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One Christ, Three Religions

The most decisive event in human history was the appearance of the God-man Jesus Christ on earth. This occurred at the beginning of the first century in the western reckoning, in what was then the Syrian province of the Roman Empire – to be more precise, in Galilee and Judea. The faith in the life, teaching, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ would over the course of time give rise to three divergent forms of Christian religion: Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant. All three have historically claimed to be based on the Gospel of Christ, and much conflict has occurred between their followers over the centuries.

Orthodoxy, Catholicism and Protestantism are often seen as variations on a single theme, in other words as the three main branches of Christianity. In this view, Orthodoxy and Catholicism represent the eastern and western strands of Christianity until their separation between the 9th and 13th centuries, with Protestantism breaking away from its Catholic parent from the 16th century onwardsi. However, in this essay we will suggest that it is more correct to see these three religious forms as distinct religions. This does not imply equality between Orthodoxy, Catholicism and Protestantism; there can be no doubt that Orthodoxy represents the integral fullness of Christian faith, with Catholicism and Protestantism deviating to a greater or lesser degree from it.

The conceptual background for our thesis is the organic view of history, first propounded by the German philosopher Oswald Spengler (1880-1936) in his monumental work, The Decline of the West.ii In this wide-ranging tome Spengler interpreted human history as a succession of High Cultures, commencing with the Egyptian and Sumerian around 3000 BC. A High Culture can be understood as an organism, since it displays the key marks of living organisms: birth, growth, maturity, old age, and death. Interestingly, it was a Russian thinker, Konstantin Leontiev, who had already in 1875 suggested that civilisations mirrored the life-patterns of living organisms: growth, flowering, decline, and death.iii This organic view need not surprise us: human cultures consist of living beings, and therefore these cultures ought to experience collectively what humans experience individually.

The main difference between a High Culture and other living organisms, Spengler argued, is in duration. In the case of the former the life-span stretches over ten to twelve centuries, while its influence on a younger Culture within its territory may linger on for centuries more. This phenomenon is termed pseudomorphosis, and Spengler describes it particularly by means of the late Classical dominating the early Arabian. In that case the Battle of Actium (31 BC) was decisive: the victory of Octavian over Mark Antony ensured continued Roman (and hence Classical) domination over the territory of the coming Arabian Culture: the Near East, Asia Minor, and North Africa.

Spengler further argued that some High Cultures also experienced a late imperialistic phase, situated between old age and death. In this phase all the remaining energies of that Culture are expended in one final expansion. Again the Classical Culture provides us with an instructive example: the rise of the Roman Empire under Augustus and his successors. This militaristic empire burst out at a time when the Classical Culture had seemed to be in its dying throes, and by the end of the first Christian century had spread its dominion wider than any Culture before. According to Spengler’s model, this late Cultural imperialism entails not only Caeserism on the political level but also a second religiousness. This rebirth of religion overcomes the rationalism that characterizes the latter stages of any Culture, and entails a partial return to the religion of the early Culture.

The Egyptian and Sumerian Cultures were followed by the birth of the Indian, Chinese and Classical Cultures around 1500, 1300 and 1100 BC respectively. Of these High Cultures the Classical was in its final stage when the Arabian Culture arose during the century following Christ coming to earth. The Classical Culture would exercise an enormous influence on the young Arabian Culture, shaping its religious and philosophical thought for several centuries to come (Spengler’s pseudomorphosis). In the early centuries of the first millennium the Mexican Culture appeared in Central America, the only High Culture to be born in the western hemisphere. This Culture also had the tragic destiny of being the only one whose life would be violently ended by representatives of another High Culture – the Spanish conquistadors.

Around the year 1000 in our reckoning a new Culture had arisen to the northwest of the Arabian Culture. This was the Western Culture, the relative autonomy of which was first noted by Spengler. Germany, France, England, Spain, and Italy would eventually become the national centers of the Western Culture. Prior to this organic model of history, the West had generally been viewed as a continuation of the Classical world via the Middle Ages. Thus, most western historians promoted the ancient-medieval-modern scheme of things, with the modern West (i.e. Western Europe and North America) representing the apex of human cultural development. This chauvinistic view of history was undermined by Spengler’s thesis of the cyclic rise and fall of High Cultures.

In terms of the organic view of history, the West is in its dying throes. Although the countries of Western Europe (perhaps all Europe to the west of Russia) and North America are still functioning as political and economic entities, culturally speaking they are moribund. The higher cultural activities of music, literature, philosophy and so forth (that is, in their more or less traditional forms) are still being practiced by a small minority, but the majority of westerners are content to live in a non-reflective state as consumers while worshiping the great god of entertainment. Bread and circuses were not confined to the ancient Romans, to say the least. The same criticism applies to the majority of humans in other parts of the world, since there are no other living High Cultures at this juncture in history – but there exists a possibility of an existing culture flowering into a new High Culture (see further on).

The question may be asked as to the validity of this approach to interpret religion in cultural terms. Is authentic religious faith not, after all, superior to all other human activities? Yes indeed, but we should be under no illusion that religion could be a-cultural, as it were. Every human being is culturally conditioned from birthiv until death, on account of possessing a spiritual soul and not only a material body. First and foremost among these ubiquitous cultural influences is the medium of language, through which much human activity is expressed. We even think in terms of language, which led the atheist philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche to lament that faith in God cannot be got rid of since people still believe in grammar.v Religious activities are therefore expressed in linguistic terms, and this should be accepted as providential.

Following in the footsteps of Spengler, the English historian Arnold Toynbee (1889-1975) wrote a comprehensive study of world history. Although he accepted aspects of Spengler’s organic view of culture, Toynbee held that the rise and fall of cultures were not inevitable. Rather, the way in which civilisations responded to physical or social challenges determined their chances of survival. He correctly made a distinction between the civilisations of the Graeco-Roman world (Spengler’s Classical Culture), the post-Roman Western world (Spengler’s Western Culture), and the Orthodox world of Russia and the Balkans. Against the charge by his 18th century predecessor Gibbon that Christianity was responsible for the collapse of the Roman Empire, Toynbee argued that Christianity in fact harbours the inner strength to survive the collapse of civilisations. In view of Christ’s teaching about the Kingdom of God not being of this world, Toynbee was undoubtedly closer to the truth of the matter than Gibbon.

The oldest of the Christian religions is Orthodoxy, the Church founded by the Apostles of Christ. For nearly three centuries the Orthodox Church, with Greek as main scriptural and liturgical language, endured repeated persecution by a number of pagan Roman Emperors. This official hostility ended abruptly when the Emperor Constantine granted religious freedom to the Christians in 313. He later moved the imperial capital from Rome to Constantinople, the New Rome, where he convened the first ecumenical council of the Church in 325. On his deathbed Constantine was baptised as a Christian, receiving the name of Basil. Constantine’s mother Helena was instrumental in discovering the remains of the cross of Christ in Jerusalem. For their contributions in establishing the Orthodox Christian faith throughout the empire, both Constantine and Helena would be canonised as saints by the Church. By the end of the fourth century Orthodoxy had become the state religion of the Christian Roman Empire.vi

During a series of ecumenical councils that stretched over a millennium (from 325 until 1349) the doctrines and practices of the Orthodox faith were formulated. The decisions of these councils were affirmed as imperial law by the Emperor, and thus became binding on all Roman citizens.vii Alas, the Christian Roman Empire soon became as intolerant of religious dissent as its pagan predecessor had been, so that violent persecution of heretics (real and alleged) occurred throughout its history. Even leading theologians, such as Maximus the Confessor, would be persecuted by the Church hierarchy and/or the imperial rulers. However, each deviation into error would eventually be corrected by an ecumenical council, due to the ubiquitous presence of the Spirit of God in the Church, collectively speaking.

The spread of Orthodoxy coincided with the rise of the Arabian Culture, the existence of which was first noted by Spengler. In his mentioned work he argued that the Arabian Culture possessed a Magian soul that came to expression in its religions: Persian (i.e. Zoroastrian), Jewish, Christian, neo-Platonist, and finally Islamic. Instead of the usual understanding of neo-Platonism as the final flowering of the Classical Culture, it is seen from this perspective as the Scholasticism of Arabian Culture, albeit heavily influenced (as was the case with Judaism and Christianity) by Classical philosophy. In its turn Neo-Platonism influenced Orthodoxy to some extent, not the least in its terminology.

In Spengler’s cultural model each High Culture possesses a distinctive Culture-soul that impresses itself on all human activities in that Culture. Thus, the Magian soul of the Arabian Culture is contrasted with the Apollonian soul of the lingering Classical Culture and the Faustian soul of the still-to-come Western Culture. According to Spengler the Magian soul views the world as a vast cavern, expressed on the physical level by the domed basilicas and mosques of the Christians and Muslims respectively.

Within Orthodox theology the Magian world-view found expression in a cosmology that depicted the world as a box-like structure.viii This was founded on a literal reading of Genesis, expounded notably by the school of Antioch in Syria. Thus, the earth represented the bottom of the box and the sky the ceiling. Above this box lay the kingdom of Heaven, inhabited by God and the celestial beings. Among the early Church writers Origen was one of the few who deviated from this literalistic cosmology with his allegorical interpretation of Genesis. With the rise of modern astronomy it naturally became impossible to retain this pre-scientific worldview, keeping in mind that the early Church writers were informed by the science of their day.

By the time Orthodoxy was declared the official religion of the Roman Empire (late 4th century), it had developed into an intricate synthesis of Biblical/Judaic theology, Hellenic philosophy, and Roman legal thought. The latter two components were obtained through the prevalence of the late Classical Culture, already in its final imperial phase, in much of the Roman Empire at the time of Christ. This cultural-historical confluence has to be seen as providential, since it contributed to Orthodoxy becoming more universal and less Culture-specific than any other religion before. It is therefore quite unnecessary for Orthodox Christians to consider the criticism of some of its modern opponents that their faith is not ‘Biblical’ enough – such ‘criticism’ being entirely irrelevant in the bigger scheme of things.

Nevertheless, the fact of Orthodox theology being based not only on Judaic but also on Hellenic thought eventually brought about a popular need for a religion more consonant with the developing Arabian Culture. Therefore in the 7th century the Prophet Mohammed appeared in the Arabian heartland of Mecca and Medina to proclaim the supremacy of the one God (Allah in Arabic), and the requirement that all humans submit to His authority – whether voluntarily or by force. After Mohammed’s death this new religion spread like wildfire through the former Christian territories of the Near East and North Africa. According to Spengler’s philosophy of history, the rapid expansion of early Islam was actually a reclaiming of the territories of the Arabian Culture from domination by the late Classical Culture – hence its initial success. Within a hundred years the Islamic armies had overrun the Iberian Peninsula, but they were halted in Gaul by representatives of the human material then being prepared for the birth of the Western Culture. These warriors were ably commanded by Charles Martel, the ‘Hammer’ of the Christian God.

As a result of this dramatic Muslim expansion, the Orthodox Christian world shrank to cover not much more than Asia Minor, Greece, Southern Italy, Sicily, the Adriatic and some of the eastern Mediterranean. In the centuries to come these territories would systematically be conquered by either Muslim invaders or Germanic ‘barbarians’ from the northwest. One of the worst tragedies in European history occurred in 1204, when Catholic Crusaders from Western Europe, ostensibly on their way to recapture Jerusalem from the Muslims, sacked and looted the Orthodox Christian capital Constantinople with Venetian financial and naval assistance. This travesty by Catholic Christians led to lasting mistrust of the West among many Orthodox Christians – understandably so.

During the past century or two the Orthodox religion became widely spread outside the Orthodox heartlands of Eastern Europe and the Balkans. Due to increasing emigration from countries such as Greece, Russia, Serbia and Romania, coupled with sporadic missionary activity, there are today numerous Orthodox churches throughout Western Europe, North and South America, Australia, and parts of Asia and Africa. There is also an increasing Orthodox monastic presence in various parts of the world. This striking expansion is the mirror image of the decline (in both numbers and influence) of Catholicism and mainstream Protestantism in many of these countries.

The presence of Orthodoxy in the post-Christian, secular humanist West of today presents an enormous challenge to those who wish to live a Christian life within it. It is to be expected that Orthodox Christians in the western world will increasingly be depicted as anachronistic, reactionary and backward. This onslaught comes mainly from the mass media, being the most effective instrument of the dark spiritual powers that rule the world.ix As a result many Orthodox, even clergy, are succumbing to this anti-Christian offensive by adapting to humanist western customs. Most notable among these compromises is the rejection of the Church calendar by parts of the Orthodox world, and its replacement by the Roman Catholic and Protestant calendar. Providentially, the bulk of the Orthodox Church has remained faithful to the ecumenical councils in this regard.

The Western Culture-soul is characterised above all by the striving to infinity, as Spengler demonstrated by means of numerous examples drawn from mathematics, architecture, painting, and music. Already in its first century this Faustian striving of the West expressed itself in the political and military sphere by means of the Crusades, despite the pious Crusaders’ claim to be fighting to recapture the ‘Holy Land’ for Christ. Within a century or two this same striving manifested on the artistic level in the great Gothic cathedrals of Northern Europe. These imposing edifices would provide the spatial setting for the development of Gregorian chant, the liturgical music of the new Gothic Christianity. For Spengler this was the second great issue of Christianity, a thousand years after the original Christian religion appeared in the Near East.

When the Western Culture began to express itself as a young organism it naturally required a religion that would be consonant with its Faustian soul. Or as the Greek philosopher Christos Yannaras put it, the Latin-speaking ‘Holy Roman Empire’ needed a cultural base to differentiate it from the Greek-speaking Eastern Roman Empire.x From a metaphysical perspective it is conceivable that Orthodoxy, with its Middle Eastern and Hellenic foundations, could not fully satisfy the Western religious quest. Therefore the Western theologians developed a version of Christian faith that was partially based on the Augustinian theological tradition and partially on the rediscovered Aristotelian metaphysics. The latter was given a Christian interpretation by Thomas Aquinas, and in this way was the Catholic religion born.

One of the major theological aspects on which the Catholic religion, or Gothic Christianity in Spengler’s terminology, deviated from its Orthodox parent is the role of Christ. Whereas Christ had in the Christian East always been seen primarily as the Cosmic Christ, in other words the Divine Logos who was creator of the universe,xi Catholic theology saw Him chiefly in juridical terms. Thus, Jesus came into the world in order to pay the penalty required by God for the human transgression of Divine Law. As Anselm stated the case, an infinite transgression required an infinite sacrifice, so that nothing less than Christ’s death could propitiate God’s offended majesty. There can be no doubt that this juridical interpretation of Christ’s work of salvation is a distortion of the New Testament message, but nonetheless one that reflected the Latin-legalistic basis of the new Western Culture.

It was this legalistic misunderstanding of Christian theology that facilitated the incessant attempts by Catholic popes and cardinals to subject kings and emperors to their authority. The Church was viewed mainly in juridical terms, and not in ontological terms as in Orthodoxy. This deviant ecclesiology would before long lead to the diabolical methods of the Inquisition, such as the horrors of the rack and the stake. In this regard we should also mention the Catholic genocide of the neo-Gnostic Albigensians and Cathars in northern Italy and southern France, sanctioned by papal authority.

During the Middle Ages a liturgical development took place in the Catholic Church that would contribute significantly to the eventual breach within Gothic Christianity. In Orthodoxy worship has always been seen as communal, that is the clergy and laity standing together before God in worship. This conviction is symbolised by the priest facing the altar together with the parish. However, in the Franco-Latin West a divergent view arose – one that saw the priest as mediator between God and man, and therefore as dispenser of the sacraments. This divergence necessarily led to sacerdotal empowerment to the detriment of the laity. The bulk of Catholic Christians were in this way placed at the mercy of clergy as far as salvation was concerned. Excommunication became the chief weapon of the Church, and remained so after worldly power shifted into the hands of emperors and princes, rather than the hands of popes and cardinals. It is not difficult to see how this state of affairs inevitably led to widespread revolt when the time was ripe.

In the 16th century much of the Western world was shaken to its core by the Protestant revolution. What commenced as proposals for reform of the Catholic Church by a German monk steeped in the Augustinian tradition, soon escalated into a political breakaway from Catholic rulers by large territories in Northern Europe. By the end of that momentous century all or most of Scandinavia, Prussia, the Netherlands, England and Switzerland had become Protestant. The colonisation of North America and South Africa by settlers from these nations in the 17th century ensured that these territories too would be Protestant in faith, at least in the initial stages.

Within the Western Culture, Protestantism played a role analogous to that of Islam within the Arabian Culture. Both arose as grand attempts at purification, claiming to be a return to the original Divine revelation. Both claim the authority of sacred scripture for its teachings, whether the Quran or the Bible. Both are iconoclastic, rejecting visual representations of sacred truths as ‘idolatry’. Both spread with astonishing rapidity and became the dominant faith in huge territories: the Near East and North Africa for the one, and Northern Europe for the other. From these heartlands both religions extended further to other continents, one more to the East and the other further West.

However, a fundamental difference between Islam and Protestantism is to be found in their views on person and community. In the Islamic view, the individual person is always related to the community of believers. It is entire communities that have to submit to Allah, and not only individual persons. In contrast, Protestantism has from the outset emphasised the individual person standing before God. This approach necessarily (given sinful human nature) led to excessive individualism being a hallmark of the Protestant world throughout its history. Even the Protestant doctrine of sola scriptura could not be safeguarded from individualistic interpretations of the Bible, and this phenomenon inevitably led to the fragmentation of Protestantism into thousands of competing denominations, each one claiming to base its faith on Scripture alone.

The Protestant religion claims Martin Luther as its founding father. His writings laid the foundations for much of Protestant theology, not to mention his German translation of the Bible. In addition, the liturgical music written by Luther and his followers became a mainstay of Protestant choral singing in many parts of the world. This musical tradition was continued by composers such as Praetorius, Scheidt, Schein, Buxtehude and others, culminating in Johann Sebastian Bach, who in his numerous sacred works createdxii a transcendent spiritual beauty – the highest musical expression of the Faustian soul.

Shortly after Luther and his fellow evangelicals (as they called themselves) began their reformation, another Protestant current arose – one that would eventually become more widespread than their Lutheran relative. This is Reformed Protestantism, also known as Calvinism. The main figure in Reformed theology is John Calvin, a Frenchman who settled in Genève. His magnum opus, Institutes of the Christian Religion, would obtain a status second only to the Bible among many Protestants in the centuries to come. Calvin took certain teachings on divine grace and predestination of the great Latin thinker of the early Church, Augustine, to extreme conclusions. As a result, Calvinism became associated with the doctrine of double predestination: God predestines some people to salvation and others to damnation. It is easy to see how this distortion inevitably leads to fatalism – if salvation is by God’s election only, then why bother with any kind of spiritual striving?

In the century following Luther, Calvin and their cohorts, Protestantism became even more extreme in its rejection of medieval Gothic Christianity. This new fundamentalism became known in the 16th century as Puritanism. The English tyrant and regicide Cromwell played a leading role in establishing the Puritan religion in Britain, whence it was taken to the new American colonies. According to Spengler’s organic philosophy of history, the role of Cromwell within the Western Culture is equivalent to those of Mohammed in the Arabian and Pythagoras in the Classical Cultures. All three of these figures were instrumental in establishing a puritan religion in their Cultures, each one seeing him as an instrument of the Divine will.

Since that time the Protestant religion has gradually fallen under the sway of rationalism. This can be seen as an inevitable result of the Protestant rejection of mysticism, which has ignorantly or arrogantly been confused with superstition. Hand in hand with the rise of rationalism came the explosion of the natural sciences from the 17th century onward. Alas, this inevitable development brought not only enlightenment, but also the pseudo-religion of scientism. By the 19th century, this irrational faith in the ability of science to explain not only natural phenomena but also the spiritual-intellectual world had become all but dominant among the educated classes in Western Europe and North America.

However, during the 18th century a reaction to rationalism had in the meantime arisen in the same parts of the world where rationalism and scientism had become established. This reaction became known as Pietism in Germany and as Methodism in Britain. Personal devotion to God again came to the fore for many western Christians, regardless of their ridicule by the learned and powerful. This pietistic reaction to rationalism is in Spengler’s view the Western equivalent of Stoicism in the Classical Culture and Sufism in the Arabian Culture. Protestant pietism eventually spread throughout the English-speaking world, as well as the more Germanic countries of Europe.

From the beginning of the 20th century the Protestant world became afflicted with the so-called Pentecostal movement. It arose like most of the cults and sects of modern times in that bastion of liberty, the United States of America. Pentecostalism sees itself as a ‘new outpouring of the Holy Spirit’, the characteristic mark of it being ‘speaking in tongues’. This auto-induced phenomenon is usually practised in conjunction with emotional excitement, the latter being incited by the Pentecostal ‘ministers’. From the 1960s the Pentecostal aberration began infiltrating the mainline Protestant denominations, and following the Second Vatican Council also the Catholic Church. In this new guise it became known as the so-called ‘charismatic’ movement, its proponents arrogantly claiming to be ‘reintroducing praise and worship’ into the Christian (i.e. Protestant and modernist Catholic) Church. The saintly Orthodox spiritual writer Fr Seraphim Rose (1934-1982) wrote an illuminating expose of the ‘Pentecostal/charismatic’ movement, showing it to be nothing other than satanic deception.xiii Providentially the Orthodox Church as a whole has been spared this anti-Christian phenomenon masquerading as a ‘work of the Holy Spirit’, even though a modernist fringe has been attempting to introduce aspects of it into Orthodoxy.

Within Protestantism only the Anglo-Catholic movement in the Anglican Communion can today be understood as representing a more or less traditional Christian faith, albeit in its western form. This movement got under way by the middle of the 19th century, spreading from Oxford to various parts of the English-speaking world. Ever since that time the Anglo-Catholics have been fighting a theological rearguard action, in a sincere attempt to preserve whatever was left of the Christian faith amidst an increasingly secularised and humanist church environment. They deserve the respect of all Christians.

We have now briefly considered the religions of (Greek) Orthodoxy, Catholicism, and Protestantism in terms of Spengler’s organic model. To conclude this essay, let us look at the dominant Orthodox Christian faith of modern times: Russian Orthodoxy. Since its establishment by Greek Orthodox missionaries in the 10th century the Russian Orthodox Church has grown into the largest member of the Orthodox family. Over the past few centuries it has undertaken widespread missionary work in Central Asia, China, Japan, Alaska and elsewhere. Now, in the 21st century, Russian Orthodoxy is set to proclaim the Christian message anew in the post-Christian western world.

It is of particular relevance to us that Spengler was convinced of Russia’s potential to become the next High Culture, amidst the inescapable cultural death of the West. The German philosopher observed that Russia had repeatedly in modern times been subjected to alien influences by her rulers, becoming another instance of pseudomorphosis. The first was Peter the Great’s attempt to modernise Russia along western lines, entailing among other misdeeds the abolition of the Moscow Patriarchate. After a 200 year hiatus the Patriarchate was re-established on the eve of the Bolshevik revolution in 1918, although its freedom would be short-lived. Having consolidated their power over the former Russian Empire, the Bolshevik communists set about to establish a totalitarian state based on Marxist-Leninist thought. This grandiose project of social engineering represented a further westernisation of Russia, since Marx and Lenin were both products of western European revolutionary thought. Ironically it was the fiercest enemy of Russian Orthodoxy, the tyrant Stalin, who also strove to undo some of the westernising of his predecessors.

Among famous Russian writers it was Tolstoy who represented the westernised past, Spengler argued, while Dostoyevsky points towards the future. Interestingly, in the Orthodox world Dostoyevsky, with his profound psychological insight and mystical vision, has indeed become one of the most influential thinkers since the late 19th century. Numerous Orthodox writers, including well-known theologians and philosophers, have recognised their spiritual-intellectual debt to this latter-day prophet of Russian Orthodoxy. It is understandable why Spengler believed that a ‘third great issue of Christianity’ (i.e. after Greek Orthodoxy and Catholicism) would come forth from Russia.

In this regard it is significant that in 1988 the Russian Orthodox Church celebrated the millennium since the establishment of Orthodoxy in the Russian lands. Soon afterwards Russia began shaking off the 70-year old heritage of the Bolshevik revolution, although the new post-Soviet rulers erred in allowing American-globalist influences to wreak socio-economic havoc in the country. Since the beginning of the third millennium the Russian government, led by the able partnership of Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev, have worked hard to bring a renewed Russian identity to their much-suffering people. The Russian Orthodox hierarchy have actively co-operated in this regard, in addition to evangelising a population estranged from their Church by decades of communist propaganda. Thus has come about the most spectacular revival in Christian history, with thousands of parishes, hundreds of monasteries, and dozens of seminaries rebuilt and reopened in Russia since the early 1990’s.

However, lest complacency about this Church revival sets in, it should be recognised that much remains to be done by the Church and the state in Russia. High levels of immorality represent an ongoing challenge, not to mention the periodic murder of clergy by enemies of Christ. The socio-economic condition of the bulk of the population is ghastly, with a daily struggle for survival being the norm, especially for the elderly and the infirm. Inexcusably, the huge revenues from the country’s natural resources are restricted to the rich and their cronies. And rampant corruption occurs on all levels of administration and public service, in spite of Putin and Medvedev’s attempts to establish a sense of responsibility among officials. These problems and challenges will have to be addressed with vigour and determination if Russia is to fulfil her potential to be a force for good in this world.

Vladimir De Beer
March 14, 2010
Sunday of St John of the Ladder


i The oft-repeated statement that the Orthodox and Catholic Churches separated in 1054 (called ‘the Great Schism’ by some writers) is an over-simplification of the facts. On the one hand, the two religious groupings had by that date been moving away from each other for some time, encouraged in the Latin West by the anti-Greek Carolingians. On the other hand, many churchmen on both sides hoped that this would be a temporary estrangement, as had happened before. However, the Crusaders’ sacking of Constantinople in 1204 sealed the breach irrevocably. It would be more correct to see this date as marking the final parting of the ways between Orthodox and Catholic.

ii This was originally published in German as Der Untergang des Abendlandes, in 2 volumes (1918 and 1922).

iii Wikipedia entry on ‘The Decline of the West’.

iv Some would say earlier – for instance, there is convincing evidence that the human foetus is influenced by the music he/she is exposed to during pregnancy.

v Yet from a certain perspective Nietzsche’s atheism can be interpreted as a desperate search for God – see Eugene (Fr Seraphim) Rose’s early writing published posthumously as Nihilism, p 6.

vi There was never a ‘Byzantine’ Empire or Church – despite the continued use of these terms by misinformed persons and others. The ‘Byzantine’ myth was a creation of those who saw the ‘Holy Roman Empire’ founded by Charlemagne in the 9th century as a restoration of the Western Roman Empire that came to an end in the 5th century. In their view the Eastern Roman Empire was so corrupt that it deserved to be destroyed by the Ottoman Turks in the 15th century, leaving the Germanic empire as sole heir of the classical Roman Empire.

vii Another popular misconception, aided and abetted by some Orthodox writers, is that the ecumenical councils are called ecumenical because the whole Church was represented through her bishops. This is not correct, since at some of the councils hundreds of bishops were present and at others only a few dozen. In fact, what made those councils ecumenical was the affirmation of their decisions by imperial signature. Likewise, there were not only 7 ecumenical councils, as is often averred. After the 7th council held in Nicaea in 787, further ecumenical councils were convened in Constantinople in 879 and 1341. This gives a total of 9 ecumenical councils whose decisions became imperial law. See the writings of Fr John Romanides (called by some ‘the prophet of Roman Orthodoxy’) in this regard.

viii Cunningham, chapter 9: Faith and Worldview.

ix ‘For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms’ (St Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, 6:12).

x Yannaras, chapter 10e: The Western deviation.

xi See for example St Paul’s letters to the Ephesians (chapter 1) and the Colossians (chapter 1).

xii Although Bach would have said ‘co-created’, by the Grace of God.

xiii In Orthodoxy and the Religion of the Future.


Cunningham, Mary. Faith in the Byzantine World (Lion Histories). Oxford: Lion, 2002.

Pelikan, Jaroslav. The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine, Vol. 2: The Spirit of Eastern Christendom (600-1700). Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1974.

Romanides, Fr John. Various writings on Roman Orthodoxy (at www.romanity.org.)

Rose, Eugene (Fr Seraphim). Nihilism: The Root of the Revolution of the Modern Age. Platina: St Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 2001.

Rose, Fr Seraphim. Orthodoxy and the Religion of the Future. Platina: St Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1997.

Sherrard, Philip. The Greek East and The Latin West: A Study in the Christian Tradition. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1959.

Spengler, Oswald. The Decline of the West. Abridged Edition by Helmut Werner. Translated by Charles Atkinson. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991.

Toynbee, Arnold. ‘Christianity and Civilisation’, in Civilisation on Trial. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1948.

Yannaras, Christos. Elements of Faith. An Introduction to Orthodox Theology. Translated by Keith Schram. Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1991.

Wikipedia entry on The Decline of the West. www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Decline_of_the_West.

Vladimir De Beer a South African living in the UK, active in the Sourozh diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church as lay representative of the new mission in Belfast. His MA dissertation at the University of South Africa dealt with the ontology of John Scottus Eriugena. He is currently engaged in doctoral research in religious philosophy, dealing with creation and evolution from an Orthodox Christian perspective.

Published: April 15, 2010

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