The Arena
The Arena

Episode · 9 years ago

Christians in a Falling World

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Guest speaker Hieromonk Irenei Steenberg discusses the struggle to live the Apostolic life in the modern day. Learn more about Patristic Nectar Publications.

The following is a presentation offered by Patristic Nectar Publications, a nonprofit organization committed to nourishing the spiritually thirsty with the sweet teachings of the Holy Fathers. If you would like more information on patristic nectar publications, or if you would like to see other available titles, please visit our website at www dot patristic nectar dot org. Again, that's www dot patristic nectar dot org. We thank you for inviting us to be a part of your spiritual quest and we hope that this listening experience will be an edifying one. Brothers and sisters, as a great joy to have with us as our special guest the right Reverend archimandrate Iran a Steenberg. Father IRNAE is a dear friend of mine for well over a decade and someone that I hold in the very highest esteem. Father Irenae is an American, but spend most of his life overseas in Great Britain. He is as a graduate of Oxford University and a student of Metropolitan Kalistos, where he did his Ph d under Metropolitan Kalistos in theology in patristics. Father, YOU'RE A taught in Oxford. At twenty nine years of age, he became the chair of the Department of Theology at the University of Leeds, which is an amazing accomplishment. He served as a Deacon in the Church of St Nicholas, the Russian Orthodox Church in Oxford, and then, about three years ago, came back to America. He is was made a priest and elevated to the rank of Archimandrate by Archbishop Kirill, the Russian Archbishop of San Francisco. Father earn a serves as the pastor of stico on Church in San Francisco, as well as the founder and director of the Orthodox Institute of St Cyril and Athanasius out of San Francisco, a new and beautiful orthodox institute dedicated to the propagation of Orthodox theology amongst the clergy and Laity, especially in the western portion of the United States. He also runs monacost DOTNET, the Premier Internet site for the Study of the Church fathers. It's a tremendous joy to have this talented priest, this devout servant of Christ and capable preacher in our midst, and he is our special guest. Please give your ears and and open heart to him. I seem to be speaking at many anniversaries. Two weeks ago I was at the sixtieth anniversary of our Russian parish in burlingame. In two weeks time I will be at the eightieth anniversary of our Russian cathedral in Seattle, and we are here celebrating twenty years of the parish here in Riverside. Twenty years. It's a remarkable number. It's an opportunity to reflect a little bit on your life and on the spiritual life as a whole. I like to put things into perspective. It helps us to see where we really stand. Twenty years after the crucifixion and the Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the First Gospel Account to be written was still two decades off in the distance. Twenty years the Church had thrived with no Gospel to read. By contrasts, soul, the great persecutor, after his dramatic experience of the Living Christ on the road to Damascus, had traveled on three missionary journeys to every corner of the empire, founding more holy temples than most of us will visit...

...in our entire lives, all in far less than twenty years. I can also think of Saint Augustine of Canterbury, the great missionary to England, who managed to bring the faith to that Holy Land, to convert the king, to found churches and parishes to the far side of the country within the first twenty days of having first touched his toes to English soil. There are many perspectives by which we can look at our spiritual life. But twenty years, however, we look at it as a remarkable, wonderful number to celebrate. But what do we do with it? What are we to do on this occasion of celebrating your twenty years as a community, adorn now with your glorious New House for our God, and anniversary such as this obviously can be a time for mutual congratulations, and it is minds you good to rejoice in the gifts that God has given us, good to give thanks, to take delight in the good things of the Lord, and I do myself heartily congratulate all of you with this remarkable anniversary, particularly your pastor, your bishop, and working with him, the shepherd of your souls, your priest. It's good for us to echo the Holy Apostles wholly. Saint Peter, the first among them who, when they beheld the Lord's Glory, proclaimed in full voice. Lord, it is good that we are here, but we must remember the context in which Saint Peter's words were uttered. He was beholding the T andans figured Christ upon Man Table. He saw a vision of wonderful thing and, seeing that vision, he proclaims, Lord, it is good for us to be here. But Saint Peter did not understand what he was seeing. This was not just a moment of delights, of celebration. His witness of the transfiguration was a preparation and encouragement. He and the apostles with him were being strengthened for a work that lay ahead of them. They were being strengthened to bear witness to the cross, to the passion of the Savior and to the work of mission on which you would call them. That gift, that glorious moment, was meant to feed them, to fuel them, to give them the endurance to live the life of the crucified and glorified Christ. The rejoicing of this time of celebration, then, of your parish anniversary, should also be one of celebration, but it should be a celebration that encourages you, that prepares you, that strengthens you for the struggles and the works yet ahead. And this work is the increasingly challenging task of living and Authentic Christian life, the Apostolic Life, the fullness of the life in Christ in the troubling context of the modern world. So I could choose to speak and tell you lovely jokes and stories for the next four hours that I've been a looted, but I'm not going to do that. I might go for the four hours, but not on that. I want to talk about what really matters to us as Christian people. We're not here just to celebrate, to have a nice party. We are here because God is blessed this perish with life and...

...is going to bless it with more life, and that life will be a struggle. And what ought Christians do? And we assemble one with another, or two hundred and fifty with another, but strengthen ourselves for the spiritual contest. So let me talk for a moment about what this life ought to be. What is the life that we struggle to live as Orthodox Christians? I'm fond of calling it the apostolic life and I'm fond of this because elder amilionos of Simonopatra is so fond of calling it. This, the great spiritual father who revitalized Simonopetra and so much else, of the Holy Mountain of Mount Offers. Well, he's not at present. The Abbot today is helf very poor. He constantly refers to the Christian life as the Apostolic Life. That's one if his favorite phrases. The Christian is to live the life of the apostles, the life given to the apostles by Jesus Christ, the life which those apostles, through every generation, have handed down to each of us. And of course, when another Emilia not, speaks of this is speaking to monks. He speaking chiefly of the monastic life. The monastic life was called the apostolic life in the Ancient Church because it strove to imitate, and it still strives to imitate the life of the first Christians who lived under the direct spiritual instruction and direction of those apostles. In essence, they were taught by Christ how to live a life of repentance, of purification of the heart from its passions will, from fulfilling the commandments of the Lord. And yet this is not a life by any stretch of the imagination restricted to monks or nuns. Then John Chrysostom teaches those who live in the world, even though they are married or have children or work, should resemble monastics in many ways. You are greatly deceived, he says, if you believe there are things required of laymen and other things of monks. At the deep spiritual realm of the heart, all are equally accountable before God. Submission to the Gospel is required for all, and indeed the parish must be inspired by that same vision. That is at the heart of the monastic life. This is that fame, as saying of Saint John Clymacause the root of it, angels are alight for monks, monks are alight for the whole world. This is not to set monastics up as if there somehow better than anyone else, but to say that we see in the monastic life an icon of the whole spiritual life that is approachable by all of us, and looking at it we are strengthened and driven forward into new spiritual struggle. But what is it? I was very honored to get off the plain and be driven to riverside this afternoon, just in time to attend catechism class. Father asked me or you sure you want to come to this as of course I've got to learn something, and I did, because what catechumens ask is what every Christian should ask every day. What is the Christian life that I am called to live, and how am I supposed to live it? Whether one is new to the faith or has lived in it for eighty years, that question is never any less relevant, never any less immediate. What do we see of this life in the Holy Apostles? We see in them a life that is wholly embracing and holy, transfigured by...

...the experience of the Living God. It is a life in which there is room for nothing else, nothing everything is either part and parcel of the experience of the grace and mercy of God, or it is cast away, whatever the costs, whatever the association. It is a life for which God and his kingdom are not just first, but are supreme. Similarly, the life of the apostles, so transfigured, is a life that is lived in the world, but which the world has no power to touch. This is what makes the example of the Holy Apostles so potent, just like salt when it is added to food does not lose its power, but changes the food that it is added to. So the life that we see and the Holy Apostles, when it is thrust into the world, with all of its darkness, all of its storms, all of its despair, is not weakened or diluted, but changes the world around it. This is the life to which you and I are called, a life of transformation, not just of my own heart but, if the entire cosmos. And we see in the holy apostles also a life that willingly takes up the cross, and we find in the life of these apostles a very specific form of that cross. The apostles are prepared to carry the cross of the hatred of this world, that is, the hatred that this world shows them in the response for their love. They are prepared to be of war men, despised yet steadfast and filled with love, and they are ready to carry this cross in whatever circumstances, at profound cost, for the Cross always comes at a cost. And if I could say anyone thing to the calcumans who are here, there are some here yet. Yeah, to enter into the church will cost a great deal. Our faith is not one that comes free. It is one with the price higher than any other. It requires your life, all of it, every inch of it, and we see in the Holy Apostles are willingness to pay that price in every circumstance, and we find in the lives of the holy martyrs the degree to which that that love will allow them to pay a cost that you and I cannot even imagine. Tomorrow, on the Old Church calendar, for give me for using the old calendar. It's not a promise, it's not a political issue, it's just all I happened to know. Tomorrow, on the Old Church calendar, we commemorate saints of Antioch, Valam of Antioch. I just want to give you a potted version of his life. This was a man, an elderly man, who was called before the governor, the Pagan Governor, to recount his to recant his faith, and he would not. And so the governor decided that he would force this men to offer a sacrifice to the idols, knowing that this was abhorrent to Christians. But VLAM would not, and so a specific torture was devised. His hand was suspended above the Pagan Altar with its blood offerings, and into his empty hand...

...was placed, the coal from a Censer Lit, the incense was placed upon it and the governor thought the pain will be so much that he will recoil, the incense will fall to the altar and then we can claim that he freely sacrificed to the Pagan Gods. But while m stood with the coal in his hand and let it burn, he would not drop it. The grace of God gave him that strength. It says in the Synaxarion that the fragrance of the incense was joined by the fragrance of his own flesh, a perfect offering to the living God. The faith comes at a cost. Look at our faith to day. The Apostolic Life is one of total abandonment to the clutches of this world, of complete adherence, not to the world but to the gospel of irrevocable, unbending, unyielding love that draws the heart of man into the heart of God. And the beautiful paradox of this is that the more one resists the slavery of the world, the more one turns his back on the fallenness of the world, the more one is able to love it, to change it, to shape it, to transfigure it, so our despising of the brokenness of the world does not cause us to be absent from it, if we look at the lives of the apostles, but to become lights and beacons that can change it. In the second century, one of the most beautiful texts ever written by a human hand, and it's quite fitting that we don't know whose hand wrote it, penned the following. He is describing Christians to a non Christian he himself has only recently come to discover who they are. Christians, he says, are not distinguished from the rest of mankind, either in locality or in speech or in custom, for they do not dwell somewhere in cities of their own, neither do they use some different language, nor practice any extraordinary kind of life. Nor, again, do they possess any invention discovered by intelligence or study of ingenious men. They are not masters of human philosophy and dogma, as some are, but they dwell in the cities of the Greeks as well as the barbarians, whatever the lot of each of them has cast, and they follow the native customs, in their dress, in their tongue and their food and the other arrangements of life yet in the constitution of their citizenship which they set forth, we see something marvelously distinct which confessedly contradicts all expectation. They dwell in their own countries, but only as sojourners. They bear a share in all things as citizens, and yet they endure all things as foreigners. Every foreign country is a fatherland to them, yet every fatherland is foreign. They marry like others. They beget children, but they do not cast away their offspring. They have their meals in common, but not their wives. They find themselves in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. Their existence is on earth, but their citizenship in heaven. They obey the laws and yet with their lives they surpass them. They love all men, even as they are persecuted by all. They are ignored, and yet they are condemned. They are put to death, yet in their death they are endued with life. They...

...are poor and they beg for their bread, and yet they make many rich. They are in want of all things and yet abound in everything. They are dishonored, but in their dishonor they are strangely glorified. They are spoken of as if they were evil and yet vindicated. They are reviled and yet they bless. They are insulted and in return they show respect doing good. They are yet punished as if they were evil doers, and then, being punished, they rejoice as if by it they were quickened unto life. War is waged against them as aliens by the Jews, persecution carried out against them by the Greeks, and yet those that hate them cannot identify a reason for their hatred. In a word, what the soul is to the body, so Christians are to the world. I told you it was one of the most beautiful things ever read. Think of how the early Christians must have lived, that someone who saw them from the outside would write words like that. And then we have to ask ourselves, are we living our life in such a manner? Will the world look at me and say these things are will it look at me and say, Oh, there's someone trying to fit in, they're mostly acceptable, we sort of like them. Will they look at me and see someone who struggles at all cost to fulfill the norms and the expectations of the world around me? So often that is precisely what they can and do say, because, to our great shame my brothers and sisters. So often that is precisely how we live the Christian life, or what we choose to call the Christian life. But this is not the life of the Holy Apostle, this is not the upper solar life, but we live it this way because we have too easily succumbed to the temptations of the world. We live in an increasingly godless society, one that is increasingly hostile towards the life in Christ. We are surrounded by a society that is every day falling. I don't like to say fallen. That makes it sound as if that was done and dusted and now we're fallen and done. Society finds new, creative, inventive ways to fall, to become more disfigured every day, and this bears a direct influence on our lives as Christian people. We live in a society that is the definition of the word secular. It is a word that, in Latin Cyculum, means age. It is a life defined by the things of this age, by its wishes, its desires, its under standings, customs, familiarities. This is a difficult world in which to be a Christian, and yet it is this world no other, that God has called us into, into which has called us to proclaim his gospel. It is this world and no other that he has told us to love and to heal and to transform. It is this world in which our light must shine and in which we must live out that apostolic life of the Holy Church. Some nice music to accentuate my point. In the Russian tradition, I don't...

...believe I'm allowed to reveal that secret, as we say in the Orthodox Church. Come and see. I've forgotten what I was saying. No, we must live in this world with all of its distractions and mobile phones. If only that were the most problematic dimension of this world. It's a minor distraction, but this world offers US temptations that are anything but minor, that are deadly serious, and we must proclaim the truth and we must live the truth in the midst of this world. And let me be very direct and very clear about one thing in particular. The world will hate you for this. In our day, in these lands, it is no longer sufficient just to think of this saying in metaphorical terms, as a general warning that not everything that Christian says is going to be liked by everyone. I'm speaking of hatred, direct and personal. The world will hate our traditions, it will hate our truths, it will call you hateful for the things that you must say. That will foster hatred in those who hear you. It will try to convince them and it will try to convince you that what you call love is itself hatred and to hate it all the more. It is not an easy world. I know a very few Orthodox clergy, for example, in this country, who have not been physically assaulted in some way or another just walking down the streets. I remember walking down the streets and somebody was passionate enough about the desires to swerve all the way across to the other side of the road where I was standing, to roll down their window to throw there McDonald's food at me and shout go back to Pakistan. So the world may be hateful, it's also a little stupid. I'm being lighthearted, but behind this is a serious point. It is very easy to think that we can be Christians and just go about our lives and the world will mumble here and there and not always like everything we have to say. But it is more direct than this. The truth that we proclaim is one that the world rebels against actively, and the life of the Christian, if we are serious about it, is a difficult life, not an easy one. But rejoice. Listen to the Lord who says if the world hates you, know that it hated me before it hated you, and rejoice and be exceeding glad. Great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets that were before you. There are many and great temptations in this world, and it is very easy to buckle before them, to ask and to cry out selfishly. Why God, why do you let these things happen when we should instead hear the words of Saint Antony, words of faith? If I have not experienced temptation, I will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Without temptation, no one is saved. We live in a society that is driven by a few key...

...characteristics. Do I have time to address them? All right, yes, you're giving me the twenty five minute warning. I will try my best to address them briefly, but I want to address them because if we are to leave here aware of something perhaps that we weren't when we came in, I wanted to be. Above all this, three contours of society that we must understand and respond to if we are to live the apostolic life fruitfully. The first one is fear, and it is by far the most important. Above anything else, the world is afraid. It is driven by a deep, abiding fear that is increasingly at the very center of its existence. This fear begins with practical matters. There's a fear of war, a fear of terrorism, the fear of death, a fear of poverty, and then that fear takes a deeper root in the heart. There's a fear of the unknown and fear of the other, of the different, of the unclear, and then that fear takes a more complete, if not total, possession of the heart. There's a fear of loneliness, but also of companionship and community. There's a fear of solitude, but also a fear of love. There's a fear of meaninglessness, but a fear of truth all the same. This fear is heightened in our day, though it is far from new. Christ was consoling people in his own day. Be Not afraid, only believe. I cannot think of a confession that I've heard of the last three years. I'm blessed to hear so many confessions, a rich blessing on my life, and I can't think of one where I don't respond. Don't be afraid. The world is precisely a world filled with fear and belief. Christis be not afraid, but believe. But belief is one of the things the world is afraid of. Belief is equated to mindlessness, mindlessness to fundamentalism, fundamentalism to extremism, extremism to terrorism, and soon even simple beliefs are taken as fearful signs of a world out of control, driven by evil. Outside of the walls of our holy temples, when we enter into the world in all of its suffering, we cannot but be struck by this fear. We encounter it everywhere. The media, elections, the news, the social in the political worlds, more and more are advanced by the desire to tell people what to be afraid of and to make the decisions based on that fear. But it is worse than simply that, because when we step away from society as a whole and look to the spiritual world of the persons within it, the degree to which this fear grips the hearts of every person is sorrowful and profound, even in the context of the church, what priests doesn't find regularly every day, those who come to him in confession or other context of pastoral counsel, completely enslaved by their fear. They are afraid of God's wrath. The only thing that scares them more than his wrath is His mercy. They are afraid of the seemingly overwhelming dominance of their own sin. They are afraid of the deep interior...

...mysteries of their own hearts. They are afraid, and this fear, which is the opposite of love, gives fuel to all the tortures of the world. It gives power to hatred, to anger, to judgment. It is the food of bitterness, of rebellion and apostasy, as the anchor of apathy. I cannot stress enough how influential fear is in the world around us and if we are to live the apostolic life in the midst of this world, we must hear the words of Christ to his flock. My little flock, do not be afraid, for it is the father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Do not fear. I am with Thee. Do not be dismayed. I am thy God. I will strengthen the I will help thee, I will uphold thee with my right hand. Do not be afraid and do not let the world's fear shape your heart. Secondly, and far more briefly, the world around us is enslaved by what it calls freedom, and if we do not understand what this enslaving freedom really is is, we cannot live the life Christ calls us towards. Freedom today is the fines by choice, the absolute primnacy of unrestrained choice. It is perceived as the elimination of any and every barrier obstacle to the fulfillment of my will, my desire, my understanding, the freedom to do what I want, to live as I want. But, my brothers and sisters, this is freedom with a terrible cost, and that cost is the very humanity and sanctity of our world. This is a freedom that defines humanity more and more by the heeding of its will, the thing that is the most fallen and broken in all of creation, and the ever more active and aggressive opposition to anything that makes the human creature you, the that which makes man unique and all of creation is not his ability to do what he wants, but to give up his will to another, to God, to live not his own life but the life of the creator of the universe. But the freedom that we are fed on a day to day basis stands against this. We are encouraged to freely that term and anything and everything, however base, however in humane, much less unholy. And we live in the world now where we've freely decided what is alive and what is dead as it suits our convenience, what is right and what is wrong, merely as fits the whim of the moment. We all know something of this, but this is not a freedom of the Gospel. If we are to live the apostolic life in this world, we must show people a different freedom, a freedom that is the wilful slavery to Jesus Christ, the wilful giving up of my desire, of my understanding, that I may receive instead the will of God himself. And this puts a burden on your shoulders, each of you. You must show and deliver to the people around you the reality of the true freedom of the Gospel. Do not succumb to...

...what the world says. Freedom is show them the truth by your life. Show them that a life totally given up to God, totally given away, creates a freedom far deeper than that which we clutch to ourselves and to our own understanding. I'm going to skip my third point and my fourth, fifth, sixth and seven and just offer of a few thoughts in conclusion. I mentioned early on St Peter's words on Mante Bor Lord. It is good that we are here. We know that the Holy Apostle did not understand what he was saying. He did not comprehend the true greatness of what he was beholding, the goodness of self sacrificial love that would lead his savior to the cross. Nor did he fully understand that this vision was given to him not to treasure and possess, but to prepare him for action. It was given as a strengthening food to prepare him to walk beside Christ to that cross and beyond it. And we know that this confusion led him to be rebuked by the father, as he had before been rebuked by the Sun. Get behind me, Satan, is a pretty firm response. But we also know that, through his confusion and despite his lack of understanding, as well as his own feebleness in the face of the challenges that were truly to come. We remember his threefold denial, his tears, betraying the savior. Through all of this, God yet worked many wonders. This man who could not understand the will of God became the one who proclaimed it with prophetic voice to the flock of thousands after the holy pentecost. This man who, through his fear, did not want to accompany Christ into Jerusalem, became the one who gave up his fear and took that Gospel into the imperial city of Rome itself. This man who had denied Christ became the Chief Apostle of his love. And this man who could not stand by his Lord's Crucifixion, who fled the Cross, became the man who would one day take up across of his own, now not afraid to bear it, but afraid only of one thing, a failing to attain the Kingdom of his God. This is the power, my brother and sisters, to make great wonders out of the weakness of creation, and it is with this in mind that I would like to conclude, with this sincere hope and with the fervent prayer that the calling of our Christian life may give birth in each of you to the nourishment of these first twenty years of your parish's life, to hearts with a burning zeal to rise up to the full measure of the life in Christ. I pray that Your Holy Temple, in which your own hearts are transform'd day to day into living temples of God, may continue to be his dwelling place, whether divine services are offered and prayer made a reality, until the end of time. God shall work new and Glorious wonders in you too, just as he has always done for his beloved, if only you will let him. There are gifts that you do not yet know. You possess, talents that you do not yet realize. The Lord has given you that he will yet use to his glory. Saint Peter did not know the depth of the love his heart could contain until the Lord...

...called it out of him three times after his resurrection. Peter, do you love me? So? Will he call forth talent and love and power and wisdom from your own hearts, but only if you will give yourselves completely to him, as did the Holy Apostle. You will be led like him. Sometimes whither Thou wouldst go, and sometimes whither Thou wouldst not, as the old translations put it, but always by the hand of God. May those hands always be with you, may they bring you peace and joy an untiring heart. May they in due course, raise you and us together up into God's everlasting kingdom. To him with the glory now and therefore to the ages of ages. We hope that you have enjoyed and have been edified by this presentation offered to you by Patristic Nectar Publications, a nonprofit organization committed to nourishing the spiritually thirsty with the sweet teachings of the Holy Fathers. If you are interested in other available titles or if you would like more information on patristic nectar publications, please visit our website at www dot patristic nectar dot org. Again, that's www dot patristic nectar dot org.

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