Not all critiques of secular liberalism over the past fifty years have involved flirtations with fascism, but in the apocalypse (literally, the unveiling) that Putin’s war on Ukraine has been, we can see more than ever the horrific consequences of not clearly separating the two.
In January 1975, Fr. Alexander Schmemann, dean of St. Vladimir’s seminary at the time, signed the Hartford Appeal, initiated by the future founder and editor of First Things, John Richard Neuhaus. The declaration named thirteen “pervasive, false, and debilitating” trends its signatories considered characteristic of the age, among them the idea that in comparison to “all past forms of understanding reality,” “modern thought is superior” and “normative for Christian faith and life.” The Hartford Appeal was an early instance of what Andrey Shishkov has called “conservative ecumenism.” It was a joint statement of Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant Christians critical of liberalizing, secularizing trends in society and religion.
Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority had yet to be formed in 1975. Among the 25 religious leaders who signed the Hartford Appeal were Peter Berger and Stanley Hauerwas, names little if at all associated with Christian conservatism today. Also notable in light of ascendant anti-democratic tendencies of Christian conservatives of recent years is Schmemann’s great gratitude for the freedoms afforded by liberal democratic society. In this he differed from Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, whose worldview Schmemann in his Journals described after their first meeting in 1974: “Absolute denial of democracy. Yes to monarchy” (p. 43).
The Board of Directors of St. Vladimir’s Seminary and, especially, its President, Father Chad Hatfield, must be commended for their constant labor to make the ends meet and thus to maintain the seminary. We must remember, however, that their seminary belongs at large to the American “eleven jurisdictions” and to the world Orthodox who entrust their students to it, and, last, but not least, to the entire Orthodox Church in America. So, it is perfectly natural to decide the seminary’s future in a conciliar manner. The most natural venue would be the OCA’s forthcoming Twentieth All-American Council this summer. There are reasons to believe that relocating this seminary might be a wrong move. After all, the seminary’s history and geography are tied to its mission.
Since the time of Einstein, physicists have known that time and space are a continuum. The Orthodox have figured this out from another angle, aware that their geography is firmly tangled with their history. Otherwise, how can we explain that the Greek Patriarch has remained in Istanbul as the head of a community consisting now of a few thousand “turkified” Greeks, while maintaining the title of the Patriarch of Constantinople? It is well known that his main flock abides in America. Why not then relocate his see from the environment so unfriendly to the Orthodox Christians to the well-disposed US southern states, let us say to New Orleans, where the first Greek parish, Holy Trinity, had emerged, upon which the Ecumenical Patriarchate claimed its jurisdiction in the US? So far, the Ecumenical Patriarch has not considered this option. The symbolism of locality develops gradually, as a fruit of history, but once it develops, it starts shaping history itself.
In the months before Fr. Leonid’s passing, he was working on a revised version of the following address to publish on Public Orthodoxy. As he was unable to complete it, with his family’s blessing, we are posting the entirety of the keynote address he offered to the All American Council in July, 2018. We are indebted to Fr. Leonid for his vision, kindness, and support. May his memory be eternal.
Tonight I am bringing a message to us all—to you and to me—from Saint Herman of Alaska. These are the words of Saint Herman to us:
From this day forth, from this very hour and this very minute, Let us love God above all and seek to accomplish His Holy Will.
Our pilgrimage as Orthodox Christians of North America, our journey as the Orthodox Church in America, starts with the arrival of Orthodox missionary monks in Alaska. Among them was a holy man—a man living a holy life and making a holy witness.
As our journey unfolded through time, the identity of the Orthodox Church in America was revealed. We were tested and tried, we faced times of trouble, we faced crises and achieved successes. Let’s reflect together on our journey. Perhaps we will discover what today constitutes our identity.
The January 2021 Schmemann Lecture delivered by Mr. Rod Dreher, a Senior Editor of The American Conservative, has provoked bewilderment and objections especially among former students of Father Alexander. Was Dreher—neither an academic nor a theologian but a polemical journalist who proclaims it pointless to “dialogue” with Orthodox progressives—the appropriate person to deliver a lecture named in honor of the late archpriest? Not, certainly, if one compares the scholarly and ecclesial standing of Dreher to previous Schmemann lecturers. Does the warm, even apparently tight embrace of Dreher by the current President of St. Vladimir’s Seminary, Archpriest Chad Hatfield, signify an already accomplished “culture war” transmogrification of the seminary and portend further hardline, divisively ideological efforts to reorient the whole OCA? The answer to the first question seemed evident enough to provoke a letter of protest from a number of anxious alumni to the seminary’s board of trustees. But a plausible answer to the second question requires considerably more effort—an informed and judicious reading of many ecclesiastical signs, a dangerous task that few OCA clerics would be equipped or eager to undertake publicly. The recently provoked band of objectors seems confronted by a debilitating choice: naively continuing by impotent complaints to close the barn door after the horses have fled, or bravely and equanimously—but perhaps foolhardily (as many will surely think)—enlisting themselves among those who speak the neuralgic truth because it is the truth. Are there many people who want to listen much less act upon the latter?
Gregory Thompson, a Protestant pastor, who is himself an academically trained theologian, has written an extensive and trenchant critique of Dreher’s most recent book: see Comment, “Return of the Cold Warrior: Reflections on Rod Dreher’s Live not by Lies,” December 3rd 2020. Dreher’s book, the proximate source of his Schmemann Lecture, rhetorically targets the “soft totalitarianism” menacing American culture: in Thompson’s description, the “progressive, illiberal, and anti-religious ideology rooted in the Marxist tradition” Thompson, however, details what he considers to be four egregiously ruinous errors in Dreher’s “Cold War,” fearful political theology. It is: (1) a morally black and white, Manichean account of history; (2) an ideological division of persons into godless progressivist villains and godly conservative victims; (3) an instrumental and tendentious use of people identified as allies; and (4) a self-confirming projection of Dreher’s own politicized religiosity but a reductively escapist account of the Church’s mission. All of these themes can be found in his recent Schmemann lecture.