Category Archives: Church Life and Pastoral Care

Oikonomia for the Majority—Akriveia for the Minority

by John A. Heropoulos  |  ελληνικά

One of the Orthodox Church’s greatest strengths is the pastoral care used to nurture the faithful.  The authority to offer spiritual care is vested in the bishop and extended to the local community through the parish priest; the spiritual father of a particular flock. Through the sacrament of Holy Confession, pastoral counseling, and living among his people, the local parish priest nurtures the flock entrusted to his care by his bishop.

The philosophical idea that grounds pastoral care are the principles of Oikonomia and Akriveia. 

Based on these principles, it is the spiritual father’s pastoral responsibility to apply the canons, disciplines, and liturgical life of the Church for the spiritual good of his flock. The spiritual father may feel that, after speaking with an individual who is seeking guidance, that Akriveia, such as a period of time for repentance and abstaining from Holy Communion, is the proper “medicine” to help the person in need of spiritual care. At other moments, and possibly for the exact same issue, the spiritual father may choose Oikonomia, such as the encouraging of fasting and the frequent receiving of Holy Communion as the best “medicine.” Continue reading

Not a Cross to Bear Domestic Violence, Coptic Christianity, and the Need for Accountable Theology

by Mariz Tadros

On the 18th of May, 2019 G., a Coptic female nurse living in Sydney, Australia was suffocated by a plastic bag and stabbed seven times as she was leaving the hospital after completing her night shift. The murderer was her husband. Insider information suggested that on the 16th of May, a high-ranking member of the Coptic Orthodox clergy pressed that she return to her husband despite being informed that her husband was allegedly a drug addict and was continuously beating her. It is alleged that G. did not want to return to her marital home, but she was told this is her cross and she must carry it. The case is the latest in a string of incidents that we have witnessed in Egypt and among the Coptic Diaspora of women sacrificing their lives as they succumb to the clergy’s pressures upon them to bear their cross. Another case in Brighton a few years ago involved a very similar scenario: a woman violently killed by her husband had been pressured into returning to her marital home. Sources who spoke on condition of anonymity shared that the local parish (Coptic) priests had pressed the victim to return to her marital home-against her expressed wishes not to return to him—and despite their awareness of his long history of wife-beating. While they did not physically force her, according to the sources, they certainly exerted a lot of pressure, urging her to bear her cross for the children’s sake. Continue reading

Listening to LGBT+ Christians A Review of the Revoice Conference

by Tim Markatos

“All models are wrong,” the saying goes among statisticians, “but some are useful.” The modern language of LGBTQ+ identity, while often unhelpfully obfuscating the boundaries between ontology, phenomenology, and epistemology, has been tremendously helpful in uniting and giving voice to people whose experience of sexual attraction and gender is at odds with what the majority of society (often uncritically) prescribes as normative. Within the LGBTQ+ Christian community, one finds a further distinction between Side A Christians—those who believe that God blesses sexual expression in same-sex marriage—and Side B Christians—those who believe that sexual activity is reserved for followers of Christ in the context of the sacrament of marriage, as described by the Church as the union of one man and one woman, but who also reject the narrative that one’s sexual orientation can (or should) be changed or reversed.

Revoice, an evangelical conference now in its second year, was founded as the outgrowth of years of conversation, writing, and community-building among Side B LGBTQ+ Christians. The conference is both ecumenical (speakers included Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox), and inviting. While the conference adheres to well-defined understandings of sexual ethics, Christian posture and witness, and racial diversity, the Revoice organizers have created a space for anyone interested in exploring the history, traditions, and practices of Christian approaches to sexuality, celibacy, and community, regardless of whether one considers oneself Side B or Side A. Continue reading

Reconceiving Healthcare Philanthropia and the Vocations of Healing

by Chris Durante

In the Orthodox Christian tradition, God is described as being the “Great Philanthropos,” and Jesus Christ, as a healer of body and soul, is described as the “Great Physician.” Being adopted by early Christians, the Hellenic idea of philanthropia, or being an “unconditional lover of humankind,” was used as a way of describing God Himself and became intimately intertwined with the notion of diakonia, or service, which highlights the uniquely social and inter-personal dimensions of Christian love. Mimicking the life of Christ, philanthropically serving the needs of the sick was a central component of the lifestyle of the early Christians. Both the idea of diakonia and the institution of the diaconate were so foundational to the Church’s presence in the world that in the second century, St. Ignatius of Antioch described the diaconate as representing Christ on earth by performing his ministries of healing, teaching, and selflessly tending to the needs of the sick and the poor. In the fourth century, it was under the auspices of philanthropic diakonia that St. Basil the Great established hospitals and hospices as charitable institutions, a practice that spread throughout Byzantium and later in the West as well.

Coupled together, the empiricism of modern science and the financial corporatization of contemporary medical practice threaten to eradicate the relational, philanthropic, and ascetic dimensions of healthcare. What is needed is an outlook that views the sick as suffering persons and not as mere consumers of medical services, while it views healthcare providers as healers serving the health-related needs of the sick rather than functioning as “merchants of medicine.” Although all Christians are called to engage in diakonia, in a certain sense physicianship entails a special diaconical responsibility in that it entails healing and a transfiguration of persons’ states of being. In that Christ is the Great Physician and deacons are representatives of Christ on earth, the Church might consider reinvigorating the diaconate by reimagining the current purview of deacons’ responsibilities and expanding the role of deacons to include, for instance, a vocation of healthcare-provider or physician, where deacons trained in medicine could perform medical ministries. Continue Reading…