One of the first – if not the first – steps that we should take in building an Orthodox culture in any country, is the implementation and growth of Orthodox education. If we lose this battle, we lose the future stability of our parishes. The universities in America (and in many other western nations) are geared against us and have many sophisticated arguments against the Christian worldview.
To create Orthodox schools is not only for our children to carry on and battle the world, but for the nation’s Orthodox ethos in general. Orthodox education produces both culture and community! Secular education does the same, and so it is crucial for us to enter this battle with vigilance.
The Fathers of the Church teach us that falling away from God is as simple as forgetting God. When we are no longer able to carry the momentum of God’s energy and take every thought captive to Christ, we drift. How much drifting does it take to end up in a place that is inescapable? Is it possible that we might one day wake up realizing that we are completely surrounded by a hostile environment that demands either complete submission or withdrawal? Perhaps this has already begun to happen and we Christians are in a state of contemplation, wondering and debating on how to get out of the current social conundrum.
It’s not completely clear how this all began happening — how we lost traditional community and culture within America. There are theories of how it has all culminated, everything from serious error in our historical founding to the uncontrollable flux of immigration. But within the many theories is one underlying element of how humanity has always operated as a community, which many of us will agree that we need to correct: Education
We live in the most convoluted culture of all history, with radical amounts of information being pitched to us on a daily basis. When we turn on the TV we are being educated. When we read our Facebook feed we are being educated. When we get trained by our company we are being educated. Even when we listen to the radio or Pandora, we are being educated.
It is key for an Orthodox Christian in a secular society to shape our lives so as to hear more Orthodox perspectives, and fewer secular/agnostic perspectives. This requires a disciplined and perhaps ‘out-of-the-ordinary’ way of life. We will look at this in the later part of this article.
Russia’s Educational Holocaust in the 19th Century
America, from the beginning, established her education through her Church. But as secular influences grew, schools were given up to secular organizations. When Christian education began to disappear from America, no second revolution needed to happen, simply because Revolutionary America never intended to maintain a Christian culture. Russia, on the other hand, is a different story.
During the times of the catacombs in Holy Russia, the Soviets would often pick Christians out of various families and groups to send them off to the gulags or simply execute them as an alternative. These Orthodox Christians had to make daily choices as to what they would be bold about and what they would keep quiet about. Hardship and death were at stake every day for these people.
In America today, as in 20th century Russia, we are surrounded by people who hate our Faith. We, like the Russians, are often very careful of what we say. But so far, a lot less is usually at stake. For the most part, we are not yet being imprisoned for defending the Truth, and we are not yet being executed in the streets.
But the Russian Orthodox people did not just wake up one day to an Atheist takeover. What was gradually happening back in the 19th century, was a steady infiltration in schools by secular intellectuals from the West. Many atheistic and cultic philosophies were being taught by professors in the universities, and many of the priests were beginning to buckle to these teachings. The universities, rather than the Church, became the centers for worldview and community.
Education had previously been an extension of the Church, but this was an early step towards the secular modernization of Russia. Other political and industrial factors preceded. But when the universities changed, so did the minds and hearts of the people.
Had the Church been able to retain the ministry of education, perhaps there would have been a different outcome of Russia entering WWI and the Bolshevik Revolution. How can we learn from this?
Heaven and Earth
A hallmark of the Orthodox faith is that it is holistic. Our faith, unlike any other spin-off group of the Church, embraces every aspect of life. Nature is not our enemy. In Western Christianity, nature is suspect. The material world is considered “fallen” and unredeemable in many aspects. This is why Gnosticism thrives in those groups. Orthodoxy is much different, because we understand the Incarnation of Christ to be a supernatural agent within the material world.
Because this world is so mystical, because we are surrounded by so many spiritual and physical variables within life, the Orthodox Church has created distinctions, but not so many distinctions so as to confuse ourselves. One historically important distinction is that of symphonia. This is such an important aspect of our Faith. Symphonia (symphony, in English) occurs when secular powers and ecclesiastical powers cooperate. Symphonia is the Church and the State working together. This is what the double-headed eagle represents: one eagle for the secular power and the other for the ecclesial power.
The secular power of society is not evil in and of itself. But it does gravitate toward evil (unlike the baptized soul, which gravitates toward heaven). Secularism, however, is evil.Secularism has to do with limiting or barring the Church’s influence, creating an existential environment that has historically led to disastrous societies.
When the secular society gives birth to an idea, it must be compatible with the symphonia of our Christian community. If it is not compatible, then it must simply be rejected! Thankfully, as we will see below, many secular subjects are within the bounds of the Church’s symphonia.
Orthodox Symphonia Requires Cooperation
Orthodox education, unlike secular education, revolves around a particular view of mankind: How we are created and what our purpose is in life. Without an Orthodox Christian view of mankind, intellectual subjects become stripped of their true purpose and meaning, training our minds to think in secular rather than spiritual terms. To think in secular terms is to adopt the historical and medieval philosophy of Scholasticism, which lends to a worldview of hardened logic and moral construct.
Orthodox Christians are called to think in mystical terms, because we live in a mystical world. Formulating life — to the extent of systematizing everything we do — goes completely against the energies of God. Nature is relatively unpredictable, and like the Psalmist says, God’s energy and Spirit moves like the wind. St. Paul says that God “works all things together” for the benefit of God’s people. This is a cornerstone for Orthodox theology and worldview, allowing us to explore this world without the fear, legalism, and overly complex systems that the Old Covenant people of God had to wrestle with for so many generations, eventually opposing Christianity (the Truth) when it was presented by Christ.
If we take out the mystical value of education, we will cease to think in mystical terms. Even Hollywood understand this. There are a number of problematic science fiction movies now, demonstrating how we submit ourselves to overly systematic environments where no true love and joy can exist. A prime example might be the movie The Giver, with Jeff Bridges.
St. Theophan the Recluse
Secular Paths Lead to a Final Secular Community
Every single subject in life needs to be embraced through the Orthodox Christian Faith. If it is not, each unattended subject will give birth to a new hybrid of thought, a new secular path to travel away from the faith and into what St. John the Apostle calls “the mark of the beast,” where no man can even “buy or sell” without it. The secular paths all lead to this “replacement community” — this final entrapment of the Church — where all people trapped within will have sealed their eternal destiny, estranged from God’s gift of eternal life. As a well-known Orthodox Saint has pointed out:
“It should be placed as an unfailing law that every kind of learning which is taught to a Christian should be penetrated with Christian principles and, more precisely, Orthodox ones.”
– St. Theophan the Recluse
Orthodox Symphonia with Contemporary Subjects
Math – This is an absolute necessity, even if there are some people who don’t happen to like it much. Is there such thing as secular math? Indeed there is! A secularized subject is stripped of its application, so as to become an intellectual pursuit of its own (raw data with no application), or else it is used as a catalyst for non-Orthodox worldviews. Intellectualizing any subject is a pursuit of pride and often a complete mental burnout for many people. Math can be, at a very high level, a strict intellectual pursuit for those who want to be mathematicians. But for most of us, math is an applied subject that is a tool for greater things in life. Let us build great hospitals, schools, rehab centers, and temples — with the help of mathematics — but let us not put math in a cage and send our young people in to this cage for burnout, nor cultivate within them a mind that operates merely scientifically rather than spiritually.
Technology – Technological advancements that protect nature, including mankind itself, can be encouraged. Perhaps we can steer away from the pursuit of artificial intelligence. This just an example, and there is room for debate. But that is what makes Christian education so exciting! There are discussions that needs to take place . . . often.
Engineering – Building structures that give glory to God was a common practice in both Eastern and Western Europe. Domes, arches, and iconography have influenced the world throughout the ages. There are even sectors within America that have been positively influenced.
History – How could history be properly taught aside from a Christian worldview? The first civilized society was the Orthodox (Byzantine) Empire. St. Justinian the Emperorimplemented law based on the Christian faith, and all civilized societies in the modern era owe much to this great work. For centuries, nations were led by the Church, or by an offshoot of the Church. To secularize history is downright dishonest, and is a complete misrepresentation of historical truth.
Philosophy – For instance, St. John Chrysostom was a great Christian philosopher. Chrysostom, in Greek, means “golden mouth.” Many of the Church Fathers and ascetics are greater sources of wisdom than any pagan philosopher could ever be. Many of the Fathers, including St. Paul the Apostle, challenged Pagan philosophers and converted them over to Christian philosophy. When we study ancient philosophy, whether it happens to be Christian or not, it should be studied in light of its spiritual context — how it was being influenced by the Church and how it was challenging the Church.
Medicine – St. Luke, one of our Holy Apostles, was a doctor. There were a number of doctors throughout the Byzantine Empire, and in fact, the Orthodox Church invented the hospital itself. Proper and ethical medical care within the environment of priests and deacons is absolutely necessary for an Orthodox worldview. We do not have the holy mystery of healing just so we can have an extra prayer service. We have it to actually heal people. The hospital is ours, and we should begin taking them back and building more of our own. Abortions, transgender surgeries, pharmaceutical and insurance companies dictating procedures . . . all of this must be eradicated!
Criminal Justice & Law – This is an easy one! There is no law without spiritual input. The question is: Which spiritual source shall we choose? Certainly, we can choose secular spiritualism, which amounts to radical ecumenism and moral relativism. Where is the order or peace in that? To say that all religions can mesh and cohabit peacefully is a most ignorant thing to say. They can cooperate with each other, but only if they each have the freedom to build their own communities to cooperate within.
Art – Take a trip to St. Petersburg, Russia, or to Greece, and you will see the Christian meaning of art. It’s everywhere. As the Russian Orthodox author Fyodor Dostoyevskysaid, “beauty will save the world.” Iconography (Orthodox Christian art) is a sacred art which gives a proper foundation for all art. Not everything must be painted as an icon, though. In fact, it must not be! Iconography is sacred and set aside for the communication of the Gospel. But all other art should glean from it and become its own form of Christian beauty. This can extend to anything from home décor to entertainment. Also, Christian art is modest! Pornography and other forms of crudeness are simply not Christian.
Food – The Orthodox calendar includes many fasting guidelines on certain days of the year. Orthodox countries have thousands of recipes that presuppose the fasts.
Theology – Most importantly, the study of God and his people must be embraced via the Orthodox Christian Faith. Without proper theology we can know very little about how man and community, in general, operates effectively. Our theology helps us strive between creation and eternity, and understand how the two operate and create harmony with each other.
A community that treats Christ as one of many gods, is a community that is destined to fail. We have seen this throughout all history. Pluralism is a recipe for cultural collapse.
If American leadership does not want a community that recognizes Christ alone as the cornerstone, then let us build sub-communities that will. Let us abandon the false ecumenism of the secular state, so as to overcome the enemy and uphold the true Faith!
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The truth about Ireland’s monster €240bn debt: it wasn’t the banks
There’s a perception that Ireland’s monster debt – it will be €240 billion by the end of the year, on a per capita basis the third highest in the world, was put there by band of rogue bankers. And that we as a people have been victims of a terrible wrong.
The truth of course is more sticky, more unpalatable than the bar stool narratives we tell ourselves.
Most of the debt – more than €100 billion – arose from a sequence of budget deficits run up in the wake of the 2008 financial crash and linked to then government’s mismanagement of the public finances, a government that we voted into office three times in succession.
The former Fianna Fáil-led administration had spent lavishly in 2000s while using windfall taxes from the property sector to plug the holes in its accounts.
When these taxes dried up, the deficit ballooned. At the height of the crisis in 2009 the deficit was €23 billion. That meant the State was spending €23 billion more than it was taking in by way of taxes and other income.
This necessitated borrowing on a grand scale, which went on – to a varying extent – for a decade until the State ran a budget surplus in 2018.
The original cost of bailing out the banks was €64 billion but this has been clawed back to around €40 billion by way of levies, dividends and share selloffs arising out of the State’s ownership of the banks.
It’s a big number, but less than half the bill foisted upon us from budgetary mismanagement, none of which can be clawed back.
On a per capita basis, the State’s debt figure equates to €46,000 for every man, woman and child in the State and €103,300 for every worker.
And the cost of servicing it has cost us €60 billion over the past decade: equivalent to three years of health spending. Make no mistake the State is paying for its boom time folly.
So it behoves us to sit up and listen when the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council (Ifac) sounds a note of caution about the Government’s budgetary strategy, particularly when it claims we’re sailing close to unsustainable debt trajectory.
And not to dismiss the council’s critique, as some do, as an act of fiscal pedantry, far removed from the realpolitik of government.
While the €4.2 billion spending hike earmarked for Budget 2022 is broadly welcomed, the council takes issue with the Government’s medium-term budgetary strategy, which envisages a series of much bigger budget deficits out to 2025 and nearly €19 billion in additional borrowing.
This will leave the State with a bigger and less manageable debt up the line and therefore more exposed to the next crisis. There was now a one in four chance of the national debt moving on to an unsustainable trajectory in the years ahead, it said.
The council also warned that borrowing and ramping up spending during a strong recovery could “backfire” triggering an acceleration in prices if capacity constraints, most notably in the construction sector, bite.
You would think that as a country with a big debt, the chief threat here is rising interest rates, something that is likely to arise if the current pick-up in inflation proves longer than expected.
Ifac has stress-tested the Irish economy against possible interest rate hikes and growth shocks, finding the latter poses a greater problem.
While a big 2 percentage point shock to the Government’s borrowing costs would add just 0.4 percentage points to the debt ratio in three years it would barely raise annual funding costs. This is largely because the National Treasury Management Agency (NTMA) bond issuance is long-dated and, in the main, fixed rate.
In contrast a typical growth shock of 3.6 per cent for two years could add over 20 percentage points to the debt ratio in three years. “With high debt ratios to begin with, this could snowball and make it difficult to pull down debt ratios in later years,” it said.
Two years ago, NTMA chief Conor O’Kelly was asked what the chief financial risks facing the agency were and if it had a Brexit contingency plan.
He said the agency operated on “permanent contingency” basis . As a small, highly-indebted economy, which relies on international investors for 90 per cent of its borrowings, he said Ireland and the NTMA needed to be in a permanent state of crisis readiness.
The reality is that the next shock, the next thing that will hit our funding market, will probably be something that we have not yet thought of and is not on the front page of every newspaper in the world, O’Kelly said. Nine months later, the Covid crisis hit and the global economy fell off a cliff and the NTMA’s borrowing plans were out the window.
This goes to the heart of Ifac’s commentary: it’s not a case of wondering if there will be another recession or if there will be another financial shock, that’s a given, they’re coming on average every 10 years.
Downturns are part of the natural cycle, financial shocks are part of the global economy. The question is, will you be in a position to borrow and spend your way out of it.
Berlin house seizure referendum approaches decision day
In her apartment in suburban Berlin, Regina Lehmann despairs at the letter from her landlord, a big real estate group: the rent is going up.
Effective November 1, the increase of 12.34 euros ($14.54) on her monthly rent of 623.44 euros will be “difficult” to finance with her only income a disability pension, Lehmann tells AFP.
Almost 700 of her neighbours in the popular Berlin neighbourhood of Spandau will suffer the same fate, boosting their rent by up to eight percent.
Increases like these are at the root of a popular initiative to “expropriate” real estate companies such as Adler, which owns Lehmann’s flat,
that will culminate in a local referendum on September 26, the same day as national and municipal elections.
Residents in the capital have become increasingly frustrated with rising housing costs, as the city’s attractiveness to outsiders has grown in recent years.
And beyond Berlin, the cost of housing has become a hot topic on the campaign trail in the contest to succeed Angela Merkel as chancellor.
Back in Lehmann’s living room, surrounded by pictures of her family, Lehmann says she simply “won’t pay” the rise.
“I think, if we pay, after a while they’ll just increase the rent again,” she says.
Rent campaigners secured the referendum in Berlin after collecting 346,000 signatures in support of their proposition — well above the number needed.
They are pushing to “expropriate” homes from real estate companies with more than 3,000 properties.
The result of the poll will not be binding, but advocates hope to force city government to respond to soaring rents, with the cost of housing going up by 85 percent between 2007 and 2019.
The rise has been painful for residents in the capital where 80 percent of people are renters, and 19.3 percent of people live under the country’s poverty line, compared to 15.9 percent in the country as a whole.
Campaigners lay the blame at the door of major real estate groups, such as Adler, which owns 20,000 properties in Berlin.
In Lehmann’s Spandau district, activists argue Adler’s attempt to hike rents is illegal, exceeding a legal reference index linked to the average rent in each area.
The property group, in response, describes an “improved environment” around the lodgings that gives it grounds to charge more.
Supporters of expropriation have upped the tempo of their campaign in recent weeks to win over undecided voters, hanging posters and organising demonstrations across the city.
Many Berliners experienced rent increases after the German constitutional court struck down a rent cap which had been introduced by the city earlier this year, and a poll by the Tagesspiegel daily showed 47 percent of residents supported the radical proposal put forward in the referendum.
“We have to fight for our rights,” says Catia Santos, 41, who recently attended a rent protest with her partner.
“Recently my rent has gone up by 100 euros, even though I am not earning any more than before.”
On Friday, just over a week before the vote, the city of Berlin announced the purchase of 14,750 residential properties for 2.4 billion euros from German real estate giants Deutsche Wohnen and Vonovia, a deal forged under pressure to find an answer to rising rents.
Forcibly taking ownership of privately owned accommodation has largely been rejected by national and local politicians in favour of plans to speed up the building of new homes.
“The best protection for renters is and always will be having enough places to live in,” Armin Laschet, the conservative candidate to succeed Merkel as chancellor, told a real estate conference in Berlin in June.
The social-democrat favourite in the local Berlin elections, Franziska Giffey, also declared her opposition to the proposal, saying it could “damage” the city’s reputation.
But her party’s candidate to be chancellor, Olaf Scholz, has called for a “rent moratorium” to stabilise prices.
Only the far-left Die Linke and some individual Green candidates have come out in favour of expropriation, with some even displaying the rent campaigners’ logo on their election materials.
President’s decision to decline invite to centenary an ‘own goal’, says Senator
President Michael D Higgins’s decision to decline an invite to a centenary church religious commemoration of partition and the establishment of Northern Ireland has been branded an “own goal” by Independent Senator Gerard Craughwell.
The move was “uncharacteristic” of the President, who has “always been the man to step forward for reconciliation and to do his bit to try to bring this country together”, said Mr Craughwell on Saturday.
The event in Co Armagh next month is not a celebration, but a commemoration, he said, adding that the declination has brought about a “deep sense of disappointment” in some unionists.
“I think we have missed an opportunity to extend the hand of friendship to the more moderate unionists and we have actually enraged the more radical unionists,” he told RTÉ’s Saturday with Katie Hannon radio programme.
Mr Higgins was invited to a “service of reflection and hope”, the Senator noted, adding: “Any of us sitting in this country today, north or south, would want to reflect on the history of this country with the hope that we might have for the future of the new Ireland- an Ireland that would embrace all traditions.”
Mr Higgins’s statement politicised the situation, which was “so uncharacteristic of the President it is difficult to accept”, he added.
Mr Craughwell was one of six Independent Senators who signed a letter to the President on Thursday voicing concerns that he had declined the invitation.
In their letter, the Independent Senators said: “We earnestly suggest, if possible that you should reconsider the matter with a view to attending the event as we believe your attendance has significant potential to advance the cause of reconciliation between the different traditions in Northern Ireland and on this island.”
Mr Craughwell said there will be “extreme unionists who make serious mileage out of this and the more moderate ones will be deeply hurt”.
Sinn Féin’s David Cullinane told the programme he could not see “any circumstance” where the President of Ireland would mark, commemorate or celebrate partition.
Mr Cullinane said there is a “fine line between commemoration and celebration”, and he said partition of the island is not a historical event but contemporary, as the country “is still divided and our country is still partitioned”.
Social Democrat co-leader Róisín Shortall said she agrees with the actions of the President, who was “completely within his right” to decline the invitation.
“The partition of Ireland and the formation of Northern Ireland is not something that most people would consider good developments or something that we should celebrate in any way,” she said.
There would be a “very different discussion” to be had, with other concerns expressed, said Ms Shortall, if the President had accepted the invitation to the event with its current title, which stated it would “mark the centenaries of the partition of Ireland and the formation of Northern Ireland”.
Minister of State for the Department of Health Mary Butler said the discussion around the issue has been “a little bit unhelpful” as it overshadowed the President’s visit to the Vatican.
“Unfortunately something that was really positive turned into a negative … The President of our country is entitled to make a decision on any invitation he receives,” she said.
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