Certain days in the Church year are dedicated to the memory of the Holy Fathers. These are the men, brothers and sisters, who, illuminated by the Holy Spirit, studied, interpreted and spread the teachings of the Church. Many of them sacrificed a great deal for the holy teachings. Most of them gave their lives for it.
The Orthodox Church has never lived in peace and abundance. It was certainly never left in peace. Her ties with life were often torn both from within and from without. Very few things have changed to this present day. In their hatred towards the Church there are those who believe that it would be a most beneficial thing for the entire world if the Church would cease to exist.
Let us remind ourselves. The Church is not made up only of the clergy, the bishops, presbyters and deacons. It is made up of everyone – the people of God and their clergy. The people of God are those who believe, and this is the reason why I identify the faithful with the faith. This is no coincidence. This is why a certain group, or army, comprised of very different personal and ideological beliefs, is set on attacking both the faith and the faithful, ruthlessly and persistently.
I have often wondered why. After pondering deeply I came to the conclusion that the devil, the adversary of God and all that is good, is never idle.
We are witnesses of constant attacks on the faith and the faithful and on the Church itself. There are the small, covert, seemingly insignificant attacks, insinuations that we often feel are not worth reacting to. Then there are the attacks that make our blood boil, that offend us in the most flagrant ways and insult our person and our identity. The more I think about it, the more I realize that these attacks are unavoidable and necessary for the Church and for God’s people. Through this struggle, the Church has become stronger and more resilient. The Church continues to live a much healthier and infinitely longer life than those that had wished and foreseen her end. Our is not, unfortunately, the only case of an atheist society. Sadly, there have been many such examples. And just as Julian the Apostate, on his knees, cried out before Christ, “You win, after all, Galilean!” so, too was there an increase in piety in France after the Paris Commune. The fruits of this are felt even today. I also firmly believe that wherever godlessness and faithlessness was proclaimed the official state dogma, faith will at one point or another find its way there and Church life will blossom sooner or later. And the Church will, for the umpteenth time, prove that She is built upon a rock, and that the gates of hell will not prevail against her. (Matthew 16:18)
God built His Church on a firm foundation of rock. Christ is the cornerstone, and the holy fathers and teachers of the Church whom we prayerfully remember on this day, are the building material, the brick and the stone that is built into the edifice of the Church. Many of hem have built themselves into the Church with their lives and teaching. They bequeathed to us an unchanged and pure divine teaching, and it is up to us to preserve this teaching, live according to it and keep it for future generations. In doing so, we, too, build ourselves into the structure of the Church, the body of Christ.
The question is how much and in what way do we fulfill this task. Are we the good yeast that gives bread its true taste, and are we the salt that transforms the insipid dough into a tasteful one. Do we have anything to offer others?
Each one of us can and should answer this question for himself. The general impression is that most of us have not filled our souls with spiritual wealth, as this means a constant struggle, walking the narrow and thorny path that leads to life. We usually prefer the wide, comfortable paths of least resistance. In doing so many of us allow others to tell them what is good and profitable for our lives, many of us never even try to discern right from wrong. When moments of introspection come along, many of us choose to live in denial of the truth, walking through life with a blindfold over our eyes.
There are those of us that summon up the willpower to learn something about the teachings of Christianity. Yet they do not allow the plant to become firmly rooted into the ground, to blossom and bring forth fruits. They pick and choose for themselves bits and pieces of Christianity that they like, and discard what they do not like. They have explanations for everything. They place themselves and their own reasoning as the highest and the final criteria, so that it turns out that the Church should feel honoured that they agree with some of her precepts. Instead of accepting the Church as their mother, they place themselves in the role of her tutor.
Their church life rarely transcends impoverished traditionalism and the adherence to certain customs. A few dry oak leaves and branches before Nativity, along with a lot of good food and drink, a handful of homemade or store-bought wheat, and again, a full table and drunken guests – this should represent a Slava celebration. And so on, and so forth. Let us be honest and ask ourselves, how many of us come to church for the great feasts and how many of us manage to set a prayerful tone to the Slava and other customs. Have we been married in the Church, are our children baptized. Do we at least know when the major fasts occur? Do we ever turn towards our icons and utter a prayer? Finally, let us ask ourselves, are we Christians and if so, what makes us Christians?
I dread to know the answer. It is completely clear that we need a different spiritual orientation. It is high time that we all work together on our spiritual and social revival. Let us first be healed in order that we may heal others. Let us be cleansed and purified in order that we might help others to do so. Let us become the salt of the earth in order to help others do the same. Let us make our spiritual lamps shine brighter, that we might light the way up for others.
We must go back to Christ, His Church, His teaching. We must seek and find direction from the Holy Fathers of the Church, the ones that set out an exposition of the faith and its teachings so clearly for us to follow. Let us follow their example in finding our way on the steep and thorny paths of faith that lead to life eternal, to which we have all been called. Amen.
Belgrade, June 24, 1984