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Problems of Orthodoxy in America

The Spiritual Problem

by Father Alexander Schmemann

This is an incredibly insightful and penetrating essay which, when written decades ago in the sixties, probably applied almost solely to America. Unfortunately, after the fall of Communism secularism began to make steady inroads into historically Orthodox countries. While in Romania in January, 2008, I distinctly remember the highly esteemed Bishop Vasile of Cluj-Napoca remarking with great sadness that secularism was perhaps the greatest threat to the Church in Romania, and that stemming its tide seemed almost hopeless. Other pious Romanians lamented the abrupt loss of morality and Christian virtue in general that began after Ceauşescu fell from power and the doors were flung wide open to Western cultural influences, especially television—which had been severely limited during Communism. Similar scenarios could be played out in Russia and Greece. Thus, many of Fr. Alexander's brilliant comments are today applicable outside of America.

May his words help us all—clergy and laity—firmly to reject secularism and fully to embrace an authentic Orthodox way of life that is deeply rooted in Christ and His Church. —Patrick Barnes

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.

From St. Vladimir's Theological Quarterly, Vol. 9, No. 4 (1965), pp. 171-193. This was the third essay in a series on the problems of Orthodoxy in America.