A Short Post on Culture

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A short thought today on Orthodox Christianity and American culture. My intention in my recent post on this topic was not to lament the lack of Orthodox-produced culture in America, but rather to emphasize how productive of culture Orthodoxy is. It is something completely natural to Orthodox life if it is being lived in its fullness.

One of the delightful qualities of life is that it only has to be lived, not invented. Thus we do not need to worry about how we are to transform this culture any more than a grain of wheat has to worry about becoming a stalk of wheat. It just has to die and be planted.

So too, Orthodoxy needs only to live its life in its fullness – for this is the Life of God and it will bear abundant fruit – because it is Life. Standing in the way of this, are occasional well-meaning Orthodox who take a more Puritan approach to culture and believe that art and dance and non-Church music and literature are a waste of time. Of course this is like saying that breathing is a waste of time (we don’t have to be taught to breathe, either).

Thus we give thanks that every good gift “comes down from the Father of Lights,” and that as we draw more fully into Him we will become more fully what we were created to be. And, glory to God, it will be evidenced with an abundance of life.

Love God. Say you prayers. Go to Church. Keep the commandments. Forgive everyone for everything. It is a rare thing indeed that requires us to do more on a daily basis.

11 comments:

  1. Father, bless.

    What you mention here is what has struck me as elegantly simple and beautiful about the Orthodox life from the beginning: it is organic. Salvation is organic because it is a *real* change in the believer, not an external declaration of something that isn’t true; neither can it be forced, it must be lived as a child naturally grows into adulthood.

    If my personal salvation is therefore a genuine, dynamic natural change in me within community–which cannot be imposed mechanically–the same must be true for the salvation of our culture. This cannot be dictated and forced, it must mature organically, naturally, as a seed coming to full bloom.

    I haven’t added anything here, but it arresting, realizing how natural and right our life in Christ, in the Church, feels. No wonder they originally simply called it “The Way.”

    the sinner,
    Lucas

  2. In recently reading about the life of Father Arseny, I was surprised and pleased to learn that he started out his post college career as an author of art history books. Apparently, he enjoyed reading and studying art even after becoming a priest and, I would imagine, especially after`spending years in a Siberia prison camp. (Perhaps we’re spoiled for options that *seem* like culture here in the west?) He even often intelligent insight and critique on culture and the arts to his fellow prisoners, some of them part of the elite intelligentsia. It’s inspiring to learn about such a humble and caring Christian who didn’t leave culture behind in some sort of false askesis.

    Father Arseny (Saint?), please pray for us!

  3. “Love God. Say you[r] prayers. Go to Church. Keep the commandments. Forgive everyone for everything.”

    Simple. But not easy. Especially the last one. However, praying for those we need to forgive is a good place to start.

  4. FrGreg,

    Indeed. I sometimes teach people to simply pray, “God, in the day of judgment do not hold this against them.” It’s an easier way to begin our prayers of forgiveness. But if I leave this most difficult of simple things out in such a list, I would make too short a schrift of the gospel.

  5. David,

    There are obvious kinds of plans we all have to make (my wife is in charge of vacations because she plans much better than I do). The difference, or at least my intention, is that we not make plans about what God alone can do. Thus I cannot plan the growth of the Kingdom, or even the salvation of my soul. Many, many things I have to live with and accept as they come because no human plan could possible be sufficient for them.
    This is what I had in mind.

  6. Dear Father Stephen, bless.

    I have something to share regarding culture and Orthodoxy. Although I enjoy reading all of the posts and comments, I don’t have enough knowledge of Orthodox theology to engage usefully at a high level of conversation; so most of what I share comes from my own personal and family experiences.

    During the “holiday” season (where I work, we are strongly discouraged from saying “Christmas”), I struggle with feelings of anxiety when I am enveloped by rioutous commericalism and the emptiness of secular “holiday” messages. With a large family, the financial pressure as well as the pressure to provide a Normal Rockewell image of American Christmas diminshes my ability to “be still.” These adverse conditions, however, force me to pray more frequently.

    Yesterday, we celebrated St. Nicholas Day. I always take off of work for this day: an action, which by itself, tells my children something about how important the day is. The children discover gold foil-wrapped coins on the icon shelf when they wake up on St. Nicholas Day and they bring some into school to share with their friends. Later, they get picked up from school to attend Divine Liturgy; again, with several of the children having perfect attendance records, taking off of school for church is a big deal. We break the fast and have a tree decorating party in the evening, with Christmas carols (from the Mormon Tabernacle choir, no less!) playing in the background.

    I worry on and off throughout the day that some of our family customs are not really Orthodox and consider what changes I should and shouldn’t make. Last night as I tucked in my 9-year-old, I noticed he was wearing a felt, red and white Santa Clause hat. He had pulled it down over his eyes. I felt a little irritated, thinking to myself that the commericalism of Christmas is just too great for children to withstand. When I leaned down and pulled up the brim, my son opened his eyes and it was then that I saw that his hands were clasped together under the blanket. He looked at me and said, “I’m praying to St. Nicholas.”

    In the midst of imperfection, God’s will is at work.

    Father, you’re right (as always, it seems!) We can’t make our culture Orthodox. But God is with us and where God is, good things will be there also. — Martha

  7. Why do we fret so much?
    Change what you want to, or don’t about your traditions… they are beautiful because they are yours and give glory to God.
    Rejoice that your children are still at home with you, mine is in college and not home yet, the tree will not go up until he is home.
    We are all different but we all want basically the same things.
    I pray, though, that you are strengthened at work and say what you wish to whomever you wish regarding the holiday. Merry Christmas.

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