Category Archives: Theology

Joy Reconsidered

by George N. Petrovich

Humanity is a joyful being. This is not a simple desire, but a very normal human condition. Joy shares one divine characteristic in that it seeks to endure and to never run out. That which defines those captured moments within is the undying sense to exist in the same way that it appears. Joy strives for eternity and tends to be connected with it. In fact, joy by its nature loses its character if it ends. Humanity feels the call to be eternally joyful.

C. S. Lewis once wrote that joy is an unsatisfied desire, which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction (Surprised by Joy). Apart from any scientific observation, many civilizations have witnessed its primacy and occasion from the very early periods of life. Smiling and laughter, two prominent features of joy, accompanied by social games, are also signs of the joyful effect on human cultures. Analyzing the positive effect of joy in later life, it is possible to observe that if it is present in the infant stages of development it tends to be associated with a sense of vigor and with feelings of strength, confidence and competency. Functionally, it is centrally involved in the creation of social bonds—is it not enough to observe an infant’s ability to smile that elicits reciprocal smiling and joy, thereby fostering the bond of attachment? Continue Reading…

Why the Incarnation Is Rational

by Aristotle Papanikolaou  |  ελληνικά  |  ру́сский  |  српски

It is the Annunciation, the Euaggelismos, the Announcing of the Good News to Mary that she will bear the Christ child whom she will name Jesus; the day of the Incarnation, the day God became human in the form of a man. We celebrate this story on March 25th.

Our Orthodox tradition very much affirms that on this day God became human, that Jesus who was conceived on this day is paradoxically God and man. This belief in the incarnation of God in the man Jesus—as it says in the creed, “incarnate by the Holy Spirit,” that is by the power of the Holy Spirit—is not an easy one to affirm. In fact, I would say that over the past few centuries, it has fallen into disfavor. One reason is that a scientific standard of truth has prevailed since the 17th century and the idea that God can become human is something that has never been observed before, nor is it something that is scientifically verifiable. In an age where trust is given to that which can be verified, that for which we can provide proof or evidence, the belief in God becoming human in a particular individual is something which simply cannot meet that standard of truth. Even before the Scientific Revolution, it wasn’t something easy to believe.  A study of early Christian writings reveals that the Greek philosophers did not find such a belief very reasonable.

Yet much is at stake in its affirmation or its denial. What I wish to suggest is that what is at stake is the very essence of Christianity itself. Continue Reading…

Deaconesses and the Camel’s Nose

by Paul Ladouceur  |  ελληνικά  |  ру́сский  |  српски

Opponents of women deacons in the Orthodox Church advance two principal arguments: the “natural and economical order of male and female”; and the conviction that women deacons will lead inexorably to a series of other unwanted changes in Orthodoxy.

Advocates against the ordination of women to liturgical or even non-liturgical functions argue that there is a natural order of male and female, by which God intended that women be subordinate to men. This natural order theory calls into question a fundamental principle of patristic anthropology, the ontological equality of men and women. This principle is expressed very forcefully in Discourse 37 (6-7) of St. Gregory of Nazianzus, in the context a discussion on chastity and adultery. Gregory writes notably:

The wife who takes wicked counsel against her husband’s bed commits adultery, and thence flow the bitter consequences of the laws, but on the contrary the man who takes a prostitute against his wife suffers no sanction. I do not accept this legislation; I do not approve this custom. It is men who laid down these laws, and this is why this legislation is directed against women. […] God does not act thusly, but he says: “Honor your father and your mother” […] Notice the equality of the legislation: one and the same creator of man and woman; one dust for both; one image; one law; one death, one resurrection. […] Christ saves both through his suffering. Did Christ become flesh for the sake of the man? He did this also for the sake of the woman. He died for the man? The woman is also saved by his death.

Continue Reading…

Are Christians Supposed to Be Communists?

by David Bentley Hart  |  ελληνικά

This essay originally appeared in the New York Times Sunday Review and has been republished here with permission of the author.

It was in 1983 that I heard the distinguished Greek Orthodox historian Aristeides Papadakis casually remark in a lecture at the University of Maryland that the earliest Christians were “communists.” In those days, the Cold War was still casting its great glacial shadow across the cultural landscape, and so enough of a murmur of consternation rippled through the room that Professor Papadakis — who always spoke with severe precision — felt obliged to explain that he meant this in the barest technical sense: They lived a common life and voluntarily enjoyed a community of possessions. The murmur subsided, though not necessarily the disquiet.

Not that anyone should have been surprised. If the communism of the apostolic church is a secret, it is a startlingly open one. Vaguer terms like “communalist” or “communitarian” might make the facts sound more palatable but cannot change them. The New Testament’s Book of Acts tells us that in Jerusalem the first converts to the proclamation of the risen Christ affirmed their new faith by living in a single dwelling, selling their fixed holdings, redistributing their wealth “as each needed” and owning all possessions communally. This was, after all, a pattern Jesus himself had established: “Each of you who does not give up all he possesses is incapable of being my disciple” (Luke 14:33).

This was always something of a scandal for the Christians of later ages, at least those who bothered to notice it. And today in America, with its bizarre piety of free enterprise and private wealth, it is almost unimaginable that anyone would adopt so seditious an attitude. Down the centuries, Christian culture has largely ignored the more provocative features of the early church or siphoned off their lingering residues in small special communities (such as monasteries and convents). Even when those features have been acknowledged, they have typically been treated as somehow incidental to the Gospel’s message — a prudent marshaling of resources against a hostile world for a brief season, but nothing essential to the faith, and certainly nothing amounting to a political philosophy. Continue Reading…