On the Joy of Being Orthodox
~St. John of Kronstadt
“Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!” (Jn.1: 47)
Our Lord Jesus Christ said this of a certain Nathanael, an Israelite who dwelt in the Galilean town of Cana, when the latter, on the advice of his friend Philip, went to meet Jesus Christ to be assured whether He was the Messiah promised to Israel. Philip said to Nathanael, “We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write: Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph!” But Nathanael said to him, “Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?” Philip then said to him, “Come and see.” When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward Him, He said, “Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!” Nathanael said to Him, “Whence knowest Thou me?” Jesus answered him, saying, “Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee,” i.e., I knew all your thoughts, your faith, your hope for the Messiah, your future ministry. The Lord Who knows the hearts of men apparently touched the very heartstrings of Nathanael, his inmost thoughts, desires, aspirations, showing His divine omniscience plainly to him. Thus was Nathanael brought to faith in Christ, and he cried out, “Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel!,” and became His disciple.
Why is it that during the Great Fast, on the day called the “Sunday of Orthodoxy,” it is this particular Gospel which is prescribed to be read? Because the Lord’s words to Nathanael reveal the character of the true, or Orthodox, Christian and, in general, the character of the true Church of Christ. “Behold, an Israelite indeed,” the Lord said of Nathanael, “in whom is no guile,” i.e., behold a man who rightly, directly, firmly thinks, reasons, believes, hopes, speaks and acts, since Nathanael directly, immediately believed in Jesus Christ as the Son of God, and never wavered in his faith and hope, never changed his mind concerning His divine Person. Should not the true Christian be like him; should not the divinely instituted society of Orthodox Christians also be such; should not the Orthodox Church be such, and is it not such?
What high praise did He Who searches the hearts and reins render unto Nathanael in the words: “Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!” What high praise there is for that Christian of whom the Lord says, “Behold a Christian indeed, in whom is no guile!,” and for that Church of which the Lord will say, “Behold a Church indeed, in which is no guile, or vain human inventions, i.e., which is wholly true in all its doctrines, mysteries, divine services, directives, and its entire organization.
And just such men were our holy favourites of God; such has the whole Orthodox Church been from the beginning up to now, as is borne witness by an impartial history of the Church and by God Himself through the divers signs and wonders wrought in the Church. It is, as the Apostle says, “the pillar and ground of Truth,” it is “a glorious Church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing.”
To preserve the Orthodox Faith rivers of the blood of the apostles, the prophets and the martyrs were poured forth; and many tortures were borne by the venerable fathers and other champions of the Faith. But what about us, the children of the Orthodox Church? Are we preserving this precious inheritance, the Orthodox Faith; are we following its teachings, commandments, canons, rules, counsel? Do we love to offer service to God? Are we renewed thereby, are we hallowed each and every day, are we setting ourselves aright, are we attaining the perfection which the saints have reached? Are we becoming perfect in love for God and our neighbours; do we cherish our Faith; do we regard the mercy of God as the greatest thing, and that we have the good fortune to belong to the Orthodox Church is the first and greatest happiness in our life? What answer would we give to these questions if we were to respond according to our conscience?
To our shame, we must admit that in many Orthodox Christians the Orthodox Faith is not only absent in their heart, but it is also not on their tongue; among them it has vanished entirely, or has been turned into total indifference with regard to any religion whatever–Catholic, Lutheran, Jewish, Mohammendan, or pagan. We hear that one may please God in every religion, i.e., that every religion is supposedly pleasing to God, and that falsehood and truth, righteousness and unrighteousness are matters about which God does not care.
This is what ignorance of their own Faith, ignorance of the spirit and history of their Church, estrangement from its life and divine services, has brought many to–an eclipse of any understanding of Orthodoxy, heterodoxy and other religions! The annals of modern events relate that somewhere in Russia a certain headmaster, during the examination of his students, referred to the story of the sacrifice of Isaac as stupid. This is darkness, chaos, pernicious ignorance! The Christian, as a member of the Church, must know his own Faith and strive to live according to that Faith, to achieve salvation by means of that Faith, because the enemies of our salvation never sleep; they seek our destruction every hour and every day. The Orthodox Christian must not dismiss his Faith as a concern merely of certain people, or as a disposable toy appropriate only for children, or something fit only, as it were, for the uneducated common folk.
It would not be out of place to remind those who think thus of the venerable antiquity of our Faith, which is contemporary with the beginning of the human race, and of its direct origin with God and that men of high birth, vocation. position and gender lived and attained salvation in this Faith–glorious kings and wise philosophers, lawgivers and the greatest orators, nobles and simple folk, rich and poor, men and women, the beauty and glory of the human race. To the glory of the Orthodox Faith one ought also to say that no other religion than the Orthodox Faith is capable of bringing man to moral perfection or holiness and the pleasing of God, as is shown by the history of the Church and the incorrupt, wonder-working remains of the holy favourites of God and the miraculous feats of the saints of the Orthodox Church, whereby they became perfectly pleasing unto God, becoming clairvoyant and working wonders even during their lifetime. Thus must it be for the sane mind: only a perfect Faith with all its divine powers, with the full spiritual armour of God, is able to bring one to perfection, against the passion-fraught flesh, the world and the devil.
And if now many even Orthodox Christians live badly, their manner of life, even if truly ungodly, cannot in the least, of course, be held against the Orthodox Faith, which is unshakable in its principles of Truth and holiness, in accordance with the promise of the Saviour Himself and the testimony of history. Such people, although they have departed from us, were not ours in essence, but only in name…
Yea, my brethren, only the Orthodox Faith purifies and sanctifies human nature, which has been defiled by, sin…Do you wish to be assured of this? Read the history of the lives of the saints, the history of the Church, and you will see this for yourselves. You will see wolves transformed into lambs, fornicators into angelic righteous men and women, misers into paragons of charity, lovers of pleasure into ascetics; you will see people of power and earthly grandeur and luxury in humble monastic garb…These were true Christians indeed; these were angels in the flesh, citizens of heaven while still on earth… This is what our Orthodox Faith can do with those who sincerely hold to it and follow its direction!
But why does it not produce such a salvific change within us? Because of disbelief and lack of faith, flippancy, depravity and unrepentance of heart, because of the passions which have intensified and gained dominion over us, because we have withdrawn from the Church, and because many are not in the least imbued with the spirit and life of the Church, and many are only weakly, only formally, insincerely, attached to it. Because all the modern lusts have been engendered within us…For us to be genuine Orthodox Christians, we must first of all have living, constant fellowship with the Orthodox Church, i.e., participation in its prayers, teachings, mysteries, we must earnestly study our Faith and become imbued with it, live in its spirit, be guided by its rules, commandments, precepts; and most important, we must restore within us by true and profound repentance the image of the true Orthodox Christian, according to the image of the saints, ancient and recent, according to the model of our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, Who says: “I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you” (Jn. 13: 15), that the Lord may also say to us, as He once said of Nathanael, “Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!”