Why is Orthodox Christianity Incompatible with Modernism?

What is modernism? Can Orthodoxy be combined with modernism? "Modernism" means "renewal." Modernism, as a constant revision of the spiritual values of the Church, is based on false psychological and ecclesiological attitudes. The word "modernity" or "renewal" itself already implies a certain concept, namely, that the Church is a developing and evolving organism in which the old and obsolete must die off and be replaced by the new and viable. This theory of an evolving Church leads to the destruction of the very notion of the Church as the fullness of Revelation, identical with itself in all historical times. The theory of evolution distorts Orthodox anthropology; it presents man as a historically evolving being who outgrows previous, past religious information and conceptions, and needs new, deeper and more appropriate concepts for his time. Here Revelation itself must evolve, and the future must be presented as the possibility of new religious discoveries. Religion gets a strange resemblance and analogy to scientific hypotheses, which, as knowledge accumulates, improve and change, that is, truth for modernists becomes a relativistic concept. Then the question becomes unclear: which Church do we believe in, the Church of the present or the Church of the future? And what do the dogmas represent, the consciousness of the Church, or a stage of human development?

It seems to us that modernism is one of the consequences of the confusion and displacement of the two plans or two spheres of human knowledge: the spiritual and the mental. Questions concerning the life and conduct of the spirit are dealt with on the level of the soul. Revelation is perceived through the prism of the soul; if the should is confused what seems spiritual is seen not as supremely beautiful, but earthly beautiful, not sublime, but capable of eliciting delight, not profound, but colorful. The purification of the soul then is presented, not as a victory of mind and will by means of grace over passions, but as a catharsis of drama, that is, as a deeply contrasting experience. It requires an effect that entails not peace and peace of mind, but mental agitation and affectivity. True spiritual life is deep but simple. Modernism is alien to this simplicity (although there may be an artificial simplification as one of its techniques). The spiritual life is not a complex and colorful mosaic of feelings, nor waves of emotions, although in some cases, especially at critical times in a person's life, repentance can become emotional. Spiritual life is inherently quiet and clear, and this quietness is perceived by modernists as something lifeless. The expression "sleeping East" is common among them; for them the life of the spirit is outwardly dynamic, so the modernist usually looks at monasticism as spiritual egocentrism. Modernists invoke the words of Scripture, "I am always creating new things", to justify their desire to turn the Church into a testing ground for new perfections, discoveries and creative ideas, which for the believer seem either the impertinence of ignorance or a childish contrivance; "always new" not in the sense of this world, but in the Holy Spirit, in the experience of the human soul of grace in new illuminations. Here on earth everything is old; ancient truth and ancient delusions.

Modernism is foreign to the idea of synodality. Church symbols unite Christians in one spiritual guidance, in one language of the Church. Modernists seek to replace the rites as the sign system of the Church, figuratively to introduce their own abracadabra into the language of the Church. In this sense, modernism is a separation of the faithful in temple prayer, a centrifugal phenomenon. Modernists do not know or do not understand that symbols, unlike other representational means of human language, are not composed, but exist as a given in human thinking; microcosmos in macrocosmos. A symbol is evidence that the visible world in relation to the invisible world is a kind of similarity, as a creation of a single beginning. Modernists replace symbols with symbols composed by them, or taken from the mental realm, literature, art, philosophy, science, with metaphors, emblems, poetic allegories, etc. They say that the ancient language is incomprehensible to their contemporaries and it is necessary to find other, more accessible means of expression. Here is profanation: the mystery will always remain incomprehensible, no matter what verbal interpretations we subject it to. The mystery is not revealed in terms of vocabulary semantics, it is revealed as one becomes spiritually prepared. Form is related to content; Revelation itself gives birth to form. As the form changes, the content changes.

Rationalism in religion is the desire to abolish the phenomenon of faith as the inner spiritual possibilities of divine communion, to replace mind (nous) with reason (ratsio), which wants to usurp the place of spirit: the limited wants to define the limitless. This is where religion, as the mysterious communion of the spirit with the Deity, is usually replaced by philosophy and flat moralization.

The rites and rituals of the Church are saturated with symbolic and spiritual content, in which the soul must be included, then it receives mystical information, not rational knowledge, but cleansing and spiritual power.

Rite and ritual, because of their depth, cannot be understood and exhausted through words. Even if a rite could be taken apart and described historically, linguistically, and psychologically, its essence would still remain a mystery, incomprehensible to the naked mind. The rite can be compared to the riverbed, and its flow to grace, which, communicating with the soul, makes man a new creation.

There is another kind of modernism, a false mysticism that wants to "renew" spirituality itself. Man feels himself to be a medium of unknown forces, which he perceives as an apparition of angels or an "outpouring" of the Holy Spirit. Such modernism takes the form not of a theatricality that seeks effects, nor of a flat rationalism that wants to place divine truths below the human intellect, but of occultism. These modernists want to "deepen" the mysticism of the Church, but in fact substitute it for demonism. An illustration of this is the "icons" painted by Vrubel and Dali, from which metaphysical darkness oozes tangibly to the soul of the believer.

Modernists say that it is necessary to follow time in order to be understood by people. But where does humanity go and where does time go?

The Church must preserve its eternal values from the entropy of time, that is, to rise above it. It is naive to think that if we turn mystery into axiom and mysticism into philosophy, we can make at least one person religious. What attracts the soul to Christianity is the grace of God, and the soul feels Christianity not as a code of conduct or the sum of a rationalized theology that wants to prove that the existence of God is as obvious as two times two is four, but as a mystery to be sought, cherished, and kept.

There is another kind of modernist that we do not even want to talk about: they are modernists who are pragmatists. They are interested in the number of believers visiting the temples, an arithmetic number for the sake of which they are ready to turn the Church into a concert hall, a political podium or a spiritualistic circle, that is, to work for all tastes, as long as the ship is full of passengers, and where this ship sails, they do not think; this question is indifferent to them.

Christ said: "He who is of the truth listens to my voice.” What leads people to the Church is the voice of truth that sounds in their heart. Modernism usually adopts the concepts and notions of worldly culture and civilization, that is, it likens the Church to the world which, in the words of the Savior, "lies in evil.”

Recently, another branch of modernism, religious eclecticism, has blossomed with the lush "flowers of evil”. Modernists of this persuasion do not directly claim to be teachers of the Church; on the contrary, they call themselves mere disciples, but it turns out that they are disciples not of Orthodoxy, but of all religions and philosophical systems. They believe that one can and should take the best from other religions and enrich the Church with it. These people, having visited non-Orthodox and non-Orthodox congregations, are fired up with the desire to introduce into Orthodoxy that which appeals to their senses and strikes their fancy. They claim that these rites and rituals have also crystallized the spiritual experience of centuries and contain deep meaning. They do not see the Orthodox Church as an organism where a violently introduced foreign body will cause trauma and then be rejected by the living body, or remain in it, oppressing and infecting it.

We agree that these rituals and rites have their own information embedded in them and reflect the religious experience of these communities. But what is the nature of the eclectic theosophical experience? The prophets revealed that "the gods of the pagans are demons," the apostles commanded not to drink from the demonic cup. The Orthodox Church is called Orthodox precisely because it preserves the purity of dogmatic information and gracious spiritual experience.

Usually these modernists protest when they are compared to theosophists; they say they believe in the One Church as the fullness of truth, but, recognizing the partiality of truth in other religions, consider it possible to borrow their achievements, if only on the part of form.

They like the ecstasy of the Pentecostals, the Muslim namaz, the theatrical performances of the Hindus which resemble mystery, the ritual melodies of the Krishnas, the occult symbolism of the Rosicrucians, the street marches of the Salvation Army, etc. They believe that it is unwise to neglect such a rich arsenal of means of influence. However, such borrowings are not harmless cosmetics, they carry a danger: they will create channels through which spiritual lies will penetrate, as it were, trickle into the Church.

The Bible describes an incident in the life of the prophet Elisha. The city of Samaria was surrounded by Syrian troops; a famine began to break out in the city, and the inhabitants began to gather grass to make food for themselves. A man saw an exotic plant that looked like ivy by the city wall, which he did not know; he liked the look of it, so he picked it and threw it into the cauldron with the other herbs.

When the herbs boiled and the people began to scoop out of the cauldron and eat the food, they felt pain; the food had turned into poison. "Man of God, death is in the cauldron," they cried out to the prophet, begging him for help. One unfamiliar plant poisoned the food.

Some people think that dogma is eternal and that rituals can be changed. However, the Bible tells us otherwise. Moses at Sinai received not only Revelation in the form of law and dogmatic doctrine: he was given the image of the tabernacle, the Old Testament Church, a plan of it, and even an indication of the materials and all the subjects of worship. As the Old Testament was revealed in the New Testament, so the symbols of the Old Testament temple, in their prophetic meaning, received mystical revelation and higher content in the New Testament Church.

Revelation is also at the origin of Orthodox worship. According to tradition, the liturgy was given by Christ himself to the apostle James, the first bishop of Jerusalem; and the further kinds of liturgy were an abridgement of this rite also by the Revelation of God. Man's creativity is based on his emotional perception and the power of imagination, or the capacity for rational simulations, while religious realities belong to another world, the spiritual world, and are apprehended in another way, through mystical contemplation.

We will end where we began: the modernists, on the basis of mental feelings, sometimes poetic and fervent, but not purified of passion and affectivity, want to evaluate the world of spiritual phenomena. It is like trying to grasp human thought through the touch. Instead of the spiritual world, they compose their own fantasy world, a world of illusion, which means a lie.

While the spiritual world can be touched only through repentance and struggle with passions, through Orthodox mysticism and asceticism. And he who sees even the vague outlines of this world will stop in amazement before its beauty.

Source: Derzava (Russian)