The Parallel Society

The year was 1989, and it was one of the most significant years of the past century. This year brought about the political collapse of the Iron Curtain, and an end to the Cold War. The first totalitarian communist nation to fall was Poland. In Poland, the ground work to upend the communist government had been underway for some years. The archbishop of Krakov, Karol Wojtyla, had become Pope John Paul II in October, 1978. He was a source of moral, faithful resistance for the Catholics in Poland. Also, the electrician Lech Walesa formed and led the independent Solidarity labor union for workers in the Lenin Shipyard in Gdansk, Poland. The communist government under General Wojciech Jaruzelski fell by the courageous and determined efforts of these two leaders and the unbreakable will of the Polish people to be free. Walesa would soon become the first democratically elected national leader in Polish history.

Vaclav Havel

Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, and other nations also broke free from communist totalitarianism in 1989. There was another hero of this time that I admired greatly, the Czech author and dissident, Vaclav Havel. As he and his fellow citizens were suffocated by the tyranny of communism, Havel was active in creating a parallel society with its own parallel cultural structures. A definition is provided,

Parallel society refers to the self-organization of an ethnic or religious minority, often but not always immigrant groups, with the intent of a reduced or minimal spatial, social and cultural contact with the majority society.

Havel would go on to be the president of the free Czechoslovakia. Other heroes of the resistance to communism can be named, among them the great Russian author Alexander Solzhenitsyn. All of the above named people suffered along with millions of others who resisted communism, and many millions died as martyrs for freedom and faith.

I return to the parallel society with its parallel structures that served as a spiritual, moral and intellectual haven for those who resisted the iron grip of the communist parties of Eastern Europe. In this confusing and troubling time in the western world, parallel societies are needed to stand against a growing illiberal, censoring, and controlling social and political climate with its aspiring tyrants in control of politics and media. Contemporary parallel societies and structures are now needed to offer fellowship, support and community to those of traditional faith, and uphold true liberal ideas of a free society. These parallel societies are to be places of welcome and support for those who now must seek such havens.

Fortunately for Christians, whether Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, or Protestant, The parallel Society has existed for two thousand years — the Church. The Church has experienced and weathered horrid persecutions over the centuries. Though She has her Confessors and Martyrs, She has survived.,As The Parallel Society, The Church, and I will concentrate on the Orthodox Church as model, is to be welcoming. The Church is to be caring and loving while at the same time stand in peaceful opposition to the dark, dominant secular society. The Church is to be supportive and offer provision to the faithful as need arises. St. Paul offers these words to the Church:

We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves; let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up

Romans 15: 1 – 2

Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but to the interests of others.

Phil 2: 3 – 4

Now we urge you brethren, to warn the idle, encourage the faint hearted and help the weak. Be patient with all. Do not repay evil with evil, but always pursue the good both for one another and for all. Rejoice always. Pray constantly. Give thanks in all things, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.

1 Thes 5: 14 – 18

If the western cultural descends into further (and intentional) confusion, lies, and chaos, the grip of totalitarianism will close in upon us. Hence, such supportive apostolic guidance is to be practiced by clergy and faithful alike. Again I quote St. Paul: “Welcome one another, just as Christ welcomed you for the glory of God” (Romans 15: 7).,

Ultimately, the Model for such welcoming is our Lord Jesus Christ himself. We encounter his welcoming touch in every Divine Liturgy’s celebration of the Eucharist which itself is a re-presentation of the Incarnation:

By his Incarnation, God the Son came to us as one of us. He gave himself to us, not only on the Cross, but in every act of his ministry. As one of us, he received us, or welcomed us to himself. His self-giving and other-receiving continues throughout the centuries in the Eucharist. In the Eucharist he again comes to us as he is present in the Sacrament: he gives to us his cleansing, victorious, and life-giving Body and Blood. He welcomes us, receives us to himself once again in the relational intimacy of Communion. Within the context of each Divine Liturgy and its Eucharist, Christ is manifested to the faithful anew — his Incarnation is re-presented to us. Recall what we declare to each other: “Christ is in our midst!” with the reply, “he is and ever shall be!” Here, we receive one another and welcome one another.

Fr. Irenaeus Williams from the post “Welcome One Another”
Christ the Bread of Life

However, unlike a reclusive parallel society, a ghetto, the Church is to be for all. The Church, as is Christ, is to be self-giving and other-receiving while calling all to enter into the life and culture of the Church — even to those who would wish us harm. Note again St. Paul’s words noted above, “Do not repay evil with evil, but always pursue the good both for one another, and for all.” Remember the words that conclude the Divine Liturgy, “Let us depart in peace.” We leave to extend the Eucharist to this darkened world around us. We are to live in such a way that we (by our actions and words) re-present Christ to all and all things around us, and then draw all and all things to Christ in the Divine Liturgy and its Eucharist and worship of the God who welcomes us into his eternal Kingdom — his holy welcoming Parallel Society!

May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in one accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Romans 15: 5 – 6

Here is a corresponding sermon:

In Christ,

Fr. Irenaeus Williams