Word Magazine September 1967 Page 12-14


By Dr. Zekin A. Shakhashiri

Visiting Scientist, National Institute of Health

The climate of our time, as of any time, makes the demands of our body more pressing and real than those of our spirit. The most real thing in life, nevertheless, is death. What I have, a body, a car, a relative or a neighbor, does not count in life or in death, more than what I am. The intangible, in a sense, is more real than the most concrete.

Last year millions of people each swallowed a cube of sugar and thereby received, for many years to come, protection against a paralytic disease called poliomyelitis. The sugar contained a protective vaccine produced by science. Science was thus able to simplify a very complex technique. The will to swallow the pill to acquire salvation from this disease, is all that is required for trusting Man even without much understanding of it all.

For hundreds of years millions of people have been swallowing bread and wine, trustingly more than understandingly, for redemption from sin. Religion also could thus simplify a very complex mystery, for mass utilization, by those willing to accept the Body and Blood of Christ unto salvation. But disease and sin are not necessarily synonymous. Neither are body and soul mutually exclusive. The conquest of disease leads to health, whereas the conquest of sin leads to holiness. If one dies in the body, the spirit survives; but paradoxically if one dies in the spirit, the body does not survive. To tell a crippled man “get up and walk” is mastery over flesh, but to tell him “Your sins are forgiven” is a conquest by the spirit in mastery over the body. The prevalent mood of man at any age remains, however, more dramatically impressed by freedom from diseases rather than from sin. The Church recognizes this predicament and prays endlessly for it.

It pleases Man to know about the atom. outer space, the chromosomes, the computer, the United Nations and the war on poverty; it also pleases Man to own a house with conveniences, a bank account, a college degree and a fame of a kind and magnitude. He is also happy that there are missionaries from every religion in every land; that research is voluminous, knowledge overwhelming, communication media increasing, the number of the literate, and the wealthy proportionately augmenting; that the lay people are having more to say in the conduct of their own affairs, despite intricacies in technology, government and bureaucracy and that Man, after understanding and harnessing the laws of physical nature, is trying to understand the moral and spiritual laws within, and to abide the legal laws in the social order without.

It displeases Man, however, that minorities everywhere are unhappy and a source of considerable unrest, out of proportion to their numbers that there is continuous dispute in domestic and foreign politics; that there is schism in every religion, including Christianity; that in the so-called free countries, secular education is compulsory while religious education is not; that youth in every land are uneasy about systems of government or of education: that race and religion have become more divisive than otherwise; that religious dogma, tradition and sacraments are explained away by natural science, psychology, and sociology; that capital and labor are in continuous strain: and that knowledge is growing faster than can be taught or applied or integrated or even intelligently utilized for further research. It also displeases Man to realize that the distinction between error and sin is once again blurred; that there is a double standard of morality: one for individual and another for public ethics, one for man and one for woman, one for the ruler and one for the governed; that Man therefore must learn how to live with a shattered conscience; that there is more concern for peaceful coexistence with one’s neighbor than with one’s self; that unity via ‘‘ecumenical’’ movements in religion, science and politics, is valued more as an end rather than a means to the sanity and sanctity of the unified. It is very disquieting indeed that Western man is getting more preoccupied with quantity rather than quality, with size and not with depth, with sex rather than tender love, with the constitution of a country rather than the spirit of its people, with justice before individual freedom, and with freedom as an end rather than a means to inner peace and/or eternal salvation; that democracy is almost worshipped instead of being just another form of government: that science is glorified more than Man the scientist and the scientist himself edified beyond reason. It is depressing to witness rebellion against the traditional authorities of the Church, of the family and of the school and subservience instead, to the lusts of the body, the cravings for material possessions and the arrogance of individual reason. The sovereignty of the “office” is a novel dimension in organized human existence which is competing with previously established sovereignties such as nationalism, and the sense of history is fading out of Man’s perspective of current problems, giving way to an unwarranted preoccupation with semanticism.

When I speak, I err — this is the sin of the word. But the Church is full of treasures in the word, for ears to harken, eyes to remain open and mouths to refrain.

When I think, I sin — this is the curse of walking down the valley of death. Man does not live by bread alone, nor by Dogma alone.

In the loneliness which dwells within my soul, the discovery of truth dispels a bit of the despair but creativity dispels more; to search for a datum may be busy work, but to uncover an idea is an ecstasy-rewarding act. Discovery is less momentous than creation; for to reveal reality is less manly than to deal with it. Man, the scientist, is a passive spectator of the unknown, but Man. as a whole, has the will, the ability and the courage to be. To know risks ignorance, but to be risks death. To know is an encounter with the unknown, but to be is a vivid confrontation with the real, with the known. In discovery you flirt with what may not be there, but in creativity Man distills the almost impossible.

As a result, evil is unfortunately better organized in society than good; this is true today and was true in the past. Furthermore, the difference between Man and Neighbor or between nation and nation, now as before, is more in a standard of living than in a standard of being. Every Man or Neighbor, like every society or nation, exists at eight levels: physical, biological, psychological, sociological, intellectual, esthetic, moral and spiritual. At any one time or place, Man or Neighbor or Nation emerges at a net level of existence or being on a scale of priority established intuitively by the individual and/or collective will.

In the eternal dialogue between Man and Neighbor, or between Man and self, and between Man and God, reason must be saved from fallacy in judgment, conscience from error in content, and Man’s total climate of being from leveling low on the scale of existential priority.

Does the spirit of Man fall more for the sensuous or the social temptations? Does my sense of freedom continue to perform even in the desert or mountain top or does it function only in the presence of a neighbor? What about my concept of God? Does it derive more from my concept of me, or from my concept of my neighbor? Do I worship, in the dark, or only in public? Do I worship myself, or my neighbor or my God? In other words, who is my God? Do I have a God outside of me and of my neighbor? Does the Church exist to me in any mystical sense of unity between the seen and the unseen, or is it the mere tangible collective presence of all the worshippers? Do I create my God or did He create me? Whom do I curse in my moments of deepest despair, myself or my neighbor or my God?

The most skeptic, or the most atheistic, or even the most agnostic must have a God, for none of them worships himself. In the arrogance of his reason Man might for a moment worship himself in pride, and in the sensuous grip of one’s desires, one may for a moment forget even one’s self, one’s neighbor and one’s God. But in the naked purity of one’s loneliness, nothing really counts or exists except God; or else nothing exists but despair and nothingness.

Over against language, motive, lust and the temptations of the mind, the Church sits in judgment and is ready to offer a hand. The Church must speak to itself and with itself and to the other churches of Judaism, Islam, Asiatic theisms, international atheism, and paganism. The Church must take the initiative to open wide its heart and mind to all the challenges of the world. None is excluded from the conference table and none is an observer. The image of God is upon all the waters and the table has no leftovers, for the food is good, and everybody is hungry, and everybody is invited for none is chosen or separated, and in the “Kingdom of my Father” there are mansions for many.

Within this triad of Man, God and Neighbor, there is an order of priority. The Trinity has spoken:

God comes first, then Man and then Neighbor. Unless I love God first, I cannot love myself next and I cannot love my Neighbor as myself. This is the order of things and things do have an order, a priority and a hierarchy.

Let modern Man not be confused. Fallacy in reasoning contributes to confusion in moral judgment. Reason can enlighten the conscience, but fallacy in moral decision transcends the intellectual level of being. The Church can fill my conscience with content, and science my reason with knowledge, yet rational judgment transcends factual knowledge and is independent of it, and so does moral judgment transcend the content of conscience, and Man’s will is thus independent thereof. The will must be trained to become decisive and incisive, and reason to become clear and lucid. If in my body, I seek to be strong and virile, so may it be that in my mind I seek to be creative, and in my soul ever willing to abide in my choice at a climate of moral concern, tuned to the ecstatic pursuit of the divine, within me as a person, beyond me as a neighbor, around me as incarnate in organized tradition, and above me as God who defies my understanding but confides in my comprehension.

Why does Man question his salvation from sin more than his protection from disease?

Does organized science educate Man more effectively in matters related to disease than organized religion in matters related to sin? Certainly common man knows more about disease than about sin.

Is organized religion incapable of simplifying its dogma?

Is the revelation of spiritual truth a monopoly of the past, while the discovery of scientific truth not of any one age or generation?

Is the nature of sin, unlike the nature of disease, subject to laws in an order of being beyond Man’s intelligence and therefore beyond Man’s reach?

Can Man through organized religion harness the law of the spirit to his good as he could, through organized science, the laws of nature?

Is bureaucracy a necessary evil? Isn’t the temptation of pride or the lust for power, inherent in any system or organization? And if it is true that the flesh may defile the spirit, isn’t it equally true that both intellectual pride and prestigious power are more defiling?

Down the streets of any village or metropolis, in a slum with the underworld, or in a convent with the monks. Man is ever a depository of unanswered questions, of unfruitful desires and of regrets and remorse’s unfathomable even within his own depths. This is his perpetual plight, and at the core of his crisis, both before Christ and since.

The Church must again witness today, as it did in the past, to the impact of Christ in and on history. If he doesn’t, it wouldn’t be Christ’s fault and perhaps not even that of individual Man. The extent of human enlightenment is measured in terms of factual information, heightened moral sensitivity, and enhanced rational sanity, all hopefully culminating in wisdom of judgment and in serene peace of love. But the complexities of life throughout history unfold themselves more in a variety of quantity than of kind; and all the modern multiplicity of organized human enterprise does not in reality add to Man’s plight. The Church today faces in Man, the same demon of yesterday, except that Man’s moral and spiritual senses have perhaps become duller, rather than sharper, as the temptations themselves remain basically unchanged.

The Church however, knows Man as no other institution does; but Man does not know the Church as well. The Church therefore owes Man, not as in the past, only an incarnate organization of dogma, but in addition a lucid, relevant, ongoing exposition of its mysteries and Tradition, and a vivid, impactful witness to its intrinsic power of salvation. Otherwise the Church would become dead to the world, quite unlike Christ who died for it.

In this sense the Church fosters faith only by intent any may be actually fostering disbelief by its conduct of its affairs. Even God Himself can not help individual man against his will, unaided by his neighbor and outside the Church.

One-third of the world are Christians. Less than one-third of the Christians are Orthodox. The Christians have and will become more so a minority in numbers as world population continues to increase. If it normally requires two to make love, a Man and a Neighbor, it requires but one to see truth, to contemplate beauty and to worship God. The true believers in Christ do not for a moment acquiesce in this state of affairs.

Therefore, let the youth of the Church, the workers in the vineyard wake up from spiritual slumber to awaken the world from its complacency under the dope of evil. If His Kingdom is not of this world, maybe youth can help make this world part of His Kingdom. Youth, throughout the world-wide Orthodox Church, should, request that:

(a) The most sophisticated theologians confer, six or twelve in number, in Constantinople, or Beirut, or Rome, or Paris, or London, or Washington, or Moscow, or Peking, or Tel Aviv, or Jerusalem, or Brazzaville, or Rio de Janeiro, or Mecca about similarities in tradition, and the redefinition of sin, the concept of freedom and of justice, on the basis of traditional dogma but in modern form, language and style.

(b) Selected clergy and lay people, six or twelve in number, confer either in Washington or in Moscow, on the dialogue between atheism and Christian monotheism.

(c) Selected wise and enlightened persons, six or twelve in number, confer in Athens on the confrontation within Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

(d) Selected wise and enlightened persons, six or twelve in number, confer in New Delhi on the confrontation between monotheism and Asiatic theisms.

(e) Our Church, regardless of country of origin, and regardless of all other conventions, consider seriously the follow­ing points at a special conference to be held in Washington and to be attended by clergy and laity representing the eight Patriarchs and seven Prelates of the Orthodox world:

(1) The construction of an Orthodox Center in Washington, D. C., to incarnate in the West the rich multi-ethnic glory that was the Church in the East; this Center would com­prise a national complex made up of a Cathedral for worship, a monastery for sanctification, and a university, including a seminary for theological preparation of clergy, to come to grips for the first time in Orthodox history with the confrontations of secular human knowledge in science, art, philosophy, and common sense. There is no reason why a University founded on God can’t excel Harvard or Oxford or Sorbonne. The free pursuit of intellectual truth is not a monopoly of the secularly biased. To the extent that the future of Orthodoxy in the world depends on its future in this country, the Church must concern itself with a panhuman witness, on earth to the God Who was before history, Who died in history for Man and Neighbor, and Who resurrected, from within history, to eternity, for the sake of Man, every Man, and every Neighbor. Both Man and Neighbor are created in His image. Our Church must thus witness to Him first, if it wants at all to witness to Man and Neighbor. The Church must indoctrinate Man, or else Man’s biases will be formulated by Marx, Freud, Darwin and Spengler. Man is by nature bias-hound, so let him be Church-biased.

(2) A Conference of this scope, if properly planned, might generate a world-wide movement, rooted in Tradition and Dogma, and create a climate for the hearts of men to be lifted into worship of God and love of Neighbor. In love more than dogma, in charity more than truth, and in beauty of form, ecstasy of liturgy and the abiding joy of victory over death, the thoughts of Man shall be made to dwell on the spiritual before the political, and on the moral before the scientific. This world of ours continues to be sick, since St. Paul and before, ever in need of more love than more science, or politics or economics or psychology or money. We, who alone profess Christ crucified and resurrected, must glow with love worldwide. If we don’t, these stones and the other workers will build the Temple. Christ judges the world; and this estranged world offers Him the basis for His judgment of us as Christians, and especially as Orthodox. Oh God, we believe, help Thou our unbelief!