Category Archives: Ethics

In Defense of Compassion

by His Eminence Metropolitan Ignatius of Demetrias (Volos, Greece)

This piece was originally published in Greek in the newspaper “Τα Νέα” on Nov. 9, 2019. English translation courtesy of Soo Town. The Greek original is available here.

Migrants

History is filled with the abominations of humanity and the dismal fate of those peoples who embraced them. The Church has always, under all circumstances, stood in opposition, constantly proclaiming that, in the face of globalized problems, the only contribution which is consistent with its ideals is faith in the God of love and the directly proportional faith in and love for human beings, and especially the forgotten and discarded by the powerful of this world.

In the life of every organization there are fundamental values which enable it to endure over time and preserve its identity. The Church is a theanthropic organization, whose course through history is supported by the ethos and values revealed by God himself, through His incarnation in human form.

The uniqueness of the Christian faith lies in the fact that the central character in its worldview is not God, nor his desire to impose His authority and power on humanity. The central character in God’s historical activity is humankind, with the basic purpose of bringing out the value of human beings and the achievement of a life of high quality with fulfillment, emotional riches and the preconditions to enable them to release themselves from corruption and follow the founder of the Church, Jesus Christ, in eternity. Our people proceeded for centuries with these principles and values and it was this strong humanism—in essence “theohumanism”—which enabled them to survive against apparently superior worldly powers. Continue reading

Domestic Violence and Accountable Actions in the Orthodox Church

by Mariz Tadros

My last essay spoke about breaking the silence around the invisible women in the Orthodox Church experiencing spousal violence and how we need accountable theology to stop the promotion of the notion that domestic violence is a cross to bear—but that both are essential but insufficient measures of redress. Here I probe further: How do we change the institutional norms that allow clergy to use their spiritual powers to propagate ideas condoning domestic violence? How do we make our churches accountable for upholding dignity and compassion for all? How do we create internal mechanisms with authoritative impact so that, with time, there is zero tolerance among believers for any justification of domestic violence? Continue reading

The Soviet Genealogy of “Orthodox Morality”

by Regula Zwahlen

The term “Orthodox morality”—in combination with “traditional values”—is unquestionably a neologism. A passage from Friedrich Nietzsche’s “Genealogy of Morals” gets right to the point of Aristotle Papanikolaou’s recent essay on Public Orthodoxy: “We need a critique of moral values, the value of these values is […] to be called into question—and for this purpose a knowledge is necessary of the conditions and circumstances out of which these values grew, and under which they experienced their evolution and their distortion.” One does not have to agree with Nietzsche’s conclusions in order to agree on the validity of his endeavor, especially if one aims, like Papanikolaou, to answer contemporary questions without threatening the internal coherency of the tradition. On that note, I would like to draw the attention to the fact that in Russia, the term “Orthodox morality” has not only a modern, but also a Soviet ring to it.

As for its “modern ring,” one of the commonplaces about Russian thought in general is its “concentration on ethical problems.” According to the Slavophile Alexei Khomiakov, “Russia should be either the most moral, that is the most Christian of all human societies, or nothing,” and the concept of ethics as the cornerstone of Russian mentality was shared by the “Westerners” and most Russian philosophers of the Silver Age. Russian literature is famous for treating moral questions, and Dostoevsky has been praised for having anticipated Nietzsche: “If God does not exist everything is permitted” Continue reading

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