A Short Message from Bp. Irineos on the Current Turmoil in the World
These recent days of the pandemic, civil unrest and political conflict have had an impact on all of us. Particularly, I have noticed many people on social media expressing their fears of the inevitable downfall of our society and their inability to bear the burdens being placed on them by the various situations around us. Brothers and sisters, it normal to be sorrowed by these things, particularly as so many of our fellow man become sick or even die. Seeing institutions of man which we have relied on being challenged and criticized can be both unsettling and arouse anger and fear in us. These are normal human responses to life in our fallen world. How prophetic the words of St. Nikolai Velimirovich who wrote, "Things are difficult in the world because people are not brethren. Kinship between individuals and nations as been forgotten and people act towards their neighbors as towards strangers in a foreign land… Christ said, All ye are brethren (Matt. 23:8)…because you have one Father who is in Heaven, and you will remain brethren as long as you confess your one Father…” The interactions of people, even Orthodox Christians with those who disagree with them today are not those of brethren but of strangers and enemies. Yes, things are bad in the world. And much of this can be traced directly to our failures to see the image of God in all our fellow man. Just yesterday I was shocked to see a social media post explicitly stating that people of a particular political belief (one which I do not subscribe to and find loathsome) are not made in the image of God. Despite the presence of a multitude of clergy in the discussion, not a single person corrected this heretical statement out of fear of being considered a "sympathizer." Yes, this is a time of great tribulation, but much of it is our own fault. How, then, do we go forward?
If this world were all there is, then anger, fear and hopelessness might be proper responses. But as Christians, we must not fall into despair and we must understand the salvific benefit of our own suffering. St. Barsanuphius says, “believers must not be despondent, for through sorrows they receive the right of sonship, without which is impossible to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” How does suffering lead us to salvation? By instilling humility, patience, and trust in God. St. Ambrose of Optina reminds us that “a continuously happy life produces extremely unhappy consequences. In nature we see that there are not always pleasant springs and fruitful summers, and sometimes autumn is rainy and winter cold and snowy, and there is flooding and wind and storms, and moreover the crops fail and there are famine, troubles, sicknesses and many other misfortunes. All of this is beneficial so that man might learn through prudence, patience, and humility. For the most part, in times of plenty he forgets himself, but in times of various sorrows he becomes more attentive to his salvation.” My dear friends, struggle! Turn to prayer. Find refuge in the services of the Church, whether you must read them alone or are able to worship in your parish. But most of all, love. Love as the martyrs loved. Love as the saints loved. Struggle against the temptations that this world sends us to give in to despair. You cannot struggle against evil with hate. Hate is party to evil. You can only struggle against it with love: love of God and love of your neighbor. In our struggles may God make all things profitable for our repentance and our salvation.