Dear reader:


Before us is yet another expansive and thought-provoking theme: what is the relationship between the Orthodox Christian and the world? How does one reconcile the Orthodox way with the way of the world and is such a reconciliation at all possible? Are we aware of the extent to which the contemporary world affects our lives? Should the Orthodox Church try to keep in step with the times? Are all religions equal? Should we, for the sake of unity and peace in the world, shut our eyes to the yawning gap that lies between us and the heterodox and unite with them? Can a person be Orthodox and at the same time belong to some secret organization that considers Christ as just one in the line of prophets, such as Muhammad or Buddha? How does Orthodoxy look at humanism, contemporary movements for the protection of human rights, female rights, democratic processes, etc.? What do Orthodox Christians think about the perplexing question of the calender reform? Is it just another manifestation of conforming to the ways of the world? Is there a difference between Orthodox art (chanting, iconography) and western, secular art?  Finally, how has the dissonance between the worldly life and the life in Christ come to be? This issue of the “Missionary” is our humble attempt to examine some of these questions from the Orthodox perspective.


For us, Orthodox Christians, applies the often painful truth that we dwell in the world, but are not of this world. Through the Holy Gospels our Lord Jesus Christ Himself speaks of this. In the sermon to His disciples before His crucifixion (Jn. 14; 15; 16), and in His prayer for the disciples and for all generations of believers, He especially confers a heavenly identity and life on those who are joined in Him. “I have manifested Your name to the men whom You have given Me out of the world… I pray for them. I do not pray for the world but for those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours… Now I am no longer in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are… They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world...” (Jn. 17:6-16). This notion permeates the entire New Testament. It indicates that Christians, God-seekers, those who follow the narrow way which leads to life, who thirst to drink from the spring of living water, who live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God, who toil, fast, pray, endure, forgive and do good deeds to the glory of God - do not belong to this world. They attract the world’s hostility rather than its friendliness, repression rather than compassion. In many places in the Holy Bible and in the works of the Holy Fathers we come across the term “the ruler of this world” which refers to the devil himself, Satan. There appears to exist an irreconciliable difference, a war between the world and the Christian or, better said, between the worldly manner of life and the Christian life. “Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God…”, says the holy apostle James (4:4). But how can this be if our God is the God of love and peace? How is this possible if we know that everything that our God has created in His infinite wisdom is exceedingly good and sanctified by His love: the universe, the heavens and the earth, the land and the water, the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, the livestock and the beasts of the earth, and last of all man – the crown of creation?


The interpretations of the Book of Genesis by the Holy Fathers reveal that our progenitors Adam and Eve abided in the garden of Eden, enjoying indescribable splendor and light. They walked and conversed with their Creator in this garden. Before the Fall they lived with Him in perfect harmony. That harmony of our forefathers with the Lord in the garden of Eden is an icon of Christ’s Church. All of creation was ordained for the prefect unity of the Church with the world. The created world was to be man’s environment for the consecrated life he was to lead - before the Fall. God created man after His own image and likeness and endowed him with free will, exalting him above all creatures, above the whole of creation. For as long as our progenitors dwelled in the garden of Eden with the Lord, for as long as they willfully obeyed His only commandment - that they were free to eat from any tree in the garden except from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil - the entire creation remained in perfect unity with God. The whole world, we may say, was in harmony with its Creator, and therefor with mankind. Nevertheless, that dreadful instant when Eve succumbed to the Tempter, a liar and the father of lies, when she disobeyed God’s commandment and allowed pride to overcome her, and through her, man - at that crucial moment when our progenitors allowed sin to creep up on their still pure and innocent souls and when that perfect harmony was disturbed - all of nature, the entire world fell into sin, became corrupted and estranged from God. Before the Fall, paradise had been a state in which the soul delighted in God’s presence beholding the ineffable beauty of His face. After the Fall the world became a place void of God’s grace in which a human soul could find no rest, consolation or salvation. Man, by his own free will and pride, ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and continues to do so to this day. He has put himself in the position of the One who makes decisions and arbitrates over what is right or wrong. The center of our lives no longer belongs to God, for man has long ago made himself the center of his own self-sufficient and fallen world.


As men multiplied on the earth, so did sin. Still, there were many righteous among them - those who with their lives, deeds and faith, yearned to restore the inner tranquility and unity with God. There were also those who became one with the world, or more precisely, with the ruler of this world, who felt perfectly at home in it, rushing to fill their granaries and barns, fulfilling the lust of the flesh; eating, drinking, fornicating and allowing the evil seed within them to bear its fruit, ambition, hatred, fratricide ...


With the sons of Adam and Eve, the history of man born after the flesh begins. The lives of their sons, Cain and Abel, are a type of the whole future conflict of the Church and the world. We are all familiar with the story of the first fratricide. Cain and Abel brought forth to God equal sacrifices of that which God had given them. Yet, when both had been offered up, "God knew Abel's gifts, but those of Cain He beheld not." Cain, a tiller of the ground, offered up to God the fruits of the earth and although his sacrifice was "rightly offered" in all of its external manifestations, yet he withheld what ought to have been offered, the fruits of repentance and love. Abel, however, sacrificed to God the best portions of the firstlings of his flock as an offering of faith. When Cain realized that God did not look upon his offering, but only upon that of Abel, he was smitten with an envy that filled his heart with hatred and rage - and slew his brother. Ever since, throughout history, the righteous have suffered from the ungodly. The Jewish leaders, and later the Pharisees and scribes who zealously observed the letter of the Law, but without heed for its spirit and who performed their rites with external reverence, while not “rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15). could not bear the righteousness of the prophets or the meekness of the pious.They persecuted and killed them and finally sealed their own retreat from God with the blood of God’s only-begotten Son. The same was true during the course of history of the early Church. The mighty of that day - emperors and governors - could not bear the witness of a whole army of Christian martyrs and persecuted them cruelly. This is how it was in the Old and New Testament history, this is how it has been in the whole history of mankind, and we can easily discern this pattern in our modern times.


The first fratricide is followed by a tragic sequence of events that marks the course of the whole history of mankind. This biblical story also tells us that God showed His infinite mercy and love, and called Cain to repentance. But pride had hardened Cain's heart and he refused repentance. This story ends with the words: “And Cain knew his wife, and she conceived, and bore Enoch; and he (Cain) built a city…” (Gen 4:17) And so Cain, the first murderer and the first apostate, became the founder of human society, of the cities of man. He presents the tragic picture of a man who dissociated himself from communion with God, from God’s Church, and who began the irreversable process of opening an ever-growing abbyss between man and God. Cain is the initiator of the “worldly” way of life. With Cain began the growth of human “cities” as an attempt to rise above the Creator. Man's "cities" became, as it were, idols, which serve to strengthen his pride and attract his mind and heart fom his Heavenly Fatherland, from the Kingdom of God, which is the Holy Church.


This is the world we still live in. We can recognize every detail from this seemingly simple Old Testament story. We live in cities where every imaginable passion reigns, we are surrounded by idolatry and slave-like submission to all kinds of human inventions, from television to drugs, from lust for power and politics to fornication. We are witnesses to fratricide which incites wars raging over our planet at any time in history We see  displays of boundless human brutality. Most inhabitants of this planet live in spiritual and material poverty because of the wrongful dividing of the word of truth. Even nature itself became defiled by the Fall of man, and earthquakes, floods, droughts, and fires strike unexpectedly. Then there is the awful schism in the year 1054 when the Latin west cut itself off from the Tree of Life. From there evolved other divisions into numerous sects, false teachings, religious indifference, atheism, and subsequently various philosophical systems, all products of Godless human reasoning. They are short-lived, coming and going, just like fashion styles. They rely on one another and not on the steadfast and unalterable Truth - on the cornerstone whose name is Christ. From the "cities" of man also come humanism and a multitude of movements proclaiming human rights. At the other end of the specter of a man-centred world are laboratories manufacturing weapons intended for “biological warfare”. There are secret societies, organizations, and brotherhoods that affect world affairs and even some local Orthodox Churches.


And the list goes on and on. Indeed, it would be unbearable if evil expanded endlessly, if the gulf between God and man only widened without hope of ever being bridged. But God has never deserted His beloved creature, man. He has never let man out of sight of His divine protection. At all times God sends the righteous to instruct us, and as the ultimate expression of His love He gave His only begotten Son - who was incarnate on earth and became man, equal with us in every way, except sin. By His death on the cross He opened the  door of heaven, built His Church and showed the way to salvation and eternal life. He revealed to us that man was not made for death but for life. He instituted the Eucharist – the holy and life-giving mysteries – to guide and help us upon the way to salvation. In the Church of God, at the Divine Liturgy, the perfect unity of man and God, of God and the world, is revealed to the faithful, again and again. In the Church of God they can, according to their faith, taste of the Kingdom of Heaven. The reality of a dimension beyond time and space that leads up to eternity is revealed at the Liturgy. Orthodox Christians are conscious of being in exile in this world. They know that they, like Moses in Egypt, live in a foreign land. They know that this world is only an interim stop on their way to the Heavenly Jerusalem, to eternal blessedness.


“…Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way…” (Matt. 7:14). Whosoever even begins to practice the Christian way of living as the Church instructs, knows that this involves difficult labor and struggle. Whosoever toils to live in Christ, knows that the world often speaks a language foreign to the one spoken by the Church. We too are under the influence of that world, just like Christ’s disciples who could not comprehend His Passion because they still looked at Him with their carnal eyes; they expected to see His Passion come to an end somehow, and then see Him enthroned in glory as the ruler over the kings of the earth. Neither they nor Pilate understood His quiet words: “My kingdom is not of this world…” (Jn. 18:36).


And the world still does not understand. It offers instant solutions for all our problems, it promises an earthly kingdom, a paradise on earth, and teaches us how to gain it. It imposes a system of values that is different from the one given to us by the Lord when He created us in His likeness. Our warfare against this godless world is a spiritual warfare, a test of our endurance. Our weapons of warfare include faith, prayer, and fasting. We do not lack examples. For us Serbs, the brightest example of this sacrificial courage is our Holy Prince Lazar and all his holy warriors from Kosovo who, after partaking of the Holy Mysteries at Liturgy, set out to do battle for the venerable cross and golden freedom. From there they went to the bosom of God, to their Heavenly Fatherland. Let us not forget their legacy that still teaches us: 


“The earthly kingdom lasts only for a brief time,

 But the heavenly one always and forever.”


This is an appeal to us, their descendants, to enter our own Kosovo battle, not against the world but against “the ruler of this world”, against our own sins and weaknesses, against our forgetfulness of God. “The kingdom of God is within you”,  said the Savior. It is upon us to discover it and make it our own.

It is our hope and wish that this issue of the “Missionary” will be to your spiritual benefit and edification.