Category Archives: Religion and the Academy

Thinking Out Loud: In Response to the OCA’s Curbing of Intellectual Freedom

by Very Rev. Dr. Isaac Skidmore

thinking figure
Image: iStock.com/Benjavisa

I would like to respond to the Statement on Same-sex Relationships and Sexual Identity, issued by the Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America during the recent All-American Assembly in Baltimore in July. I believe it will be evident I have concerns about the statement’s curtailment of intellectual and academic freedom. In particular, I would like to share my reaction to the following paragraph:

We call upon all clergy, theologians, teachers, and lay persons within the Orthodox Church in America never to contradict these teachings by preaching or teaching against the Church’s clear moral position; by publishing books, magazines, and articles which do the same; or producing or publishing similar content online. We reject any attempt to create a theological framework which would normalize same-sex erotic relationships or distort humanity’s God-given sexual identity.

When I read these words, I feel a combination of sadness, fear, and anger, because, to me, they mean that the Synod might be posed to intrude upon my intellectual and academic freedom, which I consider to be integral to my own wellbeing, and the necessary context and precondition for any genuine statement of faith.

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True Man: Kallistos of Oxford as Orthodoxy’s First Universal Teacher of the Global Age

by Brandon Gallaher | български | ελληνικά | Română | Русский | Српски

“Meeting him I sensed immediately a quality of authenticity,
of integrity, of completeness; here I felt was a true man.
He was marked by a serenity, by a transparent and luminous joy”
(Kallistos Ware, “Mount Athos Today” [1976])

A Moment of Pan-Orthodox Unity

In a time when the Orthodox Christian world is broken by schism—the schism over Ukraine being merely the most ulcerous—the recent death of Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware) of Diokleia (1934-2022) is perhaps one of only a few events that has managed to briefly unite the Orthodox world in a “bright sadness.” Memorial services were held by both Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew at the Phanar and at his death bed by prominent figures in the Russian Church (Moscow Patriarchate [MP]) who were his former students (Metropolitan Hilarion [Alfeyev] of Budapest and Hungary [MP] and Bishop Irenei [Steenberg] of London [ROCOR-MP]). Archbishop Nikitas of Thyateira and Great Britain, the Exarch or Representative of the Ecumenical Patriarch in the United Kingdom, followed Metropolitan Kallistos’ sickness closely and visited him repeatedly in his last years. With great pastoral discernment, Archbishop Nikitas quietly cooperated over a long period with local representatives of the Oxford Russian Parish and his own Oxford Greek Orthodox parish in planning the logistics of the memorials, liturgy, funeral, and interment in Oxford with the intention of emphasizing the Pan-Orthodoxy of the Metropolitan.

Two immensely moving memorials were served in the presence of Metropolitan Kallistos’ body at St. Nicholas the Wonderworker Russian Orthodox Church by its rector, Fr. Stephen Platt, and others followed by an all-night vigil where clergy of all churches and faithful read the Gospels with the Metropolitan lying in state. The next day, a memorial liturgy with Metropolitan Kallistos lying in state was celebrated by Metropolitan Athenagoras of Belgium (EP) at the joint Greek and Russian tradition parish, the Orthodox Church of the Holy Trinity and the Annunciation (EP), pastored by Frs. Ian Graham and Seraphim Vänttinen-Newton, with Ecumenical Patriarchate clergy concelebrating, the nuns of the Community of St. John the Baptist of Tolleshunt Knights, Essex (founded by St. Sophrony [Sakharov] of Essex [1896-1993]) singing and attended by a large crowd of faithful and clergy from all jurisdictions (including the Moscow Patriarchate) as well as ecumenical representatives (e.g. Archbishop Rowan Williams). Finally, the funeral, with hundreds coming from all Christian traditions, was held at the large Oxford Catholic Oratory Church of St. Aloysius Gonzaga led by Archbishop Nikitas serving with multiple Orthodox bishops and clergy from all jurisdictions, including a single bold priest of the Moscow Patriarchate. The final “last kiss” of the faithful to the beloved Metropolitan took almost half an hour with the whole church coming to say goodbye and receive his last blessing. Just before Metropolitan Kallistos’ coffin was closed, Archbishop Nikitas, in a traditional ceremony, but with enormous pastoral intuition, gifted the various symbols of Metropolitan Kallistos’ office as a bishop to clergy and monastics of all jurisdictions in attendance, with the mitre going to Metropolitan Athenagoras (EP), the episcopal staff to the Monastery of St. John the Baptist (EP), the encolpium or pectoral cross of the Metropolitan to Fr. Stephen Platt (MP), and the Panaghia to be sent to Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev) (MP). The day closed with the Metropolitan’s interment in the “Orthodox section” of the local Oxford Wolvercote Cemetery (where J. R. R. Tolkien is buried) by Metropolitan Athenagoras, who led the faithful of many traditions in music from Pascha. Archbishop Nikitas was quite explicit in inviting all canonical Orthodox clergy to serve at the funeral service in witnessing to the unity of Orthodoxy, though sadly the hierarchy of the Moscow Patriarchate ordered their clergy not to concelebrate at any service led by an Ecumenical Patriarchate hierarch. The wake was organized by leading members of the local Russian Parish who were the loving carers of the Metropolitan and now the executors of his estate.

These services, which were a brief but imperfect moment of Pan-Orthodox unity, were the capstone of the last years of Metropolitan Kallistos’ life which involved his daily care by a rota of devoted spiritual children led by members of the local Russian parish working synergistically with members from the Greek parish he founded, transcending the divisions of their respective jurisdictions. Such was the mark of “Kallistos of Oxford” that he has managed both in life and death to serve both as a point of unity (as is ideally the calling of the episcopate), as well as what he saw as his purpose: an Orthodox teacher dedicated to expounding the truth of Christ freely to unify all Christians that they might grow up into the fullness of the stature of Christ.

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Freedom from Fear: Response to the Statement of the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church in America

by the editors of the The Wheel

This post was originally published at The Wheel and is reposted here with permission.

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” (1 John 4:18)

In our inaugural editorial in 2015, we stated: “The Wheel is a journal for the intelligent and constructive articulation of the Christian Gospel in the 21st century. We live in an era of pluralism, when the social identity of Christian faith and its role in public discourse present new and unique challenges. By embracing contributions on Orthodox theology, spirituality, and liturgical arts alongside serious engagements with the challenges of contemporary political ideologies, empirical science, and cultural modernism, this publication aims to move beyond the polarizations of much current discourse in the Orthodox Church.”

We also quoted the great theologian of the twentieth century Vladimir Lossky:

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Method and Consequence in the Study of U.S. Orthodoxy

by Robert Saler

Much of the recent controversy about Sarah Riccardi-Swartz’s book Between Heaven and Russia (as well as the National Public Radio piece that highlighted her work along with that of other scholars investigating the influence of far-right currents within U.S. Orthodoxy) has exhibited some confusion about the epistemology of social science disciplines. Sarah’s book is an anthropological study based on over a year of fieldwork at a West Virginia monastery. In the book, she outlines a series of discoveries that she made in conversation with the largely convert population of monks and parishioners in the nearby parish, many of which relate to currents of pro-Putin sentiment, nationalism, and illiberal understandings of gender and racial hierarchies. Much of the ensuing controversy around her book (carried out largely among non-academic Orthodox audiences, many of whom boldly claim they have not read the book but are rather listening to likeminded online actors) relates to whether she has been sufficiently transparent in her methods, or—put more bluntly—whether her project was some sort of deception perpetrated upon the community. In effect, this commentary has been a broadside against the enterprise of anthropology itself.

While I have collaborated with Dr. Riccardi-Swartz and have, like many others, benefited from her insights, my goal in this short essay is less about the substance of her book per se and more about the necessity to understand the epistemological strictures that govern different enterprises in the social sciences, and why it is important to get them right—especially when critiquing conclusions based on methodologies. I will consider three examples: sociology, anthropology, and journalism.

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