In the news coming daily from the European continent, churches, that is, Christian houses of worship, even Roman Catholic ones, are being offered for sale because they have no congregations, and they are being bought up by Muslims. Some of these properties are even very historic. It seems only a matter of time before even the great Gothic cathedrals—Cologne, Beauvais, Ypres, maybe even the Sainte-Chapelle—will be converted into mosques, just as the great church of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople was, only without the violence and carnage of military conquest.
Christians are justly concerned, but there is nothing they can do about it. Their numbers are dwindling, not all over the world to be sure, but in parts of Europe. Natural increase is insufficient to replace those who are dying off or just falling away. Religious indifference, combined with new personality-centered movements claiming to be Christian, have taken their toll. Yes, Europe as a ‘Christian continent’ has probably already been replaced by Latin America and Africa, but institutions change very, very slowly, wishing they were still alive, claiming to be, when in fact they are dead.
Nikolaj Velimirović, Bishop of Ohrid and Žiča, wrote of the ‘three ages in the history of the Church’…
There are three ages in the history of the Church: the Golden Age, when the Church was opposed to political governments; the Iron Age, when she was politically directing Europe’s kingdoms; and the Stone Age, when she has been subdued to the service of political governments. What a humiliation for the present generation to live in the Stone Age of Christianity!
It seems that we cannot have sunk lower than the Stone Age, but I think we have. The political governments have now in most places thrown away the Church, seeing that she is no longer of any value to them at all. In fact, in many places the Church is seen as an impediment to the progress of mankind and civil liberties. Ironically, however, having sunk below the Stone Age we do find ourselves—those of us who are still part of the confessing Church—back in a position very similar to the Golden Age. Whoever thinks that the Church is dead, or that we are post-Christian, is, I think, mistaken.
But that doesn't help those who are anxious for the fate of Christianity. In reality, they are grieving for the loss of what is essentially Christian real estate, not the loss of faith. Yes, the faith of Jesus Christ, used to power building projects throughout the ages instead of being allowed to transform and liberate humanity from bondage to sin and death, has produced a lot of beautiful, even awesome, things. But wherever the faith is alive, its works usually pass nearly unnoticed by the world, and even by the Church, whose leaders often pay lip service to virtue while trampling it in practice.
Human nature is fickle and weak. It is, we are, also very, very lazy. Having as a race abandoned our partnership with God in tending this garden universe, all our work is tedium, which we try to escape in various diversions, even—no, especially—in religious activities. And why? Seeking to serve the Lord, to harmonise our wills with His, to follow His true commandments (not those we make up), does not produce religion in us. It produces relationship. (There was no religion in Eden.) This is not easy. Religion gives us an easy way.
We offer God vegetables, like Cain did, and slay our brothers as he slew Abel. And why? Because we want to do things our way. God, if He does exist, should accept whatever we want to offer. This spirit is to be found in every religion, including Christianity. In the long run of Christian civilisations, the spirits of both Cain and Abel are present, just as the Lord tells us when He speaks, in another metaphor, of the field sown with wheat that has been also secretly sown with tares by the enemy. Religions come and go, wax and wane in the spiritual realm, just like wars and revolutions do in the earthly.
Christ says, ‘Do not be alarmed, the end is not yet’ (Mark 13:7).
Soon, it is said, Europe will become an Islamic continent. It is the Muslim belief that Muhammad's religion supersedes Christianity much as many Christians believe that their faith has superseded Judaism. Yet there are the faithful among the house of Israel worshipping, praying, studying the Torah, carrying out the commandments, as they always have, and with whom Christ has no quarrel. In the same way, there are the faithful Christians, worshipping in spirit and truth, rightly dividing the Word of God and applying it to their lives, loving mankind without condemnation, praying for those who hate them.
It is when the world no longer sees such as these, servants of the Most-High, sons of our Father who is in heaven, that those who remain unenlightened by the Gospel will have cause for anxiety, for it is on these the universe is established (as we publicly proclaim on the Sunday of Orthodoxy), and we should hope to be among them. They have no time to quibble and mourn over church properties, even the holiest shrines, because they know where their Treasure is. They know that their Kingdom, as Christ's, is not of this world. They know who it is they have trusted, and why.
Some religions are very long-lived, even when they are false, even when they don't really work, because people do not know, by nature, how great are those things which God has prepared for those who love Him, and they settle for less. Again, this is human weakness, frailty, desire for comfort rather than truth, wanting the feelings of solidarity even when unity is only an appearance, not the truth. Followers of Jesus Christ, wherever they find themselves, in whatever circumstances, are anxious for nothing, not that the Church will ever be lost, nor that anything that the Lord has willed shall fail to come to pass.
Yes, for Christ says, ‘These things I have spoken to you, that in me you might have peace. In the world you shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world’ (John 16:33).