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Author Topic: The Blood of the Martyrs is the Seed of Barely Getting By?  (Read 1306 times) Average Rating: 0
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Justin Kissel
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« on: April 29, 2006, 05:37:28 PM »

Something that confuses me is how different the fruit of the early persecutions are from the fruit of the later persecutions. That is to say, the persecutions the early Church went through seemed to (paradoxically) make it grow the more it was persecuted, and these persecutions seem to have continually revitalized the missionary zeal of Christians. At least, that is the traditional way of looking at things, thus the ancient idea of Tertullian that the blood of the martyrs was the seed of faith/Christians/Church. However, once we get to later persecutions, like those under the Soviets and Turks, the Orthodox Church seemed to have lost ground.  Why is this? Were later persecutions that much more harsh and systematic?
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« Reply #1 on: April 29, 2006, 06:21:21 PM »

However, once we get to later persecutions, like those under the Soviets and Turks, the Orthodox Church seemed to have lost ground.  Why is this? Were later persecutions that much more harsh and systematic?

Well, I think your first question probably suffers from post hoc ergo propter hoc (aren't there MANY reasons for the Orthodox Church's dwindling presence both now and then?). Your second question might just point to one of those many reasons for the apparent disparity. Two points:

1) The Roman persecution of Christians was spotty at best. Only a few emperors actually encouraged persecution and, even then, local officials had great leeway.

2) Social historians/sociologists (especially Rodney Stark) have argued that martyrdom and miracle-related conversion played a far less significant role in the early growth of Christianity than did the forces of social networking and outreach. Stark has presented a good deal of evidence for the stellar job Christians did at caring for the sick, the abandoned and the needy -- and how that likely increased their numbers exponentially. In particular, during times of invasion and plague (of which there were many in the ancient world), the local Christian Church was likely one of the only organized institutions that offered actual care and assistance, since the wealthy Roman aristocrats and governors fled to their country estates.

So, in Roman times we have a less pervasive persecution (without systematic financial penalties) and many, many reasons (other than frequent martyrdoms) for the Church to spread quickly.
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« Reply #2 on: April 29, 2006, 08:46:42 PM »

I think you have too much of romanticized view of the early Church, Asteriktos. Not every Christan just died as a martyr. Thousands gave up the faith, left Christianity, and escaped the persecution. The reason we don't know much of them, or have their names, is because they weren't saints! So, it should be no surprise there are both martyrs and apostates, just as in the beginning. However, the revival we see in former communist lands, and even in the US, is this not the fruit you are speaking of? Isn't Orthodoxy growing in all the persecuted lands? Why do you say Orthodoxy is "losing ground?"
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Justin Kissel
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« Reply #3 on: April 29, 2006, 09:10:38 PM »

Quote
Well, I think your first question probably suffers from post hoc ergo propter hoc (aren't there MANY reasons for the Orthodox Church's dwindling presence both now and then?).

Ok, what are some of the reasons? Smiley

Quote
Your second question might just point to one of those many reasons for the apparent disparity.

Well, I guess I would have to agree, since I'm the one who offered it as a possible solution to the problem (I wanted to hear if others thought it was a solution). I don't think it's a very good solution, though. Some Fathers considered the prophecy about the Gates of Hades not prevailing against the Church to mean that earthly powers would not dominate the Church. But haven't earthly powers, at the very least, severely handicapped the Church for centuries?

The first part of your first point (Roman emperors persecuting Christians) I agree with, the the second part (about the local officials) I would disagree with. I've read more hagiographical texts than I care to remember which had the main plot as something like "Man wants girl, girl refuses, man trumps up charges and gets governer to kill her" or "Man wants property, other man refuses to sell, so first man promises civil leader half the wealth if they kill the Christian". The governers did indeed have great leeway... but I think they used it to their own greedy and power-lusting advantage.

Regarding your second point (Rodney Stark...), I hadn't heard it put in quite so systematic an argument before, though it certainly makes sense. Really, what you are saying is pretty close to one of Nietzsche's main arguments against Christianity in The Antichrist, ie. that they pander to the "scum" (to use his idiotic word), the lower classes, the ill, etc..


Bizzlebin

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I think you have too much of romanticized view of the early Church, Asteriktos.

I bet that's not something someone says to an agnostic every day! Smiley  But really, it's quite the contrary. I am fully aware of there being great falling aways and such. This is the reason that I added, "At least, that is the traditional way of looking at things"... because what I was saying was not my own position so much as the traditional position (not just of Tertullian, but of almost Church historians and hagiographers I've read) in the Church. Basically, the stories of the ancient world, and the historical reality of later times, seems to contradict one another. There is an apparent discontinuity, which could have many solutions. Maybe the early Church really didn't handle persecution as well as it is claimed by Eusebius and others. Or maybe the later Church just was too beaten down to put up much of a fight. But why am I giving you answers? This is what I wanted the Orthodox to explain... Wink

Quote
However, the revival we see in former communist lands, and even in the US, is this not the fruit you are speaking of?

Well, I don't know. You see numbers like 250 million thrown around for Orthodox Christianity world wide. That would include something like 80 million in Russia. But I've heard that only something like 3-4% of the population go to Church on a regular basis. Maybe 80 million have been baptized. Maybe there has been an increase in people reading spiritual literature by 1000%... but when you start with small numbers, even a one thousand percent increase still leaves you with a very small number. Regarding the U.S., it's hard to tell since the numbers are so inflated. The figure often thrown around, of "5-6 million" Orthodox in America, is probably about as accurate as the 80 million in Russia. If you're talking about people actually attending Church more than twice a year, actually supporting the parish, etc., it's probably less than a million total. I'm not sure how much better that is than 50 years go. There have indeed been some prominent groups and individuals that have joined (the EOC and Jaroslav Pelikan come to mind), but there have also been lots of Orthodox from the old country dying off (here in western PA one can find a number of half-empty parishes, where the 40 or so people left are almost all over 65). There have also been quite a few schisms, the HOCNA one alone took with it twenty-some parishes.
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« Reply #4 on: April 29, 2006, 09:24:22 PM »

This is the reason that I added, "At least, that is the traditional way of looking at things"... because what I was saying was not my own position so much as the traditional position (not just of Tertullian, but of almost Church historians and hagiographers I've read) in the Church.

Basically, the stories of the ancient world, and the historical reality of later times, seems to contradict one another. There is an apparent discontinuity, which could have many solutions. Maybe the early Church really didn't handle persecution as well as it is claimed by Eusebius and others. Or maybe the later Church just was too beaten down to put up much of a fight. But why am I giving you answers? This is what I wanted the Orthodox to explain... Wink

Well, I don't know. You see numbers like 250 million thrown around for Orthodox Christianity world wide. That would include something like 80 million in Russia. But I've heard that only something like 3-4% of the population go to Church on a regular basis. Maybe 80 million have been baptized. Maybe there has been an increase in people reading spiritual literature by 1000%... but when you start with small numbers, even a one thousand percent increase still leaves you with a very small number. Regarding the U.S., it's hard to tell since the numbers are so inflated. The figure often thrown around, of "5-6 million" Orthodox in America, is probably about as accurate as the 80 million in Russia. If you're talking about people actually attending Church more than twice a year, actually supporting the parish, etc., it's probably less than a million total. I'm not sure how much better that is than 50 years go. There have indeed been some prominent groups and individuals that have joined (the EOC and Jaroslav Pelikan come to mind), but there have also been lots of Orthodox from the old country dying off (here in western PA one can find a number of half-empty parishes, where the 40 or so people left are almost all over 65). There have also been quite a few schisms, the HOCNA one alone took with it twenty-some parishes.

Oh, ok  Tongue

Well, I would say something similar. The Church history written by Eusebius was in some ways like a hagiography. More historical facts, sure, but you have to remember the intent and the audience.

Well, the numbers are smaller for today, but a 1000% increase is still good. How else do you think the early Church got such high percentages, lol? Plus, if 80 million are baptized, coming from that kind of persecution, that's amazing, really.
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« Reply #5 on: April 30, 2006, 03:16:56 AM »

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However, once we get to later persecutions, like those under the Soviets and Turks, the Orthodox Church seemed to have lost ground.  Why is this?

First off - when looking at the hagiography/martyrology of the early saints and martyrs, what is recorded is that there purpose was singularly Christian.  I think this is a very important point.

Ottoman empire - Even looking at the hagiography, it is not convincing that the purpose of every neomartyr was singularly Christian.  What I mean is that (I especially notice this in oral recountings of the tales of the neomartyrs - at least the Greek ones) there is often an element that so and so died to stand up for his identity - religion, language, ethnicity, culture alll being a part of that - against Turkish attempts to eradicate that identity.  So all religious formalities aside, a Turk wanting to become Orthodox was wanting to become Greek, Bulgarian, Serb or Romanian.  Also there was tremendous infighting within the church as this time that was very ethnic in nature.  Greek clergy dominated churches that were ethnically non-Greek, particularly in Bulgaria and among Albanians that were Orthodox (even resulting in the temporary schism that resulted in the creation of the modern Bulgarian Orthodox Church).  So why would a Muslim Turk want to convert a religion that was entirely bound up with ethnic identity and filled with infighting when it also would have been very socially and politically disadventagious to do so?  Furthermore, I think it has been the case that ethnic, linquistic and political identity have been far more important that religious identity to many Eastern European populations - as evidenced by the creation of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and the Romanian Greek Catholic Church.  

As for the Soviet era... I don't think anything else in the history of humanity compares to how powerful the socialist transformation was and how all encompassing it was.  Still, it is not hard to understand how populations that had miserable lives under the tsars (and saw Tsar Nikolai II leading an entire generation of young men to their deaths and Rasputin having a weird control of the Tsaritsa...) could turn on the Church when vocal elements took a strong tsarist position in response to both revolutions.  It comes back to the question of singularly being martyred for Christ...

I know that I sound like an old record, but I firmly believe the greatest detriment to Orthodoxy is the nationlization of Orthodoxy.  It ALWAYS leads to greater secularization, stiffling of missionary activity and lukewarmness.  Orthodox people, in general, seem to have a great deal of difficulty distinguishing from that which the church allows and tolerates in a society and that which is essential to the Church.  

That being said there isn't much I can say regarding agnosticism as an Orthodox Christian.  God has given us everything and collectively we (Christians) have squandered it - but is that a reflection on humanity or on God?
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« Reply #6 on: April 30, 2006, 03:32:23 AM »

[quote author=Νεκτάριος link=topic=8915.msg118152#msg118152 date=1146381416]
First off - when looking at the hagiography/martyrology of the early saints and martyrs, what is recorded is that there purpose was singularly Christian.  I think this is a very important point.[/quote]
I don't think the hagiographies of the early martyrs make much of a different point to those of the neomartyrs.
A recurring element in early martyrologies was that the martyrs had refused to sacrifice to the Pagan gods or the Emperor- that is, they chose to adhere to their Christian belief and practices rather than adopt the beliefs and practices of the State which conflicted with them- so the State attempted to crush them in the only way it knows how to. In this sense, there is no difference between the Colosseum and a Siberian Gulag.
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« Reply #7 on: April 30, 2006, 04:38:43 AM »

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In this sense, there is no difference between the Colosseum and a Siberian Gulag.

There is a radical difference in the lasting affect of the two - the former converting a pagan empire to Christianity, the latter leaving behind one of the more unfunctional modern nations.  Still, I would argue that particularly in the case of Soviet Russia the hagiographies and popular memory are different.  My bias is that I have been exposed to the Russian Church through the ROCOR, but I think it is still possible to show that at least some of the new martyrs died not merely for Christianity but also for the old order (Tsarism and "Holy Russia").  In fact, such is the philsophical arguments against Nihilism used by Fr. Seraphim Rose in his book on the topic - considering his influences at the time: the Kontzevitches, St. John, Bishop Nektary et al. I think it is safe to say that such an opinion - that the Church represented not only Christianity, but many of the incidentals of "Holy Russia".  
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