Our current pandemic has brought us face-to-face with the reality of human mortality, our susceptibility to disease and death. We no longer confront death in the abstract: its long hand has reached out to our communities and, in some cases, even touched our families. In our big extended family called the Church, we have become more aware of our common brokenness, and we are called to become more compassionate, more responsive to each other’s needs.
Throughout the Church’s history, communities that have been visited by similar or greater disasters, including “famine, plague, earthquake, flood, fire, and sword,” have always asked for divine protection in prayer. In addition to imploring God for protection, their members in the past and today have wondered, where is God amidst horrendous human suffering? And why would God allow suffering on such an astonishing scale?
The Holy and Great Council of Crete (2016) demonstrated that pan-Orthodox gatherings are possible in our time. The Council also made manifest global Orthodoxy’s enduring tensions and divisions. The delegation of the Patriarchate of Antioch did not attend the Council primarily because of its broken communion with the Patriarchate of Jerusalem. The delegation of the Russian Orthodox Church did not attend the Council because of its tensions with the Ecumenical Patriarchate, which have now escalated into the Moscow Patriarchate’s unilaterally breaking the communion with Constantinople.
Our geopolitical quarrels have turned us inward; they have drained our financial resources; they have distorted our spiritual compass and diminished the potential of the Church’s salvific mission. Nevertheless, the Holy and Great Council has awakened a desire for a more connected global Orthodoxy in the hearts of many. Despite our divisions, the conciliar spirit is afoot. It is time to become the Church of the Councils not only in theory, but also in practice.
Responding to the call of the conciliar spirit, in February 2017 a group of Orthodox scholars and professionals created the International Orthodox Theological Association, or IOTA. Continue reading →
Our pop culture is presently awash with books offering assistance in the “pursuit of happiness.” A search for “happiness” on amazon.com produces nearly 250,000 results, with books ranging from The Positivity Kit (“instant happiness on every page”), to a volume that more realistically guarantees to make you 10% Happier, to a teen’s guide How to Like Yourself, to How to Be Happy in an Unhappy World, to Happiness is a Serious Problem, to, finally, Authentic Happiness. Then there is more specialized literature, such as The Happiness Diet (featuring a yummy chocolate-dipped strawberry on the cover), The Weight of Happiness (combining both a diet and an exercise program), Financial Happine$$ (with the appropriate dollar signs), and of course, Complete Guide to Sexual Happiness after Age 60 (this one is self-explanatory). Should you feel cheated in this brave new world, there are also titles such as Who Stole My Happiness? and even The Happiness Trap. The books that tap into the spiritual dimension of happiness generally serve “religion lite,” such as Gratitude Works!, which assures us that becoming more grateful helps with depression. While there are notable exceptions, the vast majority of self-help books confidently locate happiness in this life and this world.
In contrast, the Christian understanding of salvation, as it is traditionally expressed, involves everlasting life and the reality that transcends this world, namely, the kingdom of God. Continue Reading…
In the effort to draw the world’s attention to the refugee crisis, Patriarch Bartholomew invited Pope Francis to meet on the island of Lesbos on Saturday, April 16, 2016. This is the fifth meeting between the Pope and the Ecumenical Patriarch in the last three years, beginning with Bartholomew’s unprecedented participation at Francis’ inauguration in March 2013. The primary purpose of the meeting on Lesbos was for the Pope and the Patriarch to demonstrate to the world their profound solidarity with the plight of migrants and refugees that have been flooding this Greek island since the breakout of the war in Syria. Leading by example, the two primates ate together with those whose lives had been disrupted by war. Such a demonstration of humility is yet another attempt to nudge the Catholic and the Orthodox churches in the direction of unity.