(Condensed from a lecture delivered by Fr. Seraphim at
the St. Herman Summer Pilgrimage this year.)
Orthodoxy is life. If we do not live Orthodoxy, we simply aren't Orthodox, no matter what formal beliefs we might hold.
But life in our contemporary world has become very artificial, very uncertain, confusing. And we cannot help but be affected by this. Howls it possible for us as Orthodox Christians to lead other-worldly lives in these terrible times? How can we develop an Orthodox Christian view of the whole of life today which will help us to survive these times with our Faith intact?
It is no exaggeration to say that, from the perspective of a normal life viewed even 50 years ago, life today has become abnormal. Fundamental values and concepts of behavior have been turned upside-down. The spoiled and pampered generations know no law except the fulfillment of personal happiness "now." Parents bow down before their children's whims and these same children grow to adulthood merely substituting their childhood toys and games for grown-up amusements. Life becomes a constant search for "fun" which is so empty of any serious meaning that a visitor from any 19th century country, looking at our popular television programs, amusement parks, advertisements, movies, music – at almost any aspect of our popular culture-would think he had stumbled across a land of imbeciles who have lost all contact with normal reality.
This "plastic" culture, which has been spawned by the "me generation," cannot support the development of normal human life, much les s inspire a genuine search for truth. When this "me generation" turns to religion-which has been happening very frequently in the past several decades--it is usually to a "plastic," self-centered form of religion, filled with all the fantasy of a television program. In only a few short years this country has been inundated with a shocking variety of brainwahsing and mind-bending cults, deified guru s, swamis, and other self-made "holy men." And these are not the only ones who vie for the total allegiance of souls. The secular world today presents a constant state of temptation which makes equally totalitarian demands on the soul. We are constantly confronted by it--whether in the background music heard everywhere in markets and businesses., in the public signs and billboards, and in the home itself where television often becomes the secret ruler of the household, dictating modern values, opinions and tastes.
In its various forms it all speaks the same message--Live for the present, enjoy yourself, relax. Behind this message is another, more sinister undertone which is openly expressed today only in the official atheist countries which are one step ahead of the free world in this respect: Forget about God and any other life but the present one. This philosophy has forged a chain of concentration camps in the Soviet Union commonly called Gulag. As more and more people become caught up in the American "Disneyland" mentality, the true God is pushed away and unconsciously we are brought one step closer to our own Gulag.
But what, one might ask, does all this have to do with us who are trying to lead, as best we can, a sincere Orthodox Christian life? It has a lot to do with it if we are humble enough to see that our environment, abnormal though it is, does have a certain effect on us. The question then arises: What can we do about it?
There are two false approaches to the life around us that many Orthodox often make today. The most common one is simply to go along with the spirit of the times. Lacking a strong Orthodox example in their parents, many Orthodox young people are not even aware of the need to struggle against the universal temptation of this "narcissist" age. They readily blend in with the anti-Christian world around them. This is death to the soul. As Christians we must be different from the world, and teach our children this difference. Otherwise there is no point in calling ourselves Christians, and Orthodox Christians at that.
The false approach at the opposite extreme is what one might call false spirituality, or "super -spirituality," often taken by those who have zeal without knowledge (Rom. 10:2). As translations of Orthodox texts on spiritual life are made available, one finds an increasing number of people talking about "hesychasm," the Jesus prayer, exalted spiritual states, etc. It is wonderful to be inspired and to realize our high calling, but unless we have a very realistic and very humble awareness of how far away all-of us are from these Spiritual heights, our interest will only develop into a new game which is just another expression of our self-centered, plastic universe.
The importance of avoiding these two extremes of worldliness and super-spirituality cannot be overemphasized. This is not to say that we should not have a realistic awareness of the legitimate demands which the world makes upon us, or that we should cease respecting and taking sound instruction from the great hesychast Fathers and using the Jesus prayer ourselves, according to our circumstances and capacity. The point is that we must deeply realize what times we live in, how little we actually know our Orthodox faith and how much we must humble ourselves just to survive as Orthodox Christians today.
What Can We Do?
What can, and should, one do to avoid the above-mentioned extremes and to lead a truly fruitful life in these perilous times? Because the periods of childhood and youth are so critical to the formation of the soul, the answer to this question should be directed first of all to parents. They must be aware that the world seldom helps and almost always hinders the upbringing of a child in the true Orthodox spirit. Even what a child learns in school today is seldom free of many wrong attitudes and philosophies. Parents, therefore, have a great responsibility both to be aware of what their child is being exposed to --whether TV programs, sex education classes at school, movies, popular music--, and to educate their child in a proper Christian understanding of things. A child who is given an appreciation for good classical music, literature, history, art, even science, is at least partially inoculated against the plastic culture and its temptations.
But it is not only children-it is all of us --who are facing a life and death struggle with the anti-Christian world which is indeed "too much with us" today. One who is converted to Orthodoxy straight from "rock" culture has a difficult road to follow before he can become a truly serious Orthodox Christian. On the other hand, the person who is well-acquainted with the best products of secular culture--which in the West almost always has definite religious and Christian overtones--has a much better chance of leading a normal, fruitful Orthodox life. We must not artificially isolate ourselves from the reality of today's world; rather, we must learn to use the best things the world has to offer, for everything good in the world--if we are only wise enough to see it--points to God, and we must make use of it. Too many people make the mistake of limiting Orthodoxy to church services, set prayers, and the occasional reading of a spiritual book. True Orthodoxy, however, requires a commitment that involves every aspect of outlives. One is Orthodox all the time every day, in every situation of life--or one is not really Orthodox at all. For this reason we must develop an Orthodox world-view and live ft.
How Can We
Develop and Support This Orthodox World-View in Our Daily Life?
The first way in which we can develop and sustain this Orthodox world-view is to be in constant contact with the sources of Christian nourishment, with everything that the Church gives us for our enlightenment and salvation: the Church services and Holy Mysteries, Holy Scripture, the Lives of Saints and writings of the Holy Fathers. And if they are to truly benefit us, we must have the right attitude towards them. We must not use them merely to gain intellectual knowledge, or to satisfy what we may feel is a religious obligation. These things must directly touch our lives and change them. Our Orthodox education must give us a feel for what is truly Christian; it must enter our hearts and be capable of touching other hearts.
We must have a normal, down-to-earth attitude, one that is not too exalted and too much in the clouds. Likewise, our attitude must not be self-centered: we must never be "satisfied" with being Orthodox ourselves, but reach out with Christian love and understanding to others who are genuinely seeking for God--otherwise we are the dead burying the dead, the salt which has lost its savor. We must avoid worldly attitudes. A certain hardness has crept into Orthodox life today; too often, in place of love and forgiveness, one finds mistrust, criticism, and judgment; gossip echoes words like "fanatic," "heretic," "spy." Without being overly naive, as Christians we must be loving and open. And we would be slower to judge if we had a little humility in looking at ourselves. Finally, our Christian attitude must be what, for want of a better word, the world calls innocent. We must strive to avoid being drawn into the worldly or external side of the Church; rather, we must concentrate on "the one thing needful": Christ and the salvation of our souls.
It is obvious to any Orthodox Christian who is aware of what is going on around him today, that the world is coming to its end. There are wars and rumors of wars, widespread natural disasters, the multiplication of false Christs, the increasing centralization of information in preparation for a single world ruler--It is truly later than we think; the Apocalypse is now. While there is still time, let us tear ourselves away from this "fool's paradise" and begin to heed the call of Christ.
Outward membership in the Orthodox Church is not enough. In the words of Fr. George Calciu, an imprisoned Orthodox priest behind the Iron Curtain, "Let us build churches with our faith, churches which no human power can pull down. A church whose foundation is Christ." This is possible if we have the courage to be different from the world around us, if we develop and nourish an Orthodox world-view, penetrated by a living, normal attitude, loving and forgiving, not self-centered, preserving our innocence and unworldliness. Then, in spite of our sinfulness and inadequacy, our Faith will survive the shocks ahead of us and be a source of inspiration and salvation for those who will still be seeking Christ even amidst the shipwreck of humanity which has already begun today.
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