How Sacred Is Sacred Art?

by S.P. Bachelder

Broken white statue

As an artist, and an Anglican Catholic, I read with particular attention Addison Hart’s letter on the comments of Shaun King asking for the destruction of white Jesus.   

One must ask then, should sacred art be sacred? Protected from the accidents of history? Or all art? And who decides what is sacred? Or for that matter, what is art? 

As we watched the Taliban destroy the Bamyan Buddhas of Afghanistan, and blow up the ancient African City of Palmyra, and as we now continue to watch zealots destroy the mosques and ancient tombs of Saints that are sacred to all the Abrahamic religions, who can say with certainty what qualifies as sacred or civilization’s patrimony beyond religious relevance? Violence against ideas has expressed itself through the physical destruction of objects of sacred traditions for thousands of years. Professor Erin L. Thompson observed in a June 24th article in the New York Times that we tend to destroy rather than protect cultural objects during times of transition. In fact destruction is the norm historically.  Bronze statues were ripped from pedestals, melted down, recast to look like the winners and returned to the same pedestals. If there was neither time nor money at the end of a war, the victor’s head would be recast and attached to the losers body.

Continue reading

Some of My Best Friends Are Heretics
What Do Orthodox Really Believe?

by Paul Ladouceur

The evil eye

Orthodox pride themselves on belonging to the “one, holy, catholic and apostolic church” founded by Jesus Christ—and with good reason. Orthodox point to the loftiness of Orthodox theology, the beauty and solemnity of its liturgy, its mystical spirituality, the holiness of its saints, and the transcendentalism of its icons, liturgical music, and religious architecture. For many Orthodox, the Orthodox Church is the sole Church of Christ, and other Christian ecclesial bodies are decidedly “lesser,” perhaps not truly Christian, or at best “incomplete.”

But Orthodoxy on the ground, the actual beliefs and practices of Orthodox faithful, Orthodoxy as “lived religion,” yields a different picture. Lived religion focuses the beliefs, practices and everyday experiences of religious persons. Most lived religion studies of Orthodoxy concentrate on measurable practices such as attendance at church services, personal prayer, and fasting, with little attention to religious beliefs. There are a few exceptions. The Pew Research Center report on Religious Belief and National Belonging in Central and Eastern Europe (2017) examines contemporary Orthodoxy in major countries of Eastern Orthodox tradition. Results of this report were incorporated into the broader study Orthodox Christianity in the 21st Century (also 2017), which focuses mainly on geographic and demographic aspects of Orthodoxy, with attention to religious practices and to opinions concerning the church’s positions on issues such as divorce, married priests, women priests, and same-sex marriage. Questions concerning religious beliefs cover basic beliefs in God, heaven, hell, miracles, the soul, and the Bible. But an astonishingly high percent of Orthodox hold non-Christian beliefs such as fate (70%), the evil eye (53%), magic, sorcery or witchcraft (40%), and reincarnation (25%). More Orthodox Christians than Catholics in the region believe in the evil eye and magic and sorcery, and differences between Catholics and Orthodox concerning reincarnation are minimal. And considerably more people (59% to 75%) in countries of Orthodox tradition believe in fate than in the secularized Czech Republic (32%).

Continue reading

From One Spoon to Many

by Fr. Nicholas Dassouras

Spoons

Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Orthodox Church has found itself in an existential crisis. The situation has challenged our traditions and even the way that we receive Holy Communion. One of the points of disagreement that has arisen concerns the manner in which Holy Communion is distributed to the faithful from the common cup by means of a common spoon.

The experience of the church tells us that Holy Communion by the common spoon never became a vector to transmit disease. Many priests have consumed a Consecrated Lamb that had molded due to natural conditions. In addition, every priest, after distributing communion with the spoon to the people, has consumed the remaining Gifts with that same spoon at the conclusion of the Liturgy; yet priests who have served in hospitals specialized in infectious diseases can tell you that no one ever got sick- from tuberculosis, AIDS, herpes, influenza, and even Ebola (as we hear from our brothers who serve in Africa).

Nevertheless, many of the faithful have always been fearful or disgusted by the common spoon. We can spend countless hours explaining sociologically the reasons behind it, but that is not our purpose today. We just need to accept this reality. So, the question is how do we continue to minister to people who struggle with this fear? Do we throw them out of the Church, admonishing them for their lack of faith? Or, do we follow the path of the Lord and embrace them? Are we not called to follow the example of the Good Shepherd, who leaves his flock of ninety-nine sheep in order to find the one which is lost and who tells us “Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matthew 9:13) and that “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath (Mark 2:27)”?

Continue reading

Muslims, Christians, and Hagia Sophia

by Phil Dorroll

Interior of Hagia Sophia

Around midday local time on Friday, July 24th, the first Muslim Friday prayer service in over eighty years was conducted in Hagia Sophia, its status recently changed from a museum to a mosque. A key part of weekly Muslim congregational worship is the preaching of a sermon. In this case, the sermon was delivered by Prof. Dr. Ali Erbaş, the head of the Turkish Directorate of Religious Affairs (the government ministry that licenses and oversees religious institutions and personnel in Turkey). Some 12 hours later, in the evening of the same day at the Greek Orthodox Archdiocesan Cathedral of the Holy Trinity in New York, Archbishop Elpidophoros led an Akathist service as part of a day of mourning for the change in Hagia Sophia’s status. At the end of the Akathist, Archbishop Elpidophoros also delivered a sermon.

The contrast between the texts of these sermons is remarkable. Comparing these two documents brings into focus the actual basis of the conflict over Hagia Sophia. One the one hand, Erbaş’s sermon argues for a religious politics of patronage and dominion. On the other, Elpidophoros’ sermon argues for a religious politics of pluralism and diversity. The conflict over Hagia Sophia is squarely between these visions of religion itself, not between Christianity and Islam per se. It reveals a fundamental dilemma faced by Orthodox Christians and Muslims alike: what kinds of religious politics do we choose to cultivate? Is human dominion or human diversity where we identify the traces of God’s image and will in this world?

Continue reading