A Brief Remark on an Ongoing Eastern Myth

Please pardon me if I should sound like a broken record, but certain discussions in “Eastern Orthodox land” (blogs, social media, streaming radio) about Orthodoxy’s capacity to “transcend” or “stand against” (post)modernity prompt me to repeat that Orthodoxy is eastern in historic geography alone; it is not free from, nor beyond, Western culture. Although contemporary Western historians pay little mind to the direct contribution Byzantium made to the advent of the Italian Renaissance and classical studies, First, Second, and—much later—Third Rome are all built out of materials supplied by Athens and Jerusalem. And as history ambled ahead, Eastern and Western Christendom found themselves confronting the same spiritual and intellectual pathologies (albeit to different degrees), many of which continue to haunt the world to this very day.

It is convenient, and ahistorical, for the Orthodox to blame the amorphous “West” for, well, everything or to posit that the “pure Christian East” and its “authentic spirituality, theology, and liturgy” would have remained “pure” had it not been for the incursion of “Western ideas” starting in the 1500s (or some other arbitrary point in history). Although historic Eastern Orthodox powers such as Russia had a longstanding antagonistic relationship toward the (geographic) West, it was never “free” of Western currents of thought, nor somehow nourished by a “”pristine Byzantinism” which itself was unmoored from the “rationalism” which, allegedly, was an exclusively “Latin thing.” 20th Century Orthodox could write all day about the need for a “neo-Patristic synthesis” or a “return to the sources,” but let’s not forget that there is something genuinely Western (and modern) about such calls, whether certain Orthodox are willing to acknowledge it or not.

Of course, authentic Apostolic Christianity will always stand against destructive ideologies and constructs such as liberalism, historicism, positivism, nihilism, and so forth. The Gospel cannot be reduced to a “worldview” and “modern man” no less than “ancient man” will never need anything greater in life than God. If Eastern Orthodoxy—particularly the minority of Orthodox living in the (geographic) West—have any hope of enlightening others to the truth and necessity of Salvation, then it will have to be accomplished without recourse to grand cultural myths which only serve to reinforce emptyheaded triumphalism.

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6 comments

  1. I think you know that I am not persuaded, as you are, that liberalism is a bad thing, but aside from this reservation, and maybe adding to it a note about how none of us can really escape historicism, positivism, and nihilism in the modern age –not totally, at any rate– I would offer, even shout, a hearty Amen to this.

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