An Open Letter to Paul Griffiths Leisure and the Christian Life

by David Bentley Hart

Dear Paul,

We have been friends for some twenty years or so now, and you know that I revere the lucidity of your mind, as well as the serene inflexibility you bring to your theological and philosophical convictions, with an admiration bordering on idolatry. I even sometimes find that semi-Jansenist pall of gloom that you so often seem to like to cast over the Christian picture of reality strangely appealing, in all its grim Cimmerian grandeur. You sometimes exhibit a positive genius for the poetry of cosmic disenchantment, the strange, austere music of everything arid and the dismal about life.  I appreciate also that you and I share many likings and a great many more dislikes. And, for what it’s worth, I forgive you unreservedly for being so aggressively resolute in your decision to be much taller than I am, and for being able with such ease to overshadow me with that preposterously imposing aquiline profile of yours. But, all this said, I find myself unable to take in your recent reflections on the issue of “leisure” (or otium) in the online edition of the University of Notre Dame’s Church Life Journal on July 18 of this year.

If this is an unfair summary, feel free to correct me, in as dry and witheringly British a manner as you wish. I’ll bear it manfully. But, as I understand your article, you tell us not only that Christianity does not encourage us to seek or cherish moments of otiose bliss, or days of wine and roses, or years of serene reflection on the mysteries of the inner self; you tell us also that it essentially forbids such things, and that leisure is not a thing Christians should pursue. You tell us that to wander in a Wordsworthian idyll, absorbed in the beauties of nature, is the birth of narcissism within us, while to be fascinated for any length of time by the depths of our inner lives is its consummation. In this vale of tears, you remind us, even when the work of our hands affords us a moment of delirious transport or sober delight or even simple satisfaction, we are obliged to regard that as an ephemeral epiphenomenon of the deeper and unremitting command to labor at our tasks, till the dust claims us. And you tell us also that the only respite from these toils allowed to us is the Sabbath of worship, which (I have to say) you somehow make sound like just another obligation to be discharged with obstinate rigor and fidelity. All time this side of the Age to come, you claim, is the death-dealing “metronomic time” that oscillates between labor and prayer; and only in that Age will we be freed from labor—and then not for leisure, but for an ecstatic love that will more or less annihilate our first-person awareness of our own experience in an endless rapture of absorption in God’s glory. “There is no otiose time,” you proclaim, with the stern finality of a humorless school teacher telling the children that there will be no recess today, or tomorrow, or in fact any time before they die and are buried (and not even then, damn it).

Well…nonsense. Twaddle, tosh, balderdash. Dare I say piffle, or even—more daringly—poppycock? Continue Reading…

Internet Orthodoxy: Opportunities and Pastoral Challenges

by Richard Barrett 

The second International Conference on Digital Media and Orthodox Pastoral Care (DMOPC) took place at the Orthodox Academy of Crete in Kolymbari from 18-21 June of this year. The event’s principal sponsors were Pemptousia and Vatopedi Monastery, and it was attended by Orthodox Christians from Greece, Lebanon, Russia, Ukraine, the United States, Canada, Australia, the Czech Republic, Kenya, and more. Over four days, one hundred and three presenters discussed theoretical, theological, and practical impacts of technology on the Church of today.

As an American participant, what I saw very quickly was that the questions and concerns the presenters were talking about were deeply informed by vastly different cultural contexts. There were two basic categories of presentations on the Greek side; the first was academic, represented by the panel discussion “The Progress of AI as a Challenge for Theology” and the paper “Paul and the Ethics of the ‘Internet’ in the Globalized World of the 1st Century and the Post-Modern 21st Century.” The other category expressed anxieties about technology threatening the Church’s status as a majority religion. These concerns tended to emphasize the Internet as a medium by which people were exposed to other religions, perhaps even deciding to change religions as a result; in addition, the problem of webcasts of services becoming a substitute for in-person attendance was frequently referenced. Continue Reading…

Russia and Ukraine: The Empire’s New Old Clothes

by Fr. Bohdan Hladio

The historical path of the Church in Ukraine is controverted and complex: both Moscow and Constantinople claim Ukraine as their canonical territory. As a result, one of the largest Orthodox Churches in the world has experienced schism for over twenty-five years.

In April 2018 the Government of Ukraine officially requested a Tomos of Autocephaly for the Orthodox Church in Ukraine from the Ecumenical Patriarchate. This news brought joy to some, and caused anxiety for others.

In response, the Synod of Bishops of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) (UOC-MP) published an “Appeal to the Faithful of the UOC” on May 25 2018 (English translation). Sadly, this document contributes little towards the normalization of the ecclesial scene in Ukraine.

The Appeal refers to a “schism in Ukrainian Orthodoxy,” implicitly recognizing that the Orthodox Church in Ukraine extends beyond the borders of the canonically recognized Moscow Patriarchate jurisdiction, which is useful. Other statements, however, portray the struggle for Church unity somewhat disingenuously. Continue Reading…

“For You Were Aliens in the Land of Egypt”: Why Orthodox Christians Cannot Remain Silent on United States Immigration Policies

by Aram G. Sarkisian

In recent weeks, distressing images of detained children, renewed calls for drastic immigration restrictions, and the United States Supreme Court’s decision upholding a travel ban against Muslim-majority countries have intensified national discourse on immigration policy. These developments should strongly resonate with Orthodox Christians. Though the church’s demographics have certainly changed over the past century, Orthodoxy flourished in the United States during the early 1900s as a church built by, and for, immigrants. Orthodox Christians must draw on their histories to speak credibly to the anxieties of migration, the human toll of detention and deportation, and the negative implications of immigration restrictions, entry quotas, and normalized xenophobia.

One argument employed to support stringent immigration policies comes from those who insist that since their immigrant ancestors “came legally” and prospered, others should be held to the same standard. The truth proves a little more complicated. Continue Reding…