An Eastern Orthodox reader writes

Have you ever heard of Met. Hilarion Alfeyev? He’s the No. 2 figure in the Russian Orthodox Church, the church’s chief diplomat. He’s only 44 years old. Super-brilliant guy, and startlingly open to the West. I heard him speak this past weekend in NYC, and let me tell you, this guy really gets it. He doesn’t have that old-school closed-off approach, but he is not a religious liberalizer either. He’s also a classical music composer, and was in NYC for the American premiere on Monday night of his “St. Matthew Passion.” I’ve been listening to it on CD, and it’s breathtaking. Take a look at the fragment below from a speech he gave in 2009, in which he posited a “Catholic-Orthodox Alliance.”

Here’s a link to the speech, and the relevant clip. God is doing great things! And notice, this man is of our generation.

In this missionary effort, I believe, the Orthodox Church needs allies, and its closest ally and partner is most likely to be the Catholic Church. There are well-known differences between Catholics and Orthodox on a certain number of doctrinal and ecclesiological points, notable on the understanding of the role of the Bishop of Rome. All these differences, however, appear to be rather minor in comparison to the fundamental elements of faith which are identical in both traditions. Both Churches have apostolic succession of hierarchy and de facto have mutual recognition of sacraments (while continuing not to have full Eucharistic communion). No less important is the solidarity between the Catholics and the Orthodox on major points of moral teaching, including questions of family ethics, human sexuality, bioethics etc.

It is against this background that I have repeatedly suggested that a Catholic-Orthodox Alliance should be formed. This alliance may enable Catholics and Orthodox to fight together for the preservation of traditional values and to combat against secularism, liberalism and relativism. Such alliance may help Orthodox and catholics to speak with one voice in addressing secular society, may provide for them an ample space where they will discuss modern issues and come to common positions. The two traditions can speak with one voice, and there can be a united Catholic-Orthodox response to the challenges of modern times.

The rationale behind my proposal is the following: our Churches are on their way to unity, but one has to be realistic and understand that it will probably take decades, if not centuries, before this unity is realized. In the meantime we desperately need to address the world with a united voice. Without being one Church, can we act as one Church, can we present ourselves to the outside world as a unified structure, as an alliance? I am convinced that we can, and that by doing so we may become much stronger.

Such an alliance, whatever it shape may be, may well include those representatives of Protestant and Anglican communities who associate themselves with a traditional rather than liberal “wing” of Christianity and who share the essential points of traditional Christian morality. I also believe that the Oriental Orthodox Churches should from the very beginning be a part of the alliance on behalf of the Orthodox family. There is no Eucharistic communion between the Eastern and the Oriental Orthodox Churches, but their spirituality and ethos, as well as their social and moral teachings are quite identical. Moreover, in an ecumenical context the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Churches have already proved to be able to act as one Orthodox family.

The modern battle between traditional Christianity on the one hand and secularism, liberalism and relativism on the other is primarily centred round the question of values. It is not a theological argument, because it is not the existence of God that is debated: it is the existence of an absolute moral norm, on which human life should be founded, that is put into question. The contest has an anthropological character, and it is the present and future of humanity that is at stake. By defending life, marriage and procreation, by struggling against legalization of contraception, abortion and euthanasia, against recognition of homosexual unions as equal to marital ones, against libertinage in all forms, the traditional Christians are engaged in a battle for survival of the Christian civilization and of those peoples who until recently identified themselves with Christianity.

The rediscovery of traditional Christian values is essential in the epoch which is marked by a deep demographic crisis, which in the course of the 21st century is likely to turn into an unprecedented catcstrophe for many countries of the so-called “Western civilization”. More and more people are coming to the understanding that the roots of the current demographic crisis are spiritual rathern than economic. It is loss of the traditional understanding of marriage and family, based on religious values, that led to a radical transformation of etical norms related to human sexuality in the second half of the 20th century. This conviction is shared today not only by religious leaders, but also by many social activists and politicians – first and foremost by those with conservative convictions. In his book with the characteristic title The Death of the West, American politician Patrick Buchanan calls the homo occidentalis an “endangered species.” He writes:

As a growing population has long been a mark of healthy nations and rising civilizations, falling populations have been a sign of nations and civilizations in decline. If that holds true, Western civilization, power and wealth aside, is in critical condition… As late as 1960, European people, including Americans, Australians and Canadians, numbered 750 million, one-fourth of the 3 billion people alive… In 1960, people of European ancestry were one-fourth of the world’s population; in 2000, they were one-sixth; in 2050, they will be one-tenth. These are the statistics of a vanishing race… If the present fertility rates hold, Europe’s population will decline to 207 million by the end of the twenty-first century, less than 30 percent of today’s. The cradle of Western civilization will have become its grave.

“Irony of ironies,” exclaims Buchanan. “Today, an aging, dying Christian West is pressing the Third World and the Islamic world to accept contraception, abortion, and sterilization as the West has done. But why should they enter a suicide pact with us when they stand to inherit the earth when we are gone?”

In his book Buchanan shows that the collapse of the institution of marriage and marital fertility, the triumph of promiscuity, the sharply rising number of divorces, the legalization of abortion, the widespread use of contraception and the liberalization of sexual ethics are all very closely linked with the West’s rejection of traditional moral norms formulated by the religious world-view. The “cultural revolution” of the second half of the twentieth century, which undermined the foundations of traditional morality, directed the Western mind away from Christian values – self-sacrifice, altruism and faithfulness – and toward militant secular individualism, which has brought Western civilization to the brink of destruction. Buchanan concludes: “Only a social counterrevolution or a religious awakening can turn the West around before a falling birthrate closes off the last exit ramp and brings down the curtain on Western Man’s long-running play.”

The Orthodox Church can play a significant role in this religious awakening, which is perhaps the only thing that can save Western civilization from an irrecoverable collapse.

Sounds like a sensible guy who gets the whole “breathing with both lungs” thing. May he live a hundred years.

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  • Fr Michael Azkoul

    Does Dr Olsen have the slightest knowledge of the Orthodox Church? He cannot unless he reads the Church Fathers (excluding such heretics as Augustine and Origen)? Does he have any understanding of our ecclesiology? Here’s a statement to scandalize him — the Church of Christ is salvation. She is His Bride, His Body, and we are saved by incorporation into His visible, historical Church.