Orthodox Truth in an Age of Relativism

Orthodox Truth in an Age of Relativism

It is not loving to affirm a person in their sin.

It is not loving to affirm a person in their rebellion against both God and his created, natural order—not “supernatural,” or “unnatural,” but the way nature was always intended to be, revealed most perfectly in Jesus Christ and the Mother of God and all the Saints.

It is not loving to affirm a person in their beliefs or perspectives that run contrary to the blessings offered us in both Christ and his one, holy Church.

It is not compassionate to ignore truth in order to affirm a person in lies.

It is not compassionate to let people live a life contrary to the author of Life.

It is not compassionate to revise, ignore, or trample under foot the essential truths of our Church in order to curry favor with public opinion, the winds and waves of doctrine, cultural trends, the fools—for the wisdom of this world is foolishness to God—of the Academy, and those with the largest checkbooks.

It is not compassionate to tell God’s people that asceticism, restraint, and self-control somehow only apply to one gender, or even one “sexual orientation.” There are no “orientations”; there are choices and free will, as we are all created after the Image of God (let’s be plain: to deny this is Christological heresy). Some struggle with one sin more than others, but we are all called to a life of asceticism and repentance, no matter our lot in life (this is simply lived out and expressed in unique, and varying ways, according to our portion and place).

It is not loving, nor is it compassionate, to only say things and believe things that you know will receive a favorable response. This is called being a coward and even a charlatan. We should not be ashamed of the Gospel. This applies doubly to our clergy, but no less to us laity.

In all of this, we can act, speak, and believe in a manner that is not only loving and compassionate, but also fully in line with the commandments of Christ, and the traditions of our one, holy Church (and there is only one, true Church—this is also tied to orthodox Christology).

There is no need for compromise;
there is no need for false accusations of extremism;
there is no need for being unloving or overly critical;
there is no need for false dichotomies;
there is no need for looking at the sins of others more than our own;
there is no need for cynicism alone;
there is no need for ignoring the clear commands of Christ and the apostles to judge—and be judged—by those within the house of God.

Ignoring all the cliches, categories, and politics of our age, there is only a need to be unapologetically, lovingly, and charitably Orthodox. Regardless of what the world thinks or says, and regardless of what this means for our success, fame, and fortune.

Truth is not a spectrum of opinions, perspectives, and paradigm shifts; it is not culturally conditioned; it is not relative for each new age, thought, or situation. Truth is a Person. Truth is the Logos, the Divine Word and Truth of God, even our Lord Jesus Christ—who is the same yesterday, today, and unto ages of ages.

A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him, saying, “You are mad; you are not like us.” —St. Anthony the Great

Comments

  1. says

    Okay, so what IS loving? What IS compassionate? You have a long list of nots here, and while I understand your point: the church and its truth don’t change with culture, I don’t feel like Orthodoxy is a list of nots. Yes, we believe in a Person, a Person who loved outcasts, uplifted the unseens, hung out with sinners, called people who were unworthy of him, helped the helpless, and cried out against piousness. If we are claiming he is Truth, then isn’t it better to act as he did, which was to offer grace to all people?

    • says

      For a faith so rooted in apophaticism, I can’t fully agree that Orthodoxy isn’t a list of ‘nots.’ :-)

      We’re referencing two different things here, it seems. Maybe I’m wrong? If so, please let me know.

      Of course, when it comes to engaging the world around us, those outside of the Church, there is a level of mercy, ‘grace,’ and charity that can—and should—be extended. After all, we pray to the Holy Spirit who is “everywhere present, filling all things.” We believe, in a relative sense, in the spermatikos logos, permeating and filling the cosmos, not to mention other beliefs, philosophies, ideas, and so on. “All truth is God’s truth,” as the adage goes.

      Nevertheless, both Christ and his Church are one—the pleroma of God—full of truth and lacking nothing.

      And yet, you’ve only painted a partial picture of Christ here, as so many in our modern and postmodern world are wont to do. It is not an Orthodox icon of Jesus. That doesn’t mean anything you’ve said is wrong; it just isn’t the whole truth or without nuance and clarification (much as what I wrote above!). It’s impossible to cover and say everything-about-everything at all times, so charity and discernment is, of course, necessary, especially when engaging with someone’s written words.

      To “act as he did” would also include turning over tables in the temple, calling people broods of vipers, children of the devil, and both hypocrites and workers of iniquity. It would include spitting the unfaithful and lukewarm out of his mouth (symbolically, of course), while chastising those churches who have lost their first, true love. It would include allowing both Jerusalem and the once-venerable temple to be laid to waste by a Roman army. It would include sending Prophets to speak the Logos of God to a people far from his commandments, calling them to repentance—or else. It would include a final judgment, that great and Last Day, where those rejecting his true Love are cast into the outer darkness and eternal fires of Gehenna.

      I don’t say any of this to suggest that we do exactly as Christ does in this regard—these are all specific, unique circumstances, of course—but only to point out that your caricature is only that … a caricature. Better to not do so, and to recognize the full truth about He-who-is-Truth. Right? Right.

      All that being said, my point remains. It is a point for Orthodox Christians. Not for “outcasts,” “the unseens,” and the “helpless,” as you’ve said, but for those who should know better.

      Those who have tasted the heavenly gift and partaken of divine mysteries.

      Those who have seen, felt, and heard the voice of God in the ministry and life of Christ’s holy Church.

      We know better. We can do better. And the way of Truth is better than the nonsense of this (or any other) age. To whom much is granted, much is expected, after all.

      The purpose and focus of this article is those of us in the Church. It isn’t about social justice or about how Jesus felt about the homeless. It’s about those of us in the Church who should know and do better, but often aren’t. And as both the scriptures and the witness of the Saints exemplify, it is within the Church where true judgment both begins and ends.

      This might offend “modern sensibilities,” but I’m well past being concerned with such things. :-)

      This is about light and life, a love that is both true and spiritual—not the pseudo-love and demonic spirit that characterizes our world today. Not a false love that actually leads people further away from the Truth. Not a false humility or pseudo-compassion that leads people into death, rather than into Life.

  2. says

    Isn’t the point of Orthodoxy apophatic theology saying that we don’t know everything about God – he is beyond our human thought? That’s why there’s no “manual” to Orthodoxy as there might be in other churches. Because God is not fathomable and not explainable. He is a mystery – it is a famous phrase in the OC. That is my understanding of apophaticism in Orthodoxy, not these proclamations about what love is not.

    I can agree with you that what I said is not the full picture of Jesus. Yes, he knocked down the moneychangers’ table and all those other things you said. But I don’t think I was painting a caricature of him. Everything I said clearly happened in the gospels. Jesus was clearly turning the idea of “kingdom” on its head; the Jews expected him to usher in a political kingdom, but instead he ushered in a spiritual one, in which the last goes first and compassion is given to those who don’t deserve it.

    That’s not to say that Jesus was not judgmental, but let’s look at who he judged: The Pharisee who prayed loudly and boastfully; the rich man clung too tightly to his wealth (that one might have been a parable, but you get the point); the men who were about to stone a woman. He judged those who valued piety and power over people. Now, I agree that he also promised judgment to those who didn’t believe in him.

    But let’s also look at who he forgave and showed grace to: Peter, who denied him three times, Zaccheus the shady tax collector, Photini, the woman at the well who’d been with a ton of men, lepers, the demon-possessed, the harlot who wept at his feet, the criminal on the cross beside him, etc. My point is he showed grace to sinners. Over and over again.

    So I’m not sure what you mean by “we know better.”

    I have been Orthodox for 9 years now. LIke you, I’m a convert. One of the (few) things that bother me about Orthodoxy is how much we tend to stand up and shout truth at people. Now, there is nothing wrong with standing up for what you believe in. However, this is ultimately an incarnational faith. That’s one of the things that drew me to Orthodoxy. In the famous words of St. Athanasius (I think) “God became like us so we could become like him.” Incarnation has so much to do with embodiment. God entered into a human body and physically showed us his essence. Now, as we become Christlike, are we not to embody and enact his essence? That means that we, too, promote an upside-down kingdom in which humility, self-sacrifice, grace, and compassionate love reign. How could that kind of life lead people away from the Truth? On the contrary, it is all the shouting from soapboxes that lead people away from the Truth.

    • says

      Well, I guess the apophatic comment (which was partly tongue-in-cheek) didn’t translate…

      To be honest, I don’t think you’ve understood me. Not only in the original post, but also in my response to your first comment.

      That’s not to say that Jesus was not judgmental, but let’s look at who he judged: The Pharisee who prayed loudly and boastfully; the rich man clung too tightly to his wealth (that one might have been a parable, but you get the point); the men who were about to stone a woman. He judged those who valued piety and power over people. Now, I agree that he also promised judgment to those who didn’t believe in him.

      Of course Jesus is compassionate and loving to sinners. Of course he loves mankind. But within the Church, we are called to judge, and be judged, by one another. We are called to a different life than those outside of our spiritual or physical walls. The audience of the original post is Orthodox Christians, not the poor and needy; to those of whom much is expected. We confess our sins to one another, and we call one another to image Christ in our words, actions, and beliefs. We all need a good exhortation or reminder of this from time-to-time, myself included.

      And your examples actually prove my point. Those at the temple, the Pharisees, and the crowd around the adulterer were all Jewish people. They were part of the “church” of the day. Without getting into the finer points of Second Temple Judaism and the caricature of the Pharisees and others in your comment, I will only suggest that this reinforces my basic argument. God expects more out of his people. And thus the original post.

      My point is he showed grace to sinners. Over and over again.

      Of course, sure. Agreed. He is absolutely slow to anger, and quick to mercy—but he isn’t a pushover, either. And he does expect something from us. If we truly love him, we obey his commandments. And these examples you gave, of people being shown mercy, would need no mercy if God didn’t expect a certain sort of behavior from his people. Right?

      Now, there is nothing wrong with standing up for what you believe in. However, this is ultimately an incarnational faith.

      Incarnation does not negate “standing up for the truth.” If it did, we would have no Ecumenical Councils—councils that defended the truth of the Incarnation. In fact, the very fact that there is a whole history of doctrinal and dogmatic controversy—or rather, controversy with regards to heresy—undermines what you’re implying here, whether implicitly or explicitly.

      This “Jesus is only love” and “be incarnational, not confrontational” perspective is not only not Orthodox, it isn’t remotely Christian—not in any historical or meaningful sense of the term. The Church, as the Body of Christ, has always been focused on both preserving and proclaiming the Truth. This does not mean we have to be jerks, but it also doesn’t mean we refuse to stand on soapboxes from time-to-time. It certainly doesn’t mean we can’t call one another to repentance, even as we focus on our own. You are drawing false dichotomies where none need exist.

      Now, as we become Christlike, are we not to embody and enact his essence? That means that we, too, promote an upside-down kingdom in which humility, self-sacrifice, grace, and compassionate love reign. How could that kind of life lead people away from the Truth? On the contrary, it is all the shouting from soapboxes that lead people away from the Truth.

      I’m sure you meant “essence” in a different way than I’m thinking. Thank God for those Ecumenical Councils! But more to the point, this upside-down life is not negated by speaking the truth in love. In fact, we are not being self-sacrificial, gracious, or compassionate lovers of mankind—like Christ—unless we tell others of his truth. This means that, sometimes, we are unpopular or hated by the world. This also means telling people difficult words; words that might scandalize, offend, or lead them away from God (perhaps only for a time). That’s just how it is. This is our faith. It divides the world as much as it unites us with God. If we have to water down or dilute the faith in order to make it palatable for the world—something called for by many in our day and age—then we are leading them to a lie, not the truth. We are making children of Gehenna, not the kingdom.

      I’m sorry we haven’t seen eye-to-eye on this, but I’m not sure you yet understand my point. But there’s no need to keep going back and forth on this. Thanks for your feedback.

      • says

        Well said, Gabe.

        Your point about directing criticisms and calls to hold fast to the Faith, at the Church itself, just as Christ did, is crucial.

        I would also add, though, that Karissa tellingly leaves out a few of Christ’s proclamations of ‘woe’ and judgment that aren’t reserved solely for ‘religious hypocrites’. i.e.

        “Woe to you, Chorazin! woe to you, Beth-sa′ida! for if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it shall be more tolerable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you.”

        Oof! And this isn’t aimed at religious hypocrites; it’s aimed at those who are simply indifferent to the Christ’s salvific actions taking place in their midst. This would apply directly to all our secularist culture, and much faux Christianity. Of course, this doesn’t mean it’s our calling to stand on a street corner w/ a megaphone pronouncing woe all day, but it certainly is within the realm of the Church’s kerygmatic proclamation to include warnings about the judgment that awaits those who are indifferent to Christ and His Church.

        As you said, the context of *this* post was more internally directed, but I think it’s necessary to correct the false caricature of Christ only declaring judgment upon ‘religious hypocrites’.

        • says

          I’m not sure how you can say I left that out when I clearly said, “Now, I agree that he also promised judgment to those who didn’t believe in him.”

          My point was that we need a balance between judgment and compassion, which is clearly what Christ showed us in his life.

          If all we have is judgment, we are getting really close to fundamentalism, and that’s not what Orthodoxy (as I know it at least) is).

          • says

            I don’t see anyone calling for judgment alone. Not in my original post, or in the follow-up discussion and comments.

            But God, who is Love, is also a God that will judge all on the Last Day. Any concept of Love that ignores this, or glosses over it with pseudo-Marcionism (as some contemporary Orthodox do), is not orthodox, nor is it representative of the scriptures; it’s a half-truth at best.

            I think you perhaps over-reacted to my original post, by either missing my qualifying statements, or by thinking I was on a soapbox telling “the world” to repent—or else. I also think you’re concept of love is far too narrow; one that ignores the possibility of correction, or even healthy dialogue and debate.

            This is an “in-house” discussion for those to whom much is expected. We are in no place to judge how God deals with those outside the Church, and that is not our focus here.

  3. says

    Thank you, thank you for another most excellent article. May our Lord embolden us to truly live this life of love, whatever it requires of us.

  4. says

    Thank you Deacon Gabe, wonderful post – very not politically correct! Sometimes I think PC is a religion in today’s secular world… I cant tell you how many Christians find homosexual marriage acceptable ’cause they bought into thinking its “Evolving” of them to follow along with current tide. Happy Pentecost Sunday!

  5. Daniel says

    Thank you Mr. Martini for the wonderful article and for your great comments! I love this line: “Some struggle with one sin more than others, but we are all called to a life of asceticism and repentance, no matter our lot in life (this is simply lived out and expressed in unique, and varying ways, according to our portion and place).”

    I’m saddened to see many Christians who don’t get the part about repentance and the ascetic struggle.

    Great comment Christie. PC IS a religion today. I pray that God will keep the PC/relativism heresy totally out of His Holy Church.

  6. Daniel says

    Oh, I meant to add one more thought. In John 8, we read the account of the woman caught in adultery who was brought to Jesus. It seems to me that everyone loves the first part of what Christ tells her: “Neither do I condemn you.” However, few seem to love the second part of what He told her: “Go and sin no more.”

    Praise God for his mercy towards sinners like me. However, as Mr. Martini pointed out, if we love Christ we will keep His commandments (John 14:15).

    • says

      Good point, Daniel, thanks.

      We all confess to be the chief of sinners before the Eucharist, so I hope no one reading this blog thinks that myself, or the other writers, are in any way feeling morally superior or “better” than anyone else.

      These are words and challenges for all of us.