Category Archives: Ethics

Fasting and Ecological Awareness

by Chris Durante

During Lent, lay, clergy and monastic alike partake in fasting, and unlike other fasting periods, such as the nativity fast prior to Christmas, many modern Orthodox Christian laity do still partake in the Lenten fast, at least to some degree and for some extent of time. As the laity partake in this tradition, they ought to consider that for monks and nuns who engage in the practice of fasting throughout the year, fasting is not simply a matter of abstaining from food but is a spiritual exercise that is part and parcel of the quest to be Good and become more Divine-like. Despite the fact that not all persons are suited to monastic life, there are indeed lessons that laity can learn from the deeply psychological and moral dimensions of the monastic understanding of fasting as a spiritual practice.

Some of the most theologically developed discussions of fasting are to be found within the Philokalia, meaning “Lover of Goodness.” Within the four volumes of the Philokalia, we find a robust philosophy of fasting in which the psyche as well as the body must be involved in the spiritual pursuit of the good. Within these classic texts of Orthodox Christian spirituality, the idea that cultivating a state of psycho-spiritual  “watchfulness,” “wakefulness,” or “mindfulness” (called nepsis) is foundational for the cultivation of arete, or virtue. Within the Philokalia, nepsis is described as vigilantly guarding one’s heart and mind from evil, or vicious, thoughts such as: anger, jealousy, rage, despair, gluttony, greed, egoism and lust. It is the practice of nepsis that helps enable one to transform these pathoi, or pathological thoughts, into more reasonable desires and place them in the service of attaining the higher-order desire for the good. Continue reading

Searching for Social Ethics

by Regina Elsner

The International Orthodox Theological Association (IOTA) as the largest meeting of Orthodox theologians from all over the world was a remarkable event not only for the Orthodox world but also for a Catholic theologian engaged with Orthodox theology. As my own research focuses on (Russian) Orthodox socio-ethical thinking, and current issues of the good life of the community challenge Orthodox as well as Catholic theology, the program of IOTA was very promising.

IOTA has launched several working groups to structure the organization of the conference and of the future work of IOTA. Several groups are committed to ethical questions, and their order illustrates quite aptly the enigma of Orthodox social ethics. Most prominent, there is a Moral Theology and Theological Anthropology Group. Other sessions on ethical issues were organized by the groups on edcclesiology; Orthodoxy in the Public Square and Media; Political Theology; and Orthodoxy, Politics, and International Relations. Furthermore, the groups on education, science, women, missiology, and ecumenical dialogue tackle some aspects of the question, too.

Surprisingly, the topic of social ethics was not mentioned at any point. Does that mean that there is no systematic, fundamental dealing with the theological vision of the structures of modern human society? There were various approaches on issues like human rights, ecology, economics, international relations, discrimination, violence and so on, yet there is no group and no session on social ethics. Why is that so? Continue reading

Learning to Love: St. Maximus on the Virtues

by Emma Brown Dewhurst

When we try to be virtuous, what are we trying to do? People have different ideas about what the virtues are, and some virtues even seem to contradict each other. Some people consider justice to be a virtue, but, as St Isaac the Syrian points out in his Homily 51, isn’t mercy also a virtue, and how can you be merciful while trying to dispense justice? How do we decide which virtues we ought to live by and how they ought to be interpreted?

St Maximus the Confessor (580-662AD) answers a similar question put to him by a monk, in his Ascetic Life. The monk asks “And who, Father, can do all the commandments? There are so many.” Maximus responds:

This is the sign of our love for God, as the Lord Himself shows in the Gospels: He that loves me, He says, will keep my commandments. And what this commandment is, which if we keep we love Him, hear Him tell: This is my commandment, that you love one another. Do you see that this love for one another makes firm the love for God? (The Ascetic Life, 107; PG90 917A.)

This passage tells us something interesting. It tells us that all the ethical directives we’ve got, be they the commandments, the virtues, or any other parts of Scripture, all conform to love. They are all a kind of love. We are not being asked to do a hundred different things, we are being asked to do one thing, which is to love. Continue reading

Why Are Orthodox Christians “Unethical”? The Virtue-Ethical Task of Orthodox Christians in the West

by Stephen Meawad

A quick glance at the modern field of ethics might convey a false reality—one in which Orthodox Christian are decades, if not centuries, behind the West in developing viable ethical frameworks. In fact, Orthodox Christians might often be hesitant or even reluctant to speak in terms of ethics, since the language of ethics challenges the integrity between orthodoxy and orthopraxy. Yet, it seems that a critical tool by which Orthodox Christians are to witness in the West to the transformative power of Orthodox Christian life is by conceptually transliterating Orthodox praxis into Western ethical language. Becoming a vessel of this transliteration is no small task; it requires not only a faithful embodiment of one’s own tradition but also an awareness of and willingness to engage one’s surrounding context. The payoff, however, is well worth the toil; it would allow Orthodox Christians to make fundamental contributions to contemporary Western ethical discussions not just for the sake of joining the conversation but in order to offer a distinct means by which to navigate the myriad of difficulties in this broken, ever-mending, world. Continue reading