Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS AND IS AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ. ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.
By Father Anthony Alevizopoulos, PhD. of Theology, PhD. of Philosophy
Man can have the feeling of the presence of Divine Grace in his life, i.e., he can have spiritual experiences. Holy Scripture, however, recommends to the faithful: "Beloved, do not believe in every spirit, but test the spirits to see if they are from God." It further underlines that many false prophets have come into the world and it further shows ways in which one can judge and discern the spirit of truth from the spirit of error, i.e., the genuine from the counterfeit experiences (1 John 4: 1-6).
It must be emphasized at the outset, that Holy Scripture does not place experience at the center of our interests, nor does it elevate it to something absolute. Faith in Jesus Christ, and not personal experience is placed at the center of the Christian confession. This confession differentiates the Christian Church from the Hebrew Synagogue; whosoever confessed Christ was thought to have denied the Jewish Synagogue; and was declared an outcast from it (St. John 2:22; 12:42). The Christian's experience is modified by this confession [of Jesus Christ] and is not independent of it (Romans 10:9). The confession of Faith is not the result of experience but exactly the opposite: experience is acquired in unity with confession and the life of the Church. In this way the Orthodox Christian is not in danger of falling into subjectivity and error through personal experience.
The Apostle Paul does not base the Gospel which he preaches on his own individual experience but on the experience of others: Peter's, that of the Twelve, that of the five hundred, James' and the rest of the Apostles. He refers to himself as the last of all; he says, "last of all, as one untimely born, He appeared also to me," in order to add further along that he is what he is through the Grace of God. Whether, then it was I, or they," he concludes, "so we proclaim and do you come to believe" (I Corinthians 15:1-11). He does not sever himself from the Church, nor does he base himself on his own personal experience, which he does not even emphasize.
The content of the faith, then, is neither conditioned not shaped by each one's personal experience, but is handed down and is received in the Church (I Timothy 6:20; II Timothy 1:14, 2:2; Jude 3). "As the prophets saw, as the Apostles taught, as the Church received, as the teachers dogmatized…as the Truth was proven…so do we believe, so do we speak, so do we declare" (The Seventh Ecumenical Council).
That the content of the faith constitutes the norm and standard by which the genuineness of the experience is measured, can be seen in the example of Saint Thomas for whom, like the Jews, "The sign", the experience of the miracle, had paramount significance. This, however, is overcome by the words of Christ: "Blessed are those who do not see and yet believe", i.e., blessed are those who do not base themselves on their own personal experience (St. John 20:28-29).
Another "measure and standard" for determining the authenticity of experience is the obedience to Christ's teachings; the Apostle underlines that he who violates and does not abide in the teaching so Christ "does not have God" (II John 9). The entire spiritual life of the believer is understood, of course, as life in the Holy Spirit, as a gift of the Holy Spirit which is the fruit of God's love. As we have already mentioned, gifts of God which are an offering, presuppose the complete acceptance of this love on man's part. Man proves his deep desire to accept God's love by offering to Him his complete love; he must humble his mind, his flesh, together with his passions and desires and his entire self to God (St. Matthew 22:37; Romans 5:12; Gal. 5:24). God accepts this offering and with His Grace He sanctifies and transforms the labor of human man into gifts of the Holy Spirit which are joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control and, above all, love (Gal. 5:22-23), the greatest gift of the Holy Spirit. Without this total humility on man's part, spiritual experiences are not granted; and if they do exist they do not come from the Spirit of God (St. James 4:6; I Peter 5:5).
These experiences of the Saints in Jesus Christ have all the characteristics which we have mentioned. They were experiences of the Church and not of individuals. Consequently, all those who put forth spiritual experiences and 'signs' without the characteristics that we have mentioned accompanying them have been deceived by the spirit of error. Such false experiences are already known from the Old Testament, and indeed appear outwardly as being similar to the genuine experiences (Exodus 7:10-11; 20-22; 8:18). Christ Himself informed us that false messiahs, false teachers and false prophets would work 'signs' in order to bring about confusion and to deceive even the elect, if possible (St. Matthew 24:24-25. cf. Rev. 13:12-18).
The Apostle Paul informs the Christians of Corinth that the reference here is to false apostles and "deceitful workers" who disguise themselves as Apostles of Christ, just as Satan "transforms himself into an Angel of Light". It is not surprising then, the Apostle concludes, if the Devil's servants also disguise themselves as ministers of righteousness. Their end will match their deeds (II Corinthians 11:13-15).
Personal note: God bless Father Antonios Alevizopoulos for bringing this most necessary and important Christian message to us all. Everything that he presents to us through the Sacred Scripture and our Holy Orthodox Church must be taken seriously today. We must be vigilant and always watchful not to be deceived by false prophets and teachers who disguise themselves as "preachers of the gospel" for they are not.
I have witnessed personally throughout the 43 year diakonia Greek Orthodox Christians leaving the Church of Christ and following these deceivers and charlatans. They are easy prey because all of them that abandon Christ and the Church know absolutely nothing of their Orthodox Christian Faith that millions of martyrs have given their lives for, for over 2,000 years. They are enticed by the modern facilities, entertainment, their theatrics and impressive speakers, by the thousands of naïve and gullible people that follow them (not Christ), by the fact that there is no discipline, no Church laws, no Priesthood, and make them feel that they are independent, "special", and they can express themselves and their faith as they see fit, they puff up their ego, self-esteem and pride, etc. etc. Also, there is no accountability for their actions whatever they are, there is no such thing as sin, hell, morality, and that it is "all inclusive" i.e., no one is turned away because of their lifestyle no matter if it is a lifestyle that is directly against the Divine Commandments of God and the Divine Teachings of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Everything is condoned by them and each one can express themselves as they wish.
To show you how dangerous our days are that even a Greek Orthodox priest in Florida was deceived by one of these charlatans and "false prophets" who still has a TV ministry world-wide and turned against his Church and Orthodox Christian faith. Since he has repented and thanks be to God he is back in the Church. You can see from this example that these deceivers are very good at what they do and are able to attract and mislead people who are not careful and aware of the dangers. "Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the son of disobedience. Therefore do not be partakers with them." (Ephesians 5:6).
When you make your decision to abandon your Church not only do you put your own salvation in jeopardy but that of your children and husband or wife. Our Church forbids Orthodox Christians to belong to other religions and actively participate in their services. Don't try to do it secretly from your parish priest and attempt to deceive him and your fellow parishioners. "No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other" (St. Luke 16:13).
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God