As some of you know, a groups of us were recently in Damascus and attended a conference at the Islamic Institute. David Goa, Fr Philip Erickson, a small group of other people and I were there. While I had to leave early, before the last series at the conference, in order to participate in a number of conferences in Romania, the Islamisation of Europe was discussed during conferences in Romania.
Since returning home, I have continued researching the matter in order to make it the subject for some of my presentations in the autumn at a number of universities and Orthodox parishes down East in America.
There are three salient facts that are abundantly clear, and that we should be aware of. Hopefully they might change some of our attitudes about what we are doing in the Orthodox Church, and especially in the OCA.
The demographics are radically on the side of Islam. They do not have to convert even one person in order to be able to dominate Europe. People in Western cultures are reproducing at a rate below 1.5; Moslems living in the West are reproducing at a rate of 4-6, even 8. Christians have abortions, Moslems do not. Christians have small families: on average, 1 or 2 children; Moslems have large families, on average 6 to 8 children. Moslems maintain their traditions, most Christians do not. Commitment and attendance at Mosques outstrips that of Christian commitment and attendance in Church.
Meanwhile, Orthodox Christians exhaust a great deal of energy in petty infighting; many hierarchs, particularly in Eastern Europe, have almost no personal contact with their flocks. Many hierarchs and clergy are arrogant and condescending toward the faithful. No one in the Islamic world is talking about abolishing or shortening Ramadan, but many in the Orthodox world are talking about abolishing some fasting periods, shortening others. Moslems maintain the appearance of their faith, while many Orthodox clergy are embarrassed or ashamed to be seen in public looking like Orthodox clergy. Moslems maintain the tradition of stopping to pray at the given times several times a day, while Orthodox Christians are seeking to reduce the already scant time we spend in the Divine Services. One could go on with such comparisons, but the point has to do with commitment, discipline and self-control.
Faith can only be challenge by faith; commitment can only be faced with commitment. We, as Orthodox Christians cannot offer anything that will counter a committed Islamic missionary effort while we are occupied with petty self-interest, with "defending MY turf" against other Orthodox clergy. On the international level, the efforts of some to re-create a shadowy form of the Byzantine Empire is quite destructive. The divided state of the Orthodox Church today, world-wide, and the internecine power struggles undermine and weaken the Orthodox Christian witness. Self-interested fear of each other on the local level can only make the problems we face more systemic and pervasive. Moreover, they are a betrayal of the Gospel and of the faith.
I simply ask that all make themselves more aware of this challenge and that we struggle, primarily with our own selves, to overcome our own pettiness and find a greater unity of spirit and purpose. Instead of having a delusion of "competition," we should be sharing the resources that each has to offer, and strengthening the commitment of our selves and the faithful. Everyone has some ability to offer, and we need to be willing to share our "self" with all for the sake of the Gospel and in order to face, with a unity of love for Christ, the challenges that are so rapidly arising before us.
Archbishop Lazar, Ret., Orthodox Church in America is abbott of All Saints Monastery (New Ostrog), Dewdney, British Columbia, Canada.