August 29, 2014

Lessons from Byzantium

fall-of-constantinople

Excerpt: George Ostrogorsky in his magisterial History of the Byzantine State shows how the people of Byzantium rose time and again to create wealth, cultivate their intellectual capital, and achieve military success. Ultimately, though, they could not overcome the bad policy decisions that, made over the course of generations, ran counter to the proven path of political strength, cultural vigor, and economic growth. By the time Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1453, the empire was but a shell of its former glory. For Orthodox Christians in Europe, it remained a symbol of the church, or religious commonwealth on earth, but the desolated city that greeted Sultan Mehmet II told a more sobering story of squandered wealth and misguided politics. Source: National Review Online | Michael Auslin The empire fell but didn’t have to. The Byzantine Empire’s long run — 1,100 years — may seem remote from the 21st century, but a reading of its history … [Read more...]

EP Fast Track? Homily of Met. Elpidophoros of Proussa at His Ordination

elpidorphoros-ordination

Readers will remember that Met. Elpidophoros gave the controversial speech at Holy Cross a few years back extolling the virtues of Constantinople and castigating America for ignoring it (see: Ecumenical Patriarchate: American ‘Diaspora’ must submit to Mother Church). It didn't go over well at all. The next year he was invited to St. Vladimir's Seminary and while not clarifying his remarks he ameliorated his tone (read .pdf). The homily contains much Byzantineze, some of it necessary because the social context of old world Orthodoxy demands it. What strikes our ears as excessive deference to the high authority, the Patriarch in this case, functions to show the courtiers gathered at the event that +Elpidophoros is a loyalist and will continue the Phanariot policies. Remember this is medieval practice carried forward. Also, the fact that Met. Hilarion was in attendance shows this was not run of the mill ordination. Still, you can't help but sense that the grandeur the language … [Read more...]

Bureaucratic Church and Imperial State

In response to comments here on this blog about whether the Byzantines will one day "save" the American Church, the answer to that, as has been observed, is that there are no Byzantines remaining to save us. What's more, there would be little support among American Orthodox Christians for the sort of deep involvement by the state in Church affairs that was typical of Byzantium. The American Founders, in their wisdom, went to great lengths to make sure that the state would not establish a Church nor would the state control its life. The following excerpt is from "Church Structures and Administration," by Michael Angold and Michael Whitby, in The Oxford Handbook of Byzantine Studies. In their broad outlines the administrative structure of the Byzantine Church as systematized under Justinian survived without radical change down to the end of the Byzantine Empire. This was testimony both to Justinian's administrative and legislative abilities and to the Church's ability to adapt … [Read more...]

Review: How the Byzantines Saved Europe

The Surprising Life of  Medieval Empire

The Oxford Handbook of Byzantine Studies. Edited by Elizabeth Jeffreys, John Haldon, Robin Cormack. Oxford University Press (2008) Byzantium: The Surprising Life of a Medieval Empire by Judith Herrin. Princeton University Press (2008) Ask the average college student to identify the 1,100 year old empire that was, at various points in its history, the political, commercial, artistic and ecclesiastical center of Europe and, indeed, was responsible for the very survival and flourishing of what we know today as Europe and you’re not likely to get the correct answer: Byzantium. The reasons for this are manifold but not least is that as Western Europe came into its own in the later Middle Ages and Renaissance, Byzantium gradually succumbed piecemeal to the constant conquering pressure of Ottomans and Arabs. When Constantinople finally fell in 1453 (two years after the birth of the Genoese Christopher Columbus), Europe, now cut off from many land routes to Asian trade, was already … [Read more...]

What is the first responsibility of a Bishop? To preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The Apostolic Mission of Bishops: A Short Reflection By Bradley Nassif, Ph.D. The purpose of this brief, and incomplete, reflection is to focus on the centrality of the gospel in the ministry of a bishop. It is not intended to promote a partisan perspective on any issue facing the contemporary Orthodox Church – Antiochian, Greek or O.C.A. It simply spotlights what the calling of a bishop is to be. I want to be clear that this article is not a response to the recent discussions of the Antiochian bishops or the Holy Synod. It is a timeless reflection -- a positive statement -- of what the primary work of a bishop should be, regardless of his geographical location or the time of history in which he lives. It is vitally important that we understand the bishop’s calling because the gospel of Jesus Christ lies at the very center of his ministry among us. The Bishop’s Apostolic Mission The apostolic mission of a bishop in the Eastern Orthodox Church can be summarized in five … [Read more...]

The Real Byzantium?

In late January, Russian television showed "The Fall of an Empire: The Lessons of Byzantium," a film by Archimandrite Tikhon Shevkunov. The film has sparked a controversy in Russia about the role that the West played in the collapse of the Byzantine Empire, whether modern Russia faces similar dangers, and whether the Russian Orthodox Church could help prevent a similar collapse. The Moscow Times published two opposing views on the documentary today. Mark Urnov, dean of the political science department at the Higher School of Economics, had this to say: This is not a historical film but a mythological one. It appeals to a myth deeply rooted in the consciousness of many Russians -- one that combines the bold ideas of Moscow as a "Third Rome," the greatness of the 18th- and 19th-century Russian Empire and the Communist fairy tale of a flourishing Soviet superpower that was destroyed by insidious and subversive liberals. The film uses the Byzantine model to advance another myth -- … [Read more...]