On the Future of the Orthodox World
Introduction: The Universal Calling of Orthodoxy
Orthodoxy owes its origin neither to race, nor to human desire, nor to political organisation, but to God the Holy Spirit (Jn 1, 13). The Orthodox world is not even limited to the society of peoples of which it is at present composed, but belongs to a universal society of past, present and future. This corresponds to the concept of humanity transcending all divisions of race and class, ‘in which there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, Barbarian nor Scythian, bond nor free, but Christ is all and in all’. Orthodoxy is still today the spiritual basis for a world order, just as it was in the past, for example, in the apostolic age of the first millennium. In fact, it is only as a universal order that Orthodoxy finds its fullest expression, as, since the times of the apostles, a universal calling has been at the heart of the Orthodox world, of the Apostolic and Catholic Church.
Orthodoxy and Global Society
As regards contemporary Europe, Orthodox Christians have a responsibility and mission. Orthodox are the heirs of the old European traditions of the first millennium, the guardians of the spiritual principles from which Europe derives its being. There is nothing in Europe that was not originally formed or moulded by Orthodox influence. Even the European heresiarchs of the second millennium cannot be excepted, since they were inspired by deformations of our Tradition. Indeed, the inherent secular principles of the second-millennium West are due only to its loss of unity with Orthodoxy, when its peoples lost their spiritual citizenship, their belonging to the Church. Therefore, Orthodox have a responsibility and mission to bring back the vestiges of Orthodoxy in Europe into the Church after their thousand-year lapse.
Since post-Orthodox Europe conquered the world over the last five hundred years, Orthodox Christians therefore also have a responsibility and mission to global society. At present the global society which Europe created is still chaotic and tried by the forces of destruction, for it does not possess any principle of order or spiritual power capable of giving it organic form and unity. Any attempt to organise global society by military or economic power divorced from spiritual vision is doomed to failure, because it ignores the deepest and most vital factor in the problem, the spiritual factor.
If this factor is neglected, the consequences are destruction and revolt. This we have seen in former Western colonies, more recently in Vietnam and then Iraq and Afghanistan. It is impossible to dismiss the claim that Orthodoxy is irrelevant to the problem of international order, for the demonic powers which have entered the empty house of Western secularism cannot be exorcised by the economist or the politician. Orthodoxy is the only power that can meet the forces of destruction on equal terms and save mankind from its spiritual enemies.
No doubt it will be said that the Orthodox Churches do not in fact perform this function and that Orthodox are too few, too weak and too poor in intellectual and spiritual qualities to influence the course of history. But the same might have been said of Orthodox under the Roman Empire. ‘Ye see your calling, brethren’, wrote the Apostle Paul, ‘how that not many wise men according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called’ (1 Cor 1, 26). It is of the essence of Orthodoxy not to depend on human means, not to trust in ‘the arm of the flesh’, not to judge events by human or secular standards. The one thing that Orthodoxy demands is faith, for lack of faith is the only thing that can defeat its divine purpose.
Orthodoxy and Spiritual Renewal
What, after all, could have seemed more impossible than the transformation of the ancient world by a group of obscure and uneducated men from a despised race in an obscure province? But none the less it happened; and after nearly two thousand years, after so many empires and peoples have come and gone, they still affect our life and thought. It will be said that this cannot happen again. It happened once and it is done with: it has become a part of history. But this is not the Orthodox view. From our standpoint the ancient conversion of the pagan world is a foretaste of the transfiguring power of Orthodoxy, both before and at the end of time.
The modern secularised world is the product of a divided Europe, which left the Church, discarding the spiritual and moral values of the Orthodox Tradition. The greatness and misery of post-Schism Europe are that it conquered the world by losing its soul. And a body without a soul is merely a putrefying corpse. What we face today is not so much the breakdown of the traditional culture of Orthodox Christendom – rather it is the putrefaction of the secular culture which has taken its place. For the failure of secularism to satisfy mankind’s deepest needs has created a spiritual vacuum, a heart of darkness behind the electronic technology of the modern world. Since the failure of secularism is directly related to its loss of spiritual values, it is useless to put our hopes in remedies which ignore this fundamental problem.
Therefore, there is more reason than ever before to assert the Orthodox alternative of spiritual renewal. It is here and not in political and economic organisation that the solution to the problem is to be found. The hope of the world rests in the last resort on the existence of a spiritual nucleus of believers who are the bearers of the seed of unity. All people and every human society and civilisation are called to this unity. Each has its special and unique contribution to make to the life of the whole. The reconciliation of the nations can only be accomplished on a deeper plane than that of political power or economic interest. It is essentially a spiritual task which demands the spiritual vision that is faith and the spiritual will that is love.
Since ‘what withholdeth’ was removed in 1917, the evils of the present day have been but the outward and visible signs of the ‘mystery of iniquity’ at work in the world (2 Thess 2, 6-7). The grace of the Holy Spirit is the only power that is strong enough to overcome this mystery. By its grace Orthodox in the past faced and overcame the pagan Roman Empire, apostates and heretics, Crusaders, Mongols and Tartars, Teutonic Knights, Papal invaders, Napoleon, Ottomans, Nazism and Communism. The self-flattering temptation of secularist-humanist paganism that we face today is no more terrible than these.
Conclusion: Orthodoxy and the Holy Spirit
Since we have faith in the power of the Holy Spirit, we believe that even the present evil can be conquered. For the powers of the world, formidable as they appear, are blind powers, which work in the dark and derive their strength from negative and destructive forces. All their technological and geostrategic schemings for the enslavement of the human body, mind and spirit are powerless against the higher powers of spiritual knowledge and spiritual will, the gifts of the Holy Spirit. And it is these meta-historical powers, transcendent and immanent, which distinguish the Divino-human Church, the Body of Christ, from every human foundation and movement throughout history.
Even so, come, Lord Jesus!
Archpriest Andrew Phillips
25 May/7June 2010