Patriarch Alexy of Moscow and all Russia died this morning. Memory Eternal!
You can read his obituary on ITAR-TASS and in the Times.
I found Metropolitan Hilarion of New York expressing what I and other children of the Russian Orthodox Church thought when we learnt the news: “It is noteworthy that Metropolitan Laurus and Patriarch Alexy both reposed this year, having already achieved the main task of their lives.” For Metropolitan Lauras died seven months ago, and the re-establishment of communion between the Moscow Patriarchate and the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad occurred last year, ending eighty years of separation due to Communist theomachy and to the repression of the Russian Church.
A council of all the bishops and of representative priests and laymen must elect a successor. It will be the first time that a united Russian Church elects a patriarch since the patriarchate was reestablished in A.D. 1917, with the election of Saint Tikhon. As such, we hope that it will finally put the Soviet years to sorrowful but instructive memory.
It is odd that the Moscow Patriarchate, the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, and the Orthodox Church in America all lost their head bishop this year.
Several weeks ago, I wrote on boring Church politics, where I mentioned that Church elections are not that important—no primate will succeed in betraying the apostolic tradition. Even Sergius generally safeguarded the faith. However, I also mentioned that the prospect of Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk as the next patriarch worries me; for I fear what headaches he would cause. I also wonder how strong the new bonds between R.O.C.O.R. and Moscow actually are—someone like Kirill may exacerbate tensions in the Church Abroad and cause more parishes to go into schism. Let us hope and pray that the council elects a godly man who will shepherd the Russian Church well.
Speaking of primates, I just read this week an interesting speech by the O.C.A.‘s new Metropolitan Jonah, given earlier this year when he was still an abbot, which concerns the role of bishops in general and primates in particular—“Episcopacy, Primacy, and the Mother Churches: A Monastic Perspective.” It is worth reading.
It is refreshing to hear a bishop of such standing speak frankly about issues, though he delivered them while still an abbot. His words about Constantinople are rather shocking—shocking that he actually said them; for everyone knows them to be true. I also appreciate the speech’s Christocentric message and its emphasis on the pastoral role—the telos, really—of Christian bishops. On the whole, it is an insightful and powerful message, and the O.C.A. is fortunate to have such a bishop on the eagle.
However, there is an element of Protestantizing within the O.C.A., possibly from the O.C.A.‘s acclimatization to the religious culture of the United States, as has most definitely occurred among American Roman Catholics . . . you know, the pope’s Calvinists. Metropolitan Jonah’s words in this speech remind me, at certain points, of anti-clerical rants among Protestants. In “The Episcopacy: A Monastic Perspective,” he sounds awfully close to Seventh Day Adventists. Self-criticism is important, but I fear that his dismissal of seventeen centuries of ecclesial life, with respect to the bishops, goes a bit too far.
Undoubtedly, it is easier to live the life of the Gospel as marginalized, persecuted fringe elements. When society becomes Christian, leaders—and regular folks—have to juggle the demands of their faith and the demands of survival in a political community. The inherent difficulty in managing this tension of responsibilities is what underlies Christians’ rejection of Christendom, from Tertullian down to our own day. Yet, such difficulty also indicates an opportunity, and it was this vision of a Christian polity that inspired some of the greatest men of the last two millennia. Saving one’s soul in an isolated cell has its own challenges, but it is not, and it cannot be, the only Christian life. With any scenario, from Diocletian persecution to imperial “symphony,” there are challenges, temptations, and blessings.
Metropolitan Jonah’s cheerleading of the O.C.A. is also somewhat unfortunate. He says that with the O.C.A.‘s autocephaly in 1970, all other jurisdictions became uncanonical. Yet, the whole situation, including, one could argue, that very granting of autocephaly, was uncanonical. The hellish complexity of the twentieth century is not easily reduced to the O.C.A.‘s fancied image. A truly autocephalous local national Church will only be possible in Western lands with the consent of all, or almost all, of its Orthodox Christians and of the other autocephalous Churches around the world. Political machinations are part of the secularization of ecclesial authority that Metropolitan Jonah’s speech condemns, and, yet, are we to believe that Moscow’s tome of autocephaly in 1970 should have magically cleared up the horrible mess that resulted from the Bolshevik revolution?
I do not wish to insult anyone from the O.C.A. Good, pious Christians dealt with the unprecedented crisis in various ways, and it would behoove us to refrain from judging one another. However, when the O.C.A. proclaims itself the real representation of Orthodoxy in the Americas, it implicitly states that everyone else erred in their handling of the twentieth century and that the appropriate, canonical choice for everyone now is to climb aboard the Syosset ecclesiological train.
It will take much time and maturity to rebuild a unified Orthodox structure from the wreck that the Communists wrought. American Christians who have drunk too much Samuel Adams, literally and figuratively, of the beer and of the man, need to focus their energy on building the true unity of the Church—in the Christian life, not in external administrative organs, while crying about self-determination and repeating the slogans of that wretched blasphemer Thomas Paine. Until Orthodox Christians in America put aside their ethnocentrism, their pseudo-papism, their pseudo-Protestantism, their progressive and American hostility toward tradition and authority, their wariness of monasticism and the ascetic life, and their loyalties to their ancestral homelands that they put ahead of the Church, we shall not see an American Orthodox Church, and that is a good thing.
Today on the Julian calendar is the feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple, one of the twelve great feasts of the Church.
The non-canonical Gospel of Saint James, thought by scholars to have been written in the second century, describes the event as well as mentions other traditional accounts of the Virgin Mary’s life. In the seventh chapter, it reads:
She [Anna] cared for the child for months. When the child turned two years old, Joachim said, “Let’s take her to the temple of the Lord so we can relate the message we were given.” And Anna said, “Let’s wait until the third year, so that she will not seek her father or mother.” And Joachim said, “Let’s wait.” When the child turned three, Joachim said, “Let’s call the pure women of the Hebrews. Let them take up lamps and light them so that the child will not turn back and her heart will never be led away from the temple of the Lord.” And they did these things until they went up to the temple of the Lord. And the priest welcomed her. Kissing her, he blessed her and said, “The Lord God has magnified your name for all generations; through you the Lord will reveal deliverance to the children of Israel in the last days.” And he set her down on the third step of the altar and the Lord God poured grace upon her. She danced triumphantly with her drinks and every house in Israel loved her.
You can listen here to a talk by Fr. Thomas Hopko on the feast.
I have a lot of hope for Russia. While the West crumbles in its self-loathing, the nations that survived the Communist hell seem far more sane. Russia remains autocratic and dysfunctional, but I have little doubt that it will survive. Unlike Western Europeans, who seem content to watch their own people disappear from the world and have their populations slowly replaced by North African and Middle Eastern alien hordes, the Russians are at least trying to address their demographic issues.
Anyway, the following story confirmed my confidence in Russia’s rebirth:
“A Saudi Mosque in Moscow in Exchange for a Russian Church in Mecca?” by Paul Goble. Here are some selections:
The king of Saudi Arabia has announced that he is ready to support the construction of a mosque and Islamic cultural center in Moscow, a city with only four mosques for its more than two million Muslims. In response and probably to block this, Orthodox Christians in Russia have called for opening a church in Saudi Arabia. . . .
Given that Moscow has only four mosques – the same number it had at the end of Soviet times – but a Muslim population that may number as many as 2.5 million, Muslims in the Russian Federation were delighted by the offer and the attention from abroad it suggests. But many non-Muslim Russians were horrified that another mosque might be opened in their capital.
After the Saudi offer was reported, three Russian Orthodox groups – the Moscow section of the Union of Orthodox Citizens, the Radonezh Society, and the Byzantine Club – released an open letter to Saudi King Abdullah suggesting that there should be another mosque in Moscow only after a Russian Orthodox church was opened in Mecca.
Their appeal noted that “Saudi Arabia is building mosques in dozens of Christian countries” and then asked whether it would not be only just if permission were given to Christians to build a church within its borders for Christians living there, something Riyadh has been reluctant to permit (www.interfax-religion.ru/islam/?act=documents&div=835).
And in support of their argument, the three groups cite the comment of Jean-Louis Cardinal Toran, the head of the Papal Council on Inter-religious Dialogue that “if Muslims consider it correct to have a large and beautiful mosque in Rome, then it is equally correct for Christians to have a church in Riyadh.”
The Orthodox groups also argued that it would be “very important” to lift the restrictions now in force against Christians visiting the Holy cities of Mecca and Medina,” to all visitors to Saudi Arabia to wear crosses, and to create special courses about Christianity in general and Russian Orthodoxy in particular.
Moreover, they suggested that if the Saudis want to begin broadcasting their television programs to the Russian Federation and its Muslims, then “it would be just” to offer “Your subjects the opportunity to watch Russian Orthodox channels and thus to learn that Christians don’t believe in three gods, don’t distort the Bible and don’t pray to idols.”
I especially like the Orthodox suggestion for the Saudi king to offer, “Your subjects the opportunity to watch Russian Orthodox channels and thus to learn that ‘Christians don’t believe in three gods, don’t distort the Bible and don’t pray to idols.’” Any Christian who has had a theological conversation with followers of Mohammed quickly learns how mistaken they are about fundamental Christian doctrines. I wonder if Moscow will cave . . .
I wish everyone a happy Thanksgiving and a blessed Advent season!
It is tempting to dwell upon the imperfections of the world, but let us remember the most precious gift of being and let us be grateful for it. We have the great fortune to live in a beautiful universe and to be able to wonder at its splendor.
O Lord my Savior and my Master, I, Thine unprofitable servant, with fear and trembling give thanks unto Thy loving goodness for all Thy benefits which Thou hast poured so abundantly upon me, Thy servant. I fall down in adoration before Thee and offer Thee, O God, my praises.
Back in my homeland for Thanksgiving break, I am surrounded by both the continuity and the ruins of German Catholic life. Throughout Cincinnati, there are abandoned monasteries and other religious institutions that have suffered from the Latin developments after the Second Vatican Council. I do not expect the forthcoming collapse of Rome, but I cannot help but think that her communion has become gravely ill.
I suppose that it is natural to concern myself with the ancestral religion. In my moments of fantasy, I even wonder what could be saved from the Western religious tradition if its flock ever turned en masse toward the Orthodox faith. I do not believe that such an unlikely event would occur—Western societies are more likely to become part of the Dar al-Islam than to return to the Orthodox faith of their distant ancestors. Yet, I am sometimes given to escapist meanderings of the mind—it is a coping mechanism that allows me to live in a civilization towards which a good deal of my soul holds contempt. So, I wonder what would it mean for the West to return to the Church.
Now, allow me to delve into my personal heresy here as I assert my agnosticism toward the ecclessiological status of the Latins. I do not claim to speak for the Church, and I do not think that there is any value in my private opinions on the matter, but I just cannot confidently dismiss the Latins. I definitely believe that they have developed some false and destructive doctrines. However, they have generally held fast to the apostolic faith, and their communion has borne much fruit during the last millennium. I am inclined to think of them as schismatics with cancerous ideas, but with the cancer relatively managed.
The West is complicated, as we should expect of a civilization and its religion. I think that all the Orthodox, Catholic elements are present in the Western tradition—the blood of the Church, to continue my anatomical metaphor—but these vital humors coexist with poisons. One can easily see this in ecumenical discussions between the Latins and us; for they are quick to affirm our positions with, “But we believe that, too.” For them, the great divide is only over papal authority and the filioque, which is why they tend to be optimistic about overcoming the schism. I suspect, however, that issues such as papal supremacy and the filioque are symptomatic of a much larger separation. As the Greek theologians say, the Western phronoma, or mindset, has abandoned the faith and whored among the heathen, having adopted an alien mentality in her lascivious exploits . . . I could not resist a reference to the Reformers’ pet image of Babylon. Anyway, the presence of the poison, or of an alien world view that has spawned for us the post-Christian world, does not exclude the presence of the apostolic life in the West, and this is the point that interests me. What can be saved from Western Christianity?
The Western rite has attempted to salvage the West’s religious patrimony, but it remains highly controversial after its one century in existence. Only two Orthodox Churches—Antioch and Russia—allow the Western rite. Moreover, there is no shortage of critics who denounce the Western rite as liturgical archaeology, reverse Uniatism, and a Trojan horse of occidental follies. You can read some of this criticism by priests Alexander Schmemann and Michael Johnson. I agree with the lex orandi, lex credendi principle, and we should carefully consider what the West has begotten. Should we allow the cancer to spread?
Of course, I do not pretend to know the best course to steer, but I am partial to allowing such seeking sheep to keep their customs, though my opinion is likely more founded on my esteem for tradition and hatred of loss and waste than on theological principles. Moreover, I have visited a few Western rite parishes, and the people, mostly converts from Anglicanism, are kind, pious Christian folk. Does their edifice have to be destroyed completely, or couldn’t we simply knock out and rebuild a few walls?
Over time, I think that the two liturgical traditions here might cross-pollinate into something more organically Western Orthodox—this process might even happen without the Western rite, as more and more people over the generations convert to Orthodoxy and as the Orthodox in Western lands absorb, digest, and transform the pre-existing religious culture.
So, what could or should be retained that is distinctive in Western Christianity? Please add your thoughts. Here are some of mine:
What about the Roman Easter candle? Wouldn’t it be a good idea to have this candle be the one first lit on Pascha in the altar and then brought out to light the people’s candles?
Russians have already largely adopted Roman liturgical colors; I think that bright red Pentecost vestments make more sense than green vestments. The red can be a different shade than the red vestments associated with other feasts.
The Greeks have already started using stained glass. I do not think that stained glass should replace mosaics or wall iconography, of course, but I think that stained glass windows could complement them.
This is more controversial, but in addition to our indispensable monastic culture, there may be room for something like the West’s religious orders. I do not know if the Orthodox would ever consider Francis or Dominic as saints, but something like the Franciscan and Dominican communities, but under the authority of the local bishop, would contribute something to Orthodox life. If we ever establish schools, hospitals, and orphanages as they are needed in Western lands, such committed workers for Christ would help immensely.
Before I get to the topic at hand, let me congratulate anyone from the O.C.A. on the election of their new Metropolitan Jonah. Andrew sent me an e-mail earlier in the week to let me know about it, though he prefaced the letter with an apology; he did not want to give me the same impression that he received from his Latin friends with their flurry of “Habemus Papam” e-mails upon the election of Benedict XVI.
Andrew, I have worked with papists. I know many papists. Papists have been friends of mine. Andrew, you are no papist.
I have nothing contemplative or edifying to offer today; rather, I wish to complain about unruly children in the liturgy. I know that children are self-absorbed, irrational, foolish, appetite-driven humans in the making. I know that they are “our future,” and I know that Christ told his disciples to suffer the little ones to come to him. I do not have any problem with children walking around during the service or doing their little squirmy dances. I actually find well-behaved kids rather endearing, with their exaggerated signs of the cross, attempts at singing, and sloppy kisses.
However, it is one thing to welcome children into the temple and quite another to allow them to act like monsters. There are two fathers at the parish where I go who refuse to control their children. Both men seem very cordial and polite, but their kids disrespect the services and their fathers. One father has a boy, probably seven years old, who hangs off of his dad and torments the poor man throughout the liturgy. He grabs his father, fishes through his father’s back pockets, throws himself on the floor, and sometimes even mocks the services. The other father has two small children, a boy around five and a girl around three years old. The girl today was awful. She kept on throwing temper tantrums, whining, hitting her brother, smacking her father, stamping her feet on the ground, and generally acting like a vicious little ogre. At one point, her father tried to take away a blanket that she was using to hit her brother, and she pulled back, shouted no (in that vile bratty tone), and hit her father. When she wasn’t doing violence to her father or brother, she was whimpering in that blood-curdling fake cry to gain sympathy and attention, and her foolish father obliged. Like Pavlov’s dog, you cannot reward such behavior without reinforcing and encouraging it.
The whole time, I was trying to pay attention to the liturgy, but, as you can imagine, my attention was diverted to the little goblin at my feet. I can just hear some of you now—“Oh, if you had kids, you would understand”—no, I do not accept this empty argument. I have worked with kids for most of my life, and I see the results of poor child-rearing every day. Besides, there are scores of parents with well-behaved children who do not act in such a manner in the liturgy. They may twirl or wander around the floor or get uncomfortably close to burning themselves on candles, but they are generally orderly children. For children to act in such an unacceptable manner as the three kids previously mentioned, their parents must have long abdicated responsibility in maintaining order.
Both of these men mentioned appear as gentle souls. When their kids act up, they try to soothe them, hold them, and attend to them. Occasionally, the first father will straighten his boy by his shoulders out of desperation, though it never achieves more than a minute’s break from incivility. I think that they are sparing the rod and spoiling their micro-brats.
It is clear that the children are totally unaware of how their actions are disrupting everyone around them. I do not blame the children for that; awareness of others and of their needs is an attribute of maturity that even many adults do not have. However, the fathers are rudely allowing their kids to be a nuisance instead of trying to drill into their heads that their behavior is affecting others negatively. As they cannot control their kids, I was tempted several times today to lower myself to the little girl and tell her that she was acting inappropriately in church. I suppose that our Dr. Spock Dad might get annoyed—it has become fashionable for Americans to get offended when an adult corrects their children when they refuse to do it themselves. Everyone is entitled to be an arse, it seems, and that unalienable right is bestowed upon the youngest among us.
One of my co-workers and I have proposed a new public service campaign, “Have you beaten your kids today?” Stickers could be given out in governmental offices. “The more you know” commercials could be aired, detailing the practical benefits of beating misbehaving children. We could even get another ribbon for people to wear—blush red—the color of whipped booty flesh. People just do not beat their children enough anymore, when it ought to be a regular feature of child rearing. The Left has ruined pedagogy—with their concerns about violence and egalitarianism. Act like your child is a fully reared, rational, mature human being, and you set your child up to be despicable . . . in the meantime, he will become a dreadful little tyrant with a shrill piercing yell and an unconstrained will.
It is sentimentalist nonsense that holds that children are innocent angelic beacons of kindness and virtue. Augustine was more correct; even in the unreasonable demands of babes, one can see the fall. Without self-discipline, without reason’s command over the appetites, without a cultivated habit of considering others’ needs and wants, man is a monster. Yet, children are such men; they need the dictates of their parents to guide them and to mold them into rational beings who have been trained to work against their innate selfishness and self-absorption. Rousseau was wrong; such a process does not happen on its own. Left to their own devices, without guidance, most children develop little tyrants in their souls—spoiled brats who grow up to be insufferable selfish manipulating dragons.
I do not deny that there is such a thing as child abuse, but the West has gone much too far in the opposite direction. Some children have innate dispositions to please others or to do well. A verbal correction is all that is needed for such children. Others need consistent firm corrections, lest they unravel to the extent of the little demon in ribbons next to me today. Once they reach such a nadir, you have to bust their behinds—each and every time. Consistency is important—kids need to know how to behave and what the consequences will be when they do not behave well.
I understand that these fathers might worry about what such corrections might do to their children’s perceptions of the services. One does not want his children to resent being at church. Yet, if kids know what is expected of them generally, it would not become an issue for the liturgy. Beat them at home so that they behave in the grocery store, at the zoo, and in church. It is painful to smack your children, but think of it as an investment . . .
I lived in fear of my mother as a child. I think that such was probably a good thing. Parents should not be their kids’ pals; they should be their loving overlords. It is more important for your child to be good than to be pleased at any given moment; so, do what is necessary. As unpleasant as it might be, temporary pain, or deprivation (of goods such as toys or fun time), or whatever works may be the price for cultivating decent people later on.
Only somewhat related, in that children are like puppies who need good training, here is a Shiba Inu puppy cam:
Yes, they are adorable. Is this how parents see their wretched little spawn? Is this why they won’t correct them? News flash: puppies sometimes need newspaper swats, too.
Yesterday in the “philosophy” realm, I discussed Lawrence Auster’s View from the Right, and one of the post’s commentators criticized Auster for his supposed philo-Semitic tendencies. As I had already planned to write about the children of Jacob from time to time, that comment determined the subject of today’s entry.
First, let me briefly discuss language. Obviously, language is for communication. As such, terms need to be shared and understood. However, words matter; each word has a spectrum of meanings and a history of meanings. Each word thus relates to many other words, which in turn color its meaning. That is why I am rather stubborn when it comes to certain vocabulary choices. For instance, I insist that we preserve the original spirit of “liberal,” and I refuse to apply that word to decidedly anti-liberal ideas and to the people who espouse them. For “liberal” pulls with it former connotations to which the new American sense has no right. I also try to handle carefully the word “Catholic,” which is the Church’s word for itself. If you were not a Catholic in ancient Church, you were at best a schismatic. For Orthodox Christians, the Orthodox Church is the Catholic Church. I tell people that I am Catholic, but in order to avoid confusion, depending on the circumstances, I sometimes clarify that I am not “Catholic” in the sense of being in communion with the Pope of Rome. This often presents an opportunity to discuss my faith. So, I often refer to the pope’s folks as the Latins or the Romans. When I feel a bit playful, I throw out a few papists here and there, and when I am feeling generous or lazy, I’ll allow a few Roman Catholics to pass.
For similar reasons, I try to use “Jew” carefully. For the Church is the new Israel, as Christ offers all mankind the new and everlasting covenant. I know that ecumenists get their knickers in knots over such an idea, but it has been the teaching of Christians for millennia. Rather recently, Judaizing Protestants, dispensationalists, millennialists, ecumenists, and other hordes of fly-by-night heretical fad hoppers endlessly chatter their Babel of curious doctrines—replacement theology, rapture this, Megiddo that, one, two, three thousand year reign then, no after, no before . . . it’s maddening. It is no wonder so many folks dismiss religion out of hand as the prattle of mindless zealots. Instability breeds distrust, as it should. Yet, the apostolic message—from Christ and handed down through the centuries to us—teaches that the Church that proclaims the resurrection and the life is Israel. It is a sad historical fact, though, that most of the Jews at the time of Christ did not accept the greatest and final revelation of God to man.
From the Christian perspective, then, the Jews who rejected the gospel do not belong to another religion. They are, rather, departed brethren—heretics, or as those other children of Abraham say, infidels. After the temple cult ended, Jews then were split into two religious groups—Christians and the followers of the rabbis. As such, I try to refer to non-Christian Jews as rabbinical Jews, yet the historical reality of Judaism complicates matters. The children of Jacob were a people . . . a people that lived together, procreated together, and worshiped together. “Jewish” thus has cultural, ethnic, and religious applications to the spiritual and biological heirs of Jacob.
Daniel Boyarin has contributed much scholarly work on the early relationship between the Christian and rabbinical communities. He shows how the leaders of both communities struggled for centuries to demarcate the boundaries between the sibling groups. Hence, we hear the colorful fourth century rhetoric about the synagogues of Satan from bishops’ sermons as well as the Talmudic scholars’ scandalous invectives against the Holy Family. Contemporary folks, bred for hypersensitivity, automaton reflexes of “tolerance,” and relativism, are horrified to find Saint John Chrysostom an “anti-Semite.” Perhaps, they are a wee bit shocked, as well, that the rabbis called the Theotokos a whore and her son a bastard and a sorcerer and that they made fun of Jesus’ torments in hell boiling in dung. However, well educated Christians nowadays only get offended when another religion is mocked or insulted, and they have gotten used to Ashkenazim comedians’ making slurs about their God. It is regular fare on H.B.O., Comedy Central, and the stand-up circuit.
However, no shock, great or small, is appropriate. The process occurred on both sides for the same reason—to delineate orthodox doctrine from heresy. For the rabbis, Christianity was a messianic aberration that needed to be cast out; what does God’s people have to do with those filthy pagan Romans and Greeks who ruined our lands and destroyed the temple? Why should we listen to the traitorous blasphemer Saul, who wants to have us commune with unclean foreigners and defy the law as it has been handed down to us from Moses? Those people—the Christians—have voluntarily left Abraham’s bosom in their innovating madness. For the Christian bishops, the rabbis taught a dead religion of legalistic ethics. Their ancestors received the king of all, and they rejected him in their pride. Christians should pay no heed to the rabbinical scholars, whose words only lead the faithful astray. Do not celebrate the Pesach in the manner of old, which was only a foreshadowing of the true and glorious Pascha—the perfect, unblemished lamb of God who was slain from the foundation of the world. To attend the study sessions with the blaspheming scholars is to reject Jesus—go not into the synagogues of Satan, where lies and false teachings are spread to the unwary. You cannot trust those interpreters of the law who have rejected its fulfillment.
All of this is quite obvious, but we cannot see the fourth century but through the intervening history. The Holocaust horrified many Christians so much that they cannot look at the relations between Jacob’s disputing parties without knee-jerk self-loathing—we, WE did this, WE have been doing this for ages—the medieval blood libel, the inquisitions, the pogroms, the ghettos, Kristallnacht, Dachau, Auschwitz—how awful WE are! Christians are demons! How we have damned ourselves . . . may the guilt be upon us and upon our children!
Well, Jacob’s children have always been somewhat fanatical in their self-critical extremism. The West in particular has a taste for self-flagellation, and I suspect that the neurotic Leftist hatred of Western civilization is a manifestation of this sort of self-hatred. Western Christians zealously hate the other or they hate themselves, and often they hate everyone at once. Nietzsche was probably right in his analysis of ascetic religion’s strong poison.
Needless to say, I find such hysteria a poor foundation upon which to reinvent one’s religion—“Theologie nach Auschwitz” is for the emotive fools who see no further than the misery of their lives. There has always been evil in the affairs of men, and there has always been difference of interpretation among the heirs of Abraham. The Nazis changed nothing, though they provided the world a vivid reminder for the importance of many old lessons.
As such, I think that it does neither truth nor men any service to ignore reality when we deal with Christian-rabbinical relations. I think that it is condescending to treat rabbinical Jews with plushy gloves as if they were delicate ornaments in our care. If a Steinberg or a Goldfarb is a manipulating, weaselly jerk, he should be called one. If communities of rabbinical Jews act against the interests of Christians or insult Christians, Christians should call them out on it. If the state of Israel should behave unjustly in its actions, it is not a slur against humanity to criticize it. When Zionists behave like the Mohammedan terrorists whom they despise, perhaps we should reveal to the pot its blackness. Wearing a kippah or donating to B’nai Brith does not give one a carte blanche to be an arse.
Having cleared the air of the steaming stench that emits from the dank dark orifice of political correctness, I’ll now complicate matters a bit and likely incur accusations of philo-Semiticism, anti-Semiticism, anti-philo-Semiticism, anti-anti-Semiticism, philo-anti-Semiticism—well, you know how it goes. I’ll settle for philo-Philoism. By the way, this reminds me of my favorite part in The Life of Brian (R rated):
After that bit of comic relief, wholly appropriate when discussing the world’s funniest folks, here is my take on the Hebrews’ descendants. I have been very interested in Jews my whole life, from the Old Testament figures to the Yids of today. My father gave me the family mezuzah when I was child, and I guess that I never heeded that whole stark separation call of which Boyarin writes—I love matzos and macaroons (quit kvetching about how hard you have it during Passover—that stuff tastes good!), I like Hanukkah, I have had a Menorah since I was a tween, and I have taught scores of boys how to play dreidl. I actively seek out synagogues and Jewish cemeteries when I travel abroad, and I am and have always been endlessly entertained by the Jewiness of Jews. Perhaps, it is a recidivism of primordial memory, as in Dune. My ancestry has many ancient and recent Ashkenazim contributions (my father’s mother, for instance), including, it seems, the paternal line itself, though it (the surname line) has been Roman Catholic for as long as we can tell.
As far as the state of Israel goes, I am a rather staunch supporter, though I find the source of Israeli support among many American Protestants nauseating. See my millenialist rant above. When I hear fundamentalists begin their wild-eyed eschatological spasms, I shudder a bit and then internally and spiritually weep one tiny acidic tear in my cold, cold heart. Maybe I watched Jack van Impe too many times late at night on television as a child to find it worthy of any seriousness. See, I would watch T.B.N. ironically as a kid—in a Mystery Science Theater 3000 sort of way.
Anyway, I support the Israeli state because they have admirably exempted themselves from modern madness in matters of state security. Earlier, I noted that criticism of the state of Israel should not incur the wrath of the anti-anti-Semites, but I generally do not issue that criticism. I had a Straussian professor who said that Israel is the only classical regime left, where their foreign policy is to help their friends and to hurt their enemies. I admire that. What other state today is so unapologetically Machiavellian in its actions? The Israelis know that Hobbes was right about international affairs; nation states exist in the state of nature, and a political community’s primary goal is to survive. Usually, the Israelis have been rather realistic concerning the necessities of such survival. It is not that I do not care about the Palestinian Arab population; they should not be treated like animals. In particular, I am concerned about the Christian population in the occupied territories. Dr. Maria Khoury, the wife of priest David Khoury, has widely publicized the plight of Orthodox Christians in the West Bank since the intifada began. Yet, a people has the right—nay, the duty—to protect themselves. If Palestinian terrorists choose to conduct war dishonorably and if the civilian population gives them cover, I have no significant pity for what becomes of villages that shelter guerrilla fighters.
I also think that Americans should support the state of Israel because they are our allies, and loyalty should matter. I appreciate Lord Palmerston’s axiom that nations have no permanent allies, but only permanent interests. Yet, I am more feudal in my political opinions, I suppose. We should not support allies irrespective of what they do, of course, and we should be mindful of Washington’s warning about entangling alliances. Yet, I think that it behooves Americans to stand with their only real friend in the Middle East. Time will tell if we get others, but there can be no doubt, due mostly to their self-interest, that the state of Israel is on our side. Naturally, they must look out for themselves, as well, and that has made matters difficult for Washington. Yet, I am sympathetic to a modified form of John Derbyshire’s “To Hell with Them Hawks” position where we ruthlessly defend ourselves and respond to aggression with disproportionate overwhelming force but that we otherwise leave folks pretty much alone. We could bring some deserving allies into our mutual support pact (the Anglo world, Israel, some Latin American and Caribbean nations, and the least obnoxious ones of Europe), but then let tyrants be tyrants. If an American ship, base, or civilian target is attacked, flatten some palaces, factories, and bases. It worked for Reagan with Kadafi. We need not waste blood and treasure on nation building when a threat backed up by proven resolve should deter well enough.
So far, I have given many reasons to be called philo-Semitic. Do not let the Anti-Defamation League get its hopes up just yet . . .
I’ll repeat what wrote in my comment response:
Human beings belong to different group sets based on many things—religion, family, clan, ethnicity, class, occupation, political community, political philosophy, hobby interests, pet interests, and so on. Occasionally, these groups’ interests—and the groups’ claims upon their members—conflict. The complicated history of Jacob’s descendants has to do with this simple truth about men. Israel has ever been a peculiar people, and rabbinical Jews, thinking that they are the true Israel and that Christians are but goyim, have set themselves apart wherever they have gone. Being a minority committed to that minority’s interests above all else has often made them unwelcome elements in their semi-adopted societies, and this is the “Jewish Problem.” As you likely know, several solutions have been proposed and attempted, from Spinoza to the Wannsee Conference to Herzl’s Judenstaat. None has been successful in securing a living and peaceful existence for the children of the rabbis.
As rabbinical Jews are a nation apart, due to their own deeply held religious convictions, they are often subversive to the majority population. We like to gloss over this fundamental political problem in our multicultural society because it exposes the root infection of diversity—it destroys unity. Any attempt to secure unity by rendering group membership more superficial slowly unravels the very fabric of society. Liberalism has this problem congenitally, as I wrote in “A Diagnosis of Modern Political Disease.” A community is more than a marketplace where only the bare rules of exchange maintain order. A political community sees itself as one; it has biological, cultural, and religious connections that tie it together. A multicultural society is by nature a dysfunctional society unless it is ruled by a unified political power. That unified power can rule over the society as a dominant person, family, or class, or it can be the hegemonic population, as with the dominant W.A.S.P. culture in America (I deal with related matters in “Genealogical Interest”). Such hegemony displaces the minor cultures and forces them to assimilate or to submit before the dominant culture, and thus, such a society is not really multicultural. Monarchical and oligarchical multicultural empires can exist, but not democratic ones—they unravel through secession or genocide.
Conflict between rabbinical Jews and their host peoples is thus inevitable, and Herzl was right to propose a Jewish state as an answer. The problem therein, of course, lies in the fact that dispossession of land initiates another source of conflict, especially when there are strong cultural and religious attachments to the land. Had the British wiped out or evicted the indigenous population of Uganda and settled the rabbinical Jews in east Africa, or had the Nazis done the same with Madagascar as they had wished, there would have been no Jewish Holocaust or Arab-Israeli conflict, but we would have more dead Africans as a result of the colonial powers. Surely, the world would have been a better place; no one remembers millions of dead Africans, anyway. Mass genocide in Africa happens constantly, and the only people who care, it appears, are some Diaspora studies academics, George Bush, and a few of the protesters at “Save Darfur” rallies (most being, of course, white college kids who want to carry colorful signs, wear hair beads, shout at people, and generally feel important and self-righteous). Madagascar wildlife would be in better shape, too, as would the rabbinical Jews of South Africa, but history is full of roads less traveled . . .
The Jewish Problem is indeed a problem. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion was a spiteful forgery, but it contained a nasty truth in that a minority population that seeks its own interest sometimes does so at the expense of the majority population. I am not dealing with matters of justice but simply the necessities of human beings’ looking out for their own good. It is not accidental that many secularists since the Enlightenment have come from the rabbinical Jewish tradition. If religion’s importance pushes one to the fringes of society, perhaps one should work to diminish religion. It is true that such folks filled the ranks of radical organizations, such as the Bolsheviks, and played significant roles in overturning traditional European civilization. The Protocols incarnates in fiction what people saw in fact. Am I blaming the Jewish radicals for doing this? I am attributing causality to them, but I also acknowledge their reasons with sympathy. If you were oppressed from being the “other,” it would benefit you and your people to remove the social hostility to your kind. If revolution and the restructuring of society could accomplish this goal, you might see it as a worthy plan to pursue.
The Nazis understood this, and it is the reason for their actions. Teachers do a great disservice to society in not adequately presenting the German perspective. We are taught that the Nazis believed in the racial inferiority of the Jews and, thus, that their eugenics program should rid Europe of them as undesirables. I always found this ludicrous, as Ashkenazim Jews are the most intelligent, most industrious, most creative human group that the world has seen. However, if I understand it correctly, the Nazis did not hold that Jews were inferior in such respects, but morally inferior. They were a danger to German—and Aryan—flourishing. Religiously, they clung to ascetic religion like their cursed Christian fellow misanthropes, and they pursued their own good, even against German interests. For Nietzschean National Socialists, such was morally inferior, and the Nazis were correct in their moral assessment of the Jews, according to their principles—just not right in the moral principles that furnished that assessment.
Am I justifying the Holocaust? No, just as I do not justify the radical Jews who try to destroy their host societies. Yet, I understand their motivations and see how they are correctly rooted in self-interest, at least “horizontally” conceived. Where both are wrong, I believe, is that there are moral limits on our pursuit of material self-interest. I believe in justice and in the Good—and our individual, familial, tribal, national, and cultural interests are limited by these universal realities higher in the hierarchy of goods. As a Christian, I further believe that the human person is sacred, made in the image of God, and that conviction puts certain limits and claims on human interactions.
Nonetheless, I have an interest in the continued existence of Christendom, and I get frustrated when I witness rabbinical Jews qua rabbinical Jews attempt to erode my society for their own benefit. Evidence shows that some significant rabbinical Jewish forces today have an anti-Christian animus. I would rather think that these folks are simply Leftists or secularists who happen to be rabbinical Jews. Yet, I fear that the old “Jewish Problem” remains at work, as it always will, given human nature. Many rabbinical Jews who wish to safeguard their own religious identity and the religious integrity of their communities are enthusiastic to render the broader Christian culture secular, lest they feel excluded or left out. The so-called “War on Christmas” sadly demonstrates this every year. Not content to live among philo-Semitic Christians who respect their customs and protect their freedom to live and to worship as they like, these anti-Christian people want to force Christians to recant their religion—to remove it from public life altogether—so as not to think that they are “other” when it does not suit them to be “other,” though being “other” is a dominant component of their own chosen identity. Rabbinical bigotry surfaces in other areas, too. We saw it with their grotesque reaction to Gibson’s Passion of the Christ, and you can see therein how their actions reflected that ancient concern about the pogroms of stirred Christians beating down their doors with charges of deicide. Eventually, these folks will finally succeed in cultivating previously non-existent anti-Semiticism once the goyim realize the extent of anti-Christian bigotry among rabbinical Jews. Rabbi Daniel Lapin, for one, understands the problem and calls it out in his “Protesting Passion.” The most egregious anti-Christian activity, though, is the Jewish campaign to modify Christian doctrine because non-Christian Jews do not like it. See, for example, “Leading German Rabbi Condemns Pope’s Good Friday Prayer” in Der Spiegel. No neo-Nazi group could achieve as much success in the initiating of Christians into their anti-Semitic attitudes as the rabbinical Jews do themselves. What are they thinking? Unfortunately, many debased modernist Western Christians fall for this affront to decency, but it is at quite a cost. Strategically, rabbinical Jews would be wise to hearken unto Rabbi Lapin’s counsel.
Moreover, I object to the tendency of rabbinical Jews in America to hasten along the destruction of the common culture while fastidiously caring for their own. Perhaps, this is not done with “Jewish intent,” by which I mean actions by rabbinical Jews qua rabbinical Jews with a view to group interest. It could simply be that Leftists have better judgments in personal matters than in societal ones. For the rabbinical elite stresses in their own community education, self-reliance, responsibility, hard work, high culture, a stringent moral code, family, and the rest of the basic foundations of a healthy civilization. By contrast, their public work appears to aim at the unraveling of those pillars in the society at large—poisoning the cultural well of the society, so to speak. I find it perplexing, and I do not know if there is any element of bringing down the culture for the sake of the group in it. I just cannot see how sanity and madness can so easily coexist in such intelligent and learned minds. Perhaps, these are the seeds for anti-Semitic paranoia. I am just wondering about a puzzle, whereas others take those pieces and put together a world view wherein the all powerful enemy of all that is right is the scheming, beady-eyed Jew (you know, when it is not the pope, or Bush, or the military industrial complex, or the British royal family, or the Freemasons, or the . . . ).
Now, I suspect that the A.D.L. is adding me to their index, and this last complaint returns me to my initial diatribe about the thin-skinned hypocritical hypersensitive vengefulness of the rabbinical Jewish community. Spare me the excuses of oppression. As Adam once said, “How damn long are they going to keep on bitching about the Holocaust?” I have to love Adam’s sheer bullish frankness. Terrible things happen, and evil is a constant presence in this fallen world. What happened to you, or your family, or your distant tribal kin does not give you the everlasting keys to perpetual victimization’s tormentedly comfortable tower. Other people suffer besides Jews; other people deserve to live besides Jews. Rabbinical Jews may think that they are God’s special little pets and that the nations are simply the Lord’s providential bowling pins, as the Hebrew scriptures seem to suggest, but they should acknowledge that other folks do not hold the same view and are not likely to act kindly in being manipulated to act as if they did hold it.
Thus, I end this tome on my Semitic kin. I love them, but they do piss me off at times.
Until today, I had never before been to a non-Chalcedonian or an Oriental Orthodox liturgy.
In Saint Petersburg, Aaron and I visited an Armenian church, but we did not attend a service. There, I was fascinated by the photographs in the church’s narthex of the Armenian patriarch and Moscow’s Alexy together at various meetings. I suppose that it helps the Armenians in the middle of Russia’s old imperial capital to show the locals that their patriarch is friendly to their kind; the Russians have not been well disposed to the Caucasus in recent years.
Well, I have delayed attending an Oriental liturgy because the Non-Chalcedonian and the Chalcedonian Orthodox Churches have not been in communion for fifteen centuries. Though I suspect that the rupture was due to politics and semantics rather than heterodoxy, it is not really up to me to decide—and that whole “no prayer with heretics” bit makes a lot of sense to me.
Nonetheless, I just cannot see the fruits of “monophysite” heresy. I think that the one and perhaps the only promising aspect of ecumenism is the relationship between the two families of Orthodox Churches because they appear to have the same theological phronema. That the Copts, Ethiopians, Armenians, Syrians, and Indians have been separated from us for so long, that they have benefited from only the first three Ecumenical Councils, that they have been relatively isolated from the theological developments of the imperial East and West for most of Christian history, and yet they still appear the same as the Orthodox Church is powerful evidence that the schism has been one of ecclesial politics rather than heresy. Now, that does not mean that there are not troubling signs among the Orientals, but those troubling signs are endemic to sinful and foolish men. A cursory look at the Orthodox Churches reveals much that is less than ideal. However, the apostolic tradition remains strong in the non-Chalcedonian communion.
With this in mind, and knowing how damned I am anyway, in general, I decided to attend a Coptic divine liturgy.
From what Andrew has said about the Copts in Ohio and from what I have seen online, the Copts in America are quite interesting. They have absorbed the Protestant knack for ministering in the contemporary age—having active parishes with various ministries, outreaches, charitable activities, evangelization initiatives, and even parochial schools. Perhaps, their community has built up so much fervor and energy over the centuries of dhimmitude and persecution in Egypt that, once free here in America, they have exploded in their zeal. Saint Mark’s Coptic Church seems very much like this sort of active Coptic parish, and as they did not appear to be an ethnic enclave, I decided to visit them.
Saint Mark’s has two liturgies each Sunday—a trilingual liturgy in English, Coptic, and Arabic at 6:30 AM and a bilingual liturgy in English and Coptic at 9:30 AM. Yes, the liturgies do last just short of three hours. I went to the earlier trilingual liturgy. The parish complex was larger than I expected; I found a social hall, a gymnasium, classrooms, offices, a school, and, of course, the temple. When I went into the nave, I noticed that there were three altars, and the 6:30 liturgy was being held at the left altar. The nave was white and had an expansive dome in the middle. There were icons on all the walls but not many; the parish probably was still quite young. I did not much care for the iconographic styles—there were icons in the traditional Coptic style and others in what I would call the “Mormon” style. The Coptic style features exaggeratedly rounded heads; Andrew once sacrilegiously called one Coptic icon, “The Transfiguration of Charlie Brown.” I can take the traditional style; all icons are highly stylized, and traditional Coptic icons do have a certain beauty and sanctity to them. However, the “Mormon” style was disconcerting. I call it the Mormon style because it reminds me of Mormon religious art—imagine the Westernized Russian icons of the nineteenth century robbed of artistic quality and thoroughly smeared with contemporary Protestant sentimentality.
I walked over to the right of the left altar, thinking that is where I should stand, when an Egyptian fellow named Mina came over and invited me to stand by him over on the far left so that he could help me follow the service books. The liturgy was that of Saint Basil’s, which we use during Great Lent, but with the language issues and the different liturgical customs, I was happy to have assistance. I noticed soon after that the Copts’ arrangement is the reverse of ours—the men stand on the left and the women stand on the right. It was a good thing that Mina rescued me from that faux pas.
The initial service involved switching between a couple of liturgical books; I assume that we had a shortened version of matins followed by the hours. A deacon brought the priest a basket of large rounded loaves; they resembled our prosphora but they did not have any seals on them. The priest inspected the loaves and chose one. He took it, and, in front of the congregation, he rubbed it completely with water. Later, Mina told me that the priest chooses the best loaf for the Eucharist, and the water ritual symbolizes baptism. In the Russian Church, the preparations for the Eucharist occur within the altar; so, I do not know if a similar practice exists with us.
The liturgy rapidly changed languages; the priest, deacons, and people alternated, stanza by stanza, it seemed, English, Coptic, and Arabic. From the service book, I thought that Coptic looked like Greek but with some strange letters. I could not follow the Arabic at all, except for the occasional Allah and quds. The tones used were somewhat familiar to me, as I have been to an Arabic Orthodox parish before. Everyone belted out his apportioned parts. I have never witnessed such enthusiastic liturgical worship before. During parts of the liturgy, a deacon would strike together cymbals in a very Dionysian, hypnotic fashion; it reminded me exactly of the quality of Russian bells. As a side note, I have long thought that the Orthodox Church typifies the recommendations for music in Plato’s Laws and in Nietzsche’s Birth of Tragedy.
Here is an example of the cymbals that I found on YouTube:
Note how Coptic priests wear hats that look like Western bishops’ mitres.
Here is a video of Russian bells:
I’ll note random things that I found different and interesting at the liturgy . . . Saint Mark’s has a projector screen high above the altar so that people without service books can follow the liturgy in all three languages. I found this a bit unsettlingly similar to Protestant mega-churches, but I suppose that it makes sense. The sermon was much longer, too, than what I typically hear in a Russian liturgy, though Andrew tells me that the Arabs usually emphasize homiletics. In addition to the sermon, there was a reading of the day’s saints along with short hagiographies. There was also a reading of the Acts in addition to the epistle and gospel readings. There were no little or great entrances during the liturgy, but there was a procession around the nave following a cross, in the Roman fashion, at the end of the liturgy. When people went for communion, I noticed that they were barefoot. I knew that Christians in the Middle East removed their shoes, but I did not realize it at Saint Mark’s until communion. The men went to commune through a side door in the left altar, while the women went through a side door into the right altar. I was a bit shocked to see women in the altar; I wonder if they are allowed in the central altar. The women also were given small napkins with which they wiped their face. They placed them on a plate that a deacon was holding as they exited the altar. I could not see if the men had such napkins; perhaps, the deacons wipe their faces as in the Russian Church. The women also wore head coverings with crosses on them.
After the liturgy, the priest sprinkled everyone with holy water. I only see this on certain days in the Russian Church, but perhaps it is a weekly practice in certain parishes. When everyone went into the narthex, the priest was standing there with one of the earlier rejected loaves in his hand. As people came up to greet him, he would give them a piece of the bread—obviously antidoron. I never saw a deacon or acolyte supply him with another of the rejected loaves, but I assume that is what happens when he runs out of bread.
In the narthex, my Coptic guide Mina exchanged contact information with me and invited me to a variety of parish functions. He was worried that the service had been too long for me, but I explained that we also have lengthy liturgies from time to time. He showed me an announcement sheet for a meeting next week that dealt with the acquisition of land from an Islamic Society. Evidently, the Mohammedan organization does not want to sell the land to the Copts for their market price, and Saint Mark’s parishioners are intent on buying. I found that charming—the Copts are growing and buying neighboring land from an Mohammedan organization in America, but the Mohammedans do not wish to sell to the infidels—just as Mohammedan cab drivers refuse to take people to church services. I asked Mina how the Copts and Mohammedans get along here in America. He replied that they got along fine; “What can they do to us here?” A safe answer, for now . . .
Well, I wish the Copts well. They have been oppressed in dhimmitude for over a thousand years. May they succeed in the homeland and elsewhere in spreading the gospel of Christ, and may our Churches overcome their historical tangles and make one of Christendom’s oldest scandals no more than a memory and a lesson.
Andrew was my O.C.A. news source, and without him around, I do not learn of the latest multi-jurisdictional news in a timely manner. So, I was a bit shocked to learn that Metropolitan Herman of the Orthodox Church in America retired at the beginning of September. Evidently, the O.C.A. has had a difficult time lately with administrative incompetence and corruption. The main financial official pocketed Church money or something like that, and a report released last month blames several bishops with the mess, including Metropolitan Herman. The Metropolitan was already experiencing health problems, too. So, Metropolitan Herman retired, and the O.C.A. will elect a new primate soon. There is talk on O.C.A. sites of getting a bishop from the Moscow Patriarchate to become the new metropolitan or of electing the Antiochians’ American exarch, Metropolitan Phillip, to head the O.C.A. in a move to integrate further the two jurisdictions.
What I find interesting in all of this is my general lack of interest. I am interested, but in the same way that I might be interested in a German election. Perhaps, it is due to my parochialism; it is somebody else’s issue. However, the leadership of the O.C.A. has an effect on Orthodox relations in the Americas, and as such, it does affect me. Yet, it does not affect me much.
I think that the real reason that I do not care that much for Church politics is my assurance that such elections are not very consequential. Christians elect shepherds, not architectural designers or messianic saviors. We already have human nature, and Christ has already shown himself to us. Thus, a bishop should lead the flock by tending to its needs and by keeping the wolves away. There is no need to create anew the sheep.
The passion and zeal involved in secular politics have manifested at times in Church politics, as well. During the controversies of the early councils, theological disagreements trickled down to the fish market. Cities had riots during the Arian controversy—riots! Yet, those days are long done. For the Orthodox, it does not really seem to matter who gets power where. The faith is the faith, and the election of Bishop Basil rather than Bishop Theodoret does not entail much of a difference. That is not to say that one candidate may not be a better overseer for the flock than another. However, “new directions” and “change” do not gain much traction in Orthodox Church politics.
The charismatic leader of a latest-mutation-Protestant movement may attack contemporary Orthodox sobriety as a sign of deadened faith and worldly complacency. He, instead, promises to stir things up in winning souls for Christ, while the crowd shouts “Amen.” Yet, I think that such whirlpools of human emotion are perhaps signs of things less promising than being on fire for Jesus. Insecurity often ignites heightenend passions, and theological insecurity is more likely to happen in the circles of the charismatic Protestant than among us—ironic, given their taste for salvational security. However, one could look to the Old Believers or the Old Calendarist movements for an Orthodox equivalent to this sort of insecurity—where the pious think that the world has abandoned God as society goes whoring after idols. The twentieth century was a heavy cross for Orthodox Christians, given the tyranny of Communism, the stresses and persecutions that occurred during and followed the Ottoman Empire’s disintegration, and the onslaught of secularism throughout the world. We, therefore, do see some signs of stress, especially among those who worry about ecumenism. I also am concerned about secularizing and modernizing forces—you can detect their mischief even in Orthodox circles. However, the threat is insignificant compared to what is happening in other religious traditions. Consider how the upheaval of the 1960’s disturbed the Latins—where the immovable appeared to have moved itself. The confusion of that era remains to this day. No similar trauma has happened to the Orthodox; the real threats were external, while the inner threats were minimal. In Orthodox Church politics, nothing is at stake. Our interest should be in living lives modeled after Christ, and theological stability facilitates such.
That is not to say that I am hunky dory with the state of affairs. Constantinople almost always makes me wince; the latest gathering of primatial bishops there was nauseating in its international N.G.O. jargon. The petty turf battles between Moscow and Constantinople, among others, are disheartening. The creeping secularization of the Greeks and the Westernizing of the Arabs in America are painful, too. I am concerned about Moscow, especially now after R.O.C.O.R.‘s reconciliation with the M.P. About half of the statements issued by Moscow’s external relations bishop Kirill strike fear into me when I consider that he could be the next patriarch. For example, consider his meeting with Castro:
Speaking about the recent consecration of the first Russian Church in Cuba conducted by Metropolitan Kirill, Castro noted that the capital of his country “has been enriched with a church worthy of a prestigious Russian Orthodox Church.” According to the Cuban leader, it is an irrefutable proof of Cuba’s respect to “one of the fundamental principle of human rights, which is consonant to the profound and radical socialist revolution.”
Of course, this is Castro’s spin on their meeting, but it makes me wonder. Perhaps, Kirill is merely following in the footsteps of Byzantine diplomacy, but I suspect much worse when he speaks like a Hegelian or a postmodern “multipolar” multiculturalist. I start to worry about the Soviet Man’s intellectual formation and how such may spell trouble for us long after U.S.S.R. There are many legitimate critiques of the West from an Orthodox perspective; I certainly do not expect a Russian bishop to extol capitalism, liberalism, and the American way. Yet, such criticism should ring closer to Saint John Chrysostom’s sermons rather than to the language of the Marxists. Solzenitzen was no cheerleader for Western society, but he spoke against its flaws as a man with an Orthodox phronema. I expect no less of our bishops; it is their job to articulate such a vision to their people.
Anyway, I am not oblivious to the dangers of electing unworthy men to the episcopate. However, such dangers seem quite remote. Constantinople is no longer the standard-bearer that it once was, and Kirill is, as I understand it, on the fringe within the Russian hierarchy. The renewal of Orthodoxy in the lands that survived theomachy is a promising sign for this generation, and if the hell of the twentieth century could at most muster up the so-called “Pan-Orthodox Congress” of A.D. 1923, then I think that it is safe to say that widespread apostasy will not happen anytime soon.
No, Church politics will remain boring. Let us entreat the Lord that they remain so.
I started Arimathea largely because Andrew is no longer a daily fixture in my life. For many years, when I encountered something ridiculous or profound, or when I had eureka moments while doing some mindless daily ritual or chore (especially showering, like Archimedes of old), I could process the inner dialectic with my very own Personal Socrates. However, Andrew has returned to the Motherland, and I cannot badger the weasel-owning fellow too much from afar.
Well, some of you may know that I have long struggled with religious matters, and I plan to discuss these issues on this page. I’ll begin with a reaction to a rather obnoxious blog entry that I read a couple of days ago—one that certainly would have ignited an annoyed (and for Andrew, likely annoying) rant over channa saag at Union Station. What interests me in the entry is one of its comments.
The blog entry is titled, “Western ‘Eastern Orthodoxy’ as Boutique Religion.” In it, the writer expresses his disgust at American converts to Orthodoxy who have rejected their occidental religious heritage in favor of exotic incense that is merely religious escapism. I suppose that he means Orthodoxy is not as engaged in the world as Rome is, and hence is it is fantastically escapist in not facing the real world. However, as I am not a regular reader, I really do not know what he means. If such is his attitude, then he expresses the secularism inherent in many Western Christians, where the kingdom of God really is of this world in the terms of this world.
You may know of the Grand Inquistor interogation scene in the Brothers Karamazov where the cardinal charges Christ with the failure of the gospel. Dostoevsky is simply astounding in his insights—and here as elsewhere he illustrates the chasm between Orthodox Christianity and the modern world, exemplified by the cardinal’s worldly religion. Not a few papist apologists find offense here and throughout Dostoevsky’s work, which is understandable . . . that whole “counterfeit Christ” business and all. I suspect that the cardinal’s position does not exhaustively reflect Western Christians, but I do think that the religion of horizontal mammon that he presents is pervasive in the West.
However, the piece from Dostoevsky’s novel is not simply a condemnation of secularism, under or without the banner of the cross. It invokes difficult questions, and the cardinal is not a fool to pose them. Clearly, the Roman prelate has substituted another religion in place of the gospel, and as such he is guilty of mangling the Christian message. Nevertheless, his accusations put Christ on trial, in the narrative and in idea. Is the Christian life possible? Is it even good, or, as Nietzsche claims, is it a disease of weak spirit? Here is an honest question for a honest heart—could a truly Christian society full of truly pious citizens survive in this world? If you protest and say that God’s people will suffer in a world of evil and that we live in a fallen world, then consider the burden of evidence that crashes upon you. For you ask men to live according to an ideal, the evidence for the goodness of which is utterly lacking in the world that we know, when such a life incurs clear harm. I am not proposing amorality or an absence of values or goods, but I am simply questioning the goodness of a system that, if practiced perfectly, would bring doom upon its practitioners.
In the sixth book of Plato’s Republic, Socrates speaks of the few true philosophers that come to be in society:
Then, Adeimantus, I said, the worthy disciples of philosophy will be but a small remnant: perchance some noble and well-educated person, detained by exile in her service, who in the absence of corrupting influences remains devoted to her; or some lofty soul born in a mean city, the politics of which he contemns and neglects; and there may be a gifted few who leave the arts, which they justly despise, and come to her;—or peradventure there are some who are restrained by our friend Theages’ bridle; for everything in the life of Theages conspired to divert him from philosophy; but ill-health kept him away from politics. My own case of the internal sign is hardly worth mentioning, for rarely, if ever, has such a monitor been given to any other man. Those who belong to this small class have tasted how sweet and blessed a possession philosophy is, and have also seen enough of the madness of the multitude; and they know that no politician is honest, nor is there any champion of justice at whose side they may fight and be saved. Such an one may be compared to a man who has fallen among wild beasts—he will not join in the wickedness of his fellows, but neither is he able singly to resist all their fierce natures, and therefore seeing that he would be of no use to the State or to his friends, and reflecting that he would have to throw away his life without doing any good either to himself or others, he holds his peace, and goes his own way. He is like one who, in the storm of dust and sleet which the driving wind hurries along, retires under the shelter of a wall; and seeing the rest of mankind full of wickedness, he is content, if only he can live his own life and be pure from evil or unrighteousness, and depart in peace and good-will, with bright hopes.
I have always found this passage quite powerful—and tragically true. What can the good and wise man do in the midst of wolves? As we see over and over again in history, there is an answer besides hiding from the storm . . . an answer that both Socrates and Jesus gave to their fellow men. Was it right? If it was right, should we be happy that God rules the universe in such a way? I do not deny that there are plausible responses to these questions, but they are legitimate questions. They lie behind the impious effrontery of the Grand Inquistor, the rant of Thrasymachus, and the anguished attempt to escape nihilism by Nietzsche.
Returning to the angry blog entry where the writer makes an almost religio-racial attack on Orthodoxy:
Eastern Orthodoxy will never, ever, ever take root in the Western soul. At best, it can sprout shallow roots until the next spiritual fad or tent revival comes along. The soul of the West speaks Latin, prays to statues, and fidgets with rosaries. The soul of the West is covered with side altars, wears lace, and sports a lop-sided birretta. And the soul of the West doesn’t particularily care what was done one thousand years ago, or whether such-and-such a practice was precisely what the early Church did.
Of course, this is nonsense. If the gospel is true, then culture’s importance lies in its ability to facilitate our growing in Christ—in our theosis. While I am ever ready to support particularity, heritage, and the value of one’s own, transcendent matters trump such chauvinistic concerns. It really comes down to who is right, if anyone, in proclaiming revelation. If the Orthodox Church is Christ’s Church and if the gospel is true, then one quickly ought to forget about lace and statues and whatever else and cling to the thing needful, regardless of one’s pedigree. As the Lord said, “And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire.” Eyesight is an uncontestable good, and yet it would be better to forego such a great good for the sake of a higher good. Consider then what we should say about lesser goods—the idols of our fancy if they keep us from the truth.
Anyway, what interested me in this entry was not the T.F.P. triumphalist drumming but one of the readers’ comments:
I remember reading something that Owen (the ochlophobist) wrote in one of his “uberfromm posts” about how a surprising number of converts to Orthodoxy apostasize from Christianity all together. Orthodox apologetics effectively cure them of Evangelical delusions and they also refute Roman assumptions very convincingly (for some people at least). However, when they turn around and see how freaking culturally irrelevant this little Greek/Slavic/Arab sect really is and how it is dying in many parts of the world, they start to realize that maybe the whole “invincible church” story is just that… a story. At times I wonder whether they are really all that misled.
I found this comment very provocative. I do not think that anyone who rejects Rome would be moved by the “freaking cultural irrelevance” of Orthodox people. If anyone were so moved by such secular concerns, he would have swum the Tiber. With Boethius, we should note how Fortune is a capricious woman, and the winds of history blow in different directions depending on the season. Tomorrow’s “cultural relevance” could be more like the eighth century than the twentieth, and there is good reason to suspect that it will be so. Yet, such is not important to someone who converts to Orthodoxy after being disillusioned with the Reformation and inoculated against the counterfeit Christ of the Grand Inquisitor. For such a person, and I should switch to the first person here, Orthodox Christianity is the religion of last resort.
With Peter, I wonder, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”