Make God your strength

by Stylianos Kementzetsidis

Here is the man who did not make God his strength,
But trusted in the abundance of his riches,
And strengthened himself in wickedness (Ps 52:7). 

We admire Christians who achieve goodness and virtue in there lives, but most people achieve very little in comparison to what can be achieved.

We all know that slaves will show gratitude to those who free them. Similarly we, once the slaves of the devil who is the greatest tyrant known, owe our gratitude to Christ Who bought our freedom with His blood. Do we give Christ the gratitude He deserves?

If St. Paul, who was elevated to the third heaven in his life time, calls himself the least worthy, how are we to look at ourselves (considering that we swim in evil and passions)? Even if we were to follow faithfully the divine law to the letter, we can only say we did our duty and paid our debt.

Many of us realise that the events of the present time in history hint that the end of time is near. Sin and apostasy (or moving us away from God) has lead people along the road to destruction and thus ultimate loss. No force other than true repentance can save us from this descent to destruction. True repentance by grace and with faith return us to God's divine will, and true repentance is the only medicine that leads us to salvation. We can only 'befriend' God when we abandon sin, put on grace, and shelter under the protective umbrella of divine providence. It is joyful to know that if God is with us nobody can be against us.

Every disobedience and deviance from God has received the appropriate punishment throughout history. Angels who became proud were expelled from heaven and became demons. Disobedient and unrepentant people during Noah's time drowned by the flood. The people of Sodom and Gomorrah were burnt to death with sulphur because of their unrepentant decadence; evidence for this destruction remains in the dead sea to this day.

How can we remain unrepentant of our sins, evil actions and thoughts, and disobedience to God, and assume we will not be punished (considering what has happened throughout history)?

I will give you a more recent example of the hardships of a people who were proudly unrepentant, which I hope will encourage you to prepare yourself for the trials that will soon be upon us (as described in the Book of Revelations). It is these trials that will destroy those who are unrepentant, and thus take them away from God.

Constantinople was the golden capital of the Roman empire which had lit up the known world with Orthodoxy for a thousand years.

Before the city fell to the Ottoman empire, both the emperor and patriarch could see that things were not well. All people, including the aristocrats and the common people, were spiritually ignorant and were totally devoted to their material comforts. The emperor and the patriarch, recognising the desperate state of the people, decided to invite the wisest and most devout monk they could find to give sermons that would save their people.

The monk St. Joseph Vryennios was chosen, because he was a great spiritual person. He was also the teacher of Gennadius Scholarios, who became the first patriarch after the fall, and Mark of Ephesus (Evgenicus), who participated in the Council of Ferrara-Florence almost twenty years earlier during 1438-9.

St. Joseph, on arrival to Constantinople, gave sermons in the Palace to the emperor, his entourage, the generals, councils and thousands of people. He was later asked, "are you happy with the thousands of people listening to your sermons?" He answered, "They may be listening, but they neither abandon their sins nor do they repent. They come for entertainment. It is for this reason that I am returning to my cell to cry for my sins and the sins of the people, because the city will become Turkic".

The Grand Duke Doucas Notaras then told the wise monk "it is written in the Old Testament that even if a city has fifty righteous people, God will not destroy it. Wouldn't we find twenty or even ten people in our empire, from all the thousands of monks, nuns and clergy, to hold back the wrath of God?"

St. Joseph replied, "Unfortunately there is not even five".

The Grand Duke protested, but St. Joseph responded, "the emperor is blamed and responsible for the unjust laws in the empire. The patriarch is blamed for elevating many unworthy people to the priesthood who now celebrate the sacraments, consecrate the holy gifts and distribute the sacraments. The generals are blamed for all the unlawful acts, rapes, pillages and discrepancies their armies committed wherever they went. Parents and teachers are blamed for the bad examples they set for their children to follow. Everybody is therefore directly or indirectly responsible for the evil which exists in the empire. I shall now go", said St. Joseph directly to Doucas , "and you shall remember my words when your own children will be slaughtered in front of your eyes".

The monk went back to his cell and slept in the lord shortly before the fall of the city. Constantinople fall in 1453, and Doucas Notaras was captured with all his children. Mohammed II, the Conqueror, when celebrating his victory in the palaces of the Byzantines with his entourage and generals, asked for the children of Doucas to be brought before him. Doucas said that such customs were not allowed by his religion. Mohammed II then ordered to have Doucas' children slaughtered in front of his very eyes (fulfilling St. Joseph's prophesy). It is ironical that at the time of the Council of Ferrara-Florence, Doucas Notaras remarked, "I would rather see the Moslem turban in the midst of the city than the Latin mitre".

Whilst celebrating, the conquerors saw a hand with five fingers flying around the room they were gathered in, but they could not stop or contain it. The Islamic dream-readers could not interpret this vison, so they asked for Orthodox holy men to interpret it. The Roman chosen to interpret the sign happened to be Gennadius Scholarios. Gennadius then fasted for a week with prayer before the sign was revealed to him. He returned to Mohammed II and told him that the sign meant, "Even if there had been five worthy people in the empire, the empire would have been spared".

Mohammed II was aware that Gennadius was against the union with the Latin Church, and being satisfied with Gennadius' interpretation, Mohammed II chose him to be the patriarch and the leader of the Orthodox people. This was part of God's divine plan to preserve Orthodoxy, because the Orthodox people were allowed to continue without interference in the observance of their faith, so long as they submitted quietly to the power of Islam and paid the authorities certain fees. Furthermore, if the Orthodox Church submitted the Council of Ferrara-Florence's decree to reunite the churches, the Orthodox Church would have disappeared out of existence before the invasion of the Moslems. The third obvious option was that if the Orthodox people repented from their decadence, Constantinople would not have fallen.

During the early occupation of Constantinople, dishonourable Turkish soldiers killed, raped and sold thousands of Orthodox Christians to the slave markets of the east. Other soldiers searched through the houses of the wealthy finding extraordinary opulence and immense quantities of gold buried in their gardens. This hidden gold could have sustained the whole of Europe for many years.

The wealthy people of the city, paying homage to Mohammed II, instructed their children to present offerings of gold bars on trays. Mohammed II became very angry at this display of wealth asking, 'if you had so much gold, why did you not offer it to your emperor when he asked for support to defend the empire?' It were the rich that told the emperor to "sell the holy chalices and other liturgical instruments, and use the gold of the Church to defend the empire". Are these words repeated today in our churches?

We know that God is tolerant and waits patiently, however, He punishes the unrepentant and those who don't shelter in His protective fort (which is the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church).

The descent, we so happily accept by not turning back to God and by not becoming faithful members of the Body of Christ (the Church), will not lead us to comfort. This descent only leads us along many difficult paths that are against the divine will of God and to eternal destruction.

This is the time to repent and trust in the mercy of God.

from a series of talks given in Perth, Australia during December 1997

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