Christianity: The Faith to Walk on Water

If Nicholas Zernov is correct (THREE RUSSIAN PROPHETS: KHOMIAKOV, DOSTOEVSKY, SOLOVIEV), the Russian Orthodox prediction for where the Enlightenment must lead Western civilization is dystopia.  The book was published in 1944, but is substantially a course of lectures Zernov gave in England in 1942 as WWII was beginning to turn against the Axis countries and their Fascist ideas. 

The book was written at a time when the establishment of atheistic communism in Russia seemed permanent.  Yet Zernov felt events showed communism could not defeat the Orthodox Church, and so the Orthodox Church alone stood as a hope for all Christians against humanistic secularism, materialism and atheism.

The best part of the book to me was the final chapter, “The Future of Christian Civilization.”  Zernov portrays Christianity as a “free theocracy,” but humanly speaking the Christians began to fear the responsibility that came with their God-given freedom and so they turned to the state to accomplish the tasks they feared they could not accomplish.    In so doing, they gave up their freedom.  Zernov feels the reality of Christian life is we each are called by Christ to walk on water as Peter did – but as Peter’s faith failed, so too that of all Christians who could not bring themselves to trust in God and so turned to the state to help them live in this world.   Faith melted into fear: not truly willing to rely on God, the masses turned to the state to be their god.  I want to quote extensively from this chapter:

“The bulk of Christians preferred to entrust their safety to the protection of a well-constructed boat rather than risk other less usual ways of crossing the sea of life.  Thus the Church was gradually transformed and rebuilt on the pattern familiar to the majority of its members.  They shaped it in conformity with the universal organization of Imperial Rome…”

“The Church was not called to govern the world, but to transform it from within…”

“Besides a Church shaped like an Empire, the Christians produced Churches organized like city republics, private associations and clubs.”

“The Christians … interpreted salvation as the release of the soul form the burden and responsibility of the earthly struggle.”

“…the Christians have made strenuous efforts to convince the unbelieving world that their main concern is moral improvement and that there is nothing unreasonable and extravagant in their teaching, nothing that is not already contained in the ideals of enlightened humanism.”

“… mankind… needs a cure for sin and not an edifying discourse on the advantages of decent behavior and better education.  A Church which can only offer social service is superfluous in the modern world where the State with the greatest efficiency and power can tackle the question of popular instruction and the raising of the economic standard of living.”

“…the whole-hearted belief of the former skeptics and agnostics in the most extravagant promises made by the totalitarian State to establish here on earth the millennium of righteousness, prosperity and freedom.  Those who have discarded the Church preaching of the redemption of the world from sin have eagerly accepted the same message when it has been presented to them under the banners of anti-Christian secularism.”

“The Russian writers were certain that … the victory of Christianity could be achieved neither by compromise nor by further withdrawal, but only by bold proclamation of the full Christian truth accompanied by the liberation of the Church from all vestiges of its long association with State, and its inevitable reliance upon compulsion.”

“Before Christianity human beings were often terrified by Nature … The faith in the Incarnation liberated men from this bondage, and opened wide the door to the knowledge of physical laws, and eventually helped mankind to establish control over Nature.  But the Church, because it lost sight of its true purpose, failed to teach men the sacramental meaning of science and technical progress.  Instead of treating them as the extension of the Incarnation, and as the proof that God has committed  to men the task of making this earth sinless and perfect, the members of the Church surrendered these powerful weapons to the charge of secularized forces, and, in the hands of unscrupulous leaders, they became, not means of salvation, but instruments for a base and greedy exploitation of men, animals and plants, and of all physical existence.”

“Fear makes people cruel; the modern man is no longer terrified of Nature, but he is far from being really at home on the earth.  He is frightened of life, of himself, of others, and therefore he tortures Nature and destroys his fellow creatures.”

 “From the point of view of an atheist, worship of a non-existent god is the most useless of all human activities, and therefore it is tolerated by a godless State, but from a Christian point of view it is the most vital function of man, and, because the worship of the Russian Church is centered round the Eucharist, this divinely-appointed medicine for sin and corruption, its continuous performance has had far-reaching and beneficial consequences for Russian Christians.”

“The atheists in Russia have been defeated because they met a force which is stronger than man.”