A century ago, the Russian people did not just wake up to an accidental Atheist takeover. Secular intellectuals had already infiltrated their schools, and when the universities changed, so did the minds and hearts of the people. To avoid a similar catastrophe today, every aspect of education needs to be centered around the Orthodox Christian Faith.
One of the first – if not the first – steps that we should take in building an Orthodox culture in any country, is the implementation and growth of Orthodox education. If we lose this battle, we lose the future stability of our parishes. The universities in America (and in many other western nations) are geared against us and have many sophisticated arguments against the Christian worldview.
To create Orthodox schools is not only for our children to carry on and battle the world, but for the nation's Orthodox ethos in general. Orthodox education produces both culture and community! Secular education does the same, and so it is crucial for us to enter this battle with vigilance.
The Fathers of the Church teach us that falling away from God is as simple as forgetting God. When we are no longer able to carry the momentum of God’s energy and take every thought captive to Christ, we drift. How much drifting does it take to end up in a place that is inescapable? Is it possible that we might one day wake up realizing that we are completely surrounded by a hostile environment that demands either complete submission or withdrawal? Perhaps this has already begun to happen and we Christians are in a state of contemplation, wondering and debating on how to get out of the current social conundrum.
It’s not completely clear how this all began happening — how we lost traditional community and culture within America. There are theories of how it has all culminated, everything from serious error in our historical founding to the uncontrollable flux of immigration. But within the many theories is one underlying element of how humanity has always operated as a community, which many of us will agree that we need to correct: Education
We live in the most convoluted culture of all history, with radical amounts of information being pitched to us on a daily basis. When we turn on the TV we are being educated. When we read our Facebook feed we are being educated. When we get trained by our company we are being educated. Even when we listen to the radio or Pandora, we are being educated.
It is key for an Orthodox Christian in a secular society to shape our lives so as to hear more Orthodox perspectives, and fewer secular/agnostic perspectives. This requires a disciplined and perhaps ‘out-of-the-ordinary’ way of life. We will look at this in the later part of this article.
America, from the beginning, established her education through her Church. But as secular influences grew, schools were given up to secular organizations. When Christian education began to disappear from America, no second revolution needed to happen, simply because Revolutionary America never intended to maintain a Christian culture. Russia, on the other hand, is a different story.
During the times of the catacombs in Holy Russia, the Soviets would often pick Christians out of various families and groups to send them off to the gulags or simply execute them as an alternative. These Orthodox Christians had to make daily choices as to what they would be bold about and what they would keep quiet about. Hardship and death were at stake every day for these people.
In America today, as in 20th century Russia, we are surrounded by people who hate our Faith. We, like the Russians, are often very careful of what we say. But so far, a lot less is usually at stake. For the most part, we are not yet being imprisoned for defending the Truth, and we are not yet being executed in the streets.
But the Russian Orthodox people did not just wake up one day to an Atheist takeover. What was gradually happening back in the 19th century, was a steady infiltration in schools by secular intellectuals from the West. Many atheistic and cultic philosophies were being taught by professors in the universities, and many of the priests were beginning to buckle to these teachings. The universities, rather than the Church, became the centers for worldview and community.
Education had previously been an extension of the Church, but this was an early step towards the secular modernization of Russia. Other political and industrial factors preceded. But when the universities changed, so did the minds and hearts of the people.
Had the Church been able to retain the ministry of education, perhaps there would have been a different outcome of Russia entering WWI and the Bolshevik Revolution. How can we learn from this?
Heaven and Earth
A hallmark of the Orthodox faith is that it is holistic. Our faith, unlike any other spin-off group of the Church, embraces every aspect of life. Nature is not our enemy. In Western Christianity, nature is suspect. The material world is considered “fallen” and unredeemable in many aspects. This is why Gnosticism thrives in those groups. Orthodoxy is much different, because we understand the Incarnation of Christ to be a supernatural agent within the material world.
Because this world is so mystical, because we are surrounded by so many spiritual and physical variables within life, the Orthodox Church has created distinctions, but not so many distinctions so as to confuse ourselves. One historically important distinction is that of symphonia. This is such an important aspect of our Faith. Symphonia (symphony, in English) occurs when secular powers and ecclesiastical powers cooperate. Symphonia is the Church and the State working together. This is what the double-headed eagle represents: one eagle for the secular power and the other for the ecclesial power.
The secular power of society is not evil in and of itself. But it does gravitate toward evil (unlike the baptized soul, which gravitates toward heaven). Secularism, however, is evil. Secularism has to do with limiting or barring the Church’s influence, creating an existential environment that has historically led to disastrous societies.
When the secular society gives birth to an idea, it must be compatible with the symphonia of our Christian community. If it is not compatible, then it must simply be rejected! Thankfully, as we will see below, many secular subjects are within the bounds of the Church’s symphonia.
Orthodox Symphonia Requires Cooperation
Orthodox education, unlike secular education, revolves around a particular view of mankind: How we are created and what our purpose is in life. Without an Orthodox Christian view of mankind, intellectual subjects become stripped of their true purpose and meaning, training our minds to think in secular rather than spiritual terms. To think in secular terms is to adopt the historical and medieval philosophy of Scholasticism, which lends to a worldview of hardened logic and moral construct.
Orthodox Christians are called to think in mystical terms, because we live in a mystical world. Formulating life — to the extent of systematizing everything we do — goes completely against the energies of God. Nature is relatively unpredictable, and like the Psalmist says, God’s energy and Spirit moves like the wind. St. Paul says that God “works all things together” for the benefit of God’s people. This is a cornerstone for Orthodox theology and worldview, allowing us to explore this world without the fear, legalism, and overly complex systems that the Old Covenant people of God had to wrestle with for so many generations, eventually opposing Christianity (the Truth) when it was presented by Christ.
If we take out the mystical value of education, we will cease to think in mystical terms. Even Hollywood understand this. There are a number of problematic science fiction movies now, demonstrating how we submit ourselves to overly systematic environments where no true love and joy can exist. A prime example might be the movie The Giver, with Jeff Bridges.
Secular Paths Lead to a Final Secular Community
Every single subject in life needs to be embraced through the Orthodox Christian Faith. If it is not, each unattended subject will give birth to a new hybrid of thought, a new secular path to travel away from the faith and into what St. John the Apostle calls “the mark of the beast,” where no man can even “buy or sell” without it. The secular paths all lead to this “replacement community” — this final entrapment of the Church — where all people trapped within will have sealed their eternal destiny, estranged from God’s gift of eternal life. As a well-known Orthodox Saint has pointed out:
“It should be placed as an unfailing law that every kind of learning which is taught to a Christian should be penetrated with Christian principles and, more precisely, Orthodox ones.”
– St. Theophan the Recluse
Orthodox Symphonia with Contemporary Subjects
Math – This is an absolute necessity, even if there are some people who don't happen to like it much. Is there such thing as secular math? Indeed there is! A secularized subject is stripped of its application, so as to become an intellectual pursuit of its own (raw data with no application), or else it is used as a catalyst for non-Orthodox worldviews. Intellectualizing any subject is a pursuit of pride and often a complete mental burnout for many people. Math can be, at a very high level, a strict intellectual pursuit for those who want to be mathematicians. But for most of us, math is an applied subject that is a tool for greater things in life. Let us build great hospitals, schools, rehab centers, and temples — with the help of mathematics — but let us not put math in a cage and send our young people in to this cage for burnout, nor cultivate within them a mind that operates merely scientifically rather than spiritually.
Technology – Technological advancements that protect nature, including mankind itself, can be encouraged. Perhaps we can steer away from the pursuit of artificial intelligence. This just an example, and there is room for debate. But that is what makes Christian education so exciting! There are discussions that needs to take place . . . often.
Engineering – Building structures that give glory to God was a common practice in both Eastern and Western Europe. Domes, arches, and iconography have influenced the world throughout the ages. There are even sectors within America that have been positively influenced.
History – How could history be properly taught aside from a Christian worldview? The first civilized society was the Orthodox (Byzantine) Empire. St. Justinian the Emperor implemented law based on the Christian faith, and all civilized societies in the modern era owe much to this great work. For centuries, nations were led by the Church, or by an offshoot of the Church. To secularize history is downright dishonest, and is a complete misrepresentation of historical truth.
Philosophy – For instance, St. John Chrysostom was a great Christian philosopher. Chrysostom, in Greek, means “golden mouth.” Many of the Church Fathers and ascetics are greater sources of wisdom than any pagan philosopher could ever be. Many of the Fathers, including St. Paul the Apostle, challenged Pagan philosophers and converted them over to Christian philosophy. When we study ancient philosophy, whether it happens to be Christian or not, it should be studied in light of its spiritual context — how it was being influenced by the Church and how it was challenging the Church.
Medicine – St. Luke, one of our Holy Apostles, was a doctor. There were a number of doctors throughout the Byzantine Empire, and in fact, the Orthodox Church invented the hospital itself. Proper and ethical medical care within the environment of priests and deacons is absolutely necessary for an Orthodox worldview. We do not have the holy mystery of healing just so we can have an extra prayer service. We have it to actually heal people. The hospital is ours, and we should begin taking them back and building more of our own. Abortions, transgender surgeries, pharmaceutical and insurance companies dictating procedures . . . all of this must be eradicated!
Criminal Justice & Law – This is an easy one! There is no law without spiritual input. The question is: Which spiritual source shall we choose? Certainly, we can choose secular spiritualism, which amounts to radical ecumenism and moral relativism. Where is the order or peace in that? To say that all religions can mesh and cohabit peacefully is a most ignorant thing to say. They can cooperate with each other, but only if they each have the freedom to build their own communities to cooperate within.
Art – Take a trip to St. Petersburg, Russia, or to Greece, and you will see the Christian meaning of art. It’s everywhere. As the Russian Orthodox author Fyodor Dostoyevsky said, “beauty will save the world.” Iconography (Orthodox Christian art) is a sacred art which gives a proper foundation for all art. Not everything must be painted as an icon, though. In fact, it must not be! Iconography is sacred and set aside for the communication of the Gospel. But all other art should glean from it and become its own form of Christian beauty. This can extend to anything from home décor to entertainment. Also, Christian art is modest! Pornography and other forms of crudeness are simply not Christian.
Food – The Orthodox calendar includes many fasting guidelines on certain days of the year. Orthodox countries have thousands of recipes that presuppose the fasts.
Theology – Most importantly, the study of God and his people must be embraced via the Orthodox Christian Faith. Without proper theology we can know very little about how man and community, in general, operates effectively. Our theology helps us strive between creation and eternity, and understand how the two operate and create harmony with each other.
A community that treats Christ as one of many gods, is a community that is destined to fail. We have seen this throughout all history. Pluralism is a recipe for cultural collapse.
If American leadership does not want a community that recognizes Christ alone as the cornerstone, then let us build sub-communities that will. Let us abandon the false ecumenism of the secular state, so as to overcome the enemy and uphold the true Faith!