Christian Witness in the World

Bishop Seraphim : Article
Christian Witness in the World
[[Published in the “Canadian Orthodox Messenger”, Autumn 1997]

‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake’ (Matthew 5:10-11).

But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you are blessed. “And do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled” (Isaiah 8:12). But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defence to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear (1 Peter 3:14-15).

If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified (1 Peter 4:14).

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse .…Repay no one evil for evil …. Live peaceably with all men …. Do not avenge yourselves …. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Romans 12:14-21).

Life in Christ in this world is and always has been very demanding, because we are in fact citizens not of this world, but of the Kingdom of God. As members of the Body of Christ, we are living here to be “fishers of human beings” and as pilgrims. And, as witnesses for Christ, we bring His light into the darkness of the fallenness of our environment. Darkness resists the shining of this light because it uncovers hidden fear, wrongs, evil and death. However, it also brings the opportunity to people for repentance, healing, righteousness and life. In the course of this encounter, there is often a resistance which can be quite painful to the one who bears the light, hence exhortations such as we see above.

What is even harder to bear for the believer is the fact that it is often a fellow Christian who somehow becomes an agent of pain ; and one often makes the mistake of reacting too strongly against the person, instead of understanding that sometimes, perhaps often, this person is the agent of the Lord for our correction. It is important, indeed crucial, for us to keep our focus, our sense of direction and purpose, and our ultimate end, especially if we hope to be effective witnesses for Christ and more particularly if we really hope for our own salvation. Therefore, daily repentance, together with memory of such exhortations as the above, we need to keep perpetually before us.

Since we all who follow Christ will not have an easy time of it in this life, at least not if we are faithful, it will probably help us also to have the following prayer by Saint Ignatii (Brianchaninov) of St Petersburg. As the prayer notes, the Lord in His mercy “makes the evil to be good by His goodness”, as we pray with Saint Basil the Great. This prayer is from Saint Ignatii’s collected works, and is in popular circulation (what used to be necessary for life in the former Soviet Union under the name samizdat), and bears yet wider circulation in our own environment. It is entitled A Prayer for One being persecuted by Men :

“I thank You, O my Lord and God, for all that has been inflicted upon me. I thank You for all sorrows and temptations which You have sent me for the purification of my soul and body which is defiled by sins, for the healing of soul and body which is covered with wounds through sin.

Have mercy upon, and save those instruments which You have used for my healing : those persons who have dealt me injuries. Bless them in this and the future age. Regard what they have done to me as virtues for them. Allot them abundant rewards from Your eternal treasures.

What have I offered You ? What pleasing sacrifices ? I have offered only sins, only violations of Your divine commandments. Forgive me, O Lord, forgive me who am guilty before You and before mankind. Forgive one who can give no justification. Grant me to be convinced and sincerely to acknowledge that I am a sinner. Grant me contrition of heart. Grant me meekness and humility. Grant me love towards neighbours, love undefiled — identical towards all — both those who comfort and those who grieve me. Grant me patience in all my sorrows. Make me dead before the world. Take away from me my sinful will, and plant in my heart Your holy will, that I may do Your will only, in my deeds and words and thoughts and feelings.

For everything, to You is due glory : to You alone belongs glory. My only possession is shame of face and silence of the lips. Standing before Your terrible judgment in my impoverished prayer, I find in myself not a single good deed, not a single merit. I stand before You but enveloped on all sides by the countless multitude of my sins, as it were by a thick cloud and darkness, with one consolation in my soul : with hope in Your boundless mercy and goodness — of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen”.