The powerlessness of Orthodoxy as it is so widely expressed and lived today is doubtless itself a product of the poverty, the lack of seriousness, of contemporary life. Orthodoxy today, with its priests and theologians and faithful, has become worldly. The young people who come from comfortable homes and either accept or seek (the “native Orthodox” and “converts” being alike in this regard) a religion that is not remote from the self-satisfied life they have known; the professors and lecturers whose milieu is the academic world where, notoriously, nothing is accepted as ultimately serious, a matter of life or death; the very academic atmosphere of self-satisfied worldliness in which almost all ”retreats” and “conferences” and “institutes” take place—all of these factors join together to produce an artificial, hothouse atmosphere in which, no matter what might be said concerning exalted Orthodox truths or experiences, by the very context in which it is said and by virtue of the worldly orientation of both speaker and listener, it cannot strike to the depths of the soul and produce the profound commitment which used to be normal to Orthodox Christians. By contrast to this hothouse atmosphere, the natural Orthodox education, the natural transmission of Orthodoxy itself, occurs in what used to be accepted as the natural Orthodox environment: the monastery, where not only novices but also pious laymen come to be instructed as much by the atmosphere of a holy place as by the conversation of a particularly revered elder, the normal parish, if its priest is of the “old-fashioned” mentality, on fire with Orthodoxy and so desirous for the salvation of his flock that be will not excuse their sins and worldly habits but is always urging them to a higher spiritual life; even the theological school, if it is of the old type and not modelled on the secular universities of the West, where there is opportunity to make living contact with true Orthodox scholars who actually live their faith and think according to the “old school” of faith and piety. But all of this—what used to be regarded as the normal Orthodox environment—is now disdained by Orthodox Christians who are in harmony with the artificial environment of the modern world, and is no longer even part of the experience of the new generation. In the Russian emigration, the “theologians” of the new school, who are eager to be in harmony with intellectual fashion, to quote the latest Roman Catholic or Protestant scholarship, to adopt the whole “casual” tone of contemporary life and especially of the academic world—have been aptly called “theologians with a cigarette.” With equal justification one might call them “theologians over a wine glass,” or advocates of “theology on a full stomach” or “spirituality with comfort.” Their message has no power, because they themselves are entirely of this world and address worldly people in a worldly atmosphere—from all this it is not Orthodox exploits that come, but only idle talk and empty, pompous phrases.
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