Toward a New Ecclesiological Paradigm? Consequences of the Ukrainian Autocephaly

by Thomas Bremer

St. Michael's Golden Domed Monastery, Kyiv

When the Ecumenical Patriarchate granted autocephaly to the newly established “Orthodox Church of Ukraine” (OCU), it intended to create a single local Church which would basically comprise all the Orthodox believers in that country. The name of the new Church as it appears in the tomos, namely “Most Holy Church of Ukraine,” implies that idea, as do several statements of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in the course of 2018 in which he underlined the need of unity for Orthodoxy in Ukraine. The OCU affirmed this as well, calling itself on its website for a long time the “only” or “single” local Church (yedina in Ukrainian, a term which is difficult to translate), and stating on its home page, “Our Church is open for all!” The main idea was to unite Orthodoxy in Ukraine.

It is well known that the till-then only canonical Church, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC), rejected the initiative. Several hundred parishes changed their jurisdiction, but there was no landslide movement toward the OCU; the UOC still remains the largest Church in the country. In fact, self-proclaimed “Patriarch” Filaret split off from the new Church (though he has only marginal support) so that the attempt to re-establish unity obviously failed. Realistically, for a long time to come there will be two large Churches in Ukraine, one acknowledged by Constantinople, the other by Moscow. Continue reading

Review: Orthodox Christianity and Human Rights in Europe

by Päivi Billie Gynther

Orthodox Christianity and Human Rights in Europe

Ever since the Russian Orthodox Church in July 2008 adopted its Basic Teaching on Human Dignity, Freedom and Rights, the relationship between Orthodox Christianity and human rights has been a popular theme in European academic publishing. Of this multitude, one stands out because of its respectful stance to varying views. Orthodox Christianity and Human Rights in Europe: A Dialogue between Theological Paradigms and Socio-Legal Pragmatics, edited by Elisabeth-Alexandra Diamantopoulou and Louis-Léon Christians (Peter Lang 2018) consists of contributions written not only by socio-political and legal scholars but also by orthodox theologians and clerics.

Evangelical and Catholic scholars open the way for a debate by introducing their views on the subject. Stefan Tobler from Lucia Blaga University, Romania, explains that for the Protestants human dignity is an unconditional concept that belongs to every human person, irrespective for her or his moral behavior. Thus, Protestants are finding it difficult to understand the Russian teaching about human dignity—not only as an absolute but also—as a moral concept. Walter Lesch from the Catholic University of Leuven, in turn, describes how human rights were gradually integrated to Catholic social thought and suggests that rights language should be seen as the Esperanto of Ethics, as a language that can be used and developed by believers and non-believers alike.

Referring to the fact that majority-Orthodox countries quite often have been judged for religious freedom violations by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), two scholars pose in Part 2 a question whether Orthodoxy as such is intolerant towards religious minorities, or whether we rather could trace historical and political causes for the multitude of litigations. Elisabeth-Alexandra Diamantopoulou analyses in a thorough way religious freedom cases that have been brought before the ECtHR against Greece. Effie Fokas presents the findings of her empirical qualitative research conducted in Bulgaria, Greece, Romania and Russia, and suggests that the problems of religious freedom in these countries derive primarily from the peculiar relationship between religion and national identity. The challenge that the ECtHR hereby faces is how to apply its margin of appreciation doctrine towards these states. Continue reading

The Divided House of Middle Eastern Christians

by Paul Gadalla

The Splitting

The current situation is bleak for Christians in the Middle East, largely split between the Oriental and Byzantine rites.  They are hemmed in by dictatorships, sidelined by political Islam and exploited by militia groups while their pleas for aid are generally disregarded by Western powers.

Yet despite their dwindling numbers and waning influence, petty squabbles between Middle Eastern Christian churches remain to this day despite various ecumenical meetings. Even worse, these squabbles have spilled into lands outside of their traditional borders. It is bewildering to hear clerics and lay people even here in the U.S. accuse others of not “being Orthodox” while our house, the Church of Christ, is littered with literal and figurative infighting. Continue reading

Under the Radar – A Hidden Diaspora: Growing Up Orthodox in the Episcopal Church

by James Rouman

Wash basin

I was baptized in a wash tub as were both of my brothers.  It’s true. I really was. My aunt Helen was married in an Orthodox ceremony performed in our house as well. I recall liturgies celebrated in our dining room with Fr. Chrysostom whispering words in a Greek language that seemed somewhat different from the one we spoke at home. I remember the decorative cloth depicting Christ that was spread on the table, along with a cross, a bejeweled book, and the hot water my mother always provided during every service. And there was plenty of incense burning too. Drowsy from having been awakened at five in the morning and without anything to eat or drink, I fidgeted constantly before receiving communion. After breakfast, I was off to school and to a world quite different from the one experienced only minutes before. That’s how it was three to four times every year during my childhood. It was, in fact, my introduction to Orthodox Christianity. Continue reading