City of God & City of Man

A City of God and a City of Man

There are two cities, forever at war with one another: a City of God and a City of Man. This war is found both in the hearts of each man and in the world itself. Struggling through the battles[1]“Who would fight with me? Let him stand against me. And who would accuse me? Let him draw near to me. Behold, the Lord is my helper; who will harm me? Behold, all you are like an old moth-eaten … Continue reading) of these two waring kingdoms, we must choose where our citizenry will be.[2]“[W]e cannot sit on two chairs. One cannot drink both from the cup of the Savior and from the cup of the adversary. We must decide whom we will serve. God or the things of this world. One cannot … Continue reading) Born into a Norwegian American family in Minnesota, I moved to California at the age of four. As most Minnesotans, I was born into a Lutheran family and raised Protestant by a God-fearing mother who did the best with what she had available to her in a society where Orthodoxy was almost impossible to find.[3]Orthodoxy is less than 1% of the religious population in the U.S As children we all enter the world pure of heart; however, born in inequity and conceived in sin, we are weak and often fail to continue along the path of the righteous. Such was my youth – an abandonment of the righteous path and a corrupting of the purity of heart that leads to the kingdom of heaven. However, God’s love for us sinners is greater than our love of sin. The Lord in His wisdom lets His prodigal sons wander the wastelands in order that He may bring them back to the promised land. The wages of sin are death, and the cure for sin and death is the strong medicine of pain and suffering. Just look upon our Lord Jesus Christ hanging on the cross: “it is through His stripes that we our healed.”

The Devil who brings suffering and death is therefore overcome by Christ who freely chooses to take on suffering and death that He may overturn the “wages of sin.” Rather than returning evil for evil, Christ redeems evil by patiently suffering in humility in order that he may overturn evil, death, and the devil, bringing about life and goodness for all mankind. Thus the Lord in His love for sinners allowed me to suffer tremendous loss, pain and tribulations in order to defeat the devil and heal the wounds caused by the pride and sin of my heart. As children of God, Christ calls all men to imitate Him in suffering so that by the power of God, we too may conquer the devil. “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”[4]Luke 9:23-24

The Lord prepared a path for me, despite my sins and shortcomings. I attended a Protestant Evangelical High School in my wayward years, yet my heart burned for God even in the depths of my sin. The words of the Blessed St. Augustine echo through these dark times: “My heart is restless until I find rest in You.” During these years, and after completing High School, I became disenchanted with Protestant Evangelical Christianity, and intentionally attended one of the country’s most rigorous colleges in search for a more robust and fulfilling Christianity. The college I attended was Roman Catholic, based on the “Great Books” and the 7 traditional Liberal Arts. Instead of finding Roman Catholicism, I discovered Holy Orthodoxy via an Orthodox priest who would visit the campus to attend to the handful of Orthodox Christians who studied at the college. It was here that Christ entered into my soul and lovingly placed the logos spermaticus[5]Seed of the Word. in my heart to grow. It would take another 14 years for this seed of revelation to blossom in my heart, since the heart of a sinner is cold and rocky, requiring much suffering and pain to soften the soil in order that the love of Christ may begin to grow.

Completing my Bachelors degree, I moved to Ireland to receive a Masters of Philosophy. After obtaining my MA, I married in the United States, and subsequently returned to Ireland to undertake a PhD in Philosophy. Orthodox call marriage a “white martyrdom,” since for a marriage to work we must learn die to ourselves and to one another that we may obtain salvation together as one flesh. It is here that the lessons of sufferings and tribulations began. My wife, after completing Law school, enrolled in a graduate Law program while we were in Ireland. However, she soon became permanently disabled due to a spinal cord injury. Unable to study or practice law, she was forced to withdraw from the program. This tragedy was followed by her developing epilepsy. Much like the pattern of our righteous ancestor Job, she suffered greatly and received her final blow by having her ability to bear children taken away from her due the doctor’s gross negligence and incompetence. The doctors damaged all her internal abdominal organs, resulting in further pain, and worst, the deprivation of God’s most precious gift –  the ability to create life. Such desperate times required taking out enormous student loans to finance her medical bills and save her life. So large were the loans, it became evident that there would be no way they could ever be paid back, nor could they be forgiven through bankruptcy. Hence, “came our dark night of the soul.” Existing without the grace of the Orthodox Church, separated from family and friends, crushed by enormous debt, together with the suffering pain of terrible disabilities, we lost hope. Unable to see any light at the end of our path, we fell into despair. It is only by the grace of God that we did not end our lives.

Having “alienated themselves from the Source of life, they seek solace in a life of falsehood. They have no real life but seek it amid created things, amid things that are limited. That is the food they thrive on… because they have alienated themselves from love … And so people engage in many activities: philosophy, rational thinking, scientific research – but all that is very short-lived.[6]Elder Thaddeus, Thoughts Determine Our Lives, 125.

After completing my PhD in philosophy, we returned back to the U.S. with absolutely nothing: no job, no money, no car or any place to live. In short, there was no perceived future. Nevertheless, God’s providential hand was guiding us to His chosen destination. St. Paul tells us, after being lifted into the 3rd heaven, just how inexpressible and unutterable the things he saw and heard there, and how immensely far beyond human understanding those things that await the Christian in the eschaton. In fact, we are told “the Holy Fathers, who like Moses and St. John the Evangelist themselves, beheld the beginning and the end in the state of divine vision.”[7]Fr. Seraphim Rose, The Teaching of St. Symeon the New Theologian, 14. This correctly expresses how God views time, the cosmos, and man. God does not relate to the created order in temporal successive moments as we do. Rather, God sees His creation – and each person – as a whole, in an eternal “now.” It is the saints who are granted, if for a brief moment, a glimpse into the vision of the kingdom of the “eternal now.” We too may be granted, in lesser degrees, noetic insights into how the discrete parts and moments of our lives relate to God’s providential and cosmological plan by being given visions of “smaller wholes,” as it were. By God’s grace I was granted such a view from heaven when attending a Divine Liturgy. In a noetic vision, I received an exalted view. I was able to see the beginning and end of my own life, with all its intricate parts and all my choices, as a single whole ending with me opening the doors and walking into the Liturgy. It was clear that this was my road to Damascus, and like St. Paul, it was this experience that led to my wife and I converting to Eastern Orthodoxy. Fittingly, I took the baptismal name Ananias (the Apostle and baptizer of St. Paul). After being received into the Orthodox Church, I happened by a Romanian Orthodox parish and felt a force compelling me to stop my car and get out. It was here that I met Fr. Cornell Avramescu, parish priest of The Falling Asleep of the Ever-Virgin Mary, who graciously took me under his wing. It was most certainly St. Mary, the Mother of Light and Birth-Giver of God who called me, and it was no happenstance that the Feast Day of the Dormition coincided with my birthday.

Joy of those that sorrow and deliverance of the oppressed, now save your servants, O Virgin Birth-Giver of God, for you are the peace of those at war and the tranquility of those who are troubled, only protectress of the Christian people.

To leave the City of Man and enter into the City of God is difficult, often requiring much sorrow. For “the Kingdom of Heaven suffers violence and the violent take it by force.”[8]Matt. 11:12. Yet, we must we learn from Lot’s wife and never look back. We are now citizens of heaven through our baptism! My second baptism came when I was ordained to the Diaconate and given a new life, a life beyond just being a professor. Here I am reminded of the Akathist to the Theotokos: “she silences philosophers and makes them mute as fish.” I now stand silenced before the glory of St. Mary, unable to speak words from the sphere of imperfect human wisdom. I am belong to the City of God, and I humbly receive revelation and wisdom from Christ the Eternal Logos, the light of men who gives knowledge higher than the minds of men and angels. Nevertheless, the battle between the City of Man and the City of God continues. Christ tells us, “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you.” Godless ideologies and atheistic Marxism have entered into the American universities, setting themselves against the Kingdom of Christ. When an atheist student discovered I was clergy, I was turned in to the Chair of the Liberal Studies Department, interrogated and lectured on how God is not allowed in the university. Consequently, I was released from my teaching position at Cal State University Fullerton. Clearly, I am not worthy of such persecution; however, as we are taught: through their persecutions, they make us worthy. As St. Nikodimos explains: “When harmed, insulted or persecuted by someone, do not think of the present but wait for the future, and you will find he has brought you much good, not only in this life but also in the life to come.”[9]Philokalia,114. We must remember Christ’s words: “my kingdom is not of this world,” and understand that when we are weak, He is strong. Only the cross can bring us resurrection, and “there is no resurrection without the crucifixion.”[10]Elder Ephraim, Collected Homilies. Our cross is our passport to the City of God.

About the author

Fr. Deacon Ananias Sorem, PhD is CEO, Founder, and President of Patristic Faith. Father is an Orthodox apologist and Professor of Philosophy at Fullerton College and Carroll College. He has a BA in Liberal Arts from Thomas Aquinas College, together with an MA (Honors) and PhD in Philosophy (Epistemology; Philosophy of Science; Philosophy of Mind) from University College Dublin. His current academic work focuses on philosophical theology, epistemology, and the philosophy of science. Father is the author of several articles and peer-reviewed papers, including: “Searle, Materialism, and the Mind-Body Problem,” “Gnostic Scientism and Technocratic Totalitarianism,” “An Orthodox Approach to the Dangers of Modernity and Technology,” and “An Orthodox Theory of Knowledge: The Epistemological and Apologetic Methods of the Church Fathers.” He is also known for his YouTube channel, the Norwegian Nous, where he provides content on theology, apologetics, logic, and philosophy.

References

References
1 “Who would fight with me? Let him stand against me. And who would accuse me? Let him draw near to me. Behold, the Lord is my helper; who will harm me? Behold, all you are like an old moth-eaten garment.” (Isiah 50:8-9 LXX
2 “[W]e cannot sit on two chairs. One cannot drink both from the cup of the Savior and from the cup of the adversary. We must decide whom we will serve. God or the things of this world. One cannot serve God and mammon at the same time.” (Elder Thaddeus, Thoughts Determine Our Lives, 127
3 Orthodoxy is less than 1% of the religious population in the U.S
4 Luke 9:23-24
5 Seed of the Word.
6 Elder Thaddeus, Thoughts Determine Our Lives, 125.
7 Fr. Seraphim Rose, The Teaching of St. Symeon the New Theologian, 14.
8 Matt. 11:12.
9 Philokalia,114.
10 Elder Ephraim, Collected Homilies.
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2 thoughts on “A City of God and a City of Man”

  1. Thank you Fr. Deacon for sharing this beautiful account of your life, it has touched me tremendously. Looking forward to seeing this ministry grow, this has so much potential!

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