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What is Orthodoxy?

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  • byakimov@csc.com.au
    What is Orthodoxy? by Archbishop Averky of Syracuse and Holy Trinity Monastery ON THE FIRST SUNDAY of the Great Fast our Church celebrates the triumph of
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 1, 2005
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      What is Orthodoxy? by Archbishop Averky of Syracuse and Holy Trinity
      Monastery

      ON THE FIRST SUNDAY of the Great Fast our Church celebrates the triumph of
      Orthodoxy, the victory of true Christian teaching over all perversions and
      distortions thereof—heresies and false teachings. On the second Sunday of
      the Great Fast it is as though this triumph of Orthodoxy is repeated and
      deepened in connection with the celebration of the memory of one of the
      greatest pillars of Orthodoxy, the hierarch Gregory Palamas, Archbishop of
      Thessalonica, who by his grace-bearing eloquence and the example of his
      highly ascetic private life put to shame the teachers of falsehood who
      dared reject the very essence of.Orthodoxy, the podvig of prayer and
      fasting, which enlightens the human mind with the light of grace and makes
      it a communicant of the divine glory.

      Alas! How few people there are in our times, even among the educated, and
      at times even among contemporary "theologians" and those in the ranks of
      the clergy, who understand correctly what Orthodoxy is and wherein its
      essence lies. They approach this question in an utterly external, formal
      manner and resolve it too primitively, even naively, overlooking its depths
      completely and not at all seeing the fullness of its spiritual contents.

      The superficial opinion of the majority notwithstanding, Orthodoxy is not
      merely another of the many "Christian confessions" now in existence, or as
      it is expressed here in America "denominations." Orthodoxy is the true,
      undistorted, unperverted by any human sophistry or invention, genuine
      teaching of Christ in all its purity and fullness—the teaching of faith and
      piety which is life according to the Faith.

      Orthodoxy is not only the sum total of dogmas accepted as true in a purely
      formal manner. It is not only theory, but practice; it is not only right
      Faith, but a life which agrees in everything with this Faith. The true
      Orthodox Christian is not only he who thinks in an Orthodox manner, but who
      feels according to Orthodoxy and lives Orthodoxy, who strives to embody the
      true Orthodox teaching of Christ in his life.

      "The words that I speak unto you are spirit and life"—thus the Lord Jesus
      Christ spoke to His disciples of His divine teaching (Jn. 6: 63).
      Consequently, the teaching of Christ is not only abstract theory merely,
      cut off from life, but spirit and life. Therefore, only he who thinks
      Orthodoxy, feels Orthodoxy and lives Orthodoxy can be considered Orthodox
      in actuality.

      At the same time one must realize and remember that Orthodoxy is not only
      and always that which is officially called "Orthodox," for in our false and
      evil times the appearance everywhere of pseudo-Orthodoxy which raises its
      head and is established in the world is an extremely grievous but,
      regrettably, an already unquestionable fact. This false Orthodoxy strives
      fiercely to substitute itself for true Orthodoxy, as in his time Antichrist
      will strive to supplant and replace Christ with himself.

      Orthodoxy is not merely some type of purely earthly organization which is
      headed by patriarchs, bishops and priests who hold the ministry in the
      Church which officially is called "Orthodox." Orthodoxy is the mystical
      "Body of Christ," the Head of which is Christ Himself (see Eph. 1:22-23 and
      Col. 1:18, 24 et seq.), and its composition includes not only priests but
      all who truly believe in Christ, who have entered in a lawful way through
      Holy Baptism into the Church He founded, those living upon the earth and
      those who have died in the Faith and in piety.

      The Orthodox Church is not any kind of "monopoly" or "business" of the
      clergy as think the ignorant and those alien to the spirit of the Church.
      It is not the patrimony of this or that hierarch or priest. It is the
      close-knit spiritual union of all who truly believe in Christ, who strive
      in a holy manner to keep the commandments of Christ with the sole aim of
      inheriting that eternal blessedness which Christ the Savior has prepared
      for us, and if they sin out of weakness, they sincerely repent and strive
      "to bring forth fruits worthy of repentance" (St. Luke 3:8).

      The Church, it is true, may not be removed completely from the world, for
      people enter her who are still living on the earth, and therefore the
      "earthly" element in her composition and external organization is
      unavoidable; yet the less of this "earthly" element there is, the better it
      will be for her eternal goals. In any case this "earthly" element should
      not obscure or suppress the purely spiritual element—the matter of
      salvation of the soul unto eternal life—for the sake of which the Church
      was both founded and exists.

      The first and fundamental criterion, which we may use as a guide to
      distinguish the True Church of Christ from the false Churches (of which
      there are now so many!), is the fact that it has preserved the Truth
      intact, undistorted by human sophistries, for according to the Word of God,
      "the Church is the pillar and ground of truth" (I Tim. 3: 15), and
      therefore in her there can be no falsehood. Any which in its name
      officially proclaims or confirms any falsehood is already not the Church.
      Not only the higher servants of the Church, but the ranks of believing
      laymen must shun every falsehood, remembering the admonition of the
      Apostle: ''Wherefore, putting away lying, speak every man truth with his
      neighbor" (Eph. 4:25), or "Lie not to one another" (Col. 3:9). Christians
      must always remember that according to the words of Christ the Savior,
      lying is from the devil, who "is a liar, and the father of lies" (St. John
      8:44). And so, where there is falsehood there is not the True Orthodox
      Church of Christ! There is instead a false church which the holy visionary
      vividly and clearly depicted in his Apocalypse as "a great whore that
      sitteth upon many waters, with whom the kings of the earth have committed
      fornication" (Rev. 17:1-2).

      Even in the Old Testament from the prophets of God we see that
      unfaithfulness to the True God frequently was represented by the image of
      adultery (see, for example, Ezek. 16:8-58, or 23:2-49). And it is
      terrifying for us not only to speak, but even to think that in our insane
      days we would have to observe not a few attempts to turn the very Church of
      Christ into a "brothel,"—and this not only in the above figurative sense,
      but also in the literal sense of this word, when it is so easy to justify
      oneself, fornication and every impurity are not even considered sins! We
      saw an example of this in the so-called "Living Churchmen" and
      "renovationists" in our unfortunate homeland after the Revolution, and now
      in the person of all the contemporary "modernists" who strive to lighten
      the easy yoke of Christ (St. Matt. 11:30) for themselves and betray the
      entire ascetic structure of our Holy Church, legalizing every transgression
      and moral impurity. To speak here about Orthodoxy, of course, is in no way
      proper despite the fact that the dogmas of the Faith remain untouched and
      unharmed!

      True Orthodoxy, on the other hand, is alien to every dead formalism. In it
      there is no blind adherence to the "letter of the law," for it is "spirit
      and life." Where, from an external and purely formal point of view,
      everything seems quite correct and strictly legal, this does not mean that
      it is so in reality. In Orthodoxy there can be no place for Jesuitical
      casuistry; the favorite dictum of worldly jurists cannot be applied: "One
      may not trample upon the law—one must go around it."

      Orthodoxy is the one and only Truth, the pure Truth, without any admixture
      or the least shadow of falsehood, lie, evil or fraud.

      The most essential thing in Orthodoxy is the podvig of prayer and fasting
      which the Church particularly extols during the second week of the Great
      Fast as the double-edged "wondrous sword" by which we strike the enemies of
      our salvation—the dark demonic power. It is through this podvig that our
      soul is illumined with grace-bearing divine light, as teaches St. Gregory
      Palamas, who is triumphantly honored by the Holy Church on the second
      Sunday of the Great Fast. Glorifying his sacred memory, the Church calls
      this wondrous hierarch "the preacher of grace," "the beacon of the Light,"
      "the preacher of the divine light," "an immovable pillar for the Church."

      Christ the Savior Himself stressed the great significance of the podvig of
      prayer and fasting when His disciples found themselves unable to cast out
      demons from an unfortunate boy who was possessed. He told them
      clearly,"This kind (of demon) goeth not out save by prayer and fasting"
      (St. Matt. 17:21). Interpreting this passage in the gospel narrative, our
      great patristic theologian-ascetic, the hierarch Theophan the Recluse asks,
      "May we think that where there is no prayer and fasting, there is a demon
      already?" And he replies, "We may. Demons, when entering into a person do
      not always betray their entry, but hide themselves, secretly teaching their
      hosts every evil and to turn aside every good. That person may be convinced
      that he is doing everything himself, while he is only carrying out the will
      of his enemy. Only take up prayer and fasting and the enemy will
      immediately leave and will wait elsewhere for an opportunity to return; and
      he really will return if prayer and fasting are soon abandoned" (Thoughts
      for Each Day of the Year, pp. 245-246).

      From this a direct conclusion may be reached: where fasting and prayer are
      disregarded, neglected or completely set aside, there is no trace of
      Orthodoxy—there is the domain of demons who treat man as their own pathetic
      toy.

      Behold, therefore, where all contemporary "modernism" leads, which demands
      "reform" in our Orthodox Church! All these liberal free thinkers and their
      lackies, who strive to belittle the significance of prayer and fasting,
      however much they shout and proclaim their alleged faithfulness to the
      dogmatic teaching of our Orthodox Church, cannot be considered really
      Orthodox, and have shown themselves to be apostates from Orthodoxy.

      We will always remember that by itself totally formal Orthodoxy has no goal
      if it does not have "spirit and life"—and the "spirit and life" of
      Orthodoxy are first and foremost in the podvig of prayer and fasting;
      moreover, the genuine fasting of which the Church teaches is understood in
      this instance to be abstinence in every aspect, and not merely declining to
      taste non-Lenten foods.

      Without podvig there is altogether no true Christianity, that is to say,
      Orthodoxy. See what Christ, the First Ascetic, Himself clearly says;
      "Whosoever will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross,
      and follow Me" (Mark 8:34). The true Christian, the Orthodox Christian, is
      only he who strives to emulate Christ in the bearing of the cross and is
      prepared to crucify himself in the Name of Christ. The holy Apostles
      clearly taught this. Thus the Apostle Peter writes: "If when you do well
      and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is accepted with God. For
      even here unto were ye called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving
      us an example, that we should follow his steps" (I Pet. 2:2-21). In
      precisely the same way the holy Apostle Paul says repeatedly in his
      epistles that all true Christians must be ascetics, and the ascetic labor
      of the Christian consists of crucifying himself for the sake of Christ:
      "They that are Christians have crucified the flesh together with the
      passions and lusts" (Gal. 5:24). A favorite expression of St. Paul is that
      we must be crucified with Christ that we might rise with Him. He puts forth
      this thought in a variety of his sayings in many of his epistles.

      You see, therefore, that one who loves only to spend time enjoying himself
      and does not think of self-denial and self-sacrifice, but continually
      wallows in every possible fleshly pleasure and delight is completely
      un-Orthodox, un-Christian. Concerning this the great ascetic of Christian
      antiquity, the Venerable Isaac the Syrian, taught well: "The way of God is
      a daily cross. No one ascends to heaven living cooly (i.e. comfortably,
      carefree, pleased with himself, without struggle). And of the cool path, we
      know where it ends" (Works, p. 158). This is that "wide and broad way"
      which, in the words of the Lord Himself, "leadeth to destruction" (Matt.
      7:13).

      This then is what is Orthodoxy, or True Christianity!

      From Orthodox Life, vol. 26, no. 3 (May-June, 1976), pp. 1-5.
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