In a recent piece in the New York Times, Jamelle Bouie writes:
Our society was built on the racial segmentation of personhood. Some people were full humans, guaranteed non-enslavement, secured from expropriation and given the protection of law, and some people – blacks, Natives and other nonwhites – were not. That unequal distribution of personhood was an economic reality as well. It shaped your access to employment and capital; determined whether you would be doomed to the margins of labor or given access to its elevated ranks; marked who might share in the bounty of capitalist production and who would most likely be cast out as disposable. (“Beyond ‘White Fragility’“)
These words are a vivid backdrop for reflecting on the economics of Father Sergius Bulgakov (1871-1944). They provide the social parameters for appreciating the insights of one of the most profound and creative Orthodox theologians of the 20th century. While Bulgakov does not pretend to solve the problem of poverty, he offers a prophetic voice for how the Church can address, in an industrialized context, the social structures that foster it. He extends the work of previous pastor theologians who recognized that social structures perpetuate social and economic disparity.
Much has been written and posted on line lately about Holy Communion and how it is to be distributed/received vis-à-vis the COVID-19 crisis. In light of this, it is interesting that little attention has been paid to the relationship between faith and reason. The overriding reason for this omission is related to an understanding of the Eucharist and how it is distributed. As the body and blood of Christ, the Eucharist has repeatedly been held up as being immune from transmitting contagion. As a result, any discussion about whether the Eucharist and its distribution is susceptible to receiving and transmitting contagion is perceived as suspicious, heretical, and therefore a rebellion against the very core of Orthodox faith and life. Must the use of reason be discarded when it comes to matters of faith? Based on our history, it is clear that deeply embedded in the tradition of the Orthodox Church there is the emphasis on the necessary co-existence and interdependence of faith and reason. Together they provide the basis for a living piety expressed in true worship. The following is an attempt to show the interrelationship of faith and reason and how their separation moves Christianity towards myth and superstition.
“Faith is what gives fullness to our reasoning,” says St. Gregory of Nazianzus (Or. 29). However, for faith to fulfill our reasoning it must be living. It must be continuously put to the test by reason just as reason must recognize its own limitations when brought before the transcendent. Faith and reason maintain a necessary synergy that allows for the articulation of the encounter with the living God.
Democracy and the separation of church and state are relatively new for the Orthodox Church. From both derive the many challenges the Church in America encounters as it stands unfettered in the political arena.
Paraphrasing the British historian and theologian G.L. Prestige, the concept, let alone the reality, of a political atheist was unknown until the modern era. Prior to the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, God, politics, and the Church were inseparable.
Father Georges Florovsky has shown that as Christianity expanded throughout the empire, the Church was faced with two options: to either remain in the world/empire and contribute to the development and improvement of the body politic or to retreat into the desert. By the time of Constantine’s conversion to Christianity the Church found itself at a crossroads. It had to grapple with Christ’s kingdom not being of this world (Jn.18: 36) and the reality of an emerging Christian empire with a Christian emperor at its head.
With the Church facing the crossroads of empire and desert two concurrent foundations were laid. The first was a Christian political philosophy upon which would be built a Christian state and culture. The other was its antithesis, manifested primarily in the monastic movement, which would serve as a continuous reminder to the Church that its true home and sovereign were elsewhere. Continue reading →
The authors of ‘The Mission of the Orthodox Church in Today’s World’ are to be commended for framing our shared ecclesial mission as one of making present the eschatological hope of the new creation in which “race, gender, age, social, or any other condition” are no bar to shared eucharistic celebration. The document rightly reminds us that “the purpose of the incarnation … is the deification of the human person” which establishes the dignity of all persons, and demands its protection. As co-workers with God, the church and its members enter into “common service together with all people of good will,” seeking to establish peace, justice (3, 6), and social solidarity (6.4, 6.5, 6.6), gifts of the Holy Spirit which come from God (3.2) but “also depend on human synergy” (3.3). These gifts, and this work, is required for the flourishing of human dignity. Continue Reading…