In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
An Athonite elder was asked by one of his spiritual children about the last times, and he was told, “Son, in the last times the monk will be like laymen and the laymen will be like demons.” Ideally, in the Orthodox Church, the laymen should be like monks, and the monks should be like angels in the flesh. We see that in the saint we commemorate today, St. Moses the Ethiopian [last Sunday, September 10, 2017], one the great fathers of the desert. This doesn’t mean that laymen have to live like monks in every respect, of course, but the spirituality of a monk is not fundamentally different from the spirituality of a layman. There’s a common Christian Gospel that we’re all supposed to live according to, whether we’re laymen or monks.
This saying shouldn’t discourage us, because it’s somewhat hyperbolic, as you often find even in Scripture to make a point. It’s not saying that everyone is going to be that way, it’s saying this is the way that it’s generally going to be. Unfortunately, I think that in our time we can begin to see that that’s not such a distant reality. We’re beginning to see all too many laymen living just like the devil. They’re not living according to the Gospel, and in many cases, they don’t even seem to be aware of the fact that they’re not living according to the Gospel.
Just this week I heard a discussion by two Orthodox people in which they were talking about the artistic merits and the spiritual lessons to be drawn from a cable series that has frequent and extended pornographic scenes on a regular basis. They prefaced their discussion by saying, “Well, if this kind of stuff is going to bother you, you probably don’t want to see this show.” The issue is that any Christian should be bothered by that enough to not want to watch it. Why would you want to be entertained by that sort of thing?
The problem with our society today is that we have gone down into the sewer as a culture and there are too many of us, even in the Church, who have gotten so used to the stench of that sewer that they don’t even smell it anymore. We hear people ask why so many of our young people are falling away from the Church. Well, if you think you can allow your children to be entertained by filth like that, and you can send them to schools that are going to teach them that homosexuality and other kinds of sexual perversion are perfectly moral and normal and that the only thing we should reject as a society is those that don’t agree that that’s true, and they’re surrounded by other children that are also swimming those same moral sewers, and you think that your child is going to grow up to be a pious Orthodox Christian, you may not have lost your faith in miracles, but you’ve lost your mind, because the chances of that happening are not very great. It’s not impossible. People become Orthodox Christians out of the most difficult circumstances. St. Moses obviously wasn’t raised as a believer, but he was touched by the Gospel and he embraced it, and he became a great saint. Thus, it’s always possible that someone could be saved despite that kind of an upbringing, but it’s certainly not an upbringing that’s going to encourage someone to live according to the Gospel.
At one point in the Gospels the Lord said that we should remember Lot’s wife who looked back on Sodom as it was being destroyed, contrary to God’s commandment, and was turned into a pillar of salt. Most of us should at least know the story. I would like to take some time today to think about Lot himself and how it is that this righteous man ended up at the end of his days having lost his wife, having his daughters been corrupted morally, and his descendants falling into rank paganism. It wasn’t a stretch of bad luck; it wasn’t just that Abraham was a very lucky man and Lot was a very unlucky man; it was because Lot made a series of bad choices.
Genesis 13 tells the story about how after having gone into Egypt for a period of time because there was a famine in the land, Abraham and Lot returned to the promised land that God had promised their descendants would inherit. They had amassed a great deal of wealth while they were in Egypt. They had amassed great flocks, they had many servants, and at a certain point their servants began to quarrel with one another, because the land, it says in the Scriptures, wasn’t big enough to bear the both of them. So, at a certain point Abraham said to his nephew Lot, Let there be no strife, I pray thee, between me and thee, and between my herdsmen and thy herdsmen; for we be brethren. Is not the whole land before thee? separate thyself, I pray thee, from me: if thou wilt take the left hand, then I will go to the right; or if thou depart to the right hand, then I will go to the left. He’s saying,” You pick which direction you want. There’s all kinds of land around us—it’s yours. Whichever one you take, I will go in the opposite direction.” It then says, And Lot lifted up his eyes, and beheld all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered every where, before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.
The point is that it was not like that area looks today—very dry and desolate—but it was a very green and lush area. It says it was even as the garden of the Lord, like the Garden of Eden, and it also says, like the land of Egypt, obviously referring to the Nile Delta which is very fertile. It then says, as thou comest unto Zoar, giving some references to the area that’s being talked about. Then it says, Then Lot chose him all the plain of Jordan; and Lot journeyed east: and they separated themselves the one from the other. Abram dwelled in the land of Canaan, and Lot dwelled in the cities of the plain, and pitched his tent toward Sodom. But the men of Sodom were wicked and sinners before the Lord exceedingly.
It’s interesting that it’s comparing that land to Egypt, because they had just come from there. The scriptures, particularly in the Old Testament, are often very terse. They don’t give great details, but they’re very suggestive, and oral tradition would fill in the gaps in many cases. In this case, I’m not aware of an oral tradition, but its possible that maybe Lot started liking the life that he was experiencing in Egypt just a little bit too much, and when they left Egypt, Egypt didn’t entirely leave him. He looked to this area, where the easy life was going to be, and he chose it and it says, and he pitched his tent towards Sodom.
The next time we hear about Lot, he is living in Sodom, and he was captured by a group of kings that had gotten into a war with the kings that lived in that particular valley, including the king of Sodom. They had captured all that there was to be plundered in Sodom and they took Lot himself captive, and they started heading to the north. In the passage that we read on the evening of the feasts of the fathers, we read about how Abraham chased after these men. Obviously, Abraham had a very large household for him to be able to launch a credible military campaign against these kings out of his own household and servants, to catch up with them, to defeat them in battle and to retrieve his nephew and all that had been taken.
One of the things that’s interesting is that Lot goes back to Sodom after this. Abraham refused to even accept any gifts from the king of Sodom which he had offered him to show gratitude for the fact that he had recaptured all the goods that had been taken from the city. Abraham wanted to keep his distance from Sodom; Lot was living there. The next time we hear about Lot he’s sitting in the gates of Sodom. If you understand the culture of the time, the people who sat at the gates of the city were those who usually made the decisions. When people had some kind of a dispute, they would go to the gate, and the elders sitting around there would make a decision, so obviously he had become a prominent citizen of Sodom by this time.
The most charitable interpretation is given by St. John Chrysostom. He said that Lot was sitting at the gate because when there were strangers that came to the city he wanted to make sure that they were taken care of, and that’s certainly what he did when the two angels came. He saw that they were strangers and he took them into his own home, but Lot obviously must not have spoken up very much about the moral decay of the city, because when the people of the city saw that there were two strangers at his house, they surrounded his house and demanded that he send those two men out so that they could rape them. That’s how morally depraved the people of the city of Sodom were, and when Lot tried to talk them out of it, they became every angry with him and began to speak threateningly with him. Obviously, if he had been living a fairly comfortable life up to that point he must not have been prominently speaking up too often about all the problems and moral filth that were surrounding him in the city.
Of course, if you know the story, the angels blinded these men and told Lot and his family to get out of town because God was getting ready to destroy the city. God had talked to Abraham about what he was going to do, and Abraham had talked Him down to requiring that there only be ten righteous men in the city of Sodom for the city to be spared. But He didn’t find ten righteous men, He found in fact only one. Even those of Lot’s own household had been corrupted by this time.
So he left, and as I mentioned, his wife looked back even though they were told not to look back on the city, and she was turned into a pillar of salt. Lot made it out of the city with just the clothes on his back, and his two daughters. Both of them had been betrothed by this time, but neither of these men were interested in leaving: They thought that Lot was crazy, so they didn’t go. Later we see that even his daughters were morally corrupted. From his daughters there came two nations, Moab and Ammon, and these two nations were idolaters. They were nothing like the people of Israel, not even some of the time. They had totally gotten away from the faith, and the question that we have to ask is, “Why was Lot there to begin with?”
Lot himself didn’t fall away. Lot himself, we are told in the Scriptures, was a righteous man. God recognized that. He himself had not completely gone off the rails, but because he exposed his family to all that nonsense and all that filth, at the end of his days everything was lost except for his own soul. The Scriptures tell us in Ps. 103:3, I have no unlawful thing before mine eyes, and in Ps. 140:4 it says, Incline not my heart unto words of evil, to make excuse with excuses in sins with men that work iniquity. Can we pray those prayers with a straight face if we then turn around and entertain ourselves with filth, if we become too comfortable with all the moral decay around us and we think that it’s funny, entertaining, and exciting? I don’t think so.
In 1 Corinthians, St. Paul quoted a Greek proverb, that said “Bad company corrupts good morals.” When we surround ourselves with people who are moving in the opposite direction of where we want to go, when we’re swimming in that sewer with the rest of them, we are going to corrupt ourselves. You might say, “Well, Lot didn’t corrupt himself entirely, he was still a righteous man.” Well, if Lot himself lost his entire family and barely saved his own soul, I don’t think that any of us should take any comfort whatsoever in those results, because we’re probably not nearly as righteous as lot was.
In 1 Corinthians, St. Paul also says, Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord's table, and of the table of devils” (10:21). In the early Church, very often when they were explaining what the Christian faith was, they spoke about the two ways—the way of light and the way of darkness; the way of good and the way of evil; the way of life and the way of death. There’s no middle ground between those two points; there’s no other options that we can take; there’s no alternative choices that we might make. We have to choose life, we have to choose good, we have to choose the side of light, the side of righteousness; we have to guard our own eyes, ears, and heart, and we certainly have to guard those of our children, because we have a responsibility to raise them in the faith. God is going to hold us accountable on the Judgement Day for what we did for our children.
If our children are already grown and we’ve made mistakes, all we can do is pray for them, try to be a good example, and trust in God’s mercy, but if we still have children that we’re raising, we need to be very careful, because it is not like it was when you were a child, if you’re an adult now. Our society has gone so far from where it used to be. I can remember when people were shocked by scenes in movies like American Graffiti, which would be considered family entertainment today. I remember my family going to see that movie at a drive-in theater in California, and my mother saying we’re never going to see another movie ever again. She was so shocked by one of the scenes in that movie that that’s how she reacted. I remember it very distinctly as a child.
But what happens is that we get used to it. “Well, maybe I’ll go see another movie,” and the next time you see something like that, “Well, maybe it wasn’t so bad,” or you close your eyes, or if you’re watching on your TV you can fast forward it past that stuff. But that is swimming in the sewer; that’s like having a bowl of soup and you see a dead rat in the middle of it and you say, “Well, I’m not going to eat the rat but I’m going to eat the rest of the soup.” You wouldn’t do that. You would throw the whole thing out, because that one dead rat in the middle of the soup spoils the whole thing. When you’re watching a movie and there is filth in it, that spoils the whole thing.
It’s unfortunate that Hollywood doesn’t seem to be capable of making a movie these days without putting that kind of filth in there, but we should not be paying to see it. We should not be spending our time seeing it; we certainly shouldn’t be allowing our children to see those kinds of things. If you don’t want to lose your family to Sodom like Lot did, don’t live there. Don’t let them swim in the sewer. Don’t let them get used to the stench. Don’t tell them that it’s not so bad; don’t tell yourself it’s not so bad. It’s bad, it’s evil, and it will destroy your family. Remember Lot’s wife, remember Lot’s children, and his descendants, and remember Lot, and don’t even begin to pitch your tent towards Sodom. Amen.