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The Inward Mission of Our Church

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  • byakimov@csc.com.au
    The Inward Mission of Our Church Bringing About Orthodoxy by Blessed Father Justin Popovich It is very, very difficult indeed for infinite and eternal life to
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 7, 2004
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      The Inward Mission of Our Church
      Bringing About Orthodoxy by Blessed Father Justin Popovich

      It is very, very difficult indeed for infinite and eternal life to make its
      way into the human soul?so narrow?and even into the narrower human body.
      Held behind bars, the inhabitants of this earth suspiciously stand their
      ground against anything coming from without. Cast into this prison of time
      and space they are unable?from atavism or perhaps from inertia?to bear
      being penetrated by something outlasting time, outlying space, something
      which surpasses these, and is eternal. Such an invasion is considered to be
      aggression towards them and they respond with war. A man, given the fact
      that he is being corrupted by the "moth" of time, does not like the
      intrusion of eternity into his life and is not easily able to adapt himself
      to it. He often considers this intrusion to be sheer unforgivable
      insolence. At certain times he might become a hardened rebel against
      eternity because in the face of it he perceives his own minuteness; at
      others he even experiences fierce hatred towards it because he views it
      through such a human prism, one that is all too earthbound, all too
      worldly. Plunged bodily into matter, bound by the force of gravity to time
      and space, and having his spirit quite divorced from eternity, the
      worldweary man takes no pleasure in those arduous expeditions towards the
      eternal, toward what lies beyond. The chasm existing between time and
      eternity is quite unbridgeable for him because he lacks the strength and
      ability needed to get across it. Thoroughly besieged by death, he covers
      with scorn all those who say to him, "Man is immortal; he is eternal."
      Immortal in just what respect? In his mortal body? In what respect eternal?
      With respect to his feeble spirit?


      In order for a person to be immortal he must, at the very core of his sense
      of self, feel himself immortal. For him to be eternal, in his center of
      consciousness of self he must know himself eternal. Without doing this, for
      him both immortality and eternity alike will be conditions imposed from the
      outside. And if at one time man did have this sense of immortality and
      awareness of eternity, he had it so long ago that it has since wasted away
      under the weight of death. And waste away it really has; we learn this from
      the whole mysterious makeup of human beings. Our whole problem lies in how
      we might rekindle that extinguished feeling, how we might revive the
      wasted-away awareness. Human beings are not in a position to do this; nor,
      indeed, are the "transcendent gods" of philosophy. It is something to be
      done by God, who incarnated His immortal Self inside man's sense of himself
      and incarnated His eternal Self within man's self-awareness. Christ did
      precisely this when He was made man and became God-human. Only in Christ,
      in Him alone, did man feel himself immortal and know himself eternal.
      Christ God-human, in His Person, bridged that chasm between time and
      eternity and restored relations between them. For this reason only he who
      is organically made one with Christ God-human, one with His Body, the
      Church, can be the one to feel himself really immortal and know himself in
      truth to be eternal. Whereby, for man and humanity, Christ composes the one
      and only passage and transition from time to eternity. This is why in the
      Church, the Orthodox Church, Christ became and remained the one and only
      way and the single guide from the former to the latter, from the sense of
      one's own mortality to the sense of one's immortality, from self-awareness
      of what is transient to self-awareness of what is eternal and without
      dimension.

      The ever-living personality of God-human Christ is precisely the Church.
      The Church is always personality, God-human body and spirit. The definition
      of the Church, Her life, Her purpose, Her spirit, Her plan, Her ways, all
      these are given in the wondrous Person of God-human Christ. Hence, the
      mission of the Church is to make every one of her faithful, organically and
      in person, one with the Person of Christ; to turn their sense of self into
      a sense of Christ, and their self-knowledge (self-awareness) into
      Christ-knowledge (Christ-awareness); for their life to become the life in
      Christ and for Christ; their personality to become personality in Christ
      and for Christ; that within them might live not they themselves but Christ
      in them (Gal. 2:10). The mission of the Church is still to bring about in
      her members the conviction that the proper state of human personhood is
      composed of immortality and eternity and not of the realm of time and
      mortality...and the conviction that man is a wayfarer who is wending his
      way in the sway of time and mortality towards immortality and all eternity.

      The Church is God-human, eternity incarnated within the boundaries of time
      and space. She is here in this world but she is not of this world (John
      18:36). She is in the world in order to raise it on high where she herself
      has her origin. The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and
      it is therefore a blasphemy?an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and
      against the Holy Ghost?to turn the Church into a national institution, to
      narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of
      doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ?cumenical, all-embracing:
      to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or
      social strata. "There is neither Greek nor Jew, their is neither slave nor
      free, there is neither male nor female: for you are all one in Christ
      Jesus" (Gal. 3:28), because "Christ is all, and in all." The means and
      methods of this all-human God-human union of all in Christ have been
      provided by the Church, through the holy sacraments and in her God-human
      works (ascetic exertions, virtues). And so it is: in the sacrament of the
      Holy Eucharist the ways of Christ and the means of uniting all people are
      composed and defined and integrated. Through this mystery, man is made
      organically one with Christ and with all the virtues: faith, prayer,
      fasting, love, meekness, through compassion and giving alms, a man
      consolidates in this union and preserves himself in its sanctity,
      personally experiencing Christ both as the unity of his personality and as
      the essence of his union with other members of the body of Christ, the
      Church.

      The Church is the personhood of the God-human Christ, a God-human organism
      and not a human organization. The Church is indivisible, as is the person
      of the God-human, as is the body of the God-human. For this reason it is a
      fundamental error to have the God-human organism of the Church divided into
      little national organizations. In the course of their procession down
      through history many local Churches have limited themselves to nationalism,
      to national methods and aspirations, ours being among them. The Church has
      adapted herself to the people when it should properly be just the reverse:
      the people adapting themselves to the Church. This mistake has been made
      many times by our Church here. But we very well know that these were the
      "tares" of our Church life, tares which the Lord will not uproot, leaving
      them rather to grow with the wheat until the time of harvest (Matt. 13,
      29-30). We also well know (the Lord so taught us) that these tares have
      their origin in our primeval enemy and enemy of Christ: the devil (Matt.
      13, 25-28). But we wield this knowledge in vain if it is not transformed
      into prayer, the prayer that in time to come Christ will safeguard us from
      becoming the sowers and cultivators of such tares ourselves.

      It is now high time?the twelfth hour?time for our Church representatives to
      cease being nothing but the servants of nationalism and for them to become
      bishops and priests of the One, Holy Catholic, and Apostolic Church. The
      mission of the Church, given by Christ and put into practice by the Holy
      Fathers, is this: that in the soul of our people be planted and cultivated
      a sense and awareness that every member of the Orthodox Church is a
      Catholic Person, a person who is for ever and ever, and is God-human; that
      each person is Christ's, and is therefore a brother to every human being, a
      ministering servant to all men and all created things. This is the
      Christ-given objective of the Church. Any other is not an objective of
      Christ but of the Antichrist. For our local Church to be the Church of
      Christ, the Church Catholic, this objective must be brought about
      continuously among our people. And yet what are the means of accomplishing
      this God-human objective? Once again, the means are themselves God-human
      because a God-human objective can only be brought about exclusively by
      God-human means, never by human ones or by any others. It is on this point
      that the Church differs radically from anything which is human or of this
      earth.

      These means are none other than the God-human ascetic exertions and
      virtues. And these can be successfully practiced only by God-human,
      Christ-bearing ascetics. God-human virtues exist in an organic kinship.
      Each has its source in the other and they bring one another to completion.

      First among the ascetic virtues is the effort of faith: The souls of our
      people must pass through, and constantly be passing through, this exertion;
      meaning that these souls may then be given up to Christ as having no
      reservations and being without compromises; having extended down to the
      God-human depths and ascended to the God-human heights. It is essential to
      create in our people the sense that the faith of Christ is a virtue beyond
      nationhood, being ?cumenical and catholic, trinitarian; and that for
      someone to believe in Christ entails their waiting on Christ, and only on
      Christ, with every event of their lives.


      The second ascetic virtue is the God-human virtue of prayer and fasting:
      This being a virtue which must become the way of life of our Orthodox
      people, becoming the souls of their souls, because prayer and fasting are
      the all-powerful, Christ-given means of purging not only the human
      personhood but also society, the people, and the human race at large, of
      every defilement. It is prayer and fasting which are able to cleanse our
      people's souls from our defilements and sinning (Mt. 17:19-21; Lk.
      9:17-29). The souls of our people must fall in step with the orthodox life
      of prayer. Prayer and fasting are not to be performed merely for the
      individual, or for one people, but for everyone and everything ("in all and
      for all"), for friends and enemies, for those who persecute us and those
      who put us to death, because that is how Christians are to be distinguished
      from the Gentiles (Mt. 5: 44-45).

      The third God-human virtue is that of love: That love which knows no
      bounds, which does not question who is worthy and who is not, but loves
      them all; loving friends and enemies, loving sinners and evildoers, without
      however loving their sins and their crimes. It blesses the accursed, as the
      sun does, it shines both on the evil and the good (Matt. 5: 44-46). This
      God-human love must be cultivated in our people because its catholic
      character is what sets it apart from other self-proclaimed and relative
      loves: from that of the pharisaic sort, the humanist, the altruistic, the
      nationalist, and likewise from animal love. The love of Christ is
      all-embracing love, always. By prayer it is acquired because it is a gift
      of Christ. Now the Orthodox heart prays with intensity: Lord of love, this
      love of Thine for everyone and for all things?give it to me!

      The fourth ascetic virtue is the God-human virtue of meekness and humility.
      Only he who is meek at heart can appease fierce hearts that are in uproar:
      only he who is lowly in heart can humble proud and haughty souls. To be
      "showing all meekness unto all men" (Tit. 3:2). But a person becomes truly
      meek and humble when he turns his heart of hearts into the Lord Jesus,
      humble and meek, He being the only true "meek and lowly in heart" (Matt.
      11:29). The soul of the person must be rendered meek by Christ's meekness.
      Every person must learn to pray: Meek, gentle Lord, assuage my fierce soul!
      The Lord humbled himself with the greatest humility?he was incarnate and
      became a man. Should you be of Christ, then humble yourself as a worm:
      embed your flesh in the pain of all who are in pain, of everyone sorrowing
      and in grief; in the trial of everyone who, impassioned, is thus tormented;
      and in the trauma of every animal and bird. Humble yourself lower than them
      all: be all things to all men, but be of Christ and according to Christ.
      When you are by yourself, then pray: O humble Lord, by your humility,
      humble me!

      The fifth ascetic virtue is the God-human virtue of patience and humility:
      Which is to say, to endure ill-use, not to render evil for evil, to forgive
      in total compassion all assault, slander and hurt. This is what it is to be
      of Christ: to feel yourself perpetually crucified to the world, persecuted
      by it, violated and spat upon. The world will not tolerate Christ-bearing
      men just as it would not tolerate Christ. Martyrdom is the state in which a
      Christian brings forth fruit. This must be imparted to our people. For the
      Orthodox, martyrdom is purification. Being Christian does not simply mean
      to bear suffering cheerfully, but to pardon in compassion those who cause
      it, to pray to God for them as did Christ and the archdeacon Stephen. And
      so, pray: Long-suffering Lord, give me forbearance, make me magnanimous and
      meek!

      Our Church's mission is to infuse these God-human virtues and ascetic
      exertions into the people's way of living; to have their life and soul knit
      firm with the Christ-like God-human virtues. For therein lies salvation
      from the world and from all those soul-destroying, death-dealing, and
      Godless organizations of the world. In response to the "erudite" atheism
      and refined cannibalism of contemporary civilization we must give place to
      those Christ-bearing personalities, who with the meekness of sheep will put
      down the roused lust of wolves, and with the harmlessness of doves will
      save the soul of the people from cultural and political putrefaction. We
      must execute ascetic effort in Christ's name in response to the cultural
      exercising which is performed in the name of the decayed and disfigured
      European being, in the name of atheism, civilization, or the Antichrist.
      Which is why the major task of our Church is the creation of such
      Christ-bearing ascetics. The watchword which should be heard within our
      Church today is: Let us return to the Christ-bearing ascetics and to the
      Holy Fathers! To resume the virtues of Saint Anthony, Saint Athanasios,
      Saint Basil, and Saint Gregory, of Saints Sergios and Seraphim of the
      Russians, of Saints Savva, Prochios, and Gabriel of the Serbs, and others
      like them because it was these God-human virtues which brought about Saint
      Anthony, Saint Gregory and Saint Savva. And today only Orthodox ascetic
      efforts and virtues can bring about sanctity in every soul, in the soul of
      all our people?seeing that the God-human objective of the Church is
      unalterable and its means are likewise so, since Christ is the same
      yesterday, today and unto all ages (Heb. 13:8). Herein lies the difference
      between the world of men and the one in Christ: the human world is
      transient and time-bound, whilst that of Christ is ever whole, for
      evermore. Orthodoxy, as the single vessel and guardian of the perfect and
      radiant Person of God-human Christ, is brought about exclusively by this
      extension of virtues by grace, through entirely God-human Orthodox means,
      not through borrowings from Roman Catholicism or Protestantism, because the
      latter are forms of Christianity after the pattern of the proud European
      being, and not of the humble God-human being.

      This mission of the Church is facilitated by God Himself because among our
      people there exists an ascetic spirit as created by Orthodoxy through the
      centuries. The Orthodox soul of our people leans towards the Holy Fathers
      and the Orthodox ascetics. Ascetic exertion, at the personal, family, and
      parish level, particularly of prayer and fasting, is the characteristic of
      Orthodoxy. Our people is a people of Christ, an Orthodox people, because?as
      Christ did?it sums up the Gospel in these two virtues: prayer and fasting.
      And it is a people convinced that all defilement, all foul thoughts, can be
      driven out of man by these alone (Matt. 17:21). In its heart of hearts our
      people know Christ and Orthodoxy, they know just what it is that makes an
      Orthodox person Orthodox. Orthodoxy will always generate ascetic rebirth.
      She recognizes no other.

      The ascetics are Orthodoxy's only missionaries. Asceticism is her only
      missionary school. Orthodoxy is ascetic effort and it is life, and it is
      thus by effort and by life that her mission is broadcast and brought about.
      The development of asceticism...this ought to be the inward mission of our
      Church amongst our people. The parish must become an ascetic focal point.
      But this can only be achieved by an ascetic priest. Prayer and fasting, the
      Church-oriented life of the parish, a life of liturgy: Orthodoxy holds
      these as the primary ways of effecting rebirth in its people. The parish,
      the parish community, must be regenerated and in Christ-like and brotherly
      love must minister humbly to Him and to all people, meek and lowly and in a
      spirit of sacrifice and self-denial. And such service must be imbued and
      nourished by prayers and the liturgical life. This much is groundwork and
      indispensible. But to this end there exists one prerequisite: that our
      bishops, priests, and our monks become ascetics themselves. That this might
      be, then: Let us beseech the Lord.

      From Divine Ascent, Number 1 (Great Lent, 1997), pp. 21-27. Reprinted with
      permission.
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