Orthodoxy & culture

The Russian Orthodox church is calling on the Russian government to denounce communism. OK, it’s a little late, but good on them.

In studying the different theological positions relating Christianity and culture, I find the Orthodox church to be something of a puzzle. It doesn’t seem to fit any of the major categories (culture above the church; church above culture; church separated from the culture; culture and church as distinct kingdoms under God). I asked an orthodox acquaintance who told me that the position of his church is to have monks who withdraw from the culture in order to pray for the culture. That’s a good answer, but it re-enforced my impression that the Christianity of the East is rather passive before the world, submitting to whatever regime it finds itself in but keeping alive an entirely separate spiritual existence. That means Christianity has not been as influential in the cultures of the East (though how could it have been given its domination by Islam and absolutist Czars). At its worse, though, the church sometimes collaborates with those regimes, giving spiritual sanction to the excesses of the Czars and even allowing itself to be infiltrated and used by the Soviets. I do salute the Orthodox Christians who have undergone persecution and martyrdom of their faith, including, arguably, members of the Russian royal family whose remains were discovered recently and confirmed last week.

The Western church, in contrast, both in its Catholic and its Protestant varieties, has always been activist and culture-shaping Even the separatist groups have defined themselves over and against the prevailing culture. This too has sometimes been to a fault.

I know some of you readers are Orthodox or Orthophiles (is that a word? if not, we need to coin it). I’d be glad to learn if this is a correct understanding or if I am missing something.

(I recall that I asked this before on this blog, but I still have questions.)

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Anon

    Isn’t the term ‘caesaropapism”?

  • Anon

    Isn’t the term ‘caesaropapism”?

  • Khammer

    Mr. Veith, you are missing quite a lot. And to the responder Anon—no, Orthodoxy is not a case of caesaropapism. That’s more of a Western problem, as in the Anglican and Gallican churches. The Byzantine attitude of Church-state was very different from the West and until Peter I of Russia, Church-state relations throughout the Byzantine Commonwealth (which included Russia) was a partnership, not a competition for power between the two. During and after Peter I, the Russian church became subjugated into a department of the Czarist state in an attempt to Westernize the Russian church, but this was never by the choice of the Church. The patriarchate itself ended under Peter I in the 1720s. When Czar Nicolas II abdicated, the Patriarchate was resurrected briefly before the Bolsheviks murdered Patriarchate Tikhon in the 1920s. In this way, Peter I is considered to be the precusor of Lenin/Stalin. Despite their subjection under the Czars, the Russian Church managed to produce many great saints, much beautiful Christian art and music, and a great revival during the 19th century.

    I will speak mainly from the Russian Orthodox viewpoint. The Russian Orthodox church is the largest Orthodox jurisdiction in Orthodoxy. Last year the Russian Orthodox Church of the Diaspora re-united with the Moscow Patriarchate–the same patriarchate that had been forcefully revived by the Communists for their own purposes against the Nazis during WWII. Prior to this revival of the Patriarchate under Metropolitan Sergei, the Communists nearly wiped out the Russian Church, its clergy, many of its laity, its wonderful choirs, and despoiled or dynamited its cathedrals and parish churches throughout the land.

    The Communists revived the Moscow Patriarchate very brutally, applying much torture and killing whoever didn’t cooperate but despite the collusion of some clergy, even they tried to protect what they could of the Church. The Communists also planted their agents within the Church to frustrate any real revival of the Church and to spy on the clergy. By contrast, some Western churches (most notably the Anglicans), have managed to give up most of the basic tenets of Christianity without any kind of pressure. If you’re really interested, you can read a good history of Russian Orthodoxy under the Communists and after the fall of Communism in “A Long Walk to Church: A Contemporary History of Russian Orthodoxy” by Nathaniel Davis. Davis is not Orthodox. He drew his information from Soviet archives.

    The Moscow Patriarchate under the Communists competed very much against the anti-communist Church of the Diaspora, and in time managed to marginalize them with the help of Western religious ecumenicists/liberals of the WCC brand. The Church of the Diaspora re-united last year with the Moscow Patriarchate only after the Patriarchate fulfilled our demands—one of which was to repudiate Communism and the collaboration with took place during those years. Canonizing the martyred Czar and his family as well as many other martyrs under Communism was another demand. The Moscow Patriarchate had formally repented of the Communist collaboration last year, among other things connected with the Communist era. If you all had been paying attention, you would have heard all this. But then the Western press wasn’t interested enough to report it, so maybe you didn’t hear.

    It is very wrong to say Orthodoxy was passive and had weak influence upon the Eastern culture. Orthodoxy gave Russia its literature because Greek and Bulgarian missionaries gave the Slavic and Finnish people literacy. It changed a pagan culture to a Christian one and this took centuries to do, just like it did in the West. Far from passive, Monasticism played a huge role in the Christianization of Russia, Finland and southeastern Europe, and later eastward into Siberia, Armenia and many other places, including Palestine. There were also some early Metropolitans who ruled Russia itself during the time of the Grand Princes, when the princes were in conflict with each other and not running anything. During the time of the muslim Mongol occupation, the Russian clergy kept the Kievan Russians Christian. A good book (if you can find it) to read about the huge extent of Russian Christian culture is “Medieval Russian Culture” edited by Henrik Birnbaum and Michael S. Flier, Vol 12 California Slavic Studies

    The Orthodox monastics were very influential upon the culture and had great respect. Even Byzantine emperors and Russian Grand Princes would come to their caves or forest dwellings to seek their advice. During the Russian Orthodox “Golden Age” in the 19th century, monastics such as St. Theophan the Recluse and St. John of Kronstadt were well known and much sought after for their writings and preaching. A good book to read about the Russian monastics is “Russian Mystics” by Sergius Bolshakoff.

    Orthodox Monasticism is not considered a passive occupation—it’s hard work and before one goes anywhere to do the work of the Lord (whatever that may be), one should be really “prayed up”, don’t you think? Otherwise, all that rushing about to do good works will go to naught, unless one first subtracts his ego from the work and allow God to work through him. I don’t see much of that in Western Christians—there is too much headlong rushing about to save the planet, setting up soup kitchens, sending very short-term missionaries to build schools in Mexican border towns, marching for someone’s civil rights, or otherwise “saving the culture for Christ”. All well intentioned, I know. But for all that activism, why is Western culture today becoming more and more paganized?

    The Orthodox laity is very different from Western laity—Orthodox do things in church. We just don’t sit passively and listen to a pastor’s lecture. It’s not just head knowledge they get. We have a saying: “to worship with head and heart together.” To do things in church, one must know the Church teachings and customs (which in themselves teach Christianity). These, in turn, permeated everyone’s behavior and attitudes, and inspired art, music and literature. Orthodoxy is the culture in itself, an exceeding rich religious culture, whether it’s Greek Orthodox, or Romanian, Russian, Serbian, Syrian, whatever. It didn’t merely influence culture, it replaced the previous culture. By contrast, we think the West is exceeding secular, having been very invaded by secularism over the past 500 years or more.

    The Muslim invasions and their protracted exterminations/persecutions changed much of this, putting the southeastern European Orthodox on the defensive and destroying much of their traditions. The Communists goal was to totally irradicate the Church and all its teachings and customs. (Communism is a western idea, not an eastern one.) They destroyed the Church everywhere they went and corrupted the succeeding generations. Despite all that extreme damage over an 80 year period, the young Russians today are more and more interested in their Christian past and many are entering the Church and reviving its Christian culture.

    It remains to be seen whether the Russian Church or Orthodoxy generally can revive itself to its former glory. As it is, it is a shadow of what it once was in Russia or old Byzantium. But it is spreading in Russia and in the West. One day Orthodoxy won’t be merely a strange species that it is to Westerners today, but perhaps much better known and understood. But the last 100 years have been a bad time for Christianity everywhere; who knows what’s in store.

  • Khammer

    Mr. Veith, you are missing quite a lot. And to the responder Anon—no, Orthodoxy is not a case of caesaropapism. That’s more of a Western problem, as in the Anglican and Gallican churches. The Byzantine attitude of Church-state was very different from the West and until Peter I of Russia, Church-state relations throughout the Byzantine Commonwealth (which included Russia) was a partnership, not a competition for power between the two. During and after Peter I, the Russian church became subjugated into a department of the Czarist state in an attempt to Westernize the Russian church, but this was never by the choice of the Church. The patriarchate itself ended under Peter I in the 1720s. When Czar Nicolas II abdicated, the Patriarchate was resurrected briefly before the Bolsheviks murdered Patriarchate Tikhon in the 1920s. In this way, Peter I is considered to be the precusor of Lenin/Stalin. Despite their subjection under the Czars, the Russian Church managed to produce many great saints, much beautiful Christian art and music, and a great revival during the 19th century.

    I will speak mainly from the Russian Orthodox viewpoint. The Russian Orthodox church is the largest Orthodox jurisdiction in Orthodoxy. Last year the Russian Orthodox Church of the Diaspora re-united with the Moscow Patriarchate–the same patriarchate that had been forcefully revived by the Communists for their own purposes against the Nazis during WWII. Prior to this revival of the Patriarchate under Metropolitan Sergei, the Communists nearly wiped out the Russian Church, its clergy, many of its laity, its wonderful choirs, and despoiled or dynamited its cathedrals and parish churches throughout the land.

    The Communists revived the Moscow Patriarchate very brutally, applying much torture and killing whoever didn’t cooperate but despite the collusion of some clergy, even they tried to protect what they could of the Church. The Communists also planted their agents within the Church to frustrate any real revival of the Church and to spy on the clergy. By contrast, some Western churches (most notably the Anglicans), have managed to give up most of the basic tenets of Christianity without any kind of pressure. If you’re really interested, you can read a good history of Russian Orthodoxy under the Communists and after the fall of Communism in “A Long Walk to Church: A Contemporary History of Russian Orthodoxy” by Nathaniel Davis. Davis is not Orthodox. He drew his information from Soviet archives.

    The Moscow Patriarchate under the Communists competed very much against the anti-communist Church of the Diaspora, and in time managed to marginalize them with the help of Western religious ecumenicists/liberals of the WCC brand. The Church of the Diaspora re-united last year with the Moscow Patriarchate only after the Patriarchate fulfilled our demands—one of which was to repudiate Communism and the collaboration with took place during those years. Canonizing the martyred Czar and his family as well as many other martyrs under Communism was another demand. The Moscow Patriarchate had formally repented of the Communist collaboration last year, among other things connected with the Communist era. If you all had been paying attention, you would have heard all this. But then the Western press wasn’t interested enough to report it, so maybe you didn’t hear.

    It is very wrong to say Orthodoxy was passive and had weak influence upon the Eastern culture. Orthodoxy gave Russia its literature because Greek and Bulgarian missionaries gave the Slavic and Finnish people literacy. It changed a pagan culture to a Christian one and this took centuries to do, just like it did in the West. Far from passive, Monasticism played a huge role in the Christianization of Russia, Finland and southeastern Europe, and later eastward into Siberia, Armenia and many other places, including Palestine. There were also some early Metropolitans who ruled Russia itself during the time of the Grand Princes, when the princes were in conflict with each other and not running anything. During the time of the muslim Mongol occupation, the Russian clergy kept the Kievan Russians Christian. A good book (if you can find it) to read about the huge extent of Russian Christian culture is “Medieval Russian Culture” edited by Henrik Birnbaum and Michael S. Flier, Vol 12 California Slavic Studies

    The Orthodox monastics were very influential upon the culture and had great respect. Even Byzantine emperors and Russian Grand Princes would come to their caves or forest dwellings to seek their advice. During the Russian Orthodox “Golden Age” in the 19th century, monastics such as St. Theophan the Recluse and St. John of Kronstadt were well known and much sought after for their writings and preaching. A good book to read about the Russian monastics is “Russian Mystics” by Sergius Bolshakoff.

    Orthodox Monasticism is not considered a passive occupation—it’s hard work and before one goes anywhere to do the work of the Lord (whatever that may be), one should be really “prayed up”, don’t you think? Otherwise, all that rushing about to do good works will go to naught, unless one first subtracts his ego from the work and allow God to work through him. I don’t see much of that in Western Christians—there is too much headlong rushing about to save the planet, setting up soup kitchens, sending very short-term missionaries to build schools in Mexican border towns, marching for someone’s civil rights, or otherwise “saving the culture for Christ”. All well intentioned, I know. But for all that activism, why is Western culture today becoming more and more paganized?

    The Orthodox laity is very different from Western laity—Orthodox do things in church. We just don’t sit passively and listen to a pastor’s lecture. It’s not just head knowledge they get. We have a saying: “to worship with head and heart together.” To do things in church, one must know the Church teachings and customs (which in themselves teach Christianity). These, in turn, permeated everyone’s behavior and attitudes, and inspired art, music and literature. Orthodoxy is the culture in itself, an exceeding rich religious culture, whether it’s Greek Orthodox, or Romanian, Russian, Serbian, Syrian, whatever. It didn’t merely influence culture, it replaced the previous culture. By contrast, we think the West is exceeding secular, having been very invaded by secularism over the past 500 years or more.

    The Muslim invasions and their protracted exterminations/persecutions changed much of this, putting the southeastern European Orthodox on the defensive and destroying much of their traditions. The Communists goal was to totally irradicate the Church and all its teachings and customs. (Communism is a western idea, not an eastern one.) They destroyed the Church everywhere they went and corrupted the succeeding generations. Despite all that extreme damage over an 80 year period, the young Russians today are more and more interested in their Christian past and many are entering the Church and reviving its Christian culture.

    It remains to be seen whether the Russian Church or Orthodoxy generally can revive itself to its former glory. As it is, it is a shadow of what it once was in Russia or old Byzantium. But it is spreading in Russia and in the West. One day Orthodoxy won’t be merely a strange species that it is to Westerners today, but perhaps much better known and understood. But the last 100 years have been a bad time for Christianity everywhere; who knows what’s in store.

  • Trey

    Khammer,

    Dr. Veith didn’t say that Orthodoxy didn’t have influence on the culture in general, but when it came to the autocrats, Orthodoxy did little to resist change beyond a few individual Christians or influence it. This is self-evident by Orthodoxy’s subjugation to the Czars and the Communists.

  • Trey

    Khammer,

    Dr. Veith didn’t say that Orthodoxy didn’t have influence on the culture in general, but when it came to the autocrats, Orthodoxy did little to resist change beyond a few individual Christians or influence it. This is self-evident by Orthodoxy’s subjugation to the Czars and the Communists.

  • Khammer

    Trey–

    Veith said this: ” my impression that the Christianity of the East is rather passive before the world, submitting to whatever regime it finds itself in but keeping alive an entirely separate spiritual existence. That means Christianity has not been as influential in the cultures of the East …” It seems to me that he said very plainly that in contrast to the West, the Eastern Church has had little influence on eastern culture, which is completely wrong.

    As for Orthodoxy’s offering no resistance “self-evident by Orthodoxy’s subjugation to the Czars and the Communists”, I say, it’s not self-evident. You are looking on the surface of things. Read some history to find what really occurred instead of assuming Russian Orthodoxy liked what happened and so fell utterly and willingly prostrate before the Czars and Communists.

    Also, study the Byzantine concept of Church-state and the role of the Christian ruler. The early Czars followed the concept to the letter; it was the Westernizing Peter I (that the West calls Peter the Great) that took apart the Church with the aim of destroying it (he was not a believer). When he visited France and England, he particularly inquired about how those monarchies had succeeded in reducing the Church to a department of state. After he returned from his famous visit to the West, he applied those lessons from the West to the Russian Church and destroyed the patriarchate and many monasteries who had resisted him.

    He turned the Church into a department of state that provided social services doling out benefits to the public (hospitals, orphanages, Latin schools), much like what many modern Western churches are doing today with their social programs. Hence, the reason Christians must guard against the Church being turned into a bureaucratic welfare entity and lose sight of its real mission. He and subsequent Czars rigorously censored sermons. But despite this, the Russian church still managed to function in its true mission and spread the Gospel throughout Russia, and into China, Japan and Alaska. As I said, the clergy and many great lay theologians, such as Khomiakov, even managed a great revival in the 19th century. There was even a large movement in the 19th and 20th century of young radical clergymen who were allying themselves with secular radical movements to free the Church from the Czar by revolution. The Bolsheviks killed them, too.

    The Communists weren’t at all willing to keep the Church in any form and deliberately set out to destroy every vestige of it. They very nearly succeeded in their goal of totally purging Christianity from the land had it not been for the Nazi invasion. Read the book I recommended above about the contemporary Russian Orthodox church under the Soviets to see if the clergy were joyfully willing collaborators or whether most of the survivors had been dragooned into it.

    During WWII, there had been a lot of willing Western clerical collaborators with the Nazis. Some notable Nazi theologians were Gerhard Kittel, Paul Althaus and Emanual Hirsh. Read the book “Theologians under Hitler” by Robert P. Ericksen. One has to wonder why Pius XI and his secretary of State, the future Pius XII were the first to sign a Concordat with Hitler. How does one account for this lack of resistance, even to go so far as to alter the teachings of Christianity to conform to Nazi agendas? But there were in the West some notable resistance from Christian leaders and laity, but it was mostly feeble for various reasons. It’s wrong to judge their feebleness. We weren’t in their shoes. We weren’t outgunned, outmanned and cut off at the pass as many of them were. So too with Russian Orthodoxy under the Czars and the Communists.

  • Khammer

    Trey–

    Veith said this: ” my impression that the Christianity of the East is rather passive before the world, submitting to whatever regime it finds itself in but keeping alive an entirely separate spiritual existence. That means Christianity has not been as influential in the cultures of the East …” It seems to me that he said very plainly that in contrast to the West, the Eastern Church has had little influence on eastern culture, which is completely wrong.

    As for Orthodoxy’s offering no resistance “self-evident by Orthodoxy’s subjugation to the Czars and the Communists”, I say, it’s not self-evident. You are looking on the surface of things. Read some history to find what really occurred instead of assuming Russian Orthodoxy liked what happened and so fell utterly and willingly prostrate before the Czars and Communists.

    Also, study the Byzantine concept of Church-state and the role of the Christian ruler. The early Czars followed the concept to the letter; it was the Westernizing Peter I (that the West calls Peter the Great) that took apart the Church with the aim of destroying it (he was not a believer). When he visited France and England, he particularly inquired about how those monarchies had succeeded in reducing the Church to a department of state. After he returned from his famous visit to the West, he applied those lessons from the West to the Russian Church and destroyed the patriarchate and many monasteries who had resisted him.

    He turned the Church into a department of state that provided social services doling out benefits to the public (hospitals, orphanages, Latin schools), much like what many modern Western churches are doing today with their social programs. Hence, the reason Christians must guard against the Church being turned into a bureaucratic welfare entity and lose sight of its real mission. He and subsequent Czars rigorously censored sermons. But despite this, the Russian church still managed to function in its true mission and spread the Gospel throughout Russia, and into China, Japan and Alaska. As I said, the clergy and many great lay theologians, such as Khomiakov, even managed a great revival in the 19th century. There was even a large movement in the 19th and 20th century of young radical clergymen who were allying themselves with secular radical movements to free the Church from the Czar by revolution. The Bolsheviks killed them, too.

    The Communists weren’t at all willing to keep the Church in any form and deliberately set out to destroy every vestige of it. They very nearly succeeded in their goal of totally purging Christianity from the land had it not been for the Nazi invasion. Read the book I recommended above about the contemporary Russian Orthodox church under the Soviets to see if the clergy were joyfully willing collaborators or whether most of the survivors had been dragooned into it.

    During WWII, there had been a lot of willing Western clerical collaborators with the Nazis. Some notable Nazi theologians were Gerhard Kittel, Paul Althaus and Emanual Hirsh. Read the book “Theologians under Hitler” by Robert P. Ericksen. One has to wonder why Pius XI and his secretary of State, the future Pius XII were the first to sign a Concordat with Hitler. How does one account for this lack of resistance, even to go so far as to alter the teachings of Christianity to conform to Nazi agendas? But there were in the West some notable resistance from Christian leaders and laity, but it was mostly feeble for various reasons. It’s wrong to judge their feebleness. We weren’t in their shoes. We weren’t outgunned, outmanned and cut off at the pass as many of them were. So too with Russian Orthodoxy under the Czars and the Communists.

  • http://www.scyldingsinthemeadhall.blogspot.com The Scylding

    Another thing that Gene alluded to is the Islamic domination of non-Russian orthodoxy for an extended period of time. Essentially, the Byzantine Empire and Greek and mid-Eastern Orthodoxy served as the buffer/punch bag between the Western Church and Islam, with the exception of Moorish Spain.

  • http://www.scyldingsinthemeadhall.blogspot.com The Scylding

    Another thing that Gene alluded to is the Islamic domination of non-Russian orthodoxy for an extended period of time. Essentially, the Byzantine Empire and Greek and mid-Eastern Orthodoxy served as the buffer/punch bag between the Western Church and Islam, with the exception of Moorish Spain.

  • Khammer

    Scylding–

    Some Russians who lived on the borders of Islamic lands were also swept up into the muslim invasions. Many had been captured and were made slaves as late as the early 19th century. British explorers had encountered these pitiful folks in Afghanistan who begged to be ransomed. (They weren’t–part of the reason why you see some Afghans today with blue eyes.) The Russians wars over Chechnya have been (and are still) conflicts between the muslims and Christians.

    After the Fall of Constantinople, the Ottomans systematically robbed the Christians wholesale of their children, particularly children of the Byzantine nobility. These children (male and female) were used as sex slaves. Those who refuse to go were killed and these are remembered in hagiographies. Numerous male children were made into eunuchs and raised muslim in a special military unit, called the janissaries. The janissaries became the most fierce muslim warriors in the Ottoman empire and much feared by Christian Europeans.

    Some good books to read about the Eastern Church under the Ottomans are: “The Great Church in Captivity” by Byzantine scholar Steven Runciman; and “The Decline of Eastern Christianity under Islam” by Bat Ye’or (an Egyptian expert on Christians and Jews living under Islam).

    Read also this travelogue by William Dalrymple “From the Holy Mountain: A Journey among the Christians of the Middle East”. This travelogue details conditions that contemporary Christian must live under in Islam and also records the ruins of their former Christian civilzation. Mr. Dalrymple travel itinerary followed the route of the 6th century monk, John Moschos, who had traveled the length of the Byzantine empire in the years just prior to the muslim invasions. Moschos wrote a book about his travel experiences called “The Spiritual Meadow” which details the extensive Christian culture and his encounters with various monks/laity at that time. If you read these two together, it pulls together quite an interesting before and after picture. Should give any Christian pause…

  • Khammer

    Scylding–

    Some Russians who lived on the borders of Islamic lands were also swept up into the muslim invasions. Many had been captured and were made slaves as late as the early 19th century. British explorers had encountered these pitiful folks in Afghanistan who begged to be ransomed. (They weren’t–part of the reason why you see some Afghans today with blue eyes.) The Russians wars over Chechnya have been (and are still) conflicts between the muslims and Christians.

    After the Fall of Constantinople, the Ottomans systematically robbed the Christians wholesale of their children, particularly children of the Byzantine nobility. These children (male and female) were used as sex slaves. Those who refuse to go were killed and these are remembered in hagiographies. Numerous male children were made into eunuchs and raised muslim in a special military unit, called the janissaries. The janissaries became the most fierce muslim warriors in the Ottoman empire and much feared by Christian Europeans.

    Some good books to read about the Eastern Church under the Ottomans are: “The Great Church in Captivity” by Byzantine scholar Steven Runciman; and “The Decline of Eastern Christianity under Islam” by Bat Ye’or (an Egyptian expert on Christians and Jews living under Islam).

    Read also this travelogue by William Dalrymple “From the Holy Mountain: A Journey among the Christians of the Middle East”. This travelogue details conditions that contemporary Christian must live under in Islam and also records the ruins of their former Christian civilzation. Mr. Dalrymple travel itinerary followed the route of the 6th century monk, John Moschos, who had traveled the length of the Byzantine empire in the years just prior to the muslim invasions. Moschos wrote a book about his travel experiences called “The Spiritual Meadow” which details the extensive Christian culture and his encounters with various monks/laity at that time. If you read these two together, it pulls together quite an interesting before and after picture. Should give any Christian pause…

  • Anonymous

    So, just because a church fell under rule of a militant culture, it has no response? By this definition, those Christians being martyred in countries where Christianity is oppressed are not attempting to do anything to shape culture? Committing to the ascetic struggle for our salvation does nothing to challenge a dominant culture? Orthodox Christians are called to be salt and light of the earth, being faithful in the ascetic struggle independent of vocation.

  • Anonymous

    So, just because a church fell under rule of a militant culture, it has no response? By this definition, those Christians being martyred in countries where Christianity is oppressed are not attempting to do anything to shape culture? Committing to the ascetic struggle for our salvation does nothing to challenge a dominant culture? Orthodox Christians are called to be salt and light of the earth, being faithful in the ascetic struggle independent of vocation.

  • Khammer

    There were many martyrs to the alien militant culture in both Byzantium and Russia. Their very existence as Christians was enough of a challenge to the militant secular culture to have millions of them wiped out. One should read the accounts of the struggles, sufferings and eventual victories of these martyrs over their oppressors.

    It is wrong to assume that the ascetic struggle doesn’t challenge the dominant culture. That is the ultimate work in challenging any dominant, secular culture–no matter how savage. The ascetical traditions of both East and West knew this. Read their accounts of what they struggled against, starting from the beginning. See what great social and theological issues they tackled through their ascetism.

    Nor is the ascetical struggle left only to monks and nuns. All Orthodox (whether they are monks are not) are also to be ascetical. Take Marriage, for instance. We consider this an asceticism, in that, a man must forsake all others to bind himself for life to his wife. That alone is a radical idea in these hedonistic days. All Christians are pilgrims in this world and the world is offended by anyone daring to go on pilgrimage.

    In challenging the dominant militant culture, what is better to do? Carry placards, hand out leaflets, conduct teach-ins and sit-ins, strike, yell and trash things, throw bricks at police, and burn down the neighborhood–even kill whoever we name an oppressor? Haven’t we had plenty of activism in the last 100 years of people supposedly “challenging the dominant culture”, but are really being nihilistic? What has been accomplished by all this sturm und drang but to drag an already errant culture down further into Rage, chaos and more oppression?

    Does God choose a minister for good from someone who doesn’t pray and fast? From someone who never waits upon the Lord?

  • Khammer

    There were many martyrs to the alien militant culture in both Byzantium and Russia. Their very existence as Christians was enough of a challenge to the militant secular culture to have millions of them wiped out. One should read the accounts of the struggles, sufferings and eventual victories of these martyrs over their oppressors.

    It is wrong to assume that the ascetic struggle doesn’t challenge the dominant culture. That is the ultimate work in challenging any dominant, secular culture–no matter how savage. The ascetical traditions of both East and West knew this. Read their accounts of what they struggled against, starting from the beginning. See what great social and theological issues they tackled through their ascetism.

    Nor is the ascetical struggle left only to monks and nuns. All Orthodox (whether they are monks are not) are also to be ascetical. Take Marriage, for instance. We consider this an asceticism, in that, a man must forsake all others to bind himself for life to his wife. That alone is a radical idea in these hedonistic days. All Christians are pilgrims in this world and the world is offended by anyone daring to go on pilgrimage.

    In challenging the dominant militant culture, what is better to do? Carry placards, hand out leaflets, conduct teach-ins and sit-ins, strike, yell and trash things, throw bricks at police, and burn down the neighborhood–even kill whoever we name an oppressor? Haven’t we had plenty of activism in the last 100 years of people supposedly “challenging the dominant culture”, but are really being nihilistic? What has been accomplished by all this sturm und drang but to drag an already errant culture down further into Rage, chaos and more oppression?

    Does God choose a minister for good from someone who doesn’t pray and fast? From someone who never waits upon the Lord?


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