We are in a different and more chaotic day than our ancestors. We can be diligent to attend liturgy in our day, but still be disconnected from what most Orthodox Christians were connected to in the past. Next Chapter, we will discuss how many of our communities and cultures have been devoured, but first let’s look at what a very gifted, contemporary monk has to say about culture and the times we live in.
Hiermonk Seraphim Rose, in a lecture on Orthodox Worldview, said that we are creating dichotomies between real life and the Sunday Liturgy, within American Orthodoxy. He said this over 30 years ago, but how can we deny this is not still true today? Let’s take a look at some of the highlights that Fr Seraphim Rose says about this dichotomy we have created, and also how living in modern America is so drastically different than past times in Orthodox nations.
“Orthodoxy is life. If we don’t live Orthodoxy, we simply are not Orthodox, no matter what formal beliefs we might hold.”
“Our Orthodoxy is revealed not just in our strictly religious views, but in everything we do and say. Most of us are very unaware of the Christian, religious responsibility we have for the seemingly secular part of our lives. The person with a truly Orthodox world-view lives every part of his life as Orthodox.”
“It is possible for us to have and to fire an Orthodox world-view, that is, an Orthodox view on the whole of life, not just on narrow church subjects. There exists a false opinion, which unfortunately is all too widespread today, that it is enough to have an Orthodoxy that is limited to the church building and formal “Orthodox” activities, such as praying at certain times or making the sign of the Cross; in everything else, so this opinion goes, one can be like anyone else, participating in the life and culture of our times without any problem, as long as we don’t commit sin.”
“In past centuries—for example, in 19th century Russia—the Orthodox world-view was an important part of Orthodox life and was supported by the life around it. There was no need even to speak of it as a separate thing—you lived Orthodoxy in harmony with the Orthodox society around you, and you had an Orthodox world-view provided by the Church and society. In many countries the government itself confessed Orthodoxy; it was the center of public functions and the king or ruler himself was historically the first Orthodox layman with a responsibility to give a Christian example to all his subjects. Every city had Orthodox churches, and many of them had services every day, morning and evening. There were monasteries in all the great cities, in many cities, outside the cities, and in the countryside, in deserts and wildernesses. In Russia there were more than 1000 officially organized monasteries, in addition to other more unofficial groups. Monasticism was an accepted part of life. Most families, in fact, had somewhere in them a sister or brother, uncle, grandfather, cousin or someone who was a monk or a nun, in addition to all the other examples of Orthodox life: people who wandered from monastery to monastery, and fools for Christ. The whole way of life was permeated with Orthodox kinds of people, of which, of course, monasticism is the center. Orthodox customs were a part of daily life. Most books that were commonly read were Orthodox. Daily life itself was difficult for most people: they had to work hard to survive, life expectancy was not great, death was a frequent reality—all of which reinforced the Church’s teaching on the reality and nearness of the other world. Living an Orthodox life in such circumstances was really the same thing as having an Orthodox world-view, and there was little need to talk of such a thing.
Today, on the other hand, all this has changed. Our Orthodoxy is a little island in the midst of a world which operates on totally different principles—and every day these principles are changing for the worse, making us more and more alienated from it. Many people are tempted to divide their lives into two sharply distinct categories: the daily life we lead at work, with worldly friends, in our worldly business, and Orthodoxy, which we live on Sundays and at other times in the week when we have time for it. But the world-view of such a person, if you look at it closely, is often a strange combination of Christian values and worldly values, which really do not mix.”
MIGHT WE BE IN A NARSASISTIC BUBLE?
In the same homily by Fr Seraphim Rose, he goes on to say that there are two extremes that today’s more narcissistic converts to Orthodoxy typically fall in to. The one extreme is turning our liberty of Christ in to worldliness, merging with secular, modern culture, and all things that simply do not mesh with Orthodoxy. The other extreme converts tend to take is the hyper spiritual route, where their entire faith begins to revolve around the hesychastic aspect of Orthodoxy: “the Jesus Prayer, the ascetic life, exalted states of prayer,” as Fr Seraphim puts it.
Thirty years later, it seems like whole parishes are centered around this monastic avenue of Orthodoxy. Publishing companies seem to be on board with this as well, publishing massive amounts of works from the ascetics rather than formulating plans for our families and communities, ALL IN THE NAME OF THE FATHERS. Yes, there are many books written by monks for monks, primarily because they have the time to put out so many writings. Many great works, but we can be consumed by their “other worldly” subjects, and forget about our actual callings to create Orthodoxy in real life, the way that Orthodox Christians have always labored.
Let’s become saints, and not fall in to a type of idolatry toward them, just as the Protestants fall in to idolatry toward the Bible. They may be “sola sciptura” but it’s no better to be “sola patristic” or “sola clergy.”
We are created for real community, and if the American Orthodox Church does not want to foster it, Orthodox Christians will find community within the secular realm. We will then come to Liturgy on occasion, never really absorbing and meditating on the Orthodox ethos. It is time that we speak boldly against secular culture and help our clergy with the task of organizing our Church for the glory of God!