From The Blog

Mission Monthly – December 2005

“Take great care of your children. We live at a time when much freedom is given to the expression of thought, but little care is taken that thoughts should be founded on truth. Teach them to love truth.”

Elder Macarius of Optina

The Elder Macarius died in +1860. I wonder what he would think about the freedom of thought and expression given to children (and pretty much everyone) today, almost a century and a half later. The spirit of the Renaissance undoubtedly affected Russia but I doubt it took as much of a toll on the Russian culture as it has in the West and in America, where now the entitlements of personal freedom have all but rooted out Truth as “absolute” in the broader scope of societal thought. It seems as though truth only exists today where one chooses, based on emotion rather than on tradition; what is true for me today or even this very moment, based on how I feel. If I we were to translate the Elder’s final admonition into today’s language of relativism it would say, “Teach them to love themselves.” Well, I think that we as a society have come close to perfecting an adherence to the standard of self love. Sadly, the ground upon which this kind of thinking stands is as precarious as the human condition.

One of Jesus’ most difficult sayings that non-believers struggle with (and I dare say even some Christians who fall into the temptations of relativistic faith doctrines) is, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). The infamous words of Pontius Pilot uttered just before “he handed [Jesus] over to [the Jews] to be crucified” echo throughout the ages even to our own day, “What is truth?” (John 18:38). Simply put, Jesus is the Truth and consequently the rock upon which all of life is founded. Generally, Christians—and especially Orthodox Christians—should understand this very well, at least in theory. What it means, however, in terms of how we choose to live may be quite different from our intellectual understanding.

My wife often encourages me not to get too “lofty” in writing these little meditations. Today I really want to follow her advice and put into the simplest of words what the Elder Macarius has said in admonishing us to teach our children to “love truth”. I believe he is simply telling us to love the person, Jesus. What greater gift can we give our children, and ourselves, other than a child-like love for Jesus?“Not a far-off God, a cold abstraction, but a warm, breathing, spiritual Presence about [our Lord’s] path and bed—a Presence in which he recognizes protection and tenderness in darkness and danger, towards which he rushes as the timid child to hide his face in his mother’s skirts.” (Charlotte Mason)

The time of our Lord’s Nativity is an excellent time to wisely nurture this uncomplicated love. It begins with the ease of loving the little Baby born in Bethlehem. In folk songs we sing about Him, about the angels who proclaim Him, about the world who receives Him, and about both the simplest and the wisest of men who were the first to hear the glad tidings of joy. Our church hymns portray this unpretentious love in richness and eloquence, “What shall we offer to Thee, O Christ, for that Thou didst appear on earth as a man for our sake? Verily, every individual of the creatures Thou didst create shall offer Thee thanksgiving. The angels shall offer Thee praise; the heavens, a star; the Magi, gifts; the shepherds; wonder; the earth, the cave; the wilderness, the manger; and we men, a virgin Mother. Wherefore, O God before the ages, have mercy upon us.” (From the Apostika of Christmas Vespers)

Maybe Christmas can be a time—a time simply to learn about loving Jesus. All romanticism aside one asks this question, is it possible to simply be drawn to the person of Jesus? He is the Truth, certainly theologically, but even more so in the personal way in which He intends to touch and warm the heart of every man, woman and child. His Truth is the word and action which sets us on the course of true freedom and reconnects us to our true selves, to each other and ultimately to Life itself. Nations and men, economies and commerce, families and individuals are in chaos from the horrific, post-modern advancement of the disconnect between God and man, and between men and each other. I believe this is because our society is not founded on Truth and combined with the century’s old social erosion caused by the exaltation of the self. These two ruinous indulgences have further left man isolated and paralyzed in the throws of self-love, consumed by our own consumption and filled with pride, envy, fear and anger. “A paralyzed mind will always find some foolish reason not to go after truth” (St. Nikolai Velimirovic). The answer is right before us as we ask why the Orthodox Church prepares us to celebrate our Lord’s Holy Nativity with prayer and fasting rather than with celebration and festivity; it is to help us prepare to meet Jesus by putting aside any paralysis of self-love and seek only that which is true… and simply learn to love Jesus. Beloved, Christ is Born! Glorify Him!