by Michael G. Azar
Amid the growth of Islamist persecution in the last few years, a variety of think tanks and politicians have sought to bring the plight of Christians in the Middle East to the forefront of American politics. Amid such fervor, Israeli leaders have also claimed their role in the defense of Christians. Prime Minister Netanyahu recently told a Jerusalem gathering of over 180 Christian media representatives that Israel is the protector of the Christian people and “the only place in the Middle East” where Christians have “the freedom to worship as they please.” Together, he explained, Christians and Israel stand against Islamic fundamentalism. Indeed, many American Christians concur.
A likely reason why this media gathering, organized by Netanyahu’s Press Office, featured prominent Israeli officials and a visit to Israeli settlements, but no local Christian representatives nor visits to local Christian villages, is that most Christians of the Holy Land do not share the rosy view of the State of Israel that Netanyahu’s government wishes to promote. So why the disconnect? Continue reading
Rev. Dr. Michael G. Azar, Elizabeth Theokritoff, Very Rev. Dr. Harry Linsinbigler
Reflecting Jesus’s own Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5–7)—a passage which has been and remains the standard of Orthodox Christian ethics—the preconciliar document, “The Importance of Fasting and Its Observance Today”, carefully balances two points: first, the Church’s emphasis on admittedly “lofty” fasting standards (cf. §5) and, second, the practical adoption of these standards among the faithful. With regard to the former, the document thoughtfully resists the temptation to ignore “the value of the fast” (§8) by becoming more lax in fasting rules; with regard to the latter, the document exhorts the Church to treat “instances where the sacred prescriptions of fasting are loosened” with “pastoral care,” with a particular, and much appreciated, freedom given to local Orthodox Churches “to determine how to exercise philanthropic oikonomia and empathy” (§8). As Jesus does not seek to conceal the difficult standards to which God calls us in his commandments, so also he exhorts his people both to avoid prideful and boastful asceticism (Luke 18:10–14) and to be merciful as God himself is (Luke 6:36).
Yet, despite the numerous ways that this document supports and carries forward the Orthodox tradition of, and justification for, fasting, it also bears a surprisingly un-Orthodox feature: Continue Reading…
By Dn. Michael G. Azar
(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 ecumenical relations.)
In various contemporary academic, political and religious discussions, what is often taken or presented as “the Christian” teaching or practice is not always something shared by Orthodox. In both official as well as unofficial contexts, the perspectives commonly labeled as “Christian” might sound Roman Catholic, but not Orthodox; or Baptist, but not Orthodox. Such is sometimes the case in university classrooms and in academic societies; in ecclesial and interreligious gatherings; in capitol buildings and campaign trails; in internationally respected media as well as sensational punditry.
The Orthodox Church’s active and ongoing ecumenical engagement, on all levels from patriarch to parishioner, can serve to nuance this frequent misrepresentation, or at least “other Christian traditions”-centered presentation, of Christianity. Continue Reading…