It should go without saying that the current COVID-19 crisis combined with challenging social issues and a contentious political environment is a time for prayerful and meaningful pastoral guidance. We have seen many of our Orthodox hierarchs, leaders, and theologians engage with the challenging issues of our time, both with sincere and substantive reflection as well as guidance from the foundation of our faith in God and our calling to be witnesses of the Gospel.
One timely example has been the publication of For the Life of the World: Toward a Social Ethos of the Orthodox Church. Within this document is the reminder that as Christians we are called to be engaged with the world in which we live—to be aware of the needs of those around us, to act in love with sacrifice, and to demonstrate the power of grace through our faith in God. Addressing engagement with some of the greatest needs in our world the authors state:
Democracy and the separation of church and state are relatively new for the Orthodox Church. From both derive the many challenges the Church in America encounters as it stands unfettered in the political arena.
Paraphrasing the British historian and theologian G.L. Prestige, the concept, let alone the reality, of a political atheist was unknown until the modern era. Prior to the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, God, politics, and the Church were inseparable.
Father Georges Florovsky has shown that as Christianity expanded throughout the empire, the Church was faced with two options: to either remain in the world/empire and contribute to the development and improvement of the body politic or to retreat into the desert. By the time of Constantine’s conversion to Christianity the Church found itself at a crossroads. It had to grapple with Christ’s kingdom not being of this world (Jn.18: 36) and the reality of an emerging Christian empire with a Christian emperor at its head.
With the Church facing the crossroads of empire and desert two concurrent foundations were laid. The first was a Christian political philosophy upon which would be built a Christian state and culture. The other was its antithesis, manifested primarily in the monastic movement, which would serve as a continuous reminder to the Church that its true home and sovereign were elsewhere. Continue reading →
It is obvious that the fall of communism made the Orthodox face issues regarding democratic secularism. By secularism, I mean not the decline-of-religion meaning, which has been completely discredited, but secularism understood as pluralism, according to Aristotle Papanikolaou, as he defined it recently at his keynote lecture, “A Christian Secularism,” at the conference, “Religion in Public Life,” held annually in Trebinje, Herzegovina. Noting that an attempt was made in some of the Orthodox countries to reinstate a kind of symphonia model, whose origin could be traced back to the Byzantine period, he points out that, due to the various occupations—Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian, communist—there was virtually never an opportunity to address the issue.
Nonetheless, there were a few exceptions; one is a nation-building process of Serbia, in the late 19th and early 20th century. With slow but sustainable devolution from the Ottoman Empire, ending in the 1861 de facto independence and the 1878 de jure independence, the Kingdom of Serbia, without a doubt an Orthodox country, experienced profound dilemmas in the nation-building process, development of institutions, and organizing society. The magnitude of the dilemmas increased because the Serbian national liberation and independence political project was indigenous, without any European or other sponsor nation. Continue Reading…