Jun 5, 2010

The Kingdom of God

Living in a Western, democratic country which rewards individualism, ambition, and material success brings with it its own set of problems for one who is trying to live "in" the world but not "of" I the world. Fr. Sveshnikov posted a worthy examination of this conflict. You may read the entire article here. What follows is an excerpt:

In the Gospel reading for the memory of the saints, we hear about the strange beatitudes or qualities that make people blessed in the eyes of God (Matt. 5:1-12). They are the blessed qualities that shine forth through the lives of saints, but how unusual they are in the eyes of the secular world! Christ says: “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (3), but it is the rich and the arrogant that the world adores. “Blessed are those who mourn” (4), but the world urges us not to even think about death, to forget that this earthly life has a purpose and an end. “Blessed are the meek” (5), but it is the ruthless that get ahead in the secular world, and it is through brutality that earthly kingdoms are established. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness” (6), but the world wants us to hunger and thirst for very different things. “Blessed are the merciful” (7), but secular schools teach the doctrine of the survival of the fittest. “Blessed are the pure in heart” (8), but purity is trampled into dirt in today’s society. “Blessed are the peacemakers” (9), but the secular definition of peacemaking is to start a preemptive war. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake” (10), but the world persecutes righteousness and leaves no place for it as it marches along the path of “social progress.” Blessed are those who are persecuted for Christ (11), but who are the persecutors? In ancient Israel, they were the leaders of the people. In ancient Rome, they were the best emperors. And in Russia, those who envisioned a “bright future” for all slaughtered hundreds of thousands of clergy and millions of the faithful. We must remember this fact whenever we feel comfortable in this world order, whenever the world seems to be our friend. “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (Jas. 4:4).

The kingdom of Christ is not of this world (John 18:36). It is in this world, but it is not of this world. This distinction is very important for us. We must not treat the kingdom of God as some sort of a fantasy happening sometime in the future on some far-away planet. On the contrary, life with God must begin in this earthly life, and “behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you” (Luke 17:21). And those who follow Christ get to partake of the kingdom in anticipation of the resurrection of the world to life with Christ. Similarly, those who reject Christ and His kingdom in this life, get to partake of life without God in anticipation of the eternal result of their choice. Those who choose to live according to sins and passions that rule the secular world, rather than according to the law of Christ, get their choice inscribed in their hearts, even as those who choose Christ get His law inscribed in theirs (Heb 8:10).

Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov, M.Div., M.A.A.Th. - Rector of the Holy New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia Orthodox Church in Mulino, Oregon (Western American Diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church)

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