John has raised an important question regarding Orthodoxy in the contemporary world. Is the Church a museum for the preservation of relics from other times and places, or a living organism proclaiming the Gospel to every person in his or her own tongue (following the description of Pentecost)? And, if the latter, how is this to be done in practice?
I was invited to give the first Research Seminar for the year in the School of Law in which I teach and decided to talk on a subject that my colleagues would probably think very unusual: Orthodox Canon Law! I considered the question of how Orthodox Canon Law (specifically on marriage and divorce), formulated for the most part more than a thousand years ago, could be applied in 2010. This is one of my current research interests. Is Canon Law a ?dead letter?, unchanging and unchangeable? Can it be adapted to the modern world and cultures far removed from that in which it was developed? And, if so, how?
Much to my surprise, the seminar drew a good number of my academic colleagues and some of our PhD students, all of whom showed a very lively interest in the topic ? particularly since none of them knew that such a thing as Orthodox Canon Law existed. They ? like most Orthodox ? were challenged by the idea of taking ancient laws from distant places and trying to find their relevance in contemporary circumstances.
There are those Orthodox who argue that ?the law is the law is the law? and not a word or comma can ever be varied. In fact, this would create an impossible situation since some Canon Law is impossible to apply now, and has not been applied for hundreds of year.
There are equally Orthodox who argue that Orthodox theology and liturgy and tradition (by which they actually mean custom) cannot be varied or adapted to even the slightest degree. This is equally an unrealistic position ? since theology and liturgy and tradition have developed and adapted throughout history. For example, the Liturgy of St Serapion of Thmuis (ca 350AD), used in Egypt in the 4th century and beyond, is amazingly simple ? perhaps a fifth or less of the length and content of the modern Coptic liturgies. Is there any reason why a simpler and shorter liturgy cannot now be used (other than custom, not Tradition)?
Paul Negrut?s response to Peter Gillquist is generally worthy of consideration. Many (especially Protestant) converts to Orthodoxy lapse into some sort of idealistic (not to say romantic) stupor and see Orthodoxy through a perspective that is far removed from reality. Many of them ? and this is not reported in Gillquist?s statistics ? also depart from Orthodoxy in the not very long term.
If Orthodoxy is to effectively evangelise in the West it must look ? as Orthodoxy did from the beginning ? at adaption, at the elimination of that which is irrelevant (for example, the use of languages unintelligible to most of the congregation and to many of the clergy), and at recognizing that the needs of America, Britain and Australia (for example) in 2010AD are not the needs of the Middle East in 200AD.
In reality, two thousand conversions in a year is hardly an impressive number ? how many people in the USA become Mormons each year? How many of that two thousand will be Orthodox in a year? And how many who were not converts (especially young people) will have abandoned Orthodoxy in that same period?
The challenge to Orthodoxy is not ?getting people to join?. It is about proclaiming the Gospel in the ?language? of those whom we seek to evangelize. The reality is that Orthodoxy is perceive as strange, alien, exotic (a factor that attracts some converts)....We can speak English (for example) but dress in the exotic costumes of an era long past. We can complain that people do not come to church, but hold services that run for three or more hours. We can talk of a universal faith, and practice ethnocentricity.
We have yet to see an image of what Orthodoxy 2010 ought to look like. Sadly, I do not know of any serious consideration of this question. Attempts at a so-called ?Western Rite? Orthodoxy have had no great success, and are often really only efforts to ?update? Orthodoxy for the West to about the 19th century.
So: let me throw out a challenge. How can Orthodoxy be adapted (without any essential change to the Faith) for modern people, especially young people, in the modern world? What would Orthodox 2010 look like? And if no such adaption can be made, what is the future of Orthodoxy?