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.