An Englishman in Orthodoxy

Taken from a talk given by Bishop Porfirije, quoted on these pixely pages in the past (here). The talk, posted here, is in audio format and in Serbian so, as always, I offer a very loose translation of his introductory remarks. The talk is held at the technical school in Novi Sad and he begins by saying how this school has always opened its doors in the past for such talks of a spiritual nature:

“…man is not only a technical or a materialistic being but has in him also spiritual components and has spiritual needs, regardless of whether we see him as a dichotomy or trichotomy, if we are talking of man as soul/body or body/soul/spirit. Therefore, regardless of the various different approaches to man when we see him as a person we certainly, in the first place and above all, recognize beside the regular visible material needs,  – that is besides the fact that we know of him as a materialistic being – we feel also the need for the spiritual. Certainly, for someone who bases their life on the faith which is prescribed by the Bible, the New and Old Testament, the faith which the Holy Bible teaches us, then this is not at all strange for it is there that in a simplistic language which is understand by all, it says that man was created in the image and likeness of God. This means that the meaning, fullness and goal of our lives can only be achieved if we establish a community, establish a contact and relationship with God who is above all, the spiritual being par excellence.

Therefore, all praise to this college which perhaps precisely for this reason, since it deals with technology, can better recognizes and feel and conclude this spiritual need that each man has. And, of course, that we not go further in our analysis of these needs of ours for the spiritual I rejoice that I am your guest of this Serbian Cultural Club from whose title we also see that it is also called Transfiguration….First of all, in this syntagma Serbian cultural club Transfiguration is the word “Serbian”. But it is, as far as I can see, organically tied with the last word “transfiguration”.

Every man’s fundamental feelings and experience are to belong to some area, to a certain time, to feel as being a biological being and on the foundations of biology we can extract our national values, of national belonging so that one feels they are Serbian, another Croatian, another Hungarian, Slovakian and so forth. If, and of course at the beginning we saw that we do not feel this way, but if we were to assume that this nationalistic is in and of itself the goal then we wouldn’t be able to go far. However, this word “transfiguration” is deeply an evangelical and Christian word and when we place the idea of Serbian in that context of the gospel we are instantly reminded of the words of the Apostle Paul when he speaks of Christ saying that in Christ is neither Greek nor Jew…. and we would be able to add to that by saying that there is neither Serbian or Croatian or Hungarian…. In other words, if man wants to realize the meaning of his existence basing himself exclusively on the biological and taking the fullness and meaning of his existence from this framework then he begins his existence, lives and ends it as a biological being. In other words, he has his beginning and end here and now within the framework of history. But the word “transfiguration” invites us to that which is given to us biologically speaking in Christ, that in the Church we be transfigured into something which is eternal.

In Serbia during these last few days our Church had a well known, very unusual Athonite spiritual father, as guest (Archimandrite Vasileios [Gontikakis])…. And he spoke of another great Orthodox theologian, Orthodox bishop who is English and lives in England, Kallistos (Ware), and he said the following: When he was once at a lecture of his in London Kallistos Ware said that, “Since I became Orthodox I only then became English”. On the one hand we are talking of a biological transfiguration and maybe even the suppression of that biological in our (life in) Christ yet here the bishop says that it was only when he became Orthodox that he became a true Englishman. How can this be? It’s very simple, that which has been given us nationally speaking, to say it in modern terms, has been given us – or even gifted to us – a talent which one nation received and then an individual, within the framework of the nation, so that that which he has received as a gift, its fullness through love of Christ and through Christ in relations to all people,  they can become one with all nations. After all, the Lord Himself says this addressing His Father, May all become one as You and I are one, as You are in Me and I in You, that all become one. Therefore, the fact we are Serbs is not something given to us that we jealously keep, for in the end we can’t keep anything, what can a man keep, what is he an owner of? It is given to us that we give it to others and when we keep it for ourselves we are taking it from others, we are separating ourselves from others and are doing the opposite of that which Christ said to the Father… And this word “transfiguration” reminds us of just that and calls us to become diligent, to become true Serbs only inasmuch as we recognize Christ and are transfigured in Him, transfiguring each of our talents, all of our characteristics to that level not that we Serbs become become a part of a greater whole but that the great whole become a part of us. For the point is not for us to become a part of something, but the whole world, according to St. Maxim the Confessor, becomes a part of us and not we a part of the world, but only if we experience that inseparable union with Christ. We are called, therefore, as a people to transfigure our talents and gifts and that only then when we feel the suffering of other peoples as our own sufferings and rejoice as the success of other people, only then are we going down that path.”

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