The modern project holds that the world can be improved and made better. It also holds that human beings can be improved and made better. And finally, it holds that the means of that improvement and betterment are political. Modernity began only partly as a philosophical assertion. It found its voice first, and foremost, in the political experiments of the 18th century. During the 19th and 20th centuries, the rapid growth of science, technology and consumer capitalism were celebrated as the fruit of modern political efforts, with very few voices raised in protest. Today, the political assumptions of the modern project remain the most widely accepted beliefs of our time, even in the face of their increasing inability to achieve agreement and work towards a common effort. Modernity fits most of the requirements of a religion and is probably best understood in that manner. As religions go, it has been successful in gaining adherents. It has also failed to achieve its promises, offering, instead, an unending religious argument that is today called “politics.”
The world that confronted the birth of the modern project was largely governed by monarchies, with varying schemes of shared power. Religion held a major role in the forming and shaping of culture, even after the initial splintering of religious unity in the Reformation. Economies were highly protectionist with many of the aspects of the Medieval guild system that protected traditional groups and the means of production. The battle-cry of modernity was “Reason.” Traditions of every form were challenged as unreasonable and rooted in superstitions and false assumptions. There was an assurance that reason could be applied to every area of life and yield improved, happier results. The American revolution was perhaps the first major application of these principles (though the French Revolution would take them to their extreme).
Various democratic schemes (Democracies, Republics, etc.) were put forward with careful thought. All of them sought to balance the various interests of society and produce a model that would guarantee the greatest success. No one can deny where that model has succeeded. However, it has also created a narrative of “how things work” that is inadequate for reality. It is the boundaries of that inadequacy that most reveal themselves in the intractable problems of our culture.
Human interactions in the modern setting have been framed within the understanding of “rights.” The language of rights assumes that human beings exist as a set of self-interested agents with free-will. It also assumes that one person’s rights begin where those of another ends. The world of competition and balance has also given rise to the language of oppression and liberation. Though it is possible to enlarge or alter that world by expanding individual demands to variously defined groups (common interest, common identity), nevertheless, in every case the result is the same assumption that we exist as a set of self-interested free-wills. The politics of identity remains the politics of individualism, with nothing more than various make-shift versions of an individual. Collective nouns (men, women, minorities, etc.) serve as stand-in’s for individuals. Something is lost.
The greatest loss, and the most insurmountable obstacle in the politics of modernity is established by the reality that we do not, in fact, exist as individuals. Human life is not just community (a collection of individuals), it is a communion. No one life exists alone. The needs of the one do not exist apart from the needs of the other. Our lives co-inhere.
At its root, the failure of modernity is its account of what it means to be human. It pointedly and persistently ignores the given wisdom of inherited human experience and continues to insist that its model is not only right, but that any amount of technological and artificial interference can be justified in making its solutions work. The result is an increasing alienation of individuals as well as the creation of an abstracted, artificial biology that begins to rival the imagination of Mary Shelley.
Against this backdrop of ideological artifice stands the sanity of a growing awareness of nature itself. We see, rather clearly, that unbridled technology and exploitation of the environment yields disastrous results. Questions about non-intervention of genetically modified seed-lines are not only reasonable, they press an important point. Are we engineering our way into a world of unhealthy, even poisonous foods? We conquer disease only to invent un-treatable bacteria. We rightly wonder at our alienation from nature and the natural demands of the human body.
But these very questions are being asked by people who themselves embrace a relatively unimpeded use of technological interventions within human beings (including the genome). The contradiction seems to be ignored. If the contradiction were noticed then the question of what is natural for human beings, perhaps even, what is the traditioned, given, human existence would have to be examined for once.
Such questions, however, are obscured by the noise of the continued fray of political voices that compete for attention in the battle of will versus will. It is the sound of our times. It is the continuing echo of the modern project that will only persist in trying to solve that which needs no solving other than true discovery and admission.
Life as communion is our natural existence. There are imbalances and frustrations, errors to be corrected and injustices to be corrected. But, in the end, the common human life, the life lived as a common life, is the only life that is life-giving. That truth and the path of that truth are found through the patient endurance of our common existence and the willingness to live within the bounds of our true existence.
No traditional society is perfect. Our abuse of one another is quite ancient. But the instinct of the modern project that we should throw off the bonds of tradition and re-imagine the world only makes us prisoners to other very ancient foes. There are very few things that admit of a political solution. The march of liberation and continuing declaration of rights sets the stage for every succeeding debate and power struggle. None of them sets the stage for greater communion, nor the change of the human heart that is only found in communion.
Because communion is not a political project, it is not a competitor within the political world. It is not an argument for solving problems (it is the solution); it is not the dream of a better world (it is the willingness to live in the present one). It is family, children, sickness, weakness, kindness, sharing, prayer. It is transformative but not as political solution. The Christian Church is precisely such a life in communion.
The modern project has changed the nature of the human conversation. Because it locates the solution for all things (its “better world”) within the political realm, it judges all things within that setting. Only those things that can argue for a better political solution are given attention, everything else is deemed to be impractical or somehow belonging to something other than the “real world.” When Christians choose to agree with the assumptions of the modern project, they agree as well that the Church serves only an ancillary position, perhaps as adviser or moral coach. Too often, however, simply agreeing to be part of the modern conversation is already an abandonment of faith.
Christ has not made the Kingdom of God hostage to the politics of any culture. The life that He has given us is already present and immediately available. It requires that it be lived. Just lived.
Wonderfully stated, Father! Many thanks for this. Glory to God!
You speak truth Father. The more we champion the “rights” of one group, the more we have to oppress the other groups. if we are to live out our faith in communion, we cannot rely on a system of this world (Politics) as a provider of solutions. It seems ironic that the more the modern project takes hold of the world’s consciousness, the more individualistic people become, the less likely it becomes that consensus can be found in politics. This leads to conflict, hatred and eventually to the self destruction of the very society that the modern project seeks to build.
Hi Father bless, thank you for your reflections on modern modes of thinking which I think many of us take for granted in North America. The adoption of the presuppositions seemed to be shared across confessional lines so it’s refreshing to hear about how Orthodox Christians can respond to the challenges of the modern project. There’s a very interesting book by Brad S. Gregory called “the Unintended Reformation” which resonates with your observations by discussing how the political upheaval post Reformation accelerated the modern project by creating “secular” spaces due to conflicts caused by competing and irreconcilable truth claims. The author points out that part of the reasons why pluralism is championed in the modern project is the assumption that it pluralism is a more peaceful arrangement compared to the conflict caused by competing truth claims in the aftermath of the Reformation.
I wish it was as simple as you say. Problem is there are people for who Christianity is supporting their pet politic. Mostly conservatives but I’ve seen liberals do it, too. Quite frankly, I am fed up with this mentality I see among a significant number of Orthodox Christians to where they pretty much imply (or sometimes state outright) that unless a person supports conservative Republican politics and politicians, they are not a “real” Christian … Orthodox or otherwise. It’s downright oppressive. I personally don’t like the idea of having to choose between my faith in God and my stance on a variety of issues that apparently some take offense to and then suddenly don’t like me anymore because of it. I’ve made the sad decision this week to leave the Orthodox Church. I’m not sure when or even if I will go back to any church anywhere. I figure if St. Mary of Egypt and St. Herman of Alaska and a number of hermits could practise without going to church, so can I. As long as people in the church keep mistaking Trump for Jesus Christ, then I want no part of the church I so joyfully embraced nearly six years ago. It’s been a heartbreaking disappointment. Sorry, but someone has to say it.
Thank you, Father, for another thought-provoking post.
When I read a posting about communion I am filled with such a deep longing. . . and no wonder I have limited patience for politics. . .
God give you grace. The passions of current politics are a very trying thing for our souls. It is utterly dismaying that some have made the political project (of any form) a condition of the faith. It is one of the errors of our times. Orthodox Christianity cannot promise the right behavior of its people – but there needs to be serious repentance. I invite you to join me in prayer for the deliverance of our brothers and sisters from this scourge. I pray you find your way back to the Cup. You will be in my prayers. God protect you!
The very people who so sorely disappoint you can be your means of salvation. I’ve seen God change hearts enough over the years, especially my own, to know that this is true. I once read that you have a good job if 50% of the time it’s good, 40% of the time bearable, and 10% down right awful. Perhaps this can be applied to the church you attend? Pray that you yourself might change, and I’m not speaking of politics. If you do, your own heart over time will soften toward those who so sorely vex you. “Love is patient and kind; …love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;…Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.” 1Cor.13
I grew up in Southern California. It was not unusual for my family to visit the beach from time to time, especially during the summer. My sister and I were warned however of the danger of what my parents referred to as a “rip tide”. While today definitions vary as to what a rip tide is, it was made clear to us that a rip tide could easily drag us to our deaths.
I now live in Northern California and every year the media apprise us of those who unwarily or ignorantly clamber on rock too near the waves and are likewise dragged to their death.
Interestingly the sea is a biblical metaphor for humanity.
When I was younger, I was occasionally asked to reveal my take on life with the question, “Is the glass half empty or half full?” The question presumes that I somehow have an objective view of my life and that the answer to the question was a litmus test. I have now come to believe that I can have no object view of my life. I’m in the glass, not outside of it.
While I am sure your observations regarding modernity and politics are accurate, it seems that both “exist” rather as meta-phenomena. What I mean is that neither one would actually exist except for the brokenness of human nature. Both seem to exist as coping mechanisms for a humanity struggling in the dark to overcome the tragedy of a fallen nature without the help of their Creator. Much as evil exists as “a parasite on good”, modernity would have no expression but for the condition of human nature.
Practically though while “no one is saved alone”, parishes seem to be populated by people who don’t have much in common. Yes, the Liturgy unites our expression, at least to some degree: coffee hour reveals how we practice the outworking. We form cliques and comfort groups. We talk about the latest sporting event, movie or news. I was and am dismayed at how the latest election cycle demonstrated how little we agree on and how far apart we really are in our thinking. When I proposed to my own “comfort group” that “our struggle isn’t against flesh and blood…”, I was met with silence. I confess, I had become somewhat concerned that our rather constant debates and discussions on how world events should be viewed in terms you have described as modernity were missing an important element.
O.K., enough “philosophizing”; how can I be a part of a communion at the same time I feel so alienated? We are a communion in Christ, but in this world even we Christians seem to be fragmented. I have been dragged out to sea with the rest of my fellow men, subject to the moon and tides (like modernity) and every time I decry the condition in which I find myself, I find there is seawater in my veins.
The more we champion the “rights” of one group, the more we have to oppress the other groups.
I have noted, much to the consternation of those about me who wish to discuss politics and social justice issues, that whenever we discuss “rights”, we are speaking about our will(s), not God’s Will. We have no rights in heaven; we should consider also that we have no rights in the Body of Christ. We would do well to practice humility and service in love for those around us. Just my thoughts.
Heartbroken – mine is broken too – as are many others!
Don’t leave. Please, come back.
When I get beside myself, my priest is fond of saying, “we live in a fallen world, what are you expecting?”
Just considering his wisdom and sincerity and the truth of it, makes many things well in my heart over and over -again.
This political season has been too much for anyone with a heart to bear, but in all things God is always control, and His ways are not our ways.
It is surely no small providence of God, that our election was held on the commemoration of the Synaxis of the Archangel Michael & the other Bodiless Powers.
Don’t loose heart or the Faith. I am also reminded of this passage from the Screwtape Letters.
“My Dear Wormwood,
Be sure that the patient remains completely fixated on politics. Arguments, political gossip, and obsessing on the faults of people they have never met serves as an excellent distraction from advancing in personal virtue, character, and the things the patient can control. Make sure to keep the patient in a constant state of angst, frustration and general disdain towards the rest of the human race in order to avoid any kind of charity or inner peace from further developing. Ensure that the patient continues to believe that the problem is “out there” in the “broken system” rather than recognizing there is a problem with himself.
Keep up the good work,
When we are divided in the Church over a political season like the one we just endured, we all need to come back to our senses. Let’s stop putting our trust in princes and in sons of men, in whom there is no salvation.
It is an unfortunate fact that Orthodox Christians have been awful to one another during this Trump – Clinton diversion. We should not be awful to people we love and know, over politicians who we do not even know.
I’ve lived in the Washington DC suburbs my whole life, I have never seen people as angry and unfortunate as during this election. Even I had to catch myself so many times – it was awful — just so awful.
Maybe you will find some comfort to know that Fr Seraphim of Mull Monastery was heartbroken too, so much so that he went to Mount Athos to recuperate. He wrote this on the monastery Facebook page and it dovetails with the CS Lewis quote.
“Although I’ve kept far from the political fights that consumed the world, I have allowed their noise to disturb me, I have allowed them to distract me from the things that truly matter… It is my responsibility, therefore, to tell you all that no one won in 2016. There are no winners. We have all lost. We have all allowed hatred and doubt and fear to enter our hearts. We have all judged, we have all looked at Christ’s image, our brother, and saw in him the enemy. We have all built walls: some have built walls against those who are different from them, others have built walls against those who build walls. There is no difference between walls: regardless of what motivates them, they are all expressions of a void in our hearts. That empty void where Love should have been.”
Be encouraged, and be with your heartbroken brothers and sisters – in the Church.
The picture attached to the post is perfect!
A little further comment. Because I’m now 70, I recall watching the inauguration of President Kennedy on a high school t.v. It was a bitterly cold day. One of the speakers was the poet, Robert Frost. He was then in his 80’s. Because of the cold, a space heater had been placed at his feet under the podium. Reading his remarks, some of his papers fell and caught fire. Smoke started rising, and befuddled Mr. Frost didn’t know what to do. Fortunately, someone quickly snatched up the burning papers and put them out. I think it was about that time that our English teacher had us memorize one of his poems. Because of the antinomy expressed in it, I thought it might fit here.
Some say the world will end in fire,
From what I’ve tasted of desire, I hold with those who favor fire.
But if I had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate,
To say that for destruction ice,
Is also great, and would suffice!
It’s most unfortunate when Orthodox Christians get wildly behind ANY political candidate. I strongly suspect that if I attended a Greek parish in the northeastern US, I’d be confronted with folks who mistake Obama or Clinton for Jesus Christ, just as Heartbroken is confronted with folks who mistake Trump for Jesus Christ. Both approaches are misguided at best. Our hope is in Christ alone and we are eternally grateful for His Holy Church.
Victoria, while that Lewis “quote” has been passed around extensively on social media, it’s not actually in The Screwtape Letters. Now, I think all of us would agree that the sentiment it expresses is certainly good but nonetheless, it’s not actually a quote.
Thank you for letting know. I did get it from social media, though I usually do a fact check in my own book, I did not this time!
The Fr Seraphim quote is from social media too! LOL – but it is from their monastery Facebook page. 🙂
Also @ Father Barbabas : I think the picture is kinda creepy.
I love Fr Seraphim and I too saw what he wrote. Great stuff. Thank you Victoria for including that here!
The other thing is that we are all heartbroken in that we are all sinners. The Church of the Orthodox is about healing that brokenness.
The mere fact that there is bickering or elevating politicians to some messianic status and people turning against one another over it is but a symptom. The root is our brokenness.
God is not insecure about this -we are – myself first.
People often disappoint, God does not. Pay your taxes, but otherwise forget about the politicians.
Look to Him, place your trust in Him, love Him, very little else is important. “Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere.” Psalm 84:10
The Orthodox Church is the healing of our souls. It is taking up our Cross and walking the path of Christ with Christ. So often we want Church to be about more than our salvation and so we get caught up in distractions – of which politics and the failing of others is just one of a myriad of distractions.
We should be laying aside our earthly cares in Church and no one should be leaving the Orthodox Church over an election.
At least talk it over with your priest and your friends.
Please forgive me if I have offended you with anything I have written here.
In my experience people leave the Church (as did Mary of Egypt, as I almost did) due to unrepented sins.
The politics of “rights” and ideology exclude three thinlgs which are essential to our humanity: Thanksgiving, Repentance and Truth.
The secular/modern project is shown in the works of the playwrite Samuel Beckett and other Absurdist pkaywrites. Beckett’s last “play” was 30 seconds of heavy breathing from one person on a dark stage.
The secular/modern/nihilism is focused on one thing: the subjection of man to our passions.
Fear is the big one right now. If I don’t vote correctly, buy the right things and invest properly I will be subject to all types of evil.
The preferred salutation of the angels of God is “Fear Not…”. Our Lord commands us to be of good cheer because He has overcome the world. Not someday, but once and for all, trampling down death by death.
I adjure myself often during the day not to fear. Fear kills-my soul, my body and my life. It almost drive me from the Church at one point after 20 years.
The more I learn a discipline of thanksgiving and repentance, the less fear controls me. But to be thankful requires me to eschew my rights, my expectations and my desire/certainty that I am right and can fix things.
It requires that I embrace the Cross with joy and humility.
I cannot change anything, least of all someone else’s heart. As the story of the Transfiguration reminds us, even Jesus did not change things in prayer. “As He prayed, He was changed….”
May that same God, transform and transfigured us all into His eternal image and likeness.
God is good.
You are not alone! I cannot count how many times I’ve been tempted to apostasize because of the utter lack of charity and basic human decency and common sense I’ve seen in things posted online by my fellow Orthodox.* But for at least every one of those I’ve also known someone from the Church who was genuinely kind and caring and doing everything in their power to live out the Gospel in their lives. (Sometimes those happen to be the same person, too – funny how internet works, and habitual sinners for that matter.)
It is not necessary to break communion. Saint Herman and Saint Mary both still ultimately acted within the Church, even if they weren’t “churchgoers” in the more banal sense – but the need to retreat from the noise and chatter of the world, which us banal “churchgoers” are too easily inclined to bring into the church, has long been a respected and valued part of the faith.
At the risk of running counter to everything Fr. Stephen is trying to get at in the article, I wish to point out a Facebook group called “Orthodox Christians Opposed to Trump”. There are many – not that many, but by no means negligible or endangered in our marginalization – who have (whatever else we’ve drunk) not drunk the Republican Dominionist Kool-Aid.
It may be hard to believe, depending on the people at your parish (I am blessed to be in one that is, shall we say, very “West Coast”!), but please do remember that the true Church is a very, very big tent that gives lie to the “acle” in “tabernacle”. One of the most faith-preserving bits of advice I received as a catechumen was a warning that I would see as much evil among the people within the Church as without.
(By the way, when I first read your comment I immediately thought of someone I know. If you are that person, please forgive me for anything I’ve posted on FB that has contributed to your alienation!)
*(if my priest is reading this: this is unrelated to my disappearance in December and most of January. That’s just plain old sloth and not any high-minded crisis of faith. Details next confession.)
Father, thank you for your post. I don’t mean to play devil’s advocate (because I agree with you), but how is the modern project of human improvement via the political system different from what Plato speaks about in his Republic? From my reading of it a few years back, it seemed like that was also his idea as well. Obviously the details and “implementation” are different but the idea itself seems similar.
Matt, Any statement of political ideology is suspect. For or against a person especially.
All political things are ephemeral and for every supporting opinion for Hillary or Trump or their respective parties I personally could construct an argument for either side without much difficulty and appear quite passionate.
Just remember that being a Christian does not depend on the state at all in any way. In fact, sooner or later, any state will perscute the Church and the people of the Church.
Especially modern states devoted to secular nihilism as all are.
I learned along time ago that if I based my participation in the Church on the basis of agreement or disagreement with other Orthodox, I would die alone, screaming and bereft of grace.
No one agrees with me sufficiently. Even my own wife.
With respect to the monk, whose struggle seems quite real, his statement could easily be taken as an ideological one on the face of it.
In the advice of a monastic friend of mine, I have begun to practice a discipline of non-reactivity founded in the dawning realization that I am the worst of all sinners. If I had power I would be far more cruel and corrupt than anyone currently in power and any insult anyone gives me is deserved.
Can’t always manage it, but it has helped a lot.
God is mercy, but His mercy is not ours and His judgment is not ours.
Glory to God.
One thing that also needs consideration: there is a winnowing possibly going on. There is only one unity with which I can be concerned. My unity with Christ which gets right back to my previous post. The fear of disunity and conflict feeds the beast. It easily becomes another tool of ideology. Another way for the evil one to manipulate us by that fear.
“My kingdom is not of this world. If it were of this world, then My servants would fight. But as it is My kingdom is not of this world.”
Michael, there is a difference between trying to maintain a false unity on the one hand with those who no longer actually believe, and trying on the other to reach out to someone who, day in day out, has heard and read their fellow Orthodox’s shrill and smug gloating and shaming over the perceived sins of a “them” that (unknown to one’s fellow parishioners) may include one’s own beloved family, friends and neighbours, casually consigning to Hell all those on the wrong side of the culture war. Of course the faith commands that we love Christ more than these family, friend and neighbours and fellow parishioners; but I believe for most of us we are still at the level of if we cannot love these whom we can see how can we love the Father whom we have not.
That the culture war has people on both sides within the Church itself is, on one level, the war’s own proof of its irrelevance to the faith – and that the flip comments one keeps hearing are, if not wrong, then at least misleadingly shrill in their tone.
Matt, all I am saying what else can we expect? Given the environment in which we live, the nature of the medium and my own sinfulness, it is surprising only in that it is not worse.
If there is no truth in what is said, why should it disturb you. My Bishop years ago gave me a discipline to follow when I post. “Hold onto your peace. If you cannot, don’t read and don’t post.” (the last part implied).
It has done wonders for me–even the attempt to follow it did me good.
Please take to heart Fr Stephen’s words. All of us are sinners.
When I was a catechumen, my family was deeply dismayed when I began to enter the Orthodox Church. My family do not consider themselves Christian and easily found in the media the most obnoxious behavior and words presented by self-claimed Christians to dissuade me. The most difficult were the ones presented online or other writings by Orthodox clergy. I was deeply crushed and uncertain. A few of family still think that I’m the only one sane person in the Orthodox Church and that even my own adherence is closer to insanity than not. Their perspective also crushes me.
I am not a registered voter in either of the two major political parties. My family history on both sides of my parents can be characterized as a-political if not anti-political. My dad’s side was Quaker and my mom’s Seminole culture deeply colored their understandings of God and the wider culture’s politics. I can and do get dismayed/aggravated when I hear or watch politically oriented news.
I am grateful that my parish hasn’t been a challenge to me politically. Perhaps my time of real tests lie in the future. And last I admit St Ephraim’s prayer helps a lot also.
You are in my prayers for your peace and strength.
Michael, I just read your post about what your Bishop said for discipline. This is good advice. And thank you for sharing it.
Wise words from your bishop remind me of these. Bishop Kallistos of Xelon wrote: Do not resent, do not react, keep inner stillness. I believe he was Metropolitan Jonah’s spiritual father. Father Stephen wrote an article a couple years back with the title using these same words. Imagine if all we Orthodox had followed his advice during this time of election upheaval.
Dear Heartbroken, If you look at pictures of churches in the various ‘old countries’, they can differ greatly in design…except for on factor: none of them have a coffee-hour hall attached to them. Perhaps this was a wise decision on the part of our ancestors. Try to avoid the coffee-hour chit-chat and, instead, try to attune yourself again to the promptings of the Holy Spirit which, no doubt, brought you to the “joy” of Orthodoxy in the first place. My guess is there’s many people on this forum saying a prayer for you, myself included. And, if you’ll consider my two cents in closing: pray for everyone that God brings into your path as it’s very hard for any animosity to take root in doing so, and try to find yourself a spiritual adviser while taking a hiatus from the on-line world instead of from the Divine Liturgy. God Bless!
“Too often, however, simply agreeing to be part of the modern conversation is already an abandonment of faith.” This is a clarifying statement of the trap that modernity is. When it comes to the root questions of what our life consists of we must choose between agnosticism towards God or towards politics. Every time the Nicene Creed is said I am reminded that Christ and Pilate had this conversation just before Our Lord took up the Cross.
Mother Maria of Paris speaks very strongly against the notion that somehow we can grow close to God and yet build a wall between ourselves and our neighbor. This has nothing to do with concrete or borders or trade or politics but rather with our willingness to give ourselves to our neighbor. It is this yearning for communion that brought the Only Begotten to empty Himself and take on our weak human flesh and then in that flesh to take the Cup that was required for our communion to be restored. Communion with Him and each other.
Doubt moderniy. Doubt politics. Doubt progress.
“Do not be decieved, my beloved brethren. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.” James 1:16.
“Agnosticism toward politics.” I like that a lot. It reminds me of some of Father’s posts from a while back about how we have (and spout) too many opinions. Too often do I find myself saying or thinking “I know…” about some political issue or solution, when the reality is that I don’t. I have a certain set of opinions, more or less substantiated by “facts” as I understand them. So I cheer when those who share my opinions get elected and scowl when they don’t. But really, what do I know? I’d be much better off calling myself a political agnostic–and acting like it, too.
“When it comes to the root questions of what our life consists of we must choose between agnosticism towards God or towards politics.”
Wish I’d said that!
It has been said in this platform before, and it resonates with me in light of what has been shared among us of late. So, it is repeated in hopes of supporting and encouraging all of us:
“Know how to search out the paths of the Holy Spirit in Christ’s creation, and be in awe before what God is doing”
I am a bit surprised that in our discussion of politics the issue of ecumenism has not come up. It seems that being agnostic there is also good advice.
I am a Canadian on this forum, and read your comment with sadness. I’ve come to believe that each community of orthodox Christians will have blind spots or weaknesses related to their smaller community or cultural worldview – areas where our worldview is the backdrop in which we live and act in ways that aren’t very Christlike, but that we take for granted due to our cultural norms.
I think that the states has a cultural commitment to their politics, for some (many) the commitment will seem even a religious devotion. And it all gets mixed up with all parts of life, including church. For many in Canada, the devotion to politics is limited, even ignored until the few weeks or two months before we actually vote. Even then the fervour is minuscule compared to the states. You are surrounded as a church in a cultural vacuum that doesn’t have the same influence on other branches of orthodoxy. (We all have our own painful influences!)
I guess what I’m trying to say is that all orthodox Christian churches/Christians will manifest weaknesses that may not be as disabling in another community. I think that the variety of cultural blind spots displayed by our huge Orthodox Church shows that the heart of the church itself is something other, that is still worth participating in, despite the painful manifestations of brokenness in us as individuals and communities.
Dee, one fruit of working to hold onto my peace is that my discernment also increased.
As Fr. Seraphim Rose of blessed memory wrote: “I am not required to defend sin.”
We are required by God to share the reason of our hope to anyone who asks.
It should be no surprise to anyone that there is sin in the Church. He calls we sinners to repentance. Where else are we to be?
Is that not part of the reason for our hope? Romans 5:20.
Also what Fr. Stephen often says: (paraphrase). God did not come to make bad men good but to make dead men alive.
Is that not a reason for our hope?
Is not another reason for our hope our Lord’s words from the Cross, Father forgive them for they know not what they do?
Forgive me, a sinner. I am in the Church because I am weak, forlorn and ignorant. That is also a reason for my hope.
I’m grateful for your sharing how holding on to your peace helps with discernment. This should have seemed obvious but it hadn’t occurred to me until you mentioned it. This gives me added incentive to resist passions and aggravations within myself. Thank you!
And thank you Michael, for the reminders of our hope!!
Michael, I apologize for the frequent short comments. On consideration of what my family attempted to do to dissuade me, (btw this was some time ago-not recent) I wanted to mention that at the time I did write into this blog and expressed my confusion and dismay and was helped very much by both you and Fr Stephen. I’m very grateful to this blog. It allows the forum for us to express our hopes and fears and receive prayers and support.
When this happened regarding (a few clergy’s) writings in the internet which might have been more helpful if more discernment in their words and actions were displayed, I began to read as widely as possible on the topics of my concern. Fr Thomas Hopko of Blessed Memory, wrote on many of the topics pertinent to my concerns and his methodological approach and outlook were very helpful. And Met. Kalistos Ware’s writings were helpful as well. These and others helped me to see the range of attitudes and approaches the clergy had, plus the fact that most were far more measured and careful than the complicatedly harmful writings that my family found.
Your quote from Fr Seraphim Rose is also helpful. I will remember his quote to settle my nerves if I should be presented by my loved ones with more unexpected news regarding ‘Christian’ behavior.
I too am heartbroken.
I am a political agnostic – I do not see any political platform or candidate resolving the human condition.
However, I do see the very distinct possibility that politics will destroy humanity. And soon.
My heartbreak does not cause me to pull away from the Church (in my case, RC). Rather, it leads me to pray for all of the refugees and immigrants affected by Friday’s executive order – and for leaders of all nations to maintain sobriety in spirit and action in light of it.
Politics is one thing. Having a madman at the helm is another. (I do not intend to sound uncharitable in that assessment – for the mad cannot help being mad. I pray for him daily.)
We may be in the end times. Let us prepare our souls – prayer, fasting and repentance.
(I will understand, Fr. Stephen, if you remove this comment. I simply had to write it.)
mary, everything is out of joint.
Hmmm…I definately do not like the shame of being an (ir)regular patient in this “hospital of transfiguration” where I am sickest and often gag at the treatments of humility and forgiveness. Deception isn’t a distant topology, it is indeed a deep wound diagnosed as ego and pride and it belches forth from every pore of my wormy skin. Remedy is in honest admittance that I attend a hospital with many others seeking treatment. Who could possibly go to a hospital and condemn all who suffer there, especially if you suddenly find yourself amongst the sick? Wait, stop and come back to healing in the midst of us who cry out in dismay that our treatment involves listening to those who suffer…while I also suffer.
[Communion] is not an argument for solving problems (it is the solution); it is not the dream of a better world (it is the willingness to live in the present one). It is family, children, sickness, weakness, kindness, sharing, prayer. It is transformative but not as political solution. The Christian Church is precisely such a life in communion.”
I can’t help but wonder if in some sense this is all about humility – life as it presents itself to us (and that could be ‘unwrapped’) Political dreams abstract us from what Is. This abstraction diverts us from our own Being-with. Our I-Thou to us Buber’s Word. It is the seed bed of the magnification of the human and Pride
In my tradition our readings today were Micah 6 ‘do justly (treat those with whom you commune with fairness) [NOT pick up the cudgels for the great fight for ‘Justice’], Love mercy (recognising your own frailty and transience in the one who faces you), and walk humbly with your God’; 1 Corinthians 1 – ‘but we preach Christ and him crucified, foolishness to the Greeks . . .’ (no door for the modern human project there either); and the Beatitudes, those words of the Lord which undo all pretensions to dreamlike existence
On another point – Wendell Berry somewhere spoke of the difficulty of community where ‘these days even the pastor rarely stays long enough to become disillusioned’. Berry wisely saw disillusionment as a necessary first step to our human growth. As someone I heard once put it, disillusionment is a good thing, for up to that point you were living under an illusion – in an unreality. Bonhoeffer also makes the point about Life Together and the danger of idealising it.
Waking up to the reality of our existence – in its brokenness – is the opening to the rediscovery of true Life
Thank you once more Father Stephen for your words
I want to join all those commentators who are praying for you. Please don’t leave.
Once I also had an intention to leave the Church. I joined a new parish and I was welcomed very well. But then, after the Liturgy, when I was about to go home and exit our ‘coffee-hour hall’, I said “good bye” to everyone… And nobody paid attention to me. Probably, I did it twice, with no response. They were all busy with something else. That made me upset and angry and disappointed so that I said to myself that I shouldn’t come to that place anymore. I know it’s a childish and ridiculous reason to leave the Church for that reason. But that was my first thought.
On my way home, I started to realize what had happened. And then I came to such a conclusion:
1. This is the Lord’s Church and I come to the Church to meet Christ and not just chit-chat with some people or hear their “hi” and “bye”.
2. I don’t love my neighbor. And I don’t accept others as they are.
3. I have a very big ego and zero humility and therefore, I have to work on it.
So, the problem was in me myself, not in others. I expected my priests and fellow parishoners to please me and my ego. And I was upset when they didn’t do that.
Unfortunately, my ego is still big. Quite often I want people to behave according to my will, my needs and my expectations but now I see that it’s not a good idea to leave the Church because of my failed expectations or the trust that I put in other people.
I come to the Church because it is the Ark of salvation and it is the Body of Christ. Yes, I can pray at home but only in the Church when I receive the Holy Communuion, I receive Christ Himself into myself, becoming a member of His Body.
May the Lord bless and save you.
No matter who it is “at the helm”, it is undoubtedly a mistake to accept that God has nothing to do with who “is at the helm” and to accept our rational –and frequently delusionary – judgments of His providence. In fact, I sometimes, with a huge pinch of ‘political agnosticism’, warm to notions such as Jay Dyer’s:
Please forgive me but, another somewhat pertinent point, [and then I will quit this most diverting distraction], could be the fact that we know that (according to the patristic tradition concerning the antichrist), the antichrist’s person will not be a madman at all, but someone extremely classy, charming and accepted by the overwhelming majority -even of believers-, while the few ‘neptic’ ascetic Christians who will openly declare the truth concerning him being the one, will be mocked by all…!
Dino, (and anyone else concerned about my words from my earlier comment),
My heart breaks. There are refugees that have been in camps for 2-3 years, awaiting entry to the US, having been thoroughly vetted – and now their hopes are on hold – or dashed altogether. There are many with valid visas who went perhaps to visit an aging family member or to take a vacation and now cannot re-enter the country. They cannot return to their schools, jobs and families because of their country of origin.
These are individuals whose hearts are breaking and my heart breaks with them – these individuals have done nothing to warrant detention or deportation. St. Paul tells us in the letter to the Romans (12:15), “weep with those who weep” – and so I do.
Please understand, I am not accusing anyone of being the anti-Christ. None of us will know the day or the hour – and that includes me. However, I do believe we are living in perilous times.
I am also not literally calling anyone in particular a “madman”, i.e. suggesting insanity. (As a psychologist, I do not use that term for it means nothing in the field of mental health.) In my comment above, my purpose was to suggest that the executive order in question was not well thought out – unless the intention was to create chaos which would be a “mad” thing to do. (see Merriam Webster definition of “mad”: unrestrained by reason and judgment; incapable of being explained or accounted for.)
My purpose is not to create a political diversion here. As I noted above, I am a political agnostic and have not backed any political candidate in a very long time.
The broader question I am struggling with is how we as Christians are to respond if we see horrors happening around us (regardless of which country, which political leader). Most certainly, we are to respond with love, with prayer, fasting and repentance. These are all more powerful that any politics.
Yet does that mean we remain silent? Does the world not hear from us as believers? When must I speak and how do I speak? These are not easy questions. Speaking may stir my passions and lead me to unwittingly enter the political arena I eschew. But the truth of the Gospel is not a private matter. If it were, all of the holy martyrs died in vain.
As I contemplate the dangerous times we are in, these questions are often in my mind and heart. I apologize if my words offended anyone. I am a sinner and need your prayers.
These are the same questions I have and you stated them better than I could have.
Praying with you.
These are horrors indeed. But the great swindle is that we are emotionally manipulated by selective overexposure to some particular horrors while all the time we know nothing of infinitely more horrific and far greater other ones that are going on behind the scenes and perpetuated by those whose agenda is our emotional manipulation. An emotionally manipulated empathy obviously requires great discerning watchfulness on our part.
Mary, Emmie et al,
Concerning the broader question of ‘how we as Christians are to respond if we see horrors happening around us (regardless of which country, which political leader)’, we must first retain the watchfulness and healthy distance that recognizes that we are not omniscient and our perception of the said horrors is therefore easily manipulated –and it frequently is– by the actual perpetrators of inconceivably graver horrors. So, let’s first not rush into any conclusions, not this way or that, – it’s a similar approach to how we would deal with an ‘unverified’ supernatural vision we might have…
Even first-hand witness of horrors around us (rather than media reporting of these) falls well within the “first type of knowledge”, (described by Elder Sophrony in St Silouan the Athonite as being subject to inevitable delusion), a perception of our limited mind, bereft of the vantage point of God’s “perception” of the cosmos. The ‘second type’ is the one that comes from on High while we remain detached from the world (although we are speaking of knowledge of the world here!) and attached to the Lord.
So, silence is habitually wiser than we think, while speaking from within such a silence that is the fruit of our continuous appearance/stance before the face of the Lord, will be ‘salted’ with the necessary discernment that is expected from a believer of the One True God (a believer who does not abandon his stance before the Lord in order to heed the passions which the political arena delights in stirring up). The martyrs therefore died because they yearned communion with God the First Martyr, and when they spoke the Gospel they did this from the vantage point of Christ and not from the post-modern starting point of the Babelic, godless, “love of neighbor” called humanism.
I just read this quote from Archmsndrite Aemilianos of Simonopetra – relevant to this thread. It is from the book Psalms and the Life of Faith.
“It is better to trust in the Lord than to trust in man. It is better to trust in the Lord than to trust in princes” (Psalm 118:8-9)
“Whoever looks to another humans being for the hope of his salvation has broken the first two commandments, for he has abandoned worship of God for worship of an idol (cf Ex 20:3-4). Whoever looks to princes and other leaders for victory will be disappointed. They may win the occassional battle but in gaining the world they will lose their souls (cf Matt 8:36). Therefore we place our hope for victory not in horses or armies but in calling upon the name of the Lord our God (cf. Ps 20:7).
I should have added the rest of the quote because it gives some clarification.
“The word “trust” does not do much emphasize trustworthiness as a kind of quality or attribute, but rather the sense of dependency that is often associated with it. My trust in God, my faith in Him, creates within me a natural dependence on Him; it places me in subjection to Him, for I am His servant.”
Psalms and the Life of Faith p. 313-314
I appreciate your words and do not disagree with them as spiritual understanding.
I might point out, however, that our detachment from the world is not meant to be detachment from our neighbor, as though “love of neighbor” were a post-modern humanistic concept. It is a command from the Lord Himself.
This is, I believe, one of the more difficult of discernments. How do do we love our neighbor with deep compassion without our unhealthy passions being stirred?
Love of neighbor is not an abstract ideal – Jesus makes that clear in such stories as the Good Samaritan. It costs us something. For all we know, the priest and the Levite may have been mumbling prayers for the victim of the assault. But it was the Samaritan who was the true neighbor – he touched and consoled the wounded, arranging for his care at a substantial cost to himself.
Perhaps the most challenging part of this Christian love of neighbor is the recognition that ALL are our neighbors – including the one who assaulted the victim in the parable above, including the ones who perpetrate horrors in our own time.
Of ourselves, we do not know how to love at this level – though we are commanded to by Christ. “Love your enemy…” If we allow our passions to dominate, we forget this most important directive and, in so doing, lose our focus on Christ.
Yet, with Christ reigning in our individual (and collective) hearts, we will learn what it means to love our enemy. For He will love them within us and guide us to whatever action may be required of us.
This is where many (including myself) can readily become derailed, deluding ourselves that we have Christ when our passions are stirred. So, indeed, we must not be hasty in our discernment.
Most certainly, God knows and understand all in a manner far beyond our comprehension. Acknowledging this is vital – but is not cause for ignoring the suffering of my neighbors either – as though I can simply leave their misery to Him.
I must always return to Christ and ask Him to purify my heart that He may dwell there. Likewise, I must ask the Holy Spirit to ever guide my thoughts, words and actions with His wisdom. All such prayers must be made in utter humility, while praying for even greater humility…
As we started this conversation based on news reports regarding an executive order, I think that distrust of news is pure wisdom..
However, ‘How do we love our neighbor with deep compassion without our unhealthy passions being stirred’ is a very good question indeed!
One short answer would be that we cannot – and the addendum to that answer would be that it is only possible with God [Matt 19:26].
However, there is a great deal to be said on this matter.
“Detachment” for the sake of “vigilance”, (that in turn springs form the knowledge that we will only ever come to love if Christ does this inside of us) sounds like non-love. However, in this understanding it is actually the prerequisite of authentic love of neighbor. Especially since we clearly discern that we can be just as derailed from genuinely loving our neighbor through false loves, preferences, emotional attachment, etc as through hate. The instant our attachments and passions are stirred in our perceived ‘love’ and compassion for another, is when we make a god of our own will and abandon the ‘zone’ of ‘not my will but yours be done’ that can make our love “genuine” [Luke 22:42]. There’s a reason why the 1st commandment [love of God with all our being] is 1st, and why it’s ‘palpable verification’ [love of all others] is the 2nd commandment.
Our union with Christ spawns our union with neighbor and not the reverse.
So grateful for this blog and comment forum. Thank you everyone.
I believe we are in agreement.
Except that to totally distrust of all news is not, IMO, wise. As I have noted elsewhere, I do not watch TV or listen to the radio and read the newspaper once a week. So I am not being inundated with a lot of media manipulation. I only learned of this particular bit of news when someone e-mailed me, accidentally I might add, for I believe they intended the e-mail for someone else. I then checked a variety of news sources online and was able to determine that there was considerable consistency in reports and there were no denials from the alleged issuer of the executive order. So I have no cause to doubt the authenticity of this event.
Unless I am given the spiritual gift of seeing, as some of the great monks of Mt. Athos were, I do not know how I could otherwise have any idea of what is occurring outside of my own very small circle. While it is possible to live in that matter, trusted one lives a hermetic life, I believe I do have a bit of responsibility to learn about the events of the world. If for no other reason than that my patients come to me with their passions stirred and I need to be of service to them.
For those who cannot circumvent the news feed (or the ‘secondary’ news blitz of acquaintances), I think it is exceptionally prudent to plainly be wary of it all –no more and no less. Also, an understanding of the darker background of much of what passes as ‘consensus information’ is, feasibly, quite handy, insightful even, –as long as this kind of ‘research’ [into the darker puppeteering of this world] does not become a person’s fixation. There are some who come to realize (e.g: because of finding out about the actual deceitfulness of certain reports that have become wholeheartedly accepted by the overwhelming majority, or because they somehow become privy to the existence of certain sinister media psy-ops, or due to some other reason) that the dissemination of the overwhelming majority of information in the world must be, to all intents and purposes, controlled by would-be, covert, world-dominators. [Which, by the way, means that ‘report consistency’ does little to enlighten us concerning the verity of the ‘facts’ we are bombarded with and our supposed ‘powers of discernment’ are easily fooled by the refinement of those whose agenda is mass-control.] But to Christians this is no news as we have been clearly warned from the start, at a far profounder level: “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, […] is not of the Father, but is of the world.”
Thank you Deacon James, Alex Volkov, and Dino! Thank you for your outstanding comments and for sharing your wisdom.
Your blessing Father Stephen,
Thank you for this post that goes to the heart of the key battle that Christians must fight. With permission, I will hold on to some of your phrases that would fit very nicely into the resignation letter I might one day write and submit. It would be a resignation from the religion of modern technology, people and values, that I have yet to muster the courage to accept.
The journey is painful, but I am encouraged by the progressive realisation of the pointlessness of it all and inevitable dead end ahead of “growth, greed and progress”. The way to rejecting modern fantasies and accepting life is indeed a way down, a very long one, at that…
But this I say, brethren, the time is short: it remaineth, that both they that have wives be as though they had none; And they that weep, as though they wept not; and they that rejoice, as though they rejoiced not; and they that buy, as though they possessed not; And they that use this world, as not engrossed in it: for the fashion of this world passeth away.
[1 Cor 7: 29-31]
This thread of comments is funny, but in a gloomy way, because it reminds me of my country’s elections in 2014, Brazil. Coping with a dirty media that has not washed its hands of uniting themselves with professional coupists and a strong wave of rightist, liberal and conservative (that are VERY different one from another), autism that plagues our facebook timelines. It aroused class hatred, political enmity and divisive actions within our own homes. Parents arguing bitterly against their children because they would support the rights of ‘dirty scoundrels’ that ‘deserved’ to be condemned to something a lot worse than our ‘caring’ penitentiaries, young people revolted against their parents and friends alike in our universities because they believed such a crime to be against women’s ‘right’ to abortion and other couples of SJW’s flags. Whew! I could write months about the hatred and political division that chastised our poor and colonized (politically ignorant until only recently) country in these elections.
Then, the leftist candidate wins, is unable to appease her neoliberal friends, who, clever as always were our oligarchic elites, do a very competent job of manipulating middle-class masses drunken by coupist and antidemocratic slogans, a recent history of deep economic recess, social problems that are 500-year old, organized drug-dealing and mass corruption schemes involving every single specter and actor in the political arena, and put down Dilma with their highly techno-juridical ‘impeachment’. No, not a coup at all! Right…
And now… the late president’s most hated measures to fight against the economic crisis are pursued to the brink of indecency by our legitimate president Temer, Dilma’s ally, her vice-president from a rival centrist party.
Then, we have all of the north-american elections crisis, hatred, division operating even here! Trump wins. People start to talk about impeachment, about madmens and constitutional limits to the Executive power…
Hhaha, sorry, this is a very sad and gloomy laugh. It seems we are living in a time of such uncertainty, confusion, moral nihilism that we are bound to revive the same traumas, cancers and terrible turmoils over and over again.
I came to believe politics itself, at least in its modern sense, is something evil, irrational or at least so immune to moral correction and decency that it’s not only useless try to direct it, help people deal with it in a more christian manner, with love, compassion and understanding.
When Dilma was couped, I was her only support in my home, and I was always a very reluctant one. After three or four terrible political fights with my conservative, poor parents in our house at the slums, all I wanted to do was cry. Cry for my country, for our nation, our people. Before my tears could reach the ground, then, I decided to pray. And that’s what I’ve doing so far.
We have destroyed a generation in a cycle of elections, we killed peace, hope, love, compassion and understanding in less than 4 years!
Sorry for the length comment… I just wanted you to be sure that despite the obvious electoral, political, social and economical differences between our wasted Terra Brasilis and Promised Land of U.S.A., in the end, we are bound to the same fate, saddened to behold what the last three centuries of Godless projects and social schemes led us to. Who needs fascism and soviet totalitarianism when we can destroy ourselves to such a degree by our own twisted will and corrupted institutions?
My laughter is easily turned into tears.
O Lord, have mercy on all of us, sinners that we are. Give us the courage and the faith to remain silent and carry this Cross.
Haven’t even commented on Fr. Stephen’s post but he’s surgically to the point. We suffer and take these pains so much due to our faith, no matter if we are marxists, liberals, conservatives, due to commom false pressupositions regarding the State, politics, and specially anthropological views. We really are enthralled to this prelest that is coessential to the modern project that no only we can fix the world’s problems but also that there’s nothing unpolluted about our wills. Everything is a matter of values and negotiation.
History is being unforgiving, even prophetic…
I find Fr. Freeman’s diagnosis to be accurate. I also think the Fr’s. prescription is likely best;
However, I suspect that if “It is not an argument for solving problems (it is the solution)” the Church neither solves problems or is “the solution”. Matter of fact, I have the sneaking suspicion that there is NO SOLUTION or satisfying answer in this life even in the presence of “family, children, sickness, weakness, kindness, sharing, prayer.” I do agree that dedication to those things are positively transformative–yet that transformation is essentially personal–though it does make life “better” for those around us.
Even so, in this mystery of Life, all of us are destined “to scream (our) way through the torture chamber of creation.”
Politics, in the world we inhabit, is our best means of minimizing violence.