Category Archives: Theology

Benedict and Sophia

by Fr. Richard René

small village with church
Image: iStock.com/GC402

Over the past four years, Rod Dreher’s “Benedict Option” has become a catch-phrase for a certain kind of conservative Christian community in North America. Many Orthodox churches are striving to carve out a niche within this religious marketplace, promoting the stability of Orthodoxy in contrast to current Western Christian brands. Indeed, such stability is vital to the “BenOp” lifestyle, which envisions Christian village-style communities rooted in family life and communal worship as an antidote to a decadent modern society, unmoored from its traditional roots.

While Dreher does not promote Christian gated communities, encouraging Christians to seek allies in their cause across ideological, denominational, and religious lines, some Orthodox interpreters of his “Benedict Option” are seduced by the latent sectarianism of a BenOp-style “counter-culture” where most of the parishioners live around the corner from the Church, and where all the children attend the same parochial Orthodox school…

I would suggest that this inclination towards communities that distinguish themselves sharply from the rest of society are underwritten by a particular interpretation of the “Neopatristic Synthesis,” a school of theology that has predominated since the middle of the last century. Most often associated with the works of Fr. Georges Florovsky and Vladimir Lossky, the movement sought to free Orthodoxy from the influence of (some would say “captivity to”) Western thought, restoring its identity in the patristic, spiritual, and liturgical heritage of the East.

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“The Master’s Hospitality”: Jesus and Dialogue

by Very Rev. Dr. John A. Jillions

Jesus teaches in the Temple
Image: iStock.com/sedmak

Come, O faithful, let us enjoy the Master’s hospitality:
the banquet of immortality.
In the upper chamber with uplifted minds,
Let us receive the exalted words of the Word, whom we magnify.
(Holy Thursday, Canon Ode 9)

In January 2022, I was invited to give the annual Father Georges Florovsky Lecture for the Orthodox Theological Society in America and one of the issues I addressed was the disturbing trend among some Orthodox to reject dialogue with their fellow Orthodox Christians on controversial topics.

Especially now, with the violence in Ukraine largely pitting Orthodox Christians against each other, one would have thought that this was precisely the moment to value conversation. Indeed, Vladimir Putin’s armed forces are devastating Ukraine with barbaric ferocity, and millions of Ukrainians have fled their homes as refugees. And yet, negotiators from Russia and Ukraine are still talking. If enemy governments can negotiate, can we who share the same Eucharist refuse dialogue with one another, even on the most sensitive topics?

Rod Dreher of The American Conservative is the most prominent champion against dialogue. “I only engage people who come to me in good faith and are willing to listen. I don’t waste my time with those who don’t. It’s not worth it. I’m not interested. I don’t grant legitimacy to those who are just trolling me or trying to own conservatives.” In the lecture I drew attention to Dreher’s views on dialogue, and a couple weeks later he responded with a blistering critique in The American Conservative. “If you listen to Father Jillions’s speech, you’ll see that it’s a classic example of progressive obfuscation—the kind of thing that well-meaning priests and laity who have never dealt directly with it can easily fall for.”

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Sergii Bulgakov: Easter Thoughts

with commentary by Regula Zwahlen

български | ქართული | ελληνικά | Română | Српски

Image: M.V. Nesterov, from “Narod” Issue 1

This article was published in the first issue of the newspaper “Narod” (“People”), published in Kiev in April 1906, with Sergii Bulgakov and A. S. Glinka (Volzhsky) as editors. The newspaper “Narod” was conceived as a printed edition of the failed political project the “Union of Christian Politics.” In the period from April 2 to April 10, seven issues came out; then, the newspaper was closed by a court decision. All issues featured articles of Bulgakov.

The translated text is offered here with commentary by Regula Zwahlen.

SB: To the sounds of bells, with the rejoicing of nature and people, on the greatest of Christian feasts, we start our modest work.

Again the Christian world celebrates the final victory of good over evil, of life over death, of creative, constructive love over corrupting enmity; and it celebrates this victory, accomplished by the God-man and saving the world and people forever, as a pledge and an anticipation of the eternal resurrection of the world and transfiguration of creation. And, anticipating the final triumph by faith, the Christian world experiences it even now as a fact already being realized, as the shining of light in the darkness around us, as a flaming love and its joy in the midst of the kingdom of hostility and discord.

The Risen Christ still arises in the soul of every person, and in the soul of the nations and the bright radiance of the Risen One, breaking into the darkness of the night, not only blinds the joyful eye, but also pierces the darkness in which we live with the dazzling light of conscience, illuminating the Golgotha which we create from the world. And the singing of angels in heaven merges with wheezing and groans coming from the place of the execution. On the day of the Resurrection, we cannot forget about Golgotha, as long as we live, and we cannot and should not conquer Golgotha.

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The End of “Conservative Ecumenism”

by Will Cohen

Fr. Alexander Schmemann
Fr. Alexander Schmemann

Not all critiques of secular liberalism over the past fifty years have involved flirtations with fascism, but in the apocalypse (literally, the unveiling) that Putin’s war on Ukraine has been, we can see more than ever the horrific consequences of not clearly separating the two. 

In January 1975, Fr. Alexander Schmemann, dean of St. Vladimir’s seminary at the time, signed the Hartford Appeal, initiated by the future founder and editor of First Things, John Richard Neuhaus. The declaration named thirteen “pervasive, false, and debilitating” trends its signatories considered characteristic of the age, among them the idea that in comparison to “all past forms of understanding reality,” “modern thought is superior” and “normative for Christian faith and life.” The Hartford Appeal was an early instance of what Andrey Shishkov has called “conservative ecumenism.” It was a joint statement of Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant Christians critical of liberalizing, secularizing trends in society and religion.

Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority had yet to be formed in 1975. Among the 25 religious leaders who signed the Hartford Appeal were Peter Berger and Stanley Hauerwas, names little if at all associated with Christian conservatism today. Also notable in light of ascendant anti-democratic tendencies of Christian conservatives of recent years is Schmemann’s great gratitude for the freedoms afforded by liberal democratic society. In this he differed from Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, whose worldview Schmemann in his Journals described after their first meeting in 1974: “Absolute denial of democracy. Yes to monarchy” (p. 43).

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