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Saturday, April 28, 2007

Raised For Us


One of the most significant differences between Orthodox and non-Orthodox Christian cultures concerns the resurrection. Characteristically the west, which has not been Orthodox now for a millennium, focuses on the death of Christ as a reparation to God for the alienating consequences of the Fall of Adam. In this account the resurrection can only function as a vindication of Christ’s atoning sacrifice and a future pledge of immortality for the believer. The resurrection has no existential, personal aspect for the believer in the present.

This has profoundly affected western culture. There are now simply no cultural manifestations of the resurrection left in tact after the corrosive generations of mounting scepticism and secularism have taken their toll. So, chocolate eggs go on sale before Lent and TV program schedulers see nothing incongruous in showing Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” (Channel 4) on Easter Day. Too many Protestant Christians and almost everybody else haven’t a clue that Easter lasts for 40 days and Jesus is popularly thought to be a dead hero rather than a living Saviour.

The absence of any saving benefit in the resurrection has left many western churches with nothing useful or positive to say about the spiritual potential of humankind. Instead, forensic atonement theory based solely on the cross has deformed the acquisition of practical holiness into a deadening and legalistic moralism bereft of any Christian beauty or truth. In some traditions all that are left now are tiresome obsessions with “issues” and the ideologically driven nagging and control freakery commonly mistaken for prophecy and discipleship. If I was a spiritually open and interested enquirer after Christianity in the west right now, the mainline Christian denominations would be the very last place I would turn. In fact this is borne out by the statistics with such churches emptying their memberships at an alarming rate. But are the Orthodox in the west doing any better?

Well, inside or churches of course, the Paschal light of the Risen Christ burns brightly but you might be forgiven for thinking that Christ was raised for the Orthodox rather than for all humankind. We have tended to make Jesus our “possession” not deliberately or in a mean spirited way but by dismissing western Christian culture as incapable of being salvaged in anything other than the very long term. It just seems too much of an imaginative jump for some to consider Orthodoxy eventually becoming just as embedded in the Christian west as in the Christian east.

This is actually not so much a failure of imagination as a failure of faith and even perhaps a failure in our collective confidence in the power of the Orthodox faith (or rather God through the Orthodox faith) to change lives. Which is more difficult to believe though - that Christ has been raised from his three day burial in the tomb or that these dry bones of western Christianity can live again by the enlivening power of the Holy Spirit? Surely the later is driven by the former? Do we have “good news” or don’t we? Is that good news for us or for all? Does God wish all men to be saved or just those that currently belong to our churches?

Will the Orthodox again become an “Easter people” (St. Augustine) with life for the world or will we just keep that to ourselves for “safety’s sake”? God forbid. In the words of St. Paul, “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel.” What is that gospel? Since Christ lives, all may live in Him. It’s quite a straightforward message really; we just need to make it known to all without insisting first that they attend an evening course in a foreign language.
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Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Bunnies and Blood

“ Brits will on average be enjoying over 3.5 eggs each over the Easter weekend alone. But over a quarter don’t know why handing them out symbolises the birth of Jesus. . . .” (Press release from one prominent UK supermarket chain)

I suppose we shouldn't be too surprised. Such is the appalling ignorance today across large sections of western societies concerning the significance of Easter that not only do many people not know even the most basic features of the Christian faith but also, amusingly perhaps, such a howler can slip through unnoticed.

You see, bunnies and blood just don't mix. Bitter death and stuffing yourself with chocolate don't connect (well, not in the gospel sense anyway!) How have we come to this sorry state of affairs?

The primary culprit in all of this, collectively, is actually the churches ... and that includes the Orthodox Church. We have become apologetic, almost embarrassed about our beliefs. We don't want to upset anybody. I might be wrong (correct me if I am) but some years ago a Protestant Church in the UK tried to substitute the fish sign for the cross as its public logo. Mercifully there was such an outcry that both were eventually incorporated. In times past there used to be street processions on Good Friday. Shopping has displaced all that. We wouldn't want to get in the way would we? Inconvenience people? Disturb the consumerist status quo? Not likely.

With the Orthodox Churches in the UK it is little better. In Orthodox countries of course, it's quite different. Everything stops for Pascha. But, what do the Orthodox do when they find themselves in the west? Keep their heads down that's what they do. Keep it all behind closed doors. Of course, there are glorious exceptions across all the churches but I am talking here about a general trend and that is quite worrying.

The first charge against Christians was “these who have turned the world upside down have come here too." (Acts 17:6). Nowadays I doubt we could make the idol vibrate let alone upturn it. We have become moral and spiritual cowards, a disgrace to the name 'Christian.' "Doing our best" in a feeble kind of way just isn't good enough anymore. We need to recover our nerve and stand up for what we believe in; indeed ... live it, proclaim it, die for it!

No, bunnies and blood don't mix at all.

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