Category Archives: Christendom

Re: American Christians are Wusses

This post is in response to an article published on Steve’s blog. I started to write in the comments section and ended up writing too much, so I’ve brought the comment here.

There’s a lot of really good stuff in this article—some great ‘meat’ that’s unfortunately compromised by gristle and bone. I’m sure the author’s intentions were good, and I agree with a lot of his assessment. But the assumptions made here are only caricatures of American Christianity, and seem more like a strange exercise in pious objectification. I think he’s been a bit reckless with the word “we.”

The very notion of “American Christianity” or “American Christians” is a vague abstraction, and is incapable of representing the particular nature of real life and particular real people, each of these being complex and varied. I don’t find it very helpful to reduce millions of very diverse people to a stereotype that represents only the loudest of the bunch, and even then only comprehends a slice of our many-nuanced situation. It’s a good exercise to compare ourselves to other cultures, but it’s important to remember that such comparisons can only go so far. There are very real differences between us that make some things important to address here that aren’t there (whatever they might be). Moreover, while humans are basically the same everywhere on a basic level, we are each fashioned by our society and wind up very, very different. And just as each human has his own sins, each culture has its own weaknesses. It doesn’t seem wise to compare the merits of one against the other.

Just because the American religious climate is drastically less oppressive or violent doesn’t make it any simpler or sillier–just different. What we deal with has an insidious character all its own. Now, there are no excuses that can (or should) be made for not feeding the poor, not evangelizing, not loving enemies, and the various other sins mentioned in this article (which, by the way, all happen in other countries). But saying that we are “wusses” simply because we are fortunate enough to have different issues to address, to me, smacks of the sort of anti-American rhetoric that makes so many people think the Orthodox Church is irrelevant, isolationistic, and contemptuous. Calling such people names—those who are navigating the cultural milieu they’ve inherited best they know how—is itself a distraction from the work of the gospel and the sort of preaching that is most effective in changing lives, and awakening the sleepers.

Yes, some American believers get up in arms about pointless minutiae. But not all. And it’s worth noting that sometimes today’s minutiae are the first grains of tomorrow’s landslide. I’m not saying everything some American Christians fight for is necessary or helpful. What I am saying is that it’s not always so easy to tell what is and isn’t important. It’s rather a human problem to be weak and limited in understanding, don’t you think? My feeling is that our default position should be compassion—the truth spoken in love. But for me, this post misses the mark in that regard. The way it is written, ironically, sounds a bit like the bully attitude the writer protests, and not enough like the rebuke of a friend that yields repentance.

Are we meant to be passive victims at the secular world’s hands? As much as I’d like to think that’s how all the saints and martyrs actually handled themselves, the Synaxarion begs to differ. Just for instance–didn’t the martyr Paul file a lawsuit based upon his rights as a Roman citizen? Haven’t there been other saints and martyrs who didn’t behave like sweet little lambs, docilely accepting maltreatment? I don’t have time to drudge up a bunch of examples at the moment (though there were some recent ones from the Synaxarion readings—Bassa of Edessa destroying the idol of Zeus comes to mind). But they’re there. Sometimes standing up for the truth looks a lot more like turning over tables and fashioning a whip than serenely taking one on the chin. Though it’s not always easy to know what exactly that means. Life is complex. Following God in this complex life isn’t any easier.

I’m glad that the writer addressed these issues. I just wish his timbre and approach had been different. I think we need to be very careful to not sound like the man who came to my university campus every year with his giant placards pointing out everyone else’s sin, calling names and stirring up anger. If he loved us, it wasn’t obvious. I think it should be.

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At the Fragrance of Humility

“My children, desire to purify your hearts from envy and from anger with each other, lest death should overcome you, and you will be counted among the murderers. For whosoever hates his brother, kills a soul.”
-Abba Anthony the Great.

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“One must by every means strive to preserve peace of soul and not be disturbed by offenses from others; for this one must in every way strive to restrain anger and by means of attentiveness to keep the mind and heart from improper feelings. And therefore we must bear offenses from others with equanimity and accustom ourselves to such a disposition of spirit that these offenses seem to concern not us, but others. Such a practice can give quietness to the human heart and make it as a dwelling for God Himself.”
-St. Seraphim of Sarov

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As with the appearance of light, darkness retreats; so, at the fragrance of humility, all anger and bitterness vanishes.
-St. John Climacus

With the Fire Divine

Aflame in thy heart, O Laurence, with the fire divine, thou burntest
away the fire of passions utterly, O firm staff of athletes, O thou
God-bearing Martyr; and thou in truth while contesting didst cry with faith:
Nothing shall separate me from the love of Christ.

Suggestions Wanted

As an Orthodox catechumen, I often find myself in conversation with friends who would like to know more about the Orthodox Church. I’m thankful for that, yet I hesitate to recommend many of the offerings available. Too many of the books coming out in English are geared toward persuading converts into the faith. There’s nothing wrong with such books, but I find they aren’t always appropriate for what my friends need or want to read. Often, what I’d rather recommend is a book that is decidedly more devotional in nature–something that communicates the heart and essence of Orthodoxy without polemics or vast history lessons. Rather than a catechetical selection, I want to give something inspirational and stirring. So far, I’ve found the books of Metropolitan Anthony Bloom (“Beginning to Pray” and “Courage to Pray”) to be along these lines. Vigen Guroian’s books about theology and gardening are also a good match. But the others in my library are either conversion books or are too academic.

So, dear readers, I turn to you. Do you know of any books that fit the bill of what I’m looking for? What books do you recommend to curious non-Orthodox friends? (If anyone has insight into the writings of Matthew the Poor or Mother Raphaela, I’d love to hear from you about those.)

Tradition and the Future

Compelling series of posts on the Fathers and Tradition over at Fr. Ted’s Blog. A couple quotes that stood out:

“In the light of eschatology, even the tradition of the Church itself acquires a new meaning and a different dimension — an optimistic and hopeful perspective. In this perspective, Tradition is not identified with habits, customs, traditions or ideas or in general with historical inertia and stagnation, but with a person, Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory who is coming. As Saint Cyprian of Carthage reminds us, “The Lord said: I am the Truth. He did not say: I am the custom.” Tradition, in other words, does not refer chiefly to the past; or to put it differently, it is not bound by the patterns of the past, by events that have already happened. Strange as it may sound, in the authentic ecclesial perspective, tradition is orientated toward the future. It comes principally and primarily from the future Kingdom of God, from the One who is coming, from what has yet to be fully revealed and made manifest, from God’s love and the plan He is preparing for us, for the salvation of the world and man. So the eschatological understanding of tradition appears as the counterpart to the Pauline definition of faith: ‘Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen’ (Heb. 11:1. cf. Heb. ch. 11; Rom. 8:24)

And:

“The future is not merely something exacted or awaited – it is something created … And genuine historical synthesis lies not in interpreting the past, but in creatively fulfilling the future.” -Fr. George Florovosky

Read it all.

Our Moment of Opportunity

Today Fr. Stephen wrote about “The Sacrament of the Present Moment,” which he explains is “everything, everyone, every place, filled with God, becom[ing] moments of communion and theophany.” I thought it worth passing on, so here is an excerpt (find the link below):

We confess that God is everywhere present and fills all things, but we still largely walk through the world treating all the things we encounter as just that – things. We carry no sense within us that God is in fact sharing His life with us in and through all things.

This goes to the very heart of living life as though the world were secular, of living life in a “two-storey” universe – the storey in which we live being the one not inhabited by God.

It has been a common observation that when various reformers set about to reform the Church, they declared “all days to be holy days,” and thus rid the calendar of any particular holy day. The unintended result was that before long not only were all days not holy days, no day was a holy day.

In the same way, the decrees concerning the “priesthood of all believers” rather than making every individual a priest, became a meaningless phrase, for without the sacramental priesthood, the phrase lost its reference of meaning. No one had seen or dealt with a priest so to be told that they had some kind of “priesthood” from Christ was meaningless.

Read the article