Living as an Orthodox Christian in a Non-Orthodox World, Part I


He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved: 
but he that believeth not shall be condemned. (Mark, 16: 16)

One of the teaching challenges of those committed to the Mind of Christ and His One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic and Orthodox Church is the homogenization of Christianity by those who have been ensnared by the spiritual cancer of religious relativism that has permeated the Western world. Political, religious and social correctness is the mantra of the 3rd Millennium. It is also the great scourge of our modern world. It is the duty of all true and committed Christians, especially those charged with the guiding others in Orthodoxy, to be steadfast to the mind of Christ and His Church (Morelli, 2010). It must begin in the little church in the home the 'domestic church,' then be connected to the local parish and its clergy and then on to the Church universal.


An example of this spiritual virus occurred in a recent conversation I had with an Orthodox Christian who told me they had been told by another 'Orthodox' Christian that one should be happy that anyone would go or pray at any 'Christian' community. It doesn't matter that the community calling themselves 'Christian' was not one of the Apostolic Churchesi. Unfortunately, this view overlooks the fairly obvious fact that some of these 'Christian' fellowships teach what is "man-made," or omit from their teaching what a man or woman wants omitted and still call it 'Christian.'ii The dogmatic teaching of Christ and His Church, as witnessed by the Apostolic Churches, has been relegated to the realm of bias, discrimination and as proclaiming a radical violation of human rights. However, consider this question: Is one Church really as good as another?

The teaching of an Orthodox Metropolitan on the criticality of Dogma

The critical necessity of dogma for the Orthodox commitment to Christ and His Church was recently strongly proclaimed by Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev (2002, p. xiii), Chairman of the Department of External Affairs of the Moscow Patriarchate:

In our own day there is a widely held view that belief in religious dogma is not obligatory; even if they still have a certain historical value, they are no longer vital for Christians. Moral and social agendas have become the main preoccupation of many Christian communities, while theological issues are often neglected. This dissociation between dogma and way of life, however, contradicts the very nature of the religious life, which presupposes that faith should always be confirmed by deeds, and visa versa.

Underlying Processes in Observational Learning

Why is this important? Because our beliefs inform what we say and do, and consequently when and where they are heard and/or seen, they thus serve as models for others to observe, learn and perform. (Morelli, 2006a)

Modeling and Behavior

The essential role of such modeling in influencing behavior is a well supported by behavioral research (Bandura, 1986, Morelli, 2005a, 2005b, 2006a,b,c, 2007). In fact, it is also known that in children's early life parents are the main models. As individuals develop in age, the role of other adults, peers and surrounding society become increasingly efficacious as models. (Grusec, 1992) In as much as so many individuals in modern society are actively hostile to the Orthodox teaching of Christ, the implications are grave. As I emphasize in a previous article (Morelli, 2007): "If a parent capitulates to the culture, then the culture will assume the teaching authority of the parent." In fact, secular culture, with its undisguised enmity to Christ and His orthodox Church, will take over the teaching authority not just of children, but of those of all ages. The first step in attempting to tear down the authentic teaching of Christ and His Church is the homogenization of Christianity, as witnessed by the inference in the example stated earlier in this article that being actively attached and committed to the Orthodox Church 'doesn't matter.'

The Forcing of compliance to immorality by the legal system

Another egregious attempt to attack orthodox morality is to force legalization of immoral behavior. A recent online guest columnist described this trend by saying that some "seek to "rehabilitate" Christians to their way of thinking under penalty of law. ... of old [they] just threw us to the lions. I guess that's what they mean by "progress."iii Another currently well-reported example is the government mandating of abidance by religious institutions to healthcare programs that are clearly not in accord with orthodox Christian teaching.iv

The signs of Christ's orthodox Church

"Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you." And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained." (Jn 20: 21-23).

This passage is, of course, the scriptural basis of the Holy Mystery of Confession. It has implications, however, that can be applied to all that makes up the Church. Christ gave Holy Spirit to His Apostles and their successors, the bishops and priests of His Orthodox Church, to safeguard and transmit His truth from age to age. And it is important to remember Christ's warning in St. Matthew's Gospel (7: 15): "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in the clothing of sheep, but inwardly they are ravening wolves." St. Paul tells us: "For such false apostles are deceitful workmen, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ." (2Cor 11:13)

Continuing with the Holy Mystery of Confession as a springboard toward understanding Christ's true Church. Who has retained this Holy Mystery? Only the Apostolic Churches-The Orthodox Church-the preeminent focus of this article. Who has thrown Holy Confession and most of the other Holy Mysteries out? The non-Apostolic Christian communities. The other Holy Mysteries of the Church are not exempt from either elimination or fundamental re-definition. For example, to align themselves with political correctness, some communities calling themselves Christian perform baptism in the name of the 'Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier,' thus countermanding Christ's explicit teaching as recorded by St. Matthew (28: 19-20): "Going therefore, teach ye all nations; baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world."

The Holy Mystery of the Eucharist can also be considered in this regard. The Apostolic Churches retain Christ's very own words when He instituted the Holy Eucharist:

And whilst they were at supper, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and broke: and gave to his disciples, and said: Take ye, and eat. This is my body. And taking the chalice, he gave thanks, and gave to them, saying: Drink ye all of this. For this is my blood of the new testament, which shall be shed for many unto remission of sins. (Mt 26: 26-28)

Christ does not say the bread and wine is a figure, memorial or symbol of "my body" or "my blood", but "this is my body ...this is my blood."
Furthermore, those infected with homogenized Christianity fail to understand the reason the Apostolic Churches only give the Eucharist to those who are baptized and who hold the fullness of the teaching of Christ and His Church. Others are excluded until they have fully "put on Christ." The ancient testimony of St. Justin Martyr (c 147-161 AD) bears this out: The Apostolic orthodox Churches of Christ, therefore, maintain that the Holy Eucharist is the true body, blood, soul and divinity of Our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ.

And this food is called among us the Thanksgiving [the Eucharist], of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined. For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Savior, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh.

A personal example of 'church relativism'

I would like to give a very personal example, edited, of course, for purposes of anonymity and charity. Some years ago I was invited, as a friend of the bride's family, to attend the wedding of a Roman Catholic male and a Protestant female at a Catholic Church. The Protestant denomination of the bride considers itself "a branch of the Catholic Church," but this pretentious claim is completely unrecognized by the Eastern and Roman Catholic Churches, and the Orthodox Churches as well. I did not know beforehand who the officiating priest would be, so I was greatly surprised when I saw that he, a member of a Roman Catholic religious order, was someone I knew very well. Many times he and I had had serious discussions and diverged on the issue of 'open communion.' During the Nuptial Mass, I was seated about six rows back , dressed in my clerical street garb. Several pews ahead of me were several girlfriends of the bride, well known to the other guests for their 'party' lifestyle.

At Communion time, the officiating priest turned and invited all to receive the Eucharist. I and others saw the girls joking among themselves, asking if they should go up to receive. They did go and received communion in the hand, and on the way back to the pew were flipping the host up and down, laughing joking, and finally consuming. After the service, I told this incident to the celebrant, and this time even he was in dismay. I said in charity: "Fr. X, this is one of the reasons that in Orthodoxy we reserve communion only to those who are fully united to the Church." I think he got the message.

The Christ-way Church is not a my-way church

Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain [Mt. Athos] (2011, p. 37) comments: "People are in such a state today that they do whatever comes to their mind. . . . Every so often, a few people will get together and start a new religion."
Actually, this state of mind goes back many years. All one has to do is review the founders of non-Apostolic Christian communities. To name a few: Anglican-Protestant Episcopal communities: Henry VIII; Lutheranism: Martin Luther; Presbyterian: John Calvin; Methodist: John Wesley; Ana-Baptists: Balthasar Hubmaier, et. al. These communities, along with too numerous to mention community congregations and mega communities (with members numbering in thousands), thrive in the United States and other countries. On the other hand, the Apostolic Churches are traced back with unbroken succession to the Apostles of Our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ and sanctified by the descent of Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

As previously noted, many of these groups have changed the meaning of the Holy Mysteries, completely eliminated them or retain only Baptism and the Lord's Supper, and communion merely as a 'memorial,' not as the true Body Blood and Divinity of Christ. Some other worship practices and teachings are equally egregious: seducing people by bright lights, sounds & pop music; equating holiness with feelings, instead of as taught by Orthodoxy: having a mind and heart filled with Godliness.

Worship in the Apostolic Church

For God's presence in the heart is a sense of God's absence: silence (as in the desert). St. Peter of Damaskos tells us ". . .for since God is undetermined and indeterminate without form or color, the intellect that is with God alone should itself be without form or color, free from all figuration and undistracted." (Philokalia III, p. 236). St. Peter, in the 12th Century, is expanding on the teaching of an early spiritual father of the 4th Century, St. Evagrius the Solitary, who said "Never try to see a form or shape during prayer . . . do not long for a sensory image." (Philokalia I, p. 68). St. John of the Ladder (1991) goes on to explain: "silence is the mother of prayer . . . creator of divine vision . . .the friend of silence draws us near to God and, by secretly conversing with Him is enlightened by God." (p. 92). It should be noted that in the public worship of the Apostolic Churches, the Divine Liturgy, the music is reverential and meant to raise one hearts and minds to God. That is to say, to cultivate an 'interior silence.'

Some non-Apostolic communities have also departed far afield from Christ and His Church on moral-social and theological issues, including espousing abortion, pre-marital sex, same-sex marriage, and female ordination. Another comment by Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain is particularly apt in this regard: "they have turned sin into a fashion." 


The importance of being in union with the One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic and Orthodox Church

Critical to understanding the importance of unity with the Orthodox Church of Christ are the words of Fr. Georges Florovsky as quoted by Alfeyev: "Personal convictions and even one's way of life do not yet make one a Christian. Christian existence assumes inclusion and implies membership in the community" (from Florovsky, My Father's Home, 10-11) This supports Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev's statement that:  "The Church is synonymous with Christianity: one cannot be a Christian without being a member of the Church." In a later work (2012) he specifies exactly what "Church" membership means: . . . the oldest and most indispensable [ministry in the ancient Church] has turned out to be that of leadership. In the first years of the Church's existence, the apostles began to ordain presbyters and bishops to lead the local churches, creating an apostolic preaching as a result. Thus was the implementation of apostolic succession in the Church. The apostolic succession of hierarchy is a key concept of Orthodox ecclesiology: only that Church in which an unbroken succession of the hierarchy exists, coming from the apostles, is the true Church of Christ. If such a succession is absent or somehow broken [as in the Reformed communions including the Anglican and Protestant-Episcopal communities], the Church cannot be considered true, the hierarchy cannot be considered legitimate, and the sacraments cannot be considered efficacious. 


An article by Fr. George Morelli

CONVERSATION

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