The Acton Institute has posted the text of Metropolitan Jonah’s Acton University talk “Asceticism and the Consumer Society.” His Beatitude’s remarks, delivered on Thursday, June 16, at the plenary session looked at consumerism and worship to “opposing movements in the human heart.” In the course of his talk, Metropolitan Jonah cited Orthodox Christian theologian Fr. Alexander Schmemann’s definition of secularism as “in theological terms … a heresy … about man.”
Man was created with an intuitive awareness of God and thankfulness to Him for the creation. In return, the creation itself was made to be a means of communion and revelation of God to man. Man was thus created as a Eucharistic being, the priest of creation, to offer it in thanksgiving to God, and to use it as a means of living in communion, the knowledge and love of God. Man was created to worship. In our fallenness, turning from God to created things as ends in themselves, we lost the intuitive knowledge of God and our essential attitude of thankfulness to Him. Secularism is rooted in this loss of divine awareness, the darkening of our intuitive perception of the creation as the sacrament of God’s Presence. It is a denial of our essential reality as human beings, and our reduction to purely material animals. Thus the refusal to worship and give thanks, to offer the creation in thanksgiving back to God, is a denial of our very nature as humans.
What Schmemann is testifying to is that “worship is truly an essential act, and man an essentially worshipping being.” It is “only in worship” that I can find “knowledge of God and therefore knowledge of the world.” As the etymology of the word orthodoxy suggests, the true worship of God and the true knowledge of God converge and are together become the foundation of obedience to Him.
Metropolitan Jonah, the primate of the Orthodox Church in America, said the “fruit” of secularism is despair. The cure for this despair is the Cross of Jesus Christ:
The Christian ascetical life, that is the life of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, the works of mercy and obedience, is the application and the appropriation of the Cross to my life. It is the means by which I both enter into a life of communion with God and become myself a sacrament of that communion for others. This is possible because at its most basic level, asceticism “is the struggle of the person against rebellious nature, against the nature which seeks to achieve on its own what it could bring about only in personal unity and communion with God.” Our “restoration” to a life of personal communion with God and so our personal “resistance” to the powers of sin and death, “presuppose a struggle” within each human heart that is often lacking in contemporary society and even our churches.
You can read Metropolitan Jonah’s “Asceticism and the Consumer Society” on the Acton site.
Sitting in the audience that night, I can testify to the very enthusiastic reception his Beatitude received both for his words and for his gentle and pastoral spirit. During the 45 minute address, there was barely a sound to be heard in the audience of approximately 625 conference participants. After he finished his Beatitude received a standing ovation and answered questions from the audience for about 30 minutes.
From any perspective one wishes to look at it, his Beatitude’s presentation at Acton University was a great success.