Orthodox America

Letters from Russia  

       Doubtless, nothing today claims as much popularity as religion. Lectures on the history of Christianity and appearances of church figures draw such crowds that an apple can't find room to fall, as the saying goes. People who in the course of their life almost never gave thought to questions of faith, now say: "Well, you know, there must be something to it," and this is followed by discussions about the role of religion in history, about religious art, about philanthropy... In short, everyone already agrees that religion plays a significant role in life.

       And it turns out that--here is religion and here is life, and we all try to bring religion into our lives, to make life more religious. But this results in a senseless situation, in my opinion, for a believer. After all, Christianity is not something that stands beside life or is found in life; Christianity IS life itself, the most vital and genuine life. Christianity is not an addition to life, something one grafts onto one's life; it's not an "interesting side" of reality, but the very essence of reality. To put it more simply, for a believer there is no difference between life and Christian rites and dogmas. For this reason, religion can in no wise be in life, for in this case the Source of life and life itself, or rather its "external" manifestations, appear to be divided and not at all necessary one to another... Here one has "dead life or living death" (Augustine).

       The fact that Christianity, once the inner content of our life is now turning into one aspect of our life---this is the sum and the tragedy not of course, of Christianity itself, but the sum and tragedy of our attitude toward Christianity through the course of many centuries, If in the past Christianity bore, so to say, a magnetic character---everything strove towards the Source, towards the Center, towards God and found "satisfaction'' only in "losing" itself in Him (at the same time finding itself in eternal Truth)--today, as time passes a centrifugal tendency gathers strength, a tendency which finds expression in an increasingly strong external attitude towards Christianity. This is not a matter of vulgar atheism. We are speaking about something quite different: attention is being increasingly drawn to a purely external attribute of Christianity. Or rather, this "external" attitude towards Christianity has caused Christian ritual to turn into a purely external expression of Christianity. Clearly, in and of themselves these attributes do not possess an external character; on the contrary, they indicate the way into the depth of faith. And so, this "externalization" manifests itself first of all in the formation of a tourist-excursionist attitude towards monasteries, in discussions and lectures about the Church, which later become the subject of endless conversations over cups of tasty tea or coffee, in ecstatic shouts of "bravo” at concerts of church music in so-called "civic" performances. Such an attitude towards religion as to something "absorbingly interesting" (what a lovely church!, and the priest is so original! and have you read the article by NN about our saints?--these are the constant refrains of such a public) is not the rebirth of religion, but its transformation into a form of mass culture; it is nothing less than the ultimate form of atheism.

      I know that you won't agree with such a statement, that you will consider it extreme, but faith is extreme, it is always the final choice, it's always "either/or" and there is no middle, no "between", between "hot" and "cold" here there can be no "warm"...

      The beginning of this "externalization" of religion was laid in the so-called "Period of Enlightenment," when Diderot founded his philosophy, the center of which was the "religion'' of man, who is wondrous "in and of himself," by "his own nature." Today this deification of man is turning towards Christianity and, of course, it sees here only something "engaging", something "interesting". After all, the primary source of religion's "popularity" is a purely human interest, a purely human attitude towards questions of faith. What does this have in common with true faith? with faith as podvig, with faith as tragedy in this life and in this world, with faith as a genuine sacrifice--a sacrifice of what is best in this earthly world for another world, a higher world? Can such a life, a life as podvig, trembling [before God] and sacrifice become "absorbingly interesting"?, become a "subject of social conversation", etc. No. Something here does not agree; "social interest" and "mass popularity" do not combine with the trembling of a soul during prayer; God and the human soul do not belong in social or mass "categories."

       In a word, we are witnessing the socialization of religion, but is religion social in its essence? Does not the socialization of religion destroy the original/true meaning of the very word religion, "religare"--the union between the Eternal and the human/temporal? does it not turn man's soul downward, does it not dry it up? I could be wrong...

Vadim, Moscow

Greetings Respected Victor Potapov!

      ...We decided to write to you because we are interested in the Christian faith, although we grew up in surroundings' where God was seldom mentioned and believers were shied away from. There are still doubts in the soul. But our countrymen abroad have not lost their faith like us. It has helped them to hold out in difficult moments of life, united with each other. We hope it will help us, too.

      In our country today they are reviving the Church, and that is good. But we live far from the center of Russia and do not have enough literature which would help us to study the faith of our fathers.

      We earnestly request that you send us literature suitable for the first stages of study, a church calendar, and images of saints, even on cards.

B. M. Yakutia

Respected Fr. Victor!
With enormous interest I listen to your broadcasts, "Religion in our Life." I am now 43 years old; I came to the faith ten years ago through great sorrow, for which I am forever grateful to God. "Wondrous are Thy works, O Lord!"

       We have a critical need for catechetical literature. Please, send Metropolitan Philaret's Conspectus of the Law of God (two copies, if possible). Likewise I should very much like the five-volume Philokalia and writings of St. John of Kronstadt. Be generous and forgive me for such a bold request, but the thirst for spiritual reading is too great. I think you understand.

Nonna, Moscow