Posts tagged with: Eastern Christianity

Alexei Khomiakov, the Russian Slavophile thinker often credited with first articulating the Orthodox principle of sobornost.

Today at Ethika Politika I offer an assessment of the phenomenon of globalization from the perspective of Orthodox Christian anthropology. In particular, I focus on the concept of sobornost in the thought of the Russian philosopher Vladimir Solovyov, writing,

Solovyov’s account of the moral progress of humanity through globalization is rooted in the Russian idea of sobornost’, which Christopher Marsh and Daniel P. Payne define as “the idea that human beings retain their freedom while participating in human society, and that human society is a participatory process through which human beings actualize themselves as unique hypostases [i.e. persons].” Accordingly, Solovyov writes that true society does not abolish the individual, but “subordination to society uplifts the individual” and “the independence of the individual lends strength to the social order” — an Orthodox parallel to subsidiarity.

I had raised the question of the similarity between sobornost and subsidiarity a few weeks ago during Fr. Michael Butler’s Acton University talk on “Orthodoxy, Church, and State.” I summarized his insight on the concept at the time, writing,

With the reforms of Tsar Peter the Great, however, the Church was literally made a department of the state [in Russia]. The inspiration for this, notably, was not symphonia but the European Protestant national Church model. While in this context the Russian Church still continued to carry out its functions in society, it had lost a great degree of autonomy. In the midst of this context, the Slavophile thinkers Alexei Khomiakov and Ivan Kireevsky reacted to this statist trend in Russian society by developing the theory of sobornost, inspired in part by the Russian word for “Catholic” in the Nicene Creed and inspired by the Orthodox Church’s conciliar basis of authority.

As they framed it, the idea of sobornost placed the idea of sovereignty in the whole of a people. All human beings are interconnected, and each therefore deserves their own autonomy while, at the same time, [each] has a duty to serve all others…. Ultimately, sobornost at its best would be an Orthodox parallel to subsidiarity in which each level of society, all the way down to the individual, has a role to freely play for the common good and each has a duty to assist others for that end.

The question of similarities and differences between subsidiarity and sobornost has been on my mind for some time. There would seem to be clear parallels between the concepts that were coincidentally developed in their modern forms at nearly the same time, though among different traditions for somewhat different purposes. (more…)

The double-headed eagle is a historical symbol of symphonia.

Today at Acton University, Fr. Michael Butler examined the history of Church-State relations in the Orthodox Tradition with special reference to the modern, Russian context in his lecture “Orthodoxy, Church, and State.” The audio of his lecture will be available via Ancient Faith Radio sometime in the coming weeks. As a teaser, I would like to briefly examine two concepts of Orthodox political theory to which Fr. Butler devoted specific attention: symphonia and sobornost.

Due to the influence of Max Weber, symphonia is often mischaracterized as caesaropapism (a term he coined), the state in which a nation’s sovereign is supreme in all ecclesiastical matters as well as those of state. It would be, then, a complete absorption of the Church by the state. Actual historical instances of this would include (to varying degrees) the Church of England where the monarch is the head and Imperial Russia from Tsar Peter the Great’s Westernizing reforms to the Bolshevik revolution. In the latter case, as Fr. Michael noted, one can see a distortion of symphonia for the elevation of state power, but not its essence or, by far, the complete historical picture. (more…)

Blog author: jcouretas
posted by on Tuesday, June 11, 2013

schmemannMan’s nature is to reject it, because it can only be thrust on people by force. The most fallen possession is closer to God’s design for man than malicious egalitarianism. Possession is what God gave me (which I usually (mis)use selfishly and sinfully), whereas equality is what government and society give me, and they give me something that does not belong to them. (The desire for) Equality is from the Devil because it comes entirely from envy.

– Fr. Alexander Schmemann, The Journals of Father Alexander Schmemann, 1973-1983, page 330-331.

(HT: AOI Observer)

Blog author: jcouretas
posted by on Tuesday, April 2, 2013

(HT: Pravoslavie.ru. Also see the interview with Russian Orthodox Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev) in the new issue of Religion & Liberty on the dire situation of Christians in Syria.)

In his interview to the MEDIA, a Hierarch of the Antiochian Orthodox Church, Bishop Luke of Seidnaya, has disclosed the scale of persecutions suffered by Orthodox Christians of this region since the very beginning of the uprising against the regime of Bashar Al-Assad, reports Agionoros.ru.

By now, 138,000 Christians have been banished from their homes and at the same time Christian Churches are systematically destroyed. “They are killing people. A human life is of no value for them,” in such words Bishop Luke is describing the situation in the country.

Thus, in the city of Homs, anti-government forces have committed mass murder of Christians. Hundreds of people have been killed. Dozens of cases of sexual assault have also been recorded. (more…)

“Every public gesture and word of the Holy Father tends to have meaning,” says Charles J. Chaput, the archbishop of Philadelphia. “So what was the pope saying with this symbolism as he began his new ministry?” Chaput believes Pope Francis focus is the persecuted church:

The Chaldean and Syriac Catholic Churches of Iraq and Syria, while differing in rite and tradition from the Latin West, are integral members of the universal Catholic Church, in full communion with the bishop of Rome. The persecution they and other Middle Eastern Christians now suffer—so severe it threatens their continued existence in their ancient homelands—is a bitter wound for the Church and an unavoidable concern for the Holy Father.

Of the million or so Christians living in Iraq a decade ago, fewer than half likely remain. During this period, seventy Iraqi Christian churches were attacked. Christian laity and clergy have faced relentless violence. Between 2003 and May 2012, some nine hundred Christians were killed. Another two hundred were kidnapped, tortured, and released for ransom, according to the Iraq-based Hammurabi Organization for Human Rights.

Read more . . .

Metropolitan Siluan (Muci) of Buenos Aires, an Orthodox Christian hierarch, was the representative of the Patriarchate of Antioch at the inaugural mass for Pope Francis this week. Notes on Arab Orthodoxy has a personal reflection on the new pope from Met. Siluan (and links to the Spanish-language originals). The Orthodox bishop offers insights about the qualities of this “very easygoing” new pope from informal meetings and dinners he took part in. Met. Siluan:

At the table where the cardinals from Cuba, Ecuador, Santo Domingo, etc. were gathered, I wanted to know the opinions that they had of the pope. So each one of them agreed to answer the question: What are the qualities of Pope Francis?

I will share below some of the answers that I received. Some of it I already shared with [Argentine news station] C5N, who asked me to share some of what I experienced here.

One emphasized the fact that the pope is an organizer, who knows where and how to get something done, a man of great simplicity and mercy.

Another emphasized that the pope is a man who understands his surroundings well, who is generous, a man of words who knows how to speak without offending.

A third said that he is a humble man, who is transparent, honest, who knows things in Latin America who will know how to tell those who correspond from each of those countries what he will have to do. (more…)

Several of my friends on Facebook pages posted a link to David Dunn’s Huffington Post essay on gun control (An Eastern Orthodox Case for Banning Assault Weapons). As Dylan Pahman posted earlier today, Dunn, an Eastern Orthodox Christian, is to be commended for bringing the tradition of the Orthodox Church into conversation with contemporary issues such as gun control. As a technical matter, to say nothing for the credibility of his argument, it would be helpful if he understood the weapons he wants to ban. Contrary to what he thinks, semi-automatic weapons can’t “fire a dozen shots before a fallen deer even hits the ground.” Like many he confuses machine guns (which are illegal anyway) and semi-automatic weapons (not “assault weapons”). Putting this aside I have a couple of objections to his application of a principle from the canonical tradition of the Orthodox Church, economia, to the Second Amendment’s protection of the right to bear arms.

Dunn is correct in his assertion that economia says that the “letter of the law is subordinate to the needs of the soul.” But (and again, Dylan pointed this out) Dunn is a more than bit off when he says that a priest “might choose to ignore” the canonical tradition if “enforcing a canon is going to make someone feel ashamed, despair, or leave the church.” While there are times when a priest might tolerate a sin, what Dunn describes in his essay seems closer to moral expedience than pastoral prudence. Sin is still sin and while a priest might at times take a more indirect or a lenient approach to a person struggling with a particular sin, this is a matter of pastoral prudence in the case of an individual.  Dunn fundamentally misunderstands, and so misapplies, the canonical tradition to his topic. And he does so because he blurs the difference between pastoral prudence and public policy. Contrary to what radical feminism would have us believe, the personal is not political and this is evidently something that Dunn fails to realize. (more…)

The all-girl Russian punk band, which in February pulled its juvenile, blasphemous stunt on the ambon of one of Russian Orthodoxy’s holiest places of worship, has generated an unending stream of twaddle from so many commentators who betray a deep, willfully ignorant grasp of Christianity and a perfectly secular mindset.

Commentator Dmitry Babich on the Voice of Russia observed that “the three female members of the group, who called the Patriarch ‘a bitch’ and ‘the God’s excrement’ in the holiest of the holy (the altar of Russia’s main Orthodox cathedral), were lionized by nearly all Western press.”

Did the band members deserve two years in prison? No — a massive over reaction. But imagine if the girls had pulled their punk-stunt in the United States in, say, a mosque or a synagogue or a liberal church, and directed that kind of language at the minister or imam. How would the Western media have reacted? (Even so, they might have qualified for a National Endowment for the Arts grant).

Peter Hitchens points out in “Pussy Riot and Selective Outrage” that the exhibitionists who staged this little exercise in “protest” weren’t just interested in free speech: (more…)

Blog author: ckaupke
posted by on Friday, June 29, 2012

Frédéric Bastiat (1801-1850)

This Saturday, June 30, is the 211th birthday of Frédéric Bastiat, one of the greatest political philosophers of the modern era. Considered among the founding fathers of classical liberalism, Bastiat is known for his simple and direct explanations of political and economic realities, his arguments against oppressive economic regulations and his clear and concise vision of a government of limited, enumerated powers, operating under the rule of law and unencumbered by favoritism or distributionist policies.

Bastiat drew on his Catholic faith and the writings of Adam Smith and John Locke to articulate a vision of limited, efficient government that respects each citizen’s God-given dignity, strictly adheres to the rule of law, and allows for a largely un-regulated economy in which individuals are free to pursue their interests through peaceable exchange with each other. His best-known works, and those most central to his ideas, are The Law and The Seen and the Unseen, articulating his central political and economic ideas, respectively. (more…)

Armenian Orthodox theologian Vigen Guroian’s The Melody of Faith (2010) seeks to provide an introduction to the basic dogmas of Eastern Christianity, harmonizing various Eastern Christian traditions (and making significant mention of a few Western ones) through continual reference to their writings, to their icons, and especially to their hymnody. The book, however, makes no claim to “constitute a systematic account of the Christian faith in the Germanic style of rational academic theology” (xi). Instead, Guroian muses,

It may be that theology is nearer in origin and character to music than to architecture, despite modern assumptions to the contrary…. In primitive culture, music is inherently religious, expressing basic beliefs about beginnings and endings as it is employed in worship of deity. Music originates at the well-spring of human emotions and expresses an experience of the numinous. (xii)

Ironically, as an American of German descent I cannot help but point out that the category of the “numinous” was first articulated by the German theologian and scholar Rudolf Otto. It may be that Guroian is so naturally ecumenical he has even unintentionally found something true and beautiful in that “Germanic style” he seeks to avoid. And, I must admit, his insight and approach are both imaginative and refreshing.

Indeed, despite the fact that four of the six chapters are revisions of articles previously appearing in scholarly publications, The Melody of Faith reads with a natural fluidity, at times more reminiscent of a devotional memoir than an introduction to theology. Yet, it maintains a clear focus, each chapter addressing a specific theme, moving from creation in the first chapter, to eschatology in the next, to salvation, to Mariology, to the Crucifixion, and finally to the Resurrection. The resulting whole is a sacramentally- and synergistically-oriented symphony of vibrant Christian faith and living tradition.

This sacramental and synergistic emphasis addresses several of the Acton Institute’s core principles, especially human dignity, human freedom, and human sin.  With regards to sin, Guroian writes, “Sinning is an offense to God, but the state of sin is an illness that morally weakens the patient” (55). Consistent with traditional, Eastern Christianity, he emphasizes that sin is more than legal offense, humanity’s problem more than juridical guilt, but rather spiritual and physical sickness or corruption which leads to death. The cure is “divine therapy” or healing. According to Guroian, “Christ is the surgeon who removes the sting of death (1 Cor. 15:15) with the sharp instrument of the cross. And his body and blood are the medicine of our immortality” (55). Christ is the physician who operates; we are the patients who must willingly take our medicine, which we find primarily in the sacrament of the Eucharist. Indeed, “God has created [humankind] in his own image as a personal and free being” (16). Just as Christ was not conceived and all humanity was not saved apart from the consent of the Virgin Mary, we as individuals are not healed and deified by his gracious presence apart from our active participation either. Anything less would denigrate our dignity as bearers of the imago Dei.

The Melody of Faith does not seek to be comprehensive, but its success lies in its accessibility and ecumenical sensitivity. To the outsider looking in, Eastern liturgy and theology can appear confusing, even dissonant, but to many such concerns The Melody of Faith provides a fitting and elegant resolve.