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The Orthodox World-view


    With such an attitude—a view of both the good things and the bad things in the world—it is possible for us to have and to live an Orthodox world-view, that is, an Orthodox view on the whole of life, not just on narrow church subjects. There exists a false opinion, which unfortunately is all to widespread today, that it is enough to have an Orthodoxy that is limited to the church building and formal "Orthodox" activities, such as praying at certain times or making the sign of the Cross; in everything else, so this opinion goes, one can be like anyone else, participating in the life and culture of our times without any problem, as long as we don't commit sin.
    Anyone who has come to realize how deep Orthodoxy is, and how full is the commitment which is required of the serious Orthodox Christian, and likewise what totalitarian demands the contemporary world makes on us, will easily see how wrong this opinion is. One is Orthodox all the time every day, in every situation of life, or one is not really Orthodox at all. Our Orthodoxy is revealed not just in our strictly religious views, but in everything we do and say. Most of us are very unaware of the Christian, religious responsibility we have for the seemingly secular part of our lives. The person with a truly Orthodox world-view lives every part of his life as Orthodox.
    Let us, therefore, ask here: How can we nourish and support this Orthodox world-view in our daily life?
    The first and most obvious way is to be in constant contact with the sources of Christian nourishment, with everything that the Church gives us for our enlightenment and salvation: the Church services and Holy Mysteries, Holy Scripture, the Lives of Saints, the writings of the Holy Fathers. One must, of course, read books that are on one's own level of understanding, and apply the Church's teaching to one's own circumstances in life; then they can be fruitful in guiding us and changing us in a Christian way.
    But often these basic Christian sources do not have their full effect on us, or don't really affect us at all, because we don't have the right Christian attitude towards them and towards the Christian life they are supposed to inspire. Let me now say a word here about what our attitude should be if we are to obtain real benefit from them and if they are going to be for us the beginning of a truly Orthodox world-view.
    First of all, Christian spiritual food, by its very nature, is something living and nourishing; if our attitude towards it is merely academic and bookish, we will fail to get the benefit it is meant to give. Therefore, if we read Orthodox books or are interesting in Orthodoxy only to gain information—or show off our knowledge to others, we are missing the point; if we learn of the commandments of God and the law of His Church merely to be "correct" and to judge the "incorrectness" of others, we are missing the point. These things must not merely affect our ideas, but must directly touch our lives and change them. In any time of great crisis in human affairs—such as the critical times right in front of us in the free world—those who place their trust in outward knowledge, in laws and canons and correctness, will be unable to stand. The strong ones then will be those whose Orthodox education has given them a feel for what is truly Christian, those whose Orthodoxy is in the heart and is capable of touching other hearts.
    Nothing is more tragic than to see someone who is raised in Orthodoxy, has a certain idea of the catechism, has read some Lives of Saints, has a general idea of what Orthodoxy stands for, understands some of the services, and then is unaware of what is going on around him. And he gives his children this life in two categories: one is the way most people live and the other way is how Orthodox live on Sundays and when they are reading some Orthodox text. When a child is raised like that he is most likely not going to take the Orthodox one; it is going to be a very small part of his life, because the contemporary life is too attractive, too many people are going for it, it is too much a part of reality today, unless he has been really taught how to approach it, how to guard himself against the bad effects of it and how to take advantage of the good things which are in the world.
    Therefore, our attitude, beginning right now, must be down-to-earth and normal. That is, it must be applied to the real circumstances of our life, not a product of fantasy and escapism and refusal to face the often unpleasant facts of the world around us. An Orthodoxy that is too exalted and too much in the clouds belongs in a hothouse and is incapable of helping us in our daily life, let along saying anything for the salvation of those around us. Our world is quite cruel and wounds souls with its harshness; we need to respond first of all with down-to-earth Christian love and understanding, leaving accounts of hesychasm and advanced forms of prayer to those capable of receiving them.
    So also, our attitude must not be self-centered but reaching out to those who are seeking for God and for a godly life. Nowadays, wherever there is a good-sized Orthodox community, the temptation is to make it into a society for self-congratulation and for taking delight in our Orthodox virtues and achievements: the beauty of our church buildings and furnishings, the splendor of our services, even the purity of our doctrine. But the true Christian life, even since the time of the Apostles, has always been inseparable from communicating it to others. An Orthodoxy that is alive by this very fact shines forth to others—and there is no need to pen a "department of missions" to do this; the fire of true Christianity communicates itself without this. If our Orthodoxy is only something we keep for ourselves, and boast about it, then we are the dead burying the dead—which is precisely the state of many of our Orthodox parishes today, even those that have a large number of young people, if they are not going deeply into their Faith. It is not enough to say that the young people are going to church. We need to ask what they are getting in church, what they are taking away from church, and, if they are not making Orthodoxy a part of their whole life, then it really is not sufficient to say that they are going to church.
    Likewise, our attitude must be loving and forgiving. There is a kind of hardness that has crept into Orthodox life today: "That man is a heretic; don't go near him;" "that one is Orthodox, supposedly, but you can't really be sure;" "that one there is obviously a spy." No one will deny that the Church is surrounded by enemies today, or that there are some who stoop to taking advantage of our trust and confidence. But this is the way it has been since the time of the Apostles, and the Christian life has always been something of a risk in this practical way. But even if we are sometimes taken advantage of and do have to show some caution in this regard, still we cannot give up our basic attitude of love and trust without which we lose one of the very foundations of our Christian life. The world, which has no Christ, has to be mistrustful and cold, but Christians, on the contrary, have to be loving and open, or else we will lose the salt of Christ within us and become just like the world, good for nothing but to be cast out and trodden underfoot.
    A little humility in looking at ourselves would help us to be more generous and forgiving of the faults of others. We love to judge others for the strangeness of their behavior; we call them "cuckoos" or "crazy converts." It is true that we should beware of really unbalanced people who can do us great harm in the Church. But what serious Orthodox Christian today is not a little "crazy?" We don't fit in with the ways of this world; if we do, in today's world, we aren't serious Christians. The true Christian today cannot be at home in the world; he cannot help but feel himself and be regarded by others as a little "crazy." Just to keep alive the ideal of other-worldly Christianity today, or to get baptized as an adult, or to pray seriously, is enough to put you into a crazy house in the Soviet Union and in many other countries, and these countries are leading the way for the rest of the world to follow.
    Therefore, let us not be afraid of being considered a little "crazy" by the world, and let us continue to practice the Christian love and forgiveness which the world can never understand, but which in its heart it needs and even craves.
    Finally, our Christian attitude must be what, for want of a better word, I would call innocent. Today the world places a high value on sophistication, on being worldly-wise, on being a "professional." Orthodoxy places no value on these qualities; they kill the Christian soul. And yet these qualities constantly creep into the Church and into our lives. How often one hears enthusiastic converts especially, express their desire of going to the great Orthodox centers, the cathedrals and monasteries where sometimes thousands of the faithful come together and everywhere the talk is of church matters, and one can feel how important Orthodox is, after all. That Orthodoxy is a small drop in the bucket when you look at the whole society, but in the great cathedrals and monasteries there are so many people that it seems as though it is really an important thing. And how often one sees these same people in a pitiful state after they have indulged their desire, returning from the "great Orthodox centers" sour and dissatisfied, filled with worldly church gossip and criticism, anxious above all to be "correct" and "proper" and worldly-wise about church politics. In a word, they have lost their innocence, their unworldliness, being led astray by their fascination with the worldly side of the Church's life.
    In various forms, this is a temptation to us all, and we must fight it by not allowing ourselves to overvalue the externals of the Church, but always returning to the "one thing needful": Christ and the salvation of our souls from this wicked generation. We needn't be ignorant of what goes on in the world and in the Church—in fact, for our own selves we have to know—but our knowledge must be practical and simple and single-minded, not sophisticated and worldly.

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