In 1095, Pope Urban II told a large gathering of knights in Southern France that it was their responsibility to avenge the Islamic conquest of the Holy Land (he did not mention that the conquest had occurred nearly 500 years earlier). Urban’s sermon led to the First Crusade, and it forever changed the dynamics between Western Europe, Eastern Christianity, and the Islamic world.
From a Christian theological perspective, Urban introduced an entirely novel—some might say heretical—way of thinking about the relationship between Christian piety and violence. Near the end of his sermon, Urban declared, “Set out on this journey and you will obtain the remission of your sins and be sure of the incorruptible glory of the kingdom of heaven.”
For nearly a millennium, Orthodox Christians have condemned Urban’s perversion of Christian teaching, just as they have condemned the historical events that flowed from it (especially the Fourth Crusade, which destroyed Christian Byzantium). Given this backdrop, Patriarch Kirill’s most-recent effort to curry relevance in Putin’s Russia is nothing short of remarkable: Kirill declared in a recent sermon that Russian soldiers who die in Ukraine will have their sins forgiven.
“We have heard as they were read aloud those words, so shining and luminescent, we have taken in by ear, we have considered in our minds and honored in our belief.”
It is wonderful to be able to share with you how grateful I am for all the encouragement and support from the team at the Institute for Studies in Eastern Christianity throughout the time that I was developing and writing my new book. During the worst of the pandemic, I worked with Gorgias Press developing it, and editing it and preparing the type, and now it is a real pleasure for me for me to be able to share with you: From Their Lips: Voices of Early Christian Women.
It should come as no surprise that early Christian women are heard praying to the Lord from the beginning to the end of it. So, it offers the reader the opportunity to take a good look at early Christian prayer as it was remembered by generations of faithful disciples of Jesus Christ. By exploring the lives and ministry of a dozen early Christian women from the first centuries after the Resurrection, it delves deeply into their prayer lives. For professors, in their teaching; for students, in their studies—you will find this book helpful in bringing to life women whose faith and prayer to the Lord contributed to the history of early Christianity.
In fact, the volume opens in the New Testament, down by the river-side in Macedonian Philippi, in a scene I’m convinced was inspired by the living prayer of a woman. The Acts of the Apostles tells us that the Apostle Paul had come to town and was looking for people to evangelize about the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He heard that Jewish people met to pray together out by the river; so, on the Sabbath Day, he went out bright and early to meet them. As it happened, on this particular day, it was the women who were gathered there praying. And he spoke with Lydia—and Lydia spoke back (Luke 16:14-15).
In 1997, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople coined the term “ecological sin” and since then his idea has come to influence a number of thinkers both within the Orthodox Church as well as others; the most prominent of which has been Pope Francis, who cites Bartholomew in his 2015 encyclical Laudato Si’ (sections 7-9) and who, in 2019, called for the inclusion of “ecological sin” within the catechism of the Roman Catholic Church. Yet, what precisely does it mean to commit sins against nature? What exactly does sin have to do with the natural environment? Isn’t sin about breaking God’s laws? And, since there are clearly no explicitly ‘environmental laws’ to be found within the scriptures or historical canons of Christianity, or even the other Abrahamic faiths for that matter, how can it be possible to transgress a law that does not seem to exist?
Well, this all depends on how one understands the ideas of “sin,” “transgression,” and “law.” The idea of “sin” is commonly thought of as entailing a transgression and, “transgression” is commonly thought of as violating a command. Yet, a “transgression” may also be thought of as exceeding a limit, or overstepping a boundary. Further, in religious contexts “laws” are often thought to connote divine “commands.” However, as we came to understand in the first part of this essay, St. Maximus Confessor had articulated an understanding of divinely authored “natural law” that was itself to be found not within scripture but within the “book of nature” itself. When trying to wrap our heads around the idea of “ecological sin,” rather than think of sinful acts solely in terms of disobeying scriptural commands, one way in which we might make sense of ecological sinfulness is for us to think about the notion of “transgression” in terms of the various planetary boundaries scientists have discovered by studying the natural world itself.
This spring, the Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC) sealed significant and important deals, which has solidified and strengthened the SOC’s position. The first “deal” in May turned the Macedonian Orthodox Church (MOC), formally the Ohrid Archbishopric, into a canonical church, which ended around 50 years of estrangement between the SOC and MOC. The second one in July was between the SOC and the Montenegrin government, which granted the SOC privileges in Montenegro and closed almost twenty years of uncertainty between the two parties. These deals are not just a sign of the new diplomatic strength of the recently elected (2021) patriarch Porfirije (Perić, 1961-) and a different composition of the SOC synod but of the impact the Ukrainian war has on other global Orthodox conflicts. In the following, I will discuss how and why the SOC has taken these steps and what they mean in the long run.
The end of stalemate in Montenegro
As I passed through the central Montenegrin town of Kolasin this summer, a massive mural of the recently deceased metropolitan of Montenegro, Amfilohije (1938-2020), appeared on a multi-storage apartment building. The massive painting depicted him with a traditional Orthodox halo, underlining that he is already on the way to sainthood so shortly after his death. This was not a singular picture, but I noticed similar ones in the Montenegrin towns and cities. The reason for this rapid promotion of the Metropolitan Amfilohije is his role in the protest movement back in 2020, which led to the recent change of regimes in Montenegro. These changes in government in 2020 paved the way for the new advantageous agreement that the SOC reached with the current government this summer. The new deal between the government and the SOC is a complete reversal of the conditions of a prior law on religion in Montenegro passed through parliament in late 2019. The former law could have been used to confiscate SOC property and heritage in Montenegro and put severe roadblocks to the links for SOC between Montenegro and Belgrade. The law was put in place by the prior Montenegrin nationalist government, who argued that the SOC in Montenegro was an alien and threatening power to the Montenegrin nation.