Category Archives: Theology

Lent as Liberation

by Perry T. Hamalis

How would you describe Orthodox Christianity in one word?

This question was posed to a panel of scholars at a Theology conference several years ago. A few of the panelists gave their answers—offering responses like “Liturgy,” “Authentic,” “Theosis,” and “Traditional.” Then the final panelist, Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, gave his reply: “Freedom,” he said, “Orthodoxy is freedom.”

“Freedom” certainly wasn’t the answer that most of us were expecting. Oftentimes, Orthodox Christianity seems like the opposite of freedom…it seems firm, rigid, full of canons and long services. It seems conservative, not liberal, unchanging, not free-flowing. Especially during Lent, many Orthodox feel burdened by the restricted diet, the heavy schedule of services, and the increase in philanthropic activities.

Yet, I’ve become more and more convinced that “freedom” is the best one-word description of Orthodoxy, and that, properly understood, Lent is Liberation. Continue reading

Apostates and Romantics: Further Thoughts on Modern Traditionalism

by Kyle M. Nicholas

In a recent post, Aristotle Papanikolaou argues that the terms “traditionalism,” “traditionalist,” and “Orthodox morality” are unhelpful identifiers. For Papanikolaou, these terms construct a false traditional/non-traditional dichotomy that conceals the fact that everybody belongs to some tradition. The real question is what the presuppositions of one’s tradition are, and consequently “the implications of presuppositions or beliefs held in common by those who adhere to [that] tradition.” The logic of purity that underlies attempts to constrict “tradition” to narrowly-defined doctrinal and moral positions animates much of Papanikolaou’s essay. I want to extend Papanikolaou’s argument further by introducing two spiritual temptations of those who claim “tradition” for their own side as part of the culture wars, especially in the US.

The philosopher Max Scheler once called those who hold their deepest beliefs from a place of “intrinsic meaning and worth” the “resurrected.” Particularly apt examples of the “resurrected” are the saints, who love God for God’s own sake. Yet, in addition to this “resurrected” type, there are today a considerable amount of what Scheler calls the “apostate” and “romantic” types. For Scheler, to be either an apostate or a romantic is a particular form of spiritual resentment. Continue reading

Searching for Social Ethics

by Regina Elsner

The International Orthodox Theological Association (IOTA) as the largest meeting of Orthodox theologians from all over the world was a remarkable event not only for the Orthodox world but also for a Catholic theologian engaged with Orthodox theology. As my own research focuses on (Russian) Orthodox socio-ethical thinking, and current issues of the good life of the community challenge Orthodox as well as Catholic theology, the program of IOTA was very promising.

IOTA has launched several working groups to structure the organization of the conference and of the future work of IOTA. Several groups are committed to ethical questions, and their order illustrates quite aptly the enigma of Orthodox social ethics. Most prominent, there is a Moral Theology and Theological Anthropology Group. Other sessions on ethical issues were organized by the groups on edcclesiology; Orthodoxy in the Public Square and Media; Political Theology; and Orthodoxy, Politics, and International Relations. Furthermore, the groups on education, science, women, missiology, and ecumenical dialogue tackle some aspects of the question, too.

Surprisingly, the topic of social ethics was not mentioned at any point. Does that mean that there is no systematic, fundamental dealing with the theological vision of the structures of modern human society? There were various approaches on issues like human rights, ecology, economics, international relations, discrimination, violence and so on, yet there is no group and no session on social ethics. Why is that so? Continue reading

Learning to Love: St. Maximus on the Virtues

by Emma Brown Dewhurst

When we try to be virtuous, what are we trying to do? People have different ideas about what the virtues are, and some virtues even seem to contradict each other. Some people consider justice to be a virtue, but, as St Isaac the Syrian points out in his Homily 51, isn’t mercy also a virtue, and how can you be merciful while trying to dispense justice? How do we decide which virtues we ought to live by and how they ought to be interpreted?

St Maximus the Confessor (580-662AD) answers a similar question put to him by a monk, in his Ascetic Life. The monk asks “And who, Father, can do all the commandments? There are so many.” Maximus responds:

This is the sign of our love for God, as the Lord Himself shows in the Gospels: He that loves me, He says, will keep my commandments. And what this commandment is, which if we keep we love Him, hear Him tell: This is my commandment, that you love one another. Do you see that this love for one another makes firm the love for God? (The Ascetic Life, 107; PG90 917A.)

This passage tells us something interesting. It tells us that all the ethical directives we’ve got, be they the commandments, the virtues, or any other parts of Scripture, all conform to love. They are all a kind of love. We are not being asked to do a hundred different things, we are being asked to do one thing, which is to love. Continue reading