Russian Orthodox Clergy Support Justice and Respect for the Law

by Sergei Chapnin  |  ру́сский

Photo: Reuters

The reform of the judicial system, which practically never acquits and is fully subordinate to law enforcement agencies, has long been discussed in Russia. However, only civil activists are involved in the debates. The government keeps evading any participation in the discussion, and the courts continue arbitrarily to pass unreasonably strict verdicts for both civil activists and businessmen. In mid-September, a number of professional societies called for a review of the decisions concerning the cases of participants in unauthorized demonstrations in Moscow from July 2019. An appeal by Orthodox clergy was among the first, followed by public petitions by teachers, doctors, publishers, and philosophers. However, the clergy’s letter was most unexpected and had an unexpectedly profound resonance in Russian society.

What is the letter about?

On September 17th, a group of Orthodox priests came to the defense of young people who were detained after unauthorized protests in Moscow. The chosen format of the letter—clerical intercession—was unexpected and has never been used in post-Soviet Russia. Continue reading

Eastern Orthodox Identity and “Aggressive Liberalism”: Non-Theological Aspects of the Confrontation

by Dmitry Uzlaner

This essay is part of a series stemming from the ongoing research project “Contemporary Eastern Orthodox Identity and the Challenges of Pluralism and Sexual Diversity in a Secular Age,” which is a joint venture by scholars from Fordham University’s Orthodox Christian Studies Center and the University of Exeter, funded by the British Council, Friends of the British Council, and the Henry Luce Foundation as part of the British Council’s “Bridging Voices” programme. In August 2019, 55 scholars gathered for an international conference at St Stephen’s House, Oxford. These essays are summaries of presentations given in preparation for the conference and during it. They together reflect the genuine diversity of opinion that was represented at the conference and testify to the need for further reflection and dialogue on these complex and controversial topics.

angry mob

I am not a theologian, and I am not going to speak as a theologian. I am scholar of religion. And my perspective is that of an outside observer. It is the perspective of a person who has been studying contemporary Orthodoxy (in Russia) for many years—with special focus on religious conservatism in its different manifestations.

In the discourse of contemporary Orthodoxy (Russian), one of the most important topics in recent years has been the struggle with what is called in this rhetoric “aggressive liberalism” or “aggressive secularism.” “Aggressive liberalism” is a multidimensional concept, but the most threatening part of it which is often mentioned as an evidence of why liberalism is dangerous is “sexual diversity,” in particular non-traditional sexual relations, same-sex marriages, feminism, etc. It seems that Church’s vision of itself is structured around this confrontation, around this feeling of being attacked by an aggressive ideological enemy imposing some alien values and practices. Continue reading

Christian Teaching on Sexual Morality

by Richard Swinburne

This essay is part of a series stemming from the ongoing research project “Contemporary Eastern Orthodox Identity and the Challenges of Pluralism and Sexual Diversity in a Secular Age,” which is a joint venture by scholars from Fordham University’s Orthodox Christian Studies Center and the University of Exeter, funded by the British Council, Friends of the British Council, and the Henry Luce Foundation as part of the British Council’s “Bridging Voices” programme. In August 2019, 55 scholars gathered for an international conference at St Stephen’s House, Oxford. These essays are summaries of presentations given in preparation for the conference and during it. They together reflect the genuine diversity of opinion that was represented at the conference and testify to the need for further reflection and dialogue on these complex and controversial topics.

Moral principles are principles about which actions are morally good or bad, and which among good actions are morally obligatory and which among bad actions are obligatory not to do (=wrong).  A moral obligation is an obligation to someone else, and we wrong that someone if we fail to perform the obligation. To wrong God is to sin. There is a longstanding controversy among Christian philosophers as to whether the fundamental moral principles are necessary truths about the moral natures of different kinds of action, or whether they are made true by the will of God. I recommend the former view, which was the view of, among others, Thomas Aquinas and Duns Scotus; it’s simply part of the nature of helping those in trouble that it’s a good action, and simply part of the nature of torture that it is wrong to torture someone. God just sees that these things are so and from time to time tells us this. Actions which are good in all possible circumstances are intrinsically good, and actions which are obligatory in all possible circumstances are intrinsically obligatory. It is intrinsically obligatory to keep our just promises (that is, promises which we had the right to make), and it follows that adultery and divorce without the consent of the other spouse are intrinsically wrong.

I now suggest that if we are given a gift by some benefactor on the condition that we use it for a certain purpose or do not use it at all (that is, he commands us not to use it for any other purpose), it is intrinsically obligatory not to use it for any other purpose. God is our creator; and everything we are and have is a gift from God, except those few gifts given to us by others, principally our parents, whose ability to give their gifts is itself a gift from God. Hence it is a derived moral principle that it is wrong to use any God’s gifts for a purpose other than the one for which God gave it. Our sexual organs are a gift from God. Hence it would be sinful to use them in a way forbidden by him. Continue reading

Scholars Not Priests

by George Demacopoulos

In a seminal essay in 1990, the eminent scholar of early Christianity, Elizabeth Clark, demonstrated that Christianity grew rapidly, in large part, because women served as the community’s earliest financial benefactors—they were “Patrons not Priests.”[1] According to Clark, female patronage was not only a matter of Christian piety, it was also a consequence of broader social and cultural changes for women in the Greco-Roman world. At precisely the same time that Roman society was restricting women from serving as patrons for civic events, a small but determined group of female aristocrats turned their patronage toward Christianity. And the rest, so to speak, is history.

I would like to suggest that there is a parallel sociological phenomenon in the Orthodox Church in the United States today. While women are still unable to become priests, they are increasingly becoming scholars of Christianity. And this is having a profound, positive impact on the Church. Continue reading