Greek Orthodox Archbishop Demetrios announced yesterday that Bishop Savas of Troas, most recently the chancellor of the archdiocese, has been named director of the Office of Church and Society. The bishop will be charged with developing “programs and ministries that promote a creative Orthodox Christian engagement with contemporary societal and cultural realities.”
Readers of this blog will recall the effusive praise with which Bishop Savas greeted the election of Barack Obama, rejoicing that “this is the day that the Lord has made!” Yesterday, the Obama administration moved to rescind a Bush administration regulation, put in place in December, that cuts off federal funding for medical facilities that would force doctors, nurses and other health care workers to participate in practices, such as abortion, that “they feel violates their personal, moral or religious beliefs.” The move to lift the so-called “conscience rule,” which is subject to a 30 day public comment period, was applauded by pro-abortion activists and condemned by religious conservatives.
Perhaps the bishop, in his first official act, could issue a sharply worded statement and go on radio and TV to criticize the Obama administration for its attempt to overturn the health care “conscience rule” and pointing out how removing legal protections for religious belief in the workplace advances the culture of death. There’s a “contemporary societal and cultural” reality for you.
Perhaps Bishop Savas will work in unison with other Orthodox jurisdictions to present a united front on moral issues. For example, he could rally Greek metropolitans, bishops, priests, theologians, seminarians — and the laity — for a massive turnout at next year’s March for Life in Washington. And what about calling Orthodox Christian politicians to account for their votes on life issues?
Maybe that’s too much to expect. As outlined by the archbishop, the Office of Church and Society, which seems to have been dormant for some time, “will address matters of current relevance, such as the effects of online social networking, the popularity of so-called ‘reality’ television and video games, and the resurgence of atheism. It will also oversee the Archdiocesan Advisory Committee on Science and Technology (AACST) and will work closely with the Archdiocesan Youth Department.”
How does the “resurgence of atheism” fit into this mixed bag of priorities? It is unclear. A good place to start on the atheism project might be to focus on the advance of secularism and the threat it poses to faith communities, something Russian Orthodox hierarchs have spoken to very forcefully. Secularism is a threat that exists not only in the wider culture but within our own churches, and is greatly aggravated by the ethno-phyletism which breaks out in our communities like a genetic disorder. In the Greek church, that of course can be traced to phony “Hellenism” projects which have little to do with the theological or philosophical heritage of Hellenistic culture as it informed and strengthened Orthodox Christian doctrine. This sort of “Hellenism,” which is corrosive to the Christian call to evangelize and make disciples of all nations [Matt. 28:19], is really a secularized ethnic pride that seeks the “greekification” of the Church and uses it instrumentally to advance the objectives of the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This phony “Hellenism” condemns the American Church to a perpetual diaspora mindset, generation upon generation.
But I digress. Let us pray for Bishop Savas and wish him success in bringing the moral witness of Orthodoxy to the Church and the wider culture. And let us hope that he takes on something much more ambitious than video games.