If one were to put all my essays having to do with Origen in a single document, it would be about two hundred pages of material. I also did multiple (AFR) podcast episodes on Sts. Basil and Gregory the Theologian’s Philocalia of Origen, which totals almost five hours. On July 14, 2020, I was interviewed for an hour on Fr. Tom Soroka’s AFR podcast Ancient Faith Today Live to discuss the life of Origen. Surely some will be asking themselves, “Why would anyone dedicate so much time and effort talking about a condemned heretic?” This question reveals an ecclesiastical philosophy among a portion of the Eastern Orthodox Church. This philosophy of pious ignorance presupposes that to be truly Orthodox is to be zealously hostile and excessively uncharitable concerning pretty much any controversial figure of antiquity. However, it takes two to create controversy. Too often do we label the other as “controversial,” ignoring how such actions are designed to fulfill the very accusation.Continue reading
The January 2021 Schmemann Lecture delivered by Mr. Rod Dreher, a Senior Editor of The American Conservative, has provoked bewilderment and objections especially among former students of Father Alexander. Was Dreher—neither an academic nor a theologian but a polemical journalist who proclaims it pointless to “dialogue” with Orthodox progressives—the appropriate person to deliver a lecture named in honor of the late archpriest? Not, certainly, if one compares the scholarly and ecclesial standing of Dreher to previous Schmemann lecturers. Does the warm, even apparently tight embrace of Dreher by the current President of St. Vladimir’s Seminary, Archpriest Chad Hatfield, signify an already accomplished “culture war” transmogrification of the seminary and portend further hardline, divisively ideological efforts to reorient the whole OCA? The answer to the first question seemed evident enough to provoke a letter of protest from a number of anxious alumni to the seminary’s board of trustees. But a plausible answer to the second question requires considerably more effort—an informed and judicious reading of many ecclesiastical signs, a dangerous task that few OCA clerics would be equipped or eager to undertake publicly. The recently provoked band of objectors seems confronted by a debilitating choice: naively continuing by impotent complaints to close the barn door after the horses have fled, or bravely and equanimously—but perhaps foolhardily (as many will surely think)—enlisting themselves among those who speak the neuralgic truth because it is the truth. Are there many people who want to listen much less act upon the latter?
Gregory Thompson, a Protestant pastor, who is himself an academically trained theologian, has written an extensive and trenchant critique of Dreher’s most recent book: see Comment, “Return of the Cold Warrior: Reflections on Rod Dreher’s Live not by Lies,” December 3rd 2020. Dreher’s book, the proximate source of his Schmemann Lecture, rhetorically targets the “soft totalitarianism” menacing American culture: in Thompson’s description, the “progressive, illiberal, and anti-religious ideology rooted in the Marxist tradition” Thompson, however, details what he considers to be four egregiously ruinous errors in Dreher’s “Cold War,” fearful political theology. It is: (1) a morally black and white, Manichean account of history; (2) an ideological division of persons into godless progressivist villains and godly conservative victims; (3) an instrumental and tendentious use of people identified as allies; and (4) a self-confirming projection of Dreher’s own politicized religiosity but a reductively escapist account of the Church’s mission. All of these themes can be found in his recent Schmemann lecture.Continue reading
While our recent celebration of the birth of the Christ Child continues and mingles now with hints of the Great Lent to come, it is no secret that profound and complex challenges confront us every day in this Pandemic time. As pastors and teachers and facilitators on the front line of Christian service, we often find ourselves discerning the issues confounding our society with painfully compelling insight. Yet, in the midst of all this chaos and suffering, the Church has kept us spiritually safe, with the assurance of God’s lovingkindness and presence among us.
As we navigate facets of our Pandemic experience, then, our efforts to understand and to help one another heal surely inspire us to offer grateful and repentant prayer for the mercy of God. Is it not the assurance of the presence of God in this time of Pandemic which has fashioned for us a kind of “Ark of Safety” where we are abiding together until the virus trouble passes, each family within the protection of quarantine and, in the tender mercy of our God present among us, are we not endeavoring, like those couples sequestered in the Ancient of Days, to live together in careful peace and harmony during this critical time?Continue reading
At the end of January, what were perhaps the largest protest rallies in the last ten years took place across Russia. The protests were sparked by the arrest of opposition politician Alexei Navalny, who had returned to his homeland after medical treatment in Germany. Back in August 2020, Russian special services had tried to poison him, and Navalny spent several weeks in a coma. Two days after returning to Russia, an investigative film about Vladimir Putin’s alleged private residence (“Putin’s palace”) was published on Navalny’s YouTube channel, where it has received more than 100 million views to date. These events became the starting point of the protests. During the rallies, the police carried out a record number of arrests, which caused a new wave of anger.
During times like this, the painful realization that Orthodox Christians, especially post-Soviet Orthodox Christians, do not have a theological language to speak about political events becomes especially acute. This is true both for those who are outraged by the authorities’ actions and for those who support them. Orthodox political speech today is discrete and is a repetition of the same old commonplaces: “There is no authority except from God”; “Not peace, but a sword”; “To Caesar what is Caesar’s”; “The church is outside politics.” But around these commonplaces, no narrative, no meanings or interpretations, no concrete rule or guidance is formed. They are thrown into the public space and immediately recoil back.Continue reading