Author Archives: Public Orthodoxy

Christian Stewardship and Wealth

By Dylan Pahman and Alexander William Salter

piggy banks

When discerning how to approach wealth and commerce, American Orthodox Christians have their work cut out for them. Should we embrace the “Protestant work ethic” of righteous enterprise? Or does the Apostolic witness shun “filthy lucre,” instead favoring a communitarian path? We need more than simplistic answers. The “one thing needful” is Christ Himself, Who reveals to us our vocation to serve God.

Thus, we cannot discover what we should do with our possessions without knowing who we are: Persons created in God’s image, called to communion with our Creator. In regard to the resources of the earth, we fulfill this calling through stewardship, as in Jesus’s “Parable of the Talents” (Matthew 25:14-30). Three stewards are entrusted with a sum of gold they must invest, becoming bountiful on behalf of their master. By gratefully receiving all things, fruitfully increasing them, and lovingly offering them back to our Creator, we bring God’s grace to all human affairs. But when we hoard what we are given, like the bad steward in the parable, we deprive the world of the blessings God intended for it.

When God gave man “dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth” (Genesis 1:26), it was not an invitation to subjugation but an offer of partnership. Whatever portion of the world we possess—materially or otherwise—are the talents God has given us.

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Episcopolatry

by Very Rev. Dr. John A. Jillions

Bishop with cross
Image Credit: iStock.com/Marko Rupena

We Orthodox need to ask ourselves some hard questions about the episcopal ethos that has come down to us from Byzantium and was then magnified in the Russian tradition. This was an aspect of Orthodoxy that for his entire life troubled Fr. Sergius Bulgakov (1871-1944), one of the most prolific Orthodox thinkers of the 20th century. He came from a long line of priests in Russia but gave up on Christianity at age 14 because he despised the servility of the clerical world.  

My revolt against my surroundings was morally right in so far as it was inspired by love of freedom and disgust at the servility which then reigned in the clerical world (and at that time it was the only world I knew). I did not want to be reconciled to it, indeed I could not be, and it would not have been right. I fled from it to save my spiritual integrity, and to this day I consider my flight justified.[1]

Bulgakov eventually returned to the Church and became a devoted priest, Professor of Dogmatics, and then Dean of St. Sergius Institute in Paris (we get a remarkable glimpse of his inner life in his Spiritual Diary, recently translated by Mark Roosien and Roberto J. De La Noval). He was devoted to the memory of Patriarch Tikhon (Bellavin, 1865-1925) who blessed him to be a priest, and he was grateful to Metropolitan Evlogii (Georgievskiy,1868-1946) for his active support in Paris, especially in times of theological controversy. And theologically he understood the bishop’s authority “as a mystical reality as evident as daylight.” But he remained deeply frustrated by his personal experience of episcopacy and believed that the Orthodox Church could do better.

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Four Months Later:  The Ukrainian Orthodox Church’s New Modus Vivendi

by Archbishop Sylvester of Bilhorod

Gathering of the UOC

Four months ago, a UOC (Ukrainian Orthodox Church) Council in the Feofaniya monastery in Kyiv introduced fundamental changes into the Church’s statutes. That Council has already become a historic event—with possible implications for world Orthodoxy. But properly understanding the logic of its decisions means understanding what happened in the UOC after the Russian army’s full-scale invasion into Ukraine.

Before Russia launched the war against Ukraine on February 24, 2022, the UOC was in a complicated position. Although it had been internally independent for many years, Ukrainian society (influenced by mass media) referred to it as the “Moscow Church,” accusing the UOC of secret connections with the Russian government and working against the interests of Ukraine. On the very first day of the war, however, the UOC’s First Hierarch Metropolitan Onufry categorically condemned Russia’s attack on Ukraine, calling it “the sin of Cain” (fratricide) and appealing to Russian leadership to immediately cease military actions and to seek a diplomatic resolution of any problems. For many of his opponents, this was utterly unexpected.

The war also prompted serious internal discussions about the further fate of the UOC. UOC priests (especially those in the western dioceses) began to refuse to commemorate Patriarch Kirill at church services.

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God’s Controversy with the United States
Rod Dreher and the Orthodox Jeremiad

by Aram G. Sarkisian

torn American flag

“Beware, O sinful land, beware;
And do not think it strange
That sorer judgements are at hand,
Unless thou quickly change.
Or God, or thou, must quickly change;
Or else thou art undon:
Wrath cannot cease, if sin remain,
Where judgement is begun.”

-Michael Wigglesworth, “God’s Controversy With New England” (Written in the Time of the Great Drought, Anno. 1662)

“Christian faith is in steep decline and a softer form of totalitarianism is on the march. I firmly believe that we American Christians, and in truth Americans of any traditional faith and convictions, that we’re now living in exile. We know from the Hebrew Bible how God deals with His people when they have become unfaithful to Him. He judges them.”

-Rod Dreher, September 13th, 2022

In the United States today, public pronouncements from prominent Orthodox Christians often take the form of jeremiads, grave sermons decrying general social and moral transgressions for which humanity faces imminent persecution from an angry and vengeful God. Jeremiads follow a typical structure: a reference to a doctrinal baseline, ordinarily culled from the Old Testament; an outlining of the covenant between God and His people; and then an explanation of the contemporary significance of that covenant, first through a grave and graphic exposition on how God’s people had so catastrophically failed, and then in an explication of how they may reverse their perilous fate. 

From the settler colonialist preachers of seventeenth-century New England to the circuit-riding revivalists of the nineteenth-century to the televangelists and YouTube preachers of the present day, jeremiads have warned that without atonement and correction, God’s people in America were doomed. Many such jeremiads are premised on the notion that the United States is a Christian nation, exceptional and ordained above all to serve God’s plan for humanity, and burdened with that should it fail to retain its covenant with the divine, the nation would fail and its people suffer. A renewed upsurge of Christian Nationalism has caused such rhetoric to swell in recent years, and as we have seen, such ideas too ripple through Orthodox Christian institutions and communities.

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