Thursday, August 16, 2012

Orthodox Synchroblog - Orthodoxy and Culture

This is my contribution to the Orthobloggers synchroblog on "Orthodoxy and Culture". For previous entries on the subject of culture and the Orthodox Christian faith, see Distributism and OrthodoxyAmerican Orthodox Culture, and Distractions.
Dn. Steve Hayes provided a kick-off post for this synchroblog project in which he reflects on how our perspective colors our perception of phenomena. Commenting on the Pussy Riot trial concluding this week, Steve gives a close reading of the Paschal troparion and suggests what might be the proper Orthodox response (lex orandi, lex credendi, remember?):
Let God arise, let his enemies be scattered
Let those who hate him flee from before his face.
Does that apply to Pussy Riot?
Yes, I believe it does.
But you have to come to the end of the hymn to see how it applies.
This is the day of resurrection.
Let us be illumined by the feast.
Let us embrace each other.
Let us call “Brothers” even those that hate us, and forgive all by the resurrection, and so let us cry:
Christ is risen from the dead
Trampling down death by death
And upon those in the tombs bestowing life.
So what do we call the members of Pussy Riot?
And what do we do with them?
Embrace them, forgive them by the resurrection
and tell them that God loves them and we love them too.
That’s Orthodox culture.
Responding to Steve's post, Jim Forest commented that the Pussy Riot performance was "disgusting" and was "not something likely to have positive impact on anyone except those at war with the Church nor to receive support except from the most alienated." Jim noted, however, that he wished "that the Church could have responded in a way that communicated mercy and forgiveness." As has been the case every time I've read Ladder of the Beatitudes or Praying with Icons, Jim reminded me that Christ is the final yardstick of our faith. Christ told his disciples that others would know them by this sign, that they would love one another as He had loved them (Jn. 13:34-35).
Discussing the topic of Orthodox Culture suggests that we first need a shared understanding of what culture is. Most definitions of culture reference some combination of beliefs, customs, knowledge, art, food, institutions, and meaning shared by a group of people. For Orthodox Christians, some of these have very salient meanings (e.g. the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, Byzantine iconography) while others such as customs and food might have strong association with faith (e.g in a strongly-ethic parish) for some but not for others. It seems that this division follows closely to the difference some describe between captial-T Tradition and lowercase-t tradition. Those things which are fundamental to our faith, then, might also be central to an Orthodox Culture. Those things are all Christological. As Steve might conclude, Orthodox Christians should have a shared, practical perspective on phenomena such as the Pussy Riot spectacle because Christ should be our common lens.
What would the world look like through the lens of Christ? Christ's work is healing, transformative, and conciliatory. The "new commandment" that He gave to his disciples was a distillation of all the law and the prophets: Love God and Love your Neighbor. Christ unites in Himself seeming opposites, and teaches us that kenotic love bridges that opposition.
Kenosis, or self-emptying love doesn't hold anything back. It doesn't consider what the press will say or how voters will react. It is a person-to-person interaction that evinces love in preferring the other to the self. Love, as Christ demonstrates it, is not an abstract emotional response but human-scale compassion in a healing touch or word*. I think that to live in "the hand" means to learn to take the time to truly see those around us and give compassionately or receive graciously (as our means allow). To live fully in the moment in such a way is orthogonal to modern American life. Without serious effort, I am too distracted to notice my own failures, much less see the need of those around me.
The lesson I take from this with respect to Culture and Orthodoxy is this: even though Orthodoxy is at odds with Western culture, it is not counter-cultural. We are called to be separate, but not insular. If we can see our way clear to re-center Holy Communion in our lives and our preparation for that mystical encounter, we are blessed to be able to demonstrate integrity, wholeness, and peace that others are seeking.

Here are links to other posts on the topic, and more will be added as other synchrobloggers post their contributions:

"Acquire a peaceful spirit, and around you thousands will be saved." - St. Seraphim of Sarov
Image courtesy of Ancient Church Arts. Get it on a t-shirt here.
* It's hard to wrap my head around, but I think that even Christ's ultimate sacrificial love is at once a universal act (in that we are all saved by his conquering of Death), but also intensely personal.

1 comment:

Jonathan Kotinek said...

The Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church published a declaration regarding the Pussy Riot blasphemy. I found it very pastoral and especially appreciated this explication:

Were the Church to affect the forgiveness before God of one who has not fallen down in repentance before Him for his blasphemous deeds, this would be the usurpation of a power that is not given to Her: “If a man sin against a man, then one can pray to God for Him. But if a man sin against the Lord, who will be an intercessor for Him?” (I Kings 2.25) Unrepentant sinners are given over to the judgement of God: “Vengeance is mine. I will repay, says the Lord.” (Dueteronomy 32.25; Romans 12.19)