The Russian Orthodox Church and the Problem of Modernization
Fr. Veniamin (Novik)
Modernization is such an unpleasant word to the Russian ear. Among us Russians, emotional and taste-oriented perceptions are quite common. We have words that are digestible and indigestible, and modernization is in the second category. The precise meaning (not the usual one!) is change on the basis of a new, rational, reasonable foundation. The mind has been given to us by God, and therefore we ought to develop this gift and use it. Rationalism is a methodological principle that became prevalent during the Enlightenment. When such a methodology begins to pretend to be self-sufficient, when means are substituted for goals, rationalism becomes an ideology with a limited worldview.
But why do we need to go to extremes? Because modernization in technology has brought about scientific and technological revolutions. In the socio-political realm, modernization engendered civil society and liberal democracy. In this case we have participation of all in the life of a society and respect for the freedom of the individual. These are human rights that are laid out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in the Constitution of the Russian Federation. The law ought to protect even the smallest of minorities - the single human being - from other humans, from society, and from the state. Since only God is sinless, all others should be bound by the law. Thus rationalism, together with biblical and Christian foundations, contributes to the creation of societies whose goal is the total well-being of the population.
But can we speak of the modernization of religion? Probably not on the level of dogmas. Religion, however, whose socio-cultural sphere is the church, is not confined to dogmas. And this membrane surely can be subject to modernization. Examples of modernization in church life could include the reading of Scripture in language that people can understand, and parish decision-making in open meetings, rather than in secret. If such modernization (renewal) does not occur, church life becomes a ritualistic and magical show of religion.
Edited excerpt published with permission from "Russkaya pravoslavnaya tserkov' i problema modernizatsii obshchestve," Religiia i pravo, no. 3 (2002), 13-15. Translated by Oleg P. Turlac.
Father Veniamin (Novik) holds a candidate degree in theology from St. Petersburg's Theological Academy. He lives in St. Petersburg, Russia.
Father Veniamin (Novik), "The Russian Orthodox Church and the Problem of Modernization," East-West Church & Ministry Report 13 (Spring 2005), 4.
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