Orthodox America

  The Disease of "Worldliness" vs. the Orthodox World-view

by Fr. Alexey Young

What is "worldliness"?

As I have already observed, Orthodoxy is an other-worldly religion-that is, a Faith that has its eyes set clearly on the other world, on the Kingdom of Heaven, and on the Lord who rules there and in the hearts of believers here, our Lord Jesus Christ, and Him crucified and risen. But what do we mean by the term "worldly"?

In his important work, The Arena, which should be carefully read and studied by everyone, the 19th- century Father of our Russian Church, Saint Ignatius Brianchaninov, explained that the term "worldly" refers not just to life on this planet, in this "world," as it were, but more specifically to "those people who lead a sinful life opposed to the will of God, who live for time and not for eternity." Sadly, this describes most of the people living today, including many of us-you and me-, whom fallen spirits have been able to seduce, setting before us "earthly prosperity in an attractive, false picture, [suggesting that we] should desire and strive for it, so as to steal and rob [us] of [our] eternal treasure."

Furthermore, Saint Ignatius explained:

"The world is the general name for all the passions....The passions are the following: love of riches, desire for possessions, bodily pleasure from which comes sexual passion, love of honor which gives rise to envy, lust for power, arrogance and pride of position, the craving to adorn oneself with luxurious clothes and vain ornaments, the itch for human glory which is a source of rancor and resentment, and physical fear. Where these passions cease to be active, there the world is dead..." And then, the saint adds: "See for which of these passions you are alive. Then you will know how far you are alive to the world, and how far you are dead to it....How far you are tied to the world, and how far you are detached from it." (Bishop Ignatius Brianchaninov, The Arena, pps. 166, 169-170) According to this definition, then, we are all of us (including "traditional" Orthodox Christians), without exception, infected with the disease of worldliness! This should be a very serious concern for all of us.

Not long before he died more than fifteen years ago, Fr. Seraphim (Rose) wrote a particularly important article, "The Orthodox World-View."  Few of those who read the article at the time of its publication will ever forget it. It's a particularly valuable article because it came right at the end of Fr. Seraphim's too-short earthly life, and is therefore almost a "last will and testament" that we should read and study today. Certainly it deserves to be revisited now, in the light of the continuing degeneration of Western culture and values, all of which Fr. Seraphim foresaw and warned about.

Fr. Seraphim explained that until very recent times, a truly Christian worldview was not only widely spread, but it was supported by the surrounding culture- even in some non-Orthodox cultures- into the early part of this century. People did not separate the secular from the sacred, the holy from the profane, the civilian from the ecclesiastical, the way we do today. Until this century, even most people, especially in Orthodox countries, lived and thought and saw things in the "old way". In Orthodox countries such as Russia, of course, this was even more true until the Revolution. Monasteries were the center of spiritual life for that whole vast country; Orthodox customs were part and parcel of everyday life. There was a whole way of life that was inspired and informed by the Orthodox Faith. Life was also relatively short for most people in those days, and death was a weekly if not a daily reality for everyone. This was actually a good thing, because it helped people to keep focused on the meaning, purpose, and goal of this life and remain spiritually sober; they realized that for all of us the other world is very close, and so they saw "other-worldliness" as a most desirable part of one's way of thinking and feeling.

But, as Fr. Seraphim wrote: "Today...all of this has changed." Not only are Christian values and principles under attack and in full retreat, but, he said,

Our Orthodoxy is a little island [now] in the midst of a world which operates on totally different principles- and every day these principles are changed for the worse, making us more and more alienated from it. Many people are tempted to divide their lives into two sharply distinct categories: the daily life we lead at  work, with worldly friends, in our worldly business, and Orthodoxy, which we live on Sunday and at other times in the week when we have time for it....a strange combination of Christian values and worldly values, which really do not mix. (O.W., July-August, 1982)

From all of this we really can conclude that an artificial and superficial Orthodoxy has no future, no future at all. It is destined to be swallowed up in the growing abnormality and worldliness of the increasingly pagan culture of our post-Christian time. I repeat: this kind of worldly Orthodoxy will not grow, cannot grow, and it will not survive, for it cannot give life.  If we do not know Orthodoxy, and "if we don't live Orthodoxy, we simply are not Orthodox, no matter what formal beliefs we might hold." (Ibid.)

Fr. Seraphim suggested that one of the reasons why worldly and shallow Orthodoxy has no future is because of the basic narcissism of our generation. What did he mean by this? He said that most of us are simply "spoiled, pampered":

 "From infancy," he wrote, "today's child is treated, as a general rule, like a little god or goddess in the family: his whims are catered to, his desires fulfilled; he is surrounded by toys, amusements, comforts; but he is not trained and brought up according to strict principles of Christian behavior  but left to develop whichever way his desires incline. It is usually enough for him to say, 'I want it!' or 'I won't do it!' for his obliging parents to bow down  before him and let him have his way....When such a child becomes an adult, he naturally surrounds himself with the same things he was used to in his childhood: comforts, amusements, and grown-up toys. Life becomes a constant search for 'fun'...."

If this is an accurate description of most of us- and I think it is, even more so now than when Fr. Seraphim wrote his article- then we are indeed in deep spiritual trouble, both personally and individually, and also collectively as a Church. Well might we wonder if our Orthodoxy has a meaningful and recognizable future.

The Future of Orthodoxy Is Bound up with the Future of Russia

Is Holy Russia still alive today?

From an historical standpoint there is something we must understand and never forget. For five long centuries Orthodoxy in the middle east, and in what we today know as Greece, was under the yoke of the Ottoman Empire and Islam. It was a harsh yoke indeed. Many Orthodox were martyred. Others were able only to preserve the Divine Services themselves; much else in our Orthodox way of life was either modified under the harsh conditions of life under the Moslems, or disappeared altogether. With few exceptions, that way of life has still not been fully recovered in those countries.

But in Russia at that same time, the Church was relatively free, even under Peter the Great and other unsympathetic monarchs who sought to limit and control the Church. Orthodoxy was not at all destroyed, the basic principles of her essence remained alive and healthy-even seventy-five years of Communism could not completely destroy her. I believe that, as a result, the Church in Russia preserved the best and deepest streams of Orthodox spirituality, all of which, of course, had originally come from Byzantium. (Even the quiet way in which our Russian clergy serve in church is more noetic, more hesychastic than our more flamboyant and theatrical brothers in other jurisdictions, who have been influenced by Western ideas about religion and worship.) Incomparable spiritual treasures were preserved in the Church of Russia, treasures which can now be shared with those Orthodox Churches which lost them during their times of terrible persecution and oppression.

The answer from Russia:
 a glimpse of the future

In the former Soviet Union, Russia is still on the cross, still climbing Calvary.  This is a Church which has the external freedom she did not have under the Soviet state, but has also not yet gained her own inner psychological freedom. A religious awakening certainly exists in Russia, but the story is not yet finished, and will not be until the fullness of genuine repentance has been successfully completed, as Saint John (Maximovitch) wrote in 1938. (O. W., May-June 1973)

While new chapters, probably bloody chapters akin to what has already transpired in Russia earlier in this century, are still to be written in the Church's history, and although it may seem that this future must certainly be very different from ours, we actually have something in common with them right now, today; and that is that many serious people in and outside Russia feel that civilization is now coming to an end everywhere in the world. It is a slow process, but it has been accelerating over the last twenty-five years. In the West many people, especially young people, typically feel that there is nothing left that's worth dying for. But this is absolutely the same way that many in Russia feel, too! So in both East and West there is a hopeless sense that we are now living in a spiritual vacuum. And yet, some hints of an answer, some glimpses of what the future of Orthodoxy might be, has already come to us here in the West from Russia-only we weren't paying attention; and most of us still aren't paying attention today.

In a lecture he gave in 1980, Fr. Seraphim (Rose) quoted a thoughtful Russian believer who had written the following:

In these conditions of spiritual crises, with no way out, there inevitably comes up the chief question of a worldview: what am I living for if there is no salvation? And when this frightful moment comes, each of us feels that death has really caught him by the throat: if some kind of a spiritual answer does not come, life comes to an end, because without God not only is 'everything permitted,' but life itself has no value and no meaning. (O.W., Jan-Feb 1988)

He went on to explain that we in the West "are satisfied with the freedom to worship as we wish, we easily mix a few hours weekly devoted to church matters with an overwhelming preponderance of worldly things in our lives; few of us are really transformed  by Orthodox Christianity.

 "But," Fr. Seraphim continued, we must call "on Orthodox Christians to counterattack.... Christi-anity must become the content of the whole of life....We must illuminate all questions with Christi-anity; it cannot be limited within strict bounds....We must bring the Church to the life which is outside  the church building....The Christian cannot close himself up in some kind of shell; he must be pained over the pains of others." (Ibid.) To this Fr. Seraphim added:

Seeing reality in this way-that, being really aware of what is happening in the world, and not closing his eyes to it as we in the free world so often do, insulated by our temporary freedom and prosperity, [we must speak] in a tone that is urgent and full of crisis...constantly saying: Russia is perishing, the whole world is perishing- let us act , let us start being Christians right now! (Ibid.)

Fr. Seraphim also made it clear in many of his writings, especially those composed in the last five or ten years of his life, that we should not be looking for some kind of outward solution, some kind of purely external promotion of Orthodoxy, using the best and most recent "techniques" of Protestants the way some of the modernist Orthodox are now doing. No; not at all.  What Fr. Seraphim wanted, what he prayed for and begged us for, is "our inward  spiritual resurrection," and, he reminded us, "the events in Russia give us hope that, in contrast to all the imitation and fake Christianity and Orthodoxy that abounds today, there will yet be a resurrection...not only in Russia, but wherever hearts have not become entirely frozen. But we must be ready for the suffering that must precede this....Are we in the West ready for it?" (Ibid.)

These words of Fr. Seraphim were written more than eighteen years ago. They were true then; they are even more true today. In fact, the time of their fulfillment is finally, I believe, at hand, and they have begun to be fulfilled before our very eyes.

To all of this must be added the sober and prophetic words of Archbishop Averky who, back in the 1970s, warned those who would listen that a "time of confession" is coming, a time of "firm standing, if need be even to death, for one's Orthodox faith, which is being subjected everywhere to open and secret attacks, oppression, and persecution on the part of the servants of the coming Antichrist." (O.W. , Sept.-Dec. 1981)

This "time of confession" of Faith has already arrived; it is here: it is now as close as a whisper in the ear. And this-open and courageous confession of the Faith-this is the future of Orthodoxy, if we will but embrace it.

What must we do?

Archbishop Averky said that the first thing we must do, if we are to have an active and saving role in this "time of confession," is to have a "spirit of constant expectation of the Second Coming of Christ" so that we will recognize Antichrist when he comes. In order to do this, "we must lead a conscious life of prayer, nourished by the reading of Scripture and the Holy Fathers, and by frequent confession and reception of Holy Communion." (O.W. ,, Sept.-Dec. 1981)

With the help of our spiritual fathers, we must identify and root out of ourselves certain qualities that darken the soul, such as superficiality and worldliness, a fascination for that which is "fashionable" and "in," and also we must pull out the weeds of overcorrectness and cowardliness, if they are growing within the garden of our souls. We must wage unseen warfare on these inner vices and seek at all cost to replace these weeds with the flowers of virtues. Archbishop Averky said that we must develop "moral heroism"-something that we almost never talk about today-and he reminded us that "the Orthodox Faith teaches how to construct life according to the demands of Christian perfection, whereas heterodoxy takes from Christianity only those things which are...compatible with the conditions of contemporary cultural life." (O.W. , Oct.-Nov.-Dec. 1967) As Fr. Seraphim wrote:

 We must understand that the culture around us is ...pounding in upon us...; it has a certain rhythm, a certain message to give us, this message of self-worship, of relaxing, of letting go, of enjoying yourself, of giving up any thought of the other world, in various forms, whether in music, or in movies, television, or what is being taught in schools....We have to fight back by knowing just what the world is trying to do to us, and by formulating and communicating our Orthodox Christian response to it....With such an attitude-a view of both the good things and the bad things in the world-it is possible for us to have and to live an Orthodox worldview, that is, an Orthodox view on the whole of life, not just on narrow church subjects....One is Orthodox all the time, every day, in every situation of life, or one is not really Orthodox at all." (O.W. , July-Aug. 1982)

If we can achieve this, then Orthodoxy truly does indeed have a future-perhaps not a glorious future, for undoubtedly very hard times are coming as civilization continues to collapse and the forces of darkness increase. But it does have a future, a future in which many souls will yet be salvaged from the stormy seas of this life.

The Future of Orthodoxy
Everything depends upon us

Fr. Seraphim wrote that "the true Christian life, even since the time of the Apostles, has always been inseparable from communicating it to others." (O.W.   July-Aug. 1982) This means that if we are not sharing our Faith with others, if we are not giving a witness or a "confession of faith," as Archbishop Averky put it, and if our parishes are not growing, then, brothers and sisters, we are doing something wrong: there is something deeply flawed about us and our faith and it is time to bestir ourselves and arise and take action!

Frankly, the future of Orthodoxy depends upon each one of us individually. If Orthodoxy is to save as many souls as possible before Christ comes again in glory to judge us, then we must change! If we remain the same, if we do nothing, then we can be sure that nothing will happen. So, first, we must make sure that the "Orthodoxy" we are living, the Orthodoxy we want to share with others, is true Orthodoxy and not some shallow, superficial imitation. That means that we must learn, and study, and pray. We must ourselves be repenting of our sins and constantly putting others before ourselves. We must be loving and forgiving to a degree that will astonish and amaze our non-Orthodox friends and co-workers. If we do this, then Orthodoxy will have a glorious future, no matter how poor she is by worldly standards, and no matter how difficult or dark the times ahead might become.

So let us now really start being Orthodox Christians. Let us keep our eyes fixed firmly on the Heavenly Jerusalem, the Kingdom of Heaven. If we do this, Orthodoxy will have a future. Let us beg God to give us the grace and the strength to follow Him into holiness, into sanctity; let us strive to be holy men and women, holy boys and girls, so that we, and our precious Orthodoxy, will be true reflections of our blessed Savior's words:

 Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. (Matt. 5:14-16)

 Fr. Alexey serves the parish of All Saints of Russia in Denver, Colorado, where he is also principal of Saint Bede's Academy. He gave this talk at the Saint Herman Youth Conference in Brisbane, Australia in December 1998.