Secularism, the worship of this world, has always existed and always will exist. It comes from the fact that the human-being, part breath of God and part fallen nature, is torn in two directions, towards the Kingdom of God and towards the fallen world. At times in his history he has turned more to the Kingdom of God, at other times more towards the fallen world. The attraction of the fallen world, secularism, is so strong that it can get inside religion, or rather pervert and deform religion into idolatry, for there have always been and are religions which actually idolize the fallen world, mistaking fallen creation for the Creator. They are called paganism. As examples we can mention yesterday’s Baal, Greek gods and Roman emperor-worship, or today’s religion of consumerism and entertainment (fun), bread and circuses.
Indeed, pagan secularism can enter into any religious system in forms as diverse as the physical sensuality of Hinduism or the militant violence of Islam, as the State-serving of Confucianism or the State worship of Shintoism, as the bourgeois capitalism accepted and promoted by Protestantism or the racial nation-worship to be found on the nominalist margins of Orthodox Christianity, even though officially condemned. Humanity, in other words, is capable of defiguring and corrupting anything, making the spiritual pure into the innately secular. The greatest danger is when such corruption becomes institutionalized, an inherent part of the system. It was in order to avoid this that in the fourth century monasticism began to develop very quickly and the capital of the pagan Roman Empire, which Christianity had vanquished through the Martyrs, was moved away from corrupted Rome to New Rome, uniting East and West, Asia and Europe in the Christian Roman Empire.
However, human nature is the same worldwide. Despite the removal of temptation by moving the Christian capital from pagan Rome, the spirit of the old pagan secularism still reached into Christianity there, over the centuries creating a new religion. The revived spirit of pagan Rome, of worldliness and secularism, was actually ingrained into this new religious system, made systematic and institutionalized by it. After earlier temptations it was eventually defined in Rome in the eleventh century, in imitation of the pagan Roman Empire and came to be called Roman Catholicism. This was essentially an attempt to make the former Church in Western Europe more powerful than all worldly rulers, to make the Church into a State – the most powerful State of all, to create a Roman universalism, hence its name. This was the world’s power to defigure, not the Church’s power to transfigure.
The way in which this was done was primitive enough. First it was necessary to assert that the Holy Spirit proceeded from Christ, from Him Who had taken on human nature while still remaining God. In the later eighth century the warlike barbarian Charlemagne found such a mistaken affirmation and tried to use it to assert his authority against the Church. In this he failed. Then in the early eleventh century the same mistaken affirmation was made again, but this time in Rome where within a few more years the Western leader, the Pope, began to call himself the Vicar (substitute) of Christ. This granted the Western leader Divine authority, by both theologically and juridically making him the source of the Holy Spirit. The trick was complete.
With this new ideology, the Western leader, the Pope, was in effect made God on earth, Pontifex Maximus, the infallible bridge between God and man, just like the old pagan Roman emperors. But when this God on earth commanded armies, launched pagan and barbaric military campaigns (called conquests and crusades) that looted, raped, pillaged and murdered hundreds of thousands, destroying higher forms of civilization, persecuted and tortured all those who disagreed with him, claimed to be able to sell places in Paradise, built himself palaces with every luxury, provided himself with male lovers or brothels and poisoned his enemies, people realized that his was not the Church of God.
Essentially then, what had once been the Church in Western Europe started to rot from the head downwards, its ruling warlike elite forming a neo-pagan institution, a servant of the world. Of course, it took time for the rot to spread and the former Church kept some of the outward structures of the Church that it had once been. There survived church buildings and monasteries, bishops, priests, sacraments and saints – without them it could never have kept the loyalty of simple and uneducated good souls faithful to the old Church and from whom the iniquity of the new system was hidden by ignorance and then indoctrination. However, gradually the old church buildings and monasteries were demolished or uglified into castle-like, military styled, barbarian Gothic and then worse, sections of the episcopate and the priesthood were perverted by sodomy and pedophilia, the sacraments were deformed and communion withheld.
As for the ancient saints, like their churches, they were forgotten or else remade, buried beneath layers of new and strange fashions, promoted by the elite. As even the outward structure of the Church was slowly deformed through the trick of gradualism, so that the people would not notice, the fullness of life went out of it and it began to resemble a dead formula, a mere ritual. The highest form of human life, the spiritual, gained through the ascetic, was replaced by lower forms of human life, the anti-ascetic, whether the intellectual, the psychic, the emotional or the pietistic, with which in their simplicity and naivety many of the simple people, kept in ignorance of the real, were conditioned to be satisfied.
Pagan barbarism had triumphed, disguised by the name of the Church, the Roman, the Papal, the pious, the canonical and the classical. It said that there was no difference between it and the Church of the first millennium, claiming that it had always been thus, that no revolutionary transformations had occurred in the eleventh century and the Church had never been altered! In reality, a subtle form of desacralization and so decivilization had all along been under way. As the former Western Church was gradually clericalized and turned into a mere institution, the world was divorced from the spiritual, thus leaving the political, economic and social life of the world to be secularized. Thus, the Incarnate Christ was driven not only out of the Temple, but out of all Jerusalem, which with time was turned into Babylon.
However, this idolatry of the old Roman paganism that had united Western Europe by military conquest in the name of ‘the Church’ attracted the imitation and envy of others. ‘If the Papacy can operate this trick, then so can we; we other humans can also proclaim ourselves gods on earth and call ourselves ‘humanists’. Thus, Europe drifted even further from the heritage and memory of the old Western Church as it had been. The new imitators tried to imitate the old Roman paganism in their own way, setting up a new Roman Empire which they called ‘Holy’, but which was not, but Unholy and secular. They in turn were followed by others who in protest set up still more forms of Christianity, allying themselves with princes and economic power, subjugating ‘primitive’ and ‘ssvage’ peoples outside Europe (‘primitive’ and ‘savage’ because they were not yet gods on earth like Western men) and becoming worshippers of Mammon.
There is no better example of this than the Victorian Imperialist in Britain, who stamped his pennies with the image of Roman Britannia and who just like the pagan Roman Imperialist, once a simple and honourable farmer, left his homeland to conquer and reorganize the ‘savages’ and so lost his own soul in the process. Just like the pagan Roman Imperialist, he learned Latin, he had strict and narrow moral views, a devotion to imperial duty and what he saw as the public interest – res publica. He was firmly convinced of his moral superiority over the clever but immoral ‘Greeks’ (French and Germans) and over the idle and superstitious ‘Orientals’ (Latins and Indians), over the backward and savage (all other races, as in ‘Darkest’ Africa), whom it was his business and duty to conquer. ‘God is an Englishman’, he wrote, for he had created a god in his own image. Moral censoriousness, sense of duty, xenophobic national glory and devotion to money-making, and so to ruthless and predatory exploitation, were his only goals. His Bible was the Bible of Mammon.
There were many other imitators who also deified themselves. There had already been Napoleon who dressed himself as a Roman Emperor and crowned himself from the hands of the Pope and later there would be Hitler, both paganized Catholics, who tried to re-establish the pagan Roman Empire in Europe by military conquest – and failed as soon as they had to face even the weakened remnants of Christian Russia. All these ideologues were deluded, whether they called themselves Capitalists, Liberals, Darwinists, Socialists or Nazis. Little matter what they called themselves, the secularist aim of worshipping this world has always been the same, including among those who today are for the moment re-establishing the pagan Roman Empire in Europe, a Fourth Reich, by economic conquest. They too are failing but only because again they have to face the weakened remnants of Christian Russia.
Thus, the conspiracy of rejection and concealment of ten centuries of the Faith of the Christian saints in Western Europe and their relics, condemned as living in the ‘Dark Ages’, as unsaintly, uninteresting, obscurantist and primitive, followed by ten centuries of barbaric institutional secularism, extolled as ‘Western culture’, have brought the Western world back to where it was 2,000 years ago, to the new, or rather old, paganism of today. This ‘new world order’ is thoroughly undermined by its narcissistic self-admiration, selfish exploitation, its utter lack of any spiritual purpose, dynamism and leadership, its spiritual futility. So, almost as if by sleight of hand, an anti-spiritual world order has been established. The West has gone from Christ to Antichrist in 1,000 years and turned full circle back to its paganism of 2,000 years ago.
Today’s remaining Western Christians are still little conscious, still largely shackled by their idolatrous attachment to their culture rather than to the purity of the Gospel of the Kingdom. Thus, they are still in denial of the inherent responsibility for the contemporary situation of their gradual thousand-year apostasy. Some have reacted to the contemporary acceleration of the apostasy, for which they still do not see their responsibility and see as due only to a recent process, with apocalyptic and depressing pessimism – the depressive Protestant philosopher Kierkegaard and the Catholic writer Bernanos did so. Others, superficial ‘feel-good’ Protestant evangelists or the deluded, Origenistic Catholic philosopher Teilhard de Chardin and Catholic modernists and even a few Orthodox, fallen away from the Church, have gone to the opposite extreme of idealistic naivety. They have imagined like pantheists that the world is merging into some great Universal Church which will bring the spiritual unification of humanity. Of course, they are right, only the Universal Church in question is the Church of Antichrist, not of Christ.
What is the Orthodox view? How do Orthodox view the future of the world that has become repaganized by ten centuries of systematic Western secularism made global? Orthodox say that, of course, the Apocalypse is potentially upon us and the West has potentially created the Kingdom of Antichrist. However, we should also know that the Church, and the Church alone, has the Power that provides hope of transfiguration and can resist the ten centuries of secularist repaganization that have brought the world to its present state. That is why we do not recognize as part of the Church the movements, delusions and so-called ‘saints’ of the second millennium, for they do not belong to Her spirit but to the spirit of apostasy, even if ever so subtly and under the cloak of good. For we know that the Church alone has the Power to change the world that Power has been lost to the institutionalized and the secularized.
For, behold!, just as the Church conquered the pagan Roman Empire, so in our own time She has conquered the pagan Soviet Empire. Thou hast conquered, O Galilean! Thus, all may not be lost. This conquest of both the Roman and Soviet Empires came about precisely by the spiritual vitality of the Commonwealth of Christian Peoples, by the Power of the Saints – the Power of the Holy Spirit. And Victory over two Pagan Empires can yet be extended to a Victory over a Third, today’s Western Empire. The victory of the Saints is not in numbers but in heroic Power, the Holy Spirit’s Power to see deeper and further than the secularists, to make the impossible possible. This isolates them from the world which ignores them, as it has isolated from the blinded world both the Saints of the West of the first millennium and the New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia, but this isolation is always triumphant.
The Western world never totally threw off the yoke of pagan Rome. And once it had abandoned the Faith of the Church, Orthodoxy, in the eleventh century, it could no longer preserve itself intact from the temptations of that yoke. They all came back, one by one. Through them the Christian way of life gradually became reduced to a legalistic philosophy, a hypocritical puritanism and a powerless and sentimental pietism. The pagan principle of secularism has once more become inherent in Western culture over the last ten centuries as that pagan yoke has gradually crept back into Western life through becoming institutionalized, an ingrained and systematic part of the Western Establishment.
The Divinely-inspired values of the Saints, of noble selflessness, of Beauty, Truth and Goodness, of Hope, Faith and Love, are the strongest-known values known to world history. They are the only values that can destroy the ignoble selfishness, vulgarity, unreason and evil, the despair, apostasy and hatred of the lunatic asylum of the contemporary world. That deranged world has been made powerful through usury and technology, but it has been made powerless spiritually because it has emptied its soul. The values of the Saints conquer because they are inspired from outside this world by the Power of the Holy Spirit, by the real world, that is, by the Kingdom of God, to which the Orthodox Faith and Church alone direct us. And this is the Faith in the Kingdom and the Power and the Glory that will triumph at the end of history, showing us that all else was mere illusion.
Even so, come, Lord Jesus!