Word Magazine February 1968 Page 20-21
THE RELEVANCE OF THE
TO ALL TIMES AND PLACES
By The Late Very Rev. Father Michael Baroudy, Pastor Emeritus
St. George’s Orthodox Church, Vicksburg, Mississippi
No one actually knows how long religion has been in existence. We know that our own, the Christian religion, has been in existence 1,967 years. But long before the Christian era, which dates from the birth of Christ, long before the existence of Judaism and the giving of the Ten Commandments 4,000 years ago, men had religion — pagan and crude in appearance and practice — yet it was an evident and obvious endeavor on the part of men to express their sense of gratitude to a power greater than and beyond themselves. The attempt on the part of man to show a sense of allegiance in worship, to a God is an evidence of the often-expressed fact that, “man’s soul is ever agitated and restless until it finds its rest in Him who is its creator and redeemer.”
The history of religion is a most dramatic and fascinating one. It marked a steady climb, morally, on the part of men, from the worship of the heavenly bodies — the sun, moon and stars — from animal worship of crocodiles, snakes, the bull and such other animals, to that of the true God who spoke to men like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Moses, Samuel and many others, and lastly spoke to the world through His Son, our Lord, who revealed God and His love in a manner no man ever did.
History’s verdict and the rise and fall of nations as well as Empires, are incontrovertible facts relative to the prominent place God should occupy in man’s thinking and planning. Giving God a prominent place in its thinking, a nation becomes great: it then goes ahead making great progress; it prospers from every standpoint. But as soon as it relinquishes its hold on God—its decline, deterioration and disintegration begin to take place. God’s grace is the surest sign of a nation’s or individual’s security. It is the light that leads man to the right path, and a secure, prosperous future.
We don’t have to resort to ancient history to see how Assyria, Babylon, Persia, as well as the Roman Empire, had their rise and fall. All one needs to do is to note the reason in each case. The French nation deteriorated from a great-first-class power to a third-class power; and Germany, which attained such a challenging height and a desire to rule the world, has become today a negligible power. This is no less true in the case of the British Empire which today is in the process of shedding its colonial possessions. I am fearful for our own America which stands today upon the summit of power, the greatest in all her history, but how long she will be able to maintain her position is problematical. One who has eyes to see cannot fail to realize that the decline has begun already. America’s hold on God has already been relinquished; it is being replaced by things of material consequence. America is threatened from within rather than without. No outsider can defeat America — only America can defeat America.
The church is an organization of Divine origin, and its primary function is to save the world from sin and deterioration to the knowledge of God. Christ’s parting command to His disciples was, “Go ye into all the world and make disciples of all people, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” But that is not as easy as it may seem. Because we are challenged by those who say, “Why do I need to have religion? I seem to get along without it; I believe I can do better without it; I interfere in no man’s affairs; I am as good as anyone who attends church regularly; in fact, I believe I am better in some respects than the average church member.”
Yes, the church has to grapple with the skeptic, the atheist, the agnostic, as well as the cynic and the proud. The most difficult person with which the church contends is the proud person who seems to think that people in the church are not good enough, are not his intellectual equal.
Another character which is out to change is the one who is neither for or against religion. Here you have a hard customer with which to contend. If a person were one way or another, you would know how to deal with him, but a double-minded, undecided, wishy-washy, unconcerned person, you don’t know what kind of strategy to use on him. “You know,” he will tell you, “that I love the church; no man can do without it; it is a good thing, the best and the most necessary thing in life; but I don’t seem to be able to get hold of myself to put my efforts behind the church — maybe some day I will.”
Mind you, those who greet you with such alibis are not slothful or slack in the attendance of their own affairs, be they of social or financial character, but they are slothful when it comes to God’s Kingdom and the affairs which concern righteousness. As their friend, and the friend of everyone, be they classed as infidels or indifferent, I can truthfully say, as a minister of Christ and steward and the humble servant of all, they are building their homes on the shifting sands and such a home cannot stand the storm of adverse winds beating upon it.
There is probably nothing that gives me greater grief and concern than the unconcerned, nonchalant attitude of some of our people, and the way they neglect their souls and their utter indifference to spiritual realities. How I pray for them and wish I were able to lead them away from the dryrot of being set in their ways — if I could only make them see to what extent God is interested in them, to what extent He loved them and the unspeakable greatness of His goodness, I would be of all men most happy, indeed!
Happy and thrice happy is the church whose membership feels a thirst for God, a desire to be of service to humanity, to see life through enlightened hearts and minds, who glory in doing the greatest service to the greatest number of people.
There is no need of man, in my honest opinion, that transcends the need to Divine power, guidance, and direction. Man must have the awareness of God’s power in his life in order to live creditably and well and to overcome the great temptations which come across his path from time to time. History is a running commentary on this fact. When nations, groups or individuals, for that matter, lose sight of Him who is the way, the truth and the life, then and there deterioration sets in. The Bible, the holy word of God, verifies this fact for it says, “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.”
The Christian religion is more than a way of life — it is life! It is more than a philosophy, for it embodies all philosophies. It is more than a set of precepts and rules, for it comprehends all precepts, the fulfillment of all rules. It is an overmastering spirit, a triumphant, undiscourageable force which gathers in its loving embrace all human beings. It is the world’s strangest paradox, for it is most alive when it dies daily, strong when it is weak, seeking everything and yet seeking nothing. It is being rich when one is poor, losing one’s self to find the true self. It is the love that never fails, a light that cannot be dimmed, a truth ever alive, a hope springing eternal, a mercy whose fount shall never run dry, an inexhaustible source of blessing flowing from the heart of the Savior of men.