The Unshaken Realm
Hieromonk Alexii Altschul
16 August 2020
And His voice shook the earth then, but now He has promised, saying, ‘Yet once more I will shake not only the earth, but also the heaven.’ This expression, “Yet once more,” denotes the removing of those things which can be shaken, as of created things, so that those things which cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude.
Heb. 12:26-28 (NASB)
Everything that can be shaken, will be shaken, so that the things that cannot be shaken will remain.
When earthquakes happen, and the ground shifts underneath us, the pressure or stress follows the cracks, or places where the earth is divided, deep below, called “fault lines”. These existing divisions and weak spots in the earth are the most vulnerable places.
Those that have worked with trauma survivors or done inner work, find that when anxiety provoking events occur or intense stress is experienced, we are tempted to return to our previous “fault lines,” our automatic inclinations, places that have brought calm, ease, or distraction in the past. These are a form of protection or defense that we have known previously.
For some it is overeating; for others, substances like drugs or alcohol; for others it is pornography or acting out sexually; for others overworking; for others it is subconsciously producing a similar kind of encounter (a reenactment) of the traumatic event. For practicing believers, we are learning a different way.
When a nation or culture or family, experiences a shaking, similar scenarios occur. The addictive responses listed above are common. Domestic violence (often reenactment) increases. And, as a culture we tend to return to our former fault lines. Consider the amount of fear of the other that is being expressed in these days. It hearkens back to the fear of immigrants at the turn of the 20th century. It hearkens back even to pre-civil war fault lines. Old scapegoats re-appear. The feeling of a siege mentality. Yet we hear the timely words of Psalm 145:2, chanted during the Divine Liturgy, “Put not your trust in princes, or in the sons of men, in whom there is no salvation” (LXX).
Everything that can be shaken will be shaken.
Yet, upon deeper reflection, there is a Divine opportunity in the present. An opportunity to discover those things that cannot be shaken. Many years ago, the Psalmist declared:
God is our refuge and strength, a Helper in afflictions which mightily befall us. Therefore, shall we not fear when the earth be shaken, nor when the mountains be removed into the heart of the seas… Be still and know, that I am God. I will be exalted in the nations. I will be exalted in the earth. (Psalm 45(46):1-2, 11 (Psalter According to the Seventy, HTM, Boston, 2007)
At our monastery these days, we consistently offer a prayer service, called a molieben, for overcoming civil discord. The Psalm that is read contains the verses above. When we think about the shaking of the nations, the alternative is the Stillness in the Presence of the One Who is always secure. Jeremiah the prophet uses the simile of a broken cistern, a leaking well, for our attempts to find solutions without the Lord. He says,
For My people have committed two evils: They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, and hewn themselves cisterns—broken cisterns that can hold no water (Jer. 2:13, NKJV).
The images of stillness and a fountain of living waters speak to a deeper source of security than those we find in the mirages that promise satisfaction, but so quickly dissolve before us.
St. Paul, in his first letter to the Christians at Corinth, presents a process of testing the strength of what we are building in our lives. He, as an apostle, provided the foundation (Christ Jesus), and each of us, he says, will build upon it. Fiery trials reveal whether the work will stand. The fire can show us what will endure, and what is leading us in the wrong direction (1 Cor. 3:11-15). This fire is not only at the end of the ages. Mercifully, the fire of trials can help us grow and learn now (1 Pet. 1:7; James 1:3-4). It shows us what endures and what simply fades away. They are powerful ‘stress tests’ for us as individuals, families, and nations.
After learning so many things do not endure, aren’t secure and can so easily change, what then can’t be shaken?
1. The Foundation: Jesus Christ, is the same, yesterday, today, and forever. (Hebrews 13:6)
On Saturday evenings, we prepare for the next day’s Liturgy with a prayer service called Vespers. During Vespers we chant from Psalm 95(96):10: “The Lord is King, for He established the world which shall.” The Prophet Malachi declares: “I am the Lord, I change not!” (Mal. 3:6) While on earth, Jesus Himself said, “Before Abraham was, I AM.” (John 8:58) Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is from everlasting to everlasting. He is the Foundation, the center of all grounding, the source of true security. St. Paul said of Him, “In Him all things hold together” (Col. 1:17, NASB).
2. The Words of Jesus
When giving His instructions to His disciples regarding the final times, He said, “Heaven and earth will pass away but My Words will never pass away” (Matt. 24:35). In His most famous teaching, known as the Sermon on the Mount, He revealed the one sure way to a secure life: building our lives, our “houses”, upon the unshakeable rock: hearing and doing His words (Matt. 7:24-25). Daily meditation and study of His words and teachings, revealed in the Scriptures, and confirmed by the ancient Church (alive to this day), provides strength, guidance, comfort, and transformation (2 Tim. 3:16-17).
3. The Name of Jesus.
The Name of the Lord is a Strong Tower. The righteous runs into it and is safe (Prov. 18:10, cf. Phil. 2:9-11; Rom 10:13).
A very simple prayer that we regularly pray is called the ‘Jesus Prayer’: “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me” or “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Indeed, the regular repetition of calling on His Name is not a vain repetition. It is like breathing. Breathing in His name, breathing out a cry of mercy for ourselves, and for the whole world. It can lead to ceaseless prayer. When St. Paul wrote to the Romans regarding this, he said, “whoever calls on the Name of the Lord, will be saved (Rom. 10:13). The word “calls’ literally means ‘calls and keeps calling!”
4. The Body of Jesus, the Church.
With Christ as the Foundation, the direct followers of Jesus, His Holy Apostles, revealed this unshakeable realm. Jesus called it, His “Church:”
I will build My Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it (Mt. 16:18).
This Church is unshakeable in that Christ and those with Him now in the Heavens are beyond the shifting sands of this age. Their teachings, examples and living traditions are like beacons for us on earth. As we attune ourselves to Christ and this unshakeable realm, we become more and more like them (1 John 3:1-3). I know I still have a long journey to such stability, but I know that He is the Way (John 14:6). I also know that when I fall if I get up, He will not cast me away. For He Himself said, “All that come to Me, I will in no wise cast out” (John 6:37).
When St. Paul wrote to the Hebrews, he described the most beautiful community between heaven and earth. And he shows that this life is what we’re invited to share in:
But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel (Hebrews 12:22-24).
This is the unshakeable realm. This is the “world that shall not be shaken.” This is the realm where the Virgin Mary, the Theotokos, dwells. This is the place where all of the Holy apostles and prophets live, where the martyrs and mothers and fathers in the Faith, those that kept their faith, experience life everlasting. While we, in the Church on earth, continue our pilgrimage, they have reached the unshaken realm, and console and strengthen us through their prayers and love (cf. p. 237, Fr. Michael Pomazansky, 2015, St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, Platina, CA). The closeness of this realm and the nearness of the holy ones there, is further illumined by the experience of the twentieth century Russian light, St. John of Kronstadt:
The Mother of God, all the holy angels and all the saints are also in God. What is, therefore, nearer, who can, therefore, be more closely associated with believing Christians than the angels and saints? Therefore, call upon God Himself, the Lord of everything, as well as upon His saints, with faith, hope and love, asking them to intercede before God for you; ask the angels and saints to pray to God for you as you would ask living persons anything for yourself—standing face to face with them, firmly believing that they too stand face to face with your heart (My Life in Christ, St. John of Kronstadt).
5. The Body and Blood of Jesus: Where we all come together.
The Lord longs to be gracious to you, He waits on high to have compassion on you… how blessed are all those who long for Him (Isaiah 30:18 NASB).
Isaiah the prophet reveals two “longers" – the Longer from Heaven, and the blessing of those who long for Him on earth. The Lord longs for us. We are blessed when we long for Him. This is experienced in prayer. It is especially experienced in the Divine Liturgy, where we receive the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. There the angels and saints gather with us in a special way, worshipping and calling together upon the Undivided Three in One, the God Who longs for us.
This realm opens up to us after turning away from distancing ourselves from God and believing in Jesus Christ; after being washed by Baptism and being sealed with the Holy Spirit through Holy Chrism (the anointing of the Holy Oil); after being renewed and forgiven when we’ve confessed our falls and failings. (For the way up, is the way down, through humility.)
We experience this realm in every Divine Liturgy. “Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” It is not yet in its fullness in our experience, but we taste “the coming age.” We receive the deposit of the Holy Spirit. The grace we receive enables us to go out into the world, as members of the Body of Christ, as His pilgrim Church on the earth.
The Apostle John reveals one overarching aspect of this realm. He declares, “God is love” (1 John 4:7). In this realm of love something happens. “Perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18). Instead of seeing people different from us as the “other” to be feared and avoided, we are moved by this love to embrace, co-suffer, heal and walk together. Our old fault lines of fear are being replaced by an eternal, unseen reality of Love.
We are called to be signposts, pointing to the Unshaken Realm. We seek to say to the world, “Join me on this journey. We carry a light within. We carry an unquenchable flame that lights our way.” That flame is Jesus Christ, the light of this world. His Words. His Name.His Church. His Body. His Blood. These are the things that can’t be shaken.