Who’s Afraid Of Death? The Christian Church Is!

While I am distinctly Eastern Orthodox in my theology, there are nonetheless a number of fine priests in Roman Catholicism whom I admire and who are living exemplary lives. I read this from a blog piece of 27 March 2020:

I am disturbed to serious anger when I have a sense that bishops are giving priority to the worldly over the spiritual in this time of pandemic, as if they are functionaries of the CDC rather successors of the Apostles.

For the most part, I think bishops and priests are good men.  They are, however, men of their own epoch, not another. We live in a radically secularized world now, where there is little sense of the transcendent. This is the result of the relentless onslaught of the world, the flesh and the Devil, ratcheting up by orders of magnitude over the last decades. Also ratcheting down has been the sense of the sacred, because of the stripping of sacred worship and catechesis of the sense of the sacred, the transcendent. I suspect that many priests and bishops are really immanentists. They are, deep down modernists. That is, they reduce the supernatural to the natural at every turn. I don’t like that idea, but, right now, I think we have evidence that it’s true.

I agree with Fr. Z.  In America, at least, we have lost any sense of the transcendent. David Bentley Hart writes, in an excellent piece decrying modern “Christianity,” that we have come to a point in which the Christian faith would hardly be recognized by those Christians of the first century who submitted to martyrdom, not grasping at the world as if it were a prize to be clung to, but realizing that the true life, the life that is real and is not an illusion, lies beyond the valley of the shadow of death. In America today, Christianity, so called, has come to the point where the idea of communal sharing, of the parish as family, and a high disdain for those who hoard their wealth in the face of grinding poverty, gets you ostracized as a bit of a nut case and pejoratively called a Socialist in guarded whispers behind your back. Our lives are filled with the riches of NFL games, sexual freedom to fornicate with anyone who will return the favor, bank accounts fat with dollars, luxuriant cruise ship vacations, and a host of other goodies which would make Egyptian kings of old absolutely green with envy. Meanwhile, we get to have all this and identify ourselves with Jesus. Modern advertizing has convinced us that paradise is indeed now, and if you want to worship in some form, well, that’s all fine and good, but don’t be a fanatic about it. Don’t you dare pound the streets insisting that abortion is murder in the eyes of God. Don’t you show up at school board meetings and denounce the propagandizing of young children into transgenderism and homosexual behavior. How dare you say that there shouldn’t be such a thing as a billionaire while people are starving in the world. And if the government declares a pandemic – dammit, you obey – NOW!

You know what the response of the American bishops should have been to any government ordering them to shut down?

From the Church to the virus!

Yeah, that’s right!  Because A.) some things are more important than our fleeting life on earth here and B.) more and more information is coming out to show us that the so-called “pandemic” has been wildly overblown by lying media and politicians who are trying to use it to some nefarious end. Yet through the simple means of a veiled threat – right now resulting in just .01% infection rate of the general population – the God-haters in government have managed to do what the Muslims in the Middle East have failed to do, shut down Christianity and halt the hated Sacraments from being celebrated. I have to think that the bishops, priests, and laity of the Middle East, who every Sunday faithfully celebrate the Liturgy with an immense chance of being blown up, or dragged out of their churches and having their throats cut in public, look at us and shake their heads in disbelief at how easily we caved.

But this is what happens when your faith is in the secular world around you rather than in Christ. When clinging to this life is more important than looking forward to the next life. The 40 Martyrs of Sebaste sneer at us for our faithlessness. St. Jusin Martyr is praying for us to grow a spine and die like a Christians if necessary. The millions of martyred Christians who were murdered by the Russian Communists look down from heaven and weep over our faithlessness. Jesus says, “Come share in the suffering of my Cross so as to receive my Body and Blood” and we say,  “Uhhhhh…no thanks.”

The churches did not have to be shut down. “But what about the elderly and those with underlying conditions?”

If you are one of those who are elderly or have underlying issues, you are dispensed. Don’t you know that? And if you have someone like that in your house, you also are dispensed. But you do not shut down an entire village for the sake of a few. You take reasonable and prudent precautions for them and life goes on.

But more than that, as one Internet poster observed, we have forty thousand deaths a year from automobile accidents. Shall we ban automobiles? Alcohol kills thousands every year. Shall we ban it? And I could go on and on.

Doctors and nurses, firefighters and emergency personnel, are being lauded online for putting their lives at risk because their services are needed. Yet the true service that is needed, the life-giving Sacraments of the Church, are being withheld, even from those who need the Sacrament of Extreme Unction as they lie in bed dreadfully sick and near death. What testimony does this cowardice on our parts give the majority of those who are not believers? Do they seriously think we believe in eternal life when we cling so ferociously to this life? Will they be converted to Christ, as the pagans in Rome were when they observed the Christians march into the amphitheater and die with smiles on their faces and hymns on their lips?

And what of the God-haters in government? I guarantee you this little experiment – and I believe that is exactly what this is, an experiement to see just how much control they have – and the way the bishops folded under pressure, will embolden them to push harder to outlaw the church in the future. Don’t think so? Neither did the Russians under Stalin.

And finally, please understand, I am writing this about myself as well. My faith needs to be much stronger than the strong words I have written today. I have been secualarized right along with the rest of the American church. I cannot tell you how many times I have prayed at night and asked God for the courage of martyrdom because I am a coward inside and I know it.  I need that sense of the transcendent that Fr. Z. speaks of in his blog piece so that when death confronts me in the form of some government stooge pointing a gun at my head, I can say “Glory to Jesus Christ.” I don’t have it right now.

In two weeks, IF there are Easter Services, the refrain that is usually chanted in Eastern Christian churches is “Christ is risen from the dead. By death He conquered death. And to those in the graves, He granted life.”  From the way we are behaving in the face of an illness, I wonder if we really believe it?

Kudos, Fr. Z.  You hit the nail squarely on the head today!

6 comments

  1. I really like that refrain! By death He conquered death. And to those in the graves, He granted life!

    Yes, this makes it horridly obvious that there is a very simple, obvious reason why there is no evident persecution of Christians in America: because almost no Christians act like Christians and so, even if someone wants to persecute Christianity, where is the Christianity to persecute? There is no need to posit any other explanation.

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    • Dear Raina – I remember the first year in the Church, when I came in as a convert. That beautiful refrain rang in my heart for hours after we had gone home to enjoy our Pascal feasts and admire the Psanky eggs we made.

      I was thinking about this again this morning, thinking of the Christians who are living today in Pakistan and other areas where they are hated unto death. I was thinking about how they attend the Liturgy with love for Christ in their hearts, knowing that any moment could bring them into His presence with a BANG! Yet they do not cringe in fear in their houses. They go, fully aware of this.

      I think in this country we have become so secularized (which is the point of this piece) that we do not keep death in the forefront of our minds. I understand that monks would often keep a human skull in their cells to remind them of “Tempis Fugit Momento Mori” (Time Flies – Remember Death).

      And I am guilty of this myself. I hope to come to a time in my life when I can look death in the eye with the same joy that the marytrs did. I am not there now.

      Thank you for your kind and frequent comments on my offerings.

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      • I cannot partipate in your “we have become so secularized” paragraph. I would welcome it if I found a group of Christians meeting together with whom I could meet UNDER THREAT OF DEATH as long as they weren’t the ones threatening me.

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      • It seems that not everyone in “this country” is too secularized to act like Christians – I’ve heard that one or two pastors have been arrested for saying that Christians do not need to be afraid AND continuing to hold gatherings – and, doubtless, for them to continue to hold gatherings there are other people who are at least willing to gather.

        By the way – and this is NO criticism of the monks and others like them – but I think the early martyrs did not so much keep “death in the forefront of [their] minds” but the Resurrection from the dead, the Parousia, Heaven. “To live is Christ, to die is gain.” That, at any rate, is the way of thinking (or talking) about these things that works for me.

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  2. I’m a Greek Catholic, and would willingly risk my life for the Life-giving Eucharist.

    It is quite possibly persecution-unto-the-death which will reunite divided Christians – the real ones – as Vladimir Soloviev portrayed in A Short Tale of Antichrist.

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    • Please pray for me as I am hoping to enter the OCA in a short while, God willing. Things have to come in line for me, but I think I see a path opening.

      Many people would indeed value receiving the Holy Mysteries over their own lives. God bless you, sir!

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