From The Blog

Mission Monthly – December 2004

“The dogmas of the faith, faith itself is revealed to us, and none of us doubts it; but the confession of faith must be in godliness. ‘No one is good save God alone’—this is to hold what is God’s in honor. It is the Divine that must be our concern; it must enter into all sides of our life—personal, family, public.”

The last Optina Elder Nectarius

Compartmentalization is a big word, while it is something that is firmly entrenched in the psyche of the American mind. As a social norm it allows a man to segregate his beliefs, his words and his actions in such a way that inconsistent and conflicting messages can be justified in virtually any context. I am reminded of the comedic line made famous by entertainer Billy Crystal, It’s better to look good than to feel good.” As Orthodox Christians we should be acutely aware of the danger of “appearances” and in today’s climate we should find ourselves challenged by it on a daily basis. Our life in Christ is continually calling us to wholeness and constancy in every context, in our beliefs, our words and our actions. In this world, however, our lives are not always held to such a high standard and we are often afforded the freedom to justify just about any word or deed that may come from the different “compartments” of our lives, even when they directly contradict one another. I recently heard a news story about some “good” kids in college who were caught cheating on their exams and whose only regret was that they got caught. They felt perfectly justified in calling themselves generally “good” kids and yet felt no guilt whatsoever about cheating after all, “everybody does it.”

The moral and ethical scandal which tainted the end of Bill Clinton’s presidency is one of the best known examples of this ideological crisis. Here is a man who, while serving in the most powerful leadership position of the entire free world, considered that his personal life had no bearing on his public service—and consider how many supported him in this! Out of humility and good will, let us leave all judgment to God, but let us never stop asking for His mercy! And then let us ask Him to help us understand how harmony of faith and life are the very essence of Orthodox Christianity! This should be obvious, but the challenge lies in really living itwithout compartmentalization!

Let us compare the Orthodox Christian “theocracy” of Byzantium and Russia with the “democracy” of America. Can you imagine the ideology of separation of church and state ever existing in the social fabric of the Byzantine Empire or of Holy Russia? While not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, the mutual inclusion of faith and public service actually upheld a high level of accountability and the potential for societal success. With Christ at the head, the Emperor and the Patriarch were both “ordained” to lead society in a cooperative and responsible manner. Faith standards, moral codes and government ethics were to be upheld by all: Patriarch and King, priest and layman, every man, woman and child.

At the height of these two societies faith and culture were virtually indistinguishable. The life of the Church was at the core of the life of all society. Of course the reality of sin marred the great potential of these societies, but there was also great holiness that resulted from the very fiber of this social order. To get a better sense of this read the great Russian novel, The Brothers Karamazov, by Fedor Dostoevsky. In it you will see a not-so-fictional society trying to make sense of God and itself, not in the abstract but in coursing through the very real events of life, family, vocation, education, politics, etc.

The idea of separating character from behavior is new to world history. Even the framers of our own n’s democratic constitution had very high moral expectations for a successful, self-governing leadership. They did not seek to separate faith from government; rather they wanted to assure that government would in no way interfere with a man’s right to worship as his conscience dictates. While this doctrine may have some flaws from an Orthodox Christian perspective we do affirm that our founding fathers understood that a man’s system of belief is at the very core of his character and behavior.

In essence, this is yet another ploy of the evil one who from the beginning tempted man to deny his very nature. Individuality was both a cause and a result of Adam’s disobedience and man has been warring with this disease ever since. Our life in the Church is one that constantly challenges us not to be separated from God or from one another, nor are we to be fragmented within ourselves.

The Elder Simeon prophesied when the baby Jesus was presented to the Temple saying, “This Child is set for the fall and rising of many” (Luke 2:33-35). Indeed it is so. For those who hear His word and “do it” there will be a “rising” of wholeness stemming from God’s inclusion in every aspect of life, and a completion of self that will be a fulfillment of our high calling to the royal priesthood of believers. For those who “do not” there will be a continuing fall and fragmentation that will be the tragic manifestation of man’s sin against his very nature created in God’s holy image.