“Heaven is not just the sky over our heads”

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In our brief presentation of Father Levalois’ book, we mentioned an interview.
Here is the full English translation:

Father Christophe Levalois, a teacher and Orthodox priest,  as well as editor of Orthodoxie.com, recently published a key book entitled Le christianisme orthodoxe face aux défis de la société occidentale [Orthodox Christianity and the challenges of Western society]. This work will also be of interest to Roman Catholics for the new light it brings on the Christian phenomenon today.

Aleteia:
Your latest book offers a vision of Orthodox Christianity in the face of the challenges of contemporary Western society. In your opinion, what are these major challenges?

Christophe Levalois:
The first challenge for Christian believers is to follow Christ in Spirit and in truth. They are called to this transforming life which makes “all things new” (Rev 21: 5), which is infused by the Spirit so that Christ may be formed in them (Gal 4:19). Without it, they build only on the sand (Mt 7, 26). There, is their main and foremost challenge. There lies the life-giving foundation of everything else. That’s a personal challenge to be faced within a community. The other challenges exist in regards to our relationships with the world (creation) and human society. They are multiple, but at the root, beyond the innumerable domino effects, we always find a spiritual question.

The first challenge, which is not just for Christians, is the fact that our contemporary societies are turning away from Heaven, not so much in individual practices as in the way society thinks, organizes itself and lives.
It must be understood that Heaven is not just the sky over our heads. It also refers to our inner space in its elevation. Traditional societies used to integrate this reality in their political and social functioning. The current orientation is a relatively new fact in history, of varying intensity depending on the countries. This phenomenon is called secularization and it forces believers to rethink their relationship with society.
It can be and it is indeed disorienting for a lot of people. How to exist and to express oneself in this relatively new situation, in light of the millennia that have just passed?
On the other hand, it can be noticed in this situation that the choice to be a Christian today is now less the result of a social determination than of a desire and a personal journey. Which is positive.
At the same time however, one can only deeply regret a misunderstanding of Christianity, if not a more or less open hostility by some people, or even a murderous hatred. This leads us to another challenge, more crucial than ever: how to authentically dialogue with others who are not Christians, if only to inform them? I would add that this dialogue is also essential between Christians.

These challenges are faced by all Christians. What about Orthodox Christians in particular?

Of course, the Orthodox face these same challenges. But in addition, some Orthodox Churches have long been persecuted by communist regimes or in the grip of the Ottoman Empire for centuries. For not more than a quarter of a century for some, they have been opening themselves to a dialogue with contemporary society, by taking an active part in social debates. It is a recent fact that needs to be fully appreciated. It is important to understand it.

Societal challenges affect us all. What Christian answer is it worth recalling in order to face them?

Yes, there are many challenges shared by all human beings today: social fragmentation, often inside the family; issues of identity that go hand in hand with it; a tyrannical economy, the race for profit and commercialization of life; the society of entertainment which generates so many lies and sufferings; the loss of the deep meaning of life for many, beyond material utility; a life often fragmented, confusing and stressful, which is a handicap for the spiritual deepening that requires focus; the very present inhumanity and all the despair.
Christian faith gives optimism to face all the burdens and ordeals, to overcome all that needs to be overcome. The Easter proclamation is at the center of our approach and of our hope in this world: “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling death by death. To those who were in the tombs, He gave life! ”

In your book, you tackle the difficult issue of secularism. How does the Orthodox world see it?

Not monolithically so. It all depends on the country. In general, secularism is seen as a principle that also allows the Church to be free, which is very much appreciated and also relatively new in history for the Orthodox Churches.
In most countries where most people are Orthodox, there is the general idea (of course to varying degrees) that in addition to dialogue, there should also be a collaboration between State and Church in certain areas, social in particular, but with each side keeping its own freedom.
On the other hand, rigidities that can sometimes be observed in France leaves us at the very least perplexed. Recently, Romanian Orthodox friends pointed out to me that there is a kind of taboo in French society concerning faith.

You are highlighting the rise of Orthodoxy in the West. But Roman Catholics and Orthodox ignore each other for the most part. How can both traditions meet?

In this regard, I believe the best thing we can propose is to say like Philip to Nathanael, “Come and see” (John 1: 46). For the rest, dialogue and listening are essential. But the number of Orthodox able to pursue and foster such an approach in France is too small to seize all opportunities for meetings and joint actions.

What is Orthodoxy’s view of ecumenism?

There is not just one view, but a multitude of them! This is the case both among the faithful and among the clergy, in all the Churches. Some are very much in favor of ecumenical dialogue and sincerely hope for progress, even for a union between the Churches, some reject it completely, and you have all the different degrees of acceptance or rejection in between! This is a very sensitive issue within Orthodoxy.

Another important aspect of your reflections is about what might be called a deeply and specifically Christian “well-being”. This is an interesting way to approach tradition. Can you explain this intuition?

More than just a “well-being”, it’s a balance and a wisdom of life. I believe that a faith that is lived with authenticity and serenity (not a caricature of faith, nor a faith considered as an ideology, as is often seen today) increases our humane quality, as well as our awareness and our relationship to the world and to others. In this respect, the Christian tradition also gives us many teachings that are solid and profound. This is first of all the case with the words of Christ, but also with the writings of the ascetic Fathers. They displayed an extraordinary knowledge of the human soul, of what hurts it, of what elevates it, of its struggles, and of its ability to heal and to receive the Spirit. The theme of forgiveness is an example.

We talked about communication. What can Christianity, and more specifically Orthodox Christianity, bring to our way of communicating?

This is a vast and exciting question! To be quick, Christianity can bring the teachings of the Bible, where it is very often question of a communication that is established, broken, desired, sought, renewed, true or false, from the book of Genesis to Revelation.
Besides, there is the Christian conception of the person who is being taken care of, the person considered in its triple dimension (physical, psychological, and spiritual). The person is the being of communication par excellence, because it exists both in relation to others and in its own singularity.
On the contrary, what is characteristic of an individual is only what distinguishes him/her from others. Thus, the person grows up or is destroyed by a relationship, depending on the nature and quality of this relationship. Communication, in all its forms, is its expression. This way of seeing things is at the heart of the Old and the New Testaments. In this respect, Christ is truly the master of communication par excellence, through the profound, salvific, and transforming communion He establishes.

Source in French

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Emma Cazabonne was born and raised in France. She taught English before entering the Cistercian Order. She translated and published articles relevant to her interest in Cistercian spirituality, the Middle Ages, and Orthodoxy. She moved to the United States in 2001, converted to Orthodoxy in 2008, and married. Her husband is an Orthodox priest. She continued to publish articles, a Cistercian texts anthology, then finally launched her career in literary translation, while teaching French. If you are interested in having your book translated into French, she can be contacted here https://wordsandpeace.com/contact-me/