The Gospel of Success

As St. Gregory Palamas "made war against the heretic Barlaam" (so says one ancient account of his life read last Sunday at Matins), while I was a protestant I made my own little war against those who preached the health and wealth gospel. I despised the very notion and in time this would even extend to those non-denominational mega-churches that spewed forth the infomercial-like creed that Jesus' teachings were instruments able to make your life "full"...which was typically portrayed as being shiny and happy (i.e. less materialistic things will be a success: your parenting, your marriage, your relationships with EVERYONE etc). So much of it seemed to revolve around success. You'll notice that these groups NEVER talk about the martyrs. "Who are they?" they would likely wonder. Can you imagine? "And Jesus will make your life POWERFUL! You will experience the joy in the same way that Saint Ignatios of Antioch did when he was devoured by Lions in Rome! Imagine that POWER inserted into your everday relationships: at work or at home...your blood can be spilled all over the place. Furthermore, the joy of being sewn into a sack with ravenous rock badgers is yours to have if you would but put Jesus' teachings into practice..."
As so while I sat and listened to their sermons about how Jesus was going to make my life so joyful, so exciting, so full of LIFE...I kept wondering, as I watched all the people leaving in their SUV's: How did original followers of Jesus end up in life (see above hypothetical sermon)? And didn't Jesus talk a lot about persecution and suffering that we could expect to endure for his namesake? So in THAT context, what precisely is meant be "having life more abundantly?" I made it my personal mission to try and "combat" this theology. It eventually became as wearisome as combating a non-literal understanding of the Resurrection in the ECUSA. Holding to "o"rthodox Christianity is NOT the way to "fill the pews."

Maybe the rise of the health and wealth gospel (even if cleverly disguised) drove me to Orthodoxy? A Church where the martyrs are upheld as examples, and where we have a notion of everyday martyrdom. A Church that recognizes that "abundant life" often (perhaps usually) is something not seen with human eyes.

I have spoken at length here about what I perceive to be a coming persecution, and indeed I do not doubt that that will come though perhaps not in my lifetime. Orthodox and "o"rthodox Christians will continue to grow more and more ostracized from society. But, make no mistake about it, we ARE being persecuted now...but in a much more subtle, subversive, and far more dangerous way. THIS persecution leads us to destroy ourselves...often without even knowing it. The Pagan Romans, the Muslim Turks, and Athiestic Communists with their campaigns against the Church pale in comparison.

Consider which is better or more efficient at destruction:

  • To suffer from lack of food, or to feel that you suffer from a lack of more cable channels?
  • To be beheaded for refusing to deny Christ, or to behead your own soul for refusing to go and pray instead of clicking on that old familiar link that will take into a realm you ought not to go to.
  • To watch your family be drowned by pagans, or to watch you family get hooked on any one of the many abundantly available drugs in the public schools and have their spirits slowly drowned?
  • To not be allowed to go to Church, or to have the option and knowing that there is always next week, sleep in this sunday because the earlier saturday night showing of the movie was sold out and so you had to stay up late to see it?
  • To be raped by heathen soldiers, or to be so indoctrinated by society (and it's sexual freedoms and infatuations) around you that you end up willingly offering yourself to heathens?
  • To toss your babies into the Thames river rather than face the waiting persecution in Soviet Russia, or to be persuaded to toss your babies out of your womb rather than face the troubles of parental responsibilities?

I could go on and I am sure you are able to think of a few examples of your own. I guess what I am asking is this: Is it better to face death, or to be taught death? While I, by no means, would welcome outright has to admit, that at least under those circumstances you knew where you stood. In this world and specifically in this society, I worry about being able to see the edge of the cliff that we are presently dancing around.

Maybe spending some time with the monastics this weekend will help me personally to see the cliff's edge in my own life...but we as Christians certainly need some powerful radar to discern things in this world and I think precious few of us have it. Thank God for the Church.


jp said…
I'm sure glad you clued me in on "rock-badgers" or else the reference would have just sailed past me. It was good to spend a little time with you at the Monastery the last couple days. When I recover from the intensity of this weekend, I'll re-read your post and see if I can't get past the rock-badger.
Anonymous said…
It was good to finally meet you after reading your stuff for the past couple of years. And yes, Annette was startled at hearing that Mrs. Paradosis and she were at the monastery at the same time. Small Orthodox NW world, isn't it? Re' your comments: we have the TV on for the first time since the retreat, and I'm finding it remarkably noisy and unpleasant, especially after the timelessness and peace of even a brief time among the sisters of the monastery, and the brothers assmbled for the weekend. Guess maybe we don't really need Direct TV, even though baseball season is upon us. (Go M's!) Too bad we can't get Ancient Faith Broadcasting over the air...
Scott in Gladstone
Karl said…

Another Northwest Orthodox Bloggers Conference and I missed it. :)
jp said… shoulda come with Josh and me instead of being a responsible adult and all...
fdj said…
Believe me, Karl...had my wife not physically kicked me out of the house I would not have felt that I could have gone either. She survived the kids and I was immensely glad I went for many reasons not the least of which was getting to meet Scott and Bill.

Next year Karl :) If you irritate your wife as much as I do mine she'll boot you out too.
Fr. David said…

Wonderful thoughts on this "glorious freedom" we have here in the States.

To face death or be taught it...hmm. Reminds me of a pastor I heard in college who said it was easy (relatively speaking) to die for Christ; what was harder and more admirable was to live for Him with constant devotion.
fdj said…
I've heard that too B-P...

I'd often thought that at least SOME of the martyrs would have preferred to be given the chance to try the "living for Christ" deal.

Either way, we are all called to matrydom.

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