Posts tagged with: fr. alexander schmemann

lanterns1Given the many warnings about the “crisis of Christianity,” the inevitable rise of secularization, and the decline of our public witness (etc.), it may not be all that surprising that the most popular verse of 2014 focuses on the key tension the underlies it all.

According to data compiled by YouVersion, the popular Bible app, that verse is none other than Romans 12:2: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

This peculiar position has confounded Christians since the beginning, and serves as the primary focus in Acton’s new film series, For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles. How are we to be in the world but not of it? How are we to live and engage and create and exchange in our current state of exile? Beyond simply getting a free ticket to heaven, what is our salvation actually for in the here and now?

We can respond to this in a variety of ways, and as Evan Koons notes early on in the series, the more common tendency is to resort to three faulty strategies: fortification (“hunker down!”), domination (“fight, fight, fight!”), or accommodation (“meh, whatevs”).

Each stems from its own set of errors, but all tie in some way to an undue divorce or clumsy conflation of the “sacred” and the “secular.” We embrace one to the detriment of the other, falling prey to our own humanistic imaginations, and in the end, leaning on the very “ways of the world” we are seeking to avoid. We hide; we coerce; we blend in. We embrace God’s message even as we ignore his method.

Yet God has called us to a more mysterious obedience: to hear and heed his voice, to conform to his will and purposes, and in turn, to serve and spread the love of God in all areas. To seek the good of our neighbors, the flourishing of our cities, and the prospering of the nations across all spheres and through all “modes of operation”: our work, families, education, creativity, political involvement, and so on. (more…)

In this week’s Acton commentary, Solzhenitsyn and His Critics, I point to the criticism that has been leveled for many years at the writer who turned out to be not exactly the sort of dissident that many in the West were waiting for. I suspect that much of this antipathy to Solzhenitsyn was based on his uncompromising moral vision, which seems to offend some people. I say:

Solzhenitsyn’s critique of modern societies went much deeper than ideology. He drew from a Christian moral tradition, not a political platform. He yearned for a “moral doctrine of the value of the individual as the key to the solution of the social problems.”

I received today a copy of the Spring 2008 Ave Maria Law Review in which is published an article titled “The Enduring Achievement of Alexander Solzhenitsyn” by Edward E. Ericson Jr. Ericson, with co-author Daniel J. Mahoney, edited ISI’s Solzhenitsyn Reader, an outstanding one-volume collection drawn from the author’s prodigious life work.

In Ericson’s article, adapted from a lecture he gave at Ave Maria last year, he says that Solzhenitsyn “never did get the hang of the West’s unspoken rule governing free speech, namely self-censorship.” Then there was his Russian Orthodox faith. Ericson:

In 1972, with all hope lost of his ever being published again in the Soviet Union, [Solzhenitsyn] made public the fact that he was a religious believer, specifically, a Russian Orthodox Christian — how quaint. Following his 1978 commencement address at Harvard University, conventional wisdom crystallized into cliche: Solzhenitsyn was objectionable, wrongheaded, retrograde. Case over. Close the books.

Unless Solzhenitsyn’s many critics, on the left and the right, understand him on his own terms — as an artist working from the moral framework of an ancient Christian tradition — they will never understand him or his work.

Even before Solzhenitsyn publicly identified himself as a Christian, those with eyes to see could discern that his fiction operated within what we may call the moral universe, which, in turn, seemed to posit a religious worldview. In 1970, Father Alexander Schmemann described Solzhenitsyn as “a Christian writer” because his writings exhibit “a deep and all-embracing … perception of the world, man, and life, which, historically, was born a grew from Biblical and Christian revelation, and only from it.” Schmemann described the essence of this perception as “the triune intuition of creation, fall, and redemption.”

Is Solzhenitsyn above criticism? Of course not. But understand him in light of his great achievement — the moral courage he displayed and the power of his ideas. Ericson again:

Someone needed to articulate compellingly what everyone knew deep down. Someone needed to say the emperor had no clothes. Solzhenitsyn, more than anyone else, delegitimized the Soviet experiment at home and discredited it abroad. And he hammered home his case through the concreteness that literary art is singularly suited to provide. It helped to have people pushing against the tottering tower from the outside, but external pressures are of less consequence than demolition charges ignited from the inside.