Is Orthodoxy better to deal with today's society?

I posed this question a while back but I am not resurrecting the thread. My original question stemmed for a bunch of conjectures and assumptions. But after reading a bunch of writings, I think I know a more specific answer to this. I’ve read quite a few Orthodox writers mention that we are now living in a Post-Christian society. I think this admission is lacking among many Catholics today. Many still act like and believe we are living at a time where our leaders are Christians, our laws are Christian, society is Christian. But not anymore. I heard one too many times that someone will quip, “back in the 50s…”. Well, news flash, it is not the 50s. It is 2012. Abortion is legal in many places, divorce is normative, and gay marriage is steadily becoming legal in many nations around the world. We can’t expect the government and society to conform to our moral standards anymore.

What has this got to do with Orthodoxy? I think just the fact that the Orthodox nations have experienced secularization longer than most RC nations. As noted above, some refer to times not too long ago. But Constantinople fell to the Muslims a long, long time ago. Communism gripped Russia and much of Eastern Europe starting about a century ago. 25 years ago gay marriage was something thought to be impossible in the Western World. Sex wasn’t the main theme of TV shows, especially primetime shows. It wasn’t too long ago that even though the erosion of society’s morals have begun, we lived in a place that was distinctively Christian.

I guess I am writing this to say that we should respond to this reality and stop pretending that we live in a Christian society. We do not. Most people aren’t Christians, and a number of them are even violently opposed to Christianity. Our civil laws are changing to conform to a very secular society.

Much of what Roman Catholicism is today formed during a time when Rome had not only religious influence through most of Western Europe, but also political influence. The problem now is that we do not have either of those. A growing majority is against Christianity of any form, and our leaders would rather serve them than the Christians. We need to realize what the Orthodox has realized a long time ago, that our faith is no longer the faith of our lands. Whether it is the Muslims taking control of Constantinople, Communism taking over Russia, or secularism taking over the Western world, we need to accept the fact that we are in a post-Christian society and live like it.

Alright, I was with you for a little while, then you lost me. Cases that curbed the open/public practice or teaching of religion date back far before the 1960s or whenever most Catholic “traditionalists” think that the USA started going to hell in a handbasket. The only difference between now and then is the increasing pace with which society is becoming secularized (and Islamicized, in the case of certain parts of Western Europe). It is alarming, yes, but I’m still not quite sure how this makes Orthodoxy better to deal with things, at least not in the societies that you mentioned (the ex-communist societies). While statistically speaking Russia is a very “Orthodox” country (i.e., most ethnic Russians are Orthodox), their rates of weekly attendance at liturgy are abysmal (I’ve read something as small as 2-4%), abortion is still high, alcoholism is rampant, etc. The mere existence of Orthodoxy (or Catholicism) in a given place cannot heal society’s ills. People need to come to it, and be transformed by it. “The time is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him.”

So, even though I am Orthodox myself, I am going to have to say no, Orthodoxy is not somehow inherently better to deal with today’s society. I should say, though, that this is not because Orthodoxy cannot deal with modern problems, but because the problems of the average person are not being met by the majority forms of religion in western societies. But even then, I’m not sure that Orthodoxy, in and of itself, could fix that. The problem is in people, not necessarily the people’s religion. No one wants to hear “Take up your cross and follow Me”, no one wants to fast 200+ days out of the year, etc. But those things are still what we do. I remember once listening to an interview with a convert to the Antiochian EO church, Rod Dhrier (sp), who made the statement about Muslims that we (Westerners/Americans) need to be a lot more realistic about who Muslims are and who they want to be and how they want to live, because many Muslims want to be MUSLIM more than they want western concepts like democracy, equality before the law, etc. It struck me when listening to the interview that Orthodoxy is for people who really want to be CHRISTIAN, i.e., who want all the stuff I just said most people don’t want (fasting, prayer, abstinence, cross-bearing, etc). The trouble is that many people who are technically Orthodox or Catholic or whatever don’t actually want to be Christian. They want to have the label of “Christian” while essentially living however they want. This is true in the USA, and in traditionally Catholic countries (NB: the rise of Protestantism in places like Mexico), and in traditionally Orthodox ones, too.

I will say (sorry that this is going on so long, but I think this is an important point) that one of the things that attracted me to the Coptic Orthodox Church during my period of discernment is the fact that its holy men and women of the desert often rejected the idea that there can or even should be such a thing as a “Christian society” (cf. some of the sayings of Amma Syncletica), hence making discussions like this somewhat speculative and secondary to the actual work of being Christian. I like that. In fact, the whole monastic idea was in its own way an alternative to society, as the Copts had lived through brutal repression under the likes of Diocletian, and contended with Berber marauders (such as those who killed St. Moses the Ethiopian at his monastery, with several of his monks), and then found themselves on the outs with the Byzantines in the wake of Chalcedon, and then facing an erosion of their community and more restriction and oppression when the Arab Muslims showed up…really, we/they never had a moment’s peace, on the political level. But in all that or through all that, the faith grew and grew. It really tells me something about where their priorities are, and where I’d like my priorities to be, too. I don’t think dropping out of society is the answer (nor that this is what monks do), but I think looking for a “Christian society” is just asking for more and more disappointment, if not out and out hostility. I would rather Christianity be embraced by my community than by their political leaders. One will lead to salvation (“our life and our death is with our brother” – St. Anthony, the Father of the Monks), the other to the kind of mess we’re in now. As the psalmist tells us: Put not your trust in princes, in whom there is no salvation.

Have you read BadCatholic as of late? o:

I don’t think there is any difference because, as you mentioned, the society has become to deep nonchristian. The time of subtleties has passed. Both churches will have to make important reforms. Are they going to reunite? It would be better for all of us.
We know repentace will be possible up to the second comming of our Lord, and there can’t be repentance without the help of the church.
Spiritual direction will be very important in church, how to live your belief in this society; many people have no former christian education, or rejected the christian education from their family, and they need guidance.
Big problem with half-christians, which believe Jesus Christ resurected from the dead, but also believe the theory of evolution; something weird, like Christ is in heavens with his, and they are on earth with theirs. They go to church for job-networking, making new friends and keeping old relationships, for keeping traditions, etc…

You kind of lost me off the bat actually. You suggest that the Catholic leadership is blind to what has happened, rather I say the oppisite is true. Rather, the Vatican under JPII launched the so called “New Evangalization” effort to reChristianize the west. As part of this, they also constantly remind western nations that they are (and always will be) Christian nations in character, history, i.e. foundationally. This isn’t to say they don’t see that they don’t see that we have become pegan, I beleive Pope Pius XII already talked about the new peganization of Europe. Rather, this language is meant to rekindle the ingrained memory of Christianity.

But like all things, it takes time to get new efforts underway and gain traction. I would suggest right now we’re seeing the first fruits of the effort. I.e. Father Barron with WoF and Catholisism, social efforts by many Priests I follow including Fr John Hollowell’s “I have a say” campaign directed at PP, Spirit Juice Studio’s, Phatmass etc.

Ultimately, the True Faith is what is needed. Not even a very close relation will do. I don’t buy into Fiftyism or any other earthly idealogy, and I don’t think our Holy Father does either. Popes since the 1870s have seen the post-Christian West for what it is. Perhaps many bishops have not, I don’t know. Since 1965, we have been fed the rhetoric that the Church is in a “New Springtime,” while the faith of Catholics has instead declined precipitiously. I think a certain unwillingness to give up the euphoria of Vatican II has kept many Catholics from see the real problems of secularization, but I think that is changing. In the end, our only recourse is God’s mercy. Miserere Nobis.

I think your premise is wrong. The Orthodox around the world are at least as prone to this kind of attitude as Catholics. I would say more so but that may not be fair. Look at the attitude of the Russian Patriarchate toward Putin’s regime right now.

I think both Pope Benedict and the Ecumenical Patriarch have pretty clear understanding of the times (at least in the regions where their Sees are located–perhaps less so for other regions, such as America!). The difference is that, as the Orthodox are fond of pointing out, the Ecumenical Patriarch is not a Pope, and so, for instance, the Patriarch of Moscow goes his own very different way on these issues.


Right on! I was thinking of the Copts in responding to the OP–they really do have a longstanding experience of not being allied to those in power. Many Chalcedonian Orthodox do as well, of course, but even when they’ve lived under non-Christian rule for decades or centuries (decades in the case of Communism, centuries in the case of Islam) the memory of the Empire is still strong with most of them.

I find your remarks about how Copts think about these issues very interesting.


I do believe we live in a post-Christian society. And I think it is important to point out that the society reacts against what it was and so in many was is truly an anti-Christian society. Society is not just indifferent to Christianity. It is actually hostile to it. I think this important to realize because I think some pagan societies were actually wiser and more moral than modern society. I do not consider this surprising as Christianity was able to perfect that which was good in pagan society. When those former pagan cultures then reject Christianity they become even worse than they were before they accepted Christianity.

I think things started heading in the wrong direction long before the 1950s. I’d say the Age of Reason was a turning away from the Faith. Things like the American and French Revolution were a turning away. Since both failed pretty quickly to achieve their proclaimed goals amidst this turning away I feel comfortable saying things have been getting worse for centuries. The root of this failure in my mind is the notion that secular power, the state, can perfect man. Sadly just as many professed Christians believe this as non-Christians. So long as so many Christians don’t get it Christianity will have a hard time changing society for the better.

It falls down to evangelizing. Christians spend too much time trying to get other Christians to jump ship that we are not doing enough to evangelize those who need it the most. Our bishop recently discussed this and he was dead on. We have to focus our evangelization on first ourselves, then our parish, and then the unchurched. Once we start doing this we will slowly but surely move our societies back to “Christian”.

Basically what I am saying is I don’t agree with the OP. The OP is basically recommending a “head in the sand” approach and in my opinion this has been the main problem within the Orthodox communities. They focus too much on nationalism and thus look inwards and they disregard the neighbor outside their churches. There is no reason why Orthodox Communion shouldn’t rival the Catholic Church in membership in the world today. No reason at all.

To be honest I don’t think society has ever been easy.

Huh? Are you arguing that christians should convert to EO because your part of the world has been secularized longer than the west has? You’re putting us on, right? :ehh:

Or are you simply arguing that christians in the west need to get out of denial and quit pretending that they live in a “christian culture.” I somewhat agree. I agree that we need to continue to be prophetic voices within the culture at large and (as prophets do) publicly lament the ways in which our society has betrayed the faith that formed our culture and run off alter false gods.

But if you’re saying we should simply say ‘to hell with them’ and segregate ourselves into insular communities with minimal contact with the larger world while they all self destruct, I can’t agree. We’re called to be witnesses to the gospel. We need to do that in a way that shines light, not smugness, but we do NEED to be public witnesses.

Yeah, he totally isn’t doing that. He is saying just the opposite, that acknowledging that we exist in a post-Christian society is the way forward. I don’t recall where Constantine mentioned nationalism in his post.

I’m just wondering why when it is Catholic sources I am reading we are expecting the government to do us favors. I mean, I agree we must fight unjust policies like the HHS mandate, but also we must be realistic that the governments of the world are not adherents to Christian morality anymore. I wonder why the Catholic Church still seems to be in denial of this. I think we need to focus on our catechesis and evangelization and get the people to accept Jesus Christ despite of what the government says or does. So what if abortion is legal? If people are converted to Christ, no one will even think of having an abortion anyway. That is the problem in places like here in Canada. Abortion is not legal, but it is not illegal. There is no law for or against it. They didn’t write a law back then because it was a mostly Catholic country (you can see that in most provinces Catholic schools are funded by the government) so no one ever thought someone would even do something so henious. But society is no longer Catholic, in fact in the Lower Mainland less than 50% would even classify themselves as any type of Christian.

I just read a number of Orthodox writers comment that we are in a post-Christian society. I think that is the reality we need to understand and accept and it seem they are way ahead of us in this. Also to add this to the comment from the last interview of Cardinal Martini that the Catholic Church is 200 years behind.

I am not saying we should not evangelize. But first we need to accept the reality because our evangelization efforts are expecting something else. It seems we are spending a lot of effort trying to get governments to do something instead of just increasing our own catechesis to our own people so that they would do the right thing inspite of what the government does. It seems we are still expecting Holy Roman Emperors to implement laws according to the Church, or that Kings will bow down to the Pope.

The communist grip was like this:
No official comment against communism. Everybody knew that the ones who did it mysteriously disappeared.
No formal Christian education.
Every teacher had to blame religion and promote atheism as the only rational belief.
Only old people went every Sunday to church.
Officially, The Church was tolerated like some irrational tradition; unofficially, they did not demolish all churches because they didn’t want to deal with 1000 sects.
They could have forced the Patriarch into saying something wrong, but, as orthodoxy works, nobody would have believed it. What if some political power like this gets The Pope into his grip?

That which has little cost has little value. The church today is suffering from generations whose concept of living a Christian life is getting to Mass on Sunday with no development or depth to their faith. They have not been trained as warriors for the faith, and run from conflict. There is no strength and little respect of their Creator. The average Christian believes that since they once darkened a baptismal font and perhaps knelt in front of a Bishop, they are equipped for the faith. At most, concerned that their soul is saved, with no thought that the kingdom is larger than the space they occupy.

Here is a quote from 1Maccabees2: 41 So they made this decision that day: “Let us fight against every man who comes to attack us on the sabbath day; let us not all die as our brethren died in their hiding places.” A man named Judas Maccabeus made a decision that defeat was not going to happen on his watch.

You are familiar with the legacy of this decision as Judas Maccabeus took Israel back from from the Seleucid Empire and reinstated the Glory of the Temple in Jerusalem. His victorious entry into Jerusalem was made on a donkey with palm branches and coats thrown down before him. As Jesus entered the city during Palm Sunday, the Jews were re-enacting Maccabeus’ triumphant entry.

What we need are a few men willing to make the decision that this won’t continue under their watch. To take up the mantle to lead and train others in the fight, equipping them with the tools to fight and walking with them into the battle. While we look to the martyrs as the highest examples of a Christian life, we need a vast army of disciples who are willing not to die, but to face embarrassment or shame due to their faith. Embarrassed when they speak up at work. Embarrassed when they speak up with their family and friends. And even embarrassed when they speak up for the faith as delivered when in church. Not until each man’s faith is stronger than their fear will the kingdom once again advance.

I have the feeling that the Anglican Church is fighting a political grip, which has worked his way from within…

Great post, I concur. I don’t see how there would be anything in Orthodoxy but not Catholicism which makes it more effectively suited to modern society. Having said that, it would likely be a good idea for Latin Catholic Church leaders, priests, religious, etc. to spend some time learning from the experiences of the Eastern Catholics and Orthodox in dealing with these types of issues.

At some point in our not too distant future, we are likely looking at the same thing. The only people who will want to make the claim of being a Christian are those who really want it, and are willing to accept the ramifications of that label. I pray that is not the case, but I fear it is the direction we are going. If it does happen that way, I pray that we all have the strength to be those people.

One of our two political parties in the USA has effectively shut God out of the discussion except when it suits their political agenda. See the floor fight and the number of people who showed up to prayer sessions at the DNC for an example. Pretty soon, the leaders won’t even bother putting God back into the platform in a pro forma show to satisfy their political needs to be Christian, or at least pretend to be.

Bottom line? No, it is not an Orthodox thing, it is a Christian thing.

As for what to do. Yes, we need to evangelize, yes we need to catechize, and yes we need to witness, and pick up our own crosses to bear. We must do all of those things. However, that does not mean that we should not engage in the political process. It does not mean that we should not file lawsuits when our rights are being trampled on. There is no reason for us to just sit there and take it for the many years it will take for catechesis and evangelization to bear fruits. If we just sit back and let it happen America and other countries will be fundamentally altered from where they are now. I see no reason to just sit there and let darkness prevail without a fight. We can, and should, fight the battle on many fronts. That, in itself, may be part of the cross we need to bear.

I think this is a very true statement. Christians have forgotten that Christianity was born and bred in severe persecution, first with the Jews, then with the empire. We have come to forget that we should never rely on the empire, but on our faith. The early church did not stop the vices by politics but by converting the empire, one person at a time. I heard that ancient Rome was much worse than any modern society in terms of vice and corruption, yet the early church did it. We just need to get our priorities fixed, like you say- catechesis and christian living.

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