One afternoon last week, a wave of profound sadness came over me, prompted by a particular video I had viewed. A fairly new documentary on the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, also known as the Church of the Resurrection (or Anastasis), was released to me and fellow scholars as part of a webinar panel discussion on this holiest of Christian sites and the strong claims made to it by the six major Christian denominations.
While much of the footage I have seen before in other documentaries and many of the problems and challenges I was already familiar with, the film did its utmost to reinforce them, and did so even more intensely when placed against the backdrop of the current Coronavirus pandemic. I will explain.
Ah, life’s ironies! As it turns out, many of those who are against abortion (quite a few of whom are President Trump’s supporters) are making excuses for Trump’s decision to accept therapies derived from aborted fetal tissue as a (so-called) “cure” for COVID-19; and yet, many of those in favor of abortion (who, more often than not, are the president’s opponents) are upset that Trump owes his (apparent) “rapid recovery” from COVID-19 to therapies they would otherwise welcome, or even celebrate, if used to help others.
In the meantime, God, who “is no respecter of persons” (Acts 10:34), and for whom all events manifest the sovereignty of his providence, judges all hearts, using the events of the history we have made to teach us how far we have fallen short of his love. If only we would listen to his teachings within us.
This, I think, may be why the Lord (through Pope Francis, EcumenicalPatriarch Bartholomew, and so many others) seems to be calling special attention to the teaching of St. Francis today. Il Poverello (“the little poor one,” as St. Francis is known in Franciscan tradition) is not only a master teacher when it comes to issues related to racism, violence, interreligious rivalry, and intolerance, as well as poverty and economic injustice; he is also, as the Catholic patron saint of animals and ecology, a guide for all believers during our worldwide environmental collapse, and the COVID-19 pandemic that is its most recent manifestation.
It was with academic and existential interest that I read two summer yoga essays by Aristotle Papanikolaou and Metropolitan Konstantinos. As a scholar of South Asian religions engaged in interreligious work, and as a proponent of the comparative theological project among Orthodox, I found much that resonated, not only in terms of accurately reflecting the benefits of yoga practice, but the constructive Orthodox hermeneutic by which we should encounter the religious Other.
The reader should know that much ink has been spilt on the origins of yoga, its development into the modern period, and even what is meant by the word “yoga.” The Sanskrit root yuj means “to unite, join, or connect.” (The word yoke is an Indo-European cognate.) Generically, then, yoga simply means “union”—and it is possible to unite the mind/body organism, or oneself to Śiva or to non-dual Hindu understandings of the divine Self or to the Trinitarian God. Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain schools and lineages use the term yoga differently, tracing practices to different ancient texts and teachers. Practices will vary. The encounter of East and West in the colonial period has had as much to do with what yoga is today than many would care to admit. By the way, not every Hindu does yoga. Hindus might be surprised to hear that yoga is “integral” to Hinduism, the word used by the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece—at least if that means everyone practices yoga or is an absolutely necessary soteriological practice, though Hindus would almost universally agree that it is beneficial and salutary in the pursuit of liberation (mokṣa), variously conceived. While we are at it, most English-speaking Hindus don’t refer to their tradition as a religion at all. Rather, “Hinduism is a way of life.” Sound familiar?
In the fall of 2015, a small and unassuming publication was introduced in London, England with the title The Buffalo Statement: In the Image and likeness of God – A Hope-Filled Anthropology. It was a text that was agreed in Buffalo, NY earlier that year by a group of official representatives of the Orthodox Church and the Anglican Communion who make up the International Commission for Anglican–Orthodox Theological Dialogue (ICAOTD). This was the fourth such document by the ICAOTD.
Anglicans held in the past a unique place in the eyes of Orthodox Christians. They stood between Roman Catholics and Protestants as a more sympathetic counterpart. For the Orthodox, Anglicans did not carry with them the bitter memories of the Crusades, the Great Schism, the Papacy, and the rest. On the other hand, they also had not rejected the entire Tradition of the first millennium like the rest of the Protestants. Many Orthodox in the United States still remember the advice of their bishops earlier on the 20th century allowing them to attend an Episcopalian Church when there was not an Orthodox Church nearby.