The Brothers Karamazov is unarguably one of the greatest pieces of prose fiction ever written. It is also a distinctly Orthodox novel, that is to say a novel infused with the theology, customs, and culture of the Orthodox Church. Much of the work of Fyodor Dostoevsky fits this bill. Of course, Dostoevsky is low-hanging fruit in this way, the Orthodox C.S. Lewis one might say. There will never be another Dostoevsky, clearly. But it does seem worth asking where his 21st-century descendants are, even if they do not quite meet the brilliance of their ancestor, because we have much to learn about the state of our Church, and its relationship with the faithful and to the world, by examining the secular art it is producing. This is true of music, painting, and literature, but I want to focus here on prose fiction, both novels and short stories. First, that is where my own training and expertise lie; I am in no way qualified, beyond the qualifications of an enthusiastic fan, to comment on the merits of symphonies or oil paintings. Also, and more importantly (because when did someone on the internet ever refrain from offering an opinion due to lack of expertise?), it is in prose fiction that modern Orthodox art found its best and fullest expression, from the great writers of the Russian Golden Age to those lesser known in the West, like the Greek writer Alexandros Papadiamantis and the Serbian Borisav Stanković. It was, in the novel and in short stories, from the 19th-century onward, that modern Orthodox culture found what the Catholic tradition had found in painting and the Protestant one in music: a complete and aesthetically beautiful secular artistic expression, an artistic expression that grappled with faith, the human, and the divine in a way deeply embedded within the tradition and capable of speaking as fully to those outside the tradition as within. And yet, in the past fifty years, it would seem, virtual crickets.Continue reading
On February 18th, the Serbian Orthodox Church elected its new patriarch—59-year old Porfirije Perić. The new Archbishop of Peć, Metropolitan of Belgrade and Karlovac and Patriarch of Serbia, is a theologian who served for a year as the bishop of the Serbian army, represented the Serbian religious communities in his country’s Broadcasting Agency Council, and spent the last six years as the Metropolitan of Zagreb and Ljubljana.
Even before he was elected, those familiar with the Orthodox Christian world pointed to the difficult work awaiting the new Serbian patriarch. As Andreja Bogdanovski wrote on this blog, the patriarch will have to face the demands for the autocephalous status of the Macedonian Orthodox and Montenegrin Orthodox churches. While these requests are not new—in the Macedonian case, they are more than half a century old—that long history does not make them any less pressing. To address them, Porfirije will have to navigate the institutional and theological disputes along with profound political and territorial issues that still shape the life of the region.Continue reading
And they said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords!” Jesus said to them, “It is enough.” – Luke 22:38
Americans, especially American Christians, have a fixation on their so-called “God-given Second Amendment Right” to arm themselves to the hilt. I know many Orthodox, even some clergy, who own and hunt with firearms and eat what they kill. But the weapons-mania of the so-called “Christian” Right is not about food and not about recreation. It’s not even about decorating their hunting lodges. It’s about personal survival at the expense of others. There’s a basic question here: is it our vocation as Christians to be prepared to kill other human beings in the name of clinging to this world?
We have “Christian” Congressional Representatives sauntering around the halls of the Capitol with pistols strapped to their legs (or in their purses), like some Hollywood tableau of the Wild West. Weapons, ammo, and the ridiculous misappropriation of Spartan heroism have insinuated themselves into the Christian story. What does the Gospel say about a weaponized response at the darkest hour?Continue reading
When it comes to religion and politics, Eastern Orthodox Christians and Sunni Muslims find themselves in the same predicament. Both of these religions adhere to a particularly strong concept of sacred tradition. This tradition is distinct from revelation itself, but revelation can only be properly interpreted through this tradition. Theological thought, detailed practices of corporate worship, and ascetic disciplines of individual spiritual striving are the key components of both faiths- and crucially, all of these key components must be understood using the words written by their religious ancestors. Moreover, because both communities are globally decentralized—neither of these faiths has a single person to whom all believers look for authoritative guidance—this concept of tradition is absolutely crucial for keeping the integrity of the faith itself, especially in the tumultuous modern context.
This means that both faiths have an historically rich and consistent tradition of belief and practice, and have both conveyed immense spiritual riches across the sometimes-harrowing journey of modernity. But this concept of tradition has one major drawback: the premodern political and social context, during which all of the texts through which we understand the core of our faith were written, was radically different from our own. This is a dilemma common to all religious believers, but I believe it is especially serious in the case of Eastern Orthodox Christians and Sunni Muslims, given just how strong and all-encompassing our notion of tradition is. When it comes to politics, the contours of the dilemma are particularly clear: nearly all of the central texts of our authoritative and interpretive traditions were written in the context of empire.Continue reading