Starving for Truth
“The Church is like a great ship being pounded by the waves of life’s different stresses. Our duty is not to abandon ship, but to keep her on her course” ~ St. Boniface, Enlightener of Germany
Boniface was a man dedicated to building Holy Church. He became a monk in England, and spent most of his youth studying and praying. Then news spread from Germany. The Germanic culture was deteriorating. Its society resembled ours all too well. Once thoroughly Christian, its people had returned to their pagan roots. Boniface was an older man when he decided to set sail to Germany to build the Kingdom. His example reminds us today that we cannot sit idle while culture fades. We cannot sit and grumble or worry. We have one cardinal obligation as the Church, to nurture Christian community wherever we are.
Today, we are celebrating the Octave of the Ascension. Christ stood on the mountain top and preached, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations…teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always” (Mat. 28:18-20). “When He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sights” (Acts 1:15). “He was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God” (Mk. 16:19). The Ascension is a celebration of the union of humanity and divinity. Every part of life, whenever grafted into Jesus Christ, is assumed and raised up with Him. Yet, it comes with a cost. Within this grand story, God leaves us with a task. “Go therefore… make disciples...” What does this mean? We must know the truth, live the truth, and teach the truth.
Why do we need truth? As Andrei Sakharov lay on his deathbed, the man who gave us the atomic bomb, he made this final comment. “I always thought that the most powerful weapon in the world was the bomb. I’ve changed my mind. The most powerful weapon in the world is not the bomb, the most powerful weapon is the truth.” Why is truth important? Truth holds together everything in our lives, families, and country.
But we do not care about truth. We live in a post-truth culture. We are too concerned about feeling good or living free to worry about truth. If it is not careers or money that we chase, it is comfort and entertainment. We are too busy to hunger for truth. Christians are not exempt either. We have been indoctrinated like everyone else. The traditions, laws, and doctrines of the Church – truths that Christians once spilt their blood to defend – we pick and choose however we feel inclined. Why does truth matter?
In our gospel reading today, Christ explains.
“When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth…he will testify on my behalf…I have said these things to you to keep you from stumbling. They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, an hour is coming when those who kill you will think that by doing so they are offering worship to God…I have said these things to you so that when their hour comes you may remember” (Jn. 15:26-16:4).
We cannot take this seriously enough. Look at this phrase: “Those who kill you will think that by doing so they are offering worship to God.” Truth does matter. Life hinges on truth. How many supposed truths are being taught today. We cannot find ten minutes in the morning to study the bible. Yet, we sit in front of a soap opera an hour each night. What is being taught? What messages are we absorbing unknowingly, like frogs in a pond? I doubt anyone has ever been so indoctrinated as modern man. It was never so easy. Technology has made it possible. We are all plugged in.
Fr. Ed Hughes, our Vicar General, was once preaching about morality. Issues arose regarding same-sex attraction, dating, marriage, divorce – the basic fundamentals that have gone unquestioned in the Church for 2,000 years. He taught in a tone of compassion and love, but without compromising integrity. A parishioner stood up from the pews. “He’s crazy!” the man yelled. “Our priest is a lunatic!” Then he walked out of the room and through the back doors. Fr. Ed did not say anything radical. He did not preach in a haughty or demeaning way. He simply preached the truth – that good old fashioned, eternal truth. We have been so indoctrinated, we are so traumatized by a culture of mud slinging and political correctness, that we no longer have stomachs for plain and simple truth. “Those who kill you,” our Lord warns us, “will think that by doing so they are offering worship to God.” The road to hell is paved with good intentions. It is not enough to be kind, ordinary people. We must know the truth, live the truth, and teach the truth.
Where do we go? Christ made it clear on that day He taught, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (Jn. 14:6). We must go to the Church. “Tradition is the witness of the Spirit…the Spirit’s unceasing revelation and preaching of good things,” Fr. Florovsky explains. “To accept and understand Tradition we must live within the Church, we must be conscious of the grace-giving presence of the Lord in it; we must feel the breath of the Holy Spirit in it…Tradition is not only a protective, conservative principle; it is, primarily, the principle of growth and regeneration.” When Jesus Christ ascended into heaven he promised to send the Spirit of Truth to reveal the truth, all the truth, to the Church (Jn. 16:13). The Traditions, the Life of the Orthodox faith, preserved through these past 2,000 years is nothing but the breathing spirit of God. This is the Way our Lord gave us as He ascended into heaven. His last words were to embrace the life and to teach it.
Where does this leave us? We should ask ourselves each day: “How can I nurture Christian community?” If the Ascension means one thing, it means our faith is not private. We must witness the truth. Like St. Boniface in his times, our culture too is starving for truth. He was slain in the end. While Boniface preached, the pagan mob rushed forward. He held a bible close to his chest and a sword pierced through the bible into his heart. What a testimony for a man dedicated to truth. From that point forward, on the foundation of his witness, the Christian faith flourished once again.