Orthodoxy is life. If we do not live Orthodoxy, we simply aren't Orthodox, no matter what formal beliefs we might hold.
But life in our contemporary world has become very artificial, very uncertain, confusing. And we cannot help but be affected by this. Howls it possible for us as Orthodox Christians to lead other-worldly lives in these terrible times? How can we develop an Orthodox Christian view of the whole of life today which will help us to survive these times with our Faith intact?
It is no exaggeration to say that, from the perspective of a normal life viewed even 50 years ago, life today has become abnormal. Fundamental values and concepts of behavior have been turned upside-down. The spoiled and pampered generations know no law except the fulfillment of personal happiness "now." Parents bow down before their children's whims and these same children grow to adulthood merely substituting their childhood toys and games for grown-up amusements. Life becomes a constant search for "fun" which is so empty of any serious meaning that a visitor from any 19th century country, looking at our popular television programs, amusement parks, advertisements, movies, music -- at almost any aspect of our popular culture-would think he had stumbled across a land of imbeciles who have lost all contact with normal reality.
This "plastic" culture, which has been spawned by the "me generation," cannot support the development of normal human life, much les s inspire a genuine search for truth. When this "me generation" turns to religion-which has been happening very frequently in the past several decades--it is usually to a "plastic," self-centered form of religion, filled with all the fantasy of a television program. In only a few short years this country has been inundated with a shocking variety of brainwahsing and mind-bending cults, deified guru s, swamis, and other self-made "holy men." And these are not the only ones who vie for the total allegiance of souls. The secular world today presents a constant state of temptation which makes equally totalitarian demands on the soul. We are constantly confronted by it--whether in the background music heard everywhere in markets and businesses., in the public signs and billboards, and in the home itself where television often becomes the secret ruler of the household, dictating modern values, opinions and tastes.
In its various forms it all speaks the same message--Live for the present, enjoy yourself, relax. Behind this message is another, more sinister undertone which is openly expressed today only in the official atheist countries which are one step ahead of the free world in this respect: Forget about God and any other life but the present one. This philosophy has forged a chain of concentration camps in the Soviet Union commonly called Gulag. As more and more people become caught up in the American "Disneyland" mentality, the true God is pushed away and unconsciously we are brought one step closer to our own Gulag.
But what, one might ask, does all this have to do with us who are trying to lead, as best we can, a sincere Orthodox Christian life? It has a lot to do with it if we are humble enough to see that our environment, abnormal though it is, does have a certain effect on us. The question then arises: What can we do about it?
There are two false approaches to the life around us that many Orthodox often make today. The most common one is simply to go along with the spirit of the times. Lacking a strong Orthodox example in their parents, many Orthodox young people are not even aware of the need to struggle against the universal temptation of this "narcissist" age. They readily blend in with the anti-Christian world around them. This is death to the soul. As Christians we must be different from the world, and teach our children this difference. Otherwise there is no point in calling ourselves Christians, and Orthodox Christians at that.
The false approach at the opposite extreme is what one might call false spirituality, or "super -spirituality," often taken by those who have zeal without knowledge (Rom. 10:2). As translations of Orthodox texts on spiritual life are made available, one finds an increasing number of people talking about "hesychasm," the Jesus prayer, exalted spiritual states, etc. It is wonderful to be inspired and to realize our high calling, but unless we have a very realistic and very humble awareness of how far away all-of us are from these Spiritual heights, our interest will only develop into a new game which is just another expression of our self-centered, plastic universe.
The point is that we must deeply realize what times we live in, how little we actually know our Orthodox faith and how much we must humble ourselves just to survive as Orthodox Christians today.