The Patriarch of Russia's Restoration

By: James George Jatras

Russian Orthodoxy Resurgent: Faith and Power in the New Russia
By John Garrard and Carol Garrard
Princeton University Press
326 pp., $29.95

James George Jatras Esq.

James George Jatras Esq.

The recognized godfather of modern Orthodox-inspired Russian patriotism, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, once characterized Bolshevism as a promethean effort to rub off the age-old face of Russia and to replace it with a new, ersatz Soviet face. Historians will argue for years if that monstrous experiment was doomed to failure, when and how that failure might have occurred at critical historical junctures, and especially who the indispensable figures in communism’s eventual demise were. But there is little question that in the chronicles of Russia’s restoration as a recognizably Orthodox Christian country the late Patriarch ALEKSY II of Moscow and All Russia will figure high on that list.

While few could realistically expect the end of communism to entail the reinstatement of dispossessed noble families’ lands and estates or formal reestablishment of the Church and monarchy (not yet, anyway), "restoration" is indeed the right term. After the long, sub-rosa civil war that constituted the communists’ decades-long efforts to overcome Russians’ obstinate unwillingness or inability to conform their lives and consciences to the insane scribblings of Marx, Engels, and Lenin, Americans and other westerners familiar with Russia today can only be astounded at the miraculous – there is no other word for it – degree to which the Orthodox Church has become the national moral conscience, including in state, and especially, military affairs.

While Americans, with our history of government neutrality among churches, might be a bit taken aback at public officials’ and commanders’ participation in Orthodox services to bless the launch of a new nuclear submarine or to celebrate the patron Saint’s Day of a military unit, given the degree to which Christianity is being ruthlessly purged from our own public life we might feel just a twinge of envy.

That this state of affairs came into being relatively peacefully during the dangerous days of the Soviet regime’s final death agony is largely Aleksy’s doing. Indeed, though the late Patriarch’s name does not appear in the title or subtitle, John Garrard and Carol Garrard have written a book about him far more than about Russia or Orthodoxy per se.

The book is especially enlightening in detailing Aleksy’s actions during the failed August 1991 putsch, when Soviet diehards sought to overthrow the government of the Russian Republic (the largest of the USSR’s 15 Union Republics) headed by President Boris Yeltsin. The Garrards credit (correctly in this reviewer’s opinion) Aleksy’s stern anathema against the shedding of civil blood for the fact that the military refused to take action in support of the coup and that the death toll was kept to just three persons:

Every person who raises arms against his neighbor, against unarmed civilians, will be taking upon his soul a very profound sin which will separate him from the Church and from God. It is appropriate to shed more tears and say more prayers for such people than for their victims. May God protect you from the terrible sin of fratricide. I solemnly warn all my fellow-citizens: The Church does not condone and cannot condone unlawful and violent acts and the shedding of blood. I ask all of you, my dear ones, to do everything possible to prevent the flame of civil war from bursting forth. Cease at once!

The success of Aleksy’s warning, issued in response to an appeal by Yeltsin, is all the more remarkable in that it would be heeded by officers and men of a Red Army originally created to crush Russian resistance to an earlier Bolshevik coup d’etat, in October 1917. The army’s response did not materialize out of thin air. The Garrards record Aleksy’s amazingly deft cultivation of the armed forces, and even elements of the KGB, well before his rise to the patriarchate.

During the 1980s, first as Metropolitan of his native Tallinn (Estonia) and of Leningrad (now once again Saint Petersburg), Aleksy was remarkably successful in securing the Soviet authorities’ acquiescence to the restoration to the Church of the celebrated Danilov Monastery – now once again official headquarters of the patriarchate – and the KGB’s return of the relics of the famous military saint and champion of Orthodoxy against the Roman Catholic Swedes and Teutonic Knights, Prince Aleksandr Nevsky.

His masterful orchestration of the 1988 celebration of the millennium of the Baptism of Rus’ under Saint Prince Vladimir of Kiev was a major milestone in the Church’s assumption of its current commanding role. At the same time, the authors, despite their clearly positive attitude toward Aleksy and his accomplishments, do not hide the fact that little of this would have been possible if Aleksy had not himself been a longtime and obedient operative of the KGB.

Taken as a whole, Russian Orthodoxy Resurgent is a valuable book and the Garrards should be commended for their ably bringing to light facets of one of recent history’s little known but most significant chapters. At the same time, the work includes two minor oddities and one major, indeed deplorable, defect.

The Garrards explore the bases of the thousand-year-old discord between Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism as an intended insight on Aleksy’s distrust of the Vatican, his refusal to allow Pope John-Paul II visit Russia as he dearly had wanted, and his insistence that Orthodoxy, not Catholicism or Protestantism, be acknowledged as the Christian confession in Russia in relation to other historic faiths: Islam, Judaism, and Buddhism. In doing so, however, they embark on an extended, and essentially irrelevant, explanation that the claims to primacy of Rome and Moscow depend on how one reads the Gospel accounts of Christ’s first calling to His Apostolate, respectively, Saint Peter or his brother Saint Andrew.

Aside from the fact that the see of Constantinople also takes its founding honorific from Andrew, and Antioch and (via Saint Mark) Alexandria both can claim Peter, no such who-was-summoned-before-whom question has ever had much bearing on the real points of division: Rome’s own formulation of its unique Petrine claim of authority (and infallibility) based largely on Matthew 16, the filioque, the unions of Lyon, Ferrara-Florence, and Brest, and repeated armed incursions by western armies into Orthodox countries to subdue people regarded by Rome as schismatics if not heretics.

Writing as no stranger to Orthodox-Latin polemics, this reviewer is puzzled as to why the authors would include such a strange and, frankly, inaccurate explanation.

Even more peculiar is the Garrards’ repeated insistence that the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR) and the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad (ROCA) are two different bodies when in fact they are the same thing. I have consulted numerous sources, including many in ROCOR/ROCA – both of which names are found on their own website – and they are as baffled as I am as to what the source of misunderstanding might be. (In common parlance, even more common than "ROCOR" and "ROCA" are "the Synod" or "the Synodal Church," which is not used in the book.)

While the confusion can be regarded as a minor quirk the topic to which it is relevant – the 2007 reunion of the branches of the Russian Church abroad and at home, of which then-President Vladimir Putin was hardly less a champion than Aleksy – is not. In any case, the reunion was a bilateral, not trilateral, event.

These blemishes are insignificant compared to the Garrards’ absolutely inexcusable vilification of the Serbian Orthodox Church and the Serbian people. It is understandable that the authors wish to juxtapose Aleksy’s successful navigation of the Russian Church through the treacherous shoals of Russian politics, both civil and ecclesiastical, and it was no doubt tempting to hold up a negative point of comparison. Given the magnitude of the disinformation about and demonization of Serbia and the Serbian Church, and the close national and spiritual ties between Russians and Serbs, the Serbian example might seem a suitable illustration of the "road not taken" (as the Garrards indeed refer to it).

They compare what they see as Aleksy’s positive handling of sensitive issues like the glorification of the Royal Martyrs Nicholas II and his family, the return to Sarov of the relics of Saint Seraphim, and the veneration of warrior saints such as Nevsky and Prince Dmitry Donskoy to the "Serbian bloodlust" and supposedly Church-blessed massacres of Croats and Muslims stirred up by Serbian bishops. The Garrards suggest the Church, in concert with the late Slobodan Milosevic, manipulated the 1989 translation of the relics of Saint Prince (not "king") Lazar on the 600th anniversary of the epic battle of Kosovo, in which he championed the Christian forces fighting Ottoman invaders, to encourage Serbs to regard themselves as victims of their neighbors.

The authors seemingly are unaware of the fact that the Serbs are indeed victims of their neighbors, having been subjected not only to the physical depredations of mass murder and eradication from their homes during World War II under Croatian Ustaše and their Muslim allies but in the 1990s by Croats and Bosnian and Kosovo Albanian Muslims – the last continuing today in slow-motion under Washington’s sponsorship.

Likewise missing is any awareness that Aleksy, as well as Putin, and everyone else featured positively in the book, and in truth almost everyone in Russia, has remained fully in support of the Serbian cause and would see no difference at all between the Russian and Serbian national, religious, and martial traditions – not least in Lazar’s choosing a spiritual kingdom over the earthly, hardly a negative comparison with Nevsky and Donskoy. It certainly does not help that the Garrards took as their authorities on Balkan events two unreliable authors noted for their vicious Serbophobia and Pravoslavophobia.

In short, the Garrards should have observed Rule One for the writing of nonfiction: stick to what you know, stay away from subjects about which you are ignorant. While at their worst on Serbia, with regard to Russia they write perceptively and effectively about a subject they clearly know very well. As an explanation of pivotal events of recent history, Russian Orthodoxy Resurgent is, despite its flaws, a valuable public service, for Orthodox Christians especially. John Garrard and Carol Garrard have written book well worth reading and a fitting memorial to a hierarch whose reputation will only grow with the passage of time.

James George Jatras is Director of the American Council for Kosovo (, and advisor to the American Orthodox Institute, and former senior foreign policy analyst for the U.S. Senate Republican leadership He is a member of St. Katherine’s Greek Orthodox Church in Falls Church, Virginia.

Catechesis and Evangelism are not Enough

By: Fr. Gregory Jensen

We must all be disciples of Christ

Fr. Gregory Jensen

Fr. Gregory Jensen

In recent years, Orthodox Christians in the United States have become very mission minded. We see as a community the importance of bringing the Orthodox faith to what the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey published by the Pew Charitable Trust calls "the American religious marketplace." Ours is a religious age characterized by "constant movement."

Given the ease with which Americans change religious affiliations making new members is not the primary challenge. The real challenge, the Survey suggests, is retention, of actually keeping the members that we have. Our witness to the Gospel is undermined by the general lack of commitment to the life of the Church by a plurality of Orthodox Christians. And this is true whether we are talking about those baptized as infants or those who join the Church as adults. If anything, the empirical data highlights the pastoral importance of stressing not simply catechesis (religious education) evangelism (making new Orthodox Christians).

The survey data gives us an overview of religious life in American and the place of the Orthodox Church in this broader context. Filled with charts, graphs, and statistics the report is not something that most of us are likely just to pick and read. In what follows, rather than a rigorous statistical analysis of the Church’s life, I offer some points for reflection based on the survey. My goal is to help laity and clergy understand that catechesis and evangelism must be combined with a pastoral commitment to the personal discipleship of all members of the Church.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself.

To begin, let’s look at an Orthodox parish with an average Sunday attendance of say, 200 adults. (I’ve rounded numbers to make it a bit easier for us.)

Looking around, the congregation is evenly divided between men (94) and women (106). Most of the community members (154) were baptized as infants. Interestingly, about as many of here this morning were born overseas as became Orthodox Christians as adults (48 of were born outside the US and 46 are converts).

There are about 85 children under the age of 18 here this morning. And maybe this is where we might want to being thinking about the importance of personal discipleship.

Of the 85 or so children here this morning, only 64 or so will still be in church as adults. And, unless something changes, only about a third of these children will attend the Divine Liturgy on a weekly basis when they are adults. So in a few years time, this morning’s 85 children will shrink to a weekly congregation of 23 adults.

Surprisingly, at least relative to the American scene in general and the broader Christian community in particular, we’re doing good job in keeping children in the Church through adulthood. Almost three quarters of those who were raised as Orthodox Christians are still in the Church as adults compared to 68% of Catholics and 52% of Protestants adults are still members of their childhood tradition. Clearly we could be doing better, but we could be doing worse, much worse in fact.

"Well what about converts?" you might ask, "Certainly, their dedicated, right?" Well, not really, or at least not as much as we might imagine.

Of the 46 people at Liturgy this morning who joined the Church as adults, there are 46 or so more who have joined and subsequently left the Church. Roughly the same number of adult "cradle" and "convert" Orthodox Christians have left the Church (311,000 cradle Orthodox Christians have left vs. 364,000 converts). But when we look at the percentage, we see that the term "convert" is a bit of a misnomer since those who join as adults are almost twice as likely to leave the Church as those baptized as infants- 54% of all adult "converts" members vs. 35% of all adult "cradle" members. For every 10 converts who leave, 6 cradle adults also leave, or if you prefer, for every one Greek or Russian Orthodox baptized as an infant who will leave the Church, 1.6 adult converts will also leave. Converts leave at a 60% greater number than cradle Orthodox adults.

Pastorally solid catechesis and effective spiritual formation for all, laity and clergy alike is essential. Catechesis, in sermons and religious education classes for children and adults, tells me what we believe. Spiritual formation tells me, or better yet, helps me, answer questions such as "Who am I in Christ?" and "What is Christ asking of me?" Spiritual formation is concerned with answer questions of personal identity and vocation. In other words, formation is about discipleship, about a personal, life-long commitment to Christ. While the tradition of the Orthodox Church is almost unbelievably rich, it seems to me that we seriously neglect the formation of our laity (and as a result, our clergy).

"But, Father," you might ask, "what about evangelism? Shouldn’t we simply work to fill the Church with new, committed, Orthodox Christians?"

Given the ease with which Americans change religious affiliations making new members is not a challenge. The real challenge is retention; of actually keeping the members that we have by helping them become disciples of Christ. The Church’s witness to the Gospel is undermined by a lack of commitment to Christ by a plurality of Orthodox Christians. Whether we are looking at the experience of "cradle" or "convert," this commitment is absent for many Orthodox Christians. A credible witness is possible; we have the promise of Christ of this. But it requires from all of us a personal commitment to Christ, regular participation in the sacramental life of the Church (especially Holy Communion and Confession) and a willing eagerness of each of us to conform the whole of our life to Christ and the Gospel.

Fr Gregory Jensen, a native Texan, received his doctorate at Duquesne University’s Institute of Formative Spirituality in 1995, and was ordained to priesthood in 1996. Together with his wife Mary he served for 7 years as missionary in rural northern California where he also taught psychology and served as a consultant and trainer for area social service agencies. From 2003-2007, he was the Orthodox chaplain for the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University and is current the priest-in-charge at Holy Assumption Orthodox Church (OCA) in Canton, OH.

A psychologist of religion by profession, he has presented and published on theoretical and applied issues in clinical psychology, human developmental, pastoral theology, and Christian spirituality. An avid blogger and popular speaker, he maintains the blog Koinonia (, is active in the Society St John Chrysostom, an ecumenical group devoted to Catholic/Orthodox reconciliation, and a frequent speaker at retreats and professional conferences.

Conflicted Hearts: Orthodox Christian ‘Social Justice’ in an Age of Globalization

By: John Couretas

John Couretas

John Couretas

In the opening sermon delivered to an ecumenical gathering last year in Brazil, Archbishop Anastasios of Tirana and All Albania called on the assembly to promote "daring initiatives and just social struggles." The archbishop, a leading expert on Orthodox Christian missionary work, exhorted the 3,800 attendees at the World Council of Churches gathering in Porto Alegre "not to be spectators of divine interventions and actions," but to offer themselves as co-workers with the Lord.

He addressed the rise of economic globalization, describing it as "solely concerned with broadening the market" as it levels cultural diversity. "Woe to us if, in the twenty-first century, we again relinquish the initiative for social justice to others, as we have done in past centuries, while we confine ourselves to our opulent rituals, to our usual alliance with the powerful," the archbishop preached.

The archbishop, in his critique of an ever-more-interdependent global economic system, picked up on themes in his 2003 collection of essays, Facing the In that work, he called on Christians to promote a "society of love" in opposition to "a globalization that transforms nations and people into an indistinguishable, homogenized mass, convenient for the economic objectives of an anonymous oligarchy."

The archbishop’s critique of economic globalization fell on receptive ears at the WCC, a Geneva-based organization that, going back to the Cold War years, has long been critical of American military and economic might. At the same time, the archbishop and the WCC delegates who made their way to Porto Alegre on wide-body jets and air-conditioned tourist coaches availed themselves of the fruits of economic globalization — international credit card processing, ATM machines, Internet access, safe immunizations, and high-tech airport security. As they must have done in attending earlier assemblies in Zimbabwe, Sweden, India, Kenya, and Australia.

Of Two Minds About Globalization

This double-minded approach — recoiling from the reality of a powerful global economy while enjoying its many benefits — was evident in the "Pastoral Letter on the Occasion of the Third Christian Millennium" (.pdf file) issued by SCOBA bishops in 2000. In a passage on economics, the statement carefully noted that many Orthodox cultures "suffered terribly" under communism. But then the bishops made a startling assertion:

We acknowledge that our capitalist system is no less predicated on purely materialist principles, which also do not engender faith in God. There is no place in the calculus of our economics to account for the "intangibles" of human existence. Reflect on how the simple accounting phrase "the bottom line" has shaped our whole culture. We use it to force the summarization of an analysis devoid of any externals or irrelevancies to the "heart of the matter." This usually means the monetary outcome.

Maybe the well-meaning SCOBA hierarchs did not intend to level capitalism, or what we might call a free market system, to the same moral ground as communism. Undoubtedly, those who fled or escaped from communist countries during the Cold War — whether they were Cuban or Vietnamese boat people or East Germans risking their necks to scale the Berlin Wall — were in search of exactly those political and economic "intangibles" that were denied them at home. As a system of materialist philosophy, communism reduced the human person to a mere unit of labor — no more or less valuable than a milling machine or a draft animal. Even more, communism sought to purge from society any notion of a higher authority than the state. Under the savagely atheistic systems of communism, more Orthodox Christians were martyred in the twentieth century than in all other centuries combined.

In short, on the matter of economic globalization, Orthodox Christian leaders have been deeply conflicted. And today, as the world knits itself closer together through international trade and Internet-enabled communications, economics are almost always at the root of any discussion of "social justice" — whether the particular issue be health care, labor, the environment or immigration.

In a 2005 book that looks at the Eastern Orthodox response to globalization, authors Alex Agadjanian and Victor Roudometof show that while religion can be "bluntly repulsive and self-protecting" against globalization, it may also become involved in a "complex and painstaking negotiation" with globalization. "Globality is the ‘spirit’ of the age, and nothing can escape its vortex," the authors contend.

Understanding Social Justice Means Understanding Economics

This "painstaking negotiation" with globalization surely ought to include an honest attempt to understand the "spirit of the age" without prejudice. Denunciations of social, political, and economic realities by church leaders are of little use when no effort is made to fairly understand these realities and how they affect the lives of Orthodox Christians in everyday life.

"Economically ignorant moralism is as objectionable as morally callous economism," the post-war German economist Wilhelm Ropke wrote. "Ethics and economics are two equally difficult subjects, and while the former needs discerning and expert reason, the latter cannot do without humane values." Ropke was writing at a time when many in the West were looking to make a moral case for capitalism against the threat of totalitarian, collectivist communism. Making the case, he said, demanded a conception of economic life rooted in mankind’s spiritual and moral existence.

Just as there is no real understanding of many bioethical issues without a general grasp of underlying medical technology, there is no real understanding of "social justice" without an understanding of basic economic principles. These principles explain how Orthodox Christians work, earn, invest, and give to philanthropic causes in a market-oriented economy. Economic questions are at the root of many of the problems that on their face seem to be more about something else — poverty, immigration, the environment, technology, politics, humanitarian assistance. In the environmental area, for example, the current debate on global warming is just as much focused on how to finance the means of slowing the rising temperatures of the earth as it is on root causes. And the question always is: Who will pay?

What, exactly, is social justice? It is an ambiguous concept, loaded with ideological freight. No politically correct person would dare oppose it. To be against "social justice" would be tantamount to opposing "fairness." Today, the term is most often employed by liberal-progressive activists and a "social justice movement" that advances an economic agenda which includes such causes as a "living wage," universal health care and expanded welfare benefits, increased labor union powers, forgiveness of national debts in the developing world, and vastly increased transfers of foreign aid from rich countries to the poor. Because religious conservatives tend toward support for free market economic systems, they have largely shunned the "social justice" agenda and its government-based solutions.

The Orthodox Tradition of Social Witness

Whatever "social justice" could mean in an Orthodox Christian sense, it would have to include the witness of the biblical and patristic moral tradition. Orthodox Christian thinking and preaching about the uses of wealth and the scandal of poverty have a long history in this Tradition, going back to the Apostles and the Church Fathers.

St. John Chrysostom, the great conscience of the Church on these matters, closed his second sermon on Lazarus and the Rich Man, delivered in Antioch in the late fourth century, by imploring his flock to keep one main thing in mind: "I beg you, remember this without fail, that not to share our own wealth with the poor is theft from the poor and deprivation of their means of life," he preached. "We do not possess our own wealth but theirs." It should be pointed out that in patristic thinking, the non-negotiable concern for the poor, the sick, and those in prison was frequently balanced with demands for personal responsibility, honest work, and "orderly" social life.

St. John Chrysostom preached in Antioch and Constantinople more than 1,600 years ago. Where is the prophetic voice of the Church today on moral issues in public life? That question has been asked for some time. As one Orthodox writer in the 1960s noted, Roman Catholics and Protestants often viewed the Eastern Church as a place for "wealth of ritual — a mystical, static ‘communion of worship,’ without dynamism, without prophetic breath, without any wish to take part in the reshaping of the social environment in which her faithful live."

This view is of course a caricature of Orthodoxy’s encounter with society, but there is some truth in it. As American society, both secular and religious, continues its own negotiation with globalization, and the entire field of presidential candidates for the 2008 election include "God talk" in their slogans and speeches, the Orthodox are largely absent from the field. To the extent that Orthodox social engagement exists today in the political sphere, it has largely been defaulted to Protestant-dominated, politically progressive ecumenical structures such as the WCC and, in the United States, the National Council of Churches.

The Orthodox tradition of social witness is ripe for renewal and revival. And today there are signs that the Church is beginning to engage important issues such as economic globalization and matters of "social justice" with new thinking and on its own terms.

At its Jubilee Bishop’s Council in Moscow in 2000, the Russian Church published a document on the "social concept" of the faith (Bases of the Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church), including sections on politics, labor, and property. It showed the Russian bishops beginning to come to terms with a secular, post-communist era and the disastrous effects of the ill-conceived free market economic reforms of the early 1990s. On private property, for example, the bishops affirmed a legitimate right of ownership. "Russian history has shown that the violations of these principles have always resulted in social upheavals and people’s suffering," the bishops said.

Last year, Holy Cross Press published a new collection of essays titled, Christ at Work: Orthodox Christian Perspectives on The essays looked at the concept of a vocation or spiritual calling in one’s everyday life. Looking at one’s work as a way to bring glory to God should not be viewed as an attempt to sanctify success. Rather, this deeper understanding of work shows a healthy respect for the type of worldly employment the vast majority of Orthodox Christians are engaged in. Honest work, after all, gives Orthodox Christians the means to raise and educate their families as they choose, build churches and monasteries, and fund missionary and humanitarian efforts.

"Any profession without a deep sense of commitment and service to others can easily become mere employment," writes Fr. Theodore Stylianopoulos in one of the essays. "On the other hand, any job or employment, conducted from the perspective of leading a life worthy of God, would itself be transformed into a calling, indeed an ongoing sacrament, conducted for the love of God and service of others."

New Thinking on Faith and Economics from the Ecumenical Patriarch

Some of the best new thinking on economic globalization is yet to come. A new book by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, due out in March 2008, tackles the problem head-on with balance and compassion. "The issues of free trade, global commerce, and market growth should be of concern to everybody, not just a few people," Patriarch Bartholomew writes. "Unless that is clearly recognized, there will be a deeper and deepening chasm between the individual and the community, as well as between the rich and the poor."

The patriarch’s new book, entitled Encountering the Mystery — Understanding Orthodox Christianity TodayAmerican Orthodox Institute -, addresses a number of current problems. The patriarch sees how viewpoints on social questions informed by faith are "proving to be the subjects of renewed interest and attention" in politics and policy circles. Yet he provides a caution: It is not social dogma or political ideology that should be at the center of the Christian’s concerns, but the "sacredness of the human person, created in the image and likeness of God." The Church, he says, "is not opposed to an economic progress that serves humanity as a whole."

The patriarch points to the remarkable alleviation of poverty in places like India and China through the opening of markets and international trade. Yet, he is quick to add that "economic and social development must always be tempered and underpinned by moral and social values. Whatever happens in the world, we ought to strive to preserve fundamental cultural values that pertain to humanity without, of course, establishing unnecessary barriers to useful economic progress."

A few points could have been handled more carefully in the book, including the discussion of the "growing gap" between rich and poor. True, yes. But such discussions have become greatly politicized, particularly by populist politicians using class warfare rhetoric. While the earnings gap is real, it is not an indicator of poverty, nor does it take into account real social mobility in market-based economies. The poor are not always poor forever. If any politician or economist is interested in studying the phenomenon of poor or immigrant people rapidly advancing up the economic ladder, he or she would do well to start with the Orthodox Christian experience in places like Canada, Australia, and the United States.

Overall, Encountering the Mystery deserves to be widely read and actively discussed by Orthodox Christians and people of other faith traditions. Economic globalization, after all, is not an unmixed good. It has its drawbacks and its debatable developments, which the patriarch addresses. Not least of these adverse effects is the serious environmental damage that is taking place in newly industrialized countries — particularly India and China.

Yet Patriarch Bartholomew does not see our situation as a bleak one, nor determined by overpowering forces. It is an urgent situation, yes. But he rightly points to the human person at the center of the issue. "We must begin to address serious questions about personal responsibility and accept some blame or ethical liability for the choices we make," he warns.

Finding Our Own Voice

How does Orthodox Christianity begin to find a stronger public voice on social questions? How is the revival of the Church’s authentic "social justice" work to begin? Declaring the Church’s independence from worn-out, politically compromised ecumenical structures such as the WCC would be a positive first step. This separation would not preclude new openings and deeper engagements with other churches and other cultures. Indeed, some of the most important ecumenical outreach in recent years has been bilateral, such as the warming relations between Orthodox Christians and Roman Catholics in Europe.

In recent decades, Orthodox leaders have allowed ecumenical bodies to do most of their talking and thinking for them on social questions. Protestant-dominated groups like the WCC and the NCC have evolved into left-leaning political activist organizations for partisan political causes. The spirit of these groups draws heavily on the "Social Gospel" movement of the mainline Protestant churches and the liberal element in Roman Catholicism, which puts worldly programs for perfecting society ahead of personal conversion.

It is strange to consider: Could anyone imagine Orthodox Christian theologians formulating a "social justice" ethic by borrowing heavily from Roman Catholic theology, papal encyclicals, and allusions to the scholastic works of St. Thomas Aquinas? Why, then, would we piggyback an Orthodox social consciousness on a liberal-progressive institution such as the NCC, which is supported by mainline Protestant churches themselves experiencing a long historic decline in membership?

The politicization of Christian dogma in the service of leftist, liberation-theology Christianity and its "social justice" agenda was highlighted in a 2006 report from a conservative watchdog group, the Institute on Religion and Democracy. IRD’s "Strange Yokefellows: The National Council of Churches and its Growing Non-Church Constituency" looked at the "sharp leftward tilt" in NCC advocacy and its growing support from "progressive" secular groups such as the Sierra Club,, and Ben Cohen’s TrueMajority. The NCC is more financially beholden to the Sierra Club than it is to all of its Eastern and Oriental Orthodox communions combined, IRD concluded.

In July 2005, alarmed by the growing "secular progressive agenda," the self-ruled Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America pulled out of the NCC. Orthodox churches that remain in the NCC and WCC would do well to follow the Antiochians’ lead. By allowing these ecumenical groups to trumpet Orthodox membership in every policy statement and press release, the Orthodox Church not only causes itself to be identified with the partisan, progressive politics and economic programs behind these organizations, it is also tainted by nutty theological improvisations.

Another important reason Orthodox Christians should invite — even demand — a revival of the Church’s social witness today is the spread, along with globalization, of secularism. This is nothing more than a society viewing itself as economically and politically self-sufficient and without need for reference to a moral life in God. To the extent that secularism gathers power, that it becomes the dominant ethic of government and business, it will expand its claims into areas of life that have traditionally been reserved to the individual: religious expression, marriage and family relations, sexuality, and the education of children. The direct threat that secularism poses to faith communities has been clearly discerned by prominent Orthodox Christian bishops in Europe. These bishops have spoken out against, for example, the 2004 campaign to enact a European Union constitution that did not acknowledge Europe’s Christian roots.

What does the Church have in answer to the gathering powers of secularism and a globalization that would inhumanely sweep away religious and cultural diversity? It has a powerful moral tradition, rooted in biblical and patristic sources. Bringing about a revival of this tradition should not only involve the clergy and the theologians, but experts drawn from diverse fields in politics, economics, and the social sciences. And, without question, it needs to seriously engage the laity, whose participation in any revival of Orthodox social witness would begin with a closer relationship to the Gospel. It begins with the person who, transformed by the Gospel, takes that message and that living example of Christian charity to the wider world. "The transformation of the heart can and must lead to the transformation of society," Patriarch Bartholomew tells us. "This, after all, is ultimately the way of encounter."

That’s as good a definition of "social justice" as we are going to find. For Orthodox Christians concerned about an economic globalization that is both humane and leaves room for the "intangibles" of life, that is where it begins — with the transformation of the heart.

John Couretas is executive director of the American Orthodox Institute.

This article originally appeared in AGAIN Vol. 29 #4, Winter 2008, and is copyrighted by Conciliar Press. Learn more about AGAIN online at

Family & Christian Virtue in a Post-Christian World

By: Vigen Guroian

Reflections on the Ecclesial Vision of John Chrysostom

Dr. Vigen Guroian

Dr. Vigen Guroian

Of the many quotable passages from the writings of St. John Chrysostom the one most often cited is located in his twentieth homily on Ephesians. It reads: “If we regulate our households [properly] . . . , we will also be fit to oversee the Church, for indeed the household is a little Church. Therefore, it is possible for us to surpass all others in virtue by becoming good husbands and wives.”1 Most often this passage has been invoked as proof text supporting high sacramental interpretations of marriage. Rarely has it become the occasion for a sustained discussion of what might best be described as Chrysostom’s ecclesial vision of the Christian family and household. That is the task of this essay. I also want to show how this vision helps to enable Christians to better understand what is truly at stake for the Church in the current debates over the family and moral values.

Chrysostom lived at a moment of genuine cultural crisis. The pagan culture of antiquity was in decline. Christianity had become a force with which to be reckoned. Yet views differed about what shape a future Christian culture might take. Chrysostom was among a minority of Christian voices, St. Basil having been another, who expressed serious misgivings about he emerging Christian order. Like Basil, he brought the spirit of monastic reform into his critique of society. He inveighed against the moral laxity and excessive preoccupation with material possession, power, and social status even among so-called Christians. Chrysostom’s ecclesiology powerfully expressed this reform spirit, as he struggled to steer a course which would lead neither to an imperial church nor a cake-frosting version of Christianity for the masses. His example is especially instructive for churches today as they themselves enter a definitively post-Christendom era marked by cultural deterioration. Christians are faced with difficult choices over how to relate to the emerging hegemonic secularity.

Chrysostom might easily have succumbed to the temptation to argue for the moral rehabilitation of the family as a means of securing societal stability. In our own time we hear repeatedly even from religious sources—Protestants, Roman Catholics, and Orthodox alike—that the family is of social value as a bulwark of societal stability. The presidential campaign of 1992 was replete with talk about family values and the importance of healthy and functional families to secure the promises of the American way of life. Less clear in the political rhetoric were the actual standards of this ideal American family and the sources of this family morality.

Chrysostom did not ignore the sociological dimension and function of the family. As he said on one occasion: “[W]hen harmony prevails [in the household], the children are raised well, the household is kept in order, and neighbors, friends and relatives praise the result. Great benefits, both for families and states, are thus produced.”2 He, however, subordinated this societal function to secondary or tertiary importance. The Christian family is primarily an ecclesial entity. Its calling is to the kingdom of God. In order to fulfill this vocation, the Christian family must practice a discipline of spiritual and moral askesis [practice]. Chrysostom was clear about the sources of a family’s morality. The source was Christ in his life and commandments.

Chrysostom’s vision of the ecclesial family was radical when he preached it in the fourth century, and it is equally radical in a post-Christian society. After Christendom, the church and spouses and parents can no longer depend upon a substantial residue of biblical and Christian values to subsist within the culture and be transmitted to the young apart from nurture within the community of faith. It ought to be obvious to Christian spouses and parents how truly radical their vocation as family is within contemporary society. Nevertheless what actually is entailed in being married “in the Lord” has frequently been forgotten. The printed and electronic media bombard Christians and non-Christians alike with powerful and seductive alternatives to the demanding, disciplined life to which the Christian family is called biblically and through the marital rites of the church. It is easy to think of the Christian family as merely a church-going version of those comfortable and idealized Cleaver and Huxtable families.

A lesson for our time taught by Chrysostom is that strenuous and sustained efforts must be made from within the churches to cultivate and restore the vision of the family as an ecclesial entity and mission of the kingdom of God. Sociologists tell us that increasingly, for vast numbers of Americans, family has lost its public meaning and outlook. Family is being redefined as a haven of private living, consumption, and recreation. A flight to privacy replaces civic-mindedness. Self-centeredness and hedonism replace personal sacrifice for children and community. Chrysostom’s ecclesial vision of family answers this deprivation of community, but in a fashion which can only look strange even to people who otherwise worry about the privatization and moral privation of family. For if from the sociologist’s or politician’s point of view the family has gone “out-of-joint” because it is not contributing as it should to the formation of viable community and civic virtue, Chrysostom reminds Christians that the Christian family is first a calling to community in service to God and his kingdom.

By looking at Chrysostom’s teachings on marriage and family through this prism, however, one is bound to bump into a much larger debate, quite at the center of contemporary Christian ethics. It is the debate over the general prospects for the Christian faith and ethics within a post-Christian world. There are those who cling to the hope that some version of a Christendom is still possible and that, therefore, Christian ethics can continue to be done in old and familiar ways of correlating Christian truth with norms and institutions found within the culture. There are others with the more modest hope of designing a new public theology for a pluralistic order. This search goes on in diverse and even opposing ideological camps, among neo-conservatives, mainline Protestants, and liberal as well as neo-Thomist Catholics. Others who are persuaded that Christendom has ended and never was a good idea in any case have turned to alternative models of a confessing church whose “main political task” lies “not in the personal transformation of individual hearts or the modification of society,” but rather, as Stanley Hauerwas and William H. Willimon have recently put it, “in the congregation’s determination to worship Christ in all things . . . and to build up an alternative polis”—that being the church.3 Between the contending parties accusations are flung back and forth over whether this or that proposed ecclesiology is overly accommodating towards the culture or irresponsibly sectarian.

Chrysostom helps us to see that this perennial question about the appropriate relationship of the church to the culture is reflected in microcosm within the empirical Christian family. With respect to the contemporary debate, I intend to demonstrate how Chrysostom’s way of stating the relation of family to church and church to culture eludes some of the easily uttered categories with which we have learned to pigeonhole others’ points of view. Chrysostom was neither sectarian, accommodationist, or triumphalist. He resisted the Eusebian Christian imperialism of the day. He was not taken with the Constantinian-Theodosian theocratic synthesis of church and state, which when later codified by Justinian, provided the ideological framework for Byzantine theocracy. Nor did Chrysostom propose that the church retreat into the catacombs. And he did not believe that the only pure and true Christianity was restricted to the monastery. Rather, Chrysostom’s idea of an evangelical and socially responsible Christian faith was bound up with his pastoral and moral theology as he addressed Christian parishioners and Christian rulers alike. In all that he said about the nature of the church/world relationship, Chrysostom returned again and again to the belief of the Fathers that salvation is accomplished from within the ecclesia through its process of making the kingdom of God present to an unbelieving world. For Chrysostom the family as an ecclesial entity figured centrally in this salvific process.

The “Ecclesial” Household

As Gerhardt B. Ladner has observed, by the end of the fourth century, especially in the East, “the ascetic and mystic and the ruler shared between them as it were true kingship. Reformed in the royal image of God, they represented two different but equally high orders of mankind.”4 The Constantinian-Theodosian initiatives to establish a Christian commonwealth formalized by the Emperor Justinian in the sixth century tipped the balance toward the latter. The emperors increasingly asserted a “quasi-sacerdotal position [for themselves] in the church, and generally made it understood that the value of all acts of reform in the Church and empire flowed directly from the fact that they were put into effect by, or on the command of, the emperor.”5

Early in his career Chrysostom resisted these trends toward imperial domination of the church and society. He did so by championing monastic claims of true “kingship” over the Eusebian conception of the king-philosopher. This is a clear aim of his short treatise, “A Comparison Between a King and a Monk” (c. 380). As Ladner states: “There was one great exception to the eastern development of [the] Basileia ideology: the thought and life of St. John Chrysostom.”6 The truly significant turn in Chrysostom’s thought came, however, as he struggled with his pastoral and homiletic duties at Antioch and later in Constantinople. In these settings, Chrysostom became convinced “that, apart from the privilege of marriage, the Christian who lived in the world had the same obligations as the monk.”7 In the midst of expounding an ecclesially centered interpretation of the Christian household as a mission of the kingdom of God in the world, he also anticipated and answered the later Byzantine alternatives of either conceiving of the church as the sacramental organism which whispers in the emperor’s ear and sacralizes an imperial order or the view that the monks are the only true representatives of holiness in a compromised and sinful world.

At the close of his Antiochene ministry, Chrysostom wrote the “Address on Vainglory and the Right Way for Parents to Bring Up Their Children” (c. 386-387). There he spoke “of a child’s soul as of a city in which the King of the universe intends to dwell and God’s earthly representative in this city is not the emperor, but the child’s father” [my emphasis]. “Nothing,” concludes Ladner, “could be less ’Eusebian’ than this conception of the Kingdom of God on earth, and it is not surprising that John Chrysostom perished as a martyr for Christian ethical principles in resistance”8 to the emerging and solidifying ideology of a Christian Empire.

From this point on, Chrysostom sought to “reform the ‘Polis’ within the ‘Basileia’,”9 observes Ladner. He increasingly identified the proleptic presence of the kingdom of God not primarily with empire or the cloistered monastery but with the near and familiar Christian household. The cardinal “marks” of the kingdom, Chrysostom insisted, are compassion, love of neighbor, and hospitality toward friends and strangers alike. The Christian household, he maintained, is an exact image of the ecclesia when it puts into practice the gospel teaching about our behavior toward one another and God.10

Chrysostom thought of the Abrahamic household as the ancient biblical type of the Christian “ecclesial” household. The Abrahamic household kept and practiced in an exemplary fashion those virtues of the kingdom of God which need to belong to the people of God in order that they may receive the Messiah when he comes. In homily 45 on The Acts of the Apostles, Chrysostom exhorted:

    Make yourself a guest-chamber in your own house; set up a bed there, set up a table there and a candlestick. For it is not absurd, that whereas, if soldiers should come, you have rooms set apart for them, and show much care for them, and furnish them with everything, because they keep off from you the visible war of this world, yet strangers have no place where they may abide? Gain a victory over [prevail over] the Church . . . [S]urpass us in liberality: have a room to which Christ may come; say, “This is Christ’s cell; this building is set apart for Him. . . . Abraham received the strangers in the place where he abode himself; his wife stood in the place of a servant, the guests in the place of masters. He knew not that he was receiving Christ; knew not that he was receiving Angels; so that had he known it, he would have lavished his whole substance. But we, who know that we receive Christ, show not even so much zeal as he did who thought that he was receiving men. . . . Let our house [therefore] be Christ’s general receptacle. . . ”11

From this passage we are able to see that Chrysostom had in mind something even more concrete than the actual network of human family or household relations. The physical dwelling itself is realized as “Christ’s general receptacle.” Abraham’s tent is the Old testament type of Christian dwelling which has become the house of God. When the members of the household provide for guests and greet them in their home, the dwelling itself is the body of the Lord.

Elsewhere in his homilies on the Book of Acts, Chrysostom filled this metaphor of the house of God with its members and their relations. “Let the house be a Church, consisting of men and women. . . . ‘For where two,’ He saith, ‘are gathered together in My Name, there am I in the midst of them’” (Matt. 18:20).12 This household, which welcomes Christ and feeds and clothes him, is the inheritor of the kingdom of heaven. Hospitality should be sought in the selection of a spouse. Abraham sent his servant to his own country to find a wife for his son Isaac. And the servant determined through prayer that the girl he should choose would be one who not only offered him drink but also offered his camels drink (Gen. 24:11–14). The servant was sent looking for such a bride for Isaac, writes Chrysostom, because “everything good which ha[d] happened to . . . [the household] came because of hospitality. Let us not see only the fact that he asked for water, but let us consider that it shows a truly generous soul not only to give what is asked but to provide more than is requested.”13 This cultivation of a righteous household, he concludes, is a manner of seeking and receiving the kingdom of heaven. “‘Thou who receivedst Me,’ He saith, ‘into thy lodging, I will receive thee into the Kingdom of My Father; thou tookest away My hunger, I take away thy sins; thou sawest Me a stranger, I make thee a citizen of heaven; thou gavest Me bread, I give thee an entire Kingdom, that thou mayest inherit and possess.’”14

A quintessential New Testament example of an “ecclesial” household, said Chrysostom, was the home of Aquila and Priscilla. These two workers in the Lord unselfishly opened their home to St. Paul and Christ’s disciples. “[I]t was no small excellency [virtue], that they had made their very house a Church. . . . [And] Paul,” exhorts the Corinthian Christians to greet one another “with the holy kiss . . . as a means of union: for this unites, and produces one body.”15 As Gus Christo has summarized, for Chrysostom, “a Christian home’s transformation into the Church . . . , or a church, happens when its occupants salute each other with the holy kiss . . . , are hospitable to people and remain free of deceit and hypocrisy.”16 Such a home or church becomes a location from which Christ draws the rest of the public world into his kingdom. This in turn is described as a liturgical and sacramental action. “Charity,” Chrysostom once exclaimed, is “a sacrament. . . . For our sacraments are above all God’s charity and love.”17

The Christian Family as Mission of the Kingdom of God

In order to emphasize the larger ordained purposes and calling of the Christian family, Chrysostom repeatedly returned to the stories of the Abrahamic household, even Abraham’s willingness to follow God’s command and offer his only son in sacrifice.Yet the Old Testament story most often invoked by Chrysostom to illumine the unselfish and heroic qualities required by God of those who assume the office of parenthood is the story of Hannah and her son Samuel. Chrysostom’s use of the story shifted over the years from an early defense of monasticism to a later focus on the responsibility of Christian parents to attend consciously to raising their children as true Christians, and not just nominal ones.

In his early work, Against the Opponents of the Monastic Life, Chrysostom called upon parents to unselfishly raise their children as fit inheritors of the kingdom of heaven. This meant especially, though not exclusively, preparing them for the monastic life. Chrysostom described Hannah as an exemplar of such responsible and unselfish parenthood.

    There was a Jewish woman named [H]Annah. [H]Annah gave birth to one child and did not expect to have another. Indeed, she had scarcely given birth to him, and this after many tears, for she was sterile. . . . When he no longer needed to be nursed, she immediately took him and offered him up to God, and she ordered him to return to his father’s house no longer, but to live continually in the temple of God.18

Hannah thus fulfilled the community’s office of a parent because she dedicated her son to God and to the well-being of his people. For “when God had turned away from the race of the Hebrews because of their profuse wickedness . . . , [Samuel] won back God’s favor through his virtue and persuaded him to supply what had been given previously. . . Such,” concluded Chrysostom “is always the reward for giving our possessions to God . . . , not only possessions and things, but our children.”19

More than a decade after these words were written, during his ministry in Antioch, or perhaps even later during his espicopacy at Constantinople, Chrysostom returned to the very same story in his twenty-first homily on Ephesians. In the midst of instructing parents on how to raise their children, he argued that it was not “necessary for . . . [the child] to be a monk.” It was enough to “[m]ake him into a Christian.”20 Of “the holy men and women of old” Hannah was the example “to imitate.” “[L]ook at what she did. She brought Samuel, her only son, to the temple, when he was only an infant!”21 Chrysostom now employed the story in order to emphasize the importance of raising children on Scripture. “Don’t say, ‘Bible reading is for monks; am I turning my child into a monk? . . . It is necessary for everyone to know Scriptural teachings, and this is especially true for children.”22

This shift in emphasis to instruction in how to raise children not to become monks but just to be good Christians is not at all inconsistent with Chrysostom’s earlier use of the Hannah and Samuel story in Against the Opponents of the Monastic Life. The cardinal obligation and task of Christian parenthood remains the same: to prepare the child for service to God and his people. “She [Hannah] gave Samuel to God, and with God she left him, and thus her marriage was blessed more than ever, because her first concern was for spiritual things.”23

In an ancient prayer of the Armenian rite of matrimony the priest beseeches God: “Plant them [the couple] as a fruitful olive tree, in the House of God, so that living in righteousness, in purity, and in godliness, according to the pleasure of Thy beneficent will, they may see the children of their children and they may be a people unto Thee” [my emphasis].24 This liturgical prayer emphasizes the ecclesial nature of Christian marriage and family. This is to seek the kingdom of God. To raise children in virtue and righteousness renders them “a people unto” God. In homily 44 on 1 Corinthians, Chrysostom quotes 1 Timothy 2:5: “‘[T]hey will be saved through bearing children, if they remain in faith and love and holiness, with modesty.’”25 Hannah’s “wisdom” was that she comprehended through faith that by dedicating to God “the first-fruits of her womb” she might “obtain many more children in return.”26 Her attention to spiritual things was not a retreat into the private self or family. It was an affirmation of the existence of a community of faith to which she belonged and in which she carried the divinely commissioned office of a parent. God in turn bestowed upon her the growing company of that community.

Ephesians 5 and the Ecclesial Marriage

The strongest statements by Chrysostom on the ecclesial and christic calling of Christian husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, comes not surprisingly in his homily on Ephesians 5. “Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Savior” (Eph. 5:22-23 NRSV). Feminist theologians have regarded the passage as a central piece of what they claim is the theologization of antiquity’s structures of domination.27 Others like John H. Yoder have maintained that there is more Christianizing of the marital relationship that the critics admit in this and other Haustafeln passages. Yoder argues that submission here assumes the character of a revolutionary subordination through the Pauline theology of agape and freedom in Christ.28

Virtually all who write on this passage, however, agree that it reflects the Pauline author’s strong interest in ecclesiology. As Elisabeth Schüssler-Fiorenza conjectures at one point in her analysis of Ephesians 5, “The reason for . . . [its] theological shortcomings might be the author’s interest in clarifying the relationship between Christ and the church, whose unity is his [the author’s] primary concern in the rest of the letter.”29 Chrysostom’s interpretation of this passage is strongly ecclesiological. He interprets it to establish a sacramental and even ontological relationship between the institution of marriage and the church. God’s economy is channeled in the first order through the body of Christ, the church. The peace of the world is guaranteed by the peace of that body. And the peace of the church is a discipline and task of the Christian family. The church itself is strengthened by the harmony and good order of a godly household. Thus, reasons Chrysostom, the wife does not obey the husband ultimately for “her husband’s sake,” but “primarily for the Lord’s sake . . . as part of . . . [her] service to the Lord.”30 And the husband will love his wife “not so much for her own sake, but for Christ’s sake.”31

After discussing the proper attitude of the wife toward her husband, Chrysostom considers the proper attitude of the husband toward his wife. Keeping in mind St. Paul’s analogy of the husband as the head of the wife, Chrysostom works together christic and ecclesial metaphors.

    [Husbands] be responsible for the same providential care of . . . [your wife], as Christ is for the Church. And even if it becomes necessary for you to give your life for her, yes, and even to endure and undergo suffering of any kind, do not refuse. Even though you undergo all this, you will never have done anything equal to what Christ has done. You are sacrificing yourself for someone to whom you are already joined, but He offered Himself up for one who turned her back on Him and hated Him.32

Husband and wife both must imitate the Lord. But the greater burden is on the husband, precisely because he is in the position of greater power. He who would view himself as master is called upon to be servant in the likeness of Christ who is the head of the church. “What sort of satisfaction could a husband himself have, if he lives with his wife as if she were a slave, and not a woman of her own free will,” says Chrysostom. “Suffer anything for her sake, but never disgrace her, for Christ never did this with the Church.”33 In his condescending and sacrificial relationship to the church Christ becomes the example husbands must follow in their relationship to their wives “[I]mitate the Bridegroom of the Church.”34 Christ condescended to take the church as his bride. “So the Church was not pure. She had blemishes, she was ugly and cheap. Whatever kind of wife you marry, you will never take a bride like Christ did. . . . ; you will never marry anyone estranged from you as the Church was from Christ. Despite all this, he did not abhor or hate her for her extraordinary corruption.”35 Rather, Christ loved the church, in order that she might be sanctified (Eph. 5:25-27). The ecclesial metaphor reigns, even as Chrysostom gives strong advice about spousal attitudes and conduct within the marital relationship. Each, church and marriage, illumines the nature of the other.

In this theology, the Christian family figures as the primal and sacramental human community in which “kenotic” and “agapeic” love are learned and rehearsed. Within the conjugal relationship this love is shared between husband and wife, and they in turn by their parental care communicate this love to the children. Furthermore, the Christian family itself, rehearsed in and equipped with the right virtues, is an arena of ascetical combat with the demons of personal and public life. This askesis not only perfects persons but also deepens community.

The Virtues of the Christian Family

Chrysostom admired the historic virtue of classical culture. Yet he was not to be counted in the company of those Christian writers who thought that the classical and Christian virtues were identical, always complementary, or easily correlated with each other. Rather, when Chrysostom looked out at the culture, he saw that Christians were captives to its man-centered standards of success and happiness. he pleaded with Christian parents to nurture another kind of character in their children. In homily 21 on Ephesians Chrysostom exhorted:

If a child learns a trade, or is highly educated for a lucrative profession, all this is nothing compared to the art of detachment from riches; if you want to make your child rich, teach him this. He is truly rich who does not desire great possessions, or surrounds himself with wealth, but who requires nothing. . . Don’t worry about giving him an influential reputation for worldly wisdom, but ponder deeply how you can teach him to think lightly of this life’s passing glories, thus he will become truly renowned and glorious. . . . Don’t strive to make him a clever orator, but teach him to love true wisdom. He will not suffer if he lacks clever words, but if he lacks wisdom, all the rhetoric in the world can’t help him. A pattern of life is what is needed, not empty speeches; character, not cleverness; deeds, not words. These things secure the Kingdom and bestow God’s blessings.36

Stoic influences alone cannot account for this passage. The beatitudes, which Chrysostom described as the very constitution of the kingdom of God, lie very near to its surface, together with a biblically founded eschatological hope.

The Bible, said Chrysostom, is the basic primer and lesson book for the virtues of the kingdom which God charges parents to teach their children. Scripture provides the narrative of the lives of patriarchs and matriarchs, parents and siblings, who struggled in God’s presence to maintain a way of life distinct though not necessarily separate from the world. In Address on Vainglory and the Right Way for Parents to Bring Up Their Children, Chrysostom pioneered what might be regarded as one of the first Christian curriculums for children’s bible study. The responsibility for such education, however, resides first with the parents. Chrysostom commended, especially, the stories of Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his brothers, Hannah and Samuel and the like. His method, as well as the subject matter, is worth looking at.

Much of Chrysostom’s discussion is concerned with identifying biblical models for relations between parents and children and of siblings with each other. For example, he encourages parents to juxtapose the stories of Cain and Abel and of Jacob and Esau in the manner of a diptych, drawing out the distinct lessons of each story as well as the common themes within both narratives of sibling rivalry, envy and fratricide. The parents must tell the stories of Cain and Abel and Jacob and Esau, not once but repeatedly. Then they should ask the child:

Tell me the story of those two brothers.” And if he begins to relate the story of Cain and Abel, stop him and say: “It is not that one that I want, but the one of the other two brothers, in which the father gave his blessing.” Give him hints but do not as yet tell him their names. When he has told you all, spin the sequel of the yarn, and say: “Hear what occurred afterwards. Once again the elder brother, like in the former story, was minded to slay his brother. . .”37

In his twenty-first homily on Ephesians, Chrysostom gave his rationale for such instruction and pleaded its importance to Christian living:

    Don’t think that only monks need to learn the Bible; children about to go into the world stand in greater need of Scriptural knowledge. A man who never travels by sea doesn’t need to know how to equip a ship, or where to find a pilot or a crew, but a sailor has to know all these things. The same applies to the monk and the man of this world. The monk lives an untroubled life in a calm harbor, removed from every storm, while the worldly man is always sailing the ocean, battling innumerable tempests.38

From the perspective of Chrysostom’s vision of Christian family and virtue, strategies for the revitalization of the family and preservation of society based on the Constantinian model are theologically misdirected. Once one defines Christian existence and tradition in such sociological terms a certain kind of ecclesiology and definition of Christian family emerge. The family is defined as a training ground for virtues which first have to do with the well-functioning of the secular polity—a worthy goal, but not what lies at the heart of the vocation of Christian parenthood and family. Nor in these post-Christendom times is it helpful, as liberal Protestants and liberal Roman Catholics are inclined to answer the privatism in the American family with immediate calls for family social ministry.39 The Christian family—which itself has been weakened and secularized by powerful cultural forces of privatism, narcissism, and consumerism—is not a likely agent of social change in any case.

There is a necessary interim step which is missing in such calls for a Christian family committed to social transformation. What gave the Christian family the capacity to have a public vocation was first a sense of being engaged in the struggle for the kingdom of God. The jargon of the Christian activists: intimacy, shared decision making, peacemaking cooperative projects, and the like, is hardly distinctive; nor is it in advance of the other kinds of progressivism in the culture which fail to provide a transcendent imperative for ethical behavior. Chrysostom would have it another way:

    “When we teach our children to be gentle, to be forgiving, to instill virtue in their souls, we reveal the image of God within them. This then is our task: to educate both ourselves and our children in godliness; otherwise what answer will we have before Christ’s judgment seat? . . . [H]ow [else] can we be worthy of the kingdom of heaven?”40

Reclaiming the Vision

There exists a great need in the Christian churches today for ecclesial formation. For they stand to become increasingly dissipated if they continue to depend for strength upon cultural supports of Christian faith which are no longer present. This ecclesial formation must not be for its own sake but should prepare believers to greet the Groom when he returns. If Chrysostom was right about the Christian family as a vocation of the kingdom, then it behooves us in this time and place to reclaim that vision. Christian family once again must become a training ground in which—by becoming good husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, and children of the same—we become “fit to oversee the Church” and good “housekeepers” of God’s now and future kingdom.

If, with Chrysostom, we need to regard the church as in controversy and cooperation with the broader society and not merely as a cult preoccupied with itself and so-called spiritual matters, then we will begin to appreciate anew the special value of Chrysostom’s vision of the “ecclesial” family for the re-formation of the church and the introduction of a new discipline into its life for the salvation of the world.


  1. John Chrysostom, St. John Chrysostom on Marriage and Family Life, trans, Catherine P. Roth and David Anderson (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary press, 1986), p. 57.
  2. Ibid., p. 44.
  3. Stanley Hauerwas and William H. Willimon, Resident Aliens; Life in the Christian Colony (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press: 1990), pp. 45–46.
  4. Gerhardt B. Ladner, The Idea of Reform (New York: Harper and Row Publishers, 1967), p. 125.
  5. Ibid., p. 126.
  6. Ibid., p. 125–126.
  7. Ibid., p. 127.
  8. Ibid., p. 129.
  9. Ibid.
  10. I have learned much about this from Gus George Christo’s dissertation, “The Church’s Identity Established Through Images According to St. John Chrysostom” (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Durham, 1990). Christo’s work has alerted me to a number of passages which I cite from Chrysostom below.
  11. John Chrysostom, The Homilies of St. John Chrysostom on the Acts of the Apostles, in A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series, vol. 11 (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1956), p. 277 [homily 45].
  12. Ibid., p. 127 [homily 26].
  13. Chrysostom, Chrysostom on Marriage, pp. 103–104.
  14. Chrysostom, “Homilies on Acts,” p. 276 [homily 45].
  15. John Chrysostom, “First Epistle of St. Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians,” in The Homilies of St. John Chrysostom, Part II (Oxford and London: John Henry Parker: J. G. F. and J. Rivington, 1839), p. 620.
  16. Christo, “Church’s Identity,” p. 386.
  17. I have used Emilianos Timiadis’s translation of this passage as it appears in his “Restoration and Liberation in and by the Community,” Greek Orthodox Theological Review 19, no. 2 (Autumn 1974): 54. See also John Chrysostom, Homilies on the Gospel of St. Matthew, in A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, vol. 10 (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1956), pp. 434–435 (homily 71).
  18. John Chrysostom, A Comparison Between a King and a Monk/Against the Opponents of the Monastic Life, trans. David G. Hunter (Lewiston, NY / Queenston, Ontario: The Edwin Mellon Press, 1988), p. 171 (book 3).
  19. Ibid., p. 171–172.
  20. Chrysostom, Chrysostom on Marriage, p. 67.
  21. Ibid., p. 68.
  22. Ibid.
  23. Ibid.
  24. The Blessing of Marriage or The Canon of the Rite of Holy Matrimony According to the Usage of the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Church (New York: Armenian Church Publications, 1953), p. 56.
  25. Chrysostom, Opponents of Monastic Life, p. 172.
  26. Chrysostom, Chrysostom on Marriage, p. 67.
  27. Elisabeth Schüssler-Fiorenza, In Memory of Her (New York: The Crossroad Publishing Co., 1988), esp. pp. 266–270.
  28. John H. Yoder, The Politics of Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.: 1972), esp. pp. 174–175, 180–181, 190–192.
  29. Fiorenza, Memory, p. 270.
  30. Chrysostom, Chrysostom on Marriage, p. 45.
  31. Ibid., p. 58.
  32. Ibid., p. 46.
  33. Ibid., p. 47.
  34. Ibid., p. 48.
  35. Ibid., p. 47.
  36. Chrysostom, Chrysostom on Marriage, p. 69.
  37. Chrysostom, An Address on Vainglory and the Right Way for Parents to Bring Up Their Children, appended to L. W. Laistner, Christianity and Pagan Culture (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1951), pp. 106–107.
  38. Chrysostom, Chrysostom on Marriage, p. 69.
  39. See, for example, James and Kathleen McGinnis, “The Social Mission of the Family,” in Faith and Families, ed. Lindell Sawyers (Philadelphia: The Geneva Press, 1986), pp. 89–113.
  40. Chrysostom, Chrysostom on Marriage, p. 71.

This article is adapted from a chapter in "Ethics After Christendom: Toward an Ecclesial Christian Ethic."

Vigen Guroian is Professor of Theology and Ethics at Loyola College in Baltimore, Maryland. Among his books are the second, expanded edition of "Incarnate Love: Essays in Orthodox Ethics" (University of Notre Dame, 2002) and "Rallying The Really Human Things: Moral Imagination In Politics, Literature, and Everyday Life " (ISI Books, 2005). Dr. Guroian is an advisor to the American Orthodox Institute.

Orthodoxy and the American Awakening

By: Fr. Johannes L. Jacobse

Fr. Johannes L. Jacobse

Fr. Johannes L. Jacobse

How did Americans respond to the attack on September 11? They did not take to the streets. They did not march in demonstrations. Instead, they went to church.

Churches opened their doors expecting that a few believers might come to pray. Instead, millions turned up. A weekday service in our Greek Orthodox parishes might draw a handful of worshippers. On September 11 many Orthodox parishes were nearly full.

Orthodox Americans do what many Americans do in times of trouble. They go to church. This habit developed from ideas that shaped America’s beginnings. The Founding Fathers knew that freedom depends on individual virtue. Freedom is preserved only if Americans remained a moral people.

Morality is derived from religious faith. Church is the place where faith is nurtured and taught. Americans know that freedom depends on faith so they return to church whenever freedom is threatened.

When the nation faces a crisis, Americans respond by embracing religious faith more deeply. The crisis can be caused by threats from the outside or problems on the inside. These crises were met with movements of renewal called Great Awakenings that swept through the nation throughout its history. The movements were religious in nature and successful in healing many of the problems within, particularly when those problems required a moral solution.

The Second Great Awakening of the early and middle nineteenth century for example, emerged when America was in a period of steep moral decline. Following the Revolutionary War, the chaos of battle including the pain of separation and death, wartime inflation, the taxing effort of building a new nation among other problems, tired the nation. Greed, sensuality and family breakdown increased. Alcohol abuse became rampant with predictable social results. People quit going to church. Thomas Paine declared that Christianity was dead.

But out of this exhaustion and breakdown arose renewal. Stellar progress was made. One effort included the Temperance Movement. It worked. Within a generation alcohol consumption in America fell by two-thirds. Families became more stable. Alcohol related disease decreased.

Other efforts included the establishing of settlement houses for the homeless and aid to the massive influx of immigrants during the first great wave of European immigration. Women especially took an interest in those who found themselves financially or morally bankrupt. By 1913 more than 500 urban rescue homes were organized and run by women of faith including Protestant, Catholics, and Jews, from urban slums to small mining villages.

The greatest good to emerge during the Great Awakening was the Abolition Movement. Opposition to slavery emerged out of the Christian churches. It began in England in Wesleyan Methodism and quickly gained hold in America among people of religious faith. The freeing of the Black slave, although laborious and painful, began as the work of men and women moved by Christian conviction.

Some religious thinkers say that today we are on the verge of another Great Awakening. One sign is the shift in public recognition that many of America’s current ills and challenges are moral in nature.

For example, the moral dimension of problems like addictions, STD’s, AIDS, abortion, family breakdown, is self-evident. More people recognize that healing these maladies will require a moral reorientation that needs to reach into most corners of the culture.

In the meantime, America faces other challenges such as the direction that scientific research should take as it probes the frontiers of life and death, or the abject failure of past policies to relieve poverty and homelessness in any lasting way are also at their foundation moral issues. Clearly we are at a crossroad.

When the nation acknowledges its helplessness in the face of these problems, renewal and restoration can begin. In some areas this is already happening.

When the time of renewal arrives, Orthodox Christianity will be offered an unprecedented opportunity to give this nation the ancient faith. We need to be ready for it.

The Orthodox faith has been in America for well over two hundred years but it had no appreciable presence except for the last hundred years or so. The first immigrants brought the faith to this new land not as missionaries but as people seeking a better life. Through a deep and abiding faith in God and hard work, they established their families, neighborhoods, and parishes.

Today that immigrant faith offers the nation a depth and stability difficult to find elsewhere. Countless Americans are searching for the Orthodox faith without realizing that the Orthodox Church is where they can find it. Specifically, the Orthodox believers must prepare to teach the Gospel of Christ as it is comprehended and articulated in the Tradition. People are being prepared to hear it.

This obligation falls on the shoulders of the Orthodox because the weakness of much of the Christian establishment in America. American Christianity is fractured. Many American churches are confused about faith in God.

Some of these churches have a noble history of leading the moral life of the nation in years past. In recent decades however, they have lost confidence and direction and often are indistinguishable from the culture they one time informed. Some have abdicated leadership altogether.

One reason for their decline is that the historical dynamics that shaped this nation are similar to those that shaped those churches – particularly the Protestant confessions. The rise of modern society and the rise of Protestant Christianity happened simultaneously.

In more recent times, the foundational beliefs and values that shaped this nation faced increasing skepticism and were even attacked in places. Many of these churches applied the same skepticism to the foundational tenets of their faith and met with the same paralyzing results. Even those churches that counter the skepticism with energetic critiques are not able to offer the depth and stability of faith that the nation sorely needs.

The Orthodox in America face the same perplexing questions, the same trials, and have the same responsibilities as every other American. However, Orthodoxy can avoid the internal skepticism and paralysis that afflicts other Christian churches because it draws from a tradition that predates the rise of modern society.

 When the yearning for things that are good and right and true finds its voice is when the new Great Awakening will be upon us. It already may be here. If the Orthodox believer remains faithful to the Gospel as he received it and if he loves God and neighbor as the commandment dictates, he offers America a deep and stable faith that can lead the nation towards clarity and healing.

Rev. Johannes L. Jacobse is president of the American Orthodox Institute.

Podcast: The Culture War and Orthodox Christianity

Fr. Johannes L. Jacobse

Fr. Johannes L. Jacobse

Fr. Hans Jacobse, editor of Orthodoxy Today and President of The American Orthodox Institute speaks with host Kevin Allen about whether Eastern Orthodox Christians need to engage in the moral and social war that is being waged in our culture. They will also talk about whether “Religious Right” leaning ex-Evangelical converts are taking over the Orthodox churches in America! Buckle your seat belts!

Listen here:

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The Orthodox Church of Tomorrow

By: Fr. John A. Peck

Fr. John Peck

Fr. John Peck

There is an interesting phenomenon occurring in Orthodox Christianity in America today, and reflected powerfully in our seminaries. Seminaries are loaded almost exclusively with converts, reverts (cradle Orthodox who left the faith, and were re-converted to it again), and the sons and grandsons of clergy.

I believe we are looking at the future of the American Orthodox Church — today.

The notion that traditionally Orthodox ethnic groups (the group of ‘our people’ we hear so much about from our primates and hierarchs) are going to populate the ranks of the clergy, and therefore, the Church in the future is, frankly, a pipe dream. Orthodoxy, despite the failings of its leadership, has actually lived up to its own press. The truth of the Orthodox faith, as presented on paper, is actually being believed – by those who have no familial or historical connection with the Orthodox. These poor deluded souls (of which I count myself) actually believe what they are reading about the Orthodox faith, and expect the Church to act like, well, the Church. They refuse to accept the Church as a club of any kind, or closed circle kaffeeklatsch. No old world embassies will be tolerated for much longer – they will go the way of the dodo. No one will have to work against them; they will simply die from atrophy and neglect. The passing away of the Orthodox Church as ethnic club is already taking place. It will come to fruition in a short 10 years, 15 years in larger parishes.

This is a well known problem. Statistical studies taken a mere seven years ago predicted that within 10 years the Orthodox Church in the United States would for all practical purposes, no longer be viable. If nothing was done within five years (that’s two years ago) the decline would be irreversible. Demographics determine destiny, as they say. As you may have imagined, not only was "nothing done," such reports were surreptitiously filed away, while the calls for a solution from clergy and laity alike only increased. Larger jurisdictions will, of course, have a little more time, but not a different result.

What we are looking at, of course, is of the highest concern to the hierarchy. They know, in their heart of hearts, that they cannot reverse this trend. Yet they fight a rearguard action, hoping against hope to forestall the historically inevitable movement toward an American Orthodox Church.

Statistical studies taken a mere seven years ago predicted that within 10 years the Orthodox Church in the United States would for all practical purposes, no longer be viable.

The laity has already moved on. Americans, generally, don’t fall for very much strong arm intimidation or brow beating, don’t go for bullying by insecure leaders, and certainly don’t see the value of taking on and promoting someone else’s ethnic culture. They care about the Gospel, and the Gospel does not require Slavonic or Koine Greek, or even English for that matter. The Gospel requires context, which is why it cannot be transmitted in any language unknown to the listener.

When we look at our seminaries, we are looking at the Church of Tomorrow, the Church twenty years from now. Indeed, this is the Church we are building today.

Twenty years from now, I anticipate we will see the following:

  • Vastly diminished parishes, both in size and number. There will be a few exceptions, (and they will be exceptional!) but for the most part, most current Orthodox parishioners will age and die, and have no one to replace them. Why? Because as they have taught the context of their culture, instead teaching the context of their faith. Some parishes will simply be merged with others. Many will close outright. A few will change how they do ministry, with a new vision of parochial ecclesiology. These newer parishes will be lighthouses of genuine Orthodox piety and experience. Some parishes, I believe, will actually be formed specifically, in the old fashion, by purchasing land, building a chapel or Temple in the midst of it, and parishioners building or buying homes around it. The Church will be the center of their lives, and many will come from far and wide to experience their way of life.
  • Publicly renowned Orthodox media and apologetic ministries. These ministries are the ones providing a living and powerful apologetic for the Orthodox faith in our culture (that is, our 21st Century life in the United States), and actually providing the Gospel in its proper context – engaged in society and the public arena. These will succeed in visibility and public awareness more than all the speeches before the U.N. and odd newspaper stories about Orthodox Easter or Folk Dance Festivals could ever do. In other words, the Orthodox Christian faith will become that most dangerous of all things – relevant to the lives of Americans, and known to all Americans as a genuinely American Christian entity.
  • More (and younger) bishops. If our current slate of bishops has been mostly a disappointment, reducing their number will only tighten this closed circle, making the hierarchy less and less accessible, and more and more immune to things like, oh, the needs and concerns of their flock. The process of selection for the episcopacy will contain a far more thorough investigation, and men with active homosexual tendencies, psychological problems, insecurities, or addictions will simply not make the cut. We aren’t far from open persecution of Christians by secularists in this country, and we need bishops who know the score. With better bishops, no one will be able to ‘buy’ a priest out of a parish with a gift of cash. Conversely, parish councils will no longer be able to bully priests into staying out of their affairs, and will be required to get out of the restaurant/festival business and get into the soul saving business.
  • A very different demographic of clergy. Our priests will be composed of converts, reverts, and the sons and grandsons of venerable, long-suffering clergy. These men all know the score. They won’t tolerate nonsense like homosexual clergy (especially bishops), women’s ordination, or financial corruption. They will not tolerate the Church being regularly and unapologetically dishonored by her own clergy. Twenty years from now, these convert and revert priests will be sending life-long Orthodox men, a new cradle generation, en masse to our seminaries. They will be white, black, Asian, Polynesian, Hispanic, and everything in between. Fewer will be Russian, Greek, or any other traditionally Orthodox background.
  • Orthodox Biblical Studies. Orthodox Biblical scholarship will flourish, and will actually advance Biblical Studies, rather than tag along for the latest trends, staying a minimum safe distance back in case the latest theory tanks unexpectedly. Septuagint studies are already on the rise and Orthodox scholars will usurp the lead in this arena, establishing a powerful and lasting influence in Biblical Studies for decades to come. Orthodox higher education — specifically in Biblical Studies in the Orthodox tradition — will finally have a place at the doctoral level in the Western hemisphere, and it will become a thriving academic entity. The whole Church will feed on the gleanings of this new scholarship and Scriptural knowledge, preaching, and Biblical morality will invigorate the Church for generations.
  • A much higher moral standard from all clergy. The next twenty years will see a revival of practical ethics. Instead of trailing military or business ethics, the Church will, once again, require the highest standard of ethical and professional behavior from her clergy — and they will respond! The clergy will not tolerate lying, cheating, or stealing and hold to account those who practice these vices. They will vigorously defend the honor of Christ’s priesthood, and Christ’s Church. I dare say, even the clergy will finally respect their own priesthood.
  • Vocations will explode. As a result of the elevated ethical standard publicly expected from the clergy, candidates in far greater numbers will flock to the priesthood. There will be very full classes, distance education, self-study and continuing education going on in every location. Education at a basal level will disappear, except in introductory parish classes. Clergy will powerfully articulate Orthodoxy to the faithful and to the culture around them. Personal opinion will no longer be the standard for clergy when articulating Orthodox ethics and morality. Our seminaries must become beacons for this teaching, and give up "training culture" once and for all. We will finally begin to penetrate our society, rather than go along for the ride like a tick on a dog’s back.
  • Philanthropy will flow like the floodgates of heaven. Finally, the many Orthodox Christian philanthropists who annually give millions of dollars to secular institutions will finally find their own Church completely transparent, completely accountable, and worthy of their faith-building support. Let’s face it, there is more than enough money in Orthodoxy right now to build hospitals, clinics, schools, colleges, universities, and a new Hagia Sophia right here in the United States. The reason this is not being done is because these philanthropists are intelligent men and women who do not trust the hierarchy to do the right thing with their millions. This will change in short order once it is shown that transparency doesn’t destroy the Church, but strengthens it immeasurably. Frankly, I don’t anticipate every jurisdiction to do this in the next twenty years, but those that are practicing transparency will emerge as the leaders in every arena of Church existence.


This all may seem unlikely today, but it is coming.

How do I know this? For one thing, the last holdouts of corruption, Byzantine intrigue and phyletism (a fancy theological term for ethnic preference) are clinging desperately to a vision of the Church that is, quite frankly, dying fast. Oh, they are doing everything to shore up their power and influence, and busy serving their own needs, but their vision is dying. And where there is no vision, the people perish (Proverbs 29:18).

As frightening and disconcerting as it may seem to our leaders, they will learn that emerging from a cocoon, even a Byzantine cocoon, is not a bad thing. Orthodoxy is about to take flight on new beautiful wings. These are the birth pangs of a new era for Orthodoxy. God is giving us a time of freedom and light.

This new Orthodox Church will have a different face, will be ready for contemporary challenges, and will have begun to penetrate American society at every stage and on every level. This Church is the one that will be ready for the challenges of open persecution, fighting for the soul of every American, regardless of their genetic affiliation. This Church will be the one our grandchildren and great grandchildren will grow up in, looking back on the late 20th-early 21st century as a time of sentimental darkness from which burst forth the light of the Gospel. Let it begin.

Fr. John A. Peck is pastor of Prescott Orthodox Church in Prescott, Ariz.

Published: September 16, 2008

Interview with Bobby Maddex, Editor of "Salvo" magazine

By Fr. Johannes L. Jacobse

Salvo Magazine

Salvo Magazine

"Salvo" describes itself as a magazine committed to "deconstructing the damaging cultural myths that have undercut human dignity, all but destroyed the notions of virtue and morality, and slowly eroded the appetite for transcendence." Editor Bobby Maddex says "Salvo" aims for the type of reader that is "open-minded enough to follow the evidence wherever it leads, and invariably, it leads to Christ and his teachings." Maddex spoke recently with Rev. Johannes L. Jacobse, president of the American Orthodox Institute.

AOI: Welcome, Bobby. Good to have you especially as we inaugurate our interview series on Orthodox leaders who make a difference.

Maddex: Thank you. Good to be here.

AOI: The magazine has a youthful vibe. Describe the typical Salvo reader.

Maddex: Our typical reader is between the ages of 21 and 40, college educated, and at least somewhat religious. I would venture to say that our subscription base is split pretty evenly between Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant Christians, though we also have a number of secular subscribers due to the fact that we are not an overtly religious publication.

Bobby Maddex, Editor of Salvo

Bobby Maddex, Editor of Salvo

We believe that changes of mind will result in changes of heart further on down the road. In other words, we attempt to cultivate clear thinking about some of the more controversial cultural topics of the day in order to pave the way for the evangelical efforts of others. In terms of our Christian readers, this means that we are trying to prevent them from acceding to the false ideologies and cultural myths circulating throughout society, while we offer our secular readers perspectives on topics that they are not getting from the mainstream media.

Our "vibe," as you call it, was selected to counter the lies emanating from some of the hipper, youth-oriented, and hugely popular newsstand magazines-such as Rolling Stone and Wired. We were tired of the monopoly that these publications had on slick, edgy, and highly ironic content, especially since the worldviews that inhere in such content are so nihilistic, materialistic, and immoral. We are trying to fight fire with fire, using the rhetorical and design tactics of our competition, but in the service of Truth and right living rather than narcissism and a do-what-feels-good behavioral ethic.

AOI: Clearly, you draw from the received moral tradition, particularly when you challenge the secular trends. We don’t see enough of this responsibly done. Why take this approach?

Maddex: Here’s the thing-and it’s something that both our Christian and secular readers are coming to recognize: The Christian worldview, objectively speaking, leads to the healthiest, most satisfying, and most rewarding way of life. Even if one never buys into the underlying theology of Christianity, he will still find that the moral precepts that result from it are entirely practical and psychologically beneficial. Countless scientific studies have show this to be true, and we at Salvo surmise that the reason this is so is because Christianity represents total truth about all of reality. Our readers are young adults who are open-minded enough to follow the evidence wherever it leads, and invariably, it leads to Christ and his teachings.

The problem today is that some Christians, in an effort to engage the culture (which St. Paul definitely encourages us to do), have instead allowed the culture to engage them. Longstanding moral principles-and in some cases, orthodox (small "o") Christian theology-are being abandoned in the name of attracting converts, especially in the areas of sexuality and bioethics. But what such Christians are really doing is depleting the fullness of the faith, which includes bold moral lines that simply should not be crossed. The fear, I think, especially in American culture, is that by calling attention to such lines, we will offend the sensibilities of the secular world. But the cross has already done that; it is an offense in and of itself.

Some Christians, in an effort to engage the culture (which St. Paul definitely encourages us to do), have instead allowed the culture to engage them.

Christianity is antithetical to the culture. Our devotion to it makes us offensive from the get-go. In other words, you know something is wrong when your values no longer offend; it most likely means that you are becoming a part of-and not merely engaging-secular society. And as I said earlier, we have a moral obligation to help keep others from caving in to the culture’s value system, because it will likewise prevent them from making choices that have the propensity to deteriorate their mental, physical, and spiritual health.

AOI: What kind of response are you getting from readers?

Maddex: Most of the responses have been very encouraging. Sure, there are a few who have objected to the in-your-face style of Salvo, as well as to our unyielding opposition to such things as abortion and homosexuality. The charge is that we are not following Christ’s example of love and acceptance when we reject such lifestyle decisions out of hand-that these issues are fraught with complexities that demand a softer touch. But how loving is it, really, to allow sinful behaviors to become culturally destigmatized? We’re talking human souls here; to not call a spade a spade is to make sin a more attractive and enticing option that could obstruct one’s path to salvation. Besides, the Christ of the bible is no hippie-dippy love child. He turned the tables in the temple, responded to some of the disciples’ dumber questions with irony and sarcasm, and suffered death for his commitment to Truth. Yes, I definitely believe that we are called to love the sinner, but sometimes the most loving thing to do for a person is to slap him in the face. I know it has helped me on countless occasions.

Salvo attempts to cultivate clear thinking about some of the more controversial cultural topics of the day in order to pave the way for the evangelical efforts of others.

But again, most of what we hear is that Salvo has helped readers change and improve their lives. Those who are Christian typically tell us that, before reading the magazine, they didn’t know why they held the beliefs that they did. I mean, they knew that they were following the teachings of scripture and church tradition, but they didn’t know that these beliefs had a practical dimension as well-that their beliefs were rooted in logic and common sense, as well as the bible and the church fathers. Secular readers, on the other hand, usually say that Salvo has provided them with food for thought on topics that they had never before considered. For example, I can recall one reader who told us that he came to terms with his pornography addiction as the result of an article we ran on the subject in Salvo 2. Such responses keep me energized and focused.

AOI: What do you think are the most pressing issues facing the culture?

Maddex: I would have to say those issues that revolve around human dignity. You know, even the very notion of human dignity has fallen under attack in recent years. Scientists such as Patricia Churchland, Ruth Macklin, and Steven Pinker have argued that it is a useless concept in light of evolutionary findings. According to them, humans have no more value or worth than any other creature on earth. Spain has granted personhood to apes under the same logic, and the Swiss now have laws that protect the "dignity" of plants. We are no longer viewed as having a privileged place in the world; nor are we treating human beings as if they were made in the image of God.

This loss of human dignity is what fuels our culture of death.

This loss of human dignity is what fuels our culture of death. At the same time that the lives of an increasing number of non-human organisms are being protected, laws that protect human life are on the decline. Abortion has become a common component of our culture, the death-tourism trade (in which people travel to foreign countries in order to undergo assisted suicide) is on the rise, and scientific procedures such as cloning, embryonic stem-cell research, and in vitro fertilization are part of a booming business that takes life to make life. Regardless of whether you believe that the Genesis story is actual history or mere metaphor, its point-that we are special to God-remains. God took on the flesh of man so that man might be saved. To reject human dignity is thus to reject God’s salvific plan.

AOI: Coming up with new material for a quarterly means you have to stay up on cultural trends and the latest ideas. What are some of your favorite online and print influences? Television and film?

Maddex: Just in terms of overall style and structure, Wired magazine has influenced me tremendously. It’s so well done-so appealing and fascinating and easy to read. Everything from the paper quality to the images to the names of the departments is incredibly well-conceived and well-suited to the magazine’s mission and content. Of course, the naturalistic worldview of Wired leaves much to be desired, but as far as the magazine genre goes, I think it most perfectly utilizes the form.

I’m also a big fan of The New Atlantis, a science and technology journal that is always extremely insightful and well-written, particularly those articles composed by Senior Editor Christine Rosen. I learn a ton every time I pick it up.

In terms of online resources, you can’t beat I believe it’s run by Canadian Catholics, but it is global in content and includes links to any news story even marginally related to the family. I also love MercatorNet, the Australian equivalent of Salvo, which is hip, witty, and excellently edited, and the website for Stand To Reason, Greg Koukl’s Christian apologetics organization.

And then there’s the journalist Dinesh D’Souza, who just recently joined our editorial advisory board. In a lot of ways, he functions as a sort of patron saint of Salvo, providing razor-sharp insights into American culture. His two most recent books, The Enemy at Home and What’s So Great About Christianity, perfectly model what Salvo is trying to do, as does Nancy Pearcey’s book Total Truth.

For entertainment reviews and news, I go directly to Barbara Nicolosi, the Hollywood screenwriter and executive director of Act One, Inc. Her blogsite, Church of the Masses, contains some of the most erudite and morally solid assessments of film and television available. And I also love Ben Stein and Evan Coyne Maloney. These guys made two of the most thought-provoking documentaries of the past year. Stein’s film, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, exposes the manner in which the scientific community blackballs anyone who dares question even a mere aspect of evolutionary theory, and Maloney’s film, Indoctrinate U, examines the socially liberal bias on American college campuses.

AOI: Your Christian background is Orthodox but Salvo has an appeal that reaches far beyond Orthodox walls. How do you see the other Christian communions contributing to Salvo?

Maddex: I think my list of influences definitely speaks to this question. There’s a culture war going on right now between naturalists and supernaturalists-between those who believe that the material universe is all that there is and those who believe that there is a transcendent reality to which we are subject. If the naturalists win, then our culture will finally and fully become nihilistic, permeated with moral relativism and a complete lack of meaning. All Christians, regardless of denomination, must be involved in this particular battle. It’s one in which we all have a vested interest, and-thankfully-one in which many Christians have already put aside their differences to fight side by side.

I completely understand that there are huge theological issues separating each of the three great traditions of Christendom-Catholics, Protestants, and the Orthodox-and having converted to Orthodoxy, I definitely took a side here as well. But the culture war is a battle that we can all fight together without compromising on any of our differences. The worst thing we could do is refuse to work together on matters upon which we all agree because of those issues upon which we don’t. That’s the surest path to defeat. Fortunately, Salvo has been blessed with individuals who understand what’s at stake and have formed provisional alliances as a result.

AOI: Your subheading for the journal is "Science, Sex, and Society." Why did you pick these three themes?

Maddex: Well, that pretty much covers everything that we mean by the word "culture," right? Under the category of "sex," for example, Salvo looks at such things as in vitro fertilization, alternative sexualities, gender theory, contraception, and pornography. In science, we are looking at the theory of Intelligent Design, Darwinism, the origins of life, and bioethics. And under society, we are looking at the influence of the media and the academy, at consumerism and family makeup, at art, music, film, literature, and anything else that might impact the worldview of young adults. There is not an aspect of culture that Salvo does not address, and we felt that the tagline "science, sex, and society" encompasses them all.

What many Christians lack these days is the ability to think critically about highly persuasive messages and ways of being that have the potential to negatively impact their lives.

AOI: Where is Salvo heading?

Maddex: That’s a really good question. I’ve never thought of Salvo as merely a magazine; rather, I’ve always viewed it as a movement-as the beginning of a mass resistance to dominant cultural myths that is not dependent on any one medium. I would love to see us grow and thrive to the point where we host film screenings, discussion groups, and media-literacy conferences-where we organize protests, create home-school curricula, and bring speakers to college campuses. I want Salvo to become a multi-media assault on all of the destructive lies emanating from Hollywood, the academy, legacy news outlets, and the Darwinist science community.

In the meantime, we’ll keep pumping out magazines. We just went to print with an issue on what Dr. Allan Carlson calls "the natural family," and our next issue tackles the New Atheists. Beyond that, I would love to do an issue on "environmentalism versus stewardship," or one on "psychology as religion," though we will most likely stop doing thematic issues after Salvo 7. The problem has been that each reader has his own pet topics that he wants to read about, and when an issue focuses on a single topic, we lose the interest of readers who are geared toward something else. Thus, beginning with Salvo 8, we will probably fill each quarterly issue with a full range of articles that fall within our mission. We’ll still have a cover story, obviously, but the rest of the magazine will concentrate on other things. I think it’s a smart move that will make Salvo more appealing to a wider group of readers. I’m excited about it.

AOI: You mention that Salvo seeks the "systematic deconstruction of false ideologies, philosophies, and worldviews." What do you mean by this? Why is it important?

Maddex: What many Christians lack these days is the ability to think critically about highly persuasive messages and ways of being that have the potential to negatively impact their lives. To some degree, Salvo is trying to teach our readers to think-to provide examples of clear thinking about the pressing issues of the day in an intellectual, though very readable, format.

Let me give you an example. Slated for Salvo 7 is an article by Dr. Karen Swallow Prior, an English professor at Liberty University, that counters the accusations of such New Atheists as Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, and Sam Harris. In it, she describes a private meeting that she had with two students who had begun to question their Christian faith. The reason? For the first time in their lives, they had been confronted-via the bestselling books of these New Atheist authors-with serious (in their minds at least) arguments against the existence of God. What Prior goes on to point out is that these students simply weren’t trained by their Christian parents, churches, and schools to understand that such arguments exist. They were thus unaware that there is likewise a whole host of solid counter-arguments that sufficiently answer the New Atheist claims. As a result, these kids were severing their relationship with Christ.

Salvo was created to prevent this sort of thing from happening. We are trying to reach young adults before their worldviews have solidified-while they are still searching for answers to the significant questions of life. It is so important that they have access to all of the information before settling into their habits of mind. Again, we are talking about the salvation of souls here, and a false assumption formed early in life is all that it might take to send someone careening into an eternity of meaninglessness and despair.

AOI: Where can we find Salvo?

Maddex: The magazine is becoming available at an increasing number of Barnes & Noble booksellers. We have a list of the stores that currently carry Salvo at

But you can also, of course, order a subscription to our magazine on our website at We also sell back issues here, and there is a ton of free content as well, including a daily blog, daily news items, podcasts, a suggested reading list, and Ism Central, our guide to every ideology under the sun. Please feel free to drop by.

Bobby Maddex graduated from Wheaton College in 1994 with a degree in Political Science. After spending five years as senior editor of "Gadfly," a national arts and culture publication out of Charlottesville, Virginia, and serving a one-year stint as the marketing director of "Touchstone" magazine in Chicago, he earned a Masters Degree in British Literature from DePaul University in 2002. Bobby is now the editor of "Salvo," a magazine committed to deconstructing the damaging cultural myths that have undercut human dignity, all but destroyed the notions of virtue and morality, and slowly eroded the appetite for transcendence.

The American Orthodox Insitute

Fr. Johannes L. Jacobse

Fr. Johannes L. Jacobse

Learn about this new and important resource designed to address social and moral concerns in our society from an Orthodox perspective. We talk with Fr. Hans Jacobse about the newly established American Orthodox Institute.

Listen here:

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