Like many other Orthodox Christians, I tuned in to the historic meeting of Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill which took place in Havana on Friday, February 12. In the short time since the meeting, I have read diverse assessments of the meeting. In response to requests for official comments, Church leaders from Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to Metropolitan Tikhon of the Orthodox Church in America have welcomed the meeting and its ensuing declaration as an occasion for celebration, a mark of significant progress in continuity with decades of ecumenical dialogue between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. Some observers view the meeting as a victory for Pope Francis, the realization of a dream that gained momentum with the ecumenical impetus of Vatican II. The Pope himself apparently exclaimed “finally!” in reacting to the news of Patriarch Kirill’s agreement to meet him in Havana.
On January 27, the primates of the Orthodox Churches announced at Chambésy that they will meet in a Pan-Orthodox Council at the Orthodox Academy of Crete from June 16–27, 2016. The Orthodox Churches have been preparing for this council since the 1930s, when the primary goal was to resolve a conflict around the decision by the Greek Orthodox Church to adopt a liturgical calendar that modified the Julian Calendar which had been in use since the 4th century. But the churches of Slavic tradition did not arrive on common ground with the churches of Greek tradition before the outbreak of World War II. After 1945, the Orthodox world was summarily divided between the Slavic churches which were part of the Communist world and the Greek and Arab churches which were part of the so-called “free world.” In 1948, the Patriarchate of Constantinople participated in the creation of the World Council of Churches, while the Patriarchate of Moscow convoked a synod to condemn the ecumenical movement.
An historic meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill is now in progress. There has been speculation about this meeting since last Spring, when officials of the Moscow Patriarchate made several visits to the Holy See. More recently, information was leaked about a forthcoming meeting through non-official press channels, but even for experts it was hard to imagine that this could be accurate. The “unpredictable” Pope Francis has again surprised his flock and the world! What is at stake in this meeting?
The Moscow Patriarchate’s Commission “On the questions of the family, protection of motherhood and children” recently adopted a resolution on the family, which includes positions on family violence entirely at odds with Orthodox theology and contrary to relevant evidence.
This note addresses several questions related to this resolution on family violence. First, is family violence a serious problem in Russia? Second, are programs to combat family violence in other countries hostile to the Christian family? And third, is it consistent with Orthodox values to oppose such programs? I approach the first two questions by comparing Russia with the United States, because the United States is more similar to Russia in size than countries of Western Europe, and also because it has a high homicide rate, due to gun violence, thus is a relatively violent country.
A few weeks ago, at the invitation of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, I had the wonderful opportunity to spend a couple of days in Istanbul for a gathering of Orthodox scholars from around the world. The purpose of the meeting was twofold: a) an opportunity for the Ecumenical Patriarch to learn about a “younger generation” of Orthodox scholars, our areas of concern and interest, and how these areas intersect with the work of the Patriarchate; b) a meeting with His Eminence Metropolitan John (Zizioulas) of Pergamon to discuss the forthcoming Great and Holy Council.
From January 4 to 6, 2016, in anticipation of the forthcoming Council of the Orthodox autocephalous Churches later this year, thirty theologians were invited by the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to his headquarters at the Phanar in Istanbul. The majority of those invited were lay people teaching Orthodox theology either in seminaries or in universities, publishing journals and books, and serving the church in various capacities through ecumenical, political, or diplomatic service. The group was composed of persons from many parts of the world.
I was one of the invitees and this is my personal report on the meeting.
The Orthodoxy of my youth no longer exists in the United States (or perhaps in the world) today. The young, immigrant-heavy American Church had grown up into an openness to change, liturgical reform, improved conciliar approaches to Church governance, and a dynamic parish interaction. Influenced by a call from theologians (most notably Fr. Alexander Schmemann) for a rediscovery of the centrality of the Eucharist in the Church, the request for frequent communion originated not from the bishops, but as a groundswell from the people. This Eucharistic renaissance in North America became only a first step in cultivating a Church characterized by open discussion, the free exchange of ideas, and increased participation of all members in its life.
In this paper, I want to explore the phenomenon of fundamentalism, which has become an inalienable part of contemporary religious discourse. First, I want to chart the origins of the fundamentalist movement in antimodernist Protestantism and its parallels in the Roman Catholic sphere, and to look at its development in the later twentieth century. In the second part of the essay, I will examine the rise of Orthodox fundamentalisms in various forms and the recent development of Orthodox fundamentalist politics, especially as this has developed in the Ukrainian conflict.
Austrian-American sociologist Peter L. Berger is the author of numerous books on sociological theory, the sociology of religion, and global development, which have been translated into dozens of foreign languages. His latest book is The Many Altars of Modernity: Towards a Paradigm for Religion in a Pluralist Age. Berger sat down with The Wheel’s Inga Leonova to discuss the contemporary intersection of secular and religious discourse, problems of religious intolerance and conflict, and his thoughts on Orthodox Christianity. Cyril Hovorun and Robert Arida prepared interview questions.
This year's Christmas Proclamation by His All-Holiness, Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople-New Rome, appeared first in Greek on the website of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North America, and may be read here:
Translated into English by Christopher Sprecher.
As we draw nearer to Christmas, we have been buffeted by the increasingly barbarous and headline-grabbing exploits of the Islamic State. The spread of ISIS in its own territories, combined with the metastasis of its violence through the Middle East and the West, has convulsed the political establishments of Western Europe and the United States, and led to ever-increasing demands that the United States and its allies should “do something” about their atavistic zealotry. (Of course, many Orthodox Christians in this country count family and friends among those who are under the direct threat of ISIS and other players in Syria’s horrific civil war, lending an extra dimension of terror to their campaign.) While we can have a separate debate about the course of public policy action that should be taken regarding ISIS, I’d like to think here on a more personal level about how Christians might deal with this deluge of horrible news.
When Orthodox scholars get together, we rarely talk directly about the future. But occasionally the pressing needs of our time demand such a conversation. The near future is an exciting time for Orthodoxy: His All-Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch has called a representative council of bishops to convene in Istanbul next spring, and many hope that this meeting will mark the beginning of a unified effort to address the manifold issues facing the Church in (post-)modernity. But the deliberations of a recent gathering of Orthodox scholars in New York, which discussed the Council’s agenda, suggest that this hope might remain unfulfilled.
Asked why Christians should care about the poor, few may think of human rights. For many ordinary citizens around the world today, Christianity more often evokes concerns about human rights abuses, particularly (for example, in missions aid) an evangelical zeal that runs roughshod over human dignity and the validity of respect for agency in a fragile incarnation. Yet rights play a huge role in global and public health, and an estimated 40 percent of health care services around the world have faith-based roots. Poverty-relevant rights in such contexts are usually about the basic provision of food, clothing, safe shelter, legal economic justice, and adequate and effective health care delivery. These are known as economic, social, and cultural (ESC) rights.
Why does it matter that Orthodox Christians take such rights seriously? In this essay I suggest three reasons why Christian ethics support a mindful affirmation of ESC rights. Two of my reasons are largely pragmatic; the third is theological.
In order for the Great and Holy Council of the Orthodox Church to clarify the great questions which have troubled, preoccupied and even divided the Orthodox world for fifty years, it is essential that the council address frankly the Church’s greatest internal challenge, which is its unity. A unity to which a certain “but” is attached, concerning which one must engage in an open, direct, and if possible, loyal debate on the governance of the Church and territorial churches in particular.
Recently the Orthodox world has been abuzz with excitement in anticipation of the upcoming Holy and Great Pan-Orthodox Council. While the announcement of such a landmark event may justify some enthusiasm among our faith’s adherents, given Orthodoxy’s characteristic resistance to the idea of change and growth and the Church’s habitual tendency to withdraw from historical affairs, the prospective event also causes concern among the more sober-minded. Doubtlessly the Council will reaffirm the metaphysical and doctrinal statements of the seven Ecumenical Councils regarding the person of Jesus Christ as God Incarnate, and of the Trinity. This is all fine and good. But things are likely to become less clear-cut as soon as the attention shifts from God to the world and to humankind in particular.
Note: The following article originally appeared in the French language journal Études: revue de culture contemporaine as the third part of a discussion on tradition and innovation in major Christian communions. The first two parts, a Protestant and a Roman Catholic perspective, are not reproduced here.
One of the major theologians of the 20th century, Sergius Bulgakov, wrote the following with respect to the Orthodox Church and its relationship to tradition:
Nothing is more erroneous than the image, widespread in the West, of an Eastern Church, a Traditional Church, fixed in the motionlessness of exterior ritualism and traditionalism.
Originally written as a reflection for the OCA’s upcoming All American Council in July of 2015, I believe what follows applies to all Orthodox Christians in North America. The theme of mission and evangelization permeates our ecclesial atmosphere. From the beginnings of Christianity mission and evangelization has compelled the Church to enter the new and unknown. This is seen in the Pauline letters and in The Acts of the Apostles regarding the reception of Gentiles. Guided by the Spirit, this monumental movement on the part of the Church to move beyond the confines of Judaism was fraught with fear, suspicion and opposition. Yet, in the end, as the Church expanded its mind and heart Christianity was saved from becoming another Jewish sect as it engaged and transformed its surrounding cultures.
The Wheel is a journal for the intelligent and constructive articulation of the Christian Gospel in the 21st century. We live in an era of pluralism, when the social identity of Christian faith and its role in public discourse present new and unique challenges. By embracing contributions on Orthodox theology, spirituality, and liturgical arts alongside serious engagements with the challenges of contemporary political ideologies, empirical science, and cultural modernism, this publication aims to move beyond the polarizations of much current debate in the Orthodox Church.