Vol. 2 No. 2 - Pentecost 2007
Stupid Is as Stupid Does
"Do not try to teach people at large about devoutness and right living. I say this, not because I begrudge them such teaching, but because I think you will appear ridiculous to the stupid." - St. Anthony, On The Character of Men (v.84), Philokalia.
After a year of hype over the historical creative writing assignment of the DaVinci Code, this Paschal season augured another example of anti-Christian media, with the announcement of the alleged "discovery" of the "real" tomb of Christ. Although the news and the discovery itself were old, and the fact that even atheist archaeologists rejected the claims, the matter drew a circus of media attention, right on cue with the beginning of Great Lent, offering the media hounds the exposure they sought. Too bad the Holy Light at the Holy Sepulchre didn't generate such widespread attention.
Yet we must be consoled that such attention is passing away, along with all worldly wisdom and distractions. Drowning in the ocean of trivialities, it should not surprise us that most westerners - even among the Orthodox - are skeptical, since we feed on an intellectual and spiritual diet that is at best a dog's breakfast of half-truths and blatant lies, spiced up with a helping of plain theatre. How much better we are, as the prayers tell us, to seek a calm and peaceful life, in all godliness and dignity.
Truth - especially Eternal Truth (as if there is another kind) - simply takes too much time for people in a hurry. It takes some digging - true, spiritual digging - to find it. It takes time to allow it to permeate our distorted hearts. It takes a willingness to actually seek the answers to the questions that trouble us, and to be willing to accept answers.
Skepticism looms large in the modern west, because our world deals in the currency of the sound bite. This is nothing new. The shallow, pseudo-Christian worldview that underpins the DaVinci Code and the tomb "discovery" is a case in point. Both maintain a certain historical understanding of Saint Mary Magdalene, and of the Mother of God, which are both fraudulent and deceiving, but which are not new. In the west, where the veneration of Saint Mary of Egypt was rolled in with the life of Saint Mary Magdalene (probably due to a confusion of the two similar names), Mary Magdalene has taken on an identity which was never historical - i.e. the identity of a prostitute. While Orthodox in the east continue to distinguish between the two lives and the two saints, the west, cut off from its connection with the living witness of the Church, pieces together an understanding of Saint Mary Magdalene from relatively recent sources, compiled after Rome split from the Orthodox Church in the eleventh century. The result is a historically distorted picture which heterodox Christians have a difficult time defending, and which opponents of Christianity have an easy time attacking: a target without a foundation is easily toppled.
The elimination of the proper honour given to the Mother of God is a second case in point. The Protestant and secular west, cut off from the earliest living understanding of the Church, is confronted with a vacuum in its understanding of the place of women in the church, and in the world. Nature abhors such a vacuum, so clever minds invent something to fill the vacuum, constructing a guide book to understanding Christian women, based on snippets of Scripture, strung together based on the wisdom of one ideology or another. Whether the results are radicalized feminism in certain sects, or groups like Promise Keepers, or the polygamist distortions of the Mormon cults, the roots are the same: buying Christianity by the sound bite, and reconstructing it using the human mind.
The seeds of the Church, and Her history, are indeed written in the blood of the martyrs. Yet North American culture is so often cut off from its witness, that we are easily drowned in a sea of distorted trivialities. Many Orthodox Christians manage to hold fast to Holy Tradition, prayer, practice, and the lives of the saints, enabling them to stay afloat in this tumult. Yet there are also a significant number of Orthodox in Canada and the United States who are looking to keep up with the addled mind of western-style religion, to somehow defend the Church against the DaVinci Codes and tomb hunters of our day, using the "best" archaeology, the "latest" scriptural research, and the most "expert" opinions.
One can excuse, to a certain extent, the atheists and the heterodox, who although they unwittingly use the same methods for understanding the Church, at least have the excuse of ignorance of all or much of Holy Tradition, and the living witness of the practice of the Church throughout the ages.
For those Orthodox who remain enamoured with the cleverness of the wisdom of the modern age, one is hard pressed to find an explanation for their choices, apart from a stubborn arrogance which allows one the luxury of standing apart from the Church, and standing in judgement of Her. This, of course, offers no credible defense of the Faith that can stand up to attack from the critical media. What it does offer is confirmation of the Lord's words about a tree and its fruits.
Father Geoffrey Korz, (Pentecost, 2007)
© All Saints of North America Orthodox Church
Orthodox Church in America, 2007.