Notes from underground

يارب يسوع المسيح ابن اللّه الحيّ إرحمني أنا الخاطئ

Archive for the tag “Orthodox mission”

An Orthodox hipster?

A few weeks ago I came across a Facebook group called Ask an Orthodox Hipster.

I’ve always had a yen to be a hipster, but I don’t think I’ve ever made it. I suppose the closest I got was a wannabe.

What is a Hipster?

My Concise Oxford Dictionary c1964 doesn’t have it, though I’d been using the word for at least four years before I bought the thing.

But my Collins English Dictionary (Millennium Edition) has:

  • hipster n 1 slang, now rare 1a an enthusiast of modern jazz 1b an outmoded word for hippy
  • hippy or hippie n, pl -pies (esp. during the 1960s) a person whose behaviour, dress, use of drugs etc., implied a rejection of conventional values.

It also gives hippy as meaning having large hips, which is why I prefer the spelling hippie for the other meaning.

Nowadays, however, hipster seems to have come back into fashion and is no longer outmoded, but probably about ten times as common as hippie.

I suppose the term hipster was first popularised with that meaning by Allen Ginsberg in his poem Howl:

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix,
angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night,
who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat up smoking in the supernatural darkness of cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities contemplating jazz,

And after a few weeks as a member of the Ask an Orthodox Hipster group I can see that yes, it is a place for those burning for the ancient heavenly connection to ask questions.

Christian World Liberation Front, Berkeley, California, 1970

And even before the Internet took off, other Orthodox Christians have had a kind of hipster missionary outreach, or started a hipster ministry and then were drawn to Orthodoxy, such as Fr Jack Sparks of the Christian World Liberation Front.

From here on, this gets personal, so quit now if that’s not your thing.

I discovered that the Ask an Orthodox Hipster group differs from other Orthodox groups on Facebook, in that people do not seem to be angry, or attacking each other. If someone asks a question that people can’t answer, they don’t denounce the question as stupid and the questioner as stupid for asking it, they just pass on to the next thing.

I’ve also found that quite a lot of the questions are ones that I have already answered, at least to some extent, in blog posts I’ve written over the last 10-12 years, and if they aren’t, the question is also sometimes a good prompt for a new blog post.

And this perhaps can provide me with a useful occupation for retirement.

Before retiring one thinks of all the things one could do if one had the time, but one does not have time to do when one is working. Many of the things I hoped to do when I retired had to do with Orthodox mission and evangelism, and visiting Orthodox mission congregations and helping them along by teaching and training their leaders and so on. But they are fairly widely scattered, and visiting them costs money. And I think well, I can’t afford to get the car serviced this month, because I have to pay the doctor, or the dentist, so maybe next month. But next month the car not only needs a service, but also a new battery. And the month after that something else is broken, and the price of petrol keeps going up.

But helping people with answers to questions asked on the Internet requires no physical travel, and can actually reach much further, all over the world, in fact. So I think this Orthodox hipster business could be quite fruitful.

We still continue to visit the mission congregations at Atteridgeville (35km west) and Mamelodi (18km East) on alternate Sundays, but travel farther afield will be much more rare physically, but not necessarily electronically.

 

 

Haiti: earthquakes, democracy and imperialism

The media and the blogosphere have been buzzing with reports of some American politico saying that Haitians deserved to die in an earthquake because there was a rumour that some of their ancestors may possibly have made a pact with the devil. But it seems that the ancestors of the US population are just as open to the accusation.

Morehead’s Musings: Interview at Sacred Tribes Journal: Miguel De La Torre on Haiti, It’s People and Religion:

We need to be aware that America from very early on never really wanted to see Haiti succeed. When the Haitian slaves overthrew their slave owner masters, this was really the first democracy in the Caribbean that was established. The democracy in the United States was leery of having a Haitian democracy. People like Thomas Jefferson were very concerned that a nation of free black people, run by free black people might be a bad inspiration for his personal black slaves and those in the South. There has always been this desire to make sure the Haitian people did not succeed because if they were to succeed as a country then that would begin to undermine the mythology of white supremacy. This was active in the time of Jefferson, up to the Civil War, and after the Civil War. So there has always been this relationship with Haiti where we did not want to see it be successful.

Interesting stuff there, in John Morehead’s blog.

And US and Canadian opposition to Haitian democracy continues into the 21st century. As Fr Michael Graves, an Orthodox missionary in Haiti (since reposed in the Lord), wrote five years ago

Greetings from Haiti, where we experience FIRST-HAND the terrible results of the Feb. 2004 intervention and toppling of the Aristide government. The following is one of the best articles describing our situation. Since the majority of the public media all over this area appears to be controlled by the imperialist powers that be, I am circulating this article which tells the truth about our situation. Please circulate it far-and-wide if you are able.

And please pray for us because we are living under an evil and frightening regime.

God bless,

Father Michael in Haiti

Seven Oaks Magazine August 24, 2004

Blood on the hands: A survey of Canada’s role in Haiti

Roger Annis

Five hundred Canadian soldiers are returning from Haiti this month. Together with the armed forces of France and the United States, they took part in the violent overthrow of the elected government of Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide in February/March of this year. Since then, occupying troops have provided backing for rightist gangs who will form the core of the police and government authority the occupying forces are cobbling together to replace the Aristide government.

Troops from the three countries began occupying Haiti on February 29, hours after the United Nations Security Council gave its blessing. Aristide was kidnapped by U.S. forces later that day and flown out of the country. He now lives in asylum.

The capitalist media in Canada presented the coup as a popular uprising against an unpopular regime. Since then, they have kept a discreet censure about conditions in Haiti under imperialist occupation. New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton spoke not a word about the ongoing tragedy in Haiti during the federal election campaign in May and June. Trade union leaders have also been silent.

The truth urgently needs to be told about Ottawa’s crime against the Haitian people.

A disaster for the Haitian people

Constitutional government in Haiti, won through many years of tenacious struggle, has been overthrown. Killings by rightist gangs were widespread leading up to the coup and they have continued during the occupation regime. Several thousand have died. The rightists target supporters of the Aristide government and anyone striving to improve social conditions in the country. Rightists convicted of crimes and human rights violations during previous regimes have been released from prison and are involved in the killings.

U.S. troops have taken part in the attacks on the Haitian people. An Associated Press reporter witnessed U.S. marines joining police in firing on a demonstration of tens of thousands of Haitians on May 18 in Port au Prince. A dozen people were killed and many more injured. Demonstrators were demanding the return of Aristide on the occasion of a holiday marking Haitian independence.

Following the coup, living conditions in Haiti have gone from bad to worse. Prices for basic foodstuffs have risen sharply, the minimum wage has been cut by the new governing authority, and civic services have declined. Flooding this past May on the east- ern part of the island devastated many villages and killed several thousand. In the countryside, drought conditions are devastating the livelihood of farmers and
threatening the vital food harvest. Precious little international aid is being delivered to meet emergency needs.

In a letter to the Toronto Star on July 30, a reader described her dismay with the head of the Canadian military in Haiti when he described the occupation as a “success.” The letter recounted a recent telephone conversation with a Canadian aid worker living in Cap Haitien, the second largest city in Haiti. “Things are so much worse than they were last October, prior to the revolt in February,” reported the worker.

“Supporters of Jean-Bertrand Aristide are still being hunted down by those who support a new regime. Food supplies are low, electricity is only on for one to three hours daily, garbage is piled up along the roads, as there has been no collection for many months now, and people everywhere are sick.”

Why imperialism opposed Aristide

Haiti is the poorest country in the Americas. Average annual income is a few hundred dollars. Average life expectancy is 49 years for men and 50 for women. An AIDS epidemic is ravaging the country. Forty-seven percent of the adult population is illiterate and unemployment is 60% to 70%. The country is burdened by a crushing debt to imperialist governments and lending agencies. Gross domestic product in Haiti has declined from US$4 billion in 1999 to $2.9 billion in 2003.

Aristide rose to prominence in the 1980s during the revolutionary movement that overthrew the Duvalier dictatorship in 1990. He was first elected president that year with the overwhelming support of Haiti’s working people on a platform of radical social reform. Nine months later he was overthrown by a military coup. He was elected again in May of 2000.

The masses in Haiti had big expectations in the governments headed by Aristide, and despite many disappointments with his performance, they continued to place enormous pressure on his government to stand up to the imperialists and improve their lot. Aristide established diplomatic relations with Cuba in 1996, and he welcomed hundreds of Cuban doctors and health workers to provide health care in remote parts of the country.

The post-2000 government built new schools and refused imperialist demands to privatize state-owned services such as electricity, telephones, and ports.

Aristide angered the French government in April 2003 when he demanded that it pay $21 billion in reparations to Haiti. France, the island’s former colonial power, had extorted millions of dol- lars in payments from Haitian governments during the 19th and 20th centuries as punishment for the successful anti-slave revolt that led to Haiti’s independence from France in 1804.

Aristide’s governments brought few improvements in living conditions for the masses. It implemented measures demanded by the imperialists, including lowering of tariffs that protected local food production, emptying of the national treasury in order to pay off international lending institutions, and privatizing some state-owned industries.

Nevertheless, the imperialist powers feared a revival of the mass movement that had toppled the Duvalier dictatorship, and they were not confident that Aristide would keep the island safe for continued exploitation.

Canadian imperialists in Haiti

The imperialist intervention in Haiti was a joint venture with rightist forces that launched an armed rebellion in early February. The rightists were armed and financed by wealthy Haitians and their backers in the U.S., France, Canada, and neighbouring Dominican Republic. They were few in number and weak in the capital city Port au Prince. But pro-government defense forces were poorly organized and armed, and were politically disoriented by the record of the Aristide government in bowing to imperialist dictates.

In January 2003, Canada’s foreign affairs department was one of the sponsors of an international conference in Ottawa that discussed and laid plans for the overthrow of Aristide’s government. Thirteen months later, according to a report on the French-language television news network of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the elite service of the Canadian armed forces was among the imperialist troops that helped capture and secure the airport in Port au Prince in the early hours of February 29.

On July 6, Prime Minister Paul Martin announced that Canada would send 100 RCMP to replace the returning soldiers. Police and soldiers from the U.S., France, Chile, Brazil, and other countries will remain in Haiti, under UN Security Council approval. A press release from the Canadian government described the role of the occupation as being a form of assistance to “the transitional Haitian government in establishing a secure and stable environment, restoring law and order, and reforming the Haitian National Police.”

Canada’s troops provide security for the post-coup regime, and the killings continue. One of the tasks the occupation forces have set for themselves is to disarm the civilian population.

The Canadian government has convinced many at home and abroad that it is a friend of peace and democracy and that its armed forces abroad are “peacekeepers.” This is a lie. Indignation against the crimes of Washington in Iraq and elsewhere will ring hollow if not accompanied by equal indignation at Ottawa’s participation in the pillage and oppression of the semi-colonial world.

Those concerned with human rights, poverty and the oppression of the Third World peoples have a responsibility to speak out about the situation in Haiti. We should demand of the Canadian government that it withdraw police and military forces from that country and halt any form of assistance to the post-coup authority. Working-class and progressive organizations in Canada need to support the people of Haiti in opposing the coup-imposed regime and fighting for the return of the democratically elected government.

Roger Annis is an editor of www.SocialistVoice.com , where this article
originally appeared.

I am not sure that Fr Michael would have sympathised with all the “Marxist perspectives” in Socialist Voice. What is clear is that from his perspective, inside Haiti at the time of the 2004 coup, is that that article was telling the truth about what was happening in Haiti.

As the Kingston Trio sang 50 years ago:

They’re rioting in Africa
There’s strikes in Iran
What nature doesn’t do to us
Will be done by our fellow man.

For more background information see In Case You Missed It: A Pact With Which Devil?

Study finds more U.S. Orthodox Christian converts – USATODAY.com

Study finds more U.S. Orthodox Christian converts – USATODAY.com:

Although Orthodox churches were historically immigrant communities, the study found that nine out of 10 parishioners are now American-born. Thousands of members had converted to the faith as adults: 29% of Greek Orthodox are converts, as are 51% of the OCA.

‘I would not have expected this many,’ said Alexei Krindatch, the Orthodox Institute’s research director. ‘My sense was that in Greek Orthodox, it would be around 15%, and OCA maybe one-third.’

It would be interesting to see how that correlates with the language used in services. I suspect that more OCA parishes use English in their services.

Best Orthodox Christian Blogs

If you scroll down on the sidebar of this blog you’ll find a list of “Top theology blogs”. It’s interesting, but there are very few Orthodox blogs listed there, and I thought I’d create a list of Orthodox Christian blogs, and added some of my favourite ones.

The list is not exhaustive, and doesn’t even have all the Orthodox blogs I read. But it’s a start, and anyone who would like to add more is welcome to do so, and to comment on them. If you add a blog, please don’t forget to add the URL so that others can find it.

Update – NB

To add a blog, enter the NAME of the blog or web journal you want to add, and click on “ADD”.

When it has been added, click on the “Add link” and add the URL of the blog or web journal. DON’T put the URL in the name field, because clicking on it won’t take you to the blog, but only to the description of it on the Unspun site. Items on the list that are not blogs or web journals, or have no links to the URL, will be removed.

See the comments below for more information, or if you want to ask questions about this.

You can find the list of Best Orthodox Christian blogs here.

Towards a theology of religions

Since the August 2007 Synchroblog on Christianity inclusive or exclusive, I’ve posted several more-or-less connected pieces on the general theme of Theology of religion. Now it is time to wind up the series, or at least to draw together the threads of this long rambling discourse, though I have no illusions that this will be the last word on the subject, even from me.

In the second posting in the series I pointed out that

Alan Race, in his book Christians and religious pluralism (London, SCM, 1983), quotes Wilfred Cantwell Smith as saying

From now on any serious intellectual statement of the Christian faith must include, if it is to serve its purposes among men, some doctrine of other religions. We explain the fact of the Milky Way by the doctrine of creation, but how do we explain the fact that the Bhagavad Gita is there?

Race quotes this at the beginning of his book, on page 2, yet one may read through to the end and find that he has still not even attempted to explain why the Bhagavad Gita is there. The same applies to Paul Knitter, and most of the other so-called theologians of religion.

Throughout the series I have maintained that the question whether Christianity is, or should be inclusive, exclusive or pluralist is the wrong question as far as “theology of religion” is concerned, as is the related question whether “salvation” is to be found in other religions.

I have also tried to show that there is not one single “theology of religion”; instead there are “theologies of religions”. A Christian theology of Islam will not be the same as a Christian theology of Buddhism or a Christian theology of neopaganism. An Islamic theology of Christianity will not be the same as an Islamic theology of Buddhism or an Islamic theology of neopaganism. One Islamic theology of Buddhism may have been expressed by the Taliban’s destruction of Buddha statues by artillery bombardment, but the fact that the statues existed for hundreds of years in a predominantly Muslim society shows that the Taliban’s response was not the only Islamic theology of Buddhism.

I should also point out that what I say here is not part of the dogmatic theology of the Orthodox Church. Though I write as an Orthodox Christian, this is not a statement of official Orthodox teaching. It is rather a theologoumenon, an opinion put forward for discussion.

I take as a starting point the previous article in the series, from the September 2007 synchroblog, on Christianity, paganism and literature, in which I looked at the views implied in the works of members of the literary group known as the Inklings, and in particular C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and Charles Williams. There I wrote

Consider, for example, C.S. Lewis’s The lion, the witch and the wardrobe. A child from the normal everyday world hides in a wardrobe during a game, and finds herself transported by magic into another world, where she has tea with a faun, a figure from ancient Roman pagan mythology. A faun is half human, half goat, and the encounter is an introduction to a world of intelligent talking animals – beavers with sewing machines and the like. Lewis has no hesitation in blending Christian and pagan mythology in his Narnian books. There is even salvation. Salvation is at the centre of the plot of the book, but one would have to look hard to find it attributed to any religion at all, Christian or pagan.

Of course Lewis was known as a Christian, and his conception of salvation is a Christian one, but in this particular book he does not deal with what seems to be the central question for many Western Christian “theologians of religion” – the question whether there is salvation in “other” religions.

The next book in the Narnian series, Prince Caspian, is even more populated with pagan deities – Bacchus and Silenus, nymphs and Maenads, and even a river god. Lewis does not identify these with the forces of evil – they are not “satanic”, as many Christians seem to think pagan deities ought to be (and many neopagans think that Christians think neopagans’ deities are). They are rather part of the army of liberation, and are themselves liberated from the powers of evil in the course of the story.

Now it might be argued that since Lewis had a classical education he incorporated these pagan deities simply for the sake of a good story. They featured in stories that he himself had enjoyed, so he incorporated them in stories that he wrote. But there is more to it than this.

In an earlier post, Notes from underground: Of egregores and angels, I wrote:

Charles Williams, in his novel The place of the lion describes what happens when the powers get loose, and when men worship them independently of the power of God. C.S. Lewis sees them as belonging not just to human groups within the earth, but to the planets themselves, the principalities, archontes, princes he calls oyeresu, and each planet has its oyarsa, or planetary ruler, and this was the basis of astrology.

And someone responded

This paragraph is written as though this is a belief of CSL, not a creation of his imagination, which is what it is. CSL “sees” is not the same as believes. This is not ‘theology’ or even something approaching church doctrine held by CSL or CW for that matter. You are referencing here works of fiction, right?

Right, I am referencing works of fiction. But wrong, I am going to explore the doctrine expressed in these works of fiction. I could argue why I think such a procedure is justified, but it would take too long, and might require a post on its own, or even several posts. Suffice it to say that I believe that the works of the Inklings that I refer to are not simply fiction, but are mythical, and, as Nicolas Berdyaev has pointed out, “Myth is a reality immeasurably greater than concept.” I shall, perhaps foolishly, try to link some of these myths to concepts.

There are several indications in the fiction of the Inklings of the way in which they see various deities and spiritual forces and powers. The Narnian stories feature a river god, Bacchus and several others. Lewis’s “Space trilogy” features the ancient Graeco-Roman gods, Mars and Venus, under the names Malacandra and Perelandra, and several others. Charles Williams writes about the Tarot in The greater trumps, about Islam in Many dimension and about the principalities and powers in The place of the lion. Tolkien writes about the creation of the world in The Silmarillion, which also contains a mythical retelling of the Fall.

The Christian Symbol of Faith begins “I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.” Among the invisible things are those to which Williams, Lewis and Tolkien have tried to give visible form in their fiction. The “Father Almighty” (Patera pantokratora, Pater omnipotens) has nothing to do with the “omnipotent god” of the atheists, and whether he can create a rock so heavy that he can’t lift it. It is a translation of the Hebrew YHWH Sabaoth, which can also be translated into English as “Lord of Hosts”. And what are the “hosts”? They are the “invisible things” that God has created.

These invisible things are described in various ways, and have been pictured in various ways by people. Sometimes they are described abstractly, love, beauty, power, strength, justice. Sometimes they have been represented symbolically in pictures, for example in the Greater Trumps of the Tarot, where there are cards representing force, justice, death and so on. At times they are represented by animals, as in Williams’s The place of the lion, as lion, snake, butterfly, eagle. In one scene Anthony Durrant asks if what Dora Wilmot saw was Aaron’s Rod that turned into a snake (Exodus 7:8-13). “I think the magicians of Pharaoh may have seen Miss Wilmot’s snake,” Mr Foster said, “and all their shapely wisdom have been swallowed by it, as the butterflies of the fields were taken into that butterfly this afternoon.”

Williams was writing fiction. Anthony Durrant, Miss Wilmot and Mr Foster are fictional characters in his book. But I think it is fair to say that Williams believed that the shapely wisdom of Pharaoh’s magicians was swallowed by the snake he described.

In Prince Caspian Lewis brings in Bacchus and the Maenads, dryads and fauns, and the river god. Such creatures are found in classical mythology, and Lewis, like many of his generation, and those of several generations before, had had a classical education. British poetry since the Renaissance had many classical references and allusions, and is sometimes difficult to understand without a knowledge of ancient Greek and Roman mythology. But this Renaissance classicism was cold and dead, like the bare marble statues of the gods, for decoration, not for worship. The temples were in ruins, or converted into churches (like the Pantheon in Rome), and even the old statues had lost the gaudy paint that once covered them in the temples.

But Lewis brings Bacchus and his devotees to life, in a fertility rite that produces a feast, and Susan says, “I wouldn’t have felt safe with Bacchus and all his wild girls if we’d met them without Aslan.”

Nymphs were spirits of nature, of trees and springs. Dryads were spirits of trees, sometimes appearing in human form. Nereids were spirits of the sea, though in modern Greek usage the term may be applied to any nymphs, and in some places, even today, people believe that whirlwinds are caused by nereides dancing. In classical times, before chopping down a tree, the spirit of the tree needed to be propitiated. In premodern hunting societies, in many parts of the world, when an animal is hunted for food, its spirit needs to be propitiated.

Lewis weaves this premodern element seamlessly into his story, and in this demonstrates a Christian theology of religion.

If God created all things, visible and invisible, and pronounced them good, then both the trees and their invisble spirits are part of the good creation. Wine, “that maketh glad the heart of man”, and Bacchus, the spirit of vineyards, are part of that good creation.

This, in part, answers the question with which this enquiry was begun. We explain the fact that the Milky Way is there by the doctrine of creation, and we explain the fact that the Bhagavad Gita is there by the same doctrine of creation. In another of his stories, The voyage of the Dawn Treader Lewis introduces a retired star. ‘In our world,’ said Eustace, ‘a star is a huge ball of flaming gas.’ ‘Even in your world, my son, that is not what a star is, but only what it is made of.’

The stars sing at the creation of Narnia, and in the Ainulindale 0f Tolkien they sing at the creation of Middle Earth, but even in our world God asks Job, ‘Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundations? Who laid its cornerstone when all the stars of the morning were singing with joy, and the Sons of God in chorus were chanting praise?’ (Job 38:4-7).

So a Christian theology of religion, based on the doctrine of creation, could say that the gods of the Bhagavad Gita were there among them, joining in the chorus. And there among them too were Mercury, Venus, Mars, Saturn and Jupiter, or as Lewis calls them, Viritrilbia, Perelandra, Malacandra, Lurga and Glund. Lewis calls them gods and angels, as do the Christian scriptures. In Christian parlance the term “heavenly host” could refer to either the stars of the sky, the angels of the heavens, or both.

At this point some might say, Wait, didn’t Boniface chop down the oak of Thor? Didn’t Christians go to their death rather than participate in the emperor cult? Didn’t missionaries call the gods of the heathen demons?

And the answer is, Yes, Christians did all these things.

St Justin Martyr, one of the earliest Christian writers to discuss the relation of the Christian faith to other religions, says:

We do not worship with many sacrifices and floral offerings the things men have made, set in temples, and called gods. We know that they are inanimate and lifeless and have not the form of God (for we do not think that God has that form which some say they reproduce in order to give honor to Him) — but have the names and shapes of those evil demons who have appeared [to men].

In Orthodox ikonography God the Father and God the Holy Spirit are never represented in material form. Jesus Christ, as the incarnate Son of God, is indeed represented graphically in ikons, because though “no one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known” (Jn 1:18). During the iconoclastic controversy the iconophiles made their position clear: “an idol was the image of a creature which was worshipped as God, as was the case with the pagans.” The iconophiles relied a great deal on St Basil the Great’s contention that the honor of the image is transferred to the prototype. For a theology of religions the important question is therefore not so much the image itself, but the nature of the prototype. If the image is of Christ, then honor to the ikon of Christ is honor to Christ, and it is therefore not idolatry. If the image is of the Theotokos or of one of the saints, then honor to their ikons is not idolatry because they are not mistaken for God. The essence of idolatry is worshipping the creature instead of the creator. For St Justin Martyr, the pagans not only worshipped images, but regarded the prototype as God himself, whereas Justin himself thought that the prototypes were evil demons.

In the Christian view, God created all things, visible and invisible, and pronounced them good. But they didn’t stay good. Evil entered the good creation of God, and this fall from grace meant that the human race and creation itself was alienated from God. There is thus both a positive and negative view of human religion, at least among Orthodox Christians. Unlike Calvinists, Orthodox Christians do not believe in total depravity, that everything on earth is so tainted with evil that nothing of God can be seen in it. Human and religion and human worship, like everything else in the world, is fallen, and at best can only give a distorted vision of God. As Father Thomas Hopko notes

While affirming that God is indeed unknowable in His innermost being, and that there are indeed a multitude of manifestations of God and revelations in and toward His creatures, and that there are indeed an immense variety of forms and categories of expression and explanation proper to God in human thought and speech, the Orthodox tradition remains adamant in its insistence that not all of man’s thoughts and words about God are “adequate to divinity” (to use a traditional expression), and that indeed most of man’s ideas and words about God are plainly wrong, being, as they are, the inventions of the vain imagination of creaturely minds and not the fruit of a living experience of God in the actual reality of His self-disclosure.

Yet Justin’s view is not the only possible one. It is also possible that the “idols” of the pagans are false images of the true God, as St Paul seems to suggest (Ac 17:22-31) or of created spiritual beings, not necessarily evil (Col 1-2).

Father Michael Oleksa, the Orthodox missiologist, notes that it was St Maximus the Confessor’s opposition to the monothelitism of his times, and to the Platonic theology of Origen, that laid the foundations for the positive view which Orthodox missions have generally had of traditional societies in central and eastern Europe in the 9th & 10th centuries, and across central Asia and into eastern Siberia and Alaska over the next 800 years.

Orthodox evangelists felt no obligation to attack all the pre-contact religious beliefs of shamanistic tribes, for they could perceive in them some of the positive appreciation of the cosmos that is central to St Maximus’ theology. They could affirm that the spiritual realities these societies worshipped were indeed ‘logoi’ related to the Divine Logos, whose personal existence these societies had simply never imagined.

________
This is the last of a series of five articles on interreligious dialogue and theology of religions.

It has also (a year after it was first posted), been incorporated into a synchroblog on interreligious dialogue. To see links to the other articles in the series, and other articles in the synchroblog, please go to Notes from underground: Interreligious dialogue

Memory Eternal — Pope Petros VII

This is the third anniversary of the death of His Beatitude Petros, Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria and All Africa, who was killed in a helicopter crash on 11 September 2004.

He was the spiritual leader of Orthodox Christians on the African continent, as the secular media would say. Several other clergy were killed with him on that day, including three bishops, so it was a severe blow to the Church in Africa.

Among those killed was His Grace Nectarios, Bishop of Madagascar, whose short period in that country as a missionary priest and later bishop was amazing.

Father Nectarios Kellis was a priest in Australia, and he read in a magazine published in Greece that a priest was needed in Madagascar, because they had been without a priest since 1972, when political changes had led to the expulsion of many foreigners, including the Greek priest.

Father Nectarios asked his bishop if he could go, but the bishiop said no, he needed him in Australia. As the computer fundi for the diocese, he would be hard to replace. But later the bishop relented. I can see that you will just be miserable if you don’t go, said the bishop, so go with my blessing.

Father Nectarios went to Greece, and found the author of the article, so see how he could make contact with the people in Madagascar who were appealing for a priest. He was told that there weren’t any. The person who wrote the article had made it up — he had just seen that there hadn’t been a priest there for a long time, and thought it would be nice if there was one.

Father Nectarios set out for Madagascar not knowing what to expect, and arrived there in 1994. He found two churches, neither in use, one in the capital, Tananarive, and one of the coast. There was a local family that was acting as caretakers of the church in Tananarive, and I met a member of this family, a young man, at the Makarios III Orthodox Theological Seminary in Nairobi in November 1995. I was then doing research for my doctoral thesis on “Orthodox mission methods”, and was interviewing the students (who came from various parts of Africa) to find out how the Orthodox Church was growing in their home countries.

The story I heard from Madagascar was quite amazing. Father Nectarios had been there for 18 months, and had started 15 new parishes in that time. He travelled down the coast taking the student with him, and when he saw a village with no church, would speak to the chief of the village and ask if he could come on a date to be arranged to explain the Orthodox Christian faith to anyone interested. Then a few weeks later he would return and speak to the people there, and then gather the interested people to catechise them and baptise them, and so 15 new parishes had been started within 18 months.

Six months later I met Father Nectarios in person.

At that time Madagascar fell under the Archbishopric of Zimbabwe, and Father Nectarios had travelled to Bulawayo where the Patriarch was blessing a memorial in the local church. While they were there, the Archbishop of Zimbabwe suffered a heart attack, so Father Nectarios stayed on for a few days to look after him. When he eventually returned to Madagascar, he had to change planes in Johannesburg, and as the plane for Madagascar only left the following morning he was booked into a hotel overnight near the airport. The hotel was in Isando, an industrial area, all over factories, where there is nothing to do and nothing to see, but the seminary student had given him my phone number, so he phoned me, and we said we would fetch him and show him around a little, rather than leave him sitting in a lonely hotel room. It was Monday 1 April 1996, in the middle of Great Lent, and we wanted to take him to supper at a restaurant, but finding a restaurant open on a Monday in Gauteng is not easy, never mind one that serves fasting food. Still, we took him round to see some churches and a priest we found at home, and while we were going around he told us the story of how he had found himself in Madagascar. He was quite a delightful character, short, with a reddish hair and beard, and he spoke Australian with a Greek accent.

Later Madagascar was made into a separate diocese, and Father Nectarios was consecrated as its bishop, and served there until his death on 11 September 2004. His successor was Father Ignatios Sennis, who had served as a priest in Calcutta (Kolkata) in India, where he served mainly among the very poor people.

The 11 September 2004 was a sad day for the Orthodox Church in Africa, and for those who died and their families we pray: Memory Eternal!

The Caucasian Church is flourishing

When I think of Caucasians I think first of Stalin, who was probably the most famous Caucasian of the last century or two, the former seminarian who tried to destroy the Church and propagate atheism. Under his rule more than 200000 clergy and monastics were killed, and many more were sent to concentration camps.

But what is happening in his homeland, Georgia, today?

What is happening to the Christian faith he once tried to destroy?

The Church is flourishing, that’s what.

Read all about it in Notes from a CommonplaceBook, travellers tales, with beautiful pictures, of a recent visit to Georgia.

Baptism at St Thomas’s Church, Sunninghill

On Sunday 17 June eight members of our mission congregations at Klipfontein View and Mamelodi were baptised St Thomas’s Serbian Orthodox Church at Sunninghill Park, Johannesburg.

There was also a team from the Orthodox Christian Mission Centre in the USA, who are visiting South Afrrica on a short-term mission for the next few weeks.

St Thomas’s is the closest Orthodox Church to Klipfontein View, and the candidate from Mamelodi was a cousin of most of those from Klipfontein view.

There are more pictures of the baptism on my LiveJournal.

Orthodox mission in the 21st century

This post is from the concluding chapter of my thesis on “Orthodox mission methods”, submitted in 1998. I have posted it mainly as a follow-up to the previous post and comments, especially the comments by Phil Johnson, on monasticism and utilitarianism

In the history of Orthodox mission, we have seen two kinds of approach to the world. There is one where the world is evaluated positively, and another where it is evaluated negatively. In the first view, the world is seen primarily as God’s world, part of his good creation. In the second view, it is seen primarily as the fallen world, the world that lies in the power of the evil one.

These two approaches extend to cover the ecumene, the humanly inhabited world. They are found in relation to culture, to church and state, to the relation of the Church to human society. If Christians are in the world but not of it, then some have emphasised the importance of being in the world, and others have emphasised the importance of not being of this world. I have pointed out that I believe that both these approaches are authentic parts of the Orthodox tradition, and that both are in fact essential to the maintenance of that tradition.

How does this affect Orthodox mission as we approach the twenty-first century? In the First World, the predominant culture is post-Christian. Modernity has affected Christian thinking, and postmodernism has affected some of those who have abandoned the Christian faith altogether. In the Second World, several decades of communist rule have effectively secularised society, leading to a modern post-Enlightenment outlook, though it has sometimes taken a different form to that of the First World. In the Third World, Christianity has been expanding tremendously in Africa, and has been shifting from a Roman Catholic to a Protestant emphasis in Latin America, while remaining a minority religion in most of Asia. There is a sense in which postmodern culture is spreading throughout the world, though taking different forms in different places.

How do Orthodox Christians evaluate these cultural changes in relation to mission? In the negative, or pessimistic view, often expressed by Fr Seraphim Rose, these cultural changes exemplify the spread of nihilism (Rose 1994:12). They are inimical to the gospel, and most Orthodox churches will lapse into apostasy as the world is prepared for the coming of the Antichrist. Mission, then, becomes the gathering of the faithful remnant out of the world, and out of those Orthodox churches that are seen as apostate. In its extreme form, this view is expressed in sectarianism and schism, over such questions as the calendar, or, in the Second World, over such questions as Sergianism – those who were said to be too subservient to the communist state. The emphasis is on maintaining the distinction between the Church and the world.

St Nicholas, Equal-to-the-Apostles and Enlightener of Japan

In the positive, more optimistic view, the world’s culture is not seen so negatively. The Orthodox Christian faith can be incarnated in any culture. The positive approach of St Nicholas of Japan or St Innocent of Alaska to the local cultures in the countries where they were missionaries can also be used with the cultures of modernity and postmodernity. In its extreme form, however, the effect of such accommodation can be to do away with the need for mission at all, such as when a prominent bishop was reported as saying that Mohammed was a prophet of God. Orthodox Christianity then becomes nothing more than a way of “being religious” for people of a certain ethnic or national cultural background.

One of the things that keeps these two tendencies from falling apart completely is that they both look to the same missionary saints: Nicholas of Japan, Herman of Alaska, and Innocent of Moscow as examples, even though there may be different emphases in their interpretations of their life and ministry.

It is probably too soon to try to define the characteristics of postmodernism or postmodernity. It is sufficient to note that in many areas of culture the influence of the Enlightenment, or modernity, has begun to wane, or at least to be modified by new approaches that are in some ways incompatible with modernity. The secular science of the Enlightenment, with its emphasis on empirical verification, also gave rise to scepticism about what could not be verified empirically. In the postmodern world, however, such scepticism is often found side by side with credulity. It is said that G.K. Chesterton once remarked that when people stop believing in God, they do not believe in nothing, but they will believe in anything (though this is frequently attributed to Chesterton, and is the kind of thing he might have said, I have not been able to find a source for it in his writings) . So we find, for example, that people who are sceptical about the resurrection, or even the existence of Jesus Christ, are sometimes quite willing to believe the most amazing stories about flying saucers and the like.

In some ways the postmodern world looks very similar to the world in which the Christian faith first appeared. There is, for example, a similar religious pluralism. The rapid growth of communications has made it possible for religions that were previously confined to one area to be found all over the globe. As a result of missionary activities and the diaspora of members of different religions, people living in places where, a couple of centuries ago, they would have had little chance of meeting members of more than one or two religions in the normal course of their daily lives, can now encounter dozens of different religious views and outlooks. Interreligious dialogue, which previously was regarded as the province of specialists, and involved meetings to which people travelled from all over the world at great expense, now also takes place electronically. Ordinary lay Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Wiccans, neopagans, Mormons, Baha’i and many others from different parts of the world meet and discuss their religious beliefs and practices on electronic networks. There are also numerous new religious movements, and they too spread rapidly and widely. In the nineteenth century, St Nicholas of Japan took Orthodox Christianity from Russia to Japan. In the twentieth century, a new religious movement, the Aum Shinrikyo sect, has more adherents in Russia than in Japan where it originated.

Many of the new religious movements are extremely eclectic. The neopagan religions of the First World are usually conscious attempts to revive the pre-Christian religions of northern Europe, especially the Celtic and Teutonic ones. But in North America (and sometimes elsewhere) they are often combined with elements of North American native religion. Wicca, which, like some of the others, also claims to be a revival of a pre-Christian religion of Northern Europe, is in fact nothing of the kind. It has reinterpreted and combined elements from many different religions, ancient and modern, including Christianity, and some of the elements were made up by twentieth-century novelists. Many Wiccans are solitary, and consciously practise a kind of “mix and match” religion. There is also the New Age movement, which is even more eclectic. Many Christians characterise the neopagan religions as “New Age cults”, though most neopagans themselves do not see themselves as “New Age”, and make a distinction.
These movements, however, even where they do claim premodern roots, have a radically different attitude. They cannot be regarded simply as a revival of premodern religions; they are primarily a reaction against modernism. And they are therefore profoundly influenced by modernism. Tinker (1993:121) observes:

The withering of white Christian spirituality has so disillusioned people that many have engaged in a relatively intense search for something to fill the spiritual void, from Buddhism, Sufi mysticism, or Hindu meditation to Lynn Andrews hucksterism or the so-called “men’s council” movement, with channeling, astrology, and witchcraft falling somewhere in between. In this time of spiritual crisis, Indian [i.e. native American] spirituality, which just a short while ago was the anathema of heathenism, has now become an appealing alternative to many of the seekers.
The main difficulty is that Indian spiritual traditions are still rooted in cultural contexts that are quite foreign to white Euroamericans, yet Euroamerican cultural structures are the only devices Euroamericans have for any deep structure understanding of native spiritual traditions. Hence, those native traditions can only be understood by analogy with white experience…

Both well-meaning New Age liberals and hopeful Indian spiritual traditionalists can easily be swept up into a modern process of imposed cultural change, without recognizing deep structure cultural imposition even when in their midst. The first Indian casualty today in any such New Age spiritual-cultural encounter is most often the deep structure cultural value of community and group cohesion that is important to virtually every indigenous people. As adherents of Western cultures, Europeans and Euroamericans live habitual responses to the world that are culturally rooted in an individualist deep structure rather than communitarian. In this “meeting” of cultures, the communal cultural value of Indian people is transformed by those who do not even begin to see the cultural imposition that has occurred, however unintended. Hence dancing in a ceremony in order “that the people might live” gives way to the New Age Euroamerican quest for individual spiritual power. What other reason would a New Yorker have for rushing out to South Dakota to spend eight days participating in a Sun Dance ceremony? Yet well-meaning New Agers drive in from New York and Chicago, or fly in from Austria and Denmark, to participate in annual ceremonies originally intended to secure the well-being of the local, spatially-configured community. These visitors see little or nothing at all of the reservation community, pay little attention to the poverty and suffering of the people there, and finally leave having achieved only a personal, individual spiritual high. “That the people might live” survives merely as an abstract ideal at best.

According to Tinker then, modernity can be not merely imposed from without, by aggressive culturally-insensitive Western missionaries, but also from within, by religious sympathisers who are ostensibly seeking to learn. In Alaska and East Africa, however, the native people who had become Orthodox regarded Orthodoxy as part of their culture within a very short time, as I have shown in Chapter 7. I believe this might well be because the Orthodox missionaries were themselves rooted in a communitarian deep structure rather than an individualist one. In addition, as I have tried to show in chapter 2, Orthodox soteriology has tended to regard human nature and human institutions in a somewhat more positive light than much Western theology; as distorted and blemished by human sinfulness rather than “totally depraved”.

The modern revival of the ancient European cults of Odin, Thor and Lugh among people living in the First World involves the same kind of reinterpretation of premodern beliefs as that described by Tinker, but at least it does no harm to living community practitioners of those cults. In part the phenomenon that Tinker describes is the difference between tribal and urban cultures. It is also the difference between what McLuhan (1967:84) describes as literate and preliterate, or manuscript and print, cultures. The cohesive kinship community structure of the tribal polity makes way for the anonymous individualism of the urban one – a process that began in the modern age in north-western Europe with scholasticism and the Renaissance (McLuhan 1967:100).

One reason for the rapid growth of African Independent Churches could be their successful retribalisation of the Enlightenment-style Christianity preached by most Western Protestant missionaries. In effect, they have reinterpreted the Christianity of modernity in premodern terms, and have rejected the “cult of civilisation” in which it was packaged. And it is precisely among such groups that Orthodox Christianity is growing in Africa today.

Postmodernism is primarily a First-World phenomenon, though because of the ease of communication, it is influencing other parts of the world as well. Within the First World, many Christians who have been brought up in “Enlightenment” denominations are discovering Orthodox Christianity, and Orthodox apologists are seeking to help these “Enlightenment” Christians to understand Orthodoxy. The religious pluralism of our time has brought these Christians into closer contact with each other. Orthodox Christians from Eastern Europe and the Near East have migrated to America, those from Cyprus have gone as migrant workers to Western Europe, and stayed. Refugees from the Bolshevik Russia have settled in other parts of the world. In the past, the differences between them and Western Christians were explained ethnically. It was the difference between the Greek and German, the Cypriot and British, the Arab and American, the Russian and English, way of seeing things. The new Orthodox apologetic literature takes a different approach, comparing the paradigms or worldviews, rather than national characteristics.

One example of such literature is Bajis (1989) Common ground: an introduction to Eastern Christianity for the American Christian. The book begins with a section called “Western and Eastern outlooks compared”, which starts at the levels of paradigms or worldviews or frames of reference. Bajis (1989:6-8) notes that:

  1. Eastern Christianity is communal
  2. Eastern Christianity is intuitive
  3. Eastern Christianity is holistic
  4. Eastern Christianity sees the Church as a living organism of which Christ himself is a member
  5. Eastern Christianity sees the Christian faith as relational, personal and experiential
  6. Eastern Christianity sees the grasp of truth as dependant [sic] upon one’s moral and spiritual sensitivity.

In many ways, these are characteristics of premodern thinking as opposed to modern thinking. Bajis seems to be inviting his readers to suspend their modern worldview, and try to see things through premodern eyes. As I have tried to show in earlier chapters, Eastern and Western Christianity have been influenced by modernity in different ways, and this accounts for most of the differences listed above. Daneel and others have observed similar differences between African Independent Churches and the Western missions in Africa. In parts of rural Greece, as described by Stewart (1991), Hart (1991) and others, the same could be said.

Modernity tends to be analytic rather than synthetic. It seeks to understand things by breaking them down rather than by building them up. It relegates “religion” to the “private” sphere. It is individualist rather than communal. Modernity is not holistic: its analytical approach seeks to reduce wholes to their components, to disassemble and dissect, and to see the whole as purely the sum of its parts. The holistic view of Orthodoxy (and many premodern societies) is quite alien to this approach.

In the modern world – that is, the world of modernity – Orthodoxy finds itself misunderstood. Modernity has faced ideological battles between individualism and collectivism, which to the Orthodox appear to be two sides of the same modernist coin. But to collectivists, such as the Bolsheviks, Orthodoxy, with the value it gives to the human person, seems to be yet another manifestation of bourgeois individualism. To individualists, Orthodox communalism seems to be another manifestation of totalitarian collectivism, and many Western observers of Russia have seen a continuity between the Orthodox vision of “Holy Russia” and the political messianism of the Bolshevik regime, while to the Orthodox the Bolshevik regime was the logical conclusion of the ideas of the Western Enlightenment, imported and imposed by Peter the Great. In this way Western professional “Russia-watchers” still give a picture of the Russian Orthodox Church in which many Orthodox Christians find it difficult to recognise themselves.

Orthodox communalism, expressed in such terms as kinonia and sobornost, is hard to express in English. “Fellowship” has become trite, “conciliarity” is too abstract, “community” is too vague. But at its root, it means something similar to the Zulu saying, “umuntu ungumuntu ngabantu” – a person is a person because of people; or as the English poet John Donne put it, “No man is an island”.

In the light of this, one might expect Orthodox mission to be more effective in premodern societies, and as I have tried to show in the preceding chapters, this does appear to be the case. In Alaska and East Africa, for example, Orthodoxy could become part of the culture of people. Even where it changed and influenced the culture of the people, it did so in an organic and internal way, so that baptism replaced initiation ceremonies such as female circumcision, even where Orthodoxy had been accepted in a protest movement against a missionary ban on female circumcision. In the diaspora among people from Eastern Europe or the Near East who emigrated to North America, Australia, and other places, Orthodox mission has been less effective, however.

In itself, however, the greater effectiveness of Orthodox mission among premodern people, particularly in hunting, gathering and pastoral societies, is not necessarily unique. Western mission has also tended to be more successful among such peoples in Africa and South America, while spreading more slowly among people who follow the “great religions” such as Hinduism, Buddhism or Islam. But Orthodoxy does seem to have been more easily “contextualised” in premodern cultures, and to become part of the culture of such people.

In the diaspora, Orthodox people, many of them coming from villages in the Balkans and the Near East with a premodern worldview, have emigrated to cultures where modernity is part of the culture. The cultural milieu has tended to be assimilative and hostile to tradition. Orthodox immigrants have often sought to identify with the host culture, and Orthodoxy has tended to become a relic of the past, or a mark of ethnic identity or nostalgia for one’s ethnic roots. In such societies, Orthodoxy found it difficult to “contextualise” the Christian faith – unlike Western Christianity, and Protestant Christianity in particular, which both helped to produce modernity, and was in turn a product of it.

Postmodernity has been bringing a change in this. It is less hostile to tradition, and has often led people to search for “traditional wisdom” outside modernity. The danger, as Tinker has pointed out above, is that the eclectic postmodern approach, while valuing tradition more than modernism does, can also destroy the traditions it seeks to adopt, by appropriating the superficial forms, but not the worldview they are based on. Thus it can sometimes come as a surprise to Orthodox Christians in the diaspora to find that attitudes in the surrounding society towards them are beginning to change. They may find that some people, at least, no longer regard them as irrelevant relics of the past, but as somehow “cool” and “countercultural”.

The West, after centuries of using terms such as “navel gazing” as a term of abuse, symbolic of all that is backward and out-of-date about the Orthodox Church, as suddenly begin to show an interest in such things. An age that has begun to look to gurus – Hindu holy men from India – for advice, is more open to the message of monastic spiritual elders from places like Mount Athos, whose long hair and beards have now become a symbol of ancient spiritual wisdom.

In Russia, one of the characteristics of the religious revival of the late Soviet era, particularly among the intelligentsia, was that it was driven by a search for the roots of Russian culture. Marxist materialism was somehow unsatisfying, and people began a spiritual search in traditional Russian culture. Though this was in many cases a religious search, it was not necessarily a Christian one. Russian culture, however, was profoundly shaped by the Orthodox Christian faith, and thus led many of these searchers to Orthodox Christianity.

One of the mission strategies being followed in the current religious revival in Russia, therefore, is the promotion and teaching of Russian Orthodox culture. As time passes, however, I believe that such an approach will prove to be inadequate. In the Soviet era, pre-Soviet Russian culture was sanitised and Bowdlerised to fit the Marxist ideology. Those who discovered the Christian faith by exploring Russian culture did so as a deliberate choice, which was an act of rebellion or non-conformism according to the values of the dominant culture.

The collapse of the Soviet system, however, has opened the floodgates to a much wider range of cultural choices. There are many more choices, and young people who have grown up without knowing anything of the restriction of life under the Soviet system might be less inclined to seek answers in the Russian culture of the past. Those who are most involved in the religious revival, in the 25-40 age group, never had the opportunities to encounter the variety of culture that the younger generation is now able to experience, and might therefore not be able to interpret the newer imported cultures as easily in Orthodox terms.

The generation of the under-25s, however, who have grown up without really knowing the communist system, might be more difficult to reach by such a method, or might, if they do adopt it, lapse into nationalism and xenophobia, covered with a very thin veneer of Orthodoxy. The collapse of communism has not yet led to its replacement by anything else. The glowing picture of the virtues of capitalism and the free-market system painted by Western propaganda has created a lot of unfulfilled expectations. What it has done, and what Western Christian missionaries to Russia have sometimes unconsciously reinforced, has been to implant Western values of individualism and greed, which find little outlet in Russia, except in a life of crime.

The tensions in Russian society are also to be found in the Russian Orthodox Church. There are groups within the Church that have adopted a xenophobic and nationalist attitude, and have rejected even Orthodox Christians from outside Russia. The leaders of the Church are under constant pressure from such groups to suppress foreign influences, to discipline clergy who are seen as “modernist” and so on.

As the Russian Orthodox Church is the largest Orthodox Church in the world, this is bound to affect Orthodox mission, not only in Russia, but elsewhere as well. It could easily cause a kind of paralysis, and a concentration on external and political considerations. Questions such as participation in the ecumenical movement, for example, could be decided on the grounds of political expediency, on whether it would promote or block the influence of this or that power bloc or pressure group. Such an attitude will not promote Orthodox mission.

If Orthodox mission is to be effective in future, then I believe tradition and traditionalism are very important. The Orthodox Church needs to avoid the error made by so many Western Christians in self-consciously seeking to make the church “relevant to modern man” by the wholesale adoption of modern culture, values and attitudes. It also needs to avoid the pseudotraditionalism of making certain selected traditions badges of identity, and therefore marks of self-righteousness. The self-righteous denunciations of others by many of the Old Calendrists, for example, have little to do with the genuine Orthodox tradition that promotes the virtues of modesty, humility, patience and love. Using traditions as badges of identity to denounce others is quite incompatible with this.

What is most urgently needed for mission is the renewal of the genuine tradition of Orthodox monasticism that promotes these virtues. In many places, this is happening. Monasteries, like mission, have been growing since the 1960s. If this genuine spiritual life in Orthodoxy grows, then mission will be the automatic consequence. If Orthodox leaders who participate in the ecumenical movement are filled with these virtues, then they will not be corrupted by their participation in it, as the xenophobes and nationalists fear, nor, should they withdraw from the ecumenical movement, would it be from considerations of political expediency.

The revival of interest in tradition that has come with postmodernity provides a mission opportunity for Orthodox Christians not only in the First World, but also in the Second and Third Worlds as well. The religious eclecticism of the New Age is not confined to the First World. It is universal. One of the students at the Orthodox theological seminary in Nairobi was from a country town in Cameroun. He had been baptised a Roman Catholic, and at the age of 16 had become a Rosicrucian, and had tried Ekankar, Wicca and several other Western religious movements before becoming a Hindu and travelling to India to spend some years studying under a guru. On his return to Cameroun he had a vision in which his spirit guides told him to worship the Triune God, and he travelled to Yaounde, the capital, to look for a trinitarian church. The first one he found was the Orthodox Cathedral, so he became an Orthodox Christian.

But postmodernity, as a reaction against modernity, can also impose the values of modernity. Traditions can become diluted by eclecticism, and the salt can lose its savour. The Orthodox vision and vocation is not to be overwhelmed by the world, but it is a vision of a world renewed and restored by the life of Christ. The traditions need to be strengthened so that they are not diluted and overwhelmed by eclecticism. This means that monasticism needs to be restored, as is happening in parts of Greece, Russia, Serbia and other places. It also needs to be returned to Africa, where it started.

The obstacles to this are great. Where, in the Orthodox disapora, Orthodox Christians have sought to accommodate to modernity, monasticism has not flourished. Some have tended to be embarrassed by it, and have at best regarded it as a quaint survival, or not quite in accordance with the image of a “modern” church. In the Second World, monasteries have to overcome the deliberate attempts to destroy them made by communist regimes. To extend the metaphor used by Sister Philotheia of the Monastery of St John the Forerunner in Karea, Athens, the wells are few, and so many are having to make do with bottled water. And sometimes the bottled water could come from contaminated wells.

As we look forward to the 21st century then, the Orthodox Church in its mission is faced by both opportunities and dangers. For the first time since the 6th century, more Orthodox Christians in more countries are free to engage in mission, unhindered by hostile and repressive governments. The Orthodox Church’s unique experience of modernity, and its stronger base in premodern culture, gives it more opportunities than Western Christians to make its message heard, both among those who are becoming somewhat disillusioned with modernity, and among those who have been, rather reluctantly, dragged into it.

Christianity and literature

I have a number of web pages on Christianity and literature, linked to one main page on the topic, and I had a look at the statistics for the main page today to see who had been visiting it.

Num Perc. Country Name
drill down 21 33.33% United States United States
drill down 13 20.63% Germany Germany
drill down 6 9.52% Malaysia Malaysia
drill down 5 7.94% South Africa South Africa
drill down 5 7.94% Canada Canada
drill down 3 4.76% Philippines Philippines
drill down 2 3.17% New Zealand New Zealand
drill down 2 3.17% Jordan Jordan
drill down 1 1.59% Australia Australia
drill down 1 1.59% Morocco Morocco
drill down 1 1.59% Austria Austria
drill down 1 1.59% United Kingdom United Kingdom
drill down 1 1.59% Poland Poland
drill down 1 1.59% Belgium Belgium

One of the things that surprised me was the number of visitors from Muslim countries – Malaysia, Jordan and Morocco. Nobody left comments in my guestbook or message forum linked to the page to say why they were visiting the page (unless they were the ones who keep visiting my guestbook to enter advertising spam, which I delete before anyone has seen it). So it leaves me wondering if there are Muslims who are interested in discussions of Christianity and literature, and whether there are Muslims who are interested in the kind of literature I discuss on those pages (mainly fantasy literature by the Inklings (Lewis, Williams, Tolkien & Co) and Beat generation literature).

Another thing is that there are no Second-World countries on the list. One thing that struck me when I was doing my doctoral research on Orthodox mission was the number of young people at the end of the Bolshevik period who came to faith in Christ through reading fantasy literature by the Inklings. Quite a number of them were interested in space travel and science fiction, and when they came across the space travel books of C.S. Lewis, like Out of the silent planet, said that these had changed their perception of the Christian faith, and aroused their interest in it. Have changing times caused them to lose that interest?

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