In the 1920’s the Orthodox Church of Russia was confronted with a very difficult situation: whether to tacitly support the Communist government or oppose it. To some Orthodox Christians in Russia the church made the wrong choice and decided that it would not oppose the Communist government even though many of the church’s clergy and people were being persecuted and martyred. In response to the official church’s compromise Archpriest Victor S. Potapov wrote: the Church’s path like the earthly path of Jesus is not the path of accommodation, but is the way of Golgotha. A powerful statement! The church cannot and must not in any way compromise (accommodate) her teachings for the sake of her safety. Today, we face a similar and more subtle persecution, a spirit of compromise with our culture and the teachings and philosophy of that culture. As with communism, the church cannot accommodate modern society. We cannot accept everything our culture teaches or accepts as legal. Many things may be deemed legal by society and government but it does not make it moral and right. The church cannot to try to accommodate the culture. The Church of Christ must rise above this and every culture and society and be true to the Gospel. The church works and lives in a particular culture and must relate to that culture, but the church stands outside of the culture because it is not an institution or an organization; it is the Body of Christ. As the church in Russia had to battle to forces of Communism for its very existence, so too does the Church today have to battle a very insidious foe, secularism.

Secularism is a very subtle and dangerous enemy. It does not seem like an enemy at all, but rather a way for the church to become in touch with the world. Metropolitan Hierotheos (Vlachos) of Nafpaktos, Greece writes: Secularism is the loss of the true life of the Church, the alienation of Church members from the genuine Church spirit. He goes on to say that secularism began when the persecution of Christians ceased and Christianity became the state religion in the 4th Century. It became very easy to become a Christian, there was no longer a threat to life, Christianity became vogue. Because it was vogue and expected, it became to take on a more worldly character. Christianity became more lax, and the people and clergy, became secular. The way people related within the church and in society was based not so much on the Gospel of our Lord but on worldly expectations. Metropolitan Hierotheos explains that the purpose of the Church is to cure humanity from his/her spiritual illness, to restore to mankind the ability to know and experience God. This is what the Church is supposed to do for its followers. Through the practice of prayer, fasting, almsgiving, participation in the mysteries (sacraments) of the Church, the nous—the heart of man—becomes whole. The nous (the place where we encounter God within our hearts) becomes cured through purification, illumination and divinization (or deification, becoming godlike). An organized Church is one that cures man. Its existence is demonstrated by success in the therapy of the darkened nous. Secularism in the Church is directly related to the loss of the Church’s true objective. A Church...which does not cure man but is concerned with other matters, is a secularized Church.

How does a Church become secularized? It is, if you will, a mindset, a way of seeing the mission and nature of the Church. Metropolitan Hierotheos gives illustrations of a secularized Church: When the Church deals with ideas rather than life; when the Church involves herself in social and philosophical systems; when the Church is occupied with human thought and abstract ideals, rather than curing the faithful. The Church becomes secularized when it is degraded to a social organization. If people of the Church dismiss the prophetic and sanctifying role of the Church and see the Church as a mere decorative element, then the Church has become secular. Thus, if the Church does not heal and cure the souls of her people it is secular. If we, her followers do not use the cures and healings of the Church to heal and save our souls, we are succumbing to secularism. The fault rests not with the Church but with us; we simply have to utilize the healing mysteries (sacraments) of Confession and Communion.

As Greek Orthodox Christians living in America, we are under a great deal of stress. I do not mean the stress of life and the economy, though this is real. I am referring to the stress of what it means to be an Orthodox Christian. We must try to the best of our ability to live the life in Christ, to battle secularism, and heal our souls. We are not alone, there are many examples of people who have done this, simple Christians who have lived in the world and have not compromised their faith. Use their example.

In the words of St Paul: Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us…(Hebrews 12:1). If you look at the history of the Church you will see that God has raised up holy men and women to illumine and guide us. Just during the past 150 years alone we have thousands of such witnesses. The many martyrs under communism and saints like Nektarios and Methodia of Kimolos; and holy and illumined teachers such as Joseph the Hesycahst, Paisios, and Porphyrios. They, by no means accepted the way of the world as their standard of life; nor did they accommodate themselves to the world. They followed and lived the way of life of our Holy Orthodox Faith; they cured their nous, became holy and now have become as beacons guiding us to the one who gives us life, our Lord Christ came into the world so that we might have life and have it more abundantly (cf. John 10:10). As Orthodox Christians to live our lives more abundantly means that we are in communion, connected with Christ. It means that we know Him and experience Him. It means that we live our life as our Lord instructs us and as the Church guides us. My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth (1 John 3:18). Put your faith into practice.

Though we live in the world and are called upon by our Lord to serve His people living in the world we are not to be of the world. The Church impacts the world through holiness, not through social statements or political position papers. Again, in the words of the Bishop of Nafpaktos: The Church should enter the world to transform it rather than the world entering the Church to secularize it. It is through the witness of the people of faith of our Church, the holy men and women whom we call saints that the Church is able to continue the mission of Christ, to see His work manifest. These people have lived the opposite of secular lives; they have been healed and have become holy through God’s grace. As we emulate these people, as we embrace the way of truth; we become healed and cured. Our hearts are purified, illumined and we experience God, and thus we become holy. We are all called to do this. It is the secular mind that says this is only for the clergy or for monks or that these are the ways of the past. Holiness, our living in communion with Christ; living for Him and in Him, is our path to salvation.