Islam, Orthodox Christianity and Post-Modernism

Russian Orthodox Church, Petropavlovsk

Russian Orthodox Church, Petropavlovsk (Photo credit: GlobalCitizen01)

Off this morning to teach at Acton University.  I’m presenting a lecture on asceticism and consumerism. My thesis is that consumerism is not the fruit of a particular economic system but of human sinfulness. Yes, a given system might very well be more (or less) fertile ground for consumerism, but from my own perspective as an Orthodox Christian and social scientists, consumerism as such requires first and foremost an ascetical response.  Anyway, for those who are interested, I’ll post at least my notes later this week.

What I wanted to offer today are a few brief thoughts about the recent scholarly debate about whether or not Muhammad actually existed (you can read an excellent summary of the discussion here). Let me say up front, the scholarship that underlines the historical debate is well beyond my area of familiarity much less competency. My own scholarly frailties aside however, the discussion does raise an interesting question for the pastoral life of the Orthodox Church. Continue reading

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Defending Infanticide

Well, not me, but there are people doing just that. Let me explain.

When a college classmate was in med school in the early 80’s, she was horrified to hear a lecture advocating what he called “extra-uterial abortions.”  For those playing at home, that’s infanticide.

Telling me about the lecture, she said that there were two speakers at the front of the lecture hall. The ob/gyn who was describing the procedure and an attorney who clarified for these future doctors what was and was not currently legal.

What brought this to mind is an essay by Michael Scaperlanda at the law blog site, Mirror of Justice (It is not surprising that Peter Singer is no longer alone in advocating infanticide). He writes on a “peer reviewed article advocating legalization of infanticide.” According to the abstract from the article “what we [the authors] call ‘after-birth abortion’ (killing a newborn) should be permissible in all the cases where abortion is, including cases where the newborn is not disabled.” Continue reading

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In the Spirit of St George: the Vocation of the Christian Warrior.

Troparion of St George

As the deliverer of captives and defender of the poor, healer of the infirm and champion of kings, victorious great martyr George intercede with Christ our God for our souls salvation.

Our last conversation focused on the macro-level of the Church’s moral witness on matters of war and peace. In this second post I want to focus on the what is for me more interesting, observation micro-level and pastoral observation made by the fathers of the Sacred Bishops’ Council of the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate in their encyclical , “The Basis of the Social Concept.” Specifically, I am interested in the positive view the fathers hold for military service for Christians in general and of the Christian warrior in particular. Continue reading

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War, Peace and the Vocation of Orthodox Christians in American

When St. Cyril Equal-to-the-Apostles was sent by the Patriarch of Constantinople to preach the gospel among the Saracens, in their capital city he had to enter into a dispute about faith with [Muslim] scholars. Among others, they asked him: “Your God is Christ. He commanded you to pray for enemies, to do good to those who hate and persecute you and to offer the other cheek to those who hit you, but what do you actually do? If anyone offends you, you sharpen your sword and go into battle and kill. Why do you not obey your Christ?” Having heard this, St. Cyril asked his fellow-polemists: “If there are two commandments written in one law, who will be its best respecter — the one who obeys only one commandment or the one who obeys both?” When the Hagerenes said that the best respecter of law is the one who obeys both commandments, the holy preacher continued: “Christ is our God Who ordered us to pray for our offenders and to do good to them. He also said that no one of us can show greater love in life than he who gives his life for his friends (Jn. 15:3). That is why we generously endure offences caused us as private people. But in company we defend one another and give our lives in battle for our neighbours, so that you, having taken our fellows prisoners, could not imprison their souls together with their bodies by forcing them into renouncing their faith and into godless deeds. Our Christ-loving soldiers protect our Holy Church with arms in their hands. They safeguard the sovereign in whose sacred person they respect the image of the rule of the Heavenly King. They safeguard their land because with its fall the home authority will inevitably fall too and the evangelical faith will be shaken. These are precious pledges for which soldiers should fight to the last. And if they give their lives in battlefield, the Church will include them in the community of the holy martyrs and call them intercessors before God”

Quoted in the encyclical of the Sacred Bishops’ Council of the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, “The Basis of the Social Concept,” VIII.2

Even if not officially there is among many Orthodox Christians (in American at least) a more or less explicit bias against military service as a Christian vocation. For some even to suggest that such a call is possible is absurd and even offensive. And yet as the passage quoted above suggests, at least under specific circumstances, there a place in the Body of Christ for not only military service but even the taking up of arms against a foe who would threaten the innocent.

This is not to suggest, as the synod fathers of the Sacred Bishops’ Council of the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate stress in their encyclical , “The Basis of the Social Concept,” that that war is anything other that evil or that “war is caused by the sinful abuse of the God-given freedom; ‘for out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murder, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies.’” (Mt. 15:19) But at the same time they argue that “While recognising war as evil, the Church does not prohibit her children from participating in hostilities if at stake is the security of their neighbours and the restoration of trampled justice. Then war is considered to be necessary though undesirable.” Continue reading

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Obedience and Growing Up

I tell my own spiritual children that love is a union of lives, and obedience, the submission of the will to another, is simply love in working clothes.

To be sure, obedience without love, without that mutual commitment to the welfare of the other, obedience is not life giving but degrading. But when love is the context, then I think I am on safe ground to argue that obedience is key to growing in affective maturity.

This primacy of love is essential also in helping us understand the argument made by Pope John Paul II in Pastores Dabo Vobis (On the Formation of Priests in the Circumstances of the Present Day). Forget love and I am likely to misunderstand and misapply Pope John Paul’s singling out obedience as having an central role to of play in sound human formation.

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The Medium Is The Message And My Character Is the Medium

If our ministry is to be personal and not merely technically, we cannot neglect the human formation of clergy and laity. To be sure formation must also be intellectual, spiritual and pastoral, (the last of which while different for clergy and laity is nevertheless essential for both). But, as Pope John Paul II writes in Pastores Dabo Vobis (On the Formation of Priests in the Circumstances of the Present Day) if we wish our ministry to be truly heartfelt, truly grounded in virtue and personal holiness and not simply an exercise of power (albeit religious power) then “Of special importance is the capacity to relate to others. This is truly fundamental for a person who is called to be responsible for a community and to be a ‘man of communion.’” To be a man of communion it is imperative that “the priest not be arrogant, or quarrelsome,” instead he should be “affable, hospitable, sincere in his words and heart, prudent and discreet, generous and ready to serve, capable of opening himself to clear and brotherly relationships and of encouraging the same in others, and quick to understand, forgive and console (cf. 1 Tm. 3:1-5; Ti. 1:7-9).”

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What Is Sound Human Formation and Why Do We Need It?

Sound human formation, Pope John Paul II writes in Pastores Dabo Vobis (On the Formation of Priests in the Circumstances of the Present Day), is important not only for the “proper and due growth and realization of self, but also with a view to the ministry.” So what does he mean by the phrase “sound human formation”?

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