THE V. Reverend Protopresbyter Dr. Stelyios S. Muksuris, Ph.D. [BA, MDiv, MLitt, PhD, ThD (post-doc.)], serves the Kimisis Tis Theotokou Greek Orthodox Church in Aliquippa, PA, and is Professor of Liturgy and Languages at SS. Cyril and Methodius Byzantine Catholic Seminary in Pittsburgh, PA. A native of Boston and a graduate of Hellenic College and Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Brookline, MA, he received his postgraduate degrees and his doctorate in liturgical theology from the University of Durham in the United Kingdom. He is an active member of several academic societies (AAR, SL, SOL, BSC, OTSA), a frequent conference speaker both nationally and internationally, the author of a monograph, Economia and Eschatology: Liturgical Mystagogy in the Byzantine Prothesis Rite (Boston, 2013), and the author of an introductory chapter for a textbook on Christianity, as well as numerous papers and studies in theological journals. He is a frequent consultant on liturgical matters for the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America and the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Pittsburgh.
We live in an ironic age. While most of us in the Western world live relatively comfortable lifestyles, at least in comparison to the rest of the world, we nevertheless experience surges of anxiety and fear. People are afraid of losing their comforts and conveniences, and the difficult economic times experienced by billions over the globe in recent years only heighten such fears. We are happy one moment when we remember that we live in an affluent culture, but the next moment sadness sets in when we realize that what we have today may not be with us tomorrow.
Some individuals accuse our modern age as being the culprit for creating in people’s hearts this insecurity. Industrialization, modern technology, the obsession with virtual reality and computer-generated entertainment – in general, the commercialization of human necessities, obsessions, and even values – have enticed people to want material prizes and to want them more and more. What is often noticeable in such scenarios is a shunning of and falling away from interpersonal relationships. People have sadly forgotten how to interact with one another, how to make eye contact with another when conversing. Today, we email and text one another relentlessly instead of calling or visiting. It is a convenient and impersonal way to get a message across because in our interpersonal relationships, that’s all that seems to matter. How many of us truly care to see how another person feels or reacts? And our obsession with materialism today may be compared to a small child enthralled with his favorite toy, oblivious to his surroundings. Seize the toy forcefully from the child and the child will cry, if not throw a tantrum. Adult “toys” such as money, property, fame, and acts of selfishness have avowedly destroyed marriages and families. And all this because many have lost their personhood in their quest for individuality.
Man’s obsession with material objects and his gradual reclusion into himself are not solely characteristic of this age though. To think so is extremely naïve, although this present age certainly offers more opportunities. People’s obsession today may be with electronics; hundreds and thousands of years ago, it was with land and property. The problem, then, is not one of epoch; it is a spiritual crisis, internalized within the human mind and heart.
In the Gospels, our Lord Jesus Christ addresses the reason why man feels the anxiety he does. Man’s concern about the bare necessities of life – food, drink, clothing, and shelter – is legitimate. Man must live and he must be able to secure such needs. The anxiety sets in when he forgets that God, who loves him very much and cares for him and his family, is the ultimate provider not only of his material necessities but of all his spiritual necessities as well. It is God the Father who feeds the birds of the air (Mt 6.26) and adorns the lilies of the field (Mt 6.28-29). Christ explains that man’s worth, in God’s eyes, is so much more than the rest of creation, so if He provides for them how can He not provide for His most cherished creature of all?
Christ’s words to us today are clear and applicable to any age: “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Mt 6.33). Seeking God first in our lives – not the material goods that we need for survival or entertainment – is the Christian’s number-one priority. And it must be a priority because it is authentic faith in the Lord God that dissipates the clouds of anxiety, fear, and insecurity. Man’s obsession with himself and others occurs because he is not obsessed with God. “Distress reminds the wise of God, but crushes those who forget Him”, writes St. Mark the Ascetic. The stressors of life and the tensions we all feel are not unimportant. Jesus does not say that at all. Nevertheless, by God’s providence, they exist so as to induce more faith in man, to realize that God is the source of all material (as well as spiritual) blessings. When we forget that God is still master over all creation and constantly at work to guide our lives toward Him, our fear and eventually loss of faith may lead not only to erratic behavior but also to self-destruction.
Our world today, in the attempt to affirm the uniqueness and potential of the individual, is tainted by a noticeable movement away from God and religious life. Man can be successful on his own, and our Western world has created a societal infrastructure to assure this end. This infrastructure though often violates human rights and the downright sacred principles of moral living. The powerful media promotes the glitz and glamour of individual success but conveniently – and understandably – shies away from covering the “dark side” of success, which is usually the exploitation and suffering of another.
Yes, man can be successful on his own; the question is, can he be happy on his own? The answer is a resounding “no.” A successful man’s materialism and selfishness leaves a void inside of him, a depression and loneliness that the media simply overlooks and cannot report because it is tagged “irrelevant” and is potentially dissuasive and harmful to the system that generates wealth and success. No matter how one slices the cake, the answer to anxiety and fear is a renewed and fervent faith in God. Why is it that in a land of religious freedom, the answer to such a common existential problem must be stifled? God is relegated to the private religious sector and cannot even be brought up in conversations in public. The views of atheists and other minorities, however, are heard and accepted because they appear non-threatening and non-challenging. Occasionally, one will hear of reports or documentaries that highlight depression and sadness, fear and anxiety. We are told that these may be symptoms of either a medical condition, emotional insecurity, or interpersonal conflicts. Rarely, if ever, do we descend below the “tip of the iceberg”, to the recesses of the human heart, to discover the spiritual suffering and faithlessness that cause it. Let us not be fooled: human pain and insecurity, both individually and communally, are the result of a lack of true faith in God. So long as this absolute truth is not met head on and addressed, the vicious cycle of human suffering will only continue, and we will be dissecting the problem in all the wrong places.
In closing, my dear people, our Lord cuts right to the chase to expose the source of human suffering, which is detachment from God. By doing so, He proves His genuine and unconditional love for man, whom He knows better than anyone. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said today about our fallen society, whose concern for man’s betterment and advancement often hinges on some conditional and self-serving benefit. Is this true love for a human being? Is this true respect? Yes, our world has become fearfully impersonal and vicious, and so it is time for every one of us on this earth to reexamine our lives, to assess what is truly important in the short span of life given to us, and to begin our return to God. The peace we all seek is not the decision of others; it is ours.
Posted by the Orthodox Christian Network. You can find the Orthodox Christian Network on Google+