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Bishop Seraphim in Chicago: Orthodox Fundamentalism
By Pearl Homiak

What is Orthodox fundamentalism? To find out, two carloads of St. Luke parishioners sped to Chicago on Wednesday evening, November 13, 2002. Bishop Seraphim of Canada had come to Chicago to visit Bishop Job and to provide an answer to this compelling question.

Fundamentalism involves zealously adhering strictly to traditional beliefs, a clinging to the letter of the law rather than the spirit of it, so to speak. "Fundamentalism," Bishop Seraphim said, "has always been with us, but we see more of it today, and it appears in strange ways." For example, some people get very concerned about externals in the Church, such as the "correct" way to place lighted candles.

Bishop Seraphim pointed out that often our focus is wrong. He said he once heard Pope Shenuda tell a monk who was trying to do everything by himself: "It is tempting to be found busy in the house of God, but it is necessary to be found busy about the Lord of the house."

In another situation a monk asked St. Paisius of Mount Athos a question about zealots (i.e., fanatics, not to be confused with enthusiasts). The monk learned that "zealots have lost balance and are living in their heads not their hearts instead of between both" of these. So zeal is about extremes.

St. Paul was a zealot. Bishop Seraphim read Galatians 1:11-24, in which St. Paul relates that God called him to be an apostle. Before that St. Paul was a very strict Pharisee and zealously persecuted Christians. So it took time before he was ready to go on his missionary journeys. He had to change by getting his life into balance.

Bishop Seraphim spoke of various fundamentalist characteristics that Orthodox Christians sometimes possess. For example, "we tend to think in terms of judgment."

He also mentioned that the translations of the Bible that we use don't help, since they are loaded with justice language. The Bible really talks about "righteousness-mercy, love, and holiness," while justice involves condemnation.

He also mentioned a belief some people have regarding culture change when a person becomes Orthodox. Bishop Seraphim encountered this when he became Orthodox. However, over time he learned that true "Orthodoxy is only about the culture of the Gospel itself. We don't have to take over another culture...We just have to take the Gospel seriously and find the way to baptize the North American way of life with these Gospels."

"Our challenge," Bishop Seraphim concluded," is to be fundamentalist in a plain old simple way: live life as Jesus Christ did and bring everyone in."

Following a question and answer period after Bishop Seraphim's talk, everyone went to Bishop Job's residence for refreshments and fellowship. The evening was very enjoyable, and we hope to hear Bishop Seraphim speak again next year.

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