Friday, July 25, 2003

How and how not to read the Church Fathers
by I.M. Kontzevich
Lots of good points here.

Just a few examples:

'Orthodox youth conventions in America as a general rule are an incongruous combination of the sacred and the profane: the serving of Divine Liturgy and discussions on such questions as the keeping of Lent, mixed with elaborate Saturday-night dances fully in the "American life-style" and other amusements for the delegates including "rock and roll" bands, imitation gambling casinos and "belly dances".'

The last example Mr K gives definitely goes too far! As did a dreadful party I once went to at a 'Catholic' college chaplaincy that had as dance music Meat Loaf's 'Paradise by the Dashboard Lights'. But somewhere between this extreme and playing monks there must be a golden mean. To hell literally with 'Spring Break' and MTV (I remember when it was relatively OK and actually played music videos), but really, an American ’50s-style sock hop isn't evil.

'Even more serious gatherings sponsored by some Orthodox jurisdictions usually fail to escape the light-minded spirit of contemporary life. Usually, they only reflect the majority of pampered, self-centered, frivolous young people of today who, when they come to religion, expect to find "spirituality with comfort," some thing which is instantly reasonable to their immature minds which have been stupefied by their "modern education."'

Reminds me: a lot of the recent dumbing-down of Western worship is really an abandonment of Godwardness and the adoption of middle-class decorum — superficial friendliness, 'team players', etc., the stuff of corporate America — as religion. The same is true of funerals that have become de facto canonizations of the dead person — actually praying for the dead is seen as superstitious and déclassé. A victory for Protestantism.

'We must face squarely a painful but necessary truth; a person who is seriously reading the Holy Fathers and who is struggling according to his strength (even if on a very primitive level) to lead an Orthodox spiritual life must be out of step with the times, must be a stranger to the atmosphere of contemporary "religious" movements and discussions, must be consciously striving to lead a life quite different ...'

Like anything this can be taken too far but it is still true, be you Anglo-Catholic, RC or Eastern Orthodox. People squarely in the historic mainstream of the great tradition are a sidelined remnant today, wherever you go. I've had allegedly religious-conservative ex-friends give me the same line as the openly liberal: basically 'drop that artsy-fartsy old-fashioned stuff and get with the program'. Whose program?

'... it is not surprising that some... should catch a glimpse of the fire of true Orthodoxy which is contained in Divine services and in the Patristic writings, and. holding it as a standard against those who are satisfied with a worldly religion, should become zealots of true Orthodox life and faith. In itself, this is praiseworthy; but in actual practice it is not so easy to escape the nets of worldliness they desire to escape, but also are led outside the realm of Orthodox tradition altogether into something more like a feverish sectarianism.'

Maybe Mr K had the gift of prophecy, ’cos it sounds like he’s describing a lot of the Orthodox online scene.

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