Orthodox America

Withdraw and Reach Out  

An Editorial

From an Orthodox perspective there is much in the world – particularly in our American society – to justify a sense of apocalyptic foreboding. There is the spectre of legalized abortion, the growing acceptance of homosexuality, the expanding commerce in fetal tissues, the chilling advances of computer control, genetic engineering, the imminence of “virtual reality” – the computerized manipulation of one’s environment…

This Brave New World scenario is alarming, but it should not cause us to crawl under a pall of pessimism, for although it poses a threat, assailing us with humanist ideology and worldly values, it also offers potentially great opportunity in the field of mission. We have, then, before us the two courses of action: 1) to protect ourselves from being swept up in this accelerating apostasy, and 2) to reach out to those who seek to escape this same maelstrom. We must pursue them both.

In order to successfully persevere in our Orthodox struggle, we must strengthen our identity as “strangers and pilgrims,” and resist the temptation to conform to the ways of this world “which lies in evil.” It is interesting that among American Jews there is a growing tendency to emphasize “uniquely Jewish values that clash with American culture.” Jonathan Sarna, a Jewish scholar at Brandeis University, writes that many American Jews are “beginning to question the long-held assumption that Judaism is compatible with modernity. These Jews smile at the na´ve optimism of an earlier generation that considered itself wholly at home in America; Jews in our day are more likely to consider themselves strangers at home – at once part of America and apart from it. Where the watchword a generation ago was synthesis, we prefer to speak of ‘tensions’ between assimilation and identity, and the tension between being an American and being a Jew.” (Reported in Religion Watch, Nove. 1992).

If Jews can withdraw from modernism for  the sake of their Jewishness, can we afford a lesser commitment in safeguarding our Orthodoxy? And there are those who for the sake of religious principles take an even more difficult stand: the Amish are a radical and visible example. Even the Hare Krishnas in their saffron robes and the Mormon missionaries on their bicycles set themselves apart from the world, following the requirements of their faith. We, who are in danger of losing an incomparably more precious treasure, must likewise dare to be different – and challenge our children, especially our teenagers, to do likewise. This does not mean that we have to don special uniforms or retire to the woods. It does mean that we must develop  a more acute sense of what being Orthodox requires – and to follow through with this in practice.

Fr. Seraphim (Rose) said that a true Orthodox Christian is “a scandal to the world.” The majority of us certainly don’t qualify. We have adapted ourselves to the ways of the world, satisfied with our marginal Christianity and unwilling to divorce ourselves form “the American way.” St. Symeon the New Theologian exhorts: “let us forsake all the things that turn us away from God and imperil the soul…Let us flee, brethren, from the world and the things that are in the world (I John 2:15). For what have we in common with the world and them men who are in the world?” (The Discourses). Indeed, what sympathy can we have for a culture that spawns Mutant Ninja Turtles, Terminators and brazen Madonnas? We are called to holiness. Unless we exercise our free wills to detach ourselves form the ways of this world, our Orthodoxy will be no more than a shadow.

Our withdrawel from the world should be interpreted as a protectionist and not an isolationist policy. We are not called to build fences between oursleves and our neighbor. God would that all men be saved, and in this age of spiritual confusion and experimentatin we have a special obligatin to reach out: “Come, taste and see…” Granted, one encounters a lot of religious indifference, people dulled by materialism, but the gross secularizatin of our cluture and the loss of Christian values – even withn many churches – is bringing the apostasy into focus, promting many serious souls to ask, Where is the truth?

Following the recent vote by the Church of England’s bishops to ordain women, many sincere Anglicans felt as if they’d been spiritually cast adrift. The news reported one priest as saying. “My Church died.” Some Anglican  parishes are already making plans to align themselves with the Roman Church. Others? One cannot help but feel that if the Orthodox Church had a stronger presence – in terms of quality more importantly than quantity – many of these floundering Anglicans would soon find refuge within her embrace. As it is, many converts to Orthodoxy endure a long and arduous journey in their search for the true faith.

Being Orthodox is not easy, but finding the Church should not be as difficult  as it often is. Most spiritual seekers are unaware that the historical Church founded by Jesus Christ still exists. Its witness is needed now more than ever.

Prince Charles has been quoted as saying to a closed gathering: “…we are hurtling into an abyss of depravity, profligacy, plunder, theft, complete amorality. The only place I see where there may be the beginning of some kind of regeneration is in Russia.” (Den, Sept. 1992). Clearly, he had in mind here the traditional Christian values of Russia’s Orthodox heritage, which are surfacing again after seventy years of enforced atheism, thanks to the spiritual stamina of the Russian people. As representatives of that heritage, we are called to reach out with those same values to our communities, to our neighbors, bearing in mind that such values are best communicated through our personal example.

And there are other ways of effectively making Orthodoxy better known, more accessible. We can stock our public libraries with Orthodox books and periodicals, we can make sure our parishes are listed in the Yellow pages and in the religion section of our local newspapers, we can write “letters to the editor,” commenting on issues from an Orthodox perspective and bringing the voice of Orthodoxy into the public square.

By withdrawing from the world we show our love and our obedience to God; by reaching out with the gospel of Orthodoxy we show love for our neighbor. In pursuing these two courses of action we are on the path of fulfilling “all the law and the prophets.”