Talking with Prof. John Gabriel Corcoran about his conversion to Orthodoxy
Our world today looks like a ship adrift on a troubled sea. Where are we going? We do not know! Huge waves, unsuspected rocks and, above all, the mist of night. In this darkness, the horizon line seems to have disappeared. This situation reminds me of the fear of the Disciples, who, being on the sea, in the middle of the storm, were terribly frightened, believing that they would perish. Then they awoke Christ, asking him to do something. “O, men of little faith, why were you in doubt?”, He said to them, and calmed the winds and the waters, and the ship continued on its way in peace.
Today is the time to remember, together with Prof. John Gabriel Corcoran, that our anchor is Christ, the only one who can guard the ship of our lives from destructive storms and absurd shipwrecks, filling our lives with meaning and stability. (T.P.)
– Which is your message to the traditionally Orthodox people, in this moment when many of them are trying to do to be something else than orthodox?
– Well, I’m going to quote my mother. My mother was very traditional Catholic woman. She’s still alive, thanks be to God, she’s 89 and we were conversing about the changes that have occurred in Ireland in the last 50 to 60 years. And we recognized the problems that the Church had. She’s a country woman and she used the phrase and she says, I don’t know if you have the same phrase in Romanian, but it may or may not translate very well. But I’ll use it anyway. The phrase used was that we threw the baby out with the bathwater. And that’s the problem with this movement towards embracing everything new; everything that I have currently, the baby sitting in the dirty bath water, throw it all out. And you find then all you’ve got is an empty bath. Yes, and that’s the problem; people don’t recognize that sometimes we don’t really understand the value of what we have until we lose it. And in Ireland, we see this we have a huge spiritual vacuum created by the alienation. The population now see the Church as something to be sneered at, to be ridiculed, to be contemptuous of media, celebrities regularly mock people who are pious or people who attend mass. It’s something which is made fun of. But what has been left behind, a culture that’s based upon materialism, a culture that is increasingly seeing our children turning to drugs. Yes, we have a huge problem with drugs in this country. We have a huge issue with regards to the whole attack upon the family. Yes, of course, the family is no longer sacrosanct. It’s seen as something which is rather questionable. And, you know, I think if people could understand that the forces that are being ranged against us are not just happening by accident. These are the forces of darkness and, you know, whether it be drug culture, commercialization of everyday life, whether it be the decline in family values, whether it be the increasingly questioning of gender, all of these problems are part of a multipronged attack.
And, you know, where are we going to find the strength to resist this; the only place we’re going to find the strength resistance is not by running to something else, it’s to stand firm and to recognize that what we have is a very, very, very brave indeed.
“Our strength is in the Church”
And OK, we can improve things. We can maybe look at the malpractices and look at things that are wrong and improve things. But let’s never forget what that “baby” is. That “baby” is the most important thing that we’ve been given. And if it has kept us together as a people for centuries, you’ve resisted Islamic invasion, you’ve resisted the oppression of communism, you’ve resisted all of these things through your adherence to the faith, and this new assault is not different. You know, it’s another form of the same thing. The aim of the enemy is to put an end to Christ’s teachings and put an end to the role of God in people’s lives, so we have to hold on our armor. Our strength is in the Church, we have no alternative.
If we surrender that, we may as well surrender our existence, because to the future that being offered by these secularists is just a return to the communism of the previous era. But it’s just different, a different form of secular, atheistic communism. You know, you don’t need an oppressive political party to do it now. It’s being done by Facebook, it’s being done by the social media, but it’s the same thing. Its aim is to steal our souls. When I went to Mount Athos for the first time, one of the monks asked me what I thought about the secularist media and about the European Union and various other sort of things. We had a discussion and I said to him: “What do you think about these forces?”. And he said to me: “Well, it’s easier to understand them when you understand what their aim is”. And I said: “Well, what is their aim?”. “Their aim is the destruction of our souls, whatever form it takes”. This is what the aim is, you know, whether it be. You know, political or social or secular, whatever form it takes, it’s always attacking the Christian message and by doing that, is attacking our souls. So that’s what my view would be. Yes. Hold on to what you’ve got!
– I would ask you to evaluate this medical crisis as an expert in Economics and Christian. How do you see this phenomenon which we are living now, from political, economic, economic and social point of view?
– There’s no doubt about the fact that there is a virus and it is a real phenomenon. It has to be treated with care. The reaction to the virus from political authorities, it seems to me, has been indicative of a shift towards it in a way that responds to an entirely secular response. The idea that the only thing that we have to do at all costs is to preserve life suggests that is the thing, the view, that is prevalent amongst the secularist authorities, which is that life is the only thing we have, whereas we know that our life is given to us by God and our life can be taken from us by God at any given moment in time. And you have to wonder whether or not the whole thing has become an instrument of social control. It’s very interesting how the first thing that happened in the lockdown was that people cannot attend church, at the very time when people would want to be praying, when people, especially older people, would want to take the Holy Communion, they were forced to have masses on the TV and churches shut. The secular authorities achieved in a matter of weeks what the communist authorities couldn’t achieve in decades. And, you know, this seems to me that, although there is obviously a medical side, it seems to me as if there are also other agendas at play here, which I don’t fully understand, but I am concerned about: the assault on civil liberties, the mandatory wearing of masks, all these things are apparently necessary. But one wonders about whether or not we will be able to get back those civil liberties. Then when we eventually have compulsory vaccination. Will that be the next step?
I think we have to be trusting in God. I do believe that people who are overly concerned about this virus are clearly not trusting in God. If God wants us, he can take us at any moment. You know, every time we get into a car, we take a risk. Every time we step outside of our door, we take a risk. I think, if we recognize that God is the Giver of our life and he will also end our life. We don’t take unnecessary risks, but, on the other hand, it seems to me that this obsession with this virus has gone beyond just a purely medical response. There seems to be some kind of mania or hysteria.
‘Ye shall know them by their fruits’ Matthew 7:16
From my point of view, the overemphasis upon preserving life at all costs, it’s implicit within that the idea that we, in some way, control our lives, that we know we are humans and we therefore it’s not a problem anyway. It’s this idea, you know, would make the world as good and as safe as we possibly can. And that implies that there’re these people who know better than everybody else and they have the right to decide on our behalf and where we go and what we say and who we meet. And think it’s very, very worrying shift. You know, although some of the European Union wouldn’t describe itself as communist, the embracing by many of the European Union governments of really extraordinary powers and measures, which we haven’t since communist states, mandatory mass clearing, all these things are very disturbing, but that’s just me, with my point of view, anyway.
– And one last question, how do you see the Providence of God in this world crisis we are living in? And the solution?
–I will start my answer to this by sharing two apt quotes from the great 20th Century Christian thinker CS Lewis: “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.” “When the whole world is running towards a cliff, he who is running in the opposite direction appears to have lost his mind.”
I think any one of your readers will recognize why these quotes are appropriate at present. So where is God’s providence in all this? I do not pretend to have the answers, but only a few observations. When things changed so suddenly in the spring of 2020 with a global pandemic and lockdowns in countries all over the world, were we really to be ‘surprised’ that worship of God was also banned? I’m more surprised that any Christian was surprised by this. For decades past, there has been a relentless and concerted effort to subvert and belittle faith in God in general, and Christian belief has been particularly singled out for cultural and intellectual scorn. It is almost as if there are forces pitted against Christ and the light, he gave us all! Really? To Orthodox Christian’s this should not come as a surprise. Yes, the forces counter posing the light are we believe, the opposite. An active force for darkness is it seems to me at play. Baudelaire was correct when he said in 1864: ‘The Devil’s cleverest wile is to make men believe that he does not exist.’
However, no matter what occurs, no matter how wily the enemy is, whatever weapons it chooses to deploy, the internet, social media, addictions, consumerism; as well as a seemingly endless array of new cultural ‘norms’ being hammered like square pegs into the round holes of a Christian European cultural heritage. We are forewarned and therefore forearmed about this onslaught; we can determine from which forces it all ultimately derives by merely observing what it attacks.
Christ told us in Matthew 7.16 ‘Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?’ So, what are the fruits of these ‘trees’? It seems to me these fruits if consumed are poisonous to three primary foundation stones of our societies, to the family, to our faith in God, and to our confidence and pride in our own people and their history. So, we therefore must cleave to, and protect, above all else, those things which this poison seeks to destroy.
“Christ offer us hope”
In the early days of Christianity, in the declining centuries of the Roman Empire, the Church was counter-cultural, it stood out against the decaying culture of paganism in all its myriad forms. Christians may have to revert to the cultural catacombs in the 21st Century, we may need to be prepared and ready for the fact that an official position by states all over the so called ‘democratic’ world of neutrality or tolerance of the Christian faith may not occur in the times ahead. We will have to become consciously counter-cultural once again, and that will require courage. I am confident that if sought, through prayer and the sacraments, the courage to do so will, through the Holy Spirit, be found in abundance, as it was before.
Is this observation a cause for despondency? I believe that this most definitely is not the case. In the end, the core of the value systems being advanced by militant and aggressive secularism are hollow. Despite its imperatives to move towards a so called more ‘just’ and ‘caring’ world, the reality is that these are nothing more than the empty words exemplified by the widespread practice of ‘virtue signaling’. It is empty because there is at its core, no hope offered of something more profound, more spiritual, and weightier than the transitory obsessions of the worldly and the temporal. I choose to firmly believe that Jesus Christ conquered death through His death and Resurrection on the third day.
Some scientist on TV the other day announced the new Covid19 vaccines to be ‘game changers. We as Christian’s believe that Christ’s Resurrection is in fact the ultimate ‘Cosmic Game Changer ‘. The significance of this leaves everything else in the shade. We offer the thing that every soul craves, we through Christ offer HOPE. Our enemy and the forces at its disposal offer nothing remotely comparable, nothing remotely significant, just the worldly, and the temporal. Militant secularism as we are experiencing it throughout the world today is haunted by its own ‘Umbra Nihili ‘, its ‘shadow of nothingness’.
The earliest Irish Christian monks in the 7th and 8th centuries on occasions left carved on stone, as seen here in Kilshannig in County Kerry, courtesy of www.earlychristianireland.net , an intriguing representation of the Cross. A typical cross shape, but at its base there is a curved shape, which gives the Cross a resemblance to an anchor deployed by sea-farers. These monks were themselves famous for their sea faring skill and courage, so it is perhaps unsurprising that they took occasionally to incorporating the shape of an anchor into their carved crosses. However, the significance of the anchor, is that it is a representation of HOPE.
The Anchor shaped Cross carved by Irish monks centuries ago still contains great significance today. In the worst of storms, the anchor, connected by our unbreakable ‘rope’ of Faith, to our frail human vessels, will prevent us from being dashed on the rocks of both despondency and meaninglessness. We must be unafraid, and eager to share with the millions of others being tossed on these stormy seas, the fact that the Cross of Christ is our Anchor of Hope.
by Tatiana Petrache