It is becoming more obvious that the secular world is departing rather quickly from the moral standards of Christianity. We should not be surprised. For millennia the world has fought against God. There have been eras of better and worse moral standards in this ever-swinging pendulum. As modern Orthodox Christians, having grown up in a world ‘more or less’ supportive of Christian morals, witnessing the recent move away from God can cause great anxiety. The good news is, the Church has dealt with it before, and it can deal with it again.
One of the current ‘hot button’ issues is regarding the Coronavirus vaccine, and whether we as Orthodox Christians should take the vaccine. I’m not going to tell you one way or another if you should or shouldn’t receive the vaccine. That should be a discussion between you and your doctor. In fact, today’s blog isn’t directly about the vaccine, but is merely inspired by the issue of those seeking the Church’s assistance is securing a religious exemption from the vaccine. There are Orthodox Theologians and Clergy of all rank that are engaging in that specific discussion, so I will refrain in specifics. Instead, I want to use that topic to touch on the broader issue of being Orthodox in a secular world, and how we can maneuver through our daily lives without ‘losing our soul’ along the way. For this, I will turn to Saint Paul.
I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people. Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner—not even to eat with such a person. – 1st Corinthians 5.9-11
The Church in Corinth was much like our modern American society. It was multicultural, highly educated, wealthy, diverse, and very divided. The Christian Church had to find a way to live within that society, while remaining loyal to the Christian moral code as taught by the Holy Apostles. This is the context of Saint Paul’s letter, and it should help us navigate modern American life.
One of the arguments against the vaccine is the use of fetal tissue in its development. Clearly the Church is against abortion, but does that mean we are required to be against the vaccine? I will not discuss the merits of the argument, but I will challenge the logic based upon Saint Paul’s letter. There are many aspects of our modern secular society that are historically based upon or even still engaged in behaviors which the Church considers to be abhorrent. Is the standard of our engagement with the society limited to only those who live according to our moral standards? If so, then as Saint Paul said, we would need to leave the world, but obviously we don’t leave.
There are items produced throughout the world under conditions that Church finds abhorrent. Are Orthodox Christians going to stop using smart phones because they are manufactured practically using slave labor? Are we going to refrain from doing business with banks because of usury? Will we refuse medical treatment from a doctor that practiced surgery on a cadaver? The Church frowns upon all these sins, but I haven’t encountered Orthodox Christians asking for religious exemption from such products and services.
The truth is, living in a secular world as an Orthodox Christian requires a nuanced response. The Church responded differently in different eras. There was a time when the Church forbid using Jewish doctors. Are we prepared to engage the world with Orthodox minded medical schools? I guess some would say yes, some would say no.
I would say, that we should hold ourselves WITHIN the Church to our moral standards as a good starting point. WE should refuse to have abortions. WE should refuse to treat the human body as a ‘just a body’ rather than the Temple of the Holy Spirit that it is. WE should refuse charging inhuman interest rates from simple transactions.
In the meantime, do the best you can in a society that doesn’t just ignore God, but goes against Him. If you find yourself in a bind, meet with your spiritual father and figure out what works best for the real-life situation you are in at the moment. We should also remember the Holy Scriptures were written for a particular context and a particular people. The truth is enduring, but the situations change.