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.
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?
Coronavirus has descended on our world as an apocalypse, a whirlwind destroying the shelter of our fixed verities, ripping the roofs off our traditions and throwing into the blaze of the sun the hidden sins and fragilities of our institutions.
This whirlwind has caught the Orthodox world in the midst of an identity crisis, an epochal moment of transformation from a premodern Eastern Church to a late modern Church in the West. At the core of this crisis is the question of how Orthodoxy is to engage a modern world shaped by nationalism and globalism, separation of faith and state, empowerment of the individual, and human rights. Relatively untouched until recently by modernity, and operating with a liturgical (and thus theological) consciousness shaped by the sensibility of medieval Byzantium, the Orthodox community has found itself ill-equipped and internally divided in responding to modern challenges. The result is a clash of visions along liberal/conservative lines, which certainly cuts across jurisdictions, but can be seen particularly strongly in certain leading churches…
That was the question that I was asked, regularly and over the course of many years, by friends and colleagues every time I was travelling back in Romania from the UK. It became such a refrain of my hometown visits that at some point it turned into a sort of running joke.
Although the question was always coated in a lighthearted banter gloss, it was never just that and always rang contrarily to the nagging teasing of old mates people love to complain about. To me it had the markings of a litmus test. People who had known me for a long time, who had been educated together with me, whose theological, moral and self-understating as Orthodox individuals I shared (or thought that I did), felt compelled to administer this kind of litmus test to me. Continue reading →