Saturday 17 November 2012

Is it possible to be fully Eastern Orthodox in the modern world?


Only in a monastery, I suspect.

Orthodoxy is Christianity in a Christian society - that is, in a Christian monarchy, where the ideal is that all of life be harmoniously integrated into a framework for the highest possible development of theosis (sanctification, spiritual progress toward communion with God while on earth) - where the matter of developing Saints is, in a sense, the primary and structuring goal of society.

This situation is gone from the earth, since the Russian Revolution of 1917; and the conditions for it do not exist anywhere.


Is it gone forever? Various prophecies concerning the End Times (which I have seen collected in the works of Fr Seraphim Rose) suggest that Orthodox Monarchy could be restored in Russia - and perhaps spread from there to some extent; but that is the only possibility, and may not happen if other choices are made.

Absent an Orthodox society, Eastern Orthodoxy is broadly similar in the outlines of its practice to Roman Catholicism and Liturgical Protestant denominations - indeed I suspect it is less well adapted to modern life, and the adherents of (for example) some evangelical Protestant churches are in practice able to reach a higher level of devoutness, of Christian life, of sanctification and/or theosis - than are Orthodox believers.


What Orthodoxy preserves is the memory of an ideal; and this then serves as a context or structure for modern Christian life; which necessarily proceeds at a much lower level (or not at all, in the large majority of modern people).

What Orthodoxy gives us the fullness of Christianity, and the proper balance and focus of Christianity - nowadays in ideal and in memory rather than in lived practice; because the Orthodox Church amputated from the Orthodox state is a partial and broken thing. 

So, I believe that all Christian should (!) read, understand, assent to the ideal of Orthodoxy as instantiated in the Byzantine tradition - not as a perfection of Christian life (perfection is not attainable on earth), not indeed anything near perfection - but as the highest form of Christian development yet seen: a society saturated in Christianity which bred and sustained devoutness and the religious life - including many Saints.

But Orthodox monarchy will not arise in the West, and the high Christian life will not again be possible.


This opens the possibility of, and need for, Mere Christianity - in which a variety of ways/ denominations are regarded as equally valid.

And a world in which (as we see happening) real Christians in all these denominations read and learn from each other; as, for instance, CS Lewis has been read and revered in Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism and among evangelical Protestants - up to the very highest level of religious leaders and top theologians.


We need to know about the great past days of Christianity, and to know that they were great by comparison with ourselves; but what we can and will actually do, how we can actually live as Christians, is something very different: something more like the small-scale survival of Christianity under Communism and Fascism, or the Puritan Protestants under hostile Catholic regimes, or the recusant Roman Catholics under Protestant persecution, or the Copts in North Africa, or the Christian presence in Istanbul for the centuries following the fall of Constantinople.


Further, the subversion of the church leadership by secular Leftism all through Christendom means that real Christians enemies include those supposedly in spiritual authority.

Thus real Christians are chronically at loggerheads with the leadership in all major denominations; and traditional structure of authority must be side-stepped;

as when the ultra-Roman SSPX went outside the Roman communion; or serious Anglican Protestants need to seek Episcopal supervision and ordination from South America or Africa; or when devout members of the Russian Orthodox Church outside Russia remain as a remnant when the Overseas church was reabsorbed by the Moscow Patriarchy.


I envisage a situation when Christian life is an affair of Home Churches with lay Pastors on the Protestant side, and infrequent and irregular Catacomb meetings on the Catholic side (with Romans especially suffering infrequent and irregular Mass) - yet this skeletal life ought also to be structured at a mystical level (the most important level) by knowledge, memory of, and veneration for the great Christian civilisations of the past.




Sylvie D. Rousseau said...

“…infrequent and irregular Catacomb meetings on the Catholic side (with Romans especially suffering infrequent and irregular Mass)…”

This has been looking more and more like that for a generation, particularly in the country, where distances are large. In cities, if one is able to travel a bit, there is still a Mass at a convenient moment for everyone at 15 to 30 minutes by car or subway. I am lucky to have that still at the cathedral or sanctuaries kept by communities where all young priests are from Africa or India. Parish churches are becoming more and more sparse every year though.

As you answered me in the other thread (The three existential problems of life: alienation, meaninglessness and purposelessness), the essential parts of Christian practice are: “…awareness of the world as described in scripture and a lively relationship with Christ (which can have as its focus different activities - e.g. the Eucharistic presence on one hand, or the reading of and meditation on scripture on the other - and prayer ought to be the focus as an ideal aim: frequent/near continuous prayer as a form of communion.” I think that nothing is hopeless as long as we still have that. I find the internet is useful for reading and meditation and keeping a relation to devout Christians in many places.

Thanks for your answer and your thoughtful posts.

Wurmbrand said...

Maybe it would be good to read some Richard Baxter (1615-1691), who is credited with originating the term "mere Christianity." There is a one-volume "Autobiography" edited by N. H. Keeble (1925) in Everyman Classics; I have a paperback reprint.

Baxter wrote: "But must you know what Sect or Party I am of? I am against all Sects and dividing Parties: But if any will call Meer Christians by the name of a Party, because they take up with meer Christianity, Creed, and Scripture, and will not be of any dividing or contentious Sect, I am of that Party which is so against Parties: If the name CHRISTIAN be not enough, call me a CATHOLICK CHRISTIAN; not as that word signifieth an hereticating majority of Bishops, but as it signifieth one that hath no religion, but that which by Christ and the Apostles was left to the Catholic Church, or the Body of Jesus Christ on Earth."

Bruce Charlton said...

@Dale - JI Packer also often recommends Baxter - I will give him a try sometime.

AlexT said...

Have been moving towards an old calendarist Orthodox church myself these last few months. Still trying to discern the correctness of my feelings on this. However, i think that any serious christian has to ask himself this question soon. This is quickly going from a theoretical discussion to reality.