by Aristotle Papanikolaou | ελληνικά | ру́сский
Amidst the culture wars, the word “traditionalist” has gained currency and has been co-opted in a variety of ways. Broadly, it is a self-naming mostly by those who identify as religious and are seemingly faithful to their religious tradition in the face of attacks either against religion in general or by others within their religious tradition who challenge various givens of that tradition. For the Orthodox Christian crowd, a very simple example would suffice: a self-named traditionalist would typically oppose the ordination of women to the diaconate, while a non-traditionalist—usually called, pejoratively, a liberal—might challenge the givenness of the non-ordination of women.
An extension of “traditionalist” is “traditional values,” which has come to mean a very select set of “values” related to gender and sexuality. “Traditional values” has very recently become a transnational slogan, which cuts across the East-West divide, since there are Westerners (American Evangelicals) making alliances with Easterners (Russian Orthodox actors) in order to advance “traditional values” through established national and international legal structures.
The meaning of “traditional values” has been further amplified with the neologism: “Orthodox morality.” I say neologism, because never in the history of Christianity—at least Orthodox Christianity—has the word “Orthodox” functioned as an adjective for “morality.” Never. This neologism has a very non-traditionalist—dare I say, modern—ring to it. It may appeal to those attracted to a version of the so-called “Benedict Option,” but this Donatist logic of purity was condemned a long time ago by the Church.
My thesis is very simple: the use of the word “traditionalist” and its derivative forms (“Orthodox morality,” “traditional values”) is philosophically untenable, i.e., it’s wrong. Continue reading
by Aristotle Papanikolaou | ελληνικά | ру́сский | српски
It is the Annunciation, the Euaggelismos, the Announcing of the Good News to Mary that she will bear the Christ child whom she will name Jesus; the day of the Incarnation, the day God became human in the form of a man. We celebrate this story on March 25th.
Our Orthodox tradition very much affirms that on this day God became human, that Jesus who was conceived on this day is paradoxically God and man. This belief in the incarnation of God in the man Jesus—as it says in the creed, “incarnate by the Holy Spirit,” that is by the power of the Holy Spirit—is not an easy one to affirm. In fact, I would say that over the past few centuries, it has fallen into disfavor. One reason is that a scientific standard of truth has prevailed since the 17th century and the idea that God can become human is something that has never been observed before, nor is it something that is scientifically verifiable. In an age where trust is given to that which can be verified, that for which we can provide proof or evidence, the belief in God becoming human in a particular individual is something which simply cannot meet that standard of truth. Even before the Scientific Revolution, it wasn’t something easy to believe. A study of early Christian writings reveals that the Greek philosophers did not find such a belief very reasonable.
Yet much is at stake in its affirmation or its denial. What I wish to suggest is that what is at stake is the very essence of Christianity itself. Continue Reading…
by Aristotle Papanikolaou | ελληνικά | ру́сский | српски
The primary goal of the Orthodox Christian is to struggle toward theosis—deification. The word theosis often conjures up images of a super hero like Thor or a Greek god like Zeus. When St. Athanasius proclaimed that “God became human so that humans can become gods,” he was not envisioning super-human strength, nor was he envisioning a life of moral perfection. To become like God is to love as God loves, which means, as Jesus proclaimed, even the enemy and the stranger. The struggle for theosis is one that entails a learning how to love. It is often so very difficult to love even our parents, siblings, friends—imagine now learning how to love the enemy and the stranger.
This learning how to love ultimately entails seeing all human beings as created in the image of God. This is not as easy as it seems. It’s one thing to declare that all humans are created in the image of God; it’s another thing to form oneself in such a way that such a belief is evident in our thoughts, feelings, actions—our very being toward the other person, especially the one who is different from us. Continue Reading…
by Aristotle Papanikolaou | ру́сский
On the day of our Lord’s Transfiguration, whose feast day is celebrated on August 6th, Jesus took with him three disciples, Peter, John and James (Mt 17:1-9; Mk 9:2-8; Lk 9:28-36). They are at the ‘high’ mountain, which is often a place of revelation in the Bible, and at this mountain Jesus is transfigured. St. Matthew tells us, “He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light.” St. Luke narrates that the “appearance of His face was altered, and His robe became white and glistening.” St. Mark says, “His clothes became shining, exceedingly white, like snow, such as no launderer on earth can whiten them.”
The story, in short, teaches us about what the Church has affirmed for centuries: the divinity of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the God-man, truly God and truly human. As Rowans Williams so eloquently puts it, “Jesus’ human life is shot through with God’s life, he is carried on the tide of God’s eternal life, and borne towards us on that tide, bringing with him all the fullness of the creator” (The Dwelling of the Light, 6).
The other thing that we learn from the story of Jesus’s transfiguration concerns us, our humanity. The story of the Transfiguration teaches us what we are called to be, the reason for our creation. Continue Reading…