The Audacity of Converts

by George Demacopoulos

Several months ago, a recent convert to Orthodox Christianity with the online handle “BigSexy” launched a Reddit thread decrying Public Orthodoxy because, he claimed, it is an affront to Christian teaching. My first impulse was to mock the absurdity—are we supposed to believe that “BigSexy” has a monopoly on theological insight!?!

I realized, of course, that I should not be surprised that people say silly things on the Internet—especially about religion. Nor should I be surprised that some converts come from traditions that encourage certitude rather than faith. An academic forum, like Public Orthodoxy, is threatening to this kind of Christian (and others) because it complicates simplistic understandings of the Church and its history. At the time, I told myself that no one encounters a faith tradition without the hermeneutical baggage of their past. Indeed, if a Christian as remarkable as St. Augustine was unable to move fully beyond his Manichean experience, could I really expect a convert with Fundamentalist tendencies to eschew the entirety of his former world view?

But the more I’ve thought about this episode over the past few months, the more I have realized that the problem isn’t the converts, their past, or their zeal. The problem is us—those of us raised in the Church. Continue reading

The Ukrainian Church: A Multigenerational Divorce

by Rev. Dr. Nicholas Denysenko

In the last few days, a number of announcements appeared about the Ukrainian Church controversy. After President Poroshenko announced that the unification council will take place at St. Sophia Cathedral on December 15, a spurious text that appeared to be some version of the statute for the Church drafted by the Ecumenical Patriarchate (EP) circulated on the Internet, copies of the letters of invitation to participate in the council were posted on social media by multiple bishops, and a copy of the letter from Patriarch Bartholomew to Metropolitan Onufry dated October 12 also appeared. Those who are interested in this issue, especially Orthodox clergy and laity throughout the world, watched spellbound as the news appeared and then reacted. In other words, the responses are no different than quick analyses ordinary people post on political news flashes. On the theme of the Ukrainian Church issue, a handful of responses have become clichés. Observers favor either the Moscow Patriarchate (MP) or the EP in the canonical clash; people call for the Ukrainian schismatics to return to the canonical church; critics denounce Russian aggression and the complicity of the MP in the war in Eastern Ukraine; and people offer the now stereotypical “thoughts and prayers.”

Observers strain Google’s capacity to lead us to the truth by searching for quick, neat profiles on all of the leaders and land on any number of web sites claiming to possess the absolute truth. We might find what we want to find: another layer of incriminating evidence exposing the faults of Metropolitan Filaret, a photo of a grotesque icon demeaning Russia (or Ukraine), a headline announcing the seizure of a church, and through it all, we select the sources that support a viewpoint we have chosen to adopt.

Amidst all of this, the most important fact of all is lost, and it is the fact that we all need to confront as soon as possible: the Ukrainian Church crisis is a messy, nasty divorce, and the stories that assign blame to the parties involved have been handed down from one generation to the next. Continue reading

A Reflection on the Church in the Political Arena

by Fr. Robert M. Arida

Democracy and the separation of church and state are relatively new for the Orthodox Church. From both derive the many challenges the Church in America encounters as it stands unfettered in the political arena.

Paraphrasing the British historian and theologian G.L. Prestige, the concept, let alone the reality, of a political atheist was unknown until the modern era. Prior to the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, God, politics, and the Church were inseparable.

Father Georges Florovsky has shown that as Christianity expanded throughout the empire, the Church was faced with two options: to either remain in the world/empire and contribute to the development and improvement of the body politic or to retreat into the desert. By the time of Constantine’s conversion to Christianity the Church found itself at a crossroads. It had to grapple with Christ’s kingdom not being of this world (Jn.18: 36) and the reality of an emerging Christian empire with a Christian emperor at its head.

With the Church facing the crossroads of empire and desert two concurrent foundations were laid. The first was a Christian political philosophy upon which would be built a Christian state and culture. The other was its antithesis, manifested primarily in the monastic movement, which would serve as a continuous reminder to the Church that its true home and sovereign were elsewhere. Continue reading

Genesis Theology: Patristic Understandings

by Doru Costache

In my early days in the University of Bucharest, I was confronted by the opinion of many colleagues and students that the Orthodox must side with creationism against evolution. This meant presenting Genesis 1–2 literally, as a scientifically accurate report on the universe. I begged to differ and ended up quite isolated. After my relocation to Sydney, I discovered that many “first world” Orthodox reasoned much the same way and that, once again, my rejection of creationism looked suspicious. My attempts to show that, surreptitiously, Orthodox creationists largely borrow from denominational backgrounds which they traditionally despised fell on deaf ears. This prompted me to continue my work of patristic exploration, particularly seeking how Genesis was read in the early Christian centuries. In what follows, I refer to several findings that contradict the creationist view of Genesis as a scientific report, even though the authors I mention here unceasingly proclaimed the sublimity of the Genesis creation narrative. There was no biblical “science” of creation for them, no creationism. Instead, Genesis was a theological account of the mystery of the universe as God’s creation.

Before I turn to examples, a few words about the current understanding of the Genesis narrative are in order. It does not read like a regular story, from head to tail, instead adopting the symmetrical pattern of chiastic structures. Continue reading