With the descent of the Holy Spirit, the timid, scared, ignorant and “earthly” disciples were transformed into the courageous, bold and all-wise holy Apostles. We too have received the Holy Spirit. We need to exhibit the same fruits of holiness and witness to the world the truth, Christ the Savior. On holy Pentecost the disciples were empowered by the Holy Spirit to preach the gospel of salvation to the entire world. Their witness was to a transformative life in Christ. “What our tired world needs today,” says Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlahos, “is that we give the witness of the true life.” Our witness must be a new life in Christ, the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit in our lives and in our actions. To what extent are our lives lived “in Christ”?
We often speak of Jesus Christ and of the triune God He came to reveal to us and of the Holy Church He established. If we address any “moral” or social issues, we tie them to the Theanthropos Christ. The center of our “morality” is Jesus Christ and the triune God He revealed to us, not a code of socially acceptable ethics. We don’t subscribe to the Kantian philosophy: “It doesn’t matter what religion you belong to, as long as you are a good person”, a philosophy that has exerted a tremendous influence and has had an immense impact upon today’s society. This Hegelian and Kantian philosophy has diluted the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ, turning it into a “social gospel”. We need to anchor ourselves in the true faith offered in the true Church.
This mindset was brought about by secularization which insidiously is changing our very faith in the uniqueness of Christ and of His gospel. The new philosophy of life, “Be good and do good” opens the door to religious syncretism, minimalism and relativism. According to the secular mindset we are all the same, just following different “traditions.” We should therefore point to what we share, to our communality, not to what divides us. According to this mentality, truth, as an objective standard, is divisive, and therefore ostracized and demonized. When what everyone believes is equally acceptable, our differences are ironed out. One’s faith becomes a private matter. Our variegated beliefs and practices constitute a rich tapestry, enriching our society, and our lives, and allow us to live in tolerance with each other.
A direct impact of such views which have infiltrated us Orthodox Christians is ecumenism, embraced by many of our hierarchs. Thus our Patriarch seems ready to unite with Roman Catholicism without any change on their part. We would simply be united as two equally acceptable traditions, Eastern and Western, which share, they say, so much more than any differences they might have. What of the truth? What of the uniqueness of our faith? They are no longer incarnate in Christ; they have become different approaches, equally acceptable.
How are we going to resist the onslaught that our a-moral, secular, pluralistic society brings upon our Church members and families? How are we going to “survive” in this hostile world in which we live? We need to take our faith in Jesus Christ seriously! We need to anchor ourselves in Jesus Christ and in the holy Church He founded. We must set as our goal to get to know Him and His Father He came to reveal to us, and to follow His commandments, especially to love God and our neighbor to death. If we place any other foundation we alienate ourselves from Christ and the salvation He offers us.
The world is not friendly to committed Christians. It is unfriendly territory. We need to wear our body armor, as St. Paul prompts us, and fight the evil around us that assaults us. We have tremendous weapons with which we can engage successfully our enemy—the devil—and his instruments. What are they? It is the power of the Holy Spirit. As He (He, because He is a person, not an impersonal force; as He) turned the timid, weak, scared disciples into Apostles, martyrs and confessors of the Faith, He can turn us into fervent believers, committed Christians, witnesses of the power of His resurrection, messengers of the grace of the Holy Spirit He sends on those who believe in Him.
- We have our Church, with her worship of the true God and her holy mysteries which nourish us and strengthen us;
- We have our prayer, corporate and private, to sustain us;
- We have our love for God and neighbor to fulfill us and give meaning and purpose to our lives.
Evil is not moral—we suffer and die from it. Therefore evil is ontological; it is not a reality show—it is reality. In this life we will have many sorrows. Our strength is the energy of the Holy Spirit, sent upon us by the Risen and glorified Christ, the conqueror of death. The secularized world preaches another “gospel” which is influencing our Christian mindset and way of life. The value of the ascetical life of fasting and prayer is minimized, while immorality has entered our lives by the acceptance and practice of abortion, homosexuality and fornication. This point is stressed by a renowned philosopher and ethicist, Dr. Herman Tristram Engelhardt, Jr., a physician, a professor of ethics and a recent convert to Orthodoxy.
Do we at times feel weak, lonely, tired, drained, discouraged, abandoned, scared, defeated, ready to give in? We have the Lord and Master of our lives, the Kyrios of the cosmos and of all the cosmoses He created; we have Him, not by our side, but within us, empowering us, doing the battle for us—if we let Him. At our disposal are the fruits of the Lord’s coming and His sacrifice on the Cross: faith, hope and love. With the grace of the Holy Spirit we can become full of faith and hope and love, we can overcome our weaknesses, our bad inclinations, our propensity to sin, and become strong, gentle, modest, patient, compassionate, tolerant, forgiving. Then the people will take notice of our gentle demeanor and behavior, the holiness of our life, and be themselves inspired and converted, and give glory to God.
Come, Holy Spirit, change us, transform us, render us holy, so that in turn we may become the leaven which will transform and render holy the entire world. Amen.