Friday, June 6, 2014

'Pacify the Ragings of the… Who?'

A raging non-secularist.
The OCA recently posted a fine essay by Fr Lawrence Farley. Asking a provocative question derived from the rightly-revered anaphora prayer from the Liturgy of St Basil the Great ("Pacify the raging of the pagans..."), Fr Lawrence uses the opportunity to identify just who is raging against the Church, who are the true rivals of Christ, and settles on... the Secularists!

While this is certainly true as far as it goes, and most definitely calls for a robust catechism to help lead new Orthodox believers out of the anti-Christian culture of the world around us to a living and vital Orthodox world-view, I would suggest that this is actually a very limited answer, which identifies but one of the main pagan forces raging against the Church.

Indeed, while secularism is strong in North America and Europe, it is hardly the only force raging against the Church. Yet in conjunction with his ID-ing of the new pagans, Fr Lawrence makes a most astonishing claim, namely, that the number of actual pagans in the world is really very small; "infinitesimal" as he puts it.

The Islamic festival of Ashura. 

Sadly, Fr Lawrence overlooked one of the globe's largest pagan cults, one which numbers approximately 1.6 billion adherents, and whose most zealous devotees are slaughtering and persecuting Christians from Egypt, Iraq and Syria to Nigeria, Sudan and C.A.R., from the 'Stans to the Balkans, from Indonesia and India to Malaysia and Zanzibar, in fact anywhere this religion has spread.

St John of Damascus detailed many errors of this pagan movement, which he called "the superstition of the Ishmaelites," and its followers "idolators," who "rub [themselves] against a stone in the Kaaba and kiss and embrace it."

The Kaaba in Mecca, surrounded by its devotees.

The black stone of the Kaaba...

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (R) and Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal stand in front of the black stone inside the Kaaba in the Grand Mosque in Mecca, early February 9, 2007. (Suhaib Salem/Reuters)

The obscure origins of Islam are shrouded in Arab pagan antiquity. As I wrote in my book, Facing Islam - What the Ancient Church has to say about the Religion of Muhmmad:

There exist strong reasons to consider that Allah was but one of the many pagan deities worshipped by the Arab polytheists before Muhammad elevated him to pre- eminent status. The frequency of the crescent moon in archeological digs from the pre-Islamic pagan epoch, the Sabean lunar calendar so prevalent in the Arabian penin- sula, and the apparent correspondence to the Babylonian deity Baal are indicators, as is Allah’s most used title in the Koran, Ar-Rahman (the Merciful), who was known in South Arabia as a moon deity. 
Perhaps due to the influence of Christianity and Judaism, there can be traced a development towards a proto or pseudo-monotheism in the Arabian peninsula, with the moon god’s domination earning him the appellation “Lord of Heaven and Earth.” This trend throughout the fifth and sixth centuries A.D., especially in the north around Mecca, and significantly in Muhammad’s own Quraysh tribe, paved the way for the “Prophet.” The Quraysh had come to be known even before Muhammad’s rise as the “People of Allah.” 
Thus Serge Trifkovic concludes, “the word [Allah] was well familiar to Muhammad’s contemporaries, denoting a pagan deity that his tribe revered as superior to all others, rather than the Supreme Being, creator and sustainer of the universe. He did not need to invent a completely new word but eventually redefined the uniquely Arab Allah on his own terms.” (Serge Trifkovic, The Sword of the Prophet, Regina Orthodox Press, 2002, pp 19-23, 24. 52.)

Raging Muslims in formerly Christian England.

Orthodox Christianity today is caught in a global pincer movement between two totalitarian forces: on the one hand, militant secularism, torqued up by homosexual activists and culture of death advocates, and on the other, Islam, even more torqued up by its own bloodthirsty culture of death. Just look at Russia, Serbia, Greece and other Orthodox nations for examples of this increasingly open warfare.

Secularism rages on, to be sure, but so does Islam, which is waging genocide and religious cleansing against Christians throughout the Muslim world.

I wholeheartedly recommend the below essay by Fr Lawrence Farley, with the caveat that one ought keep in mind the world's largest and oldest anti-Christian pagan movement. "Pacify the raging of the pagans," indeed.

'Pacify the Ragings of the… Who?'
by Fr Lawrence Farley, — May 21, 2014

You have probably noticed that we are no longer in the fourth century.  In that century, the great rival of Christianity was paganism—the worship of the old gods, still worshipped by much of the population, a few of whom were powerful and well-heeled.  Some scholars estimate that when Constantine declared himself on the side of the Christians early in that century, only 10% of the population were actually Christian.  The rest (apart from a small slice of Jewish population) were pagan.  Some of these pagans were wealthy, well-connected, and not planning to go anywhere.  Obviously Constantine was taking a risk in “coming out” as a Christian.  But the risk paid off.

It is often said that as soon as the Emperor Constantine declared himself on the side of the Christians, Christianity became the state religion.  Real historians tell us this was not the case, and that most people in Constantine’s day, Christians included, expected Constantine’s Christian “thing” would end up being a flash in the pan, and that subsequent emperors would return to paganism (i.e. to the status quo) as they had done for years.  The pagan declarations of Emperor Julian later in that century seemed to confirm this expectation.  Oh well, it was nice while it lasted.

As it turned out, Julian (known to later Christian history as “Julian the Apostate”) was the flash in the pan, and the future of the empire belonged to the Christians.  But in the fourth century, paganism was the real rival to Christianity and its obvious alternative.  The temples to the gods were everywhere.  All education was based on pagan literature, with its stories of the gods’ exploits, and the gods celebrated in that literature were not merely figures in mythology, but real gods, able to save or destroy, and their temples and altars could be found in pretty much in every house.  The Christians’ neighbours worshipped those gods, and considered that the Christians were impious and dangerous fools for not doing so.  It is important to recognize that for Christians in the fourth century, the worship of the old gods was the faith of the majority.  Most people on the block acknowledged those gods, and thought that public acknowledgement of them was what made the Empire safe.

We must remember this when we look at what we call “the Divine Liturgy of Saint Basil the Great” and find such petitions in the anaphora as “pacify the ragings of the pagans.”  We also find phrases in that anaphora praising God for delivering us through Christ from “the delusions of idolatry.”  This idea reappears in the prayer for the setting apart of catechumens in our baptismal service, when the priest prays, “remove far from him [the catechumen] his former delusion.”  What is this “delusion?”  The delusion was idolatry—the pagan religion which the catechumen formerly embraced, the religion of everybody else in fourth century society.  What most of society considered as religion and piety, the Christians considered to be delusion, and those entering the Church were required liturgically to solemnly renounce the faith of society’s majority.  No wonder pagans accused Christians of being “haters of humanity” and atheists.  When the fourth century Christians prayed in their Liturgy that God would “pacify the ragings of the pagans,” they were taking a public stand against the majority of the world around them.

So, who are the pagans today?  When we pray this Liturgy during Great Lent and on other occasions during the year and ask that God pacify and save us from the raging opposition of the pagans, who are who talking about?  Clearly, not the worshippers of Zeus, Aphrodite, and Apollo, for no one now worships these gods.  Today the majority of society worships other deities—those of money (“Mammon” in the Biblical terms), success, fame, and health.  The majority around us now no longer worship the old gods of Rome and Greece.  They are secularists, not pagans.  The number of true pagans living today is infinitesimal:  the so-called Wiccans, who claim to worship the goddess and the old deities scarcely count as true pagans.  If one could resurrect an old pagan from the fourth century and ask his opinion of the Wiccans, I have no doubt he would renounce them as having no real pagan piety at all, and would opine that Wiccans worship not the old gods but rather themselves.  No:  the real alternative, the modern pagans, are not the Wiccans, but the secularists.  Secularism, not paganism, is the true rival to contemporary Christianity.  It is well that our Liturgy of Saint Basil should offer a petition against them.  They are certainly raging against us.  Those entering the Church through holy baptism need to recognize this and know which delusions they are renouncing.

[And let us extend the right hand of fellowship to Muslims of good conscience, whose eyes are being opened to their own spiritual delusions, and who are turning to Jesus Christ in the Orthodox Church. Our bishops should be preparing special catechisms to help converts from Islam to come to know Christ through the Holy Spirit.]