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Word Magazine December 1967 Page 16-17
HEAVEN, THE ULTIMATE GOAL OF THE CHRISTIAN
By The Very Rev. Father Michael Baroudy, Pastor Emeritus,
St. George’s Orthodox Church, Vicksburg, Mississippi
An advertisement appearing in a recent issue of Time Magazine, inserted there by one of the insurance companies, reads as follows: “The future belongs to those who prepare for it.” This statement is very much to the point, not only regarding the necessity of buying life insurance for physical protection and economic security, but also regarding the purchase of insurance for spiritual protection and future stability.
If we consider the above statement in the light of history and experience, we find that it sets forth for us a truth that cannot be denied. The races and nations who became great and are considered great today, began from mere scratch. Our own country, America, was originally composed of a handful of Pilgrims who established the Thirteen Original Colonies. They were insignificant in so far as numbers goes. Not only were they small in number, but they had to endure hardships and privations that were almost incredible. They were beset by their English oppressors on one hand, and by Indians on the other. But those men built for themselves and their posterity a great and glorious name; an undying reputation by founding a Republic which today ranks second to none. What made these men and women dare and die for their country? They were men and women of vision; men and women who lived not only for their own selves, but for God, country, and their own posterity. They were people who wanted to build something worthwhile and everlasting.
The future of this country belonged to them because they lived and labored for the sake of their future offspring, and not for their own interests alone.
Why is it necessary to think of and prepare for the future of our faith? For the very good reason of continuing our racial and religious heritages. Every one of us received something from his parents and priests which he wishes to hand down to his children. We received these principles from our forbearers, not for the purpose of keeping them under lock and key, but for the purpose of instilling them in our children. Our great Orthodox faith, our greatest heritage in the world, has been kept under lock and key; buried in the ground, so to speak, due to the fact that parents as well as priests did not propagate it, publicize it, or try to sell it to others. Priests and parents alike are guilty of having neglected Orthodoxy.
Orthodoxy today is not as prosperous and as powerful as it might have been because its trustees and keepers have neglected it. Orthodoxy has suffered and is still suffering because its own children, priests, and parents have not treated it as a vital and necessary force, and have not measured up to its requirements. What are the results? Fewer priests and fewer churches: a general rundown of moral and spiritual principles, and the loss of a great number of our people who erroneously think that other churches and faiths are as good as ours.
We cannot deny the fact, I am sorry to say, that morally and religiously speaking, we are not up to par. We may be a power in the commercial sense, but not in the spiritual sense. We neglect everything, home, church, in order to give our businesses one thousand rather than one hundred per cent attention. It is desirable to leave our children a good bank account, home and prosperity, but it is more desirable to leave good character and worthy moral and religious principles. It is good to teach our children a good profession or trade whereby they can earn a livelihood, but it is more desirable to instill in them the knowledge of the Heavenly Father, “the Giver of every good and perfect gift.”
Come further now and let us ask another question: How to prepare for the future of Orthodoxy? By faithfully living up to our obligations in so far as our religion is concerned. Your obligations to your religion and religious convictions are not absolved and vindicated by the mere fact that you give your financial support to the treasury of the church. The church has the first claim on your purse and your earning capacity. Those of you who think that you are doing all you can to support the church by mere material aid are treating the church as if she is an organization of charity and not one of goodness and piety.
In order to be a full-fledged, God-fearing Orthodox, you should attend Services every Sunday, unless you are providentially hindered. You should take Holy Communion as often as possible, at least three times a year. You should aid the church and back it up with everything you have so that she may be able to cope with the problems which arise from day to day.
If some of us prefer to be on the lake, or going hunting, or opening for business, or working on the books on Sundays, we are not good Orthodox. If your business obligations must be met, it is honorable to meet them, but it is more honorable to meet religious obligations for which we are going to be answerable before the judgment seat of Christ.
The future of Orthodoxy belongs to us because we are her trustees, off-spring, and her keepers. For anything to have a future requires vision, hard work, and devoted, consecrated lives. The future of this church and of every other church is centered in her young people. They are the church’s future and her most valuable asset. They will be tomorrow what the parents and priest will make them today. Today is ours not to idle away on questionable amusements, not to throw away on vain and worthless efforts, but it is ours to instruct and instill right principles; to concentrate not on the things that are here today and gone tomorrow, but on those things which abide forever; not on the things whose value is measured in terms of dollars and cents, but in terms of eternally doing what under God we should do.
Your children and mine are our particular and peculiar responsibility. It is your business and mine to see to it that they attend Church School and Church Services regularly.
The world with all its alluring, deceptive powers is tugging at and pulling our children away from us. Therefore, these two hours of religious education the child receives each Sunday, plus the wholesome home training, are of incalculable worth to the child. If the child is reared with respect for godly principles, and if these principles take possession of his mind and heart, then no power on earth can take them from him.
The saddest and most heartbreaking thing in the world is to see children without any religious education or moral principles, free to come and go unhindered, roaming the streets, not being tied to parents’ or church’s authority. Parents and priests are taking chances; they are gambling with the world’s most precious assets, the training of the children. Those who fail in their duties as parents and think that everything will come out all right are living in a fool’s paradise. They will wake up some day to the reality that everything will be all wrong. They are due for a terribly unpleasant awakening and they will experience the worst shock of their lives.
“Train the child in the way that he should go, and when he grows old, he will not depart from it,” said the Sacred Writer. You may rest assured that if you fail, someone else will train him in the way that he should not go, and you will live to regret it and grieve over it.
As for the future belonging to those who prepare for it, isn’t that actually the anthem, the theme song of Christianity? Isn’t heaven the ultimate goal of believers in Christ, the home country of those who prepare for it? As a matter of fact, the theme of the scriptures from Genesis to Revelation is to prepare ourselves to meet God. This world is our kindergarten, our proving ground, where we ready ourselves for heaven.
Christ in the Upper Room with His Disciples spoke reassuringly of that when he said, “I go to prepare a place for you, and when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you unto myself, so where I am you shall be also.” And St. Paul, in his letter to his spiritual son, Timothy, said, “Exercise thyself unto Godliness, for Godliness with contentment is a great gain, having the promise of the life that now is and the life that is to come.”
We conclude, therefore, that heaven is a prepared place for prepared people. This is the true theology of our religion, the basic truth of our Holy Faith. For truly and unalterably, the future belongs to those who prepare for it.
“I live for those who love me,
For those who know me true;
For the heaven that smiles above me,
And waits my coming too.
For the wrong that needs resistance,
For the cause that needs assistance,
For the future in the distance,
And the good that I can do.”