12/17/73:There's a lot of talk on other blogs--most notably Julio's here and here--about what exactly the "Western captivity" of Orthodoxy is and/or was; it's said that we lambast the western expressions of Christianity for exactly the wrong things, and do so in a way that is (ironically) inherently western. While I sense the veracity of this, I do not, I admit, possess the intellectual wherewithal or philosophical background of the guys I linked to above to actually explain it. I will say, however, that one of the things from my own Protestant/Evangelical upbringing for which I am the most grateful and which Fr. Alexander states so beautifully above (along with his son-in-law, Fr. Thomas Hopko, if you've listened to him) is that all is about God; all points to God. Nothing should ever be done simply because "that's the way it's always been done," or because "St. Soandso said suchandsuch in chapter eleventeen of the fortyleventh book of the Philokalia"--these things may add to the force of argument for a certain practice, if said saint or tradition has been shown to show forth the life of God in the Church, but the primary reason anything should be done in our Church is because it shows forth the Kingdom of Heaven.
[Referring to the ROCOR, towards whom in general I hold no ill will whatsoever; the situation between the OCA and the ROCOR was much tenser then than it is now ~ DB] "These people, stifled by their own chose limitations, are quite unable to accept or try to understand any creativity. Christianity and Orthodoxy are good and acceptable [according to them] because the are ancient, because they are in the past, because they are the substance and the sanction of the 'orthodox way of life'...The defenders of the 'orthodox way of life' express one clear and profound answer [to the question of Orthodoxy's future] as they define it. But there is no clear, total answer from any other side except reductions, like return to 'Byzantium,' or spiritual individualism, or reading the ascetics, or escapism from reality. I hesitate to come forward with my feeling--it sounds arrogant--that I have an answer! In everything that I preach, or teach, or write, I want this answer to appear, hopefully to shine through. But that answer cannot be squeezed into any system, any recipe, any defined way of life. No rules come out of that answer. It is simply a vision of life, and what comes from that vision is the light, the transparency, the referral of everything to the 'Other, the eschatological character of life itself and all that is in it. The source of that eschatological light, the lifting up of all life, is the sacrament of the Eucharist.
"The Eucharist reveals the Church as community--love for Christ, love in Christ--as a mission to turn each and all to Christ. The Church has no other purpose, no 'religious life' separate from the world. Otherwise the Church would become an idol...Only this presence can give meaning and value to everything in life, can refer everything to that experience and make it full. 'The image of this world is passing away.' But only by passing away does the world finally become the 'World': a gift of God, a happiness that comes from being in communion with the content, the form, the image of that 'World.'"
"In our world, any religion without Christ (even Christianity and Orthodoxy) is a negative phenomenon, even frightening. Any contact with such a religion is dangerous. One can study it to better understand Christianity, or Christ. But by itself, it cannot be salvation, however one understands this word.
"For the early Christians, the Body of Christ is on the altar because He is among them. For the contemporary Christians, Christ is here because His Body is on the altar. It seems to be analogous, but in fact, there is an essential difference between the early Christians and us. For them, everything is in knowing Christ, loving Him. For us, everything is in the desire to be enlightened. The early Christians came to Communion to follow Christ, whereas now Christ is not the unique reason for partaking of Communion."
We as Orthodox have an amazing opportunity with our icons, vestments (Imperial in appearance though they may be, eschatological they still remain), architecture, liturgy, sacraments, rubrics, hymnography, music and theology: we can search for the "one thing needful" in all of this--and it is more a matter of what one is looking for rather than if something is or is not inherently within a practice; a practice is what we make it--and use it all, every note, word and movement, to point to the renewal of Creation through our Lord's taking on our nature for our sake, and for the life of the whole world.
Happy Labor Day, y'all. God bless.