Where Are the Orthodox Biblical Archaeologists?

by Nicolae Roddy

An unshakable question has been clinging to the bottom of my shoe for all of twenty years now. As co-director and area supervisor for the Bethsaida Archaeology Project I have been actively involved in overseeing excavations and writing reports at the site generally accepted as the ancient Galilean village where Jesus of Nazareth called his first disciples; however, as an Orthodox Christian I am at a loss to explain why over the span of two decades, almost without exception I have encountered no Orthodox Christian archaeologists working in Palestine. As Jon Seligman of the Israel Antiquities Authority confirms, “Indeed, the involvement of Orthodox Christians in the archaeology of the Holy Land has been limited.”

It should be clear that I am not talking about ecclesiastical oversight of pilgrimage and touristic sites on the part of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, or the Russian Orthodox Church’s Imperial Orthodox Palestine Society. I am also not discounting the work of Orthodox biblical scholars who incorporate archaeological findings in their scholarship. I am referring to dedicated professionals and institutions who not only dig in the field, but publish archaeological reports and deliver their findings at professional conferences. Moreover, having led volunteers from Mexico, Germany, Austria, France, and Poland, apart from sponsoring two Romanian Orthodox volunteers from an archaeology class I teach at the University of Bucharest, I have never had a volunteer from an Orthodox-majority nation (although I realize that economic factors may be at play). It appears that Orthodox Christians worldwide exhibit significantly less interest in the material culture of the biblical world than western Christians. Having queried Orthodox clergy and laity on the topic, I find attitudes toward biblical archaeology to be largely positive or at least neutral, their collective response summed up along the lines of “generally interested, but not terribly so.” 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

The Armenian Patriarchate and the Sanasaryan Han Religious Minority Property in Turkey

by Christopher Sheklian

Sanasaryan Han

Last month, the Court of Cassation in Turkey ruled that the historic and contested Sanasaryan Han will be the property of the Turkish state. Built in 1895, the Han (“Inn”) was bought by the foundation established by the philanthropist Mkrtich Sanasaryan to support the Sanasaryan College in the city of Erzurum in eastern Anatolia. It was put under the administration of the Armenian Patriarchate of Constantinople in 1920. In 1928, the Turkish State confiscated the building and maintained its revenue and rights until the Armenian Patriarchate of Turkey filed a lawsuit for its return with the Istanbul 13th Civil Court of First Instance in 2014. After a circuitous legal route, the Court of Cassation—the court of last instance for civil and criminal cases—ruled last February (2018) for the admissibility of the lawsuit and filed for the return of the title deed to the Armenian Patriarchate. Widely seen to be a major victory for the Armenian Patriarchate and the question of religious minority properties in the Republic of Turkey, it seemed the Armenian Patriarchate would assume the deed within a couple years. Last month, however, the same Court of Cassation ruled that the title deed will remain with the Turkish state. The lawyer in the case, Ali Elbeyoğlu, plans to appeal the case to the Constitutional Court.

The case of the Sanasaryan Han is just one case—albeit a very high-profile case—regarding the properties of religious minority groups in the Republic of Turkey. 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