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Word Magazine March 1960 Page 9/17
OLD FASHIONED RELIGION AND OUR MODERN WORLD
By Father Michael Baroudy
The twentieth century has seen more inventions and scientific research than any other period in history. These scientific endeavors have occasioned changes in our mode of living and sharpened our appetites for greater advances in such a way that we aren’t satisfied with our attainments. We are trying to effect communication with worlds besides our own, in the belief that there are people living on the moon, Mars and what have you. The more advanced in learning men are — the nearer they come to achieving self-destruction, because worldly wisdom, when not tempered with Divine wisdom, and an earnest search for Divine guidance, spells pride and will inevitably lead to moral bankruptcy and utter ruin. History affords us a living example that man, time after time, achieved his doom when he tried to run this world minus God and without due regard to life’s higher values. The challenges of changes are of such character that the church finds itself faced with tremendous difficulties to keep from floundering, and to maintain its peace, poise and power.
There are a few challenging questions which I consider relevant to our theme and to our time. First, can the church withstand the attacks of the world’s forces directed against her? She can — provided she reclaims her faith and realizes her heritage, her privileges and connections. The church must have the awareness of God’s Holy Spirit in her every day affairs, and that she is marching beneath the banner of the Savior who ever goes before His people to prepare a place for them. The trouble with us as members of the Orthodox faith is that we neglect our heritage, we are cool and unconcerned because we are worldly and don’t stand for those values and principles which make for better living conditions. We think that the world’s pull upon our souls is too great to combat and overcome, because we have compromised with evil forces. We do anything and everything that we know to be wrong; we sin with our eyes open. If you try to distinguish between Christians and non-Christians, you won’t succeed. This business of growing a soul in this day and time requires a good case of religion, a vision of God and of His eternal purposes for humanity, and a firm, rock-like belief that “if God be for us who can be against us.” A right concept of religion demands the last ounce of loyalty on our part, an utter self-denial. “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their afflictions, and keep one’s self unstained from the world.”
The average Christian walks about with the stains of the world visible upon his face and upon his soul, and then wonders why his soul is agitated and has lost his peace of mind. He wonders at his own powerlessness to combat the troubles and the problems of our complex life. But were he honest with himself, he would take a look at the balance sheet of his own soul for that’s where his trouble lies. The grass root of all sins is in the unredeemed nature of man, when that nature lives for what it can get not what it can give, lives for the gratification of low passions without in the least taking into consideration whether it is right or wrong.
Second, can the church compete successfully against the world’s tremendous odds? The church’s glorious history is the best answer to the question. It can because it has! The church has always been the world’s guardian angel. The church has endured persecution, suffering and ridicule, but has always managed to conquer the forces of evil. She has completed successfully even when emperors, kings, nobles, princes and paupers were lined against her, when everywhere and almost everyone believed that Christians were the most troublesome lot, undesirable persons. Death, danger and dungeons were means used to obliterate Christianity from the face of the earth. But rather than destroying Christianity the number of Christians multiplied. People began to realize that here indeed were men and women who were glad to die proclaiming their faith, in whom God lives.
One Monday morning when a priest was casting around in his mind for next Sunday’s sermon, a letter in his mail from one of his younger church members gave him a valuable clue: Dear Pastor: You can’t imagine how proud it makes me to inform you that I shall be covering the Western States, beginning this New Year, for I now have the honor to represent…” And he gave the name of a famous firm. Success, indeed! Instantly the priest opened his Concordance and found that in John’s Gospel alone Jesus used the phrase “him that sent me” twenty-six different times.
What was Christianity, then, but a growing list of those sent forth, who had “the honor to represent?” First, twelve ignorant and unlearned men. Then seventy. Then 120 waiting for power. Then 3000. And today, 872,000,000 who bear the name and presumably cover their region, proud to say a good word for Jesus Christ.
The triumph of Christianity doesn’t take place on the world’s battlefields, but in the hearts and minds of men. There has always been its greatest conquest, that is, implicit faith in the truth revealed by Christ, obedience to the call of Him whose conquest was in the realization that right is might, that truth shall prevail against all odds, the belief that there is a universal law implanted in this world of ours against which none have ever won. Tyrants, dictators, men and women of great fame and fortunes discovered this fact too late.
The Crusaders tried their hand in applying a principle diametrically opposed to the spirit and the letter of Christianity. These European Christians, among whom were kings, queens and nobles in the early centuries of Christianity organized several expeditions to the Holy Land to drive the Saracens away from Jerusalem and other places which were dear to the hearts of every Christian. But their efforts time and again were fruitless, ending in frustration and defeat. Ironically enough, their defeat took place within hailing distance from the Mount where Jesus preached his immortal sermon, in which he declared, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God.”
On what and whom may the church of Jesus Christ depend for its survival? The survival of the Orthodox Church depends upon the knowledge that being linked with God and the awareness of His Presence in us produces loyalty, fidelity, and courage. Imagine how the world’s history changers won the day for God, starting with Christ who achieved his victory on the cross where we hear him praying, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” Or consider Stephen who while being stoned to death, prayed, “Oh God, lay it not to their charge.” Or St. Peter who asked to be crucified with his head down. Or St. John Chrysostom, the Golden-Mouthed, who though dying in exile, prayed, “God in all things might be praised.”
The survival of the Orthodox Church depends upon the utter loyalty, the fidelity and sacrifices of its membership. This is Christianity’s supreme heritage. “You are my friends if you do whatsoever I commanded you,” said the Master.
Man’s wisdom has done much to beautify the world of ours and make living conditions comfortable. It has brought the world to one’s elbow, so to speak, so that one could speak to someone anywhere, where telephone service is available. It has also shrunk our world in that you can get on an airliner and, in sixty flying hours you will arrive at the furthest point on the globe, to say nothing of the many electrical appliances in common, every day use. But it can’t escape our notice that with all these fun-making, time-saving devices we are not happy. Why?
The Sacred Writer tells us why. “The knowledge of God is the crown of wisdom.” This, of course, means that God’s knowledge is the crowning glory of man’s wisdom, so that God’s wisdom should permeate our worldly wisdom, the Christian way of life must be mediated in our way of life. Without it, our wisdom is like a body without a head, or a house without a roof, or a king minus a crown, or a bride without a bridegroom. With it life becomes livable and understandable, but without it life does not make sense. With it you sense the reality of God, something has arrived which has been missed. With it the Creator links hands with the created, communication has been established between heaven and earth, the human and the Divine are partners to share life’s weals and woes. If man’s wisdom brings the world to your elbow, Divine wisdom brings heaven to your living room. Could there be anything more inspiring than that?
Now unto Him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy.
To the only wise God our Savior, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen.