As we end this brief
outline of the historic way of Orthodoxy, I do not intend to draw conclusions.
The way is not finished; history goes on, and while it continues there can be
no final conclusion for the Christian. I would like to add only that too many
people regard the history of the Church as a temptation and avoid it for fear
of “disillusionment.” I am afraid that in this book, too, they have found both
temptations and disillusionment. In the record of Orthodoxy, as in the story of
Christianity in general, there is no lack of defects and human sins. I have not
wished to hide them, for I believe that the whole strength of Orthodoxy lies in
the truth; moreover, “discerning the spirits” of the past is a condition for
any real action within the Church in the present.
In modern Church
thinking, the past frequently oppresses and enchains rather than being
creatively transformed into faithfulness to genuine tradition. This reveals an
inability to evaluate the past, to distinguish the truth in it from mere bygone
history and custom. Unless a distinction is made, true tradition becomes
confused with all sorts of traditions that should themselves be judged in the
light of the eternal truth of the Church. What is partial, one-sided, and even
distorted is frequently proclaimed as the essence of Orthodoxy. And there is a
sin of absolutizing the past which inevitably leads to the reverse extreme — to
“modernism,” meaning essentially rejection of the past and acceptance of
“modernity,” “science,” or “needs of the current moment” as the sole criterion.
But just as the
maintenance of Orthodox externals alone is incapable of concealing the profound
crisis in modern Orthodoxy, so modernism is incapable of healing it. The only
way out always lies in a return to the truth of the Church itself, and through
it to a mastery of the past. In it we find the eternal tradition of the Church,
as well as innumerable betrayals of it. The true Orthodox way of thought has
always been historical, has always included the past, but has never been
enslaved by it. Christ is “yesterday and today and forever the same,” and the
strength of the Church is not in the past, present, or future, but in Christ.