To succeed in the future, we must return to the past! — Historically, when the culture has been particularly antagonistic to the Faith, Orthodox saints have preserved authentic Christian culture by going into the catacombs. If God provides us with a similar path today, we need to be prepared to follow . . .
When Lot’s wife turned back to look to her home town and was cast into a pillar of salt by God, was she turning back because she had been participating in Sodom’s sinfulness, or was she turning back because she just longed for the structure and basic cadence of this mainstream community? I believe it is the latter.
Like most people, she likely had a hard time trusting in how God was actually separating her from this established community to follow her husband to an unknown community. Her heart was not in sync with her husband’s heart who was listening to God’s command not to syncretize with the secularizing society.
In our modern times — our post imperial Orthodox times — we are faced with this same sort of spiritual struggle. We are faced with one of the most challenging scenarios of all time as Orthodox Christians, especially within America. The secular society is swiftly closing in on us and we are finding ourselves trapped in many ways. We are finding it extremely difficult to be a part of the American culture and the Orthodox Church.1
The American government and media is clearly using this “Corona virus” to find new ways of control over the country. Our Churches are being closed and many of us are losing our jobs because of this new structure imposed on us. On a positive note, it is showing us that we need to learn how to settle down and work with our neighbors and families. This is a very pious thing to do within the Orthodox faith. Perhaps we can actually dovetail off of this new way of life with the Church. Let’s examine the possibilities after going over some brief historical and sociological scenarios.
Making Sense of History
The secular ecumenist2 society of America is a prime example of the antithesis of Orthodoxy. The gospel itself is to draw people out of this dark and confusing society/community and into the Orthodox community, both on earth and in heaven. We start small, in households and caves, and then we grow into either organized, agrarian and ascetic based communities, or catacombs (sometimes one after the other). This is the story of Orthodoxy!
The foundations of America are full of Protestant and Catholic attempts to begin community, even after the Freemasons made their debut within the Revolutionary war. After the war, the denominations began to crumble, because they had not been built on the basis of real community. Cults and various sects sprung up from these denominations and took America in a very chaotic direction.
There was a movement of Christians during that era that actually did not turn into a cult: The Russian Orthodox Church within America. Russian Orthodox colonies were founded in Alaska, and entire communities were established based on how Orthodoxy operated in Russia.
It did not need a fanatic. It only needed to be sent by the Holy Spirit as it had done for hundreds of years in Russia. The Russian Tsar later granted Alaska to America at a very low cost. A likely scenario as to why he did this would be to strengthen the relationship with Orthodox Russia and America, growing Orthodoxy within America. But a World War began soon after, and America, like most all other countries, began a whole new way of living, which was not inclusive to Orthodoxy.
Our Modern Crisis
Fast-forwarding through the war-torn world to our current era, we can see that Orthodoxy in America, compared to Orthodoxy throughout most of history, is usually not very communal. In fact, I would say that if the Lord tarries, and this age lasts into another century, we will be remembered as a Church of captivity. Don’t get me wrong, we still have freedom in America to worship like we want on Sunday. But what we do not have is the freedom to create ancient or even pre-modern (pre-secularized) community. America flags most any communal effort as “cultic” and rebellious to the greater ecumenistic, secular community. America does not want people diverging from the mainline culture. Many zoning and economic laws are even framed in this manner. Sustainability with farming, energy, and trade is now extremely difficult, if it is attempted apart from the modern system.
Things are changing. America has been dumped into a situation where people are being forced to think in terms of community. But here is the problem:
The “we are all in this together” theme is taking on a lot of strength, being supported by more radical laws and philosophies. We are being drafted into a new totalitarian society where the Trinitarian God is NOT the center.
We know that extinguishing the Trinitarian God was a large part of the Atlanticist/ecumenistic project of many of America’s founders, even going as far as electing the Unitarian John Adams as George Washington’s successor. This foundation has been growing for almost two hundred years now, and has been fought against on all fronts by many Trinitarian Christians, but we are now outnumbered and also outmoded by technology. Christians simply do not have the time or resources to outdo the modern world of science. We are a people of faith and we tend to gravitate toward a more simplistic and natural way of life. A prime example of this would be when the Russian Orthodox community could not keep up with the secularists in Russia demanding that the Industrial Revolution take control of the nation. Holy Russia quickly transformed into Hammer and Sickle Russia.
Americans are tired and weary of the overly demanding culture and how we have to outperform and conquer each other. I think many Americans want to “go through” something together. Americans seem eager to “make America great again” or somehow to reform the political parties. This new data and media crunch on the Corona virus seems to be a perfect opportunity to unite. But, again, it is not on terms with any form of Trinitarian Christianity.
WHAT TO DO
We need to humble ourselves and retreat with the Imperial standard of Orthodoxy . . . in America, at least. We are not Holy Russia or Byzantine Greece. America is a radical melting pot of all sorts of cultures and religions with no Christian (Trinitarian) “nationalism” of any sort to fall back on. Our historical documents prove this.
Orthodoxy in America needs to establish a foundation of community before she begins acting like a larger, more imperial community. We need to establish some type of home networks and work on loving our family and neighbor. We could focus on what Christ says about helping the orphans, helping the poor, joining Big Brother/Big Sister type organizations that allow us to practice our Orthodoxy with the children (depending on your state). Other pious things we could do is organize for the sick or those who are disabled.
I have researched much on the Church’s call to philanthropy, and often my heart remembers St. John Chrysostom. He speaks so much on how sanctification and the mission of the Church has everything to do with outreach to the “least of these.” This is the same Saint that wrote our Divine Liturgy. He included the Psalm that states how we do not put our trust in government (princes), and how it is God who is the great philanthropos [lover of men]. One of St. John’s many great quotes is,
“For through mercy and compassion, not through asceticism, we can become like God. . . . Through our help to the hungry, strangers, the sick and prisoners, we become God’s friends . . . we make God our friend [and] he voluntarily becomes our debtor. God adores people to whom he is in debt.”
Is the Church’s current imperial model, especially within America and long after the fall of the Byzantine and Russian empires, the true ‘way’ for our day and time? We are to be the bearers of truth, the true “way,” as the early Church expressed. Wouldn’t it behoove us to grow at least a house church or “cell group” model where Christians have a cathedral type of home church, but are assigned per geography to a home group led by an educated lay person/catechist or deacon? (or even a priest, if time permits him?) It is how the early Church dealt with living in a non-Orthodox society.
The history of the Church was such:
- The early Church labored extensively in the catacombs, praying, serving the poor, healing the sick, rescuing the abandoned babies, etc.
- They were then honored by the government to form a relationship with them — a symphonia (holy monarchy), where Emperor St. Constantine helped the Church with the first steps of establishing a canon of Scripture and formally protecting the Church.
- House churches were initially formed out of the catacombs.
- Temples were constantly replacing house churches, especially within cities.
- Eventually Emperor St. Justinian helped to establish Christian law and canons to form an empire.
- Throughout all of this, the Church continued growing its philanthropic ministry.
Many of the monastics were heavily on board with this plan. Up into the tenth century, monastics such as St. Athanasius the Athonite were very active in the ministry to the sick. In fact, this is how Mount Athos was started. St. Athanasius built Mount Athos for both spiritual and physical healing. Many of the monks served the sick and were tended to when they themselves got sick. This model of monasticism continued throughout the empire.3
A “house church” model will enable us to create a true communal foundation, like the early Church did. It will have the family as a foundational element, which, as St. Paul the Apostle states to Saint Timothy, is crucial for the foundation of the Church. Men, women, and children can take on their true roles while growing the church accordingly. We can build actual community rather than isolated temples. This is how Orthodoxy has grown in times past. It is not “Protestant” — it is Orthodox, and has already been done in the early Church. It has even been done in recent times — in soviet Russia — when in many areas it was not possible to worship at a cathedral church, and the need for true Orthodox community was very serious.
Our return to a pre-Byzantine way of mission could very well help us to see what is truly needed in our lives, that of which Christ says is imperative to the Gospel. Christ goes as far as stating that we are judged by this helping “the least of these,” the children in need of parenting and food, the poor in need of rehabilitation, etc. We hear this chanted on Judgment Sunday but we seem to lay the focus on it being “meat fare” instead — the last chance to eat meat before Lent.
Have we fulfilled our duty to the poor and outcast, as a parish? St John the Apostle says in the Apocalypse that individual Orthodox parishes are judged. We do not get a pass because we are affiliated with other churches that obey. Read the letters to the seven churches in Revelation. These churches are condemned for things that many of us are guilty of. Look into the parable of the Ten Virgins that Christ spoke of. Some were wise and others were not. Those of us who are taking the time to research and pray about all of this . . . we need to be wise and not foolish!
The house church model would very likely begin separating us from the secular, mainstream culture. Isn’t it finally time? Hasn’t American culture grown to be far too worldly for Orthodox to partake in the way we do? Going to a church building on Sunday and maybe Wednesday, and filling the rest of the week with secularized community, is not the way of historical Orthodoxy. We are not Protestants. We do not just preach to people. We show them our lives, our community operating in a philanthropic/loving manner.
This is historic Orthodoxy. But does modern, American Orthodoxy look like this? Where are our Orthodox schools? Where are our Orthodox Christian orphanages? Where are our Orthodox hospitals, or even ministries to the sick? Were is our zeal for helping one another? Cults like the Mormons are putting us to shame. They know that we do not do these things, which is one reason why they were created in the first place. They saw our weakness within America, and they capitalized on it by beginning new groups.
We Need a Bishop — a Confessor
I believe that God is with us in this crisis. I believe that we need to look into history and see the examples of how Orthodoxy grew from the "two or three gathered" in Christ’s name to the massive Orthodox nations that they grew into. America needs us, and frankly, we need America. This is our mission! We need at least one bishop to stand up against the technocratic society and those who cower to the secular governments regarding the Church.
We need this bishop to help us form these catacomb-styled gatherings. The Fathers prophesied about these difficult times, and now we need our living fathers to help us get through these difficult times. We need more bishops and more priests. They can be educated through the parishes. They can be ordained like they were in the early Church. They did it then, and we can do it now. We have the same God with the same grace.
1 American schools never were Orthodox, and now they are teaching our children some of the most awful things regarding sex, faith, and science. Entertainment is at an all-time low, with the same anti-Christian themes. Companies are restricting religious expression except when it is liberal. Politics are completely secularized with no hope of turning to the Church for a formal relationship. The list can go on an on.
2 Secularism is essentially the stripping away of God from all matters of society. It presupposes pluralism, the belief that all "gods" lead to the same "truth" and are equal to each other. Ecumenism is the more detailed aspect of this pluralism. Ecumenism is the belief that all "gods" can cooperate together and that interchanging doctrines and religious practice is perfectly acceptable.
3 See The Birth of the Hospital in the Byzantine Empire, by Timothy S. Miller
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