Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Thoughts on the "Petrified" Church of Harnack by Nikolai Velimirovich










[Below is a portion of a little known lecture by St. Nikolai Velimirovich titled The Religious Spirit of the Slavs delivered in the middle of World War 1, 1916, during Great Lent in England. While the best Orthodox critique of Harnack can be found in the writings of Jaroslav Pelikan, this short piece seeks to interpret what Harnack's famous appellation for Orthodoxy actually means - at least from an Orthodox perspective. -J.S.]

The "Petrified" Church. So Professor Harnack from Berlin called the Orthodox Church of the East. I know his reasons for that very well. Comparing the unchangeable image of Christ, fixed in the East once for all, with the confusing thousand opinions of Christ in Protestant Germany, he was quite justified in calling our Church by a striking name, so differentiating her from his own. I am glad that he invented the name "petrified." With the proud spirit of a Protestant scientist, I wonder why He did not invent a worse name for Eastern Orthodoxy. I wonder much more that Professor Harnack, one of the chief representatives of German Christianity, omitted to see how every hollow that he and his colleagues made in traditional Christianity in Germany was at once filled with the all-conquering Nietzscheanism. And I wonder, lastly, whether he is now aware that in the nineteen hundred and fourteenth year of our Lord, when he and other destroyers of the Bible, who proclaimed Christ a dreamy maniac, and clothed Christianity in rags, that Nietzscheanism grew up the real religion of the German race.

What is the facts about the "petrified" Church? If "petrified" means intact, or whole, or undestroyed or living always in the same dress, but still living, then the famous Professor may be right. Yet this petrified Church has always come victorious out of any test to which she has been put. The Christian Church is always on trial, and I think she is never so much Christian as when she is being tested. She does not shine or develop or make progress otherwise than through hard tests. Christianity is founded upon a drama and not upon a science; therefore its growth and development are dramatic and not scientific. Let us take an example. Eastern Orthodoxy was put to the test for centuries to fight for its existence and its ideals against the ruling Islam. Roman Catholicism was put to a similar test in Spain. German Protestantism was put to the test of German science. What happened? Islam was defeated in Russia and in the Balkans, not only physically, but morally and intellectually. The epoch of the catacombs and the bloody days of Nero and Diocletian have been repeated once more in the Balkans, in Russia, and are still being experienced in Armenia and Asia Minor. The killed and martyred kings, princes, bishops, priests and laymen from these countries will not be ashamed before the martyrs from the Coliseum. Orthodox Christianity stood the test very well. It saved itself; it gave the inspiration for resistance; it showed itself superior even afterwards when the enslaved countries were liberated. Holy Russia counts her greatness from the time when she got rid of Islam. During the five years of their freedom Serbia, Greece and Bulgaria built more than the Turks built during 500 years of Turkish rule.

Roman Catholicism in Spain came through its test very badly. Before the Islamic invasion, and after it for a long time, the Christian population showed itself inferior to the Moors, in work, in justice, in progress. But to the honour of Roman Catholicism I must say that it stood the test very well in Croatia and in Hungary in its struggle against Islam. German cathedral Protestantism failed in its test. It is destroyed as a religion, it exists only as an archival science. It ceased to be what Christianity really sought to be—a drama; it is transformed into an indifferent scientific medium for reading, exploring, classifying, comparing, criticising. It is no more a living, dramatic being—no more the serving, ruling and suffering Christ. There is very little heroic or divine in it!

Why not then worship Wothan [Odin] again instead of Christ?

And Anglicanism? It had the worst enemy. That was wealth, comfort, quiet business, lack of big disturbances and of great sufferings. The English Church still succeeded in preventing all the misuses and abuses of life under such circumstances. This success can be appreciated only if the British Empire is compared with an antique Pagan Empire. Where in this Empire is there a Lucullus or a Caracalla? The astonishing luxury, the bestial, insatiable passions? Or the furious competitions in petty things with which the social life of Rome was daily intoxicated? Yet English Christianity is neither so dramatic and full of contrasts as Dante's Catholicism, nor so vibrating a lyric as Dostoevsky's Orthodoxy, but rather a quiet, smooth epic like Milton's poetry.

Taken from: The Religious Spirit of the Slavs (1916) by St. Nikolai Velimirovich

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