in the Areopagus
(The true position of the Orthodox Church regarding the profane culture)
Man is mortal. And this makes him selective. The clash between the
huge amounts of existing means of information and the brevity of available
time compels him to choose some instead of others. But, even if one
could suppose an infinity of times after which the man should finally
die, selection, that would no more appear so strict in the case of
quantity, should be kept as far as quality is concerned.
is so if we consider human life from the perspective of the Orthodox
faith that regards it as a permanent ascent towards the eschatological
perfection, under the conditions of a restored universe. This “selective
spirit” that we are talking about (which the Saint Fathers use
to call “right judgment”) is at its turn a fairly advanced
step in the process of improvement. This is so because it has already
supposed anterior experience of a correct and harmonious relation
with God, by accomplishing His commandments, by means of which man
receives the gift of discerning the good and the evil (Genesis 3,5).
This gift cannot be received against God’s will (Genesis 3,5).
However, as God’s image and semblance, man experiences the knowledge
of good and evil at an underlying level, which is obvious, at least
in the form of random sparks, in any of his activities. Therefore,
one can expose glints of such knowledge even in the customs of pagan
cultures. They stand for a further testimony of the Creator’s
perfection that is to be seen even in the least perfect types of His
creatures and despite their free abandon of the Source of their perfection.
The revelation of these samples of truth from pagan cultures in order
to transcend and transform them in awkward leads in to the Christian
message represents in fact an act of love. Saint Apostle Paul’s
lecture from the Areopagus offers us an illustration.
teachings, the Christian religion did not reject but it made use of
everything it might have employed from the pagan cultures, especially
the Greek and the Roman ones. The mythology of these peoples became
source of Christian symbols, which is to be seen very clearly in the
art of the catacombs. In the main, all the orthodox theology was built
upon the pagan Greek terminology. Authors such as Plato or Aristotle
were seen as having prepared the propagation of the Christian message,
smoothing out the minds to be ready to receive the good word on the
life to come, on virtues and imperfections, on the reward that is
to be given: happiness for the virtuous ones (these are the philosophers,
in Plato’s view) and torment for the lazy ones. That is why
they were represented on the mural paintings of several churches,
such as Basil the Blessed Church from Kremlin and others.
The theology must have a universal expression. It is not just by accident
that God placed the Fathers of the Church in a Greek context. The
need for transparency in philosophy and for depth in gnosis constrained
them to purify the language of the philosophers and render it sacred.
The Christian message – that includes but also transcends the
Jewish tradition – had to be given its all-embracing universal
The Areopagus, which Saint Paul preached in, hasn’t fallen.
It has just taken new forms that are maybe more subtle. Prompted by
Nietzsche’s words that the world has “buried its idols”,
the modern society replaced these idols with itself. Our modern world
turned from worshipping the rain or the sun – the natural forces,
and has focuses on the cultural ones. It feeds on the literary works
and the literary chimerical characters, which have assailed its lexis
and its value systems. Entire peoples lean on these characters and
works, as the earth rested upon the body of the legendary wheals.
such as “Apollinic and Dionysian” , the “Oedipus
complex” or expressions such as “Mephistophelean laughter”
or “rimbaldian attitude” and so on, encode artificially
the whole language of the modern and particularly the postmodern –
in the cultural meaning of the word – society. In order to understand
and make him understood, one must no more confine him to the comprehension
of everyday language but stands in great need of the understanding
of such symbols and “paroles” that constitute in fact
a meta-language accessible only to initiates. This situation is more
obvious in the case of the postmodern poetic works, in which the bookish
puts reality in the shade and stifles it, while quotations and puns
that are crowding the text - what we use to call intertextuality –
turn into a value criterion.
situation characterized the Athens in the days of Saint Paul. Everyone
quoted dramatic fragments or the poems then in fashion. Saint Paul
uses them in his sermon. We can speak in this respect too, of intertextualism
in Saint Paul’s case, in the sense given to the term by the
postmodern aesthetics. We can exemplify: Bad friendships corrupt good
habits (1 Cor 15,33) is a phrase taken from Meander’s comedy.
Admonishing the Cretans, the Apostle uses the poets Epimenide’s
words: Cretans are always lying; they are beasts, lazy bellies (Tit
1,12). In the famous sermon from the Areopagus, Paul quotes from the
Greek poet Aratos from Soloi. The last work was in fact a versified
astronomy handbook. It began with a hymn addressed to Zeus, and the
Apostle used one of its lines as a departure point to give a true
perspective of God: because we are His people (Book of Apostles, 17,28).
to the sanctuaries of some subtle idols to whom we sacrifice our whole
conscience and our entire freedom: this is, the culture and all its
forms. Our dear departed Stanescu used to write: Every hollow hides
a god. Just like in Saint Paul’s days, our Lord Jesus Christ
is still an unknown God of Whom we must inform the world. Just as
then, everybody… spends his time only by saying or listening
to something new (Book of Apostles, 17,21). Sitting in the heart of
the Areopagus that is the world culture, we have to know what to say,
in the same way in which Saint Paul spoke to the Greeks, a people
of homosexuals: People… I see you are very pious in every possible
way since wandering through your city – the history of the world
culture – I have also found an altar on which it is written:
“To the unknown God”. This God Whom you worship without
knowing Him is the God I’m telling you about. (Book of Apostles,
of the inquisitions is unfamiliar to the Orthodoxy. This may constitute
the outset from the difference between Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism.
The Orthodoxy is not afraid of discovering compromising commentaries
standing against it, and it doesn’t forbid the believers to
study even those sources that are hostile to it.
is so (and we have here an example of involuntary truth, belonging
to Leonardo da Vinci) the more you know the more you love. For one
who looks for blessing the Only God, even the pagan writings may be
a source of such a blessing. We remind of the sorcerer Balaam who,
getting paid for cursing the people of Israel, instead of cursing
he blessed them (Numbers 22,23; Joshua 13,22, 24,10). In the same
way, every work of pagan origin containing obvious anti-Christian
message may be converted into a source of blessing. In jest or jesting
apart the Christian has to know how to compel the devils so to make
them praise God. The Orthodox tradition relates fascinating anecdotes
extracted from the lives of the Saints, such as the case of Saint
John of Novgorod who flied on the back of the devil so far as Jerusalem
in order to pray at the Tomb of our Lord. There are many other such
people believe that they are able to read the writings of the Fathers
of the Church and they have never opened any novel. Giving up to the
reading of novels should not be done by command, since there is no
such commandment. Shortly we must read as many novels as to be fed
up with reading them. This is why it is told that even the praised
Moses, on account of whose wisdom his name was great among men, trained
his mind at first with the Egyptian knowledge and only afterwards
did he set out contemplating Who is. Moreover we are told of Daniel
who learnt the knowledge of the Chaldeans in Babylon and only afterwards
did he draw himself up to the Divine lessons.
advice was left to the youth not just by anybody but by the great
ascetic man and Father of the Church Saint Basil the Great. As for
St Gregory the Theologian it is told that “noticing that Apolinary
[the heretic] wrote many volumes in lines of different feet, by means
of which he succeeded in bringing many people in his heresy, he considered
using his leisure time… to write fragments in lines”.
We shall see presently the way in which this blessed man eluded the
excessive law of the tyrant (Julian) that forbade Christians to draw
on the profane science. He began to compose at his turn epic, iambic
or elegiac lines, of three or different feet and of various forms,
the type of which was used in tragedies or in comedies. At the end,
there was no literary from that had not been used in his books. Obviously
he used all these literary forms in pious purposes, either by praising
the virtues or the corporal and spiritual purity or by composing theological
treatises and lyric prayers. Moreover, as it is proper, he kept clear
of all the licentiousness and the wantonness that are to be found
in myths and the legends about the miracles of pagan gods. Yet he
succeed in giving Christians some learning full of wisdom, therefore
the insane law of the faithless emperor, who eyed hostilely the education
of the Christians, didn’t reach its aim.
It is sound that common human feelings should be educated also by
means of reading proper laic books. They are most suitable for the
condition of any human being at the beginning of the spiritual life.
They contain the necessary dose of sentimentality helpful for the
soul that is still under the control of passions. Not everyone can
read on one occasion the writings of the Fathers of the Church and
not be harmed by the devil. By taking on an ascetic life that surpasses
his powers, one falls either in harmful vanity or in despair, realizing
that he can’t accomplish all that he is reading about. In this
way not only do many people disturb heir personal life but also they
perturb the life of their dear ones.
a well-known fact that the Saints from Optino recommended that laics
should listen initially to symphony music to get their souls sharpened.
It is only the one who received the gift of praying who can be aware
of the true meaning of not reading poems and novels anymore. The others
do it either because of laziness or by conceit, judging themselves
more advanced in the spiritual life than they actually are. It is
rather an excuse for their own lack of education and idleness since
this sort of people don’t read laic books but they also ignore
the sacred ones, professing that “they pray”. Laics living
in the human society should educate themselves and their children
so they shouldn’t be a reason of obstruction and of trouble
for the weak ones. But if they wish to consecrate their life to praying
they should go into a monastery since the true monks no more need
to read laic books. If they do it however, it is only in special cases,
to help others. They do it with missionary and not spiritual purposes.
times I would recommend – Saint Basil the Great is writing,
addressing the young – that you should get guidance and leave
no stone unmoved – as the proverb tells – if this is of
any help. The stones, which the Saint refers to, are obviously the
laic arts and sciences. For the soul nourishing of them, they create
a sight that is by no means indecent since they may be compared to
the leaves of the fruit-bearing tree, while the fruit means the truth,
or Christ, Whom we must bear in our hearts before anything else.
Certainly, the Christian message needs no enhancement since it expresses
the plenitude. Yet it needs to be explained and spread abroad. In
this respect, the works of many laic and pagan authors convey exemplarily
the tragedy of man’s seclusion from God. They represent that
quest of the human soul to rest in Him, according to Blessed Augustine’s
words at the beginning of his Confessions. Most people find themselves
at this primitive stage of the quest. Finding out the guide marks
they use in their pursuit our mutual understanding easier. Christ
is the door (St. John, 10,9) and whoever enters Him will be saved.
Those people still fascinated by artistic works resemble the babies
stretching their little hands towards the handle of the door without
being able to reach it. This is so since the people fascinated by
art have the psychology of the child who claims and cries over a broken
cup and turns down any offer of a new one. When we want to replace
the broken cup by a new one, we must set out by explaining the child
the reason of the semblance between the two cups and show him the
advantages of the new one. Only after should we try to convince him
that the old cup was actually a very old and ugly one, and he is told
“Good job!” since he understood. We have to understand
culture in a similar way, which, despite many good points, is saturated
with pagan and primitive elements. We have to replace it with which
is the crowing of all the knowledge, that is Christ’s learning.
We have to provide evidence for a truth that is in fact plain: that
crediting Dante or Eminescu rather than Jesus Christ doesn’t
presume a particular intellectual discretion.
the particular circumstances of the nowadays-cultural society in which
cultural patterns have overshadowed the horizon of the authentic spirituality,
the use of the biblical terminology proves mostly ineffective. It
is either unknown purely and simply or – which is worse –
catastrophically distorted by the atheist and the heretic propaganda.
Two thousand years later, one can hear of Christianity everywhere
and we have even Christian-democratic political parties. But if he
wants to make himself understood, the Orthodox preacher must resort
to the methods of the apologists from the first centuries who had
to teach amidst heathens. It works well for a Christian to repeat
more often Saint Paul’s retort from the Aeropagus: as one of
your poets said (The Book of Apostles, 17,28).
is no doubt that in the days of Saint Paul or even Saint Basil the
Great – the latter being the one who advised the young not to
hold back from reading those writings of pagan poets they could properly
use – the laic literature didn’t count yet thousands and
thousands of worthless productions, as it does nowadays. It is not
idle talk when Saint Theophan the closed one, who lived one hundred
years ago, being asked by a woman if she was allowed to read laic
writings, he answered: I can hardly whisper that the answer is yes,
you are. But you should not read much and without discernment: do
not litter your fair mind. It is certain that the great scholar and
the ascetic hierarch Theophan was well acquainted to saint Basil’s
works and their views concerning the reading of laic books are similar.
The two hierarchs simply refer to two different types of laic literature:
the Greek one – in the days of saint Basil’s – next
to the cheap French novels, which began to be in fashion at the end
of the last century.
Finally, if the atheists read the books of the Fathers of the Church
in order to be able to fight against the Church, why shouldn’t
we read some of their books to be able to convince the atheists and
the heretics? They aimed at doing harm whereas we wish to do well.
God help us!
should be so much the more since the fight against the atheism seems
to have ended. The fight against polytheism is by far more dangerous
and difficult, since it implies struggling against all the demons
that were allowed to invade our world and our lives.
do not cut your hand or your foot
by mistake or on purpose.
At once a god will be raised in the wound,
as it is everywhere, always,
they will set a god there
to be worshipped since he
protects everything that parts with the self.
Look after, you fighter, not to be deprived of your eye,
because they will bring and raise
a god in tour eye socket
and he will remain there, like a stone, while we
will be raising our souls and praise him.
And even you, you will turn your soul towards him
and you will worship him as you do with the strangers.
Translated from Romanian by Hopartean Andreea