01 September 2008

The Agony of the Church by Saint Nikolaj Velimirovic

"If you ask what saintliness ought to mean, Christianity has not to argue but to show you the saintliness in the flesh. Christ the saintly Lord, St Paul and St John, Polycarp and Leo, Patrick and Francis, Sergius and Zosim, St Theresa and hundreds of other saints. And if somebody thinks still that a few thousands of Christian saints are not a sufficient argument to show that saintliness is practicable, then the Church has still not to give her ideal up and to take as her ideal thousands of great and small Napoleons and Bismarcks, and Goethes and Spencers, or Medics and Cromwells or Kaisers and Kings--no, in the latter case it would be much nicer for the Church to point out the saintly men outside of Christian walls, like St Hermes and St Pythagoras, or St Krishna and St Buddha, or St Lao-Tse and St Confucius, or St Zoroaster and St Abu-Bekr. Better even is unbaptised saintliness than baptised earthliness."


James said...

I find Christian Orthodoxy such a complex thing. On the one hand it seems to genuinely contain a deep spirit which I find compelling. That Mt Athos crowd, my goodness. The folk who gave us the Philokalia, which I found through that lovely little book of Eastern Christian spirituality, "The Way of a Pilgrim"... Wonderful teachings. Deep bows.

And there is a frequent narrowness that is frightening. For example looking around the web to learn a bit more about this very interesting figure Nikolaj Velimirovic, I learn of consistent allegations of anti-semitism on his part. One or two quotes, if authentic, are disgusting. And it is a current which seems to run through Orthodoxy in practice...

Life is so complicated...

The Vhaidra Saga Author, Nicholas Stanosheck said...

Orthodox Christianity is the oldest "denomination" of Christendom. I tend not to trust religions or denominations less than 500 years old. Why not go for the originals? Original Christianity was persecuted by the Jews, so it might have an anti-Jewish feel, but not anti-Semetic, as there are many Orthodox Christian Semite people in Jerusalem and always have be.

Yusuf Abdul Masih Bey said...

I am Orthodox.

Some Orthodox are anti-Semitic, but no group has a monopoly on bigotry, and I find it is not mainstream but depends on a host of contextual factors. Some Orthodox, especially theologians, indulge varying degrees of "Anti-Judaism" but this is not Anti-Semitism. It is a theological-polemical position that may, at its most ambitious, deconstruct the entirety of Rabbinic Judaism as a religious tradition, but more actually sticks to issues of major disagreement between Judaism and Christianity, like the nature and identity of the Messiah.

Yes, Anti-Semitism and Anti-Judaism may combine, or they may not. I do not consider myself anti-Jewish, but I stick by my guns on the identity of the Messiah issue, if pressed, despite my Perennialist views on religion in general.

St. Nikolaj himself survived the Nazis, so any comments of his must a) be authenticated and b) be contextualized.

Early Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism are sisters, children of the same Mother Israel and her Temple cult. They have engaged in sibling rivalry from the time of Jesus when they were underneath the umbrella of one religious tradition and praxis. After the destruction of the Temple we find mutual blame for catastrophes at the hands of the Romans, we find two communities and traditions forming sectarian identities and defining themselves against each other to the point that Judaism adds a vowel system to the Hebrew consonants such that messianic (i.e. Christian) interpretations become more difficult, etc -- it isn't that you cannot get them from the Hebrew, as some Jewish polemicists have popularized in certain circles. (cont'd due to character limit -->)

Yusuf Abdul Masih Bey said...

(cont'd from <--)

Christians responded by defining their community less in terms of what the Rabbis were doing for theirs. Animosity grew, and while Rome looked with suspicion on Christians, it respected Jews as an ancient tradition, gave them privileged status in the empire -- despite two annoying rebellions brutally suppressed -- and more germane: LISTENED when Jewish authorities tried to throw fuel on the fire of Roman anti-Christian activity. It was wrong but only natural, karmically spekaing, when Christians gained power and used the law against their Jewish opponents.

The Jews had a kingdom in Yemen, Himyar, which attempted forced conversions of Christians, and burned many at the stake -- a martyrdom even the Qur'an sees fit to comment on with approval of the martyrs, not the king.

My point is that while Jews have often suffered at the hands of Christians, and this is a travesty of God's will, there is nothing essential to Christian doctrine that necessitates this, but this develops accidentally in the realm of human behavior and historical circumstances. Likewise there is nothing essentially anti-Gentile in Judaism yet Jews, when given the chance, also intrigued against their Christian sibling rivals.

For the Christian, the Jew has often been the icon of evil and perfidy; for the Jew, the Gentile (mainly, the Christian, but in rare contexts the Muslim, especially these days given the politics of Palestine/Israel) has occupied that role of wicked made manifest. There are serious sociological, economic, political, and other historical factors involved in these identifications. Also, theological -- but to turn theological critiques and disagreements into outright racism and persecution is not correct.

Those early Christian saints whose harsh rhetoric is often taken out context to "prove" a died in the wool Christian "anti-Semitism" (aside from how essentialist this analysis is and how the same approach, applied to Judaism, would yield the accusation of *GASP* anti-Semitism -- probably rightly so) were practitioners of classical Greek and Latin rhetoric,m which was NOT politically correct, pulled NO punches, and sought one goal: TO PERSUADE an audience according to CURRENT circumstances. Without knowing the context we cannot judge the case; but we cannot take a few harsh sentences as license to persecute Jews...or Christians, or read modern injustices like the Holocaust back into Christianity's foundational history, or take Saint Nikolaj as a poster boy of Nazism when he himself suffered from and condemned the same, while peaying for his persecutors, or when the monks of Athos broke their rule against allowing women into their monasteries...to house Jewish women fleeing the Nazis.

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