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Orthodox Spirituality

Sermons of Archpriest Anthony B. Gavalas

The Apostolic Teaching

Pentecost Sunday
2/15 June 2003

+ + + In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. + + +

What a joyous day it is for the Orthodox today. For we celebrate and commemorate the fulfillment of the prophecy and the promise of our Redeemer Jesus Christ, that the Father would send the Holy Spirit upon the Church, and that the Holy Spirit would lead us to all truth.

Today we see the beginning of the Apostolic teaching, the Apostolic preaching when the Holy Spirit descended upon the Holy Apostles in that upper room, in the form of cloven tongues of flame, giving us to understand that it was through speech, through the sermon, through the preaching, through the tongues of the Holy Apostles, that the saving preaching of redemption in Christ Jesus would take place.

And there was a miracle indeed, not only on that first day when thousands were added to the numbers of the Church, through the preaching of the Holy Apostles, when each one heard it in his own language, for so it had been arranged by God that there were people of many races and many languages in Jerusalem on that day of Pentecost, and each one heard in his own language the preaching of salvation in Jesus Christ. And this began the Apostolic teaching. Miracle upon miracle, sign upon sign followed the preaching of the Holy Apostles. Such grace was poured out upon these twelve, and the seventy, the Apostles that had been sent forth by the Holy Trinity into the world, so great was this extraordinary phenomenon that within one generation, within a scant few years, the message and Gospel of Jesus Christ had been heard from end to end of the then inhabited world. Through the preaching of the Holy Apostle St. Aristobolus, and St. Joseph of Arimethea, the British Isles had heard of Christ. And it is quite possible that even in parts of Scandinavia there had been the preaching of Christ. Before the Holy Apostle St. John reposed, for he was the last, the preaching had gone from Britain, all the way across the Mediterranean basin, through the Near East, and on into India and even into China through the preaching of Apostles such as St. Thomas.

And this preaching that spread this establishment of the Church took place without swords, as was the case in the catastrophe that followed in the wake of the preaching of that miserable Mohammed. But peacefully did the Church of Christ enter into the hearts of people; peacefully did the Savior Christ, Who stands at the door and so politely knocks, peacefully did He enter into the hearts of those who opened unto Him.

I wish that I could say that the history of the Church from that time remained peaceful, but, as you all know, it did not. For there entered into the Church men who had their own ideas of what Christianity is; men who perverted and distorted the Apostolic teaching; men who wanted to tailor it according to their own understandings and their own philosophies and even their own passions; men for whom Christianity was just another philosophy, something to be talked about, something to be thought about, something to be accepted or rejected according to each one's personality and desires.

But the Holy Fathers did not permit this. The Holy Fathers did not permit Holy Orthodoxy to be changed, because they had been charged by He Who was called the Samaritan, they were charged by the One Who rescued the sick man who had been beaten half to death by the demons. They were the innkeepers who had been charged to take care of this man, and make him well, and to use those two coins, that is the written and unwritten tradition, that is the Old and New Testament, all of which bear the seal of the King, to make their charge well. And they recognized in these new teachings that there was something there that was poisonous, there was something there that would not heal the man, something that was not according to Holy Orthodoxy. For Orthodoxy is by definition a healing way of life. It is that means by which the Holy Trinity has insured our healing of that great wound which the human race suffered as the result of the ancestral sin of our father Adam and our mother Eve. And just as a good and experienced doctor, one who is zealous for the recovery of his patient, recognizes in the prescription, and in the diet, and in the way of life that has been given to his patient what is good and what is not good, what will heal and what will hurt, so it is the Holy Fathers fought against any of these innovations, any of these inclusions, any of these things that was not of Holy Orthodoxy.

And they fought against them by the sword of the Spirit, and had excised from the Church all of these false positions, all of these false medicines, all of these false prescriptions, leaving only pure Orthodoxy, the only way in which we can be healed and we can be saved. This struggle has continued even into our own day. For the spirit of the world, that is the spirit of the devil, does not rest, and ever seeks to destroy and to pervert the preaching so that people will not be saved. And so it is that we see even in our day that great, that terrible poison of ecumenism, which says in effect that one medicine is as good as another, that one way of life will cure you just as good as another, which frankly is the same as saying that there is no cure, there is no salvation. For if these mutually exclusive prescriptions can cure, then there is no prescription, and we are doomed to poor health and death.

The Holy Fathers were sensitive to the slightest thing that would bring anything such as poison into the Holy Church, into this place of healing. This is why when in the 1500s the Latins sought to change the calendar, the Holy Fathers who were alive at that time immediately reacted, and in the same year issued an anathema following two times more condemnation upon the Latin calendar, because they understood that this was not a matter of calendar; this was a matter of dulling of Orthodox consciousness. This was taking away part of that fence that keeps the Orthodox safe from the ways of the world. And so it was that this was condemned, that even if a person should think of it, to introduce this into the body of the Church, he is to be condemned as out of the Church.

In 1924, following upon the false council of 1920 of Constantinople, and implementing the decisions of that falsely named pan-Orthodox council, the Patriarchate of Constantinople and the Church of Greece implemented what they said was a change in the calendar, but which to those who were familiar with the things and who knew the Encyclical of 1920 that was the horrible child of that falsely named Council, they knew that it was the implementation of the very first of the decisions that would lead to ecumenism. The implementation of one calendar, for the calendar change was not a matter of astronomy, the calendar change was a matter of ecumenism. It had nothing to do with accuracy of calendar, it had to do with tearing down the boundaries that our Holy Fathers have set, which the Scriptures have told us not to move the boundaries of your fathers. Just as Israel of old was kept safe from its enemies and from the nations by all of those rules, those six hundred and thirty some odd rules in the Old Testament, so it is with the Israel in the time of our Redeemer, that we are kept safe by rules also of a similar nature and purpose.

In 1935 a council of living bishops, three bishops who abandoned the modernism of the new calendar and came into the Church of the Orthodox synodically condemned and put in place for our own time the anathemas of the Pan Orthodox councils and of the fathers of the First Ecumenical Council. Therefore those who say that the calendar is of no consequence are left without any support. For the calendar is indeed a matter of faith. It touches upon the uniqueness of the Church, because in changing the calendar where is the unity that we are promised in the Creed? Where is the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, when we see with our own eyes the ruin that has taken place. And lest anyone think that the Fathers were dealing with some small detail when they condemned the calendar change, behold what has happened! Has anything been left upright in the so called official churches? In the so called canonical churches has anything in Orthodoxy been left alone? Has not everything fallen by the wayside: the very essence of the Church, the worship of the Church, the services, not to mention the fasts, not to mention any of the other things that are unique to Holy Orthodoxy. But even from a point of view of completeness of their services, their children are unbaptized; their couples are unmarried; and their liturgies are unfinished.

Therefore our Fathers acting in the Holy Spirit were right to condemn, and those Orthodox Christians whose sensitivity was such that they separated themselves at great personal loss, with the consequence of terrible persecutions, of loss of their churches, of losses of their jobs, of their marriages not being registered, of their children being regarded as illegitimate, through the persecutions of the state church. And was it not that same, that very same spirit that swept through Russia with the renovationists, which still has it fruits among the people there today, despite the terrible, terrible sufferings of the Russian Christian people and the people of the Balkans in the Soviet sphere of influence. The same spirit, a spirit of innovation, a spirit of destruction, a typhoon, a tornado laying waste to all of those things to which Orthodox people cling to in seeking their salvation.

Therefore we bless today, not simply, as we always say, as a commemoration of a glorious historical event, but as an opportunity to once again dedicate ourselves, as we were dedicated at our holy baptism to abjure and reject everything that is of the world and of the devil, and to cling to that which has been given to us by Jesus Christ when we were enlisted in His army at our holy baptism. We shall not reject the beloved Orthodoxy, and if it should become necessary by our blood we will defend our holy faith, hoping in the loving kindness and the generosity and compassion of the Holy Trinity, Which has given us Holy Orthodoxy, Which is the Source of our hope, the Source of our faith, even the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit in Whose Name we were baptized into our holy faith. Amen.

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