Reply to Fr Anthony Messeh (inspired) by Fr Alexander Schmemann

We would like to thank Coptic priest Fr Anthony Messeh for sharing our recent YouTube clip of H.G. Bishop Youssef on Orthodox Mission on his popular blog []. We strongly agree that there is a need for cultural adaptation. However, we also believe that statements such as “Orthodoxy unencumbered by the limitations so often set upon it by ethnic culture” are in need of further qualification so as to avoid distortions of the Orthodox faith and praxis. This is a long article, but it’s absolutely essential reading for anyone of us interested in protecting the future of Orthodoxy in America.

The eminent former Dean of St Vladimir’s Orthodox Seminary, Fr Alexander Schmemann, writes: “there are those who believe that the old pattern of national and religious unity can be simply applied to America. The Church is Greek in Greece, Russian in Russia, therefore it must be American in America—such is their reasoning. We are no longer Russians or Greeks, let us translate services in English, eliminate all “nationalism” from the Church… Logical as it sounds, this solution is deeply wrong and, in fact, impossible. For what, in their cheerful but superficial “Americanism,” the partisans of this view seem completely to overlook is that the rapport between Orthodoxy and Russia, or Orthodoxy and Greece, is fundamentally different from, if not opposed to, the rapport between Orthodoxy and America. There is not and there cannot be a religion of America in the sense in which Orthodoxy is the religion of Greece or Russia and this, in spite of all possible and actual betrayals and apostasies. And for this reason Orthodoxy cannot be American in the sense in which it certainly is Greek, Russian or Serbian. Whereas there, in the old world, Orthodoxy is coextensive with national culture, and to some extent, the national culture (so that the only alternative is the escape: into a “cosmopolitan,” viz. “Western” culture), in America, religious pluralism and therefore, a basic religious “neutrality,” belongs to the very essence of culture and prevents religion from a total “integration” in culture. Americans may be more religious people than Russians or Serbs, religion in America may have privileges, prestige and status it has not had in the “organic” Orthodox countries, all this does not alter the fundamentally secular nature of contemporary American culture; and yet it is precisely this dichotomy of culture and religion that Orthodoxy has never known or experienced and that is totally alien to Orthodoxy. For the first time in its whole history, Orthodoxy must live within a secular culture…

It belongs to the very essence of Orthodoxy not only to “accept” a culture, but to permeate and to transform it, or, in other terms, to consider it an integral part and object of the Orthodox vision of life. Deprived of this living interrelation with culture, of this claim to the whole of life, Orthodoxy, in spite of all formal rectitude of dogma and liturgy, betrays and loses something absolutely essential. And this explains the instinctive attachment of so many Orthodox, even American born, to the “national” forms of Orthodoxy, their resistance, however narrow-minded and “nationalistic,” to a complete divorce between Orthodoxy and its various national expressions. In these forms and expressions Orthodoxy preserves something of its existential wholeness, of its link with life in its totality, and is not reduced to a “rite,” a clearly delineated number of credal statements and a set of “minimal rules.” One cannot by a surgical operation called “Americanization” distill a pure “Orthodoxy in itself,” without disconnecting it from its flesh and blood, making it a lifeless form. There can be no doubt, therefore, that in view of all this, a living continuity with national traditions will remain for a long time not only a compromise meant to satisfy the “old-timers,” but an essential condition for the very life of the Orthodox Church.” – Problems of Orthodoxy in America: The Canonical Problem

Problems of Orthodoxy in America by Fr. Alexander Schmemann: The liturgical problem

1. The Situation

The liturgical problem of American Orthodoxy can be formulated as a double question: how much of our liturgical tradition can be preserved here and how well can it be preserved? The first question is a quantitative one. An Orthodox born and educated in America probably does not realize that, of the tremendously rich and truly “all-embracing” liturgical treasure of the Church, a very small part is really used on the parish level. The fact must be stated bluntly: from the liturgical point of view we are rapidly becoming a Sunday Church and even our Sunday worship is drastically curtailed. To a great, if not overwhelming, majority of our people the liturgical life of the Church is limited to Sunday morning and two or three additional “must” days: Christmas, Epiphany, Holy Friday . . . All that, which was so vital, so central, so essential in the liturgical piety of the past: the feasts and their eves, the “bright sadness” of the Lenten services, the unique celestial beauty of the Mariological cycle, the warm, almost personal, commemoration of the Saints, the long and solemn crescendo of the Holy Week—all this, although it is still dutifully listed in ecclesiastical calendars—is virtually absent from the real liturgical life. Neglect? Lack of time? Certainly not, for, at the same time a parish is filled to capacity with activities of all kinds. In a normal urban community something is “going on” every night: a meeting, a youth or adult group, a lecture, a dinner, a get-together. But all this is for the parish hall, not for the Church. During six days the parish is in fact a secular institution—busy, well-organized, smoothly run, but a liturgical. Worship here is approached and considered in terms of a “required minimum” and, to be sure, minimum it is. Therefore, one must ask—is this situation to be taken for granted, as the normal “adjustment” of Orthodoxy to America, as something not to be questioned any more?

The second problem—how well—is a qualitative one. And by quality I certainly do not mean beautiful vestments and elaborate musical “numbers,” the amount of gold and silver on icons or the money paid for the altar. What I mean is the power of the liturgy, first, to impress on the soul of man the Orthodox vision of life and, second, to help him live in accordance with that vision. Or, to put it in simple terms, the influence of the liturgy on our ideas, decisions, behavior, evaluations—on the totality of our life. This was for centuries and centuries the real function of the liturgy in the Orthodox Church: to immerse the man in the spiritual reality, beauty and depth of the Kingdom of God and to change his mind and his heart. By revealing and manifesting the “bridal chamber adorned” the liturgy was revealing to man his exile and alienation from God and thus was bringing him to repentance, to the desire to return to God and do his commandments. It was both judgment and inspiration, condemnation and transformation. I do not mean that the Orthodox man of the past was more “moral” or led a better life. But, at least, he knew he was a sinner and in the best part of himself he had a nostalgia for the “peace and joy” of the Kingdom; he referred his life to it and judged it by Christian standards. He knew, and he knew’ it by and through the power of worship, that God wants him m be a saint and that he is not a saint. Today, however, this power of worship has all but vanished. Worship is something one must attend and even enjoy, it is a self-evident “obligation” for the religious man, but it has lost all relevance for the real life. Not that our modern Orthodox is a greater “sinner,” but his whole approach to “sin” and “righteousness,” to “right” and “wrong” has radically changed. It is no longer rooted in the total vision of life as revealed in worship, but somewhere else—in the “common sense,” the “golden rule,” the “ideal of moderation,” etc. The Orthodox of the past could lead a miserable life, full of greed and material preoccupations, but he knew that, as a Christian, he was wrong, and he knew it because he lived in a world shaped morally and spiritually by the liturgical experience, by this constantly renewed vision and gift of another Reality, of the inaccessible, yet desirable, beauty of the Kingdom. The modern Orthodox has lost this desire and this nostalgia. All he wants from the Church is the acknowledgement that he is in “good standing,” that he has fulfilled his religious obligations and can, with a free conscience, give himself to the “pursuit of happiness.” There exists today a wall between worship—its spirit, its “message” and “call,” and the community, which in theory exists in order to worship God. And this wall is especially obvious in the radical “sectarianism” that dominates in fact the daily life of the parish. All problems of parish administration, management, property, etc. are discussed and understood as if the two hours spent in Church together, the participation in the Litourgia—a common and corporate act of worship, sacrifice, love, dedication and reconciliation—had nothing to do with these problems, were not even meant to have any application to the “practical” needs and responsibilities of life.

How much, how well…The time has come to face, to ask these questions even if we do not have immediate and final answers to them. If we are to speak of American Orthodoxy, we must, first of all, care about it being Orthodox. But Orthodoxy has always had its heart, its criterion and its power in its worship. And if I am right in describing our present situation as a deep liturgical crisis, it is here—in an attempt to understand and to overcome it—that begins our truly responsible preoccupation with the future of Orthodoxy in America.

2. The Linguistic Reduction

Before we reach the heart of the matter, however, we must give some attention to the various “reductions” of the liturgical problem, popular among those who care about the liturgy and are concerned about our present liturgical crisis. I use the term reduction because the common feature of all these approaches is that instead of seeing the problem in all its complexities and depth, they reduce it to one aspect, however important, and consider this aspect as the whole problem. A critical analysis of such “reductions” will show, I hope, their insufficiency for the understanding and treatment of the real issues.

The first and by far the most popular “reduction” can be termed linguistic. Here the solution to all liturgical difficulties and deficiencies is seen in translating everything into English. When people will understand the words of the liturgy they will, so to speak automatically, come back to its true meaning and recover its power—such is, in a simplified form, the basic affirmation. And of course, no one can really defend the perpetuation of the liturgical celebration in a foreign tongue, no one can deny the necessity of translations and the self-obvious need for understanding. And yet, when all this is granted there remains something which, in spite of all its evident truth, makes this whole approach only half-true. This something is precisely the reduction of the whole liturgical problem to its linguistic dimension, the claim that translation constitutes a panacea against all evils of our present liturgical situation. And this reduction becomes even dangerous when, in their enthusiasm for a quick translation, its partisans seem to overlook the tremendous difficulties implied in the very notion of liturgical translation, or more explicitly, the very problem of liturgical language. Most of our translators seem to forget that the basic “key” to the liturgy is primarily of aesthetical and not of rational, nature. Liturgical texts are not mere statements — theological or ethical — whose only purpose is to convey and communicate an idea, a commandment, a knowledge. Or, rather, it is their purpose, but they fulfill it by means different from those of theology or preaching. The aesthetical element in the liturgy: in liturgical poetry, music and rite—is not accidental but essential; it is rooted in the very nature of cult, so that when deprived of it, liturgy ceases properly to fulfill its very function, which is not simply to communicate ideas about God, but to reveal “heaven on earth,” to put man in direct contact with Reality, of which cult is the adequate and efficient symbol. In our liturgical tradition this aesthetical structure of worship is absolutely essential because it is rooted in the Orthodox concept and experience of the Church as the manifestation in this aion, in this world, of the Kingdom which is to come, of that ultimate Reality which the Church not only announces, but of which she makes us partakers. To be sure, liturgy has a didactic or educational function, one can even say that in a sense the whole of worship is teaching, is theology, is preaching, yet this teaching not only is not separated and distinguished from “beauty,” but “beauty” is its very content and means of communication. And it is here that the problem of liturgical translation acquires its real significance. Two-thirds of all liturgical texts in our tradition are hymns—i.e. poetry meant to be sung. And poetry is by definition untranslatable for its meaning lies in the organic blend of the order, the rhythm and the music of words. The difficulty is increased by the fact that the very complex and sophisticated pattern of Byzantine hymnography, its whole “genius” is extremely different from the “genius” of the English language and the patterns of English poetry. One points sometimes to the success of the Slavonic translations of Byzantine texts. But this success was indeed unique and can hardly serve as a precedent, because the Slavonic liturgical language was somehow created in the process of translation and, for all practical reasons, is an almost miraculous replica of the Greek.

All these difficulties are simply ignored by our translators. They go by the naive assumption that if one “knows” Greek, Slavonic and English there should be “no problem” in producing the Canon of St. Andrew of Crete or the Acathistos Hymn — masterpieces of very subtle and refined poetry! The results, to be quite frank, are sometimes disastrous. At the best, they provide us with dull, confused and “queer” (from the point of view of the English language) texts like: “… Boast not, for thou art flesh, and thrice thou shalt deny Me, Me, Whom all creation blesses, and glorifies to all ages.” or —”… Thou wilt fail me, O Simon Peter, saith the Lord, as soon as the word is put to thee, although thou art persuaded, and the maidservant approaching very hastily will dismay thee . . .” At the worst we have simply horrible verses like this one: “The heifer mourned beholding the Calf elevated on a Tree!”

Needless to say, such translations, although they may have some usefulness in the classroom where one studies what is meant in this or that liturgical service, are virtually useless within the liturgy itself where they remain doubly “alien”: alien to the poetical power of the original and alien to the poetical possibilities of the English language. And the spontaneous and chaotic process of translations that is going on almost everywhere today, without plan, without supervision, without qualifications and, what is much more serious—without even the discussion of the problems involved in translation, can do an almost irreparable harm to the future of American Orthodoxy. In reality, the question of translation can be answered only within a wider question—that of the liturgical continuity of Orthodoxy in America. We shall deal with this question later — in the “positive” part of this article. Now we must turn to the next—the “rubricistic”—reduction.

3. The “Rubricistic” Reduction

This reduction consists in solving all liturgical problems in terms of “right” and “wrong” practices, in referring them in a formal and almost juridical way to the “rubrics” of the Typikon. We must restore services in all their Orthodox purity and this means, first of al!, that we must fight the numerous Western, Latin, Uniate or Protestant distortions that have crept into them. Once these distortions are eliminated all problems will be solved ipso facto. In fact, a few isolated issues (kneeling on Sunday, Typika, immersion at Baptism, lace in sacerdotal vestments) were selected and constitute a favorite battleground where accusations and counter-accusations, denunciations and condemnations provoke on both sides a complex of superiority, self-righteousness and bitterness. And here again, there can be no doubt that certain openly non-Orthodox practices must be denounced and fought. But the question is—in the name of what and how are they to be fought? One can easily imagine a parish from which all these distortions would be completely eliminated and where everything will be done in accordance with the “rubrics.” Will this formal rectitude by itself and itself make this parish more “Orthodox” in the sense alluded to at the beginning of this article’ really open to the whole spirit and power of the liturgy, permeating its whole life with it, and not simply abiding in the self-righteous satisfaction: “we here do the ‘right’ things”? And then that whole notion of what is “right” and what is “wrong,” that reference to rubrics—is it all absolutely clear? The Typikon itself, and I have tried to show it else-where, [1] is far from being “self-explanatory,” for it represents and reflects a peculiarly complicated liturgical development in which many different strata are sometimes even in contradiction with one another and which needs to be understood and applied in an effort of reflection and thought. Many of our practices—those that are universally accepted as “right,” are questionable from the point of view of the genuine liturgical tradition of the Church’ the isolation of Baptism from the Eucharist and its transformation into a private service, the approach to Communion in terms of a “required minimum,” the transfer of Vespers to the morning and that of Matins to the evening to mention but a few examples. One should read, for example, the opinions of the Russian Bishops, written in preparation of the Sobor of 1917 to realize how many liturgical problems were raised by them, how dissatisfied they were with the liturgical practices of their time. and how pastoral (and not formal or juridical) they were in approaching all these questions. Simply to “transplant” the liturgical “situation” of Russia or Greece of the nineteenth century to America is neither possible nor wise. It is not possible because much of that “situation” was rooted in and justified by, local conditions which no longer exist; and it is not wise because not everything then was “right” or “correct” from the truly liturgical point of view, and the liturgical decay in the Orthodox Church began long before its appearance in America. The Orthodox Church needs a liturgical revival and renewal not less than the Christian West and the lasting success and a certain “absolutizing” of books like Bulgakov’s Desk-Manual for Pastors—books totally deprived of theological, historical and spiritual perspective and even elementary liturgical knowledge, only indicates how far we still are from the real concern for the “right” things in liturgy.

Similar to “rubricisticism” is the widely spread obsession with uniformity. For several centuries the Orthodox Church happily lived with a certain pluralism of liturgical customs and traditions, pluralism which in no way diminished its fundamental liturgical unity. The student of the early Church knows what a wonderful and rich variety of liturgical expressions existed in the “golden age” of Christian liturgy. No doubt a certain degree of uniformity—especially here, in America—is necessary and, therefore, desirable. But that it has become a real obsession, that one can for decades discuss the “Orthodox” form of the Cross or the cut of priestly vestments—is the sign of an unhealthy and dangerous preoccupation with the externals at the expense of the meaning of worship. “In things necessary unity, in things dubious—liberty, in all things—charity”—this axiom seems to have been completely forgotten and the level of liturgical interests and debates remains incredibly low. And, of course, the tragedy again is that uniformity for uniformity’s sake does not solve any real problem and only obscures its true scope.

4. The Western Rite

A few years ago I had the opportunity to express my views on the Western Rite in the American Orthodox Church and since my convictions have not changed. I can only repeat here what I wrote in my answer to Father W. Schneirla’s brilliant and thoughtful defense of the Western rite. [2]

In my article I wrote: “Let me first of all make it clear that theoretically I find myself in basic agreement with Father Schneirla. The unity of rite in the Orthodox Church is comparatively a late phenomenon and the Church never considered liturgical uniformity a conditio sine qua non of her unity. No one who knows the history of Christian worship will deny the richness of the Western liturgical tradition, especially that of the old and venerable Roman liturgy. One may even ask whether the liturgical unification performed by Byzantium and which deprived the Orthodox East of the wonderful liturgies of Alexandria, Syria, Mesopotamia, etc. was in itself a wholly positive achievement. Last, but not least, it is obvious that in case of an eventual return of the West to Orthodoxy, the Western Church will have her own Western Liturgy and this will mean a tremendous enrichment of the Church Universal. In all this and thus far my agreement with Father Schneirla is complete.

“My doubts concern not the theoretical, but the practical aspect of the whole problem. Yet by practical, I mean something much more important than the simple question of prerequisites which would make a definite rite formally acceptable as ‘Orthodox.’ No doubt, in advocating the Western Rite, Father Schneirla is ultimately moved by practical, i.e. missionary considerations: its acceptance by the Church should make conversion to Orthodoxy easier for Western Christians. Such is also the main motivation of Metropolitan Antony’s Edict it (i.e., the Western Rite) might serve the, purpose of facilitating the conversion of groups of non-Orthodox Western Christians to the Church…’ Maybe it is unfair to point out that the scholarly and objective analysis by Fr. Schneirla of the various Orthodox experiments in the western Rite hardly substantiates this optimistic assertion that some future experiment can achieve a greater measure of success in such corporate conversion. The center of my doubts is not here. For me, the only important question is: What exactly do we mean by conversion to Orthodoxy? The following definition will, I presume, be acceptable to everybody: it is the individual or the corporate acceptance of the Orthodox faith and the integration in the life of the Church, in the full communion of faith and love. If this definition is correct, we must ask; can the ‘conversion’ of a group or a parish, for which its spiritual leaders have signed a formal doctrinal statement and which has retained its Western rite, however purified or amended, can such a ‘conversion’—in our present situation, i.e., in the whole context of the Orthodox Church as she exists in America today – be considered as a true conversion? Personally, I doubt it very much. And I consider this growing interpretation of conversion in terms of a mere jurisdictional belonging to some Orthodox Diocese, of a ‘minimum’ of doctrinal and liturgical requirements and of an almost mechanical understanding of the ‘Apostolic Succession’ as a very real danger to Orthodoxy. This means the replacement of Orthodoxy of ‘content’ by Orthodoxy of ‘form,’ which certainly is not an Orthodox idea. For we believe that Orthodoxy is above all, faith that one must live, in which one grows, a communion, a ‘way of life’ into which one is more and more deeply integrated. And now, whether we want it or not, this living faith, this organic spirit and vision of Orthodoxy is being preserved and conveyed to us mainly if not uniquely, by the Orthodox worship. In our state of national divisions, of theological weakness, in the lack of living spiritual and monastic centers, of unpreparedness of our clergy and laity for more articulate doctrinal and spiritual teaching, of absence of a real canonical and pastoral care on the part of the various jurisdictional centers, what holds the Orthodox Church together, assures its real continuity with tradition and gives the hope of a revival is precisely the liturgical tradition. It is a unique synthesis of the doctrinal, ethical and canonical teachings of Orthodoxy and I do not see how a real integration into the Orthodox Church, a genuine communion of faith and life may be achieved without an integration into the Orthodox worship.

“I agree with Fr. Schneirla and I have said it on several occasions, that our liturgical tradition has to be purified from many local, antiquated and sometimes utterly un-Orthodox elements and practices. Nevertheless, it stands at present as a living bond of unity and koinonia.

“And then the last question: is it quite correct to define our rite as ‘East-em’ and therefore ‘foreign to all the Western Christians have known’ to quote the Edict? I would like to suggest a rather sharp distinction between ‘Eastern’ and ‘oriental.’ No doubt there are many oriental features, oriental ingredients in our liturgical life. No doubt also, that for many Orthodox this ‘orientalism’ seems to be the essential element. But we know that it is not essential and we know that progressively all these ‘orientalisms’ are being eliminated in a very natural and spontaneous process of adjustment of our cult to the American life. But then what remains and what can be described as ‘Eastern’ is nothing else but the Biblical and Patristic, and therefore, it is ‘Eastern’ in exactly the same measure in which the Bible and the Fathers, or rather, the whole Christianity can be termed ‘Eastern.’ But have we not proclaimed time and again in all our encounters with our Western brothers that it is this ‘East’ precisely that constitutes the common and the catholic heritage of the Church and can supply us with a common language which has been lost or distorted? The Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom or the Easter Canon of St. John of Damascus, are, I believe, much closer to that common171and Catholic language of the Church than anything else in any Christian tradition. And I cannot think of any word or phrase in these services that would be ‘foreign’ to a Western Christian and would not be capable of expressing his faith and his experience if the latter would be genuinely Orthodox.

“These considerations, however fragmentary and incomplete, lead to the following conclusion: I think that in the present situation of the Orthodox Church in America, the Western Rite, theoretically justified and acceptable as it is, would, instead of ‘facilitating conversion,’ dangerously multiply spiritual adventures of which we have had too many in the past, and which can but hinder the real progress of Orthodoxy in the West.”

5. The Real Problem

But what then is the real problem and what are the ways to its solution? It is my deep conviction that the roots of our liturgical crisis are to be found not in any particular “deviation”—although there are many of them; not in the linguistic barrier—although, to be sure it is a very serious one, but first of all in the totally new and unprecedented situation of Orthodoxy in America and within the “American Way of Life.” Deviations and, to some extent, even the linguistic “conservatism” are not the causes but the result of that situation, which, in my article dealing with canonical problems, I described as shaped primarily by the secularism of Western culture in general and of the “American Way of Life” in particular. For the first time in her long history, the Orthodox Church is to live within a culture, a “way of life” to which she is deeply alien, and this, not because of her “oriental-ism” or a difference in ethnical background, but, because of her fundamental theological and spiritual presuppositions, of her whole “worldview.” Secularism is a complex phenomenon and it is impossible, of course, to analyze it here in all its aspects. For our purpose it is sufficient to define it as the autonomy of the secular, i. e. worldly life of man and society from religion and its scale of values, a radical distinction between the religious and the secular “sectors” of life. Secularism is not necessarily anti-religious: America, for example, is both deeply religious and deeply secularistic. It may sincerely proclaim the need for religion, give it a place of honor and cover it with many privileges. But this coexistence, cooperation and even mutual inspiration does not alter the fundamental dichotomy of religion and life. Religion can supply life with ethical standards, with help and comfort, but it cannot transform life into religion, make it a religious life whose very content is God and His Kingdom. Thus, for example, a businessman can believe in God and in the immortality of the soul, he can pray and find great help in prayer, but once he has entered his office and begun working, this work itself is not even supposed to be “referred to” the fundamental religious realities of Creation, Fall and Redemption, but is indeed “self-sufficient” or autonomous.

But the Orthodox “worldview” excludes secularism, for it is indeed the central and all-embracing idea and inspiration of Orthodoxy that the whole life not only belongs to God, but is to be made God-like and God-centered, transformed into communion with God, and, therefore—no “sector” of human activity or creativity, be it the most “secular” or “profane” can be neutral, not capable of being sanctified, i. e. transformed into communion with God. This is not naive optimism, for Orthodoxy knows and affirms that the fulfillment of all sanctification is in the Kingdom which is beyond this world. It knows and affirms that there is no other way to that fulfillment but the “narrow way” of renunciation and self-denial. Yet, it affirms with equal certitude that in the Incarnation, Death, Resurrection and Glorification of the Son of God the whole life and not its “spiritual” or “religious” part, was returned to God and made again life in God.

And the means of this sanctification of life and the world is precisely the liturgy. For in liturgical worship we are not only put “in contact” with God, but are given the vision of the Kingdom of God, as fulfillment in Him of all that exists, of all that He has created for Himself, and also we are made partakers of that new Reality. And having seen and tasted of the “heaven and earth as full of His glory” we are then to relate all life, all activity, all time to this vision and experience, to judge and to transform our life by it. Thus the very “other-worldliness” of the liturgy makes it a real power of transformation in “this world.” This has always been the liturgical experience within Orthodoxy . . . Not that this experience has always and automatically led to positive results and really transformed human existence—there were probably as many sins and deficiencies in the “Orthodox” societies as in any other society—but, as I wrote elsewhere: “… self-satisfaction was not one of them. Toward the end of the Byzantine period, it was as if the whole Church were decked in black monastic garb and had taken the road of repentance and self-condemnation. The stronger the outward victory of the Church and the more solemn, rich and magnificent the outward forms of Christian Byzantinism became, the more strongly sounded this outcry of repentance, the entreaty for forgiveness: ‘I have sinned, I have transgressed’ · .. The surpassing beauty and splendor of St. Sophia; the holy rhythm, seeming to measure eternity, of the liturgical mystery that revealed heaven on earth and transformed the world again and again into its pristine cosmic beauty; the bitter sadness and reality of sin, the awareness of constant downfall—all this was the ultimate profundity of this world and the fruit of the Church within it. [3] It means that, the whole life was at least seen and judged in the light of the Kingdom as manifested in the liturgy; it means also that there was within that world a hunger and thirst not only for the “right things” but for the total perfection announced by the Gospel, and last but not least, the certitude that if not for the weakness and sinfulness, that perfection is the only destiny worthy of man, the “image of God’s ineffable glory.”

Our tragedy here, in America, is that the liturgy ceased to be thus related to life in its totality, to serve in the true sense as Sanctification of life. And this was not because of any greater sinfulness or laziness of our communities, but precisely because of secularism’s philosophy of life which is “taken for granted” without our clergy or people even being aware of it. Secularism is not the product of any special indoctrination; it is the very way of life of the American society. It comes to us by thousands of channels: through schools, through publicity, through magazines, through the whole “ethos” of our society. And yet it is a consistent, closed and very powerful philosophy of life which, unless it is challenged and questioned as a whole, not only cannot be overcome but even seen and understood as something radically alien to Orthodoxy. Maybe nowhere can one better realize to what degree secularism has invaded our Orthodox communities than in the pattern of our parish life. We constantly discuss the relationship within the Church of clergy and laity, their respective “rights” and “obligations” in the administration of parish affairs. Yet what is never seriously discussed in this whole debate is the nature of these “parish affairs,” their relation to the whole purpose and nature of the Church. For, indeed, if the main “content” of Church administration is to “count money”—i. e., to care for the material “success” of a parish, one does not see very well (and here the laity certainly have a point) why a priest should do it better or more competently than a group of “professional” men. And if the priest simply proclaims and affirms his right to do it, there is not one single chance that this conflict will be ever solved in a Christian Orthodox way. For as long as “counting money” remains unrelated to the “offering” and the “offering” to the Eucharist and, finally, the Eucharist to the whole life, as long, in other terms, as it has not been transformed into a religious act ~ and to perform this transformation is exactly the duty of the Priest because he offers the Sacrifice of the Church to God, makes our life sacrifice—as long as all this is not comprehended, the parish remains a secular society and it is irrelevant, in the last analysis, who “presides” at its meetings—a priest or a layman. But, I repeat, this ultimate question is not raised on either side—the clerical or the lay—because in fact both sides have accepted a secularistic idea of administration, “fights,” “obligations,” etc., because in their own consciousness all this is related in no way to the two hours spent together—as the Church of God—”upstairs,” in the Eucharistic gathering. But if even within the Church herself, a vital “sector” of her life is viewed entirely in secular terms and all reference to the meaning of the Church as revealed in the liturgy is simply and radically ignored as irrelevant, how can one even speak of the liturgy’s impact on the really secular life? In fact, all aspects of our life—be it family, profession, relaxation or education —~ are shaped and governed by principles and standards which no one has even tried to “reconsider” in the light of the “worldview” communicated to us in the liturgy. The latter becomes thus an engine not connected to the wheels, producing an energy which nowhere becomes motion, light or warmth.

And in this situation it becomes inevitable that the approach to the liturgy, its fundamental comprehension undergoes a radical transformation. The question, which underlies the whole liturgical experience of Orthodoxy, “what does it reveal about me and my life, what does it mean for my activity and my relation to men, nature and time,” is replaced little by little by all entirely different question: “how much of the liturgy is needed to put me in ‘good standing’ “? And where religion becomes a matter of obligation and good standing, there inevitably all questions concerning the “right” and the “wrong” practices acquire a kind of independence from their moral, existential, truly religious implications. The priest is satisfied if he celebrates the “correct” liturgy, the people are satisfied if they know exactly the amount of their religious obligations, the whole parish is proud of its beautiful church and beautiful services—but that which, from the very beginning was the real fruit of the Liturgy, that unique mixture of joy (“We have seen the true light”) and deep dissatisfaction or repentance (“I see thy bridal chamber adorned but I have no garment to enter it”), that challenge to my whole life, that call to perfection, that nostalgia for a change, a transformation, a transfiguration — all this is absent. The liturgy is still the center of our Church life, unquestioned, unchallenged, unopposed. But it is in fact a center without periphery, a heart with no control on blood circulation, a fire with nothing to purify and to consume, because that life which had to be embraced by it, has been satisfied with itself and has chosen other lights to guide and to shape it.

6. Liturgical Teaching

Having stated all this we seem to find ourselves in a vicious circle. For on the one hand, if it is secularism—i.e. the alienation of the way of life from the Church’s vision of life that conditions our liturgical crisis, by depriving the liturgy from its relevance and, therefore, power, no translation, no restoration of the “right practices” will by themselves cure the disease. It is the language of the Church in the deep all-embracing, and not only linguistic, meaning of the word that man and society do not hear or understand, the language which includes the texts and the rites, the whole rhythm and the whole structure of worship. For man had adopted, without even knowing it, another way of looking at himself and at his life and this makes him truly blind and deaf to the liturgy which he dutifully attends. Yet, on the other hand, only liturgy can—and we have explained why—break through this all-pervading secularism, for it has always been the proper function of worship to communicate and to convey to man that vision which alone can instill in him the desire for change, the nostalgia for the ineffable glory of his vocation, that true repentance (metanoia—change of mind) which alone can judge, redeem and transform.

But it is good that we have reached what looks like a dead-end. For only now can we see the real problem in all its complexity and cope with it without reducing it to pseudo-solutions. It is indeed the eternal logics of Christianity that it wins only when it faces reality, when it sees the truth about each situation and calls things by their names. And once we have adopted this attitude we understand that, in fact, there is no vicious circle, no dead-end, but the same and eternal conflict which each Christian generation must rediscover for itself, for it is the very Christian condition in the world. We understand that instead of giving orders and prescribing, we must start working; this work will be a difficult and thankless one, and finally its success will depend on our patience and our readiness to go to the very bottom of the difficulties we face.

The beginning of all Christian work is always in teaching. And we must realize that we have no liturgical teaching, if by liturgical teaching one means precisely the consistent explanation of the liturgical language of the Church, the initiation of man into the mystery of the Church’s worship. Such teaching may have not been necessary as long as the Church and the world spoke the same language, i.e. referred themselves to the same values, had the same vision of the ultimate meaning of things, as long, in other terms, as the world, in spite of all its “worldliness,” was not secularistic. Today, however, such initiation is an absolute necessity, the very condition of any liturgical restoration or, rather, of the restoration of liturgy to its proper function and meaning in the Church. But the real liturgical teaching and it is here that we approach the heart of the whole matter- is precisely the explanation of the liturgy in its connection to life, revelation of its “existential” power. As such, this liturgical teaching is almost diametrically opposed to the popular and extremely superficial “symbolical” interpretation of rites, interpretation which “fits” very well the secularistic mentality because it does not challenge, judge or question anything in it. To say, for example, that the “Little Entrance” in the Divine Liturgy “symbolizes” Christ going to preach is to satisfy a natural inclination for religious pageantry, of which the “secular” man is very fond (cf. his love for ceremonies, processions, rehearsals of weddings, etc.) but certainly not to raise questions about himself and his own life. To explain it, however, as something that 176 happens to him and to the whole Church, as the real (and not symbolical) movement of the Church entering into the Presence of God, summoned to His throne, separated from the world, lifted into a totally other dimension of reality, immersed in the very Holiness of God (“Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal…” of the Trisagion) is to challenge the man not only with his own participation in the liturgy but also with the truly “awful” implications it has for his whole life. [4] For if indeed as a Christian I am the one who has been given access to the heavenly things, united to God and made participant of Christ’s entrance into the Kingdom, then the words of the Apostle are applicable to me: “for it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, if they shall fall away, to renew them again and again unto repentance; seeing they crucify the Son of God afresh and put him to an open shame” (HEB. 6.4). All of a sudden the liturgy ceases to be a “venerable,” “ancient,” “colorful” and “beautiful” rite and becomes a terribly serious thing. All of a sudden my whole life is questioned and everything in it is seen under this terrifying possibility: “to put the Son of God to an open shame.” And this possibility is here because the liturgy reveals to me who I am, what I am given, it puts me face to face with the glory of the Kingdom and, therefore, reveals the exile and alienation from God of my whole life…

The water of baptism, the anointment of the body, the bread and wine of our eucharistic offering, the dates and hours of our calendar—all this makes our liturgy very “real,” very “material”—connects it with the real life, the real matter, the real time of our world in order to give them a new meaning, and put into them a new power. The tragedy of secularism is precisely that it “disconnects” these two orders of existence and makes “food,” “love,” “time,” “matter,” “money” entities-in-themselves, incapable of transformation, closed to grace. And, therefore, secularism is very happy with the “sacred symbolism” so often offered as Christian teaching because it leaves intact and unquestioned the self-sufficiency of the “real life.” But the one who has understood, be it only partially, that all food and, therefore, all life as maintained by food, is directly related to the great mystery of the Eucharist (“eat… drink…”) is already beginning to look at the world in a new way, to see in it what he has seen before. And this precisely is for secularism the beginning of its end.

Thus the liturgical teaching can be defined as making explicit the Christian philosophy of life or way of life implied in the liturgy. Let us not be mistaken: this teaching is to be created almost ex nihilo, because for centuries, in fact since the disappearance of the catechumenate in its early form, it was simply non-existent. Neither theology nor piety paid much attention to this “existential” aspect of the liturgy. Theology—because, under the Western influences which pervaded it since the end of the patristic age, it adopted a purely intellectual structure, [5] and piety, because, as said above, in the “organic” Orthodox worlds of the past, secularism was only beginning to creep in and to undermine the “wholeness” of the Orthodox vision of life, and piety thus remained, in spite of possible deficiencies, liturgical in its essence and inspiration. To create such teaching, to find for it right words and the right perspective is an urgent task—for theologians and pastors, for all those who are concerned with religious education. This is the first—the “theoretical”—step towards the solution of the liturgical crisis.

7. Liturgical Restoration

But it is only this theory, the effort to create a consistent understanding of the liturgy and its meaning for life that can provide us with a “blueprint” of a real liturgical restoration. The deficiency of the “rubricistic reduction” discussed above is that in its goal for restoring and defending the “right” things it mixes things essential with those that are non-essential, wants to restore practices which may be secondary and omits or overlooks issues of primordial importance. What is absent here is the pastoral, and this means, the truly liturgical approach to, and interest in, the liturgy as concerned primarily with the life of man, with its churching [6] and not as a “correct-thing-in-itself.” And it is only when we begin to think in these pastoral terms that it becomes possible to plan a real, and not nominal, restoration of the liturgical life, for the plan itself is then rooted in our real needs, in the difficult fight for human souls.

It is impossible to give here more than a few isolated “hints” of what such a “blueprint” ought to contain. There can be no doubt, for example, that the first and the most important revelation of the Christian vision of life in all its aspects: cosmical, social, personal, ecclesiological, spiritual, material and eschatological, has always been given and communicated in the liturgy of baptism, which in the past constituted, together with the Eucharist, the “focal” point of the whole liturgical life of the Church. [7] Yet it is not only difficult, it is impossible to reveal and to communicate this all-embracing and decisive meaning of Baptism, if the latter is virtually absent from the liturgy of the Church and has become a private family ceremony. How can an adult Christian, who, of course, does not remember his own baptism, realize that his own life as Christian and the life of the whole Church are rooted in that great act of rebirth and renewal, that made him a citizen of heaven and, therefore, has given a wholly new dimension to his life in the world? How can he “experience” the Church as indeed created and recreated through Baptism if he simply does not see it performed as an act of the Church? And yet properly understood, taught and performed, the Liturgy of Baptism is, indeed, the very first challenge to secularism, the very key to our life as Christians in “this world.”

The liturgical restoration must then begin at the very beginning: with the restoration of Baptism as the liturgical act concerning the whole Church, as the very source of all liturgical piety which, in the past, was first of all a baptismal piety, a constant reference of the whole life to this mystery of its renewal and regeneration through the baptismal death and resurrection. This means, first, the celebration of Baptism within the eucharistic gathering of the Church. It is enough simply to read the texts of baptism and chrismation to understand that they organically lead to the fulfillment of the sacrament of initiation in the sacrament of the Church, that they are the entrance into the eucharistic fulness and fulfillment of the Church. It means also the preparation of the whole community (and not only of the immediate relatives) for the baptism, a “baptismal preaching” in which the liturgy of baptism: exorcisms, blessing of water, anointment with the “oil of gladness,” immersion, the white garment and chrismation would be revealed again in their “existential” meaning for the whole Church as the community of baptized men, would ~ referred to life. And this means, finally, the explanation in terms of baptism of repentance which is the fundamental dimension of the Christian life, its openness to Divine judgment, its ability to be transformed by grace.

The second area of liturgical restoration is certainly that of our eucharistic piety. Of the many important problems involved here, the most urgent one is that of the proper understanding of communion. From its reduction either to a “religious obligation” to be performed once a year, or to an individual act of piety, completely disconnected from the liturgy as a corporate act, we must return to its true liturgical nature, and, first of all, to its relation to the Eucharist as offering and thanksgiving. The present eucharistic piety can very well exist within a perfectly secularistic worldview because it is nowhere related to life as a whole. It is a contact with the “super-natural” that has nothing to say to, or about, the “nature.” And only if we rediscover that the bread and wine of the Eucharist are, first of all, our very life, our “nature,” our whole work and its whole matter …. offered to God in Christ, returned to God in order to become again what God meant it to be from the very beginning—communion with God, only if we thus relate our whole life to the Eucharistic offering, can we understand the act of communion as God entering our life in order to fill it with His transforming grace. To take the same example—when a “Church Committee” will understand that its meeting is a direct continuation of the Divine Liturgy, its fulfillment in life, and not a “business session” dealing with the “material” problems of the parish, radically distinct from the “spiritual” ones which were dealt within the service, our piety will begin to undermine secularism. But what an effort, what a real conversion of our whole liturgical consciousness is needed to achieve this!

Then, the whole liturgical experience of time, so obviously central in the structure of worship, in its rhythm of preparation and fulfillment, fast and feast, liturgical seasons, etc., must be “deciphered,” i.e. understood and explained in their relation to the real time of our life, to all time, [8] and not only to the “sacred” hours we spend in Church. I have said above that we are rapidly becoming a “Sunday” Church, but even if we succeed in adding to Sunday a few more “days of obligation,” this by itself will not change the secularistic view and experience of time, its total autonomy from the days and hours of worship. For the liturgy is sanctification of time and not of certain moments of time. And it sanctifies time by referring it—by means of the liturgy of time—to that event, the Coming of Christ, which transformed time, made it a meaningful pilgrimage towards the Kingdom of God. The liturgy of time has always had a double rhythm: that of repentance, preparation, effort, expectation—and this in liturgical terms, is the function of fasts, eves, vigils; and that of fulfillment and joy—and this is the feast. They represent and convey to us the two fundamental dimensions or experiences of Christian life. It is rooted, first of all, in the joy of knowing Christ, of being with Him, of remembering Him. And it is rooted, also, in the “bright sadness” of repentance, in the experience of life as exile and effort. Both are extremely essential and to restore the liturgy of time is, therefore, to restore this basic rhythm. It is not true that people do not come to Church on holy days because they have no time. One always has time for what one enjoys. People do not come to Church because they quite literally do not enjoy it and they do not enjoy it because the very reality of joy is absent from our teaching and preaching, from the way we present the liturgy in terms of obligations, of musts and must-not. I mentioned before, that there is always something going on in the evening in the parish hall. Yet evenings have always been the basic liturgical “time” in the Church. And if, by a slow and patient effort, we could restore—in ourselves, first of all—the joy of this “liturgy of time,” reveal and “put across” its heavenly beauty, be it the beauty of penitential services, the spiritual beauty of repentance, or the beauty of joy, as revealed in the feasts, not only will people “come back,” but they will understand the importance of these services for their “secular” life as well.

The true liturgical restoration will come not from a blind compliance with the “rubrics” but from their understanding. And this requires a tremendous effort of entering into the spirit of the worshipping Church.

8. Liturgical Translation

This brings us back to the problem of translation. There can be no doubt that if Orthodoxy is to become truly American, it will be an English-speaking and an English-praying Orthodoxy. But precisely because of the tremendous importance of this linguistic integration and of all that we have said about the function of the liturgy in our “secularistic” predicament, the mere notion of translation is not sufficient. I have explained why, for as long as American Orthodoxy is only translated it is neither fully American nor fully Orthodox. It is not fully American because the literal translations of Byzantine or Russian texts (and these are the only translations we have so far) remain odd and alien to the genius of English language, result in—to say the truth Greek or Russian services in English, but not English services. And it is not fully Orthodox because what gives these texts their real power and fulfills their liturgical function—their beauty, is simply lost in these literal renderings. But again a situation which seems hopeless is hopeless only as long as we do not dare to take the problem in all its seriousness and apply to it the only remedy: the faith in the Church which “never grows old but always renews her youthfulness.” And it means, in this particular case, that the true continuity with the living Tradition of the Church requires from us more than translation: a real re-creation of the same and eternal message, its true incarnation in English. One example will help to understand what I mean. Recently the diary of Dag Hammarskjo1d—a deeply poetical and mystical document in which the late Secretary General of the United Nations expressed his religious life, was translated from Swedish into English by the poet W. H. Auden. In his preface, Auden confesses that he does not know one single word in Swedish. He used a literal translation—but he recreated it and gave it, so to speak, a value and an existence, independent from the Swedish original. Yet he could do it only because he was in “sympathy” with the content of Hammarskjo1d’s book, understood from “inside” his religious experience. Mutatis mutandis this example can be applied to our situation. The problem is not just to translate but to give again the hymns and the texts of the Byzantine liturgy the power they have in the original and which is rooted in the organic unity of meaning and “beauty.” Yet to achieve this, one must go beyond the literal meaning and understand the place and the function of a given text or series of texts within the whole, their relation to the entire message of the service of which they are a part. Here again, the understanding of the whole precedes and conditions the real under-standing of any part of this whole. It provides us, first, with the criterion by which to judge what-in this particular “whole”—is essential and must be preserved and what is merely accidental, repetitious and of doubtful liturgical quality. It will, then, provide us with a method of translation which is not necessarily a blind “faithfulness” to the original’ it may be that in order to convey the meaning and the power of the original, one has to paraphrase it and shorten it, rather than try to “squeeze” into the sober English the luxurious and untranslatable “richness” of the Byzantine text.

Thus, for example, if one understands the meaning of Palm Sunday as being the great messianic feast, the solemn liturgical affirmation of Christ’s Lordship in the world, and, therefore as the inauguration of the Holy Week, which is the fulfillment of Christ’s victory over the “prince of this world,” if one has, in other words, the vision of the whole—the interdependence of the Lazarus Saturday, the Palm Sunday and Pascha, one has the key to the proper “recreation” of the liturgy of Palm Sunday. One sees, first of all, the central position and function within the service of the messianic greetings: “Hosanna” and “Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord,” the theme of Jerusalem as the Holy Sion, as the place where the history of salvation is to find its fulfillment, the constant reference to Zachariah’s dichotomy: “King” and “lowly” as reference to the Kingdom of peace and love which is being inaugurated, and, finally, the leit motiv of the whole service “Six days before the Passover” by which this feast is set as the “ante-feast” of the Holy Week, the real entrance of the Messiah into His glory. Then having “seen” all this, having truly entered the mind of the Church as she celebrates this feast and the mind of those who expressed this celebration, one will not simply translate, but, indeed, express the same celebration, although maybe in texts somewhat different from the original, shortened here, paraphrased there, omitted or even replaced in certain places. I do not claim to be a specialist in English, which is not my native tongue. But, as a very “tentative” example let me once more hint at what I mean by “re-creation.” Here is one stichera of Palm Sunday in literal translation:

“Six days before the Passover, thy voice, O Lord, was heard in the depths of Hades, by which Thou hast risen Lazarus of four days; as to the children of Israel, they were shouting ‘Hosanna’; O our God glory to Thee.”

If we remember that this text is to he sung, and yet heard as a whole, all these “by which,” “for which cause,” “as to,” the endless genitives, the heavy forms such as “for which cause, the Hebrew children, bearing branches of trees in their hands, exalted him with the shout,” not only create an anticlimax to music (as if someone were singing a paragraph from a newspaper), but they simply do not communicate the synthetic image underlying these words. The structure of Greek language is different: there “for which cause,” or “in which” never acquire the phonetical independence which they have in English: they frame the main word or symbol without burdening it to such a degree that it is completely lost in this heavy gravy. A first requirement, therefore, is to cut the Byzantine period into short affirmative (kerygmatic!) sentences, centering each in one clear image and by-passing all words or even images, that “fit” into the Greek, but dissolve the English sentence. A possible rendering could be then something like this:

Six days before Pascha
Thy voice was heard in Hades.
It raised Lazarus.
Hosanna, glory to thee…”

Another stichera from the same service in literal translation:

“When Thou was entering the Holy City sitting upon an ass, Thou was speeding to come to suffering in order to fulfill the Law and the Prophets. As to the Hebrew children, foretelling the victory of the Resurrection, they met Thee with branches and palms, saying, Blessed art Thou O Saviour, have mercy on us…”

Possible translation:

“Entering the Holy City
Riding upon an ass,
He was coming to suffer,
To fulfill the Law and the Prophets.
The palms and the branches
Announced the victory of the Resurrection.
Blessed art Thou, O Saviour,
Have mercy upon us.”

Needless to say, this work of “re-creation” cannot be amateurish. The whole point of my thought is that it requires a very serious liturgical and theological study of the liturgy, of its structure, of its connotations. We need, indeed, a liturgical movement: the rediscovery of the meaning first, then its “reincarnation” in adequate words and categories. But nothing short of that serious and patient work will make our liturgy again what it has always meant to be and to fulfill in the Church.

9. The Liturgical Problem and “American Orthodoxy”

I hope I have made it sufficiently clear that the future of “American Orthodoxy” depends, to a large degree, on our proper understanding and proper treatment of the liturgical problem. At present this future is viewed in two mutually exclusive ways. There are those, on the one hand, who in the name of Orthodoxy reject its “Americanization” and there are those, on the other hand, who are ready, in the name of “Americanization” to give up much of Orthodoxy. For the first group, the future of Orthodoxy in America can only mean the perpetuation of Greek or Russian Orthodoxy and the attitude, here, is that of a pure negativism: the whole world is in Apostasy and the Church, to preserve Orthodoxy, must simply isolate herself in an artificially recreated past. In the second group, by far the most numerous, acceptance of America and “Americanization” may mean a simple surrender to secularism; recently a group of lay parish leaders took an Encyclical addressed to the parishes and signed by several bishops to a non-Christian lawyer in order to “check” whether the episcopal text offers sufficient guarantees to the “rights” and the “property” of their communities. At this point one can only wonder how much “Orthodoxy” is left and, more particularly, what it may mean in the minds of those Church officials. What does not seem to be realized on both sides, by the supporters of both attitudes toward “Americanization,” is that one cannot reduce it to either pure negativism or pure acceptance. Both attitudes, paradoxically enough have something in common: they both consider “America” as a reality which is either to be rejected or accepted, but not as one upon which Orthodoxy has to act. But the fundamental affirmation of this article is that it belongs to the very essence of Orthodoxy to be in a creative tension with the world in which it lives, and this means—to question all its “values” and “ways of life” and, by relating them to the Truth of the Church—to “re-evaluate” and to change them. Therefore, whether one puts the emphasis on American (acceptance) or Orthodoxy (rejection) neither of these “realities” is real as long as it is mere rejection or mere acceptance. Orthodoxy which lives by “negativism” is no longer Orthodox, and Orthodoxy which simply “accepts” has also ceased to be Orthodox. Yet this seems to be the truly tragical choice facing us on all levels of Church life: canonical, liturgical, spiritual, etc. And the first thing we must do is to reject this choice as a wrong, indeed a heretical one. What we have to do is neither accept nor reject but simply face the world in which we live, and face it as Orthodox Christians. This means: to see everything in it and the whole of it as related to our faith, as an object of Christian evaluation and judgment and as capable of being changed and transformed. This is what secularism rejects, but this is, therefore, the only way to overcome secularism. Secularism agrees to have a marriage “blessed” by the Church, but understands the content of marriage in terms radically alien to that very blessing. And as long as we simply insist that the marriage be properly solemnized in the Church, but do not convey to those whom we marry what happens to their marriage in the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony, we, in fact, surrender ourselves to secularism… America may mean secularism; but, it also means freedom. We are free, as Americans, to fight and to denounce the very “American way of life” inasmuch and insofar as it is identified with secularism. This is the true mission of Orthodoxy in America and to America and, only by fulfilling this mission shall we preserve Orthodoxy and make it truly American.

And it is here that the liturgical problem acquires its true significance, for it is primarily in and through worship that the Church acts upon the lives of her members and through them—upon the world in which they live. It is in and through liturgy that the Kingdom of God “comes with power” (MARK 9.1) —power to judge and to transform. It is liturgy which, by revealing to men the Kingdom, makes life and history, nature and matter a pilgrimage, an ascension towards the Kingdom. It is liturgy, in short, that is the power, given to the Church, to overcome and destroy all “idols”—and secularism is one of them. But liturgy is all this only if we ourselves accept and use it as power.


Problems of Orthodoxy in America by Fr. Alexander Schmemann: The spiritual problem

1. “Impossible” Orthodoxy

THE PROBLEMS we have discussed so far lead us to that ultimate one which is the spiritual problem. It can be formulated very simply: what does it mean to be Orthodox in America in the second half of the twentieth century and how can one truly be it? To many Orthodox, most likely to an overwhelming majority, such a problem does not seem to exist. If faced with it they would probably answer: what’s the problem? Build “bigger ‘n better” churches and all kinds of “facilities,” keep your congregation busy and happy, serve the prescribed services, constantly affirm that Orthodoxy is the true faith. And since all this is being done rather successfully the very existence of any deep problem is therefore denied. It is neither pleasant nor easy to sound like a prophet of doom, especially in our atmosphere of an almost compulsory official optimism which regards every word of criticism and self-criticism as subversive and criminal. Yet, at the risk of shocking many good people I cannot, in all honesty and sincerity, conceal my firm conviction that Orthodoxy in America is in the midst of a serious spiritual crisis which endangers its very existence as Orthodoxy. In my previous articles I analyzed the most obvious expressions of the crisis: the canonical chaos which deepens every day and leads inescapably to an openly professed canonical cynicism among clergy and laity, and a less obvious yet equally real disintegration of the liturgical life of the Church. These, however, are the expressions, not the substance of the crisis, which, as every religious phenomenon, has spiritual roots and spiritual content. It is this spiritual substance that we, must now try to understand.

Nothing probably reveals better the nature of the crisis than the impressive amount of doctrines, rules, teachings and customs which, although taken for granted for centuries as essential for Orthodoxy, are by a wide consensus declared to be “impossible” here, in America. Speak to a Bishop,, then to a priest, be he old or young, speak finally to an active and dedicated layman and you will discover that in spite of all differences between their respective points of view they all agree on the same “impossibilities.” Thus you will learn that it is impossible to enforce here the canonical norms of the Church, impossible to preserve from the wonderfully rich liturgical tradition of the Church anything except Sunday morning worship and a few “days of obligation” common in fact to all Christian “denominations,” impossible to stop non-Orthodox customs and practices, impossible to interest people in anything but social activities, impossible. But when you add up all these and many other “impossibilities” you must conclude, if you are logical and consistent, that for some reason it is impossible for the Orthodox Church in America to be Orthodox, at least in the meaning given this term “always, everywhere by all.”

And please notice that I speak of the Church and not merely of Orthodox individuals. At all times many Christians, if not a majority, were luke-warm in their faith, minimalistic in fulfilling their religious obligations, lazy, selfish, etc. Christian writings from St. Paul to Father John of Kronstadt are full of exhortations addressed to such people and aimed at reforming their deficient Christian life. And, of course, every Christian, when judging himself in the light of the Christian ideal, knows how weak, sinful and unworthy he is. If this were the case there would be no problem except that of the perennial, never-ending fight against human sins and deficiencies. But the point is that such is not our case. In fact our churches here are better attended than in the “old countries,” people care more about them, contribute more, are incomparably more involved and interested in parish affairs and probably more anxious to do the “right things.” Yet it is precisely these good, active generous and church-minded people, it is indeed the Church and not the “lost sheep”, that find and declare it “impossible” to accept much of the canonical, doctrinal, liturgical and primal tradition of Orthodoxy. At the same time, however, they ,claim that they are perfectly Orthodox and are indeed acknowledged as such by their pastors and hierarchy. This is the radically new fact of our existence. For again there have always been “compromises” in the Church, there have always been minimalistic attitudes among clergy and laity. But they were always recognized as such, never accepted as the norm. A Christian could think it impossible for him to live by Christian standards, but it never entered his mind to minimize the demands of the Church. But when well-intentioned and responsible people in all sincerity declare that these demands are impossible because they do not fit into the “American way of life”, when a substantial majority of Bishops, priests and laymen agree with them, when, furthermore, what is declared impossible is not something secondary and historically conditioned—as, for example, the long hair and specific clerical garb of the priests—but belongs to the very essence of Orthodoxy (e.g., the place of the Priest in the parish), then the time has come to ask: what is the mysterious obstacle which makes it impossible for Orthodoxy to be Orthodox?

2. The Roots of the Crisis

I named that obstacle before: It is the peculiar disease of the society and the culture to which we belong and whose name is secularism. Secularism, as I tried to show, is a world-view and consequently a way of life in which the basic aspects of human existence such as family, education, science, pro-lesson, art, etc., not only are not rooted in or related to, religious faith, but the very necessity or possibility of such connection is denied. The secular sphere of life is thought of as autonomous, i.e. governed by its own values, principles and motivations—different by nature from the religious ones. Secularism is more or less common to the whole West, but the particularity of its American brand the one which concerns us in this article that here secularism not only is not anti-religious or atheistic, but on the contrary implies as its almost necessary element a definite view of religion, is in fact “religious”. It is, in other terms, a “philosophy of religion” as much as a “philosophy of life.” An openly atheistic society such as Soviet Russia or Red China cannot even be termed “secularistic”: the ideology on which it is based is a totally integrated and all-embracing view of the world and man and this total “world-view” simply replaces religion leaving no room for any other “world-view”. But it is a characteristic feature of American secularism that it both accepts religion as essential to man and at the same time denies it is an integrated world-view permeating and shaping the whole life of man. A “secularist” is usually a very religious man, attached to his church, regular in attending services, generous in his contributions, acknowledging the necessity of prayer, etc. He will have his marriage “solemnized” in church, his home blessed, his religious “obligations” fulfilled, all this in perfect good faith. But all this will not in the least alter the plain fact that his understanding of all these spheres: marriage, family, home, profession, leisure, and, ultimately, his religious “obligations” themselves, will be derived not from the creed he confesses in church, not from the Incarnation, Death, Resurrection and Glorification of Christ, the Son of God become Son of man, but from “philosophies of life”, i.e., ideas and convictions having nothing to do with that creed, if not directly opposed to it. One has only to enumerate some of the key “values” of our society: success, security, affluence, competition, status, profit, prestige, ambition—to realize that they are at the opposite pole from the whole “ethos” of the Gospel. But does this mean that this religious secularist is a cynic, a hypocrite and a schizophrenic? Not at all. It means only that his understanding of religion, of its function in his life and of his very need for it, are rooted in his secularistic world-view and not vice-versa. In a non-secularistic society (the only type of society Orthodoxy knew in the past) it is religion, its total “vision” of the world, that constitutes the ultimate criterion of all life, a supreme “term of reference” by which man and society evaluate themselves even if they constantly deviate from them. There man also may live by the same “worldly” motivations, but they are constantly challenged by religion, be it only by its passive presence. The “way of life” may not be religious, the “philosophy of life” certainly is. In the secularistic society it is exactly the opposite: the “way of life” includes religion, the “philosophy of life” virtually excludes it.

Acceptance of secularism means, of course, a total transformation of religion itself. It may keep all its traditional forms but inside it is simply a different religion. In secularism, when it “approves” of religion and even declares it necessary, it does so only inasmuch as religion is ready to become a part of the secularistic world-view, a sanction of its values and a help in the process of attaining them. No other word indeed is used more often by secularism in reference to religion than the word “help.” “It helps” to pray, to go to church, to belong to a religious group (“… and I don’t care what it may be” said President Eisenhower, who can be considered as truly the “icon” of a religious secularist), it “helps” in short to “have religion.” And since religion helps, since it is such a useful factor in life, it must in turn be helped. Hence the tremendous success of religion in America, attested by all statistics. Secularism accepts religion, but on its own, secularistic terms, assigns religion a function, and provided religion accepts this function, it covers it with wealth, honor and prestige. “America”, writes W. Herberg, “seems to be at once the most religious and the most secular of nations. Every aspect of contemporary religious life reflects this paradox: pervasive secularism amid mounting religiosity. The influx of members into the churches and the increased readiness of Americans to identify themselves in religions terms certainly appears to stand in contrast to. the way Americans seem to think and feel about matters central to the faith they profess…” They are “thinking and living in terms of a framework of reality and value remote from the religious beliefs simultaneously professed.”

It is this American secularism which an overwhelming majority of Orthodox wrongly and naively identify with the American way of life that is, in my opinion, the root of the deep spiritual crisis of Orthodoxy in America.

3. An Unconscious Surrender

Is there any need to state once more that Orthodoxy, her whole tradition, her whole vision of God, man and world, is radically incompatible with the secularistic approach to religion? Is it necessary to affirm that Orthodoxy is diametrically opposed to secularism because the Truth which she claims to have preserved in fulness and by which she claims to live implies precisely a total and all-embracing way of life and a total and “Catholic” world-view; i.e., a way of looking at life and a way of living that life?

The spiritual crisis of Orthodoxy in America consists, therefore, in the fact that in spite of this absolute incompatibility, Orthodoxy is in the process of a progressive surrender to secularism and this surrender is all the more tragic because it is unconscious. The truly mortal danger facing them is concealed from the majority of the Orthodox, on the one land, by the very “success” of religion so typical of American secularism and, on the other hand, by total lack of spiritual and intellectual leadership.

For, paradoxical as it may seem, the first to accept and to propagate the secularistic philosophy of religion and thus to deepen the internal surrender of Orthodoxy to secularism are the clergy. The external success measurable in terms of attendance at services, popularity, parish affairs, building programs etc., makes them blind to the actual drifting away from Orthodoxy, from her vision of life, of the human soul entrusted to them. It is the clergy who are responsible for that reduction of Orthodoxy which, in turn, opens the doors of the Church to secularism. I have mentioned some of these reductions. It may be a reduction to a formal “canonicity” or to an external liturgical “rectitude” or, finally, to “success” as such. But in each case—-and there are many other types of “reduction”—Orthodoxy is identified with something external at the expense of the internal or, to put it more bluntly, at the expense of life itself which is not even considered as an object of action and influence for Orthodoxy. The latter is both preached and understood as a creed, to be formally subscribed to, a cult to be attended, a minimal set of prescriptions, mainly negative (no socials on certain days, etc.) to comply with, all this within the framework of some national tradition also understood in its most superficial “folkloric” expression (balalaika orchestra rather than Dostoyevsky). But—and this is the whole point—neither the creed nor the cult prescriptions are related to life, communicated and accepted as the foundation, the spring, the framework of that new life which is the only ultimate preoccupation of the Gospel. We have, to be sure, “rigorists” and “compromisers” among the clergy. But the difference and opposition between them is quantitative rather than qualitative, it concerns the scope of “reduction” and not the content of Orthodoxy.

But what some of the clergy do not seem to realize is that the secular and non-religious attitudes of which they so often accuse the laity, especially when these attitudes concern the parish administration or the “rights” of the priests, are the natural and the inevitable result of a more general secularization, which they themselves by their “reductions” of Orthodoxy help to propagate. If Orthodoxy does not apply to the totality of life, does not judge, challenge, enlighten and help to change and transform all of its aspects, then “life” is inevitably governed by another “philosophy of life,” another set of moral and social principles. And this is what has happened to our Church in America. Generation after generation, year after year, our people have been taught that Orthodoxy consists in a regular attendance at services, whose meaning is not disclosed; in keeping a minimum of purely external rules; and, above everything else, in contributing to their Churches. No wonder that they have naturally accepted for everything else in their life that “philosophy of life” which is common to the whole society in which they live and work. That this optimistic, progressive and fundamentally hedonistic world-view might be in conflict with their religion does not even enter their mind because no one has ever mentioned the very possibility of such a conflict to them. On the contrary their religious leaders themselves have fully sanctioned it, provided the above mentioned religious “duties” are fulfilled, provided that nominal Orthodoxy be kept.

In reality, however, a simple coexistence of religion and a “philosophy of life” alien to it is impossible. If religion does not control the “philosophy of life”, the later will inevitably control religion, subdue it from outside to its set of values. One cannot be Orthodox in the Church and a “secularist” in life. Sooner or later one becomes secularist in the Church also.. It is thus in all sincerity that people do not understand why the democratic process and the “majority rule” which seem to work so well in their public life could not be applied as such in the Church. It is in all sincerity that they think of a parish as their “property” and are scandalized by the attempts of the hierarchy to “control” it. It is in good faith that they see in the Church an institution that should satisfy their needs, reflect their interests, “serve” their desires and above everything else, “fit” into their “way of life.” And it is, therefore, in good faith that they reject as “impossible” everything in the Church which does not “fit” or seems to contradict their basic philosophy of life.

And as long as we will not face this unconscious surrender to secularism as the very source of all our difficulties and will not make an effort to deal with what is the real source of all our problems and difficulties, all our attempts to preserve Orthodoxy will suffer from an internal handicap. The real question, therefore, is: can this spiritual problem be solved, and what are the possible ways to its solution?

4. The Secularistic Reduction of the Person

To answer this question, he it only in a most general way, we must begin with something quite forgotten and certainly out of fashion today: the fundamentally personal character of Christianity. One of the greatest dangers of modern secularism is the reduction of man, of his life and his religion to history and sociology. The historical reduction results in relativism: what was true in the past may not be true today and vice-versa, for the very concept of truth is a historically conditioned one. As to the sociological reduction, it consists in viewing man as entirely determined in his ideas, ideals and behaviour, by his sociological environment—be it “middle class”, “modern world”, or “technological age”. A relative truth attained by statistics: such is the formula of secularism. And it is this double reduction inasmuch as it is accepted by the Orthodox, that conditions and provokes the spiritual crisis of Orthodoxy described above, the so-to-speak natural rejection by the American Orthodox of all that which does not “fit” into their “American way of life” and is therefore declared to be “impossible.” It is very typical that this rejection is never professed as a personal conviction. Very seldom will you hear: “I do not believe in this and I reject it because such is my conviction.” The pattern would be, rather: “Our people won’t accept this”, or “It is not for our American people.” Whoever says it sounds as if he personally could and would accept “this”, were it up to him; but since “our people won’t have it, you just can’t go against the people.” In this reduction of Orthodoxy to the “commonly acceptable” there is very little difference between the clergy and the laity. Recently an old and respected protopresbyter flatly stated in a written report to his Bishop that the Parish Statutes adopted by his whole Church and embodying, in a very mild form, the most obvious and elementary norms of Orthodox canon law, were “unacceptable” due to “conditions of life in America.”

It is at this point that one must forcefully state that Christianity deals not with “cultures”, “societies”, and “ages”, and even not with “people”—but it is based on a concept which precisely is not reducible to history and sociology. This does not mean that Christianity is limited to personal or individual salvation. On the contrary, its scope is indeed cosmical and catholic, it embraces in its vision the whole creation and the totality of life, it has always been preached and believed as the salvation of the world. It means only that the salvation of the world is announced and, in a sense, entrusted to each person, is made a personal vocation and responsibility and ultimately depends on each person. In the Christian teaching man is always a person and thus not only a “microcosm” reflecting the whole world, but also a unique bearer of its destiny and a potential “king of creation.” The whole world is given—in a unique way—to each person and thus in each person it is “saved” or “perishes.” Thus in every Saint the world is saved and it is fully saved in the one totally fulfilled Person: Jesus Christ. And within this perspective evil (“… and we know . . . that the whole world is in the power of evil” 1 John 5: 19) is precisely the surrender of man, of the human person to the “impersonal” nature and thus his reduction to, and enslavement by it. It is the triumph of “nature” over the “person,” a triumph which results in a fatal deterioration or fall of both nature and person, for the very calling of the person is to possess and thus to fulfill the nature. Hence the fundamentally personal character of Christian faith. It is preached to the world but in the person of man. Its fruit is unity, communion, love, but it is unity of persons, communion of persons, love among persons. In the Orthodox doctrine of Church no “belonging”, no “participation”, no external “membership” is as such a “guarantee” of salvation; i.e., of the true belonging to Christ and to the new life, but only a truly personal “appropriation” and fulfillment of all these gifts. And, in a sense, a sinful Christian does not belong to the Church, and this in spite of all formal “belonging.”

To remember this personal character of Christian faith is very appropriate when one discusses the situation of the Church in any’ “society”, “culture” or “age”, its relationship to any “way of life”. For the whole Orthodox tradition takes two radically different views on what is “possible” and “impossible” for Christianity depending on whether it considers a person or the impersonal entities such as “society” and “culture” which it includes in the general concept of “this world.” However strong and overwhelming the modern emphasis on the “social” orientation of Christianity, no one can deny that in regard to “this world” Christianity is basically “pessimistic.” And the very category of “this world” in the Gospel is by no means a temporary one, is not to be identified with some aspect of the world (paganism, communism, atheism, segregation). It applies to the “Christian world” as well, and the triumph of monasticism, i.e., world-renunciation, within the Christianized medieval world is the best proof of this. Yet Orthodoxy is basically optimistic about the possibilities of a person. What is impossible for “this world” is possible for the one who believes in Christ; “truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than those will ye do” (John 14: 12). “I can do all things in Him who strengthens me” (Philip. 4: 13). Here is what eternally remains “foolishness” for “this world”, that precisely which “secularism” in all its forms, including the religious one, cannot and will never accept: “this world” always claims that everything is possible for it and requests, therefore, the “reduction” of a person to it. To this, Christianity answers: it is impossible. The man, in his weakness, always says—it is impossible for me, and is tempted to accept his reduction to the world. To this, Christianity responds: it is possible.

All this finally means something very simple and very practical for the solution of our spiritual problem here, in America. It means that as long as we ourselves constantly “reduce” this problem to its “impersonal” dimensions and speak about the American Man, the American Culture, etc., not only do we find ourselves in a vicious circle, but we posit the whole question on an utterly non-Orthodox framework. For in a very real sense no general “man”—be he American or any other—no “society”, no “culture” has at any time truly accepted Christianity and from this point of view there is nothing radically new in our American situation. But at all times and in all “cultures” there were persons who did accept it and have lived by it and, although it was not their “motivation” or preoccupation, they have always and everywhere left a deep impact on the “society” and the “culture” to which they belonged and have truly changed it from inside. Thus the early Christian martyrs did more for the ultimate victory of Christianity than the “apologies,” and kept the Christian society Christian at least in inspiration; the monks did more than “Christian” governments.

My mention of martyrs is not merely rhetorical. For if one takes Christianity seriously, be it only for one minute, one knows with certitude that martyria, or what the Gospel describes as the narrow way is an absolutely essential and inescapable part of Christian life. And it is a narrow way precisely because it is always a conflict with the “ways of life” of “this world.” From the very beginning to become and to be a Christian meant these two things: first, a liberation from the world, i.e., from any “reduction” of man, and such has always been the significance of the Christian rites of initiation. A man is set free in Christ because Christ is beyond and above all “cultures”, all reductions. The liberation means thus a real possibility to see this world in Christ and to choose a Christian “way of life.” In the second place, Christianity has always meant an opposition to and a fight with this world—a fight, let me stress it again, which is primarily, if not exclusively, a personal fight, i.e., an internal one—with the “old man” in myself, with my own “reduction” of myself to “this world.” There is no Christian life without martyria and without asceticism, this latter term meaning nothing else, fundamentally, but a life of concentrated effort and fight.

In very simple terms all this means that in order to overcome the creeping secularism of American Orthodoxy we must, while there is still time, turn from our constant preoccupations with the “American man” and the “American way of life” to Christian persons who constitute American Orthodoxy. At present almost all organized efforts of the Church are split between the attempt to keep the “American Orthodox” as Russian or as Greek as possible and the attempt to make the “Russian” or “Greek Orthodox” as American as possible. In the last analysis both attempts are wrong because both deal not with the “content” but the “form” of Christian life and both, in fact, leave the door wide open for secularism to become precisely the content of life. Ultimately a “value” is to be accepted or rejected, lived by or fought, not because it is American or “foreign”-Greek, Russian, etc., but because it is either true or wrong. But this acceptance and rejection must be preached, this choice must be presented, first of all, on a personal level. For, as I have said above, what seems “impossible” when reduced to the demands or particularities of a “culture” or “way of life” becomes perfectly possible when a person accepts it. It is useless to discuss, for example, whether the Saturday evening service (which most certainly belongs to the very essence of the Orthodox “experience” of Sunday) is “acceptable” or not, “possible” or not, within the “American way of life” in which Saturday night is traditionally reserved for “fun.” For the ultimate problem is not how we can “squeeze” into life a minimum of Orthodox obligations within a maximum of “Americanism”, and thus to show how, in fact, everything is “compatible” (the evening service and “fun” if only it could be moved to some other time). The ultimate problem is whether the very idea of “fun” can be changed, deepened, transformed. For the one who has discovered the meaning of that Saturday service, who has made it part of his life it has become—and here is the whole point—”fun” in the deepest sense of the word, or—to use the term which signifies the “redemption” of “fun”—it has become joy. The path to that joy, however, is a “narrow way.” It begins if one accepts the initial “incompatibility” of the ways of this world with the demands and the promises of the Christian life, if one accepts then a necessary sacrifice or renunciation of these ways, if one, finally—in obedience and humility—accepts the ways of the Church. Now, this can never be a “collective” way because the essential elements and stages of that way: “liberation”, “opposition”, “renunciation”, “sacrifice”, “fight”, and finally, “victory” are spiritual realities, “not reducible” to collective and external actions. This is a very minor example but the same pattern can be applied to everything: to marriage and sex, professional ethics and entertainment, indeed to the whole life and the whole of the “way of life.” On the one hand the “spiritual problem” of American Orthodoxy is solved, or at least on its way to solution every time an Orthodox person gives up general considerations about the “American way of life” and strives to make his life as Orthodox and as Christian as possible, every time—to use the same symbol—he decides to go to Church on Saturday, without asking himself whether it fits or not into the “American way of life” in general. And, on the other hand, it is never solved and no degree of its external solution—about which I will speak later—can be taken as final.

The real problem, therefore, is not that of general and abstract “possibilities” or “impossibilities” but that of a personal reorientation of our pastoral and educational work. For, as I said already, the first to encourage de facto a secularistic reduction of Orthodoxy are clergy themselves. And they do it primarily precisely by always dealing with “people” and not “persons”, with externals rather than the internal, with the “common” and “general” rather than the personal and particular. Furthermore they themselves measure their work only in terms of external success, numbers, formal compliance with rules and regulations; they themselves—from inside—subordinate the life of the Church to the categories of prestige, acceptance, security, etc. An old Bishop, himself a holy and lovable man, once told me the story of his pastoral visit to one of the big parishes. Everything “went fine”—the solemn service, the banquet in the best hotel, the visit with the Mayor, Congressman and other local powers. But then, he said, something strange happened. A young woman asked him for an appointment and wanted him to tell her about spiritual life. The old bishop was deeply astonished—so obviously this incident was out of pattern, out of touch with his whole experience as pastor, administrator and bishop. Yet the incident is very revealing. In fact not only do we have nothing to satisfy the spiritual thirst and hunger of a human person, but we react to them as something almost abnormal, as disrupting the well-oiled routine of “parish activities” tailored for the average “member in good standing” and aimed at keeping him smiling, happy and “proud of Orthodoxy.” In reality we encourage him in his secularism for the religion we preach to him is in no way incompatible with his “way of life,” is literally a cheap religion: it does not cost much money and certainly not much effort. Thus a real reorientation of our leadership is the first condition for the solution of the spiritual problem. And this leads us to the second answer, or rather to the second dimension of the same answer—that of the parish.

5. The Secularistic Reduction of the Parish

The parish constitutes the main battlefield of the war between Orthodoxy and the growing secularization of the American Orthodox. It is here that the spiritual crisis is made obvious by the progressive lack of communication and understanding between clergy and laity, on the one hand, and by the impoverishment of the liturgical and spiritual content of Orthodoxy on the other hand. And as time goes on, it becomes also obvious that mere formal “victories”, be they canonical or liturgical, are not sufficient. For neither a formal restoration of the hierarchical principle: obedience of the laity to the clergy; nor that of “correct” services, important and desirable as these victories are, can by themselves resolve the crisis and save us from secularism. A very “hierarchical” priest may at the same time be a very “secularistic” one and instill into his flock a perfectly secularistic spirit, just as “correct practices” in worship can very well coexist with a consistently non-Orthodox world-view. One must, therefore, go much deeper and raise the question of the ultimate meaning of the parish itself. For our current controversies deal almost exclusively with the form and structure of the parish, but not with its life and the meaning of its life. The basic question: what is a parish? has not yet been even raised, at least in Orthodox terms.

What I have to say here may come as a shock to the great majority of Orthodox. Yet it is a self-evident fact that the parish as we understand it now—i.e., as an organization with officers, by-laws, finances, property, dues, meetings, elections, etc., is a very recent phenomenon and exists in fact almost exclusively within the Orthodox “diaspora”. This is to say that what we take for granted as the only normative and natural form of the Church’s existence is not at all so clearly “granted” and may be not at all so normative. This recent phenomenon requires at least an evaluation in the light of the total Orthodox tradition.

For many centuries—virtually since the conversion of the Roman Empire to Christianity—the parish was identified primarily with a Church, i.e., a temple, a place of worship serving as the religious center of a more or less “natural” community: a village, a district of a city etc. This “natural” community was, of course, a Christian community, i.e., consisting of people professing Christian faith. Within this community thc Church had no other function, but that of literally making Christ present: in preaching, sacraments, worship, education—and of making the life of “parishioners” as Christian, as permeated with Christ, as possible. Those who were selected, ordained, set apart to carry this work of the Church were the “clergy”—and not so long ago the clerical status included not only “ordained ministers” but also psalm-readers, prosphora-makers, etc. To govern and to administer the Church, both spiritually and materially, was not their “right” but their sacred obligation, the very reason for their being “set apart”. Similarly the sacred obligation of all other “parishioners”, called laity, was to receive the teachings of the Church as diligently as possible, to worship God together, to contribute “according to the will of their heart” to the needs of the Church, and, finally, to live as much as possible by the precepts of Christian religion. Anyone who felt the vocation to dedicate himself entirely—not to God and Christian life, for to dedicate oneself to God is a common precept for all Christians—but to the needs of the Church could, after an appropriate training, join the “clergy” and fulfil thus his special vocation. There was no specific “organization” of the parish because it really had no purpose: one does not need an organization in order to go to Church, to listen to the Gospel, to receive “with the fear of God, faith and love” the grace of the sacraments and to contribute gladly and generously to the Church which supplies one with all this; one does not need to be organized to lead a Christian life, fight sin and immerse oneself in the peace and joy of the Holy Spirit. And thus there were no meetings, no. officers, no voting, no elections. There was also no question of “rights” and “control” because it was obvious to every one, that given the purpose’ of the Church, those who were ordained to govern it had to do it and those who were not ordained to do it had to accept this government. People gave money in order not to acquire rights to govern, but to be led along the path of tree Christian faith and true Christian life by those whose special obligation in the Church was precisely to govern.

There is no need to idealize the past. There were plenty of deficiencies and weaknesses in the Church of all ages. There were greedy priests and stingy laymen. There were periods of decay and corruption, and, then, those of revival and renovation. The preaching of the Gospel may have been weak and the understanding of Christian life, responsibilities and goals narrow and one-sided. The doctrine and the liturgy of the Church may not have been understood in all their implications and there may have not been enough concern for justice and charity. But there can be no doubt that throughout all that time the Church stood for and represented something ultimately serious in the eyes of both clergy and laity, of the whole membership of the Church. She referred, be it only by her presence, the whole life of man to the ultimate issues of eternal salvation and eternal damnation; she reminded him of death, Divine judgment and eternity; she called him to repentance and offered him forgiveness and the possibility of a new life and she was here for this purpose and for nothing else. And whether she was successful or not, she was understood, accepted and rejected in these terms and no other. To meet a priest was considered sometimes as “bad luck”—yet even in this vulgar reaction there is more “respect” for the Church than in the modem identification of the minister with an optimistic salesman of reassurance and “peace of mind” . . . In short, the parish was the Church—the other, the ultimately serious pole of life, which one could minimize, by-pass or even reject personally, but which no one could reduce to his own image and “needs.”

In the light of all this it becomes obvious—and this may come as a second shock—that the “parish” as we know it today is, in spite of all its religious connotations, a product of secularization, or, rather, that in the process of its development within the American way of life it has accepted a secularistic basis which little by little dissolves the ultimate seriousness of that which it claims to serve and to express; i.e., the Church. To understand this one must briefly analyze the genesis and the development of the Orthodox parish in America.

The first thing the Orthodox immigrants did as they settled in America was to build Churches. The Church was a self-evident, organic part of their life in the old country. It became their first need in the new one. It was a need for the Church—for worship, sacraments, for the possibility to baptize, marry and bury—and not for a “parish”, or rather for a parish in the old and traditional sense of the word—as a place where one could worship together and have a religious “term of reference” for the entire life. All early documents support this view: the “organization” was something secondary, it was forced, so to speak, on the immigrants by purely external factors. In a Russian or Greek village no one ever asked: who is the owner of the parish Church? And even retroactively it is difficult to answer this question. It was literally the property of God for which everyone had to care but which belonged to no one in particular. Here, however, in a completely different legal framework the land and the Church on it had to be purchased and owned by a corporation. The latter was hastily constituted, usually by some energetic and Church-minded people, but, as the same documents clearly show, with no other idea than to make the Church possible. It was a purely pragmatic development—but it introduced almost subconsciously a first radical change into the old idea of the parish—that of the parish as owner of property and this idea became little by little a real obsession. Then, came the second change. The immigrant parish was poor and to have even a humble Church, together with supporting a priest, was costly. Hence, a constant preoccupation with fund raising, a permanent fear: how to make ends meet, a fear which put money and finances at the very heart of the parish’s life. In fact the parish as organization was born as a material support for the Church, the Church and not the parish remaining, at first, the goal and the justification of the parish. But an organization, when it is born and whatever the reason for its birth, follows almost inevitably a logic of development which sooner or later makes its own “ultimate value.” And in America nearly everything contributed to this logic and to that development: the democratic, i.e., basically anti-hierarchical ideal of society, the cult of “free,” i.e., private, enterprise, the spirit of competition, the evaluation of everything in terms of “cost”, the emphasis on security and saving, the constant exaltation of the “people” and their will, needs, interests as the only criterion of all activity and especially the pragmatic character of American religion—in which activity and efficiency are the main religious values. Finally the Orthodox parish became what it is today—an end in itself, an organization whose whole efforts and energies m-e directed at forwarding its own good—material stability, success, future security and a kind of self-pride. And it is no longer the parish that serves the Church, it is, indeed, the Church that is forced more and more to serve the parish, to accept it as its “goal” so that a priest, the last sign and representative of the “Church” in the “parish”, is considered good when he entirely subordinates the interests of the Church to those of the’ parish.

The third and the most important change was the inevitable result of the other two: the secularization of the parish and the corresponding loss of religious seriousness. A modern American parish may have many good aspects but any deeper analysis must admit that it lacks seriousness in the sense we used this term above. More than that: as organization, i.e., as “parish” it in fact opposes this kind of seriousness, for it knows by instinct and from experience that the success it wants and seeks is precisely opposed to religious seriousness. To be “successful” one has to refer and to. cater to human pride (the right hand not only knowing what the left one is doing but spending most of the time acknowledging and publicizing it) the instinct of gain (bingo being a more efficient way to fill the parish treasury than any appeal to religious maximalism), vainglory (the best, the greatest, the most expensive…). And since all this is done “for the Church”—it is thereby justified and glorified as “Christian.” To. be exact, a parish organization lives by standards and principles, which, when applied to an individual, are condemned outright by Christianity as immoral: pride, gain, selfishness and self-affirmation and even the constant preaching in terms of the “glory” of Orthodoxy is a rather ambiguous substitute for the glory that according to the Gospel is due to God alone. The parish organization has replaced the Church and, by the same token, has become a completely secular organization. In this it is radically different from the parish of the past. It has ceased to be a natural community with a Church as its center and pole of “seriousness.” It has not become a religious community, i.e., a group united by and serving a common religious ideal. As it exists today it represents the very victory of secularism within American Orthodoxy.

6. The Way to a Solution

Can this situation be changed? Can this alarming trend towards the secularization of our Church be reversed? Can Orthodoxy be Orthodox in America? My answer is yes—but only if a radical reorientation of our thinking, of our whole vision of “American Orthodoxy” takes place on all levels—the hierarchical, the pastoral, the liturgical, the educational, etc.

First of all this reorientation concerns the clergy. A leader—it is obvious—must lead. But in our Church today the hierarchy and the clergy are, in fact, prisoners of a system which ironically they themselves have helped to establish, they are literally crushed by a construction in which they have invested so much of their energy, heart and love. Their surrender to the two fundamental secularistic “reductions”: that of the Church to the “parish” and that of the Christian person to a “parishioner” may have not been a conscious one for, as I have said, the parish in its new organizational, secular and legal form appeared at first as the only way to support the Church in a radically new situation. But the fact remains that progressively the clergy themselves were “reduced”, i.e., have become the servants and the promoters of the “system” and of its “needs”, so that today it is mainly through them that the “Church” serves the “parish” and not vice-versa. Not all Bishops and priests realize this, but more and more do, and the growing disillusion of our clergy is probably the most disturbing yet also the most hopeful sign of our time. It is a hopeful sign, however, only if the priests realize what a tremendous responsibility is theirs and what an effort—spiritual, pastoral and, I dare say, prophetic—is to be made.

The necessary condition for that effort, the first challenge to the secularized “system” is, of course, the canonical restoration of leadership within the Church. From this point of view the acute crisis provoked in the Russian Metropolia by the adoption in 1955 of the new Statutes transcends the narrow “jurisdictional” boundaries and concerns the whole Church in America. It is a real tragedy that so many hierarchs do not seem to understand this and, blinded by their petty jurisdictional passions and loyalties are even ready to give a helping hand to the parishes opposing the Statutes. For these Statutes are the first attempt, however imperfect and inadequate, to subordinate the “parish” to the Church, i.e., to reverse the situation in which the Church has become the servant of the parish. But this restoration of leadership is, I repeat, only a condition—-which, by restoring the priest to his real position in the parish, makes the spiritual reorientation possible; but it is, by no means, an end in itself. Understood as an end in itself (canonical reduction), disconnected from the pastoral and spiritual perspective in function of which it is to be achieved, it could lead to another clerical and legalistic “reduction” which is as alien to true Orthodoxy as the “democratic” and “anti-hierarchical” one. Its only goal thus is to make possible spiritual and religious restoration in the two areas, where, as we have seen, secularism has all but triumphed: the parish and the parishioner. Let us begin with the parish.

When I speak of the religious and spiritual restoration of the parish, I have something very definite in mind. For it is very, fashionable today to think that to be “re-vitalized” and “re-Christianized” a parish must be involved in all kinds of social and philanthropic projects, be connected organically with the “secular world” and its needs: racial integration, social justice, anti-poverty programs, urban renewal, etc. I dare to dissent very radically from this view, being deeply convinced that neither of these concerns is the concern of the parish as such. One must be very careful here: I have no doubt that these are concerns for Christians, but not for the parish. Its function and purpose is different and purely spiritual and only inasmuch as the parish remains faithful to this spiritual function can it inspire Christians with their secular responsibilities. In other words, the very success of Christians “in the world” depends on their being “not of this world” and the essential function of the parish is precisely to root them in their “supernatural” calling and being. Secularism in all its forms, including the “religious” one is, in the last analysis, the loss of the experience of God which has always stood at the very heart of religion. And the theologians of “secular religion” are in a way quite consistent when they speak of the “death of God”; they openly admit that which the numberless “conservative” and “traditional” Christians hide in their subconscious—namely, that their religion is not interested in God and has in fact “this world” as its real object. Our parishes, being Orthodox, would certainly not accept the “death of God” theology. But they should realize that lip-service to God within a framework of purely secularistic interests and “activisms” amounts to the same “death of God” even if traditional creeds, liturgical splendors and spiritualistic phraseology supplies them with a religious “alibi” (“we do it for the church”).

“My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God . . .” (Ps. 42:2): this and only this is religion. And the parish as parish, i.e., as Church has no other task, no other purpose but to reveal, to manifest, to announce, this Living God so. that men may know Him, love Him and then, find in Him their real vocations and tasks. Once more it is for the sake of the world that the Church, i.e., the parish, must be different from and even opposed to, the world and its cares, and this means that its proper and unique function is purely and exclusively religious: it is prayer and sanctification, preaching and edification, it is, above everything else, communion with the Living God. The tragedy is not, as some people affirm, that Churches and parishes were too religious, too detached and thus “lost” the world. The tragedy is that they let the world in, became worldly and set the “world” and not God as their basic “term of reference.” And thus they lost both God and the world and became a vague and indeed “irrelevant” religious projection of secularism and an equally irrelevant secularistic projection of religion. Of this double betrayal the modern parish is the very “locus” and expression.

The spiritual restoration consists therefore in an absolute and total priority of religion in the parish. Its secularistic reduction must be counteracted by a real religious reduction and it is here that the priest must recover his unique place and function. He must literally stop playing the game of the parish, he must cease to be the “servant” and the “organization man” of secular interests and become again what he was when people considered it bad luck to meet him, what he eternally is: the man of faith, the witness of the Absolute, the representative of the Living God. “It is his (the priest’s) faith that the world needs”—wrote Francois Mauriac—”a faith which does not wink at the idols. From all other men we expect charity, from the priest alone we require faith and not faith horn out of a reasoning, but a faith born from the daily contact and a kind of familiarity with God. Charity, love we can receive from all beings; that kind of faith only from the priest.”

The first level of that religious restoration is, without any doubt, the liturgical one. Our Church need not be ashamed of her identification with liturgy, of her reputation as the liturgical Church par excellence, even if, in Western categories, this is understood as a lack of concern for the social and activistic aspects of Christianity. For the liturgy was always experienced and understood in our Church as precisely the entering of men into, and communion with, the reality of the Kingdom of God, as that experience of God which alone makes possible everything else—all “action”, all “fight.” And in this sense the less pragmatic and “world-oriented” it is—the more “useful” it is. In my article on the Liturgical Problem I tried to describe the main aspects of what I understand as liturgical restoration. Let me repeat here only that it consists fundamentally in the recovery by the Church of the true spirit and meaning of liturgy, as an all-embracing vision of life, including heaven and earth, time and eternity, spirit and matter and as thc power of that vision to transform our lives. But in order to recover this the priest who is, above everything else, the celebrant of the liturgy, its guardian and interpreter, must cease to consider the liturgy and the liturgical life of the parish in terms of “attendance”, “needs”, “possibilities” and “impossibilities”. The reasoning: “since no one comes to church on Saturday night, why have a service?”—is the very type of reasoning that must be radically rejected. For, as we have seen, the only real justification of the parish as organization is precisely to make the liturgy, the cult of the Church as complete, as Orthodox, as adequate as possible, and it is the liturgy, therefore, that is the basic criterion of the only real “success” of the parish. Let the Saturday service—this unique weekly celebration of Christ’s resurrection, this essential “source” of our Christian understanding of time and life, be served week after week in an empty church—then at least the various secular “expressions” and “leaders” of the parish: committees, commissions and boards, may become aware of the simple fact that their claim: “we work for the Church” is an empty claim, for if the “Church” for which they work is not primarily a praying and worshipping Church it is not “Church”, whatever their work, effort and enthusiasm. Is it not indeed a tragic paradox: we build ever greater and richer and more beautiful churches and we pray less and less in them? Is it not the only real measure of our “success” that today one may easily be a “Church-member” (and even a “president of the Church”) in good standing spending some fifty-two hour’s in Church per year? And finally, are the massive and complex organizations known as “parishes” and which spend an infinitely superior number of hours discussing their “fund raising” really necessary for those fifty-two hours of corporate prayer? The liturgy—which is the sole responsibility of the priest, his “area” par excellence—must become again the measure, the criterion, the judgment of the “parish life.” All conversations about people being “busy” and “having no time” are no excuses. People were always busy, people always worked, and in the past they were, in fact, much busier and had more obstacles to overcome in order to come to Church. In the last analysis it all depends where the treasure of man is—for there will be his heart. The only difference between the present and the past is—and I have repeated this many times—that in the past a man knew that he has to make an effort, and that today he expects from the Church an effort to adjust herself to him and his “possibilities”. The liturgical restoration must be thus the first challenge to secularism, the first judgment on the all-powerful “prince of this world.”

The second religious task and justification of the parish is education. At present it is limited almost exclusively to children and teenagers and constitutes a specialized department within the parish, very often not even under the direct guidance of the priest. What I have in mind here is something much more general: it is the concept of the Christian life as “discipleship” and “education”, and thus the understanding of the whole parish as an unceasing education. Virtually all our difficulties, crises and conflicts have as their principle cause the almost abysmal ignorance by our people of the very elements of Christianity. A recent survey shows that more than seventy-five percent of parishioners in “good standing” have never read the Gospel—except what they hear in Church on Sunday—not to speak of the Old Testament. If one adds to this that even some of our hierarchs think that a formal theological education is not a real “must” for a priest, and that a substantial number of our priests do not consider teaching their flocks to be their sacred duty—one has the peculiar image of a Church disinterested in the very object of her being. But the Christian concept of faith includes both—the act of believing and the content of belief and one without the other makes a faith dead.

Finally the third essential dimension of the religious restoration in the parish is the recovery of its missionary character. And by this I mean primarily a shift from the selfish self-centeredness of the modern parish to the concept of the parish as servant. We use today an extremely ambiguous phraseology: we praise men because they “serve their parish”, for example. “Parish” is an end in itself justifying all sacrifices, all efforts, all activities. “For the benefit of the parish” . . . But it is ambiguous because the parish is not an end in itself and once it has become one—it is, in fact, an idol condemned as all other idols in the Gospel. The parish is the means for men of serving God and it itself must serve God and His work and only then is it justified and becomes “Church”. And again it is the sacred duty and the real function of the priest not to “serve the parish”, but to make the parish serve God—and there is a tremendous difference between these two functions. And for the parish to serve God means, first of all, to help God’s work wherever it is to be helped. I am convinced, and it is enough to read the Gospel just once to be convinced, that as long as our seminaries are obliged, year after year, literally to beg for money, as long as we cannot afford a few chaplains to take care of our students on college campuses, as long as so many obvious, urgent, self-evident spiritual needs of the Church remain unfulfilled because each parish must first “take care of itself”—the beautiful mosaics, golden vestments and jeweled crosses do not please God and that which does not please God is not Christian whatever the appearances. If a man says “I won’t help the poor because I must first take care of myself” we call it selfishness and term it a sin. If a parish says it and acts accordingly we consider it Christian—but as long as this “double standard” is accepted as a self-evident norm, as long as all this is praised and glorified as good and Christian at innumerable parish banquets and “affairs”, the parish betrays rather than serves God.

But having said all this one can hear the question: “All this may be right and good, but how does one even start one of these ‘restorations’?” Is not all this the best illustration of precisely those “impossibilities” which were mentioned at the beginning of this article? And it is here that I will remind my reader of the other—the “personal” dimension of Orthodoxy. I am fully aware that the parish as organization, cannot be “converted” to any of these ideals, except perhaps theoretically. In fact, none was in the long history of the Church, which begins with the terrible words addressed to one of the oldest “parishes”: “I know your works, you have the name of being alive and you are dead” (Rev. 3:1). Conversion and faith are always personal, and this means that although the priest must preach to all, it is always some who hear and receive and accept the Word and respond to it. As I said above the greatest tragedy and the surrender to secularism consist precisely in the fact that the parish—as organization, as an impersonal majority, as ail—has virtually concealed from the pastor the person, who is the ultimate object of God’s love and saving grace. We are so obsessed with the social that not only do we neglect the person but we simply do not believe anymore that it is the social that depends on the personal and not vice versa. But Christ preached to the multitudes, to all, yet he chose the twelve and spent most of His time teaching them “privately”. Mutatis mutandis, we must follow the same pattern and it is the only way to the solution of our spiritual problem. Speaking of the liturgical restoration I mentioned the empty Church. In reality, however, it will not be empty—and if “two or three” attend and participate and “enjoy” the service we have not labored in vain. If but a handful of men and women will discover the sweetness of the knowledge of God, will meet to read and to understand the Gospel, to deepen their spiritual life—we have not labored in vain. If a few will decide to organize a little missionary group, to direct their attention to the needs of the Church—we have not labored in vain. The priest must free himself from the obsession with numbers and success, must learn to value the only real success: That which is hidden in God and cannot be reported in statistics and credited to him at parish affairs. He must himself rediscover the eternal truth about “a little leaven which leavens the whole lump” (I Cor. 5:6)—for this is the very essence of Christian faith. For these few will—whether they want it or not—become witnesses and sooner or later their testimony will bear its fruit. The parish may be improved but only a person can be saved. Yet his salvation has a tremendous meaning for all and thus for the parish itself. Once more—what is, indeed, impossible for a parish, is being constantly revealed as possible for a person and, in the last analysis the whole meaning of Christianity is the victory, made possible for man by Christ, over the impossibilities imposed on man by the “world.”

7. Orthodoxy and America

We may now return to Orthodoxy in America. All that I tried to say, ultimately, amounts to this: we should stop thinking of Orthodoxy in terms of America and begin to think of America in terms of Orthodoxy. And, first of all, we should remember that in these terms, “America” means at least three things, three levels of our life as Orthodox.

It is, first, the personal destiny and the daily life of each one of us; it is my job, the people whom I meet, the papers I read, the innumerable decisions I have to take. It is my “personal” America and it is exactly what I make of it. America, in fact, requires nothing for me except that I be myself and to be myself for me, as Orthodox, is to live by my faith and to live by it as fully as possible. All “problems” are reduced to this one: do I want to be myself? And if I invent all kinds of major and minor obstacles, all sorts of “idols” and call them the “American way of life” the guilt is mine, not America’s. For I was told: “You shall know the Truth and the Truth shall make you free”—free from all idols, free to make decisions, free to please God and not men. This problem thus is fully mine and only I can solve it by a daily effort and dedication, prayer and effort, a constant effort to “stand fast” in the freedom in which Christ has set me (Gal. 5: 1).

In the second place, “America” is a culture, i.e., a complex of habits, customs, thought forms, etc., many of which are either new or alien to Orthodoxy, to its history and tradition and it is impossible simply to “transpose” Orthodoxy into the American cultural categories. To become the “fourth major faith” by decree and proclamation is a poor solution of this difficult problem and the day Orthodoxy will feel completely at home in this culture and give up her alienation she will inescapably lose something essential, something crucially Orthodox. There is, however, in American culture, a basic element which makes it possible for Orthodoxy not simply to exist in America but to exist truly within American culture and in a creative co-relation with it. This element is again freedom. In a deep sense it is freedom that constitutes the only truly “American way of life” and not the superficial and oppressive conformities which have been consistently denounced and castigated by the best Americans of all generations as a betrayal of the American ideal. And freedom means the possibility, even the duty, of choice and critique, of dissent and search. Superficial conformity, so strong on the surface of American life, may make the essentially American value the possibility given everyone to be himself, and thus Orthodoxy to be Orthodox look “un-American”; this possibility nevertheless remains fundamentally American. Therefore, if one moves from the personal level to a corporate one there is nothing in the American culture which could prevent the Church from being fully the Church, a parish truly a parish, and it is only by being fully Orthodox that American Orthodoxy becomes fully American.

And finally “America”, as every other nation, world, culture, society, is a great search and a great confusion, a great hope and a great tragedy, a thirst and a hunger. And, as every’ other nation or culture, it desperately needs Truth and Redemption. This means—and I write these words knowing how foolish they sound—that it needs Orthodoxy. If only Orthodoxy is what we believe and confess it to be, all men need it whether they know it or not, or else our confession and the very word Orthodoxy mean nothing. And if my words sound as an impossible foolishness, it is only because of us, Orthodox. It is our betrayal of Orthodoxy, our reduction of it to our own petty and selfish “national identities,” “cultural values,” “parochial interests” that make it look like another “denomination” with limited scope and doubtful relevance. It is looking at us, Orthodox, that America cannot see Orthodoxy and discern any Truth and Redemption. And yet it is clear to every one who wants to see that there are today around us thousands of ears ready to listen, thousands of hearts ready to open themselves-not to us, not to our human words and human explanations, not to the “splendors” of Byzantium or Russia, but to that alone which makes Orthodoxy, which transcends all cultures, all ages, all societies, and which makes us sing at the end of each Liturgy: “We have seen the true Light, we have received the heavenly Spirit, we have found the true Faith…” And if only we could understand this and take it to our hearts and our will, day after day, there would be no problem of Orthodoxy, but only a mission of Orthodoxy in America.