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Saints As They Really Are: Voices of Holiness in Our Time Paperback – May 15, 2012
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About the Author
Michael Plekon is a professor in the department of sociology/anthropology and the Program in Religion and Culture at Baruch College, City University of New York. He is also an ordained priest in the Orthodox Church in America. He is the author or editor of a number of books, including Hidden Holiness (University of Notre Dame Press, 2009) and Living Icons: Persons of Faith in the Eastern Church (University of Notre Dame Press, 2002).
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I just finished reading Fr. Michael Plekon's latest book on holiness in our time, and highly recommend it. A few insights:
1) Who should read it? Everyone interested in learning more about how contemporary women and men are struggling through the process of responding to God's call to holiness in vocation, parish life, and the daily grind of marriage, children, work, and reflection. I especially think Orthodox and Catholics need to read this book as a comparator to the language and proceses our Churches use in glorifying and identifying saints in our time. Fr. Michael presents the tradition of the Church as a communion of saints living out the minutiae of its salvation in real time (as it were), an ancient notion lost through generations more interested in signs and miracles. Anglicans will be interested as Plekon profiles several women of their tradition.
2) What are the benefits? Drawing upon rich sociological and ethnographic studies of Christianity in America, Fr. Michael informs us about the realities of parish and congregational life. There are two sides to this story (as we all know at some level): the socioeconomically impacted demographic paradigm shifts; and the polarizing theologico-moral debates of our time. Here, Fr. Michael navigates the process of sorting through these ever-shifting minefields with incredible finesse and sensivity. He challenges the reader to embrace the opportunity of faith today, in the boredom of daily life, analogous (in my opinion) to St. Maria Skobtsova's bold call for Christians to respond to the "archangel's call" in wartime.
No other spoilers, especially since the book's conclusion is pure brilliance, but I conclude with one quality particularly worthy of praise: Fr. Michael tells the stories of several women in this book, richly analyzing the messages they tell in their own spiritual memoirs. His deliberate inclusiveness in parsing out human episodes of encounter and striving from the narratives of the journey to holiness is why this book is for everyone.
Dr. Nicholas Denysenko
Assistant Professor of Theological Studies
Loyola Marymount University
"I instinctively knew that they were wrong but at the time I could not explain why, because I did not have the tools or arguments from experience and from theological study to answer them. For example, I understood that their philosophy was characterized by pride, they all thought that they knew better than the Church. They were above the Church. And this pride was characterized by intellectual fantasies, the result of a lack of rootedness in reality and spiritual reality, the Tradition. And the characteristic of this was their inability to provide spiritual food. They fed the brain – to the point of their books and talks giving you headaches – but they were incapable of feeding your soul, leaving you dry."
Q: Why were there, and why are there still, so many modernists in the Orthodox Diaspora?
A: There were and are so many – relatively speaking – they are in fact very few, they just make a lot of noise – in the Diaspora because these people encountered the West directly and never having had any roots in the Tradition, they wanted to mix their superficial Orthodoxy with Western culture. Uprooted from an Orthodox context and denying monastic life, they did not want the spiritual purity of Holy Orthodoxy, but compromise, they wanted to swim with the Western tide. That is why all modernists are essentially ecumenists and secularists. They try to conform the Church to the world, instead of conforming themselves (the world) to the Church.
Q: And why was Paris the centre of modernism?
A: Paris was where the French-speaking aristocrats and intellectuals from Saint Petersburg who had carried out the Revolution under Western influence and with Western backing had chosen exile. A great many of them were freemasons, some, like Yusupov, had been very interested in the occult and hypnotism. Paris was the place of their exile, where they were called to repentance. In other words, this is where the most spiritually decadent Russians, nominal Orthodox, highly protestantized, in the sense of secularized, went to live.
There were two groups. First, there were left-wingers, like Bulgakov, Berdyayev and Mother Maria, but most were right-wing constitutionalists or republicans who wanted either the British model or else the French model of political organization. None of them of course wanted Orthodoxy. All broke away from the Russian Church and her liturgical and canonical disciplines, in other words, they broke entirely away from the Tradition. This they did on the pretext of seeking ‘freedom and creativity’! The saddest thing was that they did not understand repentance.
Q: Why did they not simply become Protestants or Uniats – that would have been honest?
A: Because they were pretentious, which is a disease of intellectuals. They wanted to be different and lord it over others through their ‘exotic’ differences. If they had simply been Protestants or Uniats, no Western-Establishment figures or ecumenists would even have looked at them, they would have lost their exotic tag and been forgotten as immigrants. But by setting up a Westernized branch of Orthodoxy, they attracted attention and admiration. In other words, they, or rather their descendants, were courted by those who wanted to destroy the very Soviet Russia which they had themselves created in 1917, in order to replace it with the sort of degutted Russia they did briefly create in the 1990s until the revival in 2000. For secularist Western Establishments they were all ‘useful idiots’.
Of course, these modernists were peddling a fake Orthodoxy, but Anglicans and others knew no better and gave these semi-Orthodox a false authority by buying their books and listening to their talks. If you say modernist things with a Russian accent, you are suddenly exotic and interesting. Some of these émigrés even faked Russian accents to sound more Russian! There was a lot of acting going on in order to hoodwink simple people, even hypnotism. If you look, you will see that almost all their books were bought and read either by Non-Orthodox or else by converts who knew no better.
Q: Why do so many intellectuals fall into modernism?
A: Because they live uprooted lives in their heads, and not their hearts. So they are prey to fantasies. If you are an intellectual type, you must have a strong spiritual or ascetic life to balance it out. For example St Justin (Popovich) was an intellectual, but it did not, forgive the pun, go to his head. So anyone can become a saint, even an intellectual, but such saintliness exists despite intellectualism, not because of it."