by David Bradshaw
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.
Here is a little thought experiment. Suppose a pill is invented that enables you to eat whatever you want without getting fat. It is cheap, does not require a prescription, and has no bad side-effects. For good measure, let us suppose that it maintains muscle tone as well, so it lets you stay in shape without needing to exercise.
Would you take the pill?
If you answered yes, and you are Orthodox, then I would urge you to think again. Surely nothing is more antithetical to Orthodox ascetic and spiritual teaching than to think that we can off-load the problem of maintaining self-discipline onto a pill. If anything, Orthodoxy adds hard challenges that are not physically necessary. We “afflict ourselves” with fasts, vigils, and long prayers in ways that are decidedly contrary to the ethos of the world around us. We do so because we recognize that a spirit of self-denial is essential to the spiritual life. If we cannot forego a little food for the sake of Christ, we are not likely to be able to overcome the subtler temptations that come at us every day. Continue reading
by Carrie Frederick Frost
About a decade ago I found myself pregnant with triplets halfway through work on a PhD in theology at the University of Virginia. My husband and I had thought long and hard about having a third child, so the joke was on us when—to our total surprise—we learned at a routine ultrasound that I was carrying not just our third child, but also our fourth and fifth. One of my many reactions to this news was to write a book.
Admittedly, penning a work of incarnational theology many not be the typical reaction to a triplet pregnancy, but there’s really nothing typical about a triplet pregnancy. For me, even though I had been a mother of two for several years already, the prospect of a trifecta of infants raised the spiritual stakes of motherhood: I was deeply driven to know more about how motherhood was understood within the Orthodox Christian theological tradition. Continue reading
by Carrie Frederick Frost
Material piety was central to the early Church and it flourishes to this day within Orthodox Christianity. That Christians would love the material, created world makes perfect sense—their God took on matter in order to appear in the world of His creation. And early Christians understood that their path to God would be walked in that world; embodied as a human, among the other animals, alongside the trees, over the earth, beneath the sky.
Early Christians expressed this love for matter through their ornamentation of the catacombs of Rome, which were places not just of burial of the dead, but of gathering, of worship, and of praise. The same goes for outside spaces in later centuries, when noble women gathered in cemeteries to care for the graves and their park-like surroundings. The faithful also crafted religious objects: rings, bracelets, and ampullae for oil from holy sites, thus feeding their proclivity for, as Robert Wilken calls it, tactile piety: “worship with the lips and fingertips.” Continue Reading…