Archbishop Damaskinos

Archbishop Damaskinos

This is a doubly significant day in the nation of Greece in that not only is the Annunciation of the Theotokos (Virgin Mary) observed but also Independence Day. March 25 commemorates the start of the War of Greek Independence in 1821 against the Ottoman Empire and the tourkokratia or Turkish rule that is traced back to the fall of Constantinople in 1453. The occasion is marked with much pomp, parades and speech making in Greece and where large numbers of Greek immigrants have settled all over the world. This week also marked the anniversary of another stirring witness to freedom and human dignity, this one by a heroic churchman.

On March 23, 1943, during the Nazi occupation of Greece, the Greek Orthodox Archbishop of Athens and all Greece, Damaskinos, signed his name on a letter addressed to the collaborationist Prime Minister K. Logothetopoulos. The letter, composed by the poet Angelos Sikelianos, was a courageous defense of the Greek Jews who were being rounded up and it was signed by other prominent Greek citizens. “The Greek people were rightfully surprised and deeply grieved to learn that the German Occupation Authorities have already started to put into effect a program of gradual deportation of the Greek Jewish community of Salonika to places beyond our national borders, and that the first groups of deportees are already on their way to Poland,” the archbishop wrote. “The grief of the Greek people is particularly deep … ” When the Germans continued with the deportations, Damaskinos called the police chief of Athens, Angelos Evert, to his office and told him, “I have taken up my cross. I spoke to the Lord, and made up my mind to save as many Jewish souls as possible.” (more…)

islam_christianityOne of the hot new trends in religious opinion today is to advocate for an “Islamic reformation.” This past weekend the Wall Street Journal ran two articles on the subject: “Islam’s Improbable Reformer” and “Why Islam Needs a Reformation.” Presumably, the assumption is that an Islamic Reformation would bring about the same beneficial changes as the Protestant Reformation.

As a committed Protestant (Reformed, Evangelical, Southern Baptist) I believe the Reformation was indeed one of the most significant, and largely beneficial, events in world history. But I imagine it must irk my Catholic friends to hear the implied claim that modern radical Jihadism is similar to the Catholic Church of the early Renaissance era. (In an ironic twist, some people claim that, in many ways, ISIS is the Islamic equivalent of Protestant Reformers.)

The reality, though, is that no one calling for an Islamic reformation wants Muslims to become like Calvinists of 16th century Geneva; what they want is for Muslims to be like the Episcopalians of Boston circa 1965. Those calling for reform of Islam want Islam to be like liberal mainline Christianity: all the trappings of the faith without all that pesky doctrine that might stir up trouble.

The problem with this idea—apart from it being tone-deaf and offensive to two world religions—is that it relies on the completely untenable foundation of assuming Islam is similar in relevant ways to Christianity.
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forest-path-stewardship1Being a follower of Jesus includes a hopeful vision of the future. In the fullness of the kingdom of God, we will live on a new earth as embodied humans, worshiping and working, married to Christ and in fellowship with sisters and brothers from all nations (Rev. 21-22). There will be no more war, perfect justice, a restored ecology and each person will steward gifts and responsibilities consistent with his or her created design and fidelity during this present age (Isaiah 2; Mt. 25).

The resurrection of Jesus and the gift of the Holy Spirit are the historical/personal guarantees of this eschatological vision (Acts 2-3). This audacious Christian hope inspires our covenant fidelity to the Triune God and concrete service to the world. Because of God’s unconditional love expressed in the Cross-and the liberating power of the resurrection, we now serve others sacrificially and all our present good works are signposts of the future.

This vision – eloquently expressed by Scot McKnight, N.T. Wright and Cherith Fee-Nordling among others – avoids utopian fantasy and dispensational fatalism. Our efforts are substantial but partial, for we are saved in hope of the final redemption (Ro. 8:18-27). We are not merely gathering decisions before the Rapture, but making disciples of all nations that work out their salvation in local communities that evangelize and seek the common good (Phil 2:12-16). Our disciples-making includes all elements of human flourishing, from the inner life of contemplation to creating value through our work. (more…)

katy-big-snow-virginia-burton“No work? Then nothing else either. Culture and civilization don’t just happen. They are made to happen and to keep happening — by God the Holy Spirit, through our work.” –Lester DeKoster

As we begin to discover God’s design and purpose for our work, there there’s a temptation to elevate certain jobs or careers above others, and attempt to inject our work with meaning from the outside. Yet as long as we are serving our neighbors faithfully, productively, ethically, and in obedience to God’s will, the meaning is already there.

We can wrap our imaginations around this reality in a number of ways, but one helpful thought experiment is to imagine what would happen if a particular job or task were to be left undone. With our newfound prosperity and privilege, it is sometimes easy to dismiss certain forms of manual or “unglamorous” labor (the plumber, the builder, the garbage collector) in favor of supposedly “higher pursuits.” Yet if any of the workers in these areas vanished, what would happen to civilized society? Indeed, in a way, the simple, tangible nature of such work often provides the clearest illustration of the service and sacrifice God has called us to, bearing fruit we can quite easily taste and see.

I was reminded of this when reading my kids Katy and the Big Snow, the classic children’s story by Virginia Lee Burton (author of another timeless tale about work). Burton tells the story of Katy, a “beautiful red crawler tractor” who was “very big and very strong” and was able to push either a bulldozer or snowplow, depending on the season. (more…)

While in Argentina for Acton Institute’s March 18 “Christianity and the Foundations of a Free Society” seminar, President and Co-Founder Rev. Robert A. Sirico conducted a wide ranging interview with La Nación, the country’s leading conservative newspaper. For more on the event, jointly sponsored with Instituto Acton Argentina, go here. What follows is an English translation of the interview. The original version, titled “Una sociedad con bajos impuestos es más próspera” in Spanish, may be found here.

La Nación: Why did you decide to devote yourself to economics in relation to ethics and religion?

Sirico: In the 1970s, while living in California, I was away from the faith and was involved in a number of leftist social change movements. Someone gave me some books to read on economics, which I did. This set off a chain reaction which resulted not only in rethinking my more socialist activism, but also in my return to the Catholic Church and eventually continuing on to seminary and the priesthood. Once ordained, I continued to write and speak about these matters and eventually formed an Institute which engages many scholars and writers of all religious persuasions to discuss these kinds of ideas. (more…)

bribeIt is no secret that rule of law in places like Slovakia is weak. Corruption, pay-offs, bribes and twisted use of power often pass for “rule of law.” However, this problem has infected  health care as well, which means those who are able to bribe the doctor or health care worker is the one who will get the care.

The Economist describes Communist-era corruption as a holdover infesting much of central and eastern Europe, and not just in health care. However, it’s one thing to bribe an official to get a building permit; it’s quite another to have to do it for live-saving surgery.

In Latvia Valdis Zatlers, an orthopaedic surgeon who served as the country’s president from 2007 to 2011, accepted what he called “gratitude payments” from patients without declaring them to the tax authorities. He was fined just 250 lats ($466). A European Commission survey in 2013 found 28% of respondents in Romania and 21% in Lithuania had made informal payments to doctors, compared to an EU average of 5%. (more…)

A few weeks back, Acton welcomed Gene Edward Veith to the Mark Murray Auditorium as part of the 2015 Acton Lecture Series. This week, I had the opportunity to talk with Veith for this edition of Radio Free Acton. We discuss the influence of the Protestant Reformation on the development of capitalism, Luther’s beliefs on vocation, and how young people can discern their vocations as they contemplate their futures.

You can listen to the podcast via the audio player below; after the jump, I’ve included the video of Veith’s ALS lecture for those interested in diving deeper into these ideas.

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Blog author: jcarter
Wednesday, March 25, 2015
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What We Can Learn From Patrick Henry’s ‘Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death’ Speech
Carson Holloway, The Daily Signal

Two hundred forty years ago today, Patrick Henry made his immortal cry, “Give me liberty or give me death!”

Government funding and the Free Speech Clause
Eugene Volokh, Washington Post

Are private universities bound by the Free Speech Clause if they get government funding, in the form of various research grants, student loans and the like?

Law Helps Those Who Escape Sex Trafficking Shed Its Stigma, Too
Edna Ishayik , New York Times

The law, passed in 2010, allows convictions related to sexual trafficking to be removed from a person’s record. New York had the first such law in the country and today 18 other states have adopted similar statutes.

The Death Of Catholic Universities In America
Dominic Lynch, The Federalist

Catholic universities in America have lost sight of their institutional identities. Only direct intervention from the Vatican can reverse their decline.

For us the rebirth of Russia is inextricably tied, first of all, with spiritual rebirth … and if Russia is the largest Orthodox power [pravoslavnaya dershava], then Greece and Athos are its source. —Vladimir Putin during a state visit to Mount Athos, September 2005.

Writing for the Carnegie Council, Nicolai N. Petro says that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “call for greater respect for traditional cultural and religious identities was either missed or ignored in the West. One reason, I suspect, is that it was couched in a language that Western elites no longer use.” Summary of his report:

For many analysts the term Russky mir, or Russian World, epitomizes an expansionist and messianic Russian foreign policy, the perverse intersection of the interests of the Russian state and the Russian Orthodox Church.

Little noted is that the term actually means something quite different for each party. For the state it is a tool for expanding Russia’s cultural and political influence, while for the Russian Orthodox Church it is a spiritual concept, a reminder that through the baptism of Rus, God consecrated these people to the task of building a Holy Rus.

The close symphonic relationship between the Orthodox Church and state in Russia thus provides Russian foreign policy with a definable moral framework, one that, given its popularity, is likely to continue to shape the country’s policies well into the future.

More on Putinism: (more…)

Acton Institute President and Co-Founder Rev. Robert A. Sirico was in Argentina last week for Acton’s conference in Buenos Aires on Christianity and the Foundations of a Free Society, which is part of a series of Acton conferences being held around the world on the relationship between religious and economic freedom. While he was there, he was interviewed on Infobae.tv and spoke about the problems of poverty that Argentina is struggling with, and also addressed the relationship between Pope Francis and the media and politicians, and the security arrangements that are in place to keep the pope safe.