Category Archives: Church Life and Pastoral Care

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…

Clericalism and the Sexual Abuse Crisis

by Matthew Briel

If we follow Augustine’s and John Henry Newman’s line of thought, the Church is fundamentally the body of Christ, with Christ as head and the faithful as the body. In Newman’s conception, the faithful consists of the entire Church, hierarchy and laity. The laity thus have an essential role to play in all aspects of the Church. The most recent rounds of sex abuse scandals have brought Catholics’ attention again to the question of the role of the laity in church life.

Indeed, Catholics’ anger at bishops in the past month has not been directed so much at the abusers as at those who facilitated this abuse, what some are calling the “second abuse.” Bishops and chancery clerics allowed this abuse to continue because their primary concern and attention was directed towards their fellow priests and not the abused laity.

Catholics know the reality of sin. We live in a fallen world and the rate of abuse among Catholic priests is comparable to that in other branches of Christianity, in our public and private schools, and in the scouts. What’s different about the Catholic abuse crisis, and what infuriates the laity above all, is the cover-up of abuse and the contempt not just for the victims of the abuse, but for the laity as whole. Continue Reading…

Internet Orthodoxy: Opportunities and Pastoral Challenges

by Richard Barrett 

The second International Conference on Digital Media and Orthodox Pastoral Care (DMOPC) took place at the Orthodox Academy of Crete in Kolymbari from 18-21 June of this year. The event’s principal sponsors were Pemptousia and Vatopedi Monastery, and it was attended by Orthodox Christians from Greece, Lebanon, Russia, Ukraine, the United States, Canada, Australia, the Czech Republic, Kenya, and more. Over four days, one hundred and three presenters discussed theoretical, theological, and practical impacts of technology on the Church of today.

As an American participant, what I saw very quickly was that the questions and concerns the presenters were talking about were deeply informed by vastly different cultural contexts. There were two basic categories of presentations on the Greek side; the first was academic, represented by the panel discussion “The Progress of AI as a Challenge for Theology” and the paper “Paul and the Ethics of the ‘Internet’ in the Globalized World of the 1st Century and the Post-Modern 21st Century.” The other category expressed anxieties about technology threatening the Church’s status as a majority religion. These concerns tended to emphasize the Internet as a medium by which people were exposed to other religions, perhaps even deciding to change religions as a result; in addition, the problem of webcasts of services becoming a substitute for in-person attendance was frequently referenced. Continue Reading…

A Renewed Diaconate Completes the Church

by Rev. Archdeacon John Chryssavgis  |  ελληνικά  |  ру́сский

In recent centuries, the diaconate has only enjoyed a symbolical or transitional role in the church. Parish clergy are ordained to the priesthood after serving only briefly as deacons. It is as if they are expected to “move on!” or “move up!” The diaconate has been reduced to little more than a preparation or stepping-stone for the priesthood or episcopate. The latter two stages are often considered more significant for the ordained ministry, whereas the diaconate resembles a kind of sub-priesthood, rarely perceived as a lifelong or permanent office.

But this was not always the case—together with bishop and presbyters, deacons were regarded by Ignatius of Antioch toward the end of the first century as an essential part of the structure of the church, which realizes its unity—most completely and comprehensively—when the community is “with the bishop and the presbyters and the deacons who are with the bishop . . . Without these,” St. Ignatius adds, “[the community] cannot be called a church” (Letter to the Trallians).

St. John Chrysostom reminds us of how the early church perceived deacons when he remarks, “even bishops are called deacons” (Homilies on Philippians 1). Indeed, in the time of the apostles, there is no implication or indication that deacons were a condition or requirement for elevation to priesthood. This is why it is my conviction that there can be no clear understanding of the priesthood—or even of the episcopate—unless we first properly apprehend and appreciate the diaconate in and of itself. Continue Reading…