March 16 will mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Orthodox Youth Movement of the Patriarchate of Antioch. This week, I will post in installments a translation of an explanation of the Movement's principles written by the future Metropolitan Georges Khodr in 1950. Today, the introduction. The original can be found here.
An Explanation of the Principles of the Movement
An Explanation of the Principles of the Movement
Orthodox Christians are in need of renewal. Our life has become stagnant and we have become estranged from Jesus' message, lost in the shadows, not seeing God and not feeling His impact on existence, such that the hearts of some have started to long for the springs of religious life to burst open within the Church, which we hope will flow upon us in abundance, so that every person will be quenched and death will cease.
People look at the Church from outside and it appears to them as a worn-out building, that only has to go extinct and collapse in the consciousness of the time. The number of those who look at only the exterior of the Church and despair has multiplied, but the faithful hope for salvation from the cornerstone of the Church. The edifice must be raised, because the foundation is still standing and because humankind, who have become estranged from the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, will return to her. Here today she begins, through the youth, to build herself up upon the cornerstone, so that she may construct an eternal building.
The Basis of Reform
Some people who care about what they call "sectarian concerns" call for reform, but they do not understand the nature of the malady and they fail in treating it.
There are those who say that the Church is in need of wealth and political influence. This is the party among whom politics and commerce has overwhelmed religious thinking. They have a distorted understanding of Orthodoxy and remain outside the struggle between stagnation and life.
There are those who look closely at the state of the Church, but they examine it with a bodily eye and seek the establishment of various institutions of the Church or of the community. However, their zeal does not go beyond making the demand, when they are not using destructive, negative criticism or not going beyond making superficial repairs.
It has not occurred to these people that the edifice is in need of profound, comprehensive, overall reform and that the our situation has stayed this way because those who are occupied with the affairs of the Church have not thought about treating the religious issue from the foundation, and so they have not entered into the heart of the question and have not dared to raise dangerous issues in a clear and decisive manner, even though the future of Orthodoxy in the Middle East depends on solving them.
In fact, if we want to understand the current state of Orthodoxy in order to prepare a worthy future for it, we must take a profound look at the essence of the Orthodox Church and make a thorough study of her principles. In this way we can prove that her current decline is not a result of her principles being corrupt, but rather a result of the corruption of our own morals. The Church forever suffers from her children and the Spirit is forever the great victim of history. Revival will come about through us if we are faithful to the Church.
Introducing Christians to Christianity
Our crisis is a crisis of religious thought in the entire world, and so if our goal is to treat the issue of the Church in our country, we must treat the crisis in which Christianity finds itself in the present world. It is nothing other than the separation of humanity and of civilization from God, a separation that was generated by modern materialism and all its manifestations in philosophy, art, morals, and social situations.
Global civilization has become distorted in its latest stage by being cut off from its Christian foundations. The basic dilemma in the world in which we exist is the dilemma of returning humankind, in our eternal essence shaped in the image and likeness of God, through returning humankind to the sources of life. We know that there is no end to the possibilities of renewal and of our returning to the Spirit and His freedom. The philosopher Berdayev was right when he said, "There can be no renewal within humanity except through Christianity." This is the dilemma that is raised by all religious consciousness. It is not enough to be a Christian just having it recorded on your identity card. This is a dilemma that we cannot be content to stand before in idle confusion. Rather, we must confront it in order to undertake the serious endeavor in modern history-- "introducing Christians to Christianity."
We strive to understand Christianity, to create a sound understanding of humanity, of existence and of ourselves through Christ. That we may spread this Christian understanding of existence, we pray and we partake together in Christ's holy mysteries so that our spiritual understanding may come as the result of common work in prayer and constant meditation on God's heavenly truth. At that point, our love for the children of God and the children of mankind will become a palpable social reality. At that point, our divinized intellect will produce a transfigured culture and history and God will become the One who is in us, all in all.
The Orthodox Youth Movement and Its Principles
For the sake of all this, our Movement, the Orthodox Youth Movement, was formed on the basis of the following six principles, which this study seeks to explain:
1. The Orthodox Youth Movement is a spiritual movement that calls all the children of the Orthodox Church to religious, moral, cultural, and social revival.
2. The Movement believes that religious and moral revival is based on following religious duties and on knowledge of the Church's teachings. For this reason, it strives to spread these teachings and to strengthen the Christian faith among the people.
3. The Movement strives to create an Orthodox culture animated by the spirit of the Church.
4. The Movement treats social issues through Christian principles.
5. The Movement rejects any sectarian prejudice, but it considers holding fast to Orthodox principles to be a basic condition for strengthening religious life and for creating bonds of brotherhood with the other Christian churches.
6. The movement is in contact with the international Orthodox current and follows the teachings of the universal Orthodox Church and her tradition, even as it contributes to her ecumenical development and humanitarian mission.
It must be mentioned that these exact principles were not expressed in the above form until a year and a half after the establishment of the Movement on March 16, 1942. These principles point to the basic plan in forming the Movement, without being absolutely comprehensive. This is because it is a living, Christian movement and it is not defined our comprehended by analogy to all living things, but rather one lives it and knows it from within. There is an understanding of the Movement that is not complete in the way the understanding of a secret is complete. Everything that has been or will be said about it, even all the works it undertakes, is but an incomplete, external expression of the source upon which we have drawn. For this reason, language does not lead to understanding our path. It is only a sign along a path that can only be ascertained through love. These pages are nothing but an attempt to put forward principles that were never codified or set in stone. They are one of many possible attempts to expound on the theological basis of the revival in Orthodoxy today.
Then also, some of the opinions that are put forward in this study should be attributed to the author and must be looked at as unofficial opinions, to which the consciousness of the Movement does not constrain its free laborers. This is especially true in the case of certain theories connected to what we have called Christian culture, the issue of society, and the unity of the Church, because our Movement believes in freedom and does not have any set teaching on the whole of Christianity and of our particular understanding of the spiritual revival and its means. However, each of us understands the revival according to his own spiritual formation and his particular intellectual fabric. Therefore, some of the opinions that I attribute to the Orthodox Movement express my own understanding of its spiritual reality and all adhere to it in this manner, as all who will come must adhere to it, because our Movement does not have any unified expression of principles, and for this reason I call on the reader to not interpret our Movement as a sect based on the text of this study, as one might interpret settled law. However, he will be faithful to the spirit of these lines if he is able to remain above them and to have the consciousness of the revival, about which I have written.
Attaining this consciousness requires arduous intellectual effort, striving against the self, and purification of the heart. Our Movement is a light that does not appear to someone except after toil, long vigil, prayer, suffering, and illumination. This is because they are a way of opening to the unseen world and an existential sense of it. Uncovering the unseen requires divinely being raised up and going down deeply, lifting the veil of time and place, a complete and painful stripping away of everything that hinders the soul from attachment to the heavenly, luminous truth.
This religious profundity is brought to many by this living group of people with whom I work, and I do not mean only the leaders of the Movement, but also those members who strive to bring quiet and to give calmness. In this publication, I am indebted to all of them and to some of the people whom God has placed along the path of my life who serve Him in spirit and in truth. These lines come out of the wonderful, holy retreats that brought us together before heaven and from those faces that have reflected their interior light.
Tripoli, September 1974 - Paris, 13 February, 1950