A more likely scenario is that hatred of askesis led to over indulgence and the lust for wealth characteristic of the late-19th to mid-20th and this straying from God led to depression and ennui-like the hang over of a drunken orgy, nihilism swept over the earth in the circa 1960's. Those "great" Christian empires feel by and large because most of the people in them were living lives far from anything Christian (think of the two destructions of Jerusalem). In short, secularism has "won" because people hate God, they'd rather worship pleasure.
orthonorm's signature is ironic. He is mocking the Catholic and Protestant theology of penal substitution. The Orthodox view is that God is always eager to forgive the repentant and needs no sacrifice to placate Him. Christ came and died to sanctify human nature thus making it possible for us to overcome sin by the grace of God and return to communion with Him. Askesis is God's gift to us, a method for dying to our sick, sinful flesh. We must crucify the sinful passions by denying them and cling to the Precious Life-Giving Cross of Christ by vigilant prayer and fasting. Only through the burning off our dross can the true beauty and joy which God made us for (the infinite, wonderful, never-ending dance of theosis) can shine through.
You said that God needs no sacrifice? Here is what Orthodox Wiki says in regards to the Eucharist in Orthodox Christianity:
Eucharist as a sacrifice: The Orthodox Church believes the Eucharist to be a sacrifice. As is heard in the Liturgy, "Thine of Thine own we offer to Thee, in all and for all."
1.At the Eucharist, the sacrifice offered is Christ himself, and it is Christ himself who in the Church performs the act of offering: He is both priest and victim.
2.We offer to Thee. The Eucharist is offered to God the Trinity — not just to the Father but also to the Holy Spirit and to Christ Himself. So, what is the sacrifice of the Eucharist? By whom is it offered? and to whom is it offered? In each case the answer is Christ.
3.We offer for all: according to Orthodox theology, the Eucharist is a propitiatory sacrifice, offered on behalf of both the living and the dead.
The Church teaches that the sacrifice is not a mere figure or symbol but a true sacrifice. It is not the bread that is sacrificed, but the very Body of Christ. And, the Lamb of God was sacrificed only once, for all time. The sacrifice at the Eucharist consists, not in the real and bloody immolation of the Lamb, but in the transformation of the bread into the sacrificed Lamb.
All the events of Christ's sacrifice, the Incarnation, the Last Supper, the Crucifixion, the Resurrection, and the Ascension are not repeated in the Eucharist, but they are made present. http://orthodoxwiki.org/Eucharist
So now I'm confused. I am aware of some teachers in Eastern Orthodoxy who make the claim that there is a distinction between RC/Protestant Penal Substistion and what EO teaches. Yet, how do you explain St. John the Baptist referring to Jesus as "the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world." ? Anyone who knows something about Judaism knows what that means and it means only one thing: A sinless, spotless lamb was chosen as an animal sacrifice to be offered to the God of the Jews (Yahweh) so that the Jews (all other ethnicities were excluded of course) could be forgiven for their offenses and sins. Therfore, somewhere between referring to Christ as the Lamb of God and the Eucharist being an actual human sacrifice that you offer to God, it sounds like to me that either I am confused or I have a point? What is the point about "bragging" about martyrdom if God desires no sacrifice from humans? Ultra-ascetics who make a cross out of everything are a human sacrifice. If they do this successfully and are content, then they are saints, right?