Orthodox America

 “Quo Vadis” America 

     The recent announcement that ABC is preparing a film about Donna Rice (the "other woman" in the Gary Hart scandal), and that Jessica Hahn (the "other woman" in the Jim Baker-PTL scandal) is successfully selling her story for hundreds of thousands of dollars, and the news images of "Elvis Fans" sobbing hysterically at the grave of this "King" of Rock-and-Roll a few weeks ago on the tenth anniversary of his death--prompt some observations from a parish priest about what is important to the American public and how we as Orthodox Christians, should be viewing all of this.

That which a man loves, that to which he turns, that he will find. --St. John of Kronstadt 

The people that our media--and society-- make into celebrities tells us a great deal about ourselves and where our post-Christian culture is going. For many years more sober-minded observers have been troubled that movie stars and sports figures are paid astronomical salaries for their very brief moments in the sun, whereas teachers, and others involved in establishing the essential, fundamental values of our society, are often underpaid and criticized.

     Yet more disturbing is the fact that movie stars have become even more popular as their less than admirable private lives became increasingly public. Whereas the film career of Ingrid Bergman was negatively affected for a while in the 1940's following the birth of an illegitimate child, today we actually make heroes of those who flaunt their immoral lifestyles--witness the newfound admiration and respect given Rock Hudson after the revelation that he was dying of AIDS. The biography detailing his active homosexual career became a bestseller.

     When I was a boy, sports figures were held up as models of fair play, honesty, courage, and decency. Nowadays no sportscast is complete without the viewer being treated to the latest display of bad-manners, crudity, and lack of sportsmanship on the playing field. The incredible dishonesty, drug abuse, and just plain "spoiled rotten" behavior shown by many sports figures should turn our stomachs when we think of the impact this is already having on the next generation--yet few cry "FIRE!"

      This "National Enquirer" approach to life and its problems not only reduces everything to its lowest common denominator, but elevates the bizarre, the quirky, the abnormal, and the immoral to a status unknown since the fall of the Roman Empire.

      By contrast, I remember very well an afternoon in December 1980 when, as guests of some friends in London Matushka and I watched the annual Christmas Broadcast of the Queen to her people. That year had seen the 80th birthday of a much-beloved figure, the Queen Mother, whose life of service and example of uprightness and courage had been an inspiration to the British in hard times.

      Queen Elizabeth began her Christmas message by referring to the tremendous outpouring of affectionate appreciation shown to her mother that year, but then added: "However, there are many unsung heroes in our country-many who serve faithfully but anonymously, expecting no recognition or praise. These," she concluded, "are the real heroes."

      We were very touched by this simple reminder by a Queen to her people of what constitutes true "worth'--made more poignant, I think, by the plethora of books and articles in the ensuing years criticizing the Queen Mother for her moral integrity in the face of unconscionable selfishness and immorality on the part of her late brother-in-law, the Duke of Windsor, formerly King Edward VIII, who had abdicated his throne in order to wed a twice-divorced woman, and then spent the rest of his life with her in utter frivolity. Somehow, this "playboy-king" had become the "hero," while the hard-working and virtuous Queen Mother had been transformed into a cold-hearted antagonist.

As someone recently wrote in our local newspaper:

"Our children are learning that hard word and pursuit of constructive lives lead nowhere, but if they are involved in a scandal or a crime, they are sure to achieve stardom. We have corrupt politicians and criminals in jail making a good penny publishing their memoirs .... An occasional look at TV programming gives an excellent view of what is important to the American public. It is a wonder we are still able to function as a society." (The Denver Post, Aug. 12, 1987)



    One could speculate about these being the Last Times, about conspiracies-political or demonic--to destroy the "moral fibre" of our society, about who is deserving of "recognition" and who is not etc., etc. But, really, all we need to do is hearken to the voice of the Master, the Lord Jesus Christ, Who, in telling us about the blessedness of the meek, the poor in spirit, the pure in heart, the lovers of justice, etc., has told us everything we need to know about life and its purpose; and Who, by commanding us to feed the poor and hungry, and visit the sick and those in prison, has given us a perfect and heavenly map of life to follow. And those who do follow it are the real heroes--whether or not they receive public recognition, for they are know to God even if they are not acclaimed by men.

     For us who believe, the best antidote of all is the example of the saints, with whom the Church has always, and will always, be in the closest union--for which reason St. John of Kronstadt wrote in his Spiritual Diary: "It is urgently necessary for every Christian to be in union with them if he desires to make Christian progress; for the saints are our friends, our guides to salvation." In their lives we see incarnate the Sermon on the Mount.

     Heroism is not measured by media promoted popularity poles. Even within a secular ethos it is difficult nowadays to find positive role-models on the silver screen, on the playing fields or even in the hails of government. But we Orthodox do have heroes, real heroes. These are not only the saints in heaven, who are our guiding stars, but also our own brothers and sisters in the Faith, who are struggling to overcome sin, are vigilant in prayer, are quietly witnessing to their non-Orthodox neighbors, are visiting the sick, feeding the poor and hungry of our streets. These are the ones that prove St. John of Kronstadt's statement: "How the Creator and Provider of all has honored and adorned our nature!...Glory to God, Who had so honored, enlightened, and exalted our nature!"

     The downward pull of the world is strong, but through the intercession of the saints and inspired by the example of our fellow strugglers in the Faith, we can be uplifted to overcome the world and inherit with them eternal joy in the Kingdom of Heaven

Fr. Alexey Young

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