Category Archives: Ethics

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

Engaging with Appalachia’s Coal Crisis Old Stereotypes and New Initiatives

by Sarah Riccardi-Swartz

There’s no whitewashing the dark environmental effects of coal mining and fracking in West Virginia and other parts of Appalachia. Most assuredly, coal is toxic—for the environment, for local economies, and for life more broadly the Mountain State. In “An American Guilt Trip,” his recent article for Public Orthodoxy, Dr. Fr. John Chryssavgis draws on a brief trip he took to West Virginia in order to witness first-hand the cost of “black diamonds.” As an anthropologist, I’m tremendously supportive of scholars conducting ethnographic research in order to think through broad societal questions and problems. However, as someone who has just returned from twelve months of living in West Virginia for my dissertation research, I am also deeply attuned to the problematic ways in which we scholars often talk about or even for Appalachia and its inhabitants. For those of us who work on issues of environmentalism in its various expressions, even adjacently, I worry that sometimes we fall prey to colonialist assumptions of privilege, often subconsciously, that feed into our narratives of communities dealing with ecological devastation. As someone who works in the social sciences and humanities, I wonder how we might highlight issues of the Anthropocene in a way that critically examines toxicity as it relates human neglect for the environment, while also being mindful of the other crucial sociocultural issues of power at play historically. This is important particularly when we approach regions such as Appalachia that have long been subject to external mechanisms of power that mine the area for its natural resources while suppressing, subjugating, and stigmatizing those employed as extractors.  Continue reading

An American Guilt Trip

by Rev. Dr. John Chryssavgis

John Steinbeck once wrote: “There is a crime here that goes beyond denunciation . . . There is a failure that topples all our success.”

In an effort to witness first-hand the financial, social and personal impact of “black diamonds”—the benefits of which we all enjoy, but the cost of which we all irreproachably disregard—I decided to meander through the unparalleled beauty of the Appalachians in West Virginia, among the oldest mountains on the planet. I wanted to see for myself the origins of the benefits I enjoyed living in my home in Maine. It is easy for Americans, especially environmentalists, to ostracize the coal miners, who, by the way, smashed every stereotypical image I had and instead displayed an unassuming charity and disarming simplicity. Nevertheless, I saw them as tragic pawns in the coal and fracking industries from which all of us reap the benefits with our cozy comforts.

There is good reason why West Virginia has been labeled “almost heaven.” Today, it is eerily close to hell. Continue Reading…