LIVING HOLY ORTHODOXY IN THE CONTEMPORARY WORLD
AND IN THE PRESENCE OF ISLAM
ST. SOPHIA IN CONSTANTINOPLE
I would like to share with you some articles that are written by a monastic here in the United States who is named Abbot Tryphon. He has a take on the Orthodox Faith that is uniquely directed to the pluralistic society in which we live here in America. I find that we Orthodox Christians in America find it very convenient sometimes to water down what we have been gifted by our Orthodox Christian forebears. We do this by comparing ourselves with Christian expressions that have made Christianity a very easy thing to live with. But this is not the way the Orthodox Christian Tradition has been bequeathed to us. Living our Orthodox Christian Faith in a multi-cultural society is not an easy thing to do if we are serious about living and practicing the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Faith.
Listen to what the Abbot has to say to us about living the Orthodox Faith in a very secular society. He says: “Orthodoxy by its very nature is a demanding religion, one that requires her faithful to fully embrace a lifestyle that is in opposition to the world around us. The many periods of fasting and the practice of standing for long periods of time for our services are just two things that set Orthodoxy apart in our world. In an age when so many embrace religions that require little or no standard of belief, Orthodoxy is a faith that holds to ancient dogmas and ways of worship that are virtually unchanged in two thousand years.
Our multi-cultural societies have radically changed the face of many countries throughout the western world, with immigration introducing many foreign religions into societies that were previously monolithic in religious tradition. Many countries in Western Europe and North America are now seeing the spread of Orthodox Christianity as never before, along with the introduction of Islam. This, together with the spread of secularism and atheism, has changed the religious map of many countries.
These changes make the practice of our faith more difficult since western societies no longer culturally support the open practice of Christianity. No longer do we see the expression of Christianity in the public forum, with the exception of Orthodox countries, prominently being a part of the societal fabric. Many people are even experiencing pressure to keep their faith a private affair, so as not to offend others by being too religious. With pluralism dominant in the work place and social settings, any display of our faith can be frowned upon.
This may work for some, but for a serious Orthodox Christian this is problematic. How do we live Orthodoxy as our faith demands if we live it in a vacuum, shutting it off as a private fare practiced only on Sundays? If we are truly to put on Christ and be transformed by the healing resources that are available by living a committed Orthodox faith, we cannot allow ourselves to live a superficial Orthodox Christian lifestyle.
Orthodoxy cries out to be lived, experienced, and practiced! If we call ourselves Orthodox Christians while rarely attending Church services, ignoring the fasting regulations, hiding our one icon in a bedroom, never making the sign of the Cross in public, praying a blessing over our meal only when alone or with family, we are not practicing Orthodox Christians.
We must be bold in our faith. As a monk who wears my monastic garb everywhere, I can tell you it has a powerful impact on people. Even when sitting among friends who are not religious, I always bless my food. If I see a police car, fire truck or aid car pass by in downtown Seattle, I raise my hand to bless them, for I want God to keep them safe, and I want whoever is in need of their help to receive it. I wear a Cross around my neck not only because I am a priest, but because I am a Believer. I am not afraid to be public about my faith in Jesus Christ, for my faith demands it of me. Christ told His disciples that if they denied Him before men, so too would He deny them before the Father in heaven. Orthodox Christianity cries out to be lived publicly. Our very salvation demands it.”
Abbot Tryphon continues by telling us why it is important for us to live our Orthodox Christian Faith with pride and determination. “According to St. Gregory of Nyssa, heaven and hell are not about location, but about relationships. God is everywhere in His creation and He did not create a heaven for some and a hell for others. If we love God, the fire of His divinity will be comforting warmth to us, but if we choose not to have a relationship with Him, being in the presence of His divine fire will feel like hell to us. We choose how we will experience the presence of God in the afterlife, and since God cannot be absent from anywhere, those who have chosen to ignore Him, will, nevertheless, be in His presence for all of eternity.
St. Gregory said that Paradise and Hell do not exist from God’s point of view, but from man’s point of view. It is all about man’s choice and condition. According to him, heaven and hell are not two different locations. They are simply two different experiences of the same place.
Everyone will spend eternity in God’s presence, but how we experience the Divine Presence will depend upon the condition of our souls. Those who have been transformed by the action and work of the Holy Spirit will experience God as light and bliss. Those who have rejected God’s love will experience it as pain and suffering. For the unbeliever and the unrepentant, their sins will not allow them to enjoy the Presence of God.”
Abbot Tryhon now tells us how it is possible for us to always be in the presence of God even now when we are alive here on the earth. He tells us: “The Orthodox Church believes that the Eucharist is a sacrifice in which Christ Himself performs the act of offering, and is both priest and victim. This sacrifice is offered to God the Trinity, and not just to the Father, but also to the Holy Spirit and to Christ Himself. It is Christ who is offered and to Christ the offering is made.
Our Orthodox Christian theology also teaches that the Eucharist is a sacrifice offered on behalf of both the living and the dead, and is not a mere figure or symbol but a true sacrifice. It is not the bread that is sacrificed, but the very Body of Christ. And, the Lamb of God was sacrificed only once, for all time. This sacrifice at the Eucharist consists, not in the real and bloody sacrifice of the Lamb, but in the transformation of the bread into the sacrificed Lamb.
All the events of Christ’s sacrifice, the Incarnation, the Last Supper, the Crucifixion, the Resurrection, and the Ascension are not repeated in the Eucharist, but they are made present in the here and now. The Eucharist is both symbolic and mystical, and is understood to be the genuine Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, precisely because the bread and the wine are the mysteries and symbols of God’s true and genuine presence and His manifestation to us in Christ. It is a mystery precisely because the Eucharist defies analysis and explanation in purely rational and logical terms. For the Eucharist, as Christ Himself, is a mystery of the Kingdom of Heaven which as Jesus has told us is not of this world. The Eucharist, because it belongs to God’s Kingdom, is truly free from the earth-born logic of fallen humanity.
St. John of Damascus tells us, ‘if you enquire how this happens, it is enough for you to learn that it is through the Holy Spirit, we know nothing more than this, that the Word of God is true, active, and omnipotent, but in its manner of operation unsearchable.”
ISLAM IN OUR MIDST
Moderate Muslims cannot save us because they do not have a theological leg to stand on. These moderate Muslims provide cover for the active Muslims. They do not hold rallies against jihad, Islamic Jew-hatred, creed apartheid, gender apartheid and holy war. On the contrary, their silence speaks volumes.
They decry people who express fear of Islam but say nothing about jihad or sharia law. Certain American cities like Minneapolis-St. Paul have become ground zero for the recruitment of young people for ISIS and other jihad groups. Why aren’t moderate Muslims protesting that and instituting programs in the mosques to fight against Islamic hatred and slaughter? Perhaps because their mosques would throw these people out of the mosque much like they threw out moderate Muslim Dr. Zuhdi Jasser.
Dr. Bill Warner, a Muslim scholar, tells us more about the moderate Muslim in our midst. He says: “It is frequently said that moderate Muslims can solve the problem of jihad and terror. Everyone has met nice Muslims, some of whom are willing to admit that Islam has problems and may even say that the Islamic State is bad. Moderate Muslims are nice people who come to interfaith events, interviews and talks at schools and Churches. Moderate Muslims even tell us that they are the real victims of Muslim terrorism, not the non-Muslims.
Here is the problem—Islam cannot be changed by anybody, moderate or not. Islam is the doctrine about civilization that is found in the Koran, in the Sura and in the Hadith. Nobody can change the teaching of the Koran. The words of the Koran are eternal, perfect and universal. Nobody can change Islam. It is fixed and frozen by its unalterable doctrine.
What we call moderation is simply ignoring the violence and hate of Islam. But the jihad cannot be removed. It can only be denied by ignoring it. A moderate Muslim has the same Allah and Mohammed that a jihadist has.
Moderate Islam is practiced by Muslims who basically ignore the teachings of Islam. They are non-practicing Muslims. Islam changes Muslims; Muslims can only choose not to practice the dark side of Islam, but they cannot change it or get rid of it. Islamic doctrine is fixed, eternal, unchangeable and forever.”
+Fr. Constantine J. Simones, Waterford, CT, USA, September 12, 2016, firstname.lastname@example.org