Orthodox America

  Shaping the Whole Man

            Anyone browsing through the religious section of a bookstore today is sure to be fairly overwhelmed by the diversity of titles.  Each claims to enlighten the reader, but together they present a maze of conflicting ideas and opinions.  Little wonder that our society is filled with so many fragmented and lost souls.  In such an environment, where diversity and tolerance are valued above truth, it is indeed a miracle that anyone finds the path to salvation.

            How fortunate are we who, by God’s grace, have come to a knowledge of the true faith.  Sadly, however, we too are often swayed by the changing winds of fashion – in ideas, lifestyles, philosophies – and cast into confusion, doubt.  We forget that we have been given a sure guide, a key to the mystery of life, an unfading light to illumine our way.  All this is contained in the divinely-revealed Scriptures, the Word of God.

            Holy Scripture fully satisfies all the needs and aspirations of the human soul that strives towards truth, goodness and beauty.  It makes possible the true knowledge of God Who is – perfect Truth, Goodness, Beauty; it explains God’s relationship to man, and man’s proper relationship to God; it reveals man’s true purpose, his aim in life, and offers the instruction and means for attaining it.  Being the very Word of the All-knowing, Wise and All-merciful God, the Holy Scripture can enlighten anyone unto salvation.  Through the Scripture God endows man with everything necessary and beneficial to lead a righteous and holy life, to become perfectly whole in mind and heart, ready and able for any good deed.

“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:  That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.”  (II Tim. 3:16) 

            Some people today may argue that even the reading of Scripture does not necessarily lead to oneness of mind.  They support their argument by pointing to the many denominations which claim to be founded on the Holy Scripture and yet preach a diversity of doctrine.  We know, however, that Scripture is not meant for private interpretation.  From the beginning it was entrusted to the Church of Christ, which is “the pillar and ground of truth”  (I Tim. 3:15).  Into Her as into a rich treasury, by the testimony of St. Irenaeus, the Holy Apostles have deposited everything pertaining to Truth, in such a manner that anyone who so desires may quench their thirst with her life-giving waters.  We can be sure that this Holy Orthodox Church preserves within herself unchanging and complete, the God-revealed and saving truths of Holy Scripture.  Continually guided directly by the Holy Spirit, the Church – in the person of the Holy Fathers, elders, pastors and teachers – clarifies these truths and presents them to the faithful for their edification and consolation:

That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive;  But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into Him in all things, which is the head, even Christ…” (Eph. 4:14-15) 

            We are, however, very rational creatures, constantly beseiged by doubts and perplexities.  The world seems to be so full of contradictions, of injustice.  Let us take, for example, the question of suffering.  Why is it that good people suffer hardship, pain, tragedy?  Concerning this problem, Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow wrote that a person of little faith sees this as a great dilemma and his faith is tried.  A person inclined toward sin resolves this problem to his own perdition, saying, “What is gained by well-doing, if all suffer?”  A completely faithless person only throws a dark mist over the problem, saying, “Chance governs the world and the matters of man!”  Only the divinely-revealed teachings of God’s Word are able to completely and satisfactorily resolve this and other tormenting questions.  In the light of God’s Holy Scriptures and the holy teachings of the Church, we can face tragedies, hardships and pain -- not as irrational enemies and unjust tormentors, but as just punishers of sins, as physicians of spiritual ills, as messengers sent by God for our own good, and as bearers of Grace.  Here we see the mystery of God’s good will.

            Every Christian, in all circumstances of his life – whether in times of trouble or in times of joy – must look for guidance to the Holy Scriptures and the teachings of the Church.   With these guides he can quell any doubts and confusion which arise in his proud mind; they will enlighten his path in life, console his aching heart, heal his wounds suffered in the battle against the spirit of the world, and lead him to eternal salvation.

            Our lives need not be fragmented, torn between Church and the world, between our jobs and our families.  Rather, they should reflect a wholeness which we must strive to develop in our souls.  This can be achieved only if we take seriously the instructions and admonitions of the Scriptures, if we are obedient to the teaching of the Church and the counsels of our spiritual fathers.  It is not enough to hear the Scriptures read in church on Sunday; it is not enough to attend services and to sing in the choir.  True Christianity demands a deep commitment – that of life itself.

            Christ commands us to be missionaries, to help others find the way of Truth, but how can we if we ourselves continue to flounder about on the sea of life?  Our eye must be single, our feet must be firmly planted on the narrow path.  We have been given everything necessary for salvation and for the well-ordering of our lives.  If we neglect to make use of the the great treasure we have been given – in the Scriptures and the Church, if we allow ourselves to be distracted by the world – with its kaleidoscope of new and ever-changing trends and ideas, we shall be found at the last wandering confusedly somewhere off-track – and the fault will be ours.

Archpriest Stefan Pavlenko
All Saints of Russia Church, Burlingame, CA

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