Does Orthodoxy need to be modernised?

True faith and modernity

January 20, 2021

Metropolitan Philaret

Being Orthodox in today's world... What an infinitely broad topic! It is concerned with our inner spiritual life as individuals, and, more broadly, as societies. It is present in sophisticated theological deliberations about the Church of Heaven and the triumphant Kingdom of God and in the debate on the life of the earthly church, which, as Apostle Paul writes, struggles against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 6: 12).

To an extent, the question of Orthodoxy and modernity is also paradoxical: more than nineteen centuries ago, the same Apostle Paul wrote in his epistle to the Hebrews of Rome: "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever." (Hebrews 13: 8). Alas, this paradox is still alive, and it is of our own making. God remains the same; what changes is man's relationship with the Creator and Provider of our lives as humans. Apostle James writes of the righteous Abraham who lived over four millennia ago and whom we venerate as the forefather of all of who believe in the only God: "Abraham believed in God, and it was credited to him as righteousness, and he was called God's friend." (James 2: 23). In the last three hundred years or so, people have raised doubt about the possibility of trusting God. Worse still, they have disputed, with growing audacity, His very existence, something that had never been done before. This tendency has undermined our trust in the Lord and His commandments. The standards of spiritual life have fallen dramatically, and we are ever more inclined to view its elements as mere cultural phenomena. These recent trends are to be resisted.

In this sense, remembering the literal meaning of Orthodoxy as the true faith is a good starting point: to be Orthodox is to glorify God in the right way. Perhaps the topic of Orthodoxy and modernity is so broad is because the search for this right way has been so much a part of humanity's existence. Whether we know it or not, we represent the image of God and His likeness. In one of his brilliant writings, saint Augustin Aurelius remarked that man's heart is in dismay until it finds rest in the Lord.

At this time and age, we need, as never before, to rediscover the Orthodoxy of righteous forefather Abraham and King David the psalm singer. We should take to heart the teachings of Apostle Peter among the gentiles. Ultimately, we should use as our guide the theology of the 'right way' of glorifying God, grounded in the teachings of the Chuch and its fathers.

As our Lord Jesus Christ has said, "Before Abraham was born, I am!.."(John 8: 58). "Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad." (John 8: 56). In this way, the Lord Himself makes it known to us that He is eternal and immutable. Heaven will rejoice immensely when at some point on our lives in the second or third millennium from the Nativity of Christ we exclaim in amazement: Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it! (Genesis 28:16) In his encounter with God, in seeing and knowing him, he may never have suspected that many centuries ago Jacob, the grandson of Abraham, said the same when he saw in his dream the stairway to the Kingdom of God. Even the righteous Jacob could not have suspected that after three thousand years, the words revealed to him would be inscribed on the Orthodox icons of the Holy Theotokos!

Our world changes, but the laws of life that the Creator had laid at its foundation do not. Moses, the old testament prophet and lawgiver who knew directly from God the right way to glorify Him, implored his people: "Now choose life, so that you and your children may live" (Deuteronomy 30: 19).

Likewise, the Son of Man taught His disciples and followers: "Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well" (Matthew 6: 33). I would not exaggerate in the least if I said that when as we are making sense of our lives, we are searching for God's truth, the only thing that can give meaning to the lives of individuals and societies, the existence of humanity and the whole universe. So whether Orthodoxy is in tune with the present is beside the point. Our ultimate goal should be to live a life of righteousness and truth in the eyes of God.

by Metropolitan Philaret

Source: "Man in history - a collection of homilies," published by Saint Elisabeth Convent in 2008.

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