Russian Orthodox Community in America, Part III

Sobornost and Koinonia

Like the Greek’s Koinonia, the Russian’s Sobornost is the way of the Russians. Russians received this way of life from Christ and the martyrdom of his people in the early Church. St Herman brought it to America, but something happened in 20th century America where Russians (and all Orthodox in America, for that matter) ceased to continue Christian community, giving into the modern American worldview of separation of Christianity and community, something Orthodoxy has never taught before. Even in persecution we are to stay loyal to one another, in communion, holding each other accountable and serving each other for salvation. Loving thy neighbor, beginning with our brothers and sisters in Christ, according to the Apostles, is to fulfill Christ's commandments.

Nicolos Sernov, in his book, The Russians And Their Church, says, “The Church has taught the Russians the act of Christian living, revealed to them the mystery of the Incarnation, and provided them with a pattern of social order (sobornost)…She believes that the whole of life is the sphere of the operation of divine Grace and is primarily concerned with the application of Christianity to the communal life.”

Looking at the Second Chapter of Acts we can see where the communal life of Christians began. From these beginnings of the Church, we can see that we were not just a worshiping and doctrinal community, we were an organized and extremely philanthropic community. Christians shared their personal property and everything they had with one another. Each family was a ministry, so to speak, under the larger “family” of the Church, which formed an entire community...a community that was destined to completely overpower and outmode the secular community. This is how Holy Russia became Holy Russia! She overpowered the Pagan community through building the Church community. There is no Christian/secular dichotomy with Russians. The temple service is to live out the Orthodox life in a communal way and not in some sort of political or sociological way. Russians evangelize like the early Church evangelized: through new life, new community.

The Gospel and her Apostolic succession are akin to Christ’s community. Lose the community and we lose the grace through a layering/smothering effect of secularism. This is why it was imperative for many of our saints to do and say what they did, the way they did.

St John Chrysostom is somewhat of a “pivotal” saint in our history for many reasons. He was valiant man who was a part an emerging generation. His generation was was very close to the “Early Church” community that lived so harmoniously together as a community. He wrote our Liturgy. He built the foundation for something in the Church that would last centuries, likely until the very return of Christ. Perhaps we should begin paying more attention to the things he says about actually living this Liturgy. Many of his writings are yet to be translated, but we do have some already. Here is one of his more poignant quotes, regarding community:

“community property more than private possession is the valid form of living, and is also in accordance to nature; this state (community of property) therefore is rather our inheritance, and more agreeable to nature” (Homily on 1 Timothy).

If we believe that the Liturgy he wrote for us is to directly form the way we live, why then would we not listen to how he says to live? We are to live as a Christian community. Of course, when St John was referring to “community” he was by no means referring to the unbelieving secular community, but the Christian community. I do believe that the Empire itself was a result of his foundational network of teachings, examples, and prayers. But there were many more saints that carried this grace. Prior to St John, St Anthony the Great made a great impact on the Church and her communal way of living.

When the imperial movement of the Church gained momentum in the late Third century, St Anthony the Great retreated to the desert, creating what we know call the cenobitic lifestyle of the Church. This movement of St Anthony birthed what we refer to now as “monastics.” The two movements of monastics and the parishioners were in no way polarized movements, rather a compliment to each other in the fierce beast of modernity. Perhaps St Anthony’s ministry was not only necessary for his time, when the people needed constant reminder not to fall head over heels into the modern world, but also prophetic for the end of the age, where he said,

"A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, 'You are mad, you are not like us'."

We are facing this in our day, in an exponential way. Secular society is demanding that we conform to the technocratic and political way of community. The draft from their political communities for us to adopt an ecumenistic and secular way of life is both their prerogative and their plan. No one will say that we are mad because we want higher morals. Degrees of morality do not constitute madness from the secular perspective. What seems to constitute madness from the secular perspective is our perspective (or lack thereof) of secular community. Why we would not want to participate with them and form the utopia that they have been longing for, is simply inconceivable to them. Why would we ignore their science and organizational imperatives in such chaotic times? To them, this is maddening.

The timing of the secular world and its globalism seems to have reached its battle cry and formation. Will we finally take up the communal aspect of Orthodoxy to escape the secular draft and begin forming historical Orthodoxy in America, again? Some of our most valuable priests have already moved from America to Russia and Greece in order to experience with their families, Orthodox community. But we cannot all do this. Who in America wants to continue the grace of community that has been given to Russia and other Orthodox communities? Most all of us have already turned far away from canonical living by embracing American ideals and community. When will it stop? The enemy can easily close isolated temples, but can he easily close entire communities? In other words, this is how the Orthodox faith has made it through persecution of times past: through the communal way of life. The fear of America stereotyping communal living as cultic and hippy-like has to be overcome with our belief and strength in Christ. St Herman of Alaska, pray for us!

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