Posts tagged with: Eastern Orthodoxy

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…)

Back in January, I was interviewed for the podcast Conversations On Orthodoxy. After some wonderful editing, the interview has recently been posted.

In particular, the focus of the interview is mostly on how I went from an American Evangelical upbringing to becoming a convert to the Orthodox Church. However, I wanted to link to it here because it concludes with some thoughts about my work at Acton. In particular, I talk about Acton’s vision for a free and virtuous society, its approach to ecumenism, and where I see my own research as an Orthodox Christian in the context of my work here and elsewhere.

You can listen to the podcast here.

As a small disclaimer, I would like to say that at one point it appears that I attribute dispensational eschatology to my alma mater Kuyper College, a school in the Reformed tradition (and therefore decidedly not dispensationalist). The sound bite in question actually is about my childhood church, but I did not make that clear enough during the interview, contributing to the mix up. Other than that, though, I think it turned out great and extend my thanks to Conversations On Orthodoxy.

Orthodox-Bishops-KidnappedTwo Syrian Orthodox bishops have been abducted by terrorists in a suburb of Aleppo in Syria as they were returning from Antioch (Antakya, Turkey). While both clergymen are believed to be alive, their driver was killed during the attack:

Syriac Orthodox bishop Yohanna Ibrahim and Greek Orthodox Archbishops of Aleppo Paul, who also happens to be the brother of Patriarch John of Antioch and All The East were abducted en route to Aleppo from a town on the Turkish border where they were carrying out humanitarian work.

As they neared the city, they were met with an armed group in the village of Kfar who forced them out of the car. The driver, who was also a deacon was killed during the attack.

The bishops are believed to be alive and efforts are ongoing to secure their release, NNA reports.

The Greek Orthodox diocese of Aleppo declined to comment on the incident. The Russian orthodox church has condemned the act.

In May 2011, International Christian Concern said that the Christian minority—Christians make up less than 10 percent of the Syria’s 23 million people—are more afraid of the opposition forces than of the government, because under the Assad regime there has been tolerance towards religious minorities. Metropolitan Hilarion, the chairman of the Department of External Church Relations, noted that his close contact with the bishops of the Antiochian Orthodox Church made him believe that “in those places where the authorities are replaced by the rebel groups, Christianity is being exterminated to the last man: Christians are expelled, or physically destroyed.”

Update: Some news agencies have been reporting that the bishops have been released. But the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch says the reports are not true.

(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…)

Philip at the Solovki monastery

In the most recent issue of Religion & Liberty, the “In the Liberal Tradition” section profiles Metropolitan St. Philip II of Moscow for his defense of faith and freedom in the face of the tyranny of Tsar Ivan IV, known to history as “Ivan the Terrible.” In contrast to Ivan, who used his power to oppress his own people, Philip taught, “He alone can in truth call himself sovereign who is master of himself, who is not subject to his passions and conquers by charity.” Among the many spiritual disciplines of the Orthodox Christian spiritual tradition geared towards freeing a person from being “subject to his passions,” we can see Philip’s love of labor in his many projects at the Solovki monastery in the years before he was made Metropolitan of Moscow. (more…)

At Ethika Politika today, I examine the recent critique by David Bentley Hart in the most recent issue of First Things of the use of natural law in public discourse in my article, “Natural Law, Public Policy, and the Uncanny Voice of Conscience.” Ultimately, I offer a measured critique—somewhat agreeing with, but mostly critical of Hart’s position—pointing out Hart’s oversight of the vital role of conscience in classic natural law theory.

What I find so bizarre, and have for some time now, is the relative ambivalence, at best, of many contemporary Orthodox writers when it comes to natural law. Hart, for example, hints that he might approve of natural law reasoning so long as all parties involved hold to a metaphysic that acknowledges “a harmony between cosmic and moral order, sustained by the divine goodness in which both participate.” However, even then he is not clear. Indeed, he begins his article by writing,

There is a long, rich, varied, and subtle tradition of natural law theory, almost none of which I find especially convincing, but most of which I acknowledge to be—according to the presuppositions of the intellectual world in which it was gestated—perfectly coherent. (emphasis mine)

Hart is not alone among Orthodox writers in this regard. With the notable exceptions of Stanley Harakas, Tristram Engelhardt, and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow (if there are others I apologize for my ignorance), contemporary Orthodox writers scarcely have employed natural law in their social ethics, if they even endorse it at all. Often it gets thrown under the bus in ill-advised false dichotomizing between all that is Eastern and therefore wonderful and all that is Western and therefore overly rationalistic. (more…)

On Catholic Online, Fr. Johannes L. Jacobse praised Pope Benedict XVI for his “deep understanding” of the Christian patrimony of Christendom. “The Christian foundation of culture should be self-evident to most, but in our post-Christian (and poorly catechized) age our historical memory has grown increasingly dim,” he said.

Jacobse, a priest in Naples, Fla., and president of the American Orthodox Institute, also lauded the pope for his work at healing the East-West divide between Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox. “The Orthodox wonder about Pope Benedict’s replacement,” Jacobse said. “If the new Pope is a cultural conservative in the mold of Popes Benedict and John Paul II, then we know that the rapprochement of the last four decades will continue. If not, it will be more difficult to find common ground.”

Benedict, he said, also had a deep understanding of the Orthodox patrimony within Christendom.

The Regensburg Address is perhaps the most penetrating analysis of the contribution of Hellenism to Christianity offered by a Western Christian in centuries. (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…)

387px-Rifle_RackUpdate (1/31/2013): David Dunn Responds to my post, Fr. Gregory’s post, and others: here.

Original post:

David J. Dunn yesterday wrote an interesting piece arguing for a ban on assault weapons from an Orthodox Christian perspective (here). First of all, I am happy to see any timely Orthodox engagement with contemporary social issues and applaud the effort. Furthermore, I respect his humility, as his bio statement reads: “his views reflect the diversity of Orthodox opinion on this issue, not any ‘official’ position of the church.” The same applies to my views as well.

I take issue with Dunn, in particular, in his use of the Orthodox principle of oikonomia. As he frames it, it would appear that he has not taken the time to understand it in historical context, distorting his application of the principle to the debate of firearm regulation. Indeed, he appears to have entirely misappropriated this principle, applying it in precisely the opposite manner in which it is traditionally intended. (more…)

Arabic icon of St. John of Damascus

Today (Dec. 4) is commemorated an important, though sometimes little-known, saint: St. John of Damascus. Not only is he important to Church history as a theologian, hymnographer, liturgist, and defender of Orthodoxy, but he is also important, I believe, to the history of liberty.

In a series of decrees from 726-729, the Roman (Byzantine) emperor Leo III the Isaurian declared that the making and veneration of religious icons, such as the one to the right, be banned as idolatrous and that all icons be removed from churches and destroyed. The Christian practice of making icons dates back to decorations of the catacombs in the early Church as well as illuminations in manuscripts of the Scriptures; indeed, many icons can be found in manuscripts of the Greek version of the Hebrew Scriptures and several icons have even been uncovered in the ruins of synagogues.

Naturally, most Christians of the time protested. Patriarch Germanos I of Constantinople was forced to resign and was replaced by Anastasios, who supported the emperor’s program. This began what is known as the iconoclastic controversy. It spanned over 100 years, and the iconoclasts in the Roman (Byzantine) empire martyred literally thousands of the Orthodox who peacefully resisted and destroyed countless works of sacred art that would be priceless today. Whatever one’s understanding of the place of icons in the Church today, this controversy was a clear abuse of government power that resulted in great tragedy. (more…)