Mission to the Modern World


C.S. Lewis spoke of “men without chests” in his famous little book, The Abolition of Man. Without going into all he meant by that, I will suffice it to say that he saw many modern men who no longer felt about themselves and their world as men had generally felt through the ages. And here I should note, that would certainly be true for women as well.

One of the great missions of the Church in the modern world, is that in preaching the gospel of Christ, we are also preaching a gospel “of man,” meaning that Christ is not only perfect God, He is also perfect man. We have lost sight of ourselves and no longer know what it truly means to be a human being.

This is so fundamental. It probably represents the greatest battle of our age. You can tell that I’m hanging around my Archbishop (Vladyka Dmitri). He tirelessly reminds us that human dignity is under assault and can only be restored by preaching the fullness of the gospel as the Church has received it.

To become, as St. Irenaeus said, “a man fully alive,” is the proper result of accepting the Gospel of Jesus Christ, who alone shows us what it truly means to be human.

I believe that this mission includes our own taking the Gospel seriously and becoming, “fully alive,” ourselves, that we may help others to enjoy this gift of grace from Christ.

Yesterday, I asked Fr. Michael Oleska, what he thought about ministering to people in the modern world who had lost their own culture, and were hostile to religion. He smiled, and noted that their children are rarely hostile to religion but usually turned to new age, Buddhism, or other philosophies, or became pagans – and then noted with a wry smile that Christianity has been ministering successfully to pagans for 2000 years. I might add that Western pagans (and their wannabes) do not know much about Orthodox interaction with paganism and should not jump the gun on us and accuse the Orthodox of the practices that were often used in the West to deal with paganism.

There is plenty of mission for us to do. No matter the state of the people to whom we minister. But it is good to be asking questions and thinking about these matters.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a retired Archpriest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe, and Face to Face: Knowing God Beyond Our Shame, as well as the Glory to God podcast series on Ancient Faith Radio.





7 responses to “Mission to the Modern World”

  1. fatherstephen Avatar

    I haven’t posted a photo of my son because he is a “man without a chest” but simply to represent “everyman” here. He is fiercely Orthodox, if I can use an expression. And also deeply committed to evangelism and mission.

  2. Matt Redard Avatar
    Matt Redard

    I have an acquaintance who is toying with Buddhism and various other new age and eastern philosophies. He grew up Catholic, and from what I gather, is in bitter reaction to it. But he’s very spiritual. He told me the other day he was going on a 10-day fast. I asked if this was for health reasons, religious reasons, etc. and he said “well health, but you know, it definitely clears the mind and soul too” or something like that. We’ve had several discussions of truth, spirituality, etc. since then.

    Something told me he’d really dig “The Mountain of Silence” by Kyriacos Markides. This book really opened my eyes to some things when I first read it and I am hoping, with its emphasis on “the eye of contemplation” and “eastern” Christianity that it will impact him as well. If anything, it will show him that a man does not have to give up his Christianity to be truly spiritual.

    Father, if you get a chance at the conference, say hello to Father Joseph Fester, my father in God.

  3. Steve Hayes Avatar

    A couple of days ago I visited a site that links South African blogs, and looked at the “Religion” section.

    Two of the three blogs listed there were ex-Christians blogging about their ex-Christian angst. And that seems to typify the modern pagans.

    I can understand people becoming disillusioned with Christianity and ending up as ex-Christians. What I find difficult to understand is that, having decided to leave, they can’t let go, and feel compelled to blog about it.

    When golfing fanatics lose interest in the game, and take up canoeing, or polo, or watercolour painting, they don’t usually start blogs to describe their angst as ex-golfers. They move on, as the saying goes. Not that I’m comparing Christianity with a game, and perhaps it’s precisely because it isn’t a game that they can’t let go and move on, but seem to want to wallow in their ex-Christianity.

    But that seems somehow to epitomise the post-Christian West. They no longer regard themselves as Christian, but they also seem to pick at it like an old scab.

    I don’t know if that helps in our mission, but it seems to be one characteristic of some of the people we are called upon to evangelise.

  4. Alex Avatar

    Father Stephen,

    I really appreciate your message that healing is not just becoming a spiritual being that is more like God, but that, as I am healed, I become more fully human, as well. I find a lot of comfort in that idea.


  5. kh.kathryn Avatar

    Remind me to talk to you re: fully becoming human. Attended a wonderful talk last night with Fr. John Behr, who gave *great* enlightenment on this matter.

    Food for thought: when is the incarnation complete?


  6. Michael Avatar

    Father Stephen,

    Speaking of culture, what are your thoughts about the plusses or minuses of Byzantine Rite vs. Western Rite Orthodox liturgies as far as speaking to the culture and life of our people?

  7. Roland Avatar

    “We have lost sight of ourselves and no longer know what it truly means to be a human being. This is so fundamental. It probably represents the greatest battle of our age. You can tell that I’m hanging around my Archbishop (Vladyka Dmitri).”

    I might have guessed, rather that you had been reading JPII! The defense of human nature was his constant theme as Pope.

    I whole-heartedly agree that this is the greatest battle of our age. We must reclaim postmodernity from the Gnosticism that has so far dominated it. To a society ready to embrace “post-humanism,” we must proclaim that human nature is not something to outgrow and transcend, but something to fulfill, perfect, and glorify, by the grace of God.

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