Christian youth witness in a pluralistic society Fr.

Atanasije Yevtic

Born in the south-west of Serbia in a village "half-way between San Francisco and Tokyo" in 1938, Fr. Atanasije studied in the Belgrade seminary, and then in Athens wrote his doctoral dissertation on the ecclesiology of the Apostle Paul. After teaching in Paris, he returned to Serbia to lecture as professor of Patristics, as well as Church History. He is now the Dean of the Theological Faculty in Belgrade, and a Monk at the Vovedenje Monastery. The current address was given at the SYNDESMOS-EYCE Consultation “ Christian youth witness in a pluralistic society ” in Rakovica monastery, Yugoslavia, 1-8 December 1989 Let me begin by saying that I think Christians today have forgotten the meaning of the 'fear' of God in the Old Testament understanding of the word; the fear which is complemented by the word Faith in the New Testament. The Gospel begins by saying 'Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand'. Matthew and Mark give slight nuances in their expressions of this phrase, but both presuppose that the Gospel is necessarily the way to the Kingdom of God. As the Fathers of the early Church said, the newness of the Gospels is first and foremost the newness of Christ, the Divine-human Person. Belief in the Gospel means belief in Christ. Faith in Christ is a reality which is beyond that of a religion. Because religion is a reality of this world here. Above all, man is homo religiosus . In Eastern Europe under communism, a great deal was written about religion. Europe since the 18th century, is the first civilisation to have concerned itself with proving God exists. Before, the Divinity was a fact of life in all societies. Under communism, we too have been apologists for Christianity, talking about immortality and so on. But this has led us to abandon the very first scandal of the Gospels, which is to believe that God entered History, became Man, was crucified and resurrected. I believe that the witness of young people today in society will return to the themes of the early witnesses of Christianity, the expression of the Good News which is the Gospel. But I don't think this is enough for the youth of today. Above all the person who thirsts for truth needs a witness like that of the very first Apostles. 'Come and see the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth. ', as Philip says to Nathaniel, who replies 'Does anything good come from Nazareth'. Philip replies simply, 'come and see'. We do not know if Nathaniel went straight to Christ, or if Christ came to Nathaniel. We do know that Christ did not criticise Nathaniel, but greeted him as a true Israelite, saying he saw him under the tree. Nathaniel replied, 'Christ my God.' We do not know what happened between Christ and Nathaniel, but we see the result. Another example is that of the prodigal son who returns home after coming to his senses. The Father goes to meet his son without waiting for his repentance. Again the Father moves towards the son, but there is a mystery as to the cause. Only the reality of this meeting is evident. These examples are both much more than religiousness. There is a search, a quest for the True God, who is not unknown to Man. Perhaps Nathaniel prayed under the tree.

this encounter with God must come first. We could say the personal soul is searching for the universal soul. the great Orthodox theologian said. Justin Popovic. For a real encounter these two realities must be involved. or the Indian religions. not pseudo-religions. eros signifies that the first being loved all that was around him because he saw in it the reflection of himself. This is my own text. For God has given us Christ precisely because this allows us our freedom. like Plotin. as Christians have always witnessed. But in order to make this confrontation with God.then we are not truly saved. which is the other. **** In response to questions concerning the attitude of the Church in the face of the first free elections this week. In the coming. as I wrote them. Paul says remember those who gave you the Faith. No union can efface the seperate identities of these two realities. today and tomorrow. for true salvation.8) For young people witnessing in any society. merged and confused. the merging which would be the sign of a totalitarian God. and all things shall be added unto you. the advent. therefore. a meeting with God. which also exists for the mystics. but rather it is an ontological event. Because if we remain in the human world. We can then talk about the third reality. and it is in no way official. it is necessary to renew onself. you know God. religion excludes the notion of encounter. Many Catholic and Protestant Theologians have developed the idea of Grace preceding and following Faith. But this kind of 'circular'. In Indian thought. We canot witness in a truly Christian sense without questing for this encounter. with Jacob and Moses. Not the mystery of eros. -and here I mean true religions such as Islam. God and Man. I decided to write this short text. Christianity has revealed the reality of love. which always remain two. that the living God is none other than Christ. Repentance is not primarily a moral act.Whatever happened. if you know yourself. (Hebrews 13:7. because Jesus Christ is the same yesteday. 'face to face'. 'Seek Ye first the Kingdom of God. as Fr. this meeting with the face of God. in the religious world. God comes to meet Man and Man goes to meet God. and imitate their way of life. St. the existential context has not changed. It expresses my own thoughts on the question.' (Matthew 6:33) . and in the Old Testament. despite the changes in society. look to the deep roots of the human's being for God. The great Indian mystics. of Christ. the subjective 'self' searches for the objective universal being. This 'confrontation' is at the very essence of the Gospel. the neighbour. For an encounter. and excludes novelty. I believe that both are necessary. Christianity is first of all an encounter between two realities. all of Man and all of God are necessary. as is found in much ancient literature. We must witness. and His righteousness. both are necessary. and avoids the absorbtion. mystical. but eros is not able to depass this religious circle. For many mystics such as Plato. But ultimately there is a union where the two become one. Christ went to Nathaniel.

But the principle value for the Church is the value of the person. which is not for or against any party. The Gospel for the Church today is none other than the Gospel of Christ. keep in the freedom of the Spirit. With such a position. It is more meaningful to save human beings and human values even than democracy itself. for each person and every people. Before these elections. but also of a people. (I do not mean simple nationalism or patriotism here). the values of the people. something very important for . and cannot be against the free competition of human gifts and talents. We. the catastrophe of the Christian spirit. but which tries simply to underline certain fundamental points. And we must emphasise that the true freedom is to be found in the Spirit of God. or person. which in the world of Christ is the 'other' which will be added to the Heavenly Kingdom. no matter how good its programme. the 'egality and fraternity' of all men as children of God. cannot be against any party. The loss of dignity of the human being. Because we believe in the goodwill of each group. as a sign of the Heavenly Kingdom on earth. After our experience of carrying or Cross during this difficult period of communism. not partial but universal. which must imply a personal responsibility and a national responsibility. Because only through the Gospel can the entirety of our being truly become the bread of the Heavenly Kingdom. as a universal reality. the content of democracy is none other than these human values. but we must emphasise that the Church is not for any political party. Paul says. For this reason the Church can never be for the captivity and domination of any person or people. and is true for avery member of the Body of Christ.I feel this is the most fundamental guide in the Gospel for how the Church should act in society. and patriot. I am using a Eucharistic language when I speak of bread. The Gospel must act as a yeast. respects all the good that mankind has built and created for his future. as living reality. Because with our 'Heavenly politic' (Epistle to the Phillipians 3:20) the first choice in any election is the Heavenly Kingdom. For the Church. In other words. As St. or a race which tyrannises. ethics. we must understand that any political party. so that each person is social. The Church. because this slavery is not without our responsibility. I mean slavery in its broadest sense. and the most terrible result of this experience has been the 'catastrophe of the souls'. acts as a 'corrective' to all political factions in this world. I don't know how you react to this text. We would like to emphasise the great gift of freedom. the Church. is only a part of man and of society. but rather the Christianisation. For fifty years we have lived as the Christian people in slavery to communism. This does not mean that with this choice we reject our historical life and destiny. The Church. culture and of humanism. but for the country. there is no difference between an individual tyrant. far greater values than those simply of democracy. Our first need is for repentance and internal purification. The Church. the humanisation of the world. as a the soul of our spiritual and historical reality. The reality of our situation is a historical reality. as the catholic divine-human Body. a framework in which people can think. as a salt in humanity. I feel this is just an outline. covers all the reality of existence of man. of society. as Christians do not want the politicisation of Christianity. we recommend that you not forget the value and dignity of each person and all people. of a group by a group. but that we throw light and Grace onto this historical reality.

Our communist system has always aspired to the perfectionism of the human being. while losing the idea of the human person. Buddhism. I'm talking about the consumer society. This is why in the Gospel there is a place for the sinner. We Christians who lived through communism entirely re-examined our Faith in Christ. The Gospel is always simple. without Christian martyrdom in History. Father-son. the Church is not yet the Kingdom of God. T. family relationships. But this text demands an involvement. but that in no way signifies that we are an Orthodox country. repentance. although I suffered in the Church. and not only because of you. because the youth seek in them a satisfaction. If a democratic Party was to take power after the elections.people in this country. we have lived under the protection of the Americans. I have never denied Christ. I have lived in America.M. I try to make the young people I work with feel this. A greek doctor there once told me that he hoped that America could one day become Orthodox. has always emphasised the rights of man. who have really destroyed rights of the person. Zen. without ascesis. The great spanish writer Lorca has said he is afraid of Spain entering the European Community. This is an essential point for the Christian. As a pretext for protecting the rights of man. I still don't think that we can attain the Eternal Life without the Cross. The Church is really the place of the living. I am not a politician or a diplomat. the freedom of the human person. I know America. and yet I have never found such great freedom as I have found in the Church. what do we find? A collection of primary. Firstly. as distinct from its great culture. But unhappily our Church is not active enough to quench the thirst of those younf people.. Europe. but as I used to say to the communist authorities. Europe is a very good thing because it condemns our disorder. We really find ourselves at a crossroads. But we will perhaps lose something essential in the process. but they forget that the Gospel is always new. In the Church we are part of a community which is moving together towards the Kingdom of God. I cannot take the burden of these young people on myself alone. When we read the Gospel. The problem is that it can also be a totalitarian temptation. I realise that these religions from the East are also a great temptation. the Gospel is never tempted by totalitarianism. where there is great backwardness in all areas of life. I can answer any questions! I come into contact with many young people who seek in non-Christian faiths. like Christ. as an institution. an insatant Salvation. some Truth. America is not far from the Kingdom of God. not the great traditions of the rights of man. Now please ask questions. and provocation. of human relations. I am convinced that no society can replace the Kingdom of God. For me the second great temptation now is western civilisation. Above all. brother-sister. but that there is a lot to be done for this. Of course. no society can replace the Church. friends. but at the same time it is really very far from the Kingdom of God. short and essential. When I meet these young people. life and death. Many say that this country is traditionally Christian. Without any fanaticism or conservatism I can say that we may prefer the Orthodox tradition. but also because of my Fathers and Brothers. towards an eschatological future and time. an auto-perfection. Here. I feel it is possible for us to be integrated into Europe and we will certainly benefit economically from this. so different . but I really confronted Marx as a great temptation. But neither can I wash my hands of them.

(Edited transcript of recording) . but in terms of a concrete historical reality. I am not talking apocalyptically. The way of the Christian is always different from others. We can never exchange Christ for an idol. I am not a maximalist. Perhaps we will be persecuted more than others. like the Church we must always maintain a distance. and at the same time optimistic and full of joy. and always more difficult. But there is no other vocation or position which is more worthy of man.from the european understanding which is always futurist. This is perhaps the Christian dialectic. As a Christian. Because there are many idols in the world. progressivist. a time from judgements of others and things in the world. We are all sinners. But the difference between us and others is that we believe that all sinners and all the world has a Saviour. This is why we Christians are unhappy. we have felt the love of this Saviour. And we have tasted this Salvation which is to come. but we cannot ever deny that He loves us and saves us.

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