When I first read paragraph 56 ofFor the Life of the World: Toward A Social Ethos of the Orthodox Church, I immediately had the sense that it represented a major step forward in Muslim-Orthodox relations. I think it is important to call special attention to this part of the text, because this paragraph is perhaps the most effective discussion of Islam I have encountered in a modern Orthodox ecclesiastical document. This paragraph is an excellent guide for Orthodox Christians when thinking about Islam because it describes Islam in ways that reflect how Muslims themselves understand their faith. At the same time, it also remains true to Orthodox self-understanding by accurately identifying where these two faiths differ from each other.
On June 4, the leadership of four interfaith organizations—Religions for Peace USA, Parliament of World Religions (PoWR), United Religions Initiative (URI) and the Interfaith Center of New York (ICNY)—issued a statement: “This Perilous Moment: A Statement from Religious Leaders and Communities on the Crisis of Racial Injustice and Inequity and Current Protests.” This statement is important, as Jews, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Baha’i, Humanists, Indigenous, Jains, Sikhs, Taoists, Unitarian Universalists, Zoroastrians, and many others signed on to the statement and were able to address, in one voice and with a sense of urgency, the systemic evil of racism that plagues our country. Drawing inspiration and empowerment from the spiritual resources of their respective tradition, each faith community is underscoring their commitment to justice, peace, and reconciliation.
The Orthodox Church, as an active member of the Interfaith Organization Religions for Peace USA, is also a partner in this interfaith witness. Her participation in these efforts reflect her ethos as it has been authoritatively expressed in the Great and Holy Council (Crete 2016) to seek inter-religious understanding and co-operation for the advancement of peaceful coexistence and harmonious living. His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, in his address to the Global Peace Conference of Al-Azhar and Muslim Council of Elders (2017), expressed the belief of the Orthodox Church in the need for human solidarity and the commitment of the Orthodox Church in advancing that goal through interfaith collaboration building a culture of justice and peace. He stated that the credibility of religious communities in today’s world depends on whether they are active advocates and guardians of human dignity and freedom of all people. His All-Holiness has suggested that it is only through dialogue and collaboration that faith-based communities, governments, and civil society are able to respond together to the challenge of building a just and peaceful world.
In researching my book Everything Hidden Shall Be Revealed: Ridding the Church of Abuses of Sex and Power, which features extensive discussion of Orthodox and Anglican ecclesial structures, I came across a curious tranche of letters and legislative documents from Anglican churchmen in my native Canada in the pre-confederation period. In the 1850s, these men, having tasted freedom in the colonies, found it de trop and began writing to London begging the mother of Parliaments to centralize all nascent Anglican structures throughout the empire and to severely restrict any local powers that were then emerging, including the power of local synods to elect their own bishops rather than having one appointed by the Crown and sent from England. A series of bills putting these restrictions into effect came before Westminster but were—mirabile dictu—ultimately voted down, leaving the locals free once more to design a system of synodal election and accountability in the Diocese of Huron (the Anglican jurisdiction in southwestern Ontario where I grew up) that was utterly novel at the time, but is now normative throughout most of the Anglican Communion.
Many of us might find the request of proto-Canadian Anglicans to be ruled yet more strictly by England very strange indeed. And yet as scholars working in the areas of colonial theory and Christianity, including George Demacopoulos and Daniel Galadza, have recently shown, this is not nearly so odd nor so rare as we might expect. Sometimes the subaltern becomes an uber-imperialist. Continue reading →
Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox all have an unfortunate habit of thinking that deification is somehow the exclusive provenance of the Orthodox. This claim is unfortunate not only because it has no basis in reality, but because it blinds us to the riches to be discovered in the tradition and because it slows down ecumenical progress.
The Reformed theologian Carl Mosser has done the most interesting work on how we all came to adopt such an odd prejudice (see his essay here). The details are too complicated for a short post, but let me summarize briefly. Many people know that Adolf von Harnack, the great Protestant historian of dogma at the turn of the twentieth century, proposed a theory about the development of Christian doctrine which cast the tradition primarily as one of decline. Starting from the simple moral teachings of Christ, Christian doctrine became corrupted due to the pernicious influence of Greek philosophy. What many people don’t know is that Harnack argued that the main culprit in this decline was the doctrine of deification which early Greek Christians imported from the pagans. While the west was only mildly infected with this doctrine, it became, he claimed, the defining feature of eastern Christianity. Continue reading →