the scandal of particularity: or, how God gives us ONE sure life-saving cure!

In Orthodox Christianity: in general, Orthodox Christianity: sermons on October 5, 2008 at 12:32 am

There is a certain rugged and very focused particularity to our Orthodox Christian faith. This particularity is scandalous to the modern, so-called “tolerant” and liberalizing, relativizing spirit of the age. Our refusal, as Orthodox Christians, to play by the rules of modern religious discourse, chiefly by insisting in the unity of Truth and the importance of language for the purposes of proclaiming this Truth, has cost us martyric blood in the past (Roman period, islamic yoke, Latin yoke, communist yoke) and will no doubt do so again in the future.  Why cannot we Orthodox lighten up a little and grant some leeway here?

In ancient times, the living, eternal Fountain of Life, the Mystery hidden before the ages, the timeless Word of the Unbegotten Father, the Lord of creation, called ONE man, Abraam of Ur of the Chaldeans. This vocation took place some 4,000 years ago. In the pitch darkness of human decay and ignorance, of bestial existence steeped in the stinking rot of the passions, Abraam received the divine call to “leave his homeland and to go to a place where I (God) will show you.” Abraham, his new name–the insertion of the “H” is a new breath of life!–ceased living in the gross ignorance of polytheism and came to the light of FAITH. Many early descendants of Abraham followed him in this faith, trusting in “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” However, it took a while for the worshippers of the LORD (YHWH, the ineffable Name) to come to the more particular view, as follows: whereas an early Abrahamite could say, “I worship the God of my father, Abraham, exclusively. The other peoples have their own gods, but I ignore them and worship only the God Who called my father Abraham.” This early non-polytheistic faith is henotheism (hen, “one–as distinct from two or three” + theos, “God”); namely, the belief that one’s own God is to be worshipped exclusively, whereas the other gods named out there are to be ignored. A henotheist does not necessarily deny the existence of these other gods; he just does not do them obeisance.

By the time of the holy prophet Isaiah, this henotheistic tendency was clearly seen to be insufficient. After all the battles between idolators and the holy prophets preceding him, the clarity of truth shone through. Consider Elias’ battle with the priests of Baal. There could be no middle ground; either Baal is to be tolerated, or not! What a scandal! Elias mocked them in the midst of their stinking, bestial, and cruel rituals. Finally, they were thoroughly expunged from Israel. No tolerance whatsoever could be allowed.  The prophet Isaiah said, “Other gods had dominion over us, but we will not name them ever again. Only the Name of the LORD will we address.” and, “Thus saith the LORD, ‘I AM the LORD; there is no other god beside me.” This is no longer henotheism. It is true monotheism (monos, “only one” + theos, “God”). The monotheist considers the only God as worthy of universal adoration and allows for the existence of absolutely NO divine competitors. In short, monotheism is particular, in that the ONE GOD Who IS, is the maker of all things and, depending on the monotheistic view, must be worshipped.

The scandal of particularity is sharpened with the advent of the Son of God as man, born of the Virgin. Jesus of Nazareth, son of Mary and of Joseph “as it was supposed,” is confessed by us Christians as the only-begotten Son of God from all eternity.” We allow for no other Christ! As our Lord said, “salvation is from the Jews” (Gospel acc to St John). And, our Lord Himself warned, “Many will come after Me, saying, I AM (this is the Name of God; see Exodus 3:14). But do not believe them…” Now the particularity is deepened. With each step of more particularity, the height of divine therapy is increased. Like a skilled surgeon, our loving God locates the illness of our nature and by locating his living scalpel, He cuts more skillfully, excising sin and death and healing us by His own Life. Jesus our Lord, the Messiah, entered His holy Passion, Crucifixion, Burial, and life-giving Resurrection to bring us back to the Father. How precise! In the ONE person, Jesus, all are saved. St Paul taught the nations, “whoever confesses ‘Jesus is Lord’ … will be saved” Therefore, all other so-called leaders are at best quack doctors without a cure–or as bad as demons in the flesh who actively contribute to man’s illness: Socrates, Plotinus, Arius, Nestorius, Mohammad, Krishna, Siddhartha, Varlaam, Kant, Nietzsche, our modern so-called “new age” practitioners and yoga purveyors, as well as the revisionist so-called theologians, who are really only merchants of empty potions like 19th century old Western fake cures.

Have we arrived at the acme of particularity in the God-man, our Lord Jesus Christ, born of the all-pure Virgin Maria, daughter of Joachim and Anna, in Bethlehem some 2000 years ago? In a sense, yes, because  we can go no farther : God the Word become Man for us and for our salvation. If we receive baptism into His life, we are transfigured and saved. However, how do we ensure that we are not deceived in this regard? How do we know that the Jesus Who IS, that He is the same as the one we believe in and call upon? How can we trust our experience of the same? Here the particularity goes yet further!

The Lord Jesus called only 12 apostles. This is particular! St Matthew tells us that He called to Himself “twelve apostles, that they should be with Him” and be sent forth in His Name. At the end of His Gospel He says to these twelve, “Go ye therefore and make disciples of all nations…” St Peter confirms this particularity when he says (see Acts 10), “(Jesus) did not reveal Himself alive to all the people but to us who ate with Him and drank with Him”  And St John says, “That Which our hands of handled concerning the Word of Life, in order that you may have fellowship with us, for our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son, Jesus Christ.”  So, not everyone who claims to speak in the Name of the Lord can be believed! The scandal of particularity goes thus further. What church can be believed? What preaching? As St Irenaios of Lyons in ancient Gaul says, we must examine the credentials of preachers and bishops to ensure a saving belief. St Vincent of Lerins, “that which has been believed everywhere, at all times…” The canon of Orthodoxy is essential in saving us from spiritual fakes or, at best, sincere mal-practitioners.  Therefore, even in the Church, we discern between true teachers and those who are to be disqualified since they lack true theology. We embrace St Paul (and not Valentinus), Ignatios (and not Montanus), Clement of Rome (and not Sabellios), Athanasios (and not Arios), John the Golden-mouth (and not Plotinus), Basil the Great of Cappadocia (and not Macedonios), John Cassian (and we take Augustine of Hippo with a large grain of salt), Antony (and not Evagrios), Gregory of Rome (and not Honorius), Gregory Palamas (and not Varlaam the rationalist and his scholastic ilk), Mark of Ephesus (and not the false unionists of Florence), and in modern times the discernment is still with us.  We listen to Nektarios of Aigina, Silouan of the Holy Mountain, and not to Athenagoras of Constantinople or Sergius of Moscow.

The criterion of Orthodoxy is HOLINESS! All false ways are sterile and cannot produce saints. Where are the saints of the heretics, the schismatics, the false unionists, the sectarians? Even within the Church, as one becomes Orthodox, there must be a personal particularity. Just going through the sacraments does not end this particularity. Just because I bear the epithet, Orthodox, does not mean this ever-refining particularity is complete.  I have my spiritual father-confessor to whom I entrust my soul for therapy and healing. Each of us works this out in an intensely personal and unique way. There is struggle throughout, since we actually take up the fight against the inner passions which war against us, “the flesh” as the New Testament calls it, and also the unseen warfare against the powers of wickedness which take advantage of our flight from God to further deceive us.  But when a man turns to the Lord, confesses Jesus as Lord, submits to Him in holy Baptism and is cleansed, receives life-giving Communion in the Body and Blood of Christ and continues in the holy teaching of Christ in His holy Church, walks in the commandments of God (“ye are my friends if ye do what I have commanded you”), seeks absolution through the apostolic gift of holy confession and repentance, accepts in humility the holy therapy given by his spiritual father and walks in holiness, “visiting the orphans and widows and keeping oneself unspotted from the world” in other words, holy asceticism, he will “taste of the Kingdom of God before he dies.”

Is this still a scandal? Or is this LIFE itself?  Particularity does not find its completion until the “I” the “ego” becomes fully and completely a new little christ, re-created after the image of the prototype, the New Man, Jesus Christ, in Whom all the deity dwells bodily, to Whom all glory, honor, and worship are due, as to His Unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, life-creating and undivided Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.


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