Modernity and Orthodoxy

Bishop Jovan (Puric)

The modern world functions as a single planetary market on which everything is sold and bought: from physical territories, possessions and objects, to virtual “electronic money” and stock market shares, to identity and sovereignty, memory, soul, even past and future! The principle of a market economy emerged as universally valid, possessing not only economic principles but also for comprehensive human life. The overall life of humanity, and every individual human being, in all timezones, depends on the impersonal and ruthless laws and mechanisms of market economics, the aggressive dynamics of supply and demand, production and consumption, input and output. The spirit of this modern consumer civilisation, “the civilization of turning a human being into a thing”, is the spirit of greed and lust, “insatiable hunger for things and possessing them”.

Actually, one of the basic features of modern civilisation, “the fuel” of its progress and development, is that artificial “development” of that insatiable hunger in people, or more precisely the passion for possessing and spending, a hunger which cannot be satisfied by either possessing or spending since, as we know from the Tradition of the ascetic Fathers of the Church, passion may not be “satisfied”; the more it is practised, the more it is developed and permeating the man, subordinating him, reducing his freedom, sucking out his life energy, narrowing the horizon of his godlike personality, numbing its bodily and spiritual senses, passivising the mental powers of his soul, disturbing the psychological and psychical balance of his personality, causing physical and mental diseases, until it brings the man to complete spiritual and life ruin, and even physical death.

The aforementioned econo-centric way of life; the life of idolatry to a deified economy, economic progress, and an improving of the living standard, is imposed on people and nations of the world, willing or unwilling, through all systems of civilisation by global political, economic, and media elites who, in an organised and systematic manner - by acting “in the shadow” of legal political institutions, but in fact out of their actual control - deal with “anthropological and social engineering”, or the production of an ideologically eligible and “politically correct” society, i.e. a “new man” for a “new society”, the man no longer “in the image and likeness of God” (1 Moses1:4) but in the “image and likeness” of this world and its human and divine ideologies, its “prejudices, lusts and greed”; a world that would call itself “the open society of the future” or the era of global triumph of the liberal democracy as “the end of history.” 

That is the world we live in as Orthodox Christians in the 21st century. However, the living pastoral experience of the Church, its arch-pastors, pastors, and shepherds, indicates that inside such a world, “the endless labyrinth of human soul and being still continue(s)” being open, hungry, and thirsty; in that world there is still thirst for the Truth, thirst for true life that is endlessly beyond the mentioned (neo)liberal economic logic and techno-metaphysics of the “free market” as well as the nihilism of buying and selling dynamics and consumer mentality, that turns man from being a personal subject of history into a faceless object – a victim of his own secularity, its own “lust of body, lust of eyes, and prejudice of living” (1 John2:16). As a “consumer” he is actually being consumed, falling into a non-historical form of existence. In that way, through econo-centric “brain (and soul) washing”, through imposing idolatry to the false god of Money, that Mammon “of the unstoppable economic progress” and “growth of living standard” that cannot be served if the Living God is served (Matthew6, 24), they are deprived of historical consciousness, historicity, and the “throwing out” of history - not only of individuals, but of nations as well - causing to them the so-called “end of (old) history” and they are introduced into the “new beginning” of the human and divine earthly kingdom. Thus the geo-economic ideology of the “free market”, i.e. the religion of global econo-centricity serves for the apocalyptic undermining and destruction of divine and human tissue of history as the meeting point of God and human being, the point of meeting and cooperation of God and human being, the aim of which is salvation and deification of everyone and everything, until “God becomes all in all” (1 Corinthians15:28).

 The increase in the level of the standard of living, as shown by the examples of the most economically developed western countries (whether they are geographically West or geographically East), does not contribute at all to “solving” of human beings’ deepest existential issues and dilemmas, such as the question of the meaningof the human being’s personal and joint living in history.” On the contrary, as indicated by statistical data year after year - based on serious scientific research - in those countries with the highest standard of living the number of patients with acute and chronic depression is proportionally higher than in economically poorer countries, the suicide rate is proportionally higher, as is the divorce rate (not only of marriages, but of extramarital unions), along with the percentage of patients with drug addictions. “Immoderate activism of western man, originating from excessive lust for things and for the acquisition of knowledge, and the unnatural direction of man’s civilisation, caused deep stresses, tiredness, and diseases, both physical and mental.” 

Regarding the fact that the personality is the subject of history, or the hub of historical life of every human society, this spiritual morbidity of personality is transferred to the life of the community built by that personality in history. Sick society is always a society of the (spiritually, morally) sick persons it consists of. That is why a historically (spiritually, morally) a sick society cannot be treated by laws, political, legal, economic, media, and educational activities “from above”, but only through spiritual and moral rebirth of its members, that is, naturally, possible only through life in Christ, through life of repentance and expurgation in Church, through moral deed of facing one’s own sinfulness and self-limiting in one’s own passionate desires, according to the prophetic words, on the moral revival of modern society, of Aleksandr IsayevichSolzhenitsyn.

The new age culture, founded on the cult of ratio and rational knowledge, and the technical and technological civilisation derived from it: “was spreading from the beginning, trying to master the whole world through violence. Lust for things, typical for it, and technical civilisation derived from it, created the man of one dimension, estranged not only from his Primal Source [i.e. God, according to Whose image and likeness it was created], but other people as well [neighbours, sons of God, brethren in God] and nature itself [i.e. God, that is Home given by God in which we should gratefully serve God.]” The more the modern man possesses and spends, using technical devices as aids for mastering things and satisfying his hunger for possessing, the deeper he feels the essential lack and deprivation, the more he masters nature in a technological sense, the more he becomes estranged from it and it becomes estranged from him. 

All this indicates a deeper truth, covered by tragic spiritual and historical events of the 20th and early 21st century: that man, as being created in the “image and likeness of God” (1 Moses1:27), needs in each historical age much more than mere “bread” and entertaining and consumers’ “games without borders”. Contemporary man, as man of all the centuries past, also needs the eternal and imperishable that cannot be bought or sold, the evangelic priceless pearl that makes a man leave whatever he possessed (Matthew13:45), that cannot be “spent”, an inexhaustible treasure of salvation and deification, “Water that makes one thirsty no longer” (John4:14).

 What makes a human life meaningful? More than mere existence and survival? Or the life of real being? It is the conscious and responsible life in Truth, but not  in one of “the human truths nor all the human truths together, but in the Truth of Living God, as that Truth in itself is life” (John14:6), that does not die, the eternal life (John3:15). And where is it possible to find the life in Truth?Only where that Truth dwells - in the Church of Christ, that is His Body, as Christian Truth is not an abstract one, but alive and hypostatic; it is the Person of God-Man Christ, Who said: I am the Truth (John14:6), in its dogmas and its view of the world that is always and first of all liturgical, deriving from the Liturgy that is a Sacrament of Church and a Sacrament of the Kingdom of God, making Church what it is. The Truth of Church is “Personality, Incarnated Son, and Logos of God, Who is an incarnated Whole Truth. The Truth of Church is the Personality of Our Lord Jesus Christ.” The Christian Truth is not learned as the sum of logically correct, or scientifically proven facts, but it is adopted through Knowing God, and first of all through Holy Eucharist and Communion with Flesh and Blood of the Incarnated Logos. “God-Man is Church, and Church is God-Man” and therefore “those who are out of Church (=Body of Christ), are out of Truth”, as they are “out of Christ” and therefore out of God-Man “religion of Truth” (2 Sol.2:12) in which “nothing is by man, but everything is by God-Man”. Life in Truth is life in Christ, a life of participating in Christ, a life of “common body” in His Body, a life liturgical, Eucharistic, sacramental, holy ascetic, knowing God. 

Indeed, the Liturgy, as a sacramental cosmic and supra-cosmic event, including itself unto the whole world, overall history, but Eschaton as well – the eschatological fullness of unity of everyone and everything by Christ in God” - cannot “miss” to testify to the world its true designation, which is life in communion with God. Therefore it is not surprising that, throughout the history of Church, the Church liturgists were those with the most vivid sense of the historical moment, who could vividly feel the issue of relations between contemporary and everlasting i.e. the Eternity, tension between relative truths of the actual cultural and civilisation environment they lived in and the eternal Truth of Church, by which they lived, living in the Body of Christ, in Christ.

Here are several viewpoints of our Bishops, reflecting most clearly the position of the Serbian Orthodox Church on these issues

VIDOVDAN (St. Vitus Day) AND THE KOSOVO PLEDGE: …Kosovo Pledge and the Vidovdan cult are not merely religious or quasi-religious, grown of the Serbian national idea (or, furthermore, the Serbian national ideology) and corresponding national and historical myth, but they represent authentic, creative experience of the secret of the Church and its Gospel on the Kingdom of God in the soul of one Orthodox Christian nation, related to Communion, and even the natural Experience of the living Holy Tradition in the soul of other Orthodox Christian nations; for example the experience of “Romeism”, or the congregational spirituality and culture and Ecumenical Christian state, in the soul of one nation or experience of Holy Russia in the soul of the Russian people. Regarding the continuity of the centuries-long spiritual experience of the Church, Lazarus-like orientation towards Christ, His Kingdom, and His justice, directly originates from the spirituality of St. Sava; it originates from the heritage of Cyril andMethodius; it is an organic continuation of the Holy Father’s Tradition, that is the elaboration and application of the apostolic pledge of religion, that could be said to be the Transceiverof the Annunciationof Christ. On its own part, again, this Lazarus-like orientation delivers the ascetic and eschatological oriented spirituality of the post-Kosovo battle period, and the strength and inspiration for Martyrdom andConfession in the times of slavery under the Turks are based on it.”

Bishop Irinej (1989)

“…God gave as a role again, an historic role, to protect our souls, the souls of our nation, the soul of Mediterranean, the soul of Europe, and soul of the world, not only with our buildings and historical auguries; not only with spoken and written words, but again and again, all over again, to protect it with our own blood… Conscience spoke; the soul of the Serbian people remained pure!”

Metropolitan Amfilohije (1988)

“The SerbianChurch is indeed historically tied to the destiny of its people, but it cannot limit its mission to and identify it with only those people. It would then stop being a church…In that case love for the Serbian people is a teacher of love for every human being and nation.”

Metropolitan Amfilohije (1990)

THE SERBIAN HOMELAND: “Although he had chosen the Kingdom of Heaven, the Holy Martyr of Kosovo Lazar, also fought until the end for earthly kingdom, for earthly Serbia and Kosovo, and has left this double heroic deed to us until this day. He knew and experienced the Christian truth: that in this earthly homeland of ours, the heavenly one starts, that a human being and people here on Earth start their own truth and justice, that this life on earth is crucial for the Heavenly and Eternal Life. The world and life, the contents of their own personal and national being which people create in earthly homeland shall influence the heavenly homeland. Because the composition of the human being and personality shall not violently alter the eternity, since the human being is a free and a self-responsible being forever and for all eternity….Thus our Christian and Orthodox loyalty to this earthly homeland, but always in the light of the heavenly homeland.”

Bishop Atanasije (1989)

CHRISTIANITY AND NATION: “Christianity forms and makes norms for the national and not vice-versa, as some at present unbelieving and even believing Serbs - that see the Church as more or less the servant of nation - might like. The term HEAVENLY SERBIA has to be explained in light of authenticity of the Kosovo tradition, or ultimately, in light of true Orthodox spirituality and primal church conciliarity, this may be abused in the sense of national narcissism, and even national intolerance and exclusion.”

Bishop Irinej (1989)

PATRIOTISM AND PACIFISM: “With all my heart I wish and pray to Crucified and Resurrected Christ, Saviour of all people, for the necessary peace and tranquillity to come as soon as possible amongst Croats and Serbs as all our neighbours. But I would also like to point out to all the truthful people with good intentions, that with all the care about peace, a complete truth and unbiased justice are also needed for all those in the afflicted areas of the Western Balkans. Our and your pacifism, at any cost, is similar to the advice of Job’s friends, God’s advocates, until the Living and True God the Saviour appeared to suffering Job and intervened.”

Bishop Atanasije (1991)

CHURCH AND STATE: “Free Church in a free society would be the only formula to satisfy the demands of both the worldly, state politics, and heavenly and earthly church politics, whereas people could freely and responsibly give “emperor’s to Emperor, god’s to God”. When state is not prone to the conditional “symphony” and more or less cooperation, then the Church has an acceptable relation of “peaceful coexistence” or “coexistence of equal institutions” (Father Justin); and when there is no such a thing, the Church then has the suffering of Christ as “the only evangelical modus vivendi” (Father Justin Popović).

Bishop Irinej (1990)

CHURCH AND POLITICS: “Church, as general reality, covers all the realities of human existence. As Christians we do not wish to have the politicisation of Christianity, but rather Christianisation, humanisation, of the world and society. Church, as living reality, as the soul of our spiritual and historical reality, cannot be against any party, cannot be against free competition of human gifts and talents. We believe in the good will of each party, but we have to keep on stressing that the Church is not there for the political party, but it is there for the people; it is not partisan, but it is universal and patriotic. I would like to stress that large gift of freedom of every personality and every nation that needs to include both personal and national responsibility…Before these elections, my advice to everyone is not to forget the value and dignity of each person and all the people that are far more worthy than the democracy itself. It is more meaningful to preserve the human being and other values, then even the democracy itself! In other words, the content of democracy is nothing but this human value, this value of people. However, here I do not refer to nationalism and patriotism only.”

Bishop Atanasije (1990)

CHURCH AND PARTIES: “Regarding parties, ideologies, partisan debates, the Church leaves all that to time - “master sieve” - to clear that. It is not interfering, nor is it its nature to interfere in affairs of that kind. That is why it has always been non-partisan, because it treats nation as a unity, not as what is particular and partisan. Party means a part. If it adjusts itself to one party or submits to it, then it loses its congregational mission to all and everyone.”

Metropolitan Amfilohije (1990)

TEMPTATION OF EUROPE (DEMOCRACY): “Another large temptation is now Western civilisation, as a characteristic of the larger Western culture. I am talking about consumer society, not the large tradition of human rights. The great Spanish poet Lorca said he was sorry that Spain had entered the European Union. Europe is a good thing as it does not permit disorder. However, the issue is that it could also be a large temptation. In our country, with some highly underdeveloped areas of life, I feel that our integration into Europe is possible and that we will definitely have economic benefits. But we will probably lose something essential in that process. First of all, we will lose the freedom of human personality, of human relations… I still think that we shall not be able to reach Eternal Life without a Cross, without asceticism, repentance, without Christian martyrdom in history. I am convinced that no society may replace the Kingdom of God, as none may replace the Church…”

Bishop Atanasije (1990)

“Each Christian is obliged to carry their cross. At any time, at any moment, each Christian, each priest, each Bishop, and surely a Patriarch, too.”

Serbian Patriarch PAVLE (1993)