THE NEW YEAR: HOPE OR DESPAIR?
The world we live in has been defined in many ways and terms such as the Age or the O-Rama of this, that and other thing. Most of the definitions more or less describe the actual situation. But there is one definition that does drive the point home quite abruptly. There is one thing that marks our world off from any civilization which has ever preceded it — it is an Age without God!
The great religion of our times is to have no religion. The great act of human reason is to deny the existence of God. A few centuries ago it would have been impossible to be an atheist. All men believed and many of them fought for their beliefs. Today the tables are turned. Disbelief is organized on a militant and world-wide scale; and it presents the major threat to our hopes for a better world and decent living.
As a direct consequence of this absence of God, we have the absence of the Church. By that I mean a lack of understanding of the Church. She is persecuted today, I suppose, as she has never been persecuted before. There is undeniably a great deal of heroism in the Church, and everything to be said for the dynamic forces of Orthodox Unity, renewal of interests in Scripture, renewal of Church attendance; still there is an unjustifiable amount of indifference on the part of Orthodox Christians themselves. And that is the unkindest cut of all! Indifference — even opposition-can be expected from those who are outside the Church; but it is not expected and should not even be tolerated inside the Church. For no Orthodox Christian has the right to be indifferent to anything, above all to God! It is a matter of fact that the majority of Orthodox Christians do not understand the inner meaning of their faith. True, you might add the point that there are many babes being baptized into the Faith and the future looks bright; but the fact of the matter is we know not how many of them will be just "practicing Orthodox Christianity" and to just "practice" the faith is to be of very little use to the Church directly.
I realize that these are bitter words to write, and it could be objected that at least the Church is of some good to them, and that, after all, is the important thing. It is indeed the important thing -for we receive infinitely more from the Church than we can ever return to it, but it is not the whole thing. One of the greatest tasks the Church is trying to do in the world today is that of redemption: and this great redemptive work of Christ is carried out through individuals- through you and me. In sense the Church is only as strong as her weakest member. We not only belong to the Church; we are the Church. Communists tolerate fellow-travelers — those who more or less sympathize with Communism but don't quite go all the way. The Holy Eastern Orthodox Church cannot admit to fellow-travelers or these people who are sometimes termed by some as "Tourists". The Church is infinitely patient with human weakness but she must abhor hangers-on, those who go through the motions of pretending to be Orthodox Christians simply because they happen to be baptized so. A good Orthodox Christian must grow up and mature in his or her faith. He or she must think it out, sometimes even be reborn again and again in the Spirit of the Church. He or she must give himself or herself wholly and totally to his or her faith and belief; and to the extent he or she fails to do so or she is NOT a good Orthodox Christian.
The matter is quite simple. It resolves itself to this: the absence of God in the world and in souls must be filled up with the presence of God. The world will be saved only if good Christians are in it. More than at any moment in history, they ought to be aware of the great problems around them. We should always be asking ourselves whether we really understand and live the meaning of God; whether our pagan surrounding and friends influence us; whether our notion of the Holy Eastern Orthodox faith is sufficiently wholesome; whether our work, our lives, our apostolate are sufficiently situated in the perspectives of that faith. These are the big questions.
Recent efforts of secular magazines and newspapers have been to give the impression that everything is all right with the world. We many times face the constant temptation of falling into the old trap of judging our spiritual state by the standards of material prosperity. If things are going well God is on our side. As Orthodox Christians, we might remind ourselves at this point of two solid truths: to whom much is given, of him much is expected; and, secondly, perhaps we have not been given as much as we think we have. Material success is not a bad thing; but sometimes it causes us to dispense with the spiritual values of our lives. And if we do not have spiritual values — we really have nothing.
There are good reasons for hope as we enter the New Year; the greatest thing we have to fear is the number of Orthodox Christians who will do nothing to change the world. Either they think that it is good enough or that it is not their business to better it. That, in both cases, is a gross underestimation of the Christian vocation.
We are one with Christ only in the measure that our hope is one with His hope. We are His disciples only insofar as we actually tend to move in His Being and in His Truths and in His teachings.
The picture for 1958 is not entirely one of bright colors! It is more a year of Triumph or Tragedy; Hope or Despair.
May the mercies of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ be with us always. And may I wish you and yours a Happier and Holier New Year.
From Word Magazine
Publication of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America