Welcome back to Orthodox Survival Course!
Orthodox Survival Course
St. Irene Orthodox Church
Rochester Hills, Michigan
Class 32, Introduction to Part II: Understanding the 20th Century, Dealing With the 21st
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Preface: After a break of a few months, we shall now, with God’s help, begin Part II of our course, which I have been putting off for some time, because I knew it would be more difficult than Part I. It is always easy to look back and say, “Aha, that’s the way it was, and this is what happened and that’s what happened,” and so forth. It is much harder to deal with more recent events and with current events, both intellectually, because you are too close to see the whole picture, and emotionally, because you have a real stake in what you and those around you believe is going on right now. So I have to give a caveat, a warning, ahead of time, that some things I may say will be uncomfortable, and there may be more possibility of disagreement among those who hear these talks from here on out. But that is unavoidable if we are going to grow in understanding.
As of our most recent class – Class 31 – we had brought our study of the development of Western European thought and its effects on civilization, including Orthodox civilization, up to the end of the 19th century, with the open proclamation of the philosophy of nihilism. And really, once you realize that What It’s All About going into the 20th century is nihilism, that is, nothing–ism, right there you have your prism through which to view all the “great events” that people make so much of in the 20th century: They were not really great but simply stupid, evil, and destructive. It was not only the most evil century (so far!) since the coming of Christ into the world, but also the most inane and meaningless. All of the “great” movements and so forth were not great at all, but rather they partook of demonic emptiness, which is what “inane” means – empty. But, then, remember, the rationale behind it all is nihilism, nothing-ism. The thought and spirit behind every “progressive” step of the 20th century is purely parasitical and destructive, a consuming of the spiritual and cultural capital of the past, a tearing down of the old with nothing coherent in its place. It is a completely negative program.
There are bright spots in the 20th century, of course – the heroic rearguard action of saints and heroes struggling for the Faith, for the Church, and for the preservation of the historic Christian nations with their received cultures – but these isolated heroes were all much-hated and much-slandered people who were going against the mainstream, going against the grain. And though their efforts preserved what we have left today, what was passed on to us, and for this we owe them a debt of gratitude that is incalculable, they were not outwardly successful on the grand scale, on the “big stage.” On the grand scale, evil was in the 20th century – and remains in the 21st century – outwardly triumphant, on center stage, so to speak, and the good is marginalized to the corners and the byways, in “the dens and caves of the earth,” to use the poignant image from Hebrews 11.
As I say this, however, it is not in a spirit of gloom, and certainly not hopelessness. We are the children of the Church, and therefore we belong to God, Who is already the Victor in the Great Contest of History. We must not only accept but, what is more, be grateful for the part God has assigned us in history. We must be determined to believe that from all eternity the All-Good God by His sovereign will and in His infinite wisdom has assigned us to live precisely at this time for our salvation. This certainty gives us great joy and courage, and it inspires us to heroism.
It is in the spirit of Christian hope, therefore, the invincible hope in the Risen Lord, and by way of a call to Orthodox heroism, to courageous and prophetic confession and, if need be, martyrdom, that I offer Part II of our course, which proposes to construct an Orthodox filter through which to view the 20th century and, as much as possible, our current situation in the young 21st century. I think that since we began our course last year, most everyone has realized that this study we are doing is serious business. If some have not realized it yet, they will now.
A. The Christian World Prior to August 1914
Despite all of the bad developments we described for so many classes in Part I, beginning with the High Middle Ages and culminating in the onset of the Age of Revolution with the French Revolution and its aftermath, “Christian civilization” – whether Orthodox, Catholic, or Protestant – still seemed outwardly like the dominant force on the globe right up to World War I and the Bolshevik Revolution. Recall that with Tsar Alexander I’s defeat of Napoleon and the Congress of Vienna (1814-1815), the “forces of reaction,” the conservative and monarchical element of European leadership, “put the brakes” on the progress of revolution, and though the 19th century seethed with revolutionary movements – behind the scenes but also breaking out into public sporadically – and a lot of bad art, philosophy, and so forth, in general there was “peace and prosperity” under a nominally Christian banner. A mainstream historian, Barbara Tuchman, paints a vivid picture of the outward peace and confidence of “Christian” Europe at the end of the 19th century in the introduction to her famous work on the beginning of WWI, The Guns of August, and later in an entire book, The Proud Tower.
But from our Orthodox viewpoint, we understand that all this was precisely a “proud tower,” i.e., an repeat of the Tower of Babel scheme. “Christian” civilization of that time was dominated by heretical Christianity, and, above all, by a spirit of worldliness. Most critically, the Orthodox nations, who should have been the preservers of the True Faith, were by this time infected by the worldly spirit whose growth we have traced in Part I of our course, and though, of course, outside forces conspired against them, it was because their “immune system” of pure Orthodoxy had been compromised that they could not fight the infection. The genuine, otherworldly spirit of True Orthodoxy was preserved in isolated places and movements, where the faithful gathered around holy monasteries or outstanding pastoral figures, but the overall “trajectory” of the ruling classes was not good – they were all infiltrated by Freemasonry and, in general, had become complicit in the revolutionary plan of destruction to a greater or lesser degree, either as actual Freemasons and conspirators or – the majority – as “useful idiots”: either liberals who were openly scornful of the Church or political conservatives who were “for the Church,” but viewed Orthodoxy from a secular viewpoint as an “element of national identity,” not the One Truth for all mankind.
So in the summer of 1914, we have an openly prosperous and triumphant “Christian” Europe which is actually standing on a cliff, ready to jump to its destruction.
B. Civilizational Suicide and Living After the End of the World
The two World Wars and the accompanying revolutions that destroyed the historic Christian states, were actually one long action of suicide conducted in several stages by the entire civilization of historically Christian Europe. I often tell people that to understand our situation, we have to realize that we are living after the end of the world,at least after the end of our world: The entire civilization that arose after St. Constantine and the Peace of the Church, and that had endured for 1600 years, “suddenly” collapsed between 1914 and 1945, or so it seemed. In Part I of our course, we learned that this was not sudden at all – the magnificent edifice had become hollow on the inside and was just waiting to be knocked over. In Part II, we propose to examine how the knocking-over happened and what this means for us today.
So, we want to keep on with our project of constructing our Orthodox set of “lenses” to view history, and now we need a lens through which to view these recent events that have created the world we currently live in. This is the goal of Part II of our course.
C. An Image of Our Situation: The Besieged Castle
One way of thinking about our situation is this: Think of our living in a castle besieged by enemies, a castle consisting of concentric ring-walls with the innermost keep in the center. The outermost ring-wall consists of the Christian nations, which were destroyed by the forces of Revolution. The next ring-wall consists of the historic Church institutions, which are by now almost completely destroyed by Ecumenism. Next is the ring of the Family, now being destroyed by what could, for lack of a better term, be called “cultural Marxism.” After the family what we have left to us is the innermost keep of the human organism, with the body being destroyed by drugs, toxic food and water, ambient radiation, etc, etc, and, finally, the mind and the soul, being destroyed by the mental fragmentation of electronic addiction. After this last destruction is accomplished, what will be left?
Our plan for Part II will be to go through the destruction of each of these concentric rings and try to understand it from an Orthodox perspective. At each stage of our study, we need not only to provide understanding, which is the most basic “survival tool,” but also to offer suggestions to action: “This being so, how therefore should one live? ”
May Our All-Provident Lord, the Invincible Victor, Be Our Hope!