy on us.
1Original text read “rightlessness” which may be a spelling/type error (?)