The BackShop Journal

A Gallery of Thoughts on Arts, Culture and Orthodox Christian Spirituality

The Madness of Our Time

When we watch the news, listen to the radio, etc, we see that our life is becoming more and more difficult. "There is some kind of hell around us," many people say. You watch the news and it simply makes you sick. You listen to the events happening right next to your home, you are amazed and you say: "Where are we heading? Why do we have such lives? Couldn't it have been different, couldn't we have paradise?"

It could be paradise. God made us for joy, not suffering. God brought us to this world not to make our life a living hell, but so we could lead quiet, calm, cheerful, creative lives. So we could live active, but at the same time humble and peaceful lives. We could have our daily obligations, nice occupations, family, close ones, friends, something meaningful, modest, loving... Who doesn't dream about that? Our life, however, is quite the opposite: extremely tense, hard, completely exhausting, rotten. That is, it brings us illness, premature aging, and we don't know how it will end.

We know from the Gospel and the Revelation that, while Christ is still taking us in, the world will go from bad to worse. That much is obvious to us. But in spite of this we seek for another explanation of events - scientific, political, geo-physical, supernatural. Yes, even supernatural, occult, we don't accept only the divine explanations, taught by the Church and Christ.

Half of Greece is smoldering in fires, but how many people take it as a call for repentance? Only a few Christians. The other act in a worldly way, which is, of course, not bad in the sense that you really have to give a new house to the man whose house just burnt down, and give food to the hungry. That's true, but you know what St. Cosmas of Aetolia says? "When you are giving food to a child, put an icon of Christ in front of him, so he would learn to connect food with God, and tell him: 'My child, the food you are eating is not mine, but my God has given it to me! God has given me health, and I work, God gives us food, and we eat. Mother prepared a meal for you, but God has given us rain, and earth gave us crops'..."

Everything in the world is connected. Everything is christened in God's grace, and everything can be given a Christ-centered interpretation, when Christ is placed in the center and when everything leads to Christ. When we don't grasp and understand the message sent by Christ in our lives, and become angry, become even less responsible, rebel more against God, what happens then?

Our life could be extremely beautiful. God's promises are clear. In the Old Testament, He says: "If you listen to Me, you will enjoy earthly treasures and everything in your lives will be blessed! Your life will be paradise, a true pleasure, true sweetness! If you don't listen to Me, sword awaits you, you will kill each other, swallow each other" (see Leviticus 26).

If the Lord is not present in our life as the principle factor, if He doesn't enter our mind to set up our deeds, thoughts, choices, if we don't let Him govern the untamable colt of our "I", who prances out of egotism, if the Lord does not enter as the governor into my home, country, parliament - if that does not happen, it will be impossible to keep the balance.

Human life without Christ is governed by instincts, the logic of the absurd, a hunger for profit, the law of the jungle, according to which the stronger wants to destroy and dismember the weak... If there is no God for you, who would give sense to your life and say what is good and what bad, everything becomes relative. "Everything is different for different people, for you it is bad, for me it is good!", some people say.

Without Christ there is no common criteria, common ground, there is no ideal with a concrete goal in front of us that we want to reach, there is no person we want to impersonate. What is that person, that ideal the contemporary epoch wants to create? The ideal of the contemporary man is such: an extroverted, super active, but at the same time a deeply depressed person, who does not see a meaning and a goal, has no future, doesn't know where he is going, whence he's come and how he'll live.

All this is foreign to Church. In Church there are different ideals, a different view of life, a different experience. Not all Christians experience them, only a few, but the goal is for the yeast to affect the rest of the world, in order to bring an understanding of the absurdity of life without Christ.

The world constantly finds itself in hopeless states, and, trying to solve them, creates new ones. So we will never acquire peace. And when the fire breaks out, a catastrophe occurs, an earthquake, it would be good to take care of the external, use science and technology, but also to seek for a deeper meaning in the events.

Today the news are not sending any messages to us, they are not making us think about something important in life reflected in your heart, in your existence, in your true happiness. But our mind is constantly busy with thoughts about money, social security, the stock exchange.

Some of those listening to me will protest: "Aren't you doing the same? Don't you want people's salary to increase? Don't you work for money too? Are you against money? Without money you can't do anything!"

Yes, my beloved ones, but money is not the thing we are missing in order to be happy. Look! I pray so you can find the work you want, so you would receive the money you need, so your salary wouldn't be taken away from you etc, but know this, this does not constitute happiness in itself. We are wrong if we equate and connect happiness and such things.

You wake up in the morning and turn on the morning news, the morning commentary. From the very beginning of the day your brain is bombarded with messages: political, market, economic, police reports about how many people survived, how many were killed, where the war is, who will be with what party, who with the other, who will rule, who will be framed, how the elections are turning out - you really think all this is making you happy? In essence, if you think calmly, you will see that this does not touch your life, children, God. What does it give you? But at the same time you don't have time for the morning prayers, for a useful book or a passage from the New Testament...

If you reflect well enough, you will understand that this is all an escape, an alibi or something like that, which we use to forget about ourselves and not think about the meaning of life. How are we helped by all the epoch is offering to us today? Does it tell us about the great existential questions: about happiness, internal happiness, meaning of life, loneliness, depression, fear of non-existence?

So many question marks are left in the world, in young people's souls - don't their eyes make us ponder? Are they hungry for the meaning of life? No, their eyes are hollow, there is no spark of joy in them, of the grace of the Holy Spirit they received at baptism, but which was then buried by something else. Those are tired looks. Doesn't that make us ponder? Make us give meaning to everything, to tell children what it is all about, what is hidden behind it all? Why they are alive, where they are going to, how they will conquer the emptiness, boredom and the reign of television inside themselves.

You, people and politicians, answer the teenager, why is he so sad when he comes back home from a party? You who speak about salaries, about insurance, you who express your opinion about everything, you come to your child, who had money in his pocket and has it again, but, in spite of this, he comes from the party, a celebration, a walk, and feels a vacuum in his soul and asks? "Why am I sad? Why am I depressed? Why is nothing giving me satisfaction? Why am I doing everything, but cannot feel joy? Why am I missing something, and don't know what, and I am constantly feeling ennui and longing?

When will these questions get an answer? And meanwhile you are promising to save the world, you will get endless hours on TV for developing your ideas; which means what you are talking about is very important.

So what should be done? We need to reflect and look at ourselves, like into a mirror; into Christ, and not into the mentality of this world, so we could see whether everything is in order. Since there is a set of criteria in the world that will tell you that you are doing fine, and a completely different set in Christ. According to the world, I am insane - maybe you too, since we are both telling the same thing... Today the epoch is saying one thing, and we another. Is that madness? OK. But that madness is letting us live and interpret life correctly, we are standing on our feet and enduring poverty, a lack of all worldly pleasures, and we can conquer death.

And what do we do with death? "Well, there will be retirement!" Alright, you will reach retirement, but what will happen after the retirement? Who will talk to you about post-retirement? Who will tell you about death, which will come for sure? Or, do we perhaps not believe in it, and we don't accept death? That problem is concluded by our admittance that we are not believers, we are atheists and we live without Christ in our lives. And in that case it is normal for people to do what they are doing: panicking, being one-sided, accepting only political and economic solutions to problems. All this is natural in that unnatural atmosphere in which Christ is absent.

For example, on TV they say: "We take care of young people, we want them to have fun, to be happy!" Good words, no? "So young people should have fun, be happy, obtain something" -- but explain to me the meaning of those words. What does it mean "so young people should be happy"? "Quality of life" And what does quality of life mean?

I heard recently that the city has organized a youth center. You go to theater and you see low passions, vices and guile raging. Is this quality? So young people would get together and organize a play - but what quality of life is this really offering them?

Everything is moving in that direction. And we, believers in Christ, must at least be aware of our condition, turn our anger into prayer and self-criticism. Scold not others, but ourselves, saying: "We are guilty, because if we were true Christians, if we had peace and good deeds in life and if we would influence the world where we can, then the atmosphere in the society and our personal lives would be better".

I will illustrate this to you, so it wouldn't just sound theoretical. At the beginning of each season all channels play new series. Do you watch them? From the end of September till the end of the season. There is not one of them without lies, adultery, corruption; the hidden messages they contain are those about baseness, cunning, depravity and debauchery. You think I am exaggerating? But what ideal does all this form in a child's soul? "This is life, this is reality," they tell us. That's true, it's real and we have become like that. That is, we are sinking, and our drowning is shown in a movie; we are decomposing, and we turn that rottenness into a film.

Apostle Paul says, "I become all things to all people" (see 1Cor 9:22). So, I debase myself to the level of each, but in order to win them for Christ, to raise them. And do films show real life with its deceptions, adulteries, shrewdness etc. so they would elevate me and get me out of this hopelessness?

What kind of family will that child create, having choked on these representations about life? What kind of family? And how will the child feel that this is wrong, if TV doesn't show that reality in an instructional context, does not include the alternative, and no one says: "You know, this person, who is now cheating on his wife and lives with another, he later repents, corrects himself, and asks for forgiveness..." On the contrary, cheating, deception and vice are presented in an attractive, seductive way, even gloriously.

If you could go, men of course, to the Holy Mount Athos for a while, for ten days, and be without a radio, TV, newspapers and similar information, you would calm down a little. At least for a short while you would live a godly life. During those days your mind would clear itself a little, filter through, and when you then return to the world, everything will seem madness to you. It will seem unhealthy, you will see that everything is wrong, and you will wonder: "Where was I and where did I find myself? Here people brag about their sins, and on Mount Athos they repent - you sin and you repent, and here we turn sin into celebration, into a lifestyle, a flag we are proud of and the one we propagate."

Many centuries ago St. Anthony talked about this madness, and he said that in the end times people will become so crazy that if they see an acquaintance who is still doing well, they will gather around him and start telling him: "You are insane, and we are straight!" And they will consider the sane person insane.

Naturally, people will have their truth: their insane mind cannot understand those who are different than they are, understand people enlightened by God, who have God's grace in them, whose mind remains in its place and purely sees God, the world, people, life. People without Christ don't understand that they reside on a different frequency. At any rate, you speak different languages than they do.

So, where is the solution? Our goal is not to accuse anyone or make fun of anyone. I am saying this to move the clogged water in Christian minds, in the Christian you would like to be yourself. You consider yourself a churchgoer, but your mind is also confused, your mind is also desecrated, and you are also tripping, getting weaker, perishing. You like that word? You've heard it before. Secularization, i.e. you are also behaving a little worldly, you also like it all. We are still attracted by sinful life, worldly bustle with TV; we are not amused by witty jokes, but mean and naughty pranks.

So, what will happen to us? How will all this end? "Did everyone already drink the water of madness and went mad?" Photis Kondoglou asks. Read that story about the water of madness, so you could see how everyone went mad, and the only one who did not go mad was the king. Because he didn't drink the water of madness pouring down from the sky. And because of this water of madness everyone started seeing black for white, and white for black, forgot to understand the right and started to consider it wrong, and vice versa. And only the king said, "I won't start drinking it, so I wouldn't be led astray, I have to govern them well!"

And everything he did others, who drank that water, considered madness. They set out to overturn him, and the king said to himself: "So, what will happen to me? I was the only one who didn't start drinking that water, and I have to suffer now? Bring some of it to me, I will sip some of it too!"

That was his decision. Is that going to be your decision as well, so you would remain a little longer in this life, to enter its insane rhythm? So that transformation would take place in your mind too, that terrible damage designed for you to see everything like others?..

But, you know what? The terrifying death hour will sound. Today you will not hear this word on TV, or at least not in the sense Church teaches us. You will not think about it in order to wake up, it will be presented to you as a thriller. In thrillers they present death only with blood and killings, but the violence does not make a person ponder and say: "What will I, I personally, do in the death hour? What will happen afterwards? What will I be like in that moment? What will happen to my soul?"

That hour will sound, and all of us will see how many mistakes we have committed, how incorrectly we have viewed life. When a drunkard is drinking, you can tell him what you like, but he doesn't understand what is happening to him. And if at that moment he is hit by a car, and he leaves this world, his soul, since it's not drunk, will understand, but it will be too late. We are also drunk in this world. St. John Chrysostom speaks about that: drunk people are ruling this world, drunk with passions, infirmities, vices, injustice. Drunk people, who are constantly drinking, and their mind is never purifying. They never ask themselves: "Where are we going to, where is God? Why have we removed Him from our lives?"

Television, politics, media - all this would help us if it showed life's ideals, high living standards. This would help people, but, you know, those things are not profitable and people don't watch them.

My brothers, we need to wake up, pray and constantly repeat the prayer, "Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me." This prayer defeats the vanity of this life, televisions, politics, everything nasty we have in this epoch, and it unties the most intricate knots. And who accomplishes this? The Lord's prayer, because we name Christ the Lord in it, and that means that he is most important in life.

The Lord is everything. Everything is not what TV shows, and not what politicians say, it's not your pension and it's not the stock exchange, everything is Lord Jesus Christ, and that's why every time when you vocalize the Jesus prayer, you become a normal person, because you put things in their place. When you learn to have a correct attitude toward Lord Jesus Christ, you will have a right attitude towards everything.

A spiritual person, the Holy Scripture says, judges everyone, he sees everything, penetrates everything, and no one understands this, except himself (see 1 Cor 2:15). If you are a churchgoer, you will not be understood. But a spiritual person, through the power of divine enlightenment, understands everything and sees vanity, deception, falseness, fakeness. And more: when he looks into other people's eyes, the eyes of the one who is promising the solution to all problems on TV, he often sees a void.

In those moments he cries: "Lord, I thank Thee! For I am maybe very sinful, but at least I know who the doctor is. I have perished, but I know where my fatherland is; I have fled, but I know where I have to return! I know where I'm going to, I know on which door to knock, I know where to repent, where to kneel and to confess, and ask for Your mercy."

This is where the difference is, and not in the fact that we are better. No, we are worse, because we, Christians, have not transfigured the world. Instead of serving people, becoming the yeast for the world, the world is pressing us, it is sucking at us like a giant leach, and pulling us into its game, into its sphere, into its space. The Christian has to wake up people with his view, like a saint who had such a gift and did precisely this: he looked you in the eyes and raised your spirit, he looked at you and put paradise in your eyes. Our eyes are false, there is no dew of the Holy Spirit in them, there's no God's grace.

We have to place the feeling of truthfulness in others, so the other would look at you and be convinced by your look only. And television does not convince, it only lulls, allows one to relax and drown. There you go. That's why our time is systematically avoiding an analysis, a serious consideration of the problem. They don't want you to delve, to sit and ponder: where will this story lead to, then?

People need antibodies available to a Christian. When he watches something on TV, he has at least a criterion, a yardstick for comparison, there is Church, Gospel, and he judges things according to those. And the other person doesn't have anything, he relies on everything, trusting whatever they tell him: sport, fashion, politics...

In that overwhelming moment, however, when we behold God in front of us, all this will not help. I will tell you a story now for those who like the lightweight: stories about "life after death", not ecclesiastic ones, but occult.

A man died, and his soul left the body, but then it returned, however. He really saw eternal life and told himself: "If God decided to give me a few more years, I will not repeat what I did, because from what I saw, I understood that life is very serious, that these years are taking us in a clear direction, and life is not a joke to spend them living anyway you like. Because there is the tempter, who rejoices when we make mistakes. And I want to live from now on very carefully. I will not give much meaning to hairdo, fashion, clothes, I will use them, but not assign them significance, I will not give my heart to that."

That was said by a man who died, was revived, and then, you know what he did? He enclosed himself in a cave and lived the remaining days of his life in prayer and repentance.

Perhaps you felt sorry for him and you are saying: "Poor guy, he doesn't know what he's missing, what pleasures!" He feels sorry for you too, because you will go where he's been, and you don't know what you'll encounter there. And he does, because he has gone, come back and seen it.

The solution is found in living in the world, but not being seduced by the world, to live in our own madness, the best madness - God's madness. Not to be mad, but God-mad, a fool for Christ's sake. Only in that way we can overcome life, only thus we can keep our mind pure in such an impure epoch.

And when the earthquake hits, you will not think only about how the pavement was shattered, but you will understand that this earth, on which you are treading, is hopeless. When your homeland is on fire, you will not think about ethnic, political, economic and other problems, but you will understand that this world is not our permanent fatherland: our residence is in heavens (see 2 Cor 5:1). I will understand that I need to repent and put out that fire with the tears of repentance, and not only say: "How do I survive this crisis?"

"The light is extinguished, but the feast continues." The question only lies in the fact that your life has to change. When God puts out the light, that doesn't mean that you have to take your feast to another place, it means that you have to understand that God does not approve your lifestyle.

At any rate, the Old-Testament history shows that when people lived in sins, fornication, carried out abortions, conducted magic, committed murders, all kinds of injustice - which is taking place in our homes and our homeland right now - it all, unfortunately, attracts like a magnet God's disapproval, God's anger. God is not angry, of course, it is an anthropomorphic expression, but with its help the word of God is showing us that God's grace cannot exist in such an atmosphere, in such a country, in such homes, in such souls.

Our mind has to return to its normal state, return to its place - to Christ.

Archimandrite Andrew (Konanos)

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