Thursday, 4 November 2010

The poorest, the feeblest Christianity there has ever been

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From The Northern Thebaid: monastic saints of the Russian north:

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"The great Greek and Near-Eastern Patristic epoch had already produced the basic texts of Orthodox spirituality and monasticism, but the final Patristic flowering in Russia - where the purity of Orthodox tradition was sealed by the sanctity of the wonderworking elders - was to provide the connecting link between the Patristic tradition and the Orthodox faithful of today, some of whom have seen the last great Orthodox Elders of the golden chain of Orthodox spirituality which has come down unbroken from the Egyptian desert to us.

"The spiritual strength of Orthodoxy today, whether Russian or non-Russian, rests directly upon the saints of the Northern Thebaid, who have bequeathed to the Orthodox faithful their experience of communion with and the example of their God-pleasing lives.  

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"How can we make use of this holy inheritance in their own lives today?

"We must not deceive ourselves: the life of the desert-dwellers of the Northern Thebaid is far beyond us in our time of unparalleled spiritual emptiness. In any epoch the monastic life is limited by the kind of life which is being led in the world. 

"At a time when daily Orthodox life in Russia was both extremely difficult and very sober, monasticism could flourish; but in our time when ordinary life has become abnormally comfortable and the world-view of even the best religious and intellectual leaders is shockingly frivolous, what more is to be expected than that luke-warm spirituality with comfort with which bold voices from inside Soviet Russia even now are reproaching the free West?

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"Everywhere today the disease of disbelief has entered deeply into the minds, and most of all the hearts, of men. Our Orthodoxy, even when it is outwardly still correct, is the poorest, the feeblest Christianity there has ever been. 

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"And still the voice of the Northern Thebaid calls us—not, it may be, to go to the desert but at least to keep alive the fragrance of the desert in our hearts: to dwell in mind and heart with these angel-like men and women and  have them as our truest friends, conversing with them in prayer; to be always aloof from the attachments and passions of this life, even when they center about some institution or leader of the church organization; to be first of all a citizen of the Heavenly Jerusalem, the City on high towards which all our Christian labors are directed, and only secondarily a member of this world below which perishes.

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Epilogue to The Northern Thebaid - Monk Seraphim Rose 1975



Comment:

The Christian church is at a very low ebb of weakness now. Seraphim Rose says here that we "have seen the last great Orthodox Elders of the golden chain of Orthodox spirituality which has come down unbroken from the Egyptian desert to us."

So modern Christians in the West are bereft of the help which used to come from great Orthodox elders, from people of advanced holiness.

Yet, "The spiritual strength of Orthodoxy today, whether Russian or non-Russian, rests directly upon the saints of the Northern Thebaid, who have bequeathed to the Orthodox faithful their experience of communion with and the example of their God-pleasing lives."

In a more general sense, although we lack direct personal guidance, we still have indirect, written records - more widely avaiable than ever before. 

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So - aside from seeking truth truth (an activity which has little attraction for most humans most of the time) - what is there to attract people to traditional Christianity? 

Not political power, not the probability of a bright future.

Also not the propsect of advanced and exciting and absorbing spiritual states - since these are regarded as being spiritually hazardous without prior purification (rare in modern hedonic conditions) and spiritual supervision (which, now the golden chain has been broken, is all-but impossible). 



Spiritual consolation is there for those who repent. 

But what of those many people who feel no need for spiritual consolation? 

(They actually do need it, of course, but they do not feel the need, and will not be persuaded of their need - resist any such persuasion deftly, firmly and aggressively. I remember this well.) 

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While traditional spirituality required, arose from, sustained solitary prayer - from confronting life naked; modern life is continually interrupting any such possibility. There are frequent and intrusive external interruptions, and there is the temptation and habit of yielding-to and seeking-out interruptions (as an anaesthetic to boredom, misery, and form of discomfort). 


How could a spiritual awareness ever dawn upon one who was surrounded by media stimuli, working, in company, connected by electronic communications 24/7, regularly dosed with food and drinks and alcohol and drugs?...


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