Why is it increasingly difficult for those who follow Christ to be understood by the world? Clearly the living are all in the world; but of those who proclaim to follow Christ, not all are necessarily of it. Those who are true servants of Christ cannot be of this world though they live in it.
In his first epistle, St John the Theologian clearly addresses this issue when he wrote (I John 3:2) "Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know Him." Meaning that the world did not accept or acknowledge Christ the Messiah, whose mission and love was to fulfil the Will of the Father and save the world. But alas the world did not accept Him, so the consequence of the world's hatred and rejection of Christ also is a consequence for those who belong to Christ and have become children of God. "Do not love the world," says St John (I John 15) "or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him."
These are the divinely inspired words of St John reflecting the very words of Christ Himself when He said: "If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world, would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. (John 15:18-19)
Today there is an expectation and a belief that one ought to be a friend of the world and of God. It is believed that this is not only possible but highly desirable and the ultimate state that one should strive for. They have not fathomed the words of Christ because they cannot comprehend the living truth. It is impossible to belong to the world and have knowledge of God. They may converse about the subject of God, they may read Scripture, and they may stand for social justice, but to become children of God requires much more than this. To become children of God is to struggle against evil and to be hated for it. Why? Listen to the Words of Christ. They have not been written only to sound profound. They are the living truth, they are what is happening, and what will happen to those who belong to Him. Are we prepared for this? How shall we endure?
In the Athonite Gerontikon (Sayings of the Holy Fathers of Mount Athos, Thessaloniki 1977, pp. 429) an elder is quoted as saying, "If you want the enemy not to fight you, (meaning the devil and his influence in everyday life) all you have to do is eat, drink, sleep and do whatever you feel like. Then the devil will not bother you with either temptations or problems. He is like a dog. You don't bother the devil and he stays quiet. You bother him an he throws himself at you and bites."
Here in this brief passage the world and the children of God are clearly separated. Those who belong to Christ, the children of God, will be tempted, even fiercely tempted at times, whereas those who do not belong to Him are already in the devil's snare and left alone, for he already has them. The temptation of the devil is aimed at debasing the faithful of their hope and faith in the Risen Lord.
Here too lies the explanation as to why so many people today are not able to accept the existence of the devil and his powerful influence in the world. They cannot see how the loving God can allow such ferocity in His creation. But as we all know this was not intended in God's plan, it was the consequence of man's doing, a consequence of his disobedience.
So the Father sent His only begotten Son to adopt us and to join us to Him that we may be saved. But for the many, they have not heard that to cleave unto God, to be joined to Him, to live in Him and for Him to live in us, is our protection, our exaltation, our salvation.
"Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you. Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same suffering are experienced by your brotherhood in the world. But may the God of all race, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen and settle you." (I Peter 5:6- 10)
So the world is a hostile and unsympathetic environment for true Orthodox Christians. And whilst the world speaks of social justice and freedom, once again the Orthodox Christians are reminded that the are separated from the world and the temporal benefits it purports to offer. Elder Fr Paisios has this to say about the subject:
"As a person becomes more spiritual, so much fewer rights does he have in this life. It is obligatory to be patient, to accept injustice, to accept evil words from others. On the other hand, "a crooked stick (perverted person) who is distant from God has many rights: to strike and shout and act unrighteously. Our rights God keeps for the other life. Out of ignorance however we often seek our rights here. Let us not damage things at all. If they say anything to us, immediately we give them the right. And later we think we trust in God. That is a big joke. Human justice doesn't mean anything to a spiritual person. But it is a great concern for the perverted person."
I remember a young woman who argued point, "It is much more preferable for me t pray where I feel I am in spiritual harmony with my surroundings. I much prefer for example, to pray at the beach where I can hear to sound of the waves and feel relaxed this to me is more important than going to Church to pray on Sundays where there are so many hypocrites." And what posture might you think she would have assumed while praying at the beach? Horizontal an lying on a beach towel I suppose. Then again, others prefer to spend their Sunday at sport, relaxing at home, going out for a quite breakfast and so on, and so forth, raising their children to follow in their footsteps. But this kind of freedom and relaxation, this idyllic lifestyle of the world is once again at odds with the spiritual discipline required of God's adopted children who have been taken "out of the world."
Fr Paisios said: "it is not freedom when w say to people that everything is permitted. That is slavery. To improve one must have difficulties. Freedom is good when the person can use it appropriately. Otherwise, it is a disaster.
from The Truth,
Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia
Christian Missionary Society of the Ascension of our Lord publication, Perth, Western Australia.