How will persecution come upon us? At the hands of grey men in suits and carrying clipboards. In the name of health and safety they will prevent us offering incense to God. In the name of equality they will require us to ordain women, and those who follow a lifestyle incompatible with our faith. When we will not comply they will remove the charitable status that many use to receive state benefits. In the name of combating extremism they will require all places of worship to be registered. And when we speak out about moral issues, and on behalf of the most vulnerable, the unborn and the elderly, we will lose our registration under the guise of silencing hate-speech. We will be taken to court for causing offence to those who object to traditional Christian teachings and will face exemplary punitive fines that will lead to church buildings being seized in the name of debt collection. Bishops and priests will face prosecution if they speak out. Some will go to prison. Sunday Schools will be closed in the name of child protection. Faithful Christians will lose their jobs in state industries and organisations because their traditional views will be considered hateful and discriminatory merely by being held.
What should we do? How should we prepare? The only preparation possible is to live out the authentic Orthodox life in its fullness now, while we still may. The only preparation possible is to live as sojourners now, and not as those building an earthly city. The only preparation that might prevent such persecution is to engage in mission, sharing the divine life of transforming love.
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
You shall not build a house, sow seed, plant a vineyard, nor have any of these; but all your days you shall dwell in tents, that you may live many days in the land where you are sojourners.
Is this far-fetched? I don’t believe so. At times of social revolution the Church suffers. During the French Revolution the Church was persecuted fiercely by atheistic revolutionaries. During the Protestant Revolution in England the Church was almost destroyed in two generations such that it even lost the memory that England had been Orthodox and Catholic. In Russia the Church was driven into catacombs and forests. In Albania the atheistic Government was proud to proclaim that it had eliminated Christianity.
There are already many means by which the life of the Church can be made difficult. There are many who wish that it be made difficult. But we have allowed society around us to lose that vital connection with the authentic Christian tradition, morality and principles. We have been silent. We have been inward looking. And while we have been busy with our own affairs the world around us has lost the shared appreciation of Christianity and increasingly fails to be even sympathetic to what it sees as a redundant and irrelevant minority religious activity.
What is our hope? It is that by living out our authentic Orthodox Christian life in the power and grace of the indwelling Holy Spirit, and sharing this life with those around us, the tide might yet be turned. If we remain inward looking, if we focus on our own culture and habits, if we spend all we have on building in stone and wood, then the tide will fall upon us. I have no doubt.
If we become sojourners, seekers of another Kingdom, living the life of eternity now, then whether the tide rises or not we will be preserved. Lord have mercy. Prepare your Church.