Eunomia · ecumenism

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Of course, faithfulness to the truth of the Great Tradition, not organizational continuity, is what counts most. My point is simply that those who value classical faith will increasingly engage with Orthodox churches, which incarnate the Great Tradition day by day as a living tradition. I’m not arguing that the Great Tradition is the exclusive property of the Eastern Orthodox Church. It is not. Early church fathers, mothers, ascetics, councils, creeds, art, music, and spirituality are the rightful heritage of all orthodox Christians—Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox alike. There is no room here for Orthodox triumphalism or romanticism. All orthodox believers share a common ecumenical heritage. But few historians would dispute the conclusion that in comparison to the 20,000 Protestant denominations in existence today, the Orthodox community can most justifiably claim to be the fullest heir apparent of the Great Tradition. ~Bradley Nassif

Via Rod Dreher

I think Prof. Nassif’s is right when he suggests that those inclined to study early Church history and the formative centuries of Christian doctrinal development are probably going to be drawn to Orthodoxy.  Certainly, there is a much greater likelihood that a thorough study of early doctrine will draw someone to Orthodoxy or Catholicism once he recognises that formal statements of doctrine do not conflict with Scripture and are, in fact, a reaffirmation of the same truths expressed  in the technical language of theological definitions.  He will be drawn to one or the other of these confessions when he becomes familiar with the truth that most of the literary production of the Fathers is made up of commentary on the meaning of Scripture and that most serious doctrinal disagreements arose out of vying interpretations of certain passages or the methods by which disputing parties were interpreting Scripture.  False oppositions between revelation and “the inventions of men” will break down and seem absurd to him, and he will no longer regard Tradition as some unfortunate growth that needs to be removed to get back to the “real” Faith.  As he discovers that the fourfold meaning of Scripture allows for a more complete, richer and more beautiful vision of God’s revelation, he will become disenchanted with the limited dimensions of both strict literalism and the sentence-chopping nightmare that is high criticism.  So I think it is very possible that those who learn these things will be led to engage with and eventually embrace Orthodoxy. 

But, as Prof. Nassif’s article already hints, the number of people for whom this is relevant or even possible is relatively small.  This approach was extremely important and meaningful for me, but it is necessarily a fairly bookish, academic and intellectual route that simply does not apply to most people.  It does not even apply all that often to evangelicals.  In my experience, many converts to Orthodoxy find such a route to be very much a “Western” kind of conversion–a thing of the mind and not of the heart, if you will–and they are often keen to talk about experience rather than doctrine.  Church history is not unimportant to them, but you might be surprised at how relatively little knowledge of it some of the most evangelical converts to Orthodoxy have (to which they will respond that the “cradle” Orthodox don’t know all that much, either, which is in many cases unfortunately true).  There is nothing really wrong with emphasising experience, since it is a living Faith we are supposed to be witnessing, but I would simply note that the approach Prof. Nassif describes is one that relies heavily on acquiring “the Great Tradition” through words and books rather than images, liturgy and in the silence of prayer.  Contrary to the conventional prejudice against dogma and book-learning, I think this is a very good way to enter into any tradition and I have a hard time understanding how you fully acquire a religious tradition without engaging with its core writings to some significant degree. 

This approach Prof. Nassif describes may lead to an explosion of Orthodox intellectuals and scholars, some of whom we already see in such prominent Anglophone converts as Jaroslav Pelikan, David Hart and, most recently, the great English patristics scholar Andrew Louth (and, if rumours are to be believed, Sir Steven Runciman before his death in 1999), but it will necessarily have limited reach.  At the risk of sounding rather passive and non-evangelistic, I would note that the Liturgy probably does more on a weekly basis to draw in the unchurched and the disenchanted than anything else the Orthodox are or could be doing, and it is not for nothing that virtually every introductory work on Orthodoxy makes use of the (almost certainly apocyphal) tale from the Russian Primary Chronicle that purports to relate the story of how the Rus’ became Orthodox.  As many reading this will probably already know, this is the story of the Grand Prince, Saint and Equal to the Apostles Vladimir sending emissaries to different lands to learn about the major religions of the time to determine which one St. Vladimir should accept.  The emissaries report on each in turn, and each time they come back with discouraging news (the Islamic prohibition on alcohol especially puts off the Rus’ian ruler) until they report of their journey to Constantinople and their experience of the Liturgy in Hagia Sophia, about which they famously said: “We knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth.”  Anyone who has to been to a full hierarchical Orthodox Liturgy at a cathedral knows what they were talking about.  To my mind, that is the greatest means of Orthodox evangelism, because it is the most integrated and complete expression of the Faith that everyone experiences on a regular basis.      

None of this means that the Orthodox should necessarily eschew evangelising by other means.  There is truth in the charge that we tend to go along with the stereotype that says that evangelism means preaching hellfire and banging down people’s doors, which some of us use as an excuse for not making much of an effort, but in America in particular I suspect that the marginal position of Orthodoxy for much of the last century, the small number of adherents and its close associations with ethnic immigrant communities all worked to encourage Orthodox Christians here to keep a low profile and not be seen as meddlesome or aggressive in their proselytising.  The Orthodox in America remain such a small religious minority that I think there will continue to be resistance against any move towards a more “evangelical” Orthodoxy.  If this were to be the Orthodox century, it would be a great thing, but on this I’m afraid I will have to remain a skeptic for the time being.     

And yet, now that I am Orthodox, I see a couple of things about the East-West relationship more clearly than I did back then, as a Catholic. Catholics tend to think of the differences between Catholicism and Orthodoxy as relatively minimal, and much easier to overcome than they actually are. Even if Catholic and Orthodox leaders came into dialogue with the greatest possible amount of goodwill, there are theological facts that cannot be ignored or overcome. The 800 years of history since the Great Schism has seen tremendous theological development in the West. Whether this represents progress or decline is beside the point; the point is, Catholicism is now fundamentally different from Orthodoxy on some important points. For someone like me, it’s sobering and even sad to realize how far apart the churches are, because I can’t see how reunion is possible on a basis of shared belief, without requiring either Catholicism or Orthodoxy to change things that can’t be up for negotiation. What I’m trying to say is I thought as a Catholic that the Orthodox had a lot more room to move than they really do, and were just being obstinate, and fixating on historical grievances. Even though you can find without too much trouble individual Orthodox believers who don’t require much provocation to launch into an anti-Catholic rant about the Sack of Constantinople, the plain fact is that even if you forget all the historical animosity, you have two expressions of the Christian faith whose self-understanding would appear to close the door to the restoration of full communion. Which is not to say that we cannot and should not work for unity at every possible level. But I just don’t see how unity in every respect is possible. ~Rod Dreher

Rod’s entire post is very good and worth reading.  I remember reading Rod’s WSJ article when it first came out.  I had not yet converted to Orthodoxy by May 2001, but I was certainly well on my way to embracing Orthodoxy.  In the event, it was not for another year and a half that I would do so fully and be baptised, but I was already fairly sure that this would be where I would go.  Seeing that Rod has changed his view some, I am terribly interested in rehashing all of the reasons why I reacted very strongly against the article when I read it originally, but one point stood out for me that came back to me when I re-read the article:

There are deep theological divisions between East and West, and any ecumenism that pretends otherwise is false. But isn’t working more closely to combat the functional nihilism that accompanies the spread of consumerist values a more pressing concern than fussing over the fate of the Filioque clause?  

This, like the references to Pope John Paul II’s good works of anticommunism (which were very good and which do not appear to the Orthodox to be terribly relevant to the discussion about relations between the confessions), struck me as conveying the gap between Catholics and Orthodox as well as anything I had read.  To help explain that gap, these lines deserve some additional comment. 

First, the question of ecumenism.  It isn’t, I think, that ecumenically minded Catholics and Orthodox have undertaken efforts at reconciliation consciously supporting a ”false” ecumenism that does not take full account of the depth of the divisions.  They do not pursue this path in the full knowledge that they are ignoring glaring problems–I do not presume to accuse anyone of such willful neglect of the truth in this case.  Instead, almost of necessity, in order to begin any ecumenist venture people from both confessions must convince themselves that reconciliation is at least remotely possible.  They then convince themselves that reconciliation is much more straightforward than it really is and that doctrinal disputes are not necessarily as grave as they may actually be.  Orthodox negotiations with non-Chalcedonian churches often follow the same path, where somehow the people working on the commissions and committees to determine whether or not reunion is possible always manage to come back with optimistic answers of, “Yes, we basically believe the same thing,” when anyone not involved in the effort looks at the same problem and simply cannot see it. 

The reason why many Orthodox, especially Traditionalist Orthodox, tend to look down on ecumenist efforts is typically because these efforts are almost always bound to be just this kind of “false” ecumenism that pretends the differences are minor, semantic or culturally constructed and therefore of no deeper significance when they are anything but minor, semantic or the product of cultural misunderstanding.  This is not really as much of a knock on the ecumenists as it sounds.  Ecumenists have to make these sorts of arguments about some of these disputes, because otherwise they and everyone else know that the disputes will be intractable if there is not some way found to go “around” them by relegating them to the category of historical and cultural accident.

This is why Rod’s 2001 line about “fussing over the fate of the Filioque clause” expresses the Catholic-Orthodox gap so well.  With the exception of some spirited medieval defenders, including Thomas Aquinas, and the addition’s traditional place in all Western forms of the Nicene Creed (and in spite of the Catechism’s endorsement of the addition), Catholics have tended to regard the entire Filioque question as something not much better than “fussing” about terminology.  If you push some theologians hard enough, I bet they would say, “What big difference does it really make anyway?”  Between a Latin mind that could entertain the scholastic principle of diversi, non adversi and the Byzantine mind that was focused intently on akribeia, there was bound to be tension.  But once the significance of the issue itself no longer seemed to be equally great in the eyes of both confessions, a resolution of the controversy was all but impossible.   

In addition to the tremendous dogmatic significance of the change (and again, this is an area where, even when Catholic theologians fully appreciate Orthodox objections, they usually cannot quite take it as being as meaningful as we do), Filioque became bound up with claims of papal authority and prerogative during the unionist episodes in Byzantium in the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries.  That is what makes it such a charged issue beyond its simply theological significance.  If you think the Orthodox have irritatingly long memories about 1204, just get some folks started talking about Lyons II (1274) and Michael VIII or Ferrara-Florence (1438-39), John VIII and Bessarion.  Athonite monks cultivate the memory of what is sometimes called Michael VIII’s “reign of terror” that he inflicted in the wake of Lyons II to enforce the union on unwilling Byzantines.  The name of John Bekkos, hero to Henry Chadwick and ecumenists everywhere and Michael VIII’s patriarch, remains a curse in the mouths of many Greek Orthodox.  

Not everyone might be willing to say along with the fifteenth century Byzantine admiral Lukas Notaras some variant of, “Better the turban than the mitre” or the Athonite cry of “Orthodoxy or Death!” but most Orthodox still view this attitude, as they view the stories about the martyrdom of Tsar-Martyr Lazar at Kosovo Polje (where, according to the hagiography, the military defeat of 1389 comes across as a spiritual victory for the Kingdom), as something of an ideal.  To put it bluntly, it is difficult to negotiate with people whose history (or their interpretation of that history at any rate) tells them that the act of negotiation itself is usually an unacceptable compromise.   

St. Mark Evgenikos, the lone holdout at Florence, is commemorated as one of the three Pillars of Orthodoxy in fairly pointed anti-Latin fashion along with St. Photios and St. Gregory Palamas, and he, like St. Maximos or St. Athanasios before him, represents to the Orthodox a heroic defender of the Faith.  While anti-ecumenists have tended to emphasise these figures more than others, it is the case that there is a certain kind of instinctive anti-ecumenism woven into the history and mentality of Orthodox peoples.  Unionism has occasioned too many betrayals and too much bitterness for some to ever consider it a legitimate path.  For those who do not understand this, I am afraid they may never understand, which is half of the problem.      

This is also the only segment of Pope Benedict’s lecture with which a reasonable person will take issue. He seems to suggest that Muslims can be “our partners in the dialogue of cultures” on the basis of God-as-Logos, and if that is so, he is wrong.

For all of the reasons quoted above, Islam is not amenable to dialogue. Among non-Muslims it seeks converts or subjects, not partners. After two decades of “dialogue,” many Christians have made many concessions and uttered many apologies for their side’s supposed past misdeeds, without getting anything in return. They merely encouraged the other side in the belief that there is no need for any “dialogue” since the apparent lack of rock-solid faith and conviction on the Christian camp makes their ultimate embrace of Allah and his prophet a logical outcome. Their expectations were kindled in 2001 when Benedict’s predecessor kissed the Kuran inside a mosque in Damascus—built from a desecrated Christian cathedral—and exclaimed, “May the hearts of Christians and Muslims turn to one another with feelings of brotherhood and friendship.” Such gestures encourage the hope that clear re-stating of Islamic dogma will prompt infidels to see the light.  ~Srdja Trifkovic

Both sides have much to gain by good relations. The Vatican and Muslims have shared stands in opposition of abortion. The Holy See, under Benedict’s predecessor, John Paul II, vigorously lobbied against the Iraq war, and Benedict made numerous appeals to Israel to use restraint in its recent military campaign against Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon. ~The Guardian

When I was young and stupid, I was a sort of hard-line syncretist, who thought it would be a great idea to create a kind of pan-religious social conservative alliance against atheists and various moral relativists.  Had Ecumenical Jihad come out back then, I probably would have thought the concept was a great idea.  Which confirms just how young and stupid I was.  It might be that Christians and Muslims will happen to agree on certain questions of policy, especially when these are policies pushed by secularists from the West, but that agreement will take place regardless of the state of relations between Christian churches and the Islamic world.     

Vatican officials had earlier sought to placate spreading Muslim anger by saying Benedict held Islam in high esteem and stressed that the central thrust of his speech was to condemn the use of any religious motivation for violence, whatever the religion. ~The Guardian

Actually, I had thought the central thrust of the speech was that God is rational by nature and nothing irrational pleases Him.  This is why most Christians have entirely put away the bloody and irrational sacrifices of old for the rational sacrifice of the Eucharist.  This is why I never cease to find it difficult to understand why someone who believes this would hold in high esteem a religion that denies the divinity of Christ, Who was Reason Incarnate, when such a denial is not only what the early and medieval Fathers would have regarded as a mark of insanity (the proverbial “madness of Areios”) but is itself a denial of the personal union of humanity in the Person of the Logos Himself.  Denying Christ’s divinity is, from a Christian perspective, denying the substantial joining of humanity to Reason and denying the possibility of the perfection of our own reason.  Presumably Pope Benedict does not hold Arianism in high esteem, so what can it mean to say that he holds Islam in “high esteem”?  Did Elijah hold the prophets of Baal in high esteem?   

These sorts of statements remind me why I am always so skeptical of ecumenism–to carry on a “dialogue,” you are compelled for the sake of dialogue to say things you cannot possibly believe and make statements praising other religions that you cannot really mean, which in turn does violence to the truth and reduces said dialogue to something of a sham.  Such a “dialogue” cannot produce anything except pro forma expressions of goodwill, which are ultimately empty and amount to saying nothing more than, “I am going to show the world what a reasonable, tolerant fellow I am–why, look, I have even said something nice about the Hindus!”  There are two kinds of ecumenists: those who really think that there are many equally valid paths to truth (these people typically are not terribly keen on taking any of the paths very far, since deep down they can sense that there is no point) and those who think that giving the appearance of ecumenical goodwill helps with public relations.  In other words, I don’t think there are really any good reasons to be an ecumenist.  If there are sincere ecumenists who nonetheless believe that their religion alone possesses the fullness of truth, I would very much like to know how they reconcile the two ideas.  It is, of course, possible to have a conversation with people who hold radically different religious beliefs, but it will usually be a short conversation, especially when each time you draw attention to what you consider the flaws in their religion they believe themselves justified in threatening you with death.  Most Christian ecumenist dialogue does not draw attention to the flaws, intellectual and moral, of other religions, presumably because all historical religions have some sort of flaws on account of the flawed people involved, which is why Pope Benedict’s speech seemed promising as a starting point for , among other things, discussing seriously the role of reason in Islam and the place of violent jihad in Islamic theology and history.  His speech did not really make any concessions, or at least it was not obvious to me that it did, but now it would seem that the Vatican has made the biggest concession of them all: Islam is worthy of high esteem.  Manuel II and, for that matter, St. John of Damascus would not have understood why.    

So according to Michael Ledeen, Mohammed Khatami, the former prime minister of Iran, is analogous to Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi minister of propaganda. Quoth Ledeen, on Khatami’s upcoming visit to the United States: “Would FDR have given Goebbels a visa while the Reich was attacking Czechoslovakia?” If Khatami–you know, the “dialogue of civilizations” guy–is Goebbels, what does that make Ahmadinejad? Hitler? Super Hitler? Super-Duper Hitler? (OK, OK, Khatami and Ahmadinejad are political foes, but we’re playing by Ledeen’s rules here.) A wise man once wrote that Hitler is dead, but he apparently neglected to anticipate the rise of Extra-Strength, Protein-Packed, Gamma-Irradiated Hitler. ~Spencer Ackerman, The Plank

More to the point, if Khatami is today’s Goebbels, what country is playing the role of Czechoslovakia in this fantasy?  Lebanon?  Israel?  Does it really matter when you’re barking mad and see Nazis everywhere?  Also, to play out the analogy fully, that would mean that Mr. Bush is Chamberlain and must have “capitulated” to Iran/Germany at the U.N./Munich.  I guess if you take no account of the radically different contexts and international political scenes, the comparison is flawless.

As it happens, I happen to agree that granting Khatami’s visa to go a-roaming around the country was a mistake, but not because he is the second coming of Goebbels or because this “coddles” Tehran, which is in no danger of being coddled or even negotiated with by this administration.  It is typical that the interventionists, who berate their adversaries for wanting to build “Fortress America” and engage in “isolationism,” are terrified at the prospect of any foreign leader of whom they disapprove even setting foot in this country; I do not recall their lamentations and wailings over Hu Jintao’s visit to Washington being nearly this strained and fanatical. 

Allowing Khatami’s visit is a mistake for the same reason that it was a mistake for the Episcopalians to ask him to National Cathedral (in all seriousness, and without wanting to insult any actually faithful Episcopalians who may be reading the blog, is there anything that these sorts of Episcopalians get right anymore?).  Whatever else you might say about him, he presided over a regime that persecuted every kind of religious minority, so to have him come and speak on matters ecumenical is not simply offensive but is in itself deeply perverse.  As it is not a state function, but an entirely private tour, Khatami will not be here in an official capacity, nor will he be in any position to negotiate on anything, so that his visit does not represent an opportunity for an opening to Iran, which might justify allowing his visit, but manages to achieve nothing concrete while indulging Khatami and his liberal well-wishers in his PR campaign and their delusions of religious dialogue. 

Someone will have to explain to me how liberals in this country, who supposedly find the onset of theocracy in America to be very real and very scary, see Khatami as a sort of friendly, bearded professor of religion who has come to offer his wisdom rather than the theocrat that he is.  I don’t use the term theocrat pejoratively; it is not his theocratic tendencies as such that offend.  In my view, it is much harder to defend the proposition that serious religious believers should not implement their religious vision in the community than that they should and indeed must.  But the theos he worships and the religion he and his impose on Iran coercively do offend.  I would be inclined to let Iranians concern themselves with the problems of Iran, but if we are going to have an Islamic theocrat come to this country I think we can plainly say what we think of the man’s Islamic revolution and his form of Islam itself. 

Of course, this is the last thing that is really on the minds of the interventionist critics of Khatami’s visit; the visit offends them not because it may help to spread a false impression about Islam as the ”religion of peace,” but because it empowers some mythical “Islamofascism” and makes the hegemon look weak.  Power, not truth, is what interests these people (obviously), and you can tell this by the enthusiasm with which they embrace this heinous neologism Islamofascist.  I wonder: given the penchant for the Sovietisation of language that these people have, how long before we go from accusations of appeasement and anti-Semitism to the natural conclusion of all this “fascist” talk?  How long before their opponents are declared to be “objectively Islamofascist”? 

Presumably if a leader with as appalling a “human rights” record as Khatami has came here (like, oh, I don’t know, Hu Jintao!), but was someone who could not readily be aligned with fascists of one sort or another (unless you are of the very real ”ChiComs are fascists now” school of fascist-obsession), you would hear few complaints from the usual suspects.  Very soon the Kazakh autocrat Nursultan Nazarbayev will be received at the White House and hosted by Bush at the family digs in Maine, but, you see, he is a good autocrat, a happy autocrat, and one of ours, so all will be well.  When Secretary Rice hosted the infamously corrupt and despotic President Nguema of Equatorial Guinea (the one Mark Thatcher allegedly tried to have overthrown by a small army of mercenaries two years ago), I’m also quite sure this had nothing to do with the lake of oil beneath his tiny country, but was based in his deep and abiding respect for the norms of democracy. 

In Nazarbayev’s case, he will be received as a guest of the President, and Nguema was hosted by the Secretary of State; Khatami will be the guest of some private liberal talking shops.  But which is the one that is driving the supposed friends of “freedom” absolutely crazy?  Of course, one can justify Nazarbayev’s visit by acknowledging that virtually every Central Asian state is a despotism of one kind or another (Kyrgyzstan is a tribal society with a nice democratic veneer) and that the Kazakh despotism has been on “our” side over the past many years and that this serves some grander scheme that is allegedly all to the good.  Relations with the hideous Nguema might be seen as a necessary evil to diversify our sources for oil.  But it becomes increasingly difficult to moan and lament about the repression of Tehran while hosting the dictator from Astana or cultivating security and economic ties with such humanitarians as Turkmenbashi the Great, known in his mere mortal form as Saparmurat Niyazov (who is a solid 18 on a scale of lunacy from 1 to 10), after our relationship with our last protestor-murdering despot, Islam Karimov, got a bit rocky.  

I am not some fantasist who believes that international relations will involve alliances only with saints and “reformers,” and I fully expect that we have to deal with ugly regimes all the time, which is why the refusal to even talk to Iran strikes me as the height of fantastic idealism.  Moreover, to listen to the interventionists tell it you would think Iran was the only despotism in the area (and, I would hasten to add, the specifically democratic elements of that despotism have tended to reinforce the worst in their system, rather than alleviate it) and that allied states, such as Saudi Arabia, do not engage in precisely the same kind of repression of religious minorities that Iran does.  “Human rights” deeply concern these people, provided they can be used as a pretext for war or interference in the internal affairs of a country whose government they despise for other reasons, but are otherwise neither here nor there.  That is worth bearing in mind when enduring the screeching of pundits about Khatami’s visit.     

But inviting Khatami is precisely the sort of thing I have come to expect from ecumenism and “outreach” efforts from liberal Christians of all confessions, who somehow manage to see only Rumi and Ibn Arabi when they look at Islam and somehow manage to see only oppression and Inquisitors when they look at their traditionally-minded fellow Christians.  The entire enterprise of ecumenism as it is now constituted is one dedicated not to truth or even reconciliation nor even good relations between religions and confessions within Christianity, but simply a pose of tolerance and “making nice” with the Other on the assumption that the gravest religious error that has ever been made was to look askance on those of different religions.  In fact, one of the worst errors is to confuse those who use the whip and the knout with those who preach peace and reconciliation or to indulge a basically unreasonable Muslim cleric to justify your own myths about the reasonableness and peacefulness of Islam-in-the-abstract.

The newest American Conservative (July 17 issue) is full of excellent articles (sorry, no links as of yet).  To name just a couple, W. James Antle III writes an interesting report on the electoral struggle of Rep. John Hostettler (R-IN), one of six Republicans to vote against the Iraq war; Chilton Williamson levels a devastating and powerful critique of the aimless life of acquisition and consumption Americans embrace.  Crunchy cons, Pantagruelists and traditionalists, take note.  These two alone are worth getting a copy of this issue, and there is more to be had besides these. 

I wanted to start out with this preface highlighting all the good articles in the 7/17 issue, because I also feel compelled to comment on a number of rather egregious errors in Marcia Christoff Kurapovna’s “Reconciling Christendom.”  In what seems to have been intended as a crash-course in church history and ecumenical relations between Catholics and Orthodox, Ms. Kurapovna made several mistakes and omissions, some theological and others historical, that are irritating to me for their inaccuracy but still worse they are misleading for those readers who are less familiar with the particulars of the divide between Catholics and Orthodox.  These errors and omissions do not facilitate the cause of rapprochement between the two churches in the Truth, which is a goal that all faithful Christians of both confessions ultimately hope for, but rather confirms in the minds of skeptics and anti-ecumenists that those interested in ecumenism are strong on a spirit of reconciliation and weak on matters of substance.  For those unfamiliar with teachings of the Faith, these errors can confuse, mislead or even scandalise those through misrepresentations of Christianity.  For those unfamiliar with Orthodoxy, which includes a great many Christians, these errors and omissions can also present a less than clear and accurate portrait of the Orthodox Church, and this also requires some correction.

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On Sunday evening, January 29, 2006, the St Vladimir’s Seminary Chapel was packed during Vespers for the feast day of the Three Hierarchs, followed by the annual Fr Alexander Schmemann Memorial Lecture. During the service, a collective gasp was heard as a prayer was intoned for the ailing Avery Cardinal Dulles, the keynote speaker for that evening’s lecture. At the end of the service, Dr Paul Meyendorff, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, announced that the Cardinal had fallen ill earlier that day and would be unable to present his talk on “The Imperative of Orthodoxy”.

In his place, Rev Joseph T Lienhard, SJ, professor of theology at Fordham University read the cardinal’s prepared speech. A diverse and standing-room-only crowd filled the Metropolitan Philip Auditorium. The speech began with a clarification of the word, “orthodoxy” as it was used in the title. Fr Joseph read, “Orthodoxy is right praise in liturgy and right teaching; doctrine which is true, sound and concordant with the church.” Several subsections of the speech included, the value of orthodoxy, the history of orthodoxy, objections to orthodoxy and the perils of orthodoxy. He concluded with, “Orthodoxy is like a romance, full of surprises for those who explore it.” ~St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary

This event came to my attention at church yesterday, and all of us who heard were rather bewildered by the idea that a Catholic cardinal would give a talk on Orthodoxy (or even “orthodoxy”) at an Orthodox theological seminary. It is, of course, unfortunate that Cardinal Dulles became ill, and I, for one, hope that he is well, but the entire episode brings to mind a question: “What were they thinking?”

Let me preface this with a few irenic points. From the little snippet in the description at the seminary website, there was nothing obviously objectionable in Cardinal Dulles’ remarks (though I daresay the seminary would hardly publicise anything that might be objectionable), and they seem profitable in much the same way that Chesterton’s Orthodoxy is mostly profitable. Second, I understand that the Orthodox do not have a monopoly on the use of the word orthodoxy, just as Catholics do not have one on the words catholic and catholicity. Third, I grant that the more serious Catholic theologians, of which Cardinal Dulles is certainly one, presumably have as much commitment to their understanding of what constitutes orthodoxy as the Orthodox have to theirs. All of that being granted, again I ask, “What were they thinking?”
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