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The problem of the Church's Presence in the World in Orthodox Consciousness

Orthodox Faith and Spirituality

Researching the demand side of trafficking

The problem of the Church's Presence in the World in Orthodox Consciousness

Rev. Alexander Schmemann, Deuxième Congrès de Théologie Orthodoxe,
(19-29 Août 1976 ), publ. Prof. Savas Agouridès,
Athènes 1978, p. 236- 249


The very fact that after almost two thousand years of the Church's presence in the world, we feel compelled to ask ourselves about the meaning of that presence, and the role of theology in expressing it, is a clear proof that something has «happened» (to the Church? to the world?) which requires from theology a new effort of reflection, a renewed «reading» of Tradition. What? My purpose in this paper is to attempt to answer this question by trying to «locate» the problem whose pressure we all feel, and to outline, be it only in very general terms, my understanding of the ways leading to its solution.

Needless to say my task is not an easy one. In the first place - and this is the initial difficulty - strange and even paradoxical as this may appear, the very notions whose relation to one another, whose «presence» in one another, we are to elucidate: i.e. the Church and the World, have only recently made their «appearance» in Orthodox theology as objects of specific theological study and analysis, as distinct «chapters» within theological systems. We are just beginning to emerge from a long theological era about which it may be said without exaggeration that its main characteristic was precisely the absence from it of ecclesiology, i.e. of such reflection on the Church which implies-as its very basis-a radical distinction between the Church and the World, and therefore of necessity posits the problem of their relationship.

The first difficulty then is that we cannot even begin to discuss our problem («the Church's presence in the World») without having at first deciphered the meaning of that «ecclesiological silence». Is it, as some seem to think today, a mere deficiency of our theology and which, however serious it may be, ought to be corrected by another massive injection into Orthodoxy of Western theological categories, by our acceptance of the current Western fixation on, if not a real obsession with, the «Church versus the World» dichotomy and problematic? Or is that «silence» to be viewed as being itself part of our tradition, in which case it is no longer simply silence or absence, but an indication, may be even an «eloquent» one, of an experience and vision substantially different from those adopted today in the West? Obviously the very understanding of the problem we are to discuss in this paper, and its formulation, primarily depend on which of these two approaches we adopt, and on how we justify our choice.



However tempting the first approach may appear to be (it has for a long time been the fate of Orthodox theology to be «tempted» by the West and to «find itself» mainly be reacting to those temptations), there is no doubt, in my mind at least, that it should be rejected. For whatever the numerous and sometimes very serious deficiencies, the truly tragical one-sidedness, of our post-patristic, and precisely heavily «Westernized» theology, the «ecclesiological silence» mentioned above clearly antedates its appearance and development within the Orthodox Church, has its roots in a much deeper level of Orthodox consciousness. The question is - where?

My answer is: - in that Christian world which shaped the «historical consciousness» of Orthodoxy, and which still constitutes the essential context for the Orthodox experience of the Church, of the World, and of their relationship with one another. If for several centuries our theology felt no need to reflect upon that relationship and this means-to distinguish between the Church and the World, the reason for this is to be found in the Christian Oikoumene which grew out of the reconciliation between the Church and the Graeco -Roman Empire, and which throughout the entire «Constantinian period» remained the only self-evident expression and experience of the Church's «presence» in the World. But then it is that experience, or rather its ecclesiological significance, its place and meaning within our Tradition, that constitute the equally self-evident starting point of any Orthodox reflection about the Church in her relationship to the World.

To state this, however, is not to solve the problem. For if the historical knowledge of that «Christian world» in its various aspects and dimensions-political, cultural, social, etc.-has been steadily advancing, the same cannot be said of its «theological» understanding. The very question of its ecclesiological meaning, question on which, as I have just said, depends our own reflection upon the Church and the World, has hardly been raised. We know that the reconciliation between the Church and the Empire resulted not in a juridical agreement, a «contract» which, while defining the respective «rights» and «obligations» of both parties, i.e. the Church and the Empire, would have preserved this structural distinction from one another. We know that the result of that reconciliation was such an interpenetration of the Church and the Empire, of their structures and functions, that it was consistently expressed in terms of an organic unity, comparable to that of the soul and the body. We know that this favorite Byzantine image was not a rhetorical exaggeration, that the Christian Oikoumene truly was, in theory and consciousness, as well as in reality, an organism within which neither the Church nor the «world» - i.e. State, society, culture - had a separate existence, could be «constitutionally» distinguished from one another. We know all this and scores of historical books and dissertations are here to confirm this knowledge. The only thing we seem not to know is the meaning of all this for our own theological reflection about the Church's presence today in this present world.



The reason for this is simple although to state it is to point out our second, and truly major, difficulty. It is the continuing power which the «Christian world» of the past still has in shaping and determining the present Orthodox consciousness, in remaining in fact a virtually unique, although subliminal, source of today's Orthodox mentality and worldview.

To put it bluntly: as Orthodox we still live in that «Christian world» ignoring the historical fact of its collapse and disappearance. And we ignore it because for us-and this is essential-not only the «Christian world» survives in and through the Church, but to make it survive, to assure its continuing «presence» has in fact become the main, if not the exclusive, function of the Church.

Do I have to prove this? Is it not evident that for an overwhelming majority of the Orthodox, be it individuals or churches, the very word «Orthodox» is virtually meaningless and abstract unless substantiated by adjectives which, although formally they belong to the categories of the «world», are inseparable from the experience by the Orthodox of the «Church», in fact truly «expressive» of it.

Greek, Russian, Serbian... These applications transcend, in their ecclesiastical usage, mere «nationalism» as natural attachment to, and interest in, the destinies of a nation, a country, a culture. If the Orthodox diaspora has eloquently proven anything, it is precisely this: the Orthodox even when they willingly leave their «Orthodox» country, even when they forget their original language and fully identify themselves with the life and the culture of another nation, find it both natural and desirable that their «Orthodoxy» remain Greek, Russian, Serbian, etc. And it is so not because they cannot imagine any other expression or form of Orthodoxy, but because it is precisely the quintessential «Hellenism» (and not Greek Orthodoxy) or «Russianism» (and not Russian Orthodoxy) of which the Church is the only «presence», the only symbol, in the «modern world», that they love in Orthodoxy, that constitute the treasure of their heart's desire... And this is true not only of the «diaspora», which merely reflects and intensifies-sometimes to the point of a reductio ad absurdum, the Orthodox mentality-but of Orthodoxy as a whole. Everywhere it is experienced primarily as representing-«making present» - another world, the one of the past, and which, although it can also be projected into the future - as a dream, as a hope - remains fundamentally alienated from the present one. Everywhere even the basic canonical structures of the Orthodox Church remain determined by the geographical and administrative organization of that «world», whose language and thought forms, culture, and indeed the whole «ethos» still shape, and from inside color the present «Orthodox consciousness». And it is primarily because of that identification, because of the experience of the «church» itself as the ideal and symbolic existence of a nonexistent world, that it is so difficult for us to understand the real meaning and «values» of that past world, the meaning of our past for the present.



In the first place, this identification makes it almost impossible for the «Orthodox consciousness» to evaluate that «Christian world» in ecclesiological terms, to distinguish in it between that which, revealing its «success», remains normative for us, truly a part of the Church ' s Tradition, from that which by deviating from, and mutilating that Tradition, must be termed «failure». And it is here, in this inability to «evaluate», that we can grasp the unique and indeed crucial significance of the event of which I said before that it is ignored by the «Orthodox consciousness» and which, precisely because it is ignored, still dominates that consciousness. This event is the historical end and disintegration of the Christian oikoumene .

Indeed, the collapse, one after another, of the organic «Orthodox worlds», beginning with that of their common source and archetype: the Byzantine Empire, brought about a profound transformation of their experience by the Orthodox mind. That experience contained in itself, as its very focus - and we shall speak of this later - the belief that the «Christian world», born under the sign of victory (en touto nika ), cannot collapse, is indestructible, and has as its proper vocation to last until the end of the world. This explains why the traumatic shock of its collapse, paradoxical as this sounds, resulted in a denial of that collapse, not in its historical reality of course, but as a «meaningful» event challenging the accepted Orthodox worldview. Since the «Christian world» cannot disappear, it has not disappeared. Its external collapse is but a temporary «suspense», a God permitted «temptation». Such was, such still is, the content and the meaning of that «denial» which made, and still makes, «Orthodoxy» to live as if «nothing happened», as if nothing changed.

In reality, however, what changed is the «Orthodox consciousness» itself. It is after the collapse of the Christian world, and because of the «denial» of that collapse, that the «Christian world» was transposed and transformed into an almost mythical and archetypal «golden age» to be «restored» and «returned to», the ideal past projected therefore as the ideal future, as the only horizon of the Church ' s vision of history. And in this transformation the initial experience was reversed: if before its collapse, the «value» of that world for the Church was in that it accepted her as its «soul», as the ultimate content and criterion of its own existence, now it is the Church that began to be experienced as the «body» expressive of, and living by, the «Christian world» as its soul.



Hence the ecclesiological silence mentioned at the beginning of this paper, the inability of our Theology to distinguish between the Church and the World, to evaluate the central Orthodox experience of the «Christian world» as its «success» as well as its «failure». This silence is not broken and overcome by the noisy and confused controversies about the «rights» and «privileges» of this or that Church, the «canonicity» of this or that particular development, controversies which, alas, seem today to exhaust the life of the Orthodox Church. Rather they themselves are the result of that «silence», of the absence from the present Orthodox consciousness, of a clear ecclesiological perspective which would clarify the very terms and notions so «indiscriminately» used in those controversies, relate them to the «whole» of the Orthodox faith and experience.

Neither is that silence broken by the equally noisy Orthodox quarrels about the «world». Here the «Orthodox consciousness» seems to be polarized between the optimists and the pessimists, yet the whole point of that polarization is that it remains conditioned by, or - better to say - is itself a result of, that psychological «enslavement» to the past, to the «golden age» of the Christian world, which, paradoxically enough, is the common source of both: the Orthodox «optimisms and the Orthodox pessimism». For grosso modo the difference between them is in this, that while the <(optimists» believe in the forthcoming «resurrection» of the Orthodox world of the past, the «pessimists» have given up that hope, and for them the apparently irreversible triumph of the evil «modern world» acquires an apocalyptic significance, becomes the sign of the approaching End.

The «optimists» may condemn the «pessimists» as fanatics. The «pessimists» may excommunicate the «optimists» as apostates. Both may even be right to some extent: for if the Orthodox «optimism» results more often than not in a non-critical, passive and unconscious surrender to the modern world, the Orthodox «pessimism» leads to its Manichean and dualistic condemnation. All this however remains in the deepest sense of the word - irrelevant, for what is absent from that quarrel is precisely the world itself, the world as object of theological reflection, as the necessary and essential term of reference of ecclesiology; the reflection by the Church on herself, and therefore - on her presence in, and relation to, the world.

Only now can we finally raise the essential question: If such is our present theological situation, where and how are we to find for the problem we discuss in this paper («the Church ' s presence in the world») - a ground, a context, a perspective that would be objective and Orthodox? «Orthodox» meaning here - rooted in the Orthodox faith and experience, and not in some artificially adopted Western categories, and «objective» - free from that enslavement to the «Christian world» which, as we have tried to show, precludes proper «ecclesiological evaluation» of our own past, of its meaning for our present.

Our difficulty at this point seems to stem from the apparent incompatibility of these two terms: «objective» and «Orthodox». For if, on the one hand, without having understood the «situation» we cannot properly formulate the essential question, on the other hand, to have understood it seems to make an answer to it impossible.

And yet the whole point of this paper is to try to prove that it is precisely this difficulty, this apparent «vicious circle» that, once they are properly understood, open to us the only perspective which satisfies the two requirements mentioned above «objective» and «Orthodox» and lead us to the adequate, i.e. theological, formulation and solution, of our problem.

Indeed, the real usefulness of that «vicious circle» and thus of the entire analysis that makes us aware of it, is in this that they literally force upon us the discovery, or rather the rediscovery, of the third «reality: the one which although it infinitely transcends the «realities» of the Church and of the world, constitutes for the Christian faith, the ultimate term of reference for both of them, and therefore the only permanent principle and criterion of their distinction from one another, as well as of their relation to one another. This reality is the Kingdom of God whose announcement as precisely reality and, not merely «idea», or «doctrine», stands at the very center of the Gospel or, better to say, is the Gospel, and the eternal horizon, the source and the content of Christian faith, the beginning and also the fulfillment of all Christian experience. As long then as we do not relate all other «realities» to that ultimate reality, as long as we try to understand and define the Church's presence in the world in terms of a hopelessly «worldly» perspective and experience, i.e. without seeing both - the Church and the world - in the light of the Kingdom of God, we are bound to reach a dead end, to find ourselves, consciously or unconsciously, within a «vicious circle». For there is, there can be, no true ecclesiology - i.e. no true understanding of the Church, of the world, and of their relationship with one another, without eschatology, i.e. the Orthodox faith in, and experience of, the Kingdom of God.

It may be useful and, at this point even necessary to emphasize that by eschatology we do not merely mean the chapter which we usually find at the very end of our theological manuals and which deals almost exclusively with the fate of man ' s soul after its separation in death from the body. In fact this «futuristic» and «individualistic» reduction of eschatology is one of the greatest deficiencies of our post-patristic theology, the worst fruit of its long «Western captivity». Properly understood eschatology is not so much a separate «chapters, a «doctrine», (which, being distinct from all other Christian «doctrines», can, and ought to be, treated «in itself»), as the essential dimension of the Christian faith and experience themselves, and therefore of Christian Theology in its totality.

The Christian faith is essentially eschatological because the events from which it stems and which are its «object», as well as its «content»: the life, death, resurrection and glorification of Jesus Christ, the descent of the Holy Spirit, and the «institution» of the Church, are seen and experienced as not only the end and the fulfillment of the history of salvation, but also as the inauguration and the gift of a new life whose content is the Kingdom of God: the knowledge of God, the communion with Him, the possibility while still living in «this world», to foretaste and really to partake of, the «joy, peace and righteousness» of the «world to come». Thus eschatology, being the essential term of reference of the Christian faith itself, permeates the whole of Christian Theology, is indeed the source that makes it possible as precisely Theology, i.e. the transformation of our human and hopelessly limited words into theoprepeis logoi - «words adequate to God», truly expressive of the eternally transcendent Divine Truth.

But then it is eschatology that «posits» the proper understanding of the Church and of the world and, in doing this, reveals the nature of their relation to one another. In the first place it reveals the Church as the «epiphany» - the manifestation, the presence and the gift, of the Kingdom of God, as its «sacrament» in this world. And again the «whole» Church, as both «institution» and «life», is eschatological because she has no other foundation, content and purpose, but to reveal and to communicate the transcendent reality of the Kingdom of God. There is no separation in her between «institution» and «life»; as institution she is the sign of the Kingdom, as life - the sacrament of the Kingdom, the fulfillment of the sign into reality, experience, communion. Being in «this world» (in statu viae ) she lives by her experience of the «world to come» to which she already belongs, in which she is already «at home» (in statu patriae ).

And it is this eschatological «being» of the Church that explains the Orthodox «ecclesiological silence» during the «classical» patristic period in the history of our theology. If, as it has been often noticed, the Fathers do not define the Church, do not make her into an «object» of theological reflection, it is because none of such «definitions» can truly, i.e. adequately, comprehend and express the essential mystery of the Church as experience of the Kingdom of God, as its «epiphany» in «this world». Even the scriptural images of the Church, the Body of Christ, the Bride of Christ, the Temple of the Holy Spirit cannot be construed as «definitions». To say that the Church is the «Body of Christ» is indeed perfectly meaningless to someone who has no «experience» of the Church and of her life. And thus the Church, for the Fathers, is not an «object» of theology but the very «subject» in them of their «theologizing», the essential reality which by revealing the Kingdom of God, i.e. the ultimate and saving Truth, makes it possible to have a new life and to bear witness to it. They do not define the Church because when «abstracted» from the experience of that reality, she becomes a pure «form» about which there is essentially «nothing to say». And from the subsequent history of Christian theology, especially Western, we know what happens when ecclesiology, abandoning its eschatological dimension, foundation, and content, selects as its proper «object» precisely the form of the Church, gives it, so to speak, an existence in itself, and by doing this, by changing ecclesiology into ecclesiolatry, mutilates the entire «experience» of the Church. All this as we shall see, is of great importance for the proper evaluation of the «Christian world» and the place in it of the Church.

Revealing the Church, i.e. her nature and her vocation, eschatology of necessity reveals the world, or, better to say, the vision of it and its understanding in the Christian faith. If the essential experience of the Church is that of the new creation, of a new life in a renewed world, that experience implies and posits a certain fundamental experience of the world. First of all, of the world as God's creation and therefore positive in its origin, as well as essence, reflecting in its structure and being the wisdom, the glory, and the beauty, of the One who created it: «Heaven and earth are full of Thy glory!»... There is no ontological dualism of any kind, no cosmically pessimism whatsoever, in the Christian faith, which fulfills the essential Biblical glorification of God in His creation. The world is good.

In the second place, the eschatological experience of the Church reveals the world as the fallen world, dominated by sin, corruption and death, enslaved to the «Prince of this world». This fall, although it cannot destroy and annihilate the essential goodness of God's creation, has nevertheless alienated it from God, made it into «this world» which, because it is «flesh and blood», pride and selfishness, is not only distinct from the Kingdom of God, but actively opposed to it. Hence the essentially tragical Christian view of history, the rejection by the Christian faith of any «historical optimism» equating the world with «progress».

And finally the ultimate experience: that of Redemption which God accomplished in the midst of His creation, within time and history, and which by redeeming man, by making him capax Dei - capable of the new life, is the salvation of the world. For as the latter rejects, in and through man, its self-sufficiency, it ceases to be an end in itself and thus truly dies as «this world», it becomes that which it was created to be and has truly become in Christ: the object and means of sanctification, of man's communion with, and passage to, God's eternal Kingdom.



We can now return to the «Christian world» which, as I have tried to show, blocks the «Orthodox consciousness» for it still dominates it. The eschatological perspective as the common ground for the Christian experience and understanding of the Church and of the world, makes it possible for us truly to evaluate our past, and, on the basis of that evaluation; to discern our present: the basic norms for an Orthodox approach to the world as it exists, and challenges us, today.

If to evaluate primarily means to distinguish success from failure, to evaluate the complex reality of the «Orthodox world» of the past is to distinguish its truly Christian and therefore lasting, achievements, from the betrayal by it of its own Christian ideal. Yet it is that ideal itself which, I am convinced, constitutes the first and the essential «success» of the Christian world, of its lasting value for us and our own situation.

If the Church so readily, so enthusiastically, and without any reservations, any legal or «constitutional» conditions, accepted the «world», which for more than two centuries denied her the very right to exist, accepted it as the form of her own existence, and for all practical reasons merged with it, it is because in the first place, that world, i.e. the Graeco -Roman Empire, accepted the Church ' s faith and this means subordinated itself, its own «values», its entire «self-understanding, to the ultimate object and content of that faith, the Kingdom of God. In other terms it accepted as its own foundation, as its sui generis basis, the Christian eschatological perspective. And this not only in theory, not only nominally. We are so accustomed to the «Western» evaluation of the «Christian world», i.e. its evaluation almost exclusively in terms of Church-State relationship, and more specifically in terms of the relationship within it between two powers: the Imperium and the Sacerdotium, that it makes us virtually incapable of discerning the real locus of that unique alliance between the Church and the world: -their essential agreement as to what constitutes ultimate value, the ultimate «term of reference», the ultimate horizon of human existence in all its dimensions. Obviously to prove that this non-written, and yet real, «agreement» existed, and that, in spite of all human failures and betrayals, it worked, would require a detailed analysis of the entire culture and ethos of that «Christian world», analysis impossible within the scope and the limitations of this paper. I am convinced, however, that such analysis would establish beyond any doubt the fundamental openness of that culture and the society which produced it, to the Christian eschatological vision, as unique inspiration, as indeed the «soul» of their very existence. Whatever aspect of that world we consider: its art, which in each given «society» is a main expression of its vision of life, its lifestyle, as embodiment in practice of its basic «values», and, to use one of the favourite modern terms, the entire discourse of its culture - we find that their inner consistency - their style in the deepest sense of the word - comes to them, in the last analysis, from the Church ' s eschatological experience, from her vision and knowledge of the Kingdom of God. If monasticisrn, for example, is for that society its ideal pole, the «exceedingly good» way to perfection, which shapes its worship, its piety and, indeed, its whole mentality, it is because the monk personifies the eschatological nature of the Christian life, the impossibility to «reduce» Christianity to anything in «this world» whose «fashion fades away..,». In this sense repentance - in the radical sense of the evangelical metanoia - constitutes the fundamental «tonality» of the «Christian world», permeating its prayer, its thought, and the essential symbols of its whole life. This the modern Christians forget much too easily, although in the light of reductionism proper to our modern civilization, this should be remembered more than anything else.



If such then is the essential success of the «Christian world», the same eschatological perspective which reveals it to us, also reveals that world's fundamental failure. I call it «fundamental» in order to distinguish it from all other defects: crimes, cruelty, conflicts - of which the «Christian world», as any other human society, had its full share. What however transcends all those «human, all too human» deficiencies and tragedies, is the inner betrayal by the «Christian world» of its own ultimate vision, its progressive subordination to a different vision, subordination which because it virtually remained subconscious was all the more tragical.

Using categories familiar to us today, I would define that betrayal as denial of history, and this means-of that experience of time, of its meaning and «function», which are implied in Christian eschatology. It is indeed proper to that eschatology that, by revealing the eschaton, the ultimate end, thus, the ultimate «term of reference» of the world, it posits the world as history, as a meaningful process within a «linear» time. The Christian worldview is dynamic: it liberates the world from its enslavement to a static «sacrality». By revealing the Kingdom of God as the Beyond which, however, is present within time as its leaven, as that which gives it its value, meaning and orientation, the Church generates in man the thirst and hunger for the Absolute, the insatiable desire of, and search for, perfection.

The initial «agreement» between the Church and the World not only contained this dynamic worldview, but was indeed based on it. By accepting the Church ' s eschatological faith, the «world» accepted to be «journey» to the Kingdom, to remain open to the prophetic vision, the prophetic voice of the Church. Even if, according to the biblical scheme applied to it by the Church, the Graeco -Roman Oikoumene was to be the last in the sequence of the great «Empires» measuring the history of salvation, even if, by accepting Christ as its supreme Basileus and Pantocrator, it thought of itself as Christian ðïëßôåõìá : the ultimate response of the world to God, all this did not alter - for the Church - its essential «historicity», its belonging to the world whose «fashion is fading away».

With time, however, that vision began to change. From a dynamic one it became little by little, and almost unconsciously, a static one. And although it would be obviously impossible even to mention here the various reasons which led to that metamorphosis, all of them are rooted, in one way or another, in the inertia proper to social organisms, in their «natural» tendency to divorce their form from the content which alone «justifies» that form, and thus to absolutize the latter as an end in itself, as a sacred form-for-ever. Nothing illustrates better that metamorphosis than the change, and again an unconscious one, in the eschatological emphasis. It is then indeed that there began to develop that «individualistic» and almost exclusively «futuristic» reduction of eschatology which «theologically» deprived even the sacraments, even the Eucharist, of their eschatological dimension, which, to put it bluntly, removed the Kingdom of God, at least in theological reflection, into the future alone, made into a mere «doctrine» of rewards and punishments after death.

The real context of that reduction, however, is not merely theological. It reflected the growing change in the very mentality, the very consciousness of the «Christian world» itself, the progressive abandonment by it of its own «eschatological vision». On the one hand, its self-understanding as the last earthly Kingdom, the providential locus of Christ ' s victory, began to be experienced - rather than interpreted - as the end of history, not of time, but precisely of «history», i.e. of time open to new events, to meaningful developments. All such developments, all historical happenings, were now to be «squeezed» somehow into a static and unchanging pattern, denied their historical specificity and uniqueness. On the other hand, and simultaneously with that growing «a-historicity», there developed within the Christian world a sense of its own perfection, not of course in its «members», who remain sinful, but in its forms and structures, experienced more and more as «final», God given and therefore unchangeable.

All this, I repeat, took place little by little and on a subconscious, rather than conscious, level. The theory did not change, only the «experience» of it. But the results of that change constitute without any exaggeration the greatest tragedy of the whole «Christian history». What it provoked was a progressive emancipation of the human mind, and of the «thirst and hunger» injected into it by Christianity, from the «Christian world» which was meant to express them and therefore their growing secularization, their rebellion against Christianity itself. Prevented from developing within the framework - religious, cultural, psychological - of the «Christian world», blocked by the latter ' s static self- absolutization, the human «mind», shaped and inspired by Christian eschatological maximalism, began to see in the «Christian world» the main obstacle to that maximalism, a structure of oppression, and not of freedom...The sad history of the divorce between man and his «search» on the one hand, the «Christian world» on the other hand, has been told many times. What is important for us is, of course, the indelibly «Christian» mark on the «modern» world, the world which grew out of this divorce and this in spite of its rebellion and sometimes, apostasy. It is truly a. post Christian world because, in the last analysis, even the most secular, the most anti-religious and anti-Christian ideas and ideologies by which it is moved, are in one way or another - «des verités chrétiennes devenues folles» - the fruit of a secularized eschatology. It is the Christian faith which by injecting into man ' s mind and heart the dream, the vision of the Kingdom of God, made possible the fundamental «utopianism» of the «modern mind», its worship of History, its almost paranoic belief in a forthcoming «kingdom of freedom and justice».



Now the last question: what does all this mean to us, for our own theological reflection on the Chruch 's presence in our own «modern world» ? Our task was to find the ecclesiological perspective, implied, more than formally expressed, in the central Orthodox experience: that of the «Christian world» of its success and failure, to discern its significance, its normative character, for our present tasks.

It seems to me that the essential meaning of that which I termed success lies in the very tact of the «Christian world», which, above all, reveals the Orthodox belief in the possibility for the world to be «sanctified». The belief, in other words, in the world as not a hopelessly «extrinsic» reality, alien and irrelevant to the uniquely «religious» preoccupations of the Church, but as object of her love, concern and action. And this is very important in view especially of the dangerous, and potentially even heretical, tendency pervasive today among the Orthodox, to accept an almost Manichean, dualistic view of the world and thus to make the Church into a self-contained and self-centered religious ghetto. Our own past, our own Tradition - as expressed through that past - bears witness not only to the possibility of a «theology of the world», but indeed makes such theology an organic dimension of ecclesiology.

If then that success liberates us from the Manichean dualism, it ought to liberate us also from the opposite, yet equally pervasive, equally dangerous, temptation: that of a mere surrender to the world, its acceptance as the only content of the Church 's life and action, setting, in terms popular today - «the agenda for the Church». That «success», and to the extent to which it was «success», reveals that the function of the Church in the world is to «make present» within it the Eschaton, to manifest the Kingdom of God as the ultimate «term of reference», and thus to relate to it the whole life of man and of his world. The Church is not an agency for solving the innumerable «problems» inherent to the world. Or rather, she may help solving them only inasmuch as she herself remains faithful to her nature and to her essential vocation: to reveal in «this world» that which by being «not of this world» is therefore the only absolute context for seeing, understanding and solving all human «problems».

As to the «fundamental failure» of the Christian world, it should make us fully aware that there is but one essential sin, one essential danger: that of Idolatry, the ever present and ever acting temptation to «absolutize» and thus to idolize, «this world» itself, its passing values, ideas, ideologies, to forget that as the people of God «here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city which is to come» (Heb. 13:14). It is the «failure» of the Christian world that should make it possible for us to see through the «modern world» and the spiritual reality shaping it, to discern in them the «positive» : the cry coming from its Christian «subconscious», and the «negative» : the truly demonic rebellion against God.



There is, however, one precondition for all this, both «necessary and sufficient» : it is that the Church herself returns to the one thing needed and this means - to the essentially eschatological nature of her faith and of her life. No theological reflection on the world is possible, or shall be of any «help», unless we rediscover, make truly ours again, that reality which alone «constitutes» the Church and is the source of her faith, of her life, and therefore of her theology: the reality of the Kingdom of God . The Church is in statu viae - in pilgrimage through «this world», sent to it as its salvation. But the meaning of that pilgrimage, as indeed the meaning of the world itself, is given, revealed to us only when the Church fulfills herself as being in statu patriae, truly at home at Christ's table, in His Kingdom.

This precondition requires, of course, a radical rethinking of our theological enterprise, of its very structure and methodology, of its ultimate roots, of that which makes it possible. It is not enough simply to quote the Fathers, to make them into «authorities» certifying our every theological proposition. For it is not «quotations» - be they scriptural or patristic - that constitutes the ground of theology, but the experience of the Church. And since, in the ultimate analysis, she has no other experience, but that of the Kingdom, since her whole life is rooted in that unique experience, there can be no other source, no other ground and other criterion for theology if it is truly to be the expression of the Church ' s faith and the reflection on that faith.

All this means a return to a very old, yet eternal, truth: the Church is never more present to the World, and more «useful» to it, than when she is totally free from it. Free from it not only «externally», i.e. independent from its structures and powers, but also and primarily internally i.e. free from her own spiritual surrender to its values and «treasures». To accomplish such liberation, however, is not easy. For it presupposes that our heart find the only true treasure, the experience of the Kingdom of God, which alone can restore to us the fullness of the Church and the fullness of the World, which alone makes us capable truly to fulfill our call.


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