The Meaning of Life: Correspondence from Fr Mark Gilstrap

Several hundred postings ago, Dmitry said:

> Jesus Christ did not come to found new religion, or to establish new
> teaching…
> The sole reason some people did not accept him, was their lack of
> their original Orthodox faith – not an intellectual uncertainty in a
> “new one”.
> Yes, we speak of New Testament or “New Covenant” – which means,
> literally, ‘new treaty [of God with man]’. That was predicted by
> Prophet Jeremia – 31:31-34. This is read in the Church on the Great
> Saturday Liturgy – second last, 14th parimia. And we have the feast
> of “birthday of Christian Church” – that is, the day of Pentecost,
> the Descention of the Holy Spirit.
> But that’s not ‘another Church’ – that’s new way of revelation, new
> life in God, “new treaty” – but in the same Church.

I just received the Jul 3 edition of “Orthodox Christian Witness”
(out of HOCNA in Seattle).  On the topic of Pentecost I quote the following
about the age of the One true church  [founded by Christ and alone remaining
faithful to God’s ordering – what we call the Orthodox Church] still extant
even though founded before the creation of the world.

+       +       +

“Some erroneously hold that Pentecost is the “birthday
of the Church.”  But this is not true, for the teaching of the
holy Fathers is that the Church existed before all other things.

“In the second vision of the “Shepherd of Hermas” we read:
“Now brethren, a revelation was made unto me in my sleep by a youth of
exceeding fair form, who said to me, ‘Whom thinkest thou the aged
woman, from whom thou receivest the book to be?’   I say, ‘The
Sibyl.’  ‘Thou art wrong,’ saith he, ‘she is not.’  ‘Who then is she?
I say.  ‘The Church,’ saith he.   I said unto him, ‘Wherefore then
is she aged?’  ‘Because she was created before all things; therefore
is she aged, and for her sake the world was framed.’

“Saint Gregory the Theologian also speaks of “the Church of
Christ … both before Christ and after Christ”.

“Saint Epiphanius of Cyprus writes, “the Catholic Church,
which exists from the ages, is revealed most clearly in the incarnate
advent of Christ,”

“Saint John Damascene observes, “The Holy Catholic Church
of God, therefore, is the assembly of the holy Fathers, Patriarchs,
Prophets, Apostles, Evangelists, Martyrs who have been from the very
beginning, to whom were added all the nations who believed with one

“According to Saint Gregory the Theologian, “The prophets
established the Church, the Apostles conjoined it, and the Evangelists
set it in order.”

“The Church existed from the creation of the Angels, for the
Angels came into existance before the creation of the world, and they
have always been members of the Church.  Saint Clement, Bishop of Rome,
says in his second epistle to the Corinthians, the Church “was created
before the sun and moon”;  and a little further on, “The Church existeth
not now for the first time, but hath been from the beginning.”

“That which came to pass at Pentecost was the ordination of the
Apostles, the commencement of the apostolic preaching to the nations,
and the inauguration of the priesthood of the new Israel….according
to Saint John Chrysostom the Apostles were also appointed and raised
to the high priestly rank.

“The feast of holy Pentecost, therefore, determined the beginning
of the priesthood of grace, not the beginning of the Church.”

+       +       +

I have always found discussions with protestants to proceed well
when the history of the New Testament Church is presented.  I see now that
I’ve limited myself in this realm. The historical majesty of the existing
true church is far more impressive when you consider its pre-ancient origin.

As I’ve continued in the Faith, and hopefully grown some, I’ve
developed a greater and greater sense of the closeness of the Church
Triumphant to those who struggle here on earth.  Usually this closeness is
felt during divine services when the concelebration between heaven and earth
is a reality that has consequences.  But more specifically otherwise,
this connection has been the result of prayer to St Vladyka of San Francisco
and in the presence of the Myrrh-streaming (not as tears) Portaitissa Icon
of Montreal.  This latter connection was overwhelmingly sensible, including
a fragrance like that which St Dionysius the Aeropagite described in the
presence of the Theotokos herself, but also including the miraculous co-
operation of nature and weather in obedience to the order of the Church’s
divine services (“for whose sake the world was framed”). Any wall separating
us seems diaphanous, by God’s great mercy, at times like this.

How close then, are all those who from ages past are members of our
same Church and whose memories we commemorate daily – among whom today
(written yesterday) is Martyr Parasceve of Rome, whose helmet of salvation
took on the form of a white hot martyr’s crown.  Close also is Melchisedek,
King of Salem (=Jerusalem?), a priest-king of the True God who blessed our
forefather Abraham almost 40 centuries ago; before the Hebrew nation
before the Old Covenant; before the “founding” of the priesthood by Aaron.

But just as close or closer are those from before the ages
before the creation of this world described in Genesis.  These are the
Archangels and all the armies of the hosts who are prepared to engage the
enemies of God on our behalf, and all the others of the nine angelic orders
we know about through St Dionysius.

Closer still is God when we call out to him.  His answer may not be
obvious, for so often we are looking in the wrong direction, but within the
Church is found the foundation for our life.  It is the foundation for the
world. It has always been there – organizing created beings, angels first,
then man as well, in the praise and glory of God Who is the source of our
Life; this glory being the highest purpose of our Life.

The Church is always ready to be discovered once we turn away from
our self-willed existence, and it is always right there for you to find as
soon as you begin looking.  You who are here on the ORTHODOX list have
begun that search looking for the right glory (ortho-doxology) in the
“many lighted heaven that doth shine a guiding light upon all them that do
believe”; looking for the true dwelling place of God with men, as St
Vladimir’s emissaries found, uniquely, in the Orthodox temples.

You’ve taken the first steps, now run towards this Church that has
always existed, and which has been there to guide the steps of man since
his creation, and before that, guided the glory of the angelic hosts on high
who did not reject His authority.

So often we define ortho – dox as “correct doctrine”, but the
doctrine flows only from the Life in Christ.  Doctrine is simply a result. It is the
understanding that comes from the practice of giving correct glory to God.
Separated from that practice, doctrine is as dry leaves easily blown asunder
and easily consumed in flames.  The angels in heaven give glory.  They are
forebears in Christ and we may emulate them and gain the knowledge of exper-
ience.  The practice and purpose of “going to church” is to live this Life
in Christ; to arrange our lives to the glory of God, not to arrange the
affairs of the parish to the convenience of man.  Simply pray, and give
glory to God,  and all the rest – parish councils in particular – will
as they are – mostly frivolous affairs of fallen man.

Satan, who was apostate even before the world began, continues today
– with increased fervor, because his time is short – to draw away as many as
he can.  Don’t join him in his apostasy.  Don’t believe his lies about the
Orthodox Church, for it _is_ the same Church from which he bolted. He hates
her as he hates you.  All manner of deception is now directed against her,

Start with the prayer:  “I believe Lord; help Thou my unbelief.”

The saints of the Church knew the same temptations.

All ye saints of Christ’s Church, both “before Christ and after
Christ”, and  “before the sun and moon”, pray unto God for us all.  May we
truly join ourselves to the One Church before the time of our repentance is
past. Bring us to the original Orthodox faith handed down to us from time
immemorial.  Overcome our intellectual uncertainty that this is somehow a
new faith of the latter times – one among many – and not the One Faith
followed “with one accord” by God’s created beings from before the ages.

Forgive my long-windedness.  I’ll shut up for a while now.

Glory to God!

Deacon Mark Gilstrap — ADDRESS: 500 West 13th Street, Bloomington, IN
47404  WORK:812/855-2493  HOME:812/332-8508