After Passover and Easter, in the midst of a pandemic none of us could have expected or prepared for, there is a remarkable woman who can give us vision and stability, who can help us to do good despite all the terror due to the Covid-19 virus. She speaks from another time of dread, the Holocaust.
You cannot help us, but we must help You and defend Your dwelling place inside us to the last. There are, it is true, some who, even at this late stage, are putting their vacuum cleaners and silver forks and spoons in safekeeping instead of guarding You, dear God. And there are those who want to put their bodies in safekeeping but who are nothing more now than a shelter for a thousand fears and bitter feelings. And they say, “I shan’t let them get me into their clutches.” But they forget that no one is in their clutches who is in Your arms. I am beginning to feel a little more peaceful, God, thanks to this conversation with You. I shall have many more conversations with You. You are sure to go through lean times with me now and then, when my faith weakens a little, but believe me, I shall always labor for You and remain faithful to You, and I shall never drive You from my presence. (12 July 1942)
Much has been written and posted on line lately about Holy Communion and how it is to be distributed/received vis-à-vis the COVID-19 crisis. In light of this, it is interesting that little attention has been paid to the relationship between faith and reason. The overriding reason for this omission is related to an understanding of the Eucharist and how it is distributed. As the body and blood of Christ, the Eucharist has repeatedly been held up as being immune from transmitting contagion. As a result, any discussion about whether the Eucharist and its distribution is susceptible to receiving and transmitting contagion is perceived as suspicious, heretical, and therefore a rebellion against the very core of Orthodox faith and life. Must the use of reason be discarded when it comes to matters of faith? Based on our history, it is clear that deeply embedded in the tradition of the Orthodox Church there is the emphasis on the necessary co-existence and interdependence of faith and reason. Together they provide the basis for a living piety expressed in true worship. The following is an attempt to show the interrelationship of faith and reason and how their separation moves Christianity towards myth and superstition.
“Faith is what gives fullness to our reasoning,” says St. Gregory of Nazianzus (Or. 29). However, for faith to fulfill our reasoning it must be living. It must be continuously put to the test by reason just as reason must recognize its own limitations when brought before the transcendent. Faith and reason maintain a necessary synergy that allows for the articulation of the encounter with the living God.
In some respects, the global coronavirus crisis has brought to light ruptures that in normal times were often dismissed as marginal problems of small groups. Unresolved and underestimated social injustices became obvious and were recognized as threatening more than just the existence of the respective groups. A similar effect of the coronavirus crisis can also be observed for the Churches. Many conflict issues of the past years were dismissed as opinions of small groups or of particularly liberal or conservative individuals. Accordingly, solution processes were postponed. For the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC), this is true especially of the question of how to relate to modern society in the 21st century. The Church—despite growing requests—felt secure in its symphonic interaction with the political elite and in its role as moral authority in an increasingly complicated, globalized world. In this respect, the ROC was able to see itself as unquestionably relevant to the system.
In conflicts, the Church’s leadership often reacted incomprehensibly, even irreconcilably and hard-heartedly. This attitude was particularly justified by the alleged and yet so-difficult-to-prove existence of a fundamentalist wing within the ROC. Arch-conservative circles could cause a split within the Church, and the patriarch would only try to keep all currents together and prevent a split. The same happened in view of the spread of Covid-19: the indecision of the Church leaders in Russia and Belarus, but also in other Orthodox countries like Georgia or Serbia, was justified among other things by possible tensions within the Churches.
After a critical statement about the situation with the coronavirus, Vukašin Milićević, lecturer at the Theological Faculty in Belgrade, was banned from speaking publicly by the Holy Synod of the Serbian Orthodox Church. In this interview, his colleague Rodoljub Kubat sheds light on the background and tensions around the Faculty.
1) The Serbian Holy Synod forbade the lecturer Vukašin Milićević to address the public. How has it come to that?
Let me remind you that the ban about addressing the public came from the Patriarch as the bishop in charge. The Patriarch is at the same time also the chair of the Synod. It is symptomatic that a public request for the Milićević ban came from the eparchy of Bachka, the bishop of which is also one of the members of the Synod. This is just one of the measures the ecclesial authorities have undertaken against the Orthodox Theological Faculty. Something like this could have been expected, however, for certain tensions have already existed between the Faculty and the part of the episcopate that forms the majority in the Synod. The reason for those tensions is the bishops’ discontent with the fact that free theological thought is arising at the Faculty. Of course, the free theological thought is nothing sensational. It is simply a more critical approach to theology, society, and Church life in general. But apparently even that is threatening. One gets the impression that the bishops would rather see the Faculty as a Higher Clerical School rather than a Department of Theology. Some of the teachers on the Faculty, of the bishops, and of the priests do not agree with that. Still, the former group has the majority within the Church institutions, and it uses that majority for imposing its regressive understanding of the point of academic training.