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by Fr. Irakli Jinjolava

Hieromartyr Archimandrite Grigol Peradze (killed 1942 in Auschwitz) was an eminent Georgian Churchman, theologian, and historian and one of the figureheads of the ecumenical movement in the 1920s.* In the journal “Jvari Vazisa” (“Grapevine Cross”), he published a homily series on the Lord’s Prayer (შინაარსი ჭეშმარიტ მოქალაქეობის [“The importance of the true citizenship”], Paris 1933). Grigol’s interpretation of the Lord’s Prayer offers a lesson on the nature of “true citizenship.” According to Grigol, true citizenship is not only earthly citizenship, which exists in relation to the state, but above all, it is heavenly citizenship, which in turn has an impact on the earthly. Grigol argues that the Lord’s Prayer presents Jesus’ teaching for his disciples on how to attain this true citizenship.

The concept of “true citizenship” is a common thread that runs through the eleven sermons in the series. How can the Georgian emigrants in exile be “true citizens” of Georgia, and what is the role of the church and of one’s relationship with God? In answering these questions, the homilies on the Our Father make an important distinction between the church and the state that is still relevant today. Grigol sees clearly the challenges presented to the church by the secular state. It is important to him that the church protects herself from subordination to societal and public interests even while contributing to society and the state in return. In other words: A true citizen of the state is also a true citizen of heaven and vice versa.

Grigol Peradze often uses pictures from the everyday life of the faithful in his homilies in order to provide a new view on a familiar reality. Modern people believe only what they see; the spiritual world is lost for them. Grigol wants to open the eyes of his listeners to the spiritual dimension, which can, according to him, be found in all things. This is clearly the leitmotif of true citizenship, which provides the framework for the homily series. Grigol Peradze explains to his community the two ways in which one can understand the concept of citizenship. He rejects the historical name “citizen” (civis) as an honorary title of the elite, upper class of a city that one could obtain only by meeting certain conditions (such as owning real estate). In the homily, he emphasizes that today this term describes all residents, without class differences, who are, however, obligated in spiritual ways. Here, in selected excerpts from the homily, we see how Grigol understood citizenship and found a spiritual dimension in it.

“Citizenship is a struggle with one’s own environment, with one’s own self. Citizenship requires consciousness, honesty, thoughtfulness, courage, intellect; the citizen needs to be able to contemplate things, to be careful and patient, to have modesty—those are not the sings of being a slave, but the intelligent person, who can tolerate others’ opinions and appreciate others…Citizenship is the same as sacrifice. To burn (sacrifice) yourself for others.”

The reason he often addresses relations between church and state in his sermons lies in his focus on the faithful of his community and their relationship to state and church. It is clear that Grigol has made a precise spiritual analysis of his listeners and wants to return them to a track that accords with the Gospel. The spiritual analysis of former Georgian state policy and religious commitment becomes clear outside of Georgia.

“When the church prays and speaks about homeland, it does not mean the temples, the sun, mountains, and fields, but the people with their wellbeing, those who perceive the will made by the ancestors; and the church supports them to fulfill it. The will represents: being in search of God and heaven, the justice of God on earth—fighting for rights, freedom and development. According to that will, we are not bordered with our homeland. The aim of the citizen should be God. If the first word of the prayer uttered by a person or the nation is other than God, even if it could be homeland, patriotism, struggle for freedom, and economic development, the word will be insufficient. The human beings should put their life into that conception, i.e., they should correspond their behavior and life to the big one, whose charity and power is infinite, whose sky covers the whole world, which makes every purpose and aspiration of the people universal and meaningful, although they could be local and restricted…”

The first section draws a link to Grigol Peradze’s first sermon, where he develops his program of pastoral care. Now he wants to focus precisely on how he wishes to have this ministry understood. He chooses the image of the worker in the vineyard who has to take care of the grapevines. He then names various problems that could affect the grapevines, and the question arises of how the vine grower, who is an image of Grigol himself, should respond with a cure for all the diseases that afflict the grapes—the grapes in this case being an image of the believers of the church herself. He points out the importance of prayer. Here he quotes, several times, the request of the disciples to learn how to pray from their Lord Jesus Christ (Lk 11,1). Prayer is central to community life, and therefore he wants to dedicate the homily series to the most important prayer: the Lord’s Prayer. Prayer is not just a conversation with God, but a way to get to know oneself better, to see what disturbs the inner peace and how to reach it again. The disciples want to receive a guide for their own religious life from Jesus, as the students of John the Baptist did.

Both in the comparison of the grapevines and at the end of the sermon, Grigol emphasizes that the life of faith is a living process in which the faithful have to participate actively, so that it does not become stunted. At the end of the sermon, he warns about the prayer losing its inner fire. The spark of this fire, which was once carried out to the world by the apostles for the love of God, and which also inflamed Georgia for the praise of God, must be re-inflamed in the modern world today.

So Grigol—equipped with faith and scientific knowledge—starts fighting against evil and its earthly manifestations. Thus the first sermon says:

“Nowadays, the role of the church is not lost; moreover, it has started playing its active role…Today the church has the responsibility to demonstrate its ability, and I am obliged to tell you: our church is the future, if we want our nation to have a future and an existence. The church is not a museum, and do not consider me as a worker there, but as a warrior looking for other warriors from your community…in order to contribute to the future of our church…

Taking into account the life and the torture of the Christ, we have to conclude and confess that the church is called for striving and winning. It will achieve the aim after walking through the thorny path, by Calvary and crucifixion.”

* He attended the Union Conference in Vienna (1926) as well as the Faith and Order Conference in Lausanne (1927) and was actively involved in the ecumenical movement in the decade that followed. On St Grigol Peradze’s life and ecumenical activities see: Irakli Jinjolava, “The Ecumenical Vocation of the Orthodox Church According to the Georgian Theologian and Saint Priest-Martyr Grigol Peradze,” in Ostkirchliche Studien 65 (2016) pp. 237-270.

Fr. Irakli Jinjolava is research assistant and doctoral candidate at the Institute of Orthodox Theology at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich and a deacon of the Orthodox Church of Georgia.

Public Orthodoxy seeks to promote conversation by providing a forum for diverse perspectives on contemporary issues related to Orthodox Christianity. The positions expressed in this essay are solely the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors or the Orthodox Christian Studies Center.

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by Mariz Tadros

On the 18th of May, 2019 G., a Coptic female nurse living in Sydney, Australia was suffocated by a plastic bag and stabbed seven times as she was leaving the hospital after completing her night shift. The murderer was her husband. Insider information suggested that on the 16th of May, a high-ranking member of the Coptic Orthodox clergy pressed that she return to her husband despite being informed that her husband was allegedly a drug addict and was continuously beating her. It is alleged that G. did not want to return to her marital home, but she was told this is her cross and she must carry it. The case is the latest in a string of incidents that we have witnessed in Egypt and among the Coptic Diaspora of women sacrificing their lives as they succumb to the clergy’s pressures upon them to bear their cross. Another case in Brighton a few years ago involved a very similar scenario: a woman violently killed by her husband had been pressured into returning to her marital home. Sources who spoke on condition of anonymity shared that the local parish (Coptic) priests had pressed the victim to return to her marital home-against her expressed wishes not to return to him—and despite their awareness of his long history of wife-beating. While they did not physically force her, according to the sources, they certainly exerted a lot of pressure, urging her to bear her cross for the children’s sake.

Invisible Women, Invisible Problem

The purpose behind my inquiry here is neither to demonize bishop x or vilify priest y—nor to suggest that every Coptic Orthodox clergy condones domestic violence. Notwithstanding, these are not singular cases but reflect a much deeper, more systemic problem, one that has been shrouded in secrecy. Women suffer in secret, they are advised to bear their crosses by their parish priests in secret, and while families and communities know of the occurrence of wife-beating, it is not a subject that is openly talked about. They are the invisible women whose predicament no one wants to confront as a social ill, not a personal exception. Domestic violence is a global phenomenon. According to the WHO, one in three women (30%) who are in a relationship have experienced some form of physical and/or sexual violence by their intimate partner in their lifetime. More than a third (38%) of acts of murder of women are committed by a male intimate partner. So given its global nature, why cast the light on the tragic end of these two Coptic Orthodox women?

The reasons are three-fold, First, whereas advocates against assaults on women’s bodily integrity in these two contexts (Australia and the United Kingdom) have mobilized to break the silence around spousal violence more broadly, women belonging to such a tiny minority have fallen within the cracks. Spousal violence is shrouded in secrecy in the Coptic Orthodox Church, one of the oldest churches in the world, dating back when St Mark the Evangelist visited Alexandria in 48 AD. As a taboo topic, there are no systemic, methodologically robust studies that explore the nature or size of the phenomenon or policies that engage with how to mitigate or address it.

The second reason why we are putting the spotlight on these tragic deaths is that they reflect a broader phenomenon in which in Coptic Orthodox clergy have sometimes been complicit in these women’s exposure to violence. In both incidents, reliable sources confirm that the clergy pressed these women to bear their cross and return to their abusive husbands. Often the drivers are to keep the family intact for the sake of the children or to avoid one spouse asking for a divorce. The clergy in the Coptic Orthodox Church wield enormous power in shaping and informing social norms and practices among the more than 10 million men and women who identify themselves as belonging to the Coptic Orthodox faith. In Egypt, years of living under discrimination and insecurity have meant that Copts regard the church not only as a community of believers or its clergy the source of spiritual guidance but as the safeguard against all kinds of vulnerabilities experienced in broader society. In the Diaspora, those families keen to maintain their identity also look to the church to play a central role. Priests officiate at marriages, funerals, baptisms, and other key milestones in people’s lives. This role is not absolute, of course. Since the Egyptian uprisings of 2011 and 2013, Coptic youth have challenged the absolute authority of the church leadership at several conjunctures. In the diaspora too, opportunities of exposure to other cultures, faiths, ways of living have also meant that it is one of many sources of identity formation and socialization. However, for millions of Copts, the priest is one person of primary recourse in the mediation of private matters. It is therefore likely that other than one’s immediate family, women suffering from domestic violence would seek advice and possibly intervention from their confession father.

The third reason for bringing this to light is that despite the variation in profile of these women and other Coptic women in the diaspora and Egypt, the clergy have professed one common message: this is your cross to bear. Again, interestingly, this is not specific to the Coptic Orthodox faith. Christian women universally have been told to carry their crosses, as in the Russian Orthodox Church, or as in the Catholic church, or as noted by Restored, a Christian alliance whose co-director is a member of the Church of England, or as denounced here by a Greek Orthodox clergy.

Interestingly, we have not heard that men who report unhappiness at home are advised by the clergy to carry their crosses and endure abuse (except perhaps when their wives are about to convert or when one of two spouses wants a divorce).

Accountable Theology

For some it may seem self-evident that to accept domestic violence in the name of bearing one’s cross is a theological anathema, but this is murky territory: what do we do with clergy who continue to espouse this line, propagating it through their preaching or championing it through their pastoral work? We have to start by a church-wide acknowledgement that domestic violence is not a cross to bear and that blaming the victim is unacceptable. We are far, far away from this first step.

It seems what is asked of these women is not only to bear the crosses but to give up their lives carrying it, and the question is, “For what?” The biblical verse upon which the clergy have appropriated the justification of women’s subjugation to domestic violence is “Take up your cross and follow Me” (Matthew 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23). One renowned Coptic Christian counsellor, Dr. Nabil Baki, when asked what victims of domestic violence should do when they are told by the church to carry their crosses, emphatically said, “This is a wrong counsel.” He elucidated that sometimes women are made to feel they are responsible for what is happening to them, making them feel guilt and shame, and this leads some women to acquire a negative view of God, as if there were judgment upon them to put up with the beatings in quiet (at 1:1701-29). The truth of the matter is that we can’t ignore theological interpretations of the biblical verse on the cross to bear. The theology of bearing one’s cross is especially prevalent in Orthodox Churches in contexts where there has been a history of persecution for their faith, although it also features in relation to suffering and illness more broadly. Just as Dr. Baki spoke about bearing the cross being wrong guidance, so too we need theological teachings on why the appropriation of “bearing one’s cross” to justify endurance of wife-beating is a misappropriation of Christ’s saying. Theological expositions that differentiate between the kind of suffering that qualifies for bearing the cross for Christ and enduring domestic abuse that Christ would never condone in his name need to be made authoritatively. We need accountable theology. This is an invitation to readers to share such theological expositions so we can make full use of them.

We also need simultaneously to seek multiple avenues to bring about other kinds of accountability—as I will argue in a later essay. We can’t wait until a problem is acknowledged theologically before we seek redress.Too many lives are shattered, or indeed lost, in the meantime.

Mariz Tadros is an Institute of Development Studies Research Fellow at the University of Sussex specializing in the politics and human development of the Middle East.

Public Orthodoxy seeks to promote conversation by providing a forum for diverse perspectives on contemporary issues related to Orthodox Christianity. The positions expressed in this essay are solely the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors or the Orthodox Christian Studies Center.

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Public Orthodoxy by Public Orthodoxy - 1w ago

by George Demacopoulos

In June of 594, Pope Gregory the Great received a letter from Constantina, the empress, asking him to send the head of St. Paul to Constantinople so that she and others might benefit from venerating the bodily remains of such a great saint. St. Gregory denied the request, noting that it was not the custom of the Roman Church to dismember the bones of the saints.

A great deal has happened between Rome and Constantinople since the sixth century, but Pope Francis’s decision last week to send the Ecumenical Patriarch an actual portion of the body of St. Peter should be understood as nothing short of remarkable. More than anything else, it is a clear indication of the pontiff’s desire to advance the cause of Christian unity.

A point of clarification might help to demonstrate why Francis’s gift is both so unprecedented and significant. Since late antiquity, the bishops of Rome have used relics to pursue diplomatic ends. But the relics they distributed were typically not the physical remains of the saints. Rather, they were a piece of cloth or metal that had come into contact with a saint’s body. For most of its history, the Vatican was a destination for bodily relics, not a distribution center.

Pope Gregory was the first pope to write extensively about the miraculous power of relics; he was also the first pope to use the relics of St. Peter as a central piece of his international diplomacy. On more than a dozen occasions, the pontiff sent the filings of the chains that had bound St. Peter in order to coax secular and ecclesiastical officials to support one of the pontiff’s initiatives or to thank them for having done so.

In the centuries after Gregory’s tenure, Rome began to accumulate a large number of bodily relics. Some might say this was done out of devotion, others might argue that it was a strategy designed to assert control over popular devotion. Either way, only Constantinople possessed more relics than Rome…until it didn’t. In the thirteenth century, Crusaders sacked Constantinople and seized its religious treasure. Some of the looted relics went to monasteries and cathedrals across Western Europe; the majority went to Rome.

The 1960s witnessed a remarkable thaw in Orthodox/Catholic relations. In part, this was achieved by a return of stolen relics: a portion of St Andrew the Apostle was returned to the Church of Greece; part of St. Mark the Evangelist was returned to the Coptic Church.

In 2004, Pope John Paul II’s final public act served as a poignant end to his life-long commitment to Christian unity—he and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew co-officiated at a prayer service that witnessed the return of St. Gregory the Theologian and St. John Chrysostom to the Christians of Constantinople. During their lives, both saints had served as Archbishop of Constantinople, but their bodies had been in Rome since the Fourth Crusade.

Pope Francis’s gift of a bodily relic of St. Peter is so remarkable because, unlike these other recent exchanges, it is not a righting of a previous wrong, not a return to the Orthodox of something that was historically theirs. No, Francis’s gift of a Petrine relic to the Ecumenical Patriarch is significant because it is an unfettered divestment of portion of what is arguably the Vatican’s most precious religious treasure—the very foundation of its symbolic authority in the Christian world.

In the Middle Ages, the popes used the relics of St. Peter and the legacy of St. Peter as a weapon to assert their authority over other ecclesiastical and political leaders. But Pope Francis has turned the medieval paradigm on its head. In his hands, the relics of St. Peter function as a gift of Christian love. In Bartholomew, Francis sees as a genuine brother. With this act, Francis is signaling that he is willing to go further than any of his predecessors—even the sainted Gregory—to pursue reconciliation.

American Christians are so subconsciously formed by a Protestant/post-Protestant outlook that even US Catholics and Orthodox typically fail to appreciate the religious and cultural power of the relics of the saints. On a recent trip to Romania, I was asked about religious observance in the US—my interlocutor was not very concerned about Liturgy, personal prayer, or fasting; he wanted to know whether American Christians had access to the bodies of the saints.

While many Americans may not understand the genuine significance of the bestowal of a relic of St. Peter, Pope Francis clearly does.

George Demacopoulos is the Fr. John Meyendorff and Patterson Family Chair of Orthodox Christian Studies and Co-Director of the Orthodox Christian Studies Center at Fordham University.

Note: An expanded version of this essay is forthcoming. A link will be provided here when available.

Public Orthodoxy seeks to promote conversation by providing a forum for diverse perspectives on contemporary issues related to Orthodox Christianity. The positions expressed in this essay are solely the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors or the Orthodox Christian Studies Center.

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by William Antholis

Moral courage is, by definition, acting on principle in the face of adverse consequences. The American presidency is filled with examples of moral heroism. George Washington stepped down after two terms, despite a fear of anarchy. Teddy Roosevelt stood up to robber barons to advance a progressive agenda. Lyndon Johnson pursued the Voting Rights Act in 1965, knowing it would subvert the Democratic party for a generation.

When politics are deeply polarized, courage between and across tribes adds depth to these acts. Or, as Arthur Brooks of the American Enterprise Institute recently said, “Moral courage is the act of defending someone with whom you disagree politically.” A generation ago, Texas Democrat Jim Hightower said this differently: “The only thing in the middle of the road is a yellow stripe and dead armadillos.”

Pete Wehner’s new book, the Death of Politics, is at its core a book about moral courage in both senses—obeying principles and embracing opponents. Its great accomplishment is to provide a practical, working definition of political morality that can appeal to all Americans when our politics appear broken.

The former head of Strategic Initiatives in the George W. Bush White House, and a committed Evangelical Christian, Wehner makes the case for why engaged citizenship itself must be a moral enterprise. Wehner’s vision is to weave the rights of individuals together with the needs of society, and to do so with humility, moderation and civility.

The book itself is an act of moral courage. Wehner regularly challenges a range of conservative politicians and Evangelical leaders. He regularly praises actors, thought leaders and ideas from across the aisle. He does this out of principle, not compromise or convenience.

Political morality: essential or oxymoron?

Wehner begins by showing why so many Americans feel political morality is an oxymoron. “When Americans think about politics today, their first thought is that it is inherently dirty and undignified; that most politicians are corrupt and unprincipled.” The causes of our deep division and distrust are laid out with clarity—from financial crises and growing inequality, to failed wars and health care systems, to a fractured media that capitalizes on anger, to dramatically changing demographics and social norms.

But Wehner also argues it would also be a tragic mistake to think our politics cannot be reconciled with morality. Nihilism is Wehner’s enemy, and Wehner’s pen is a mighty sword.

In Wehner’s telling, God provides the most compelling moral foundation for political life. The secular alternatives to God fall short. Wehner’s Christianity is humble, not fundamentalist. No single person’s particular view of the divine can nor should undermine someone else’s freedom of moral choice. He respectfully embraces the constructive role played by legions of non-Christians. Yet Wehner is far from a relativist. He wants all citizens to embrace public life, with moral inspiration and aspirations.

Wehner offers a moral vision that blends rational choice and character development. Our reasoning and our choices are shaped by our education, our moral environment, our life experiences, and our communal existence. Maintaining a democratic society that venerates the rights of individuals requires humility, moderation and reciprocity. Self-government also requires knowing how and when to choose between the rights of individuals and the responsibilities of society to solve problems and improve the human condition. And throughout the book, he calls on citizens to claim their own voice in this effort, and to hold leaders to account. “To be a public-spirited citizen means knowing our history and our stories, the foundations of our political system, and being civically literate… Responsible citizenship means rewarding leaders who demonstrate integrity and appeal to our better angels rather than our worst impulses.”

Wehner shows in case after case—from issues of war and peace, to crime and punishment, to education and health care, to the rights of women’s choice and those of the unborn, to the decline of a responsible media—that how we strike this balance is as important as the fact that we do so because each moral act provides a lesson to others. “History has shown that politics can be a more noble enterprise when it is twinned with faith, but only faith properly understood and properly executed.”

Four heroes and a circus clown

With clarity and precision, Wehner engages three intellectual giants to help frame these complimentary moral foundations: Aristotle, John Locke and Abraham Lincoln.  Aristotle taught us that moral character is essential to government and, reciprocally, any self-governing republic must develop the character of its citizens. In contrast, Locke placed the priority of individual liberty at the center of our moral lives. According to Locke, because individuals are imperfect, and therefore will perceive the moral world differently from one another, government’s primary roles are to provide order and protect individual natural rights. Government does this in service to individuals, and when it no longer serves the collective body politic, then individuals collectively hold the freedom to choose another form of government.

Wehner leaves it to Lincoln to help us resolve the tensions between Aristotle and Locke, between the collective and the individual, in our own politics. Lincoln embraced Locke’s belief in equality and freedom, which was most clearly articulated by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence—even if this was denied to African slaves at our founding, including by Jefferson himself. But Lincoln also showed us that how we pursue life, liberty and happiness depends on how we treat one another. It is the reciprocity of Aristotle’s notions of citizenship that bind us and elevate us as political society.

Lincoln’s acts of moral courage were founded both on defending the principles of individual equality and freedom, and embracing our political opponents in a way that respected their common humanity. For Lincoln, how we fought the war was as important as the decision to do so. And at the war’s end, Lincoln held that reconstruction should be pursued with “with malice toward none, with charity for all.”

There is a fourth hero: truth. Freedom depends on reason, and reason cannot function without truth.  Ideas and words are what connect individual moral reasoning to how a society collectively thinks and acts. If those ideas and words lose their connection to reality, then their moral force evaporates.

Wehner is not naïve. He understands that politics entails a framing of the questions in a debate, a competition of truth claims. But he insists that does not mean the abandonment of common truths. “When we lose the ability to persuade, all that’s left is compulsion and the exercise of raw power, intimidation, and silencing those with whom we disagree.” That is why acknowledging that competing arguments capture different elements of the truth is different than simply declaring “alternative facts.” Indeed, Wehner’s call to arms is to encourage citizens to engage, to reject falsehood, and to find the common humanity in one another.

This last point connects to where and how Wehner’s book is an act of moral courage against President of the United States, Donald Trump. Trump, for Wehner, is both a symptom and a cause of our current political moment. Wehner’s case against the President is devastating. He argues that Trump lacks any foundational moral claims. He holds no respect for moral reasoning in either policy or his personal life, and he lacks any understanding of how actions shape the development of public character.

The book’s moral core is so compelling that Trump’s guest appearances at times feel farcical, as though a malevolent circus clown showed up to a self-help group. But Wehner tempers his contempt of Trump with graciousness toward Trump’s supporters. He is relentlessly gracious to both grassroots supporters who elected the President to disrupt the system, and to political elites who are willing to look the other way at the President’s lies, perversions, and destructive acts as necessary evils to advance a conservative agenda.

Regardless of what one thinks about President Trump, the history of this presidency will include a chapter on moral courage. On the right, this history will show that conservatives such as Anne Applebaum, George Will, David French, Bill Kristol, Michael Gerson, and Jennifer Rubin, among others, spoke truth to power. On the left, the dead armadillos will include those who tried to understand and genuinely engage the fury that elected Trump. “Undergirding the case for compromise is the recognition that none of us is perfect and very few political issues are uncomplicated, with only good arguments and the angels lined up on one side and only bad arguments and demons lined up on the other.”

Peter Wehner deserves a chapter of his own. His signature contribution will have been to lay out a compelling a set of moral principles worth defending for liberals, moderates and conservatives alike, consequences be damned. Rather than a book of abstract political and moral philosophy, the Death of Politics provides a real world map for navigating the inverted morality of our current political moment. It also lays out a notional street grid for how we as citizens can and should behave in a new kind of polis.

Deeply moral without being moralistic, this book should be read widely—not only by our nation’s thought leaders but also by citizens far and wide.

William Antholis is Director and CEO of The Miller Center, University of Virginia.

Public Orthodoxy seeks to promote conversation by providing a forum for diverse perspectives on contemporary issues related to Orthodox Christianity. The positions expressed in this essay are solely the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors or the Orthodox Christian Studies Center.

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by Petre Maican

The distinction between image and likeness is one of the recurring themes in the patristic writings and one of the main building blocks of modern Orthodox theology. But is this distinction useful for answering the anthropological question from the perspective of disability? Is it useful to speak about image and likeness in the cases of persons with profound intellectual disabilities? I think not. Especially, when the main requirement for attaining likeness is ethical freedom.  As I will point out further, since the movement from image to likeness is dependent on the use of freedom, persons with profound cognitive disabilities are excluded from attaining the goal of their own existence, perfection in Christ.

It is part of Orthodox identity to remain faithful not only to Scripture or the ecumenical councils, but also to the Tradition of the Fathers. And there are good reasons for this. Without a strong common ground, the faith of the Church becomes the sum of all individual beliefs, with personal opinions and experiences receiving the status of dogmas. Unfortunately, however, the Fathers did not answer all the questions humanity might have throughout the ages. They could not have since they inhabited a different world. They did not have access to the same technology nor did they have the same concerns. Thus, they did not have a doctrine of the Church nor a very developed anthropology.

As his eminence Kallistos Ware saw, the previous century tried to solve the former issue and provide a robust ecclesiology, while this century will struggle to develop an Orthodox anthropology. The emergence of biotechnology, gender reassignment, artificial intelligence, and the increased interest in human rights or disability raise a multitude of questions regarding human nature. I have no doubt that some of these questions will find answers in the Fathers or that we will be able to infer their view from the clues scattered throughout their writings – just as it happened in the case of ecclesiology.  Yet, for other questions like disability I am not convinced that some patristic categories are as helpful as we might hope, particularly those of image and likeness.

The words image and likeness are applied for the first time to the human beings in Scripture in the book of Genesis. The first chapter recounting the creation of world states that God created the humankind in his image and after his likeness. Modern biblical scholars tend to see the two terms as synonyms aiming to highlight that there is a certain resemblance between human beings and God. Yet, for the Christian exegetes of the Patristic era who read the text in Greek, the two terms carried a subtle distinction between potential and fulfillment. As Father Andrew Louth explained, in the Greek language, the expression ‘in the image’ had the meaning ‘according to the image’, thus pointing to a prototype that served as a model. The word ‘likeness’ also hinted to a process. The most common interpretation the text elicited was that the human beings were created similar to God (image) and the goal of their entire existence was to cultivate this similarity as much as possible (likeness).

The content of human resemblance to God was never entirely clear. For some Fathers it was rationality, for others it was freedom, for others dominion over nature, or even all of these together. Contemporary theologians approached the topic either apophatically or relationally: the image of God in us is the inexhaustible mystery of being and/or the special relationship in which the humans are placed by God at creation.

Somehow surprisingly, what remained undisputed was that the only way to attain likeness was through the ethical use of freedom. Although it is uncertain what constitutes our similarity with God, we know that to attain it we have to pray, fast, help our neighbor, and attend the liturgy. The fulfillment of our lives is inextricably linked with freedom. As Lossky puts it “Freedom is, so to speak, the ‘formal’ image, the necessary condition for the attainment of perfect assimilation to God” (The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, 119-120).

The main issue with this view is that the interdependency between likeness and freedom excludes from fulfillment persons with profound cognitive disabilities. In his book, Receiving the Gift of Friendship, Hans Reinders presents the case of a microcephalic girl named Kelly who was unable to do anything else than breathe. “The first time, I visited the group home where she lives, I found a twelve-year-old redheaded girl who was sitting in a wheel chair, her big brown eyes” staring without seeing” as was my first reaction” (Receiving the Gift of Friendship: Profound Disability, Theological Anthropology, and Ethics, 1-2).

Applied to persons like Kelly, the image-likeness schema would not question her humanity, but her possibility of attaining similarity with God in Christ. Since the image of God in the human being resides in her special relationship with God and not in a single feature, Kelly’s humanity is left intact. Yet, if likeness could be attained solely through the use of freedom, then it is not clear how Kelly would attain it. Since she does not exhibit any sings of self-consciousness it is difficult to speak about her even praying. Thus, if the logic of the image likeness binomial is pushed to its conclusion, Kelly cannot fulfill the goal of her existence.

One way to solve this conundrum might be to say that Kelly attains perfection in her own way or as a gift from God. But for me, the ambiguity involved in this expression makes it less than satisfying. Does it mean that we assume Kelly possesses some degree of freedom or that there is another way to attain likeness that is not dependent on freedom? The latter option has been pursued in some Roman Catholic articles, which distinguished between natural and supernatural goods. Natural goods are those obtained through virtuous actions; while supernatural goods are infused by God directly upon human beings as a gift. However, Orthodox theology has rejected this distinction, stressing that there is a direct proportionality between human effort and God’s grace. The more one strives for likeness the more she receives from God. Likeness might be a gift, but it cannot be attained without cooperation.

These are difficult questions and, in my view, not at all marginal. The discussion about disability and quality of life will soon enough push us to explain why a person like Kelly should live and if her way of living is worth it. If she is only a human being that does not have the possibility to attain fulfillment even from a religious point of view, then what is the point of her existence. At the moment, it seems to me that Orthodox theology is in a weak position that the binomial image likeness only accentuates.

Whether the image likeness schema can be reinterpreted in an inclusive way or it will have to be discarded altogether, it remains the to be debated. But, I hope that I manged to raise the awareness that the Orthodox anthropological vision that is now under construction will have to take into account the whole spectrum of human existence. And those who might be tempted to say that persons like Kelly are exceptions, should remember that if Christ is the good shepherded who came to put his life for one lost sheep the Church cannot ignore those rejected by everybody else who are in her midst?

Petre Maican is one of the founding members of Saint John Chrysostom Research Institute in Aberdeen, United Kingdom. He holds a PhD in Systematic Theology from the University of Aberdeen. His current research focuses on theological anthropology, with special focus on disability in the Orthodox tradition.

Public Orthodoxy seeks to promote conversation by providing a forum for diverse perspectives on contemporary issues related to Orthodox Christianity. The positions expressed in this essay are solely the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors or the Orthodox Christian Studies Center.

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Public Orthodoxy by Public Orthodoxy - 3w ago

by Jack Pappas

Liberalism has recently become a shibboleth for everything that is wrong with our present age, with critics in the in the academy and the media as well as the political establishment.

For the global Left, the term “liberalism” has become a kind of shorthand used to identify everything from the evils of the contemporary incarceration and national security state, to the neoliberal corrosion of the democratic public sphere, and to the exploitive (and ecologically catastrophic) reign of predatory capitalism. For the global Right, “liberalism” has come to signify the root cause of everything from declining religiosity to the destabilization of a common social fabric rooted in “traditional” family life and “Western” cultural homogeneity.

That liberalism would undergo such an apparently sudden shift in its cultural and political cachet, from a position of unquestioned dominance to a widespread object of scorn is, however, not unsurprising nor altogether unwarranted. Yet, the content of these various critiques couldn’t be more dissimilar, and it precisely this dissimilarity which reveals a need for greater clarification and rigor about the usage of “liberalism” as a catch-all object of critique, and in turn raises questions about how Christians ought to think about liberalism and its critics.

What after all is liberalism?

To provide something of a simplified definition, interpreted through the prism of the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the political project of liberalism affirms the freedom and dignity of the human person, entitled to political freedom, and to social and economic security, equal in representation before the law without distinction of race, gender, or religion. Consequently, liberalism is inseparable from a commitment to pluralism and to social and economic democracy.

Thus, when the political Left identifies liberalism with the neoliberal regime of predatory capitalism (or even with capitalism itself), or with the coercive and anti-democratic logics of mass incarceration and neo-colonial interventionist foreign policies, it does so as a kind of misdirection. To be sure, liberalism is not immune from internal tensions or contradictions (such as between individual freedom, and collective equity, or between universal rights and the self-determination of nations), contradictions which have themselves yielded the very dangers which the Left would critique. However, the task of critiquing and resolving these contradictions is fundamentally an intramural one, an expansion and realization of liberalism’s central democratic and pluralistic principles (a fact recognized by generations of civil and socialist activists) within political and economic life.

In contrast, the emerging critique of the energized illiberal Right is inherently opposed to these very principles and would affirm them only within the bounds of a culturally (or confessionally) homogeneous state. In fact, despite the undeniable range of ideological expressions on display within current circles of political reaction, from the Trump movement and Brexit, to the Alt-Right and the Catholic neo-integralists, all parties seem to be united by a shared belief that political (and even intellectual) freedom leads to an inevitably self-destructive pluralism, marked by religious fragmentation, cultural instability, and sexual libertinism (the Right’s most recent bête noire). In this moment of political upheaval, a number of Christians have advocated either for a kind of apolitical quietism, a concerted movement of retreat from the pluralist public into a privatized space of homogeneity (see, Rod Dreher’s Benedict Option).  An apparent growing number of Christians have opted to embrace a singularly critical view of liberalism, rejecting “economic liberalism” (capitalism) and “social liberalism” (democratic pluralism) in the name of  a nationalist socio-economic program with a state-imposed religious confessionalism (i.e. “integralism”), reminiscent of Franco’s Spain or Salazar’s Portugal. This inevitably raises the question of whether or not these reactionary attitudes constitute the only properly Christian stance toward liberalism.

Is Christianity really, after all, irreconcilable with pluralism and the principles of liberal democracy?  Is a properly Christian society really synonymous with a confessional state ruled by generals or hereditary monarchs?  Any response to these questions that is not wholly and resolutely negative fails to recognize the fundamental dependency of liberal ideals upon Christian conceptions of human dignity and liberty of conscience.

Indeed, to insist that the Church is primarily tasked with the coercive subordination of individual consciences through a weaponization of political power is to exchange the Kingdom of God, announced by the Gospel, with an earthly counterfeit. This political vision of a homogenous confessional state is one which would surrender the ascetical hardship of loving the stranger within our midst, proclaiming instead the necessity of “rendering unto Caesar” not what is Caesar’s, as Christ commands (Matthew 22:21), but by rendering what is God’s wholly unto Caesar. It is perhaps not unsurprising that these contemporary Christian critics of liberalism, for all their fetishization of Romanovs and Habsburgs, ultimately have such little patience with the God who reveals himself among the marginalized, and who has “chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the things which are mighty,” (Corinthians 1:27) and repudiates worldly power through self-sacrifice upon the cross.

This is not to suggest that Christianity is simply synonymous with liberalism, or that Christians ought to withdraw from contemporary political battles. Rather, it suggests that a politically engaged Christianity requires that we love beyond the boundaries of the familiar and participate in a pluralistic public.

Moreover, this does not mean that Christians cannot make demands upon social organization. Rather, it is to reject the notion that the nature of such is one properly oriented toward the defense of a homogeneity against the cacophonous plurality of human individuality.

On the contrary, the very content of the Christian demand upon society is an absolute one, but its task fundamentally lies in the elevation of those impoverished masses who languish in material suffering under the heel of earthly power. The political commitment of the Christian is not to realize some earthly Kingdom of theocratic rule, but above all to” preach glad tidings to the poor, to heal the broken in heart, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind” (Isaiah 61:1).

Jack Pappas is a doctoral student in the Theology Department at Fordham University.

Public Orthodoxy seeks to promote conversation by providing a forum for diverse perspectives on contemporary issues related to Orthodox Christianity. The positions expressed in this essay are solely the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors or the Orthodox Christian Studies Center.

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by Tim Markatos

“All models are wrong,” the saying goes among statisticians, “but some are useful.” The modern language of LGBTQ+ identity, while often unhelpfully obfuscating the boundaries between ontology, phenomenology, and epistemology, has been tremendously helpful in uniting and giving voice to people whose experience of sexual attraction and gender is at odds with what the majority of society (often uncritically) prescribes as normative. Within the LGBTQ+ Christian community, one finds a further distinction between Side A Christians—those who believe that God blesses sexual expression in same-sex marriage—and Side B Christians—those who believe that sexual activity is reserved for followers of Christ in the context of the sacrament of marriage, as described by the Church as the union of one man and one woman, but who also reject the narrative that one’s sexual orientation can (or should) be changed or reversed.

Revoice, an evangelical conference now in its second year, was founded as the outgrowth of years of conversation, writing, and community-building among Side B LGBTQ+ Christians. The conference is both ecumenical (speakers included Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox), and inviting. While the conference adheres to well-defined understandings of sexual ethics, Christian posture and witness, and racial diversity, the Revoice organizers have created a space for anyone interested in exploring the history, traditions, and practices of Christian approaches to sexuality, celibacy, and community, regardless of whether one considers oneself Side B or Side A.

This year’s conference featured keynote addresses by Wesley Hill, an Episcopalian author whose memoir Washed and Waiting has served as a touchstone for many Side B LGBTQ+ Christians, and who is known more broadly as an insightful, nonpartisan commentator writing for Commonweal, First Things, and other high-profile Christian publications; Johanna Finegan, an MIT doctorate in philosophy who has borne witness to the Side B community through her experience of being called into a mixed-orientation marriage to a straight man (Finegan identifies as gay); Mark Yarhouse, director of the Institute for the Study of Sexual Identity at Regent University and author of many peer-reviewed articles and books on the intersections of faith, sexual, and gender identities; and Revoice founder Nate Collins.

There is something almost indescribably powerful about sitting in a room full of 600 people collectively going “Hmmmm!” as LGBTQ+ Christians speak to stories and experiences that each of us individually had come to believe (or been told to believe) were not worth discussing publicly. Finegan struck an especially loud chord with her audience, citing the willingness of Side B Christians to share vulnerably their stories of pain, failure, and despair—as well as their stories of finding hope, intimacy, and love—as part of the appeal of the conference over and above alternative voices across Christian cultures. 

Finegan also received a passionate response to her claim that “a lot of us are tired of random heterosexual opinions.” These opinions tend to fall into polar extremes: on the one hand, people who wish the church would just let LGBTQ+ people marry already, and on the other people who are convinced that so much as employing LGBTQ+ terminology to make sense of one’s life is a grave danger to one’s soul. To the frustration of many in the Side B community, neither camp seems especially interested in listening to us and walking with us where we are.

In between worship sessions, keynote addresses, and personal testimonies from conference attendees, additional speakers led workshops on topics including healing from spiritual abuse, finding family and community outside of marriage, and practical advice for how churches can better minister to the LGBTQ+ people in their midst. Of the workshops that I was able to attend, I was particularly moved by Ty Wyss’s talk on healing from shame (and his observation that “people don’t feel loved when you try to fix them”) and Catholic writer Eve Tushnet’s talk on ecstasy and celibacy. (Full disclosure: I am a close friend of Tushnet.) 

Acknowledging that she is neither a historian nor a theologian, Tushnet enraptured her audience with a wide-ranging discussion of Christian thinking on celibacy throughout history, raising almost more questions than answers in the process: is an attitude of sexual entitlement a form of wealth that Christ may be calling Christians to give up? How can Christians pursuing celibacy avoid the fetishization of their own misery? What are fruitful ways for single people, gay, straight, or otherwise, to inhabit the inherent and difficult ambiguity of singleness? I was also intrigued by Grant Hartley’s talk, in which he reframes queer culture as an avenue for missiology on the basis of the grace that queer people have experienced through it.

Orthodox Christians who find themselves skeptical of LGBTQ+ language and hesitant to engage our communities would benefit from witnessing the consequences that enforced scrupulosity has had on LGBTQ+ people in the Church, and the joy with which we nevertheless worship the Christ who loves us. To those in the Orthodox Church who tend more progressive on normative questions of sexual behavior, I would urge caution in making assumptions about the conference and its attendees from afar. Those who do not believe that Christ necessarily asks lifelong celibacy of LGBTQ+ Christians ought to heed Paulo Freire’s claim that a critical pedagogy that would seek to liberate the consciences of LGBTQ+ Christians from captivity to injustice “must be forged with, not for the oppressed.” 

Where I believe the Orthodox may make a distinct contribution to Revoice is in our understanding of sin. Many of the conference speakers approached sinfulness and humanity’s fallen condition through an Augustinian or Calvinist frame. These approaches do not sit well with me as an Orthodox Christian, and I would welcome a conversation that reframes the discussion of normative behavior for LGBTQ+ people around Fr. Alexander Schmemann’s formulation: “Sin is not to believe in Christ. Nothing should be called sin other than not to transform religion into the knowledge, the love and the life of Christ.”

Until then, Revoice has proven to be a valuable space for LGBTQ+ Christians to find healing, solidarity, joy, and hope as we seek to follow Christ more truly, and freely, without fear of antagonism or misunderstanding from churches that have historically been prone to treat us with both. The conference reached its apex when Renee Higgins of South City Church addressed the audience at the close of the final plenary session. “I’ve been praying for y’all like a mother for her children,” she began, before astonishing us with the fruits of her prayers in a hair-raising sermon on Christ’s miracle of calling Lazarus forth from the dead. 

Christ calls us as we are, not as we are supposed to be. He calls us whether we have never given thought to how to describe the way we understand our attractions or whether we put a name to it. He calls us whether our experience and expression of gender matches our biological sex or not. He calls us in marriage, He calls us in singleness, He calls us in community. He calls us if we have found healing and joy and life with a same-sex partner and He calls us if we long for one even while striving to live celibately. He calls us to Himself because He loves us and He mourns with us and He desires us to find new life in Him. The call of Christ is the call that sexual and gender minorities, their families, and their allies heard at Revoice. Do they hear it in the Orthodox Church?

Tim Markatos is a writer and designer living in Washington, D.C.

Public Orthodoxy seeks to promote conversation by providing a forum for diverse perspectives on contemporary issues related to Orthodox Christianity. The positions expressed in this essay are solely the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors or the Orthodox Christian Studies Center.

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by Paul Ladouceur

With all the attention devoted to the Eastern Front (the Ukraine) in the trench warfare between the Ecumenical Patriarchate (EP) and the Moscow Patriarchate (MP) for preeminence in Orthodoxy, the Western Front is largely ignored. The EP opened the Western Front on November 27, 2018, when it unexpectedly annulled its decree (tomos) of June 19, 1999, establishing the Archdiocese of Russian Orthodox Churches in Western Europe as an EP exarchate, thereby placing the parishes of the Archdiocese under the EP’s metropolitans in their respective countries. Subsequently many priests of the exarchate received letters from EP metropolitans in Western Europe ordering them to cease commemorating Archbishop Jean (Renneteau), head of the Archdiocese, but rather the Ecumenical Patriarch and the local EP metropolitan.

The Archdiocese has a long and glorious history. It was established in April 1921 by St. Tikhon (Belavin), Patriarch of Moscow, to serve the needs of the Russian refugees in Western Europe fleeing the Bolshevik Revolution and the civil war. Evlogy’s task was complex. Isolated from the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC), persecuted mercilessly by the communists, Evlogy had few resources and had to contend with a rival ecclesial structure, a synod of Russian bishops established in Serbia under the leadership of Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky). The “Karlovtsy Synod” was a highly politicized and nationalistic body which dreamed of restoring the autocratic and aristocratic socio-political system of imperial Russia. Evlogy represented the more liberal forces of the Russian Church, evident at the reforming council of the ROC held in 1917-18. Before being disbanded by the Bolsheviks, the council restored the patriarchate, abolished by Peter the Great two centuries earlier, and approved a system of church governance which assured an equal role for both clergy and the non-ordained.

Despite criticism from the Karlovtsy Synod, Evlogy did his best to remain faithful to the beleaguered Moscow Patriarchate, even after Metropolitan Sergius (Stragorodsky) made his infamous statement of 1927 pledging the church’s loyalty to the Soviet state. The breaking point came in 1931 after Evlogy participated in ecumenical prayer services for the suffering Church of Russia. Sergius attempted to replace Evlogy, not for having prayed with non-Orthodox, but for considering that the Russian Church was persecuted. Evlogy placed himself and the Archdiocese under the Ecumenical Patriarch. This situation persisted, with some variations, over the decades – from 1965 to 1971, the EP withdrew its canonical oversight of the archdiocese, which functioned as an independent ecclesial entity. The Archdiocese’s attachment to Constantinople was restored in 1971, but with no precise canonical status. The tomos of June 1999 established the Archdiocese as an EP exarchate.

Several saints have been associated with the Archdiocese (Maria of Paris, Dimitri Klepinin, Alexis Medvedkov, Ilya Fondaminsky and Georges Skobtsov), and many prominent Orthodox theologians, including Sergius Bulgakov, Nicolas Berdyaev, Nicolas Afanasiev, Lev Gillet, Olivier Clément, Élisabeth Behr-Sigel, and, before their departure to the United States, Georges Florovsky, Alexander Schmemann and John Meyendorff.

As a multi-ethnic, multilingual, multi-national ecclesial body stretching from Norway to Italy, from Scotland to Germany, the Archdiocese is an icon of universal Orthodoxy. Archbishop Jean is based at the Cathedral of Saint Alexander Nevsky in Paris. It is the Orthodox jurisdiction which comes closest to implementing the church governance system approved by the ROC council in 1917-18. Compared with the parallel ecclesial structures in the Ukraine, the new Orthodox Church of the Ukraine and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (MP), each of which claims to have between 8 and 12 thousand parishes, the Archdiocese is minuscule, a mere 120 or so parishes.

But size is not the point here. Despite the decline in recent decades of institutions such as the Saint Sergius Institute, the Archdiocese is still a prize coveted by the MP in its quest for legitimacy as leader of the Orthodox world. In 2003, Patriarch Alexis of Moscow made an offer to the Archdiocese to rejoin the MP while keeping its internal autonomy; it was an offer which could be refused and was. Afterwards, the MP waged a relentless battle against the Archdiocese. It is an uneven struggle. The Archdiocese has limited financial resources, whereas the MP is wealthy of its own resources and has a pipeline to the Russian state treasury. In France, the MP sought to undermine the Archdiocese by the transfer of parishes and churches. It failed in Biarritz but succeeded in Nice, recouping the prestigious Russian cathedral of Nice. In the lengthy legal battle over the Nice cathedral, staged by the Russian government in proxy for the MP, the French courts recognized the Russian government as the legal successor of imperial Russia, which built the cathedral. Russian emigrants attached to the Archdiocese maintained the cathedral for eight decades, but failed to ensure that a local entity became the legal owner. To challenge the Saint Sergius Institute, already grinding down from lack of resources, the MP established its own generously-financed theological institute, based in a chateau on the outskirts of Paris.

After the EP’s unilateral revocation of the 1999 decree—Archbishop Jean was informed of the decision after it had been taken—the Archdiocese responded in accordance with its internal regulations: major decisions concerning the Archdiocese must be made by the Archdiocese’s own bodies, the council and the assembly. The suppression of exarchate status does not automatically abolish the Archdiocese, which can still claim its legitimacy from its establishment in 1921 by St. Tikhon of Moscow.

There were three offers on the table to receive the Archdiocese: the MP, ROCOR and the Romanian Patriarchate. Romania may have been the most interesting, but Romania is in an awkward position, since it is unlikely that Constantinople would give its canonical blessing for the Archdiocese to transfer to another jurisdiction. This constraint would not apply to the MP, which would simply ignore the technicality of canonical dispensation for transfers from one Orthodox jurisdiction to another.

The only decision, by a majority vote of 93%, made an Archdiocesan assembly on February 23, 2019, was that the Archdiocese wished to remain together, and not be dismembered. A pastoral assembly composed primarily of Archdiocesan clergy was held on May 11. This is not a decision-making body, but the wind seems to blowing towards the east, towards Moscow. Archbishop Jean appears to favor the Moscow option. The next Archdiocesan assembly is scheduled for September 7.

In the past few months, the Archdiocese has had discussions with both Moscow and Constantinople. Most issues have been resolved with the MP, especially those pertaining to identity and internal governance of the Archdiocese, but there remain several sticking points: Moscow is insisting that the Archdiocese break sacramental communion with Constantinople, which the Archdiocese apparently does not want to do; the status of parishes in Great Britain in the Archdiocese; and church-state relations. Constantinople had previously refused to consecrate additional bishops for the Archdiocese, but Moscow promises to consecrate two auxiliary bishops – Archbishop Jean is currently the only hierarch. Discussions with Constantinople are leading nowhere, although there was a friendly meeting of a delegation with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew on March 27, 2019. (All major documents, including summary reports of discussions with Moscow and Constantinople, are available on the Archdiocese’s multilingual website.)

The option for the Archdiocese to function as an independent Orthodox body, as occurred between 1965 and 1971, seems to have little support. There are fears that this would lead to a break in communion with world-wide Orthodoxy (which did not happen between 1965 and 1971). The status of the Archdiocese would be somewhat analogous to the ambiguous canonical situation of the Orthodox Church in America, whose autocephaly granted by Moscow is not recognized by a majority of Orthodox churches, yet it is in communion with all.

The motives for opening this Western Front are unclear, but may involve more than ecclesial house-keeping, a desire to end the parallel structures represented by the overlapping jurisdictions of the Archdiocese with the EP’s own metropolises in Western Europe. The decision to abolish the exarchate has provoked strong resistance and manifestations of solidarity within the Archdiocese: the vote at the Archdiocesan Assembly in February 2019 against dissolving the Archdiocese and in favor of preserving the Archdiocese as united ecclesial entity was nearly 93% (191 out of 206). This could have been foreseen from the outset. Should the Archdiocese, or even a large part of it, end up with Moscow, the MP would then have three parallel ecclesial entities in Western Europe: its own dioceses; ROCOR in Western Europe; and the Archdiocese. The EP would be left with its own dioceses in Western Europe.

Even at this eleventh hour, the EP could turn the tide by retracting its decree abolishing the exarchate. But this seems unlikely to happen. More likely, and to the dismay of many, this episode could embolden Moscow’s claim to leadership in worldwide Orthodoxy.

Paul Ladouceur is Adjunct Professor, Orthodox School of Theology at Trinity College (University of Toronto) and Professeur associé, Faculté de théologie et de sciences religieuses, Université Laval (Québec).

Public Orthodoxy seeks to promote conversation by providing a forum for diverse perspectives on contemporary issues related to Orthodox Christianity. The positions expressed in this essay are solely the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors or the Orthodox Christian Studies Center.

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by Aristotle Papanikolaou

When we first meet someone, we do not immediately expose to them our deepest secrets, the events in our lives that we are most afraid to reveal, which could include our own actions, something that has been done to us, or something that has happened to which we are indirectly related. We would not reveal to them certain truths, such as if we had killed someone in a car accident, regardless of who was at fault; or if we had been raped; or if we had an alcoholic uncle.  Although we may reveal some truthful aspects of our lives, such as our names, where we live, or where we work, for the most part we are always presenting ourselves to strangers, to our family members, to our friends, and even to our self, with masks on. The mask protects us from the penetrating objectifying gaze of the other; it keeps the other from knowing who we are; it allows us to control the image that we hope to project onto the world, and to ourselves.

In the fallen world, life is one big masquerade party where we parade ourselves in “garments of skin.” And, yet, the mask cannot always protect us from the projections that others place upon us, or that we place on ourselves. Even though we construct a mask to present to ourselves and to the world, because the mask is not real, it functions like a blank screen onto which both the person wearing the mask and those encountering it can project their own desires and fears. Put another way, the mask permits others to objectify us. In the masquerade party, there is a circulation of false images whose end result is the objectification of the self by others or by our own self, and, thus, the constitution of relations of non-uniqueness and unfreedom; in other words, in the language of Metropolitan John Zizioulas, the greatest Orthodox theologian in our lifetime, our masks constitute us as non-persons (Being as Communion, SVS Press).

If a relationship is to move beyond this economy of objectification, this exchange of false images, it can only do so through truth-telling. To tell the truth is to cut through the mask to allow both the self and the other to be present in her uniqueness. To tell the truth is to free oneself of the necessity of the mask. It is only by dropping the mask that a relationship can go beyond the false projection of images and move toward authenticity, intimacy, trust, and love. If we desire an authentic relationship with the one in front of us, then we must tell that person the things we most fear to say; it is only by revealing those truths that we move the relationship beyond superficiality; that we can have the intimacy, trust, and love we crave with the other in front of us. And because we desire such a relationship, in order to remove the mask, we must speak the truth; and, once that truth is spoken it can never be taken back; it hovers in the midst of the relationship with the power to change the relationship forever. Truth-telling is a relational event.

The power of this truth-telling will now depend on the listener. If the truth received is manipulated and used against the one who spoke, then that relationship is potentially destroyed, and the one who spoke the truth will, again, put on the mask and will be mistrustful of showing weakness or vulnerability in future relationships. Once the truth is spoken, the listener has the potential to render the one who speaks the truth as non-unique and unfree. If the truth spoken, however, is received with care for the one who speaks, with trust and with love, then that exchange of spoken truth and loving reception has moved the relationship past the simple circulation of false images and projections. The speaking of truth that is lovingly received becomes an event of freedom and uniqueness: freedom from the necessity of the mask; and, this unmasking is the realization of the uniqueness of the self in all its truthfulness. And, yet, this freedom and uniqueness of the person only occurs in relationships of truth that make possible the deepening of love.

In my theological judgment, this is what makes confession sacramental. It has nothing to do with a contractual arrangement—confess sins and God is obliged to erase them.  In confession, the sacramentality—the presencing of God—is an event that requires truth-telling, but also an iconic form of listening, because the wrong kind of listening, such as extortion, gossip, or manipulation, would make that event symbolic in a demonic form. As St. Augustine said so beautifully, “And certainly from you, O Lord, before whose eyes the depth of the human conscience is laid bare, what in me could be hidden even though I were unwilling to confess it to you?  I could not then be hiding myself from you, but you from myself” (Confessions 10.2.2).

This phenomenology of truth-telling as an event of freedom and uniqueness helps to understand why the Church identifies Christ as the Word of God. As God’s Word, God the Father has revealed all that God is in the Word; has revealed the being of God in the person of Christ, and, as Fr. John Behr reminds us, what it means to be God is revealed in all its fullness in the Word spoken at the Passion of Christ, that is, the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ (The Mystery of Christ, SVS Press). God cannot take this spoken Word back; it is irrevocable; it hovers in between the Uncreated and the Created, waiting for the response of the listener. This listener is all of creation, but there is no living being who can listen and respond to this Word the way the human being can. The power of the Word to transform the relationship between the Uncreated and the created, to undo the mask we place before God as a result of our fallen condition, depends on how we respond to the truth that God has spoken, the truth that God is in God’s Word. Unlike human relations, it is not so much that our response has the power to render God unique and free; rather, it is our response that actualizes a relationship with God that constitutes our own self as unique and ecstatic. God has irrevocably spoken the truth of God’s being in the person of Christ, and our own desire for freedom and uniqueness ultimately depends on how we listen and respond to this truth, and this response must include the truth of our self to the self, to others, and to God.

Aristotle Papanikolaou is the Archbishop Demetrios Chair in Orthodox Theology and Culture and the Co-Director of the Orthodox Christian Studies Center of Fordham University.

Public Orthodoxy seeks to promote conversation by providing a forum for diverse perspectives on contemporary issues related to Orthodox Christianity. The positions expressed in this essay are solely the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors or the Orthodox Christian Studies Center.

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by Regula Zwahlen

The term “Orthodox morality”—in combination with “traditional values”—is unquestionably a neologism. A passage from Friedrich Nietzsche’s “Genealogy of Morals” gets right to the point of Aristotle Papanikolaou’s recent essay on Public Orthodoxy: “We need a critique of moral values, the value of these values is […] to be called into question—and for this purpose a knowledge is necessary of the conditions and circumstances out of which these values grew, and under which they experienced their evolution and their distortion.” One does not have to agree with Nietzsche’s conclusions in order to agree on the validity of his endeavor, especially if one aims, like Papanikolaou, to answer contemporary questions without threatening the internal coherency of the tradition. On that note, I would like to draw the attention to the fact that in Russia, the term “Orthodox morality” has not only a modern, but also a Soviet ring to it.

As for its “modern ring,” one of the commonplaces about Russian thought in general is its “concentration on ethical problems.” According to the Slavophile Alexei Khomiakov, “Russia should be either the most moral, that is the most Christian of all human societies, or nothing,” and the concept of ethics as the cornerstone of Russian mentality was shared by the “Westerners” and most Russian philosophers of the Silver Age. Russian literature is famous for treating moral questions, and Dostoevsky has been praised for having anticipated Nietzsche: “If God does not exist everything is permitted” (see Mihajlo Mihajlov, “The Great Catalyzer: Nietzsche and Russian Neo-Idealism,” in Nietzsche in Russia, ed. Bernice Glatzer Rosenthal). On these grounds, claims about Russian (Orthodox) moral superiority over “Western civilization” can be traced back to 19th century discourse that is rooted in modern European debates around (French) Enlightenment and (German) Romanticism. As “strategic alliances” between Russian Orthodox and American Evangelicals reveal, we are not dealing here with geographical divides, but with a general principle of cultural development that Ernst Cassirer simply called the everlasting competition and antagonism of two forces: conservation and renewal (Cassirer, “The Tragedy of Culture” in The Logics of Cultural Sciences, trans. S.G. Lofts). These forces are part of any tradition, which, by the way, simply never are “pure.”

As for the “Soviet ring” to “Orthodox morality,” Russian commentators were quick to compare the list of “Basic Values of [Russian] Allnational Identity” promoted by the World Russian People’s Council in 2011 with the “Moral Code of the Builder of Communism” from 1961 (see Richard T. De George, “Soviet Ethics and Morality”). Victoria Smolkin convincingly demonstrates that religion remained a problem for the Soviet project until the end, namely on the battlefield of “religion and atheism on moral issues.” Already at the time of early de-Stalinization suggestions about the positive role religious morality could play in order to “build the ideal Communist society” popped up. Indeed, the relationship of religious thinkers and socialism in Russian thought is intimate and complex. Still in the 1980s, Nikolai Krasnikov from the Institute of Scientific Atheism wrote lengthy treatises and books about the socio-ethical development of Russian Orthodoxy because he was worried about its efficiency: He described how “Orthodox moralists” were trying to adapt traditional religious-moral principles to progressive socialist life and that they even emphasized the social benefits of ascetism in order to show that a socialist state is in need of the Church. In his view, they did this in order to “slow down the secularization of the Soviet citizens’ needs of religious ideology and morals,” and therefore the “Church ideologists” based their arguments on the “religious Renaissance by Russian theologizing philosophers“ like Vladimir Soloviev, Nikolai Berdiaev and Sergei Bulgakov. However, according to Krasnikov, they only engendered a new version of the opium of the people: to seek salvation in eternity still hindered Communist morality with its focus on this-worldly spiritual progress of the person and society. It is ironic to observe that the rejection of Soviet communism by the former socialists Bulgakov and Berdiaev was based on moral grounds in the name of the freedom of the person, while contemporary ideologists try to bridge the gaps in Russian identity by focusing on common “traditional values” shared by Soviet and Orthodox “moralities.” However, one has to bear in mind that their common ground is highly selective and largely based on the rejection of “the imagined ‘western liberal ethos.’” The common hostility to “Western liberalism” (or the lack of a concept of “moral autonomy”) is the only way to explain how “Orthodox morality” seems to be compatible with both Soviet progressivism and new Russian traditionalism.

In short, in Russia, the term “Orthodox morality” was increasingly used during the Soviet “battle of religion and atheism on moral issues.” This battle surely has been won by religion. Under the repressive circumstances of Soviet ideology, the Church’s strategy not to question Soviet power and not to fight science, but to focus on spiritual and moral questions may have been wise and quite successful. But after the breakdown of the atheist regime, many Church representatives continue to play the moral card in order to legitimize their status instead of cherishing the new freedom of theological reflection. And for state leaders the Church’s strong position in questions of morality became a useful tool to forge new “spiritual braces” for a disoriented post-Soviet society that “has seen a cacaphony of moral debate.” In this way, the former battle of religion and atheism became a battle of “traditionalism” and “liberalism” on moral issues. The only problem is, that the old-new idea of Russia’s global mission to protect tradition strikingly contrasts with provocative diagnoses like the philosopher Sergey Horujys’ about “the annihilation of ethics” in today’s Russia because of “the absence of individual ethic positions and the willingness to adopt any position prescribed by the state.” On a more positive note, the findings of the sociologist Ella Paneiach indicate that people in Russia actually share more or less the same “European values,” which enables real debate, but they live under conditions that don’t really allow them to base their decisions on them.

However, the term “Orthodox morality” stands on shaky ground. If it once may have been a powerful spiritual weapon in the battle against state atheism, it has become a mundane weapon on the battlefield of geopolitical culture wars with no roots in Christian moral theology whatsoever. I am afraid that people engaging in cultural wars are neither really interested in morality nor in real debate on grounds of common presuppositions. But of course, for those who are interested in theological argument about morals, Orthodox tradition has a lot to offer. For example, Sergii Bulgakov wrote (in order to criticize “protestant rationalizing theology,” by the way): “In reducing the essence of religion to morality […] religion’s own proper nature is ignored. […] Morality […] cannot have an unconditional religious meaning; it is the Old Testament, a period of subjection to law that is overcome (although not abrogated) by the New Testament, by the kingdom of grace” (Unfading Light, trans. Thomas Allan Smith, p. 47-48). One of his students, Paul Evdokimov, wrote an “Orthodox Vision of Moral Theology” (only published in French in 2009):

“Man is not only a being that searches for its salvation, but he is also a creator. We have to overcome any normative ethics of rules of conduct, ethics of obligations, laws and bans, we have to overcome moralism. There is nothing more boring, more discouraging than the three categories of the classic systems of moral theology: the duties vis-à-vis God, to one-self, to the next and to society. How is it possible to apply the category of duty or obligation to the life in God? […] Man is not a museum of virtues, but a temple of the living presence of God. In this sense ethics contain not only axiology, acceptance and distinction, but also ontology, transfiguration of man by the gifts of the Holy Spirit who turns him into a source of creative energies and conveys him a prophetic element. […] We should exclude any static attitude that restricts itself to a simple initiation or imitation of the past, in order to open up for a neo-patristic perspective that is true to the creative spiritual dynamism of the Fathers.” (Une vision orthodoxe de la théologie morale, p. 16, 19).*

While fake debates on “Orthodox morality” quickly lead to a dead end, genuine thought and good theological argument offer fresh perspectives within the Christian tradition of moral theology.

*I owe the reference to this book to Jeremy Pilch.

Regula Zwahlen is a Postdoctoral Research Associate at the University of Fribourg, Switzerland. She is co­editor of the German edition of the Russian theologian Sergii Bulgakov’s work and of the monthly specialist journal Religion & Gesellschaft in Ost und West (Zurich, www.g2w.eu).

Public Orthodoxy seeks to promote conversation by providing a forum for diverse perspectives on contemporary issues related to Orthodox Christianity. The positions expressed in this essay are solely the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors or the Orthodox Christian Studies Center.

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