We say that because real Christianity, the Apostolic Christianity proclaimed for 2,000 years by the Orthodox Church, is thoroughly ascetic. And asceticism is despised by the vast majority of folks in the States (even by those who declare themselves to be the standard-bearers of ‘muscular Christianity’ like Mr Bryan Fischer). Fr Alexey Young once wrote concerning the ascetic dimension of Orthodoxy,
Several of the 20th-century teachers of the Church – men like St. John of Shanghai, Metropolitan Anthony Khrapovitsky, Fr. Seraphim Rose, and others – have explained to us more than once and in several ways that Orthodoxy is, above all, an “ascetic” Faith. What does this mean? . . .
Our word “ascetic” comes from the same root as the word “athlete,” and this is not a coincidence, for the ascetic and the athlete have some common characteristics.
The athlete works out, trains hard, and exercises in order to develop the muscles of his body so that he can compete in various kinds of sports or special events. He works very hard. He may go to an exercise gym every day and work for several hours. He follows a special diet and in every possible way takes good care of himself.
The ascetic is an athlete, too – an athlete of the spirit rather than of the body. The ascetic also exercises; however, he exercises not his biceps or other physical muscles, but the various dimensions and faculties of his soul. He “works out,” spiritually, through prayer and fasting, through standing at vigil, and by preparing properly to receive the sacraments. He, too, must compete, but not in a sports arena with a javelin or in some other event; no, the ascetic competes in the wide arena of this world, and his adversary, his opponent, the Devil, is quite real – as Holy Scripture teaches us. The athlete runs a race, but we, too, as Saint Paul tells us, run a race, a race to obtain the crown of immortal life with Christ in heaven. But to run this race, we must be athletes of the spirit.
It is this ascetic dimension of Orthodoxy that makes Orthodox Christianity different from every other Christian religion on the face of the earth. But from what I’ve said thus far, “asceticism” is still just an abstract concept. What does it mean in practice?
Again I turn to Saint Innocent of Alaska. While he was working with the Aleut and Klingit Indian tribes of the Alaskan peninsula, he was very anxious to properly communicate to them this “essence” of Orthodoxy. So he wrote a little booklet that has become a kind of classic and is widely read and studied today by people like us who are otherwise very far removed from the native Americans of the Northwest. The little book is called The Indication of the Way to the Kingdom of Heaven. In this important little book Saint Innocent talks about asceticism in the same way that our Lord Himself does: he compares it to the carrying of a cross. Our Lord said: “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it, and whosoever will lose his life for My sake shall find it” (Matt. 16:24-25), and: “Whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after Me, cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:27).
Now in life there are two kinds of crosses, Saint Innocent explained. The first kind of cross consists of those daily annoyances, temptations, and difficulties that come to everyone just because we are human beings. Ill health, financial setbacks, misunderstandings with others, various kinds of afflictions – all of these are crosses, but they are what Saint Innocent calls “involuntary crosses.” That is, they come to us according to God’s will, whether we want them or not. If we bear these crosses without complaining, without murmuring, then they become ascetic labors that are for our salvation; but if we complain and murmur, then they are for our condemnation. It is extremely important to understand this.
The second kind of cross, according to Saint Innocent, is what he calls “voluntary crosses” – that is, those special ascetic exploits or labors that we voluntarily take upon ourselves, such as strictly keeping the fast days and seasons of the Church year, standing for long hours at vigil services, and other kinds of asceticism or crosses that we may, with the blessing of our spiritual father, take upon ourselves.
These are some of the ascetic aspects of our Holy Faith which are signs of true and authentic Orthodoxy, ancient Orthodoxy, the Orthodoxy of the saints.
One ensample of this asceticism, and the seriousness with which it was taken, from Church history comes from England when she was an Orthodox kingdom:
Note 2. This festival has been celebrated in the church with great solemnity ever since the sixth century. It was enacted in the ecclesiastical laws of King Ethelred in England, in the year 1014, “That every Christian who is of age, fast three days on bread and water, and raw herbs, before the feast of St. Michael [the Archangel], and let every man go to confession and to church barefoot.—Let every priest with his people go in procession three days barefoot, and let every one’s commons for three days be prepared without anything of flesh, as if they themselves were to eat it, both in meat and drink, and let all this be distributed to the poor. Let every servant be excused from labour these three days, that he may the better perform his fast, or let him work what he will for himself. These are the three days, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, next before the feast of St. Michael. If any servant break his fast, let him make satisfaction with his hide, (bodily stripes,) let the poor freeman pay thirty pence, the king’s thane a hundred and thirty shillings; and let the money be divided to the poor.” See Sir Henry Spelman’s Councils, vol. i. p. 530, and Johnson’s Collection of the Canons of the Church of England, t. 1, an. 1014. Michaelmas-day is mentioned among the great feasts in the Saxon Chronicle on the year 1011; in the Saxon Menology of the ninth century, published by Mr. Wanley (in Lingue. Aquilon. Thes. l. 2, p. 107,) and in the English Calendar published by Dr. Hicks. (in his Saxon Grammar, p. 102, &c.)
--Rev Alban Butler, https://www.bartleby.com/210/9/291.html
Standing during long services? Entire fasting seasons? Difficult processions? Spiritual fathers with authority over our lives? Few in ‘Christian America’ would put up with any of that. Most simply want an exhilarating emotional experience from their ‘churches’ with as little effort on their part as possible, together with all the comfort, ‘fun’, exotic food, and self-direction they can muster.
Ever since post-Protestantism arose in its fulness at the Great Awakening, very few in the colonies/States have been willing to submit voluntarily to ongoing, rigorous asceticism. However, there is one exception: Southerners during Mr Lincoln’s War carried a very heavy ‘voluntary cross’ to defend their homeland and their old inherited traditions from the atheistic radicalism (dressed up as Christianity) of the Northern invaders. The Rev John Girardeau of South Carolina describes just one incident about his brigade’s march away from Vicksburg, Miss., that bewords the suffering much of the South experienced in one form or another for five years:
The hardships of this march were almost unbearable. The road was ground into a fine dust several inches deep; there was no water to be had except from cow ponds, which were stagnant and pregnant with the seeds of pestilence and death. All this, under a July sun, contributed to the hardships.
--The Life Work of John Girardeau, D.D., LL.D., George Blackburn, edr., The State Company, 1916, pgs. 115-6
But now most Southerners also have capitulated to Yankee materialism. On them, too, therefore, the full weight of Rev Robert Lewis Dabney’s prophetic-like condemnation of Babylon America falls:
God gave the people of this land great and magnificent blessings, and opportunities and responsibilities. They might and should have made it the glory of all lands. But they have betrayed their trust: they have abused every gift: above all have they insulted him by flaunting in his face an impudent, atheistic, God-defying theory of pretended human rights and human perfectibility which attempts to deny man’s subordination, his dependence, his fall and native depravity, his need of divine grace. It invites mankind to adopt material civilization and sensual advantage as their divinity. It assumes to be able to perfect man’s condition by its political, literary, and mechanical skill, despising that Gospel of Christ which is man’s only adequate remedy. It crowns its impiety by laying its defiling hands upon the very forms of that Christianity, while with the mock affection of a Judas it attempts to make it a captive to the sordid ends of Mammon and sense. Must not God be avenged on such a nation as this? His vengeance will be to give them the fruit of their own hands, and let them be filled with their own devices. He will set apart this fair land by a sort of dread consecration to the purpose of giving a lesson concerning this godless philosophy, so impressive as to instruct and warn all future generations. As the dull and pestilential waves of the Dead Sea have been to every subsequent age the memento of the sin of Sodom, so the dreary tides of anarchy and barbarism which will overwhelm the boastful devices of infidel democracy will be the caution of all future legislators. And thus “women’s rights” will assist America “to fulfil her great mission,” that of being the “scarecrow” of the nations.
--‘Women’s Rights Women’, The Southern Magazine, 1871 (thanks to Mr Boyd Cathey for the quote; Mr Cathey does some writing here: http://boydcatheyreviewofbooks.blogspot.com/)
Notwithstanding this gloomy vision, all is not lost. Orthodox churches and monasteries are now in many places across the South and the other States. Within them is salvation - havens for the storm-tossed, hospitals for those in need of healing of soul and body.
Your Momma, the Orthodox Church, is calling you home, Southron. Hurry on back to her so she can nurse you and make you well.
Holy Ælfred the Great, King of England, South Patron, pray for us sinners at the Souð, unworthy though we are!
Anathema to the Union!