Category Archives: Theology

Engaging Orthodox Theology Thoughts on IOTA from an Ecumenical Observer

by Robert Saler

Metropolitan Cathedral in Iasi, Romania

There are two dangers that Western theologians such as myself face when engaging  Eastern orthodox theology: exoticism and over-familiarity. My ongoing work as a Lutheran ecumenical observer at the International Orthodox Theological Association (first at its initial planning meeting in Jerusalem, and then recently at the full conference in Iasi, Romania) has given me occasion to ponder both extremes.

Exoticism in general can take on flattering aspects—“Easterners can solve Western theological problems if we just import their way of thinking”—or unflattering ones (“the Orthodox don’t do systematic theology; they are focused instead solely on mysticism”). The Western theological imagination has a tendency to freeze Orthodox theology in stasis for a host of reasons. Western theological conservatives may look to Orthodoxy as a bulwark against perceived creeping liberalism (particularly on culture war issues) in their own traditions. Western progressives, meanwhile, may celebrate Orthodoxy’s historic lack of biblical literalism (in the modern sense) or what they take to be its emphasis upon individual spiritual struggle over against centralized magisterial authority. The list of oversimplifications (all of which depend upon treating “Orthodoxy” as a static monolith) goes on, and a useful tonic for all of them is to witness contemporary Orthodox theology in all of its dynamicity.

This was certainly my experience at IOTA.  Continue reading

How to Respond to Religious Pluralism? Orthodoxy and the “New Comparative Theology”

by Kerry San Chirico

How should Christians engage other religious traditions? Today religious diversity has never been closer to home. Our uncle might be Jewish, our neighbor Muslim, and our sister engaged in sincere Buddhist practice. Then there is the fact that Americans are increasingly willing to borrow religious beliefs and practices deemed beneficial—yoga from Hindus, mindfulness from Buddhists, and the Jesus Prayer from Orthodox. Whether we like it or not, in the wake of our Baby Boomer parents, we do in fact live in a spiritual marketplace. Such eclecticism does not in itself make one a Buddhist, Hindu, or Orthodox, of course, but it does demonstrate an increasing permeability between religious traditions. Yet for all this admixing, some seventy-percent of Americans still identify as Christian, while seven percent identify as Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, or Buddhist. Meanwhile, according to The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, no less than one fifth of Americans are now religiously “unaffiliated.” These so-called “nones” cause scholars, clergy, and pundits to scratch their heads or wring their hands. We move, as ever, into uncharted waters.

How to respond? We can pine for simpler times. We can try to batten down our hatches, attempting to be “untainted” by such religious difference, remaining polite but fundamentally uninterested in the religious lives of relatives, friends, or neighbors. Such difference can be frightening, after all. Many who converted to Orthodoxy have experienced this same attitude from our closest relatives, who responded to our conversion with a combination of bewilderment, fear, or even repulsion.

Yet Christian love compels us to a different response. Continue reading

Genesis Theology: Patristic Understandings

by Doru Costache

In my early days in the University of Bucharest, I was confronted by the opinion of many colleagues and students that the Orthodox must side with creationism against evolution. This meant presenting Genesis 1–2 literally, as a scientifically accurate report on the universe. I begged to differ and ended up quite isolated. After my relocation to Sydney, I discovered that many “first world” Orthodox reasoned much the same way and that, once again, my rejection of creationism looked suspicious. My attempts to show that, surreptitiously, Orthodox creationists largely borrow from denominational backgrounds which they traditionally despised fell on deaf ears. This prompted me to continue my work of patristic exploration, particularly seeking how Genesis was read in the early Christian centuries. In what follows, I refer to several findings that contradict the creationist view of Genesis as a scientific report, even though the authors I mention here unceasingly proclaimed the sublimity of the Genesis creation narrative. There was no biblical “science” of creation for them, no creationism. Instead, Genesis was a theological account of the mystery of the universe as God’s creation.

Before I turn to examples, a few words about the current understanding of the Genesis narrative are in order. It does not read like a regular story, from head to tail, instead adopting the symmetrical pattern of chiastic structures. Continue reading

Give Us This Day Our Daily Portion of Nationalism… Reflections on the Issue of the Autocephaly of the Church in Ukraine

by Davor Džalto

I tried to stay away from publicly expressing my thoughts on the current church/autocephaly crisis in Ukraine, for many reasons. First of all, there are much more competent people who know the situation better than I do. Second, the issue of autocephaly of the church in Ukraine has, by now, escalated so dramatically that one feels compelled to side either with the “pro-Russian” block or with the “pro-Ukrainian/pro-Constantinople” one. The “camps” seem to be so fortified, and the discussion so heated, that it seems difficult to formulate and express one’s opinion without taking a clear-cut “pro” or “contra” position.

In the end, however, I decided to write a short piece about the issue because I received about a dozen requests from various people to comment on the situation, and to give my view on the issues at stake.

Let me say at the beginning that I do not share the mainstream views when it comes to the issue of autocephaly in Ukraine. I will try to explain why. Continue Reading…