Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Great Divide: Secularism and the Church

Powerlessness has its own speech. Weakness has its own triumph. The world cannot be served from a place of power, but it can be served from the cross. On the cross the world stabs its own heart, but the cross is a school and to run away from it is to run away from the future. Fr. Bishoy Kamel

Fr. Alexander Schmemann prophetically wrote over 50 years ago (1964) that the liturgical crisis the Orthodox Church is facing is not liturgical renewal but the ideological crisis of secularism in the west being imposed on the church. This secularism Fr. Schmemann argues has destroy the beauty of the liturgy and has turned our church to a "Sunday Church". These words can still be used today. The church still finds itself stuck as a "Sunday church" not catering to the poor and needy (those deprived of Christ) but rather serves in how the best serve the church. Father Matthew the Poor summed up the work of the church as that who serves the poor when he said,

"The Church should never desire rule or ownership on earth. Woe to the church that possesses much! Woe to the church that has numerous investments stored away in the national and central banks, only to be eaten away by the moth! Woe to the church whose assets are large while her poor are hungry! Woe to the church which owns many acres and buildings but has no poor eating at her table! But blessed is the church which is satisfied with Christ the Word, and gives daily from her riches, that the people might claim ownership with her in heaven-possessions which cannot be buried, pass away, or perish". Taken from "Words for Our Time" Page 120.  

We should never think of the church as an institution among other institutions but rather as Fr. Schmemann puts it, the place in which the kingdom has been bestowed upon all of creation. The liturgy becomes this journey which leads into the dimension of the kingdom. It is not an escape from the world, rather it is the arrival at a vantage point from which we can see more deeply into the reality of the world. The liturgy is the manifestation of the kingdom on the earth. The issue with secularism is that it has divorced the "sacred" from the "profane". What has naturally occurred from this separation is a division between the "life in the world" and a "life in the church". This great divide has separated the church from its function to serve all nations. Nowadays, especially in the west, the church is perceived as an activity. The priest constantly asks people to do something for the Church. Their activism is measure in quantitative criteria: how many meetings, how much money, how much "doing". What is dangerous is not the activity itself, but the reduction of the Church, the identification of this activity with life in the church. The entire point of the church, the sacramental principle of its life, lies in taking us way from "activity", in making us commune with a new life, the Kingdom. The idea of the church, also demands that we wold bring into the world this experience of a new life in order to purify the world with the life and experience of the church. Sadly the opposite happens and we bring activism into the church, the fuss of the world, and fill the church with worldly cares. What happens is that the church ceases to produce life and it becomes a church of the world.    

We have to recover the meaning of what it means to live in the body of Christ. This notion that the sacrament is set our against, or existing outside the rest of life has taken hold amongst many of the church goers. This distinction between the sacred (sacraments) and profane (the world) has caused a great divide. With the coming of Christ and establishing the new life the scared and profane has been broken. All that we do and participate in has become an offering to God; a sacramental and a calling for the life of the world. We must begin to restore the imagine and likeness of God in who we are as human beings. By inquiring about the traditions, church fathers, scriptures and the church we will begin to restore this image and unite that which has been divided between the "sacred" and "profane". Fr. Schmemann summed up Christianity beautifully when he said,   

 "Religion is needed where there is a wall of separation between God and man. But Christ who is both God and man has broken down the wall between man and God. He has inaugurated a new life, not a new religion" (For the Life of the World 19-20). 

If we understand Christ establishing new life for us when we must understand Christ as our starting point in anything that we do in the church. Baptizing all nations begins with the person of Christ. We must turn our focus away from "activities" and "fundraisers" and turn our focus to Christ and his kingdom. If we cannot even feed the poor how then can we begin to feed ourselves who are constantly deprived of Christ? It is in the Eucharist that we find life. Once we come to the realization that all we do is Eucharistic (unites us to God) then we will realize that all of life, good and bad, unites us to that which has brought us life; Christ!

"And so the Eucharist is not simply a way of discharging our duty of thanks to god, although it is that as well. It is not merely one possible relationship to God. It is rather the only possible holding together-in one moment, in one act-of the whole truth about god and man. It is the sacrament of the world sinful and suffering, the sky darkened, the tortured Many dying: but it is also the sacrament of the change, His transfiguration, His rising, His kingdom. In one sense we look back, giving thanks for the simple goodness of God's original gift to us. In another sense we look forward, eschatologically, to the ultimate repair and transfiguration of that gift, to its last consummation in Christ". Fr. Alexander Schmemann

 The following are different sayings I came across that relate to this topic!

T.S Eliot, a Anglo-Catholic said in 1930: 

There is no good in making Christianity easy and pleasant; "Youth," or the better part of it, is more likely to come to a difficult religion than to an easy one. For some, the intellectual way of approach must be emphasized, there is need of a more intellectual laity. For them and for others, the way of discipline and asceticism must be emphasized; for even the humblest Christian layman can and must live what, in the modern world is comparatively an ascetic life. Discipline of the emotions is even rarer, and in the modern world still more difficult, than discipline of the mind...thought, study, mortification, sacrifice: it is such notions as these that should be impressed upon the will never attract the young by making Christianity easy; but a good many can be attracted by finding it difficult: difficult both to the disorderly mind and to the unruly passions. 

Fr. Stephen Freeman in a recent blog entry entitled Grace and Psychology of God said:

In our modern culture, Christian belief has become divorced from Christian Church (this was an intended outcome of the Reformation). Thus people, self-identified as individuals, struggle to have a "relationship" with God in a manner that is analogous to their "relationship" with other individuals. The nature of these "contractual" events is largely perceived as psychological. How we feel about one another and what we think about one another is seen to be the basis of how we treat one another. And so in our cultural "social contract" we seek to control, even to legislate how we feel about one another. We imagine that eliminating "hate" and "prejudice", "racism" and "sexism" will impact violence. But despite that unflagging efforts of modernity, violence not only continues but escalates. With God the "contract" is often extended or renamed a "covenant," an agreement between a human being and God that stipulates requirements and behaviors and outcomes. Grace, perceived as a divine emotion or attitude, is part of the contract. God's promised manner of performance. The result of this imaginary divine milieu has been the gradual decrease of the Church (or anything resembling it). The Church as sacrament and mystery has been replaced by the sentimentality of the individual. People attend Christian assemblies because they "like" them and they encourage them to "feel" good. Teaching is interpreted as learning to manage the "relationship" (contract, emotions, obligations) with God.    

Fr. Johnathan Tobias says: 

Real beliefs actually produce real religion, like church attendance, prayer and charity. But "religious opinions" have no power to produce any real religion. The mere fact that Americas "agree" with a survey statement reveals only an observation that Americas have a positive opinion on God's existence, with the strong likelihood that they might not want to do anything at all about that opinion. If religion is demoted to the level of opinion, or, more accurately, "consumer choice," then like any other choice it can always be easily replaced and switched out with something more convenient or entertaining. Maybe something more "personally fulfilling" will come along. This state of affairs is really contemporary stuff--religion is not only privatized now, it is also commoditized. Like everything else, religion is passed through a "values clarification" mental evaluation that judges whether or not it is "doing anything good" for the individual. Is it entertaining? Is it fulfilling? Are my kids happy in the youth group? As I attracted to the leader and the crowd? Do I feel better about myself?     

Thursday, July 3, 2014

What is Theology?

Theology is something more than just an academic study rather it is life itself. Life that is offered to the world through the person of Christ. Life offered to all as we live in communion with each other. What it means to see God and to live through his energies is to interact with other human begins and all of the created world. Theology, the study of God, tries to un-package this mystery through both the academic study and through everything we do in life. To understand the mystery of God means to live a life in communion with humanity and creation. The following passage is taken from a book written by a Catholic theologian who was influenced by the late Fr. Alexander Schmemann. In this passage he tries to define theology and how theology is lived through the liturgy. In order to understand theology we have to understanding the liturgy that happens "after the liturgy". We need to break out of the "Sunday church bubble" we find ourselves enslaved to. David Fagerberg unravels this more in the following passage.    


Any theological effort involves a quest for meaning (logos).

But in this case, the quest does not occur inside the scholar’s mind; it is a meaning sought by the liturgical community. This is why Kavanagh calls their adjustment a genuinely theological effort. He discerns three logical moments in the liturgical event. First, the assembly encounters the Holy One; second, by consequence of this encounter the assembly is changed; third, the assembly must adjust to this change, and this act he calls theological.

“Theology” is not the very first result of an assembly’s being brought by the liturgical experience to the edge of chaos. Rather, it seems that what results in the first instance from such an experience is deep change in the very lives of those who participate in the liturgical act. And deep change will affect their next liturgical act, however slightly. ... It is the adjustment which is theological in all this. I hold that it is theology being born, theology in the first instance. It is what tradition has called theologia prima.

The scholar seeks to understand what the liturgical community understood. Liturgy itself is a stab at intelligibility, a search for understanding and meaning.

Theology does not take place over there in the world of reason and intellect, beyond liturgical ceremony which is only an indulgence in pious feeling. Liturgy is itself theological for reason of being a meaningful understanding of such questions as why God created, the destiny of anthropos, how spirit and matter interpenetrate, the cosmological presuppositions of the kingdom of God in our midst and its eschatological consequences.

Granted, because of its subject matter (theos) this stab at meaning is unlike any other that the human being makes. The subject matter of theology is God, humanity, and creation, and the vortex in which these three existentially entangle is liturgy. I take this to be why Schmemann calls liturgy “the ontological condition of theology, of the proper understanding of kerygma, of the Word of God, because it is in the Church, of which the leitourgia is the expression and the life, that the sources of theology are functioning precisely as sources.”

If the subject matter of liturgical theology were human ceremony instead of God, it would be self-delusional to call it theology; it would be anthropology, not theology. Worse, it would be ritual narcissism.
But liturgy is, in fact, theological precisely because here is where God’s revelation occurs steadfastly.
When a dichotomy is imposed between theology and liturgy, then liturgy doesn’t even appear on the theological map. It is off the taxonomical page. It is as if theology exists for academicians, while liturgy exists for pure-hearted (but simple-minded) believers.

This prejudice supposes a two-step procedure from the believer’s faith-expression (liturgy) to the academic’s rational reflection (theology). The working definition of liturgical theology I am uncovering challenges the supposition that theology only exists in the second phase."

Dr David Fagerberg, Theologia Prima