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On a note more appropriate to our Advent season, I should mention that I have started reading Paul Gavrilyuk’s The Suffering of the Impassible God: The Dialectics of Patristic Thought.   So far, it seems an excellent study in the theological and historiographical problem of understanding the interpretation of God’s essential impassibility and His suffering in the flesh.  Gavrilyuk sets out to be the ultimate anti-Harnack, and has so far been entirely persuasive in his arguments (I am still only in chapter 3).  I recommend it to you all.

Slightly related to our modern theologically-inflected political controversies, my copy of Nicaea and its Legacy by Lewis Ayres arrived today.  I haven’t looked at it before, but I’ve heard many good things about it.  The fourth century controversies are fairly intimidating in their complexity even to those of us who spend our waking hours contemplating the significance of monotheletism.  We who work on the seventh century have the luxury, so to speak, of a paucity of sources and limited prosopographical information, so we are not simply inundated with information, and the fourth century looms so large and has been the focus of so many works that it quite an undertaking to put forward another general interpretation.  I look forward to reading it during vacation this month.

Since it has become a point of contention, it might be instructive to note that Trevino’s rather uncharitable view of the Esphigmenou matter has some relation to his disrespect for the Patriarchate of Moscow, since the latter has interceded on behalf of the monks of Esphigmenou in the past and has already, according to Kathimerini, reasonably called for the Ecumenical Patriarchate “to abstain from irrational measures and the use of force.”  That seems like a fair request to me.    

Trevino calls me a “fan of Esphigmenou die-hards,” for which he has no proof, and I never said that I was “immunized” from anything.  It was Trevino’s baseless accusation that I had endorsed schismatics that led me to point out just how wrong he was.  Once again: I do not “endorse” the monks at Esphigmenou.  I object to the way they have been treated, as do many of the monks on Mt. Athos.  Since they have been making their protest against Constantinople for four decades, during which time the Patriarchate has not seen fit to expel them, it seems strange that it has suddenly become a burning issue that now must be resolved with coercion and force.  His parting insult against Patriarch Alexei is typical of those die-hards who would rather go into schism than see the Russian Church united.  Were I to follow his rather dreary reasoning, I suppose his remarks would make him a “fan” of the opponents of reconciliation.  That would be absurd, but that is the sort of argument that Trevino has been making.  If insults against hierarchs and slanders against fellow Orthodox represent Trevino’s style of representing Orthodoxy in the public square, I’m not sure how it helps. 

Update: As Trevino must know, the criticism against Patriarch Alexei for his alleged past KGB associations is revived and kept alive by those who would like to keep demonising the Moscow Patriarchate and who sought to prevent the reconciliation that was already long overdue. Insulting a hierarch of the Church is all well and good, provided that it isn’t a hierarch whom he likes.  The monks’  ecclesiological protest at least has some rationale behind it, whether you think them to be in the right or not.   

I used to like Josh Trevino, too, and I was unaware that my views–which haven’t changed an iota since I started writing this blog–seemed so terribly false and misguided to him.  They apparently weren’t so false when he invited me to participate in our now-defunct group blog, Enchiridion Militis, for whose successor, What’s Wrong With the World, I am pleased to still be a contributing member.  Something changed, but I don’t think I was the one who changed.  Ron Paul really does bother these people, doesn’t he?   

In fact, I had no idea that Trevino supported attempting to starve and expel monks from their monastery (the treatment that has been afforded to the monks of Esphigmenou for their refusal to commemorate the Patriarch of Constantinople), nor did I realise that he favoured constitutional usurpation.  Evidently, he does, or he has strong objections to those who are opposed to both.  For the record, I have linked to the site of Holy Esphigmenou Monastery because I have found it disgraceful that the Ecumenical Patriarchate has resorted to the use of state coercion and violence to impose its authority over the monks there.  I have not written about it on the blog before, but I feel compelled now to say something.  If the monks of Esphigmenou are in the wrong canonically and legally, as they may be (it is actually not my place to say), the way they have been treated has nonetheless been a scandal and an embarrassment.  Even if I did not regard ecumenism as an error, I would think that the treatment meted out to the monks of Esphigmenou would merit the sympathy of Orthodox Christians, even if they disagreed with the monks’ stand.  Until I had been (it seems to me pretty baselessly) accused of sympathy for schism, I have never once written a single word disparaging the Patriarch of Constantinople or lending support to the monks of Holy Esphigmenou Monastery, and I will not say more against the Ecumenical Patriarchate now.  I am obviously such a proponent of schism that I have written many posts against attacks on the bishops of the Russian Church Abroad for their willingness to reunite with the Patriarchate of Moscow, and I am such a fan of the “dead purity of antiquity” that I have been a vocal supporter of the reunion of the separated parts of the Russian Church.  If I were what Mr. Trevino claims that I am in the sphere of religion, I would have broken with the Russian Church and joined a splinter group by now.  Mr. Trevino is simply wrong here, and he has to have known that he was grasping at straws when he made this charge.  This is all the more sad because it is pretty obviously spurred on by political and policy differences.

Trevino writes:

Too many Orthodox Christian converts in America — and especially those who participate in the public square — seem pulled toward perceived originalism or anachronism in the political realm. This has the appearance of being motivated by the same aesthetic sensibility that appears to draw them toward Orthodoxy: the sense of a necessary fidelity to the foundational faith is basically the same, translated from the religious to the political sphere. But in both spheres, it leads them to falsehood.

Mr. Trevino’s objections to my and others’ support for Ron Paul are no more credible.  If there are cases where Ron Paul’s constitutional views are not perfect, his willingness to adhere to the Constitution according to strict constructionist and originalist interpretations–the interpretations conservatives are supposed to respect and follow–is so much greater than that of his rivals that it seems absurd that someone could find fault with him for lacking in fidelity to the Constitution.  Which candidate can Trevino find who is more faithful to more provisions of the Constitution?  Of course, there is none.  It is not as if Trevino has found himself a more faithful constitutionalist whom he can support–his complaints against Paul on this score are basically groundless.  Not that it matters, but my affinity for strict constructionism and constitutionalism predated my conversion to Orthodoxy by many years.  My embrace of Orthodoxy was a result of coming to recognise, through the working of the Holy Spirit, that it was the fullness of Christian revelation.  It has nothing to do with being drawn toward the “dead purity of antiquity,” and no one should know that better than a fellow convert to Orthodoxy.  

Trevino’s appeal to living Orthodox tradition is all very well and good, but then he has no evidence whatever that I disagree with this understanding of Orthodoxy.  I find it more than a little bizarre that he opts to attack fellow Orthodox in this fashion over what appears to be primarily a political disagreement.  The implication inherent in his remarks that we should also embrace some “living Constitution” interpretation of our fundamental law is a perfect example of what is wrong with conservatives who strive to evolve and adapt with the times. 

He cites the Carlton quote on foreign policy that has been harmful to our fellow Orthodox around the world and calls it “ridiculous.”  He does not actually dispute that U.S.-backed policies in Kosovo and Israel-Palestine contribute to persecution and hardship for our brethren, but simply dismisses it.  Perhaps the churches and monasteries that have been destroyed by the KLA do not concern him?  He does not dispute the reality that Iraqi Christians were better off before the invasion, because he cannot dispute this.  In short, he has no rebuttal.  He speaks of an “abdication of moral sense” concerning the governments of Serbia and Russia, when it is nothing of the kind. 

My opposition to meddling in Serbian and Russian affairs comes, and has always come, from a non-interventionist and realist-informed view that their affairs are none of our business and that American interests are best served by not interfering and destabilising the Balkans still more and by not provoking and threatening Russia by meddling in its “near-abroad.”  I am fully aware of and opposed to the repression that has taken place in Milosevic’s Serbia and Putin’s Russia, but I am also aware that it is not in our national interest to quarrel with these states over their internal affairs.  For that matter, we should stop meddling in Georgian affairs and leave the Orthodox in Georgia well enough alone as well.  Trevino again has no evidence that either Prof. Carlton or I have abdicated our moral sense.  He takes our opposition to hegemonism as proof that we are somehow endorsing every practice of the foreign governments in question, when our responsibility as citizens is to challenge the misguided policies of our government.

At the same time, however, there was always a very real danger of identifying – confusing, really – the state with the Kingdom of God. Indeed, the actual history of Roman Orthodox symphonia is a decidedly mixed bag. Our calendar is full of saints who suffered exile and even torture at the hands of the “most pious Christian Emperors” (Athanasius, Chrysostom, and Maximus to name but three). The point is that Orthodox Christians throughout history have lived all over the world under quite diverse political circumstances. While Byzantine symphonia holds an honored place within the history of the Church, one cannot claim with any theological seriousness that this is the only Orthodox political philosophy. ~Clark Carlton

Via Rod

Hold on a minute.  I’m grateful to Prof. Carlton for his advocacy on behalf of Ron Paul, I appreciated his column and I agree that Orthodox Christians are not obliged to endorse a political theology that was fully developed in the ninth century.  I heartily endorse his view that different national cultures are suited to different kinds of political constitutions.  Even if it were possible, an Orthodox monarchy here would be unworkable.  Nonetheless, there are a few problems with the above statement.  First, the idea of symphoneia is predicated on the assumption that the state, even when it is referred to as the “Christ-loving commonwealth,” is clearly distinct from the Church and that it is the Church that foreshadows, anticipates and announces the Kingdom of God here on earth.  Whenever there is a danger of  identifying the state with the Kingdom, this is a result of the breakdown of the proper balance between the state and the Church laid down in the classic expression of the theory of symphoneia in the Epanagoge.  Second, I agree that the practice of symphoneia was not always ideal with respect to the independence of the Church, but the emperors who exiled or brutalised or killed some of the holy Fathers were typically heretical.  St. Athanasios’ greatest quarrels were with the semi-Arian Constantius, though he did also fall out of favour with St. Constantine early on in his career on occasion.  The case of St. Maximos is the most straightforward of the three mentioned–his trial and exile were conducted by officials of Constans II, a monothelete emperor, although technically Maximos was tried on a secular charge of treason for allegedly aiding the Islamic invasion of North Africa (a charge that was never verified or documented).  The treatment of St. John Chrysostom, sent into exile in the Caucasus where he died, is something of an exception to the rule of how Orthodox bishops were treated in the empire.  His deposition and exile had as much to do with the wrangling for influence among the eastern patriarchal sees, particularly the disputes over the alleged Origenism of the Tall Brothers that Patriarch Theophilos stirred up, as it had to do with the empress Eudoxia or the imperial government. 

I am also on record doubting the distinction Prof. Carlton makes between the Lockean heritage and the Enlightenment heritage of the Continent, but I do agree that there is a sharp tension or even opposition between Lockean assumptions about man and society and those held by the Fathers.  I think Prof. Carlton and I are firmly in agreement in our shared Jeffersonianism and our view that limited government is most desirable from the perspective of a flourishing Orthodox Christianity in America.  It will probably drive some of my readers up the wall, but I fully agree with this statement:

The United States has certainly become a threat to our Orthodox brethren around the world. Witness the US-backed persecution of our brethren in Kosovo and Palestine. Certainly the Christians in Iraq are much worse off now than they were before the US invasion. Furthermore, if current policies continue in place, we will be headed for an inevitable confrontation with a resurgent Russia. Our children and grand-children may be in for another Cold War – only this time we may just be the Evil Empire.   

It is not yet available, and it is rather difficult to get information about its contents, but an interesting new book is coming out next year on Orthodox theology: The Cambridge Companion to Christian Orthodox Theology.  I do know that it will have a submission from Prof. Papanikolaou of Fordham, who recently organised a conference on Orthodox readings of Augustine (whose papers will be published in a volume edited by Papanikolaou and Prof. Demacopoulos) and who has also written a work on the Trinitarian theology of Lossky and Zizioulas, Being with God: Trinity, Apophaticism and Divine-Human Communion.  I would have very much liked to attend the Augustine conference, but the timing was no good for me.  Another excellent (and expensive) collection of papers that came out in recent years, unrelated to Prof. Papanikolaou, was the volume Byzantine Orthodoxies, edited by Prof. Louth, which has a wonderful paper on the Arian controversy by Fr. John Behr and another on the Synodikon. 

On something pertaining to church life for a change, I had the great pleasure of seeing the visiting Moscow delegation of bishops and the Sretensky Monastery Choir at our cathedral this past Sunday.  This was a remarkable event, and not only because the crowd at the cathedral was huge by our standards.  So far as I know, this marked the first concelebration of Moscow and ROCOR bishops at our cathedral.  The delegation’s world tour will take them to many of the major centers of Russian Orthodoxy abroad in celebration of the reconciliation among all Russian Orthodox.  Also present was the “Reigning” (Derzhavnaya) icon of the Most Holy Theotokos, whose appearance after the last Tsar’s abdication signified that Russia thereafter was under the sovereignty of the Theotokos.  The Tribune has a series of photographs from the event, and the story is here.

The Choir performed exceptionally during the liturgy.  Their rendition of Mnogaya Lyeta filled the church with such a rich, resonating sound that I felt a sense of awe.  I then had the added enjoyment of hearing the Choir perform at the CSO Sunday night, where they offered both sacred and secular songs.  If any of you live in D.C., they will be performing in the vicinity tomorrow.  If you can still get tickets, I strongly recommend that you go.

Jason Zengerle at The New Republic has an interesting article on evangelical converts to Orthodoxy (via Rod).  I had not seen it before Rod mentioned it.  It is worth reading (and not because it quotes me), and I think it presents a fair picture of Orthodoxy in America.  Evangelicals may be less pleased with the portrayal they receive, but nothing glaring leaps out at me as an unfair description.  

There is understandably considerable geographical overlap among the people interviewed for the article, but this story is very focused on one very specific region in the west suburbs.  My Scene colleague Alan Jacobs teaches at Wheaton College, which is literally down the road from my parish, and the Antiochian parish Holy Transfiguration is fairly close nearby.  In fact, several families from Holy Transfiguration have been visiting our parish lately, and I realised with a sudden shock that the priest they have been telling me about is none other than the subject of Mr. Zengerle’s article.

Update: I hadn’t noticed the title of the article: “The Iconoclasts.”  As an eye-catching title, it works, but I wonder if Mr. Zengerle appreciates just how much Orthodox Christians dislike the historic Iconoclasts?  We anathematise them every year.  My guess is that most Orthodox converts would find the title annoying at best.

The Vatican text, which restates the controversial document Dominus Iesus issued by then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in 2000, says the Church wants to stress the point because some Catholic theologians continue to misunderstand it. ~ABC News (via Rod)

Leave it to the press to take something very simple and almost routine and turn it into a scandal.  I suppose the potential for conflict and controversy makes for a better headline than “Vatican Says Catholic Christianity Is True…Yet Again,” but there is no real potential for that, as there is nothing new being contested. 

Was Dominus Iesus really all that “controversial”?  I have read it, and I found in it the same position towards other Christian confessions that the Catholic Church has stated quite explicitly since Vatican II, which is normally interpreted by otherwise unfriendly Vatican-watchers as a positive, “liberalising” interpretation.  This new document mostly reiterates some of the basic points and makes plain why confessions that lack apostolic succession are not, well, properly apostolic and therefore do not possess all of the proper marks that would make a church a church.  There is nothing in any of this that a non-Catholic should find at all shocking or disturbing.  If he didn’t already know that the Vatican does not believe him to be fully a part of the Church, he hasn’t been paying enough attention to care about it now.  If I did not have an interest in theology, I would say that it is almost a non-story. 

As an Orthodox Christian, I continue to be puzzled by an ecclesiology that says that the Orthodox Church at once has valid sacraments and apostolic succession, but lacks in the fullness of the truth.  This puzzlement is a case of sharply different understandings of catholicity and ecclesiology generally.  As noted here in the past, as I understand the Orthodox teaching, catholicity requires oneness of mind in doctrine, and unity requires unity of faith, bishop and Eucharist.  Catholics and Orthodox share none of these things.  How the Vatican understands the Orthodox to be in communion (but not full communion) with the Catholic Church at the present time will probably never make sense to me. 

My Scene colleague Cheryl Miller points to these three items.  Despite what seems like a perfectly crafted attempt to bait me into an extremely long response, I would make just a few points.  First, Ms. Grabar’s article was not “preposterous,” though it was weaker than it should have been.  Second, a Jane Austen Christianity is the Christianity of the safe, the unremarkable and the ordinary.  I do not claim that there is no need for such a thing or that it is unimportant, but the idea that it is actually more profound or more powerful than Dostoevsky’s vision seems, well, just silly. Third, no one who understands anything about Dostoevsky would say the following, as Tom West does:

Dostoevsky’s solution, for all its anti-European sentiment, seems to take its departure from the same post-Hegelian premise: only will, and not reason, can guide us.

The principal error of both Peter Verkhovensky (Demons) and Raskolnikov (Crime and Punishment) is to place their trust in the power of the will and the willingness to overstep the boundaries of the law, both human and divine.  Plainly, for Dostoevsky will alone cannot guide us, and in Dostoevsky’s Orthodoxy–heavily influenced by the Slavophiles and indirectly by the Fathers–there is the understanding that will apart from or in opposition to God is death and isolation.  Willfulness against God is a mark of the demonic; it is at the heart of our ancestors’ rebellion in the Garden.  Further, it is the one-sidedness of reason alone, reason without faith, reason against God, that Dostoevsky, like the Slavophiles, repudiates when he critiques reason.  Likewise, no fair and accurate reading of The Grand Inquisitor could lead anyone to conclude the following about Dostoevsky:

For Dostoevsky, then, either we accept the absolute authority of the father and king and church, or we repudiate human reason and follow nothing but arbitrary will, personal or collective.    

Amazing.  This is totally wrong.  It is entirely backwards.  West claims to be reviewing a work by Joseph Frank, but the Frank works on Dostoevsky I have read would never have made such a claim.  In the story, who represents the (for Dostoevsky) unholy trinity of authority, miracle and bread?  The Grand Inquisitor.  Who represents a religion in harmony with human freedom in this story?  Christ.  Those who have read Dostoevsky’s Writer’s Diary cannot miss his frequent, polemical equations (in which he again echoes the Slavophiles) between socialism, Catholicism and rationalism.  The first two, in Dostoevsky’s view, both share a devotion to authority, miracle and bread.  Dostoevsky’s Christianity, his Orthodoxy, is the Orthodoxy in which Christ did not come down from the Cross because He so respected man’s freedom.  This is the same Dostoevsky who does not have Fr. Zosima’s body exuding the scent of myrrh after his death, because Dostoevsky does not wish to make faith an automatic response to a miracle, but a freely chosen embrace of the Incarnate Truth.  (A good argument can be made that Dostoevsky has gone too far in his opposition to both authority and miracle, since the Orthodox Church acknowledges the importance of both, but that is not at issue here.)  Dostoevsky’s vision is the one in which evil is the proof of human freedom–suffering will exist if man is to be free–and appeal to authority is the mark of a Christianity that seeks to supplant Christ.  His Winter Notes on Summer Impressions is another valuable source for understanding his priorities.  This was someone who did not discard the old scheme of “liberty, equality and fraternity,” but rather refused to let it be defined by liberals and socialists according to their lights.  Setting up Dostoevsky as some embodiment of the most ultra of reactionaries is satisfying to someone already intent on belittling traditionalism (so intent that he misses that Dostoevsky and Solzhenitsyn hold positions very close to one another in the end), but it does no justice to the complexity of Dostoevsky’s works and the mixture of his liberal background, his later Slavophile-inspired romantic conservative nationalism and renewed acceptance of Orthodoxy.     

Thou desired the Kingdom of God, pleasing Him in thy earthly life, especially in increasing Thy God–Given talent for good deeds, for which Thou dedicated all Thy life: Therefore, Christ God rewarded thee with the painful prize of martyrdom, to Whom we pray for salvation, singing the name of Lazar. ~Troparion for Tsar-Martyr Lazar of Serbia

Referring to its behavior while still enslaved by the Soviet state, she writes that “[t]oday’s Moscow Patriarchate is the as-yet-unrepentant inheritor of this legacy.” I would suggest Prof. Kizenko read the “Basic Social Concept,” adopted by the MP’s Council of Bishops of 2000, in which subservience by the church to a state hostile to Christianity is unequivocally rejected, and in great detail. As for repentance, that is a private Christian podvig, or spiritual deed, made before one’s spiritual father (as the daughter of a venerable ROCOR priest, Prof. Kizenko is certainly aware of this). Still, 16 years ago, Patriarch Aleksy performed an open act of repentance in an interview published many times since then: “It is not only before God, but also before all of those people to whom the compromises, silence, forced passivity or expressions of loyalty that the church leadership allowed themselves to make in those years brought pain that I ask forgiveness, understanding and prayers.” ~Nicholas A. Ohotin

Read the entire response.  It is good to see that the Church has challenged and corrected the misrepresentations of the earlier article.

News media world-wide described the event as a step in overcoming Russia’s tragic history. The New York Times called the merger “the symbolic end of Russia’s civil war.” But the reality is far more complicated. Not only are there theological and moral issues at stake, but there is also the suspicion among some that Mr. Putin is building new networks of influence by using the church to reach out to Russian émigré communities all over the world. ~Nadia Kizenko

I imagine that there will be a more proper official response to Prof. Kizenko’s unfortunate article than my various blog posts, but until then I want to say a few more things about this.  People at church on Sunday who had seen the article were upset by this, and they regarded it very poorly.  While Prof. Kizenko may encourage those intent on breaking away from the Russian Orthodox Church, which would be a terrible thing for all, she has certainly not persuaded anyone.  One reason is that her article is so thoroughly inaccurate.  Perhaps she felt the need to give the story a political spin to make it attractive to the editors at WSJ.  Perhaps those editors twisted or manipulated her words to give them the worst possible meaning.  I do not know the full story about that, but what I do know is that Prof. Kizenko has misrepresented or misunderstood central issues and matters of fact in the reconciliation of the two parts of the Russian Orthodox Church.  The reality is complicated and the history of the negotiations much more involved and drawn out than she claims, but it is Prof. Kizenko who has opted to tell a simple story of political meddling and “Putin’s acquisition.”

As for the charge that Mr. Putin would like to reach out to emigre communities, I’m sure this is true.  This is hardly some sinister plot.  Many countries often look to build up networks of communication and support with their Diasporan communities abroad, and as I have suggested in the past this probably was a motive of Mr. Putin in supporting the reconciliation.  In any case, his motives in the matter are beside the point.  An important point to be made here is that the emigre communities of the Russian Church Abroad are hardly so large as to constitute a major resource that the oil-rich master of the Kremlin would make much effort to “acquire” it, to use the Journal’s unfortunate phrase.  Certainly, no one familiar with the Synod would confuse it with having the rather larger financial resources of some other Orthodox jurisdictions.  The gain for Putin and the Moscow Patriarchate in purely wordly terms is very, very small.  Prof. Kizenko’s claim that Moscow now will have access to a “ready-made network of 323 parishes and 20 monasteries in the U.S. alone, and over a million church members in 30 countries [bold mine-DL]” is simply not true.  Would that we had so many parishes and monasteries!  Would that we had so many members!  That would be wonderful news indeed, but it would certainly be news to us.  

The numbers of members worldwide in Synod parishes come to something like 150,000 people.  News stories are frequently inflating the number of parishioners in our churches.  Certainly, if there are so many of us in America alone, it is remarkable that our representation in the greater Chicago area–one of our archdiocesan centers–should be limited to our cathedral and one modest parish.  The ROCOR parish directory is available to anyone who would care to peruse it.  There you will find that, counting parishes and monasteries together, there are only 111 Russian Orthodox Church Abroad churches, monasteries and hermitages in the United States, roughly one third as many as Prof. Kizenko claimed.  In the rest of the world, including what were the ROCOR parishes in Russia, there are 126 listed churches and monasteries outside the U.S., bringing the global total to 237.

More worrisome and dangerous is the hint that there is something suspect about the loyalty of Russian Orthodox, as if they take their orders from the Kremlin.  This sort of argument is absurd when it is applied to Catholics, it is absurd when applied to Mormons, and it is absurd when it is applied to us.  Priests are being cast as agents of political influence, and Orthodox parishes are being made out to be conduits of Moscow’s power.  This is shameful and untrue.  This would be insulting enough, but it also revives ugly and tiresome stereotypes about the Orthodox that we are unacceptably submissive to state control or that state authorities have some undue control over the operations of the Church.  The hoary charge of Caesaropapism lurks just out of view, and with it the claim that we are not much more than “the emperor’s men” or, in this case, “Putin’s men.”  Such compromises have happened occasionally, rarely, in the history of the Church during times of great trials.  Many of the heretical emperors exercised such excessive interference in the affairs of the Church, but this has been so far from the normal state of affairs that it is amazing that this stereotype has endured. 

Troparion 

Blessed art Thou, O Christ our God, Who hast revealed the fisherman as most wise By sending down upon them the Holy Spirit; Through them Thou didst draw the world into Thy net. O Lover of Man, Glory to Thee!

Kontakion 

When the Most High came down and confused the tongues, He divided the nations; But when He distributed the tongues of fire, He called all to unity. Therefore, with one voice, we glorify the all-holy Spirit!

Magnification

We magnify Thee, O Life-giver Christ, And we honor Thy most Holy Spirit, Whom Thou didst send from the Father unto Thy disciples.

A very joyous and blessed Holy Feast of Pentecost to you all.

As long as the Church Abroad existed as an independent entity, it implicitly challenged the authority of Moscow to speak for the Russian Church. It consistently denounced the collaboration of the church with the Communist Party, called for a more positive valuation of Russia’s prerevolutionary and anticommunist past [bold mine-DL] and served as a hopeful beacon to Orthodox Christians in Russia seeking an alternative.

Many in the Church Abroad wonder how this merger went through at all. The process was secretive, and there has even been speculation that some American businessmen with Russian ties helped to push it along. But now having accepted Moscow’s authority, the former Church Abroad faces many questions. Can its leaders press Moscow to reject the church’s tradition of collaborating with both the Kremlin and the KGB? Can they hold on to the church properties they have maintained for the past 80 years? Will the Moscow Church dispatch pro-Kremlin clergy to promote political aims? And, above all, can the leaders of the Church Abroad stem the tide of defection from the disappointed faithful that has already begun? ~Nadia Kizenko

Prof. Kizenko (she is a professor of history at SUNY Albany) makes a number of strange or false statements here.  In the past, the Church Abroad did serve an important function as a witness to Russian Orthodoxy free from any hint of Soviet influence, but the need for such an independent witness is no more, because the USSR is no more.  In the past, the Church Abroad did challenge collaboration with the Communist Party, but that party is no longer in power and the days of the “godless authority” are over.  The language of “merger” and “acquisition” is entirely inappropriate to the restoration of full communion between Christian brethren.  It suggests that the Church of Christ is merchandise to be bought and sold, as if our bishops were like the soldiers at the Crucifixion casting lots for the garments of the Lord.  This is an outrageous thing to suggest, but Prof. Kizenko’s language is meant to conjure up images of sordid and crooked dealings or the idea of the reconciliation of Orthodox Christians in terms of a hostile takeover more familiar to the readers of the Journal.

Members of what was the Church Abroad have valued and continue to positively value much of prerevolutionary Russian culture and history because it is also the culture and history nourished by the Russian Orthodox Church.  The ethnic Russians among Russian Orthodox outside Russia also have a natural admiration and love of their ancestral country, and they impart this admiration and love to new converts as part of the cultural traditions of their people, and I consider this all to the good.  In the last decade and a half, however, the Russian Orthodox in Russia have also begun to recover and rediscover the prerevolutionary past.  The Moscow Patriarchate has glorified the Holy Royal Martyrs and commemorates them among the Saints of the Church, which was a significant and important acknowledgement both of the Holy Royal Martyrs’ sanctity and martyrdom and of crimes of the persecutors who slew them and who also slew all the new martyrs of Russia.  Naturally, Prof. Kizenko fails to mention any of this.

The process of reconciliation was not secretive.  It was the fruit of the work of a joint commission made  up of representatives from the Synod and the MP, and information about their work was routinely made available.  The Sobor in San Francisco last year included lay and clerical representatives from every diocese in the Synod.  Each step was taken with the knowledge of all bishops and the laity of their respective dioceses.  Nonetheless, it was obviously and necessarily never going to be a “democratic” process, but was going to be one worked out by the bishops invested with the authority first given to the Holy Apostles to teach and lead the people of God.  The question of property has been or is in the process of being settled, and this has by and large meant the preservation of the status quo as far as questions of ownership and management are concerned.  Administratively and practically, the Synod’s institutional structures remain intact.  The key differences from the past are that communion has been restored and we recognise and commemorate Patriarch Alexy as the chief hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church.

There will be more to come in the next few days, but this is all I have time to write right now.

Update: Ilya Somin at Volokh Conspiracy uncritically embraces the extensively error-ridden article by Prof. Kizenko.  I am continually impressed at how willing some people are to make their political hostility to the Russian government the deciding factor in judging the merits of the reconciliation of the two parts of the Russian Orthodox Church.  I wonder whether these critics would ever be satisfied with a reunion with Moscow unless the Patriarch of Moscow actively undermined Putin’s rule (never mind that this would be directly contrary to the injunctions of the Apostle and centuries of Orthodox tradition).  It is these critics, not the Orthodox hierarchs, who are making political concerns the priority, which rather exposes their real concern, which is to encourage schism and spiritual sickness for the sake of scoring political points against a Russian government they do not like.  This is very wrong, and it has to be fought at every turn.  Insisting on persisting in the old division because Putin’s regime is authoritarian would be like urging Catholics around the world to go into schism because Catholic bishops had supported the pro-Catholic Nationalists in the Spanish Civil War.  Maybe there were and are people who urged such measures, but happily few or none listened.  Let us hope that the same will be the case today. 

Correction: In an earlier update, I had briefly confused Prof. Kizenko with an entirely different Kizenko who was connected to a pro-Yushchenko group.  I am reliably informed by those who know Prof. Kizenko that she almost certainly has nothing to do with such groups.  She is a Russian Orthodox Christian.  She simply happens to be badly mistaken in what she wrote in her article.

Ms. Kizenko’s article bothered me a great deal, more than I thought this sort of argument would bother me.  The thing is that I came into ROCOR as a convert out of a desire to find a Traditionalist Orthodox jurisdiction, one that was firm on ecumenism and as faithful to Church Tradition as possible, so I sympathised with the skepticism and reservations of those who feared the worst from a reconciliation with Moscow.  I could appreciate the perspective of Old Calendarist friends who believed that the Synod was making a terrible mistake.  In the end, however, I could see nothing that should have stood in the way of reconciliation.  Having made my spiritual home in the Russian Church Abroad, I am not going to become one of these spiritually nomadic people chasing after super-akribeia.  If ever there was a legitimate need for oikonomia for the pastoral care of the Orthodox people and their spiritual well-being, it was the case of the alienation of the two parts of the Russian Orthodox Church.  This was alienation created by the political interference of the Soviet government in the management of the Church–it would hardly do to perpetuate this alienation out of excessive fear of Putin’s authoritarianism. 

There is no sense in Ms. Kizenko’s article that the spiritual welfare of the Russian Orthodox flock should come first or that the Russian Orthodox Church exists not to counter the Putin regime but to preach the Gospel and provide the spiritual medicine in the hospital of salvation.  Pastorally, reconciliation was the only sane thing to do, especially as more and more immigrants from Russia came to Diasporan communities with baptisms from churches under Moscow’s jurisdiction.  Over the years there have been some cases of Russian immigrant faithful, validly baptised, being denied communion because of the rift between Moscow and the Synod.  That was becoming an intolerable and unsustainable situation, and moreover there was no fundamental issue requiring continued separation.  This division was a wound that needed to be bound up, poison that needed to be expelled.  Wisdom required oikonomia, accommodation, and there are as many examples of our Fathers among the Saints who have practised oikonomia as well as pursuing akribeia as the circumstances required.  Without serious impediments, reconciliation had to happen and was indeed already long overdue (coming 16 years after the dissolution of the Soviet Union).  Westerners and Russian Orthodox outside Russia should not allow their opposition to the policies of the Putin regime, which are and ought to be irrelevant to this discussion, blind them to the greater pastoral needs of the Orthodox Church.

Indeed, it was Mr. Putin who first made overtures to the Church Abroad in September 2003, when he met with its leadership during a visit to New York. The church merger is only the most recent of his successful attempts to appropriate symbols of Russia’s prerevolutionary and anticommunist past along with Soviet ones. ~Nadia Kizenko

Via Rod

This is simply untrue.  Talks between the Synod and Moscow predated Putin’s administration and they certainly predated his visit to New York.  By the time I was baptised in January 2003, reunion was already being widely discussed in the Synod.  It is true that reconciliation negotiations continued and perhaps even intensified in the past seven years, and it is true that Putin has supported this reconciliation (obviously doing so for his own purposes), but it is frankly insulting to all the bishops in the Synod to claim that Putin could have somehow masterminded the consent of the bishops of the Church Abroad.  Bishop Gabriel of New York expressed strong reservations about the reconciliation in the past, yet even he did not finally oppose it. 

What theological and moral issues are at stake?  Note that Ms. Kizenko does not elaborate, presumably because she either does not know or cannot explain.  Those are the only issues of any consequence that should prevent the reconciliation of the two parts of the Russian Orthodox Church.  Unless there are credible arguments about some serious error into which Moscow has fallen, there is nothing more to talk about.  Communism as a state system is finished; the Soviet Union is no more; Sergianism and collaboration are things of the past.  Ms. Kizenko must know this.  Indeed, it is not possible for her to not know this, yet she persists in encouraging precisely the kind of fractiousness and discord among Russian Orthodox outside Russia that she holds up as a major challenge for our bishops.  That she does so in a paper well-known for its hatred of Russia and all Orthodox nations is all the more unfortunate.  It is depressing to see the extent to which some people will take their obsession with Putin-bashing. 

Again, this is a good thing, not only for the healing of the Church but also of Russia. Whatever is in Putin’s heart, he’s allowing this to happen, and that can’t be taken away from him. Although the whiff of Caesaropapism stings my Western nostrils. It struck me as telling that Alexy praised Putin’s essential quality, the thing that won over the ROCOR holdouts, as devotion to Russia, not to Christ. ~Rod Dreher

I would take issue with two points in Rod’s otherwise good post on the reconciliation with Moscow.  First, he refers to it as ROCOR’s schism with Moscow, as if the Russian Orthodox in exile had chosen to break away from Moscow out of some sort of pique rather than principled resistance to collusion with an anti-Christian regime.  On the contrary, the Church Abroad had gone out of communion with Moscow because the Patriarchate had begun colluding with what was remembered in Synodal service books until the early ’90s as “the godless authority.”  It was a question of conscientious refusal to participate in that error, an error that fortunately was brought to an end with the collapse of that authority.  It is now in the past, slava Christe Bozhe, but it is important to remember that the Russian Orthodox outside Russia were doing the only thing that they could have done when the Soviets were in power.  There is, incidentally, something slightly inconsistent in hitting ROCOR for schism while at the same time complaining about “Caesaropapism” because of Putin’s involvement in helping to facilitate the reconciliation.

The other thing I would say is that Caesaropapism is not evident here.  This is mainly because Caesaropapism does not exist, at least not in the Orthodox world.  What people think of when they hear that term is the emperor or sovereign governing the church as if he were in a position of authority akin to that of the Pope.  Hence the name.  Caesaropapism in that form found its first real expressions in…England under Henry VIII and various Lutheran and other Protestant states in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries.  When Otto of Bavaria became King of Greece after independence, the relations between the sovereign and the Church of Greece were organised along the traditions inherited from the post-Augsburg German context (cuius regio, eius religio) rather than anything resembling either the idealised Byzantine symphoneia or the more basic, mundane distinction of secular and religious authorities that prevailed in Byzantium and again in Muscovy.  This German and Protestant Caesaropapism served as the model for the Petrine reforms, including ther introduction of Caesaropapism into Russia along with advance of Western-style absolutism.  Obviously, the subjection of the Church to the Soviet state was a more extreme example of this relationship, which outsiders have routinely and wrongly assumed to be the norm of church-state relations in Orthodox countries.   If there was or still is any Caesaropapist tendency in Russia, it came there by way of Westernising and modernising reforms that aimed to exalt the state and diminish any institutions that might pose a challenge to the centrality of the state. 

I generally try to offer some perspective on why Putin does what he does and why he is not quite the villain the Western media make him out to be (which is not to say that he is a particularly good or just President), and I certainly don’t and wouldn’t dispute Putin’s profession of Orthodoxy, but he has been a major booster of reconciliation at least partly as a way to encourage Diasporan Russians, including second and third generation Diasporans, to either come home to help or to do more to reinvest in Russia.  It is not so much a question of Putin “allowing” this–since he does not actually control the Church–as it is a question of Patriarch Alexei permitting him to receive some of the credit for the fruits of what have been the labours of Orthodox bishops from Russia and throughout the Diaspora.  The disunity among Russian Orthodox presented some practical obstacles to rallying ethnic Russians around the world to support Russia more than they have done.  There is also some small truth to the charge that some Diasporans have wanted the reconciliation for both nationalist and patriotic reasons: they wish all Russians to be (at least theoretically) joined together, and they also believe this will be good for Russia.  If these were the overwhelming or primary reasons for the reconciliation, that would be more of a problem, but I am of the opinion that these are contributing, mostly harmless factors that have added impetus to the fundamental drive to restore the unity of Russian Orthodox Christians.

The Russian Orthodox Church today formally ended an 80-year global schism triggered when exiles refused to accept the domestic church’s subservience to the Soviet state.

In a ceremony at Christ the Savior Cathedral, which was rebuilt in the 1990s after being torn down by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, the top leaders of the domestic and overseas Russian Orthodox hierarchies signed an act of “canonical communion.”

The document provides for the full restoration of religious unity under the Moscow patriarchate while maintaining autonomy for the church abroad in organizational and economic matters. ~The Los Angeles Times

As many of you know, I am a convert to the Orthodox Church, and I was baptised in the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad.  I remain at a Synod parish here in the Chicago area, and I intend to remain there.  The reconciliation between the two parts of the Russian Orthodox Church has now been formally realised and completed, and I believe this is very good.  I understand the reservations of some of our brethren about the potential pitfalls that this might entail, and I respect the Traditionalist Orthodox who rightly guard against the evils of ecumenism, but there was no longer any real impediment to the reconciliation with Moscow.  There was no longer anything that really justified the continuation of the Russian Church Abroad outside of communion with Moscow.  As of today, the Russian Orthodox around the world will be united, and, what is more, on account of his reconciliation all Russian Orthodox everywhere are in communion with all other main Orthodox jurisdictions.  I understand that this is a point of concern for those skeptical about the reconciliation with Moscow, but it seems to me in this case that the great good of restoring full unity among the Orthodox is worth risking those dangers that may lie ahead. 

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CHRIST IS RISEN FROM THE DEAD,
TRAMPLING DOWN DEATH BY DEATH,
AND UPON THOSE IN THE TOMBS
BESTOWING LIFE!

CHRISTOS VOSKRESE IZ MERTVIKH,
SMERTUYU SMERT POPRAV
I SUSCHIM VO GROBEH
ZHIVOT DAROVAV!

CHRISTOS ANESTI EK NEKRON
THANATO THANATON PATISAS,
KAI TOIS EN TOIS MNEMASI
ZOEN KARISAMENOS!

Let God arise, and his enemies be scattered: and let those that hate him flee before his face.

A sacred Pascha has been revealed to us today, a new and holy Pascha, a mystic Pascha, an all-venerable Pascha, a Pascha that is Christ the Redeemer, an unblemished Pascha, a great Pascha, a Pascha of the faithful, a Pascha that has opened for us the gates of Paradise, a Pascha that makes all the faithful holy.

As smoke vanishes, so let them vanish, as wax melts at the presence of fire.

Come from that sight, you women, bearers of good tidings, and say to Zion, ‘Receive from us the good tidings of joy, of Christ’s Resurrection. Exult, dance and be glad, Jerusalem, for you have seen Christ the King like a bridegroom coming from the grave.

So shall the wicked perish at the presence of God; and let the just be glad.

The myrrh-bearing women at deep dawn came to the grave of the giver of life. They found an Angel sitting on the stone, and he addressed them and said, ‘Why do you seek the living with the dead? Why do you mourn the incorruptible as though he were in corruption? Go, proclaim it to his Disciples.

This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.

A Pascha of delight, Pascha, the Lord’s Pascha, an all-venerable Pascha has dawned for us, Pascha. Let us embrace one another with joy. O Pascha, ransom from sorrow! Today Christ shone forth from a tomb as from a bridal chamber, and filled the women with joy, saying, ‘Proclaim it to the Apostles’.

The_Bridegroom_small.jpg

Behold, the Bridegroom is coming at midnight. * Blessed is the servant He shall find awake. * But the one He shall find neglectful will not be worthy of Him. * Beware, therefore, O my soul! Do not fall into a deep slumber,* lest you be delivered to death and the door of the Kingdom be closed to you. * Watch instead, and cry out: * Holy, Holy, Holy art Thou, O God. * Through the intercession of the Theotokos, have mercy on us!

Eastern Orthodoxy will never, ever, ever take root in the Western soul. At best, it can sprout shallow roots until the next spiritual fad or tent revival comes along. The soul of the West speaks Latin, prays to statues, and fidgets with rosaries. The soul of the West is covered with side altars, wears lace, and sports a lop-sided birretta. And the soul of the West doesn’t particularily care what was done one thousand years ago, or whether such-and-such a practice was precisely what the early Church did. ~ “Pseudo-Iamblichus”

Naturally, I don’t agree.  This is why I try not to speak in terms of “the West” all that often, because it is a definition that has historically not only excluded the Orthodox Christian world, which is an arbitrary and baseless exclusion, but has normally also excluded much of the central and eastern European and Near Eastern Catholic world.  It normally means “everything west of the Oder and north of Rome,” because those liminal zones in southern Italy and Sicily are so troubling to those who would like to define the West exclusively in terms of Latinity. 

Historically and culturally, Catholics and Orthodox belong to the same Christian civilisation and always have belonged to the same civilisation.  The entirety of Christian civilisation has suffered from the ravages of modernity, revolution and destruction to one degree or another, and both Catholics and Orthodox have battled against these forces with varying degrees of success.  The ignorance of our common civilisation’s overwhelmingly culturally Byzantine and linguistically Greek roots, for example, is an appalling abandonment of an enormous part of the common heritage of all Catholic and Orthodox Christians.  (The Protestants also obviously share in this heritage, but I am not speaking about them in this particular post.)  Ps.-Iamblichus here would like to ignore the profound Greek and Byzantine inheritance that his own church possesses, and so impoverishes his own tradition in a way no less troubling than the common Orthodox refusal to treat St. Augustine as the holy man that he was and that the Sixth Holy Ecumenical Council acknowledged him as being.  If some Orthodox were unwilling to acknowledge their Latin Fathers, they would be dismissing part of Church Tradition for no reason other than anachronistic cultural chauvinism that would have embarrassed even the most self-important Byzantine. 

I don’t want to make this into a Catholic-Orthodox throwdown, since I am perfectly well aware that rehashing arguments that have not been settled by wiser and greater men than I will not advance anyone’s understanding in the least.  This post is not an argument over the rival doctrinal and ecclesiological claims of the two confessions.  There are Orthodox converts who spend too much time lamenting the errors of Catholics and all kinds of other people, and this is not a healthy preoccupation for them to have.  However, the reality is that their misplaced enthusiasm tells us little or nothing about Orthodoxy. 

My point here would be that Ps.-Iamblichus (what a bizarre name for a Catholic to take as his pseudonym!) does his confession no credit at all in the way he has chosen to define “the soul of the West.”  If we are speaking figuratively here about a civilisation’s soul, as I assume we must be, it is very odd that he says that it doesn’t care what was done a thousand years ago, since surely what was done a thousand years ago has more than a little to do with defining what his church was and is and laid the foundations for all of the later accretions that he finds so important (e.g., lace and side altars).  Virtually no practices done today anywhere are precisely what the early Church did, and only a sort of odd liturgical literalist with no sense of the development of Orthodoxy liturgy, for instance, could insist on some absolute first-century standard precision.  Those who do so, if there are any such people, do so against the better judgement of Orthodox scholars and bishops.  Of course, no credible authority, whether episcopal or scholarly, argues for such an understanding of the practical life.  There are, however, liturgical reforms and liturgical deformations, and the same is true in every area of the life of the Church, and understanding the difference is part of spiritual and intellectual discernment.  Nonetheless, the attitude expressed here by Ps.-Iamblichus is odd, since it seems to suggest that he and the “soul of the West” are indifferent to adherence to traditions handed down and received from the Fathers.  This is not true for Catholics, and he does his church no great service by implying that Catholicism lacks in respect for traditional practices.

Presumably, Catholics do not “pray to statues,” which would be idolatry, but pray to the saints represented by those statues for intercession.  How a soul, which is any case a metaphor, can wear lace while also being “covered with side altars” is a metaphysical problem that I leave to better-trained philosophers.  Ps.-Iamblichus’ post gives the impression of a sort of panic that Orthodoxy is somehow sweeping over the land and taking over one Catholic church after another in waves and waves of mass conversions.  This would be a crazy thing to think, since Orthodox Christians in the United States make up one of the smallest religious minorities of all, while Catholics bestride the land like a colossus.  If Eastern Orthodoxy really were nothing more than the spiritual fad in western Europe and the Americas that he makes it out to be (which would seem to contradict Catholic teaching on the subject), why would there be any need to engage in such histrionics?  If Orthodoxy is just a passing fad that will soon disappear from “the West,” Ps.-Iamblichus has nothing to worry about and can return to wearing lace in his side altars in the contented knowledge that no cassocked converts chanting the Damascene’s Odes will be disturbing his Latin prayers to statues.

Some few of my coreligionists seem to believe they really are 19th century Russian peasants or 6th century Byzantine philosophes. They give their children unpronounceable names, dress in something approximating homespun, fumble with their comboschini while you’re talking to them, memorize Greek and Slavonic prayers they don’t understand, and worry about the spiritual lineages of obscure Balkan startsi. I exaggerate, of course (and certainly not everyone engaging in the above is necessarily a boutique religionist), but you get the idea. ~D. Ian Dalrymple

This is an interesting discussion, and at the conference last weekend there were some Orthodox converts talking about related problems that converts have.  There is always a tendency among and temptation for converts to attempt to make themselves more Orthodox and more ‘correct’ than St. Symeon Stylites, which would be a much less lamentable attitude if they demonstrated any hint of knowing how to do this successfully.  As one of my colleagues at the conference said, “Orthodox people should be normal people.”  By this I think he meant that they should not be engaged in massive affectations of eccentric hyper-piety. 

Now, on the other side, respecting and embracing the cultural and practical habits of the church that you enter into seem to me to not only be appropriate but a vital part of cutting your own will and becoming part of the community that has accepted you.  Most converts in my church do not groan under the use of Slavonic, but there are some who rebel against the use of traditional liturgical languages, couching their own discomfort in dubious appeals to mission.  Those who find Slavonic the most unsatisfying will be the first to cite the example of Sts. Cyril and Methodios as pioneers in encouraging linguistic diversity in the Church, all the while missing out on the substantial irony of this move.  I think those who want to push to Americanise their parishes and hope to create an American Orthodoxy mainly by making Orthodox people become more like Protestants are gravely mistaken and they are stripping their churches of those characteristics that make for the full experience of living Orthodoxy.  The Church is accommodating, but She is not a mystical catering service that will bring and fetch whatever strikes your fancy.  Those who go perhaps a little overboard in embracing the traditions of the Church, while perhaps missing something more important in the process, are at least approaching the Church with the right attitude, which is exactly the opposite of the religious boutique shopper who comes to pick up the latest fashionable item and who says things like, “Oh, the Jesus Prayer is very ‘in’ right now!”  Of course, no one actually says that, and few people consciously approach things this way, but any who find Orthodoxy ‘trendy’ or vaguely ‘New Age’ would be the ones I worry about a lot more (to the extent that I’m worrying about these things, which isn’t much) than the people who get as excited about blinis and the Slavophiles as they do about church services.  

The people who give their children “unpronounceable names” (though most Orthodox names are not really all that unpronounceable) are, I think, to be preferred to those who only grudgingly give their children proper baptismal names and then never use those names again.  If people are memorising prayers they don’t understand, that’s just bizarre.  How can they actually remember them if they don’t know what they’re saying?  What I mean to say is that those who take the time to memorise Otche nash in the Slavonic or Pater hemon in Greek should be able to learn without much added effort which foreign words go with which English words–the same would go for any other prayer.  Adherence to forms, while far from the fullness of experiencing Orthodox life, is a better beginning than a disregard for the forms.  It’s the same way with fasting or even something as great as forgiveness–you will never acquire the spiritual maturity of dispassion if you do not first begin with some minimal discipline, and you will never be able to truly forgive anyone unless you at least begin by uttering the words.  These are lessons in obedience and humility.  They are not ends in themselves, but exist to turn man away from himself and back towards God and towards his brethren.  Those approaching many of the things in the Orthodox Church as exotic accoutrements or as the definition of akribeia will probably end up not appreciating their proper role and their importance for cultivating in us a spirit of metanoia together with the desire to experience fully the abundant life that is in Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

I must be doing something right.  One of Andrew Sullivan’s readers has declared one of my recent posts, to which Sullivan linked, to be “conservative humbug.”  Unfortunately, in his haste to declare my view humbug he seems to have read in that post a claim that I did not make and don’t actually believe.  The Sullivan reader writes:

I find it difficult to stomach this kind of conservative humbug, that Modernity is anti-spiritual. Western society is the mechanism that allows groups like the Pentacostalists (and cosmos-loving atheists, and Wiccans, Buddhists, et al.) to exist. It is the ground in which they survive. What seems to irritate some conservatives is the fact that they cannot impose their will upon all of society and poison the soil which succors them. If anything, and the USA is the exemplar of this, modern Western society is besotted with spirituality. 

You cannot drive down a street in the greater Los Angeles area, a zone of the country supposedly noted for its secular ways, without encountering churches, synagogues, mosques, reading rooms, meditation centers, Scientology storefronts and other physical manifestations of the “higher” realms. Spiritual desert, bah! It’s an earthly garden of a thousand blooms.

I have had many things to say against modernity and even more against those who think there is virtue in modernism in most areas of life, but one thing I have not said and do not really hold is that “Modernity is anti-spiritual.”  Modernity is anti-traditional and possibly is inherently anti-Orthodox, but it is certainly not anti-spiritual.  I also don’t think I ever used the phrase “spiritual desert,” nor did I imply the existence of such a desert.  There is a spiritual desert in this country, but it is assuredly broken up by numerous oases.  As spiritual deserts go, it is much better than many.  Still, I defy someone to find anything remotely related to such claims in the post in question.  

What did I say?  I referred on numerous occasions to immorality and cultural decadence or, in one place, to “rampant immorality” and in another to “trashy popular culture.”  Perhaps the reader will be able to persuade me that Los Angeles (or any other major metro area) does not have more than its fair share of all these things, but I doubt it.  Perhaps the reader will disagree with what traditional Christianity would deem to be immoral, but that is an entirely different question.  What did I want to see as the remedies?  “Moral renewal” and “cultural regeneration” were my exact words.  Of course, those phrases call forth a number of questions (whose culture? what morality?), but since I took it as a given that my readers would understand that I meant the regeneration of a traditional Christian culture and a renewal of traditional Christian morality I did not go into greater detail about what I meant. 

Modernisation does not automatically equal secularisation and “de-spiritualisation” as such.  Islamic revivalist movements of the last three hundred years, Christian fundamentalist movements of at least the last one hundred years or so, Tenri-kyo and Soka Gakkai originating in 19th century Japan, the enthusiasts for Hindutva in India, Mormonism, and the ”progressive” Christianities of liberation theology and feminist theology, to take a few well-known examples, are all products of the modern age and are themselves modern.  “Modernity” is not all of one thing or all of another, but refers broadly to a mentality of self-determination and an orientation towards the self, and it also refers to a culture in which religious and political authorities have been stripped of their traditional claims to deference and obedience.  This is certainly not an exhaustive definition of an extremely complex subject.  Many modern religious movements, even those that stress quite seriously their fidelity to religious tradition, are based on the fairly anti-traditional assumption that it is acceptable to redefine, reorganise or refound a religious traditon.  In modern cultures, change and innovation often possess a predominantly positive meaning, such that even traditionalists and fundamentalists find themselves using the language of newness, dynamism, and choice, much to the annoyance of people like me.   

Obviously, critics of pluralism and ecumenism have no doubt that the modern world is beset by a rather staggering number of religious and other beliefs.  Some of these critics regard this great number of beliefs as the evidence of the inherent undesirability of pluralism, while others are content to stake their own claims in a pluralistic society.  Since I actually tend to lean towards the latter, one will be hard-pressed to find in me much of an enemy of the wide variety of religious expression in this country.  As an Orthodox Christian, I do not regard the claims of these other religions as true claims, and I think it is a crucial part of religious discourse in this country to state these oppositions and contradictions as flatly and plainly as possible.  Ecumenism offends me, for example, to the extent that it declares doctrine to be irrelevant to the proceedings and sees inherited truths as barriers to union to be removed rather than serious obligations that must be paid the proper respect.  Today being the Sunday of Orthodoxy, it is rather fitting that there is an opportunity to note the freedom afforded to the Orthodox in this country to gather for services today for the  reading of the Synodikon to remember and re-enact the condemnations of many old heresies (Demetrios of Lampe, this means you!), and to acknowledge that it is far better that the Orthodox are free to do this in a country that is overwhelmingly non-Orthodox.       

Intellectually sloppy models, in which we ignore truth and privilege some supposed underlying unity of all religious beliefs (as Romney would very much like to do), do seem to appear in the modern age with far greater frequency than in previous periods in human history.  This is not because these fundamentally ecumenist models are any more compelling than they have been in the past, but because it was not until the Enlightenment’s attempted emptying of religious doctrines of their claims to being the embodiment of absolute truths that it was even conceivable that vying religious truth-claims could be reduced to the category of opinion.  To the extent that religious doctrine and traditional religion in the modern age truly have been devalued and marginalised in social, political and cultural life, the mentality and culture of modernity are hostile to traditional religion and are very supportive of every wind of doctrine and vague “spirituality” that might work to undermine the role and the claims of our civilisation’s religion.  Modernity anti-spiritual?  Far from it.  It is all together too spiritual, like the ages of the Gnostics and Neoplatonists, and not grounded enough in an incarnate Faith.    

Christ is born, glorify him! Christ is from heaven, go to meet Him! Christ is on earth, be ye lifted up! Sing to the Lord, all the earth. Sing out with gladness, all ye people. For He is glorified. ~First Ode of the Christmas Canon

Thy Nativity, O Christ our God, hath shined upon the world the light of knowledge; for thereby, they that worshipped the stars were taught by a star to worship Thee, the Sun of Righteousness, and to know Thee, the Dayspring from on high. O Lord, glory be to Thee. ~Festal Troparion

The Virgin today gives birth to the Transcendent One, and the earth offers a cave to the Unapproachable One. Angels and shepherds glorify Him, and wise men journey with a star. For a young Child is born for us, Who is the eternal God. ~Nativity Kontakion

Christ is Born! Glorify Him!
Christos razhdaetsya! Slavite!
Christos gennatai! Doxasate!

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.      

TROPARION 

Today the faithful celebrate the feast with joy illumined by your coming, O Mother of God.  Beholding your pure image we fervently cry to you: “Encompass us beneath the precious veil of your protection; deliver us from every form of evil by entreating Christ, your Son and our God that He may save our souls.”

KONTAKION

Today the Virgin stands in the midst of the Church and with choirs of saints she invisibly prays to God for us. Angels and bishops worship, apostles and prophets rejoice together, since for our sake she prays to the pre-eternal God. 

THEOTOKION

We magnify thee, O all-immaculate Mother of Christ our God, and we honor thy labors and thy precious omophorion, for the holy Andrew beheld thee in the air, entreating Christ for us.

On the origin of the Feast, see here.

Presvyataya Bogoroditsa, Tya Velichaem! 

Panagia Theotokos, Soson Emas! 

Presvyataya Bogoroditsa, Spasi Nas!

But it is right to use the concept—the traditional language is clerical fascism—about movements like the Romanian one. ~Michael Ledeen

This is one of the more remarkable errors that Michael “Scholar of Fascism” Ledeen makes in his efforts to show his alleged superior understanding of fascism in defense of the abhorrent neologism Islamofascism and the phrase ”Islamic fascist.”  As those familiar with the Legion of the Archangel Michael’s history and the career of Codreanu, the founder of this genuinely very odd Romanian political movement, will know, the Legion was in no sense “clerical,” because it was a predominantly and overwhelmingly lay movement that had no official church support nor did it have widespread clerical involvement because of the Church’s hostility to it. 

It did claim to be an Orthodox Christian political movement, made Orthodoxy an important aspect of the Romanian national identity, and modeled its ideals and rhetoric on extreme asceticism and martyrdom, which included a willingness to die–but not therefore necessarily to kill–for Romania.  Its general lack of violence and hooliganism (which is not to say that its members did not sometimes engage in political violence) marks it out as as more of a peculiar Christian nationalist group that was not very fascistic except for the uniforms the salutes.  Stanley Payne has argued convincingly that of movements typically associated with fascism in interwar Europe it has one of the weakest claims to the name.  Payne certainly never used the name clerical fascism for the Legion, and tends to avoid using that name for any of what he more accurately described as conservative authoritarian regimes.  Before it was associated with the Antonescu government, the Legion was known mostly for how many of its members suffered death at the hands of the Romanian government and others, since Codreanu maintained a very bizarre attitude towards violence for someone conventionally associated with fascism: be killed for Romania, but don’t kill.  You may be able to guess why the movement did not catch on everywhere. 

The reasons why Codreanu has been associated with fascism are because the Legion was a mass “shirt” nationalist movement (I believe green was their preferred colour) that had a peculiar obsession with death for the nation, and even went so far as to say, “You must love Romania more than your own soul.”  Even granting some license for exaggeration, this was a bizarre statement for an expressly Christian movement to make. 

It is noteworthy that in all of this the Romanian Orthodox Church had virtually nothing to do with Codreanu and condemned his movement in support of government repression of the movement.  If there were individual priests who had anything to do with the movement, they did not have the official support of the hierarchy and would have suffered penalties for associating with the movement.  Mircea Eliade, the famous Romanian writer, who fled Romania around the time of the rise of the Antonescu government, came here to Chicago and later wrote how strange he found it that the Church had persecuted the only modern political movement even remotely related to Orthodox Christianity.  Under Antonescu, Legionaries did become willing tools of the collaborationist government and took on a very different character with respect to the general use of violence than they had had when Codreanu was still alive.  But even if in this later period they might be aligned with the Nazis in their collaboration and usually anti-Jewish violence, at no point were they “clerical fascist” in any meaningful sense. 

But being a Christian movement is not the same as being clericalist, much less clerical fascist (a bogus category, in my view, primarily invented to conjure up hatred for Catholic accommodations with Mussolini, the Dollfuss-Schuschnigg Catholic corporatist and anti-Nazi regime in Austria from 1934-38 and for Franco’s regime).  The entire category clerical fascist was one invented by the sorts of people who don’t like conservative authoritarianism or Catholicism, and really don’t like them when they are combined (as they were, to some degree, in Austria and Spain)–in harping on it, Ledeen shows not so much his scholarly accomplishments (which his description of the Legion makes ever more suspect) but his own obsessions in militating against conservative authoritarian and religious regimes. 

Indeed, it is only when clerics are prominent in a political movement that it is really correct to call it clericalist, and then the system they usually hope to set up falls under a much more generic category of theocracy.  It is perfectly reasonable to describe Iran as a theocratic republic; it would be reasonable to call it clericalist, if one so desired.  But fascist? In what sense? 

There are, it is true, authoritarian, revolutionary and republican elements in the Iranian regime, but these seem to be markers not of fascism but of what might broadly be called an Islamic version of conservative authoritarianism.  If there are a few people in the entire Near East who are Muslims and also find themselves in sympathy with fascism, that’s all very interesting, but it tells us nothing about the people whom the adminsitration is labeling Islamic fascist–namely, members of Al Qaeda or Hizbullah or the government in Tehran, which are very clearly not claiming any kind of affinities or sympathies with fascism.  There may be Muslims (probably more secular than religious) who are political fascists, but if a Muslim is an Islamist he is almost by definition not a fascist, and that is what we’re arguing about. 

Processional icon of the Koimesis. 85Х55, 2002 

TROPARION 

In giving birth, you preserved your virginity!
In falling asleep you did not forsake the world, O Theotokos!
You were translated to life, O Mother of Life,
And by your prayers you deliver our souls from death!

KONTAKION

Neither the tomb, nor death, could hold the Theotokos,
Who is constant in prayer and our firm hope in her intercessions.
For being the Mother of Life,
She was translated to life by the One who dwelt in her virginal womb!

St. Gregory Palamas once said, The Logos became flesh, and the flesh became Logos.  Taken out of the context of Orthodox Tradition and the finely balanced doctrine of Christ held by the Orthodox Church, this statement might seem shocking or even heretical, but it is because St. Gregory’s formulation was closely tied to the entirety of Church Tradition that this radical statement of the reality of deification expresses the profound paradox of the truth of the Incarnation.  The statement is strongly Cyrilline in its inspiration, recognising that, as Donald Fairbairn has acknowledged in his important book Grace and Christology in the Early Church, Cyrilline Christology implies that Christ’s own humanity has received the adopted divine sonship that the Son naturally possesses: Christ’s humanity is His deified humanity and, what is more, His deified humanity is made equally the adopted son of God by grace that the Son is by nature. 

It is not too much of an exaggeration to say that in Orthodoxy in particular the significance of John 1:14, And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, stands out as a defining feature of all subsequent Orthodox theology.  This is not to deny the importance of the prologue to the Gospel of St. John to other confessions; it is, of course, fundamental to all Christian confessions in its statement of Christ’s divinity and the cosmic dimension of the Incarnation.  However, it is in the strong embrace of the idea of theosis in the Greek tradition that Orthodoxy finds it particular expression.  It is not an exaggeration to say that essentially every controversy of any significance in the Orthodox world before 1453 was a controversy over the nature or possibility of deification, which is to say the nature or possibility of God’s Redemption of mankind and the reception of His saving grace. 

If God became man that men might become gods, in the famous statement reiterated by St. Athanasios (following a long tradition stemming back to St. Clement of Alexandria), the reality of God’s becoming man and the integrity of His remaining fully God were essential to the entire rationale for the Incarnation itself.  If the paradoxical mystery of the Incarnation was to make any sense, it must retain the possibility of the deification of men for which the Word undertook to take human flesh and a rational soul.  Central to this is the reciprocal relationship of the two transformations: the changeless becoming of God taking the form of a servant, obedient unto death, yea, even death on a cross and the transfiguration of created flesh into illumined and deified flesh raised by grace to the level of divinity according to energy. 

As the Orthodox on the Traditional Church Calendar marked the Feast of the Holy Transfiguration of Our Lord this past weekend, which our New Calendar Orthodox bretren marked two weeks ago, we were reminded of the meaning of the Psalmist’s declaration that You are gods (Ps. 82:6) and shown the way to our fully restored state of purified, illumined and deified human nature shining with the uncreated light of Mt. Tabor.  This is the purpose for which every man has been created; this is the reality of our salvation realised before us in the living witnesses of the saints and martyrs who have received the perfection of harmonious synergeia between their wills and the will of God; this is the transformation of flesh by grace confirmed in the icons of Our Lord, His Mother and the holy saints and prophets; this is the participation in the Life of God made possible through partaking of the Holy Sacraments.  God became man that men might become gods–this is as essential to the truth of the Faith as believing on the reality of the Resurrection, for they are in fact one and the same thing.  Without Resurrection, deification is impossible, and without the possibility of deification the Resurrection of Christ was in vain for the salvation of our race.