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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

Alexander Schmemann

6. Russian Orthodoxy (41 pages)













From Schmemann's A History of the Orthodox Church
Page 41

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.


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