There was a wicked kingdom in which there lived a large number of slaves. The kingdom fought wars, built cities and was extremely successful in growing its economy. Its achievements were the envy of all the other kingdoms. The slaves did well, too. They were not given low jobs or manual labor. Instead, they were “helping” slaves. Their task was to help the people of the Kingdom get by. If life in the kingdom became empty and meaningless, the slaves would cheer the people up and help them continue with their lives. When people began to doubt that the kingdom served a good purpose, the slaves would reassure them that together, they would make the kingdom better. One day, a terrible calamity occurred and the kingdom perished. Very few people survived. “What was it all for?” the survivors asked. “Nothing,” the slaves replied. And in that day, the slaves became free.
No one has written more insightfully nor critically about secularism than the late Fr. Alexander Schmemann. His classic book, For the Life of the World, is not only a primer on the meaning of the sacramental life, but primarily, a full-blown confrontation with the great heresy of secularism. Secularism is not the rejection of God, but the assertion that the world exists apart from God and that our task is to do the best we can in this world. Fr. Alexander suggests that the Church in the modern world has largely surrendered to secularism. “The Church’s surrender,” he says, “consists not in giving up creeds, traditions, symbols and customs…but in accepting the very function of religion in terms of promoting the secular value of help, be it help in character building, peace of mind, or assurance of eternal salvation.”
He is not alone in this observation. The Protestant theologian, Stanley Hauerwas, says much the same thing:
…the political task of Christians is to be the church rather than to transform the world. One reason why it is not enough to say that our first task is to make the world better is that we Christians have no other means of accurately understanding the world and rightly interpreting the world except by way of the church. Big words like “peace” and “justice,” slogans the church adopts under the presumption that, even if people do not know what “Jesus Christ is Lord” means, they will know what peace and justice means, are words awaiting content. The church really does not know what these words mean apart from the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth. After all, Pilate permitted the killing of Jesus in order to secure both peace and justice (Roman style) in Judea. It is Jesus’ story that gives content to our faith, judges any institutional embodiment of our faith, and teaches us to be suspicious of any political slogan that does not need God to make itself credible.
The extent to which we have all been secularized is easily measured by just how strange these statements by great theologians sound. The Church has surrendered because it promotes the value of “helping?” The Church does not exist in order to make the world a better place? These have been common themes in my writing (and I easily acknowledge my indebtedness). But when I have said, “We will not make the world a better place,” my articles are met with a torrent of dismay. I offer here more of the same.
Hauerwas makes the clear point that the word “better” has no meaning apart from the story of Jesus, or certainly no meaning that Christians should agree to. Schmemann goes so far as to call the Church’s agreement to “help” the world (however the world wants to define that help) as surrender.
So what are we to do? First, we must recognize that the world is under judgment. As it exists unto itself, it is meaningless and without value. It measures itself by GDP and slogans of equality and freedom. And yet the GDP is but a measure of meaningless consumption and equality and freedom only mean equally free to amuse ourselves to death with whatever pleasure we might choose.
One of the “helps” the surrendered Church provides to our culture is courage in the face of death. The cultural Church reminds people that death is not the end of things, but only the beginning of something newer and greater. Death as an enemy is no longer preached. Instead, death is natural, a part of life, and though we mourn someone’s passing, we “celebrate their life” and pretend that nothing tragic has occurred. We will remember them.
When the disciples saw Jesus on the Road to Emmaus and recognized Him in the breaking of the bread, they did not say to each other, “Wow! There really is a life after death!” This is not the meaning of Christ’s resurrection. The Resurrection is not proof of your life after death, but the showing forth that Christ Himself alone is Life.
The death of Christ does not reveal death as a passage. It reveals death as an enemy, something to be destroyed. All of our life that lies under the power of death comes under the same judgment. And this judgment isn’t bitterness – it is freedom. Emptiness is revealed to be emptiness. The vanity of empires is revealed to be just that. We do not exist to serve the masters of this world, but to serve the only Master and Lord, and to reign with Him.
Outside of the Church, the truth of this is likely to be rejected. The world is willing to accept Christ so long as He is willing to be a place-holder for some other worldly-defined value. Jesus stands for peace. Jesus stands for love. Jesus stands for forgiveness. But only peace, love and forgiveness as the world gives. And those are hollow and self-serving.
Schmemann is known as a champion of the sacramental character of this world. This does not mean that he was devoted to the Eucharist as a special place of piety, an island of grace in the midst of the world. That would be surrender. He declares that the world is sacrament – that sacraments reveal the truth of things.
The Eucharist is not an island of grace – it is the revelation of Christ in the world. Bread and Wine become what they are meant to be – and we ourselves – when we rightly enter into the feast – become what we are meant to be.
There are no values apart from Christ. He is our sole value. He alone is “worthy.” In Christ, all things find their fulfillment and the truth of their existence. Apart from Him, everything is nothing.
Recognizing that everything is nothing, the slaves can become free, and sing the praise of the only worthy One, before whom all kingdoms will fall.
Thank you Father. It is very, very easy to lose sight of this truth, the true reality of Christ.
Modern America and Europe’s Social Justice fixation (and many Christian churches fixation as well) is a worldly and not a holy preoccupation. Helping the poor only has meaning–it can only be holy– if it relates to the truth that is Christ himself. In and of itself, social justice can become and often is just another manmade pleasure–a pleasure designed to let humans feel as though they are godlike in their “mercy” to the poor, the disenfranchised, etc.
As pointed out in a recent revisionist biography of the Catholic Saint, Francis of Assisi, Francis did not see material poverty, and what we would call homelessness, as a tragedy or an ill to be cured of itself. He saw these conditions as freedom, the freedom from the world. He helped the poor so that they could see that by focusing on worldly things and worldy wants could/would only cause them to lose sight of the Kingdom of God. He saw the tragedy of those in material need as the reflection of the selfishness of those who did not love their fellow man and feel the holy obligation to help them out of a love of Christ.
I think that secularism has deeply corrupted most of the Church’s conversation. I remember being really staggered by Schmemann’s thoughts on this topic. I mean, nobody ever questioned “helping!” It was then that I saw the similarity between his take on this and Hauerwas’. Additionally, I think it is a deep part of Fr. Schemann’s thought that has been entirely lost. Most, even in my beloved OCA, simply associate Schmemann with Eucharistic emphasis – and some falsely think of him as a liturgical innovator. Some corners of the Church where he is held in highest regard are deeply secularized.
It’s not an easy thing to rethink. If we’re not “helping” in the secular sense, then what are we doing? What should we be doing?
Father…before I even read the rest of your post, I must ask…where’d you get that beginning quote? Sounds like one of those Narnia stories. I am captured by it…and can resonate with the slaves. Very much so…
I prefer the word “serving” or service instead of helping. We are servants of Christ, becoming servants as He came to serve. And in this sense, then, we are sacrifice. I’m a social worker, and I know I can’t help or save people, they have to make their own choices about that. Like the rich young man who walked away, disappointed. Jesus didn’t go after him to “help” him. Jesus provided the truth, it was up to the young man to believe. That is how I see my role as a servant.
The beginning quote is my own work…just a wee parable.
Ahhh!! I had a feeling it was! Very good Father!
It’s the kind of thing that I sometimes use to open a sermon. It’s actually a way of clarifying a point. Can you take a point and create a parable for it…is sort of a sermon-test thing for me.
“equally free to amuse ourselves to death with whatever pleasure we might choose.”
Off the main topic, but have you ever written about Neil Postman’s book, “Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business”? It is somewhat on topic as Postman’s thesis is that technology has corrupted humanity’s thought processes. It is a book that transformed my worldview.
It is a hard lesson and one that will take me a long time to accept. “Do not . . . cast your pearls before swine.” And outside of the Church, it is all swine. They will trample you. There has never been room for Christ in His own creation, from His Nativity to His Crucifixion outside the walls of Jerusalem. I can’t even say His name, outside of my spiritual family, without incurring scorn, spite or dismissal. It is a hard lesson. But it is a good lesson. “Do not give what is Holy to the dogs.” The world wants politics. Not He who is Life.
I am not t really getting this. Did Jesus tell us to love our enemies and be salt and light in the world even though it won’t help the world one bit? I know that the love I have given out in countless ways has done a transforming work in at least some people’s lives because some of them have told me. Aren’t we called to be love in this world, to be Christ to people? How is that not bringing peace, justice, and transformation to at least a tiny part of the world that our God loves so much? I know that the real thing will not happen outside of Christ, that is, through politics. So, what an I not understanding ? Sorry if I sound confused here…..
Very powerful, Father! That increasing dependency, in my little journey of struggle, seems to open more struggles to connect with the world. And yet I guess God finds us our way. “For The Life of the World” is actually a book I keep in the trunk of my car, because it can always be read over and over again, any passage. I wonder if you would suggest other works of Schmemann that continue to bring out this sacramental quality of life in full. You know, you’ve written about how the good and the bad go into it, and my mind flashes to prayer at the hospital where my mother spent her last weeks. I had so many decisions to make. And yet it seems those hard times were part of the sacrament, with death nearby. Prayer was so especially important then, the only way to strength. Thank you for this, I will be re-reading
It feels like after a year or two of being “all over the place” in posts and especially comments, things are finally refocusing on the blog. And I have also been able to think through a difficult question enough to feel comfortable asking it—both because I “know” enough of the answer (despite not having it intellectually) to know that it is [close to] a right question and also that it can be asked in a way that is safe[r] for hearers [and still perhaps get an answer]. It is more than just about our response to modernity: it is more about what we actually believe about death.
Death is revealed as an enemy, but that revelation is only through Eucharist (thanksgiving). It is destroyed not only by embracing it (“trampled down death by death”…), but by itself in some manner—Christ “deathed” death. I believe it would be even better to say Christ “Christed” death (HT to the Chuck Norris joke about the rain), but that is not what we sing. And by calling death an enemy, we must also call to mind passages about our enemies: not to resist an evil person, go with him even 2 miles, etc (Matthew 5.38–42). Christ did these things in actuality, going into the depths of Hades far beyond where anyone else could go. Yet the sermon on the mount doesn’t stop there. He goes on to tell us to “love your enemies, bless those who curse you” and so on (Matthew 5.43–48 OSB/NKJV). And again, this is reflected in how we pray during one of our litanies, asking for a Christian ending to our life, for a blessed death. So this seemingly-odd application of His teaching seems quite universal and inseparable from the rest of our belief.
But how do we reconcile this with good vs evil, not in a moralistic sense but an ontological one? One one hand, Eucharistic living reveals things to be what they are without destroying them—as with the foundational proclamation of Chalcedon about Christ’s natures, there is union without confusion. One the other, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil” (Isaiah 5.20 OSB/SAAS), it is written; in some way it must remain enemy even as Christ somehow sanctifies it and reveals it to be what it is. We’re clearly talking about trampling down death, destroying it. We’re not just talking about revealing it but simultaneously about forever juxtaposing it with all creation, with all other things that Christ participated in and entered into—it is [seemingly] not ever transfigured into “not enemy”, yet God only creates what is good and unites Himself to bestow Himself. How do we maintain both the Eucharistic view of death and the ontological one? How do we understand—and live—union without confusion when it comes to death?
How I love it when you stagger us with the revelation that for the Church to just ‘help’ is delusional…
Note to Luke Sixteen,
I tried to send a private email regarding your posts. The latest was over 2000 words, the third in a row of such length. It’s simply overwhelming. Also, though I appreciate the criticisms, it’s just become a bit tedious. There’s no conversation – just a broadside.
However, your given email address turned out to not be real. I do not post comments when a false email address is detected. Sorry.
In the light of the Kingdom, these things “help.” But it won’t help the world be a better world in terms of the world itself. The world as a thing in itself is part of the problem with the world. It is not a thing in itself and so long as it views itself that way – it will never be or become what it is created to be.
The words “peace,” “justice,” etc., for a Christian, have a specific meaning as related to the death and resurrection of Christ. The world co-opts such words and gives them new, perverted meanings. For example, aborting babies is a matter of “rights” and “justice” according to many in the world. Learning to speak as a Christian, rather than being drawn into conversations where the terms have been given false definitions is difficult, but can be important as we “think” our way through the day.
That little book is probably the only thing of his that does this in that particular manner. But it suffuses through all of his books (there were only 3 or 4).
If I understand the question, I think the answer is in thinking it through ontologically. Death/evil is not a “thing.” It has no existence. We speak of it as though it were a thing, but it’s not. So, the difficulty comes in our speech, to a degree. Yes, we love our “enemies.” But those are people, with real existence (whose existence is good). We use the word “enemy” when speaking of death – but it’s not the same thing (despite the similarity of language). Death is an enemy, because it opposes the very existence of the good creation. It is the threat of non-being.
Christ tramples down “death” (the movement towards non-being), but “death” (his death on the Cross). But He does not Himself become “non-being.” Rather, He fills non-being (“death”) with His Being – destroying it.
What I think Schmemann (he has a small book, “The Liturgy of Death” that looks more closely at this) has in mind is an opposition to the “naturalization” of death. The notion that death is just part of life – a kind of acceptance. The Eucharist reveals death to be what it “truly is” – which is “nothing.” Death is unmasked as an enemy – to be trampled down – to be filled with Christ.
We do not domesticate death.
Father it often seems to me that church evangelical “mission” work exemplifies and propagates the notion of helping. I’m often conflicted when I hear or read Orthodox exhortations to encourage and establish ‘missions’ especially in ‘other’ impoverished cultures and people’s.
Does this relate to your thoughts in this article? It isn’t that I don’t want to help others in need. Far from that. But I can’t help hearing/seeing a sort of ‘American Christian’ agenda belying these “good works”.
We have all drunk very deeply at the American well – and it sort of infects everything in our thoughts and speech. The history of modern evangelism is very much rooted in the 19th century – and was very much part of a sort of American/European colonialism of the worst sort. For God sakes, missionaries were sent to Ethiopia! There was an accompanying genocide carried out by the “civilizing” mission of Italy at the time.
We’ve turned our missions into a kinder, gentler, less obvious sort of colonialism. Today’s version of colonialism is globalization – in which the whole world is becoming a colony for a handful of global corporations and the super-rich who own them.
Orthodox mission work is the slow, long-term planting of Orthodox Churches – fully indigenous – in every way. I would suggest that there has only been Orthodox mission work in the US since somewhere in the 70’s. Taking care of a diaspora is not mission work – indeed – it’s almost anti-mission.
There’s very much to be said about all of this…later.
Re: your parable….”It’s actually a way of clarifying a point.”
Yes! Very helpful. Analogies work well to tie together the missing pieces. As I understand it, parables are analogies in ‘story form’.
I do much better with ‘pictures’ and images. That’s why I enjoy reading the Syriac Fathers. Then I can go back and read the more cerebral writings without my brain ‘shutting down’!
The Church has such a rich heritage! How I wish we could overcome the geographical and cultural differences. Because in actuality, they really compliment each other.
Christ speaks in, to, and through every tribe, nation, and tongue. I think the powers that be – empires, governments, politics – peoples’ lust for power, wealth, control – can easily drown out The Word when our attention and allegiance is diverted…or if we allow these distractions to replace our faith and trust in Christ.
Those schisms way back when did not have to happen! When I begin to grieve over these things, I must remind myself that Christ knows all. He knew this would happen. And continues to happen, as we speak.
How is it that we fall for this and blame one another? It is a very powerful force…the darkness behind all this. We really do have to put down the weapons (especially of our tongue) and realize what we are fighting against…and Who led us to victory. “It is finished”, He said.
The death you speak of here Father, we still toy with it in our foolishness. Divisive words are words of death. We speak a lot about repentance, but make no effort to turn away. Completely. I mean to ‘shut thy lips’. Way to many voices out there adding fuel to the fire.
Forgive me for this ‘aside’, Father. It’s on my mind a lot these days…
“First, we must recognize that the world is under judgment. As it exists unto itself, it is meaningless and without value. ”
Fr Dumitru Staniloae (of blessed memory), in his book The Experience of God, begins by reminding us of this very thing. He says:
“…we are not for the sake of the world, but the world is for us, although man does need the world. The point of the world is to be found in man [indeed, in His image], not visa versa. Even the fact that we are aware that we need the world shows man’s superior position vis-a-vis the world. For the world is not able to feel our need for it. The world, existing as an unconscious object, exists for man. It is subordinated to man, even though he did not create it.”
Consumer goods, our “stuff”, the things we produce to enhance our lives…the things we bow down to in longing to fill a void, are in essence dead idols. Instead of seeing the world as God created it, and seeing Him in all things (the logoi of the created order), and truly participating in its ‘re-creation’, with gratefulness and thanksgiving that He would have us take part in His life, we have been taken, by stealth, to fall for the lies of wealth and power. That’s what happens in a secular world where God is relegated to a compartment upstairs, out of sight, to be used for our own satisfaction. But it is man, in Christ, who is supposed to transform the world (this is different than ‘making it better’). This is the Churches’ participation in the Life of Christ. Indeed, “For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God.” Rm 8:19
We have a great responsibility. Christ warned us to count the cost.
Thanks so much Father. A great message you give us today!
Thank you so much Fr Stephen. Your response is helpful and I’ll continue to reflect on your response and your article. And will hold my questions for that later time. 😊
Care to say more about things being “all over the place” on the blog in the past year? Thoughts? Observations? Is it topics, or what?
I re-read the intro to “For the Life of the World” because I was trying to remember what exactly he wrote it for. In light of Dee’s question, it’s perfect! Copied and pasted below:
“This little book was written ten years ago as a “study guide” to the Quadrennial Conference of the National Student Christian Federation held in Athens, Ohio, in December 1963. It was not meant to be and it is certainly not a systematic theological treatise of the Orthodox liturgical tradition. My only purpose in writing it was to outline—to students preparing themselves for a discussion of Christian mission—the Christian “world view,” i.e., the approach to the world and to man’s life in it that stems from the liturgical experience of the Orthodox Church.”
– Schmemann, Alexander. For the Life of the World . St Vladimir’s Seminary Press.
(yes I also carry around the Kindle edition! But I need the book in my car for one particular little tea house I like where I am forced to study and think as digital devices are verboten!)
The Orthodox funeral service is genius in confronting death and putting it in its rightful place. It does not really “help” much as it pretty graphically describes the horror of death but also shows the actual hope that rests only in Jesus Christ and the “little death” of repentance that leads to life.
In secular terms helping is often little more than enabling folks to be comfortable in their sins and self-righteous in their supposed virtues.
Even cursory look at history quickly reveals that more people have been murdered and communities destroyed in order to create “justice” than out right evil.
Egalitarianism which fuels much of the current social justice crusade is a Procrustean Bed full of Orwellian newsspeak.
A root flaw of secularism is that it denies being altogether in favor of nothing. Politics becomes an argument over which flavor of nothing one prefers. But know this our hope lies in realizing that nothing does not exist. Still it is easy to get caught up in.
My favorite book that treats of the same general topic (IMO) is St. Athanasius, ‘On the Incarnation.’
Paula et al, speaking of schisms, I took a class this year on Christianity and Violence (which I brought up in a couple of comments on the blog in the past). It essentially covered Constantine through Crusaders. One very interesting thing of note pertains to what you wrote about Paula. I learned that there really was no schismatic “problem” (IIRC!)– even with Communion and even after the Filioque controversy — until political and national identity became a problem. In other words, even with the controversies and schism in the Church, monks, for instance, were still communing until the fall of the Byzantine Empire, when suddenly political and cultural identity took on new meanings and importance, esp for the “Greeks” who had always been “Romans.” As another example, even after Chalcedon, there was one church with three separate “sanctuaries” so to speak, in the Holy Land. Apparently there were simultaneous services in Armenian, Greek, and Georgian for the communities, but after the Gospel reading they all came together for the Eucharist. What does that tell us? Something to think about. In terms of mission and its excesses, it seems to me that while the Church went in search of mission (such as the Spanish Missions in California), often it was the state and not the Church that created the violence. This is illustrated in a lot of literature; one good novel that illustrates the African colonial experience is Chinua Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart.”
It strikes me that this is very important to remember as Father mentions globalization as a new kind of evangelical outreach. What is that except a new version of the state in some sense — and leaving out faith somehow?
(Sorry, I didn’t write that very clearly. There was a church which had three different sanctuaries built into it — it was used simultaneously for services but each community came together for a single Eucharist. And this was after controversies which are still blamed for schism, even though formal dialogue of theologians have agreed the theology is identical — rolling my eyes)
I am not t really getting this. Did Jesus tell us to love our enemies and be salt and light in the world even though it won’t help the world one bit? I know that the love I have given out in countless ways has done a transforming work in at least some people’s lives because some of them have told me. Aren’t we called to be love in this world, to be Christ to people? How is that not bringing peace, justice, and transformation to at least a tiny part of the world that our God loves so much? I know that the real thing will not happen outside of Christ, that is, through politics. So, what an I not understanding ? Sorry if I sound confused here…..
Carol Sadosky, one thing to consider is that, in Christ’s image, we “transform” in the same manner as Jesus: we enter into communion. This is the true foundation of the “salt and light” we are called to be. It is not autonomous action (or “help” as the world sees it) but loving communion. Our actions will not save the world but they may reveal Christ, where all of our salvation, and true transformation, lies.
This lies at the heart, I believe, of Orthodox missions and marks it as very different than “secular” efforts and even most Protestant missions (which typically go to “do” or “fix” something). As Father noted:
Orthodox mission work is the slow, long-term planting of Orthodox Churches – fully indigenous – in every way.
It is the “action” of taking part (entering into communion) in the other’s life. I look forward to his further thoughts on this topic!
I should clarify – when our thoughts are framed in terms of “helping” or “transforming” the world – particularly in our modern period what these very things have been redefined into a very different agenda – the Church (and Christians) easily discover that they have been co-opted and are doing something very different than what Christ called us to do – and we’ll do it all “in the name of Christ.”
There are times when our serving others has a transformational result that we can see. There’s also lots of times that we don’t see any results to speak of. It’s that we do what we do because we are commanded by Christ. We do it “to Him, for Him, by Him, with Him.”
Thanks so much for your comment, Janine. And the clarification 🙂 even though I knew what you were getting at! And yes, I do recall your mention of that class. Thank you for sharing with us that which applies to our conversation here. Interesting thoughts.
Just so amazing how you describe the three separate “sanctuaries” who came together for the Eucharist. Yes Janine, what does that tell us?….exactly that “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” !!
The fundamental problem with modernity (which is quite old) is it assumes and presents a false eschatology and therefore a false understanding of God, man and our interrelationship. In one form or another either through a false idea of the perfectability of man unaided by Grace and/or through a mechanistic view of time and events. There are many permutations and combinations of the untruths and much like a virus there are frequent mutations and secondary infections.
Ultimately they all shatter and reveal their nothingness when they encounter the Cross especially as we embrace ithe Cross in our own hearts.
The Cross, in all its Glory reveals life as it truly is and God with us. Always.
Easy to say, always a struggle to remember and live. The happy ending promised by the lies draws us away into tinsel town.
Progress in all its worldly forms is a lie. It has taken me 50 years since I first encountered the putressence of that lie to begin to accept the ramifications of believing in that lie or at least constantly living in the river of waste that is continuously poured out upon us in the name of that unholy idol. It is the beginning of looking into the abyss and I can stand it only for a little while. Then , as Elder Sophrony advised , I must draw back and have a cup of tea.
Still there remains a taste of hard won hope encountered at the edge of the abyss that allows me to enjoy the tea.
God alone is good.
I think that the impetus to ‘do’, to act, to fix, to help, to manage etc. can be an insidious temptation, always at hand against the opposite impetus: to ‘be’.
This ontological reorientation towards ‘being in Christ’, does inevitably also affect all possible behaviour, action, inaction, or energy emanating from us. Of course. But our actual focus is radically different.
I once heard someone say that her grandmother, who spoke little English, would talk to her when she was a little girl and they had just immigrated. The grandmother would share her fears, etc, with her grandaughter for lack of someone else. Fear and confusion and panic
I call this the American inversion. I wonder how common it is in this nation of immigrants where we are here, we were almost destroyed by the journey, and the social pressure to conform and demonstrate success then pushes the recent immigrant towards a breakdown. And the children of these immigrants try to calm and soothe them and it never works. And then the same thing plays out in how they approach God, the distance they assume in God and seeking for some accomplishment to placate who they perceive to be dismayed.
I have loved what you said, ‘the world is crazy. We don’t have to be’
And ‘prayer is everything’
In high school I really dreamt of politics, of that as a career. Lately I have been praying ‘God please help me exist in my own life’ because I feel like I could miss it all. I have been working hard since my dad passed away this summer to exist in my own life. Recently I was able to go 6 months without the news. When I was about 6 or 7 I remember how I would hover around my dad when he came home from work and ate dinner in front of the national news. To his credit he never shewed me away as I took bits from his salads and spent time wandering nearby but he was furrow browed and watching the news. And we aren’t required to know it. I caught myself watching the same way, during that sliver of time that should be with kids, and stopped.
When we say ‘Bless the Lord, O my soul’ is it because we are in the image of God that we have a blessing to give Him? I have been thinking about prayer as the measure of our love, and how little I have done.
I love how Archamandrite Melitios Webber talks about how we are responsible for what is in our life, not someone else’s
Isn’t one answer to Carol’s (to my mind very valid – and shared) questions something like this: if one’s help is coming from a placed of genuine love (whose hallmarks are patience, kindness and an attentiveness to real needs) then it is not only fine, but required to give effect to the second great commandment, not to mention being Christ in action in the world (“by this shall all men know that you are my disciples, that you have love one for another”). If, however, it is something that looks like help, but is in fact really just an ego insecurity or other response to one of the cultural “shoulds” out there (which seem to be proliferating like topsy), then it is highly questionable. The problem, as always, at least for me, one of discernment. I suffer very badly from mixed motives. Which is maybe an argument for just listening hard, doing one’s best, and committing everything to the Lord?
I first read of Fr. Alexander Schmemann on this blog, and read For the Life of the World as a result, several years ago. I can credit the book with clarifying so much, it has been an essential part of my life’s transformation these past years. For that I will always be grateful to your writing, Father.
Grateful for…not grateful to…
Dear Nicole…yours is a heartfelt comment, my friend.
I can relate to your thoughts about immigrant families. Mine has similar stories – about the pressure to “be American”, to make something good of yourself…lots of measuring of success, comparison with others. Similar thoughts about God too. Makes for a very challenging journey in our older years, doesn’t it. So many of us have similar stories. Yet each story is personal.
You mentioned prayer as a measure of love. and the psalm “Bless the Lord O My Soul”. I think this psalm of Davids speaks of a desire to kindle the flame within and strengthen his soul. Similarly, in another psalm he says ‘why are you downcast O my soul? … hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him…’. So he encourages himself to Bless the Lord, to praise His holy name and forget not all His rewards… blessing the Lord in praise…like a doxology. It glorifies God and in turn enriches and enlarges the soul. The very reasons why we are taught to pray.
May God lead you in the way, to “exist in yourself”, as your prayer goes. I think you may be speaking about the need to know who you are. May your prayer be answered in due time, Nichole.
Have you prayed to our Mother, Theotokos Mary? She will help ….
Thank You for your powerful Word speaking in me
“The Word of God, incorporeal, incorruptible and immortal comes among us. For he did not before stand afar off, for he emptied no part of creation from his presence, he who filled all things in every place, since he was with his Father. But he comes in his condescension, showing us his love for our humanity .
He has compassion on our race, takes pity on our weakness, is moved by our degradation and cannot bear the domination of death over us.
To prevent his creature from being lost and to prevent the work accomplished by his Father in creating men from being useless, he himself takes a body, and that body is no different from ours. »
of our father in God, Saint Athanasius of Alexandria celebrated today!
Thank you, Michael !
Each time, reading this text gives me so much joy! because it lifts me up from death, which insidiously “pulls me by the sleeve”… How immense and difficult it is to be in the presence of this Real, the All of Life, our God, and the vision of the work of death still active in the world where everything that appears must be known, dominated, conquered, made usable…
A recently read text said in substance that in the face of economic growth, technical acceleration and even cultural innovation, it is not only the thirst to obtain more, but the fear of having less and less that keeps the game of endless growth going; it is never enough, not only because we are insatiable, but because we are continually climbing a descending escalator : every time we pause or stop, we lose ground to a highly dynamic environment with which we are systematically competing.
An extremely powerful idea has seeped into the finest pores of people’s psychic and emotional lives: the idea that the key to a good life, to a better life, lies in the (endless) extension of our access to the world. Our life will be better if we manage to access more people, this is the unexpressed but tirelessly repeated and put into action ritornello. Acting at all times in such a way as to enlarge the whole formed by what you access…
It is like a devouring of the world that can only lead to its own destruction, its own annihilation…
What great vigilance in our own lives, how do we relate to everything that exists, from people of course, to the “objects” (internet) in their addiction…
But what infinite grace is given to us for Faith, in Christ the Lord !
(Pardon the rough English)
…..Faced with the “volatile thickness” of what we often see in the world, we have a most powerful and effective recourse to the… disarmed… what we can call vulnerability… which is the ability that we have to be hurt, but it doesn’t hurt us… we are unarmed but we don’t worry. There’s nothing more upsetting than someone who is disarmed, in a profound simplicity, and who doesn’t need to defend himself because he’s being defended by his own vulnerability, his own simplicity… The sheep, the lamb, sends us back to the absolutely shattering aspect of life… Our God who came into the world is an absolutely overwhelming God…
Just a few thoughts…
Two important questions I am learning are:
How will I unite myself to Christ today?
How will I try to fix the world today?
True “help” only rests in the first question.
Indeed. This is not an abstraction. Christ presents Himself to us as the poor, the broken, everything around us.
Paula AZ, thank you for that kind word. I will renew my efforts to ask help from the Theotokos. It is so nice to see your message today.
Helene d, Wow! Your comment on vulnerability echos something I have been thinking. We are secure only when we are vulnerable in Christ. That is a hard saying. You also taught me a new word. I had never run across ‘ritornello’ before. You must be a musician.
Does not being a musician require the constant practice of being vulnerable to the music and to the audience as well?
Two ways of connecting with others: outwardly by trying to get to know and communicate with as many people as possible or inwardly through communion.
Many great saints have, because of their vulnerability toward God, been able to connect with pretty much anyone anywhere if they need to. I have always suspected that Jesus cryptic words in John 1:48 were also of that ilk.
Janine your comment posted Jan 17 1:21pm is thought provoking but also confusing. You mention Armenians and Greeks coming together for Eucharist after Chalcedon Council. What is the message here ? Post Chalcedon, we the Eastern Orthodox, are not in communion with Oriental Orthodox for a reason. The “schism” in the pillar of the Holy Sepulchre should be “something to think about” (http://www.holyfire.org/eng/index.htm). I am sorry if I misunderstood you, but we pray for the unity of all right at the start of the the Divine Liturgy. This unity is only meaningful in truth.
I sometimes wonder if we overdo Jesus admonition to “Resist not evil, but do good” as a call to “change things” and “make the world a better place”. Unfortunately such high sounding words are frequently cover for great evil.
Nikolaos, I understand what you are saying. But the historical truth, surprisingly, shows that even with disagreement, at the time there was still communion in practice in the incidents I cited. And there remained communion even among East and Western monks until it was ethnic and cultural identities that became an issue when Byzantium struggled for survival, after the Filioque schism. (In addition to that, even as late as the 12th century, the Byzantine Emperor and the Armenian Catholicos were working out articles of agreement to reunite the Churches — that only failed to come to fruition because the Emperor died.) Besides, in the 1990s full conferences of theologians who met expressly for the purpose of understanding the differences finally agreed that the theology was identical, the differences were semantic alone (the Armenians basically could not attend because of warfare and later came up with their own statement on the issues of Chalcedon). The bottom line seems to be that these did not matter to the contemporaries as much as they came to matter and create division later, and what made a difference seems to be the secular/state/culture issues that intervened historically, and not the religious differences. I think it is important in Orthodoxy to understand the basic nature of ecumenism or resolution by Council even teaches us that differences of opinion can exist within one church. I took a peek at the website, and frankly, the word “monophysite” is a misnomer and misunderstanding, part of the long history of the problem. About “paying the Turks” and all that I know absolutely nothing, but for the Armenian presence in Jerusalem you have to go back much further. As for the fights in Jerusalem, as early as the 4th century there are comments one can find regarding such things.
PS Note the date of this historic battle for survival, the same year as Chalcedon
Our present circumstances in world Orthodoxy demonstrate how fragile communion can be (indeed, I think it should be fragile). Many things can disturb the peace of the Church that is rightly required for true communion. Over the centuries, many things have served that disturbing purpose. This does not minimize the matters that disturb (politics, doctrine, etc.). It serves to underline the ascesis required to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
Most of these matters are witin the purview of bishops – which leaves the rest of us to pray, fast, and maintain purity of heart.
“Differences of opinion” within one Church is dangerously close to the politics of modernity – at least in my understanding. There can be real differences of opinion that have no substance. There are, of course, differences of opinion that are the seedbeds of heresy and the like. The New Testament does not command us to tolerate differences of opinion – rather, it commands us to be of one mind (which is always a miracle). That one mind is a sine qua non of confessing the Creed. “…so that with one mind, we may confess: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”
In modernity, tolerance works only because that which is tolerated no longer has any value. Secularism gives room for every religious belief because religious beliefs have agreed to live in a way that their beliefs do not disturb the secular peace. A number of Byzantine Emperors sought to find secularized peace – to enforce confessional formulae that everybody would agree to. When St. Maximus the Confessor resisted that demand, his tongue was torn out, his right hand cut off, and he died in exile.
Father, I understand what you say and often agree. However, there is dialogue within the framework of the Church, if only because in part there remains mystery and economia. And most certainly I agree that current circumstances serve as illustration of things that intervene.
Yes. It is utterly necessary. To my mind, the Oriental Orthodox are unlike any other examples of those with whom the Church has conversations towards resolving ancient divisions.
A rule of thumb I have about heresy is its power to distort. At first, the distortion might seem minor. However, as centuries go by, the distortion inevitably has a way of playing itself out and distorts everything around it. Thus, true heresy is a “leaven that leavens the whole lump.” I could cite numerous examples – particularly in the egregious enormities sometimes seen in modern denominations.
With the Oriental Orthodox, there has been a very steady life (endangered today, I think, through Protestant evangelical influences, but that’s another story). That they have not morphed into deeper and greater errors is a testament to their faithfulness – more to St. Cyril than to later, distorting voices. Inasmuch as conversing with them is like conversing with St. Cyril, the greater the possibility for restoring what once was lost. That is in the hands of God.
I have a deep regard for them, and have been a guest among them.
Thank you for that Father. I hope and pray the churches can have fruitful dialogue, and a renewal of theological vigor and fruitfulness, and lost historical resources, in the present circumstances.
PS Your comment about heresy and its evolution is fascinating. It is indeed remarkable, even on the personal level, how one such decision can lead to a long, long road! It illuminates the importance of each choice
Janine I do not have the theological understanding of the nuanced pronouncements of Chalcedon and the following Councils. I only accept the Eastern Orthodox church faith, sacraments and Saints, while I respect and hope that fellow Christians, Orientals, Catholics and Protestants will also join the “one Holy Catholic and Apostolic” church one day.
Fr Seraphim Rose’s response is a good guide http://orthodoxinfo.com/inquirers/howtotreattheheterodox.aspx
The “schism” in the column of the Holy Sepulchre is an important historical event, that should help us think and reflect. In that event we also gained a Turkish Saint, St Tounom. It shows that the Oriental faith is not complete https://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2010/04/saint-tounom-omir-18-april-1579.html
We also know and celebrate the miracle of St Eufemia https://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2012/07/miracle-of-st-euphemia-at-fourth.html
Let God direct humankind to its unity of faith and guard your Eastern Orthodox faith like a treasure. Forgive me.
Janine, as one who lived in an heretical environment prior to coming to the Church, our decisions matter little if we seek the Truth above all. We are not asked nor required to defend it. Jesus Himself spoke nothing before Pilate. Through repentance, any bad decisions we make will be healed. We are all infected with the heretical disease. The chief fruit of heresy is disunion.
Just now reading this thread.
I appreciate your comments, Father and Janine. Thank you.
Nikolaos, I don’t wish to pursue such arguments. I can only leave you with the fact that the Armenians did not even know the Council was happening when it did, and found out about the controversies afterward, and thus made their own statement — all because of warfare, to which I already gave a link. It is one thing to be against heresy, and another to keep repeating there is heresy when there is not (such as using the word “monophysite” to describe the theology of the Armenian Apostolic Church). It is useless to repeat that theological conferences have confirmed that the theology is identical, but due to language differences, different terms were used to mean the same thing.
Michael, it is indeed a long and winding road for me, and I think each step was probably necessary. Probably most of what drives me crazy was something I once believed. So much depends on the heart. What I hear you saying is: “We know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” On the other hand the Gospels are full of apparently perfect and righteous people who made bad choices.
Janine, did not King David make about the worst choice in the Bible other than Judas? From his repentance we have the greatest prayer of repentance Psalm 50/51.
Judas shows what happens if we refuse to repent.
Government always tries to corrupt the Church. They have into this present day peeled off people from the Church. It is for two reasons: love of power and sadly a feeling of having to defend the Church.
Still, the Church endures and She always will. We have that promise. So, guarding our own heart in repentance remains the key. That is the vulnerability that gives us strength.
Learn to recognize the heresy in your own heart and what is true as well.
Thanks for your response. I’m not sure if it quite addressed my original question but, in the last few days, I’ve come to suspect that the next step is to study parables. I am beginning to believe these things are so hidden not simply for the purpose of being found or revealed, not even because they are very difficult, but paradoxically because an explanation which would try to be more clear or literal would be the surest path to a lie.
The Schmemann note raised another question, one which I think will be easier to answer and yet may still help regarding my original train of thought. I’ve not read The Liturgy Of Death but am not sure what to make of the argument about not naturalizing death. There is still a death that we’re united to, baptized into, experience, etc and that seems to be celebrated—what part of death is he saying we should reject, and how do we do that while retaining everything else? And if we’re separating death into going into the tomb vs movement towards non-being, why then do we have an enemy in the former, not simply an enemy in sin/non-being?
And since the discussion has wrapped up, I had a few thoughts on the blog itself, per your second comment. It is difficult to translate emotion into logic—they are different languages, if not totally different fundamental forces. But looking back, I did notice more of a dialog with various political situations, more references to social media, and more articles that did not seem to really delve into a subject. I’m not sure if was the topic or the short length, but something did not “feel” right. Anecdotally, I can *easily* bookmark 30–40 GTGFAT posts in a year, but from 2019 I have 7. Maybe I just have been here long enough to see things posted and rehashed enough (10 years from my first read, I think), maybe I was just bookmarked out! But I also felt awkward participating in most of the comments. Just picking a random post from August 2019, 28 are from one person and 29 from another. You had the next most, barely breaking 10. I do not want anyone to feel unheard and/or unwelcome to post but many of the threads seemed to have that private, insular character where even *you* were a stranger on your own blog! We get people who post heavily for a few weeks/months sometimes and that doesn’t bother me too much—even when heated, there is still an open conversation and it helps us examine ourselves and go deeper. And it is good to have regulars—I am one and among the youngest of them (I’m in college now) and still go through the comments to this day, though haven’t said much of late. However, the aforementioned type of conversation makes me want to hide. I’m not sure if that was a very helpful analysis or if that has been anyone else’s experience but thank you for asking about it.
Great feedback, and helpful. First, on the death question. The fathers frequently speak of the incarnation, and other aspects (such as His death), in a manner in which the Divinity of Christ is compared to something like a highly heated iron. So that His humanity is divinized in the incarnation – or death is destroyed by His entrance into it. It’s the strange paradox of the incarnation itself that makes for such thought.
When the altar is censed, this troparion is said (quietly): “In the tomb with the body, in Hades with the soul yet as God, in paradise with the thief, on the throne with the Father and the Spirit wast Thou, O Boundless Christ, filling all things.”
Death is the separation of the body and the soul. Christ’s soul enters Hades and yet as God. And because He is God, death could not hold Him. He tramples down death (that is, the devil) and leads captivity captive, setting free those who had been held in bondage. His body, in the tomb, is a dead body, however, it is not rotting. It is not suffering corruption (neither do the bodies of many saints). The soul and body are reunited in the resurrection, but that alone would be nothing more than Lazarus’ resuscitation. But, the body and soul are united, and revealed as divinized – such that St. Paul will call it a “spiritual body” (something of an oxymoron in classical thought). And the body seen by the disciples clearly has properties that are utterly transcendent of what we think of as normal space/time things.
So the “death” of Christ is unique to Him. We are baptized into His unique “death” – a “life-giving-death.” Such that the death of the first Adam, the “natural death” I mentioned, will have no ultimate power over us. We will be victorious over that death as well and will be like Him (Christ).Hope that’s of use.
I’ve got 14 years in the blog – and it has changed, off and on. The dynamic that I have little power over (except as needed) is the unpredictable character of the conversation and its participants. I can see and understand your observations. I know of a few things that perhaps contributed to that, but not something to comment on.
The past year has been a great challenge to me – and was bound to be reflected in one form or another on the blog – since I write so regularly. It’s been a year in which I was planning to retire from my post as Rector (priest-in-charge) of St. Anne. Not a retirement from active priesthood, but a change in my responsibilities and my source (and amount) of income. That has been a natural part of aging as well as a few other things. For one, my parish is growing – fast – with lots of young families. I wanted them to have the energy and leadership of a younger priest. I had noticed that I was slowing down. It happens! Also, I wanted in these later years, while there was still a reasonable amount of health, to have more time for writing – as well as continuing to travel and speak. It’s very hard to do those things and still do full justice to the parish. I am deeply pleased with the new Rector of St. Anne and can already see the fruit of his early labors.
Many know that I had a heart-attack 6 years ago and have adjusted a number of things in my life as a consequence. You can’t burn the candle at both ends as easily as a younger man. But, I’ve actually probably posted more “reprints” in the last year as the busy-ness of the transition time forced me to write a bit less.
On the politics, or politically-related matters: I have fought a daily battle not to get caught up in the passions of the present political/social media madness. But, if you’re going to be publicly interacting with people all the time (as I do) it’s very unavoidable (hence the battle). What I have seen is not the “issues” that create the back-and-forth in the media and people’s minds, but the simple power of the passions at work. The passions will destroy us when not attended to. I see many caught up in conservative issues in a manner indistinguishable from mere politico’s. I know that’s an error, and I’ve wanted to point to a different way. So my thoughts have very much been in and out of that battle over the past year. That makes for more stuff regarding modernity, etc.
It’s interesting, but I’ve been very unsuccessful in writing the “next” book. The first was easy. The second, it seems, is always a project overwhelmed by too many ideas. I think that’s indicative of my own inner life – there have been “too many ideas” or “too many conversations.” Since I’m a man with ADHD, that’s not terribly surprising. But it always colors my work and is a dominant factor in my inner life.
I would be interested in a short list of topics that have been of interest for you – particularly things and areas where the conversation has seemed absent.
At some point in time, I don’t know when, and not yet – but at some point, the blog will cease to be effective or useful. When the time comes – I hope I’m not the last to know!
You’re so young! (a college student!) God give you grace. I wouldn’t want to young just now. It was hard enough the first time!
Ah, the intrusion of politics is hard to resist. But all is phrased as a false dicohtomy. It is crucial to remember that. Even Church politics. One’s sympathies and bias may cause a drawing to oneside or the other and some descions may have to be made existentially. That is the price progress requires from us all. Rarely can those choices be avoided altogether. But Jesus Christ is above all even, thankfully, my own sins.
Still, division will exist. May God have mercy on my hard heart and teach me to be grateful for all His Providential gifts. You, Fr. Stephen and most of the participants on this blog which I joined I’m 2007 are a part of that Providence. Write while you can as often as you can with all that God gives you. Then you will always be effective. Hopefully the writings here will be accessable even after you are no longer “updating” them.
God preserve and protect you in all your journeys especially this week.
Michael, just an echo, without insisting and being irrelevant … In your quote, “not to resist evil, but to do good.”
If we could hear it this way : it is at the very heart of the act of not resisting evil, that good is born, manifests itself. What actions would arise from this reality?
In apparent failure, in the very heart of the greatest fragility, true life, the living presence of God, is being born.
Thank you Father Stephen for your insights. I particularly found this to be helpful as I have found myself trying to understand what trampling down death by death means: “Death is an enemy, because it opposes the very existence of the good creation. It is the threat of non-being.
Christ tramples down “death” (the movement towards non-being), but “death” (his death on the Cross). But He does not Himself become “non-being.” Rather, He fills non-being (“death”) with His Being – destroying it. ”
In regards the subject of the post, I love the parable. I am curious if you considered how accurate some of the early dystopian literature seems to have been in predicting the world we find ourselves in today. I am speaking of A Brave New World by Aldous Huxley(written 1932), 1984 by George Orwell(written 1949), and H.G Wells seemingly little know The Open Conspiracy( written 1928). I suppose we should not neglect C.S. Lewis’ The Abolition of Man(written 1943) either. Huxley, Orwell, and Wells can be directly connected with each other. I am unsure of there Lewis had contact with these other writers but possibly. Of course Aldous Huxley was the brother of Julian Huxley, the author of UNESCO and UNESCO’s first director. He also authored a book titled Religion without Revelation (written 1927) the title of which speaks for itself. And these are just a small selection of writers at the beginning and mid twentieth century who openly wrote about what the plan for our future was from their point of view. I have always been a little amazed at how open this plan has been all along and yet the majority either thinks it’s desirable or just doesn’t seem interested in understanding what writers like this are saying to them.
This is something I have been rather compulsive in digging around in so I have found myself with a worldview quite difference than most people I know, even before I came to Orthodoxy. Sometimes I wonder how much of this do I need to know? I know I just need to put my trust in God, but is there some value in making an effort to understand in more detail how ‘Revolutionary Kingdom'(to borrow from Fr Seraphim Rose) is working against you? Sometimes I have thought perhaps it is dwelling too much on the darkness that surrounds us.
Very good question re:digging around. It can easily become an obsession – one where we substitute “knowing what happened” to actually getting on with living the Orthodox life. It serves its purpose – but it’s also good to be able to lay it aside.
“Very good question re:digging around. It can easily become an obsession – one where we substitute “knowing what happened” to actually getting on with living the Orthodox life. It serves its purpose – but it’s also good to be able to lay it aside.”
That’s the most convicting thing I have heard in a long time. It’s a lot easier for me to be a conspiracy theorist (whether the conspiracies are real or not doesn’t matter in this case) than to love the people in front of me.
Pray for me.
Father, I have enjoyed the back and forth between you and Joseph Barrabas Theophus. For what it’s worth, I have shared his concerns about the blog. Your answer was very helpful but one concern persists: politics. You yourself have taught me that God is King. In light of that, contemporary political issues are of little importance. Yet you seem to have become increasingly political in some of your posts and comments. This is not criticism, Father. Just an explanation of how some of the things you have said have been confusing to some of your readers – perhaps especially your more long term readers.
As for future topics, this post hit me quite hard. It made me realize that I am still stuck in my “feel good” Protestant concept of death. I am anxious to learn more about the Orthodox understanding of death.
Again, the writing that touches on politics (“we will not make the world a better place”) is not about politics, per se – arguing for this candidate or that, this policy or that. Rather, it is about addressing something that permeates our lives with a false consciousness. That, I think, is not “politics” in the manner that I have said is of little importance. But, unless it is said, most people would never imagine that the false goals of a better world, by which their passions are stirred and by which they are manipulated, would never be understood.
So, I suspect that I’ll continue to write about that from time to time. It is, of course, a difficult topic – I’ve got my own passions to crucify.
I’m working a piece at the moment that might be of interest on the topic of death.
After several years of sitting in my bookcase, and in view of your teachings on modernity, I finally began to read Organization Man. I can tell this is going to shed much light on many things you’ve spoken about. This book was written two years after I was born. So these are the very ideals we were raised with. I can see it! It’s like that ‘fish swimming in water’ analogy, where you are so immersed certain cultural behavior you don’t even realize some of its absurdities…and ramifications.
I’m only on the 6th chapter. I can tell it’s going to be quite helpful.
A very belated thanks for the recommendation!
Hopefully this is not off-base but I get the sense some of what is being thought about here is help in a political sense. Perhaps this is possibly helpful but some of the commentary brought to mind what I know about the philosopher Hegel.
The modern secular idea of ‘making the world a better place’ seems to be one of the basic political manipulations applied through the Hegelian Dialectic. I am not a scholar by any stretch but my understanding of dialectics is the establishment of a thesis (such as ‘lets make the world a better place’), introduction of an anti-thesis (the target of what is keeping the world from being a better place, such as a certain political orientation, but could be anything), and then using the generated tension to arrive at the synthesis, which is usually a pre-determined outcome desired by the party initiating the dialectic. For me, this explains why the current two-party system works so well for the powers that be, though I know this is not the only way the manipulation of ideas such as ‘lets make the world a better place’ can be carried out.
These kind of ideas, like ‘lets make the world a better place’ or simply even ‘lets help’ can easily be co-opted by other parties for their own ends and probably is co-opted most of the time. How many stories have you seen about funds from the IMF never actually reaching the intended populations or large relief organizations that actually never use most of the funds they receive to actually carry out their stated missions? Foundations and NGO’s?
Really the only help that you can every really count on doing what you intend, is help you deliver personally to someone else. I believe everyone reading this blog knows this but the desire to help easily gets go-opted once you move it into the political sphere.
My understanding would be someone oriented toward Christ is simply not political, left or right. The Church by its very nature in Christ is the Good of society and does not have, nor need politics to be what it is. And the individual Christian should be the same. Hopefully I am not way of base there! If am please correct me.
I think that is largely correct.
Michael TN, you are spot on. The modern use of that dialectic has created a false eschatology and that is well within the purview of any priest. It is indeed the foundation of modern apostasy. That modern politics partakes and indeed is central to that apostasy is what secularism demands without respect to party, government or country.
“Politics” has become a battle of competing ideologies with people ready, willing and able to spend your and your family’s blood and treasure justifying it by finding ways to excite our passions and make us feel righteous in the process while offering a “secular holiness” that replaces the need for God.
It is virtually impossible to say anything of substance about modern dysfunction and faith without touching on “politics”.
Father Stephen has done a remarkable job in addressing the core issues without dictating the manner in which each of us responds or thinks. At the same time he articulates the Traditional teaching of the Church in ways that are relevant and challenging. That is the ethos of the Church–freedom. But even the word freedom has become so encrusted with various secular ideologies as to become almost meaningless.
If you think he is political, you have no idea of what political is.
I would dearly like to be more blunt, but even this comment maybe overstepping the rules of the blog so I will not do so.
Re the last few comments, surely the gospel is itself ‘political’. At Christ’s conception the Theotokos bursts forth with what must surely be one of the most revolutionary speeches ever (although it does have deep OT resonances). Followed closely by Zacharias’ equally revolutionary speech. And of course the whole Bible is full of power relations (even Adam and Eve, and Cain and Abel) and intrigue, invasions and war. The gospels record Christ spending much of his ministry dealing with the machinations of others, particularly the clergy (!), but with the spectre of Rome in the background. And the fact that Christ chooses the word “Kingdom” as his principle parable (and one in which your riff in this post, Father, seems to be very much in the spirit of) underlines that His incarnation (and even more overtly His Pascha) is surely as an intensely ‘political’ action (among other things) as they come. Surely that’s not a surprise because humans are (as even Aristotle noted) intensely political animals, and he came to save us, which must include our predelictions to politics and power, which are indeed everywhere? But it is a political action that SUBVERTS politics – or at least politics as the world sees it (and has next to nothing to do with party politics), and at a deep and radical level. So I took Fr’s post as in part being about that kind of a re-envisioning of what it means to be ‘political’ along such ‘Kingdom’ lines (with a nod to Exodus, and with a pointer to where the real enemy lies), but I’m happy to be corrected.
Father, some of the first to apostasize to Catholicism and Protestantism as a result of the European missions to Ethiopia in the 1800’s were Orthodox priests. I have read archives of some of their correspondence with their converters. In these letters, they go on and on about the backwardness, lack of knowledge, superstition, immorality,
general lack of civility, etc. in their former Church, at the same time lauding their new church for being so much the opposite. If prodded enough, an Ethiopian immigrant in the US today might express similar sentiments about their former country as opposed to the civilized West.
I once listened to Frederica Mathewes – Green relate a story of how Peter the Great stayed in Copenhagen under disguise to study the place. He found it so much more “civilized” than Russia that he resolved to make Russia more like Denmark.
Your blog has of course, for years, addressed the fallacies and passions that push us to be so entranced by modernity and “civilization”, But can you perhaps say a word about how I ought to repent for being a reason in a small or big way, for my brother to apostasize or be seduced by these. I read in one of the books about Father Arseny a story in which he was asked by his fellow prisoners to join them in condemning and cursing the Communists for all that had befallen the Russians. Instead, he succinctly repented on behalf of the clergy for their sins that opened the door for the Lie. Shouldn’t I do likewise?
I concour with Michael Bauman and Ziton, Father.
The way you touch on these matters cannot really be improved upon much at all, and we appreciate your doing it.
Man will always have the Adamic tendency to turn glory to death; and Christ, to turn death into glory. This is a very encompassing statement of course… The gravitational pull of both these opposite poles will always be there for us all. It is quite impossible to avoid being named a ‘reason’ for certain people’s apostasy. They need their justification…
At the same time, the fervent, peaceful, measured, vigilant, joyous, humble and truly noble life of a genuine follower of Jesus ought to be the strongest advertisement for the faith. It comes to the degree of our internal self-direction towards the ‘pole’ of Christ.
There is a veneer of “civilization” throughout the kingdoms of humanity. The State, in whatever form it takes, always strives for control–and we humans tend to find control comforting. But the control of the State is always bought with coercion and violence (economic, social, at the least). It will always, in the end, require an anti-Christ tyranny, in some form, to perpetuate.
That’s not to say all things are bad. Saint Paul wrote of be obedient to the governing authorities as they allow us to seek Christ. But his exhortation must be balanced with that of Saint John, who clearly saw them in conflict against God. Discernment is key.
In the end, the work of “civilization”, of the world, is irrelevant. We must practice the faith in all situations, under all yokes. The apple will always be offered as something better, in one form or another, so to speak.
I think that casting the gospel as “political” is a temptation to recast it into the image of man (as opposed to the image of God). That it is revolutionary is true, but its revolutionary quality lies much in the laying down of power, not taking it up. At least, that is how I understand it. Please forgive me if I have misunderstood the thrust of your comment.
I understood Ziton quite positively. St. Paul himself uses the word “politeia” when speaking of the Kingdom of God. It is, indeed, the heavenly “polis” that is breaking forth in our world. But, it is not breaking forth as a tool in hands of wicked men (or even in the hands of well-intentioned men and women). It is God’s work.
The Mother of God sings her wonderful hymn about what God has done – not about what He wants us to do or what He will do through us. The radical life of the Kingdom is this: because the Kingdom of God has come in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, we are free to live according to the laws of the Kingdom (which are perfect freedom). We rightly treat the humble and meek as exalted, and the rich as having been sent away empty, etc. The lives of the saints are filled with examples of those whose actions demonstrate that they believe the operative power in the present time to be that of the Kingdom of God rather than that of Caesar.
We can and should be fearless, always.
Byron, there are many levels and types of politics. The Gospel is political in the sense that it describes the movement toward God’s order away from “the world” From the kingdom of this world to the Kingdom of God .
We must be careful not to fall into the heresy of thinking Jesus replaced earthly Kings. Still, He has always challenged earthly Kings and even more the modern state. All but the best rulers get irritated by that. Many will seek to destroy as Herod did. That is happening now.
The Colson Center recently published an article “Who would Jesus Vote For?”
My answer to that is”Not one”.
My brother! Your words pierce my heart, both with rejoicing and with the pain of the Crucified Christ!
Yes, you should do as Fr. Arseny did. Suffering Ethiopia has such a profound place within the Scriptures and is so dear to the heart of God. It is a rich treasure. The evils of modernity are very well illustrated in its experience.”Ethiopia will hasten to stretch out her hands to God!:
I sat with a group of Egyptian and Greek youth (twenty-somethings) a few years back at a retreat in England. I had spoken about progress as a myth and a false idea. They were astounded. One said she had not been able to sleep after hearing that. When she spoke I became afraid that I had said too much and had caused their hearts to be troubled. They quickly reassured me – they were like a thirsty desert. No one had ever explained to them that the tradition they had received was greater than the empty promises of the West.
I have never forgotten their faces. It is a memory that makes me continue to write on that topic. The lies of modernity raped (literally) the Christians of Africa – and seek to enslave again the humble and meek. And they will tell us it’s for our own good.
God give you grace to pray. When you lift your hands to God in prayer, remember this poor sinner as well!
All, I am in a contrary mood today; please forgive me.
Father, feel free to remove my comments. And thank you for yours.
Byron, find somebody to give you a hug!
I started my bookmarking in earnest near the end of 2014, but it is hard to pick out a pattern: I’ve got lots about modernity (incl the famous The Un-Moral Christian) but also a fair bit about Mary, personhood, and the nature of the Church and of reality. Usually, I only bookmark when a striking post [that doesn’t contain “cracks”] is followed by comments that mesh together with it and further expound the subject. On some occasions I’ve saved a few lines from posts or comments but I mostly go for the full package, something I can send to others without reservations of veering “off course”. (And I would say most posts are ok on that front, just not necessarily striking enough to add to the collection—I’ve already got a stack of books to read about as tall as I am but prayer comes first!) But if I had to pull out a larger trend, I would say that it would be seeing things as they are—and not just in an intellectual manner, but in a way that can be lived and breathed. There are lots of places decrying what is wrong with the world (and some comment threads get pulled into that too much—everyone has a theory of what it is and some promote/defend their particular angle very vigorously), but that is only a part of the story, and not even the important part. What—or rather Who—is important is *Christ*. So I would say posts that reveal and preach Christ are really what I am here for. Sometimes that involves showing that modernity “has no clothes” (while, ironically, debating whether clothes are a social construct and really exist), sometimes that involves showing how a facet of the world is Christian in a way that we did not realize or fail to appreciate. But in all cases, those are just the “once upon a time” to the real story of Christ Incarnate, Christ Crucified, Christ Conquering Hades, And Christ Risen.
I see the absence more in places I’ve been, sadly, where the name of Christ is used but it is really about goals as diverse as “managing a parish”, “fixing”, control, power, finances, denial of God creating 1 man as head over 1 woman (even liturgically!), “programs”, favoritism, “balancing” “Orthodoxy” with “life in the world” so as not to be “too extreme” for modernity, etc. It is always some variation of the lie, using the gifts of Christ and the name of Christ but without Christ. As for the blog, I am not sure what I should (or even could) say much about topics I’d like; I think that is beside the point, and I don’t just collect these posts for me. I get to the same conclusions but have a *very* different approach, being far more detail and systems-oriented (eg, I don’t believe in exceptions, just wrong rules!) and simultaneously *way* more mystical (eg, I might make someone from the “Alexandrian school” blush) so it is hard enough to find common ground as it is sometimes. I’m also deeply involved in politics (just not the US politics as dealt with in most comments—I live in a micronation!), so I do not speak in opposition to politics generally but, as you have said, depriving it of its theological content (often in very crafty ways that still use all the forms and names of Christ) and reducing it to philosophy, management, and power. This is about the only/last place in English I’ve found that preaches Christ consistently; there is no point in giving names but every other spot has bouts of questionable theology, some agenda, or just cannot consistently stick to preaching Christ. So I would just say to keep speaking what you know, and keep showing Christ in it. Christ Is Risen!
I sincerely appreciate your comments and questions. And I hope that you continue to participate and share your perspective.
For reasons involving my isolation, I’m grateful for Father’s articles on politics and modernity. I need them to keep my head and heart in Christ’s life.
Father, I think the title of your next book could be ‘a gentle spirit, which is precious unto the Lord’
from that St. Paul quote “let your adorning be a gentle and tranquil spirit… ‘
And sets if essays in about 4 sections
Debt and the Juibilee
Joseph, Ester and Job (recalling the sense of ‘He meant it to me for good’, noticing our own fragility as a contact point with Christ)
Our life, lived now ( living locally, the monk whose life is more real and solid, the invitation to live that way as well and do one thing at a time, peaceful prayer and trust while doing the dishes on Mt Athos or anywhere, the trees and rocks that sing)
Christ the Warrior King, Christ who is our Peace (we will have tribulation, not a prosperity gospel, and Fr. Hopko’s maxim that we shouldn’t try to convince anyone of anything, but addressing ‘if Christ destroyed death, why do we still die?)
I think if we can see the Divine Liturgy not simply as something that looks back at old events, and rather as something that makes us present at those events it makes us less likely to set the Divine Liurgy aside to battle the world ourselves. I was glad to learn that from my bit of reading of Fr. Schmemann. It gives me the sense of life not simply speeding forward, but of the Divine Liturgy being how time is folded like a pamphlet, and not one for a political party
there are other public voices that dont fit your negative description (I think immediately of Fr Seraphim Aldea, and Fr Michael Gillis).
However unlike Fr Stephen and Glory to God for all Things, none of them is trying to engage in these broader narrative questions of contrast between our contemporary culture and acquisition of an Orthodox mind. There’s a lot of tit-for-tat “cultural warfare” being fought by ostensive Orthodox, but that’s not the same thing at all (it’s in fact participation in the very problem we are all trying to escape!).
For genuine Orthodox insight and critique online (*as* Orthodox for Orthodox (and anyone seeking sanity)), like you and many others I suspect, I know only of this blog. We probably dont pray for Father enough come to think of it.