Dostoevsky wrote in the mid-19th century, a time when many ideas and cultural forces were only beginning to coelesce. We live in an age after which those forces have come together, and after which they have largely been judged by history to have fallen short of their stated ideals. The world has witnessed more than a century of failed promises and programs (not that we have completely rejected such things) and are, to a large extent, left drifting in a world in which we have few markers or sure bearings upon which to plot our lives, much less the future of mankind.
The Christian faith has not been immune to the cultural forces of the past few centuries. Some groups of Christians feel compelled to maintain strong ties with the present culture and to change themselves and the shape of their proclamation according to the prevailing winds of cultural understandings. Others have been swept along, always having been “cultural” Churches, and now struggling to know which part of the culture they are to represent.
Holy Orthodoxy has traditionally held to a course which is unchanging – though it has been profoundly influenced by the political and cultural institutions which have surrounded it. Today, with greater freedom than in many centuries, Orthodoxy struggles to find its proper place and stance amidst the rubble of the modern world.
Aleksandr Solzhnitsyn published a small book of essays in the early ’70’s entitled, From Under the Rubble. The “Rubble” of his title represented the rubble of Christian civilization that had been overwhelmed ultimately by various forces of modernity. His experience was of the crude realities of the Soviet System (where he spent some years within the Gulag system and where he spent his “freedom” under constant surveillance). But the “rubble” extends beyond the boundaries of Solzhenitsyn’s cultural and historical experience.
The whole of Christian civilization now sits somewhere in history. Condemned for its excesses and failures, used as the scapegoat for any and every imagined ill. Those who profess the Christian faith today, do so “from under the rubble.” We cannot look around for authentic Christian culture. It is only with difficulty that we may draw on the wisdom of the past.
But the story of the human relationship with God is a constant re-telling of life from within rubble. There is very little in Scripture that can be described as a golden age. Even the righteous King David is beset with his own personal sin and rebellion within his own family. The story of Creation and Paradise are followed immediately with the story of the first sin, the first murder, and the multiple failings of humanity.
However, nowhere in the gospel of Christ are His followers enjoined to create a great civilization. Such things have come about, from time to time, within the context of Christian believing, but always with flaws that mark the weaknesses that will bring about their downfall, and even with periodic persecution of the Church and the Truth itself. States are not inherently evil, neither are they inherently good.
In the gospel of Christ we are taught about the coming of the Kingdom of God. This kingdom is not the perfection of some other kingdom. It is not the product of human imagination and innovation. It comes as a gift – not even as a result of our prayers. As the wondrous gift of God it is the hidden treasure that we find beneath and within the rubble. The Kingdom is the Pearl of Great Price – the indestructible truth.
I once read that even a single commandment of Christ, if kept with all our heart, mind and strength, will become for us the door to the Kingdom. Such singleness of heart is a very rare thing – though it is not a complicated thing. I think of St. Paul’s words in Romans 12:
Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.
Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good. Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer; distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another.
It is not complicated – just a simple way out of the rubble. Solzhenitsyn’s boldest recommendation in his small essay entitled, “From Under the Rubble,” was printed in block letters: DO NOT LIE, REFUSE TO PARTICIPATE IN THE LIE.
How simple. How hard.
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