Orthodox America


  The Metropolitan’s Legacy


     In his long term of service to the Church, Metropolitan Philaret delivered countless sermons and wrote many encyclicals for the edification of the faithful. While still a young hieromonk in China, he wrote a series of essays on moral theology directed towards his students. Much later, in commemoration of his 50 years of pastoral service (1931-1981), a number of his sermons and other writings were compiled into a book by his faithful cell attendant of many years, Protodeacon Nikita Chekiroff. (Photos of the Metropolitan in this issue are credited to this book,) From these two sources we have chosen the texts on the[se] pages, which, together with the editorial, show the Metropolitan's wide ranging concern for his flock. May this small offering help towards a greater appreciation of the Metropolitan's legacy.


Mutual Love
A Christian's Responsibility to Acquire Knowledge of God

Developing the Will

On Reading the Gospel
Guidelines for Orthodox Christians
Advice to Priests

Modesty

 


Mutual Love

     Man's primary responsibility in relation to God is love for Him. This love was commanded in the Old Testament where it was said: "Love the Lord, thy God, with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might" (Deut. 6:5). In the New Testament, the ford Jesus Christ said that "this is the first and greatest commandment."

     The Saviour united a second commandment to this primary commandment of God's Law, which is to love our brother as ourselves. He said that this commandment "resembles" the first. The Holy Church, basing itself upon these words of the Lord, always established the following order in the moral responsibilities of man: the responsibility of man towards himself stands lowest of all. Man should sacrifice self-love for the sake of love towards God and his brother. Love for one's brother occupies a middle position. It rules over man's love for himself but in its turn submits to the highest love which is the love of man for God Whom he must love above all.

    There are those who would say that strong love for God hinders and disturbs man's love for his neighbor. Following this opinion, man must think and care most of all about his responsibilities towards his neighbors, and thereby he will fulfill his obligations in relation to God. People thinking and speaking from this point of view do not see the value of the hermiticaI life which they consider to be egocentric. A hermit, in their opinion , is a man occupied exclusively with himself and his own salvation and does not think about others at all.

    According to the teaching of the Apostle of love, St. John the Theologian, love towards one's neighbor is an indicator of love for God. "If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar; for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he loveGcd, Whom he hath not seen?" No Christian world deny that in being charitable towards our brother, we serve God by fulfilling His commandment of love. Even less reason is there to think that love for one's neighbor could suffer through "excessive" love for God. God is love(I John 18:16). Loving God, we transfer ourselves into a higher spiritual atmosphere--an atmosphere of love and a new "breath of life" . The heart of a Christian, filled with such divine love, sends love everywhere, turns its rays of Christian love upon everyone. In this way, contrary to the opinion cited above, man's love for God not only does not hinder his love for his neighbor, but quite the contrary, it confirms and deepens it,

    A wonderful explanation of the bond between love for God and love for neighbor is given by Abba Dorotheas, a desert ascetic and Holy Father of the Orthodox Church. It is illustrated in the following manner:

The center of the circle is God, and the points on the circumference are people. The radii connect them with God, and the arcs connect them with each other, As people move towards the center, towards God, they come closer to one another, just as the distance between the radii grows shorter as they approach the center. Man can come closer to God and others only through love. It follows that in loving God, man will certainly also love his neighbor, The same diagram shows that in drawing close to his neighbor, man naturally draws closer to God. Thus, there are these two kinds of Christian love which are indissolubly and intimately tied to each other.

    In the history of Christian ascetics, we constantly read of men and women ablaze with love for God, who left the world with its temptations. They did this by the command of the Apostle of Love who said, "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him" (I John 2:15). It is wrong to think that they renounced love for people in the world. No, they themselves repeatedly indicated that they did not run away from people but from the sin spilling over the world, from the temptations of a sinful worldly life. They love their brothers who remained in the world immeasurably more than those living in the world who participated in its sins. We must not forget that the seclusion of these ascetics was always filled with prayer, and that Christian prayer is not only for oneself but alsofor others. From the life of St. Pachomius the Great, born in the city of Alexandria, we have the following incident. While in the desert he learned that his homeland was plagued by famine and epidemics. The Saint spent three days in tears and did not eat even that meager food he usually allowed himself. His disciples pleaded with him to fortify himself by partaking of some food, but St. Pachomius replied: "How can I eat when my brothers do not have bread!" What a sign of co-suffering love. How far from his example are even the best of us!

    The love of a Christian for God is not only the height of his moral ascension, but also the foundation of his spiritual being. Without love there can be no spiritual life, no virtue, and all spiritual struggles are useless. The highest service of Christian love, the service of priesthood, can only exist in one who loves Christ. Not without reason did the Saviour, in summoning Apostle Peter to preach, ask him, "Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou Me more than these?" (John 21:15). Christianity is a religion of love: "By this shall all men know that ye are My disciples, if ye have love one to another," said the Lord. Here, the discussion is not only about mutual Christian love of people for each other, but even more, about filial love and a child's devotion to Him, Whom the Holy Gospel constantly calls "Our Heavenly Father". That is why the basis of a genuinely Christian life in man is a heart not only having faith in God but also a child's devotion to Him, penetrated by a sincere attraction to Him as towards a loving and dearly beloved Father.

 

A Christian's Responsibility to Acquire Knowledge of God

      As Christians, our first and basic obligation to God is to love Him. Man, however, will not and cannot love those whom he does not know. It follows that we must therefore know God. Sadly, this responsibility is one of the least observed today. It was different in earlier times when there was a marked interest in theological questions, and the thirst for religious knowledge deeply seized Christian souls. St. Gregory the Theologian testifies that in his time even tradeswomen at the market, instead of selling their wares preferred to argue about the consubstantiality and seeming substantiality' of the Son of God. Now, many intellectuals, even among those writing and speaking about various purely religious topics, are positively afraid of any kind of theology. They consider all its questions and clarifications as rather scholastic and far removed from life.

     From here stems the dreadful religious ignorance of so many of us in not knowing the basic truths of our faith. A majority of educated Russians are able to enumerate without a mistake all the rulers of the House of Romanoff, the principal Russian writers, etc. It is considered shameful for an intelligent person not to know this. But ask them to name the most important dogmas of the Christian faith or the names of Christ's twelve Apostles (who did immeasurably more for man than any tsar or writer), in nine out of ten cases the results will be sad indeed. What is worse, ignorance in this area is not still considered shameful, and people admit to it with a light heart.

One cannot deny that it is of utmost importance for each Christian to know the basic content of his faith and its fundamental truths, about the dogma of the Trinity, Divine Love, the Incarnation, the redemptive death and resurrection of the Saviour, about the future fate of the world and of man, etc. These questions are neither alien nor wearisome for man, but full of life and significance, insofar as the very meaning and destiny of his life are decided by them.

    All these questions, of course, connect to one: does God exist and Who is He? These questions are of exceptional importance even for people with little faith. But for true believers, to know God is to know what He means for us and, furthermore, to know what His will is in regard to us. This knowledge is the basic, most important and most valuable there is. Christian life itself is determined first of all precisely by the knowledge of God. The Lord Himself, while praying to His Father before His suffering, said that "this is life eternal, that they might know Thee, the only True God and Jesus Christ Whom Thou hast sent" (John 18:3).

      From all this we see that our immediate Christian obligation is to know God. The way to this knowledge, in addition to spiritual reading, is by means of reflection upon God, purposefully bringing into one's consciousness and then dwelling upon an image of God, His highest characteristics, the work of our salvation, our eternal future, etc. Such thoughts about God were cherished by our righteous forebears in the Faith, but for many, very many of us, they are unfortunately altogether unfamiliar.

The knowledge of God spoken of here is, of course, not a purely intellectual knowledge received through the faculty of memory. Christianity is life; it rests upon the experience of the heart and is therefore received by different people in different ways. The more a Christian shapes his personal life to accord with the truths and commandments of his faith, a task admitting great internal struggle, the deeper he assimilates Christianity. And on the contrary, if a man relates to his faith dryly, only outwardly and formally, and is not directed in his personal life by the calls from Christ's Holy Gospel, then he does not accept Christianity into his soul and heart, and the deep content of the truths of the Christian faith remain alien to him.

 

Developing the Will

 

    The moral character and moral value of man's personality depends most of ail on the direction and strength of the will. Of course, everyone understands that for a Christian it is necessary to have: first, a strong and decisive will, and second, a will which is firmly directed toward the good of his neighbor; toward the side of good and not evil.

    How is one to develop a strong will? The answer is simple--above all through the exercise of the will. To do this, as with bodily exercise, it is necessary to begin slowly., little by little. However, having begun to exercise one’s will in anything (e.g. in a constant struggle with one's sinful habits or whims) this work on oneself must never cease. Moreover, a Christian who wishes to strengthen his will, his character, must from the very beginning avoid all dissipation, disorder and inconsistency of behavior. Otherwise, he will be a person without character, unreliable, a reed shaking in the wind, as we read in Holy Scripture.

     Discipline is necessary for every one of us. It has such vital significance that without it, a correct, normal order and success in our endeavors is impossible. In the life of each individual it is of primary importance, for inner self-discipline take s the place here of external school or military discipline. Man must place himself in definite frameworks, having created definite conditions and an order of life--and not depart from this.

     Let us note this, too: man's habits are of great significance in the matter of strengthening the will. Bad, sinful habits are a great obstacle for a Christian moral life. On the other hand, good habits are a valuable acquisition for the soul and, therefore, man must teach himself much good so that what is good becomes his own--habitual. This is especially important in the early years, when a man's character takes shape. It is not in vain that we say that the second half of man's earthly life is formed from habits acquired in the first half.

     Probably no one would argue against the need for a strong will. In life we meet people with varying degrees of strength of will. It often happens that a person who is very gifted, talented, with a strong mind and a profoundly good heart, turns out to be weak willed and cannot carry out his plans in life, no matter how good and valuable they might be. On the other hand, a less talented person who is stronger in character and has great strength of will often succeeds in life.

     What is more important than strength of will is its direction: does it act for good or evil ? A well intentioned but weak-willed person is seldom of great use to society; a person with a strong will bent on evil is very dangerous. From this it is clear how very important are those principles, those basic foundations and rules by which man's will is guided.

    From what source can man's will draw suitable principles of guidance? For an unbelieving person, an answer to this is extremely difficult and essentially impossible. Are they to be drawn from science? In the first place, science is interested primarily in questions of knowledge and not morals, and secondly, it does not contain anything solid and constant in principles because it is constantly changing. From philosophy? Philosophy teaches about the relativity of its truths and does not claim to their unconditional authority. From practical life? Even less. This life itself is in need of positive principles which can remove from it unruly, and unprincipled conditions.

    But while the answer to the present question is so difficult for unbelievers, for a believing Christian the answer is simple and clear. The source of good principles is God's will, and this is revealed to us in the Saviour's teaching, in His Holy Gospel. It alone has an unconditional, steadfast authority in this regard; and it alone teaches us self-sacrifice and Christian freedom, Christian equality and brotherhood (a concept stolen by those outside the Faith). The Lord Himself said of true Christians, "Not everyone who says to Me, Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the , will of My Father" (Matt. 7:2l).

 

On Reading the Gospel

     Let us remember, brethren, the lessons of Holy Scripture, because the Scripture is --the book of life. Unfortunately, in many homes it is left on a shelf collecting dust, and some homes do not even possess a copy. For the Christian the Gospel should be close to him at all times. You know that in many cases a scientist or scholar is immediately recognizable. If, for example, he takes a book pertaining to his specialty, you can see as he turns the pages that lie feels at home; he orients himself at once, finds what he is searching for, and all this is familiar to him. A Christian should have the same relationship with the Gospels. When he takes into his hands this book of life, it should be apparent that he has a close acquaintance with it, and that it is dear to him. The Lord Jesus Christ Himself, in the last days of His earthly life, forewarned that at the Last Judgment man would be judged by the word which He spoke (John 12:48). This word is contained in the holy Gospel. And if at the Last Judgment, when the Lord brings to account all that a man did in his lifetime, both good and bad, if it appears that the man had little acquaintance with the Gospel, that he didn't open it, didn't read it, the conversation with him will be very short; i.e., he will be quickly judged. Let us remember this, brethren.

    What a wondrous book we have in the holy Gospel. Whoever has the ability to read it properly never tires of reading it. Saint John of Kronstadt, Bishop Theophan the Recluse and many others knew the Gospel by heart, and still continued to read it. Bishop Theophan said that the Gospel of Christ is endlessly deep; the more you read it, the more remains unread. This holy book is offered to each and every one of us. Let us not be lazy and shamefully indifferent, but with God's help let us begin to apply ourselves to the daily reading of God's word--the holy Gospel.

 

Guidelines for Orthodox Christians

      1. Remember, you are a son (daughter) of the Orthodox Church. These are not empty words. Remember the commitment this entails.

     2. Earthly life is fleeting; one is hardly aware of the swiftness of its passing. Nevertheless, this transient life determines the eternal destiny of your soul. Do not forget this for a moment.

     3. Try to live piously. Pray to God in church, pray to God at home--fervently, with faith, trusting yourself to God's will. Fulfill the holy and saving precepts of the Church, her rules and commandments. Outside the Church, outside obedience to her. there is no salvation.

    4. The gift of words is one of God's greatest gifts. It ennobles man, lifting him above all other creatures. But how this gift is now misused by a corrupt humanity! Safeguard this gift and learn to use it as befits a Christian. Do not judge, do; not speak idly. Avoid like fire bad language and seductive conversation, do not forget the words of our Lord and Saviour: "By thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned" (Matt. 12:37). Do not indulge in lying. Holy Scripture sternly forewarns: "The Lord shall destroy all them which speak a lie" (Ps. 5:4).

    5. Love your neighbor as yourself according, to the Lord's commandment. Without love there is no Christianity. Remember, Christian love is SELF-SACRIFICING, and not egocentric. Do not miss an opportunity to show love and mercy.

…6. Be meek, pure and modest in your thoughts, words and deeds. Do not imitate the profligate. Do not take their example, and avoid close acquaintance with them. Have no unnecessary dealings with unbelievers-unbelief is infectious. Observe meekness and propriety always and everywhere, avoid becoming contaminated by the shameless habits of today's world.

    7, Fear vanity and pride; run from them. Pride caused the highest and most powerful angel to be cast down from heaven. Remember, 'thou art earth and to the earth shalt thou return...' Deeply humble yourself.

    8. The fundamental task in life is to save one's soul for eternity. Keep this as the most essential task, the main concern of your life. Woe to those whose indifference and neglect bring their souls to eternal ruination.

Way the Lord bless you and help you.

 

Advice to Priests

     1. Having accepted the grace of ordination, remember the great gift and great mercy which the Lord has bestowed upon you--and what a responsibility lies upon you henceforth. Among his flock a priest is an apostle. "I belong not to myself, but to others," said the great Russian pastor, St. John of Kronstadt.

      2. "For the priest's lips should keep knowledge, and they should seek the law at his mouth: for he is the angel of the Lord Almighty," says the Scripture (Mal. 2:7). Orthodox pastor, attend to these words. You should be a messenger of the law of God and of the Gospel truth; your flock will seek this from you.

     3. Fear more than fire carelessness with regard to your holy pastoral work, and even more with regard to serving before the Dread throne of the Lord of Glory. "Cursed is the man that does the words of the Lord carelessly (Jer. 31:l0), sternly warns the Holy Bible. Be a good example of the fear of God for those who serve with you. Exclude from serving in the altar anyone who does not have a properly reverent attitude.

     . Pray continually to the Lord for help and wisdom in directing the affairs of the parish. May the Lord grant you a spirit of chastity, humility of wisdom, patience and love... All of these virtues are necessary in conducting parish work. Respect the counsel of your elder and more experienced brothers, as well as the wise counsels of those laymen who are pious and dedicated to the Church. Grip firmly the wheel of your parish ship, but at the same time, before making final decisions using your pastoral authority, ask the advice of trustworthy individuals; in the Church decision-making rests with those in spiritual authority--the priests, but matters are first submitted to the conciliar mind. The life and work of a parish must be penetrated by the spirit of 'sobornost,' of conciliar unity.

    5. While holding the helm tightly in your hands, try to draw kind, pious and churchly people into active parish work, forming together with these co-workers a single, warmhearted, spiritual family. And do not forget the children. Try in every way possible to teach them, to instill in them a spirit of piety, a love for the Church, firmly and persistently demanding the same of their parents. May you be aided in this task by your God-given helpmate and companion in life: your matushka. Many times aggravations and misunderstandings in parishes have arisen when priest’s wives have involved themselves in pastoral concerns and duties proper to their husbands; this should be avoided. On the other hand, there are many areas of parish work in which the priest's most valuable helper can be his Matushka--especially in matters of Christian education and the upbringing of children.

     6. While laboring in the parish, do not cease to work upon your own soul. The one task should blend with the other. The holy Apostle Paul gave the following advice to his disciple St. Timothy: "Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity. Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine .... Take heed unto thyself, and unto doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee" (I Tim. 4:12-16).

    May the Lord be your Helper in all things. Having twice received the grace of ordination-in the diaconate and in the priesthood-do not forget always to pray for those hierarchs who laid their hands upon you.

 

Modesty

       Our Lord Jesus Christ, instructing His disciples and apostles, imbued in them the necessity of observing purity of heart and thought. From the thought and from the heart proceed our sinful impulses: "But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart," says the Saviour; "and they defile the man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witnesses, blasphemies'* (Matt. 15:18-19).

     The Saviour pointed to this with the following words: "Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery; But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart" (Matt. 5:27-28).

    This law of the psycho-political nature of man is well-known to contemporary perverters, who are consciously striving to corrupt our youth. We remember how in Russia those who prepared the Revolution, and then the communists, began the spiritual weakening of our nation by imbuing the youth with shamelessness and depravity. Special circles were organized for this, which spread contempt for the ordinary laws of morality. Such propagation of “free morals” which surrounds us is even greater, frequently being spread even among school age children.

     In our days, as in pre-revolutionary times in Russia, this propagation has the definite goal of corrupting contemporary society. This is an old method. History is filled with examples of nations which perished from the spread of depravity. The Lord turned Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes. Babylon fell. The Roman Empire perished. The free West could be subjected to this same corruption...

      What do we see in the life which surrounds us? Indecency and shamelessness in clothing; shameless kissing and embracing on the streets and in public places; shameless advertisements, filthy pornographic literature .. All of this dissoluteness and perversion pours into life in an immense wave. Truly, there is no less shamelessness now, if not more, than in pagan times when the holy apostles and their successors had to exhort Christians with especial zeal in the observance of modesty.

      Man's nature is such that in the sins of the flesh, the active role belongs on the one hand to the male sex, while on the other--the temptation comes from women. Because of this, Christian cultures everywhere established customs which helped the preservation of good morals, as well as modest dress for women, so that the exposure of the latter should not evoke sinful thoughts and tempting inclinations in anyone. The more elevated the spiritual culture, the more modest was the dress of the women.

        Modesty in dress is our first line of de fense. It must guard the purity of women and  keep men from the temptation of sinful desires. Meanwhile, the evocation of precisely these feelings...characterizes contemporary fashion.

       What was peculiar before to fallen Women who, in plying their base trade, dressed provocatively with the goal of evoking sensuality in men, is now becoming the mode and  norm for young women who are often unconscious of the meaning and consequences of  this fashion which enslaves them...

       We know that the fight against sin which  surrounds us on all sides is not an easy matter. The path of salvation is made narrower in proportion to the intensification in  the world of evil and apostasy. But the ancient pagan world which surrounded the handful of the first Christians was no less corrtupt. These latter, however, did not accede  to the temptations of the pagan modes, even as some now do not accede to contemporary  temptations ...

      The Holy Apostle Paul in his epistle to the Philippians... wrote that they shone as lights in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation (Phil. 2:15). A lofty spiritual disposition and irreproachably clean, strictly chaste  life--these were the characteristic traits of  the Philippian Christians, for which the  Apostle Paul praised them. We live in later times; nineteen centuries separate us From those days in which the Apostle Paul wrote his epistles. But now, just as the Christians of the first centuries, we are encircled by an  environment full of shamelessness and perversion. May the high and holy example of  the ancient Christians teach us to be as  steadfast and firm in the observance of the  laws of Christian morals, and not accede to the temptations which surround us.

 May the blessing of God be upon you all.

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