American society is polarized to an extent that one can hardly recall. It is as if we have entered a cold civil war. There is another name for this war: culture war, which is a literal translation of the German Kulturkampf. Culture wars are not proper wars, and they are not about culture. They are ideological clashes.
Ideologies are secular constructs. They emerged from the European Enlightenment as substitutes for what its inventors considered to be a delusional religious perception of the world. Ironically, these ideologies have affected not only secularized societies but also the Christian churches with which they are supposed to be incompatible. Hierarchs, priests, and theologians all too often indulge in these culture wars, throwing themselves into ideological battle.
Born and raised in the United States, it was a blessing never to have experienced war firsthand. War was something that happened “over there”—not at home.
Certain liturgical prayers were thankfully not immediately relevant, such as, “For the freeing of our captive brothers,” following the diptychs in the Armenian Orthodox Divine Liturgy. From the perspective of peaceful Central California, who were these people for whom we offered such weekly prayers?
This changed dramatically for many when the 2020 Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) War broke out on 27 September. All of a sudden, Armenians were drawn into a conflict in which they had no interest in beginning, merely desiring to live peaceably where they had for many centuries. If only that were possible . . . .
One of the greatest impacts of the current pandemic is the effect it has had on interpersonal relations. The inability to embrace or hold a friend’s hand, the need for “social distancing,” and the knowledge that anyone we meet is potentially the carrier of a deadly disease all contribute to a feeling of suspicion and standoffishness, while masks interfere with clear communication and human connection.
The Orthodox Church has faced a slew of challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic, not least in regard to the mode of distribution of Holy Communion. In conversation with priests of various churches I’ve learned of alternate methods being used, including “disinfecting” spoons between communicants, intincting the Holy Body with the Blood, the use of tongs, disposable spoons, even toothpicks to transfer the Eucharist from the chalice to the mouth of the communicant. In Canada the most common alternate method seems to be the use of multiple metal communion spoons, one per communicant. The response to this change on the part of a small but vocal element within the Orthodox community has been heated, with accusations of “heresy” or “blasphemy” being levelled against bishops and priests promulgating or following this practice.
In the midst of the dominant globalization process, as experienced in various areas of life (economy, politics, new modes of communication, technology, or common dangers such as terrorism, environmental catastrophes, continuous fragmentation of the world), an ongoing debate is taking place around the meaning and content of the concept of “global citizenship.” Although a concept deeply rooted in the history of philosophy (e.g., Diogenes of Sinope, Stoicism) with various cognates or synonyms (“world citizen,” “cosmopolitan,” etc.) that give nuances to its meaning, the definition of global citizenship is still under discussion and is quite often met with suspicion or skepticism, considered thus as a sort of “metaphor” that does not account for real life. Furthermore, while it is conceived as almost incoherent because it requires a somehow homogeneous universal political order, globalization, by modifying the very context of political action and the conditions and parameters of human life overall, leads to a new understanding of citizenship that seeks to go beyond particular, national, or cultural bonds. Based on its inherent tendency to voluntarily or involuntarily de-territorialize and de-historize the citizen’s ties, globalization provides the modern citizen with freedom from a specific place, highlighting the primary need for interdependence between people all around the world, without, however, necessarily denouncing altogether the importance of local, national identities. The concept of global citizenship then naturally emerges as a striving, initially at least, for a proper balance between the global community and a particular nation, between global and local, between the universal and the particular, between humanity in general and human beings in particular–albeit not always evidently, since it often gives a second place to the particular identity.
Given this perception, what does Eastern Orthodox Christianity have to contribute?