An unworthy Deacon, named for the brother of God: James, striving to "work out his salvation with fear and trembling" within the Tradition (paradosis) of the Eastern Orthodox Faith. It is a strange and marvelous journey, and I am accompanied by the fourfold fruit of my fecundity. My wife, the Matushka or Diaconissa Sophia, is my beloved partner in the pursuit of Theosis, and she ranks me in every way.
In my experience, save a few heretics, Orthodox Christians love meat and given this general truth, there is I suppose a large degree of sense to the fasts. However, this is not the context of the reference in the title. Rather the title is the derogatory label given to Christians by the pagan Celsus in his 2nd century anti-Christian work “The True Word.” Derogatory because at that time, Christian anthropology and the belief in the general resurrection just did not make sense to the presiding Hellenistic mind – more than that, it was downright perceived as yucky (if I may use academic terminology.)
Now, this derision had nothing to do with diet, nor Christians being worldly hedonists and indulging all their fleshly desires. No, the early Church had a pretty good understanding of asceticism I should think. No, this insult arises from the prevailing cultural mind which retained a great deal of hope and aspiration for a future disincarnation; a freeing of the soul from the prison of the body. This being the case, one can understand how gnosticism infected Christianity – it was simply an attempt to make the new faith more palatable to the popular culture of the time.
Some things never change. Yes, some are still trying to flavor their Christianity to make it palatable to all (I liken it to fast food which no one can deny tastes great, but it absolutely of horrific quality), but I'm more interested here in the full circle we've seemingly come around and returned to a popular culture which seems more gnostic than Christian. What I mean, is that the old Greek ideal of disincarnation maintains a great deal of acceptance amongst people these days – even people who would otherwise be quite devout Christians. For to suggest that the soul, through death, is being “freed” from the body is a decidedly unchristian thing to propose.
In my DVP reading I've been treading water happily through Florovsky's “Creation and Redemption” and in it he reminds us that human beings are neither merely a corpse nor a ghost. Death is the unnatural separation of a natural unity of body and soul and only united together is the whole human person truly present. To suggest that the soul possesses an individual's true personhood is just as wrong as saying the corpse obviously doesn't. Yes, the body, having been taken and formed from creation itself, is indeed that part of us that literally tastes of corruption, but we cannot successfully categorize body and soul as separate and expect that when so done we can identify a portion that retains the personhood over and above the other.
Resurrection is the restoration of the natural order. But to the Greek mind at the time of Celsus, it was a ridiculous notion. More and more I think people today would side with Celsus and his generation, even some who would be called Christians. However, I might suggest (without any large degree of perceived certainty) that maybe the subtle (or not so) gnosticism that has crept back into Christianity has perhaps rendered it now impossible for Christians to ever again be called “a flesh-loving crew.” Perhaps over the past few centuries we have so demonized the “flesh” and the “world” that we are popularly perceived more as doceticists: gnostics bent on hating the world and the flesh? In other words, our distaste of sin became a distaste for the world and this in turn became too much even for the spirit-trapped-in-the-body believing world to handle.
And while we might askew the title today for its potential negative connotation (after all “flesh” is too often ONLY seen in terms of sinful passions), I do think we – particularly those of us of the Orthodox persuasion – need to make clear our anthropological beliefs which translate also into our beliefs regarding creation in general, redemption, and of course the Person of our flesh-loving and bearing God.
I think your post largely illustrates why christians don't cremate, and also why cremation is becoming so popular among even christians. (And I admit it appeals to me from a certain perspective). I occasionally wonder if cemetaries will become a something that only a few religious "sects" partake of. In not so many years, it will be seen as very strange to be buried. I wonder if this is an issue the church will face head on, or sidestep like so many other related issues.
If you listen to pop music and read pop spirituality it is all gnostic. The Hale-Bopp people were the only ones in recent history who lived and died according to their doctrine that the body is just a cannister for the spirit. Gnosticism is alive and well.
Excellent thoughts. You'll never go wrong reading Lossky, Pelikan, or Florovsky.
When I was reading for the M. Div., it occurred to me that one of the best ways to discover what real Christianity is is to read its conciliar decisions vs. heresy in detail. It also bears saying that we take the deceptively simple wording of the Nicene Creed for granted; e.g., it says "resurrection of the body" and "life of the WORLD to come" for a reason, and avoids saying "immortality of the soul" for the exact same reason. We do NOT believe in the immortality of the soul, as some kind of isolated non-substantial entity sufficient unto itself. Plato believed that, and while A. N. Whitehead might be right in saying that philosophy is a footnote to Plato, Christian philosophers must never knuckle under to that. Most non-Christian philosophy is a footnote to Plato, which is why it's mostly a waste of time. We also see the Gnostic mindset in the popular mythology about humans becoming angels when they go to Heaven. This can be a lot of fun, e.g., in It's a Wonderful Life, but it's just that: Basically, a cartoon. The underlying anthropology is just plain damned stupid, as is all Gnosticism. Neither must we go to outright paganism to see Gnosticism's continuing influence: Nearly every variety of Protestantism, under scrutiny, manifests the ancient error. God love them, they don't realize it, for the most part, but that doesn't change the fact. The attempted exceptions (such as conservative Anglicanism's half-hearted defense of the Eucharistic Real Presence, as though that were the only problem) only prove the rule.
Interestingly (and, alas, due to its source), it seems there is move towards burying folks more akin to the traditional Orthodox method (no embalming, and no cremation). I say "alas" because the drive for this change is not coming from a Christian perspective on the resurrection, but for "green" purposes.