Four Orthodox Lessons from Obi-Wan Kenobi
Popular culture’s ongoing obsession with all things Star Wars continues to grow with over 55 million people viewing the trailer for the soon to be released episode and countless children donning Star Wars costumes this past Halloween. Star Wars is not just a fad but practically a religion for millions of people around the world.
In the shadow of this phenomenon, Orthodox Christians are called to find ways to present the truths revealed by Jesus Christ in ways that are both creative and faithful to the Church’s inheritance. In a previous installment to this series, readers discovered the character of Yoda and how the teachings of the Church correct the error of gnosticism bringing our lives into better focus. Continuing to follow St. Basil the Great’s advice regarding “whatever befits us and is allied to truth”, let’s explore the character of Obi-Wan Kenobi through eyes of the Orthodox Church.
Mentor, teacher, protector, and humble leader, all of these traits describe the character of Jedi-Master Obi-Wan Kenobi. He is a person who embodies his beliefs with integrity and compassion. He protects the weak and calls the powerful to repent. Much like the heroes of Ancient Greek Literature, millions of people are drawn to his character because of the virtues he embodies. Obi-Wan Kenobi is both a hero and a servant. He understands that strength and compassion are two sides of the same coin.
Here are four Orthodox lessons one can learn from the Star Wars character of Obi-Wan Kenobi:
Evil Is Real and Corrupts What Is Good
Evil is a reality that is often shunned in modern society because it makes us uncomfortable in ways we prefer to overlook. Today, understanding evil is more an exercise in psychology than a moral reality. However, the truth about evil cannot be ignored. According to the Tradition of the Orthodox Church, evil is the nothingness which corrupts that which is good. St. Basil the Great writes, “Evil is not a living animated essence; it is the condition of the soul opposed to virtue, developed in the careless on account of their falling away from good.” Obi-Wan Kenobi knows evil is a tragedy that is introduced into the world through the free choices people make when they reject what is good. Evil can never exist on its own but is always a parasite that eats away goodness. Obi-Wan Kenobi experiences this reality when he confronts his fallen student Anakin Skywalker whose life has become corrupted in a quest for unlimited power.
Every Orthodox Christian Needs a Mentor
Metropolitan John Zizoulas writes that “The Orthodox Church is not simply an institution she is a mode of existence -a way of being.” Learning this way of being requires a mentor who has travelled the path of Orthodoxy. For some this person is a spiritual father and member of the clergy, for other Orthodox Christians the person is man or woman who is very mature in the Faith. In the Orthodox Tradition, authentic spiritual mentors do not control people but cultivate their freedom in a direction that is true and healthy. St. Nikon of Optina makes this clear, “The spiritual father only shows the way, like a signpost, but we have to traverse it ourselves. If the spiritual father shows the way and the disciple doesn’t move himself, then he won’t get anywhere, and will rot near the signpost.” Obi-Wan Kenobi makes this clear when he invites Luke Skywalker to join him and embrace a new life on a journey to planet Alderaan. The good mentor, Obi-Wan imposes nothing but proposes a better way and asks Luke to live his vocation outside of his comfort zone.
Orthodox Christianity Is About Examples Not Opinions
The Orthodox Church is rich in over two thousand years of theology and teachings. In many ways, the teachings of the Church have led to some of the greatest human developments in history. The Church has changed the world for the better. However, Orthodox Christianity is not simply a program of study. The words and theology of our faith only have meaning insofar as they point to real lived examples of Christian truth, love and beauty. Obi-Wan Kenobi makes this clear in his final battle with Darth Vader on the Death Star. In what is one the most beautiful scenes in Star Wars, Obi-Wan makes eye contact with Luke Skywalker and in a moment of confident silence challenges his student by providing an example of sacrificial love allowing Darth Vader to strike him down. This moment is a reminder that authentic power is found in the person who lives for others and that the greatest truths are taught by examples not words. Obi-Wan models the words of St. Mark the Ascetic who writes, “Whoever does not fight the one who despises him, neither in word not in thought, has received true knowledge and demonstrates a firm trust in God” It is this firm trust in God that has inspired countless holy men and women who are living icons of the love of Jesus Christ and agents of change in the world. It is this firm trust in God that inspires countless modern martyrs today.
Orthodox Christians Live Vertically
Technology can never be a substitute for the human person as the image and likeness of God. What we create can never fill our need for God. Today, there is no question that technology -far from connecting people- can also isolate them from living in communion with Christ. St. (Elder) Paisios remarks, “Because modern conveniences have exceeded all bounds, they have become inconveniences. Machines have multiplied and so have distractions; man has been turned into a machine. All kinds of machines and inventions now rule over man. This is why human hearts too are turning into steel.” The challenge for Orthodox Christians is to rediscover the vertical dimensions of our lives that is communion with God so that we may live a healthy life horizontally with other people. This is especially true in moments of trial and crisis when our faith is what is needed the most. Every challenge human beings face in their lives asks the question of what do we value the most. Obi-Wan Kenobi provides this posthumous lesson to Luke Skywalker when he challenges Luke to unplug from his technology and face his challenges with a spiritual rather than a secular outlook. The classic moment when we hear the words “Use the Force, Luke!” is a reminder that God’s providence and design for our lives are to be freely embraced. An understanding of human freedom that cooperates with God is far more healthy than an understanding of human freedom that is just a bunch of choices and seeks to control the world through what we make. This authentic freedom is the essence of living vertically as an Orthodox Christian.
Each of Obi-Wan Kenobi’s Orthodox lessons that are described above provide valuable insights into our vocation as men and women More importantly, the character of Obi-Wan Kenobi is an invitation for each of us to delve deeper into our lives as Christians. Star Wars is great as a story but it fails as a way of belief when compared to the Orthodox Christian Faith. There are no Jedi-Masters in the Orthodox Christian Tradition but there are countless fathers and mothers of the Church who provide timeless teachings and examples about what it means to be human.
Why not take the time to be open to Truth and discover the examples of these holy men and women today?
I guarantee that you will be not be disappointed with what you discover!
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