Sunday, August 09, 2009

Metropolitan Philaret on the Example of Ancient Christians

The Holy Apostle Paul in his epistle to the Philippians wrote that they shone as lights in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation (Phil. 2:15). A lofty spiritual disposition and irreproachably clean, strictly, chaste life; these were the characteristic traits of the Philippians Christians, for which the Apostle Paul praised them. We live in later times; nineteen centuries separate us from those days in which the Apostle Paul wrote his epistles. But now, just as the Christians of the first centuries, we are encircled by an environment full of shamelessness and perversion. May the high and holy example of the ancient Christians teach us to be as steadfast and firm in the observance of the laws of Christian morals, and not accede to the temptations which surround us.

Metropolitan Philaret of New York

In the above quote, Metropolitan Philaret, who some consider a saint, speaks clearly of the great need we have to struggle against sin. We should also recognize the importance of his reference to “the high and holy example of ancient Christians” as teachers and role models in faith and morality and what this teaches us. Our Faith is not a thing to be reinvented or remodeled from time to time or generation to generation.

As Eastern Christians we take very seriously that continuity with the “ancient Christians” who have preceded us. While for at least a few centuries in the West it has been fashionable to seek new ideas, new approaches, new interpretations, etc., as though only through continuously reanalyzing every assumption, belief, or proposition can Truth be found; we recognize the legitimacy of Tradition and the validity of not attempting to “re-invent the wheel” when Truth has once and for all been revealed. Therefore, we are not merely content to worship according to the prescripts of rituals that go back millennia, we are consoled and strengthened in the assurance of Truth this worship celebrates. These rituals and devotions work for us because we recognize in them a spiritual power that has stood the test of time.

Byzantine Christianity has remained unchanged throughout centuries marked not only by triumphs (which actually prove little) but also through centuries of suppression and the attacks of cultures and rival religious ideas that have often sought to defeat it by means of arguments, ridicule and the sword. The ability of this Orthodox Faith to continue to inspire, encourage, and enable countless millions to find hope and joy despite temptations, torments, and worldly ‘evidence’ that another approach should be preferable reveals an overarching inner conviction that guides and guards the faith of these children of God.

This inner conviction that is at once intellectually valid and mystically transforming has a power that can only be termed spiritual. It is not so much that it helps me discover who I am, it reveals who and what I am called to be. Our humanity is not confined to the limitations of this century, this culture, or this technology (and the lie that technological advancement somehow indicates an increase in the teleological value of a culture). Our Christianity, replete with devotions and practices that some may initially find arcane at best or even irrationally superstitious, proves to have an inner coherence that is not only perfectly logical as a ‘system of belief’ but in fact is a way of life that breaks us free of the imprisoning delusions of individuality and “predetermined” patterns of existence that actually do no more than limit and diminish our humanity.

By adhering to this “ancient” way, the ultimate freedom of our humanity comes into focus as an ongoing becoming. I am not a victim confined to the place and time of my earthly existence but a child of God having an autonomy through which my life possesses an inherent dignity and ability to surpass these ‘victimizing’ factors. Free will, freedom of choice, the supremacy of love to transform my life, and therefore my very humanity, reveals a spark of divinity within me that energizes limitless potential for real personal growth. This personal change is not some external reaction to outside stimuli, it is a living transfiguration mystically driven by the Grace of God. Humanity’s true fullness only reaches its apogee and victory in a surrender whose reality is Love, not some static submission to an opposing force. It is life restored by the God who is Love.

It is this inner healing and transforming power to experience life with godly eyes that lies at the heart of our Christian life. This capacity invigorates every aspect of our humanity infusing it with Divine freedom. Only True Faith can accomplish this; and it is for this reason that we not only follow the ‘ancient’ ways but delight in them. This is the Faith that offers true human life and freedom. This is the Faith that overcomes the “shamelessness and perversion” of temptations that only promise freedom but deliver only decay and a diminished life. This is the true life in Christ we celebrate.

Thanks be to God.

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