by Fr. Seraphim Rose –
There exists a false opinion, which unfortunately is all to widespread today, that it is enough to have an Orthodoxy that is limited to the church building and formal “Orthodox” activities, such as praying at certain times or making the sign of the Cross; in everything else, so this opinion goes, one can be like anyone else, participating in the life and culture of our times without any problem, as long as we don’t commit sin.
Anyone who has come to realize how deep Orthodoxy is, and how full is the commitment which is required of the serious Orthodox Christian, and likewise what totalitarian demands the contemporary world makes on us, will easily see how wrong this opinion is.
One is Orthodox all the time every day, in every situation of life, or one is not really Orthodox at all. Our Orthodoxy is revealed not just in our strictly religious views, but in everything we do and say. Most of us are very unaware of the Christian, religious responsibility we have for the seemingly secular part of our lives. The person with a truly Orthodox world-view lives every part of his life as Orthodox.
Let us, therefore, ask here: How can we nourish and support this Orthodox world-view in our daily life?
Church Services, Holy Mysteries and Scripture, Lives of Saints, Writings of Holy Fathers
The first and most obvious way is to be in constant contact with the sources of Christian nourishment, with everything that the Church gives us for our enlightenment and salvation: the Church services and Holy Mysteries, Holy Scripture, the Lives of Saints, the writings of the Holy Fathers. One must, of course, read books that are on one’s own level of understanding, and apply the Church’s teaching to one’s own circumstances in life; then they can be fruitful in guiding us and changing us in a Christian way.
But often these basic Christian sources do not have their full effect on us, or don’t really affect us at all, because we don’t have the right Christian attitude towards them and towards the Christian life they are supposed to inspire. Let me now say a word here about what our attitude should be if we are to obtain real benefit from them and if they are going to be for us the beginning of a truly Orthodox world-view.
Orthodox Teaching Must Touch and Change our Lives
First of all, Christian spiritual food, by its very nature, is something living and nourishing; if our attitude towards it is merely academic and bookish, we will fail to get the benefit it is meant to give. Therefore, if we read Orthodox books or are interesting in Orthodoxy only to gain information—or show off our knowledge to others, we are missing the point; if we learn of the commandments of God and the law of His Church merely to be “correct” and to judge the “incorrectness” of others, we are missing the point. These things must not merely affect our ideas, but must directly touch our lives and change them. In any time of great crisis in human affairs—such as the critical times right in front of us in the free world—those who place their trust in outward knowledge, in laws and canons and correctness, will be unable to stand. The strong ones then will be those whose Orthodox education has given them a feel for what is truly Christian, those whose Orthodoxy is in the heart and is capable of touching other hearts.
Nothing is more tragic than to see someone who is raised in Orthodoxy, has a certain idea of the catechism, has read some Lives of Saints, has a general idea of what Orthodoxy stands for, understands some of the services, and then is unaware of what is going on around him. And he gives his children this life in two categories: one is the way most people live and the other way is how Orthodox live on Sundays and when they are reading some Orthodox text. When a child is raised like that he is most likely not going to take the Orthodox one; it is going to be a very small part of his life, because the contemporary life is too attractive, too many people are going for it, it is too much a part of reality today, unless he has been really taught how to approach it, how to guard himself against the bad effects of it and how to take advantage of the good things which are in the world.
Therefore, our attitude, beginning right now, must be down-to-earth and normal. That is, it must be applied to the real circumstances of our life, not a product of fantasy and escapism and refusal to face the often unpleasant facts of the world around us. An Orthodoxy that is too exalted and too much in the clouds belongs in a hothouse and is incapable of helping us in our daily life, let along saying anything for the salvation of those around us. Our world is quite cruel and wounds souls with its harshness; we need to respond first of all with down-to-earth Christian love and understanding, leaving accounts of hesychasm and advanced forms of prayer to those capable of receiving them.
Reach Out to Those Who Seek God and a Godly Life
So also, our attitude must not be self-centered but reaching out to those who are seeking for God and for a godly life. Nowadays, wherever there is a good-sized Orthodox community, the temptation is to make it into a society for self-congratulation and for taking delight in our Orthodox virtues and achievements: the beauty of our church buildings and furnishings, the splendor of our services, even the purity of our doctrine. But the true Christian life, even since the time of the Apostles, has always been inseparable from communicating it to others.
Make Orthodoxy Part of Your Whole Life
An Orthodoxy that is alive by this very fact shines forth to others—and there is no need to pen a “department of missions” to do this; the fire of true Christianity communicates itself without this. If our Orthodoxy is only something we keep for ourselves, and boast about it, then we are the dead burying the dead—which is precisely the state of many of our Orthodox parishes today, even those that have a large number of young people, if they are not going deeply into their Faith. It is not enough to say that the young people are going to church. We need to ask what they are getting in church, what they are taking away from church, and, if they are not making Orthodoxy a part of their whole life, then it really is not sufficient to say that they are going to church.
Excerpts from The Orthodox Word, Vol. 18, No. 4 (105) July-August, 1982. (Bolded headings added to enhance readability.)