Abraham is our father and God has said: “I have made you a father of many nations.”- St. Paul, to the Romans
A Prophesy of Nations
Christ’s Parable and Prophesy of ‘The Mustard Seed’ found in the gospel record is a glimpse of how the gospel pans out in the eschatological sense, within the world we live in. It explains how the gospel is but a small seed that grows in to a very large tree, allowing the birds to nest within its branches. Those of us that know about Orthodox history, know that this is princely how the Church has been growing: on national levels, so much so that the Church has ordained patriarchs for each nation she has evangelized/built.
Building Here is Building for Eternity
We are not living this life as a sort of test and even cleansing for eternity, but we are living this life as a pre-configuration of eternity. Christ never said he was going to judge us strictly by our “heart.” He said he would be judging us by the very way we serve others. What we are actually doing in this life, will carry over to the next, but in a new glorious state. Everything matters.
Death is not a reset button as the Protestants teach. This is one reason why Orthodoxy does not cremate the body after death. Christ says that our earthly bodies will also be raised in the Great Resurrection. This is a part of the transformation of all life, and all nature. What we care for and build here is not done in vain.
Likewise, the very earth we care for is not cared for and cultivated in vain. We commune within geographies. The land of Israel and her surrounding missionary lands, for instance, are still holy! Israel, Syria, Turkey, Iraq…these and other eastern nations like Ukraine and Serbia are former Christian nations that were evangelized and converted to Christian communities under the Orthodox empire. It was not until recently, in the spark of WWI that things finally took a turn for the worse, with the secular monster of modern man (hosted by the West) finally scattering the communal bond of these communities to the point of what seemed like no return.
Orthodoxy Has Gone National…Even Global
All throughout this series we have been discovering that Orthodoxy has taken her philanthropic community to a national level. We are going to continue to discuss this more but here are some primers for the discussion:
- Orthodoxy is Nationalistic
~ Christ says to preach to all “nations,” that we are judged as “nations” and that we are a “Holy Nation”
- Orthodoxy is Patriarchal
~ The Church is a family directed by local and national fathers (patriarchs and priests)
- Orthodoxy is True to Nature
~ Geography can be sacred, both for the altar and relics, but also for our own bodies (homes, neighborhoods, nations)
- Orthodoxy is True to History
~ Our ancient communities will always be sacred both in spiritual and physical
Patriarchs…They are for Nations
During the first three centuries, the Western and Eastern churches both worked tirelessly within their communal efforts, but it was the Eastern Church that impressed the Pagan emperor Constantine, turning his soul toward the Church to help build their community on a national level. The East had achieved symphonia! And a need for a patriarch to work directly with the emperor, for the sake of the Christian community, arose, so the “Ecumenical Patriarchate” was formed in the Eastern city of Constantinople to mediate between the emperor and the Church.
The term “patriarch” means “father of a nation.” This particular patriarchate was established through the Second Church Council, declaring Constantinople to be the royal city, and her patriarch as the “Ecumenical Patriarch” of the entire Church! Other patriarchs of individual nations were also formed, catapulting the Christian faith in to the national forum of the entire world.
If the Christian community of Rome had been successful in creating a national community, the Roman patriarch would have become the Ecumenical Patriarch. But what was and still is important is that the Christian community would continue to grow from the tiny “mustard seed” to the “great tree where birds would flock to,” as Christ prophesied.
Russia – A New Empire Emerged out of the Old
After about a thousand years of the Church reigning with Christ as an imperial community, she was overthrown by the radical movements of Catholicism and then Islam. At that time, the Russian Church had been successfully thriving as a Christian nation under the missional efforts of the Viking Prince Vladimir, who converted to Orthodoxy from a visit to the Constantinople cathedral.
To this day the Russian Orthodox Church continues the communal tradition of the empire, explicitly teaches that Orthodoxy creates communities and even nations!
Orthodoxy Cannot Be Reduced to Principles and Liturgies
Orthodoxy, to Russians, is something that encompasses all of life, a “symphony” of both heaven and earth, of the spiritual and the physical. This is something that is quite foreign to most Americans, who generally think of Christianity as something that is separate from what is earthly, something that can affect earthly things but cannot coincide or be justly collaborated with earthly things, often quoting Christ’s statement about his kingdom not being of this world as an apologetic.
Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev, of the Moscow Patriarchate, in his book Orthodox Christianity, uses a quote from the 1800s author, Fedor Dostoyevsky, to describe Russian Orthodoxy (and Russia):
“The overwhelming majority of Russian people are Orthodox and live the idea of Orthodoxy to the fullest, despite the fact that they do not understand this idea logically or scientifically. In essence our people have no other “idea” except this one, and everything proceeds from it. Our people desire this from the depths of their hearts and out of profound conviction…I am not speaking now about church buildings or the clergy, but about our Russian “socialism” (I use the word, which is the exact opposite of the Church, on order to explain my thinking, strange as it might seem), the aim and result of which is a Church that encompasses the entire nation and the entire world, and that is realized on earth to the extent this is possible. I am speaking about the tireless thirst that the Russian people have always had for a great, universal unity in Christ’s name that includes the entire nation and all their brethren. And if this unity has not been achieved, if the Church has not yet been united completely, that is, not only in prayer but in reality, the instinct for this Church and the tireless thirst for it, sometimes almost unconscious, are nevertheless undoubtedly present in the hearts of the many millions of Russians. It is not in communism or in mechanical forms that the socialism of the Russian people consists, for they believe that they will be ultimately be saves only by universal unity in Christ’s name…At this point it is possible to say the following: those who do not understand the Orthodoxy of our people and its final aims will never understand our people themselves.”
To be Russian Orthodox is not to believe or be a part of certain dogmas or even certain traditions. To be Russian Orthodox is to be a part of a unified people…not one that is mere doctrinal or ceremonial, but one that is living as an actual community. In fact, as Dostyovesky explains, a community that is not so much in to logical formulas of who they are as much as they are a “realized” community of Christ.
From the very birth of Russia as a Christian community her bishops and monastics began teaching that Russia was a successor of Ancient Israel and the “bearers of the true faith in history.” And because St Michael Archangel, since the Old Testament, was the protector of God’s chosen people, he became a patron and very important cultural symbol for their calling of the “New Israel.” In Fr. John Strickland’s, The Making of Holy Russia, an entire chapter is dedicated to historical quotes and facts on this patristic theology of THE NEW ISRAEL. Strickland speaks of how all Russian men have been historically encouraged to take a pilgrimage to the Palestinian portion of Israel to begin merging Russia with her and fulfill the prophesy of Isaiah and St Paul for “all Israel to be saved.”
Russia’s first native Metropolitan Ilarion (1051-1055) was one of the first on record to make that statement. He also said that the land and overall environment of Russia itself had been sanctified by its conversion:
“they adorned all the sanctuary and vested holy churches with beauty. Angel’s trumpets and Gospel’s thunder sounded through all the towns. The incense rising toward God sanctified the air. Monasteries stood on mountains. Men and women, small and great, all people filled holy churches.”
In pre-revolution modern times of the late 19th century, many national movements began what was called Sobor’nost, the communal aspect of the Russian Orthodox Church. They claimed a “national faith” that excluded non-Orthodox of all kinds. The national community was in fact geographical but not so geographical that everyone and anyone was included as a part of it. The Slavophiles (opposition to the western infiltrators) at that time went as far as promoting the more ancient name of the nation, “Rus”, which associated the nation with her roots with the founding St Vladimir of Kiev, who in all the Orthodox Church across the world is known as:
Adhering to this theology, Fr, Dr. P.Y. Svetlov said in the early 20th century:
“The kingdom of God manifests itself and exists in the external order of reality, embracing not only the invisible inner life of the faithful, but all regions of earthly relations and conditions of earthly human existence. All human activity (culture) and institution (the state) are embraced…This transfiguration and inclusion of all the world in the creation of the kingdom of God is the final purpose toward which providence directs us in history.”
Our current Russian Patriarch, Kyrill of Moscow, recently said:
“The power of God which we receive transforms our inner world and helps us in accordance with the Lord’s will to change the outer world.”
The Basis of the Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church says:
“I. 4. Fulfilling the mission of the salvation of the human race, the Church performs it not only through direct preaching, but also through good works aimed to improve the spiritual-moral and material condition of the world around her.
“The Church is not of this world, just as her Lord, Jesus, is not of this world. However, He came to the world He was to save and restore, «humbling» Himself to match its conditions. The Church should go through the process of historical kenosis, fulfilling her redemptive mission. Her goal is not only the salvation of people in this world, but also the salvation and restoration of the world itself…The Church is called to serve the salvation of the world, for even the Son of man Himself «came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many» (Mk. 10:45).
“When a nation, civil or ethnic, represents fully or predominantly a monoconfessional Orthodox community, it can in a certain sense be regarded as the one community of faith — an Orthodox nation.
What Can American Orthodoxy Do?
History has shown us that Americans do not like to be subdivisions of other nations. It did not take much for early Americans to be dissatisfied with being a branch of England. Things have not changed since then. As Orthodox churches absorb more and more Americans within American jurisdictions, the concept of diaspora will fade more and more in understanding and general acceptance.
Can a portion of Orthodoxy NOT be national? Can a jurisdiction not be under a national or ecumenical patriarch and still be Orthodox? In theory, a jurisdiction could be, but the canons were made within the imperial/national structure and did not assume an American type of Church would arise. But under complex situations this has already happened with the OCA. Technically the OCA would either have to be a mission of the Ecumenical Patriarch OR she would have to adopt a patriarch (she originally came from the Russian). Neither of those things looks like it is happening, so what’s next?
The history of becoming a mission of the Ecumenical Patriarch is for that particular mission to eventually establish itself as a patriarchal community of sort, either its own nation or one that is becoming one. But these were imperial standards. Back then, we had an empire with an emperor and imperial (ecumenical) patriarch. Now, we do not have an empire in Constantinople so is the OCA really to blame if they question why they should submit to something that is no longer active or even claiming to WANT to be active? Her next option would be to fall in line with the Russian Patriarch who is a part of this inherited “Third Rome.” Many believe this Third Rome is recovering from the Atheist yoke but many do not believe it ever will fully recover enough to lead nations.
The Diaspora concept is fading. Autocephaly is becoming more and more confusing. The list goes on. How can we recognize the hope and power of the empire regaining her infrastructure while still building a community as Orthodox Christians have for almost two thousand years? How do we prevent ourselves from becoming a sort of Protestant model of Orthodoxy that does not build literal community?
Rod Dreher has some ideas in his new book The Benedict Option. He aims to gather the family and promote Christian education and philanthropy on a more independent level. This sounds like something good, but are we geared to do this? Our baptism changes the very structure of our soul, and our thinking, to accommodate a communal and perhaps even global direction. Orthodox build community together, as a community.
It seems that we are certainly in the fog of Limbo, or perhaps the general chaos of modernity, to put it in a more philosophical way. Again, how can we clear this chaos – this fog, and begin fulfilling the plan of Christ to build community in Orthodox terms?
We do have to start small, like Rod says, but we have to believe correctly! We have to understand who we are and what exactly we are building? We do not build for the sake of building, lest we fall in to the trap of selling our calling to secularists…letting them build our community. Not only are our relics and lands holy, but our actual calling of community is as well. We are judged based on this calling!
John Strickland, The Making of Holy Russia
Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev, Orthodox Christianity, Volume II
Rod Dreher, The Benedict Option