Not all critiques of secular liberalism over the past fifty years have involved flirtations with fascism, but in the apocalypse (literally, the unveiling) that Putin’s war on Ukraine has been, we can see more than ever the horrific consequences of not clearly separating the two.
In January 1975, Fr. Alexander Schmemann, dean of St. Vladimir’s seminary at the time, signed the Hartford Appeal, initiated by the future founder and editor of First Things, John Richard Neuhaus. The declaration named thirteen “pervasive, false, and debilitating” trends its signatories considered characteristic of the age, among them the idea that in comparison to “all past forms of understanding reality,” “modern thought is superior” and “normative for Christian faith and life.” The Hartford Appeal was an early instance of what Andrey Shishkov has called “conservative ecumenism.” It was a joint statement of Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant Christians critical of liberalizing, secularizing trends in society and religion.
Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority had yet to be formed in 1975. Among the 25 religious leaders who signed the Hartford Appeal were Peter Berger and Stanley Hauerwas, names little if at all associated with Christian conservatism today. Also notable in light of ascendant anti-democratic tendencies of Christian conservatives of recent years is Schmemann’s great gratitude for the freedoms afforded by liberal democratic society. In this he differed from Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, whose worldview Schmemann in his Journals described after their first meeting in 1974: “Absolute denial of democracy. Yes to monarchy” (p. 43).
From the opening pages of Rod Dreher’s Live Not by Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents (Sentinel, 2020), the assumption is that the lies which most threaten to engulf Christians today are those coming from the cultural and political Left. Political correctness, cancel culture, anti-racist kinds of training, gender theory, the “cult of social justice”—all treated by Dreher as comprising together a single system of lies—are what he says Christians must remain vigilant against and refuse to participate in. To help strengthen them in this resistance Dreher commends to his primarily North American readers the examples of remarkable 20th century Christian dissidents of Eastern Europe who stood up against totalitarian regimes. Some are familiar figures like Alexander Soltzenhitzyn (from whose 1974 essay addressing the Russian people comes the admonition to “live not by lies”), Václav Havel, and Karol Wojtyla. Others are less familiar, among them Croatian Jesuit priest Tomislav Poglajen Kolaković, Russian Orthodox dissident Alexander Ogorodnikov, Russian Baptist pastor Yuri Sipko, and Czech Catholic mathematician and human rights activist Václav Benda. Dreher offers moving accounts of these and other heroic figures and extracts considerable wisdom from their writings and from the recollections of those he has interviewed who knew them.
In a moment of unprecedented closings and cancellations, how should the Orthodox Church and her members faithfully navigate the risks and complexities of the COVID-19 pandemic? For many Orthodox jurisdictions and individuals, the pandemic is an opportunity to show a panicked world the extraordinary steadiness of the Orthodox faith and of those who uphold it. One of the ways of doing this is by continuing to hold services as we always do, kissing icons and receiving the Eucharist with a common spoon as we always do. The recent directive of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese asking parishioners to venerate icons by bowing before them without touching one’s mouth to them (much as we temporarily refrain from kissing those in the flesh whom we love not only if they’re ill but if we are, or have reason to be concerned we could be) has been received by many Orthodox Christians both within the GOA and outside it as an egregious accommodation to the spirit of fear abroad in the world. In the blogosphere and elsewhere there is indeed much talk of how we are people of faith and not of fear.
In a 2015 address at the University of Munich, Metropolitan John Zizioulas observed that “[t]he agenda of Theology is set by history.” By “history” he meant the concerns and questions particular to a given age, as he underscores in adding, “This was known to the Fathers of the Church who were in constant dialogue with their time.”
If the Church’s theology must accept the questions of history in order to be vital and serve humanity, the same is not true of the conclusions history may hurriedly reach. Christians have sometimes not readily enough accepted history’s questions and sometimes too readily accepted its answers. Of relevance to this dynamic is how Church teaching is understood—specifically, in relation to the place of dialogue in the Church.
When in the flow of history an issue erupts, becoming a real question for human beings, the fact that there is already Church teaching on it—if that is the case—can be taken to mean it is unnecessary and even impermissible for Christians to take it seriously as a question. Instead of rediscovering and deepening the teaching through the question, those who appeal to the teaching in order to beat the question back cannot really speak to the question the present age has posed, because they have not entered into it in a sufficiently real and searching way. Continue Reading…