Word of a Pastor I: On Faith

This “I will not believe” has been pronounced by people throughout the entire time separating us from the event of the Resurrection. Some receive news of the Resurrection with an open heart and joy; others say: “I do not believe, for this does not fit in my mind; it does not correspond to the known logic of life. I do not believe, because I cannot verify it and do not have any proof.”
We are pleased to announce that we are beginning the serialization in English of an extensive series on the fundamentals of the Orthodox Faith by His Holiness, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia. Today's installment begins with the first topic, "On Faith."

In the language of the Church’s Typicon, the first Sunday after Pascha is called Thomas Sunday, or that of the Apostle Thomas. On this day the Gospel is read in churches about how the Risen Savior appeared to the Holy Apostles. But Thomas was not among them at this point. When the Apostles told him about what had happened, Thomas replied:

Except I shall see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hands into His side, I will not believe (John 20:25).

This “I will not believe” has been pronounced by people throughout the entire time separating us from the event of the Resurrection. Some receive news of the Resurrection with an open heart and joy; others say: “I do not believe, for this does not fit in my mind; it does not correspond to the known logic of life. I do not believe, because I cannot verify it and do not have any proof.”

What is faith? The Apostle Paul responds to this question: Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1).

The outstanding nineteenth century Russian theologian, the Holy Hierarch Philaret of Moscow, put it this way: “Faith is certainty in the invisible as if it were visible, and in the desired and expected as in the present.”

Faith is different than knowledge. Human knowledge is based on one’s experience and the sensations of one’s sense organs. Therefore visible objects are objects of knowledge, and not of faith. Heard words are also not objects of faith, but become objects of knowledge. Faith is certainty of the existence of that which lies beyond the perception of our physical senses.

In his “Catechism,” the Holy Hierarch Philaret of Moscow notes that faith begins in reason, although it belongs to the heart. Indeed, faith can be founded upon logical thinking. For example, from the point of view of logic, it is much easier for me to admit that the foundation of the Universe is Reason. I cannot believe that the basis of a harmonious and beautiful world lies in an unreasonable beginning, in some eternally changing material capable of transforming itself from the simple to the complex, from the non-living to the living, from the unreasonable to the reasonable. My logic excludes faith in such an origin of the world. And this is done at the level of thinking.

Man is capable of logically arriving at the idea of God, of discovering the Creator for himself, but this discovery will not yet be faith. The idea of God arising in the mind should cause a change of spirit, taking root in man’s soul not only on the level of reason, but of the heart as well. Faith is a special state of soul. It belongs to man’s inner spiritual life, to the human heart.

Theology recognizes the presence of religious feelings in every person. The religious feeling is as inherent in human nature as, for example, an ear for music. Everyone has this feeling. When this feeling is aflame, when it is active, then one believes; when it is idle, one does not believe.

Even if one denies religious faith in principle, religious feeling still does not disappear. In this case one simply, willingly or unwillingly, creates certain replacement articles of faith; one creates false gods and idols that one worships, in which one believes, and that serve almost as a religion. In the past, for example, such an object of faith for many people was an ideology with the ideal of a “bright future.” Today life provides a multitude of examples of how people, with an almost religious zeal, commit themselves to one idea or another – be it political or national – or serve with no less enthusiasm one’s own love of power, consumerism, or other vises, creating a graven image in money, things, and power.

Now here is the most important question: whey does one person believe, and others do not? Unbelievers often justify themselves by saying that “it has not been given to them.” Is that the way it is?

Under the influence of atheism, for many years the idea of God – and, even more so, religious faith – has been arbitrarily placed in dependence upon knowledge, and specifically on the successes of the natural sciences. It was assumed that scientific achievements, widely promoted through the system of education, were capable of completely displacing religious feelings from human life. However, overcoming it turned out to be impossible not only through mandatory atheistic education, but even by persecution. For the presence or absence of faith depends neither upon scientific achievements, nor upon level of education. The question of the existence of God lies beyond the competence of science. It is scientifically impossible to prove or disprove the existence of God, for it is an object of faith.

Here we should speak about certain conditions under which one can develop religious feelings or acquire the strength of faith. Let us return to the analogy of someone having an ear for music, which everyone has to a greater or lesser extent. Even someone who claims to have “no ear” is capable under certain conditions of developing a rudimentary musical ear and learning to feel musical harmony. Imagine two people with identical musical abilities, one of which is a musician and has developed these abilities, and the other of which works in a blacksmith’s shop, where it is not only impossible to develop a musical ear, but where it is impossible to maintain even a normal ear. What will be the result? The person who has perfected his musical abilities will succeed, while the person who works in the blacksmith’s shop is unlikely to become a musician.

Thus, there are certain spiritual and moral conditions for the development of religious feelings. In the first place, these are a pure mind, soul, and heart. Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God, says the Word of God (Matthew 5:8). St. Isaac the Syrian writes: “Faith requires a pure and simple way of thinking.” Divine wisdom cannot enter an evil soul, an impure mind, and a heart defiled by sin; light is never mixed with darkness, or cleanliness with filth. A clear moral sense – that is, the ability to distinguish good from evil and to subordinate one’s life to truth – is a prerequisite of knowing God. “Like is known by like,” the ancients said. If we live in lies and filth, then we shall not see God, feel Him in our hearts, or approach Him by our reason.

The Gospel reading tells us about the unbelief of Thomas. But Thomas acquired faith in the Risen Lord. And we should ask God to help us live according to His truth: not to perform iniquity, not to cheat people, not to construct our own prosperity on the unhappiness of our neighbors, and not to multiply evils, in which society is already immersed.

Let us pray to the Lord that we not do damage to our natural religious feelings and that we would always have the willingness to believe.

Translated from the Russian

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