The late Fr. John Meyendorff, whose name graces the Orthodox Christian Studies Center, emphasized the importance of dialogue with Protestant Evangelicals. He wrote, “…contacts with ‘Evangelicals’ are minimal, the primary reason being mutual ignorance and suspicion…. Such obstacles can and should be overcome within American society… If mutual ignorance still persists, it is due to a continuous lack of dialogue.” The Weslyan scholar, William Abraham, likewise observed: “Sorting out the relationship between Orthodoxy and Evangelicalism can be a spiritual and intellectual nightmare. Often it looks like both sides have crashed at the red light and neither wants to leave the scene of the accident.”
Hence the title of my recent book, The Evangelical Theology of the Orthodox Church with a foreword by Fr Andrew Louth. “The goal of this book is to nurture in [Orthodox] readers a faithful commitment to making the gospel clear and central in local Orthodox communities, and to articulate that vision in a way that people both inside and outside the Orthodox Church can easily understand. The essays are the result of over fifty years of international experience in both Orthodox and Evangelical communities across America, Russia, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East” (13). The desired outcomes are (a) to stimulate Orthodox readers (scholars included) to a much greater recognition of the need to emphasize the gospel as the core message of Christianity, and (b) to explore how a maximalist vision of the Church’s gospel compares and contrasts with Protestant Evangelicalism, and the difference that vision makes to the mission of God in the world today.
Scholarly study of the interaction of law and religion is well established in Europe and America, but it is not evenly distributed across the religious and ecclesiastical spectrum. There is a vast literature on some aspects of the subject, such as religion in the American constitutional order and law in the history of Roman Catholicism. Issues of law and religion in the Orthodox world, however, have not received much attention. Law and the Christian Tradition in Modern Russia (Routledge, 2022), a volume sponsored by the Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory University and edited by Paul Valliere and Randall A. Poole, seeks to promote awareness and further investigation of this subject. Since law is an essential ingredient of the public sphere in every developed society, the topic is of obvious relevance to scholars and activists exploring public Orthodoxy.
Our book focuses on the most creative age in the history of Russian law—the century stretching from the Napoleonic wars to the revolutions of 1917. A team of North American, European, and Russian scholars presents twelve concise portraits of outstanding Russian jurists and philosophers of law of the period. A few of these figures, such as Mikhail Speransky and Vladimir Soloviev, will be familiar to Orthodox readers, but most are not well known beyond the circle of specialists in Russian law and legal thought. Also included in our volume are chapters describing the historical and ecclesiastical background of law and religion in Russia.
From the opening pages of Rod Dreher’s Live Not by Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents (Sentinel, 2020), the assumption is that the lies which most threaten to engulf Christians today are those coming from the cultural and political Left. Political correctness, cancel culture, anti-racist kinds of training, gender theory, the “cult of social justice”—all treated by Dreher as comprising together a single system of lies—are what he says Christians must remain vigilant against and refuse to participate in. To help strengthen them in this resistance Dreher commends to his primarily North American readers the examples of remarkable 20th century Christian dissidents of Eastern Europe who stood up against totalitarian regimes. Some are familiar figures like Alexander Soltzenhitzyn (from whose 1974 essay addressing the Russian people comes the admonition to “live not by lies”), Václav Havel, and Karol Wojtyla. Others are less familiar, among them Croatian Jesuit priest Tomislav Poglajen Kolaković, Russian Orthodox dissident Alexander Ogorodnikov, Russian Baptist pastor Yuri Sipko, and Czech Catholic mathematician and human rights activist Václav Benda. Dreher offers moving accounts of these and other heroic figures and extracts considerable wisdom from their writings and from the recollections of those he has interviewed who knew them.
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 →