March 31, 2014

The Problem of Religiosity in Orthodoxy

By Hieromonk Makarios of Marouda on Mount Athos

Christ speaks very clearly: seek the Kingdom of God and the heavenly Father will give you whatever you need in this life. He speaks to His small flock who believe in God and feel Him to be their Father, because not all of us believe and the Father cares for all of us without Him minding those who do not have Him in their lives. His Providence embraces all people, all creation. The Evangelist tells us elsewhere that not one hair falls from our heads without Him knowing.

Those who are gathered here tonight, supposedly believe in God, we try to live a Christian life, at least an externally socially acceptable life, but how many of us leave things to His hands having as our main objective His Kingdom? I would say very few. I have gathered this either from discussions during confession, or more open circles from those who visit us on Mount Athos, most of whom have a certain religious life.

And the problem is religiosity. We are Thracians and we know that here are the first religious examples in history. All people were in need of religion.

Christ came to open Heaven for us, to liberate us, to detach us from the systems and to open for everyone their own separate path that He may bring us near Him and unite with Him. This takes place when we seek the Kingdom of God.

We all speak theoretically about the salvation of the soul, about paradise. In recent years, when patristic texts have become more affordable that speak about purification, theosis, etc., we speak theoretically without detaching our hearts from the earthly, the worldly. And by worldly I am not necessarily talking about having a good time and having fun, but that our stay in this world is temporary and we don't care about eternity. We make sure to at least have external good behavior, we do our religious duties as much as we can, but what is the result? Neither internal peace nor the joy promised by Christ when we follow His path. Rather we feel stressed, moody and depressed and things like this are certainly not fruits of the Holy Spirit.

We systematically turn our thoughts away from death in our lives as if we were formed to live eternally in this world. We all want to go to Paradise but none of us want to die. If we don't die Christ will not resurrect us. And the first thing that must die within us is the worldly spirit, and that which keeps us hooked to the earth, the temporary, and excludes us from eternity. If we do not have faith in the resurrection then the thought of death is dark as black. But supposedly "we expect the resurrection of the dead and the life of the age to come". The Church urges us to recite the Creed everyday, the symbol of our faith, from Midnight (the first service of the day) until Compline (the last service). Most often it becomes a dry reading done as a religious duty without a substantial and deep meaning to the words.

A few months ago a father visited us with his twenty-five year old son who had cancer. A while ago he had called us on the telephone so we can pray for the health of his child and when he felt better they came to the Holy Mountain. They thanked the Panagia and begged for the further rehabilitation of the health of the child. In a conversation we had I told them: "Perhaps by visiting the Holy Mountain you will get another message that is more meaningful? Whether you are 25 or 55 or 105, at some point we all will die. Perhaps with the occasion of illness or some other difficulty, we should reflect on the fact that our life will end on earth and we must realize that after death judgement, resurrection and eternity await us? Of course if we believe in these things."

We remove these concerns from us until a later time. But "we do not have here a permanent city but we seek a future one", says the Apostle Paul. We attach ourselves to the earth and we want to make the Kingdom of God earthly.

We have a Protestant "theological" approach. Since we live according to the law of the Gospel we have a duty, a sacred obligation, for God to reward us socially, economically and worldly in general. And delusion follows. Because we are Orthodox and glorify God with our Orthodox terminology where there exists - now inactive - the words of correct doctrines from the Holy Fathers of our Church, who ordained them by their life, sweat and blood, we believe God must restore us in this world and glorify His Orthodox people! We hope He will give us Hagia Sophia and take it away from the impious hands of the enemies of our Faith! It's as if the Turks care we are Christians and Hagia Sophia was a Christian church. The only thing they care about is that Hagia Sophia cuts the most tickets from tourists and visitors from around the world. And the worst thing is, they put in the mouth of the Holy Elder Paisios words that he never said. When the Elder spoke about the City, he was speaking spiritually about the heavenly City. Today we think in completely worldly ways, nationalistically and small-mindedly putting "prophecies" into the mouth of the Elder.

Let us pay attention to this: Christ did not come into the world to make it "better". "In this world you will face troubles; but take courage, for I have conquered the world" (Jn. 16:33).

With His Resurrection.

And we remain stuck here. We blame the politicians. We blame those of other religions, of other nationalities, foreigners who flocked at one time 97% to our Orthodox Fatherland, and we lose hope because we have lost our stability, our security, because we do not have hope in God, and the Heaven that awaits us.

Source: An excerpt from a lecture delivered on March 30, 2014 for the Fourth Sunday of Great Lent. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.