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Two Understandings Of Christianity

November 17, 2010

Today I read an excellent transcription of a lecture given by Fr Alexander Men, titled Two Understandings Of Christianity. I encourage you to read the lecture. The first half is a bit tough, but the last several paragraphs are the real meat of it. Give feedback on the lecture, and this post as you can.

In the lecture he contrasts the two traditions within the Church: namely hospitality and asceticism. The two images on this post reflect these traditions. On the left is St Maria of Paris. Her story is quite extraordinary. She is a great modern example of the love of Christ shown through service toward others. On the right is the image of an Ascetic Monk.

Fr Alexander points out that the earliest centuries of the Church she was engaged in meeting the social needs of people, as well as the care for their souls. As time went on, and some chose the life of asceticism (simply meaning to reject a life of pleasures in order to more fully commune with and contemplate God in prayer) more and more this way of life was believed to be superior to the first. In fact, social justice, hospitality and the like were sidelined and became the realm of  “the secular”. As such, there have come to be great divisions in the Church. Not only this, but Christianity as a whole has been relegated to the fringe, as “secular” society has been left with the task of meeting the needs of people, while the Church shrinks away into itself. This Fr Alexander laments.

What he calls for is a return to unifying these two understandings of our faith. The Scriptures make a case for both ways of life. They are held in tension, but are never mutually exclusive. Fr Alexander even shares his vision for a balance between the hospitality of the Church, her care for souls, and the ascetic life. He goes so far as to say that the divisions have forced us to see that they came about as a result of mistaken notions, and though an evil to be repented of, may be the strengthening of the Church in the end, if she will unify.

The Orthodox Church has within her life (the life in Christ) the things necessary to answer the “secular vs sacred” question, for she sees nothing as secular. Everything has the potential to be spiritual, except sin. What the Church has to recapture is the desire for unity as Christ prayed for in John 17. Not only unity with the Orthodox Church herself, but reunion with the Roman Catholics and the Protestants, as each has something good to bring to the table. I am not speaking of compromising doctrine in the name of unity, I speak of unity in Truth.

The world is desperate for the Living God, but does not see Him within the Church. To be sure, He is here in His Church. People’s vision of Him tends to be obscured by people. The Orthodox Church truly is the “fullness of Faith”; we need to live that! Our Life in Christ is one of prayer, sacrament, and love. As such it should produce in us a spirit that cannot help but touch the world, in it’s needs. Praise God for organizations like IOCC, OCMC and FOCUS who live the Gospel to its fullest by bringing it to others. The Orthodox Church in Albania is another shining example of how all of life is under the umbrella of “sacred”, and the Church is grow miraculously.

My prayer is that we will have to courage to work for the unity that will be for the life of the world, bringing all things under Christ, as Paul prayed for in his letter to the Ephesians. I obviously do not have all the answers. One thing is certain: I can pray, receive the sacraments of the Church, not judge my brother, love others as myself and share that with those around me. As Fr Stephen Freeman shared with me in a reply; these are exciting times we live in, though they are distressing as well. If the Church can make it out of the fourth century, then were can make it through these days we live in. We have great potential in the 21st century, and while things seem doubtful, they are in fact more hopeful than they have been for centuries.

I hope his words prove true.

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