Archbishop Anastasios of Tirana, Dürres and All Albania, Emeritus Professor of the University of Athens and Honorary Member of the Academy of Athens, in a speech on the occasion of his being awarded an Honorary Doctorate in the Department of History at the Ionian University (Corfu, 20/3/2007, Multi-Faith Europe and Orthodoxy (Part IIΙ)) calls for Orthodox Christians to be a creative minority in an increasingly secular and divided culture. Here’s the quote:
At the beginning of the last century, Oswald Spengler [Der Untergang des Abendlandes, 2 vols. 1st ed. Munich 1918-22.] claimed that there was a natural evolution of great civilizations: birth, development, flowering, maturation, ageing and finally death. It was his view that Western civilization had reached this last stage. Many voices were raised against this view, among which the position of Arnold Toynbee [A Study of History, abridged ed., Oxford 1987.] is prominent. He pointed out the difference between material and technological progress on the one hand, and real progress on the other, which he calls “spiritualisation”. He sees the roots of the crisis in the Western world in its departure from the religious experience and the adoption of the worship of technology, the nation and the military establishment. And he equates the crisis with secularization. As a course of treatment, he recommends a reinforcement of the religious element. To the concept of biological decline, he opposes the volitional position, based on the robustness and vitality of creative minorities and outstanding personalities.
We are called upon to be just such a creative minority. But in order to match up to its historical role and to contribute to the spiritual path of Europe, the Orthodox Church must, first of all, be consistent to its sacramental and saving nature. It must remain what it is in essence: the ark of truth which the Triune God revealed; the manifestation of the dispensation of God in Christ through the Holy Spirit; the locus where the transfiguration of the person is accomplished; the transcendence of their existential angst; and their union with the God of love.
It is this Orthodoxy which we ought to represent in Europe and throughout the world. Let us not concern ourselves that we do not belong to the majority. What is required is that we should become a creative core which will allow Europe to reveal and develop the best elements of its heritage and go forward to a new period of spiritual vigour.
I wonder if Orthodox Christians in America to take up his Eminence’s challenge. While an evangelical witness is, as he says, essential to vocation as a Church, it needs to be balanced by a certain detachment from results.
More generally, I believe that the proper Orthodox attitude in today’s multi-faith society is the outlook of witness and mission. “And you shall be witnesses to me in Jerusalem and all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1, 8). “Ends” in all senses. We testify to our faith wherever God opens a door: in non-Christian, indifferent or atheistic environments- in Europe, in Africa, in international or global organizations. Without any requirement that our positions be accepted, without the spirit of proselytism, without arrogance, without anxiety or phobias. With respect for the personal freedom of the other. God will take care of the rest. This internal disposition gives us the chance to communicate with ease, offering the Orthodox experience in all directions, including to those who have different religious or world views. Whatever they believe or don’t believe, they still have value as human persons, made in the image of God.
Putting aside for the moment the tendency to use religion as a means of social control and evangelical witness as an excuse to self-promotion, the ordinary demands of establishing and maintaining a witness, to say nothing of the sincere desire to introduce others to Christ, makes detachment from results a true and significant struggle. To borrow from T. S. Eliot, the challenge is “to care and not to care” and to allow God to “Teach us to sit still” (Ash Wednesday). Whatever positive can be said about the American character, the American ethos, detachment from demonstrable success and inner stillness are not central.
And yet without detachment, without a stilling of my own imagination, my own thoughts, plans desires and functional ambitions, lasting success will escape me again and again. Why? Because try as I might to make it otherwise, the world of persons, events and things always outstrip my understanding of it and even my best plans suffer in the face of life’s dynamic quality.
All however is not lost. Fidelity to Christ and to the Gospel is canon by which we measure success and failure. And so,
…the great contribution of the Christian faith was- and will remain so in perpetuity- the principle of love, with the breadth, depth and height which was given to its meaning. Within this is the special importance attributed to forgiveness. The possibility of forgiveness neutralizes conflicts and hostilities in their various forms and leads to real reconciliation between individuals and peoples. The inspiration offered by the Christian faith to millions of people to experience clemency and love is historically beyond question. Without love, European civilization loses its breath, its force and its beauty. And Orthodoxy must be an inexhaustible fount of love.
It is to love that we must look–to the willingness to serve the best interest of others. But if love provides the context, it is success, the ability to actually serve others in their need, that provides the evidence that love is more than mere sentimentality. Is my neighbor better off because of my conversation or my assistance is a question I must ask myself.