By Walt Garlington for the Saker Blog
It is often claimed that the United States is a Christian country (the most Christian country, according to some), but the development of Christian culture within that union of States is in sharp contrast to what one finds in the history of Orthodox countries.
This distinction is shown with remarkable clarity in the life of the Holy Prince Andrew Bogoliubsky (‘God-loving’) of Vladimir (+1174). In his life one sees a conscious, lifelong effort to benefit his people both physically and spiritually:
‘The chronicles also stress Saint Andrew’s peace-making activity, a rare trait among the princes and military commanders of those harsh times. The combination of military valor with love for peace and mercy, of great humility with indomitable zeal for the Church were present in Prince Andrew in the highest degree. A responsible master of the land, and a constant coworker in the city construction and church building activity of Yurii Dolgoruky, he built with his father: Moscow (1147), Iuriev-Polsk (1152), Dmitrov (1154), and he also adorned the cities of Rostov, Suzdal’, and Vladimir with churches. In 1162 Saint Andrew could say with satisfaction, “I have built up white Rus with cities and settlements, and have rendered it with much populace.”
‘ . . .
‘Thirty churches were built by Prince Andrew during the years of his rule. The finest of them is the Dormition cathedral. The richness and splendor of the church helped to spread Orthodoxy among the surrounding peoples and foreign merchants. Saint Andrew had directed that all travellers, whether Latins or pagans, were to be led into the churches he built and to have “true Christianity” pointed out to them. The chronicler writes: “Both Bulgars, and Jews, and every sort of common person, beholding the glory of God and churchly adornment, came to be baptized.”
‘ . . .
‘The liturgical activity of Saint Andrew was multi-faceted and fruitful. In 1162 the Lord granted the holy prince a great solace: in Rostov there was discovered the relics of Rostov saints — the holy hierarchs Isaiah and Leontius. The glorification of these Rostov saints throughout all the Church took place somewhat later, but Saint Andrew initiated their national veneration. In 1164 the military forces of Saint Andrew crushed their long-time enemy, the Volga Bulgars. The victories of the Orthodox nation were marked by a blossoming of liturgical creativity within the Russian Church.
‘In this same year of 1164, at the initiative of Saint Andrew, the Church established the Feast of the All-Merciful Savior and the Most Holy Theotokos on August 1 (venerated by the Russian people as “Savior of the First Honey”), in memory of the Baptism of Rus by holy Equal of the Apostles Vladimir and in memory of the victory over the Bulgars in 1164. The Feast of the Protection of the Mother of God on October 1 embodied in liturgical forms the faith of the holy prince and all the Orthodox nation in the acceptance by the Mother of God of Holy Rus beneath Her omophorion. The Protection of the Theotokos became one of the most beloved of Russian Church Feasts. The Protection is a Russian national holiday, unknown to the Latin West. It is a liturgical continuation and creative development of theological ideas inherent to the Feast of the Placing of the Robe of the Mother of God on July 2.
‘The first church consecrated to the new Feast was the Protection church at Nerla (1165), a remarkable monument of Russian Church architecture, built by the master artisans of Saint Andrew at the head-waters of the River Nerla, so that the prince could always see it from a window of his Bogoliubov garret. . . .’
These accomplishments of St Andrew (they are not all named) occurred in Russia less than 200 years after she was baptized with the Holy Great Prince Vladimir in 988. It is a remarkable development, from the violence and dissipation of a heathen people to the peaceful constructiveness of Orthodox culture.
What, then, of the United States in the first 186 years after her independence from Great Britain? Did the years 1776-1962 bring along with them any great developments in Christian architecture, liturgical developments, holy days, the discovery of saints, and the like?
The answer is an emphatic No, which is quite ironic considering that the U.S. did not, like Russia, begin their lives as non-Christian nations. They all claimed in some way to be Christians of some kind or another. One would expect that given their long experience with Christianity, their incarnation of a vibrant Christian culture in their first two centuries of existence would overshadow what Russia was able to accomplish in a similar time frame.
But the opposite has happened. Christianity and its public, communal manifestations have decayed considerably. The earlier pretty cathedrals have given way to hideous modernism (see the Wayfarers Chapel); and even the better designed Washington National Cathedral is marred by a sculpture of Darth Vader. So sparse is beautiful church architecture in the States that a cathedral of the Orthodox Church, a faith relatively new to the States, in Cleveland, Ohio, made it into a list of the top 9 most beautiful churches in the States.
As for liturgical developments, these have been just as disappointing as those in architecture. There are only two nominal Saint’s days (St Valentine and St Patrick), and only two major feasts (Christmas and Easter/Pascha). The rest have been replaced by new non-Christian celebrities and rites: election campaigns, casting votes, pilgrimages to sports stadiums, the veneration of political documents as holy relics (the Declaration of Independence of 1776 and the federal constitution of 1787) and of secular heroes – politicians, athletes, scientists, etc.
Fasting days receive little notice, except from an occasional health guru; obesity is sadly the norm.
Cities themselves illustrate how a Christian worldview has been overwhelmingly replaced by a man-worshipping ethos (skyscrapers towering over, and swallowing up as it were, old churches, statues, and the like), something Dr Mario Baghos shows extraordinarily well in a two-part essay (Part I; Part II).
Russia, through many ups and downs, has remained faithful to the Orthodox culture of her early years, and therefore continues to give birth to notable churches, saints, and so on. The States continue to trend in the opposite direction, with fewer Christian believers, more atheists, and the like, which gives birth in turn to debauched liturgical events like LGBT Pride Month. Russia again offers a cultural counterpoint with a new national holiday in honor of the traditional Christian family.
The foregoing allows us to reach a general conclusion: That the peoples of the 50 States do not worship the All-Holy Trinity of the Orthodox Church, but they instead worship themselves; worship the self-deification of man and whatever he may desire; worship freedom from all authority (St Justin Popovich’s critique of modern Western man is essential on this point). This idolatrous ideology of Americanism will tolerate, and even ally itself with, the various forms of Christianity in the U.S. so long as they do not interfere with individual autonomy. When they do, however, it scorns them. This is borne out in new research that shows that for every new congregation formed in the States, more than one church closes (3,000 opening vs 4,500 closing in 2019). Russia, again, shows a contrary trajectory, building/opening 29,000 churches over a span of 28 years.
The picture is bleak for the U.S., but it is not completely hopeless. They are now a vast unchurched mission field, waiting to receive the joyful news of genuine Christianity, the Orthodox Faith, just as a spiritually famished ex-Protestant, St Seraphim Rose of Platina, California, did not so many years ago. The Orthodox Faith, together with the authentic regional cultures that are present within the current union, have the potential to create the beauty that St Andrew, St Stephen the Great, and others have created in Russia, Romania, and in other parts of the Orthodox world. We have been given a foretaste of this in the older, less modern architecture of the States – the Spanish missions of California, the French and Spanish colonial architecture of Texas, Louisiana, and Florida, the antebellum plantation homes of Dixie, and so forth.
But what is called ‘American culture’ has no such potential, being a contradictory pairing of words; it is nihilistic and destructive, and is at war with the Orthodox spirit (which is to say, the Holy Spirit).
Until, God willing, the Orthodox Church has a much larger influence in the States, traditional-minded countries around the world – India and Iran, Pakistan, Mongolia, many countries of Africa, and so on – had better keep their distance from the U.S. and partner with countries like Russia instead, or risk being tainted with the spiritual diseases ravaging the U.S. and all the other countries of the ‘liberal world order’.