Monday, September 11, 2006

The Cross, the Crescent and the Glories of This World

"To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to whomever I please."

Not that long ago in an online political discussion forum, another Orthodox Christian poster raised the question of why Islam is the fastest growing religion on earth. The answer I proposed makes the words of the Evil One to Our Lord as reported in St. Luke's Gospel, a fitting starting point for a meditation on this, the fifth anniversary of the attacks of September 11, 2001:

. . .at a material level, birthrate; at a noetic level, Islam is a nearly perfect demonic lie consonant with the interests of the prince of this world--it mingles appeals to all of the eight grievous vices catalogued by St. John Cassian (lust and gluttony in Mohammed's picture of 'paradise'; lust, wrath, and avarice in its promise of war-spoils; sloth in its fatalism; and pride, self-esteem, and (since they started losing to the West) envy in their haughty concern for every imagined slight to Islam or their 'prophet') with little fragments of true piety copied from our Orthodox traditions (prayer five times a day is the hours and compline, prostrations in prayer, women covering their heads).

This observation will doubtless offend many readers. Muslims surely because I have asserted that theirs is a doctrine of demons, but could they really, in all honesty, expect an Orthodox Christian who sings weekly, "we have found the True Faith, worshipping the Undivided Trinity, who has saved us" to hold otherwise? It surely also offends those who fancy that "all religions are ways to God."

I make no apologies to Muslims offended by my observation. A call to repentance is an expression of love. Even if you do not fully repent and embrace the Gospel of Christ, but remain adherents of Mohammed's teachings (after all, prayer five times daily is the equal of our monks, and falling prostrate before Our Creator is certainly fitting), at least repent of the fatalistic sloth that made the ummah slide further and further behind the West in scientific and economic development over the past five centuries, and of envy--the West's lead began while a Caliph still sat on the Sultan's throne in Constantinople--the downtrodden state of Muslims is of your own making, not an imposition from afar.

To others offended, I do make some apology. As an Orthodox Christian, I am simultaneously able to firmly hold that Christ is the Way, the Life and the Truth, that no man comes to the Father, but through Him, and to believe that all religions have some truth.

Indeed I have pointed to true aspects of Islam--aspects borrowed from Holy Orthodoxy.

Save those granted in revelation to the people of Israel, truths in pre-Christian religions are intuitions, human insights of truth, perhaps at hinted by the guardian angels granted to the nations before the coming of Christ, that fall short of what God has revealed in Christ, but point to Him, be it the myth of Baldur the Beautiful, which is a type of Christ somehow whispered into the midst of the demonic beliefs held by my Norse forebearers, or the imperfect intuition of the Triunity of God among the Hindus, or the Buddha's correct embrace of ascetic discipline and rejection of what the Hindus called 'gods', or Lao Tzu's understanding of the selflessness of the Way.

The truths in post-Christian religions, be it Islam or Wicca or Julian the Apostate's neo-paganism, are borrowed from the Gospel. Truths in pre-Christian religions, if signposts were ways, would be ways to God, but signposts only point to the Way, in this case to Christ. Truths in post-Christian religions are warning signs that the way has been lost.

The present conflict, begun in earnest with America's sudden awakening on that September morning five years ago, to the fact that terrorism is not a mere crime, but an act of war, has its origins not in the truths of Islam--that there is but one transcendent God, that we ought fall down before the One God, that we ought pray daily--but in the vices woven into its fabric asserting themselves once again. Envy and pride drive the leaders of the terrorists, who hide, cowering in caves from the new-wakened might of the West, even as lust for virginal 'houris' is dangled as a prize for the self-immolating cannon-fodder of the jihad.

But the devil's words should give us pause. That we have the material glories of economic power and military might, which is the envy of our enemies, outward symbols of which were the targets of that attack, should not be the ground of our hope for victory. ". . .I give it to whomever I please," the Evil One declared. While he is a liar from the beginning, the lie in the tempations of Our Lord was buried deep in, the surface meaning of the words spoken by the Evil One in each case was true. Material glory belongs to this world, which is passing away, and to the prince of this world. The seeds of cowardice sewn by the Evil One in the minds of our countrymen may yet blossom in a victory for Islam, or ourselves being victorious, we may become even more convinced of the American fallacy that we ourselves are responsible for our own fate, rather than God's providence.

It is well for those of us on the New Calendar, that a mere three days after this anniversary is the Feast of the Universal Exaltation of the Precious and Life-Giving Cross.

"O God, save Thy people, and bless Thine inheritance, granting to Thy people victory over all their enemies, and by Thy Cross preserve Thine estate,"

the democratized version of the troparion runs. Singing it now, surely feels much as it did when the words ran, ". . .granting to our believing Kings victory over all their enemies. . ."

Let us remember that the True Victory by which death and the demons and this world were overcome was wrought on the Cross; that victories over the barbarians who beset us now must partake of that Victory in some way, or they may be gifts of the Evil One, and worse than defeat; that true victories may look like the Cross, or the Field of Kosovo, or the field near Shanksville, PA.

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