by Priest David Moser
From its genesis in the Garden of Eden, the history of mankind has been dominated by Satan's relentless battle for men's souls. Our Lord Jesus Christ paid a dear price to release us from Satan's tyranny, but He warned us that while still in this world we would nevertheless experience trials and tribulations. During certain periods of the Church's history, these tribulations have been exceptionally severe. In our own century, in Russia, countless men, women and children shed their blood in witnessing their faithfulness to Christ. Although we are being spared such overt persecution at the present time, as the time of the Antichrist draws nearer, we can expect that Satan will be intensifying his efforts to destroy us, to turn us from our faith in God. Already we can sense an increasing antipathy towards uncompromising Christianity on the part of secularist humanists, globalists and New Agers. Where will we find the strength to resist-even unto blood if necessary-the increasing pressure to conform to the world and its allegiance to pagan gods? How can we prepare for the coming trials and tribulations that will be ours if we remain faithful to Christ?
A current and well-known psychiatrist, Thomas Szasz, in speaking about the means by which our society exerts control over individuals, says, "The concept of coercion implies two closely related notions: namely, power and freedom. One person, A, cannot coerce another, B, unless A has power over B; the weak, in other words, cannot (literally) coerce the strong. Conversely, one person, B, cannot be coerced by another, A, unless B has certain aspirations and desires, typically to go on living, to be free, to possess property, and to "pursue happiness." The person devoid of all wants-indifferent to whether or not he lives or suffers-cannot be coerced. This is why, in the West, people have sought to protect themselves from coercion by political means, principally by restraining the powers of the state (limited government), and why, in the East, people have sought to protect themselves from coercion by spiritual means, principally by limiting their own desires."
Here is a blueprint for anyone anticipating-as we all should-the possibility of martyrdom. Let us take a closer look at these basic desires, sanctified as "inalienable rights" by our Declaration of Independence, and discuss how we can control them in order to place ourselves beyond the influence of any worldly and anti-Christian authority.
The first of these desires, "to go on living," is a value totally antithetical to the teaching of our Lord: For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; and whosoever will lose his life for My sake shall find it (Matt. 16:25). As Orthodox Christians, we know that this earthly life is only a shadow, an image, an icon of true life, which can be obtained only through Christ. How audacious of the state to "guarantee" life! Only God can do this, for He is the source of all life. In order, then, to be released from the hold of this desire of the natural, false life, we must redefine our concept of "life." Life can no longer be seen from this world's perspective, a merely earthly existence; rather, we must adopt God's eternal view of life, as emanating from Himself, and possible only in unity with Him. The Apostle Paul confirmed this in teaching: For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live (Rom. 8:13). Because he lived in the spirit, the Apostle was able to say that for him, to die is gain (Phil. 1:21).
Only with this attitude, this understanding, were the martyrs able to face their trials. With this understanding, the Three Holy Youths stepped bravely into the fiery furnace. They did not know that God would miraculously preserve them without harm in the midst of the flame. And there are numerous cases in the lives of the holy martyrs, when God, in His sovereign power, protected His faithful servants from harm or instantly healed their wounds, giving them strength to endure what was humanly impossible. Many, of course, suffered horribly from the cruel tortures. But whether they were miraculously spared or not, all of the martyrs were willing to lose their lives for the sake of Christ and His eternal Kingdom, and therefore they were immune to threats of death. The desire "to go on living" in this world had no hold on them. We must strive for this same immunity.
Secondly, we must address our desire "to be free," our desire for "liberty." What is this freedom? What does it mean to have liberty? For most, it means to be self-determining, autonomous, having the ability to function without outside forces exerting undue influence. Even to the novice in the spiritual life, the temptation to pride and self-absorption is evident in this idea. By striving for this kind of freedom, we become slaves to that self-same freedom! We willingly bind ourselves with shackles labeled "liberty" or "human rights" or "personal dignity," or any number of other popular names in the service of this "freedom." Compare such a notion of freedom with the true freedom exemplified by Christ in His prayer, "not My will but Thine...", and taught by the Apostle Paul, Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in the lusts thereof. . . . Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servant ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness? (Rom. 6:12ff).
From this we learn that freedom exists only in Christ, and that by accepting the easy yoke and light burden of obedience to Christ, we are free (paradoxically, in the eyes of the world). Freedom in the world is slavery to sin, while becoming the slave of God is freedom. Therefore, to become truly free is to fulfill the commandments of God. The only place where this obedient freedom can be maintained is within the Orthodox Church, which has preserved the freedom-giving commandments of God without error or change. In order to continue our preparation for martyrdom, we must become obedient servants of our Lord Jesus Christ as we are taught through our mother, His holy Church.
The third desire, "to possess property," is remarkably absent even from our list of "inalienable rights." Our popular conception, however, fortified by advertisers and secular entertainment, as well as some Christian groups, is that this right exists, and that if we do not get it, something is wrong. This desire is clearly addressed in the Sermon on the Mount. Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust corrupt and thieves break in and steal, but rather lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven. . . for where your treasure is there will your heart be also. We must value the things of God more highly than the things of man-even to the point of giving up (or "trading in") our earthly possessions in order to obtain heavenly possessions. We have a wonderfully instructive illustration of this in the life of the holy Apostle Thomas.
When the Apostle Thomas was spreading the Gospel in India, God arranged that he be engaged as an architect by the king, Gundafor. The king gave Thomas a large amount of gold and provisions for the building of a palace. The holy Apostle promptly distributed all this to the poor. Two years later, the king sent his messengers to check on the progress of the construction, whereupon Thomas requested more money for the completion of the roof. This sum he likewise gave to the poor. When the king discovered that his money was gone and his palace was still only on paper, he had the Apostle thrown into jail. Soon thereafter, the king's brother, Gad, fell ill and died. An angel of the Lord took the soul of the deceased Gad and bore it up to heaven, where he was shown many beautiful mansions. "In which of these would you like to dwell?" asked the angel. When Gad motioned towards one that was particularly magnificent, the angel said, "You may not live there for it belongs to your brother, with whose gold the stranger Thomas built it." "Let me go to my brother," entreated Gad, "that I might buy this palace from him." According to the will of God, the angel returned the soul of Gad to his body whereupon he rose as if from sleep. He went to the king, who rejoiced at having his brother returned to him. When Gad asked to purchase the palace in the heavens which had been built by Thomas with the king's money, the king was enlightened and understood that Thomas had indeed built him a palace-not an earthly one which would deteriorate and which would be left behind at his death, but rather an eternal palace in the heavens. King Gundafor released the holy Apostle, embraced the Christian Faith and spent the rest of his life giving alms, following the Lord's injunction, Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven.
Finally, there is this nebulous "right" and desire to "pursue happiness." In the eyes of the world, this often means the indulgence of the passions and chasing after every fantasy of the mind and heart. The "pursuit of happiness" is frequently the opposite of discipline and obedience. To pursue happiness too often means to lead a life of dissipation and fruitless wandering. True happiness, however, is found only in Christ. Christ is true happiness. In the Kingdom of God, to pursue happiness is to desire to follow Christ. And to be with Christ means to follow a path of discipline, self-denial and, if we are so called, martyrdom.
By centering our whole life and desire on Christ, we free ourselves from the tyranny of life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness and the right to possess property. As long as we have desires in this world, the world will have a hold on us. But once we place our hope in the Lord, we are no longer bound to the world; all of our desires are invested in something that the world cannot control.
You may say that this is fine for our desires, but what of necessities- food, drink, shelter? Recall the words of our Lord in the Sermon on the Mount: Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. . . And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they toil not, neither do they spin. And yet I say unto you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. . . Therefore, take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewith shall we be clothed? . . . For your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things (Matt. 6:25-34)
These words are not empty promises. We recall the wandering of the Children of Israel in the desert for forty years after fleeing from Egypt. They were fed with manna from heaven, they were given water to drink which flowed miraculously from a rock, and their clothing, although they wore it in the most extreme conditions for forty years, did not wear out. In the lives of saints, we find other examples. Holy Martyr Maria (Golindhuka) of Persia, was sewn into a wineskin and cast into a pit to die. But God nourished her with invisible food and drink, and she remained alive. Later, she spent many months in a pit with wild animals, where she was given neither food nor drink. When she was hungry, an angel appeared to her and, making the sign of the Cross, touched her lips, saying, "Henceforth thou shalt feel neither hunger, nor thirst; and if, as one who art not yet incorporeal, thou desirest to eat, such will be according to thine own volition." The Saint finally escaped and went to live among the Christians of Persia, strengthening and encouraging them, but even there the Saint experienced neither hunger nor thirst, although at times, wishing to show that she was not a ghost, she would take a little piece of bread and, moistening it with water, would eat thereof. (We recall here how our Lord, after His Resurrection, ate some fish and honeycomb for the same purpose.)
Again and again, God has demonstrated His provision for those who set all their hope on Him, providing even the essentials of food and drink. In these last times, when Christians are giving more thought to how to prepare themselves for the coming reign of the Antichrist, there are those who advocate a retreat into the "catacombs," following the example of the early Church during the times of persecution. In "fleeing to the hills," in hiding somewhere in the wilderness, it may be possible to escape martyrdom, at least for a time, but the preparation for such concealment follows the same basic principles as the preparation for actual martyrdom: we must disengage ourselves as much as possible from the affairs of the world, lessen our attachment to earthly possessions, put our trust in God and know that our happiness lies exclusively with Him.
Our Lord said of these last days, My children, be not deceived. He then went on to describe the evil times that would precede His Second Coming. From the Holy Scriptures, we know that in these last times we must be ready for trials and tribulations. But we also know that the God of Heaven, our Creator and Redeemer, loves us and cares for us. He hears our prayers, and He rewards our faithfulness not with earthly treasures, where moth and rust corrupt, where thieves break in and steal, but with heavenly treasures which are eternal. Here is the encouragement of the martyrs, and here we can find the strength to resist.
Priest David Moser
St. Seraphim Mission, Boise, Idaho
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