Sunday of Orthodoxy
by Metropolitan Isaiah of Denver
As we recall the return of God’s holy icons to the churches in 843 A.D. by the Empress Theodora, and as we proclaim the preservation and the triumph of our Faith down through the centuries, we are doing so in a society, in a world which is constantly warring against God and against His holy Bride, the Church. Yet, for almost one hundred years now, we have been impressed and thrilled with the great strides and the advancement of man scientifically, technologically, medically, and in every other way. Even in the face of so much inequity around us, the world today, materially speaking, is much better off than ever before. The industrial revolution from the past century has brought to us the steam engine, the cotton gin, the sewing machine, the train, the automobile, the airplane, helicopters, and now rockets and satellites which are even at this moment traveling through space. We have the conveniences and the luxuries of telephones and refrigerators, radios and record players, television and sound tapes, microwave ovens and videos. All this and so much more in only one hundred years! And we are only at the beginning stages of all this development.
Computers for work and for play, some as large as office buildings, are in operation and still being modified and improved. Cellular telephones and other products in communications are just beginning. Our eyes are on the verge of seeing truly phenomenal things, things that will make the word awesome to need replacing with another more descriptive word. Probably some of us will be alive to see the start of travel with no fuel, but only with the energy of the sun along the electromagnetic lines which hold the universe together. Truly, the words of the Lord in the Book of Daniel are now being fulfilled when the Lord tells Daniel that in the last days many people will be educated and that knowledge will greatly increase (Daniel 12:4).
As we think on these unparalleled accomplishments on the part of our fellow man, accomplishments which all of us are enjoying, our hearts become inflated with deserved pride, one might say. Just see how far we have advanced. See how we have elevated man’s lot in the world!
People are living longer than ever before, when we compare today’s lifespan with two and three hundred years ago. Prostheses of arms and legs have become the norm for certain war casualties and victims of diseases like diabetes. Bypass heart surgeries are everyday practices. Cataract surgery is a twenty-minute lazer procedure. Heart transplants are increasing. Even now a third recipient has been given a mechanical heart. So many accomplishments have taken place only with man’s health and the prolonging of human life, that our minds are boggled when we look in all the other fields and see the same thing happening.
Yet, while all these wondrous things are going on with the intellectual and material side of life, something else is taking place, something which does not agree with these truly phenomenal advances; something which tells us that man is not developing spiritually. Man is not only not growing spiritually, but he is backsliding as far as the higher values of human life are concerned.
Look around you and you will see an increase in fortune telling, palm reading, tarot cards, handwriting analysis. All one has to do to find their location is to look in the yellow pages of a telephone directory. Virtually every newspaper in our country has an astrological forecast on a daily basis. Thousands upon thousands of people cannot function on a day-to-day basis, unless they read their horoscopes. Almost everyone knows if he or she is a Libra or a Virgo or a Capricorn. Obviously, for some people the horoscope has replaced prayer. Judaeo-Christian principles of ethics and morality have been cast aside to be replaced by thousands of cults, some of which worship Satan as their god.
As we continue to see Nazi movies and the concentration camp atrocities replayed again and again on television, and as interest has increased in the hunting down of former Nazis, we are totally oblivious to the fact that our country is guilty of the murder of over fifteen million unborn children — over twice the number of the six million Jews reportedly slaughtered during the Second World War! The Nazis, we say, were barbaric. Yet they will tell you it was a time of war. What kind of war is going on with our august Supreme Court and helpless unborn humans?
Euthanasia is becoming more and more acceptable. If you walk into any bookstore, you will find books on how to commit suicide in an honorable and painless way. In a few words man has virtually arrived at that point of his development at which he is so greatly impressed with his many accomplishments, that he can now say who is to live and who is to die. Even the suicide, in a warped way, feels that he is in control of his life, if nothing else.
There is no question, if we study human history, we would see that man has always wanted to be in control of his destiny. One might say that it is a natural human tendency. Even the Prodigal Son asked his Father for his share of the inheritance because he wanted to be solely in charge of his own life. If we return, for a moment, to our first parents in the Garden of Eden, we can well understand why this is so. The chief enemy of man, Satan, the Deceiver and Father of lies, went to our first parents and convinced them that God wanted to keep them subjugated to Him. This is why God forbade them to eat from the tree of the Knowledge of good and evil. But they accepted the convincing big lie that came to their ears, “No, do not listen to God; for if you eat from that tree, you will be just like God”. Truly, humankind has inherited this tendency, this inclination of fallen man to seek his destiny apart from God.
The irony of it all is that God created us to live forever and to be co-regents with Him. He gave to our first parents a sign regarding this, right there in front of them in the Garden of Eden. For besides the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was the tree of Life. But they were convinced to do it their own way, or the way in which Satan offered to them. And they fell. They fell from God’s grace and from the union they previously had with Him.
The story of the Tower of Babel is a repeat performance of the garden story, but on a grandiose scale. For even after the world deluge man was still contending against God. Rather than conforming to God’s plan for his welfare, man continued to work against Him. Actually, man wanted to prevail against God; and he still does! “Let us build up a tower, so that God will not ever again be able to destroy us”. And they began to build the Tower of Babel, the symbol of a high and an advanced civilization in which all people spoke the same language, as English is spoken today. They had an advanced civilization. But they were working against God and what God represented.
Is the world any different today? Is man achieving so brilliantly and so rapidly today for the sake of enhancing and glorifying God’s name and His supreme creation, the human person? Is he doing it because he believes that man is the image, the icon of God? Or is he building a tower like those at Babel so that he can stand on the top of it one day and cry out, “I can give life and I can take it away”.
Why was Baby Faye given the heart of a baboon? The doctors knew that her tiny body would reject an animal’s heart. It is a fact that the human body rejects other human hearts. Heart transplant recipients will tell you that as long as they live, they have to take anti-rejection drugs for the heart that is in them. Why, then, were those doctors abusing a helpless human baby and using it as a guinea pig? Could it be that when they were in junior high school and taking biology that they were convinced that the theory of evolution was a fact and that man, God’s supreme creation, evolved from the monkey?
Obviously, in today’s world, as always, true knowledge and false knowledge have been living side by side. True science and false science have been coexisting. The genuine and the counterfeit, many times, are indistinguishable, one from the other.
Therefore, what do we see? In the one instance the medical scientist’s hand tries to prolong human life or to create it in a test tube, while in the next instance the same medical hand chokes the life out of a viable, but premature and unwanted human being! It is as if within the numberless volumes of true medical science in existence today, we also find copies of Frankenstein and monster magazines. And we wonder if some of today’s doctors when they were in their preteen and teenage years (just a few years ago), if they were not permanently influenced by the monster and Frankenstein comic books which they were collecting.
What is happening? Why these contradictions in man’s modern-day growth and progress? Obviously, man is as he always was — a prodigal attempting to become god even by unethical shortcuts. We cannot get rid of prostitution. So we legalize it. We do not want to rid our society of drugs. So let us legalize them, also. Once they are legalized, you see, people will not be apt to call them immoral. Today’s society wants the freedom of alternate lifestyles, especially in sex; but it does not desire the burden of unwanted babies. It does not want the financial obligations that accompany them. And it certainly does not want the guilt on its conscience. So let abortion remain legal and no one will be the worse off for it — except, of course, the icon of God, which is not allowed to come into the world alive!
Someone may say, “You are being too hard on your fellow man. He is really working to prolong man’s life on earth. Why look; he has even begun the method of cryonics wherein a person whose sickness cannot be healed today is put into a deep freeze compartment to be thawed out one day in the future, when medical science will have a cure for that particular sickness”. If one thinks about this for a few moments, he has to accept that the ones who dreamed this thing up and have started putting it into practice certainly do not accept the Christian belief in the resurrection of the dead and the perfect, unending life which Christ the Lord promises.
Obviously, the world today is not conforming to God’s will, but is working against it. Man still insists on building his Tower of Babel. He still wants to get to its highest step and to cry out to God, “See, I did it without you!” The lie of Satan continues on from one generation to another.
This is why man will continue to be beguiled and will continue to preserve his monster magazines among his books of learning. However, mankind will never come to that point of totally removing God from the hearts of all the people. It will succeed with many, as has been done already. Many will continue to join themselves with atheism and many more with the anti-Christ who is coming upon the world. But God’s faithful people will continue to dwell on the earth awaiting the fulfillment of God’s promises. Many will make foolish statements like the Russian astronaut who a few years ago said that he did not find God, when he left the confines of this planet in a satellite. Many will continue to deny God as the Psalmist writes: “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’. They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds, there is none that does good. The Lord looks down from heaven upon the children of men to see if there are any that act wisely, that seek after God” (14:1-2).
We will continue to witness and to be a part of phenomenal progress. We might even live to see the success of mental telepathy and may have no need of even the most advanced cellular telephones. But whatever we see and experience must be related to God and to His plan to determine if they are upright and moral and in harmony with what God represents. Therefore, we can continue to applaud the discoveries and the advances of all the sciences; but we should always weigh them with the unchanging scale of Holy Scripture and the living Tradition of the Church. Let us continue to support all endeavors in our society and in our lives which strengthen the fact that man is the supreme creation of Almighty God and not the afterbirth of evolution. Let us give due honor to all humanitarian programs and projects which stress the divine origin of man irrespective of his color or ethnicity or creed.
In doing this, we will preserve the meaning of this historic day in Orthodoxy. For when we raise up the holy icons of the Church, we raise one another up as sacred icons of our Heavenly Father! We remind ourselves of our divine origin and our mission in this life. And as we celebrate the preservation of our holy Faith, we are strengthened by the words of our Lord that not even the gates of hell will ever be able to prevail against His Church, let alone any power in this world. Let us, then, continue as faithful sons and daughters of God our Father to live according to His will with the sure hope of the coming, perfect, and everlasting Kingdom, which Christ our Redeemer has promised to all of His faithful children.
Father Isaiah is Chancellor of the Greek Orthodox Diocese of Chicago, Illinois.
Publication of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America