Tuesday, April 17, 2007


In an ongoing look at The Church, I have been challenged to rethink my notions of The Church. Taking as my launching pad of this spiritual effort, I hear Fr. Alexander Schmemann's (of blessed memory) words where he declared that Orthodoxy is the antidote for religion.

My first effort at confronting this new vision of The Church began as I came to understand that religion and Orthodoxy are, for the most part, incompatible.

Here, religion is defined as the efforts of humanity to medicate itself with God talk and rituals all meant to "help" man reconcile himself to his mortality. Religion, diffused as it is with the weakness of humanity, has degenerated into nothing more than a self-help plan with Jesus words added to medicate us further.

On the other hand, Orthodoxy (ortho = right or correct; doxa = belief or worship) confronts humanity with an absolute reality - victory over death. True Christian faith invites us to confront all the places where the stench of death has corrupted our "nous" (mind, or better "our deepest self") and teaches us a true "therapia" for authentic healing and victory.

This stark contrast lies at the heart of the differences between time bound traditions of men and the authentic, Holy Spirit inspired "paradosis" of the Christian Church through the centuries.

It also marks a clear contrast in the motivations of religious piety and effort.

But this most striking difference is seen in the idea of "Church" itself.

Taking into context this authentic therapy of the Christian faith to transfigure us from death to life, now we see the primary reality of the Church as the "healing community" where a man or a woman or a child is invited to the healing work of the disciplines of the faith, not to make him a "better" person, but to work the resurrected life of Jesus Christ into every aspect of his being. This work continues until there is not even the hint of mortality about the transfigured man.

So, the motivation of living the Christian life in the midst of this healing community is changed from acts of obedience to either make an angry god happy with us or to "help" us live a "better" life or be a "better" person, into a journey of healing and resurrection and preparation to encounter the Uncreated God and not consider that encounter a disaster.

The Church then exists to both administer this healing "medicine" and to bring men and women into the very act of communion that is meant to foster this healing of each person. The Church ,as a Divine Mystery, then becomes a concrete icon of that very process of "being transformed by the renewing of your 'nous'."

No wonder Fr. Schmemann entitled one of his greatest works "For The Life of the World." It is precisely for the life of the world that we Orthodox Christians pray for and participate in when we enter into the life of the Church and begin practicing the wisdom of the faith in the midst of the Church.

Religion and Orthodoxy are mutually exclusive. One is focused on creating a "better" man, and the other is focused on creating a "New" man.


james said...

I didn't even finish the first paragraph before I had to say, "What?" I assume your Fr. Alexander Schmemann quote is from "For the Life of the World." A good read, but ... I once became Orthodox. I attended a parish where folks know you and talk highly of you.

Anyway, I found that in the Orthodox Church I couldn't have a relationship with Christ because I was too busy being religious. I had to worry about what I could eat, when I could eat it, what prayers to say at one time of day and so forth. And, once I got married (if I were to get do so) I knew I was expected to abstain from conjugal relations with the wife on certain days. As someone who fasted from conjugal relations while my now ex-wife was out cheating on me, that concept always bothered me. I've read stuff on line by monks who get all bent out of shape about married couples who ignore that fast.

So, I have to say that saying Orthodoxy is the antidote for religion is like saying crack cocaine should be given out at AA meetings. Beautiful rituals, but ... too much religion. Oh, and getting ride of Frederica Mathewes-Green would be a good start. Maybe send her to the Romans.

Barnabas Powell said...


Let me first quickly agree with you that Orthdoxy can become nothing more than a religious addiction, but then the question is "Is it still Orthodoxy?"

This is a tough question, and I attempt to avoid people with easy answers for anything. They are usually wrong at least in some important aspect.

I will also agree that religious addicts can get a huge "fix" in Orthodoxy with all the rituals and religious "wisdom" that has developed over the centuries. There is a sin of "super correctness" that can infect the faith of too many.

I will also add that authentic Orthodoxy IS, in fact, the antidote to this form of religion wherever it is found, but it is an Orthodoxy that must focus us on the Person of Christ and not on the "means" the Church has developed to remedy our souls of its self centeredness.

Some folks get it and some folks don't.

I appreciate your story of disappointment with the Orthodox people you've known, and pray you will continue to struggle with your faith and not abandon your hunger for God and His Christ.

I also pray you take enough time to properly convalese from your painful time within the Orhtodox parishes you write about. You need this time away to get a proper perspective on your experiences.

Who knows what the future holds? I do know this, you may have many enemies in this life, but God is not one of them. With that firm faith, I pray you are well.