Spiritually Speaking: How to Solve the World’s Problems

March’s “Spiritually Speaking” was on how we, as Orthodox Christians – called to be God’s imagers in the world – can solve the problems of the world and end its pain.  In this talk, Fr. Anthony looks at three strategies Christians use: the cultural warrior, the virtuous warrior, and the relationship builder.  Enjoy the talk!
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Notes from the talk:

Sanctifying Creation: Three Approaches to Healing the World’s Pain

Fr Anthony Perkins

Euthanasia? Assisted suicide? Abortion? Pollution? Tyranny? Exploitation? Genetic and mechanical transhumanism? Slavery? Violent conquest?

The lists of issues that violate the sanctity of creation is long, and they all speak to a greater malady; a malady that Christ came to heal; and he has empowered and commissioned us to do just that work in His Name. We are made in His image, meant to do His work in the world.

But what does that mean for us? How are we to get it done? I want to share the three main approaches I see within Orthodox Christianity. And this does not include apathy; there is no doubt in my mind that doing nothing is a betrayal of our calling.

The first approach recognizes the importance of what is at stake and acts accordingly.

The Christians who take this approach see it as a war, a war for which God has equipped them. They have put on the armor of Christ; as called for in Ephesians;

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

They have armored up and they wade into the battle, bringing the Truth to bear in every fight. The wisest among us recognize that “truth” is hard to discern, so they have spent a lot of time making sure we support the right policies. This is what many people do; it is their passion. But it is so hard to get right. Scientists and theologians agree that our minds are not wired for truth, they are wired for the protection and satisfaction of our pride, of our ego. And so, when it comes to the most difficult questions and how best to respond to them; to find the right explanation and the right policy solution… again, it is hard to get it right.

Our opinions about what is good and godly – for this really is the goal of all good men and women – becomes as much informed by the culture of the world as it is by that of God. And the world? Well it is a mess. We made that mess, but now it infects us. Confuses us. Makes it hard to figure out what is right.

This needs some explaining: do Christians believe that the world is bad? No, all Christians know that it was made good, but it groans in agony. It has been damaged by our sin. It has been given over to the gods of the nations and the religions humanity has formed around them. Not necessarily things like the religion of the pagan Greeks or Satanism; instead, the nations of the world have worldviews defined by the mythologies of secularism, materialism, and hedonism; these are the mythologies that surround the gods of scientism, progress, and pleasure. They are the ones that shape our modern culture.

The Orthodox warrior recognizes that these gods and the mythologies and cultures that surround them are quite different from the God that is above all gods and the True Faith He has established for our perfection. Again, the ways of the world are idolatry with the things that the world values being its gods. There is an amalgam of false religions that works with our psychology to distract us all from what is good wholesome. Mankind ends up going the wrong the way and excusing terrible things with empty words.

It’s a mess; the world groans and people suffer. So what are we to do?

Orthodox Warriors know that Orthodoxy is the solution. It is the True Faith that provides the solutions to our problems and our pain. “We are Orthodox! We know what is right; and our God is greater! And because we are right, we know that those who disagree with us are wrong and, even if they are not actually evil themselves, have fallen subject to the demonic forces “in high places”. They are deceived, on the wrong side of a war – a cultural war with eternal consequences – that we are going to win.”

Wait a second. That’s not right.

There is a huge problem here. We critique our enemies for falling prey to the ways of the world, while making ourselves subject to them as well. The greatest warning Christ gave were not to the soldiers or tax collectors who were oppressing God’s children, or to the various categories of sinners that were breaking the rules God had given them. Do you remember who it was that received the greatest condemnation? It was the Pharisees and Lawyers of God’s law – the hypocrites who knew the letter of the law but used to to their own condemnation and the ruination of both their friends and enemies. They had the letter of the law, but they missed it’s spirit.

It’s important to know what policies are best, but rather than objectifying these rules so that we can use them as weapons in some demonic culture war, we need to get back to basics.

The Orthodox Warrior is right in recognizing the seriousness of the problem and in knowing that Christ and The Way He established for us is correct; but it is both theologically strategically short-sighted (win the battle in a way that loses the war).

I have studied war: Kilcullen’s Accidental Guerrilla. Fine if you want to make enemies of everyone and clear a country for resettlement, but not if you want to bring unity and prosperity to a people who are already there.

And this Leads us to the Second Approach – Evangelism through Virtue.

Seal. Broken. Rules? Stamp ourselves on others. I need to fix myself before I can have a good impact on others. Otherwise I am just adding my brokenness to theirs.

[Become the Truth so that you can proclaim it to others. Heal our own brokenness. So that we become the seal that we stamp others with.]

But this method is not really sustainable; it does not exist in equilibrium, at least not when it is combined – as it must be – with the evangelical imperative. And so it slides into a seemingly more effective version of the first way – Virtuous Crusaders fighting the Cultural War. Making enemies of potential allies and falling once again into the trap of treating people into targets defined by their issues and the words of God into weapons to subdue and overpower them.

Back to Isaiah’s prophecy: make the crooked straight. I am crooked. We are all crooked. We don’t make ourselves straight by finding the right rules and following them; we do it by sacrificing our pride and allowing Christ to rebuild us as beings of love and service.

The Old Covenant God had with His children WAS one of rules, but all it could do, all it was meant to do was protect them until He established His New Covenant. Under this New Covenant, in this new age in which we live, He provides more than protection from our sin, He has made the Way to joy now and forever open to us. And we travel along that Way to perfection not by following rules, but by accepting Him as our Lord and God; by inviting Him to abide within our hearts and sharing our lives with Him so that we can say with St. Paul; “it is no longer I who live, but Him who lives in me.”

But this is only the start. This re-sanctifies us (to go back to the theme of the talk), but what about creation? It has to be more than getting the right stamp to force on the world; conquering it through our righteousness and power!

When we focus on fixing ourselves first, and connect ourselves with the source of all Goodness, Truth, and Virtue – when we enter into a serious relationship with God through Jesus Christ – we don’t be come Warriors, we become something much more powerful and much more effective.

The Third Way: Relations.

The image of transforming relations. They are as crooked as our minds. We objectify the people in our lives: are they good for me? Are they good for me? Is this relation still working out? Friendships break down. Families break down. Parishes divided by ethnicity, themselves divide into factions. Communities are divided by identity tribes between which demonize one another and justify their outrage. Abortion, suicide, pornography, tyranny … these are symptoms of the same problem.

We objectify one another, turning them into objects of our desire and disgust. . Not just

These are the crooked ways that Christ came to make straight;

Friendships. Families. Parishes. Communities. Transformed.

Listening so that we can love. Apophatic. Egoless. Similar for people. Egoless so that we can serve, so that we can connect. So that we can connect in love. So that the grace of “two or more” can be brought to bear.

The example of music.

[We listen to and learn its primal patterns. The logical purity of tone and harmony and all the love that they and their melodies are and express; these things re-pattern our own relation with sound.]

Listening to the other. They have a melody; perhaps poorly expressed, but they are also little creators – they know love, heartbreak, hope, and despair- sharing the melody of the primal tone and the the heart that God has given them and expressing it as best they can. How can we bring that melody out? Not by destroying it and trying to replace it with our own. This will simply bring opposition and noise with our own clanging symbols adding to the cacophony. Rather, because we understand the structure of the primal Tone and recognize it in the variation being played by the person with who we share the moment – the person we are loving in that moment-, we are able to gently harmonize with them; drawing out and magnifying its beauty. In this way, even its missteps can become modulations into transitions of something better.

The resulting music carries the joy of one who has been heard and loved. The two who could have been at best strangers and at worse opponents, are not intimately connect by their shared love of the deeper magic. And in that shared love, they can work together to perfect the music they share and spread.

The stamp of Christ is not something that we can have or share alone, we are part of the wheat – a grain of leavened wheat, if you will – that requires more grains and more leaven to receive the stamp that can then become sanctified to the salvation of the world.

Another metaphor: listen to their stories. Without judgment. Let their joys and sorrows become your own. Then you will share those things. The process of listening in order to love is one that every married couple should already have mastered, and it is part of learning to live one life, so share one flesh. But this mystery is not just about matrimony, for we are not just called to love our lover, but even our enemy. When we listen empathetically and actively to our enemies, we find how much we have in common, and those things held in common are things we find we share, and that sharing becomes the connection that makes us one as God is one. Their pain, their triumphs become our own.

When we objectify the process, we call such things “compromise”, but that misses the greater point. It is the transformation of hearts into love, the transformation of us into sons and daughters of God, and the transformation of a cosmos that groans in agony into one that sings unending songs of joy. The war chant and the funeral dirge has been transformed through Christ the Logos into the hymn of Alleluia.

More than right answers, a right way of life. Right laws? Short term good, until they are re-written. Even true in the Christian empires. But transformed relations and a transformed way to share our lives with others? That is The Way to change things forever. God did not come to earth to fix our laws, but to change our lives. And He wants us to be part of that plan. He established not a new Kingdom – not yet – but a growing set of relationships, a new humanity bonded in mutual sacrifice and service – that we call the Church. And evangelism – bringing more broken people into a healing relationship with God – is not done by getting public policies right or even by inviting people to Church. It’s done by loving them … involvement in parish life and policies informed by holiness will then develop as a natural expression of their new life in Christ.

If we skip this step, it just won’t work. Supply and demand. You have to change things at their root; and this is what the Gospel proclaims and this is how it is to be lived.

Tie up: pharisee – objectified the rules (both sides!). We need to get the answers right, but more important to get the process right or else we just turn God and Truth into one among many gods and the Truth one among many truths, cut off from their source; and their source is the only thing truly real, truly good, and actually capable of bringing [goodness].

Until we have a real relationship with God and allow all of our thoughts to flow from that source of goodness and truth, we won’t just objectify rules; we won’t just objectify (and then demonize) our opponents; we will naturally turn everything into objects to used, to be manipulated; and this is the real source of our cultures acceptance of things like abortion – we objectify life and judge it’s worth based on things like convenience; and sex – we turn the image of others into objects of our lust; euthenasia… ; genetic and mechanical transhumanism…; and every kind of unnecessary violence and tyrrany.

All that ends NOT when the right rules are put into place and we have enough power to enforce them; but when everyone – first us and then it grows – reconnects themselves with the source of sanctity and becomes a conduit for that source to bless us and the creation we were called to serve.


Fix ourselves by becoming peaceful. When it comes specifically to the issues I was asked to address:

  • What role do I play in the culture that finds abortion to be a reasonable way way to deal with our the unwanted consequences of sex? Instead of starting with public policy, let’s start by disciplining our own sexual urges. Porn, extra-marital sex; when we engage in these things, we contribute to a culture that values sexual expression more than dignity, more than marriage, more than life itself. The data on this shows that we have a lot of work to do in this regard.
  • What role do I play in the culture that finds euthanasia and physician assisted suicide a reasonable way to deal with suffering? How do we behave when we are ill? Are we complainers, or do we use it as an opportunity to demonstrate grace in the face of temptation? This is the witness the world needs. The witness of the martyrs who proclaimed their joy in Christ while their bodies were being tortured that led to the conversion of many to that same love and joy. We are called to offer that same witness in the face of sickness and death. Let’s commit ourselves to suffering well and to die with dignity not because we have surrendered to our pain, but because we die while professing our love and hope in Christ.

Be evangelists of the Truth, especially when we relate to the other. Truth is relational; it is not about right beliefs, but by a right way of life, lived in harmony with God and with our neighbor. May God strengthen us in this calling.