By Archpriest Valentin Sventsitsky (+1931).
For whatever is born of God overcomes the world, says the Holy Apostle John. When we think about it, these are powerful words indeed. They are not easy for us to digest for we hardly resemble victors over our lives! Look at the state of the Church today! There are many sins on the consciences of pastors; the faith is poorly presented; how to pray or even how to live our lives are poorly taught.
Today more than ever we feel our lack of spiritual education in Church life (Tserkovnost). Today there is an even greater attack by the enemy of our salvation. And how can someone who is unprepared not lose hope, for he has to make spiritual decisions for himself, based on his own conscience.
"For whatever is born of God overcomes the world". These words, in the first instance, pertain to the inner disposition of a person. A person must at the outset conquer the world. He must overcome those secular influences that have penetrated his soul and which he constantly encounters as he pursues the spiritual life. He must overcome within himself those things that are foreign and harmful to his inner spiritual disposition. He has to conquer the secular within.
What can he rely on in this struggle? He cannot rely on his own strength. He cannot rely on his own will since it is inclined to the pleasures of this life. He has to turn to the Church.
The Church is the only place that remains free from the principles of secular society. But it is not only in his inner life that someone should overcome the world. He should be victorious in everything; in all the conditions and circumstances that surround him. He needs to maintain literally every step on his spiritual path which leads to perfection. In this respect the secular world does not provide a single step in this direction. On the contrary, it obstructs him.
Mockery of Christ, disbelief and a thirst for secular power — all these impede the path to salvation. But nevertheless, the believer must overcome the world. He must not concede to the enemy of our salvation. He must have a firm resolve. And furthermore he must accept the consequences, which are unavoidable when one makes the true decision to lead a spiritual life.
Not peace, but a sword. The Lord brought division. Not division between believers but between the world of believers and that of non-believers. And we feel this division, this strife, as we journey along the spiritual path of life. We feel it everywhere. We must, however, unremittingly overcome obstacles and emerge as victors!
If this applies to our personal lives, it equally applies to the life of the Church. Here we have the repository of grace, the very source of a higher existence, which is able to overcome the world.
The victory of the Church over the world is conclusive to the degree that the Church is indeed the Church and never conforms or adapts to secular life. The Church lives according to different laws. It sees other goals before it; it has in its life another source. It contains the source of grace of the life-giving power of God and does not need to adapt to the whims of the world. It proceeds victoriously to a higher goal.
For the Church to be victorious over the world means for it to journey along its own path, neither at any time or any place adapting to this world. This is how we understand the victory which is spoken of by the Apostle John.
In these times each one of us should consciously be immersed in Church life. This should be the measure of what we do and what we are. We should be 'church-minded' and 'church-active'. Only by following such a firm resolve to lead a 'churched' life and hoping in God can we avoid being driven from the true path of the Church in these godless days.