Threats to the Real Thing
Introduction: The Re-emergence of Russian Orthodoxy (1991-2011)
Over the last twenty years the mass baptism of over 100 million East Slavs back into the Russian Orthodox Church of their forebears has brought with it both opportunities and threats. This situation is not unique – it is that of the fourth century, when millions of citizens of the Roman Empire were also baptised and the Church struggled to absorb them. It was this mass baptism that gave rise at that time to the blossoming of monasticism and to the writings of the great Church Fathers. Today also, the opportunities for rebuilding the Church and for missionary work internationally are obvious. However, there are also threats, which are listed below on three different levels:
Level One: The Threat of Ideology
With the outward reconversion of many East Slavs back to Orthodoxy, there is among some in the Church an elitist temptation. Now allied with the State and its ruling class, some suffer from the deforming temptations of compromise, large salaries and foreign luxury goods. It is a similar situation in all State Churches, for example, in England where State Anglicanism, intimately allied to the British Establishment, often rejects not only those of other races but also those of other and poorer social classes. Links with the State, money and power, go to the heads of some.
Connected with the above there is the elitist cult of the politically correct, which mocks the simple faithful and authentic elders as ‘uneducated’ or ‘primitive’. Well-off, educated but only half-believing personalities emerge to despise the simple and humble. The former reduce the faith to mere ‘reasonableness’ and compromise, reconciling the Mysteries of Christ with the lifestyle of the elite, replacing the old Communist ideology with a new pseudo-Orthodox one. However, the Church puts Truth above all human artifices, for only the Truth sets us free.
Level Two: The Threat of the Pseudo-Intellectual
On a second level, but linked with the first, there is the emergence of paid ‘Orthodox’ academics. Like Arius of old, they cultivate the speaking circuits, reducing the faith to mere hairsplitting booklore and the indoctrination of the naive and ill-informed, like Uniats. Constantly in search of ‘reforms’, they subtly suggest the ruination of the Tradition of the Church, in imitation of the academics who destroyed many of the remaining Orthodox traditions of Roman Catholicism fifty years ago. The irrelevance of their academicism and compromise is obvious to the faithful.
Know it all-ism
Linked with the above are the know-it-alls, often newcomers to the Church. They pretentiously think that they know more and better than the old generations who have carried Church Tradition through thick and thin, protecting it from Communism, Nazism and Capitalism alike. Having resisted both fanatical left and fanatical right, modernists and sectarians, the bearers of the Tradition now face those who think that they know everything, but certainly understand nothing, because they do not have the key to the faith – the living experience that only comes with time.
Level Three: The Threat of the Pseudo-Spiritual
Charlatanism of the Left.
On the pseudo-spiritual level, these are those who constantly talk of ‘spirituality’ and their ‘spiritual life’. Almost like Protestants, they consider that salvation is automatic. All they have to do is partake of the sacraments as often as possible. Any preparation to partake of the sacraments is quite unnecessary for them. Sacraments for them are like magic, which requires no human effort, no real ascetic life. They also believe in the pseudo-mysticism of intellectualism, of compromised academics and false elders, who preach false renewal. This is in fact Gnosticism.
Charlatanism of the Right
On the other hand, there are the obscurantism and superstition of those in tiny communities who cannot see the forest for the trees. Continually quoting ‘the Typikon’, ‘the Canons’ and ‘the Fathers’ and debating the details of fasting and obscure customs which have not been practised for centuries, they are given to ‘walling themselves off’ from others and condemning others in order to safeguard their own purely imaginary purity. Such judgementalism does not come from humility, but from pride, the pride of the pharisee and this leads directly to the sect.
Conclusion: The Real Thing
All the above six deviations, on ideological, pseudo-intellectual and pseudo-spiritual levels, have their roots in the lack of humility and simplicity, which in reality are to be found only in the Gospel and the Saints. The errors of all these deviations come from the lack of understanding that authentic Orthodox Christianity is an incarnate way of life that comes from the Tradition. And the Tradition is the mass of holy inspirations, two thousand years old and more, which come from the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth and Love. This Orthodox Christian Tradition is the Real Thing and it is here for all those who are ready to learn it and to live by it. However, for this, humility and simplicity are essential.