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Our Orthodoxy and Its Future

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  • Basil Yakimov
    Our Orthodoxy and Its Future by Priest Alexey Young Still the call of Christ comes to us; let us begin to heed it... - Hieromonk Seraphim (Rose) What is
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 6, 2007
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      Our Orthodoxy and Its Future



      by Priest Alexey Young


      Still the call of Christ comes to us; let us begin to heed it... -
      Hieromonk Seraphim (Rose)


      What is Orthodoxy and Does It Even Have a Future?


      In 1976 the late Hieromonk Seraphim (Rose) wrote the following:
      Orthodox
      Christians live today in one of the great critical times in the history
      of
      Christ's Church. The enemy of man's salvation, the devil, attacks on
      all
      fronts and strives by all means not merely to divert believers from the
      path of salvation shown by the Church, but even to conquer the Church
      of
      Christ itself, despite the Saviour's promise (Matt. 16:18), and to
      convert
      the very Body of Christ into an organization preparing for the coming
      of
      his own chosen one, Antichrist, the great world-ruler of the last days.


      Of course, we know that this attempt of Satan will fail....But the
      great
      question of our times for all Orthodox Christians to face is a
      momentous
      one: the Church will remain, but how many of us will still be in it,
      having
      withstood the devil's mighty attempts to draw us away from it? (The
      Orthodox Word, Sept.-Oct., 1976)


      "Orthodoxy" or "Orthodox Christianity" has come to mean a number of
      different things to different people in different Orthodox
      jurisdictions.
      There are all kinds of "Orthodoxy" around today. Some of it is
      recognizable; some of it seems very strange, very abnormal. For some,
      Orthodoxy is just a "place we go to" on Sunday mornings- just like
      other
      Christians. For others, Orthodoxy is an ethnic club, where one can hear
      the
      cherished language and music of one's youth in the old country- in
      itself,
      not wrong. For still others, Orthodoxy is a career, a way of making
      money,
      of meeting friends. But for a few, a very few, Orthodoxy is the very
      Ark of
      Salvation, created by the Living God Almighty in order to bring us
      safely
      through this world to the next.


      So before we can talk about the future of Orthodoxy, we must first have
      an
      understanding of the term "Orthodox."


      Orthodoxy is an "other-worldly" Faith


      Most Orthodox, converts included, tend to think of the Faith as
      something
      very eastern, very Russian or perhaps Greek, or Byzantine. Actually,
      this
      is correct only as far as it goes. But if asked, it's unfortunately
      unlikely that most of us would say that Orthodoxy has to do with
      holiness,
      with sanctity, or with a peculiar concept called "other-worldliness."


      While on a trip to Russia in 1998, I had the privilege of venerating
      the
      holy relics of Saint Innocent of Alaska. Although he had died, full of
      years and honors as Metropolitan of Moscow, a great deal of his life
      had
      been spent as a married priest, Fr. John Veniaminov in Alaska, and
      then,
      later, as a bishop. In his journal, kept over a period of years while
      he
      was a missionary, he tells a remarkable story about his visit,
      unannounced
      and unexpected, to a particular island one day in April of 1828. As he
      stepped ashore he saw all of the natives standing there in a festive
      and
      joyful mood. They told him that they had been expecting him. And
      although
      some of them had been baptized into Orthodox many years before, they
      had
      been given no instruction in the Faith whatever. Where Orthodoxy was
      concerned, they were functionally illiterate. But an old man of their
      village had told them that a priest would come on this very day and,
      when
      he came, he would teach them how to pray. The old man had also
      carefully
      described the priest-and indeed this was a description of Fr. John
      Veniaminov himself.


      When he met the old man, the missionary was amazed at his knowledge of
      Scripture and Orthodox Christian doctrine-especially since he could not
      read or write and, like the other natives, had been taught nothing
      about
      the Faith. "There was no 'normal' way for him to know these things....
      [The
      old man] replied quite simply that two companions had informed him of
      these
      things. 'And just who are these two "companions" of yours?'" he asked
      the
      old man. " 'White men,' he replied....'They live nearby, in the
      mountains.
      And they visit me every day.' The old man then provided a description
      which
      tallied very closely with the way in which the Holy Archangel Gabriel
      is
      portrayed on icons: in a white robe with a rose-colored band across the
      shoulders." (Garrett, Saint Innocent: Apostle to America, pps. 79-80)
      As
      this story unfolded, Saint Innocent learned that the old man had been
      visited regularly-daily, in fact-over a period of thirty years, by two
      angels of God, who had taught him the depths and mysteries of Orthodox
      theology. When Fr. John asked if he could himself meet these spirits of
      God
      he was informed that he could. But "something unexplainable then
      happened
      to Fr. John, as he reports to the bishop:


      I was filled with fear and humility, and thought to myself, "What if
      I
      really were to see them- these angels...? I'm a sinful man, unworthy of
      talking to them. If I were to decide to see them it would be nothing
      but
      pride and presumption on my part. If I were to meet real angels, I
      might
      exalt myself for having such great faith, or start thinking too highly
      of
      myself. . . . No, I'm unworthy; I'd best not go." (Garret, p. 82)


      In this account we glimpse the element of the supernatural, the
      "other-worldly": the fact that there is another world beside this, and
      another life, different from the life we lead here; and this other
      world
      sometimes, according to God's will, impinges upon us here in this life,
      in
      this world. This means that in order for us to have true Orthodoxy, and
      in
      order for Orthodox Christianity to have any kind of future at all, we
      must
      ourselves first of all have some sense, some awareness of that other
      world
      and its closeness to us. [1]


      Knowing about "other-worldliness" isn't about having supernatural or
      some
      kind of "occult" experiences. But it is about remembering that this
      life is
      only very temporary, a pilgrimage, in fact, and we should not hold onto
      it
      tightly because, ultimately, all of it will be taken away from us at
      death,
      anyway, and then we will have only the virtues that we have managed, by
      God's grace, to acquire.


      This is an extremely important message for us Orthodox Christians to
      bring
      to the world: that there is indeed another world, that this is not a
      myth
      or a fairy tale but something which is real, and that this present life
      here on earth is a preparation for that life which is to come, that
      there
      is accountability and responsibility and judgment, as well as reward or
      punishment awaiting us after death, and that the saints and angels are
      aware of us (as are, also, the fallen angels, the demons) and are
      longing
      to help us join them finally in the Kingdom of Heaven. In spite of
      appearances to the contrary, the world really does want to know this,
      wants
      to know the truth of this, and is longing to hear it from us in a
      convincing way.


      Orthodoxy is an ascetic Faith


      Several of the 20th-century Teachers of the Church-men like
      Metropolitan
      Anthony Khrapovitsky, Fr. Seraphim Rose, and others-have explained to
      us
      more than once and in several ways that Orthodoxy is, above all, an
      "ascetic" Faith. What does this mean? The future of Orthodoxy-if she
      actually even has a future at all-depends on whether we understand the
      essence of Orthodoxy, which is asceticism.


      Our word "ascetic" comes from the same root as the word "athlete," and
      this
      is not a coincidence, for the ascetic and the athlete have some common
      characteristics.


      The athlete works out, trains hard, and exercises in order to develop
      the
      muscles of his body so that he can compete in various kinds of sports
      or
      special events. He works very hard. He may go to an exercise gym every
      day
      and work for several hours. He follows a special diet, tries to get
      lots of
      rest, and in every possible way takes good care of himself.


      The ascetic is an athlete, too-an athlete of the spirit rather than of
      the
      body. The ascetic also exercises, however he exercises not his biceps
      or
      other physical muscles, but the various dimensions and faculties of his
      soul. He "works out," spiritually, through prayer and fasting, through
      standing at vigil, and by preparing properly to receive the sacraments.
      He,
      too, must compete-not in a sports arena with a javelin or in some other
      event; no, the ascetic competes in the wide arena of this world, and
      his
      adversary, his opponent, the Devil, is quite real-as Holy Scripture
      teaches
      us. The athlete runs a race, but we, too, as Saint Paul tells us, run a
      race, a race to obtain the crown of immortal life with Christ in
      heaven.
      But to run this race, we must be athletes of the spirit.


      It is this ascetic dimension of Orthodoxy that makes Orthodox
      Christianity
      different from every other Christian religion on the face of the earth.
      But
      from what I've said thus far, "asceticism" is still just an abstract
      concept. What does it mean in practice?


      Again I turn to Saint Innocent of Alaska. While he was working with the
      Aleut and Klingit Indian tribes of the Alaskan peninsula, he was very
      anxious to properly communicate to them this "essence" of Orthodoxy. So
      he
      wrote a little booklet that has become a kind of classic and is widely
      read
      and studied today by people like us who are otherwise very far removed
      from
      the native Americans of the northwest. The little book is called The
      Indication of the Way to the Kingdom of Heaven. In this important
      little
      book Saint Innocent talks about asceticism in the same way that our
      Lord
      Himself does: he compares it to the carrying of a cross. Our Lord said:
      If
      any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his
      cross,
      and follow Me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and
      whosever
      will lose his life for my sake shall find it (Matt. 16:24-25), and:
      Whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after Me, cannot be My
      disciple
      (Luke 14:27).


      Now in life there are two kinds of crosses, Saint Innocent explained.
      The
      first kind of cross consists of those daily annoyances, temptations,
      and
      difficulties that come to everyone just because we are human beings.
      Ill
      health, financial setbacks, misunderstandings with others, various
      kinds of
      afflictions- all of these are crosses, but they are what Saint Innocent
      calls "involuntary crosses." That is, they come to us, according to
      God's
      will, whether we want them or not. If we bear these crosses without
      complaining, without murmuring, then they become ascetic labors that
      are
      for our salvation; but if we complain and murmur, then they are for our
      condemnation. It is extremely important to understand this.


      The second kind of cross, according to Saint Innocent is what he calls
      "voluntary crosses"- that is, those special ascetic exploits or labors
      that
      we voluntarily take upon ourselves, such as strictly keeping the fast
      days
      and seasons of the Church year, standing for long hours at vigil
      services,
      and other kinds of asceticism or crosses that we may, with the blessing
      of
      our spiritual father, take upon ourselves.


      These are some of the ascetic aspects of our Holy Faith which are signs
      of
      true and authentic Orthodoxy, ancient Orthodoxy, the Orthodoxy of the
      saints.


      The need for "holy zeal"


      But to this concept of asceticism must be added one other element,
      which we
      call "holy zeal." Here is what the late Archbishop Averky of
      Jordanville
      had to say about this:


      The chief thing in Christianity, according to the clear teaching of
      the
      word of God, is the fire of divine zeal, zeal for God and His glory-
      the
      holy zeal which alone is able to inspire man in labors and struggles
      pleasing to God and without which there is no authentic spiritual life
      and
      there is not and cannot be any true Christianity. Without this holy
      zeal
      Christians are "Christians" in name only.... Meakness and humility do
      not
      mean spinelessness and should not yield before manifest evil...a true
      Christian should be far from sugar-sweet sentimentality... (The
      Orthodox
      Word, [henceforth O.W.], May-June, 1975)


      But this does not mean that we should be rigid and uncharitable towards
      others, or that we should have no discernment. Archbishop Averky
      himself
      pointed out that we must avoid what Scripture calls "zeal without
      understanding." Especially, he said, we must avoid what he called a
      "false,
      lying zeal, behind the mask of which is concealed the foaming of
      ordinary
      human passions-most frequently pride, love of power and honor, and the
      interests of a party politics...for which there can be no place in
      spiritual life." (O.W., May-June, 1975) True Orthodoxy walks a thin
      line
      between fanaticism and looseness, between self-righteousness and
      "spinelessness."


      Orthodoxy in the West Today


      The extremes of the "right" and the "left" Fr. Seraphim (Rose) said
      that
      "zeal not according to knowledge" was simply "an excuse for pharisaic
      self-satisfaction, exclusivism, and distrust" of others (O.W.,
      May-June,
      1975)- something to be avoided at all costs, and it is the exact
      opposite
      of what Archbishop Averky called "being in step with the times". The
      future
      of Orthodoxy should belong to neither of these two extremes, neither of
      the
      right nor the left, for "holy zeal" is not extremism, it is simply true
      and
      authentic Orthodoxy.


      Therefore, in order to see the future and its possibilities, we must
      know
      something about what's going on with Orthodox Christianity in both the
      East- in the historic countries of our origin such as Greece and
      especially
      Russia- and we must be fully aware of what's going on in the apostate
      West,
      too. Shortly I will speak in some detail about Orthodoxy in Russia, the
      country that concerns us in the Russian Church Abroad most of all, but
      first we should look briefly at what is going on with Orthodoxy in the
      West
      today.


      In the United States, in particular, there is a kind of broad
      "spectrum,"
      from left to right. On the extreme right we have a relatively small
      number
      of Greek Old Calendarist groups. Many of these otherwise very sincere
      and
      pious believers often squabble among themselves, sometimes for good
      reason,
      sometimes not. Fr. Seraphim (Rose) called the extremist Greek Old
      Calendarists "exclusivists." Partly because of this, and partly because
      of
      the disagreements among themselves, in America they have been
      relatively
      ineffective at reaching the Western mind and soul, often presenting
      (perhaps without intending to do so) a very rigid and even haughty face
      to
      prospective inquirers into the Faith. In my opinion, these groups are
      not
      the future of Orthodoxy.


      On the "left" we have several groups that follow the New Calendar and
      they
      have quite consciously accepted the principles of liturgical reform,
      innovationism and modernism. One of these groups, in particular, is
      anti-monastic, which means that it vigorously opposes traditional
      Orthodox
      spirituality; repeatedly there is a call for what is called "American
      Orthodoxy." Just exactly what this means, however, is difficult to say,
      but
      it is a contradiction in terms. America and her culture are by
      definition
      liberal, constantly changing and unstable, interested in keeping her
      citizens comfortable and entertained and distracted from spiritual
      realities and needs. America also embraces everything that is modern
      and
      fashionable. True Orthodoxy, on the other hand, is by nature
      conservative,
      stable, and unchanging, even reactionary, and concerned with eternal
      verities, focused not on what is comfortable and perishable, but on the
      carrying of crosses as the only way to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
      Some of
      these Orthodox groups are very open to missionary opportunities- and in
      this sense they can be very creative- but what are they bringing new
      converts to? authentic Orthodoxy or some kind of "Eastern Rite
      Protestantism"? a Church which more and more resembles the culture of
      the
      Anglican or Episcopal Church and is no longer Orthodox but something
      that
      is attractive on the outside, looking and smelling and sounding like
      the
      "real thing," but inside it is an empty shell, incapable of giving the
      abundant life our Savior promised in the Gospels.


      The very fact that these modernist Orthodox are involved in liturgical
      reform and modernization-which often means drastically shortening or
      even
      completely eliminating some of the services (and it also now means
      abolishing fasts and the churching of women after childbirth, it means
      the
      use of girl acolytes, and the tonsuring of female readers)-all of this
      is
      already a very serious and dangerous attack on our holy Faith, and
      virtually no one is objecting, no one is criticizing, and no one has
      the
      courage to stand up and cry out, "The Emperor has no clothes!" Our
      Blessed
      Metropolitan Philaret of holy memory would speak out, were he with us
      today, just as he spoke out so courageously in his famous "Sorrowful
      Epistles" in the late 1960s. And our Saint John of Shanghai and San
      Francisco would have spoken up, too. Decades ago he reminded us that we
      cannot and must not tamper with the Divine services because these
      "church
      services contain in themselves the fullness of the Church's dogmatic
      teachings and expound the path to salvation. They embody a priceless
      spiritual wealth. The more fully and properly they are done, the
      greater
      the benefit received by those who participate in them. Those clergymen
      who
      perform the services negligently and abbreviate them out of laziness
      are
      robbing their flock, denying it vital bread, and abducting from it a
      valuable treasure..." (quoted in "Liturgical Materials," by Archpriest
      Peter Perekrestov, p.1)


      It is true that in some of these New Calendar Churches there was an
      initial
      burst of missionary growth, some of it healthy, some not. But that time
      is
      now passing as many of their new faithful discover the lives of the
      saints,
      the traditional spirituality of the Church, and other things that they
      had
      not been given when they first converted to Orthodoxy. They now want
      something deeper, something capable of sustaining and nurturing a
      profound
      and lasting spiritual life. Many of these seekers find their way to us,
      to
      the Church Abroad. So, clearly, the future of Orthodoxy- in spite of
      appearances just a few years ago- does not lie with the modernists.
      History
      shows that those who are too far to the right or to the left do not, in
      the
      end, carry the day either and, ultimately, will not even survive. Is
      there
      another way, another-"middle"- path to the future of Orthodoxy? I
      believe
      that there is.


      "The Royal Path"


      Between these two extremes of right and left is the "balance point," or
      what the Fathers of the Church themselves called "the Royal Path." As
      Fr.
      Seraphim (Rose) wrote: "This true Orthodox moderation is not to be
      confused
      with mere luke-warmness or indifference, or with any kind of compromise
      between political extremes....[It's emphasis is] constantly on the
      spiritual side of true Orthodoxy", which neither the extremists of
      the
      left or the right know or completely understand. As Fr. Seraphim wrote
      unequivocally: "The Russian Church Outside of Russia has been placed,
      by
      God's Providence, in a very favorable position for preserving the
      'royal
      path'." He continued:


      "Living in exile and poverty in a world that has not understood the
      suffering of her people, she [the Church Abroad] has focused her
      attention
      on preserving unchanged the faith which unites her people....Today,"
      Fr.
      Seraphim continues, "more than at any other time...[we must struggle to
      preserve] Orthodox tradition in an age of apostasy, [for] the voice of
      true
      and uncompromising Orthodoxy could be heard throughout the world and
      have
      a profound effect on the future course of the Orthodox Churches....It
      is of
      critical importance, therefore, that this voice be actually one of
      true,
      that is, patristic Orthodoxy." (O.W. , Sept.-Oct., 1976)


      Fr. Seraphim also observed-and this is very important-that "the 'royal
      path' of true Orthodoxy today is a mean that lies between the extremes
      of
      ecumenism and reformism on the one side, and a zeal not according to
      knowledge (Rom. 10:2) on the other." (O.W. , Sept.-Oct., 1976)


      [OA/_private/oabot.htm]


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