Today I want to talk about an important subject: whether “the people” are right in their entirety, excluding of course, the heads of governments, officials and rich people, because it is traditional for us to believe them to be the opponents of “the people”. That’s obviously a joke, but a bitter joke as many people sadly think this way.
Moreover, after a series of protests around the world against “injustice”, here in Russia today we hear that “the people” are themselves the embodiment of some sort of combined and concentrated grass roots truth and everybody else is the embodiment of a lie, so it is almost as if it is time for the president together with the parliament to drop to their knees and bow their heads asking for forgiveness of “the people” that “also matter”.
The triumph of delirium—that’s what we are witnessing around the world now! This is a mockery of God’s creation—man! It is extremely important for us not to succumb to this mass delusion, especially given that we have been through it before.
On the seventeenth of July we remembered the tragic date of the cruel and inhuman reprisal upon the family of Emperor Nicholas II. Here is the interesting testimony of Elder Barsanuphius of Optina about the role of “the people” in this atrocity. The conversation took place in November 1911 regarding the late Emperor Alexander III. Here is what the elder said:
“God raised up a mighty emperor for Russia and wanted to call Russian people from glory to even greater glory. Other nations understood that and trembled before the Russian Emperor, yet the Russian people did not value him and started to consciously shy away from their faith and calling. So God took away from Russia the great Tsar and gave it one who could not oppose the evil will of the people. When people start living according to their own mind, instead of putting their will in line with the Divine Will of God, then great trials befall them. Great trials will take place in Russia. In 1914 a great war will start and in 1917 they will carry the Tsar off to Siberia. Tears and blood await Russia.”
Having said that the elder cried bitterly...
Let us not make an idol out of “the people”! Let us not forget that the people taken together can be wrong, the same way an individual can be wrong and it is exactly by wanting to satisfy the crowd that “Pilate released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified” (Mark 15:15).
If this is the state of events then we have nothing to be exalted about, but only to watch ourselves closely and with humility build a good life on the foundation of the Orthodox faith.
Throughout our nation (that is, of course, all of the people in the country) there are all kinds of people. Moreover, every person has both positive and negative traits. Every person has his own worldview, with a particular set of ideas dominating and leading him. And at different times in his life a person sins and repents, performs good deeds and commits bad acts, gets deluded and does what is right. Isn’t this obvious?! Then why compare and contrast people artificially using some contrived and false criteria?!
Are our people so holy that they can point their fingers at their rulers?! Do we as a nation overall lack laziness, drunkenness, cunningness, slyness, greed, fornication, deception, pride, anger?.. Are these and many other vices and passions not the main reasons for the bitter poverty and disorder, the nationwide woe, domestic violence, fatherlessness and so very many other deplorable things? It seems so. More than that, quite often a person sinks “to the bottom” not because he wasn’t given something, but because he cannot hold on to what he was given. For us, as a nation, it historically came to be that when hard times come about one has to start blaming and accusing the government itself and those in power. However, what about ourselves? Are we capable of anything on our own? Alright, let us imagine that our leaders are plain useless, although that is of course not the case; but we have a Kind Shepherd—the Lord! Let us listen to Him! Then we would find out to our own bemusement that most of what we are chasing, the lack of which makes us miserable, and what we complain about—is all worthless, unimportant. “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions” (cf. Luke 12:15). So the proverbial “quality of life” in reality has little to do with the overused “consumerism”. What is important is altogether different. What we should be doing is stopping our scurrying whirlwind of life, stopping in order to think about what the Lord calls us to do, how He teaches us to build family and community life. This touches each one of us individually and all of us together, because the most important reason for the disorder is a stubborn unwillingness to build our life in a Godly way. Instead we have this permanent and nonsensical expectation of handouts, benefits and care for us from somebody—we don’t even know who. Where does this century-long infantilism come from? When will the day come when we start to change on the inside and on the outside, without expecting handouts or getting angry, but instead building, with God’s help, our common, good life together with those that are capable of doing so? Without such a change in the “consciousness of the masses”, social changes are not possible. Otherwise, this state of things will continue, with some suffering their existence in poverty and nonentity, crying and complaining that it’s someone else’s fault, and at the same time others will grab things and carry them off to their homes “the more, the better”, without noticing the woe of their neighbour. A third category would arrogantly write orders, in full confidence that they conduct societal life in a wise and reasonable manner... Everyone on their own, in their own little closed-off world. It is exactly this division, this separation which is our common misfortune; we need to overcome it together, not by some proverbial confrontation of the “oppressors” and the “oppressed”.
In one of his last interviews the writer Viktor Astafyev said some frightening words that give us full right to judge him “completely and unanimously”. He said, in a fit of anger: “I couldn’t care less about the people!”. Truly, that sounds terrible. However, one has to nonetheless understand first what the writer is talking about, he himself being an integral part of “the people”. He talks with pain about the people, who betrayed their own holy shrines, who for decades led themselves into spiritual slavery and do not want to return from it. He talks about the people who think, talk and act in full accordance with the dark spirits, caring only about a full trough and not wanting to look at the sky.
So much is being said nowadays about the support of families, about the necessity of getting over the catastrophic demographic problem! Yet at the same time they try to stay quiet about the terrible woe of the legalized mass murder of unborn children; but it becomes absurd when they simultaneously boast about fighting for the full health of a premature baby born four months before its due date by the use of the latest modern technology and the best specialists. All of this is shown on television and we all smile together and are proud and happy (which is quite right). At the same time, in the background, without stopping for a minute, the wicked conveyer continues to work for the destruction of thousands of the very same innocent babies. The Patriarch at the meeting with the Federal Assembly (and also prior) raised this topic, offering to solve it somehow. However, even the President does not want to discuss this topic—it is so painful!
All of it shows the immorality of our people in general, because the blame for this genocide lies on all of us! So how could we talk about improvement in quality of life?! What could we possibly mean by such “quality”, how does it fit together with this common practice and commonly accepted atrocity?
We talk about the protection of motherhood and childhood, about the quality of health services, the opportunity to choose a profession, decent salaries, education, comfortable and affordable housing, healthy nutrition... All of these things are clear and correct but here is a paradox: Attaining a good quality of life in the end turns out to be not just a “technical” question, but a spiritual one as well.
Because even if you do create some perfect legislative and administrative systems that would allow an increase in the overall quality of life according to the named standards, we would be remiss to address only external wellbeing, while at the same time the spiritual and moral lives of people will not improve in terms of “quality” or decency. To the contrary, we will find that they will continue to degenerate. Therefore, the ingratitude, the anger and the discontentment will not only remain, but increase. We see this illustrated by the more well fed and prosperous USA and Western Europe, because the foundation of a good life is a correct spiritual arrangement and it is impossible to replace it with some externally beneficial conditions.
In the Bible this paradox is explained by the conflict in a person of two elements: the spiritual and the carnal. It is exactly what Paul the Apostle says: For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit. By “carnal life” Christians understand a life in which the aim is to please their passions and lusts, whereas the target of spiritual life is to please God. The harmonious combination of spiritual and carnal life is called chastity, and presupposes the spiritual’s priority over the carnal. At the same time everything we have talked about—healthy nutrition, health services and education—all of this “provision for the flesh” Paul the Apostle approves, only calling us not to use it to “fulfil the lusts thereof”. That is, to exercise reasonable moderation in the satisfaction of your natural needs of body and soul. One has to remember that the highest quality of life on Earth is not prosperity, comfort or being well-fed, but a life that has been salted by the Holy Spirit (cf. Jn. 17:3). Only the Orthodox Church can give people this understanding!