Learning from the Fathers: St. Mark the Ascetic

28. The law of freedom teaches the entire truth. And on the one hand, many study it according to knowledge, but, on the other, few know it, according to the measure of the practice of the commandments.

29. Do not look for it being perfected in human virtues, for no righteous is found in them. For its perfection is hidden in the Cross of Christ.

(St. Mark the Ascetic, On the Spiritual Law 28-29, my translation of the original Greek in Marc Le Moine, Traités [2 vols,; Sources chrétiennes 445, 455; Paris: Cerf, 1999, 2000], 1:82).

Learning from the Fathers: St. Mark the Ascetic

Humility is not the condemnation of the conscience, but the experiential knowledge of the grace and co-suffering of God.

(St. Mark the Ascetic, On Those Who Think That They Are Made Righteous by Works 103, my translation of the original Greek in Marc Le Moine, Traités [2 vols,; Sources chrétiennes 445, 455; Paris: Cerf, 1999, 2000], 1:160).

Learning from the Fathers: St. Mark the Ascetic

58. The one who has discovered that those befalling him from without arise by the righteousness of God, that one, in seeking the Lord, has found knowledge together with righteousness.

59. If you understand—according to the Scripture—that “the judgments of God are in all the earth” (Ps 104:7), everything that happens has become to you a teacher of the knowledge of God.

(St. Mark the Ascetic, On Those Who Think That They Are Made Righteous by Works 58-59, my translation of the original Greek in Marc Le Moine, Traités [2 vols,; Sources chrétiennes 445, 455; Paris: Cerf, 1999, 2000], 1:148).

Learning from the Fathers: St. Mark the Ascetic

If you wish to remember God at all times, do not reject as unjust those which befall you, but endure them as coming to you justly. For forbearance of everything that happens stirs up remembrance [of God], while [their] refusal diminishes the sustained toil of the heart and through relaxation works forgetfulness.

(St. Mark the Ascetic, On Those who Think They Are Made Righteous by Works 125, my translation of the original Greek in Marc Le Moine, Traités [2 vols,; Sources chrétiennes 445, 455; Paris: Cerf, 1999, 2000], 1:166).

The self-idolatry or the humanism of social justice

For more than a century now many Christians have convinced themselves that the way of Christ is the performance of good deeds, the life of helping others. Thus these Christians have invented “social justice” or “social teaching.” But this new way of thinking is a grave error, because it is a turn-away from God, it puts the human being before God.

It does so in two ways. First, this looks for the neighbor before Christ, or ahead of Christ. Second, it is fundamentally based on the conviction that we can be good and we can accomplish the good without Christ or ahead of Christ. Thus—we can reason—if we do good we can find Christ. This is not simply difficult, but it is straightforwardly impossible! As many of our Fathers have stated in no unclear terms, it is impossible to find Christ by such applications of the commandments. It is impossible for the reason already mentioned: this road is fundamentally the road of trust in ourselves, a road of our own making, a Christ-less road. Christ can never be found by such quests.

This is shown clearly in the evidence amassed in front of us: many have taken this road for a long time and have accomplished spiritually nothing. Indeed, they have helped the world, but have themselves been the prey of the world. They have done good, but have themselves been sick. They have showed kindness to some, and ignored others. Have helped with one hand and have damaged with the other. This is precisely what we people, left to our own power, can accomplish. It is as far as we can go. This is not love!

Without [love], as the Apostle says, even if we spoke with the languages of the Angels, and had all the right faith, and moved mountains, and gave all we have to the poor, and gave the body to martyrdom, we would gain nothing. But perhaps you would say, “and how can one give all that one has to the poor, if one doesn’t have love, for mercy is love”? Mercy is not perfect love, but only a part of love. Many show mercy to others, and others they wrong, to others they show hospitality, against others they remember evil, some they shelter, others they abuse, have compassion on strangers, and hate their own. Therefore this is not love, it is not, for love does not hate anyone, does not reprove anyone, does not condemn anyone, does not grieve anyone, does not denigrate anyone, neither believer, nor non-believer, nor stranger, nor sinner, nor fornicator, nor the impure, but rather it loves even more the sinners, and the weak, and the careless, and is in pain for them, and grieves, and cries, and suffers with the wicked and sinner more than with the righteous, imitating Christ, Who called the sinners and ate and drank with them. For this, showing what the love for others is, He taught saying: “Be good and have pity, like our Father Who is in heaven!” And even as He sends rain over the evil and the good, and makes the sun rise over the righteous and unrighteous, so the one who truly has love loves all, has mercy on all, and prays for all. (St. Ammonas)

To put it bluntly, social justice or social teaching is self-idolatry, another humanism, another enthronement of the human being instead of God. This is not the way of the Gospel. The way of the Gospel is love, more precisely it is Christ’s own love. The life of the Church is Christ and it is ascetical. The goal of our life is to acquire Christ. Christ Himself will love our neighbors in us, truly, with His own love, without hatred or resentment. The way of the Church is to love the world with God’s love for it, or, as the Apostle Paul says, to love with “God’s love which has been overflown in our hearts” (Rom 5:5).

We resist Christ

On nothing else do we resist Christ more than on the fact that He is everything and we are nothing.

We have attached ourselves to the lies of self-worth to the point that, on the one hand, we cannot see Him, know Him, draw near to Him, and that, on the other, we do not understand His love for us. As I said before, only the love which everything has for nothing can crush us into love.