Following Christ

The famous English writer C. S. Lewis wrote that there are only two ways that we can relate to Christ: we recognize him either as the Son of God or as a madman. There can be no third relation to Christ, although often many would like to see in Him merely a “teacher of morality.” Christ’s primary teaching is the teaching about Him Himself, that “I and My Father are one” (Jn 10:30). No other choice remains: either we believe that Christians are all liars, or that Christianity tells us the truth about God Who became man.

Every one of us has his own relationship with God. Every one of us has at one time realized that God exists and that this means that I cannot go on living the way I have. God exists – and that is not just an abstract axiom, that is the constant that ought to determine our lives. However, there is an essential difference between “it ought to determine” and “it determines”; mostly we have grown accustomed to living as we ourselves want to, not discarding God, of course, yet all the while preferring to heed only our precious selves.

Fr. Dimitry Karpenko

Christianity said something substantially new about God: “God became man so that man might become God.” This daring idea is the basis of our faith and marks the fundamental difference between Christianity and all the rest of the diverse religious world. Christ – true God incarnate and true man – grants the possibility of salvation to every heart that believes in Him. However, these true words can remain just words for us forever, if we do not once and for all determine for ourselves who Christ is for us.

The famous English writer C. S. Lewis wrote that there are only two ways that we can relate to Christ: we recognize him either as the Son of God or as a madman. There can be no third relation to Christ, although often many would like to see in Him merely a “teacher of morality.” Christ’s primary teaching is the teaching about Him Himself, that “I and My Father are one” (Jn 10:30). No other choice remains: either we believe that Christians are all liars, or that Christianity tells us the truth about God Who became man. There is no other “tolerant” choice at all. But if Christianity is telling the truth, this truth concerns every one of us.

Christianity teaches us that man was created according to the image and likeness of God, and this means that every person, even the most unpleasant to us, with the “wrong” cultural and political preferences, is still in the image and likeness of Christ Himself. It is easy to love an “abstract” God, and it is always more difficult to give this love to the actual people we encounter every day. “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen” (1 Jn 4:20). However, if we are honest with ourselves, we cannot but see how hard it is to fulfill this commandment. It is always easy to love from a distance, and very hard to accept people as they are. And however much we might like to change everybody and everything to our taste and preference, the law of the spiritual life tells us that in this life the only person we can change is ourselves.

The time of the Holy Forty Days was precisely the time to turn to ourselves, to try to master our own ungovernable selfishness. However, the Holy Forty Days have passed, and many of us did not even have a chance to notice it. It is very easy to spend the fast in vain: you ate neither milk nor meat, but you did not acquire anything for your soul. Glory be to God, we still have the the time of Passion Week. For workers “of the eleventh hour” this is the time to see that the aim of our fasting is Christ, Who must be among us Christians.

Passion Week is a time for every one of us. For those who “forgot” to fast it represents the possibility to make at least a minimal effort to understand that man does not live to eat. For those who observed the Typikon to the letter and lived on a prosphora a day, they now can check if they ate their neighbors as well. For those who are used to just kissing the Gospel, it is now the time finally to open it. In the beginning of the fast each of us set the minimum he wanted to achieve by its end. However, the fast has passed and we have lost what we had, but Passion Week gives us the opportunity to gather ourselves, to concentrate.

Going from words to deeds is always the hardest of all. It is easy to confess non-committal Christianity “in theory.” But our faith always demands acts, efforts, deeds. The time remaining before the Paschal triumph ought to show us the abyss of human insanity and the overwhelming power of love that is accomplished in the Lord’s sufferings. Christ’s Way of the Cross is the way to the triumph of Truth that cannot be settled by envy, violence, or lies. We often get fascinated by one or another ideological theme, forgetting that, in this world lying in the power of the evil one, the Truth triumphs on the Cross.

Life in the Church is always complicated and full of contradictions. The longer we live in the Church, the more questions arise, but with the new questions comes experience that cannot help but tell us that life in the Church is a path that everyone must travel for himself. We are called to life in order to follow Christ: “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Mt.16:24).

Translated by Elena Demidova
Edited by Hierodeacon Samuel (Nedelsky) and Isaac (Gerald) Herrin

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