Difficulties in Church Living (2000)

Bishop Seraphim : Article
Difficulties in Church Living
[Published in the “Canadian Orthodox Messenger”, Spring 2000]

There are a great many places in the world in which Orthodox believers are having a particularly difficult time right now. There is the intensification of pressure against the Orthodox in Egypt, with the many deaths. The picture is even worse in Sudan. In Ethiopia and Eritrea there is difficulty not only with recovery from a hostile communist government, but also from the country’s division into two, as they each work towards stabilisation. In all three of these countries there is also drought and remaining devastation after war. In greater Palestine, besides the difficulties made for Christians in general, the Orthodox Palestinians have to suffer from being kept down by their own Orthodox brethren as a second-class people. Here, there are fears that almost all the Orthodox could leave.

In Turkey, the Orthodox are reduced to a minuscule remnant ; and in the East, the Syrians, who are the last Aramaic speakers, are being eradicated. In Greece, there is difficulty in adjusting to the new environment of the European Union, with its many influences on traditional life. In Albania, where the Church was only recently restored, there remains pressure against the Church in some quarters, and she has had to face additional refugees from Kosovo. In Serbia, coping with caring for myriad refugees, and the very recent loss of its historic monasteries and Temples in Kosovo and Metohija, as well as the rebuilding of Church life and family life, have been exacerbated by political tensions.

In every one of the countries of Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and the Balkans (which were once part of the greater Soviet Union), there is the great challenge not only of rebuilding the multitude of Temples that had been eradicated, but also of rebuilding the foundations of Church life itself. Hospitals, schools, chaplaincies, hospices, monasteries, ecclesiastical goods factories, publishers – everything has to be rebuilt, and the people must be re-educated. There are few resources to speak of. Whatever can be borrowed from us abroad has to be translated, reworked and reprinted in order to address the local peoples. All this is not to speak of the slow process of renewing and replacing the whole staff of each Church’s administration and hierarchy.

Then there is the Church in China, being rebuilt by two apparently competing Orthodox Churches. In other Far-Eastern countries where Orthodox missions were recently planted, reactions by certain parties against other Christians will involve the Orthodox also. In North America and Western Europe, we have made little if any progress in the face of secularism and materialism, and we perpetuate the scandal of divided administrations.

It has been interesting to see how in recent times there has been so frequently in the media hostile reporting or interpretation of Orthodox events, or phantasy-like politicisation of various events and reactions. In a recent Christmas diatribe against Russia in an Ottawa paper, a journalist described the Orthodox Church as “theology-free” and responsible for walling off Rus’ from the West from the earliest days.

Do not get me wrong. I do not have a case of paranoia, nor a persecution-complex. I do not see everything as black, and I am not encouraging self-pity. I do see, however, that we are being called to account for our faith in Christ, and we are being called to account for our personal and collective past and present sins. I do see that we have a need greater than ever to call upon and depend upon our Saviour Jesus Christ at all times and all places. I do see that we have a great need to repent, and to live much more seriously according to the Gospel. I do see that where we have made mistakes or fallen short, it is necessary that we all, both as persons and as a whole body, admit our mistakes, swallow our pride, and return to being the examples of love and service that Christ calls us to be. I do see that it is necessary for us to renew our love for Christ, and to face all these obstacles and hostilities with love, forgiveness, prayer, forbearance. I do see that we must depend on the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to enable us to give a good accounting for the hope that is within us (see 1 Peter 3:15), and to enable us to give up everything that may separate us from being identified with Christ, the Truth for whom the whole world is searching.

We bear the Truth, and we are being tested as to our fidelity and sincerity, our love and our commitment. How will we measure up ? Will the testers be able to see Christ in us and even be able then to believe ? Can we actually forgive our enemies and bless our persecutors ?