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July 31, 2016

The Church Is Not What We Think It Is

By Archimandrite Vasilios of Iveron

The Church is not what we think it is. They took our babies from the breast of their mother, the Orthodox Church. They taught us other things. They gave us artificial milk to drink. They cut us off from our roots. They separated us from Tradition. They distanced us from our home. They made us foreigners in our own country. They set out to make us unlearn our native language, the language of Orthodoxy, the native language of humanity.

Who? Those who wanted to forcibly save us: the enlighteners, the propagandists, the Bavarians, the Masons - until today. Together with them, whoever considers their lights as light, their culture as progress. And so blindly, without spiritual discernment, we took everything from them, as something superior, better, more civilized (in art, law, the organization of life, architecture, music, etc.). And they tormented our being. They rejected our organization and one by one transplanted within it foreign members. And then they forcibly transplanted new ones, which are eliminated, and with personal behavior is manifested what is the underlying character of the operation of our people.

The Church is not what we think it is. It is not what we are attacking, which we have set out to destroy. Orthodoxy has nothing to do with "medievalism", "mysticism", "clericalism" and "scholasticism" as we hear. Those nurtured in the West think that all the terms in the West and East have the same meaning. They try to free us from illnesses we never had. Rather they make us ill with their treatments. And they complicate things with their solutions.

We do not deny there were human weaknesses. There were and are weak people, fallen and defected. This makes Orthodoxy even more likable, and shows her loving tolerance and the truth of her message.

The big issue is to know the Orthodox Church, which we are ignorant of. Her one, uncontaminated, incorrupt and immaculate heart. That which is our deepest and truest being. That which we have a greater relationship with than we think. That which we know deeply, without understanding it. That which we find to be unconsciously denying, because we are ignorant of her truth, her divine-humanity, the glory of her humility.

Whatever valuable thing is sought for by true seekers is found in here. Not piecemeal, partial or illusory but complete in work and truth.

This is most suitable for young children, simple old ladies and the more demanding seekers who want to see God not as much as they are able, but as God is.

It is a theology that goes to the extent of denial (apophaticism), a denial that goes no further than where man can cross over. Its grace is uncreated, invisible, incomprehensible, that comes to man in creation, renewing and deifying him.

Theology is not scholasticism, and the spiritual life is not puritanism.

Coming to know Orthodoxy, what it really is, we become balanced; we can see everyone affectionately. We are helped by everyone, and by the grace of God we help everyone. To become Orthodox does not mean to become somehow enclosed, but somehow to open ourselves up: to reach the heights of the cross of love.

If the theology of our Church was what most people think it is, what was taught in the state universities, or if it was external piety or introduced as sterile piety, I confess that I would not say a thing to you. (We would have no hope; probably not even responsibility.)

Now we can tell you words that are comforting and hard (as it is self-described):

We have a privileged and dangerous position. It has been determined by those who gave birth to us, and we cannot do what comes at a whim.

We Orthodox Greeks cannot with impunity act like children, relying on any excuse, or more, to be insolent.

If those who preceded us and lived and were buried in this soil, improvised by their enthusiasm, then we also could continue by improvising.

If however they lived differently; if they decided to die and this is how they lived; if their way of life was a death decision; if their entire creation, ethics, reason, works, form, gesture, visible and invisible were born from death, to sacrifice everything so something better could be born, another nature, another texture, for others, for all of us, then we cannot with impunity improvise, to do rehearsals, to play with fire.

If Hagia Sophia was not built as it was, to fit all people and the universe.

If the Holy Mountain was not made as it was, for the whole man to be saved and for the people to live in brotherhood.

If Saint Gregory Palamas did not theologize the way he theologized, summing up the experience and life of Orthodoxy, eliminating the thirst of today's tormented young people.

If so many unknown to us had not fought, cried, endured, prayed and sacrificed on the mountains, the islands and the cities.

If they did not have in their music, life and morals the humanity that slaughters you.

If they were not the founders of a new Hellenism like Saint Kosmas and Makrygiannis.

If all this was not in our blood, then we could do whatever has come down to us.

Now it is not so. Now we are in a holy place and time. We cannot be frivolous. We do not belong to ourselves. We belong to those who gave birth to us, and the entire world. We are indebted to a spiritual heritage. No excuse can save us. And even if we throw everything out of our schools, the ancient, the new, the sacred, the venerable, we cannot make an excuse to anyone to get rid of nor forget our debt. We cannot make up any alibi.

We will have to face those who came before us and those who come after us.

They will throw our fake antics at our faces. Because one day the young will wake up, who will say no to lies, to superficiality, to what is counterfeit, to forgery, to treason, which is bullied and criminally forged through educational programs, reading aids and audiovisual broadcasting.

And those who say no will have undefined powers that will transcend them. The spirits of the past and the hungry children of the world will be with them.

What exists here belongs to everyone. What we inherit determines our behavior.

The Truth, who was incarnated by the all-pure and ever-virgin Mary, who died and rose and raises up the universe and the Church as the body of Christ. The Grace that sanctifies the entire being of humanity. The Church that baptizes all people in the bottomless depths of the mystery of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, that sanctify all the senses.

This Grace, which entered into the bone marrow of our faithful people, that weaves our lives and makes them woven above with the elements of matter.

The entire spiritual body of our life has messages that belong to everyone, which all await until the end of the earth. And we are indebted to all. And we have by necessity been placed by those who gave birth to us according to the flesh and spirit on a certain level. We cannot lower the flag, measure out the debt, relax in another place, in another way, except by the sacrifice of the cross.

Source: Excerpt from the book The Holy Mountain and the Education of Our Nation. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.