by Fr. Seraphim Rose
The striking phrase, “God is dead,” is the poetical expression of modern unbelief.
Much is expressed in this phrase that is not to be found in the more prosaic expressions of modern atheism and agnosticism. A vivid contrast is established between a previous age when men believed in God and based their life and institutions upon Him, and a new age for whose inhabitants, supposedly, this once all-illuminating sun has been blotted out, and life and society must be given a new orientation.
The phrase, itself apparently coined by Nietzsche almost a century ago, was for long used to express the views of a comparatively few enemies of Christianity, chiefly “existentialists”; but recently it has caused controversy by being accepted in radical Protestant circles, and not it has become a concern of common journalism and the mass media. Clearly a responsive chord has been struck in Western society at large; the public interest in the “death of God” has made this phenomenon one of the signs of the times.
To understand what this sign means, one must know its historical context. By its very nature it is a negation–a reaction against the otherworldly Christian world view which emphasizes asceticism and the “unseen warfare” against the devil and the world in order to obtain eternal joy through communion with God in the Kingdom of Heaven. The founders of the new philosophy declared the Christian God “dead” and proclaimed man a god in His place. This view is merely the latest stage of the modern battle against Christianity which has resulted today in the virtually universal triumph of unbelief.
The contemporary controversy, however, centers about a new and unusual phenomenon, however, centers about a new and unusual phenomenon: it is now “Christians” who are the unbelievers. Yet in a sense this too is the logical culmination of an historical process that began in the West with the schism of the Church of Rome. Separated over nine centuries from the Church of Christ, Western Christendom has possessed only a steadily-evaporating residue of the genuine Christianity preserved by Holy Orthodoxy.
Today the process is nearly complete and large numbers of Catholics and Protestants are hardly to be distinguished from unbelievers; and if they still call themselves “Christians,” it can only be because for them Christianity itself has been turned into the opposite: worldly belief. One may observe in this what one Orthodox thinker has called, “The self liquidation of Christianity”: Christianity undermined from within by its own representatives who demand that it conform itself entirely to the world.
A strange parallel to this new “theology” has become common of late in the “liturgical” life of the West. Widespread publicity was given earlier this year  to a “rock-and-roll” service in the Old South church in Boston, in which teenagers were allowed to dance in the aisles of the church to the accompaniment of raucous popular music. In Catholic churches “jazz masses” become more and more frequent. The ostensible intention of those responsible for these phenomena is the same as that of the radical “theologians”: to make religion more “real” to contemporary men. They thereby admit what is obvious to Orthodox observers: that religious life is largely dead in Western Christendom; but they unwittingly reveal even more: unable to distinguish between church and dancehall, between Christ and the world, they reveal God is dead in their own hearts and only worldly excitement is capable of evoking a response in themselves and their “post-Christian” flocks.
to what does all this, finally point? Our Lord, when prophesying the advent of Antichrist, spoke of the abomination of desolation standing in the holy place (St Matt 24:15); and St Paul speaks of the very enemy of God sitting in God’s temple and being worshipped in place of God (II Thes. 2:4)– and this will occur, according to St John Chrysostom,
“in every Church.”
Does not this “Christian atheism,” do not these blasphemous “worship services,” does not the acceptance of even the most unseemly vulgar manifestations in what men still consider holy places, already prepare the way for this end and give one even a foretaste of it?
For Western Christendom God is indeed dead, and its leaders only prepare for the advent of the enemy of God, Antichrist. But Orthodox Christians know the living God and dwell within the saving enclosure of His True Church. It is here, in faithful and fervent following of the unchanging Orthodox path — and not in the dazzling “ecumenical” union with the new unbelievers that is pursued by Orthodox modernists — that our salvation is to be found.
-Eugene (Fr Seraphim) Rose, Orthodox Word, No. 9, Jul/Aug, 1966.