Sunday, August 2, 2015

Saint Ignatius Brianchaninov: Epistle on Islam and Muslims

The writings of the saints of the Church remind us of the urgency of the divine imperative to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with all, including with our Muslim neighbors. 

St. Ignatius Brianchaninov (†1867)

Church hierarchs and teachers who speak in vague and pious words of Christians and Muslims being the "two lungs of one Eastern body," or of "co-existing peacefully" within a "loving dialogue" are evading the commandment of the Savior and Lord to "make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (MT 28:19).

The words of the saints come from a living faith, and from piercing awareness of the nearness of death and eternity. Their words may seem harsh or stern to us, in our weakened and timid state. All the more reason for us to stir ourselves up to evangelical fervor, and to be mindful that, in the words of Metropolitan Tikhon of the OCA, "We are here, in North America, called to be apostles and martyrs for Christ."

Saint Ignatius Brianchaninov (April 30)
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Epistle on Islam and Muslims
(selected from the saint's letters)

Vainly and erroneously you think and say that virtuous... Muslims will be saved, that is they will join intercourse with God! Vainly you consider the contrary notion a novelty, a brief error! No! Such is the eternal teaching of the true Church, both Old Testament and New. 

The Church has always confessed that there exists one means of salvation: the Redeemer! She has confessed that the most virtuous of the fallen really do descend to Hell. Did the righteous of the True Church, the illumined from whom shone the Holy Spirit, the prophets and wonderworkers, believers in the Redeemer's coming but with the demise of the anticipated coming of the Redeemer, descend to Hell so that, as you wish, the Muslims who neither recognize nor believe in the Redeemer receive, because they seem to you good people, that salvation which is delivered solely-- solely, I repeat to you, by means of -- belief in the Redeemer?

Christians! Know Christ! -- Witness that you don't know Him, that you denied him in claiming the possibility of salvation without Him for some kind of virtue! Claiming the possibility of salvation without belief in Christ denies Him and, maybe not consciously, falls into the grave sin of blasphemy. 

"Therefore we conclude," says the Holy Apostle Paul, "that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law." (Romans 3:28) "Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus" (Romans 3:22-4).

You will object: "The Holy Apostle James requires without fail good works; he teaches that 'faith, if it hath not works, is dead' (James 2:17)." Look again at what the Holy Apostle James requires. You will see that he, just like all God-inspired writers of Holy Scripture, requires the works of faith, and not the virtues of our fallen state! He requires living faith, confirmed by the deeds of the new man, and not the virtues of the fallen state, which are repugnant to faith. He cites the deeds of Patriarch Abraham, the work from which appeared the faith of a righteous man: this work consisted of offering as a sacrifice to God his only begotten son. To offer one's son as a sacrifice-- this is totally not a virtue according to human nature: it is a virtue as the fulfillment of the command of God, as a work of faith. 

Take a good look at the New Testament and in general all of Holy Scripture: you will find that it demands fulfillment of the commandments of God, that this fulfillment is called works, that from this fulfillment of God's commandments faith in God comes to life, as functioning; without works faith is dead, lacking any movement. And contrary to this, you will find that virtuous works of the fallen state, done out of feeling, blood, impulses or tenderheartedness-- are prohibited, repudiated! 

And namely for these virtues you like... the Muslims! To them, though it were repudiation of Christ, you want to give salvation.

—Letter No. 203

translated by J. Hargrave
Sources here and here.