“Orthodox Morality” on Sex or an Ethics of Sex? Part One: Dogmas v. Canons and Beliefs v. Ethics

by Aristotle Papanikolaou

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.

Heretic

Perhaps my point is best illustrated through a story: During the fall 1999 semester, I taught at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Brookline, MA, a course on Ethics. We were discussing St. Maximus the Confessor on virtues and how the development of virtues enables relations, and in so doing, makes space for the presence of God. I then asked the students that if two people (I did not mention gender) were living together in friendship for fifty years and manifesting the virtues, would this be an example of communion and participation in God. They all said yes. I then asked whether the fact that they had sex would negate the good resulting from their virtuous friendship:  half said it would, while the other half got the point that I will try to articulate in this short, two-part essay.

As this story illustrates, ecclesial ethics on sexuality have been primarily about sex and the criteria for establishing a morally right sex act.

From the start, someone might argue that there is nothing to talk about, as the Church’s teaching on sex has been clear and succinct from the beginning. It must be admitted that the overwhelming body of shared authoritative sources of the Orthodox Tradition—Scripture, Councils, Writings/Sayings of Saints, Canons, Liturgy—does limit sexual activity to marriage, with some even restricting the performance of the sexual act for procreation. This raises the question of what can or cannot be talked about in the Church; it is a question of how we should interpret these shared authoritative sources. Continue reading

The Flame in Our Lady’s Hair On the Burning Yet Unconsumed Faith that Built Classical Buildings

by His Grace Bishop Maxim (Vasiljevic)

Paris is not merely a place, it is also a “way of life,” said the Athenian theologian and philosopher Christos Yannaras. And the way of life is always the result of how (the manner in which) things exist. At the onset of this millennium, Catherine Dolez, a professor at the Alliance Française, persistently argued that the term laïcité has became a necessary complement to a tripartite motto liberté, égalité, fraternité, while I endeavored to make her consider koinos logos (Heraclitus’ “general, common cause”) as fundamental for the essential identity of the polis. How can a city be called a city unless it has a constant point of reference that brings all to the same place? In response, she wrote an entire essay on the back of my notebook claiming that the identity of Paris is exactly based on the absence of an underlying logos. On April 15, 2019, it turned out that this city nevertheless does have the fundamental point of reference that makes it coherent: a deep attachment to Notre-Dame de Paris. It was expressed unexpectedly, for a moment only, but quite strong enough to point to that forgotten way, un véritable mode d’existence. The French watched in horror as their magnificent and emblematic cathedral of Our Lady of Paris burned before their very eyes. They were scared of losing their own selves, their identity. The fire caught the Virgin’s hair, but, fortunately, it did not consume it. That fire, though, came at just the right time. Continue reading

Secularization, Multiple Modernities, and the Contemporary Challenge of “Multiple Orthodoxies”

by Fr. Dragos Herescu

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.

“Have you secularized?”

That was the question that I was asked, regularly and over the course of many years, by friends and colleagues every time I was travelling back in Romania from the UK. It became such a refrain of my hometown visits that at some point it turned into a sort of running joke.

Although the question was always coated in a lighthearted banter gloss, it was never just that and always rang contrarily to the nagging teasing of old mates people love to complain about. To me it had the markings of a litmus test. People who had known me for a long time, who had been educated together with me, whose theological, moral and self-understating as Orthodox individuals I shared (or thought that I did), felt compelled to administer this kind of litmus test to me. Continue reading

Ukrainian Autocephaly and Responsibility toward the Faithful

by His Eminence Metropolitan Ignatius of Demetrias (Volos, Greece)

The following are excerpts from the intervention of His Eminence Metropolitan Ignatius of Demetrias, Chairman of the Synodal Committee for Inter-Orthodox and Inter-Christian Relations, during the Extraordinary Session of the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece (12th October 2019).

The Synodal Committee for Inter-Orthodox and Inter-Christian Relations, which I am honored to chair, explicitly followed the mandate of the Standing Holy Synod of the Church of Greece. In this light, I would like to summarize the prevailing perspectives during the Committee’s discussions, drawing your attention to the following five points:

  1. The Ukrainian Orthodox people

As His Beatitude pointed out in his opening address, we are concerned with the Orthodox people of an independent state, which Ukraine constitutes today. We are dealing with millions of Orthodox faithful, who have historically suffered from policies of either Poland or Russia. Therefore, our focused discussions on the validity of Ordinations and the stance of Bishops must take into account the existence of millions of believers for whom we are responsible. Continue reading