A Review of “Distant Relatives: Ancient Imagery of the Classical Pagan Past and Modern Byzantine Icons”

by Kassandra Ibrahim

Zavitsanos, Contemplating the Creation

This fall, Fordham’s Museum of Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Art opened a new exhibition entitled “Distant Relatives: Ancient Imagery of the Classical Pagan Past and Modern Byzantine Icons.” The exhibition features large mixed media collages by artist Joni Zavitsanos, whose work combines the traditional aspects of Byzantine Christian iconography with motifs of modern society. I had the opportunity to explore the exhibit in depth and speak with Zavitsanos about the exhibition. Initially, some viewers may be offended by the artist’s choice to use elements of traditional Byzantine iconography in modern creations. Yet, Zavitsanos explains that her work can be seen as a break from tradition because of her drastic modifications to longstanding pictorial motifs. While Zavitsanos makes her own artistic interventions, it is not her intention to undermine the authority of Orthodox Christian imagery.

Zavitsanos’s artwork is heavily influenced by Byzantine iconography. She learned about this pictorial tradition early, since her father, Diamantis Cassis, was a Greek Orthodox Iconographer or painter of icons in the Greek Orthodox tradition. Orthodox Christianity holds certain modes for representing Christ, the Virgin Mary, and other saints to be authoritative.  Because of this, Orthodox icons feature a limited range of motifs leaving the iconographer with minimal room for individual interpretation. A Byzantine icon from the early centuries of Christianity can look much like one made today. The consistency of imagery invites viewers throughout time to understand the message that these icons are meant to communicate: the everlasting and the divine. 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

Same-Sex Behavior and Genetics

by Gayle Woloschak

This essay is part of a series stemming from the ongoing research project “Contemporary Eastern Orthodox Identity and the Challenges of Pluralism and Sexual Diversity in a Secular Age,” which is a joint venture by scholars from Fordham University’s Orthodox Christian Studies Center and the University of Exeter, funded by the British Council, Friends of the British Council, and the Henry Luce Foundation as part of the British Council’s “Bridging Voices” programme. In August 2019, 55 scholars gathered for an international conference at St Stephen’s House, Oxford. These essays are summaries of presentations given in preparation for the conference and during it. They together reflect the genuine diversity of opinion that was represented at the conference and testify to the need for further reflection and dialogue on these complex and controversial topics.

Human Genes

The Orthodox Church is generally not opposed to scientific knowledge and scientific endeavors. In fact, many early theologians and saints of the Church (including St. Basil and Ss. Cosmas and Damian) considered themselves to be scientists exploring nature and using nature’s pharmaceuticals to treat disease. When the Orthodox Church finds itself opposing science, it should take a clear look at both the present and tradition precedents and be certain that the stand it is taking is correct.

This is not to say that science dictates theology, rather that theology is open to consider all things in the world, including nature and how it is described. Scientists (like members of the Church) are obviously influenced by their culture, prejudices of their time, and false understandings. In the not-so-distant past, for example, scientists agreed that since women had smaller brains than men, they should not be allowed the same education, and that education must in some way adversely affect their reproductive abilities.[1]

The Church should consider all perspectives when taking a position on any issue. Of course, theology is paramount, but the science of the day should also be reviewed as contributing to how we understand our world. 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