Asceticism and the Response to Secularism
Christians have seemed to embrace the prevailing culture instead of converting it. That's why it's so important to have a conversion of Christian parishes and people, not wholly unlike what was seen in the early centuries of the Church.
In his article, The Inward Mission of the Church: Brining About Orthodoxy, Blessed Father Justin Popovich lays out the case for doing such a thing. He explains (emphasis mine):
"Herein lies the difference between the world of men and the one in Christ: the human world is transient and time-bound, whilst that of Christ is ever whole, for evermore. Orthodoxy, as the single vessel and guardian of the perfect and radiant Person of God-human Christ, is brought about exclusively by this extension of virtues by grace, through entirely God-human Orthodox means, not through borrowings from Roman Catholicism or Protestantism, because the latter are forms of Christianity after the pattern of the proud European being, and not of the humble God-human being."
In other words, Blessed Fr. Justin appears to be deeply concerned about how so-called Christian believers have embraced the transience of the human world over the eternity of the divine world. The evidence for this, he says, is the rancid state of the inner life of believers. For Blessed Fr. Justin, the reason this is occurring is that Christianity is failing in its job to train its adherents to follow the faith as Christ commanded (i.e. deny yourself, pick up your Cross, lose your life, follow Christ).
At one level, he explains that Catholicism and Protestantism are failing because both are modeled largely on the European idea of the human. By that I suppose he means a person whose faith is not only informed by Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition (namely, the Fathers and the Liturgy), but someone who is equally informed and influenced by the arts, politics, economics, and a desire to further his position in society and/or in the Church. One gets a sense that Blessed Fr. Justin is imagining here a decadent, elitist who's not so concerned about the state of his soul. Of course, Orthodoxy is not left out of this intellectual bloodbath. Blessed Fr. Justin also takes a few shots at the many Orthodox for whom national identity became far too important.
What is needed, then, is an ascendency of authentic Orthodoxy and Orthodox parishes that first and foremost rely on prayer and divine assistance to re-establish a commitment to Christ and His Church among believers (and even non-believers). Second, we need for parishes to return to teaching parishioners how to live simple, ascetical lives, so they learn to live for God and not for themselves. Blessed Fr. Justin writes it this way (emphasis mine):
"Our Church's mission is to infuse these God-human virtues and ascetic exertions into the people's way of living; to have their life and soul knit firm with the Christ-like God-human virtues. For therein lies salvation from the world and from all those soul-destroying, death-dealing, and Godless organizations of the world. In response to the "erudite" atheism and refined cannibalism of contemporary civilization we must give place to those Christ-bearing personalities, who with the meekness of sheep will put down the roused lust of wolves, and with the harmlessness of doves will save the soul of the people from cultural and political putrefaction. We must execute ascetic effort in Christ's name in response to the cultural exercising which is performed in the name of the decayed and disfigured European being, in the name of atheism, civilization, or the Antichrist. Which is why the major task of our Church is the creation of such Christ-bearing ascetics."
For far too long, Western Christianity has been teaching its adherents to seek social change or to pursue personal success in the name of the Lord. But this has been an arrogantly pharisaical approach to Christianity. The fact is that asceticism -- deep, real, and lasting prayer, fasting, and almsgiving -- is the key to building and deepening a truly, authentic Christian life. Not only that, but it is the only way that others will seriously take note of the Christian commitment to God. In living this way, each of us can be sure that others will either despise us -- and turn us into martyrs -- or see their own need to convert and get serious about living life in and through the Lord.