THE TRUNK OF THE TREEHome > Various Subjects > THE TRUNK OF THE TREE
Word Magazine September 1966 Page 10
THE TRUNK OF THE TREE
Commencement Address Delivered by
Dr. Zekin Shakhashiri
Friday, June 3, 1966 — Saint Vladimir Seminary
Between the priest and the physician is an old friendship and a long association. Both are professional in the sense that they apply general principles to specific situations, in an attempt to interfere in the natural course of sin or of disease. Both, in addition, are motivated by a sense of mission which transcends personal gain. Furthermore, both become, regardless of the economic system under which they operate, involved, committed and attached to the community of their parishioners or clientele, by virtue of harboring in their confidence a multitude of secrets, whispered when in crises, by persons struggling with conscience and society. Just as the status of physical sanity in an individual or a community is, in part, a reflection of the attitude, education and quality of care of the physician, so perhaps is the status of sanctity a reflection, in part, of the caliber of the respective priest. But the behavior or performance of either cannot be a complete mirror of the Church or of medical science, as such. The frailty of every individual makes it impossible for him to adequately represent always the ideals of the collective organization of established authority or knowledge of which he is but an individual exponent. A striking difference, however, must be noted — whereas the physician, in his natural person, is an embodiment and a tool of medical science as part of knowledge of natural phenomena, the priest, on the other hand, is qualitatively different in the sense that he, in addition, mystically and mysteriously, represents, on earth, the supernatural order of the Trinity and incarnates in a moment of body and time, the hierarchical tradition of dogma, of the fathers and of the saints. If the physician, in living successive discipleship, is an Hippocrates incarnate, the priest, any priest, either learned or illiterate, in living apostolic succession, is an icon of Christ.
To live, man needs bread, clothing, books, a house, a donkey or car, chickens or a dog, a plot of land to plow or a backyard to plant, a companion, a group to belong to and a place to worship. With all respect to sociologists, these various details of man’s existence and their analysis, do not absolve him of the need for salvation and do not offer useful insight into his estrangement from God on earth.
With all respect to the physical scientists, man, by nature, created in the image of God, perpetually yearns for a reunion with his Creator, regardless of whether or not he lives on a planet around which the sun rotates or can harness through conquest of the atom the utilization of potential natural resources eventually needed for his survival.
With all respect to the biological scientists, man ideally seeks and toils all his life, for moments of inner peace, in love, beauty, poetry or music, as miniature images of his eternal peace in his final union with the Divine. This yearning is true of him even if the scientific study of evolution reveals him as a product of a biological process which equates him in many ways with animals and the rest of God’s creatures. It is also true whether children continue to be procreated in utero or will eventually be created in vitro.
With all respect to the psychologists, the essence of man is his basic will and drive and thirst to reunite with the Being from whom he was originally separated. This is true even if his libido is his motivating force to produce poetry, to discover natural truth or to conquer nations.
With all respect to engineering science and technology, man has a narrow path for salvation which he ever seeks. All systems of information retrieval, automation, computers, gadgetry (for instant coffee, instant babies, instant education), and all the communication means and media ranging from the whispered voice, the drive-in theater, the hot line between Washington and Moscow, the supersonic jets, to the exciting pictures received from soft landings on the moon, all these do not alter in any way the basic God-ward thrust of man.
In the final analysis, a man is, not what he has, but what he believes in, which makes up the fabric of his total will.
The memory of man is short and history offers no lessons. Man’s intelligence is indeed in question: experience does not seem to teach him. But perhaps after all nothing is really new under the sun.
Man is a will to err and to sin. It took an incarnation, a crucifixion and a resurrection of God Himself to offer him a chance for salvation.
But man is born unto fulfillment yet dies unfulfilled. The tomb, like the womb, contains and conceals a maximum of human potential.
The image of God, that man is, is a being whose reality is conceived in eternity but whose life is but a fleeting process in time.
Given all freedom, man will yet not speak or act freely; the human bondage in the flesh cannot be legislated away. Man does not live by law alone. Those who do, like the Jews and the law-abiding peoples under Protestant ethics, are immunizing themselves against God.
Man feels more than he thinks and thinks more than he speaks and speaks more than he writes and writes more than is beautiful or deep.
Sainthood is a distillation of the depth of feeling about God. Scholarship is a crystallization of the depth of thinking about nature. Citizenship is a condensation of feeling and thinking about fellow man. The mystic union with Christ transcends all understanding, description, and feeling.
In the beginning there was the Word and the Word came unto the World but Darkness rejected the Light.
It is difficult to be Christian today as it was 20 centuries ago or as it shall be 20 centuries hence. Narrow is the path, always and forever.
There is no scientific evidence that the Christian Religion has indented organized human effort or public policy. The behavior of man in the aggregate has not been altered, after Christ, from its patterns before. How does history judge Christ? or does it? Doesn’t Christ alone judge history?
The basic issue in question, at any time or place, is not the modernization of Christianity but the Christianization of man.
As ignorance tends to disappear all over the world, a new form of illiteracy tends to appear — that of the layman (educated by the newspaper or radio or TV) and of the generalist. Scientific knowledge already outstrips not only the scientist but the professional practitioner and the utilizing citizen as well. Man, in other words, is overwhelmed by the fruits of his own curiosity. Nevertheless, it is not the curious who shall inherit the earth.
Likewise, as poverty tends to disappear, a new form of want tends to emerge from the eventual depletion of earth’s natural resources by the population explosion. In God’s scheme for man, it is easier for a camel to enter the hole of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.
As infectious disease tends to disappear, biological resistance tends to weaken and degenerative disease to increase. Consequently man’s physical and emotional stamina become fragile. Nevertheless, the need for the Good Samaritan shall never cease as long as the wounded and the exploited and the assaulted continue, as they do, to fall on the highways of any society.
To reflect on data from the senses is so respectable nowadays, that it is labeled scientific. However, to reflect on data from faith is shunned in most circles as being religious. Science has become a religion and religion almost a science. But let no man err, science is but a tool of the mind, extending with its concepts, the intellectual acuity of man to understand nature, and with its technology, the ability of his senses to implement theory unto control. Man, endowed by God, with reason and the senses could create science. And is it not true that the creator never worships the created! Copernicus in physical science, Darwin in biological science, Freud in psychological science and Karl Marx to social science have become intellectual magnets of scientific thought who dazzled man out of a proper perspective of his view of the world. For historical reasons, the Orthodox Church alone can and must now face, and for the first time, the secular and the sacrilegious challenge of the modern world.
Whenever a Buddhist commits suicide for a national cause, I become bereaved at the death of a person who has not known the love of God. Nationalism is a spirit that beckons to many souls for self-denial. But self-denial in itself, like freedom, is a means — only the end determines the merit of either endeavor. Medieval chivalry, Arab honor, Latin sensuosity, Puritan restraint, Hinduistic passiveness, Buddhist suicide, pagan ritual, and Communistic ego-domination by the state are all acts of self-denial which are not God-centered. Therefore, they are all in vain. Even the death of a soldier in battle for his country is in the eternal scheme of things, a waste. Our Church proclaims the one and only unadulterated form of self-denial which is not self-worship. Only in self-denial for the Trinity, is self-retrieval in the bosom of God.
If one man exists because he thinks, and another believes because he sees, what about those who believe without seeing? Signs are sought only by the unbelievers but appear only to those who believe. The scientists, disciples, as they are of the doubting Thomas, seek miracles only to explain them away. Even miracles, including the return of the dead from the hereafter, would not convince the unbeliever. But then what does?!
The switch from missionary proselytism into missionary social reform is a modern betrayal of Christ, as by Judas, and a modern denial, as by Peter.
In the Old World, the Orthodox Church is liturgical, then evangelical and then merciful. In the New World the Orthodox Church is less liturgical, less evangelical and less merciful.
The Orthodox Church has a political impact in the life of the community in the Old World; in the New World it has a social impact. One wonders where, and how much, does it have a spiritual impact?
Except for monastic life and selected youth movements in the Old World, the Orthodox Church is not a living witness to piety, charity, faith and hope anywhere.
The average Orthodox parishioner today is unenlightened religiously both in the Old and the New World.
The average standard of living of Orthodox parishioners may be higher in the New World than in the Old, but the average level of secular education may be similar. However, the standard of being is certainly not different across the Atlantic. Man does not live by bread alone.
The enlightened Orthodox clergy in the New World are not a guarantee of enhanced faithfulness amongst the parishioners. Man does not live by intellectual truth alone.
The Orthodox Church is more secular than sacral in the New World; to a slight extent, the reverse may be true in the Old.
Orthodoxy coexists in Asia with Islam and Judaism; in Eastern Europe with Atheism; in Western Europe and South America with Catholicism; and in North America with Protestantism. Therefore, Orthodoxy must take and make known a theological and intellectual stand vis-à-vis Mohammed, Moses, Karl Marx, Luther, Jefferson and Pope John the 23rd.
If the future of World Orthodoxy depends on its future in the U.S.A., due consideration must be given in Rhodes and Constantinople to Washington as the one strategic focus for major Pan-Orthodox action. The militant Church on earth must know how to harness the social laws of Power for the salvation of man just as the scientist knows how to harness the physical laws of natural Power for the comfort of man. But what does man live for anyway — comfort or pleasure or happiness or glory or success or the union with God?
Secular governments and the UN divide the nations along a yardstick of economic development. Church governments and ecumenical bodies, surprisingly, view the world similarly. It behooves, therefore, such Christian ecumenical centers as Rhodes, Rome and Geneva, to view mankind along a yardstick of spiritual development: The Faithful and the faithless, the God-fearing and the God-denying, the sin-conscious and the secular, the pious and the sacrilegious, the sanctified, the civilized and the primitive, the moral and the immoral, etc. Obviously, the witness to Christ is ubiquitously needed in the East and in the West, in the New World and in the Old. A special witness, however, is needed not only before the heathens and the Gentiles, but before the Chosen People who profess His name. It is perhaps easier to convert a non-Christian into a Christian, given the proper climate of missionary work, but it is much more difficult to convert a nominal Christian into a real practicing one. The Orthodox Church needs to focus special attention on Western Europe and the U.S.A. as being in special need of the message and of strategic potential for world-wide impact.
Bureaucracy, devised originally to harness resources into programs to meet community needs, has become an end in itself. Within its hierarchy, the concept of authority calls for clarification. To a devout Orthodox Christian, unlike a Protestant or a Catholic, the distinction between different authorities is easy. To the rest of the world it is not. In a country like the U.S.A., where the Constitution grants one the freedom to be an atheist and denies him the freedom to be illiterate, the concepts of authority, freedom and democracy, across the various hierarchies and municipalities of the world, are in obvious need of a thorough examination.
The U. S. is a nation in the making. It is founded on rebellion against all form of traditional authority — that of the Church, of the family and of the school. Based on Protestant ethics, the Constitution upholds the freedom of the individual and justice before the law. Democracy, a form of government, has become almost a religion. In its name and for its sake freedom is abused and misused and often becomes a substitute for license and chaos; and it is this all-absorbing concern for democracy which impinges on decisions of morality, scientific policy and administrative authority. The paucity of Orthodox ethics in the American scene may be held responsible for such distorted overall national public policy which overspends on defense and space at the expense of major domestic programs for campus revolts, family problems and delinquency. It is also this preoccupation with the Constitution that is responsible for the secular legislation of Church matters instead of the sacral legislation of government matters. Furthermore, the preoccupation with science and technology and the predominant view of man as an economic being also stem from the basic Protestant emphasis on individual freedom and justice and is, to a considerable extent, responsible for the abnormal emergence of race as a national problem, for an undue emphasis on economics in foreign policy, and for undue impact of minority groups.
The Magna Carta, Marx Manifesto, Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, and the U.S. Constitution are statements which dominate the mind of man under the aegis of worldly power. The time may have come for the Orthodox Church to come up with another manifesto, after the manner of the Nicene Creed, which will help displace from the mind of man its bewilderment with power, its current skewed value judgment, and help create instead, a balanced view of God, man and the world.
Fellow Christians of the Eastern Orthodox Church, the pluralistic West seems to have been grafted with Christianity. Let us, therefore, crusade Westward in love and plant the trunk.