Volume 2, Number 8

August 18, 2011

Theme: The Mission of Orthodox Youth in North America


From the Managing Editor- “Our Mission”

By Mr. Andrew Boyd

Spiritual Life in the Technological Age

By Archbishop Demetrios [Trakatellis]

The Mission of Orthodox Youth

By Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann

You, the Church, and the World

By Father Robert Stephanopoulos

More information about the authors can be found here.

Volume 2, Number 8 -Authors and Contributors

August 18, 2011

Mr. Andrew Boyd is the managing editor of “Wonder”. He is a student at St. Vladimir’s Seminary in Yonkers, NY. Originally from Connecticut, Andrew completed a undergraduate degree in business at the University of Connecticut where he was very active in the Orthodox Christian Fellowship.

His Eminence, Archbishop Demetrios [Trakatellis] is the primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in America. He was born in Thessaloniki, Greece. He attended the University of Athens where he studied theology. After becoming a monastic, he received a PhD. from Harvard University and later a ThD. from the University of Athens. He has taught both at Holy Cross Seminary and Harvard Divinity School. He was appointed Archbishop of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America in 1999.

Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann was a prolific writer, scholar, and pastor. He grew up in the Russian community of Paris before coming to America to teach at St. Vladimir’s Seminary in New York. He eventually became dean of that institution, a position which he held until his death in 1983. He also taught at Columbia and New York Universities and Union and General Seminaries. His sermons were broadcast to Soviet Russia via Radio Liberty for over 30 years. More writings by him can be found here.

Father Robert Stephanopoulos is the Dean Emeritus of the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Holy Trinity in New York City, and an adjunct professor of Christian Thought at St. John’s University in Queens. He was ordained as a priest in 1959 and has a long and accomplished record as a pastor. He is well known in ecumenical circles for his work, advocacy, and involvement. He holds a PhD from Boston University where he studied missions, outreach, and the ecumenical movement.

From the Managing Editor- “Our Mission”

August 18, 2011

It’s the end of the summer. People are finishing up their vacations and slowly returning to their regular schedules. Many of us are preparing for the new school year. For us Orthodox Christians, we are looking forward to the new liturgical year (September 1) and to the upcoming September feast days. Summer is slow-paced, relaxed, and in many ways self-focused (I deserve this time to drink on the beach!). Now, it’s time to reengage with “normal” life, and to rededicate ourselves to our mission.

What is our mission as young adults in the Church? If you google that phrase (I just did) you’ll come up with all sorts of odd and wordy answers, including one website dedicated to Messianic Islam. I would submit that our mission is nothing special, nothing unique,just to witness to our faith by simply being honest and doing what we are supposed to do as Christians. What does that look like though, especially in a campus setting? What it looked like for me was an example set for me by another Christian on my floor, we will call him “Steve”. Steve went to Church often, though he didn’t often talk about it. He was comfortable being “just one of the guys” while also obviously markedly different than those around him. What impressed me so much about him was his care for people who were drinking. Instead of lecturing his floormates when they made objectively bad choices, he was always the first person there to take care of them, making sure they didn’t choke on the their own vomit and on at least one occasion, calling an ambulance for someone who was dangerously close to alcohol poisoning. I also recall his attention paid to inebriated women. While most of the men on campus would probably be trying to take advantage these women, Steve would make sure they got back to their respective rooms safely (especially after several instances of sexual assault on campus). When they were sober, Steve was more interested in getting to know them as human beings, instead of using them for his own sexual gratification and ego-centric needs.

I learned a great deal in my first year, and in my humility (or more often my humiliation) eventually learned that my mission as a Christian on campus was simply just to be a Christian, be a force of kindness, love, and care in whatever community God dropped me in that particular year. Steve taught me a lesson that hundreds of years of our tradition witness to, that any small act of love can affect not only our own salvation, but the salvation of everyone around us. Our mission is to work God’s love in our community, while at the same time holding ourselves to that standard of purity, honesty, and wholeness of life that our relationship with Jesus Christ demands. When all else fails, we are called to be God’s rational flock, and the only real rational act is love.

In this spirit we offer three articles this month previously published in Concern. Concern was a journal published in the 1960’s and ’70’s by the SCOBA Campus Commission, the precursor to today’s Orthodox Christian Fellowship (Whom we thank for giving us permission to republish) . These articles were written quite along time ago, but reflect the desire of Church leaders to offer words of encouragement to a younger and often chaotic and confused generation. We offer these articles as encouragement for your coming year.

-Andrew Boyd

Managing Editor

Spiritual Life in the Technological Age

August 18, 2011

By Archbishop Demetrios

This Article was first given as a lecture at a conference of Orthodox College Students in 1969 and Published in “Concern” Magazine (Volume iv, Number 3). Our thanks and appreciation to the Orthodox Christian Fellowship for granting us permission to republish it here.

My thoughts are simply footnotes to the main theme. Let me say that I cannot think of the mission as of something which can be fabricated  in the dark office of some theologian or church official. Mission is something which emerges from reality. I had this feeling during the lectures of the other speakers. I felt that here is a description of the mission out of life. My own attempt then is going to follow the same pattern.

Now, looking at the reality before us we can see immediately two basic things. One, that here is a youth, an Orthodox youth. Two, that this youth lives in a precise place, these United States. On these two factors then one can examine the mission which could be understood as a three-fold task. Let me get immediately to the first one.

We can describe the mission of the Orthodox youth of this country as the development of the spiritual life not in abstract, not in the desert, not in the 19th century, but a spiritual life in this technological age and era of ours. It becomes more and more obvious that technology assumes an increasingly dominating role in our life. The impact of this phenomenon on spiritual life is so clear. And there is an absolute necessity to create and lead a spiritual life strong enough to co-exist with and be integrated in a technologically oriented society.

Spiritual Life in the Technological Age

Sooner or later technology is going to dominate the whole earth. Here we can see a mission for you because you are living in an advanced, technologically-speaking, country. You are the avant-garde and you can’t ignore this fact. Here in America technology is progressing at a galloping rate. The people of Europe and of other areas are looking at your an expecting from you the fashioning of a spiritual life for this precises situation. Then, when the situation is similar in other geographical areas the people will have something to work with.

The people of this country (i.e. the Orthodox People) have a wonderful tradition, a centuries-old tradition, which is the result of the struggles of your fellow Orthodox in other parts of the world. Now it is, in turn, the duty of the Orthodox People of this country, especially the youth, to return the favor by paving the way for a spirituality for the age of technology. There are some masterfully written books on the spirituality of the desert, on the spirituality of the middle ages, etc. Now it is your duty and mission to create literature on the spirituality of a technological time and era, because you live in the center of such an amazing development.

Let me cite a few examples in order to illustrate exactly what I mean by the phrase “developing a spirituality for a technological era.”

1. It is common knowledge that we live under a continuous “invasion”. Picture and sound invade incessantly our mind and soul. Our senses are constantly attacked by impressions whose intensity sometimes goes far beyond our possibilities. This increased impact of visual and acoustic impressions is a result of technological advancement. TV, movies, advertising signs, traffic signs, the increased number of pictures and images due to our rapid means of transportation, radio, music in almost all the places you go, the noise of cars and airplanes, the mechanical noise of our home appliances such as heaters, refrigerators, vacuum cleaners, elevators, laundry machines, all these raid ruthlessly our souls. The impressions are not static by dynamic, they suggest movement and excitement (take the noise of a racing car). Therefore, they not only whip the senses, they also capture the attention and sometimes cause a profound hypnotizing effect on the human soul. This last point has been presented in a brilliant way by Eugene O’Neill in his play “Dynamo.”

The situation could very well be described as “picture and sound pollution,” a phenomenon con-commitant to technological progress. Under these circumstances, what exactly does happen to basic notions and forms of Orthodox spiritual life such as the silence of the senses, the concentration of the mind, etc.? How to concentrate and pray when you mind is swarming with thousands of strong, vivid, moving impressions? The answers to these questions must be provided by the Orthodox youth of America, and they must come primarily as a result of experience.

2. We are saturated not only with impressions, but also and this is characteristic of our technological age, with ideas and ideologies. One could call the phenomenon “an inflation of ideas.”  Through the communication media various ideologies travel all over the place, they enter everywhere, at any time, easily and mostly uncensored. The diffusion of ideas and the spreading of ideologies are clearly growing out of proportion, and at the same time they are getting more and more systematic and computerized. Even the fine arts are expressing to an astonishing degree strong ideological preoccupations and biases, and through the facilities of an advanced technology are able to domineer the life of millions of human beings.

Take for instance one of the “less ideological” arts, painting, and you will see the verification of the previous remarks. Look at the paintings of three significant modern American painters such as J. Pollock, A. Gorky, N. deKooning. If you look at the paintings of Pollock, immediately you get the impression that here the human being has lost the center, has lost a central idea around which to build his world. Human existence is completely fragmented. Here is the ideology of human decomposition in full bloom. Or you go to Gorky who through his paintings gives the feeling of emptiness. Look at his paintings for artistic beauty and you end up with the idea of emptiness. DeKooning’s human faces on the other hand, particularly the mouth, are expressive of the idea of the impossibility of communication between people. Through the paintings the ideology is at work. And these artists are not the exception.

DeKooning's "Woman VI"

The ideological inundation raises a serious problem for the spiritual life. How to withstand the charm of the non-Christian ideas which circulate everywhere? How to keep your mind clear from the various idols and false-gods? How to remain faithful to the true God and worship Him in spirit and truth (John 4:24) when your mind is besieged day and night by stunning streams of ideas? Here again is your mission: to provide viable positive solutions.

3. My third example pertains to this basic notion, to this fundamental feeling of the presence of God, which is one of the very essential things in spiritual life. If you go to the Bible you read many texts speaking about God being revealed in nature. You remember the passage from Romans 1:20, “Ever since the creation of the world, his [i.e. God’s] invisible nature, his external power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made.” Or psalm 103 which begins with the phrase “Bless the Lord O My Soul,” and then goes on to praise the Lord for the whole creation that reveals His glory and mercy. This is fine with people dwelling in some countryside or it is fine with us during these days of the conference. But this is not the regular situation.

In a technological society, where you have the phenomenon of megalopolis, you gaze at the sky and you think of air pollution. You look at the rivers and your realize they are no longer an inspiration for poets or musicians because they are simply dirty waters. You look at the woods and you come to the sad conclusion that they are gradually and steadily diminishing and being cut into pieces. Besides, how much of nature can a captive of megalopolis like New York enjoy? For millions of people nature is vanishing as a source for discovering or sensing the presence of God. This, of course, is one of the reasons for the modern feeling of the absence of God.

Nature is vanishing....

Technology — together with other factors — is responsible for the creation of the gigantic urban centers, where contact with nature is a totally different thing from what it was in the countryside. The people, however, have the same need for God, the want to feel His presence. There arises a necessity to discover God, to contemplate His power and glory and wisdom within the environment of the modern city.  Spirituality in a technological age must deal with the problem of how to feel the presence of God in a big, urban complex. There must be ways to magnify the Lord when you walk downtown Manhattan under the shadow of the skyscrapers, when you pass through an industrial area or ride a subway.

The above examples, chosen at random, underline quite clearly the necessity of creating a spiritual life — basically in terms of concentrating, praying, and communicating with God — in a technologically organized society. There is the first basic component of your mission.

Next to this I would suggest that your mission involves learning to live the Orthodox faith in a religiously pluralistic society. This is an absolute imperative. If you go to countries which are predominantly Orthodox, like Greece, Russia, Bulgaria — there you don’t have the problem of religious pluralism. The same happens with countries like France and England where the Orthodox are not only a minority but also in the margin. They are not integrated into the life of the country. Things, however, are different with America. Here the Orthodox people are an integral part of the American society, they are substantial elements of this society which is religiously pluralistic.

In the years to come, because of technology we are going to live more and more within a situation where we are constantly in touch with all sorts of religious forms and experiences. But in this country we are already. Here there are strong forms of religious life besides Orthodoxy. Protestantism in its various denominations, Catholicism, the non-institutional churches are strong, well organized, and you have to cope with them. Here is a challenge.

"In the years to come, because of technology we are going to live more and more within a situation where we are constantly in touch with all sorts of religious forms and experiences."

You young people who are in college together with Methodists, Catholics, Adventists, how do you differ from them? Is it a matter of difference in style of life, doctrine, tradition, roots in the past? How legitimate and how valuable are the points of difference and how must we insist in preserving this or that point? Here is the challenge to gain self-identity as Orthodox and the opportunity to describe Orthodoxy in terms understood by non-Orthodox people.

Learning to live our Orthodox faith in religiously pluralistic society means an awareness of our self-identity, a consciousness of the Orthodox truth. But then how to reconcile such an attitude and state of mind with the necessity for loving, understanding, and accepting people as they are? To solve a problem of such magnitude is a hard task. Nonetheless, the problem must be resolved for all Orthodox people.

Some people claim that they love truth, the truth of faith to be more specific, and they cant sacrifice truth for the sake of love. They create some sort of polarization between truth and love, and they choose truth. At the same time they develop a kind of hostility towards men of other faiths and not seldom end up hating them. As a clergyman told me a few month ago, “I don’t care for people, I care for truth!”

Some men jump to the other extreme: they pick up love and forsake truth. “After all Christianity is love,” they say. But if you lose your sensitivity for the truth revealed by God, how can you preserve a deep, genuine love? If your acceptance of the other people as they are means a deliberate ignorance of what they believe, then how real and complete is your care for them?

There is another category of people who advocate a third solution: indifference. “You don’t care if the care of your neighbor is a Cadillac or a Ford. You don’t mind if the house of your colleague is Colonial or Tudor. Likewise, you remain totally indifferent to this or that denomination.”

The above three attitudes –truth over love, love over and against truth, indifference– should be overcome by the only honest and courageous solution: to be conscious of your Orthodox faith and at the same time to be able to love and accept the non-Orthodox people. To preserve truth and live it with love. This is the second component of your mission as Orthodox youth. And this is your mission because the situation here and now calls for an immediate response to this problem, which is not the case with the population of the  predominately Orthodox countries. With the help of God the Almighty you might be able to establish a pattern of correct attitudes in such a complicated issue. Perhaps the Lord wanted you to be a generation of pioneers who will live genuinely and completely their Orthodox faith in a religiously pluralistic society in which they totally integrated.

The third main component of your mission is to create a genuinely Orthodox and at the same time truly contemporary language and frame of reference in order to cope with current problems. This, of course, is a duty of all modern Christians. I felt this need when I was working with students at the University of Athens. But here, this is a daily kind of thing for all of you. We don’t have ready-made solutions on the basis of our past. We have out tradition to give us much light, but we don’t have adequately developed terminology, simply because the problems are new.

Take for instance the problem of self-identity which is a critical issue in contemporary life and thought. Someone might perhaps say: “Well, the problem of identity was a very old phenomenon back in the Hellenistic era.” Of course, you can find analogies but I think the degree of the phenomenon and the specific form of the problem of identity is clearly ours. Consequently, we have to develop a language in order to deal with this problem from an Orthodox point of view. What is our answer? What is the correct way of formulating the problem?

What about the problem of human freedom? Freedom here and now is something different that back in the first or second century or during the Turkish occupation of Greece. It is something appalling to discover that we are slaves, moaning under the ruthless rule of a computerized economy or of a brain-washing advertising industry.

The Mission of Orthodox Youth

August 18, 2011

By Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann

This address was first given at a conference of Orthodox youth at Oberlin College in 1968. It was Published in ‘Concern’ Magazine (Volume iii, Number 4). Our thanks and appreciation to the Orthodox Christian Fellowship for granting us permission to republish it here.

Our purpose in meeting here at this first conference of Orthodox students is not simply to hear a few lectures, listen to a few discussions, and proclaim once more how wonderful we Orthodox are. So often at Orthodox conferences we meet in an atmosphere of triumphalism and then, returning to our parishes, find ourselves utterly confused. The official image is always that of something magnificent, but the unofficial reality is that of complaints and criticisms. What we want to do here is not shares some slogans with you, but rather to think together. None of us has brought here ready-made answers; we are here to look for a common perspective. Although we are in a very new situation in America, we often jump over the first and essential , which is simply to think together about what we must do. Too often we want solutions to problems which we have not formulated, progress towards a point which we have not yet defined, victories in battles in which we don’t know who is fighting whom. Very often we are led by leader who proclaim that they have answers to all questions and misled us. I think, therefore, that if we plan this Conference in a “low key,” as a first step toward more light — in humility, in prayer, asking God not so much what we what to do but what He wants us to do — it would be more constructive and useful for the future of our Church.

The time has come to clarify the issues, to formulate the problems which we face together, to discuss the solutions and the priorities in our existences as Orthodox in a Western country which is our county. Are we a group of exiles? Are we a spiritual and cultural ghetto to be perpetuated against all odds? Are we to dissolve ourselves here in what is called the “American way of life”? What is this American way of life?

The purpose of this introductory paper is to deal only with the fundamental framework of these questions. In my first lecture to freshmen at St. Vladimir’s Seminary, I always use the same symbol: if you have a big library and move into a new house, you can’t use that library unless you build shelves.  While it is still in boxes, you own that library, but it is of no use to you. My purpose then is to build the shelves and then to try and see what are the priorities of our Orthodox situation today.

It is impossible to speak about our situation in American unless we refer it to our normal and essential term of reference: The Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church — whether Greek, Syrian, Serbian, Roumanian, or Bulgarian — has always been both the heart and the form of an Orthodox world. Only here in the West, and for the first time in the history of Orthodoxy, do we think of the Church in terms only of a religious institution such as a diocese, a parish, and so on. No one in organically Orthodox countries has ever thought of the Church as being distinct from the totality of life. Since the conversion of Constantine, the Church was organically related to society, culture, education, family, etc. There was no separation, no dichotomy. The Russian word for peasant is simply christianin, which at the beginning obviously meant Christian.

Here then we find the first radical difference which we have to face in America: we belong to the Orthodox Church but we do not belong to an Orthodox culture. This is the first and the most important change and unless we understand that this is not an academic proposition, but the real framework of our existence, we will not see clearly through our situation. For everything in the Orthodox Church points toward a way of life; the Church is connected to all aspects of life. Yet we are deprived of this connection because, upon leaving our churches on Sunday morning, we return to a culture which was not produced, shaped, or inspired by the Orthodox Church and which, therefore, in a way is deeply alien to Orthodoxy.

The first Orthodox immigrants in America never thought about all this for in many ways they continued to live within an organic Orthodox “culture.” They were still living with that type of unity because they belonged to what in American sociology is know as a sub-culture. After the liturgy, Russians or Greeks would meet in the church hall as they would meet not only as Orthodox but as Russians or Greeks or Bukovenians or Carpatho-Russians and they would meet precisely in order to breathe their native culture. At the beginning, all this was completely normal. Even today you can live in certain places as if you were not living in America. You can live there without knowing too much English, without any real contact with American culture. But whether we like it or not, that “immigrant” chapter of our history is coming to an end and this is where your generation comes in. You do not have an immigrant mentality. Orthodoxy for you is not primarily the remembrance of childhood abroad. You will not keep Orthodoxy simply because it is “the faith of your fathers.” Suppose we apply this principle to others: then the Lutherans should keep the Lutheran faith, the Jews the Jewish faith, and finally the son of an atheist should keep atheism because it was the “faith of his father.” If this is the criterion, religion becomes a mere cultural continuity. But our claim is that our Church is Orthodox, or, more simply, the Church, and this is a frightening claim. It implies that it is the faith for all men, for all countries, for all cultures. And unless this implication i kept in mind and heart, our claim to be the true or Orthodox Church becomes hypocrisy and it would be more honest to call ourselves a society for the perpetuation of the cultural values of a particular geographical region.

Our faith cannot be reduced to religious practices and customs alone. It claims the entire life of man. But the culture in which we live, the “American way of life,” is something which already existed when we come here and thus we find ourselves an Eastern Church  with a total claim on our life, yet living within a Western society and a Western way of life. The first problem then can be formulated very simply, although its solution is extremely difficult: How are we to combine these things? How can we live our Orthodox faith which claims the totality of our existence within a culture which also claims to shape our existence? This is the antimony of our situation; this is where all our difficulties are rooted. Yet unless we understand it, we will always have wrong solutions. These wrong solutions –quite popular today– follow two basic patterns. I will call one pattern a “neurotic” Orthodoxy. It is the attitude of those who, whether they are native Orthodox or converts, decide that cannot be Orthodox unless they simply reject American culture, who build their spiritual home in some romantic and idealized Byzantium or Russia, and who constantly curse America and decadent Western society. “Western,” “American” are here synonyms with “evil” and “demonic.” This extreme position gives a semblance of security; ultimately, however, it is self-destructive. It is certainly not the attitude of St. John who, in the midst of a violent persecution, said so simply: “…and this is the victory which overcomes the world, our faith.”; and who also said: “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear: because fear has torment.” (I John 4:18) Here, however, Orthodoxy is transformed into an apocalyptic fear which has always led to sectarianism, hatred, and spiritual death.

The other dangerous pattern is that of an almost pathological “Americanism.” There are people who, when they hear in church on word in Russian or Greek, react as if it were a betrayal of Christ. It is the opposite of neurosis, the neurosis of those who want Orthodoxy to become American immediately.

It the first neurosis, Orthodoxy is reduced to a fanatical and negativistic sect; in the second one, America is falsified, for America is not at all a country which requires surrender, conformity, and the acceptance of the main-street mentality as the “American way of life.” What makes this country great and indeed unique is precisely the openness of its culture to change. And who knows whether it may not be the real mission of Orthodoxy in America to change the American culture which has never really been challenged by a different set of values. No doubt Orthodoxy has an understanding of man, life, world, nature, etc., radically different from those prevailing in American culture but this difference itself is a challenge for Orthodoxy rather than a justification for withdrawal, negativism, and fear. To avoid two extremes, to be truly Orthodox yet fully American — such seems to be the only real Orthodox tradition. How and where do we then begin?

I said already that I have no ready-made answers; I have only a few thoughts which I would like to share with you — a few thoughts about the conditions which may set us on the difficult way. One of the great dangers of modern, and especially American, culture is its reduction of man to history and to change. Since everything by definition is changing, the basic values which shape man’s life are also subject to change and none is absolute. This is the first thing which we Orthodox have to denounce and resist. We must openly confess that there are things which do not change, that human nature in fact does not change, that such realities as sin, or righteousness, or holiness do not depend on the changing patterns of the culture. How many times have I heard, for example, that in “our age” the concept of sin must be changed if it is to be relevant to the modern man. How many times we have heard that in “our age” we cannot speak of the Devil. Yet I am absolutely convinced that sin is exactly the same for me as it was for St. Paul and that if there is no Devil, Christianity is no longer the same religion it was for nearly two thousand years. It is not enough to speak, as some Western theologians do, of the “demonic.” It is not enough to identify sin with alienation. And is at this point that Orthodoxy has a tremendous responsibility, for  it is fundamentally the belief in unchanging realities, it is the denunciation of all “reductions” as not only doctrinally wrong, but existentially destructive.

Thus the first condition for anything else is simply faith. Before anything else is possible, before I can speak of myself as belonging to this or that generation, as immigrant or native, of our age as technological or post-industrial, etc., there is this one fundamental reality: man standing before God and finding that life is communion with Him, knowledge of him, faith in Him, that we are created literally for God. Without this experience and affirmation, nothing has meaning. My real life is in God and in heaven. I was created for eternity. These simple affirmations are rejected as naive and irrelevant today, and in spite of all its Christian terminology, Western Christianity becomes more and more a man-centered humanism. At this point, no compromise is possible and everything depends on whether Orthodoxy will remain faithful to its God-centeredness, to its orientation toward the Transcendent, the Eternal, the Divine.

We do not deny that men need justice and bread. But before everything else they need God. Thus, we truly can do what we are called to in spite of all temptations. The seemingly “charitable” character of these temptations is not only to proclaim or to defend but first of all to live this unchanging, eternal, hierarchy of values in which God and God alone is the beginning, the content, and the end of everything. This is the real content of the Orthodox faith, of our liturgy, of our sacraments. This is what we celebrate on Easter Night. This is what is revealed at the Eucharistic Table. It is always the same thing, the same prayer, the same joy: “Thy Kingdom come… .” It is the understanding of life as indeed preparation, not simply for an eternal rest but for the life which is more real than anything else — a life of which this life is but a “symbol” and a “sacrament.”

I can hear and sense the reaction: “Oh, again paradise and hell; is that Christianity? Can this be the answer preached in the 20th century?” And I will answer: “Yes it is. Yes it can.” It is because so many people today have forgotten this, it is because all this has become “irrelevant” for Christians themselves, that so many are in hell already. And Orthodoxy will lose all its salt if each one of us does not strive first of all for this personal faith and for this hunger for salvation, redemption, and deification. Christianity begins only when we take seriously the words of Christ: “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness; and all things shall be added unto you.” (Matt 6:33)

But now let me share with you my second preliminary thought. Just as each one of us must discover for himself the “unchanging” and take part in the same, never-ending spiritual fight, we must discover ourselves as belonging to one particular generation of Orthodox Christians living in the 20th Century in America in a secular and pluralistic culture and in the midst of a great spiritual crisis. What can we do together? What are the Orthodox imperatives for our common and corporate task? I think that here the priorities are rather clear, especially when one speaks to students and for students, for “student” is today the purest representative of what I call the second Orthodoxy in America. The first one — whether he came from the “old world” or was born here — is still and immigrant in his mentality. He lives within American culture but is not yet an organic part of it. A student is by definition someone who can and must reflect. So far Orthodoxy in America has not reflected upon itself and upon its situation here. The Orthodox student is the first Orthodox whi is called to reflect on his life as an Orthodox in America and on this reflection depends the future of our Church here, for this reflection will obviously be aimed at the problems which I mentioned at the beginning of this talk. So this is a crucial task. You will say either yes or no for the entire Orthodox Church on this continent.

To say yes, however means to rediscover the Church as mission, and mission within our present situation means something more than simply converting individuals to Orthodoxy. It means primarily an evaluation of American culture in Orthodox terms and this is the real mission of the Orthodox “intelligentsia,” for no one else can do that. It is here that i must stress again the fundamental quality of American culture: its openness to criticism and change, to challenge and judgment. Throughout the whole American history, Americans always asked: What does it mean to be American? What is America for? And they are still asking these questions. Here is our chance, and here is our duty.

The evaluation of American culture is Orthodox terms requires first a knowledge of Orthodoxy, and second the knowledge of the true American culture and tradition. One cannot evaluate that which one does not know, love and understand. Our mission, therefore, is first of all one of education. We — all of us– must become theologians, not in the technical sense of the word but in terms of vital interest, concern, care for our faith, and above everything else in terms of a relationship between faith and life, faith and culture, faith and “the American way of life.” Let me give you one example. We all know of that one of the deepest crises of our culture, of the entire modern world, is the crisis of family and the man-woman relationship. I would ask then: How can this crisis be related to and understood in terms of our belief in the One who is “more honorable than the cherubim and beyond compare more glorious than the seraphim…,” the Theotokos, the Mother of God, the Virgin? Is this belief a beautiful part of our liturgical celebrations, or a revelation of the mystery of love? Can this unique mystery of Mariology be truly “applied” as judgment, as healing, as Truth — to the confusion and chaos created by Freud and his followers? The knowledge of Orthodoxy thus is not a “part” of the corresponding progress of our American way of life but a key to it, a way of understanding and evaluation.

Where all this will lead us, I do not know. In the words of a hymn of Cardinal Newman: “I do not see the distant scene, one step enough for me.” But I know that between the two extremes — that of a surrender to America, that of a surrender of America — we must find then narrow and the difficult way of the true Orthodox Tradition. No solution will ever be final, and there is no final solution in “this world.” We shall always live in tension and conflict, in the rhythm of victory and defeat. Yet if the Puritans could have had such a tremendous impact on American culture, if Sigmund Freud could change it so deeply as to send to generations of Americans to the psychoanalytical couch, if Marxism, in spite of all its phenomenal failures, can still inspire presumably intelligent American intellectuals, why can’t the faith and the doctrine which we clam to be the true faith and the true doctrine have its chance? “O ye of little faith…” Marx and Freud never doubted and won their vicious victories. The modern Christian, however, has a built-in inferiority complex. One historical defeat pushes him either into an apocalyptic fear and panicking or “death of God” theologies. The time has come, maybe, simply to recover our faith and apply it with love and humility to the land which has become ours. And who can do that if not those who are given a full share of American culture?

To sum up, two things are essential: first the strengthening of our personal faith and commitment. Whether priest or layman, man or woman, the first thing for an Orthodox is not to speak about Orthodoxy, but to live it to his full capacity; it is prayer, it is standing before God, it is the difficult joy of experiencing “heaven on earth.” This is the first thing and it cannot be reached without effort, fasting, asceticism, without sacrifice and the discovery of that which in the Gospel is called the “narrow way.” And then, to use a most abused word: a deep and real dialogue with America — not accommodation, not a compromise, for a dialogue may indeed be violent. If nothing else, it will achieve two things: it will reveal to us what is real and genuine in our faith and what is mere decoration. We may, indeed, lose all kinds of decorations which we erroneously take for Orthodoxy itself. What will remain is exactly the  faith which overcomes the world! And then in that dialogue we will discover the true America, not the America which so many Orthodox curse and so many idolize, but the America of that great hunger for God and His righteousness which has always underlain the genuine American culture. The more I live here, the more I believe that the encounter between Orthodoxy and America is a providential one. And because it is Providential, it is being attacked, misunderstood, denied, rejected on both sides. Maybe it is for the handful of Orthodox students on American campuses to understand its real meaning and to act accordingly.

Father Alexander Schmemann

You, the Church, and the World

August 18, 2011

By Father Robert Stephanopoulos

This article originally appeared in “Concern” Magazine (Volume ii, Number 3). Our thanks and appreciation to the Orthodox Christian Fellowship for granting us permission to republish it here.

Aubrey Beardsley once made the observation that Nero set fire to the Christians like giant tallow candles and that this was the only light they were ever known to have given to the world. This criticism was not the first of its type directed against Christians. There were plenty of accusers of Christianity before Beardsley. Today there are millions. Not a few have gone beyond any serious consideration of Christianity as a vital spiritual source; they simply ignore it as an outdated religion of little consequence to contemporary problems.

It is becoming painfully clear to believing Christians that they no longer hold the position of prominence they once enjoyed. There are still millions of nominal Christians, of course, but those Christians who operate and live within the spiritual framework of Christianity are a remnant, a diminishing minority. Somehow Christianity is being left behind in the creative processes of development.

Intellectually the Christian Churches are struggling to retain their old position of respectability. This, in part, can explain the encouraging output of recent literature which is attempting to provide the philosophical and theological framework for the application of Christian teaching to the vital and pressing problems of society. In the field of action, however, they have shown only a poor second best. Other militant, spiritual, and ideological movements are doing far more effective things in the field of international development, social equity, equal opportunity, poverty, peace, and human improvement. A Christian apologist is hard pressed to make his point that Christianity is relevant and effective in this world of painful and often radical social change. Let us make no mistake about it: these are the real concerns and issues in modern society and Christianity must come to grips with them in a decisive manner. The revelation of God in Jesus Christ, the love and grace of God “which passes all understanding” must be made effective and operative in the world of suffering and need.

This leads us to the first great challenge which our Orthodox Church faces in this country and its role in the ecumenical movement. The responsibility which we have is the same as that of every Church in the United States. Like it or not, our country is a world leader — economically, technologically, and ideologically. Out of the depths of its particular spiritual vision, its distinctive ethos, each Church must inform and constructively criticize the government in the execution of its leadership role. This leadership role is essentially moral in character and the religious communities must reflect their ethical positions in the concrete application of governmental programs and projects.

No society or culture has ever fully accepted Christianity. Christ is above and beyond every cultural expression. Still, the Church must work in its own environment and seek to bring out the implications of the Gospel in each local situation, appropriating every good thing and generally transforming the total pattern of life in conformity with the life of the Kingdom of God. In this, the Church cannot have any special advantage. It is a community of faith which can only work by means of persuasion and the power of God. It must convince others by means of genuine Christian living and gentle persuasion.

The pattern of Church-State relations in this country, the “American Experiment,” has worked best for both parties in spite of some obvious difficulties. The world is now very small. Once remote and isolated nations and socio-religious cultures have been thrown together. It is no longer possible to ignore one another; we must learn to live together and cooperate where necessity demands this for the common good. In this context, Christianity is just another religion with some good points and some bad. Historically it is functioning with certain liabilities — it is identified as “the white man’s religion,” a cover for colonial imperialism, culturally arrogant, religiously exclusive.

Yet, God’s name is glorified in and through the Christian Church. The Christian Church stands in, for and with Jesus Christ as the unique revelation of God reconciling man unto Himself. It is the community of brethren united in the bonds of love, faith, and hope with Christ and sanctified by the Spirit of God. By work and action, in life and ritual, the Church makes Christ present among men. The great task of Christianity, both collectively and through individual believers, is to manifest Christ and His reconciling love. It is how we talk and act that makes Christianity acceptable and believable. In this great task, all Christians and all Churches must share equally. They all are united in a common undertaking: to make Christianity an effective religion of love and reconciliation.

This is ecumenism in its broadest terms. Our Church has participated in it and contributed to it from the earliest recognizable beginnings. Through its most visionary leaders, it is fully committed to it today. No doubt, most people would not argue with this type of ecumenism. It is generally accepted as the only real option for rational and concerned people in our contemporary situation.

More specifically, however, the ecumenical movement desires to know what is God’s will for His Church. We are obviously and painfully in a condition of disunity within Christendom. Thus, we have the added and crucial burden of coming to terms with our own legacy of division and strife within the Christian religion. Clearly, Jesus Christ prayed for reconciliation, peace, and unity among men. He wanted all men to know of God’s redeeming and healing love, to experience it and make it operative in their lives. As the Son of God He was the very manifestation of that love, its effective operation in human terms and the means by which all men might be infected by it.

At the same time, Jesus was not afraid of an argument! He resisted evil in every form. Through His voluntary sacrifice He overcame its most violent and devastating expressions — rebellion, estrangement, and death. He desires that man be free of all those limitations to perfection and the divine life. He sought for perfect communion of man with the source of his being. Any enslavement, any compromise, any reduction of man is to be opposed by means of every divine and human power available to mankind.

Yet, even this resistance and struggle against evil He interpreted in positive and constructive terms. Love is the greatest and most powerful of emotions, at the same time an ideal to be attained and a working virtue, a gift of God and an ascetic labor. It is love, bound up with informed faith and prayerful hope, that seeks to preserve the unity of man with God.

Even here we Christians have failed. For a thousand years we have been obsessed with our divisions and differences in doctrine, polity, and worship, splintering and dividing in the process. Only in recent times have we come to the realization that isolation and inbreeding has made us insensitive to the anguished question of Paul, “Is Christ divided…? Is there more than one Christ?” (I Corinthians 1:13). History proves time and time again that the real meaning of what Christ meant in His arrival, the intention in His living among men, was lost to the human passion to divide and exclude. The  Christian community which was to proclaim to the nations “the Name above every name” has set up its own standards and signs, compromising the one absolute sign of salvation. The differences became more important than the Person who stands above and beyond them all.

It is a fundamental article of our faith, an inner conviction, that Christ is not divided. Whatever the appearance of things, Christ is still about His Father’s business, ever faithful and obedient to His will. Of this we can be confident. But to the minds and eyes of so many people, His brethren and co-heirs in the Kingdom have been left far behind still contending over legacies and traditions and institutions while the work of reconciliation and peace have been taken up by others. The parables of the chosen and favored ones who are rejected for their infidelity (e.g. Matthew 22:1-24; Luke 14:16-24) and indifference are meant for us Christians today. In the words of a convinced Orthodox ecumenical leader, the ecumenical movement…

“…is undertaken in faith, in obedience, and with a willingness to respond affirmatively to the urgings of the Holy Spirit. And the ecumenical vocation is addressed to the Orthodox Church no less than to the others, for though we know where the Church is, as a modern Orthodox thinker has put it, we cannot be sure where the Church is not.” (Archbishop Iakovos [Koukouzis] )

In a world which is struggling to meet the overwhelming needs of suffering mankind, in a time of bewildering social and scientific revolution, at a period in human history when men are fully beginning to comprehend their fundamental unity of origin and destiny, our divisions as Christians really take on a demonic character. The big questions in our times have to do with the meaning of human life and freedom, of the existence of God and His relevance for the human condition, of human destiny and dignity in the face of various dehumanizing forces — the same questions, that is, what have always faced truly religious and spiritual men. In the face of such fundamental questions and concerns, our differences must surely pale by comparison. It is time to take up these primary issues and see how they can inform human events and leave off repeating our old formula of exclusion and division.

As a Christian theologian, trained in the history and doctrine of the Church, I fully understand the significance of the historical and theological distinctions between the Churches. It would be both dishonest and unrealistic to ignore or minimize them. We must be very vigilant to preserve the truth, to be faithful to the heritage which has been handed down to us over the ages. We cannot be indifferent to the treasures we have been commissioned to hold and propagate. But, if this is part of our task, so is that of manifesting God’s love among men it witness and service.

It seems to me that Patriarch Athenagoras has seen this in all its clarity and has set the order of priorities quite rightly. He is not insensitive to theological and doctrinal differences when he appeals in the name of Christian love to Popes and other Christian leaders for reconciliation and co-operation to combat the problems of the world. The theologians have their place and make their contribution. But as a responsible world religious leader, fully cognizant of his tremendous duty to the Orthodox Church and to the meaning of Christ’s Gospel for all men, he must set the order of priorities.

Christian love takes precedence over our divisions. St. Paul says as much,

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)

The attitude of love and concern for the needs of other men is central to the Christian religion and it is by this criterion that we must judge ourselves and our actions. There is no questioning the fact that others — whatever their persuasion — judge us not by what we profess to believe but by how we live out and perform in deeds the articles of our creed. These are things that are important to people, not the esoteric and contentious theological distinctions we trumpet before men. Theology today should be concerned with the problems of personal and social morality, the meaning of belief and unbelief, the significance of freedom, the nature of slavery, the meaning of prayer and the role of the Christian Church in the world.  Old differences of doctrine and theology — important as they might be  — are of secondary interest. Possibly, probably, through the mutual study, interaction and co-operation of the Churches, a new, fresh climate is being created within which the solution to age-long doctrinal questions might be resolved to the satisfaction of all concerned.

Of our country, Athenagoras has said, “I owe many things to America: the meaning of democracy, the dignity and freedom of human beings, good neighborliness, and most of all, ecumenicity. I pray that America will fulfill its secret destiny.” Orthodoxy holds a unique position in American life today. It has a genuine contribution to make to the upbuilding of American life. It can draw out of the wealth of its spirituality and ascetic tradition, it can contribute of its understanding of man and the human condition, it can proclaim God’s salvation in Jesus Christ, it can stand in adoration before the glory of God and worship Him in appropriately beautiful forms.

This means it must learn as well as teach. It must learn primarily from its own rich and varied tradition. This, I am sure, is what Fr. George Florovsky means by a “return to the Fathers,” a return to the creative and liberalizing influence of our Christian ancestors. We, often without critically appreciating the fact, have preserved original and genuine Christian insights which are only now being recognized and reaffirmed by other Christians. But, it also means we have to be humble enough to learn from others too. They, non-Christians and Christians alike, have been at the forefront, confronting the problems of the world for decades while the Orthodox have either been unwilling or unable to engage in the struggle. They have learned things that we must learn now. They have profited by their engagement and we must profit by their mistakes. It is a mutual, a reciprocal, undertaking.

Our leaders must now, more than ever, truly lead the Church to a deeper appreciation of its role in America. We, as a Church, must seek to inform and appraise the nations of our contributions to the solution of international problems. We must help and pray that “American will fulfill its secret destiny.” We must be fully involved in the processes of our national life and align ourselves to the spiritual and religious forces that guide its destinies. This means, of course, that the Orthodox Church in the country must become a fully integrated Church, united in its several parts and totally oriented to its singular purpose. There are many arguments for greater unity among Orthodox Christians in the United States, not least of which is that which says that our canonical and ecclesiological (understanding of the Church) traditions demand it. Another, naturally, is the one I have outlined. We will never be accepted as a “fourth major faith” until we prove ourselves as such. In our fractured state we are not taken seriously, our weak efforts are duplicated and ineffective, and we cannot hope to encourage new converts.

How each of us as individual Orthodox Christians responds to the challenge of the age is crucial. How our stated and recognized leaders, both clergy and lay, capture the all-important sense of history and direct the progress of our Church through its present crises and toward a hopeful future will make the difference between a Church which remains tragically bound up in its past and one which is ever energized and enlivened by the power of the Holy Spirit to the everlasting glorification of God and the redemption of men.