In December of last year, I wrote for Public Orthodoxy on the Philip Ludwell III Orthodox Fellowship, an effort that uses myth of the Lost Cause to evangelize the American South. Responses to my piece were robust and diverse. I enjoyed learning from many of the readers who engaged with my work. Yet some of this response was distressing, even threatening, a reaction common to this kind of public scholarship on Orthodoxy. In a recent New Yorker profile of conservative radio host Dan Bongino, the firebrand Trump ally boasts to his interviewer that “there’s nothing you can write I can’t write back even worse. It’s asymmetric warfare. You never win.” This is what scholars of Orthodoxy endure when they write about white Christian nationalism in the church. And it happened to me.
To publish this work means initiating a rapidly-escalating pattern of hate and derision not so much about your work as it is about you. First comes a predictable flurry of angry tweets resembling other far-right coordinated online attacks, such as GamerGate. These Twitter users present as young, devout Orthodox men, usually from the United States. Some list their jurisdictional affiliations (usually ROCOR or OCA), and occasionally the ecclesiastical ranks they hold. Their avatars frequently incorporate Pepe the Frog, which is recognized by the Anti-Defamation League as a hate symbol. To a man, they tweet COVID-19 denialism and anti-vaxxer conspiracies, brag of being “red-pilled,” voice displeasure with democracy, and broadcast explicit anti-Semitism, misogyny, homophobia, and transphobia. They also post Orthodox icons, quote elders and saints, and sometimes express aspirations of becoming monks or priests. Their responses snowball quickly into a tangled web of tweets and retweets venting anger and hate. This is almost always done beneath the familiar purple-and-white emoji of an Orthodox cross.
For more than a decade, researchers have excavated the fascinating story of Philip Ludwell III, an Anglo-American convert to Orthodox Christianity who lived in colonial Virginia during the mid- to late-eighteenth century. A friend to Benjamin Franklin, cousin to Martha Washington, and a member of one of Virginia’s most established and well-connected planter families, Ludwell was also a distant relation of Robert E. Lee. Recently, a group of Orthodox Christians from the American South have drawn on this story to establish the Philip Ludwell III Orthodox Fellowship, a group devoted to “nurturing the roots of Orthodoxy in Dixie’s land.”
In the months before Fr. Leonid’s passing, he was working on a revised version of the following address to publish on Public Orthodoxy. As he was unable to complete it, with his family’s blessing, we are posting the entirety of the keynote address he offered to the All American Council in July, 2018. We are indebted to Fr. Leonid for his vision, kindness, and support. May his memory be eternal.
Tonight I am bringing a message to us all—to you and to me—from Saint Herman of Alaska. These are the words of Saint Herman to us:
From this day forth, from this very hour and this very minute, Let us love God above all and seek to accomplish His Holy Will.
Our pilgrimage as Orthodox Christians of North America, our journey as the Orthodox Church in America, starts with the arrival of Orthodox missionary monks in Alaska. Among them was a holy man—a man living a holy life and making a holy witness.
As our journey unfolded through time, the identity of the Orthodox Church in America was revealed. We were tested and tried, we faced times of trouble, we faced crises and achieved successes. Let’s reflect together on our journey. Perhaps we will discover what today constitutes our identity.
On February 18th, the Serbian Orthodox Church elected its new patriarch—59-year old Porfirije Perić. The new Archbishop of Peć, Metropolitan of Belgrade and Karlovac and Patriarch of Serbia, is a theologian who served for a year as the bishop of the Serbian army, represented the Serbian religious communities in his country’s Broadcasting Agency Council, and spent the last six years as the Metropolitan of Zagreb and Ljubljana.
Even before he was elected, those familiar with the Orthodox Christian world pointed to the difficult work awaiting the new Serbian patriarch. As Andreja Bogdanovski wrote on this blog, the patriarch will have to face the demands for the autocephalous status of the Macedonian Orthodox and Montenegrin Orthodox churches. While these requests are not new—in the Macedonian case, they are more than half a century old—that long history does not make them any less pressing. To address them, Porfirije will have to navigate the institutional and theological disputes along with profound political and territorial issues that still shape the life of the region.