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May - June 2004

JESUS CHRIST IN ANCIENT ORTHODOXY
by Righteous Father Seraphim Rose

Because Orthodoxy is the fullness of ancient, apostolic Christianity, becoming a true Orthodox Christian requires being a Christian in the fullest sense of the word, and that is not easy. It takes a lifetime of constant unseen warfare, ascetic discipline, self-denial, self-crucifixion, and active, selfless love. To be truly Orthodoxy, you will have to die to yourself and "hate your life" (Luke 14:26)--that is, the life of your own ego. You must die to self-love and sensual pleasure, which as the Holy Fathers teach are the primary results of the Fall and the root of all sin. You must look into yourself and face your sin, not just as separate acts but as your condition. Then you must go about rooting out all of the most subtle passions which separate you from God. You must overcome resentment by forgiveness, which can only happen through the grace of Christ. You must cut off all desire for popularity, acceptance, recognition, approval and "love," even from other members of the Orthodox Church.

Christ said: Whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it? (Luke 14:27-28). Many people do not take up the Cross of Christ because they see that it will require too much of them. Others take it up, but then, not having counted the cost, put it down when it gets too heavy. Still others, on becoming Orthodox, do so with worldly motives: the desire to be more "correct" and historically authentic than Protestants and Roman Catholics; the desire to experience the beautiful aesthetics of Orthodox liturgics, etc. In so doing, however, they never enter into the essence of Orthodox Christianity. Not having really taken up the Cross of Christ, they never really taste the unearthly joy of His Resurrection.

"He who wishes to serve God," says St. Basil the Great (4th century), "must prepare his heart for tribulations." The Orthodox Christian faith is a suffering faith (II Timothy 3:12), because through suffering we can at last wake up to our true condition, repent, be purified by Christ, and in that purification become a dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. The great fourth-century theologian, St. Gregory Nazianzen, described true Christianity as "suffering Orthodoxy." To take it up is to take up the most radical, demanding, all-or-nothing life possible. All false motives must fall away, burned up in the fire of suffering for Jesus Christ. You must taste, to the degree of which you are capable, the suffering, persecution, and crucifixion that the Orthodox saints have experienced throughout the ages. To enter into their heavenly company, you must pay the price.

Christ said: Straight is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it (Matthew 7:14). That narrow way is found through pain of heart and years of repentance. According to your yearning and your striving, you will enter; you will taste the fruits of Paradise even in this life, and Christ will fill your sufferings with His presence. Then you will know the joy of the Resurrection, for you will have experienced a resurrection in you own soul. You will be a new being on the inside, and you will find the Kingdom of Heaven within you (Luke 17:21). Though the Sacraments, the Scripture, the spiritual discipline and the ascetic teachings of the Orthodox Church, you will find the Door to Paradise. And then, in your own heart, your own inward being, you will find Paradise itself. You will find what true prayer is, and you will find Him who has been calling you all your life: Christ, the Bridegroom of your soul.

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