Homily on Nov. 16, 7529 (Nov. 29, 2020, civil calendar), at St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco Russian Orthodox Mission Church, Lewisburg PA
Today we commemorate the Holy Apostle and Evangelist Matthew, whom our Lord and Savior and God Jesus Christ called from his work as a publican tax-collector to become one of His Apostles and ultimately one of the writers of the four Holy Gospels.
For this calling to proclaim the good tidings of salvation, the Evangelist had to leave his lucrative and secure if unpopular work as a collector of taxes for a system that ultimately supported what today we might call religious and colonial oppression, the rule of pagan imperial Rome, which existed precariously alongside and over the self-righteous religious elite of the Jews at the time, as seen in the way that our Lord was sentenced to death by a combination of those powers.
THE GOOD SAMARITAN PARABLE AS A CALL TO SPIRITUAL WARFARE
In happy parallel, the commemoration of St. Matthew today also coincides with the Gospel reading of the Parable of the Good Samaritan, which indicates to us today how we should carry ourselves in relation to our neighbors who may be caught up in oppressive systems of thought and life apart from the Church in America today, which has become a veritable “land of giants” in biblical imagery.
The Church teaches us that the Good Samaritan of the story is a type or in effect icon of our Lord, and in icons is often depicted as Him. For our Lord picks us up and binds our wounds, physical and spiritual, as he in effect did with St. Matthew also. Our Lord releases us from captivity to the worldly flesh and gives us true freedom in service to truth, in His person as the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
Late-18th-century Russian icon of The Good Samaritan
An interesting feature of this story is how it expresses what St. James in his Letter called the royal law, to love our neighbor as our self, which is predicated on the other Great Commandment, to love the Lord with all our heart and all our soul and all our mind.
For our Lord asks his disciples, who was neighbor to the man in trouble? They reply the Good Samaritan. He says, do likewise. Literally, if the Good Samaritan is our neighbor to love as ourself, and if He is seen as our Lord, then we love our Lord with all our heart and soul and mind as our self, and so our neighbor in Him. This indicates that in our neighbor as in ourselves we should see an icon of our Lord, as each of us is made according to the image of Him, with the potential to be fulfilled through His grace to be in His likeness also. As Matthew’s Gospel records the words of our Lord, inasmuch as you have done it to the least of these, you have done it to Me, meaning that our service to our neighbor is also service to Him.
I was reminded of this Parable of our Lord’s message and its call to us to do likewise in considering a recent podcast on Ancient Faith Radio entitled “The Land of Giants,” an interesting discussion about the topic of the giants in the Old Testament, a now-perennial favorite topic of online discussion.
The core of the lengthy podcast involved how, symbolically and actually, accounts of wars with giant clans in the Old Testament (gigantomachia in Greek) involve God-inspired battle against demonized communities who (to combine comments by the podcast co-hosts Fathers Andrew Stephen Damick and Stephen DeYoung) “are in communion with demons, and who are engaging in demonic fornication rituals, in order to produce demonized human beings, who have supernatural abilities.” This involved battle “against communities engaged in mass enslaving of people, murdering those people, sacrificing them to these demons, in cannibalism and drinking their blood.”
Although the laws in Deuteronomy established certain rules of warfare, requiring the opportunity for communities in the promised land to surrender to the children of Israel, presumably to become joined ritually to Israel by acceptance of her rituals, in a type of the Church to come, at the same time it makes exceptions for communities identified with the type of demonic dominance mentioned above. In those cases, we see God-inspired warfare that wiped out those communities in the Book of Joshua.
Our Lord’s Church is not Israel in the sense of a territory, but the fulfillment of Israel as a people dedicated to God, His Body, the spiritual Israel today that is also an historical presence, as in our mission worship space this morning. We war, the Apostle Paul tells us, against principalities and powers, names for ranks of angels and presumably fallen angels or demons, indicating the spiritual nature of our warfare today. The giant clans arguably were types of what we face today in such spiritual warfare. We face in our own country today the most egregious combinations of idolatry (in the sense of objectification of people and things and ultimately the self, in what Alexander Solzhenitsyn called the “permanent lie” of an alternative virtual reality), sexual immorality, demonic uses of technology, mass abortion and abuse of children, and spiritual murder and enslavement. Nihilistic identitarian networks based in all these gross sins form around a devilish assertion of autonomous individualism–rather than the self-emptying in our Lord Jesus Christ in which the Church protects us.
Fyodor Dostoevsky, a Russian Orthodox Christian writer, wrote about the demonic tendencies of modern nihilism, especially in his book Demons, about how demonic ideas possess people and whole communities in modern times, much like the ancient giant clans of old. We see for example the effort to encourage polysexualism, new forms of supposedly progressiveracism driven by atheistic revolutionary ideology, transhuman super-abilities claimed through technology, and a hyper-consumer mentality toward children and the earth, all coming together in an atheistic revolutionary cultural movement called cultural Marxism by some advocatesand critics both. This is a new Western version of the demonic madness that overtook Russia a hundred years ago amid great persecution of the Church, and which still enslaves today the most populous country in the world, from which came our current global medical plague. Arrayed against our Lord and His Church today are the forces of transnational capitalism, transhuman technology, atheistic and anti-Christian systems of education, media, finance, commerce, and social conformity in historically Christian lands, coupled with new forms of loneliness and terror, all leading toward a new kind of totalitarianism. Truly the spirit of anti-Christ, denying the Incarnation of Christ and seeking to erase His Church, is abroad in our own land and is at our very doorstep.
But our Lord assures us that the gates of hell cannot prevail against His Church. The Blood of the Lamb is on our door frames in this Passover, the Pascha that we commemorate and participate in through our worship as the Body of Christ.
We are called today in America to a spiritual warfare, a New Testament version of gigantomachia, or the battle against the giant clans, in our lives as Orthodox Christians today. This spiritual warfare begins with our own lives, with our home prayers, our participation in worship in the Church, with our study of Scripture. As our Lord says in the Gospel of Matthew, ye do err not knowing the Scriptures and the power of God.
Jan Saenredam, David with the Head of Goliath, Dutch 1600
In terms of being well armed spiritually for today’s battle with the giant clans, let me also put in a plug here for our weekly Bible Study at 2 p.m. each Sunday, in the New Testament under the guidance of Archbishop Averky’s commentary based in the Church Fathers. The author of the text we currently are studying, the Apostle James the Just, according to Church tradition first translated from Aramaic into Greek, the Gospel of the Evangelist Matthew whom we commemorate today. So the Church works together across the ages.
And so the Parable of the Good Samaritan reminds us that we should “do likewise” in service to our Lord, for our neighbors in Christian love. If our society is hostage to giant clans, we should then for the sake of our neighbors take up spiritual arms daily as warriors for Christ, to give them the opportunity to be free, and to do God’s will and be witnesses for it with his grace, on earth as it is in heaven. The Judge Samson was unworthy in many ways. But God gave to him the power to witness to the freedom of Israel and be a type of Christ among the Holy Forerunners recognized by the Church. How much more can we, however unworthy, I speak for myself, witness as those baptized and washed clean in the Lamb, witness to the freedom of the true Israel, the people to whom we belong in the Body and Blood of our Savior, even in the land of the giants today.
In our inspiration let us look to the tradition of the martyr’s death of St. Matthew and how it bore fruit. At the end in a strange pagan land of cannibals he was put to death by the tyrant king. But that king afterward was converted to Christianity through the relics of the saint. The king took the name of Matthew in baptism, and by written instructions prophetically left by the evangelist later himself became bishop of the very land that once had killed the apostle in defiance of Christ under the former king’s own hand. That former tyrant himself on his repose entered into the rolls of the saints of the Church. May the Lord similarly bless our unworthy land and bless the evangelism work of our mission and our spiritual warfare against the giants, through the intercessions of our patron St. John, and the Holy Protection of our Lady the most Holy Theotokos, under whose patronage our mission was founded. In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
From a homily given after the Thanksgiving Akathist at a service at St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco Russian Orthodox Mission in Lewisburg, PA, on Thanksgiving Day, the Feast of St. John Chrysostom, Thurs. Feb. 26, 2020.
Glory to God for all things! We thank Him for all the gifts He gives to us, even in times of severe trial.
The story of the American Thanksgiving is linked to the story of the Akathist of Thanksgiving through that Christian experience of joyful sorrow as exemplified in the Orthodox Church. Joyful sorrow or bright sorrow comes from our training as athletes for Christ, and our embrace of self-emptying in Christ, rather than self-assertion, as the source of identity, the realization that freedom and justice lie in the love found in sobornost, or spiritual unity with Christ in His Church. There we find our true identity in relation with Him.
There we find the union fulfilled in God’s reality that is typed by the union of the American republic, as defined by Abraham Lincoln as one nation under God, associated with Thanksgiving Day, and the earlier story of the American Pilgrims going back to their landing 400 years ago this year, and the later American Declaration of Independence stating that our rights come from God, and George Washington’s first American Thanksgiving proclamations.
The 400th anniversary of the landing of the Mayflower Pilgrims in America this year coincides with the 100th anniversary of the founding of our Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, by those faithful fleeing Bolshevik Totalitarianism, giving thanks for their deliverance and holding up the standard of the Church for pious Christians everywhere to rally around in the latter days afflected by the spirit of Anti-Christ. Of course, our Lord’s Orthodox Church goes back across millennia, even in prototype rooted in the Old Testament days of yore, even to the Creation, when the first man Adam must have exclaimed in gratitude and wonder, “Glory to God for all things!”
President Lincoln wrote in his Thanksgiving Day proclamation in 1863, founding the modern American holiday:
The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.
1914 Painting of the First Thanksgiving by Jennie A. Brownscombe
In the 1600s, John Winthrop wrote in his diary of his experience among the Pilgrims who celebrated the first Thanksgiving in America that:
But hear I cannot but stay and make a pause, and stand half amased at this poore peoples presente condition; and so I thinke will the reader too, when he well considers ye same. Being thus passed ye vast ocean, and a sea of troubles before in their preparation (as may be remembred by yt which wente before), they had now no freinds to wellcome them, nor inns to entertaine or refresh their weatherbeaten bodys, no houses or much less townes to repaire too, to seeke for succoure. It is recorded in scripture] as a mercie to ye apostle & his shipwraked company, yt the barbarians shewed them no smale kindnes in refreshing them, but these savage barbarians, when they mette with them (as after will appeare) were readier to fill their sids full of arrows then otherwise. And for ye season it was winter, and they that know ye winters of yt cuntrie know them to be sharp & violent, & subjecte to cruell & feirce stormes, deangerous to travill to known places, much more to serch an unknown coast. Besids, what could they see but a hidious & desolate wildernes, full of wild beasts & willd men? and what multituds ther might be of them they knew not. Nether could they, as it were, goe up to ye tope of Pisgah, to vew from this willdernes a more goodly cuntrie to feed their hops; for which way soever they turnd their eys (save upward to ye heavens) they could have litle solace or content in respecte of any outward objects. For sum̅er being done, all things stand upon them with a wetherbeaten face; and ye whole countrie, full of woods & thickets, represented a wild & savage heiw. If they looked behind them, ther was ye mighty ocean which they had passed, and was now as a maine barr & goulfe to seperate them from all ye civill parts of ye world. … What could now sustaine them but the spirite of God & his grace?
May not & ought not the children of these fathers rightly say:
Our faithers were Englishmen which came over this great ocean, and were ready to perish in this willdernes; but they cried unto ye Lord, and he heard their voyce, and looked on their adversitie, &c. Let them therfore praise ye Lord, because he is good, & his mercies endure for ever.Yea, let them which have been redeemed of ye Lord, shew how he hath delivered them from ye hand of ye oppressour. When they wandered in ye deserte willdernes out of ye way, and found no citie to dwell in, both hungrie, & thirstie, their sowle was overwhelmed in them. Let them confess before ye Lord his loving kindnes, and his wonderfull works before ye sons of men.
The story of America is writ large in the story of the Bible carried by her founders into a wilderness. However imperfect their practice of Christianity in that day, amid the heterodoxy of Puritanism, and in alternating hostilities and friendships with Native Americans, the story of American Thanksgiving is one of gratitude and piety, extended across a republic by Washington’s proclamation and across a nation by Lincoln’s. It echoes through God’s word of the one holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, in which we worship today at our Russian Orthodox Mission in rural Pennsylvania, welcoming all of all backgrounds. A few generations after the Pilgrims, missionaries would be establishing the first Orthodox worship communities among Natives in Alaska, and among immigrants in the American South and on the East Coast.
Truly, Thanksgiving is a holiday that remains properly more a verb than a noun, and carries with it greater meaning than conventions of family dinners alone. We can remember the history of faith extolled by the Apostle Paul from the Old Testament to his day. We remember those sufferings of the ancient martyrs and trials of Church Fathers, such as St. John Chrysostom, whose memory we also celebrate today. And in modern times severe trials like those of Protopresbyter Gregory Petrov in the prison camp in 1940, and the song of praise amid terrible suffering he left behind.
This is the day the Lord hath made, let us be glad and rejoice therein.
A photo of our cat Callie the Calico or Camo Cat, who loves Dostoevsky’s Writer’s Diary it seems. Or maybe was bored reading it, as a family member suggested. Or both. Meanwhile, remember that the St. John’s Bible Study continues on Sundays, now at 2 p.m. at the Jackass Brewery restaurant outdoors (heated canopy), reading the New Testament epistles with Archbishop Averky’s commentary based in the Church Fathers and Russian Orthodox tradition. Just bring a Bible and yourself, no homework needed. Dostoevsky would approve. Callie won’t mind if it’s during her nap time.
New Bible Study: Finding Spiritual Healing in Scripture Sundays 2 to 3 p.m. at Jackass Brewery and restaurant Route 45 just west of Lewisburg at Brook Park Farm, along the Bike Trail and near the Library
Have you wanted to study the Letters of Paul and other Apostles in the New Testament in an informal way to gain insights into how to better your life, while learning from insights of the Apostles’ own Church on those writings? Then join the St. John Russian Orthodox Church of Lewisburg’s new community Bible Study!
It’s open to all, with no previous knowledge or homework needed. Jump in any time, we’re starting with the General Epistles. Bring a Bible if you can. We’ll also refer to lectures from the New Testament study course at Holy Trinity Seminary, by Archbishop Averky Taushev, which draws on commentary from the early Church Fathers. It’s not necessary to own or read the commentary book to participate in the study, but it’s available on Kindle here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07BB36541/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1
We will maintain social distancing and Covid precautions in accord with restaurant rules, and meet outside as weather permits. May the Lord bless and we hope to journey with you in this study of Scripture!
St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco Russian Orthodox Mission Church, Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. 20 September 7528 (Oct. 4, 2020, on the civil calendar)
Dearest to Christ, we have the angels with us today in our worship, even without the Holy Eucharist, because we are gathered as Orthodox Christians in prayer to our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ, and asking our Lady the Most Holy pure and glorious Theotokos for her intercession, and for the intercession of all the saints. We are here with our spiritual family portraits, the icons around us, from across the ages. We hear the Epistle and the Gospel, the Word of God. We worship with the one holy catholic and apostolic church today.
This week two books came out related to our humble mission. One had its publishing date Thursday, Healing Humanity, a book from the conference that our mission helped organize at our seminary in Jordanville NY. It deals with the moral crisis facing our nation and today’s increasingly secular and anti-West, the crisis of pansexualism that seeks to undo the nature of God’s creation and eradicate Christianity. The other book is related, and by one of the contributors to the first, an Orthodox Christian writer, Rod Dreher, it is called Live not by Lies. That title is from a phrase written by the great Orthodox writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn. Live not by Lies. The Gospels tell us that the devil is liar and father of lies. Lying is idolatry, the objectification of a delusional state of living apart from God. Solzhenitsyn called totalitarianism the permanent lie that seeks to replace God with a manmade virtual reality, like the Tower of Babel or Sodom and Gomorrah, all about pride and false pleasure. Brother Rod interviewed many elderly former dissidents in the ex Soviet lands about how to survive totalitarianism because they see it coming to us now in the West accompanying our nihilistic morality. It will be a cultural totalitarianism drawing more on pleasure and ostracism than on open physical violence, he writes. We will be tempted more by our addiction to comfort and pleasurable materialistic stimulation than by atheistic Marxism and revolutionary class struggle as such. It will be more like Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World than George Orwell’s 1984, although with elements of both. It is through the comfort and power of our technology that atheistic cultural Marxism marching hand-in-hand with consumer capitalism tempts us to worship idols and power, through educational and media systems today working with our own sins, to the destruction of our souls.
In the acknowledgements section of his new book, Rod Dreher states, “I am not at liberty to thank some of those who helped me research this book, because it would put them at risk of retaliation in the workplace. None of these anonymous helpers live in the former Soviet bloc; all are Americans.”
Last week he appeared on Tucker Carlson Tonight to talk about this. He told the host what he learned in writing the book. “It taught me about how much we Americans need to learn how to suffer better…. We have got to be a lot more patient with our suffering so we can endure what is to come. Because this is what the soft totalitarians are going to do: they’re going to use our addiction to comfort to control us.”
This resonates with the readings from the Gospel today, appropriate for the Leave-Taking or Apodosis of the Exaltation of the Cross.
“The Lord said, ‘Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for My sake and the Gospel’s, the same shall save it. For what shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? Whosoever, therefore, shall be ashamed of Me and of My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him also shall the Son of Man be ashamed when He cometh in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.’ And He said unto them, ‘Verily I say unto you, that there be some of them that stand here who shall not taste of death till they have seen the Kingdom of God come with power.’ “
But the second Gospel reading today holds the remedy in humility and repentance and worship of our Lord. The Syro-Phoenician woman asked Him for mercy and said, “the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.’Then Jesus answered and said unto her, ‘O woman, great is thy faith. Be it unto thee even as thou wilt.’ And her daughter was made whole from that very hour.”
Today we face the spirit of anti-Christ, which as the Holy Apostle and Evangelist John the Theologian said denies that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, denies the Incarnation of God, and thus seeks to eradicate traditional Christianity from culture and society, from professional careers and education and media. Where Christianity is still encouraged by the totalitarian system it will be like the Living Church under the Soviets a renovationist perversion and not Orthodox, except for the remnant Orthodox Church of martyrs.
St. Anatole the Younger of Optina was one of the last of the Optina elders, a spiritual son of Elder St. Ambrose. He was visited by Communist soldiers who tormented him. They said they would return the next day to arrest him. That night, he reposed, God took Him to save him that additional struggle. St. Anatole left us this prayer:
“O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, deliver us from the seductions of the coming antichrist, abhorred by God and crafty in evil, and from all his snares. Protect us and all our right- believing Christian neighbors from his devious nets, keeping us in the hidden refuge of thy salvation. Grant, Lord, that our fear of the devil may not be greater than our fear of thee, and that we not fall away from thee and thy holy Church. But instead, grant us, O Lord, to suffer and die for thy holy Name and for the Orthodox faith, and never to deny thee, nor to receive the marks of the cursed antichrist, nor to worship him. Grant us, O Lord, day and night, tears and lamentation for our sins, and on the day of thy dread Judgment, O Lord, grant us pardon. Amen.”
There is a powerful answer to the spirit of Anti-Christ abroad in our land today in the Song of the Three Holy Children, one of the canticles of the Church, which is featured in the Holy Saturday Vesperal Divine Liturgy. It is in Chapter 3 of Daniel in the Septuagint Bible that we use as Orhtodox Christians, but is also found in the Apocrypha of the King James Bible, from a Greek text believed by many scholars to be authentically part of the Holy Prophet’s book originally but lost from the later Hebrew manuscripts. In it, first one of the youths Azarias makes a powerful statement of repentance, then the three sing of God’s glory. They have been thrown into the fiery furnace by the evil ruler in their strange land of exile, and as they praise God, a fourth form appears, a theophany of Christ before the Incarnation, and shields them, so that the smell of smoke is not even on them. In icons of this, in the form of an angel He bears the Cross.
You may recall on Holy Saturday the wonderful joy of this reading, as the chorus sings, “Praise the Lord, exalt Him to all the ages!” Remember that joyful singing as I read the King James version and pray with the children in the furnace and with me, that we may too see Christ with us in the fires to come, sheltering us and our children and spiritual children and grandchildren, preserving the Church that is the New Israel from the flames of the spirit of Anti-Christ and his evil coming.
1 And they walked in the midst of the fire, praising God, and blessing the Lord.
2 Then Azarias stood up, and prayed on this manner; and opening his mouth in the midst of the fire said,
3 Blessed art thou, O Lord God of our fathers: thy name is worthy to be praised and glorified for evermore:
4 For thou art righteous in all the things that thou hast done to us: yea, true are all thy works, thy ways are right, and all thy judgments truth.
5 In all the things that thou hast brought upon us, and upon the holy city of our fathers, even Jerusalem, thou hast executed true judgment: for according to truth and judgment didst thou bring all these things upon us because of our sins.
6 For we have sinned and committed iniquity, departing from thee.
7 In all things have we trespassed, and not obeyed thy commandments, nor kept them, neither done as thou hast commanded us, that it might go well with us.
8 Wherefore all that thou hast brought upon us, and every thing that thou hast done to us, thou hast done in true judgment.
9 And thou didst deliver us into the hands of lawless enemies, most hateful forsakers of God, and to an unjust king, and the most wicked in all the world.
10 And now we cannot open our mouths, we are become a shame and reproach to thy servants; and to them that worship thee.
11 Yet deliver us not up wholly, for thy name’s sake, neither disannul thou thy covenant:
12 And cause not thy mercy to depart from us, for thy beloved Abraham’s sake, for thy servant Issac’s sake, and for thy holy Israel’s sake;
13 To whom thou hast spoken and promised, that thou wouldest multiply their seed as the stars of heaven, and as the sand that lieth upon the seashore.
14 For we, O Lord, are become less than any nation, and be kept under this day in all the world because of our sins.
15 Neither is there at this time prince, or prophet, or leader, or burnt offering, or sacrifice, or oblation, or incense, or place to sacrifice before thee, and to find mercy.
16 Nevertheless in a contrite heart and an humble spirit let us be accepted.
17 Like as in the burnt offerings of rams and bullocks, and like as in ten thousands of fat lambs: so let our sacrifice be in thy sight this day, and grant that we may wholly go after thee: for they shall not be confounded that put their trust in thee.
18 And now we follow thee with all our heart, we fear thee, and seek thy face.
19 Put us not to shame: but deal with us after thy lovingkindness, and according to the multitude of thy mercies.
20 Deliver us also according to thy marvellous works, and give glory to thy name, O Lord: and let all them that do thy servants hurt be ashamed;
21 And let them be confounded in all their power and might, and let their strength be broken;
22 And let them know that thou art God, the only God, and glorious over the whole world.
23 And the king’s servants, that put them in, ceased not to make the oven hot with rosin, pitch, tow, and small wood;
24 So that the flame streamed forth above the furnace forty and nine cubits.
25 And it passed through, and burned those Chaldeans it found about the furnace.
26 But the angel of the Lord came down into the oven together with Azarias and his fellows, and smote the flame of the fire out of the oven;
27 And made the midst of the furnace as it had been a moist whistling wind, so that the fire touched them not at all, neither hurt nor troubled them.
28 Then the three, as out of one mouth, praised, glorified, and blessed, God in the furnace, saying,
29 Blessed art thou, O Lord God of our fathers: and to be praised and exalted above all for ever.
30 And blessed is thy glorious and holy name: and to be praised and exalted above all for ever.
31 Blessed art thou in the temple of thine holy glory: and to be praised and glorified above all for ever.
32 Blessed art thou that beholdest the depths, and sittest upon the cherubims: and to be praised and exalted above all for ever.
33 Blessed art thou on the glorious throne of thy kingdom: and to be praised and glorified above all for ever.
34 Blessed art thou in the firmament of heaven: and above all to be praised and glorified for ever.
35 O all ye works of the Lord, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever,
36 O ye heavens, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.
37 O ye angels of the Lord, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.
38 O all ye waters that be above the heaven, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.
39 O all ye powers of the Lord, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.
40 O ye sun and moon, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.
41 O ye stars of heaven, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.
42 O every shower and dew, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.
43 O all ye winds, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever,
44 O ye fire and heat, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.
45 O ye winter and summer, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.
46 O ye dews and storms of snow, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.
47 O ye nights and days, bless ye the Lord: bless and exalt him above all for ever.
48 O ye light and darkness, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.
49 O ye ice and cold, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.
50 O ye frost and snow, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.
51 O ye lightnings and clouds, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.
52 O let the earth bless the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.
53 O ye mountains and little hills, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.
54 O all ye things that grow in the earth, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.
55 O ye mountains, bless ye the Lord: Praise and exalt him above all for ever.
56 O ye seas and rivers, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.
57 O ye whales, and all that move in the waters, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.
58 O all ye fowls of the air, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.
59 O all ye beasts and cattle, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.
60 O ye children of men, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.
61 O Israel, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.
62 O ye priests of the Lord, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.
63 O ye servants of the Lord, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.
64 O ye spirits and souls of the righteous, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.
65 O ye holy and humble men of heart, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.
66 O Ananias, Azarias, and Misael, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever: for he hath delivered us from hell, and saved us from the hand of death, and delivered us out of the midst of the furnace and burning flame: even out of the midst of the fire hath he delivered us.
67 O give thanks unto the Lord, because he is gracious: for his mercy endureth for ever.
68 O all ye that worship the Lord, bless the God of gods, praise him, and give him thanks: for his mercy endureth for ever.
This week marked the appearance of Healing Humanity: Confronting our Moral Crisis, a book from Holy Trinity Publications featuring contributors who are clergy, professors, and prominent writers in the Orthodox Christian tradition in North America, co-edited by Archpriest Alexander Webster, Prof. David Ford, and myself, based on a conference on the same at Holy Trinity Seminary in Jordanville last year. By meaningful coincidence, the week also marked the appearance of another new book, by one of those contributors, Orthodox Christian writer Rod Dreher, Live not by Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents. Both books relate integrally to the culture of self-destruction, social division, and cultural totalitarianism in our era of “woke capitalism.” As if to advertise these books by giving a sign of our dire straits, the same week brought a random Tweet from the founding editor of America’s radical-Left flagship magazine, voicing his approval for the killing in 1918 of the Romanov children venerated by Orthodox Christians as Holy Royal Martyrs. Such decadent elitism in American corporate-consumer culture today seeks a new American Cultural Revolution, drawing on cultural Marxist ideologies of Critical Race Studies, Anthropoceneism, Pansexualism, and Antifa. It would shape America’s future as a sequel to Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s epic historical fiction cycle The Red Wheel, the latest and climactic volume of which, March 1917 Book 2, appeared in timely fashion in English just last November. All three books –Solzhenitsyn’s, Dreher’s, and the Jordanville collection– should be on the reading list of American Orthodox Christians this fall during the threatened unraveling of the old republic “under God.”
The urgent need for the West to embrace traditional Orthodox Christian anthropology and morality articulated in the Healing Humanity book reflects the relation of the so-called sexual revolution of 1960s America to America’s new Cultural Revolution today. The latter offers a techno-totalitarian version, as Dreher’s new book explains, of the Bolshevik Revolution described by Solzhenitsyn’s cycle, followed by its successor the Maoist Cultural Revolution in Communist China. But in America’s Cultural Revolution 3.0, we see a volatile mix of consumer capitalism and anarchist upheaval, fueled by the materialistic passion and self-pleasure sown in our earlier sexual revolution. Today’s American revolutionary movement could also be trademarked as Identity,TM given its commodified or objectified view of self, built up by targeting others while unleashing plagues of extreme loneliness and both subtle and direct forms of social terror.
To demonize in modern parlance means to objectify one’s self or others. This is what today’s Cultural Revolution does, indicating its own demonic trajectory. It calls for spiritual warfare, and the Russian Orthodox philosopher Ivan Ilyin’s book On Resistance to Evil by Force and the Orthodox classic Unseen Warfare, edited by St. Theophan the Recluse, are two helpful resources to guide our prayer lives and faith walk in these difficult times. (Nota Bene: Critique of culturally totalitarian ideology on all sides does not question the need for authentic concern for victims of bias or hate, and for remedying institutional and personal corruption that enables such evil passions, which is a duty of Christian love and practice, including for example needs to improve the American criminal justice system.)
Of the link between the sexual revolution and cultural-political revolution generally, the Canadian writer Jonathan Van Maren notes: “The sexual revolution may have given people freedom, but what it took away was far more precious: a sense of belonging, identity, and families filled with siblings, cousins, and other relatives. This way of life is so scorned and even demonized that many of the bitter, angry young people marching to the trendy tune of the latest Pied Piper do not even realize that their primal screams are howls of longing for the very things many of them claim to despise.” The Jewish philosopher Hannah Arendt, herself an exile from Nazism, warned in her study The Origins of Totalitarianism that such loneliness enables the rise of technology-enabled totalitarianism as seen in both the Nazi and Communist systems.
The new Cultural Revolution today, in separating individuals not only from family ties but in delusion from bodily limitation and personal relationships, also seeks to obscure the historic Church and the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. Relying on abstracted experience of initiated cognoscenti, it offers a new technocratic version of the ancient disembodied heresy of Gnosticism. Sexually, more advanced forms of contraception, and ever-more quasi-magical technologies, seek to defy embodiedness, mortality, and God in hyper-instrumentalist approaches to physical life. They move people to seek “out of body” passion without God, with abstracted minds separating from embodied hearts (to use terms developed from millennia of Orthodox ascetic experience) in a drive to orgiastic power and ultimately violence. May the resulting extremities help lead all, by God’s grace, to steadfast faith in Him through His Orthodox Church!
St. Irenaeus of Lyons in early Christian times, a spiritual grandchild of the Apostle John the Theologian, wrote the classic text Against Heresies. It was primarily a critique of ancient gnosticism, but offers an antidote to American techno-gnosticism today. It is helpfully summarized and briefly excerpted in the account of St. Irenaeus in The Synaxarion by Hieromonk Makarios of the Monastery of Simonos Petra below:
“He showed first that this ‘Gnosis,’ which heretics vainly sought in the mythical plots and complicated constructions of their perverted intelligence, is the pre-eminent gift of the charity that the Holy Spirit gives to the Christian in the living organism of the Church. It is only within it that one quench one’s thirst with the clear water that flows from the side of Christ, thence to receive life eternal. All other doctrines are nothing but broken cisterns (Jer. 2:13). The true ‘Gnostics’ are not those who reject and despise the body to worship God, ‘ineffable’ and his ‘Demiurge,’ but spiritual men who have received from the Holy Spirit the earnest of the Resurrection of the body and of incorruptibility. Breaking with the Hellenic duality of body and soul, Saint Irenaeus developed Saint John’s doctrine of the Word made flesh to interpret the meaning of the vocation of man. The first Adam had been formed from clay by the two Hands of God: the Word and the Spirit, in the image of God conformed to the model of the glorious flesh of Christ; and the breath of life had been given him in order to progress from the image to the likeness of God. Having been tricked by the Devil, jealous of his prerogatives, and having fallen into death, he had not, however, been abandoned by God, who had from all eternity intended to make him a partaker in His glory. The revelations and prophecies of the Old Testament, and above all the Incarnation of the Word, His death, His Resurrection and His glorious Ascension, constitute the necessary stages in this ‘Economy’ of the history of Salvation. Always keeping in mind this ultimate end for which He had created man, the Word was made flesh, ‘recapitulating’ the first Adam in Himself. As the first man, born into a virgin earth, fell, through the virgin Eve’s disobedience by a tree, so Christ came into the world through the obedience of the Virgin Mary and had been hung on the tree of the Cross. ‘He gave His soul for our souls and His flesh for our flesh, and He has poured out the Spirit of the Father to bring about the union and communion of God with men, bringing God down into men by the Spirit and drawing men up to God by His Incarnation.’
“The Word of God who had created the world, invisibly making it in the form of a cross, made Himself visible at the time appointed on the Cross, in order to bring together in His body all the beings that had become separated, and bring them to the knowledge of God. Appearing, not in His ineffable glory but as a man, He has shown in Himself the restored image of God, conformed once more to the likeness. He has nourished us ‘at the breast of His flesh,’ so that, accustomed to eating and drinking the Word of God, and strengthened by the ‘bread of immortality,’ we might draw near to the vision of God that gives us incorruptibility. ‘It is impossible to live separated from Life, and there is no participation in life without participation in God, and this participation in God consists in seeing God and enjoying His sweetness…. For the glory of God is the living man, and a man’s life is the vision of God.’
“For Irenaeus, a disciple of those who had known the Apostles, knowledge (gnosis) is love and the deification of man in the Person of Christ the Saviour. Much more than a simple refutation of false ‘Gnosis,’ his doctrine, wonderful in its simplicity and profundity, contains the seed of all that the latter fathers developed in their inspired writings.”
Against such holy teaching and experience of embodied virtue in Christian anthropology, modern revolutionaries of all types offer the false joy of dominance, exemplified in the works of the Marquis de Sade, extended by technological control in taking pleasure in self-destruction. Writer Vicky Osterweil’s manifesto In Defense of Looting, and Prof. Mark Bray’s Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook, both ultimately advocate philosophies of violent anarchism in the service of revolution leading to totalitarianism. Hipster revolutionaries are discovering their own sweet spots of status and potential power in a cultural sado-masochism that mirrors and amplifies the worst elements of historic American flaws, and more basically those of unredeemed human nature everywhere throughout history.
The roots of today’s entwined movements of Antifa, Antiracism, Pansexualism, and the Anthropocene, lie in the atheism of Karl Marx and cultural Marxism. Advocates of Marxist revolution emphasizing cultural subversion developed the latter term originally to distinguish their approach from the classical Marxist emphasis on class struggle. This is not to dismiss the real humanity and concerns of people who are victims of oppression in any form, and the good intent of many in such effors. But the movements as a melding ideology, increasingly totalitarian in culture, separate themselves from such personal concerns in a common drive toward Marx’s goals of undermining traditional networks of family, faith, and community. The goal socially is to overthrow Christian sobornost, or spiritual unity and solidarity in Christ. The political philosopher Eric Voegelin saw these trends as technocratic gnosticism, evident in Nazism and Communism, but also in the movement toward the administrative state of liberal social democratic countries, which emerged as dominant global culture in the late twentieth century. The administrative or managerial state of the social welfare regime sought in his view to “immanentize the eschaton,” to take technocratic visions of a new culture by illuminated experts as a blueprint for secular utopia. More recently, the Polish Catholic philospher Ryszard Leguko, has written of the advance of a new wave of cultural totalitarianism, different from the classical totalitarianism of Nazism and Communism, in liberal democracies such as the European Union. He described that trend as an emerging neocolonial hegemony of the global West, which is really technocracy, or total social control by technology. The current Cultural Revolution builds on that framework, despite its claim to radicalism.
By contrast to such materialistic schemes of power, sobornost in Orthodox Christian tradition is the intersection of mystical hierarchy and conciliarity in our Lord Jesus Christ. In sobornost, freedom is self-restraint, freedom from objectifying passion. Such freedom flows from service to universal truth, in the person of Jesus Christ. Sobornost in this Orthodox Christian tradition functions as a synonym for justice, the grace-sustained righteousness (a biblical synonym for justice) which ensures the opportunity for all to engage in such meaningful life. Sobornost is a millennia-old experiential teaching and practice in Christianity, growing from terminology in the 4th-century Nicene Creed, but was coined as a term by modern Russian philosophers such as the Jewish-Orthodox Christian refugee from Communist and Nazi totalitarianism, S.L. Frank, in his The Spiritual Foundations of Society.
Sobornost derivatively was the historical basis of America as a constitutional republic “under God,” however dimly reflected in practice and deeply flawed. It is glimpsed in axiomatic references to God as the source of equality in the Declaration of Independence and Gettysburg Address, and the derivative structuring in the Constitution of a decentralized republic “under God.” This was designed to restrict the fallen human drive for power, echoing Christian ideas of republic seen in Byzantium, relating kingship (the Presidency), aristocracy (the Senate, the Supreme Court, and Electoral College), and democracy (the House of Representatives), restricted by limits recognizing fallen human nature yet with respect for each man being made according to the image of God (the Bill of Rights).
Self-serving idealism and materialism also formed part of the history of America, and merged in recent generations with the subversions of cultural Marxism to produce the current Cultural Revolution 3.0, linking the sexual revolution and passions of civil unrest with militant atheism. One mark of a totalitarian movement is a lack of self-reflection, in which case its major blindspots become instructive. Types of systemic violence obscured by the Cultural Revolution reveal the integral flaws of its atheistic materialism. These include the systemic violence of abortion disproportionately killing babies of color; the tragically high number of deaths of youths of color at the hands of other youths of color, often from broken homes in American cities; substantive issues about the poor state of America’s schools especially in urban areas; and the rising cultural and criminal depravity of sexualizing children. The most vulnerable suffer in systems where dissolute elites in effect cheer on social self-destruction. Extreme levels of violence involving youths with inadequate educational systems occur in major U.S. cities ruled for decades by political machines ostensibly serving the cause of social justice, as in my hometown of Chicago.
Across American culture, developments such as the decline of marriage and rise of children outside of wedlock, ubiquity of cyberporn and taking sexual advantage of children, normalizing polyamory, and generally the pansexualizing of culture, all indicate the essentializing of passions at the expense of traditional norms of self-restraint in Christian traditions of the old republic. These are all trends in which elites and often ostensibly Christian people have participated and led. They end badly. On the link between objectification of others and violent revolution, as one micro-example consider the backgrounds of some of those allegedly hunting down 17-year Kyle Rittenhouse during a recent riot in Kenosha, WI: one a registered sex offender-pedophile, another convicted twice for domestic abuse, and a third allegedly a gang member and amateur porn actor. None of that at all justifies fatal shootings, to be sure. But such contexts suggest how private passions provide a context for erupting social violence and anarchistic politics, which Hannah Arendt also saw as a necessary source of totalitarianism.
Note that in the great tradition of Lenin’s Vanguard, none of our current cultural revolutionaries in education, letters, media, politics, the arts, or the corporate world are stepping away from their careers or incomes to allow others less privileged socioeconomically and culturally to take the status of their positions in accord with their own ideological rhetoric. Life handbooks like How to be an Anti-Racist and White Fragility have become the latest pop culture versions of Mao’s Little Red Book, Norman Vincent Peale’s The Power of Positive Thinking, or replacement for the King James Bible in secular society, as bedside guides, while garnering fame and status for their contemporary authors as oracles underwritten by elites.
The systemic issues neglected by the Cultural Revolution as mentioned above, together with the ongoing need for bipartisan improvement of the American criminal justice system, challenge the modern idea of progress itself. If honestly faced, they challenge the moral status of America’s “woke” elites. Despite the Christian roots of the early American republic, historically such cultural elites nurtured ideas of their exceptionalism from chiliastic (utopianist) variants of Protestantism and Masonic-Deistic idealism, as well as Eurocentric Western Enlightenment thinking fed by technological progress and scientistic enthusiasms. Such factors mingled with atheistic Marxism to shape the modern techno-Gnosticism of our current Cultural Revolution, with its attempted erasure of traditional social and faith networks, and privileging of those deemed culturally illuminated, who supposedly enjoy technologically empowered quasi-magical expertise outside of deeply rooted faith, family, and social networks.
Along those lines, critical studies efforts in academia have developed since the 1960s as hotbeds of advocacy and activism rather than what C.S. Lewis would have called the “old learning” of the humanities with their cautions on the need for virtuous self-restraint with otherworldly grace. The morphing of humanities fields into race/class/gender studies ghosting “woke” social sciences, of Environmental Studies into revolutionary-technocratic Anthropocene and environmental-justice studies, and other late-twentieth-century “studies” fields of gender and race into ever-more-radical forms of advocacy and activism on the Left, leave little tolerance for dissent, which they classify as phobic madness and hate. To paraphrase Tacitus, “they make a desert and call it victory.”
Russian philosophers from an Orthodox Christian standpoint since the days of the Slavophiles and Dostoevsky’s “back to the soil” movement have challenged Eurocentric secular ideas as neocolonialist and oppressive. But today’s American “studies” fields ironically do so in a dominant Eurocentric secular voice, by advancing cultural Marxism with hatred of traditional Christianity, and shaping the culturally totalitarian ideology of the new global West.
The claim that the Green New Deal–often closely linked to Environmental Studies’ activism-advocacy today–is nonpartisan is a good example of the blindspots in self-reflection and transparency of this American Cultural Revolution. Organized by the Sunrise Movement, the Green New Deal movement seeks to galvanize the election of hard-left Democratic officials nationally to gain control of levels of power in America. It now seeks to link its “anthropocene” view of cosmology — technocratic and devoid of God — to Critical Race Studies’ Antiracism, a natural fit for cultural elites building the current revolutionary coalition, and Pansexualism that seeks to eradicate traditional family. For years the official Black Lives Matter website had featured its opposition to the nuclear family, ironically as a rejection of a racialized white hegemony by group leaders immersed in the global West’s neocolonialist cultural Marxism. Such “radical” views were recently scrubbed from the website, in an apparent effort to keep and gain support with non-elites who still identify with a traditional faith or know the history of communism.
Authentic Marxism, wrote the young Antonio Gramsci, a founder of cultural Marxism, “sees as the dominant factor in history, not raw economic facts, but man, men in societies, men in relation to one another, reaching agreements with one another, developing through their contacts…a collective, social will; men coming to understand economic facts, judging them and adapting them to their will until this becomes the driving force of th economy and moulds objective reality, which lives and moves and comes to resemble a current of volcanic lava that can be channelled wherever and in whatever way men’s will determines.” (The Revolution Against Capital, Selections from Political Writings, 35-6)
Ironically, what is called “systemic racism” is another name for socialism’s modern historical effects–oppressing minorities through government-corporate conglomerates.Examples include Chinese Communist persecution of the Uighurs and other minorities; Soviet Communist persecution of Ukrainians, Christians, and Jews; Nazi German persecution of Jews and Slavs; the subjugation of low-income African-Americans in the Democratic “progressive” political machines of America’s major urban centers; and the “industrial slavery” of urbanization with alliances between government, corporations, and unions, which morphed into high-stress paycheck-to-paycheck “professional” as well as working-class lives, often impacting minorities disproportionately, which now offers a “solution” in nascent dehumanizing social credit systems, initiated in Communist China as its contribution to cyber-cultural Marxism.
All this reflects the technocratic categorization and objectification of people and communities begun in European secular projects of scientism, overlaid by Social Darwinism in America’s first “progressive” movement, and now by neocolonialist consumer culture, of which identity politics is the latest digitally enabled style. Without critical reflection on the source of its modern objectification of both individuals and whole peoples in materialistic will-to-power virtual reality, this Cultural Revolution serves elites as a tool of obfuscation for self-serving and destroying passion, advancing socialism in a broad sense on all sides of the political spectrum, which is the greatest political source of human slavery and suffering in history. Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s dissident colleague Igor Shafarevich detailed the self-destructiveness of this trajectory in his prophetic book The Socialist Phenomenon, another key work that American Orthodox Christians need to read. Shafarevich included the important thread of Protestant chiliasm or utopianism in describing the development of socialism in the West. That is the background or formational cultural milieu (even if generationally distant) of many in the revolutionary movement in America.
Critical Race Theory: An Introduction(Third Edition) offers basic definitions by practitioners of today’s current lead revolutionary ideology in America, Critical Race Theory or CRT. Its self-contradictions reveal the quasi-religious aspect of the American Cutural Revolution today. First, CRT describes racism as ordinariness, in the sense of Hannah Arendt’s “banality of evil” or Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s “permanent lie.” But this masks the very totalitarianism of cultural Marxism, by which the arbitrariness of the homogenized virtual reality of binarized racism and antiracism is enforced by socioeconomic elites in “woke” capitalism, media, and educational institutions. It ignores the ideological complicity of cultural Marxism, of which CRT is a part genealogically, in deaths of tens of millions in racial and cultural genocides in the past century under Communism, a hate-filled legacy that remains the American revolutionary Left’s great unacknowledged unreparated moral debt. And it ignores the companion “secularness,” of which CRT forms a part, seeking to eradicate traditional minority cultures in America.
Another principle of critical race theory according to the participant-authors is “material determinism.” This alleges an unspoken alliance of elite economic interests with psychic needs of the white working class. A version of dialectical materialism, an atheistic ideology going back to Karl Marx, its materialistic approach is undermined by the embrace of CRT by “woke” capitalists and privileged cultural elites. Their material role in the economy would seem to belie their pre-determined support for revolution.
A third principle offered by the book is social constructivism of race accompanied by “differential racialization,” concluding that race is fluid identity and constructed for purposes of social control, and marginalized or privileged in varied ways across time. But, in another paradox, CRT’s “intersectional anti-essentialism” asserts that varied identities can simultaneously shape a person’s socially constructed situationality even while a mystically united “voice of color” deserves privilege. In the “voice of color,” “people of color” unite to assert the primacy of their own narratives in a white American culture that is itself becoming a minority culture, by comparison with the aggregation of groups claiming both to be minorities and the new majority, and thus by right dominant, in contradiction of valorization of minority marginalities.
The techno-gnostic spirit of disembodied will-to-power by those with supposedly esoteric knowledge, controlling others through virtual reality, also has fundamentally affected many established religious organizations and movements of America. Their affinity to cultural Marxism results not only from intentional infiltration and subversion of major denominations across decades (although that has occurred), but relates to the departure in emphases of those traditions across centuries from non-Western Orthodox Christianity amid the secularization of the West, again especially in utopianist elements of Protestantism and Deistic-Masonic philosophies. The Orthodox writers Archpriest Josiah Trenham and Archpriest Peter Heers provide background on Western religious wanderings contributing to modern moral collapse of the West, Protestant and Catholic, in companion studies to Shafarevich’s survey of socialism: Respectively, Rock and Sand: An Orthodox Christian Appraisal of the Protestant Reformers and Their Teachings, and The Ecclesiastical Renovaton of Vatican II: An Orthodox Examination of Rome’s Ecumenical Theology Regarding Baptism and the Church. Together these studies illustrate how the crumbling of Western faith in schisms and heresies contributed to the current new Cultural Revolution in America. They highlight how the Orthodox Church is the place of refuge built on the rock of Christ from apostolic times to the present, and until He comes again.
In the West, heretical theology historically divided in the view of the Eucharist, as the central rite of the Christian Church, into the consubstantiation of many Protestant religions seeing the transformation of the mystery as symbolic, and the Catholic view of transubstantiation seeing a literal transformation of the bread and the wine into the Body of Christ, God. In Orthodox Christianity, these views remained integrated, in that the Eucharist involves the very Body and Blood of Christ and also at the same time the bread and the wine. This reflects the Orthodox identification of natural law with grace, as can be seen in writings associated with the so-called Eighth and Ninth Ecumenical Councils, by St. Photios the Great and St. Gregory Palamas, and other Church Fathers. The full Incarnational sense of Christian theology is that embodiedness matters integrally in our relation to God, and that our relation to God’s uncreated energies or divine grace is the very source of our identity and salvation as embodied individuals. In that lies the Orthodox Christian antidote to the technocratic Gnosticism of our age with its totalitarian bent.
Historic American racist attitudes developed in primarily Protestant culture, involving, like consubstantiality, a symbolic meaning for the color of people’s skin, ultimately separated from the actual physicality of human embodiedness, and a scientistic tendency to conceptualize and categorize races. That same approach ironically continues now in different forms with the race politics of Antiracism in its binary of blackness and whiteness, the Anthropocene cosmology of the Green New Deal encouraging a technocratic matrix for earth, and the techno-gnosticism of Pansexualism. All encourage conceptualizations of reality, rather than embodied integration with Creation in the Body of Christ. Today’s American Cultural Revolution is led by secularized people still embedded in the civic after-life of America’s foundational utopian Protestant and idealistic Masonic-Deist and Enlightenment cultures, now nurturing cultural Marxism as establishment ideology.
Even the Orthodox Church, persecuted terribly in the modern era while spread diasporically by exile and evangelism, in the secular West today suffers efforts by academics to change her traditional Christianity into the 21st-century equivalent of the renovationist Bolshevik “Living Church” in the Soviet Union, to be the tool of a new secular American order. Some Anglo-American academics claiming affiliation with Orthodoxy pursue agendas of altering its anthropology and cosmology by seeking to justify the ordination of women, and of essentializing sexual passions as identities. Some fringe individuals in America have similarly tried to connect Orthodoxy with racism and racist neopaganism, which is likewise rejected by the Church.
But the extremities of the American Cultural Revolution can be spiritual opportunities for Orthodox Christianity, too. S.L. Frank, the Russian Orthodox exile from totalitarianism in the mid-twentieth-century, described the effects of the breakdown in sobornost or spiritual unity in Christian cultures as offering existential clarity beyond the “fallen idols” of false idealism (see especially the appendix to his book The Meaning of Life). A disturbing glimpse into the fall of the idols of American culture without the hope of God can be seen in the video linked above, portraying the controversy around recent shootings in Kenosha, WI, a bleak wasteland of extremist violence in a small Midwestern American city. Yet into such wastelands before in other lands from the post-Roman Irish Sea to post-Soviet Russia have come Orthodox saints of the Church, dedicated monastic communities, and mission parishes, and God willing this will occur in America. Pray for her salvation.
Perhaps future academic fields will emerge such as Critical Secular Theory to inspire a new movement of Antisecularism. These could show young people the evils of Secularness, Secular Nationalism, and Systemic Secularism, while advocating for Believers to advance from their marginal cultural position in today’s technocratic America, and commemorating the tens of millions killed outright by genocides of Secularness in the past century.
But the systemic evil that critical studies of all types seeks to trace involves ultimately the fallenness of human nature and its drive to power, influenced by demonic forces. Utopianism that would attempt to establish a perfect society in human or post-human technological terms is doomed to fail, as the classic totalitarian systems of Soviet Communism and Nazi Germany did in their own variant forms of twisted utopianism. Theirs was and is the heresy of chiliasm. There is no salvation in extremes of the political Right or Left, nor in their identitarianisms. As Alexander Solzhenitsyn wrote in the section on “The Soul and Barbed Wire” in his The Gulag Archipelago, “Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states nor between classes, nor between political parties, but right through every human heart.”
Ultimately, however, what the Apostle Paul described as running the race is the antidote for any static will-to-power sense of race (white, black, or other), which with sex are now contested master symbols for essentializing of passions and identities by all backgrounds and political perspectives in technocratic Eurocentric atheism. The Apostle wrote (I Cor. 9: 24-47): “Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.”
The anti-Christian spirit of the current American Cultural Revolution seeks to reject the Incarnation of God in our Lord Jesus Christ, and His One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, for the abstract and disembodied techno-gnostic spirit of Anti-Christ. The latter leads to isolation, terror, cultural totalitarianism, and loss of any remnants of the historically Christian-inspired sense of commonwealth in America. We suffer for our sins and are humbled as a nation. But as the Prophet David sang, a broken and a contrite heart God wilt not despise. May America’s trials be an opportunity for the spread of the Holy Gospel and the Orthodox faith, for the remission of our sins and the healing and salvation of our souls and bodies. Holy New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia pray to God for us!
Homily on Aug. 24, 7528 (Sept. 6, 2020, civil calendar), St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco Russian Orthodox Mission Church, Lewisburg, PA
This weekend we honor two saints who were influenced by the Holy Apostle and Evangelist John, and who all together remind us of the power of spiritual activism and of active love as transmitted from one person to another with God’s grace and our struggle.
Yesterday, we commemorated Saint Irenaeus of Lyons. He was born in Asia Minor about 140, the Synaxarion tells us. As a youth he followed the teaching of the elderly Holy Hierarch Polycarp, who himself had been a disciple of the Holy Apostle and Evangelist John.
“It is in the Church that God has placed the apostles, prophets, and doctors, and all the Holy Spirit’s other operations,” St. Irenaeus wrote in his book Against Heresies. “From this Spirit are, therefore, excluded all who, refusing to turn to the Church, deprive themselves of life by their false doctrine and depraved actions. For there where the Church is, there also is the Spirit of God; and there where the Spirit of God is, there is the Church and every kind of grace. And the Spirit is Truth…. We must love with an extreme zeal that which is the Church, and take firm hold of the tradition of the Truth.”
His own life exemplified this, for he took the teaching from his spiritual father Polycarp, who had received it from the Apostle John, and transmitted it in the Church that he cared for as primate of Gaul or France. Around 177 he became presbyter of Lyons, a title that at the time combined the functions of both Bishop and priest. This was at a time of persecution by the scholarly emperor Marcus Aurelius. St. Irenaeus bore a letter from the martyrs of Lyons to the Church at Rome, to Pope Eleutherius, which told of the martyrs’ battles to refute the Montanist heresy, which was a kind of charismatic movement of its day, claiming new revelation outside of our Lord’s Gospel and Church.
His book Against Heresies is a classic critique of the heresy of Gnosticism. The latter’s radical rejection of matter and dualism is still echoed in various forms, such as New Age appropriations of Christianity that reject its basic foundation in the Incarnation and the historical Church. The political philosopher Eric Voegelin argued that modern political gnosticism seeks a disembodied technocracy run by experts, but gnostic tendencies also have been observed in hedonistic individualism of consumerism tending toward atheistic socialism (think Silicon Valley meets the surveillance state).
St. Irenaeus taught that true gnosis or deep experience of mystery lies in the Holy Church of our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ, a presence on earth as in heaven, of sobornost or spiritual unity of mystical hierarchy and conciliarity, in which each of us can find meaning and salvation. Her earthly presence in the mysteries of baptism, the Eucharist, Confession, and others, has embodied meaning in history, in a tangible expression of God’s love for us here and now, as we gather in worship and fellowship and unity in Him with the saints around us in the icons of our homes and temples, in our Church family. Just so, the spiritual Church lies beyond us, a mystery, symbolized by the iconostasis in our temples, yet the Church’s earthly presence matters and the two in a sense are one yet distinct. This is what St. Irenaeus experienced in his own spiritual family, from his spiritual father Polycarp, and his spiritual grandfather so to speak, the Apostle John the Theologian, the beloved disciple of our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ.
The following is a relevant summary of St. Irenaeus’ Against Heresies as given in volume 6 of The Synaxarion by Hieromonk Makarios of Simonos Petra (published in 2008 by the Holy Convent of the Annunciation of Our Lady Ormylia (Chalkidlike), translated by Mothers Maria (Rule) and Joana (Burton), based in part, on the Byzantine collection edited by St. Nikodemus the Hagiorite). The summary is interspersed with a sampling of translations of direct quotes.
He showed first that this ‘Gnosis,’ which heretics vainly sought in the mythical plots and complicated constructions of their perverted intelligence, is the pre-eminent gift of the charity that the Holy Spirit gives to the Christian in the living organism of the Church. It is only within it that one quench one’s thirst with the clear water that flows from the side of Christ, thence to receive life eternal. All other doctrines are nothing but broken cisterns (Jer. 2:13). The true ‘Gnostics’ are not those who reject and despise the body to worship God, ‘ineffable’ and his ‘Demiurge,’ but spiritual men who have received from the Holy Spirit the earnest of the Resurrection of the body and of incorruptibility. Breaking with the Hellenic duality of body and soul, Saint Irenaeus developed Saint John’s doctrine of the Word made flesh to interpret the meaning of the vocation of man. The first Adam had been formed from clay by the two Hands of God: the Word and the Spirit, in the image of God conformed to the model of the glorious flesh of Christ; and the breath of life had been given him in order to progress from the image to the likeness of God. Having been tricked by the Devil, jealous of his prerogatives, and having fallen into death, he had not, however, been abandoned by God, who had from all eternity intended to make him a partaker in His glory. The revelations and prophecies of the Old Testament, and above all the Incarnation of the Word, His death, His Resurrection and His glorious Ascension, constitute the necessary stages in this ‘Economy’ of the history of Salvation. Always keeping in mind this ultimate end for which He had created man, the Word was made flesh, ‘recapitulating’ the first Adam in Himself. As the first man, born into a virgin earth, fell, through the virgin Eve’s disobedience by a tree, so Christ came into the world through the obedience of the Virgin Mary and had been hung on the tree of the Cross. ‘He gave His soul for our souls and His flesh for our flesh, and He has poured out the Spirit of the Father to bring about the union and communion of God with men, bringing God down into men by the Spirit and drawing men up to God by His Incarnation.’
The Word of God who had created the world, invisibly making it in the form of a cross, made Himself visible at the time appointed on the Cross, in order to bring together in His body all the beings that had become separated, and bring them to the knowledge of God. Appearing, not in His ineffable glory but as a man, He has shown in Himself the restored image of God, conformed once more to the likeness. He has nourished us ‘at the breast of His flesh,’ so that, accustomed to eating and drinking the Word of God, and strengthened by the ‘bread of immortality,’ we might draw near to the vision of God that gives us incorruptibility. ‘It is impossible to live separated from Life, and there is no participation in life without participation in God, and this participation in God consists in seeing God and enjoying His sweetness…. For the glory of God is the living man, and a man’s life is the vision of God.’
For Irenaeus, a disciple of those who had known the Apostles, knowledge (gnosis) is love and the deification of man in the Person of Christ the Saviour. Much more than a simple refutation of false ‘Gnosis,’ his doctrine, wonderful in its simplicity and profundity, contains the seed of all that the latter fathers developed in their inspired writings.
Ending its summary of Against Heresies, Fr. Makarios’ Synaxarion notes that, while most of St. Irenaeus’ writings did not survive in their original Greek, his main ideas continue in the works of Sts. Gregory the Theologian, Gregory of Nyssa, Maximos the Confessor, John Damascene, and others. So the circle is unbroken from apostolic times until now in our Lord’s Church.
Thus it is also with the Saint whom we commemorate today, a day after St. Irenaeus’ feast, and that is St. Eutyches the disciple of the Apostle John. St. Nikodemus the Hagiorite associated him with the Eutyches mentioned in Acts 20 as falling asleep during preaching by the Holy Apostle Paul in Troas, and falling from the third floor, to be restored to life by the Holy Apostle’s prayers. He is said to have been baptized by the Holy Apostle and Evangelist John, whom he followed on his travels. He threw down idols in pagan temples and endured beatings and long imprisonment as a result. One day in prison an angel appeared to him and energized he endured being cast into a furnace. Thrown to wild animals, he was seen talking with them, about which reportedly he said that they were part of God’s Creation too. By some accounts, he is said to have reposed peacefully in the Lord, by others he is said to have beheaded after praying for martyrdom. The Acts of the Apostle John says Eutyches was present at the repose of the Apostle, who wished to be placed in an uncovered grave while still living, some saying the Apostle’s body then disappeared during the night, but that the Apostle had given Eutyches a blessing to take spiritual leadership of the Church at Ephesus after him, an important Christian center warned in the Book of Revelation.
In any case, St. Eutyches like St. Irenaeus represents to us this weekend the Holy Church as the Body of Jesus Christ, an historical presence with us still, in the Eucharist and in the presence of the Church, even as the spiritual Church, symbolized again by the space behind our iconostasis, remains for us to aspire to through His grace and our struggle in this life.
St. Eutyches was a disciple of the Apostle John helping the Church in Asia Minor with great courage from God. St. Irenaeus was a disciple of a disciple of the Apostle John spreading the Gospel in France. Imagine the blessing of such discipleship. But the Circle is not broken. We are part of that living embodied story, the living tradition and life of the Church, even here in our small mission today. We are a small group, but we are part of our Lord’s One Holy Apostolic and Catholic Church, of sobornost or spiritual unity in Him with His saints. The same family genealogy comes to us through the Apostles down to our Bishops and Priests and spiritual fathers. Think, for example, of our patron, St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco, and his disciple Blessed Seraphim Rose of California, whose writings helped lead some of us into Orthodoxy while St. John was spiritual father to the father of the Chancellor of our Diocese. Then there is St. Joseph the Hesychast of Mount Athos, who was spiritual father to the spiritual father of the founders of the holy monastery in White Haven, Holy Protection, from which our mission took her first name.
Truly we are, as Scripture tells us, surrounded by a cloud of witnesses. Let us go forth inspired by their witness, and asking them for their prayers for the same spirit of courage, to bring the Gospel to our families, friends, and neighbors here in the lands at the Confluence of the Susquehanna Watershed, and to stand for Him who stood for us on the Cross and still stands with us. Through the intercession of the Most Holy Theotokos and of all the saints, Lord Jesus Christ our God have mercy on us and save us!
Our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ said, “I have come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). Indeed, our Lord said He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. The Holy Prophet Moses, to whom Christ had revealed the Ten Commandments and His name “He Who is” and much else, had written much earlier, as recorded in Deuteronomy 30:15-16: “Behold, I have set before thee this day life and death, good and evil. If thou wilt hearken to the commands of the Lord thy God, which I command thee this day, to love the Lord thy God, to walk in all his ways, and to keep his ordinances, and his judgments; then ye shall live, and shall be many in number, and the Lord thy God shall bless thee in all the land into which thou goest to inherit it.”
Today our country struggles with global plague, civil unrest, paralyzing social division, economic depression, forest fires, tropical storms–and now even the threat of a reported meteorite hit to earth this fall around the time of the presidential election!
But Christians receive the grace of finding identity in Him, the source of our personhood, not in an essentialized or objectified identity based on race, ethnicity, class, culture, or sex, essentializing our self-willed fallen human passions and will to power. For millennia this good news has been the source of true freedom, which as the Russian Orthodox Christian philosopher S.L. Frank notes, is voluntary service to universal truth, in the Person of Jesus Christ: Loving God with all our heart, soul, and mind, and our neighbor as ourself.
St. Jonah of Hankou, who trudged across the Gobi Desert fleeing the atheist Communist scourge, to be of service to those in need in China in the 1920s, and who reposed in Christ helping a sufferer from typhoid fever, only to give solace and healing in a vision that same night to a crippled boy, wrote: “Podvig [ascetic spiritual struggle for God] is living for others.”
But how often today we are caught up with death rather than living, with death in the world of materialism and objectifying self-will, with a will to power in the world of our passions, rather than death to that world.
The Soviet dissident and Orthodox Christian Igor Shafarevich wrote a classic book The Socialist Phenomenon, recently reprinted, which details throughout history the death-wish inherent in chiliasm, the heresy that Archbishop Averky also detailed in commentary on the Revelation of Jesus Christ to St. John the Theologian. Chiliasm is the heresy of utopianism, seeking that which is not sustainable for fallen human nature, a perfect objectified world. Instead, efforts to establish such a world destroy the very justice and peace that those working for it claim to seek. It ends in a power trip for a few controlling the many. In the twentieth century, it left tens of millions dead and many more lives maimed.
Such is the world into which we seem to be heading in a new form of technologically controlled culture based in consumerism, according to the new book Live not by Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents by Orthodox writer Rod Dreher, whose title draws on a famous phrase by Shafarevich’s friend and fellow dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn. The “soft totalitarianism” of cultural Marxism in Western consumer capitalism and intellectual ideologies today — Antiracism, Antifa, Green New Deal movements; sexual revolutions of polyparenting, polyamory, and the neocolonial hegemony of secular-Eurocentric sexual anthropology — would erase true personhood in Christ, in the name of self-will. (Cultural Marxism is a shorthand term, used by its advocates to detail socialism that engages with cultural struggle, rather than Classical Marxism’s focus on economic class struggle.) But in doing so it paradoxically erases individuality in nihilistic “group think,” as Shafarevich’s history details.
This extends to young people being isolated from faith, biblical tradition, family, and even physical reality in “virtual” lives, as in the case of the Orthodox Christian boy James Younger in Texas, whose fate is now being played out in secular judicial, educational, and medical-psychological bureaucracies, in an effort to turn him into a girl. Real cosmological difference in the dignity of each person (as detailed by the Russian Orthodox Church in her statements on human dignity and the basis of the social concept) disappears in the consumerist trend toward virtual lives, with burgeoning group-sex and other practices that remove true individual love and family ties, as the sexual revolution moves in tandem with movements to establish atheistic culture. Such virtual lives (disembodied by separating the soul and the body and treating the latter as an isolated object or tool) also are more easily controlled by the perfection of high-tech “surveillance capitalism” and the “surveillance state” in today’s West.
Basing identity in disembodied individual autonomy and self-will, essentializing the passions of fallen human nature outside a reasoned groundness in larger realities, involves ultimately the erasure of traditions of faith and family and community. Such erasure is all in accord with cultural Marxism. The latter seeks to overturn hierarchy and patriarchy and authority. But in the process it erases the mystery taught in Orthodox Christianity of sobornost. The latter, meaning spiritual unity, involves living at the intersection of mystical hierarchy and conciliarity, which shapes authentic human personhood in Christ. Sobornost in Christ heals the deepest epidemic we face, of loneliness and isolation, which the philosopher Hannah Arendt correctly identified — together with the social, cultural, and physical terror accelerating in the world today — as foundational to totalitarianism. The sexual and cultural and economic anarchy at the heart of “woke consumerism” is only the stepping stone to attempted total oppression and conditioning of humanity. Paradoxically this movement operates in the name of the sovereign individual but ends in enforced homogeneous ideology, as the Old Anglican scholar C.S. Lewis foresaw in his classic 1943 book The Abolition of Man. Lord have mercy.
Homily on the first Sunday of the Dormition Fast, 3 August 7528 (civil calendar Aug. 16 2020)
Greetings in the Lord.
We stand in the beginning days of our summer Lent and Pascha, in which we remember the falling asleep of the Mother of our God, our Mother in the Church, our Most Holy Lady Theotokos.
The Holy Forefather and Prophet Solomon wrote that, “He who gathers crops in summer is a prudent son, but he who sleeps during harvest is a disgraceful son.”
Indeed, during this fast we soon also will celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration of our Lord, bringing first fruits of the harvest to the temple for a blessing.
Summer at Tall Timbers, a local old-growth forest and nature preserve, where one can find shelter from the heat in cool dells, and where our mission has gathered for parish picnics in the past.
Let us in these challenging yet joyful times of summer harvest be faithful sons and daughters of our Mother, also called the Bride of God, a title that she shares with the Church that she helped nurture during the time after the Ascension of her son, our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ, when Pentecost brought the uncreated energies of God, His grace and favor, into our innermost souls in the Body of Christ His Church.
All this was made possible too by her mothering of our Lord, about which the Paraklesis service often sung during this Dormition season says, “You are a gold-entwined tower and a twelvewall encircled city, a shining throne touched by the sun, a royal chair of the King, O unexplainable wonder! You that milk-feed the Master.”
The greatest ancient pagan sages Plato and Aristotle wondered at whether truth was transcendent and to be known through deduction from universal principles, as said Plato, or through induction from physical experience, as said Aristotle. Yet the birth of Christ to the Virgin, and the Cross, brought together the transcendent and the physical in the person of our Lord.
This ushered in the Holy Wisdom of Christ as experiential knowing, that mix of induction and deduction in the intuitive and embodied faith of the saints, the greatest of whom is Our Lady.
The summer season of fasting for her great feast begins with the Procession of the Cross on August 1 of the Julian Calendar, a time of looking to the Cross for healing, and traditionally continues with regular celebration of the Paraklesis service asking her intercession for us as our Mother and the greatest of saints, for just as our mothers would most fervently pray for us, so she does to the utmost when we ask her help.
The start of the Dormition Fast also marks the anniversary of the Baptism of Rus’ under St. Prince Vladimir the Great, the beginning of the summertime of the Church as what is called the Third Rome became established as the last great Christian Empire, the heir to the Christian Roman Empire of Byzantium in Russia. To Russia we owe the transmission of Orthodox Christianity to us in North America first through the Alaska mission and then through saints of the diaspora here, most notably our patron St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco and his disciple Blessed Seraphim of Platina, among many others of different ethnic and national backgrounds who have helped to evangelize North America.
Our mission is part of that story, and as we live in the autumn of the latter days, after the fall of the last great Orthodox empire a little more than a century ago to the spirit of anti-Christ expressed in atheistic communist totalitarianism, we must seek the prayerful intercession of our mother, our Lady the most Holy Theotokos, in whole-hearted devotion to the cause of evangelism through our mission.
Last night we did so as we often did before her icon of Port Arthur, an icon which is known both as the Icon of Unachieved Victory and the Icon of the Triumph of the Theotokos. Through her intercession, defeat is turned into victory, and the retreat from Russia before the Communists has been turned into a spiritual victory as Orthodox Christianity has spread around the world and now renews herself in Russia as well.
St. Luke the Surgeon of Crimea, whose intercession we ask in this time of pestilence and upheaval, witnessed against the spirit of anti-Christ in his time as both Bishop and surgeon under the Soviets, and when the time came for his repose, all efforts by the atheist authorities to suppress his funeral failed, as the outpouring of the people turned into a massive procession through the streets that the Bolsheviks could not stop.
In a sermon on the Dormition, St. Luke recalled the words of our Savior,
“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears My word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life” (John 5:24). That is the hope and example and help given us by our Mother in Christ the Theotokos.
The beginning of the Dormition feast, in addition to the traditional procession of the Cross, the remembering of our Lady, and the anniversary of the Baptism of Rus’, is also in Russia a festival of honey, the first fruits of the harvest. Let us remember too that we live in sweet harvest time despite the trials of these latter days. One of the phrases used to describe the Theotokos is the spiritual Paradise, and she is depicted in the icon of the Joy of those who Sorrow beloved by St. John as in a spiritual garden, with Mount Athos often described as her garden. Let our mission be her garden too, and let us as followers of her son delight in our role as humble gardeners within the field of harvest of the Church of her Son.
The icon of the Joy of All Who Sorrow
Just as human parents and godparents and our spiritual fathers and mothers in the Church may protect us through prayer and other help in ways that we do not fully realize growing up, so too does Our Lady when we ask her intercession before her Son. The Joy of All Who Sorrow icon at our home chapel is charred by fire around the edges. It was with me when, just three years after my baptism into the Orthodox Church, I was returning from a long-distance trip to a job interview, and my car caught fire on the highway. The car was a wreck, books and files in it burned, but the icon was saved, and I was saved, through the prayers of the Theotokos on my behalf, also amid generally difficult and challenging times at that point, and in spite of my many sins. Through God’s grace I was given the job, and at the other end of the road on that trip waiting for me was my own beloved, whom I soon married, and we moved here, where our sons were born, and through God’s grace and the prayers of Our Lady we joined in this community all of us together, this Church family. Not coincidentally, our first name for our mission was Holy Protection, for her protection, taken from the monastery near here that commemorates her. And now we are blessed with the name of St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco, who had such special reverence for her, that he wrote a classic little book that we should all study about the Mother of God in Christian teaching and history and experience, and reposed beneath the Kursk Root icon of the Mother of God, as he prayed for the evangelizing of North America. Now more than ever is the time for that evangelism, it is so needed. We seek the intercession of the Mother of God in our fervent efforts to bring our friends and family into the ark of the Church in these difficult times.
St. John Damascene wrote centuries ago of the Dormition Feast:
“Come, let us depart with her. Come, let us descend to that tomb with all our heart’s desire. Let us draw round that most sacred bed and sing the sweet words, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Hail, predestined Mother of God. Hail, thou chosen one in the design of God from all eternity, most sacred hope of earth, resting-place of divine fire, holiest delight of the Spirit, fountain of living water, paradise of the tree of life, divine vine-branch, bringing forth soul-sustaining nectar and ambrosia. Full river of spiritual graces, fertile land of the  divine pastures, rose of purity, with the sweet fragrance of grace, lily of the royal robe, pure Mother of the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, token of our redemption, handmaid and Mother, surpassing angelic powers.” Come, let us stand round that pure tomb and draw grace to our hearts. Let us raise the ever-virginal body with spiritual arms, and go with her into the grave to die with her. Let us renounce our passions, and live with her in purity, listening to the divine canticles of angels in the heavenly courts. Let us go in adoring, and learn the wondrous mystery by which she is assumed to heaven, to be with her Son, higher than all the angelic choirs. No one stands between Son and Mother. This, O Mother of God, is my third sermon on thy departure, in lowly reverence to the Holy Trinity to whom thou didst minister, the goodness of the Father, the power of the Spirit, receiving the Uncreated Word, the Almighty Wisdom and Power of God. Accept, then, my good-will, which is greater than my capacity, and give us salvation. Heal our passions, cure our diseases, help us out of our difficulties, make our lives peaceful, send  us the illumination of the Spirit. Inflame us with the desire of thy son. Render us pleasing to Him, so that we may enjoy happiness with Him, seeing thee resplendent with thy Son’s glory, rejoicing for ever, keeping feast in the Church with those who worthily celebrate Him who worked our salvation through thee, Christ the Son of God, and our God. To Him be glory and majesty, with the uncreated Father and the all-holy and life-giving Spirit, now and for ever, through the endless ages of eternity. Amen.”
Today we hear much about what is wrong with American academia.
But three American lives tell us much of what is right about its heritage.
I was reflecting on them as I returned from a three-week stay at Holy Trinity Russian Orthodox Monastery and Seminary in Jordanville, NY, near Cooperstown. There I woke up most days to start at 4 a.m. helping the serving Priest (Fr. Anatoly, Fr. Cyprian, Fr. Seraphim, or Fr. Theophylact) prepare for the early morning Divine Liturgy, beginning our entrance prayers together by candlelight in the darkness of the beautiful and historic Cathedral. The saints surrounded us in iconography, and the dedicated figures of the priest-monks spoke to the centrality of the daily liturgical cycle. It is hard there not to feel at moments the presence of angels during the services.
Returning to a different temporality at the start of my university’s semester, I reflected on a different kind of educational dedication, evidenced in a pluralistic secular world of modern American education, with its roots in Christian faith. Three graduates of our university illustrated in their lives that dedication to the best of the liberal arts in the modern world, springing from the seven liberal arts developed in Late Antique Christian culture of the “Hellenic-Christian synthesis” at Constantinople and elsewhere, whose ripple effects long after reached places like our campus in northern Appalachia, which was originally a Baptist college when founded in 1846.
Here are the three examples, very briefly presented:
—Andrew Gregg Tucker, Class of 1862, whose grave near campus is pictured below, gave his life at the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863 supporting the American Republic’s ideals of liberty and justice in what Abraham Lincoln at the battlefield a few months later called “this nation under God.”
—The Rev. Edward McKnight Brawley, Class of 1875 (M.A. 1878), founded institutions of higher learning exemplifying a positive relation between faith and liberal arts education, as a pioneering African-American educator and Baptist clergyman in the era after the Civil War.
—George Henry Ramer, Class of 1950, who as a U.S. Marine gave his life in the Korean War resisting Communist totalitarian oppression, and received posthumously the Congressional Medal of Honor. He died helping his unit members survive in the middle of combat.
There are many problems and flaws with the history of American higher education — notably in recent times the large-scale adoption nationally of forms of cultural Marxism by many American academics as their educational compass, ideologies seeking to erase the cultural Christianity that nurtured the liberal arts while promoting systems that ultimate in a materialistic will-to-power obscuring the tradition. But the lives of the three figures above should inspire us to remember the greatness of the legacy of the liberal arts even in modern America, and to recommit ourselves to the difficult task of preserving, renewing, and handing on that tradition, amid all our current challenges in the mid-twenty-first century.