Category Archives: Orthodoxy in America

Seraphim Rose and David Bentley Hart Two Orthodox Responses to Modernity

by Christopher Howell

One might not expect Seraphim Rose and David Bentley Hart to agree on much, but they do share one crucial perspective: that modernity is essentially nihilistic. However, while their diagnoses of modernity may be similar, their prescriptions are diametrically opposed. To stem the tide of modernity’s nihilistic encroachments, Rose rejected ecumenism as a modernist heresy, and he later promoted a patristic style of young Earth creationism against evolutionary biology. Hart, on the other hand, promotes instead ecumenical unity and the importance of creation as a philosophical and theological doctrine, not a historical event per se, that can be harmonized with science (provided science is rescued from its tendency to reductionism). Such distinct responses highlight the degree of variability within the American subspecies of Eastern Orthodoxy.

In Rose’s view, nihilism is the “root of the revolution of the modern age,” and this nihilism is not just a lack of faith but rather an active belief in nothingness: “No man…lives without a god,” and the god of the nihilist is “nihil, nothingness itself” (Rose 2001, 68-70). It begins with the rejection of God but manifests itself in four modern schools of thought: liberalism, realism, vitalism, and destruction. His clearest critique is on liberalism, which he describes as a more urbane nihilism—tempting, but ultimately flawed, because it cannot evade its own fundamental problem: its inability to justify its own existence (Rose 2001, 33). Likewise, Hart has written that the modern predicament is to “believe in nothing,” which he clarifies is not a faith in just anything, but rather “in the nothing, or in nothingness as such” (Hart 2009, 1-2). Hart shares Rose’s view that contemporary political liberalism is a “soporific nihilism,” but his discussion traces a different intellectual genealogy (Hart 2017, 323). Continue reading

Coptic Nashville

by Lydia Yousief

I sat down with one of the older priests of Nashville after waiting for him to finish with one of his congregant members who was leading the renovation of a section of the church. The church, the oldest in Nashville, Saint Mina, sits in leisurely expand on a campus that holds many apartments (for newcomers from Egypt), a private school named after Saint Clement of Alexandria, and a gym. Every time I visit something is being remodeled, built, or expanded; children run around the playground, despite the heat, and the sounds of a close basketball game come from the gym. The church is never empty in the afternoons, particularly summers.

In Nashville, the Copts estimate themselves to be 10,000-20,000 strong; there has been no official census whether by the Diocese or the Nashville churches, nor by the state or federal powers. Instead, these estimates come from the priests themselves who calculate based on their own services: today, Nashville has ten churches, each roughly ten minutes within each other, and Sunday attendance boasting over a thousand attendants between two liturgies in some churches. Continue reading

Rami Malek and Contentions of Coptic Identity

by Candace Lukasik

On Sunday February 24, Rami Malek won the Best Actor Academy Award for his role as Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody. In his acceptance speech, Malek spoke of his Egyptian heritage and its representative power: “We made a film about a gay man, an immigrant, who lived his life just unapologetically himself. The fact that I’m celebrating him and this story with you tonight is proof that we’re longing for stories like this. I am the son of immigrants from Egypt. I’m a first generation American. My story is being written right now and I could not be more grateful to each and every one of you who believed in me, for this moment is something I will treasure for the rest of my life.” Social media was alight in comments of praise for Rami, with many news outlets noting that he was the first Arab-American to win an Oscar for Best Actor. The New York Times ran a headline, “An Oscar for the Arabs.” Despite excitement from members of the Arab-American community in the United States, Egyptians, and others throughout the Middle East, many Coptic Christians, particularly in the United States, took issue with labeling Rami “Arab” or “Arab-American.” Rami Malek’s family is Coptic Orthodox and, in interviews, he has described attending the Coptic Orthodox Church growing up.

Social media comments from Copts addressed their disagreement with misidentifying Rami as Arab. “Rami Malek is NOT an Arab or Arab-American. He’s a Copt, and Copts have zero Arab blood.” “1400 years ago Arabs stole Coptic land, 1400 years later Arabs steal Coptic accomplishments. When will the thievery ever end?” Continue reading

A Reflection on the Church in the Political Arena

by Fr. Robert M. Arida

Democracy and the separation of church and state are relatively new for the Orthodox Church. From both derive the many challenges the Church in America encounters as it stands unfettered in the political arena.

Paraphrasing the British historian and theologian G.L. Prestige, the concept, let alone the reality, of a political atheist was unknown until the modern era. Prior to the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, God, politics, and the Church were inseparable.

Father Georges Florovsky has shown that as Christianity expanded throughout the empire, the Church was faced with two options: to either remain in the world/empire and contribute to the development and improvement of the body politic or to retreat into the desert. By the time of Constantine’s conversion to Christianity the Church found itself at a crossroads. It had to grapple with Christ’s kingdom not being of this world (Jn.18: 36) and the reality of an emerging Christian empire with a Christian emperor at its head.

With the Church facing the crossroads of empire and desert two concurrent foundations were laid. The first was a Christian political philosophy upon which would be built a Christian state and culture. The other was its antithesis, manifested primarily in the monastic movement, which would serve as a continuous reminder to the Church that its true home and sovereign were elsewhere. Continue reading