In some respects, the global coronavirus crisis has brought to light ruptures that in normal times were often dismissed as marginal problems of small groups. Unresolved and underestimated social injustices became obvious and were recognized as threatening more than just the existence of the respective groups. A similar effect of the coronavirus crisis can also be observed for the Churches. Many conflict issues of the past years were dismissed as opinions of small groups or of particularly liberal or conservative individuals. Accordingly, solution processes were postponed. For the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC), this is true especially of the question of how to relate to modern society in the 21st century. The Church—despite growing requests—felt secure in its symphonic interaction with the political elite and in its role as moral authority in an increasingly complicated, globalized world. In this respect, the ROC was able to see itself as unquestionably relevant to the system.
In conflicts, the Church’s leadership often reacted incomprehensibly, even irreconcilably and hard-heartedly. This attitude was particularly justified by the alleged and yet so-difficult-to-prove existence of a fundamentalist wing within the ROC. Arch-conservative circles could cause a split within the Church, and the patriarch would only try to keep all currents together and prevent a split. The same happened in view of the spread of Covid-19: the indecision of the Church leaders in Russia and Belarus, but also in other Orthodox countries like Georgia or Serbia, was justified among other things by possible tensions within the Churches.
During a conference on the crisis in Orthodoxy caused by the establishment of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, several participants used the concept of a “frozen conflict” to describe the “stable unresolved conflict” (Georgij Kovalenko). Given that the term is commonly used for several deadlocked conflicts on the territory of the former Soviet Union with crucial participation of Russia, it seems plausible to link the conflict around the Ukrainian church to this concept. Yet, at least in two regards, the description of the conflict in Orthodoxy as a “frozen conflict” fails. First, the conflict is not frozen. The conflict between the churches is quite hot, with both sides using all possible means to establish their superiority and blame the other for recent tensions. Moreover, the armed conflict in Ukraine continues and people are dying on the frontline almost every day—a fact we all must not forget. Second, the church usually refuses to be judged with political concepts, claiming that the way the church deals with conflict should transcend the worldly manner.
Nevertheless, the fact that theologians try to frame the conflict within the political concept of a “frozen conflict” points to the helplessness to find ways to make sense of this painful situation. Therefore, it is worth taking a closer look at the concept to find out how experts construct perspectives for such deadlocked conflicts. I would like to focus on three noteworthy aspects. Continue reading →
The International Orthodox Theological Association (IOTA) as the largest meeting of Orthodox theologians from all over the world was a remarkable event not only for the Orthodox world but also for a Catholic theologian engaged with Orthodox theology. As my own research focuses on (Russian) Orthodox socio-ethical thinking, and current issues of the good life of the community challenge Orthodox as well as Catholic theology, the program of IOTA was very promising.
IOTA has launched several working groups to structure the organization of the conference and of the future work of IOTA. Several groups are committed to ethical questions, and their order illustrates quite aptly the enigma of Orthodox social ethics. Most prominent, there is a Moral Theology and Theological Anthropology Group. Other sessions on ethical issues were organized by the groups on edcclesiology; Orthodoxy in the Public Square and Media; Political Theology; and Orthodoxy, Politics, and International Relations. Furthermore, the groups on education, science, women, missiology, and ecumenical dialogue tackle some aspects of the question, too.
Surprisingly, the topic of social ethics was not mentioned at any point. Does that mean that there is no systematic, fundamental dealing with the theological vision of the structures of modern human society? There were various approaches on issues like human rights, ecology, economics, international relations, discrimination, violence and so on, yet there is no group and no session on social ethics. Why is that so? Continue reading →