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The Orthodox Ethos Podcast
Episode 4
April 13th, 2020

The Triumphal Entry of Christ and the Last Temptation of Christians

In this episode Fr. Peter examines the Triumphal Entry of Christ into Jerusalem and the persons and scenes which accompany it, with special attention to the temptation of turning the Church earthward and embracing a "social gospel," Christ without the Cross and the Church refitted to serve the world as an end in itself. 

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The Triumphant Entry of Christ into Jerusalem and The Last Temptation of Christians

Today on this special edition of the Orthodox Ethos podcast, The Triumphant Entry of Christ into Jerusalem and The Last Temptation of Christians.

So we have arrived at the end of the 40-day fast, we have now entered the great and Holy Week, leading up to Pascha, and the events of the passion and resurrection of our Lord. And we have commemorated this morning in church the events of the great triumphant entry of our Lord into Jerusalem.

We will recount quickly the Gospels and discuss some aspects of it, which are so important for us, that we daily run to the Scriptures and look there for our daily life’s guidance, the meaning of our life that we find here in the Scriptures.

You remember the great event of the resurrection of Lazarus, which we just celebrated yesterday, on the Saturday of Lazarus.

And now, in the Scriptures (John 12:1-18) we hear of our Lord coming back to Bethany, to Lazarus and Marth and Mary, and sitting at table with them.

And Mary takes a pound of anointment, very costly, and wipes the feet of our Lord with great love for Him and the house was filled with the scent of the ointment. And one of the disciples is scandalized, Judas, the one who will betray him. And he asked: “Why was not this ointment sold for 300 pence and given to the poor?”

The beloved disciple of our Lord, the apostle John who writes the Gospel that we are reading, says, boldly and amazingly, the apostle of love says - with a love of truth - [he] says: He cared not for the poor. He was a thief. And he had the bag, which he took from. And the Lord answers him, and answers everyone who will come after him with this same temptation, this love of money and power, and authority: “Let her alone, for against the day of my burying has she kept this.” And he answers: “For the poor always ye have with you, but me ye have not always.”

So, the people knew Jesus was there. They came not for Jesus’s sake only, but that they might see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. And the Chief Priests, the Chief Priests play a prominent role in this Gospel as well, they consulted that they might put Lazarus to death because he was a threat to their authority. On account of him, so many were believing in Christ.

And so the next day, many people that were come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, they took branches of palm trees. They went forth to meet him and they cried: “Hosanna in the highest, blessed is the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord!” The famous saying that we all chant in our churches today.

And Jesus who had found a young colt, he sat thereon; this was to fulfil the prophecies, which the apostles did not immediately understand, but later came to understand, that which is written: Fear not, daughter of Zion: behold, thy King cometh, sitting on an ass’s colt.

So when the people who were there when he had called Lazarus out of his grave, and raised him from the dead, they bare record of the fulfilment of this. For this cause the people also met him when he came to Jerusalem, that they heard that he had done this miracle. And this is so characteristic of people of every age, we seek after miracles in order to believe. But our Lord has answered this temptation, this is a temptation, to remain in the love of a miracle and not in the love of the person of Christ.

And he says: “An evil and adulterous generation seeks a sign: and a sign shall not be given it, but the sign of Jonas the prophet.” In other words, the resurrection is the sign, the only sign that matters. The death and resurrection of our Lord.

They sought our Lord because of the miracle, for the raising of Lazarus. This embrace was not deep; it was superficial; it was worldly. Even the Disciples scattered. Even Peter denied Him. And those who chanted “Hosanna” will in one week, say “Crucify him,” the same people, some of the same people.

The question is: How is this possible? For them to, on one hand, to say hosanna, and on the next to say crucify him. We’ll look at this a little bit further on. And the chief priests are there, and they seek to kill Him and Lazarus. Why? Why do they seek to kill our Lord and Lazarus?

Because they could not stand to hear “Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord,” this is a threat to their power, a threat to their authority, their place in Jerusalem. But also because they were not expecting, and did not desire a Messiah that would free them from death and sin, but from the yoke of the Romans, and to give them power that they sought.

See, they had apostatized, long before. They had gone over to the enemy. As our Lord testifies, he says: “Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do.” So, it cannot be explained - the stance of the Pharisees, the stance of our Lord to the Pharisees - cannot be explained so simply as a matter of the passions. It is always both of course. It is the passions that the enemy takes advantage of.

And it’s the same in our day, we have many who are apostatizing from our Lord because of the passions, and serving, thereby, the enemy. And of course the passions are the beginning of the path of destruction. But it is not that simple. Here we have those who are consciously seeking to kill the savior that the Lord our God had sent for the people themselves. So something very deep and sick is at work here, and it is that they had apostatized. They had become servants of the enemy.

And many believe that this apostasy, this sickness began among the people of God during the Babylon captivity. And so you can see in one people of God - and this is the case throughout the history of the people of God - that you had a segment which was the remnant, which was the faithful people. And you had those who were consistently apostatizing and worshiping the idols. So this is the same with our Lord and the days of our Lord.

We also have an apostle who is sick with the love of power, and seeking an earthly king. That is Judas. He sees the Christ, not as the savior from death and sin, but as an earthly king, with earthly power. In last week’s Gospel we see our Lord addressing this love of power, love of authority, love of glory, when James and John come, and they ask - right in the middle of our Lord explaining that he is going to the cross, and explaining and talking about his passion.

They ask: “Grant unto us that we may sit, one on thy right hand, and one on the left, in thy glory.” And our Lord answers and says: “Ye do not know of what you speak.” You do not know of what you speak. To give that, it is not mine to give, but it presupposes synergy, the freewill and the use of our freewill to become one with God. You see, this presupposes - there are presuppositions to the glory of God.

And it shall be given to them, He says, to them for whom it is prepared. And what are those presuppositions? They are love, struggle, asceticism, self-denial. Love, in one word, but true love, love of the cross, the embrace of the cross, the crucifixion of the intellect and the desires.

These are the things which, even the Lord, cannot give, but we have to want and together with the Lord, it is given to us. And it is presupposed that our freedom is used in that direction, however. This is the kind of authority that is gained by Christians. It is given by God, but it is acquired by those who have fulfilled the presuppositions and used their freedom properly.

And he goes on and he says: the temptation that you must avoid, which the Pharisees and all of those who seek after worldly power, and in our own day, even within the church, people have fallen into this temptation. It is this temptation to rule over others, like the Gentiles. They exercise lordship over them. It should not be like this with you. There are great ones who have authority over them, but not this with you. Whoever shall be great among you shall be your minister, your servant.

So this is the authority in the church, it is spiritual authority. The authority rests with the Saints of every age, those gifted with the gifts of the Holy Spirit. They are our authorities in the church. In every age, they are our authorities. Everyone else submits to them, including the bishops, the patriarchs, the holy synods, and the last lay person, submits to the Saints and the authority of the Saints.

And when, those who sit on thrones - whether it is in the time of Moses, or the time of our Lord’s walk on this earth, or in our time - who have legal power do not also have spiritual authority because they have not passed through the crucible, the crucifixion of love and purification and illumination that comes as a fruit of that crucifixion. They are threatened by this spiritual authority, by this essential authority which comes from our Lord and in, through the Saints of every age.

It is then, as now; in every age, it is the same. Christ comes with the essential power, the power over death and the devil. And it is a threat, and that is why they seek to kill him. Not just then, but now. They seek to kill Christ and Lazarus and all those miracles that he works for the sake of those weak in faith, and all of those, the presence of God, which breaks through into history to free men from slavery. All of these things they seek to squelch, to silence, so that people do not follow after Christ. It is the same today in our day.

They do everything so that people do not become true disciples of Christ, and do not repent, do not hear the Gospel, that they do not become enlightened by Christ. On the other hand, the people themselves, the faithful, have a great temptation, and that is to seek after miracles and not love.

So we come back to this temptation that they had. It is an excuse. Seeking after miracles is an excuse - then, when they don’t find them or don’t see them, do not have to kill the passions, do not have to be crucified. It is [also] a fear. We want the miracles so that we are justified to believe, and without them we can be justified in our apathy and our indifference.

We are fearful of the struggle. We are fearful of beginning to truly love. And love is difficult. Love means crucifixion, sacrifice, self-denial, patience, the virtues, all of the virtues together because love does not exist outside the whole context of the virtues.

It is not love that they talk about in this day and age, this superficial, weak, sick love that is self-love. But it is true love. And true love, the love of the cross, the love shown by our Lord on the cross, does not come without all the other virtues, because it is not human alone. It is divine-human. It is a synergy. It is given by God to those who struggle, we said.

And so that love, together with all the other virtues, comes to man and dwells in him. It is the grace and the presence of the divine energies of the Holy Spirit, God. It is the gift of the Holy Spirit. He brings with him all of the virtues and dwells in those who are made worthy.

In order for us, however, to reach that point where we have the courage and strength and faith to be crucified, and to crucify our intellect, and to everyday deny ourselves, we have to be inspired. We have to be inspired to love. We have to be inspired to embrace the cross. It is impossible for us to do this without this grace that is given by God.

And where are we going to find it when we go continually to the source, to Christ, and in the Scriptures and in the lives of the Saints. We are to be inspired by their love, that we might love like them. And then obtain this state of purification in which, then, the Lord can come and dwell in us. So the virtues are a gift, yes, but the presuppositions for obtaining that gift, as we said, need to be met.

Virtues are the grace of God, yes, but the grace of God comes to those who love Christ. So we say “yes” to Christ and “no” to the passions. And the virtues come as a gift. If we acquire human virtues alone, by our own power, they are poor. They are transitory, they leave as quickly as they came when we are tempted. And that’s exactly what happened to the people who sang “Hosanna,” and then said, “Crucify him.” They had this superficial passing virtue of being in awe, or being in desire for being with he who is great and wondrous and all the rest of the various human desires to be next to the Christ.

This true love comes to those who love the person of Christ. They loved what Christ was doing, they loved the impression that was made, not just his miracles. It is not enough just to love his miracles, but [we have] to love His person. Not just the raising of Lazarus, the person of Christ.

This love is acquired by those who have seen in Christ their God, their redeemer, their own image, their own existence. When we look at Christ and we say he is everything, all in all, without him I am nothing, better to die than to live without Christ. This kind of relationship with the person of Christ, this is the true love, when we see in him our own existence. Without him we are nothing.

He is the prototype. We are in his image. And without him, again, there is no meaning in this life. That kind of love. This goes deep. The other love comes and goes. When there is pressure, when there is temptation. When the antichrist or the Pharisees, or whoever or whatever it might be between the first and second comings, pressures the Christians. Those who have the superficial love, they flee. They deny Christ. They crucify him.

In the Gospel, everything is explained. We see it in this Gospel, the history of the world, the future of the world, our human nature, the anthropology, the cosmology, the soteriology, everything is there.

We need to come continually and find all the answers we are seeking. We talked about the sickness of the love of power, the love of the miracle-working power. We talked about the sickness that sees the Christ as someone who comes and makes this life better, returns people to this life, gives them health and body - only this kind of savior. The church as a savior on the societal level, as a servant of man in this world, as a healer of social ills.

This is another kind of sickness, another kind of delusion, that is very prominent in our day, just like it was in the days of our Lord walking on the earth. We see Judas was scandalized by the costly ointment poured upon the Lord’s feet. People are scandalized by the love of the people, and pouring out their treasures and beautifying the churches, for example.

And our Lord comes and answers this scandalized people, this thought process of every Judas, of every weak in faith, every liberation theology, every degradation of the good news of our eternal life, to a social gospel.

He comes and answers and says: The poor always ye will have with you, but me, ye have not always. What does this teach us in our day? What do we have to take away for our own situation? Well, Christ - the Church -, the Church is Christ, did not come for an earthly kingdom. He did not come to solve the problem of poverty. He did not come to give world peace in an external way.

But the antichrist will. The antichrist will come and say, everything Christ did not do that you seek, this world, to become a heaven on earth; this fallen world to be made aright, so that you can live your passions, that we can have earthly food and earthly peace, and earthly goods; the antichrist will give this. He will solve the problems that Christ refuses to solve in a superficial way. He will bring the peace and safety that people seek.

And he will have a lot of Christians who will go along with him, in this aim, and transform, as much as possible, the people of God, the Church of God, into a worldly organization, which serves the aims and the needs of this world alone. This is the fastly developing social gospel that is being appropriated and accepted by so many who are so shallow and so weak in faith today.

But this is very superficial, temporal, and passing. The antichrist, of course, will not give true peace. He cannot enrich men’s souls. He cannot give them spiritual food. And those who limit the church to this social role, are not only deluded, are not only sick, they are enemies of Christ. They stand against Christ. And Christ responds and says to them: “get behind me Satan,” just like he said to Peter when Peter said, God forbid, far be it that you would be crucified Lord. “Get behind me Satan.”

The crucifixion is our path. The cross is our way. This is the path that all true disciples of Christ follow because we do not seek an earthly kingdom, but a heavenly one. These people who stand in the midst of the Church and seek the Church to serve the world, they are a temptation. They are a Judas in our day. They want to make the Church for this world. They are even against the Church. They are working against the salvation of the world, even if they are bishops and priests, even if they are theologians.

Of course caring for the poor is a natural outgrowth of the spiritual life. Of course it is going to happen for every true Christian. But it is not an end in itself. It is not an end in itself. It is not the point. It is not the goal. This is the temptation of the last Christians, that they will fall into this trap that Judas fell into, and that the Pharisees and others in Christ’s day sought: to have Christ be a savior on that level [the social, worldly level].

But we see it all the time today. We are already living this in our day and age. It is not something that is going to come at the end only, it has already begun. And that is when people say, in the Church: don’t talk so much about hell. Don’t talk so much about the end times. Don’t talk about the second coming. Don’t talk about the soul only, or mainly. We have a body. We need to take care of it. Of course we need to take care of the body. But the hierarchy needs to be preserved. There is a hierarchy. There is a priority that must not be lost.

The current spiritual crisis of the Church that we are facing, this so-called crisis of the “corona virus” and the rest that it has brought, could be very instructive for all of us, and a point of departure from this delusional stance, which leads to destruction. And the response of many today, to the earthly life of its members, the members of the Church, it reminds us of this temptation.

We have a choice to make, how we are going to react to this temptation, temptation to exalt the social, and the physical welfare of men above the spiritual welfare.

They tell us we have to close our churches, keep people from the medicine of immortality, for a time. How long? How long will it be? It seems to be getting longer and longer by the day. And it is for the sake of the temporal welfare of the people, of the faithful. But this is a false dichotomy. This is a false dilemma. We need never deny men’s eternal life for the sake of his temporal life.

We do not need to close our doors, even for one day. One day is too long. The Lord stands at the door and he knocks, at the door of our heart, but he also knocks at the door of our churches today, and he says: “Open the doors to my people, for them to commune and be in communion with me.” These churches do not belong to any one of us, but to our Lord. He is the Lord of heaven and earth. It is His Body, and he wants everyone of us to commune of His Body and Blood.

They say to us everything, this is how the people of the world think, health above all. And they mean the health of the body. But we, as Christians talk about the health of the soul first. Even some people, prominent people in the church, talk about the Christians being in danger, the Christians are in danger today. But in danger of what?

Perhaps we will leave this passing life a little earlier? And if we do not die today, we will die soon, from some other cause. And if we survive the vaccination of the whole world, we will die in old age? So are we really in danger? How much are we really in danger? We are in danger of spiritual death as much, indeed much more, than physical death today, because of our delusions and our secularizations and our social gospels.

In fact, they tell us we are so much in danger, that we have to even cancel confession. Not even confession is possible, lest we get the virus. Above all, health. Above all, health, but which health? Of the soul or of the body? They are not opposed. They are not enemies. How did they become enemies?

“For a time, leave the health of the soul.” Is it possible? Not even one day. It is not possible, not even one day. Not even one minute. Not that we cannot be apart, for a week, or more, or in exceptional cases, for longer from the Holy Mysteries. It is the principle. It is the stance that is at stake. It is our secularization, our delusion that is at the door. It is our trampling upon our priorities, that is the problem.

And this is a great, great temptation, to degrade the Church, her life, her mission, to limit it, her service, to limit it, to the earthly needs of man. This is where the enemy wants to take us, not that we have all arrived there, but this is the temptation at the door. And we must be ever mindful of the wiles of the enemy.

He [the devil] sought to take the apostles. He got one of them into this delusion, to seek after the worldly stature for the Church, to seek and give health to the body, and make the poor better off. And the love of the miracles, chasing after them, this is what we see in the Gospel today.

But our Lord is pointing us toward the crucifixion. And he is saying, without this, without the cross, nothing can happen. No salvation is possible, so do not abandon it, even for one moment.

In our next episode, we will return to what we had planned, and that is to look at the sources of the Orthodox Ethos, and we will continue our discussion and our examination of the temptations and lessons we can learn from this present crisis. I hope you will join me.

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