I refrained from commenting on Msgr. Charles Pope’s much-discussed article from the National Catholic Register, “Comfort Catholicism Has To Go; It Is Time to Prepare for Persecution,” mainly because I didn’t think there was much I could constructively add to it. As most of you who have read me for some time know by now, I am fully convinced that, barring a miracle, my children will be compelled to choose between apostasy or persecution—up to and including martyrdom—in their respective lifetimes. I don’t say that flippantly; the very thought fills me with horror. It is one thing to expect and prepare for that great choice in one’s own life. It is something else altogether to contemplate those we love the most having to experience it. Should I be “off” in my timeline and the harsh persecution Msgr. Pope and many others see on the horizon arrives during my days on this earth, I pray that my fellow faithful and myself will have the fortitude to choose Christ above all of the temptations of this world, but that is not something anybody can predict. If the last 2,000 years provides any basis for predicting the future, the chances are painfully high that a great many Christians—Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant—will depart from their Father’s house at the cost of their very souls.
Disappointing, then, that I should come across a statement on the Ad Orientem web-log where a commenter, an Orthodox Christian named Gregory Manning, could write the following:
[W]e [Eastern Orthodox] have one “advantage” [regarding persecution]. Irrespective of how much many of us actually know about the actual practice of asceticism (as opposed to giving it lip service), many Orthodox understand that it is a requisite factor in living the Christian life. They may not like it in practice but the principle isn’t foreign to them. One’s ability to endure the “suffering” inherent in the ascetic life serves at least to prepare one for the suffering of the age we now find ourselves in and which the good Bishop has realized is upon his own flock. If I may use my extensive family as an example (some “Catholic” and the rest Protestant), the very idea of anything resembling the discomfort inherent in an ascetic life is anathema. To a “man”, they firmly believe that God just wants us all to be happy-however each person understands that. The suffering which accompanies persecution will devastate them as it will the Bishop’s flock and our own co-believers who have avoided as much spiritual heavy-lifting as possible.
Better late than never but the Bishop has an uphill battle trying to put the toothpaste back in the tube. Once you’ve persuaded your people to adopt and get used to living out indulgent and moralistically relative lives it’s going to be nearly impossible to change course.
Don’t believe the hype. Orthodox Christians, particularly those living in the West, are no less bourgeois, hedonistic, relativistic, and thin-skinned on average than Catholics and Protestants. Like all Christian communions living under the horizon of secular liberalism, Orthodoxy has been made into a “private affair,” a “personal expression” of spirituality subject to individual preference. While Orthodox spirituality does place a heavy emphasis on the ascetic life, so does Catholic spirituality. Regardless of whether or not Orthodoxy does a better job promoting this ascetical aspect more than Catholicism, the sad reality is that they are no better prepared for persecution in the West than any other Christian group. Granted, Catholics ought to be better prepared; we have less of an excuse than Protestants, many of whom have been misled by a belief in a “one time, last time” profession of faith which serves as a one-way ticket to Heaven. However, don’t expect the Orthodox to be standing on the front lines holding up icons while Catholics cower down at the pub, waiting for the whole thing to blow over.
If Orthodox living in the West have any advantage over Catholics when it comes to persecution, it lies in the fact that many have no idea who they even are. Remember: There are more Catholics in the Archdiocese of Chicago than there are Eastern Orthodox in the United States. For those who seek to destroy the last remnants of Christendom, Catholicism, not Orthodoxy, is the most savory target. Already we have seen how Catholic hospitals, charities, and educational institutions have been attacked by militant liberals seeking to bring the Church under their thumb. High-profile Protestant groups have been—and shall remain—ripe for assault as well, far more than the Orthodox. The only question really is how far will the various Protestants sects go to in attempting to square their amorphous beliefs with the Zeitgeist. I have to think at some point, many will stand up and say, “Enough is enough!”
I make mention of this not to cast aspersions upon the Orthodox but to call attention to the fact that none of us will escape the coming persecution even if some of us will be able to delay its effects. Moreover, no Christian communion should assume that it will automatically endure while all others falter. Now is the time to implore our Lord Jesus Christ for the strength to stand firm for Him. Catholics and Orthodox alike should implore the Blessed Virgin Mary for her protection and look to the lives of the martyrs for inspiration in these dark times. It would be a joyous thing indeed if all Christians in the West were united together in the one Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church of God so that we might better buildup and encourage one another while receiving sustenance from one Chalice containing the salvific Body and Blood of Christ. In the meantime, may all find the courage they need to resist apostasy and stand as witnesses to the truth amidst a secular storm of lies, hatred, and violence.