Thursday, August 4, 2016
And you shall find rest
Russia, on the other hand, is not in this position at all—seriously! We have no concept of what it is like to live in a country with a state church like England, Denmark, Greece, or… Russia. My family is Greek Orthodox. Our experience is that of living in an Orthodox village surrounded by indifferent neighbors, people whose lives are either molded by some other philosophy or religion, or by nothing at all, except self-indulgence. Three of my sons have visited or lived in Orthodox countries—Greece, Russia. The son who visited and for a short time lived in Russia returned a changed man. He had not realized until then, growing up in our Orthodox village in pluralistic America, what a whole country would look like that was molded by the same faith, where when someone told you they were going to church, that only meant one thing—the Divine Liturgy. American evangelicals and evangelists that are sent to Russia don’t quite get it. They think they want to bring Russia to Jesus Christ. Some of them get evangelized by Russia!
When the Soviet Union was beginning to lose its hold on the Russian and other peoples, Christianity was gradually allowed to be ‘out’ again, to be practiced openly. As of 2012, the Church in Russia was about eighty-seven percent Orthodox, and about thirteen percent Other (our word for it is Heterodox, which means the same thing). Of that thirteen percent, eight percent are Christians but unchurched, and five percent are split among Old Believers, Protestants, and Roman Catholics, in that order. Of the whole Russian population, however, only forty-seven percent claim to be any type of Christian at all. These statistics are somewhat misleading, because of the history of the country, where for seventy years being or admitting to being a Christian was punishable in various ways. Russian statistics should be read as ‘at least that much’ in contrast to American statistics which should be read ‘at most that much.’
The historical and cultural legacy of Russia is, undeniably, Orthodox Christianity. When, after the thaw in religious curtailment, Protestants were flooding in, bringing bibles, the Russian Orthodox Church was supportive. Why? Because bibles were being printed and distributed. Eventually, the Russian Church began to resent and finally repel the evangelicals. Why? Because they were no longer satisfied to distribute the bible to Orthodox believers, they began to evangelize them, as if that were possible, or necessary. In other words, they placed themselves and their doctrinal teachings in conflict with the Orthodox faith and order in the country. The Orthodox follow the scriptural teaching of Paul the Apostle, who says, ‘My ambition has always been to preach the Good News where the name of Christ has never been heard, rather than where a church has already been started by someone else’ (Romans 15:20).
The bible-thumpers apparently take this text lightly, for they have no scruple about what they are doing. The Russian Orthodox Church is not actually a ‘state church’ as the new Russian constitution also stipulates a separation of Church and State. Due to historical circumstances, this is hard to carry out, because Orthodoxy has left its symbols in Russian culture at all levels. The new laws that are being enacted are without doubt intended to prevent further infiltration of historic Russian Christianity by disruptive and unhealthy aspects inherent in evangelicalism, particularly the American brand, where boys of twenty-two years are routinely set up as pastors in congregations, and acceptance of marijuana use, desecration of the human body, and other symptoms of degeneracy are common. What the new laws are attempting to do is prevent ignorance from corrupting the wisdom of ancient Christianity.
Other countries have similar laws. I am told that public evangelism is illegal in Greece. Not even the Greek Orthodox Church can do evangelism on the streets. Of course, there, it’s not needed or wanted. In Greece, everyone is Orthodox except a handful of non-comformists, and traditional ethnic minorities like Italians or Turks. If you’re a Greek, you’re either pious and sometimes learned, or you’re usually indifferent yet patriotically attached to the Church. If an evangelical missionary is looking to bring the Greek people to Christ, he might be met with a response from either type of Greek that says as much as, ‘What do you mean, bring the Greek people to Christ? He’s here with us, and has been here all this time!’ Again, this is something I don’t expect evangelicals to understand.
Roman Catholics, on the other hand, understand this concept quite well, yet even they sometimes launch a crusade into Orthodox territory in order to ‘heal the schism’ between East and West. Thankfully, this is mostly a thing of the past, except in countries which straddle the East-West divide, such as Ukraine, Slovakia, the former Yugoslavia, and some areas in the Near East.
To close, I’m not entirely sure that the ancient way of ‘one nation, one faith’ which began in ancient Egypt, was institutionalized in the Christian Roman and Byzantine Empires and their successor states, right up to the Protestant Reformation, isn’t perhaps the best way. Again, I think this kind of development is part of the evolutionary processes that create and mold human societies and nations. What we have going for us in America seemed very good on paper to our founding fathers and we are still engaged in trying it out, this separation of Church and State. Will it end up being one of the principles that ensures the survival of the American nation, or will our descendants look back at us with amazement, ‘How in the world did they think that the body politic could survive when it was parsed out and the pieces put ahead of the whole? Thank God we took the prophet’s advice and saved America!’
‘Put yourself on the ways of long ago, inquire about the ancient paths: which was the good way? Take it then, and you shall find rest’ (Jeremiah 6:16 Jerusalem Bible).
at 4:06 PM