In our day the predominant culture is secularist; a view that holds that religion and the moral precepts drawn from it should have no impact in public life. Secularism is closely tied to post-modernism which eschews the existence of moral universals or even a unifying narrative. Orthodox ethicist H. Tristam Englehardt wrote that postmodernism is "the absence as a matter of fact and in principle of a universal secular moral narrative." Postmodernism has replaced the Western European view of a "monotheistic, monocultural moral vision with strong commitment to faith ... " (Englehardt, 1996).
How is secularism evident in society? One example is the divorce of law from an underlying moral narrative and thus history. Language and concepts (fairness, justice, etc.) that were drawn from the moral tradition to grant civil laws their moral legitimacy are applied in ways that are highly pragmatic and utilitarian in nature.
For example, if abortion, birth control, cloning, sex education, stem cell research and other vexing moral issues produce a pragmatically desirable outcome they should be promoted. No reference to a larger body of moral teaching (and the psychological and spiritual consequences the moral prohibitions seek to avoid) needs to be made.
This pragmatic approach has the effect of truncating the vision of what it means to be human. Emphasis is placed on the immediate and proximate and not on what used to be called the last things: death, judgment, heaven, hell - all things beyond and ultimate (see: Matthew 25). Secularism collapses into hedonism and the social credo becomes: "Eat, drink, be merry, for tomorrow we die."
It's an open question whether the rise of secularism leads to the dimming of religious awareness or if a dimming religious awareness led to the rise of the pragmatism and utilitarianism that are the hallmarks of the secularist moral vision. It's probably a combination of both. Aggressive secularism and the moral failure of Christian leaders to openly proclaim the Gospel of Christ are both to blame.
Contemporary secularists and weak Christian leaders should heed the words of Jesus to Nicodemus spoken over 2000 years ago: "Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen; but you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things" (John 3:11-12)?
Secularism in the Church
It should be no surprise, then, that the dominance of secularism in the culture quite naturally introduces secular thinking into church life. Orthodox Bishop Hierotheous Vlachos (1998) summarizes the problem: "The members of the Church are being secularized and thus have a different view of the Church, theology and pastoral care."
Secularization is a direct attack on what has been passed down by Christ to His Church. According to St. Paul, the Church is to be directed by putting on "the mind of Christ." St. Paul's exhortation is fundamental to Christian moral awareness codified in the Great Commandment to love God and neighbor that draws from the uniquely apostolic proclamation that God is love.
Throughout the centuries, these apostolic teachings were believed and lived. A Tradition emerged centered around and drawing from this apostolic message that has come to be known as "the mind of the Church." This phrase implicitly asserts the authoritative character of Tradition in questions of faith and morals. Secularism on the other hand, subjects the Tradition to foreign criteria drawn from and inextricably bound to the assumptions that shape modern culture thereby undermining the authority of Tradition. Secularism breaks with the past.
The Orthodox Christian Domestic Church
In Orthodox teaching, all faith and life in Christ must begin in the home. If the handing over of Tradition begins in the home, so does the breaking with the past when a home becomes secularized. In Orthodox Christianity, the home is called the domestic church, correctly implying that all Christian teaching, indeed faith itself, is first nurtured in the home, secondarily in the parish, and finally in the larger civic culture.
The concept of the domestic church arises from home churches of early Christianity. As Christians were expelled from the synagogues, they brought synagogue worship into their homes along with the eucharist (the framework of this early worship is still evident in the Orthodox Divine Liturgy today). St. Paul referenced these home churches in his writings: "Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus ... greet also the church in their house" (Romans 16: 3-5). Elsewhere he wrote: "The churches of Asia send greetings. Aquila and Prisca together with the church in their house, send you hearty greetings in the Lord" (1 Corinthians 16:19).
After the persecution lifted and Christianity ceased being an outlaw religion with Constantine's Edict of Milan in 311, Christians were able to build their own churches. Nevertheless, the centrality of family as the center of church life was maintained. Even today the leaders of the domestic church are the husband and wife, mother and father. For this is the reason the individual is never the basic unit of the Church, because no individual can obtain life without a mother and father.
This is true not only biologically but also in a spiritual sense. Note that Christ said: "For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them" (Matthew 18:20). Even if someone were not born of Christian parents, the necessity of family is maintained in that baptism (the sacramental act into which a person is joined to Christ) requires a priest as spiritual father who performs the baptism, at least one God-parent, and so forth.
Husbands and wives are uniquely suited and equipped for domestic ministry. The inherent dignity and importance of the Christian parenting is revealed through a prayer read by the priest in the Orthodox wedding service when a couple is first married: "Unite them in one mind and one flesh, and grant unto them fair children for education in the faith and fear ..." This prayer embodies the Christ-centered parental vocation and reveals the theological underpinnings of the domestic church (Morelli, 2005c).
The description of the domestic church is worth repeating:
Ideally, a true Orthodox Christian domestic church in our day should look like (but is not limited to) something like this: Jesus Christ is at the center or hub. Husbands, and wives, as such, and as fathers and mothers, should be the leaders of the "church at home" in Christ's name. They should bless one another and their children, bless the food which is partaken, give thanksgiving for all that God has provided (house, furnishings, etc.), thank God for health and talents, and lead by the sanctity of their conduct as well as their words (Morelli, 2005c).
We nurture the spiritual vitality of the domestic church in several ways. For example, parents can remember the Feasts of the Church with prayers, and the recitation of troparia and kontakia (special hymns used in the Orthodox Church that explain the significance of the feast), as well as the Epistle and Gospel readings of the day.
Daily scripture can be read and discussed. Daily prayers, at least at morning and evening should be part of the domestic church activities. All family members should take part in these prayers and readings. Following the Sign of Cross made by the father and/or mother, each family member may take a turn reading a line from the prayers, scripture or reading texts of the day. The leaders of the domestic church should also be theologians and educators of themselves and their children imparting knowledge and practice.
The My-Way Secular Domestic Church
Unfortunately, as aggressive secularism takes hold in the culture, families leave off the important spiritual dimensions of family life. There are no mentions of Christ, no blessings or prayer or thanksgiving. Holidays are remembered, but holy-days are forgotten. Comics, magazines, books, video games and suggestive or violent music, television (especially Sex in the City type programs) are allowed. Not allowed are Christian views about local, state, country or world events. There is a great emphasis on sports and celebrity gossip and an increasing tolerance of pornography.
Faith is reduced to sentiment. Pat phrases like "I am a good person," "God will understand me and make all things right," "All religions and paths to God are as good as another as along as you believe in God," "God will bless all that I do" shape the sum and substance of theological awareness. Call this domestic church the "Church of Me" or the "Church of My Way" but do not call it the Church founded by Christ.
The Secularist Broadside Against the Church and Culture
Looking back at Church History, we see that secularism affects the Church in the same way that the heresies of old did. Secularism, while not formally recognized as a heresy, functions in many of the same ways the ancient heresies did in that they overthrew the understanding of man and God (Christian anthropology) received through the Tradition.
C.S. Lewis is one modern master of defining the secularist threat. Like the Fathers of old, he views heresy not in ideological terms, but within the classical framework of spiritual warfare. Ideas matter to Lewis because ideas have consequences that affect the soul of man. How man's mind is shaped has bearing on the light the soul might receive. In this way he conforms to the teaching of St. Paul who exhorted us to "be transformed by the renewing of our mind" (Romans 12:2). (See below for a list of ancient heresies.)
The ancient heresies, although tenacious, were relatively easy to spot. C.S. Lewis, recognizing that heretical challenges ultimately seek to undermine and eventually vanquish the Christian faith, argued that secularism is more pernicious (see The Abolition of Man, for example). Secularism conceals itself in the concepts and terminology of Tradition when in fact seeking to undermine and eventually supplant it. Lewis wrote in 1959: "He (the evil one) pours out self-knowledge in a quite shameless fashion. But even if He (God) defeats your (the demons) first attempt at misdirection, we have a much subtler weapon ... Our policy, for the moment, is to conceal ourselves. Of course this is not always been so."
A way of concealing the attack on the church is to base it on human rights principles that are fundamental to modern society. A good example is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations General Assembly resolution 217 A (III) of 10 December 1948. The first sentence of Article 2 states: "Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status." On the surface these principles seem unassailable. However, what happens when moral license is defined as a right? What happens when appetites rather than reason reign?
A First Attack: Feminism, The Church, and Human Rights
In a recent article Maria Gwyn McDowell (2006) stated: "Generally, the Fathers accepted the cultural assumptions regarding men and women existent in Greek and Roman society. Such assumptions are no longer shared, even by the outspoken critics of the ordination of women." She continued: "Tradition, however, has never been an unchanging expression of our faith. While Christians continually experience God in three persons, the doctrine of the Trinity as we have it today was not settled until four hundred years after Pentecost."
McDowell's historical chronology is correct. Tradition, however, is not as fluid as she would like us to believe. Tradition is certainly a comprehensive and complex phenomena and often conformed itself to the practices of the dominant culture. At the same time, it is also fixed. McDowell grasps this point but when writing about the male priesthood conveniently sidesteps it: "The priesthood falls under the rubric of canonical practice, a 'tradition,' not a doctrine," she declares.
She views Tradition only in static terms. This allows her to relativize the native authority of Tradition and subject it to her higher standard of human rights. Overlooking the fact that the concept of human rights could only have arisen in a Christian milieu (particularly the dependence that any Western standard of human rights owes to Christian anthropology), she ignores completely the dynamic and enduring character of Tradition. More on this below.
Specifically, McDowell confuses tradition and doctrine. Putting aside for the moment that doctrine and tradition are not that easily separated, it does not follow that tradition, because it has specific application in specific cultures is in anyway less authoritative than doctrine. For example, in Orthodox practice it is tradition, not doctrine, to perform the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom every Sunday. Yet if we were to restructure the Liturgy according to our own designs, the violation would be as great as rewriting doctrine. Tradition is as authoritative as doctrine in many areas.
Again, McDowell seeks to supplant the authority of tradition with the authority drawn from precepts of human rights. The formal articulation of these rights is good and necessary. Christian tradition, however, is not the handmaiden of these precepts and the sleight of hand that McDowell attempts here is simplistic, ahistorical, and certainly without reference to Orthodox Christian self-understanding.
Call this the feminist fallacy, the notion that sex and gender distinctions need to be obliterated and any practice that recognizes these distinctions should be forbidden. Feminism is fundamentally an aggressive social vision; a creed that asserts how society should organize itself to ensure fairness and equity.
In 1999, Orthodox academic Susan Harvey made the goal of the feminist fallacy very specific: "I think the question of the ordination to the priesthood is where I would put my sights." The attempt to link ordination to human rights did not escape the gaze of Fr. Alexander Schmemann (1973) who wrote in Concerning Women's Ordination - Letter to an Episcopal Friend:
To the alleged "inferiority" of women within the secular power structure, corresponds their "inferiority", i.e. their exclusion from clergy, within the ecclesiastical power structure. To their "liberation" in the secular society must therefore correspond their "liberation", i.e., ordination, in the Church ... Its root is a "surrender to culture" ... But the Church simply cannot be reduced to these categories.
From a psychological perspective, emotional reasoning drives the feminist surrender to culture. Events are perceived through the emotions they generate; facts are judgments based on feeling (Burns, 1980, Morelli, 2005). We see this occurring in our Orthodox Church today as well. Take the churching of infants after the forty days of birth. Orthodox practice is to take the child to the solea (the area in front of the iconostasis) where the male child is carried into the royal doors and the female child is brought to the icon of the Theotokos (Mary). This is church tradition as the rubrics state: "If the child is male the Priest carries him into the Altar if a female, the child is carried only as far as the Holy Doors."
However, today some priests and possibly even bishops are inculcated with emotional reasoning and the feminist fallacy when they express the judgment that not bringing the female baby into the altar is a violation of fairness and rights. In violation of the tradition, they church female babies in the same way they church the males.
The evil one has much patience. Patience is required when the ultimate goal is to undermine the authority of Tradition. It can be broken down precept upon precept, line by line. The goal here is a female priesthood, not an easy task to accomplish in historic Orthodoxy but one the feminists and their sympathizers have nevertheless set. If they succeed, Orthodoxy will cease to be Orthodox.
One factor that leads to feminist confusion is the blurring of the proper distinctions between the unchanging Tradition and its particular cultural expression and concreteness. Tradition, like any teaching, needs to be practiced and lived out in the life of the believer or else it remains vaporous, with no cultural or historical specificity or effectiveness.
Sometime the cultural expressions can change because the meaning of these expressions are also drawn in contradistinction to the cultural practices that surround them. Take a simple example. In some cultures a female parishioner attending liturgy in slacks would be the height of scandal. Why? Because pants on a woman represents a denial of femininity, a repudiation of modesty, and a rejection of social respectability.
In the Western countries it may mean no such thing. We don't associate a woman wearing modest slacks instead of a dress at proper occasions as inappropriate. Clearly then, the cultural expressions that foster affirmation of feminine identity, modesty, or social respectability are different than in an older Orthodox country. Practices differ from country to country, but these differences do not necessarily imply a contradiction in traditional teaching. Virtues in both cultures can be affirmed even if the cultural expression of those virtues differ.
Feminist apologists refuse to draw such distinctions. Rather, they point to the differences in practice between cultures and epochs to assert that Tradition itself is culturally bound and therefore has only relative authority.
In fact, the Tradition is fixed. This is not the same thing as saying that our engagement with Tradition is frozen, or that we have no responsibility to learn and understand how Tradition applies to the critique and renewal of contemporary society. Clearly we do. Every generation is charged the bringing the Gospel to its age.
Bishop Hierotheus explains the fixed nature of Tradition in this way:
According to St. Ireneos, the Apostolic Tradition constitutes the only guarantee of the divine Revelation. This Apostolic Tradition comprises the Church and all that comes to be and exists in the Church, that is to say, the Clergy, the Bishops, the Presbyters, the right faith, the gifts of grace of the Holy Spirit, the ecclesiastical order and organization and the genuine church gatherings for worship, and all the elements which are contained in the local apostolic Churches ... Orthodoxy is the right faith of the Church. And for this reason the Church and Orthodoxy are closely united.
The Orthodox Church does not proclaim traditional teaching as dogma until its Orthodoxy is challenged. This occurs when a heresy is recognized and proclaimed as such. This view led Fr. Alexander Schmemann to conclude about woman's ordination: "For the Orthodox Church has never faced this question, it is for us totally extrinsic, a casus irrealis for which we find no basis ... " For this reason the male character of the priesthood has never been dogmatized.
The problem ... would necessitate the elucidation of our approach - not to women and to priesthood only - but, above all to God in his Triune Life, to Creation, Fall and Redemption, to the Church and the mystery of her life, to the deification of man and the consummation of all things in Christ. Short of all this it would remain incomprehensible, I am sure, why the ordination of women to priesthood is tantamount for us to a radical and irreparable mutilation of the entire faith, the rejection of the whole Scripture.
Schmemann is not speaking here simply of cultural practices, as important as some of those practices might be. Rather, he is referring to Tradition as the articulation and practice of the core doctrines of the Orthodox Christian Church. Schmemann stands in good company. Centuries earlier Church Father St. John Chrysostom asserted in his "Six Books on the Priesthood" that "Divine Law excluded women from this ministry" (St. John Chrysostom, 1977).
The Orthodox Feminine Charism: A Personal Testimony
Despite the claims of feminists, feminism does not speak for women (apart from other feminists), nor does it properly elucidate the feminine charism (gift and power) in any comprehensive and illuminating way. Instead, take a look at the testimony of Sarah Elisabet Oftedal, the House Mother of the Martha and Mary Maternity Home for a clearer picture of the feminine charism:
I had asked God's forgiveness for my feminist rebellion against His design for woman as wife and mother outlined in the Bible. I had prayed to "live the fullness of womanhood" as God meant it, even if that meant obedience to what Saint Paul had said! Learning that my heart's desire echoed that of my patron Saint, I now prayed: "By the prayers of the Theotokos, and Saint Elizabeth New Martyr, help me be obedient to Thy will."
Our capacity for birth-giving is at the core of who we are as women. Saint Elizabeth did not give birth to a biological child, but she and her husband raised two adopted children, and she was a spiritual Mother and nurturer of many more. Martha and Mary House would be an appropriate name, and New Martyr Elizabeth a fitting patron for a house of healing for women who had aborted their children - and for pregnant women in crisis who had chosen to give life instead.
A Second Attack: Gay Marriage
Gay marriage is another secularist attack on family and society. In a previous paper (Morelli, 2005b): Homosexuality: Some Psycho-Theological Reflections and Pastoral Implications I treat the issue of homosexuality behavior and the spiritual life no differently despite heterosexual or homosexual sexual orientation.
We are all called to a standard of sexuality in God. A heterosexual male, despite inclinations and predisposition to multiple females is called by God to be bonded with one woman (Morelli 2005b). In my pastoral or clinical counseling of heterosexuals I point out that yes we have these passions or inclinations, but as Christians we are called to overcome them, to treat them as illnesses and live a life of healing in Christ. To the homosexual I give the same answer: "Yes you have this inclination, but your special vocation is to overcome such a passion (inner drive) etc. It is not easy, but all is in grace, what is impossible for man is possible for God" (Matthew19:26).
Evdokimov (1985) interprets the biblical account of the creation of Eve from Adam as the foundation of the "consubstantiality of the complementary principle." After the fall, brokenness occurs and distorted masculinity and femininity ensues. Two possible outcomes can take place: 1) without God's grace "discord and fruitless contention" occur; and 2) with Christ at the center, masculinity and femininity are the "prophetic figure of the Kingdom of God, the ultimate unity, the communion of the Masculine and Feminine in their totality in God."
The Church Fathers said the same thing. Evodokimov writes "St. Clement of Alexandria states very clearly that "the Son only confirms what the Father has instituted ... God created man male and female. The male is Christ, the female is the Church. The love of Christ for the Church becomes the archetype of marriage ... "
The notion of the complementarity of the sexes is an icon of the love of the Holy Trinity, the way the Father, Son and Holy Spirit relate to one another. This goes to the essence of God Himself (Morelli, 2005a). St John tells us " ... for love is of God ... God is love" (1 John 4:7-8). Sexual relations in a blessed marriage is participation in the creative act of God, that can only take place as an act of love, an emptying between two people of the opposite sex: the male as father, begetting his seed, the woman as mother, bearer and nurturer of the offspring.
No one living in the Western world can avoid exposure to the attack on the Holy Mystery of Marriage and even the tradition of state-sanctioned legal marriage in traditionally Judeo/Christian societies.
A commonly heard quote first attributed to Gandhi, "hate the sin but love the sinner" portrays the Christian outlook on the treatment of all human beings. Who is our neighbor? Whom are we to love? All mankind! To love however, is to do what is right for the good and welfare of all. Evil and sin are excluded for all persons whether bisexual, heterosexual or homosexual.
No one who follows Christ can sanction the secular sellout to sin in adultery, female ordination, fornication, gay-lesbian marriage, polyamourous marriage, and so forth. Gay marriage and any other unblessed sexual activity in thought word or deed is not the love that Christ extolled. For the Christian, God has revealed His will to us concerning sexual behavior and anyone who champions any other is not living a life in Christ. For the secularist, no such restraint exists. The Christian foundations of culture, even when imperfectly applied and practiced, are undergoing a rapid erosion of authority that threatens to refashion society and foster a breakdown in personal and cultural health and stability that the restraints were designed to prevent.
An Exhortation to Confront Secularism
Vigorous apologetics are needed to counter the crafty and subtle attacks of the evil one on the Christian faith. Our model is St. Paul who expressed courage and zeal in his encounter with the Athenians:
So he argued in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the market place every day with those who chanced to be there. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all men life and breath and everything. The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all men everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all men by raising him from the dead" (Acts 17:25,30-31).
We cannot do this alone. Any good that we can do must be done in Holy Spirit. We must pray, lead holy lives, confess our sins, receive the holy mysteries. When the world looks upon the Christian, they must see Christ.
In the domestic church, the husband and wife by virtue of their baptism and marriage must do all they can to model and reflect Christ's teachings. The simple events of every day life offer us boundless opportunity that ranges from the formal (prayer, spiritual reading and attending Divine Liturgy) to the informal (commenting on entertainment, music, and news, for example). Values are learned first in the home and if children don't learn them there, learning them elsewhere will be very difficult.
Outside the home, all the people of God must confront secular post-modernism in the larger community. Yes, people have a right to their beliefs, but this right does not absolve them of responsibility when their beliefs promote the erosion of family and society. With love, humility, gentleness, and firmness, these beliefs need challenging and correction.
Workshops, classes, retreats on these topics can be given and promoted to individual parishes and to the local community. Orthodox Clergy Associations and Orthodox Christian Fellowship chapters on college and university campuses can sponsor educational programs on these themes. All Christians must give careful consideration to the people they elect to public office as well.
Priests and bishops have a special responsibility to use the teaching charism of their office to vigorously oppose secularism. I have been approached by Orthodox Christians who have told me they have never heard a homily on abortion, female ordination, gay marriage or sexual sin. This does not speak well of us. Pastoral letters by bishops are especially powerful and not only from the pulpit but also in formal press releases especially to the secular press. Further, when a clergyman violates the canons against, say, using altar girls, they need to be corrected.
Our baptism into Christ does not make psychologists or social workers. Nevertheless, the findings of Abraham Maslow apply here. Maslow wrote that an important characteristic of a healthy functioning personality is a resistance to enculturation (Maslow, 1970). Tragically, in our day I would say that many of us are infected by acculturation. Orthodoxy is not social Christianity, but it nevertheless seeks to foster harmony in the home and society; a harmony that is the fruit of the love of Christ indwelling in our hearts and illuminating the world all around us. I don't want to belong to a church of my or anyone else's making. I want to belong to the Church founded by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and given to us by His apostles.
THE ANCIENT HERESIES
- Gnosticism: A first century belief denies that the body has ontological bearing in any definition of who and what a human being is. Gnosticism has reappeared in our day in what Princeton ethicist Robert P. George calls the belief that the body is extrinsic rather than instrinsic to being.
- Monatism: A second century belief that the imminent return of Christ and the importance of the miraculous gifts supersede the authority of the Church. At its root, Monatism denies the ontological dimension of the Church as the body of Christ thereby implicitly denying the Incarnation. Monaticism still exists today in the Christian communions that deny sacramental reality. Christianity is fundamentally reduced to propositional statements in this view.
- Sabellianism: The teaching that Our Lord Jesus Christ was the same person as God the Father in the early Third Century. Sabellianism fundamentally denies the incarnation of Christ.
- Arianism: A fourth Century heresy that denied the divinity of Christ. Christ possessed supernatural powers (a kind of benevolent Superman) but in no way shared in the divinity of the Father. Another way of viewing this is that Christ was created like any other person.
- Pelagianism: A fifth century belief that man can achieve salvation through his own moral effort. Pelagius reacted against the Augustinian teaching (later repudiated by Augustine) that moral effort was superfluous in appropriating the salvation that has its unique source and origin in Christ alone.
- Nestorianism: Similar to Arianism. Jesus was born as a man that possessed only a human nature. No divine nature is implied. The Council of Ephesus, called to address this heresy, concluded that Mary was Theotokos (the one who bore God); a Christological statement that affirms that Jesus was both God and Man in one person.
- Monophylitism: A fifth century heresy that asserted that Christ only has one nature, a fusion of God and Man.
- Monothelitism: Another fifth century heresy asserting that Christ has only one will.
- Iconoclasm: The rejection of icons in the eight and ninth centuries. Iconoclasm borrowed from the emergent Muslim faith in the east and asserted that any image of Christ violated the First Commandment. Contrary to the iconoclasts (icon breakers), the iconodules (icon venerators) argued that since Christ was Incarnate (possessing materiality), an image could be drawn of Him just as it could of any other person. Since this was not an image of God the Father, the First Commandment was not violated. Fundamentally iconoclasm is a denial of the Incarnation.
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