While vacationing in Russia last week, a place I had always wanted to see due to my love of Russian Writers like Dostoevsky, Tolstoy and Chekhov, I had occasion to visit a very famous Russian Orthodox Monastery named St. Sergius. This monastery dates back to the 13th century. People come from all over the world to simply pray there. The Communists closed it, but, when Russia was declared liberated from Communism, it was reopened.
The amazing thing is that it is thriving. In fact, religion is slowly making a comeback in Russia! We used to pray for the conversion of Russia after every pre-Vatican II “Latin” Mass. It certainly paid off! Prayer works, if
you just give it time. In fact, after 70 years of active persecution, the faith of Christ is growing again in Russia!
At St. Sergius, for example, there are 300 monks! We have nothing remotely like that in the West. While there is certainly struggle with faith in Russia, there is a revival going on, especially in the contemplative and monastic life, which is the heart of the Church Universal.
There are many here who proclaim themselves atheists and perhaps this is still the majority. But the faith is never without effects where ever there are true believers to be found.
While we, in the West, do not have the sad history of outright persecution that they have experienced in Russia, we are still battling subtler forms of persecution in the Church. The most difficult negative ambiance that we face in America, and even more in Western Europe, is the apparent collapse of the infrastructure that supported our faith. When vocations were plentiful, religious orders staffed hospitals, schools, universities and missionary societies that had produced huge results. In the 50’s and 60’s, many of us remember how overreaching was the entire infrastructure of the Church. We were opening new parishes, schools, hospitals and other testaments to our faith. It was a growing Church when the seminaries were filled and the novitiates were bursting with numbers and activities.
Today, we are in the midst of many closures: parishes, schools, seminaries, etc. While there has been some growth in lay movements like Opus Dei and the Neo-Catechumenate, they have not yet produced the widespread results that can offset the aforementioned decline.
It is with great difficult that one confesses the Christian Faith in this environment. One is open to ridicule and even to the basest forms of unjust censure (e.g. The assertion that faith is against human flourishing even
though our whole culture has been formed by the key insight that we are made in the image and likeness of God—a key religious concept).
Our entire way of life has become thoroughly materialistic. Karl Marx may have theorized about this, but we have truly started living within that theoretical construct in the West. While the Communist theory collapsed by its misunderstanding of the human person and his freedom, the West has, through the media and in many other ways, put materialism at the very foundation of our philosophical edifice. Go into any nominally Catholic home and notice what is on the walls of the home, especially in the rooms of the impressionable young: superheroes, sport stars, singing idols (a very appropriate term!), and try to find the Crucifix, the Madonna, or a scene from the Gospels.
We have returned to the ways of the ancient pagans who at least believed in ‘the gods’. All that is needed now is for the persecution to begin. It may have already begun.
But I am far from despondent. Our faith has faced worse times than these. It has with in its very being the presence of the God who created all things. One seed of this Life can regenerate an entire forest that has become a desert of unbelief.
Meanwhile, we must be patient and do whatever we can to live a fruitful and loving life, knowing full well that the Lord is coming in all His power. All seemed lost that Good Friday night, but it only heralded the dawn of the new age of Grace.
This is what is happening now. We live in a long Holy Saturday awaiting the resurrection of our Faith; and when He rises, the Faith will indeed be triumphant again!