Healing the Ukrainian Schism A Proposal for the Next Step

by Rev. Dr. Nicholas Denysenko

Among the sister Churches that are now called upon to either recognize or refuse recognition of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU), a common refrain is intoned: a conciliar and synodal process needs to take place to resolve this issue. Some would like a synaxis of primates, and others have called for a council. The central idea is for all of the Churches to contribute to a resolution of the Ukrainian schism.

The spirit of this proposal is sound, and it should be applied to the Ukrainian case (and perhaps to other related contentions on autocephaly). But a synod convoked to resolve the Ukrainian case would be doomed to failure. A synod convoked to recognize both Orthodox Churches in Ukraine as canonical and encourage them to restore communion without forcing administrative union would be welcome and potentially effective.

Here is why. Continue reading

Orthodox Christians in the Middle East Between a Rock and a Hard Place

by Paul Gadalla

Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and Pope Tawadros II

Orthodox churches in the Middle East are facing their gravest existential threat since the Arab Conquest. The church communities in Christianity’s historic cradle are faced with shrinking flocks due to the lure of immigration, threats of sectarian violence, and increasing societal marginalization. With fewer members and less clout, church leaders have bet their waning political capital on secular—but often brutally oppressive—dictators in hopes of attaining communal survival, pitting their beleaguered flocks against protest movements calling for change.

Orthodox Christians raised in the West might be left scratching their heads at the sight of the Orthodox patriarchs of Alexandria and Antioch standing in solidarity with strongmen like Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and ask: how are men of God dealing with such leaders?  How can the church remain silent in the face of brutal repression and even war crimes?

The answer to the church’s moral and political quandary is not simple. And a millennium of fraught church-state relations in the Middle East will likely take centuries more to unwind—if Christian communities there can survive that long. Continue reading

Academics for the Church: A Father-Son Reflection on IOTA

by Fr. Marc Dunaway and Benjamin Dunaway

This post is a two-part reflection by a father and son who traveled from Alaska to attend the inaugural conference of the International Orthodox Theological Association (IOTA) in Iasi, Romania.

Fr. Marc Dunaway

Many Christians are suspicious of “academic theologians,” and this is understandable. I remember as a young man eagerly tuning into TV documentaries about how the early Church grew or what the world Jesus lived in was like, only to realize in a few minutes that many of these supposedly “Christian” scholars didn’t actually believe in Jesus, or even in God for that matter. I was horrified.

Last month, over 250 Orthodox Christian scholars gathered in Iasi, Romania for the inaugural conference of the International Orthodox Theological Association, and things couldn’t have been more different. After an opening prayer service led by Archbishop Teofan of Iasi, Dr. Paul Gavrilyuk, founding president of IOTA, welcomed the participants with these words: “As scholars and professionals, we wish to contribute our ‘iota’ to the life of the Church and to do so with due humility….IOTA will succeed as long as Jesus Christ remains the foundation of our work, Jesus Christ as He is proclaimed in the Scriptures and confessed in the Creeds, Jesus Christ Whom we have put on in baptism and Whose Body and Blood we receive in the Eucharist, Jesus Christ Who as the eternal Logos is the beginning and the end of all things.” I cannot imagine wanting a scholar to say any more than this. Continue reading

Engaging Orthodox Theology Thoughts on IOTA from an Ecumenical Observer

by Robert Saler

Metropolitan Cathedral in Iasi, Romania

There are two dangers that Western theologians such as myself face when engaging  Eastern orthodox theology: exoticism and over-familiarity. My ongoing work as a Lutheran ecumenical observer at the International Orthodox Theological Association (first at its initial planning meeting in Jerusalem, and then recently at the full conference in Iasi, Romania) has given me occasion to ponder both extremes.

Exoticism in general can take on flattering aspects—“Easterners can solve Western theological problems if we just import their way of thinking”—or unflattering ones (“the Orthodox don’t do systematic theology; they are focused instead solely on mysticism”). The Western theological imagination has a tendency to freeze Orthodox theology in stasis for a host of reasons. Western theological conservatives may look to Orthodoxy as a bulwark against perceived creeping liberalism (particularly on culture war issues) in their own traditions. Western progressives, meanwhile, may celebrate Orthodoxy’s historic lack of biblical literalism (in the modern sense) or what they take to be its emphasis upon individual spiritual struggle over against centralized magisterial authority. The list of oversimplifications (all of which depend upon treating “Orthodoxy” as a static monolith) goes on, and a useful tonic for all of them is to witness contemporary Orthodox theology in all of its dynamicity.

This was certainly my experience at IOTA.  Continue reading