"This is an age of deception. So many lies, so much confusion, so much that is so far from the truth of God [...] there will be hostility, open hostility to the Christian faith. We're seeing it already [...]"
Fr. Spyridon Bailey: Many Christians in formerly quite civilized places are now finding their Christian faith under attack on the becoming concerned about what the future holds for them. Places like California and Canada, even Australia. There are people all around the world experience in genuine persecution and suffering.
We read of Christians today who are being beheaded in Afghanistan, who having properties taken from them in Pakistan, who are imprisoned in China and North Korea, who are refused permission to worship in many Muslim countries. And here in the west, there is a shift. We recognize a shift in the culture around us.
That is, becoming more antagonistic to the Christian faith and traditional Christian values, where many people are saying they are being threatened with a loss of their work, their jobs, because they hold on to Christian trues and they are unable to express their Christian beliefs. This is nothing new. Christian martyrdom began, of course, with St. Stephen. St. Stephen, the first deacon and the first Christian martyr, who, who began the history of Christian martyrdom that has extended through the centuries. We're told that when Saint Stephen was facing this council of accusers, he looked up to heaven and he saw the glory of God.
He saw Christ sitting at the right hand of the Father. So filled was he with the Holy Spirit. He saw the kingdom of God there, and his accusers looked at him and they beheld his face as that of an angel. Jesus tells us that blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God - such was the purity of St. Stephen, and seeing his face, seeing his purity, his accusers were still able to condemn him to have him dragged away and murdered.
The spirit of the age that we now live in is that spirit of rejection of Christ and a heart that has rejected Christ moves further and further away from the truth, further and further away from beauty and goodness. [It] becomes unable to see truth and feel compassion, feel love and forgiveness.
St. Stephen's martyrdom was a victory, a victory of God's grace over the conflict and the violence of this world of everything that this world, the power of this world. Every martyr is a demonstration of hope and faith and trust in God. And we are called to put our trust in God's grace and his victory over everything in this world.
St. Stephen is really a model, a model for every one of us. And we must, we must put all our conflicts and our struggles into context. There are people losing their lives as they have always done. And for many of us, it hasn't yet reached this point. That point may not be far away. But for now, we are faced with everyday conflicts, difficulties, struggles, accusations.
Saint Stephen is our model because he shows us how to face these kinds of conflicts. These kinds of persecutions. We are to look to Christ. We are to look to the glory of God, set our vision, even in the face of accusation and persecution. Set our vision on God and hold it there. Let our accusers see compassion and mercy, even dare we say the angel, the face of an angel in us.
Let's St. Stephen be our model in this time, many people are becoming so concerned. So anxious, uncertain about world events. What the future holds for us now and our children and our families. So we must prepare, must prepare ourselves for whatever is to come.
Even if it be martyrdom on this kind of persecution. But how do we do this? How do we prepare ourselves? Well, first we must recognize that we are a weak generation. We do not live up to the great heroes and saints of the past. Such is the deception of our times. Our culture, even our humanity is becoming deformed.
So deformed, it's difficult for us to recognize just how far we fall short of the lives of Christians of the past. So let us not try to do extraordinary ascetical things. Let's just try to live out the simplicity of the Christian faith. This is our calling in this generation and it will be enough. It will be enough if we can live truly just Christian lives for this will be hard enough for us in this day.
Let us try to repent of our sins, let's try to pray, to go to church, to receive Holy Communion, to confess. Let's try to forgive one another. To have love in our hearts. And when we see anger and hatred and all those passions, let's just turn to God, let us truly repent and root out these sins. This is our calling to live out the simplicity of the gospel.
In this age. It is so easy for us to, to be deceived, to fall into deception. This is an age of deception. So many lies, so much confusion, so much that is so far from the truth of God. That is always remember the things of this world, a moment, our lives are like a blink of an eye, the struggles, the pains, the difficulties that this world throws us, the things that God permits us to endure, so short-lived.
Like St. Stephen, let us set our vision on the things that are eternal, the kingdom of God, the glory of God. And if we can find the strength to live a simple Christian life to live out the life of the gospel, we will find in the Holy Spirit, hope, hope that will bring us peace. And this peace of Christ is something we must protect, hold onto as a precious thing. Nurture it with a simple Christian life.
We are living in a world where, rapidly in an accelerating way, the things that we believe will not only be alien, there will be hostility, open hostility to the Christian faith. We're seeing it already, the things in California schools. The things that the government and local government are imposing on churches in California and Canada.
These things are happening now, but do not be afraid. Let us not lose our peace. Let us not be afraid. Christ is with us. Christ is the Victor in all things, He has overcome death. He has overcome the devil. He has risen. Our humanity is risen with him and we will rise again. Judgment is coming. Let's prepare for that judgment.
Let us fear the judgment of God, not the things, the tempo, the momentary things of this world. And in this way, like St. Stephen, whatever our accusers say, whatever persecution may arise, may we truly find that peace by setting our vision on the kingdom of God.
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