Below is a sermon by Archbishop Averky of blessed memory from a collection of his works entitled, “True Orthodoxy and the Modern World.”1 The sermon is from chapter 29 of this work, “The Church of Christ is ‘the Pillar and Bulwark of the Truth.”
Our Venerable Father Seraphim of Platina called Archbishop Averky one of the giants of 20th-century Orthodoxy. Much of what he spoke and taught seems to ring even more true in our own days. The vintage of his words becomes finer with the passing of time, as the words of all holy men do. May we indeed take heed and walk wisely, as he calls upon us to do.
Begin Sermon –
“I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).
“We celebrate the feast of Pentecost and the coming of the Spirit” – the Church joyfully sings on the great and glorious day of the Descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles. The Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles, and on earth appeared “the Kingdom of God, coming in power”, about which the Lord Jesus Christ predicted at the time of His earthly life (Mark 9:1), – the Kingdom of God’s Spirit, the Church of Christ, to which the Lord gave the great promise, that “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).
The Church of Christ is founded on earth, but it is not of earthly origin, but of heavenly origin.
The Church of Christ is composed of men, but it is not a human organization, but a divine one.
This is because its Head is the Divine Founder – the Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, “who for our sakes and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnated of the Holy Spirit and of Mary the Virgin and became incarnate.
The goal, with which the Church of Christ was founded, is the salvation of souls to eternal life, and therefore the true Church of Christ cannot and should not set itself any purely earthly goals, earthly tasks.
This does not mean that she must be separated from the earth and from all earthly things – no! – But it does mean that it must be above all temporal, earthly things: it must look at all earthly things and evaluate all earthly things from the lofty height of its position – from the perspective of its high goal, its high purpose – the eternal salvation of people. Everything that on earth contributes to this high purpose is acceptable to the Church and is approved and blessed by the Church; everything that hinders, in one way or another, the attainment of this purpose is unacceptable to the Church and is rejected by the Church.
The “gates of hell”, that is, all the most select forces of hell, wage a fierce battle “not for life, but for death” against the Church of Christ, to destroy it, or at least depersonalize it, in order to make it, as Christ the Savior Himself said, “salt become insipid” (Matthew 5:13), so that it becomes unable to fulfill its high purpose – to save people’s souls to eternal life.
In our time, it has become obvious to many, it is clear that simply to destroy the Church is impossible: the bloody persecutions of so many centuries, including the most recent persecutions of our time, have achieved nothing in this respect. This is why the “gates of hell” have changed their tactics quite sharply in our time: they seek to depersonalize the Church – to lead her away from her eternal, unearthly goals and to tie her firmly to the earth, to the earthly interests and aspirations of people.
They do this through malleable, compliant, “elastic” hierarchs, who sell the Church for “Judaic Tribute.”
Oh, how grievously sinful before God and the Church are those hierarchs appointed as “overseers” of the Church (for the word “bishop” itself means “overseer”), guardians and watchmen of it, who depart from the high purposes and tasks of the Church – salvation of souls to eternal life – and strive for other merely earthly purposes, to please the powerful of this age, keeping pace “with the times” in order to gain from this for themselves some personal earthly benefit!
Then only the appearance of the Church remains, but without the spirit of the Church.
But how, you may ask, is this possible, when Christ Himself promised that “the gates of hell shall not prevail against the Church”?
Unfortunately, this saying is misunderstood and misinterpreted by many, and in our day it is often maliciously perverted.
The insurmountability of the Church by the “gates of hell,” as well as the infallibility of the Church – concepts closely related to one another – belong to the Church of Christ as a whole, but not to any particular part of it, even if it is very numerous, much less to any particular person, even if it is a clergyman in the highest rank, bishops or patriarchs.
The history of the Church for many centuries testifies to frequent cases of individuals, up to the highest hierarchs, and entire Christian societies falling away from the true faith of Christ.
Christ’s saying about the impassability of the Church by the gates of hell means only that the true Church of Christ will not disappear from the face of the earth until the end of this age and the second coming of Christ, but this in no way excludes the appearance in Christian society of false churches and “churches of the evil one” who have only one outward appearance of the Church, but are without her spirit, – churches that worship the Antichrist and serve not Christ, but the Antichrist.
But the true Church of Christ will remain on earth even if at least one bishop remains in it (for “without a bishop there is no Church”) with only a few clergy and believing laity. The chief attribute of the True Church of Christ is the keeping of the Truth, for the Church, according to the great apostle, is “the pillar and bulwark of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15).
Christ the Savior came to earth, in His own words, to “bear witness to the truth” (John 18:37), and all His faithful followers, especially the pastors of the Church, should take example from Him and also, first of all, bear witness to the Truth, without allowing any lie – neither in their words, nor in their actions.
No lie is appropriate for a true Christian, a minister of the Truth. That is why St. Apostle Paul exhorts all Christians: “Therefore put away lying, speak the truth each one with his neighbor” (Eph.4:25).
A lie is all the more intolerable in the mouths of the ministers of the Church of Christ, and certainly especially intolerable in the mouths of the high hierarchs, who must always proclaim one Truth on behalf of the whole Church.
What would have been if the martyrs of the first centuries of Christianity, “for the salvation of the Church” (a very fashionable excuse nowadays for this kind of lie!), had they only pretended to deny Christ and made sacrifices to idols at the demand of their tormentors?
What would have happened if the great Fathers of the Church, also “for the salvation of the Church,” instead of fighting the heretics, would have found various compromises and entered into concord with them?
Where would then be the true Church of Christ? Would she not then have disappeared from the face of the earth?
And now, for some reason, they say, things have become different, and one can lie, lie, and lie without end “for the salvation of the Church” (???!!!). Everything is turned upside down now, and all concepts are turned inside out!
Fighting for the Faith is somehow reprehensible “politics.”
And yet now, agreeing with the bitter enemies of the Faith, however, is not “politics,” but something very laudable, which many endorse as an act of “wisdom.”
For many, the Church has now become a purely earthly organization, to serve earthly ends, and it is attempted to be made an obedient instrument by men of “this age,” all the way down to the obvious ministers of Satan. But the most terrible thing is that this service to earthly ends is veiled and often disguised by lofty evangelical slogans, the sayings of Christ, the apostles, and that saints, which mislead many, and the naive, who yield to this dishonest deception, this truly diabolical lie which has artfully concealed its essence.
But let us remember, brethren, that wherever there is a lie, no matter how it appears, no matter how it is disguised, there is no true Church.
There is a false Church!
For the True Church of Christ is “the pillar and the ground of truth. “Be taking heed then how exactly you walk, not as unwise ones, but as wise ones” (Eph.5:15)!
1I have this collection in a PDF format.
3 thoughts on “The Gates of Hell Shall not Prevail”
“1I have this collection in a PDF format.”
Could you share it with us?
Dear Father Lynch,
Christ is risen! Thanks for posting this magnificent and God-inspired words from Archbishop Averky. Is there any possibility of making the mentioned PDF file?
making it available I meant. Sorry.