A difficulty arises when making cultural observations – things rarely turn out as expected. The Roman Empire fell once upon a time, although the fall wasn’t nearly as clean and final as Gibbons imagined and it wasn’t really the Roman Empire that fell. But ever since the “Roman Empire fell” people have been rehearsing the lessons learned and expecting its repeat. Yet the empires (or whatever is expected to fall) seem to trundle on.
I am a cultural observer, and I share my observations here. Occasionally they can be rather bleak and even cynical. After all, having read the Scriptures and the Fathers, history is not expected to turn out well on its own. The Second Coming is an intervention in the worst of the worst of times.
There always seems to be something else at work within history. We have seen the collapse of empires, and the creation of evil empires. But in my lifetime, it has largely been the “evil empires” that have fallen. How is it that things, placed on a firm foundation of nefarious workings, ruled by dark masters with no remorse for their cruelty, actually get better? Why does evil not grow relentlessly stronger?
I believe the answer is simple – grace. Grace is the very life of God. It sustains our world in its existence. It works good despite the best (or worst) of our evil intentions. It mends our brokenness and creates new beginnings over and over again.
And it must always be borne in mind when we think about history and the workings of various forces and tendencies. It must be remembered when we feel lost in the various disasters that haunt our personal lives: grace is at work.
There are causes and effects that can be analyzed and yet the sums never add up properly. This doesn’t negate the cause and effect of events around us but points to something outside that chain that is persistently working in a single direction – our well-being.
To be an Orthodox Christian in a modern setting easily breeds a negative view of the surrounding culture. Modernity is antithetical to tradition. But the very persistence of Orthodox Christianity in the modern world is itself a product of grace. Why are we still here?
All of this is expressed in St. Luke’s gospel: “For He is kind to the ungrateful and the evil” (6:35). The proof is all around us.