Category Archives: Theology

Orthodoxy and Psychoanalysis

by Carl Waitz and Theresa Clement Tisdale | български | ქართული | ελληνικά | Română | Русский | Српски

Jacques Lacan

Are psychological wellbeing and salvation antithetical concepts? If one stops at the investigations of some Orthodox authors, one might easily gather the impression that the Orthodox faith is not compatible with practices like psychotherapy and psychoanalysis. The aims of psychotherapy seem at times to conflict with the aims of Orthodox asceticism. Notably, however, psychoanalysis and psychotherapy do not take the same aim, and it may surprise some to hear that one of the most Freudian analysts of the 20th century proposed a vision of psychoanalysis quite compatible with the Orthodox Faith: Jacques Lacan.

Lacan, a French psychoanalyst active in the 1930s through 1970s, reformulated psychoanalysis, stepping away from Freud’s biological determinism and toward the philosophical shifts occurring in postwar Europe, such as existentialism, structuralism, and later, poststructuralism. While many practicing analysts in the US may find Lacan difficult to understand, his works have had notable influence in other disciplines and other parts of the world, such as the noticeable influence he has had on Orthodox authors such as Christos Yannaras. In considering the relationship between Freudian-Lacanian psychoanalysis and Orthodox theology, a helpful starting point may be the end—that is, the aims of the Orthodox faith and of psychoanalysis.

Continue reading

Celebrating Archangel Light

by V.K. McCarty

Commanders of the heavenly hosts,
we who are unworthy beseech you,
by your prayers encompass us beneath the wings of your immaterial glory,
and faithfully preserve us who fall down and cry to you:
Deliver us from all harm, for you are the commanders of the powers on high!
(Troparion for the Synaxis of the Archangel Michael and the Other Bodiless Powers, Tone 4)

As the angels are gathering for the great Feast of the Synaxis of the Archangels, those of us wary of believing in angels at all may question their very nature. Yet we are standing as close to a mighty explanation as Psalm 104:4, and to Psalm 103:20-21 for the powerful efficacy of their ministry revealed. God who “makes his angels spirits and his ministers a flaming fire,” as the Psalmist says, is both terrifying and gorgeous to behold. That the angels of God “excel in strength, do his commandments, hearken to the voice of his word…and do his pleasure,” identifies them as front-facing essential workers in the economy of Salvation and in our lives among the faithful.

“Take a close look at a branding iron,” Basil the Great teaches us, “and the nature of angels’ holiness will become plainer: Remember that fire is required to heat it; yet, we would not claim that the branding iron and the fire are the same substance. The angels are a similar case; they are essentially aerial spirits, composed of immaterial fire, as it is written, ‘He makes his angels spirits, and his ministers a flaming fire’ (Ps 104:4). Angels exist in space, and when they are seen by those who are worthy, they assume an appropriate physical form” (On the Holy Spirit, PG38.138A). For us then, in our deepest prayer and praise, we are able to see the divine illumination of angelic appearances in the same manner as viewing, perhaps, a rainbow, which can truly appear visually and radiantly upon occasion, and can powerfully signify God’s promise in Scripture, but has no physical body.

Continue reading

The Camel and Needle
Lessons from a Russian Orthodox Scientist, Part 2

by Christopher Howell | български | ქართული | ελληνικά

Read Part 1: Between Darwin and Dostoevsky

Headshot of a camel

Freedom mattered to Theodosius Dobzhansky. He was concerned to articulate a scientific worldview in which Darwin buttressed free will, and he felt it helped answer the problem of evil (offering an early version of the “free process defense” to natural evil, similar to John Polkinghorne’s). But he was also concerned to protect political freedom, both from totalitarianism and from hereditary aristocracy. Dobzhansky’s second synthesis was, then, to merge democracy with science (and religion) in order to defend all three from their conservative critics, whether of the religious, social, or economic bent.

A hierarchical, aristocratic, class-based society was, in Dobzhansky’s view, a defense mechanism designed to allay the fears of the wealthy when confronted with Jesus’ harder sayings. “Christ’s parable of the camel passing through the eye of a needle is too explicit to be easily interpreted away,” he wrote, “To assuage their consciences, the Creator is blamed for having made some people nobles and others commoners, some wise and others improvident, some talented and others incompetent. Different people are thus born to occupy different stations in life. Such, allegedly, is God’s will, and to go against it is sin” (Mankind Evolving, 1962, 52). Don’t blame us, say the rich and the powerful, it’s God’s fault for endowing us with superior genes. Wealth, power, influence, and so on, are simply inevitable under such circumstances, and no amount of political equality would change it. Such hereditarians, observed Dobzhansky, were often political conservatives who believed “genetic conditioning of human capacities would justify the setting up of rigid class barriers and a hierarchical organization of the society” (247-248).

Continue reading

Bulgakov’s Theological Defense of Western Religious Art
An Orthodox Minority Report

by Roberto J. De La Noval | български | ქართული | ελληνικά | Română | Русский | Српски

Hans Holbein, The Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb

“Since the time of the Renaissance, the religious painting of the West has been one massive untruth.” So wrote Fr. Pavel Florensky in his Iconostasis, one of the most important works of 20th century Orthodox iconology. The heart of Western religious painting’s “untruth” was its naturalism, understood as the attempt to depict figures and scenes in as life-like a manner as possible. As Evan Freeman has shown, theological critique of Western naturalism was a staple of late 19th and early 20th century Orthodox reflections on the icon that elevated Eastern iconography in order to diminish Western religious art.

However, if we turn to the theological reflections on art offered by Florensky’s erstwhile disciple, Fr. Sergius Bulgakov, we find an outlier to this dominant trend. For in the course of his lengthy 1930 essay Icons and Their Veneration, Bulgakov does not shy away from linking, linguistically and so also conceptually, artistic production as a whole with the idea of the icon, so as to ground his broader argument that the condition for the possibility of the theological icon lies in the fundamental iconicity of the cosmos, in the latter’s transparency to the ideal proto-images of being that reside in the mind of God and that grant actuality to the flesh of the world. Thus all art that succeeds in representing these ‘proto-images’ is iconic, though not every piece of religious art is a theological icon. Still, Bulgakov’s argument here places Western religious art and Eastern icons on a spectrum together, thereby relativizing the—nonetheless real—distinction between them.

Continue reading