Thursday, July 18, 2013

Guest Essay: 'Does the Orthodox Church have anything to say to the Contemporary World?'

Dear Parish Faithful & Friends in Christ,

Doing something a bit different today, I am simply sharing a short essay that one of my recent students wrote for the appropriate credit on her final exam.  This young woman, a nursing student, was one of the best students I have had in my many years of teaching at Xavier University.  She is a faithful and practicing Roman Catholic and, interestingly enough, a distant relation to one of the most prominent Roman Catholic theologians of the 20th c., Karl Rahner (though she admits that she has never read his work!).  She is the type of person that restores your faith in the upcoming generation of college graduates who will be in positions that can positively affect others and the world around them.  It is a wonderful experience as a teacher to perhaps add something to her over-all learning experience that she may take into her future life. Be that as it may, she had the choice of the following question to answer with her short essay to follow:

Does the Orthodox Church have anything meaningful, significant, or challenging to say to the contemporary world?  Explain why you think that this may be so.

   Contemporary trends are leading the world, especially the “developed West,” further away from tradition and religion toward secular “political correctness.”  This seems to continually decrease the importance and relevance of organized Churches such as the Eastern Orthodox.  The further the ways of the world stray from teachings of the church, however, the more relevant those teachings become. The Orthodox Church reminds the world today of the value of tradition, challenges human beings to live in service of God and others, and places the whole of life on earth in eternal perspective.

   The Orthodox Church is very much a church of tradition, with doctrine based solely on the first seven Ecumenical Councils, the writings of the Church Fathers, and Scripture.  Much of its tradition may be deemed inapplicable in the midst of today’s science and technology, but the sheer fact that it has continued to exist through millennia is a testament to its sustaining merit.  Young people today often enjoy exploring and forming opinions of the world on their own, but just as older individuals have wisdom to share that only comes with age, so too do the teachings of the Orthodox Church contain revealed truth confirmed through the ages that it would be unwise to ignore.

   “Social justice” and “service” are rather fashionable terms among Christians and non-Christians alike. Many uphold these ideals and the value of such work without a religious basis.  The Orthodox Church challenges all to take part in service of others as an extension of the perichoresis of the Trinity. If God’s nature reflects mutually-shared love, and humans are made in  God’s image, we too are called to live every moment of life as an icon of the Trinity.  As Bishop Ware quotes St. John Chyrsostom in The Orthodox Way,  “The most perfect rule of Christianity … is this:  to seek what is for the benefit of all.”  (39)  Thus in the Orthodox perspective the practice of serving others becomes a divine task and a lifelong duty.

   In recent years there has been a notable popular focus on the end of the world as visible in the claims about a religious “rapture,” hype over the end of the Mayan calendar, and a proliferation of films with apocalyptic settings.  This phenomenon reflects humanity’s awareness of its mortality, but sadly often neglects an overall hopeful perspective of the eschaton.  The Orthodox Church’s teaching on the Kingdom of Heaven and the second coming of Christ transforms this life into one of anticipation.  Rather than inspire fear of the future it encourage faith in God’s unfathomable love for his creation, and promises a life beyond time.  This idea completely changes the way one might live his or her life on earth. Earthly existence is always a blessing and yet always disappointing, since we are ultimately only satisfied by communion with God.  Orthodox Christianity recognizes this fact and challenges humans to live with this eternal mindset.

-          Elizabeth Rahner.

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