Category Archives: Theology

Patriotism in Wartime: Nikolai of Japan and the Kingdoms of this World

by Betsy Perabo

St. Nikolai of Japan

In a diary entry on Christmas Eve 1904, Bishop Nikolai of Japan expresses his deep sorrow over Russian losses in the ongoing Russo-Japanese War.  Nikolai remained in Tokyo during the war at the request of the Japanese Orthodox congregation he had served for more than four decades.  His suffering was all the more difficult because he lived alongside Japanese Christians he had known for many years, who were – appropriately, he said – celebrating their own victories.  He states his desire to transcend this suffering when he is with his fellow Christians, writing:

I live now in a two-story house. On the upper floor we are all children of the Heavenly Father; on that floor, there are no Japanese, no Russians. Most of the time, I try to be there…Together we engage in Christian deeds for the Church, translation, book publishing, even Christian help to the prisoners of war or the Japanese wounded—all of this is suitable for the children of one Heavenly Father….But sometimes an oppressive state of soul pulls me down to the lower floor, where I remain by myself, without the Japanese….I must go to the upper floor, where there is no anger…I must be an inhabitant of the upper floor. (Betsy Perabo, Russian Orthodoxy and the Russo-Japanese War, 149. Other in-text citations also come from this source.)

In a twist on the classic forms of the “doctrine of the two”—two cities, two kingdoms, two governments—Nikolai characterizes the coexistence of the “earthly kingdoms” and the “heavenly kingdom” as two floors of the same house, with the lower floor divided into two separate sections.  What Nikolai’s version of this theological construct captures that others do not is the multiplicity of the earthly kingdoms. Continue reading

The Paradox of Ecclesial Asceticism

by His Grace Bishop Maxim (Vasiljevic)

Byzantine Expressionism

The counsels of a twentieth-century spiritual father to the modern human being can be summed up in three core philosophies—do not despair, do not be sentimental, and do not force yourself to anything. This advice leads to the discovery of an authentic person through a triune experience of delight, realism and freedom. But it is difficult, more difficult than we might realize, as it manifests the nature of the two poles—or, better—the antinomy of ecclesial asceticism.

The antinomy of ecclesial asceticism requires a break from established tastes or puritanism. It requires an acceptance of the other, no matter how different. It requires that we take no notice during a musical performance when the pianist played a wrong note, or when we are not annoyed that a priest used the wrong exclamation at the end of a litany. Further, it requires that we are glad that we can forgive ourselves and others for abandoning a “principle,” or that we are not overly troubled when our instincts betray us. Only then we can we gain a different kind of knowledge and aesthetics. Continue reading

Rethinking Patristic Categories? A Response to Petre Maican

by Fr. David G. Bissias

Terry Schiavo

If it were not well-intentioned, Petre Maican’s article “Image and Likeness and Profound Cognitive Disability: Rethinking Patristic Categories” (published on Public Orthodoxy, July 2, 2019), could be offensive. In the final analysis, it is simply misguided due to several failures: of coherency, doctrinal perspective, and a failure to grasp the full “spectrum of human existence” for which he rightly expresses concern.

Maican’s argument is unconvincing for several reasons. It is summarized in a few sentences from his opening paragraph:

Is it useful to speak about image and likeness in the cases of persons with profound intellectual disabilities? I think not. Especially, when the main requirement for attaining likeness is ethical freedom. As I will point out further, since the movement from image to likeness is dependent on the use of freedom, persons with profound cognitive disabilities are excluded from attaining the goal of their own existence, perfection in Christ.[1]

Maican properly believes a “robust” Orthodox anthropology must affirm why any person, including the profoundly disabled, “should live” and why such a life is “worth it.” Continue reading

Marcionism, Allegorical Exegesis, and the Question of Universal Salvation

by Roberto J. De La Noval

Origen of Alexandria

The publication of David Bentley Hart’s That All Shall Be Saved has provoked no small amount of controversy since its release. Though Hart’s argument for universal salvation encompasses diverse arenas of thought—theological anthropology, the moral meaning of creatio ex nihilo, the phenomenology of human volition—it is his treatment of the Scriptures that has provoked some of the most interesting pushback. When he was challenged a few weeks ago by one critic to consider whether the violent actions of YHWH in the Old Testament might not make us question our moral certainties about the immorality of eternal torments, Hart provided a reading of the Old Testament depiction of God which not only surprised but even scandalized many. Based on the conclusions of scholarship on the development of ancient Israelite religion, Hart concludes that YHWH is depicted in the Old Testament as exhibiting signs of moral development up to the period of Second Temple Judaism, when the marriage of Hellenistic philosophy and Judaism gives us a picture of God as Goodness Itself. And so the violent actions of the developing God in the Old Testament cannot be taken as totally determinative for a Christian understanding of God’s character, which finds its definitive revelation instead in Christ.

For this Hart was immediately accused of being a Marcionite, despite the fact that he explicitly rejected Marcion’s attempt to separate the God of Israel form the Father of Jesus Christ. What explains this severe reaction? Continue reading