In the second largest Christian church in the world, the Eastern Orthodox Church (which we regard as the only true Church, given by our Lord Jesus Christ over 2,000 years ago to His disciples at Pentecost), with nearly half a billion baptized members of the faithful in over 60 countries (12 of which have Orthodox Christianity as the official religion), there is no “cult” about it. A cult is a small group whose religious views and practices are generally regarded as strange, and are usually directed towards a single human figure-head or object.
To call the Orthodox Church or any of its traditional parishes a “cult” in a country where it is not the official religion, and in fact has under 10% of its population among its membership such as the United States of America, would only make sense to someone who is completely naive, uninformed, uneducated, self-deluded, or misled. Orthodoxy has been in America as long as its faithful among the various ethnic groups constituting the earliest of its citizens have been here (i.e. the beginning, only 245 years ago).
How very unfortunate such self-delusion is over and against the growing throngs of Western converts to Orthodoxy because Orthodoxy offers real and true solutions to such delusion. On closer examination, a pattern emerges: Orthodoxy, which offers a real and true solution to self-delusion is easily labelled a cult by those who are in self-delusion. This cannot be allowed to go unnoticed, and taken as a proposition of truth which we have witnessed from relevant others recently, we might do good to notice something further about it. Taken as an act against the Church, or mere belief and practice for that matter, the pattern of behavior that emerges constitutes an all-too-common psychological weapon called “Gas-lighting,” the main weapon of what is commonly (and medically) called the Narcissistic Abuser Syndrome (not that we should subscribe to such arbitrary labels of things as automatically constituting for oneself that of “abuse” or not–we tend not hastily (or at all) to claim the requisite access to another’s relationship).
The gas-lighting narcissist (or “narc” as the medical community calls him or her) accuses the other and manipulates others into believing that the other and not themselves is the deviant, crazy, or somehow guilty party–and guilty of the very thing originally committed by the gas-lighting narcissist to provoke and enable exactly this sort of mind-heist. They do it out of an underlying perceived powerlessness (such as we have examined in previous articles) or lack of self-esteem, and usually to fend off the risk of losing the limelight or favor of others.
It is not random that I choose this subject and indeed that even we and many of our loved ones suffer from this psycho-spiritual malady: for it is just this sort of narcissism that afflicts the “free” and the “brave,” and it is gaslighting that they use to convince themselves they know best and are anything but self-deluded. It is this sort of anti-spiritual pride that afflicts this nation at present and much of the world (inasmuch as it is Americanized, which is to say, willingly co-opted by generic Western monoculture which long ago colonized the global rat-race at large).
Being pressed up against our perceived limits during the Covid-19 pandemic has only revealed this all the more. How many things can we blame Covid for, and for how long? That has been the name of the game at all levels of society of late. Now we have an excuse for anything, anytime.
And how did we so easily and in such vast magnitudes fall prey to this anti-spiritual ailment by which we find that pettily attacking each other and pampering ourselves amounts to much-needed “self-care.” The now-universal and most welcome and celebrated invasion of the oikos (i.e. the primary unit or home, which has long-since been replaced by “the social” as the center of all meaningful transactions of value along with protection and creation of our worlds) by “self-care” regimes both in and through the workplace and the marketplace attests to its status as a prime symptom of the problem.
Just look at any drug store magazine shelf lately. It is there writ large: “I’m Okay–You’re Okay” has been wholly usurped by “Of Course I’m okay–because (of course) I Self-Care.” There is never any “You’re” about it because the other is just an object to be manipulated to becoming impressed by my ceaseless self-care. Whole exercise regimes have been replaced in the work- and marketplaces with this notion, this requirement to be normal. It is almost as if the whole world is becoming California, with ubiquitous self-help courses that teach you how again to walk (as you have not done it before if you have not done it THIS way), or to move, or to breathe, or to McYoga, etc.
It is all of this, and “the Science” of all matters, that has usurped actual spirituality, actual struggling and co-struggling with the other, actual relationality, and ultimately authentic responsibility. And all of this gushy, mushy nothing-but-happiness, please, and right now, please, and Florida every year, please, etc. amount to THE COMPLETE OPPOSITE of the solution provided by the Orthodox Church to all self-delusion (indeed subject only to moth and rust).
One problem is that in usurping spirituality, the overall structure of spiritual experience, namely, love, is reduced to a mere psychophysical (i.e. vital) phenomenon. It is not. And although it is expressed in spontaneous psychophysical acts, love cuts through beyond mere feelings to its ground in the metaphysical domain. To confuse or feign replace the metaphysical with the vital domain or bodily sphere of being results in terrible mistakes. Love, a spiritual and thus metaphysical, emotional act and relational structure, is wholly confused, for instance, with sympathy, a mere vital or psychophysical act, or attempt to share another’s feeling, which often amounts to social affectation (shared by all animals?) at best. Love is thus wholly missed, being reduced to mere nostalgic or affected feeling and self-announcement of allegiance. The concern remains isolated to oneself, and there is never recognition of the other as such (and there is never any questioning).
Even sympathy itself is missed for some type of feigned identification with or imitation of the other’s feeling upon learning of a tragedy for instance, or reproduction of one’s own past feeling, or self-delusion that one feels as another. Empathy or co-feeling is better, as one truly attempts to feel-along-with the other. But the level of feeling is merely vital (i.e. psychophysical), whereas love opens out onto the spiritual dimension and therefore fully incorporates who one is in radical uniqueness. The person, beyond the merely human, is most profoundly spiritual, which means both immanent and transcendent, or given fully but beyond what aspects are discernible in awareness at once (i.e. revelation).
This means that spirituality or one’s transformation unto truth is truly a matter exclusively between oneself and God. And given the problem of self-referentiality — that I cannot without much struggle truly get at my “self” as such by myself, alone without totalizing contradictions — one’s true self can only be recovered and/or discovered by and for oneself by the infinite wisdom of a tradition of lived spiritual direction. Also, as “I” am not the foundation or basis of truth (unless I am to test everything by an infinite regress of doubt and settle for mere natural presupposition and other belief-posits), truth and our faith thereunto must open out upon an ever-greater, nay transcending, experience.
Faith itself is precisely one such experience. Yes, we have dogmatic theology in tradition transmitted from the ages, but also at the heart of faith one finds one’s absolute and thus unique and inexhaustibly rich experience. Experience beyond oneself, experience beyond others, the back-and-forth cacophony of the chatter of the world which goes everywhere and nowhere. Faith as the experience beyond our fragmented, finite limitations of whatever estimation, of the grounded source of all meaningful existence–beyond self-conception to a primordial or incomprehensibly intimate wellspring of all, beyond maieutics (and where earth as commonly mistaken in ecology as ground-in-itself, for that matter, “gaiaeutics,” if you will) of self-self (and any variation of such cancelling out the other, as in narcissism) and self-other to self-Other (which leads to seeing the Other/God/our Lord in all others).
And the most grounded tradition of the truth of all matters is for us the best preserved one from the ancient source (as giving by our Lord), and specifically the Russian Orthodox one, best preserved of late by the Church self-exiled to other lands during Communist rule and now the reunified Church Abroad and in the motherland. Everything else has gratuitously and excessively modernized beyond recognition and phylitized in self-deception unawares.
Thus, tracing out of the foregoing what consists for us as most dear, as the only necessity, the most precious and invaluable pearl, she also emerges in honest examination as the most responsible waypoint, as she alone (i.e. the Orthodox Church) precisely enables the greatest responsibility or moral ontology and fullest living orientation/faith. But how is this done aside from excessive concern about correctness and other blind leaps of legalism?
For one thing, her faithful proceed primarily within an orientation and scope of concern for struggling only about oneself and with oneself, my own shortcomings, my own missing of the mark, my own fallings into sins, my own giving in to my sensual and intellectual passions. We attend in criticism or judgement only to ourselves as there is no righteously appointed judge of others but God. I am the worst sinner of all and the most wretched among men.
I have sinned alone before you, sinned more than all, Christ the Savior – do not despise me.from the Great Penitential Canon of St. Andrew of Crete, Ode 3 (read in every Orthodox Church each evening of the first four days of Great Lent every year).
Given the unfathomable greatness and inconceivable magnitude and wonder of our Lord’s love for each and all, and His infinite and undeserved mercy for even the destitute and depraved, we cannot ever measure up for a commensurate recompense. Not in this lifetime, or a thousand lifetimes. But we shall not therefore give up, and we have the saints and martyrs and holy monks and nuns, priests and deacons, princes and princesses of the faithful of the Church as examples of never giving up.
For he who endureth to the end, the same shall be saved.St. Matthew 24:13
With this well-known line of wisdom offered by our Lord to His faithful the orthodox are set aside from the madness of the world, which portends all manner of meaningless and cruel doom. We do good to let this wisdom serve as a golden edict for our lives despite all of our struggles. We do good to listen to the Church and her Holy Fathers (who were not perfect but were able to find strength in their weakness: response-able) such as the Blessed Theophylact of Ochrid, who writes of this line in the context of the passage in the Gospel, relevant for our consideration here, the following:
Because of the burgeoning of iniquity stemming from the deceit of the [forces of] antichrist, men will become so savage that not even towards the closest to them will they preserve the milk of human kindness, but will betray each other. But he that endures patiently until the end, steadfastly withstanding and not giving in to the assaults brought upon him, he it is who will be saved as the proven and tested soldier.Explanation of the Gospels
Thus, by way of closing, in ceaseless prayer for others and oneself, in following St. Paul’s transmission of our Lord’s exhortation, and in following the Gospel transmission here by St. Matthew of our Lord’s very words enjoining us to dismiss the shock of the so-called abuse/victim structure of the ever increasingly more persecutory world by which we and even our closest loved ones today are so very afflicted, along with the pervasive attempt to integrate and recast everything in terms of self-care and its “latest” default agenda of things apparently recently discovered called “social justice” and “equity” (not home mortgage buying power but a presumed primary issue above all involving an all but “trifling” structure of human vs. human), we do good, nay best, to take everything that comes our way–and especially struggle, wounds, slaying–as what they are if we can only endure patiently, as Orthodox Christians: blessings turning us ever further toward and closer to God and the possibility one may after all trials in this life responsibly inherit His Kingdom.
+Tsar-Martyr Paul (Petrovich) I (murdered 1801)
✺ Holy Hierarch Sophronius the Patriarch of Jerusalem (638-644)
+ Holy Hierarch Euthymius, Archbishop of Novgorod († 1458)
Venerable Patrick the Confessor († 1933)
St Basil the new hiero-confessor († 1937)
Hieromartyr Pionius of Smyrna and those with him: Asclepiades, Macedonia, Linus, and Sabina († 250)
Venerable Sophronius, Recluse of the Kiev Caves († 13th century)
Holy Hierarch Sophronius the Bishop of Vratcha, Bulgaria († 1813)
Translation of the relics of the Martyr Epimachus of Pelusium
Venerable George of Mt Sinai