On April 5, 1977, Jim Forest received a phone call that his friend and collaborator Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, had been kidnapped by the Argentinian government. The most likely outcome was death. From his office in the Netherlands, Jim and his staff worked to free Adolfo. They nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize as a publicity stunt to embarrass the Argentinian government. Within hours, hundreds of papers picked up the story, and fourteen months later Adolfo was released. Expecting nothing more to come of this, Jim thought he had received a prank call the next summer when the Nobel committee called to inform him that Adolfo had won the prize.
Not wanting to waste this opportunity, Jim arranged for a meeting in Rome with Pope John Paul II. At this meeting, their goal was to ask the pope that Arturo Rivera Damas be appointed as the permanent successor to the recently assassinated Óscar Romero. Pope John Paul went on to grant their request.
Jim was born November 2, 1941, to two communists. Though Jim was at times embarrassed by his family’s outsider status, he attributed his upbringing to teaching him about the plight of the poor, something that paved the way to becoming a Christian. As a child, he also learned about the horrors of war when a minister at a local Methodist parish hosted two victims of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki who had come to the US for reconstructive surgery. Peering at their silk veils, Jim came to learn that hospitality to those in need, those suffering, was far more important than politics. Despite his many encounters with political events over the coming decades, he always kept in mind that it was people who ultimately mattered.
The establishment of the new Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) created division within the global Orthodox world. Yet, what has received less attention is the effect of the Ukrainian autocephaly on other Christian denominations and ecumenical institutions. Inevitably, and sometimes unwillingly, these churches were drawn into the conflict and forced to choose sides between Constantinople (and the new Ukrainian church) and Moscow.
At the international level, the clash between Constantinople and Moscow has led to the withdrawal of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) from the inter-Orthodox and ecumenical commissions, which are chaired by the representatives of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. This act endangered relations which the Orthodox had with other churches on a number of levels: Moscow’s withdrawal has put the ecumenical role of the assemblies of Orthodox bishops, which exist in many countries of the diaspora, in jeopardy. It has also threatened multilateral and bilateral dialogues, such as theological dialogue with the Catholic Church, as well as the functioning of various international ecumenical bodies.
This essay was published in Greek at Polymeros kai Polytropos, the blog of the Volos Academy for Theological Studies.
Since the very beginning of his papacy, Pope Francis has appeared in front of the crowd gathered physically at the St. Peter’s square and the entire world watching through mass media as “bishop of Rome,” adopting an ecumenically friendly language to describe his ministry, compatible with the ecclesiological presuppositions of the Orthodox Church. What is more, Pope Francis has repeatedly and in various occasions underlined the concept of “synodality” as both a constitutive dimension of the Church and a crucial step on its way toward the third millennium. Needless to say, “synodality” is fundamental to the ecclesiology of the Orthodox Church, and for good reason it has been recognized as one of the most significant contributions of the Orthodox to ecumenical dialogue. Adopting, therefore, a theological and ecclesiological principle that characterizes the Orthodox Church (despite some weaknesses that should be admitted in practical implementation in inter-Orthodox relations), Pope Francis pointed out the fruitful ways in which ecumenical dialogue and the approach to the confessionally “other” could enrich internal ecclesial procedures, becoming beneficial for each single Christian tradition.
Under this perspective, there was no surprise that the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I has been mentioned in the papal encyclical “Laudato Si” (2015) as a source of inspiration for Pope Francis’ ecotheological vision. This recognition of the value and the importance of the longstanding commitment to environmental issues shown by Patriarch Bartholomew, who for decades has been preaching that caring for the environment is a religious imperative and whose name has become synonymous with ecological theology, earning the title “Green Patriarch” thanks to his persistent endeavors, highlights, in the best possible way, how the collaboration between church leaders could raise the awareness of competent civil authorities and public opinion on global issues, such as the climate change and the protection of the planet. In few words, the openness of Pope Francis and his constructive and positive approach to sensitive issues concerning the Orthodox tradition are promising signs of the common path of the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches toward full communion. An additional element that should be stressed and explains the increasing popularity of Pope Francis among the Orthodox, despite the wounds of the historical past, is his public discourses, statements, gestures, and writings, all representing an open-minded Christianity, a Church of the “humble and poor,” honestly working toward repentance and reconciliation.
In two previous posts, I covered the scientist Theodosius Dobzhansky’s scientific and political views. The third area I would like to focus on is religion, where we are on less stable ground. Dobzhansky’s views on religion were idiosyncratic and highly personal, and the extent to which he held to specific Orthodox doctrines is unclear. Although he was open about his sympathy for religion and his interest in philosophical issues, he kept much to himself, praying in a language his colleagues could not understand.
This has made his beliefs hard to parse. In “The Grand Old Man of Evolution,” Ernst Mayr remarked that Dobzhansky believed in a personal God, whereas Francisco Ayala (present with Dobzhansky when he died) maintained in his memoir that Dobzhansky did not. For his own part, Dobzhansky at times softened traditional dogmas, but he also wrote in Ultimate Concern that it was “no use” to pray to a “deistic clockmaker God.” Dobzhansky prayed often. So, how does one sort all this out?
Belief is only one part of religious life. While Dobzhansky’s beliefs were sometimes inscrutable, his practice was more overt. In an excellent essay on Dobzhansky included in Eminent Lives in Twentieth Century Science and Religion, Jitse M. Van der Meer chronicles the way Dobzhansky was influenced by Solovyov but also includes a deep dive into his diaries and journals to show that religion was a preoccupation throughout his life, not just as he approached death (as was sometimes thought). Dobzhansky did go to confession, although he did not appear to regard sin as significant as his colleagues would have expected (influenced as they were, even if they rejected it, by a more Protestant emphasis on depravity). As a consequence, he did not believe sin made it impossible to do good, maintaining his defense of human agency and freedom in the face of determinism (either scientific or theological).