Faith in the Church is Mental Asceticism

St. Hilarion Troitsky 1886-1929

Faith in the Church is a podvig [spiritual struggle; an ascetic feat], and not an easy one, and sometimes it is beyond the strength of our contemporaries. Living within the Church means, first of all, to love, to live by love; and to live by love means to struggle against sinful self-love, from which people suffer a great deal. In particular, faith in the Church is a podvig for the mind, because the Church demands its submission. To make one’s reason submit to the Church is especially difficult, because this submission unfailingly affects one’s whole life. With regard to the Church, the podvig of the mind is connected with the podvig of the will. Imagine for a moment that people completely submit to the Church. How many idols, how many gods and graven images must they cast down? Not only the Dnieper, but an entire sea would be needed to sink all those idols. And yet, not even one podvig of the mind comes easily to a man whose reason makes him proud. Bishop Theophan the Recluse says: “It is remarkable how Wisdom calls to herself the foolish: Whoso is foolish, let him turn aside to me (Prov. 9:4). Accordingly, the clever are barred from entering into the House of Wisdom, or the Holy Church. One must lay aside every kind of cleverness at the very entrance of this House. On the other hand, if all wisdom and knowledge are to be found within the House of Wisdom, then outside this House, outside the Holy Church, only foolishness, ignorance and blindness prevail. How wondrous is that which God has established! When you enter the Church, put aside your own mind, and you will become truly wise; cast away your self-centered activity, and you will become truly active; renounce your own self, and you will truly become master over yourself. Ah, if only the world could grasp this wisdom! But this is hidden from it. Not understanding the wisdom of God, the world clamors against it, and the world keeps these senseless sensible ones in their blindness.” (Holy Scripture and the Church)


  1. I can attest to the world outside of the Church. Satan blinded me to truth for so long. Not only was I kept ignorant, I was proud of my ignorance. The media unwittingly did the work of Satan every time they showed St. Basils Cathedral along with Soviet missiles and soldiers marching in Moscow. All I knew of the Orthodox Church was that it had something to do with the enemy that wanted to destroy my country. I had to put aside my own mind just to consider the Orthodox Church as a destination. I know I have many more obstacles to overcome, but I have already overcome a huge mountain. Thanks be to God! I look forward to embracing the wisdom of the Church as I continue my journey in Christ.

  2. Holy Hieromartyr Hilarion’s scroll reads: “Without the Church, there is no salvation.”

  3. Thank you, Maximus! This is wonderful!

  4. Thank you for the link Maximus. I do have a question after listening to the recordings. I have questioned my baptism, in the Baptist church, ever since I started the journey to the Orthodox Church. The OCA has made it clear that they will not rebaptize me. Is this common across the Orthodox Church?

  5. Great question, Toby. The reception of converts has always created controversy in the Church and always varied. As you heard in the recordings, the ancient Roman practice differed from the practices of the N. African and Eastern churches. I agree with the stance taken by Ss. Cyrprian and Firmilian, yet my beloved St. Vincent of Lerins agrees with Pope St. Stephen:

    Once on a time then, Agripinnus, bishop of Carthage, of venerable memory, held the doctrine— and he was the first who held it— that Baptism ought to be repeated, contrary to the divine canon, contrary to the rule of the universal Church, contrary to the customs and institutions of our ancestors. This innovation drew after it such an amount of evil, that it not only gave an example of sacrilege to heretics of all sorts, but proved an occasion of error to certain Catholics even.

    When then all men protested against the novelty, and the priesthood everywhere, each as his zeal prompted him, opposed it, Pope Stephen of blessed memory, Prelate of the Apostolic See, in conjunction indeed with his colleagues but yet himself the foremost, withstood it, thinking it right, I doubt not, that as he exceeded all others in the authority of his place, so he should also in the devotion of his faith. In fine, in an epistle sent at the time to Africa, he laid down this rule: “Let there be no innovation— nothing but what has been handed down.” For that holy and prudent man well knew that true piety admits no other rule than that whatsoever things have been faithfully received from our fathers the same are to be faithfully consigned to our children; and that it is our duty, not to lead religion whither we would, but rather to follow religion whither it leads; and that it is the part of Christian modesty and gravity not to hand down our own beliefs or observances to those who come after us, but to preserve and keep what we have received from those who went before us. What then was the issue of the whole matter? What but the usual and customary one? Antiquity was retained, novelty was rejected. (Commonitory 6.16)

    The reception of converts is also one of issues that the Episcopal Assembly plans to address and regularize. It’s a complex issue as you’ve seen and it wasn’t un-common even in the ancient church to be received by chrismation. This is from St. Basil’s Canonical Epistle to Amphilocius:

    As for the Cathari, they too are to be classed as schismatics. Nevertheless, it seemed best to the ancient authorities those, I mean, who, form the party of Cyprian and our own Firmilian – to class them all under one head, including Cathari and Encratites and Aquarians and Apotactites; because the beginning, true enough, of the separation resulted through a schism, but those who seceded from the Church had not the grace of the Holy Spirit upon them; for the impartation thereof ceased with the interruption of the service. For although the ones who were the first to depart had been ordained by the Fathers and with the imposition of their hands they had obtained the gracious gift of the Spirit, yet after breaking away they became laymen, and had no authority either to baptize or to ordain anyone, nor could they impart the grace of the Spirit to others, after they themselves had forfeited it. Wherefore they bade that those baptized by them should be regarded as baptized by laymen, and that when they came to join the Church they should have to be re-cleansed by the true baptism as prescribed by the Church. Inasmuch, however, as it has seemed best to some in the regions of Asia, out of economy to many, to accept their baptism, let it be accepted. for the case of the Encratites, however, it is necessary for us to look upon it as a crime, since as though to make themselves unacceptable to the Church they have attempted to anticipate the situation by advocating a baptism of their own; hence they themselves have run counter to their own custom I deem, therefore, that since there is nothing definitely prescribed as regards them, it was fitting that we should set their baptism aside, and if any of them appears to have left them, he shall be baptized upon joining the Church. If, however, this is to become an obstacle in the general economy (of the Church), we must again adopt the custom and follow the Fathers who economically regulated the affairs of our Church. For I am inclined to suspect that we may by the severity of the proposition actually prevent men from being saved because of their being too indolent in regard to baptism. But if they keep our baptism, let this not deter us. For we are not obliged to return thanks to them, but to serve the Canons with exactitude.(Canon 1)

    Reception by chrismation has always been an economical gesture so as to put no impediment to those joining the Church. I was also received by chrismation and I also would have preferred to be baptized. If it makes you feel better, the Holy New Martyr Grand Duchess Elizabeth was received into the Russian Church by chrismation as was one of my favorite ecclesiastical writers, Hieromonk Seraphim Rose. I’m still sorting this issue out so I hope this helps. It’s an issue best left to bishops in council.

    If you want to read more about this complex issue these articles are outstanding. They also deal with some of the reasons that the practice varies:

  6. Toby, I was going to make this into a post but I didn’t know what to title it so I’ll just let it accompany the post and our thread. We know exactly how this ancient convert feels, amen?

    St. Dionysius of Alexandria ca. 190-265

    For truly, brother, I have need of advice, and I crave your judgment, lest perchance I should be mistaken upon the matters which in such wise happen to me. One of the brethren who come together to the church, who for some time has been esteemed as a believer and who before my ordination, and, if I am not deceived, before even the episcopate of Heraclas himself, had been a partaker of the assembly of the faithful, when he had been concerned in the baptism of those who were lately baptized, and had heard the interrogatories and their answers, came to me in tears, and bewailing his lot. And throwing himself at my feet, he began to confess and to protest that this baptism by which he had been initiated among heretics was not of this kind, nor had it anything whatever in common with this of ours, because that it was full of blasphemy and impiety. And he said that his soul was pierced with a very bitter sense of sorrow, and that he did not dare even to lift up his eyes to God, because he had been initiated by those wicked words and things. Wherefore he besought that, by this purest laver, he might be endowed with adoption and grace. And I, indeed, have not dared to do this; but I have said that the long course of communion had been sufficient for this. For I should not dare to renew afresh, after all, one who had heard the giving of thanks, and who had answered with others Amen; who had stood at the holy table, and had stretched forth his hands to receive the blessed food, and had received it, and for a very long time had been a partaker of the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. Henceforth I bade him be of good courage, and approach to the sacred elements with a firm faith and a good conscience, and become a partaker of them. But he makes no end of his wailing, and shrinks from approaching to the table; and scarcely, when entreated, can he bear to be present at the prayers. (Epistle 9: To Sixtus II)

Speak Your Mind