We live in a modern Babylon. Never mind the towers of glass and steel looming over our cities, which would have been the marvel and envy of Babel’s builders. They are only emblematic of a deeper reality, of the impulse that propels our society and likens us spiritually to the architects of Babel—man’s arrogant attempt, by his own efforts and ingenuity, to mount the heavenly heights from which he was banished. In the name of progress, freedom, justice, humanity, love, and compassion, we go about relentlessly refashioning the world into a society of self-divinized man-gods, liberated from the constraints of nature, religion, class, and culture, free to choose our own identity, free to be whoever we want to be.
For the same sin as the Babylonians, we receive the same punishment. The more we strive humanly, without God, for a world of peace, harmony, and justice, free from hate, fear, and intolerance, the more confused and divided we become. Is there any shortage today of labels we assign ourselves and others in order to separate ourselves from one another? Left and Right, progressive and conservative, Democrat and Republican, Trumpers and Never Trumpers, maskers and anti-maskers, vaxxers and anti-vaxxers, pro-choicers and pro-lifers, racists and wokesters. Even within the Church, we’re not immune to it—Greeks and Russians, Old Calendarist and New Calendarist, traditionalist and modernist, fundamentalist and ecumenist. That’s not to say that every difference of opinion is trivial; but such simplistic dichotomies often obscure more nuanced realities. When we divide the world into opposing camps, we imagine that we are on the right side and dismiss others as unworthy of consideration. The temptation may seem negligible, but it gradually hardens our hearts and blinds us to the image of God in our fellow man. Iniquity abounds, and the love of many grows cold.
Of course, disagreements are nothing new. Yet something fundamental has been lost. Our curse is slightly different than the one inflicted on the builders of Babel. We can overcome the divinely imposed barriers of language with Google Translate, and communicate with anyone on the planet. But even when we speak the same language, we fail to understand one another. We talk past one another. Our words mean different things to each of us because we have lost shared values, shared ideals, shared experiences, common life, communion—koinonia, the hallmark of the apostolic Church. Instead, we immerse ourselves in the simulacrum of connection afforded by social media. We are barraged with a constant stream of babble, bombarded with an endless string of baubles. All the vain jangling distracts us, while our families, our neighborhoods, our schools, and our churches disintegrate and descend into confusion.
As we enter the season of Pentecost, the Church presents us with an alternative vision. She gives us the opportunity to experience anew the descent of the Holy Spirit among us. Again we take up the familiar prayer, unsaid since Pascha: “O Heavenly King, Comforter, Spirit of Truth…” We ask Him Who is everywhere present and filling all things to abide in us, to dwell in our midst and make His home in our hearts. We say it so often that we forget what it means. It ought to give us pause, for it tells us that there is only one place where the omnipresent God can be absent—in us.
This would be a calamity not only for us, but for the whole world as well. Christ is risen and ascended. He now dwells bodily in heaven. He is only fully present in the world through His Spirit, which He pours out upon His disciples, uniting them to Himself and one another in one Body. The body of the world is destined for death and dissolution. As St. Justin Popovich says, humanity without Christ is but a string of corpses. The only hope for the world is, and always has been, for Christians to remain faithfully united to Christ, for them to acquire His Spirit. St. Seraphim famously said, “Acquire the Spirit of Peace, and a thousand souls around you will be saved.” If the repentance of one person has such far-reaching spiritual consequences, what would happen if two people acquired the Spirit of Peace? A whole family? An entire parish? A diocese? A nation?
Regardless of the times and circumstances of our lives, our goal as Christians remains unchanging. Neither apocalyptic fears nor utopian fervor will avail us in the current moment. If there is any hope of reversing the social fragmentation of our country, or of overcoming the grievous disunity of Orthodox Christians in this land, it is only through our acquisition of the Spirit of Peace. May our risen Lord richly shed abroad His Spirit in your hearts, and fill them with the peace of Pentecost in these uncertain times. Amen.