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Word Magazine April 1968 Page 8/10
A PLEA FOR ORTHODOX RENEWAL
By The Rev. Fr. Michael Azkoul
St. Mark’s Church, Youngstown, Ohio
When an Orthodox thinks about “renewal”, probably many questions comes to his mind. What is an Orthodox “renewal?” Should we play “follow the leader” with Rome and Protestantism? Is “renewal” advisable at this moment? Is it desirable? What form should “renewal” take? Is it possible without compromising the Orthodox Faith? To answer all these questions in full, of course, is impossible here, but perhaps a few suggestions will suffice.
An Orthodox “renewal” must not begin with catastrophic, sudden and startling innovation, but must start with the call for “inward renewal.” We must re-learn the lessons of the Gospel. For too long, we have thought that “going to Church,” writing an essay on “Why I love God” for the Sunday School competition and kissing an icon was our total responsibility to Christ. These things are far from enough.
The Orthodox Faith is a personal commitment to Jesus Christ; the making present in our lives the redemption of Christ. Orthodoxy is making Jesus “personal.” In the words of Saint Paul, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by the faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Gal. II, 20). Thus, Orthodox “renewal” begins with surrender to Jesus Christ, uncompromising commitment, trust, total involvement in the life described by the Holy Bible.
Before we can teach others about the Orthodox religion, we must first come to the knowledge of our own imperfection and sinfulness. It is not enough to say “I don’t hurt anybody, I mind my own business and I believe in God and the Ten Commandments.” Such pre-Christian and sub-Christian standards do not begin to touch those demanded by Christ. Such a way of life will persuade no one to become Orthodox. “Create in me a clean heart, O God: and renew a right spirit within me,” cries the Psalmist. “Cast me not away from thy presence: and take not thy Holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation: and steady me with thy guiding Spirit. Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and the impious will be converted unto thee . . .” If we are to communicate Orthodoxy to others, we must first experience the presence of God in our own lives through faith and repentance and then Orthodoxy will appeal to other men.
Perhaps, the so-called “ecumenical movement” is good. It will give us an opportunity to re-evaluate our own attitude towards Christ. We have been too long sleeping upon the treasury of Truth and we need to be awakened from our “dogmatic slumbers.” We need to be taken by the
neck and shaken until we come to our spiritual senses. We have “the faith once delivered to the saints,” but we have been living and believing as if there had been no “revelation” from God and no Christian Economy.
An Orthodox “renewal,” therefore, will “conform” us to Christ and “separate” us from the world. The individual must make a personal decision for Christ through obedience to the Divine Will and a reaffirmation of the Orthodox Faith — as a way of life, not a doctrine or institution. Reason and power are only functions of the life which they presuppose.
Orthodox “renewal,” moreover, should not be understood as a reaction or response to “this moment,” as if these times were somehow superior or more critical than any other time in history. We must respond to the Spirit, to the quickening within the Body of Christ. No doubt “renewal” begins with challenge, but although challenge may prove the occasion for it, it does not follow that “renewal” arises out of the challenge of the times. In every age or generation, God admonishes and chastises and teaches His People. A “renewal” is what He demands always, for growth is necessary always, but perennial purification does not mean innovation or compromise but inward re-awakening to the designs and demands of the Spirit.
Growth does not mean changing Orthodox doctrine, the Fathers or even the Canons. Growth is greater understanding of Christ and His will for me personally in relation to my personal, inward spiritual needs and my connection with Him, other members of the Church, and my relationship to the world. We do not convert the world by conforming to it; we do not convert the world by adjusting to it, but it is converted by us if we become what we want it to become. i.e., Christ-like.
No doubt, many changes can be made in the organization of the Church, but always in terms of the Christian tradition. For even as Orthodoxy seeks the transformation of man, the conversion of the “heart,” the changing of “Adam” to “Christ,” so any changes in the Church must conform to that end, telos. Changes are not to be made to please men or to make decisions of a spiritual and moral nature less painful. Orthodoxy is not the league for the promotion of public happiness and earthly gratification, but “the supernatural life” in Christ, the way of salvation ( = union with God, theosis).
Thus, Orthodox “renewal’ involves a re-setting of our sights and regaining or better, reaching in and pulling out of Orthodoxy, the criterion, attitudes and values which have been buried or obscured by “the pleasures of this life” and “the wisdom of men.” We must recover,
As Father Alexander Schmemann has said, our “unity,” our “mission” and our “integrity,” that is, an organic fellowship of faith and love which leads to common action through genuine knowledge of Orthodoxy. Orthodox “renewal” is the call for a common experience in Christ, a common joy, a common agony.
Then, we can rid ourselves of humanism, naturalism, materialism,
Legalism, rationalism and nationalism. We are Orthodox: the People of God, an Holy Nation, God’s Chosen, a super nationality, in which there is neither Jew nor Gentile, male nor female, white nor Negro, Scandinavian nor Mediterranean, Slav nor Indian, for all are one in Christ Jesus, all have been “recapitulated” under one Head.
An Orthodox “renewal,” therefore, is a return to Christ, a return to Orthodoxy, a turning away from the world and our own “Orthodox mythology.” My plea is for an “inward renewal,” a “change of heart,” a “change of mind,” a change in attitudes, values and perspective. A trite “renewal,” which is always the inspired and directed by the Holy
Spirit, will revive and revitalize Orthodoxy which will necessarily lead to the right external changes of organization rightly made.