How Are We to Be “in the World, but Not of the World” – Practical Advice from Priest

I read a study that says that if you have insomnia, the best thing to do is to go camping for a week. The only restriction is that there must be no electronics, artificial lights or clocks. At the end of the week, your biorhythms will be restored to the rising and setting of the sun. You will sleep like a baby. (well, better than my grandchildren!)

When we were young, we started camping. We would go into the woods of the National Forest. We only had a small tent and sleeping bags. We slept on the ground and actually enjoyed it. Then, as we got older, we upgraded. We bought an air mattress and  Coleman lanterns and cook stoves. Then we bought a large luxurious tent and started camping at KOAs. The campground had hot showers, a swimming pool, and even a hot tub. As we walked around the campground, we would see some amazing mobile homes. Feeling superior, we would laugh and comment about how such people weren’t really camping. Then we would go back to our big tent to take a nap our our luxurious air mattress and then go to the hot tub! Yet, even in the KOA, we felt more at peace and closer to God.

The Israelites were campers. They camped around the mountain and there they had a close encounter of the first kind (Exodus 19). God descended on the mountain in fire and smoke in the presence of the people. While camping, the priesthood was established, the Tabernacle was set up, and animal sacrifice began. The parts of the animals that were not consumed in the sacrifice were taken outside of the camp and thrown into a pit and burned. When the temple of Solomon was built, this practice was continued. The animal parts would be carried out of the city and thrown into a large pit and burned. Not all of the animal flesh would be consumed and so there were lots of worms in the pit. This pit had a name -Gehenna.

Hebrews, Chapter 13,  says the following: “Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood suffered outside the gate. Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach. For here we have no continuing city, but we seek one to come.”

The Blessed Augustine picked up on this theme when he wrote “The City of God.”  Since we Christians have no “continuing city,” where are we to go? How are we to live? How are we to be “in the world, but not of the world” as the Lord commanded? Given recent events in America and the world, these questions have a certain urgency. Maybe it time to go camping again, outside of the city of man.

Monastics have left the city of man, but few of us have that blessed calling. I have a friend who converted to Orthodoxy and moved his family to a rather isolated part of Maine. Looking at the pictures of their family life there, it seems to me that they are camping outside of the city of man. I realize that for many of us this would not be an option, but we still have to find a way to follow Jesus and go outside even if this means bearing the reproach of the world. How can we camp out?

To answer this question we must understand what makes up “the city of man.”  This verse is helpful: “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.”  (1 John 2.15-16) The world that we are to hate is first an internal world of passion and desire.  Then, this inner world has an outer expression. When I join my world to your world, we create the city of man. We create a culture, a society that reflects our fallen inner world. So it is this world, this culture, this city that we must leave and not count as our permanent home.

I have a few ideas about how we can leave the city and start camping.

Wouldn’t it be great if I stop valuing myself and judging others by how much money they make or by how they dress or by what they own?  In the city of man, these things matter, but not in the City of God. You can ask someone if they are having an affair and they will be less offended than if you ask them how much money they make. Our financial life is hidden because we thank that it is shameful to be poor. “God bless the child that has his own.” The car we drive and the clothes we wear reflect our place in society. If these things were not so important for us, then we would encourage our children to pursue holiness more than happiness, a state of being based upon success and wealth. Pride in possessions.

Wouldn’t it be great if I removed “the speaker of unjust things” from my house – the television and radio? (Psalm 101)  I am not a luddite, I can appreciate great works of art and drama, even if  I know that they come from the city of man. I must say that I’ve become jaded about anything that comes from the media. So many lies, half truths, cultural and personal bias, political agendas, and materialism come through the media. It is a constant speaker of unjust things. I would certainly make a significant move out of the city of man if I just turned them off.  The lust of the eyes.

Wouldn’t it be great if the only approval and validation I need is the Lord’s? I so need the approval of others, especially from the opposite sex,  that I will dress myself for their approval and act in certain ways. I will make inappropriate jokes and comments for their approval.  I am a slave for approval and spend many anxious moments when it seems that I have not attained the approval I seek.  I remember how St. Ephrem wrote in his Spiritual Psalter, how he would position himself to be praised and admired. When a woman would walk into the room he would go into raptures and do his best to impress her, even with his piety. The only validation I need is the Lord’s. It is only from Him that I need to hear “well done.”  The lust of the flesh.

The list of St. John is not a complete one, but points to what love of the world means. Let me suggest a few other things.

Wouldn’t it be great if I quit expecting things from people? My expectations are based on my own ego needs and desires. It makes me angry when people don’t act or behave the way I expect them to behave. Well, who made me God that I should have such expectations?  Years ago, I began to move out of this city. Its been a struggle, but the less expectations I’ve have, the more peaceful I have become. I am less angry and judgmental. I also learned that I need to drop my expectations of God. I learned from the Saints that each day when I wake up, I should say “This is the day that the Lord has made.” Whatever comes to me or whatever happens comes to me for my own good. It may be a blessing or a struggle that comes, so how I respond is a measure of where I live. So many people are disappointed in God because He just did not live up to their expectations. We Americans expect to live a good life and expect God to provide it.

We are called to be a pilgrim people, to move from the city of man towards the city of God. Outside is where the Lord was crucified and so we should go out to be with him. Its not easy. It is a lifetime pilgrimage, but it begins with the small steps. We were born in the city of man and we have been shaped by its culture, its values, and expectations. Changing that is a real challenge. Like the Hebrew pilgrims, we will need a column of smoke and a pillar of fire to guide us – The Holy Spirit.

It is time that we leave the city of man which now is on a downward slope to militant paganism. The journey begins with leaving it in our hearts and minds. It means stripping ourselves of the expectations  and valuations of this worldly culture. After that, we will have to determine where we should physically dwell.

“And I heard another voice from heaven, saying, Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues, for her sins have reached unto heaven, and God hath remembered her iniquities.”   Revelation 18.4


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