Fr. Shnork Souin
Have you ever been asked about your faith? How do you answer such a question? Do you confess an orthodox Christian response, do you get into explanations of your spiritual journey or do you rationalize your ideas about religion based on feelings of nostalgia or on the basis of heritage—(Armenians are Christians)?
Let’s look at how faith is described and what the word itself means. According to the dictionary, faith is understood as either complete trust or confidence in someone or something or a strong belief in God or in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof.
Nowhere in the word does it depend on who or what your understanding of God is. Any talk of spirituality, nostalgia, our parents’ practices or heritage have anything to do with Jesus Christ. Any exchange or alternative to true faith, hope in Christ alone is false religion and is an exchange of truth for lies. (Romans 1:25)
True faith must necessarily begin and end with the person and work of Jesus Christ. The biblical explanation of “faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1) How could anyone put faith in something that they were not completely committed or dependent on? How could you hope in something that wasn’t completely sure? If a person did place any trust in that which was not worthy they would be a fool and their faith would be in vain. Anyone who was reasonable would understand this and would not place their trust on something that was unreliable. Even the faith as small as a mustard seed, if it is placed in Christ, is world without end, greater and more immeasurably grand than a faith placed in that which has no quality, undeserving of the trust we place in it (false religions, new age philosophies, any other spirituality from which Christ is absent)
In the letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul says as much when he speaks to the church about resurrection saying, “But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, the Christ has not been raised either.And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost.19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (1 Corinthians 15:12-19) Look at how he says that if the thing in which you put your trust were not assured or a reality even beyond your understanding then, you are a fool and your faith is futile. He goes on to state that we would be the most pitiable of all people, placing our trust in something unworthy of it. I’ll never forget a time when I was a young and my neighborhood friends and I wanted to play some hockey on the pond. It was late winter and a pretty warm day. I saw cracks in the ice and felt that the ice had grown thin with a few days of warmer weather. As much as I would have loved lacing on my skates and playing pond hockey for the day, I thought better of it and decided to go home. The next day, I learned that two of my buddies fell through the ice. Thankfully they were fine and didn’t duffer any ill effects that a few warm blankets, Lipton’s Chicken Noodle Soup and Hot chocolate couldn’t take care of. I learned that day that in spite of placing great faith in something, if it is unworthy of that faith, you would be disappointed and in the end a fool for depending on it.
Faith is one of the chief gifts of the Holy Spirit of God. Along with Hope and Love, the three comprise the fullness of the baptismal gifts and charisms. (1 Corinthians 13:13) Our Christian faith is firmly founded upon the rock of salvation, our Lord Jesus Christ. The parable of the wise and foolish builder illustrates this lesson well where it says the foolish builder built his house on sand but the wise builder built his house on an immovable and sturdy rock. Our faith must be the same. Only faith in Christ in the solid foundation of faith and nothing else is nearly as firm nor can we place any eternal trust or dependency on it.
A sad reality, that most of us have to learn the hard way, is that a reorientation to true faith, the faith that is trustworthy, never fails nor disappoints and is always dependable comes with crisis. The person devoid of the true life-giving faith sees in times of crisis only doom but for the faithful person it is quite miraculously just the opposite! Imagine who the greatest presidents were. The ones who overcame the greatest crisis and confronted them boldly are as such remembered. Bill Clinton once said in a post presidential lament that he could never be remembered as a great president because he never had to deal with an international crisis over which he was called to preside and overcome.
It is in times of crisis when we are driven into the embrace of the arms of a loving Savior and seek his mercy and salvation. Our cries of “Lord have mercy” resonate and resound with a cry for help, knowing that we are not in control and are helpless over illness, death and failure. St. Isaac the Syrian teaches us that “Illness is a visitation from God.” St. John the Golden-mouthed says that like the paralytic who waited 38 years to be healed, “affliction reveals the charity of God.” (John 5:1-15) The man of false faith says “God where were you when I needed you?” or “why did you let this happen to me?” The man of faith says “Lord, grant me the patience, like your holy saints in heaven whose sufferings far outweigh my own, but grant me the virtue of patience to endure my suffering (either emotional or physical), “although my outer man (physical body) withers and wastes, that through it my inner man (spirit) might be renewed day by day.” (2 Corinthians 4:16)
Christ is the rock, he is the thick ice n which we skate, he is the one who props us up. No one or nothing else can have anything close to the love, power and might of God who became a true man so that each of us might become like unto God (St. Athanasius-On the Incarnation). Through his sharing in our human suffering and death, his weakness makes us strong and his poverty makes us rich (2 Corinthians 8:9). This is not speaking of strength and wealth as the world gives “where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal” (Matthew 6:19), but the strength of God’s love and victory overcoming the world and the treasures stored up for us in heaven. (Matthew 6:20)
Rejoice in the crises that are inevitable. There is something far worse than not having a crisis to engage. It is having a crisis but not engaging it. The Christian engages it with faith, not a random hopeless faith in that which withers, but the true faith in the one and only God who alone can redeem and exalt us.
When you feel the most desperate, sick, helpless, alone or downtrodden, it is then and there where the majesty and power of Christ’s divine balm of healing avails the person of faith, the one who places her complete trust in Christ without wavering and without doubt. All things must begin and end with Jesus Christ, sealed by the Cross in baptism and sealed by the Cross in the grave, we belong to Jesus from whom, echoing the words of the Apostle Paul, we are “38 convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39) Amen.