Tag Archives: Maximus the Confessor

Nomadland: The Heavenly Homecoming of the Nomads

by Dionysios Skliris | български | ქართული | Română | Русский | Српски

The original Greek version of this article was published in the site “Polymeros kai Polytropos” of the Volos Academy for Theological Studies.

Shot from Nomadland

The film Nomadland (2020) offers a spiritual glimpse into America, especially into the Western states, with the help of Chloé Zhao, a young director from China. This is a road movie in the most spiritual sense of the term, where making a road trip is a way to deal with bereavement as well as with feeling useless in a difficult age just before retirement. The film takes place in 2011, during the first years of the economic crisis that had started in 2008. The protagonist of the movie is Fern, a 60-year-old woman who had just lost her husband, but also her work, after the US Gypsum plant in Empire, Nevada shut down. Each loss is also a painful liberation, and Fern decides to sell her belongings in order to buy a van and cross the country in search of seasonal jobs. The film is based on a documentary by Jessica Bruder on the subcultures of van-dwellers who move from state to state in search of work in the context of the precarity that is inherent in late capitalism. However, the director Chloé Zhao has added her personal existential touch. The film has been very influential in this difficult year of lockdown. This is also reflected in the many awards it has received, including an Oscar, a Golden Globe, and a Golden Lion for Best Picture, as well as an Oscar for best director and an Oscar for best actress in a leading role (Frances McDormand).

The van-dwelling culture

Fern is in a difficult age: too old to start her life anew with the vigour of youth, too young to retire. She belongs to a new generation of out-of-works among the middle-aged and those who are at the threshold of the third age. For the latter, it is very difficult to acquire the new skills needed to respond to the dynamic form of contemporary work relations, and thus they succumb to the low self-esteem of unbearable uselessness. Fern, however, combines an openness to life, including its failures and frustrations, with an unexpected dynamism. After a seasonal job at Amazon, she is invited to the Arizona desert, where Bob Wells leads a community that offers help to these new nomads, teaching them basic survival rules in this postmodern version of the Wild West. In many aspects, this is a community of moribunds, for example, people with late-stage cancer. The latter are, however, readier than Fern both for death and for temporary survival in the wild life of these new anchorites. Some of the nomads give naturalistic meanings to death, according to a death coaching that is but the natural consummation of life coaching, as a training for achieving a “successful” death that would be the coronation of a successful life. Nevertheless, other people, such as Bob Wells, invest in love toward unknown fellow men and women, telling them what they didn’t have the chance to tell people that they have lost. In the unknown people of the nomadic communities, they find “images” of the departed; they regard life as a way, where one can find again the loved ones either in other persons or even, as the film alludes, in the continuation of the life-trip in an after-life beyond death.

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Rethinking Patristic Categories? A Response to Petre Maican

by Fr. David G. Bissias

Terry Schiavo

If it were not well-intentioned, Petre Maican’s article “Image and Likeness and Profound Cognitive Disability: Rethinking Patristic Categories” (published on Public Orthodoxy, July 2, 2019), could be offensive. In the final analysis, it is simply misguided due to several failures: of coherency, doctrinal perspective, and a failure to grasp the full “spectrum of human existence” for which he rightly expresses concern.

Maican’s argument is unconvincing for several reasons. It is summarized in a few sentences from his opening paragraph:

Is it useful to speak about image and likeness in the cases of persons with profound intellectual disabilities? I think not. Especially, when the main requirement for attaining likeness is ethical freedom. As I will point out further, since the movement from image to likeness is dependent on the use of freedom, persons with profound cognitive disabilities are excluded from attaining the goal of their own existence, perfection in Christ.[1]

Maican properly believes a “robust” Orthodox anthropology must affirm why any person, including the profoundly disabled, “should live” and why such a life is “worth it.” Continue reading

Would the True “Nature” Please Stand Up?

by Rev. Dr. Vasileios Thermos

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.

Thomas Aquinas

Does anyone still believe that the biblical “confusion of tongues” (cf. Gen 11:1–9) refers only to the proliferation of human languages? Popular discussions about homosexuality and gender dysphoria today suggest, similarly, that what seemed commonplace about human sexuality to previous generations is not so common anymore.

Contemporary moral objections to phenomena like homosexuality or gender dysphoria often rely on what we might call the “nature argument”: “this is unnatural,” “this is against nature,” and so on. Such an argument is not confined to those outside the Church. Orthodox Christians, too, make it. Indeed, one crucial hindrance to the Orthodox Church’s efforts to shape a more constructive attitude towards homosexuals and trans people is the idea of “nature” held by many of her members.

Should the Orthodox Church, however, cherish the same logic used by those outside the Church, some of whom invoke the nature argument not only to exclude homosexuals and trans people but also to rationalize hostility or even violence towards them? Is Orthodox theology at all compatible with such an idea of “nature”? Continue reading

Meeting Michelle: Pastoral and Theological Reflections on a Transgender Inmate

by Fr. Richard René

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.

In 2016, the prison where I was working as a chaplain received a transgender inmate named Michelle, who is serving a life sentence for rape and murder in his late teens, when he identified as “Michael.”

Not surprisingly, Michelle’s arrival had a significant impact on the institutional staff. Many felt helpless and uncertain as to how to engage with her on any level. Others simply viewed her as a “piece of garbage,” the personification of evil and degeneracy. As an Orthodox priest serving in this secular context, I was not immune to the challenge that her presence posed. For instance, policy prohibited me from refusing to use her chosen name and gender pronouns. Beyond wanting to keep my job, I complied for two reasons. First, I could not engage with her pastorally if I could not speak to her, and she would not speak with me unless I addressed her by the name she had chosen.

More than that, though, I have called this person Michelle and used feminine pronouns (even in this context) because I believe there is something essentially mysterious about her identity, which may well be tied to transgenderism. Continue reading