by Emma Brown Dewhurst
When we try to be virtuous, what are we trying to do? People have different ideas about what the virtues are, and some virtues even seem to contradict each other. Some people consider justice to be a virtue, but, as St Isaac the Syrian points out in his Homily 51, isn’t mercy also a virtue, and how can you be merciful while trying to dispense justice? How do we decide which virtues we ought to live by and how they ought to be interpreted?
St Maximus the Confessor (580-662AD) answers a similar question put to him by a monk, in his Ascetic Life. The monk asks “And who, Father, can do all the commandments? There are so many.” Maximus responds:
This is the sign of our love for God, as the Lord Himself shows in the Gospels: He that loves me, He says, will keep my commandments. And what this commandment is, which if we keep we love Him, hear Him tell: This is my commandment, that you love one another. Do you see that this love for one another makes firm the love for God? (The Ascetic Life, 107; PG90 917A.)
This passage tells us something interesting. It tells us that all the ethical directives we’ve got, be they the commandments, the virtues, or any other parts of Scripture, all conform to love. They are all a kind of love. We are not being asked to do a hundred different things, we are being asked to do one thing, which is to love. Continue reading
By Brandon Gallaher
(This essay was originally delivered as a public talk at the June 2015 Fordham/OTSA conference on the upcoming Great and Holy Council of the Orthodox Church. It was part of a panel on “The Contribution of the Orthodox Church to the Realization of Justice, Freedom, Brotherhood, and Love among Peoples.”)
There is no one topic that is more important than any other for the Council to consider. What is crucial is that it speaks clearly and sympathetically to this moment from the light of Christ that illumines all. Too often we Orthodox speak to the modern world from a sort of nostalgic Byzantinism or an angry certainty when what is needed are the healing and wise words of the Gospel for those whose consciousness is “modern” or “post-modern.” By these terms I mean that the default understanding of reality for contemporary man, including the average Orthodox, involves a disparate and competing plurality of truths as well as a conception of the human being as essentially plastic with no divine end. In our teaching and worship, our ecclesial self-consciousness is “pre-modern.” Part of this self-consciousness is the awareness of a world radiating with the Word and words of God. It is also includes the belief that by contemplating Scripture and the words in their communion with the Word that we can attain to ‘the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ’ (Eph. 4:13). But we rarely attempt to translate this consciousness into the language of the age in which we live or ask whether we might obtain new insights about Orthodoxy from modernity (e.g. gay marriage, evolution). Continue Reading…