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What is Truth?: A Pastoral Word

By: Fr. Mikhail Baleka

 

Truth. The truth — as both a principle and the very reality of the Person Truth (Our Lord) and His Church — is something that should be the basis of Christian life and conduct. It is easy to get swept away in many different narratives, as the internet provides a means by which information is shared (for better or for worse); it is easy for us to get carried away by the tumultuous currents of differing views, opinions, and in our current milieu, heresies. Throughout the ages, the Church has dealt with various factions, from both within and without her walls, which have attempted to dilute the truth with delusion, personal opinion, and in some cases, outright blasphemy and slander.


All these errors find a common source in intellectual pride. The enemies of Truth care not for the consistency and fidelity to the truth, but are more interested in how they can reshape the truth in order to make it more appealing and comforting to them, and perhaps as a misguided attempt to draw others to what they believe to be true. The truth becomes nothing more than a brand. If there is one thing we must understand, it is that God is consistent; He is unchanging. “Jesus Christ is the same today, yesterday, and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8). When we start to depart from the truth as revealed in the Church through the Prophets, Holy Apostles and Holy Fathers, we risk falling into Atheism, as one comes to believe in a counterfeit Christ, a non-existent God, a mere shadow of the reality of the Theanthropos (God-Man).[1] “All of the Truths of our faith emerge from one Truth and converge in one Truth, infinite and eternal. That Truth is the God-Man Christ.”[2]


We can see the effect that seeking to redefine the truth and what it means to be Orthodox has in the actions and efforts undertaken by those who will vocally attempt to redefine our faith. We see not only a consistent appeal to economia (exception) over akrevia (exactitude), but a submission to the worldly spirit of “dialogue” and compromise, oftentimes neglecting the truth as revealed by the Saviour, or an outright avoidance of the mention of His name or ethos in which we should approach the world and its issues. We must always remember the Lord’s words: “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6). As St. Justin Popovich wrote: “Outside of Him (the Truth) a man turns into an apparition, into a scarecrow, into nonsense.”[3]


We see this in the energy that those who depart from the ethos devote to its perversion. Some will go as far as to claim that the Holy Fathers were wrong in their condemnation of certain heresiarchs, heretics, or that they “misunderstood” others, such as the Monophysites. Sometimes they go as far as to slander the saints themselves. Sacrificing the truth for the sake of “loving dialogue” is often touted by those who place “intellectual nuance” above spiritual reality, which is in vogue for those who hold an attachment to this world. It is not just dialogue with “non-Christian” religions that is in fashion, with the end goal being religious syncretism — but also the attempt to carry out a marriage of socio-political ideologies with the timeless truth of Orthodoxy.[4]


Such a marriage of course, is adulterous and incompatible with our faith. We must not be deceived by the packaging of poison within “good intentions.” There is a saying that states that the path to a certain place is paved with such intentions. The blessed Father Seraphim Rose wrote that this “dialogue,” ecumenism, and good intentions is not merely a simple human product but one that has come via diabolical suggestion.[5] He goes on to write that this suggestion “can only capture those who have departed so far from Christianity as to be virtual pagans: worshippers of the god of this world, Satan (in reference to 2 Corinthians 4:4), and followers of whatever intellectual fashion this god is capable of inspiring.”[6]


As we can see, this is a spirit of rejection, avoidance, and, in some cases, outright revulsion towards the Truth. There is a contrariness to those who are enemies of the Gospel as they equate their musings and opinions with Truth. Never will we see in the writings or the lives of saints, a case in which the saint blurs or crosses the line with regards to their faith. Even in extending help and love to non-Christians it is never done in the spirit of compromise or modernist ecumenical dialogue. “And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God.” (2 Corinthians 6:15-16).


From the life of St. Arsenios the Cappadocian, we see examples of how the saints view the dangers of mixing lies with truth, and how one lovingly responds to those in need outside the faith. The first example is how the saints perceived the threat posed by Protestantism. The author, St. Paisios, states that: “the Protestants did greater harm to the devout Orthodox people in Anatolia than the Turks did, because the Turks professed that they were Turks and the Orthodox Christians avoided them as such. But the Protestants presented themselves with the Gospel and misled the simple folk into their spiritual delusion, thus destroying souls.”[7]

Another time in the life of St. Arsenios, we see the saint heal a Turk who had desecrated the holy water of St. John Chrysostom by dipping his head into the spring. He was described as having his face “turned backwards” and this was done by St. John Chrysostom to edify him. Saint Arsenios agreed to heal him, but held him for several days in order to observe the canons so that the Turk would not repeat his error. Once he had healed the man by reading the prayers over him, he chastised him saying, “The next time you see premises dedicated to the Christian way of life, just bow reverently from a distance and be on your way.”[8] Are we going to say the saint was “unloving”? Of course not. The saint exercised proper Christian love, philotimo but he did not compromise and insult God in the desire to not “hurt” the Turk’s sensibilities.


Truth is being exchanged for humanism and what some saints have rightly called the “European spirit.” One must not depart from the martyrs of Christ for the martyrs of various secular ideologies. Saint Justin Popovich wrote: “European culture is based on man. Man is its program and its goal, its means and its content. Humanism is its chief architect.”[9] We would be dishonest if we did not recognize this line of thought in the Church, in which we constantly see those within her walls and online, attempting to introduce this demonic ideology to Her children. “It (Humanism) is totally constructed on the sophist principle and criterion that man — European man — is the measure of all things visible and invisible. He is the supreme creator and giver of values.”[10] We see this mindset among those who try to join worldly justice, ideologies and so-called “social justice” causes with the eternal and transcendent truths of our faith. It is as if the only concern is how to justify the secular with the spiritual, rather than remembering that our citizenship is not of this world and that we must make our culture Orthodox. The Church is our home and culture, as it is the pillar and ground of truth (1 Timothy 3:15).


As Orthodox Christians, our culture should be based on the Person of Christ, the Theanthropos. God became human in order to lift man up to God. The Person of Christ must be pre-eminent in all things. It is neither man alone, nor is it God alone but the God-Man.[11] Humanism is outside of the God-Man Christ, outside of God, and thus, outside of the Church. It isolates human beings from their spiritual dimension.[12] We see this blind acceptance that is encouraged by many who seem to confuse the rejection of an error or an evil as the rejection of a person, in which the proponent of such error encourages us to “keep an open mind”, to be “loving”. In other words, to be lukewarm and to quickly forget the words of the Saviour when He said: “So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth.” (Revelations 3:16). What good is prayer if it comes from a lukewarm heart? What good is idle talk if the person at the other end is no closer to repentance than before? Truth more often is exchanged for political correctness and the desire to be inoffensive to anyone, all the while having no care for offending God. It is this spirit of humanistic thought that is a characteristic feature of western civilization in that it makes an absolute of something that is relative, thereby destroying the truth.[13] In the Church, which is the kingdom of heaven, we live genuine humanism, or rather Theanthropism, which is preserved in the All-Holy Virgin and the saints.[14]


What is Truth? This question, or rather this remark, was made by Pilate when Jesus was on trial as recorded in the Gospel of St. John. “Everyone that is of the truth heareth My voice. Pilate saith unto Him, what is truth?” (John 18:38). Blessed Theophylact writes that when Christ says “Everyone that is of the truth heareth My voice,” it means even you, Pilate, if you are a son of the truth and yearn for truth, will hear my voice and believe I am king, although I am not like kings who acquire power that is not theirs by nature.[15] Blessed Theophylact further states that the Lord implies that the Jews are not of the truth because they refuse to hear His voice.[16]


Truth is Christ; it is the Church which is His body and His bride. We ultimately find the Truth upheld in the people and places in which the experience of the God-Man in divine illumination occurs. To question the sanctity of the saints and places such as Mount Athos is to reject those who have an experience of God in Theosis, in favour of speculations, musings and meaningless academia founded upon the aforementioned humanistic thought that pervades western culture and plagues many Orthodox Christians. We look to monastics and in particular the Holy Mountain, which St. Gregory Palamas, when speaking of the holy confessor Nicephoros, wrote that: “He adopted the most rigorous way of life, that of the monks, chose to live in the place which bears the name of holiness, Mount Athos, on the border between the world and the supernatural, Mount Athos being the home of virtue.”[17] We see this in the many saints the Holy Mountain has produced and as the pinnacle of how our faith, our tradition, is lived out; not in the voices of so-called intellectual bloggers, Master of Divinity graduates, and YouTubers who hold their opinions and worldly views above the saints and the whole of Athonite tradition. We love others by praying for them and offering the Truth instead of the lies of the world. Let us run first to the saints, the Holy Fathers and those who remain steadfast and rooted in the Theanthropic culture of the Church.

 

References

[1]. Metropolitan Hierotheos S. Vlachos, Saint Gregory Palamas as a Hagiorite, trans. Esther Williams (Levadia-Hellas: Birth of the Theotokos Monastery, 2000), 369.

[2]. Saint Justin Popovich, Man & the God-Man, (Alhambra: Sebastian Press Publishing House, 2008), 13.

[3]. Ibid, 13.

[4]. Hieromonk Seraphim Rose, Orthodoxy and the Religion of the Future, (Platina: St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 2018), xxviii.

[5]. Ibid, xxix.

[6]. Ibid, xxix.

[7]. Saint Paisios the Athonite, Saint Arsenios the Cappadocian, trans. Unknown (Thessaloniki: Holy Hesychasterion Evangelist John the Theologian, 2021), 69.

[8]. Ibid, 123.

[9]. Saint Justin Popovich, Man & the God-Man, (Alhambra: Sebastian Press Publishing House, 2008), 45.

[10]. Ibid, 45.

[11]. Ibid, 49.

[12]. Metropolitan Hierotheos S. Vlachos, Time to Act, trans. Sister Pelagia Selfe (Levadia-Hellas: Birth of the Theotokos Monastery, 2020), 224.

[13]. Ibid, 224.

[14]. Ibid, 224.

[15]. Blessed Theophylact: Archbishop of Ochrid & Bulgaria, The Explanation of the Holy Gospel According to John, trans. Fr. Christopher Stade (House Springs: Chrysostom Press, 2007), 277.

[16]. Ibid, 277.

[17]. Metropolitan Hierotheos S. Vlachos, Saint Gregory Palamas as a Hagiorite, trans. Esther Williams (Levadia-Hellas: Birth of the Theotokos Monastery, 2000), 60.

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Matthew M.
Matthew M.
2022年11月29日

“Truth more often is exchanged for political correctness and the desire to be inoffensive to anyone, all the while having no care for offending God. It is this spirit of humanistic thought that is a characteristic feature of western civilization in that it makes an absolute of something that is relative, thereby destroying the truth.” Very concise!

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