Category Archives: Church Life and Pastoral Care

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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To Baptize or Not: God’s Love and Image

by Rev. Dr. Nicholas Denysenko | български | ελληνικά | Română | Српски

On July 9, 2022, Archbishop Elpidophoros, the primate of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, baptized the children of celebrity fashion designer Peter Dundas and Evangelo Bousis in a church near Athens. Reactions to the news of the baptism of children of a same-sex couple were predictable. The Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church of Greece is reportedly preparing a letter of protest to Archbishop Elpidophoros and Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, as the Church of Greece does not recognize same-sex unions.

The baptism of these children raises questions for Orthodox Christians. Does the baptism of children of a same-sex couple imply Orthodox Christian approval or tolerance of same-sex unions? What requirements must parents meet before requesting the baptism of a child? Must one be completely free of sin before committing to the Christian life that Baptism inaugurates? One must refer to the meaning of Baptism itself to answer these challenging questions.  

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To Leave or Not to Leave One’s Church

by Sister Vassa Larin

exit sign
Image: iStock.com/Cristian Guiton

“…For there must be also heresies/divisions among you, that they which are approved/tested-and-proved-reliable may be made manifest among you.” (1 Cor 11: 19)

In this “Time of Troubles” of the Orthodox Church, many Orthodox Christians, particularly those in the Moscow Patriarchate, are contemplating either changing “jurisdictions” or taking a time out from the whole church thing. I find the above-quoted passage helpful in this context, because it reminds me that our dire state of church affairs is nothing new, nor even unusual. It is inherent to the historical reality that is “Church” or “ekklesia” (from the Greek verb ekkaleo, which means “to call out,” so as Church we are those “called out” by God and are responding to that call, according to our various vocations). Today we are “called out” or challenged in a special way, to re-discover what “Church” truly is, and who we truly are, as Church. Now is an “apocalyptic” time for our Church, in the literal sense of the word “apocalyptic,” which means “revelatory.” What is being revealed to us, first of all, is what “Church” is, and what it is not. Secondly, “we” are being revealed or “made manifest,” as the holy Apostle says, as to how reliable we are, as Church, or members thereof.

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The Paradigm of Compassionate Denial

by Inga Leonova | български | ქართული | ελληνικά | Română | Русский | Српски

Holding hands

To a casual reader of social media, it may appear that the culture war battles in the Orthodox circles around human sexuality have finally ceased, especially compared to the raging 2010s. I think that, rather, the lines have been drawn, and most of the combatants have retreated to their respective camps. Certainly the need for intellectual and spiritual freedom to continue the important anthropological and theological work in the Church is an issue that is much broader than the limits imposed by the nature of social media interactions. Yet I ponder what has emerged from the fray as the paradigm of “compassionate denial.” This position can be summarized along the lines of “My heart breaks for people in the Church who struggle with same-sex attraction, and we should counsel them and offer them support with love in their ascetic endeavor to carry the cross of chastity.”

It may be due to the temporary distance from this discourse that the pitfalls of the “compassionate” approach struck me anew. Of primary concern is that it provides the well-meaning “traditionalists” with a comfortable alternative to the toxic hatred propagated by a subset of Orthodox culture warriors. It allows the satisfaction of feeling loving and accepting while at the same time remaining within the comfortable confines of an officially prescribed position: we are fully accepting of our homosexual brothers and sisters as long as they satisfy the requirement to forsake their need for human companionship.

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