The Role of Metropolitan and Its Relationship within the Episcopate: A Reappraisal

By: George C. Michalopulos

ABSTRACT: Starting in the closing days of the Byzantine Empire, the office of the Metropolitan underwent significant changes that affect the Church even today. Metropolitans traditionally wielded great influence and authority, especially during the first Christian millennium. They were elected by other bishops and presided in a conciliar model of governance. They were primates of ecclesiastical provinces that corresponded to political provinces and/or capitals. In our day, almost all the Orthodox churches around the world roughly follow this model except for the churches of the Ecumenical Patriarch and the Church of Greece. It is the contention of this writer that much of the administrative disunity in North America can be traced to the corruption of the early model by the Ecumenical Patriarch and the Church of Greece, and that the continuing misuse of the office and title derails further attempts at unity in the United States.


The Orthodox Church in the United States is in considerable disarray. Unlike other Orthodox nations, disunity in America is the normal order of things as evidenced by the existence of at least twenty different Orthodox jurisdictions, most of them based on ethnicity and foreign immigration patterns.

Why the disunity continues to exist can be reduced to three main causes: 1) extreme parochialism; 2) nationalism and attendant xenophobia; and 3) willful ignorance of proper ecclesiastical order.1 This essay is primarily concerned with the third point, especially how the title of Metropolitan has been shorn from its traditional understanding and led to considerable confusion in the American Orthodox experience.

The confusion is most apparent in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (GOA). In the late 1990s, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew elevated all of the bishops of the former Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America to the status of metropolitan. At the time, the explanation was offered that the GOA had matured to the point where the Church was ready to elevate bishops to metropolitans. What was unclear to all but a few observers at the time was that the elevations did in fact establish the bishops as archbishops, that is, accountable no longer to the Archbishop in New York but to the Ecumenical Patriarch in Constantinople.

Along with the elevation, Canada, Central America, and South America were established as separate metropolises and no longer under the purview of the Archbishop of the United States. Elevating the former bishops of these areas to metropolitans follows sound logic: the bishops were now archbishops of newly minted episcopal sees. Less clear however, is why the bishops of American cities such as Chicago, Boston, etc., should enjoy this same privilege, especially since they were not different political entities or ecclesiastical provinces.

This result is almost comical. The new metropolitans, who were previous known by the cities that they served ("the Bishop of Boston," The Bishop of Chicago," etc.), were now titled the Metropolitan of this or that defunct episcopal see. For good measure, the curious phrase "presiding hierarch"2 was added, perhaps to address the puzzled looks that resulted.

How did we get to this impasse? Why are the GOA Metropolitans named for non-existent sees when in fact serving metropolises in America? To answer this question, we must examine the history of the title and the nature of the episcopacy of earlier times.

The Title of Metropolitan: Etymology, Origins, and its Role in the Early Church
Historical Background of the Episcopal Office

We can tell from the earliest Church documents,3 that by the time the sub-apostolic age commenced (ca AD 66), all of the churches that had been founded by Apostles were led by "overseers" (Greek: episkopos). By process of transliteration, this word became vescovo (Latin), bischoff (German), busceop (Saxon), and then finally bishop in our own language.

In the early days of Christianity, each church had its own bishop who functioned as the presiding officer. They performed many of the same tasks we attribute to presbyters (priests) today as well as the responsibilities and authority bishops held today. Thus, in addition to presiding at the Eucharist, they had the authority (charism) to ordain other ecclesiastical officers and bore the final responsibility to teach, preach, administer alms, and resolve disputes. They received their office by consecration from other bishops,4 who in turn received it from earlier bishops, and so on going back to the Apostles.

In the late first and second centuries, most cities had only one church, hence the axiomatic formula of "one church, one bishop." Even churches that had more than one apostolic tradition (such as Rome) strictly followed this principle. As the Church grew however, it became apparent that more than one house of worship was necessary especially in the larger cities. Not wanting to introduce more than one bishop in any one city, the formula was modified to "one city, one bishop."

In most lands the ancient Christian practice of "one city, one bishop," still applies. There is only one bishop of Corinth, one archbishop of Milan, and one patriarch of Venice, and so forth. The breakdown occurs in pluralistic countries that have more than one Christian confession. Take the title "Archbishop of Boston," for example. Does it mean the Roman Catholic cardinal, the Orthodox metropolitan, or the Episcopal bishop?

Sometimes efforts are made to make the distinctions more comprehensible. Take London, for example. The Anglican Archbishop is the "Archbishop of Canterbury," the Roman Catholic Archbishop is the "Archbishop of Westminster," and the head of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese is the "Archbishop of Thyateria." In this way the canonical boundaries are at least nominally honored. The letter of the law is followed if not the actual spirit.5

Rise of Metropolises

During the first Christian millennium, the need for distinct diocesan boundaries necessarily fostered collegiality between bishops. More than one bishop was required to consecrate new ones. Certainly the rite itself was an occasion for discussion and confraternity. If nothing else, they simply had to know each other in order to have valid diptychs.6

These meetings could have been called together for any number of reasons, including settling property and boundary disputes, trying moral transgressions, and resolving doctrinal questions. Although the consecration of a bishop required other bishops to travel and meet, it made no sense for normal episcopal councils to take place in small, out-of-the-way burgs. It made more sense for regional bishops to travel to a more centrally located, larger city. In Greek, these regional hubs were known as metropolises.

The term metropolis comes from two Greek words meter and polis, or "mother-city." The bishop of the mother city became known as a metropolites arkhiepiskopos or "metropolitan [arch]bishop." Because he ruled over an established, populous, and no doubt more materially viable church, his status was enhanced in relation to the other bishops, many of whom represented rural areas.

In time, as the right of direct, popular election became attenuated, it became normal in many regions of the empire for the metropolitans to be chosen from the ranks of regional bishops who were part of the greater metropolitan area. In due course the definition of metropolitan also came to mean an archbishop who was elected by suffragan7 bishops.

In almost all cases the term "metropolitan" refers to "the primate of an ecclesiastical province."8 Since the Great Schism of 1054, the different Christian traditions have stuck to this definition consistently. In England during the early Middle Ages, both the Archbishops of Westminster and York were metropolitans; between them they had jurisdiction over at least twenty-five bishops. Upon unification under William the Conqueror, both retained their status as archbishops (albeit with the Archbishop of Canterbury enjoying primatial status). With the expansion of Anglicanism outside the border of England, the primates of the various provinces were each given metropolitan rank.

In the Roman Catholic tradition this tradition has been somewhat relaxed; a metropolitan is simply an archbishop who has authority over one or more suffragan sees. The practice in the Orthodox Church is roughly parallel to what is found in Anglicanism, that is, the metropolitan is the primate of an ecclesiastical province (at least in the ideal). In all of the cases above, the distinctions are rather too fine to make any significant difference.

Once Constantine legalized Christianity in AD 313, the administrative functions of the metropolitan archbishops became more established. For example, the Bishop of Jerusalem, arguably the most senior of all bishops (at least chronologically speaking) answered administratively to the metropolitan of Caeserea. The reasons for this were apparent to anybody living in the Roman world at that time: Caeserea was a bustling port on the Mediterranean whereas Jerusalem was little more than an out-of-the-way hamlet that had been devastated by the Roman legions as a result of the first and second Jewish wars (AD 66/135).

Likewise the Bishop of Byzantium in its earliest days was a suffragan of the Metropolitan of Heraclea, which was a much more substantial city in Thrace9 and so on. Socio-political considerations were central in deciding which diocese would become the metropolis of any given ecclesiastical province, and usually the largest city in any given area was the logical choice.

Other factors came into play as well. The more settled Mediterranean littoral had many larger cities while in the largely pagan non-Roman world, the newly established metropolitans sees, such as Kiev, Canterbury, Paris, York, were not necessarily the largest cities but the capitals of kings and/or tribal chieftains who had converted to Christianity. Paradoxically, because of their pagan surroundings, the metropolitans of these archdioceses enjoyed a prestige that was not available to the plentiful metropolitans of the Roman world.10

Even after the unification of England in 1066 for instance, the title and functions of the metropolitans of York and Canterbury remained meaning that there were only two archbishops in that one country. Likewise with the rise of Moscow as the center of pre-Romanov Russia: the metropolitan of Kiev remained the premier ecclesiarch of the Russian lands even when he was removed to the city of Vladimir in 1316 (and later to Moscow). During the conquest of the New World by Spain, the bishops of Lima and Mexico City were given metropolitan status, with all subsequently formed dioceses reporting to them.

Bishops as Court Functionaries: Titular Bishops and Ecclesiastical Bureaucrats

Why then in the Byzantine Empire do we find the opposite? Why do seventy-seven metropolitans exist in modern Greece, for example?

Many reasons can be offered but geographical considerations top the list. The Balkan Peninsula possesses some of the roughest terrain in the world making communication difficult. The hundreds of islands of the Aegean archipelago are isolated from their nearest neighbors. An island such as Crete, which has dozens of cities and many bishops, could easily accommodate a senior archbishop. Travel to Athens or Rome11 could be difficult and dangerous.

Political considerations also come into play. Athens and Thessalonica were capitals of separate Roman and later, Byzantine provinces. In addition, the despots of Trebizond, Epirus, and Nicaea, who ruled the remnants of Byzantium following the sack of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade in 1204, viewed themselves as autonomous emperors-in-exile and believed the churches in their territories should be autonomous as well. It made no sense for the churches within their mini-empires to be headed by archbishops who answered to the Latin patriarchs of Constantinople (who were neither Greek nor Orthodox).

We must remember that in the Christian world of the first millennium there was one united Roman Empire. Although its capital was now in the East, its people considered themselves as Romans whether they spoke Latin or not. Hence, the idea of a "pentarchy" – rule by five patriarchs – must be reconsidered without the biases of the intense nationalism we find in some quarters of modern Orthodoxy today.

A better analogy would be if the United States today had five different patriarchs within its contiguous borders. That is to say a patriarch in Washington, New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta, and Boston. To modern ears this sounds incongruous but this was exactly the situation in the fifth and sixth centuries. Even after the loss of the West in the seventh century, the fiction that Rome was still part of the empire remained. (When Charlemagne was crowned Emperor of the Romans in AD 800 by the pope, great care was taken to assure the Byzantines that Charlemagne was only claiming sovereignty of the empire in the West and not over the entire empire.)

Regardless, if there had been any reticence about the idea of more than one patriarch in one nation, the issue became moot with the loss of Jerusalem and then Antioch to the Muslim caliphate. Alexandria fell in due time as well. The precedent had been set, at least in the abstract: one nation (Rome) at one time had had five patriarchs.12

In this light, it is easy to see how the Byzantines at least could countenance the existence of numerous metropolitan archbishops within their midst. The experience of the Greek-speaking peoples in this regard was significantly different than that of the newly baptized non-Romans who lived outside of the frontiers of the old empire.

Resident Synods

Moreover, Constantinople had its obvious attractions for well-educated bishops and as early as the fourth century many felt its pull. Many were employed in a "resident synod" (endemousa synodos) presided by the Ecumenical Patriarch with membership open to any and all bishops visiting the city. Its purview was the ecclesiastical affairs of the city itself but given its ecumenical makeup, it necessarily took up the affairs of dioceses outside of Constantinople. Its members even had say over the election and deposition of patriarchs.

The administration of the home dioceses of the resident bishops was often left in charge of deputies (called exarches). This enabled the bishops to both justify their absence their flock while representing them in the imperial court. If there was need, they would return to their sees to take up weightier matters that deserved their immediate attention.

Resident synods became common. The sees of Rome, Alexandria and Antioch held them as well and travel took place frequently between them. The same bishop could sit in more than one synod; the only qualification was that he must at least have a deputy in attendance. One of the benefits of the synods was that it allowed problems to be addressed in a pro-active manner. Much of the preliminary groundwork for subsequent ecumenical councils took place in these synods.

The Rise of Titular Bishops

Titular bishops (a bishop who possesses the title but no real diocese) arose with the gradual dissolution of the Byzantine Empire particularly after the Great Schism of 1054. In earlier resident synods, the bishops took their diocesan duties seriously (albeit through a deputy) but the gradual disintegration of the empire often meant the permanent loss of a diocese. Thus, the preoccupation of the bishop-in-residence at the imperial court was redirected towards the court itself rather than the diocese. This happened for example in North Africa, which was lost to the Roman Empire and Christendom after the rise of Islam.

Before passing too hasty of a judgment on this phenomenon, it must be remembered that the time in question (roughly the 8th through the 11th centuries) was one of unremitting warfare. Norman conquests in the West, Bulgar and Russian invasions from the North, and Islamic incursions from the East and South took their toll on the Byzantine state. Bishops often went into exile. The removal of a bishop under such circumstances as well as the loss of the entire diocesan structure could be catastrophic in the life of a diocese and sometimes stop it altogether. Without pastors and other functionaries, Christian life and worship oftentimes atrophied.

The emergence of titular bishops, although understandable, proved to be disastrous to the ecclesiology of the Church. John Zizioulis, one of the harshest critics of the system of titular bishops argued that the bishop’s very "…existence, makes no sense apart from his role as the one through whom all divisions…are transcended. His primary function is to make the catholicity of the Church reveal itself in a certain place. For this, he must be existentially related to the community. There is no ministry in the catholic Church that can exist in absoluto13" (emphasis in original). One cannot be a priest without a parish, or a bishop without a diocese.

To the Christian world at the time, the division between Rome and Constantinople was a gradual process not readily discerned. Even when serious doctrinal questions such as the filioque occupied the Church, the idea of a formal and irrevocable schism was never realistically considered. Numerous controversies had happened in the past and the Church had managed to heal. Thus, the accession of Charlemagne did not occasion the mass exodus of Orthodox bishops to Constantinople even though his reforms were viewed with a suspicious eye.14 Even the loss of England to the Latinizing Normans was not viewed in catastrophic terms because most Christians did not forsee a lasting schism taking place.

On the other hand, the loss of Antioch and Jerusalem to the Moslems was considered a stinging defeat, especially when it became obvious that the Romans would not return. The loss was keenly felt throughout the Christian world, not just in Constantinople.15

The growing and permanent presence of foreign bishops residing in Constantinople brought out the worst in the Byzantines. Always a haughty people, the diminishing the Byzantine Empire intensified these regrettable traits. The exaggerated self-importance of the emperors have been catalogued elsewhere,16 and the patriarchs were not far behind.

Ironically, while the empire was losing land, the same could not be said for the Orthodox Church. The loss of the Anatolian plain to the Seljuk Turks in the late thirteenth century, though devastating to the Byzantine state, did not adversely affect the Church. This was because the Muslim Seljuks respected the prerogatives of their Christian subjects. Christians and Jews were subject to higher taxation (the jizzya,), so it was in the Muslim interest to leave the "peoples of the Book" unmolested (at least in the ideal).17

While the Christian prerogatives were respected however, secular power waned to where the Byzantine emperors became outright vassals to the sultans. At one time the situation became so dire that the emperor had to pawn the crown jewels to the Venetians in order to pay tribute.

Metropolitans as Bureaucrats

Although the Byzantine Empire did not fully expire until the Fall of Constantinople, the patriarchs began to fill the political vacuum that resulted from the diminution of the emperor’s prestige. In order to run such a vast church, the normal administrative duties that had been the purview of the imperial court (and usually performed by archdeacons), were brought under patriarchal control.

Beginning with the reign of Patriarch Michael Cerullarius (ca. 1054), five offices – the Grand Economus, Grand Sacellarius, Grand Skevophylax, Grand Chartophylax, and Prefect of the Sacellion – were filled by patriarchal nomination. By the 13thcentury, when the loss of imperial prestige was more acute, the holders of these offices were accorded honors higher than even metropolitans.18 Despite the honorifics however, the officials function as titular bishops, that is, bureaucrats possessing little more than an empty title.

During this period of imperial decline (and perhaps because of it), the sense of an imperial patriarchate grew among the Patriarchs of Constantinople. Although there was nothing controversial about the efforts to maintain the properties, treasures, and monasteries of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, using archbishops for these for tasks that were ordinarily performed by deacons and laymen set an unfortunate precedent.

For the first time in the history of the Eastern Church, metropolitans were reduced to bureaucrats. And unlike the bishops of the earlier resident synods, who were truly independent and could come and go as they pleased, patriarchal metropolitans could be promoted and demoted upon the whim of the patriarch.

Canonical Irregularities and Chaos:The Model Inherited Today
The Rise of the Imperial Patriarchate

After the fall of Constantinople in 1453, the conqueror Mehmed II found himself in an interesting quandary. The 21-year-old ruler fancied himself a new Alexander the Great. Although his reputation as the "Terrible Turk" had spread throughout Europe, he was no savage in the model of Attila. He saw himself as a worthy successor to the Caesars and intended to make the city of Constantine his resplendent capital.19

He thus made an accommodation with the Orthodox Church, even going so far as to view consider himself as her protector. So serious was he about maintaining the Roman trappings of power, that he struck a gold coin with his image and the legend imperator mundi on it (in Latin script no less!). There were even rumors that he considered converting to Christianity.

In the end Mehmed did not convert. The Church however, was handsomely rewarded. The new patriarch, the renowned scholar George Scholarius, was given much of the imperial regalia. As Patriarch Gennadius II, he was made ruler of the Rum millet (Roman nation), that is, the Christian subjects of the Ottoman Empire.

Patriarch Gennadius took decisive, although in many cases inconclusive, action. Independent churches that had broken away from Constantinople such as Wallachia and Georgia, were forcibly returned to Byzantine control. Bulgaria and Serbia retained their autonomy even though the patriarchate refused to recognize this fact. Russia, because of its distance from the Sublime Porte became autonomous in both deed and in law.20 Antioch, Alexandria, and Jerusalem, never had their autocephaly officially rescinded and became dependencies of Constantinople. (To this day, Jerusalem and Alexandria remain so.)

Despite the great catastrophe that had befallen the Christian world with the loss of the legendary city, these were heady days for the Orthodox hierarchy. Not only were its bishops and clergy now part of a much-expanded patriarchate, they were temporal potentates as well, something which had rarely (if ever) happened in the first Christian millennium.21

Further, unlike the Byzantine emperors of old, the Turkish sultans never concerned themselves with the finer points of Christian theology. As long as the hierarchy kept the native Christians under control, they could count on long and lucrative careers. This new milieu led the formalization of top-down rankings of patriarch – metropolitan – bishop. Bishops and metropolitans were no longer viewed as independent diocesan supervisors in their own right, but part of a strict chain of command that fostered bribery and other malfeasance.

Thus, if a priest wanted to become a bishop, he had to raise money from his parishioners; if a bishop wanted to refurbish a church, he had to pressure his priests for fund, and so forth. Sometimes the corruption ran so deep that the sacraments themselves were sold, one of the most egregious of ecclesiastical crimes.22

Today the former collaborations are repudiated. Even modern Orthodox bishops within the Patriarchate of Constantinople admit the accommodation between state and ecclesiastical authority corrupted the Church.23 At the time however, many bishops justified their collaboration as a necessary evil.

First, for all the brutality of the Turks, they did not force conversion to Islam. Second, as subjects of the Sublime Porte, Christians of the Balkans were protected from missionary activity from the West,24 something that was not afforded to Orthodox Christians in Russia who suffered under the depredations of the Teutonic Knights during the Baltic Crusades.

These benefits however, were but a thin, silver lining to an exceedingly dark cloud. From the standpoint of resolute Christianity – one that had stood up to the Caesars even when it meant certain death – the Patriarchal decline represented severe internal weakness. Much of the activity, particularly simony and other malfeasance, is hard to justify even if their situation was dire.

The Rise of the Phanariotes

The Patriarchal Court, possessing no real power other than what the Turks gave them and completely disinterested in evangelism, quickly fell into petty internal intrigues and squabbling. Adding the to the confusion was the stranglehold the phanariotes, the elite Constantinopolitan families, had over the Patriarchate.

These families resided in the Phanar ("lighthouse") district of Constantinople and argued the patriarchate’s interests before the sultan, paid off many of the patriarchate’s incessant debts, and more than once ransomed a clergyman from prison (or worse). Over time however, the relationship between the Patriarch and the Phanariotes soured and they began to view themselves as the patriarch’s puppeteers rather than his loyal servants.

It was an unsavory turn of events made all the more apparent when, despite their solicitude to the Church, the Phanariotes never encouraged their own sons to enter the ranks of the priesthood. As far as they were concerned, these offices were to be filled by the sons of peasants. Hopefully the lower orders could produce enough intelligent boys to fill these positions.25

The patriarchs and bishops were not stupid men and understood perfectly how the game was played. As a sop to their bruised egos and perhaps as a check on the untrammeled power of their elite patrons, they retreated into obscurantism – often the last refuge of theological scoundrels. Arcane debates about the finer points of canon law and liturgical minutia became an all-consuming pastime. Evangelism was a dead letter. To be sure, the Ottomans forbade evangelism among Muslims, but as far as heterodox Christians were concerned, the sultans cared not a whit.

This was the period when the West was rediscovering the theological wealth of the East and often sincere overtures from the West went unheeded. Two well known attempt concerned the Lutheran Reformers of Germany and the Non-Jurors in England in the 18th century. In stunning displays of bad faith, the patriarchal court did everything they could to downplay requests for dialogue.

They even played childish games such as pretending not to have received a letter from prominent Lutherans such as Philip Melanchthon, who requested clarification on the finer points of Eastern theology. Sadly, this particular ruse lasted for many years.26

Implications for Today

A patriarchal court has always been necessary, even today. The earlier model of resident sees filled a useful role in administering ecclesiastical affairs since the bishops were still responsible for geographically concrete sees. When the office was elevated to a titular level and the bishops were no longer responsible for actual sees however, corruptions set in that made the Church insular and subject to petty intrigues that darkened its salvific mission in the world.

Historical circumstances certainly played a huge role in this decline. As historical circumstances changes however, it appears that the corrupted models of church governance did not change with them. Nowhere is this more evident than in North America where the Orthodox Church is held hostage to the outdated and non-canonical administrative infrastructures of the Old World patriarchates and the political intrigues they fostered.

This is especially apparent in the Greek Orthodox Church of America. Eight dioceses have been renamed as metropolises each with a ruling metropolitan.27 When Patriarch Bartholomew elevated the Bishops to the status of metropolitans (widely believed to buy the silence of the Bishops during the tumultuous tenure of Archbishop Spyridon Papageorge from 1996 to 1999), he effectively "balkanized" the GOA by establishing each metropolis as a separate eparchy accountable only to Constantinople, rather than as dioceses accountable to an American Archbishop.

The creation of eight metropolises in the United States (and one archdiocesan district) would be reasonable if America were a largely Orthodox nation and if each of these metropolitans had suffragan bishops presiding over their dioceses. Unfortunately they do not. Further, the elevations removed the metropolitan’s accountability to his flock (the Patriarch is the only court of appeal) and fosters increasingly arbitrary decisions, including the mistreatment of priests. The result is greater instability in the Church.

Finally, their elevation could be viewed as a broadside to the other ethnic churches, each of which is supervised by one metropolitan according the canonical norm, the primate of an ecclesiastical province (overlooking the overlapping Orthodox jurisdictions in one nation for the moment). This may well be part of the ancient intrigue to dominate American Orthodoxy altogether. In any event, The Ecumenical Patriarchate’s dependence on old models has certainly complicated the chances of an administratively unified American Orthodox Church.

What Can the Orthodox Do?

The question Orthodox Christians in America must ask is what can be done to rectify our non-canonical situation?

Orthodoxy in America has promising beginnings. A native missionary church was established in North America over two hundred years ago in what was once a Russian colony. When Alaska was made a territory of the United States in 1867, foreign patriarchs recognized the mission as legitimate. Certainly none of the other Old World churches had the means to evangelize North America, yet the canonical norms were upheld and a precedent set. By the time Metropolitan Platon was appointed in the early days of the twentieth century, all Orthodox Americans belonged to a semi-autonomous ecclesiastical province known at that time as North America headed by one metropolitan archbishop just as the canons prescribe.

What happened subsequently has been chronicled elsewhere and lies beyond the scope of this discussion. The road back to canonical restoration however, has been arduous. Only fifteen years ago, twenty-nine American bishops meeting at Ligonier, Pennsylvania surveyed the chaos and were appalled at what they saw. It wasn’t the first time. In his first and only visit to the United States in 1990, Patriarch Demetrios of Constantinople also concluded that the American situation needed to be rectified.

So how do we go about unifying the American Church? What do we do with the excessive number of metropolitans in the United States? Does our present situation allow for a restoration of the canonical norms?

Yes. One idea is that the eight metropolitan districts set up by the Ecumenical Patriarch in 1998 could serve as ecclesiastical provinces of the American Orthodox Church (the archdiocese of Washington, DC could be a ninth ecclesiastical province). The districts could be subdivided into dioceses, where an existing bishop elected by diocesan clergy and laity heads each diocese. An archdiocesan council of clergy and laity would elect the metropolitans. We already have enough active bishops in the United States to make this happen.

For example the southern United States has three bishops: the Archbishop of Dallas, the Metropolitan of Atlanta, and the Bishop of Miami (OCA, GOAA, and AOAA respectively). Between them distinct geopolitical boundaries can be drawn:

  1. Southern states west of the Mississippi River (Louisiana, Arkansas, Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico) would fall under the Archdiocese of Texas;
  2. Florida would be part of the Diocese of Miami;
  3. North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia would fall under the Archdiocese of Atlanta;
  4. An extra bishop could be elected in Nashville who would have purview over Alabama, Tennessee, and Kentucky.

Under this scenario, the metropolitan of Atlanta would be considered the metropolitan of the South. This model could be duplicated throughout the other regions of the United States.

No doubt other models could be offered. Nevertheless, unification of Orthodox Christianity in America will not occur until the good and faithful Orthodox Christians demand it from our leaders. Gone are the days of the diaspora. We are Americans. We have to learn how to live our Orthodox Christians lives in a country that is increasingly hostile to Christian faith, and longings for days long gone or trying to impose ecclesiastical structures that are either corrupt or irrelevant, does not meet the challenges what we face.

The process will be difficult. Egos will be bruised. Old World bishops will be alarmed and attempt to undermine the efforts. Schism may even result for a time. But Orthodoxy will not grow in America until concrete steps are taken to eradicate our tribalism and ensure that a church will exist for our children and grandchildren.



  1. Once not too long ago, Bishop Basil Essey of Wichita was asked why there were multiple Orthodox jurisdictions in America. His responded with one word: "pride."
  2. The ridiculousness of this is apparent to those who translated the Greek title — ho proedros tou Boston — literally: "The President of Boston."
  3. Ignatius of Antioch (d. AD 115) for example wrote that "Where the bishop is, there is the Church" (Epistle to the Smyrnaeans 8).
  4. Bishops themselves were usually chosen by the people, either by direct election or by popular acclamation. Once a bishop was chosen, it was the duty of neighboring bishops to consecrate him, which was done by cheirotoneia or the laying on of hands.
  5. In light of this, how much more regrettable is the situation in the United States when such competition exists between Orthodox bishops? (For example, the five Orthodox bishops of Chicago, or the two of Pittsburgh, three in Detroit, four in New York, and so forth?)
  6. Diptychs were small, hinged tablets usually made of wood but sometimes of metal, containing two leaves. On one leaf were the names of the living and on the other the names of the dead. They were used by bishops in liturgies for intercessory prayer given on behalf of brother bishops.
  7. A suffragan bishop is a diocesan bishop subordinate to a metropolitan. The word comes from the Latin suffragium, which means "support or prayer" and is the root for suffrage which is political support and in our day, voting.
  8. Merriam’s New World Collegiate Dictionary (1980 ed.), p. 719.
  9. According to Demetrius Kymenas, Thriskeftiki kai Ethiki Enkyklopaeidia (Athens 1962-8). Byzantium in its earliest days was ruled by a violent pagan named Xeuxikus who violently tormented Christians. The first bishops had to reside in a nearby town called Argyroupolis where they established the Byzantine church in exile. According to one source, Eugenius I (237-42) was known as the "second bishop of Byzantium," meaning he was the second bishop after his predecessor St Castinus (d. 237), to actually live in the city itself (
  10. Russians and other former pagans often regarded it as a mark of great pride that their lands had never been evangelized by an actual Apostle, thereby making their own Christianization all the more remarkable.
  11. In the first millennium, most of what is now modern Greece was under the see of Rome.
  12. Sir Stephen Runciman, The Great Church in Captivity, p 23.
  13. John D Ziziioulis, Being as Communion, pp 165-66
  14. The accession of Charlemagne to the imperial throne in AD 800 was viewed with horror by the Byzantines who considered it a great sacrilege, "…just as there was only one God in heaven, so there could be but one supreme ruler on earth." John Julius Norwich, A Short History of Byzantium (London: Penguin, 1997), p 120
  15. Ultimately, the loss of the Christian Near East to the Muslims instigated the Crusades.
  16. One of the titles of the Byzantine emperor during this time was kosmokrator (ruler of the world).
  17. The Seljuks had learned their lesson from their earlier misadventure when they conquered Palestine, and persecuted the Christians, thereby precipitating the First Crusade. Thomas F Madden, The New Concise History of the Crusades (Rowan Littlefield: Lanham, 2008), p 5.
  18. Runciman, Op cit,, p 30.
  19. This idea is not as outlandish as it sounds. The Turkish state that had been established in the Anatolian heartland was known as the "Sultanate of Rum." It was a separate Islamic state distinct from the Fatimid Caliphate (which ruled Egypt) and the Abbassid Caliphate (which was based in Baghdad).
  20. Runciman, Op cit., pp 24-25.
  21. In the ante-Nicene period, bishops were often called upon to adjudicate court cases, even those involving non-Christian litigants. The reason being that many of these men were of such exemplary character that they were viewed as honest brokers by all the concerned parties.
  22. The term simony comes from a sorcerer named Simon Magus, who tried to bribe the Apostles into selling him their power (Acts 8:18-20).
  23. Isaiah Chronopoulos, "The concept of ethnarch, which was an Ottoman invention, provided physical and material security, to a limited extend, in the lives of the Christians. However, from a theological and ecclesiological perspective, it went contrary to the Scriptural teaching that the Church is in the world, but She is not of [it]….the leader of the Church appeared to have allowed himself to be identified with the world, a theocracy on earth, if you will. This, of course, is untenable…[and]…unthinkable from any pure, Christian point of view. For the Church believes that only Christ…will establish the eternal theocracy." (Writings of His Eminence Metropolitan Isaiah of Denver, The Influence of Islam on Orthodox Christianity, 2005; may be accessed at
  24. This was not the first time that an Islamic state had unwittingly safeguarded the interests of Orthodoxy. During the council of Ferrara-Florence (1449), all of the Constantinopolitan bishops had been coerced into signing the Act of Union with the West. The only holdout was St Mark Eugenicus, the metropolitan of Ephesus, who because his diocese was under Turkish control, was free of imperial coercion.
  25. Runciman, Op cit. p 362.
  26. In Runciman’s elegant words, "The Patriarch and his advisers took refuge in the favorite device of oriental diplomacy. They behaved as if they had never received the communication, which they carefully mislaid." In the interim, Melanchthon, who was well-disposed towards the Greek East and had initiated the first contact, had died. See also H W Langford, The Non-Jurors and the Eastern Orthodox, a paper read at the Fellowship of St Alban and Sergius, Durham, England (Jun 226.1965).
  27. The Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Denver for example, has perhaps 5,000 congregants spread out over 14 states, whereas the Archdiocesan District (New York) has over 100,000 members. All other ethnic jurisdictions have only one metropolitan.



George Michalopulos is a layman in the Orthodox Church in America. He is married to the former Margaret Verges of Houston, Texas, and the father of two boys, Constantine and Michael. Together with Deacon Ezra Ham, he is the author of The American Orthodox Church: A History of Its Beginnings (Salisbury: Regina Orthodox Press, 2003), as well as several articles and essays published on the Orthodox Christian Laity website. He has served as parish council president of Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Tulsa, OK, and twice was a lay delegate to the Clergy-Laity Congress of 1998 and 2002. He helped found Holy Apostles Orthodox Christian Mission, a parish of the OCA in 2003 and continues to be active in pan-Orthodox events in the greater Tulsa area.

The Task of Orthodox Theology in America

By: Fr. Alexander Schmemann

Paper read at the first Conference of Orthodox Theologians in America, Sept. 26-27, 1966.

Fr. Alexander Schmemann

Fr. Alexander Schmemann


What do we mean when we speak of the Orthodox theological task in America today? It is proper to begin with this question because the title of my paper may seem to suggest a theological orientation of which Orthodoxy is suspicious, but which seems to predominate in the West today. It is the reduction of theology to a given "situation" or "age," a stress on "relevance" understood almost exclusively as a dependence of theology, its task, method and language on the "modern man" and his specifically modern "needs." From the beginning, therefore, we must emphasize that Orthodoxy rejects such a reduction of theology, whose first and eternal tasks is to search for Truth, not for relevance, for words "adequate to God" (theoprepeis logoi), not to man. Theology is truly relevant because it is truly Christian when it remains a scandal for the Jews, foolishness for the Greeks and is at odds with this world and its passing "cultures" and "modernities." This does not mean, however, that theology operates in a cultural vacuum. For it is one thing to depend on the world and quite another to be related to it. If the first attitude, the acceptance of the world as the only criterion of theology, is to be rejected, the second (which, in the last analysis, is but the basic Christian concern for the world and its salvation), is the very raison d’etre of theology. In this sense, all genuine theology has always been pastoral, missionary and prophetic, and whenever it lost these dimensions, it became a mere intellectual game justly ignored by the "real" Church. The task of theology at any given moment is necessarily determined by the needs of the Church, and the first task of the theologian is always to discern and to accept these needs, to become aware of what the Chuch expects from him.

As a small group of Orthodox theologians living and working in the West, far from the ancient and "organically" Orthodox worlds and cultures, we are justified therefore in asking this preliminary question: what are the needs of the Church to which we must respond and around which we are to organize and plan our theological work? How are we to obey here, in America, the eternal demands, pastoral, missionary and prophetic, of Orthodox theology? This paper is a brief attempt to inaugurate a common search for a common answer.


Everyone will probably agree that our theological task is determined primarily by the fact that, as theologians, we work within and for an Orthodox community which, for the first time in the long history of our Church, has to live in a non-Orthodox world, Western in its religious traditions, secularistic in its culture, and pluralistic in its "world view." As I tried to show elsewhere,1 this for Orthodoxy is an unprecedented situation, and it challenges the whole Church and consequently us, her theologians, with a set of problems unknown to the Orthodox communities of the "old world."

First of all, this new situation substantially affects the pastoral responsibilities of theology. I venture to affirm that for several centuries theology was not needed as vitally and on virtually every level of the Church’s life as it is today in America. The reason for this is simple. In Greece or Russia, or any other Orthodox country, culture itself, i.e. the complex of values, norms and ideas by which man evaluates his life, was related in some deep sense to the Orthodox faith, was in continuation with the Church’s "world view." One can and must criticize the obvious shortcomings and sins of those Orthodox "worlds," but one cannot deny that, in spite of many betrayals, they remained for a long time organically shaped by Orthodoxy. But this is not so in America. Here the rupture between the Orthodox world view and the secularistic culture is so radical that the former finds virtually no "point of application," and the language by which it is transmitted, that of the Liturgy, spirituality and ethics, remains "alien," even if it is English. As the integration of the formerly "immigrant" community into American culture and into the "American way of life" progresses, there develops a truly schizophrenic situation in which deep attachment to Orthodox symbols and "externals" (e.g., worship, music, architecture) easily coexists with an almost totally secularistic philosophy of life. Needless to say, such a situation cannot last long, and a mere faithfulness to Orthodox externals will not save Orthodoxy from being dissolved sooner or later into that peculiar blend of secularism and vague religiosity which seems to emerge as a new pattern of American religion. To those who have ears to hear and eyes to see, it is already abundantly clear that in America one cannot be Orthodox by "osmosis." A spiritually alien culture makes Orthodoxy here a challenge, and the faith, if it is to be true to itself, must be consciously accepted, clearly understood in its implications for life, and constantly defended against the pressures of secularism. It is here, therefore, that theology is called to recover the pastoral dimension, to supply, or rather to be, that understanding, that essential link between the Tradition of the Church and the real life, to assure the acceptance of the faith by the faithful.

It would be a mistake to think, however, that what is meant here is a kind of theological "digest" for quick consumption by the laity, a mere descent of theology to a "popular level." It is exactly the opposite that I have in mind; the uplifting of the whole life of the Church into theological consciousness, a vital relation to theological reflection of every aspect and every level of the Church’s life. But to achieve this, we must give some thought to that which, at least in my opinion, constitutes the basic defect of our theology: its almost total divorce from the real life of the Church and from her practical needs. By his very upbringing and training, the theologian is used to looking at everything "practical" as virtually opposed to theology and its lofty pursuits, and this attitude has been adopted for so many centuries that it is almost taken for granted. Since the breakdown of the patristic age, our theology (and not without Western influence) has become exclusively "academic" — "scholastic" in the literal sense of the word. It is confined to a narrow circle of professional intellectuals, writing and working, in fact, for each other (who else reads theology, or, even if he wished to, is capable of reading its highly professional and esoteric language?) and, as time goes by, more and more anxious to satisfy and please their peers in other academic disciplines, rather than the less and less theologically-minded Church. They are reconciled to the supreme indifference of the Church at large to their work because, in their unshakable self-righteousness, they put the blame on the anti-intellectualism of the clergy and laity. What they do not seem to realize, however, is that this "anti-intellectualism" is in a way a direct result of their own exclusive "intellectualism," of their quasi-manichean contempt for the "practical" needs of the Church, for their reduction of theology to a harmless intellectual game of "interesting points of view" and scientifically impeccable footnotes. And the sad irony of the situation is that, ignored by the Church, they are not truly accepted by the so-called "intellectual community" either, for which, in spite of all their efforts ad captatiam benevolentiae, they remain non-objective and non-scientific "mystics." And as long as such is the state and the inner orientation of our theology, the hope that it will fulfill its pastoral function and respond to the crying needs of our situation is, of course, vain.

But it is at this point, maybe, that we can turn our eyes to those whom we always claim to be our examples and teachers, the Holy Fathers of the Church, and look a little deeper into their understanding of theological task. Most certainly they were not less intellectual. And yet, there is one decisive difference between them and the modern theological scholars. To all of them that which we call "practical" and virtually exclude from our academic concerns meant nothing else but the unique and indeed very practical concern of Christianity: the eternal salvation of man. Words and ideas were for them directly related not simply to Truth and Error, but to the Truth that saves and to the error that brings with it death and damnation. And it is their constant, truly "existential" preoccupation with, and their total commitment to, salvation of real, concrete men that makes every line they wrote so ultimately serious and their theology so vital and so precisely pastoral. Intellectual as it is, their theology is always addressed not to "intellectuals," but to the whole Church, in the firm belief that everyone in the Church has received the Spirit of Truth and was made a "theologian" — i.e., a man concerned with God. And the lasting truth of their theology is that in it ideas are always referred to the "practical" needs of the Church, revealed in their soteriological significance, whereas the most "practical" aspects of the Church are rooted in their ultimate theological implications.

For us in America to recover the pastoral dimension of theology means then not a change of level ("write on a more popular level"), but, above everything else, a change in the inner orientation of the theological mind, of the basic theological concern itself. First of all, we must aim our theological effort at the real Church and at real man in the Church. We must literally care about the situation of that man and not only about his becoming "more educated" and "proud of Orthodoxy." For as long as we ourselves are not convinced that many ideas and philosophies by which he lives today lead him to spiritual death, and that the knowledge of Truth is to save him and not merely to adorn our Church with a respectable intellectual elite, we certainly will not find the words which can reach him. As luxury and status symbol theology is not needed in a religion which challenges man with the choice between life and death, salvation and damnation.

This means also that the "pastoral" revitalization of theology must begin with a deep evaluation and critique of the culture in which the Orthodox man is immersed today and which indeed makes Christianity irrelevant. It is not accidental, of course, that patristic theology is rooted in a healthy apologetical purpose, in the defense of the faith against its external and internal enemies. As for us, we fight with great wit the battles the Fathers have already won, but politely smile at the truly demonic implications of some of the modern philosophies and theories. We are unaware of the obvious fact that under the influences of these philosophies even some of the basic Christian terms are used in a meaning almost opposite to the ones they had in the past. Salvation means self-fulfillment, faith — security, sin — a personal problem of adjustment, etc. Our culture, which has been recently described as a "triumph of therapeutics," has deeply changed the quest of even a religious man, which makes it almost impossible for him to hear and to understand the true teaching of the Church. And finally we do not seem to notice that this metamorphosis of religion takes place not in some mythical Western man, but in our own parishes, in the preaching of our priests. We must begin, therefore, with what patristic theology performed in its own time: an exorcism of culture, a liberating reconstruction of the words, concepts and symbols, of the theological language itself. And we must do it in order not to make our theology more "acceptable" to the modern man and his culture, but, on the contrary, to make him again aware of the ultimately serious, truly soteriological nature and demands of his faith.

Only theology can accomplish all this, and that is why it is so badly needed today. But it will succeed only when it becomes again pastoral, i.e. identified with the Church and her life, attentive to the real needs of the man, when, putting aside the academic "straining at a gnat" which has never prevented anyone from "swallowing a camel," it accepts, in humility and with courage, its proper function in the Church.


I defined the second task of our theology as missionary. To keep with the spirit of the time, I should have probably called it "ecumenical." But the word ecumenical has of late become so general and so ambiguous that it itself needs to be investigated and redefined. I prefer the slightly outmoded term "missionary" for several reasons. It indicates that Orthodox theology has a mission in the West. It has always been the consensus of Orthodox theologians that their participation in the Ecumenical Movement has as its goal to bring an Orthodox witness to the non-Orthodox, and there is no reason to deny that this implies the idea of conversion to Orthodoxy. I know very well that in current ecumenical thinking the term "conversion" has a bad reputation. But the Orthodox would simply betray both their Orthodoxy and the Ecumenical Movement if now, under the impact of a superficial ecumenical euphoria, they concealed the fact that in their approach conversion is one of the basic components of genuine ecumenical perspective. More than ever, and precisely for deep ecumenical reasons, we must uphold our conviction that only a deep and genuinely Christian idea of conversion, i.e. of a decisive crisis, choice, and commitment to Truth, can give meaning and ultimate seriousness to all "dialogues," "rapprochements," and "convergences." That this term and the reality behind it are regarded today by many as "un-ecumenical" reveals, in fact, an alarming trend; a shift of the ecumenical movement from its original goal — to organic unity in Christ, to a different one — the smooth functioning of pluralistic society; excellent and useful as it may be, this second goal has very little to do with the fundamental Christian values of unity, faith, and truth. Our "mission" then remains the same: to make Orthodoxy known, understood, and, with God’s help, accepted in the West. This mission stems naturally and, so to speak, inescapably from our truly awesome claim that we are Orthodox and that ours is the true Church. This claim is incompatible with any provincialism of thought and vision, ethnic self-consciousness, and self-centeredness.

For several decades the "ecumenical mission" has been, in fact, a monopoly of a small group of theologians, and it remained virtually unknown to and ignored by the Orthodox Church at large. I think that the time has come to put an end to this rather abnormal situation which, in addition to many other dangers, simply misleads the non-Orthodox by giving them the impression of an "ecumenical" Orthodoxy that does not exist in reality. A missionary orientation must be added to the whole theological structure of the Church and become an organic part of our theological "curriculum." This brings me to the second meaning of the term missionary, to the "modality" of our approach to the West.

"Mission" has always meant, at least in the Christian connotations of that term, not only the effort to convert someone to true faith, but also the spiritual disposition of the missionary: his active charity and his self-giving to the "object" of his missionary task. From St. Paul to Bishop Nicholas of Japan there has been no mission without self-identification of the missionary with those to whom God has sent him, without a sacrifice of his personal attachments and his natural values. Mutatis mutandis the same must be said, it seems to me, about the Orthodox mission in the West, and more particularly, about the mission of Orthodox theology. This mission is impossible without some degree of love for the West and for the many authentically Christian values of its culture. Yet, we very often confuse the Universal Truth of the Church with a naive "superiority complex," with arrogance and self-righteousness, with a childish certitude that everyone ought to share our own enthusiasm about the "splendors of Byzantium," our "ancient and colorful rites," and the forms of our Church architecture. It is sad and shocking to hear the West globally condemned and to see a condescending attitude towards the "poor Westerners" on the part of young people who, more often than not, have not read Shakespeare and Cervantes, have never heard about St. Francis of Assisi or listened to Bach. It is sad to realize that there is no greater obstacle to the understanding and acceptance of Orthodoxy than the provincialism, the human pride and the self-righteousness of the Orthodox themselves, their almost complete lack of humility and self-criticism. Yet, Truth always makes humble, and pride in all its forms and expressions is always alien to Truth and is always a sin. It is obviously inconceivable to say that we are "proud of Christ," but we constantly preach and teach "pride of Orthodoxy." It is time to understand that if the Orthodox mission is to progress, we must not only transcend and overcome this spirit of self-righteousness, but we must, without denying any genuine value of our Eastern cultural and spiritual heritage, open ourselves towards Western culture and make our own whatever in it "is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious" (Philip. 4:8).

The missionary task of Orthodox theology must be thus guided by two equally important and interdependent imperatives: the emphasis on Truth as the only genuine ground of all "ecumenical" concern and a real openness to the Western Christian values. At a time when a serious temptation appears to sacrifice Truth for a very sophisticated, very qualified and, because of this, only more dangerous relativism, to replace the search for unity with a search for a religious "peaceful coexistence," when the very possibility of error and heresy is virtually ruled out by a pseudo-ecumenical doctrine of "convergence," the Orthodox theologian must stand, alone if necessary, in defense of the very concept of Truth, without which Christianity, for all its "relevance," denies in fact its own absolute claim. To do this, however, he must himself be open and obedient to all Truth, wherever he finds it.


The third task of Orthodox theology in America must be defined as prophetic, even if the word sounds presumptuous. The prophets were sent to the people of God not only to announce future events, but also to remind the people of their true mission and to denounce their betrayals of Divine Will. And if, with the coming of Christ, "the fulfillment of all law and the prophets," their first function has become obsolete, the second remains as needed as ever. And properly understood, theology must always share in this prophetic function. For the eternal task of theology is to refer the life of the Church to the absolute Truth of the Church’s own tradition, to keep alive and operative a criterion by which the Church judges herself. Immersed in human history, the Church is always full of temptations and sins and, what is even more serious, of compromises and accommodations to the spirit of "this world." The temptation is always to prefer peace to Truth, efficiency to rectitude, human success to the Will of God. And since, in the Orthodox Church, there exists no visible center of infallible authority, like the Papacy, since her ultimate criterion and recourse is always the Truth abiding in her, it certainly belongs to those whose specific ministry is the study and the search of that Truth to make it known and manifest in all its purity and clarity. There is no arrogance, no pride in that claim. The theologian has no rights, no power to govern and to administer that which belongs exclusively to the hierarchy. But it is his sacred duty to supply the hierarchy and, indeed, the whole Church with the pure teaching of the Church and to stand by that truth even when it is not considered "opportune." It must be admitted that much too often our official "academic" theology has failed to accept this "obedience" and preferred quiet complacency. It has thus become accomplice to many deviations and distortions from which the whole Orthodox Church suffers today. But again, it was not so with the Fathers. Almost to the one, they suffered from the various "power structures" of their days for their refusal to opt for the compromise or to accept silent obedience to evil. And the fact is that ultimately the Chuiich followed them and not those who, then as today, have a thousand excellent reasons for avoiding the "abstract principles" and preferring the "demands of reality."

Today this prophetic function of theology is needed again more than ever. For, whether we want it or not, the entire Orthodox Church is going through a deep crisis. Its causes are many. On the one hand, the world which for centuries framed and shaped her historical existence is crumbling and has all but vanished. The ancient and traditional centers of authority are threatened in their very existence and most of them deprived of even elementary freedom of action. An overwhelming majority of Orthodox people live under the pressures and persecution of openly and militantly atheistic regimes, in situations where mere survival and not progress is the only preoccupation. A minority living surrounded by an alien sea seems to have become the rule rather than the exception for Orthodoxy almost everywhere. Everywhere, and not only in the West, it is challenged by a secularistic, technological, and spiritually antagonistic culture which virtually swallows its younger generations. On the other hand, a large Orthodox diaspora has appeared, putting an end to the multi-secular isolation of Orthodoxy in the East, challenging Orthodoxy with problems of ecclesiastical organization and spiritual "adjustments" unprecedented in the whole history of the Church. Only the blind would deny the existence of the crisis, yet not too many seem to realize its depth and scope, least of all (let us face it) the bishops who continue in their routine work as "if nothing happened." At no time in the past has there existed such an abyss between the hierarchy and the "real" Church, never before has the power-structure so little corresponded to the crying spiritual needs of the faithful. And here the American Orthodox "microcosm" seems an excellent example. How long are we to live in a multiplicity of jurisdictions either quarreling with each other or simply ignoring each other? How long shall we leave unnoticed the quick decay in liturgy, spirituality, and monasticism — the traditional sources of Orthodox piety and continuity? How long, in short, shall we accept and respectfully endorse as normal and almost traditional a situation which, if we are honest, must be described as a scandal and a tragedy?

In spite of what too many Orthodox people think today, this is the hour of theology. Only a deep, fearless, and constructive evaluation of this situation in the light of the genuine Tradition of the Church, only a creative return to the very springs of our dogma, canons and worship, only a total commitment to the Truth of the Church can help us overcome the crisis and transform it into a revival of Orthodoxy. I know that this task is difficult and that a long tradition has taught theologians to avoid hot issues and not to "get involved." I know also that a certain traditionalism which has nothing to do with Tradition has made self-criticism and spiritual freedom a crime against the Church in the eyes of many. I know that too many "power-structures" have a vested interest in not allowing any question, any search, any encounter with Truth. The forces of inertia, pseudo-conservatism, and plain cynicism are formidable. But the same was true of the time of St. Athanasius the Great, St. John Chrysostom and St. Maximus the Confessor. As for the issues we face today, they are not lesser than those they had to deal with. And it depends on us to choose between the pleasant prestige attached to mere academic scholarship and the responses to the Will of God.

1Cf. my articles on "The Problems of Orthodoxy in America" in St. Vladimir’s Seminary Quarterly: "The Canonical Problem," vol. 8, 2, 1964, pp. 67-85; "The Liturgical Problem," vol. 8, 4, 1964, pp. 164-185; and "The Spiritual Problem," vol. 9, 4, 1965, pp. 171, 193.

St Vladimir’s Seminary Quarterly, 1966, Vol. 10, No. 4, pp. 180-188.

Civilization Without Religion?

By: Russell Kirk

A masterful essay on the dependence of civilization on religion.

Russell Kirk - American Philosopher

Russell Kirk - American Philosopher

Sobering voices tell us nowadays that the civilization in which we participate is not long for this world. Many countries have fallen under the domination of squalid oligarchs; other lands are reduced to anarchy. "Cultural revolution," rejecting our patrimony of learning and manners, has done nearly as much mischief in the West as in the East, if less violently. Religious belief is attenuated at best, for many or else converted, after being secularized, into an instrument for social transformation. Books give way to television and videos; universities, intellectually democratized, are sunk to the condition of centers for job certification. An increasing proportion of the population, in America especially, is dehumanized by addiction to narcotics and insane sexuality.

These afflictions are only some of the symptoms of social and personal disintegration. One has but to look at our half-ruined American cities, with their ghastly rates of murder and rape, to perceive that we moderns lack the moral imagination and the right reason required to maintain tolerable community. Writers in learned quarterlies or in daily syndicated columns use the terms "post-Christian era" or "post-modern epoch" to imply that we are breaking altogether with our cultural past, and are entering upon some new age of a bewildering character.

Some people, the militant secular humanists in particular, seem pleased by this prospect; but yesteryear’s meliorism is greatly weakened in most quarters. Even Marxist ideologues virtually have ceased to predict the approach of a Golden Age. To most observers, T. S. Eliot among them, it has seemed far more probable that we are stumbling into a new Dark Age, inhumane, merciless, a totalist political domination in which the life of spirit and the inquiring intellect will be denounced, harassed, and propagandized against: Orwell’s Nineteen Eight-Four, rather than Huxley’s Brave New World of cloying sensuality. Or perhaps Tolkien’s blasted and servile land of Mordor may serve as symbol of the human condition in the twenty-first century (which, however, may not be called the twenty-first century, the tag Anno Domini having been abolished as joined to one of the superstitions of the childhood of the race).

At the End of an Era

Some years ago I was sitting in the parlor of an ancient house in the close of York Minster. My host, Basil Smith, the Minster’s Treasurer then, a man of learning and of faith, said to me that we linger at the end of an era; soon the culture we have known will be swept into the dustbin of history. About us, as we talked in that medieval mansion, loomed Canon Smith’s tall bookcases lined with handsome volumes; his doxological clock chimed the half-hour musically; flames flared up in his fireplace. Was all this setting of culture, and much more besides, to vanish away as if the Evil Spirit had condemned it? Basil Smith is buried now, and so is much of the society he ornamented and tried to redeem. At the time I thought him too gloomy; but already a great deal that he foresaw has come to pass.

The final paragraph of Malcolm Muggeridge’s essay ‘The Great Liberal Death Wish" must suffice, the limits of my time with you considered, as a summing-up of the human predicament at the end of the twentieth century.

"As the astronauts soar into the vast eternities of space," Muggeridge writes, "on earth the garbage piles higher, as the groves of academe extend their domain, their alumni’s arms reach lower, as the phallic cult spreads, so does impotence. In great wealth, great poverty; in health, sickness, in numbers, deception. Gorging, left hungry; sedated, left restless; telling all, hiding all; in flesh united, forever separate. So we press on through the valley of abundance that leads to the wasteland of satiety, passing through the gardens of fantasy; seeking happiness ever more ardently, and finding despair ever more surely."

Just so. Such recent American ethical writers as Stanley Hauwerwas and Alasdair MacIntyre concur in Muggeridge’s verdict on the society of our time, concluding that nothing can be done, except for a remnant to gather in little "communities of character" while society slides toward its ruin. Over the past half-century, many other voices of reflective men and women have been heard to the same effect. Yet let us explore the question of whether a reinvigoration of our culture is conceivable.

Surprise Turning Points

Is the course of nations inevitable? Is there some fixed destiny for great states? In 1796, a dread year for Britain, old Edmund Burke declared that we cannot foresee the future; often the historical determinists are undone by the coming of events that nobody has predicted. At the very moment when some states "seemed plunged in unfathomable abysses of disgrace and disaster ‘ Burke wrote in his First Letter on a Regicide Peace, "they have suddenly emerged. They have begun a new course, and opened a new reckoning; and even in the depths of their calamity, and on the very ruins of their country, have laid the foundations of a towering and durable greatness. All this has happened without any apparent previous change in the general circumstances which had brought on their distress. The death of a man at a critical juncture, his disgust, his retreat, his disgrace, have brought innumerable calamities on a whole nation. A common soldier, a child, a girl at the door of an inn, have changed the face of fortune, and almost of Nature."

The "common soldier" to whom Burke refers is Arnold of Winkelreid, who flung himself upon the Austrian spears to save his country; the child is the young Hannibal, told by his father to wage ruthless war upon Rome; the girl at the door of an inn is Joan of Arc. We do not know why such abrupt reversals or advances occur, Burke remarks; perhaps they are indeed the work of Providence.

"Nothing is, but thinking makes it so," the old adage runs. If most folk come to believe that our culture must collapse-why, then collapse it will. Yet Burke, after all, was right in that dreadful year of 1796. For despite the overwhelming power of the French revolutionary movement in that year, in the long run Britain defeated her adversaries, and after the year 1812 Britain emerged from her years of adversity to the height of her power. Is it conceivable that American civilization, and in general what we call "Western Civilization," may recover from the Time of Troubles that commenced in 1914 (so Arnold Toynbee instructs us) and in the twenty-first century enter upon an Augustan age of peace and restored order?

To understand these words "civilization" and "culture," the best book to read is T. S. Eliot’s slim volume Notes Towards the Definition of Culture, published forty-four years ago.

Once upon a time I commended that book to President Nixon, in a private discussion of modern disorders, as the one book which he ought to read for guidance in his high office. Man is the only creature possessing culture, as distinguished from instinct; and if culture is effaced, so is the distinction between man and the brutes that perish. "Art is man’s nature," in Edmund Burke’s phrase; and if the human arts, or culture, cease to be, then human nature ceases to be.

From what source did humankind’s many cultures arise? Why, from cults. A cult is a joining together for worship-that is, the attempt of people to commune with a transcendent power. It is from association in the cult, the body of worshippers, that human community grows. This basic truth has been expounded in recent decades by such eminent historians as Christopher Dawson, Eric Voegelin, and Arnold Toynbee.

Once people are joined in a-cult, cooperation in many other things becomes possible. Common defense, irrigation, systematic agriculture, architecture, the visual arts, music, the more intricate crafts, economlc production and distribution, courts and government-all these aspects of a culture arise gradually from the cult, the religious de.

Out of little knots of worshippers, in Egypt, the Fertile Crescent, India, or China, there grew up simple cultures; for those joined by religion can dwell together and work together in relative peace. Presently such simple cultures may develop into intricate cultures, and those intricate cultures into great civilizations. American civilization of our era is rooted, strange though the fact may seem to us, in tiny knots of worshippers in Palestine, Greece, and Italy, thousands of years ago. The enormous material achievements of our civilization have resulted, if remotely, from the spiritual insights of prophets and seers.

But suppose that the cult withers, with the elapse of centuries. What then of the culture that is rooted in the cult? What then of the civilization which is the culture’s grand manifestation? For an answer to such uneasy questions, we can turn to a twentieth century parable. Here I think of G. K Chesterton’s observation that all life being an allegory, we can understand it only in parable.

Parable of the Future

The author of my parable, however, is not Chesterton, but a quite different writer, the late Robert Graves, whom I once visited in Mallorca I have in mind Graves’s romance Seven Days in New Crete-published in America under the title Watch the North Wind Rise.

In that highly readable romance of a possible future, we are told that by the close of the "Late Christian epoch" the world will have fallen altogether, after a catastrophic war and devastation, under a collectivistic domination, a variant of Communism. Religion, the moral imagination, and nearly everything that makes life worth living have been virtually extirpated by ideology and nuclear war. k system of thought and government called Logicalism, "pantisocratic economics divorced from any religious or national theory," rules the world-for a brief time.

In Graves’s words:

Logicalism, hinged on international science, ushered in a gloomy and anti-poetic age. It lasted only a generation or two and ended with a grand defeatism, a sense of perfect futility, that slowly crept over the directors and managers of the regime. The common man had triumphed over his spiritual betters at last, but what was to follow? To what could he look forward with either hope or fear? By the abolition of sovereign states and the disarming of even the police forces, war had become impossible. No one who cherished any religious beliefs whatever, or was interested in sport, poetry, or the arts, was allowed to hold a position of public responsibility. "Ice-cold logic" was the most valued civic quality, and those who could not pretend to it were held of no account. Science continued laboriously to expand its over-large corpus of information, and the subjects of research grew more and more beautifully remote and abstract; yet the scientific obsession, so strong at the beginning of the third millennium A. D., was on the wane. Logicalist officials who were neither defeatist nor secretly religious and who kept their noses to the grindstone from a sense of duty, fell prey to colobromania, a mental disturbance….

Rates of abortion and infanticide, of suicide, and other indices of social boredom rise with terrifying speed under this Logicalist regime. Gangs of young people go about robbing, beating, and murdering, for the sake of excitement. It appears that the human race will become extinct if such tendencies continue; for men and women find life not worth living under such a domination. The deeper longings of humanity have been outraged, so that the soul and the state stagger on the verge of final darkness. But in this crisis an Israeli Sophocrat writes a book called A Critique of Utopias, in which he examines seventy Utopian writings, from Plato to Aldous Huxley. "We must retrace our steps," he concludes, "or perish." Only by the resurrection of religious faith, the Sophocrats discover, can mankind be kept from total destruction; and that religion, as Graves describes it in his romance, springs from the primitive soil of myth and symbol.

Graves really is writing about our own age, not of some remote future: of life in today’s United States and today’s Soviet Union. He is saying that culture arises from the cult; and that when belief in the cult has been wretchedly enfeebled, the culture will decay swiftly. The material order rests upon the spiritual order.

So it has come to pass, here in the closing years of the twentieth century. With the weakening of the moral order, "Things fall apart; mere anarchy is loosed upon the world … " The Hellenic and the Roman cultures went down to dusty death after this fashion. What may be done to achieve reinvigoration?

No Substitute

Some well-meaning folk talk of a "civil religion," a kind of cult of patriotism, founded upon a myth of national virtue and upon veneration of certain historic documents, together with a utilitarian morality. But such experiments of a secular character never have functioned satisfactorily; and it scarcely is necessary for me to point out the perils of such an artificial creed, bound up with nationalism: the example of the ideology of the National Socialist Party in Germany, half a century ago, may suffice. Worship of the state, or of the national commonwealth, is no healthy substitute for communion with transcendent love and wisdom.

Nor can attempts at persuading people that religion is "useful" meet with much genuine success. No man sincerely goes down on his knees to the divine because he has been told that such rituals lead to the beneficial consequences of tolerably honest behavior in commerce. People will conform their actions to the precepts of religion only when they earnestly believe the doctrines of that religion to be true.

Still less can it suffice to assert that the Bible is an infallible authority on everything, literally interpreted, in defiance of the natural sciences and of other learned disciplines; to claim to have received private revelations from Jehovah; or to embrace some self-proclaimed mystic from the gorgeous East, whose teachings are patently absurd.

In short, the culture can be renewed only if the cult is renewed; and faith in divine power cannot be summoned up merely when that is found expedient. Faith no longer works wonders among us: one has but to glance at the typical church built nowadays, ugly and shoddy, to discern how architecture no longer is nurtured by the religious imagination. It is so in nearly all d e works of twentieth century civilization: the modern mind has been secularized so thoroughly that "culture" is assumed by most people to have no connection with the love of God.

How are we to account for this widespread decay of the religious impulse? It appears that the principal cause of the loss of the idea of the holy is the attitude called "scientism"-that is, the popular notion that the revelations of natural science, over the past century and a half or two centuries, somehow have proved that men and women are naked apes merely, that the ends of existence are production and consumption merely; that happiness is the gratification of sensual impulses; and that concepts of the resurrection of the flesh and the life everlasting are mere exploded superstitions. Upon these scientistic assumptions, public schooling in America is founded nowadays, implicitly.

This view of the human condition has been called-by C S. Lewis, in particular-reductionism: it reduces human beings almost to mindlessness; it denies the existence of the soul. Reductionism has become almost an ideology. It is scientistic, but not scientific: for it is a far cry from the understanding of matter and energy that one finds in the addresses of Nobel prize winners in physics, say.

Popular notions of "what science says" are archaic :, reflecting the assertions of the scientists of the middle of the nineteenth century; such views are a world away from the writings of Stanley Jaki, the cosmologist and historian of science, who was awarded the Templeton Prize for progress in religion last year.

As Arthur Koestler remarks in his little book The Roots of Coincidence, yesterday’s scientific doctrines of materialism and mechanism ought to be buried now with a requiem of electronic music. Once more, in biology as in physics, the scientific disciplines enter upon the realm of mystery.

Yet the great public always suffers from the affliction called cultural lag. If most people continue to fancy that scientific theory of a century ago is the verdict of serious scientists today, will not the religious understanding of life continue to wither, and civilization continue to crumble?

Hard Truth

Perhaps; but the future, I venture to remind you, is unknowable. Conceivably we may be given a Sign. Yet such an event being in I he hand of God, if it is to occur at all, meanwhile some reflective people declare that our culture must be reanimated, by a great effort of will.

More than forty years ago, that remarkable historian Christopher Dawson, in his book Religion and Culture, expressed this hard truth strongly. "The events of the last few years," Dawson wrote, "portend either the end of human history or a turning point in it. They have warned us in letters of fire that our civilization has been tried in the balance and found wanting-that there is an absolute limit to the progress than can be achieved by the perfectionment of scientific techniques detached from spiritual aims and moral values…. The recovery of moral control and the return to spiritual order have become the indispensable conditions of human survival. But they can be achieved only by a profound change in the spirit of modern civilization. This does not mean a new religion or a new culture but a movement of spiritual reintegration which would restore that vital relation between religion and culture which has existed at every age and on every level of human development."

Amen to that. The alternative to such a successful endeavor, a conservative endeavor, to reinvigorate our culture would be a series of catastrophic events, the sort predicted by Pitirim Sorokin and other sociologists, which eventually might efface our present sensate culture and bring about a new ideational culture, the character of which we cannot even imagine. Such an ideational culture doubtless would have its religion: but it might be the worship of what has been called the Savage God.

Such ruin has occurred repeatedly in history. When the classical religion ceased to move hearts and minds, two millennia ago, thus the Graeco Roman civilization went down to Avernus. As my little daughter Cecilia put it unprompted, some years ago looking at a picture book of Roman history, "And then, at the end of a long summer’s day, there came Death, Mud, Crud."

Great civilizations have ended in slime. Outside the ancient city of York, where York Minster stands upon the site of the Roman praetorium, there lies a racecourse known as the Knavesmire. Here in medieval time were buried the knaves-the felons and paupers. When, a few years ago, the racecourse was being enlarged, the diggers came upon a Roman graveyard beneath, or in part abutting upon, the medieval burial ground. This appeared to have been a cemetery of the poor of Romano-British times. Few valuable artifacts were uncovered, but the bones were of interest. Many of the people there interred, in the closing years of Roman power in Britain, had been severely deformed, apparently suffering from rickets and other afflictions-deformed spines and limbs and skulls. Presumably they had suffered lifelong, and died, from extreme malnutrition. At the end, decadence comes down to that, for nearly everybody.

It was at York that the dying Septimius Severus, after his last campaign (against the Scots), was asked by his brutal sons, Geta and Caracalla, "Father, when you are gone, how shall we govern the empire?" The hard old emperor had his laconic reply ready: "Pay the soldiers. The rest do not matter." There would come a time when the soldiers could not be paid, and then civilization would fall to pieces. The last Roman army in Italy-it is said to have been composed entirely of cavalry- fought in league with the barbarian general Odoacer against Theodoric, King of the Ostrogoths, in the year 491; on Odoacer’s defeat, the Roman soldiers drifted home, nevermore to take arms: the end of an old song Only the earlier stages of social decadence-seem liberating to some people; the last act, as Cecilia Kirk perceived, consists of Death, Mud, Crud.

In short, it appears to me that our culture labors in an advanced state of decadence; that what many people mistake for the triumph of our civilization actually consists of powers that are disintegrating our culture; that the vaunted "democratic freedom" of liberal society in reality is servitude to appetites and illusions which attack religious belief; which destroy community through excessive centralization and urbanization; which efface life-giving tradition and custom.

History has many cunning passages, contrieved corridors
And issues, deceives with whispering ambitions,
Guides us by vanities.

So Gerontion instructs us, in T. S. Eliot’s famous grim poem. By those and some succeeding lines, Eliot means that human experience lived without the Logos, the Word; lived merely by the asserted knowledge of empirical science-why, history in that sense is a treacherous gypsy witch. Civilizations that reject or abandon the religious imagination must end, as did Gerontion, in fractured atoms.

Restoring Religious Insights

In conclusion, it is my argument that the elaborate civilization we have known stands in peril; that it may expire of lethargy, or be destroyed by violence, or perish, from a combination of both evils. We who think that life remains worth living ought to address ourselves to means by which a restoration of our culture may be achieved. A prime necessity for us is to restore an apprehension of religious insights in our clumsy apparatus of public instruction, which -bullied by militant secular humanists and presumptuous federal courts-has been left with only ruinous answers to the ultimate questions.

What ails modern civilization? Fundamentally, our society’s affliction is the decay of religious belief If a culture is to survive and flourish, it must not be severed from the religious vision out of which it arose. The high necessity of reflective men and women, then, is to labor for the restoration of religious teachings as a credible body of doctrine.

"Redeem the time; redeem the dream," T. S. Eliot wrote. It remains possible, given right reason and moral imagination, to confront boldly the age’s disorders. The restoration of true learning, humane and scientific; the reform of many public policies; the renewal of our awareness of a transcendent order, and of the presence of an Other, the brightening of the comers where we find ourselves such approaches are open to those among the rising generation who look for a purpose in life. It is just conceivable that we may be given a Sign before the end of the twentieth century; yet Sign or no Sign, Remnant must strive against the follies of the time.

Lecture Number Four Hundred and Four, July 24th, 1992

Two "Nos" and One "Yes"

By: Fr. Thomas Hopko

V. Rev. Thomas Hopko

V. Rev. Thomas Hopko

Fr. Alexander Schmemann on secularism and religion.

Delivered at the Divine Liturgy, December 16, 1983.

Father Alexander taught us that every time we "gather as the Church" there is a unique word of God that we have to hear. It is the task of every one of us to hear the unique word, which is spoken just for that occasion. At every celebration of the Eucharist, every liturgy, the Lord speaks to us with a word that is just for that time, for that day, for that occasion. It is the task of the Church to discover that word, and it is the task of the preacher to give it human words, to discover what God is saying to us at this time, in this place, when we are all gathered "in one place."

To discover that word for today is very easy. Any one of us in the Church could preach today. Any one of us in the Church could say what it is that God wants us to hear at this moment. Of course each one of us hears it differently, each one of us hears it in a unique and personal way, but every one of us hears the same thing.

God in Christ the Word, through His Spirit, through the person of Fr Alexander – in his life and in his death – has taught us, first of all, that this world is created by God and that it is good. How beautiful is this world! How glorious it is! It is the epiphany and the sacrament of God Himself. It radiates divine beauty. It radiates with the uncreated Light of the Godhead. It shines with the presence and the power of God Almighty Himself. Those who have eyes can see it; those who have ears can hear it singing, and we know that all is filled with the goodness, the power, the presence of God.

Fr Alexander also taught us – by his life and by his death – that this world is fallen. Evil is real. There is wickedness. There is the Devil. In fact, this year at the orientation for the new students, Father spoke about this. Father always came to speak at orientation and this year too he came. Of course he was very weak, but he came and said to the new students: "I came over to tell you just one important thing. You will learn many things here about God, and the Seminary, and life and prayer . . . But I came over tonight to tell you just one very important thing." And he said to the students:

"Remember always that the Devil exists." The Devil exists to destroy what God in Christ has given, and the Devil will use every trick to divide, to conquer, to separate, to produce that "unholy trinity" of pride, fear, envy, with competition and enslavement; and the "ego" will always be ready to cooperate with the evil "Voice" that speaks. The world is fallen, and it is fallen because we all, like Adam our father, have refused to lift up our heart and to give thanks to the Lord.

Fr Alexander also taught us – by his life and by his death – that this world is redeemed, that this world is saved, that God has sent His Only-Begotten Son to give Himself for the life of the world, for the life not only of every human soul of which the whole world is not worthy, but for the life of all things: the whole creation, the plants, the animals, his beloved hippopotamus! All that God has made will be saved, resurrected, restored, renewed in Christ Who has risen from the dead, for death itself, in that restoration, becomes the instrument of victory. How many times he said, " . . . through the Cross – and only through the Cross – has joy come into the world." The world is good, the world is fallen, and the world is redeemed.

One day in August 1968 – 15 years ago, when Father was still healthy, it was a beautiful sunny day like today – we were sitting and talking in Labelle, in Canada which he loved so much, where he spent the summers. And of course we were talking about the Church, theology, and so on. He said to me: "When I die, you can write my in memoriam in one brief paragraph." He said, "You just have to say that my whole worldview, my whole life, could be summed up in one little sentence: two ‘nos,’ one ‘yes,’ and eschatology – two ‘nos,’ one ‘yes,’ and the Kingdom to come."

The first "no" was to what Father called secularism – any kind of explanation of this world as having its meaning in itself. He loved to quote the French poet, Julien Green, who said, "all is elsewhere." All is elsewhere, and this world has its meaning from "elsewhere." And any attempt to dare to explain this world except as from God must be rejected. The world has no meaning in itself. None at all.

The second "no" – in a very peculiar use of the term, of course, which confuses some people – is when Father said, "We must also say ‘no’ to religion." Christ did not bring religion; Christ brought the Kingdom of God. Christianity is not a religion to help secular man to cope with his "problems." Man does not have problems, he has sins. This world does not need "therapy"; it can’t be "helped." It has to die to rise again. There is one sentence in For the Life of the World where Father says that this, as a matter of fact, is the heart of the matter.

. . . It is here that we reach the heart of the matter. For Christianity help is not the criterion. Truth is the criterion. The purpose of Christianity is not to help people by reconciling them with death, but to reveal the Truth about life and death in order that people may be saved by this Truth. Salvation, however, is not only not identical with help, but is, in fact, opposed to it. Christianity quarrels with religion and secularism not because they offer ‘insufficient help,’ but precisely because they ‘suffice,’ because they ‘satisfy’ the needs of men. If the purpose of Christianity were to take away from man the fear of death, to reconcile him with death, there would be no need for Christianity, for other religions have done this, indeed, better than Christianity.

"No" – "no" to secularism. "No" to religion in that sense.

But what is the one "yes"? Everyone in this Church knows what the one "yes" is. "Yes" to the fact that in the Church the fallen world which is redeemed in Christ and is going to come at the end as the Kingdom of God – eschatology – is here and now with us. "Yes" to what Father would call the "sacramental vision" – that the good world which is fallen has been redeemed and glorified, and whenever people gather and lift up their hearts and give thanks to the Lord, they experience this, and they know the Truth, and that Truth makes them free. "Yes" to the Church – the Church which, in Father’s own words, is:

. . . the entrance into the risen life of Christ; it (the Church) is communion in life eternal, ‘joy and peace in the Holy Spirit.’ And it is the expectation of the ‘day without evening’ of the Kingdom . . . the fulfillment of all things and all life in Christ.

And it is here that Father spoke about death, indeed, his very own death.

In Him (Christ) death itself has become an act of life, for He (Christ) has filled it with Himself, with His love and His light. In Him (as the apostle Paul has written) all things are yours; whether . . . the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours; and ye are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s’ (1 Cor. 3:21-23). And if I make this new life mine, mine this hunger and thirst for the Kingdom, mine this expectation of Christ, mine the certitude that Christ is Life, then my very death will be an act of communion with Life. For neither life nor death can separate us from the love of Christ. I do not know when and how the fulfillment will come. I do not know when all things will be consummated in Christ. I know nothing about the ‘whens’ and ‘hows.’ But I know that in Christ this great Passage, the Pascha of the world has begun, that the light of the ‘world to come’ comes to us in the joy and peace of the Holy Spirit, for Christ is risen and Life reigns.

"Finally," he said, "finally, I know that it is this faith and this certitude that fill with a joyful meaning the words of St Paul, which we read each time we celebrate the passage, the pascha of a brother, his falling asleep in Christ:

For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first; then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord" (1 Thess. 4:16-17).

If Father has sinned against any one of us we should forgive him. We should ask him to forgive us our sins. And, in faithful and loving devotion to what he has shown us – in his life and in his death – brothers and sisters, let us love one another, let us lift up our hearts, let us give thanks to the Lord. Amen!

St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly, Vol. 28, No. 1, 1984, pp. 45-48

The Roots of Roe v. Wade

By: Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon

"Children are aborted in the flesh because…they are aborted in the mind."


During this month, as in every January for the past thirty years, those Americans left with even the meanest vestige of moral instinct will reflect with disgust on the Supreme Court’s ruling in Roe v. Wade. Some of these citizens will also comment, as they should, that that 1973 judicial determination was an affront to humanity, a legal travesty, a distortion of the Constitution surpassing in sheer injustice even the Dred Scott decision of 1857. Some, recalling that the Dred Scott ruling itself set the stage for the Civil War, may wonder–if it was true in yesteryear that "every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword"–whether some yet worse retribution will be exacted of our country by a righteous God righteously stirred at the murder of unborn children in their millions. And wonder they should. Still others, more stalwart of heart, will fortify their resolve to toil for the overthrow of Roe v. Wade, whether by constitutional amendment or by wise judicial appointments to restore the Court’s good sense and moral integrity. All such things will sane Americans think, of course, for these are still the right responses to the most extreme miscarriage of justice ever perpetrated by any court in this nation.

It is not to slight the propriety of any of those responses, therefore, that we declare Roe v. Wade to be more a symptom of our crisis than its cause. It appears to us, as it does to William B. Wichterman in a recent essay ("The Culture: ‘Upstream’ from Politics," in Don Eberly, ed., Building a Healthy Culture: Strategies for an American Renaissance), that "the Court was simply joining the cultural revolution already well underway." Indeed, it is very arguable that Roe v. Wade did rather little to increase the number of legal abortions in this country. Wichtermann himself contends that "the abortion rate probably would have climbed to at least one million per year even without Roe, and more likely higher still."


By January of 1973, what now goes by the abhorrent euphemism "reproductive freedom" was already a movement robustly on the march, as Gerald N. Rosenberg demonstrated in the study he published eighteen years later, The Hollow Hope: Can Courts Bring About Social Change? When various state legislatures began removing statutory restrictions against abortion toward the end of the sixties, the frequency of the procedure jumped dramatically. Between 1968 and 1973, eighteen states had loosened their anti-abortion laws. In the large states of New York and California there was almost unlimited legal access to abortion chambers, and over a half-million legal abortions were performed in this country during the twelve months preceding the Supreme Court’s ruling. Indeed, before the first line of Roe was composed, 70 percent of all American citizens lived within two hours’ drive of a state where abortions were legal. The pro-choice lobby was definitely in the ascendant, and, according to a Gallup poll published just seven months before Roe, 64 percent of Americans believed that abortion was a matter to be decided entirely by a woman and her physician. Alas, some of us pro-lifers can still remember that it was ourselves, back in those days, not the pro-choice folks, who were counting on vindication by the Supreme Court.

We are not convinced, therefore, that a judicial reversal of Roe v. Wade, though it remains a favor much to be craved, would necessarily diminish the number of legal abortions performed in this country. More likely, such a development would simply shift the pertinent political agitation back to the state legislatures, where, we suspect, the pro-life cause would lose more battles than its proponents contemplate. Law and politics, we contend, lie downstream from culture, and the current cultural state of our nation, particularly with respect to abortion, seems to us not one whit better than it was during the years leading up to 1973. Between 1967 and 1972, a large number of major national groups and alliances passed various resolutions and endorsements to repeal all legal restrictions on abortion. Among those groups were 21 medical organizations and 28 religious bodies, including the YMCA. The political activities of those organizations were mainly directed, not at the Supreme Court, but at state legislatures, where they won more battles than they lost. There is every reason to believe that this would be the case once again if Roe were overturned.

Politics and law, we said, lie downstream from culture. Therefore, the real and deeper dilemma, the dilemma arguably as disturbing as abortion itself, is cultural. Our current culture, to say it plainly, has largely stopped thinking of children as gifts from God and firstfruits of the future. The dominant mentality today is manifestly what Irving Babbitt (if memory serves) called "presentism." It is concentrated almost overwhelmingly on the present because men right now are living increasingly without hope, and they are living without hope because they are not providing for the future. Their cultural despondency is, in this sense, justified. Our culture, compulsively and even morbidly preoccupied with the here-and-now, is deliberately moribund, depriving itself of anything to look forward to. This truth is lucidly indicated by the disastrously low birthrates in this country (and in the West generally).

We submit, therefore, that children are now being aborted in the flesh, because they have already been, in large measure, aborted from the mind. We deprive unborn infants of a future because they are inconveniences intruding on our chosen pursuits in the present. Why should we let those infants live, after all, if they are but the by-products of sexual activity, rather than the properly intended purpose of that activity? In short, our current cultural crisis has to do with sex regarded in terms of present "fulfillment" rather than in terms of future family. The progressive severance of sex from the proper structures and duties of family is, moreover, a concern that most religious bodies in this nation have hardly begun to address at a deep level.

The most obvious manifestation of this severance, of course, is homosexuality. We are content here, however, merely to mention that the matter is obvious; we are not disposed to argue much with those who disagree. Indeed, some of us hardly know where to begin a serious moral conversation with individuals incapable of distinguishing between sexual organs and . . . well, other parts of the body.

Another manifestation of the current severance of sexuality from family, we believe, is recourse to artificial contraception. The pill, the patch, and the condom have become–once again to cite Wichtermann–our culture’s "first defense against childbirth," abortion serving only as a socially distasteful back-up. Pregnancy is now widely regarded as something that married couples are expected to prevent until they, not God, decide that they are ready to have children. Husbands and wives are expected to control, that is, not their sexual behavior, but their incidence of pregnancy. Man, not God, is thereby authorized to decide when and how the creation of human beings takes place. It is no small indication of our cultural decline that we now speak, not of procreation, but of reproduction.

This utterly rebellious attitude, the "contraceptive mentality," is surely a serious moral failing characteristic of the present culture. The relationship of this "contraceptive culture" to abortion itself lies much deeper than a first comparison of the two things might suggest, nor is there any logic, we think, in opposing the terrible sin of abortion while in other respects promoting the selfishness and materialism that give rise to it.

An illustration of the subterranean tunnel joining the ethics of abortion and contraception was provided in the events leading up to Roe v. Wade. It appears obvious to us that the public support for abortion that led to the Supreme Court’s decision in 1973 was not unrelated to the public rage and outcry that greeted the papal encyclical Humanae Vitae in 1968. When Pope Paul VI asserted that the primary and formal purpose of human sexual intercourse is the conception of children and, thus, the assembling of a family, he said no more about artificial contraception than the Bible and traditional Christian doctrine would oblige any Christian pastor to say–namely, that a serious moral flaw adheres to any sexual act that is deliberately closed off to God’s using that act for the creation of a human being. It is our persuasion that if Americans were to take seriously the traditional Christian perspective contained in Humanae Vitae, Roe v. Wade would disappear very quickly.

It is our hope, then, that this thirtieth anniversary of the Supreme Court’s ruling will be the occasion not only for lamenting the ongoing political climate that permits that odious dictum yet to stand, but also for pondering more deeply the grace and mystery of human sexuality itself, especially the manifest purpose for which God gave it to us. We all know there is a tribunal far higher than our Supreme Court. It is important to recall, in addition, that we too will gather before it, to render an account of our stewardship. The present growing separation of sexuality from the formation of family, we suggest, raises some serious questions about that stewardship.

Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon is pastor of All Saints Antiochian Orthodox Church in Chicago, Illinois, and a Senior Editor of Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity.

An Orthodox Perspective on Abortion

By: Fr. Joseph O’Brien


The earliest specific written references to abortion in Christian literature are those in the Didache (so called The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles) and the Epistle of Barnabas. The Didache combines a code of Christian morality with a brief manual of church life and order, while the Epistle of Barnabas is a more theological tract on Christian life and thought. Both were probably written between the second half of the first century and the early part of the second century. Both writings refer to an ancient tradition known as the "Two Ways". This tradition contrasts the way of Life against that of Death; or of Light against Darkness. The Didache reads, "thou shalt not murder a child by abortion nor kill them when born," and the Epistle of Barnabas reads nearly identically.


Little has changed in some two thousand years. Morally speaking, in that earlier era there was little argument over whether abortion was ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. It was simply morally wrong — a morally wrong choice. Although today the public rhetoric may be increased, if even a bit confused, over what defines moral ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, the basic ‘problem’ has not changed and public polls consistently support this. That ‘problem’ is the problem of choice, or more accurately, that which ‘informs’ a person’s choice — what determines a person’s morality.

It is important here that we understand morality as a doctrine or system of guiding principles or rules for right human conduct. With this in mind, the results of a recent opinion poll are quite informative. According to the poll, "Among those who support abortion without restriction, 39 percent said they were influenced by medical information they had read or heard; 36 percent said they were swayed by a personal experience, and 6 percent based their opinion on religious beliefs. 76 percent of those who said abortion should not be legal in any circumstance said their position was most influenced by their religious beliefs, while 10 percent cited a personal experience and 9 percent medical information.

The free choice with which man has been endowed is, from the Christian perspective of course, by design of God. Its ultimate purpose is understood in man’s capacity to love. Bp. Kallistos Ware has well stated, "As a Trinitarian God, a God of shared interpersonal love, He desired that we humans in our turn should be joined to Him in a relationship of mutual love. Mutual love, however, presupposes freedom, for where there is no voluntary choice there can be no love. Love cannot be constrained, but can only be tendered willingly; God is able to do anything except compel us to love Him.

From our Christian perspective then, it is unquestionably the most hideous imaginable act which utilizes man’s most fundamental and ‘human’ attribute, that of his capacity to ‘love’, to the purpose of the destruction of that which is to be the object of that love. The fulfillment of the basic principle of life, man’s highest achievement, is wrapped up in the commandment, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself " (Lk. 10:27).


The human person is not merely a lump of flesh, but an embodied soul. "And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul" (Gen. 2:7). St. Gregory the Theologian says, "The Creator-Word, determining … to produce a single living being out of both (the invisible and the visible creation) fashions Man; and taking a body from already existing matter, and placing in it a Breath taken from Himself (which the Word knew to be an intelligent soul, and the image of God)… He placed him on the earth… earthly and heavenly, temporal and yet immortal, visible and yet intellectual [spiritual/immaterial], halfway between greatness and lowliness, in one person combining spirit and flesh…." Man, the human person, is a psychosomatic being, that is to say, he is a complete person only in that soul (yuc» -psyche) and body (sîma – soma) are united (psycho-somatic).

The origin of each individual psychosomatic human person is not fully revealed in Holy Scripture. This is a mystery known to God alone. One thing we as Christians can and must say with certainty, however, is that the soul-endowed fetus who resides as yet unborn in its mother’s womb is no less a human person. Tertullian says, "We acknowledge, therefore, that life begins with conception, because we contend that the soul begins at conception. Life begins when the soul begins." But our most fundamental example of the personhood of the fetus lies in a passage of Holy Scripture familiar to all of us Orthodox Christians:

In those days Mary [newly pregnant with our Lord] arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a city of Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the babe [John the Forerunner] leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and she exclaimed with a loud cry, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the voice of your greeting came to my ears, the babe in my womb leaped for joy" (Luke 1:39-44).

The Reformation of Ethics — Materialism

Materialism is defined as a theory wherein physical matter is the only or fundamental reality. The only or highest values or objectives then must lie in material well-being. Materialism is basically a preoccupation with or stress upon material rather than spiritual things. Mankind has become infected with this spiritual disorder known as materialism. How did it happen?

Man was originally created to live without a care in the world! He was created to live eternally in a relationship of mutual love with God and his fellow man wherein God, as man’s Creator, provided for his every need. Our God has even given us an earthly example of this spiritual relationship in the healthy parental/infant relationship. The child is a free and unique person who is, however, completely dependent — bodily, materially, emotionally, and spiritually — upon his parents, who in turn provide for those needs in a relationship of mutual love. Thus our Lord Jesus Christ proclaims, "Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it" (Lk. 18:16, 17).

With no concern for his needs, nor any thought for his survival, pre-fallen man, like that completely dependent infant, walked with God in the Garden of Paradise (Gen. 3:8). Now, however, as a result of his choice to walk alone, man has lost his carefree life. Man opts for independence and autonomy, and has thus separated himself from God. He must now find a new source for those things which had been previously provided freely and naturally by God.

Most profoundly, man’s freedom has been lost to the tyranny of the ‘garments of skin’ (Gen. 3:21) that he acquired as a result of the Fall. The human body is now ‘grossly’ material and as such it has become the object of man’s undivided attention. I don’t wish to imply here a neoplatonic anthropology — that man was previously a ‘spirit’ being, a disembodied soul, but is now ‘materialized’ due to the Fall. My actual point is that man went from being a ‘prefallen’, might we speculate by saying a ‘balanced’ psychosomatic being, to being a psychosomatic being who is preoccupied with his soma, his material aspect which is physically decaying. He became mortal. St. Paul writes:

For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: "Death is swallowed up in victory." "O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?" The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:53-57 NKJV).

Due to his estrangement from God man must now strive by the sweat of his brow to acquire his own physical sustenance.[9] He must also provide all those other forms of sustenance which are less tangible but no less real; purpose, self-worth, love, and even longevity, i.e., life itself. However, man remains the creature, not the Creator. He thus falls very short indeed of providing himself with these necessities of genuine life. The result of a secularized existence separated from God is gross materiality and estrangement from the life-bestowing immaterial energies of God. The creature remains fundamentally powerless, although he still carries a vague familiarity with those naturally imparted essential aspects of human life which make him complete and genuinely human. Fallen man becomes a biologically preoccupied being. The focus of man’s life becomes materialistic rather than spiritual.

Materialism is thus driven by the priority of biological survival, followed closely by other matters of material preservation and the need to supply those other less tangible forms of sustenance in a world estranged from God. Not only the imperatives of food, shelter and clothing, but those of purpose, fulfillment, love and companionship also take on more of a materialistic conception of fulfillment. Thus the kind of car that we drive, the location of the home we live in, the status of the job we are employed at, are all aimed to fulfill these fundamental needs we perceive within us. The choice to abort a child then is a choice born from the ‘materialization’ of such needs. The sanctity of life and the inherent potential of the deification of man, which seem to strike some primal chord within us, are now all but drowned out by the redefined imperatives of a materialistic world-view

The Restoration of Ethics

This is the essence of life in Christ — the restoration of man to God and the subsequent restoration of those things that make man truly human. In light of such things, abortion is truly unthinkable, even if pregnancy results in the most tremendous hardships. Why? Because the believer who is entering the kingdom of God does not live for the things of the flesh, but for the things of the spirit. "For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit" (Rom. 8:5). "But I say, walk by the Spirit, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh; for these are opposed to each other … " (Gal. 5:16-17).

It is always a matter of choice. It must be so. This is what makes us human. Not all choices, however, are equal. We are absolutely unconstrained, and must make our choices. Yet with each choice comes the potential to further our freedom. We must choose to either live in Christ and in the freedom of life in the Holy Spirit, or we can choose to allow ourselves to be enslaved to a grossly material ‘substitute’ way of life, imprisoned by our own fears and our own passions.

The unique tragedy of the choice we call abortion is that it is a terminal choice for another human soul, someone of whom our Lord has said, "…for to such belongs the kingdom of God" (Lk. 18:16). As such, the choice for abortion stands, even more so than the premeditated murder of an adult person, as the ultimate manifestation of man’s self imposed alienation and estrangement from God and from his fellow man. It is the fatal and final choice which marks our own spiritual death.

Joseph O’Brien is priest at St. Nicholas of South Canaan Church in Billings, Montana. This article can be found at the Orthodox Peace Fellowship website and is reprinted with permission of the author.

The Fathers of the Orthodox Church on Abortion

The following represent the teaching of the Orthodox Church from the [early] second century through the fifth century…. Note that penalties, when they are given, are neither civil nor criminal, but ecclesiastical and pastoral (excommunication for the purpose of inducing repentance). Also note that the these quotes deal with both surgical and chemically induced abortion, both pre- and post-quickening.

From the Letter to Diognetus:
(speaking of what distinguishes Christians from pagans) "They marry, as do all others; they beget children but they do not destroy their offspring" (literally, "cast away fetuses").

From the Didache:
"You shall not slay the child by abortions."

From the Letter of Barnabus:
"You shall not destroy your conceptions before they are brought forth; nor kill them after they are born."

From St. Clement:
"Those who use abortifacients commit homicide."

From Tertullian:
"The mold in the womb may not be destroyed."

From St. Basil the Great:
"The woman who purposely destroys her unborn child is guilty of murder. The hair-splitting difference between formed and unformed makes no difference to us."

From St. Augustine:
"Sometimes their sadistic licentiousness goes so far that they procure poison to produce infertility, and when this is of no avail, they find one means or another to destroy the unborn and flush it from the mother’s womb. For they desire to see their offspring perish before it is alive or, if it has already been granted life, they seek to kill it within the mother’s body before it is born."

From St. John Chrysostom:
"Why do you sow where the field is eager to destroy the fruit? Where there are medicines of sterility? Where there is murder before birth? You do not even let a harlot remain only a harlot, but you make her a murderess as well. Indeed, it is something worse than murder and I do not know what to call it; for she does not kill what is formed but prevents its formation. What then? Do you condemn the gifts of God, and fight with His laws? What is a curse you seek as though it were a blessing. Do you make the anteroom of slaughter? Do you teach the women who are given to you for a procreation of offspring to perpetuate killing?"

Canon XCI:
As for women who furnish drugs for the purpose of procuring abortions, and those who take fetus-killing poisons, they are made subject to penalty for murderers.

Canon II:
"A woman who aborts deliberately is liable to trial as a murderess. This is not a precise assertion of some figurative and inexpressible conception that passes current among us. For here there is involved the queston of providing for the infants to be born, but also for the woman who has plotted against her own self. For in most cases the women die in the course of such operations, But besides this there is to be noted the fact that the destruction of the embryo constitutes another murder…. It behooves us, however, not to extend their confessions to the extreme limit of death, but to admit them at the end of the moderate period of ten years, without specifying a definite time, but adjusting the cure to the manner of penitence."

Canon XXI:
"Regarding women who become prostitutes and kill their babies, and who make it their business to concoct abortives, the former rule barred them for life from communion, and they are left without resource. But having found a more philanthropic alternative, we have fixed the penalty at ten years, in accordance with the fixed degrees. …"

"As for women who destroy embryos professionally, and those (non-prostitutes) who give or take poisons with the object of aborting babies and dropping them prematurely, we prescribe the rule that they, by economy, be treated up to five years at most."

All quotes are from "The Church Fathers on Social Issues," Department of Youth Ministry of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America.

Death, Dying, and Euthanasia

By: Fr. Stanley Harakas

Fr. Stanley Harakas

Fr. Stanley Harakas

The traditional definition of physical death is "the separation of soul and body." Such a definition is not subject to objective observation. Thus it is not within the province of theology to determine the medical indications of death and the onset of the dying process. However, in reference to the terminally ill person, certain distinctions can be made. Physical life is generally understood to imply the ability of the person to sustain his or her vital activities. Physical death begins when interrelated systems of the body begin to break down. Death occurs when the systemic breakdown becomes irreversible. It may well be that physical life and death are events in a continuum in which it is impossible to discern when the dying process actually begins. Nevertheless, the bias of the Church and the traditional bias of the medical practitioner (cf. Oath of Hippocrates) is to do everything possible to maintain life and hinder the onset of dying and death. The medical use of drugs, surgical operations, and even artificial organs (mechanical kidneys, lungs, hearts, etc.) are considered legitimately used when there is a reasonable expectation that they will aid the return in due time to normal or close to normal functioning of the whole organic system.

The special case arises in that it is now medically possible to keep the body "alive" with a complex array of artificial organs, medications, transfusions, and the like. Under these conditions it may not be feasible to expect, with any degree of probability, the restoration of the organic functioning of the body. When, especially, there is no evidence of brain activity in conjunction with the systemic breakdown, we can safely say that the patient is no longer alive in any religiously significant way, and that, in fact, only certain organs are functioning. In such a case there is no moral responsibility to continue the use of artificial, means. It is of interest that the Prayer book of the Eastern Orthodox Church includes a whole service devoted to those in the process of dying. In the case of the individual whose death is prolonged and attended by much "struggling to die," the key sentence in the prayer calls upon God to separate the soul from the body, thus giving rest to the dying person. It asks God "to release your servant (name) from this unbearable suffering and this continuing bitter illness and grant rest to him" (Mikron Euchologion, p. 192).

However, it must be emphasized that this is a prayer directed to God, who, for the Orthodox, has ultimate dominion over life and death. Consequently, the preceding discussion in no way supports the practice of euthanasia. Euthanasia is held by some to be morally justified and/or morally required to terminate the life of an incurably sick person. To permit a dying person to die, when there is no real expectation that life can sustain itself, and even to pray to the Authorof Life to take the life of one "struggling to die" is one thing; euthanasia is another, i.e., the active intervention to terminate the life of another. Orthodox Christian ethics rejects the alternative of the willful termination of dying patients, regarding it as a special case of murder if done without the knowledge and consent of the patient, and suicide if it is permitted by the patient (Antoniades, II, pp. 125-127). One of the most serious criticisms of euthanasia is the grave difficulty in drawing the line between "bearable suffering" and "unbearable suffering," especially from an Eastern Orthodox perspective, which has taken seriously the spiritual growth that may take place through suffering (Rom. 8:17-39).

Ethical decision making is never precise and absolute. The principles that govern it are in a measure fluid and subject to interpretation. But to elevate euthanasia to a right or an obligation would bring it into direct conflict with the fundamental ethical affirmation that as human beings we are custodians of life, which comes from a source other than ourselves. Furthermore, the immense possibilities, not only for error but also for decision making based on self-serving ends, which may disregard the fundamental principle of the sanctity of human life, argue against euthanasia.

Generally speaking, the Orthodox Church teaches that it is the duty of both physician and family to make the patient as comfortable as possible, to provide the opportunity for the exercise of patience, courage, repentance, and prayer. The Church has always rejected inflicted, and unnecessary voluntary suffering and pain as immoral; but at the same time, the Church also has perceived in suffering a positive value that often goes unrecognized in the "logic of the world."

The only "eu-thanasia" (Greek for "a good death") recognized in Orthodox ethics is that death in which the human person accepts the end of his or her life in the spirit of moral and spiritual purity, in hope and trust in God, and as a member of his kingdom. True humanity may be achieved even on a deathbed.

From: For the Health of Body and Soul: An Eastern Orthodox Introduction to Bioethics

Orthodox Leadership in a Brave New World

By: Fr. Johannes L. Jacobse

Fr. Johannes L. Jacobse

Fr. Johannes L. Jacobse

Almost thirty years ago Soviet dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn delivered an address at Harvard University that still ranks as one of the most trenchant and inspired critiques of Western culture ever given. Although some of the political references are dated, two observations remain as true today as when they were first spoken. The first is that the philosophical materialism that shaped communism and led to the Gulags now operates in the Western world. The second is that mankind stands at an anthropological threshold.

What is philosophical materialism? To use Solzhenitsyn’s definition, it is the belief that man has no touchstone other than himself:

To such consciousness, man is the touchstone in judging and evaluating everything on earth . . . we have lost the concept of a Supreme Complete Entity which used to restrain our passions and our irresponsibility.

Philosophical materialism has concrete cultural ramifications. To social utopians, it means that persons have no enduring value—so society can be forcibly arranged around notions of the common good. To hedonists, it means that the body is primarily a pleasure machine. To nihilists, it means that because the death of the body is also the end of existence, we should exalt death and violence.

These themes shaped much of the course of the last century. Solzhenitsyn had firsthand experience of Marxist social utopianism, but he was not the first to sound the alarm. Almost a century earlier, Dostoevsky heard the rumblings that would make Russia susceptible to communist tyranny and warned, “Without God, everything is permitted.”

Prophets of the West

The Democratic West had its own literary prophets, who, while not steeped in Christianity as deeply as Solzhenitsyn or Dostoevsky, nevertheless understood the Christian moral tradition and thus were able to discern the cultural trends that Solzhenitsyn would express so clearly at Harvard years later.

One such visionary was George Orwell, who foresaw the tyranny of the social utopianism that follows when traditional notions of truth and virtue are supplanted, and confronted it in 1984. Another was Aldous Huxley, who, in his classic Brave New World, focused more on the elevation of pleasure and the senseless preoccupation with stimulation that would afflict culture once moral norms shifted. Neil Postman, in his brilliant Amusing Ourselves to Death, pointed out the differences between the two authors:

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy.

As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny "failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions." In 1984, Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.

As trenchant as Orwell’s and Huxley’s prophecies were, however, Solzhenitsyn’s emerges as more compelling because of his explicit religious appeal. In locating the cultural calamities in the loss of an awareness of God, he shows the stance Christians—particularly those who understand that current cultural conflicts require more than a political solution—should take today.

The Anthropological Threshold

Mankind, said Solzhenitsyn (and here he means Christendom—the culture that drew from the well of Judeo-Christian morality), stands on an anthropological threshold as significant as the shift from the medieval to the modern period:

If the world has not come to its end, it has approached a major turn in history, equal in importance to the turn from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance. It will exact from us a spiritual upsurge, we shall have to rise to a new height of vision, to a new level of life where our physical nature will not be cursed as in the Middle Ages, but, even more importantly, our spiritual being will not be trampled upon as in the Modern era.

“Anthropology” comes from the Greek word anthropos, which means “man.” In theological terms, anthropology means what we understand the human person to be. It encompasses who he is, what he was created for, how he should comport himself—all the constituents of man’s existence that raise him above the animal, that define his purpose, that make meaning out of his relationships.

Consider Solzhenitsyn’s exhortation in the questions facing us today, especially the looming issues concerning the advancements in medical technology. We have unlocked some secrets about human life that were unthinkable just a generation or two ago. Who would have thought we could map the human genome or grow organs from a single cell, as it appears may soon be the case? Who foresaw such advancements as locating and even correcting fetal abnormalities? Who guessed that we could extend life expectancy by decades in some cases?

These advancements are front and center for several reasons. First, they require us to answer foundational questions about the nature and value of the human person. These questions have not been answered, at least in terms that have achieved any kind of cultural consensus. Secondly, how they are answered will drive research and development in the future. Frankly, how we decide these questions will determine what kind of society we bequeath to our children and grandchildren.

These advancements are fraught with ethical difficulty. Is it wrong to test for Down’s Syndrome in an unborn child? Is it wrong to extract stem cells from embryos? How far do our obligations to keep people alive really go? These types of questions are highly contentious, as any student of the culture knows. One thing we know for certain is that as our knowledge increases, the ethical questions concerning the nature and value of human life will become more numerous and complex—and the contention is likely to increase.

The contention has been largely defined in political terms. Every reader is familiar with the hot-button conflicts—teen sexuality, homosexual marriage, abortion, the Terri Schiavo dilemma—that have been fought in the public arena. The political arena will always remain a venue for moral conflicts, but we sell ourselves short if we conclude that the political dimension is the arena where these questions will find their final resolution.

For Solzhenitsyn, spiritual development and self-awareness work hand-in-hand—clearly a Christian value self-evident to any Orthodox Christian. But he also warns that because Western culture has been sidetracked into a philosophical materialism that has dimmed man’s spiritual awareness, its future is threatened. The only way out of the present morass is spiritual renewal.

Solzhenitsyn experienced the ravages of the spiritual darkening firsthand, particularly during his eight years in a Soviet prison. There he received the fundamental insight that would propel his groundbreaking work: "The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between political parties—but right through every human heart."

The timing of his Harvard speech couldn’t have been better. His words fell on the ears of a nation that was already experiencing the wrenching dislocations of a cataclysmic shift in moral values and social order—from the sexual revolution to riots in its cities—in ways unprecedented in its history. At the same time, the wondrous—and fearful—unlocking of the deep mysteries of human nature was moving into full swing. America had entered a culture war.

The Anthropological Dimension of the Culture War

The culture war is fundamentally a conflict about anthropology—how we value the human being, how we ought to define him, the purpose for his existence, what social arrangements society deems suitable for men and women, and so forth. And politics emerged as the prominent battlefield for the conflict.

Complex conflicts tend to drift toward simplification, and the culture war was no exception. Cultural liberalism and cultural conservatism roughly followed political lines: Democrats were liberal and Republicans were conservative. It wasn’t a perfect fit, but even a big suit on a small man still covers his body.

No one has really been comfortable with the arrangement, except perhaps the activists. Adding to the discomfort is our characteristically American way of adjudicating moral conflict. American culture has no institution of moral judgment. We have no national Church, no council of legislative elders, and no final court of arbitration that can definitively resolve the perplexing moral questions that face us. As a result, the debates and political maneuverings that follow are often raucous and chaotic affairs.

There is wisdom in this system of apparent chaos, however. The Founding Fathers, in refusing to establish a central authority of moral judgment, ensured that these questions must be addressed by the culture itself, thereby affirming the precept, politics follows culture, in ways that inhibit any imposition of a final adjudication from the state.

This precept is also drawn from the Christian tradition. It is grounded in the notion that the power of the state draws not only from the consent of the people, but from a people grounded in the Christian moral tradition. Solzhenitsyn, again stressing the anthropological dimension, himself acknowledged this point in the Harvard address:

Yet in the early democracies, as in the American democracy at the time of its birth, all individual human rights were granted on the ground that man is God’s creature. That is, freedom was given to the individual conditionally, in the assumption of his constant religious responsibility.

The model built by the Founding Fathers is not a perfect formula, but it does resist the tyranny that Solzhenitsyn experienced in Soviet Russia. One way is by providing a fluidity through which reform movements can arise. Take Democrats for Life, for example. Five short years ago an internal challenge to the hard-line pro-abortion position held by Democratic Party leadership was virtually unthinkable. But there it is.

Politics will always play a role in the great moral debates. It’s the American way. In taking questions to the culture, then, we need to look past (but not overlook) the political factors and define more clearly the anthropological dimension of the debate. It’s a complex topic, so let’s restrict our discussion to one important theme: the use and misuse of the Christian moral vocabulary.

Moral Deconstruction

Moral deconstruction can be defined as the systematic takedown and restructuring of the moral assumptions that used to guide our decisions, especially those that touched on the foundational constituents defining our self-understanding and value. These would include decisions about life, death, sexuality, purpose, meaning, sacrifice, and more.

Coming back to our literary prophets, we can see that cultural deconstruction was what they feared. Orwell warned against the imposition of tyranny, Huxley against a mechanization of the body, and Solzhenitsyn against a moral redefinition of man through which his God-given direction towards freedom (ultimately found in Christ) would be obscured.

Ideas have consequences. How we think determines how we act. This describes not only the individual but also the society he inhabits. A society cannot continue to function without shared notions of right and wrong—a dynamic we call the moral consensus. These ideas and values function as universals, as ways that a society organizes itself.

Further, these ideas depend on language, because it’s through language that the ideas are passed from one generation to the next. They shape a story, a cultural narrative, which references ideas and actions to a larger body of meaning. Solzhenitsyn, in arguing that the moral touchstone has shifted from God to man in Western culture, thereby implies the narrative has shifted as well. Solzhenitsyn says as much by writing the Gulag series, which attempted (successfully as it turns out) to destroy the Marxist cultural narrative by telling the truth about it, employing the values and ideas of the traditional narrative Marxist ideas sought to supplant.

In terms of how these concepts enter the culture, however, Orwell is probably the clearest. In Politics and the English Language, Orwell warned of how the meanings of words are subverted to stand for ideas and concepts that are not true to their meaning. The promises of the socialist utopia sweeping Europe (and the American intelligentsia) at the time were Orwell’s target, but the dynamic remains true today.

In all corners of the culture, words drawn from the moral tradition are employed to justify actions and behaviors that the tradition otherwise discourages and often prohibits. We saw it in the great debates about abortion and euthanasia in the last few decades. The conflict was not only about competing moral values, but also about the language by which those values were communicated. Words like freedom, choice, human value, and others whose meanings were relatively clear when the cultural consensus was shaped by traditional Christian morality now served a different function as that consensus shattered.

This co-opting of the Christian moral lexicon is one reason for the deep moral confusion in the culture. It creates a kind of moral schizophrenia in which people are unsure if right and wrong even exist. Repeat certain words over and over again, and people will tend to believe them. If these words have moral power, which is to say if they derive their authority from the moral tradition, people will tend to believe their new applications are the tradition.

That’s what Huxley warned against. If man is a biological machine, and if that machine responds to pleasure, why not frame the pleasure-inducing activity in the terminology of a private good? Orwell warned of the same corruption. If man is machine, why not frame the attempts at social reorganization in terms of the common good? All it takes is wrestling common terms from their traditional moral contexts and employing them in ones that justify the dehumanization as progress. Good becomes evil, and evil becomes good. Society has reconstructed itself in a new moral order.

What makes Solzhenitsyn’s exhortation so compelling (and ultimately more valuable) is his conviction that the crisis is fundamentally one of anthropology. As such, it might also be one of historical inevitability. Perhaps our progress has forced this dilemma upon us, just as the Nestorian controversy forced the elucidation of the two natures of Christ, and the Arian controversy the elucidation of Christ’s divinity. The question we as a society need to answer is: What is Man?

The Re-Christianization of Culture

As awe-inspiring as our technological advancements are, and despite the promise they hold for the alleviation of human suffering, the application of new technologies towards the betterment of the human condition in terms traditionally understood is not assured. The moral crisis facing American culture, particularly the deconstruction of cultural forms that managed to safeguard the common and private good (and sometimes correct its failures), can easily subvert the knowledge into something grotesque and ugly while claiming to serve the good.

Solzhenitsyn warned as much when he said the crisis can only be resolved if man reawakens to the spiritual dimension of his existence: “This ascension will be similar to climbing onto the next anthropologic stage. No one on earth has any other way left but—upward.”

If Orthodox Christians should understand anything, it is this: Salvation is a concrete, existential encounter with the living God. Moreover, this Lord gives gifts, including wisdom, knowledge, insight, and courage—all the elements needed to confront the maelstrom of confusion in which our culture finds itself, and all meant to be applied in the work of daily life, whether as mother, researcher, mechanic, priest—whatever our vocation may be.

Salvation is not understanding the correct theological concepts; it is not nostalgia for civilizations past; it is not formal membership in a long-standing parish; it is not social activism; it is not morally appropriate behavior; it is not mastery of the moral vocabulary. Further, it is not enough to recall the certainty of the past. Nostalgic impulses, as comforting as they may be (including the Orthodox variants, such as the longings for Hellenistic Greece or Holy Russia), simply won’t meet the challenge.

Orthodox leadership today requires moral clarity and courage. When Solzhenitsyn delivered his address three decades ago, he spoke not as a philosopher, but as a voice crying in the wilderness. He cried out against the dehumanization of men he experienced in the East and saw advancing in the West. Only people with moral clarity and courage could successfully challenge it, he exhorted. What the world needs is not more philosophers, but moralists.

The exhortation drew from a supreme confidence in the power of truth. Solzhenitsyn believed that truth is self-verifying. When the truth is spoken, its veracity is self-evident to the hearer. This is a profoundly Christian notion rooted in the teaching of the apostle Paul: When the Gospel is preached, Christ (who is Truth) is revealed.

Any Orthodox response to the cultural challenge must first presume a recovery of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The wisdom of the Fathers, the artistry of the poets, the healings of the miracle workers, the courage of the martyrs, the knowledge of the scholars, the patience of the teachers, the foresight of the bishops, the faithfulness of the priests—all the elements that shaped and forged the moral tradition that founded Western civilization and must renew it today—start with the recovery of the Gospel. As Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

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

This article originally appeared in AGAIN Vol. 29 No. 3, Fall 2007. Visit AGAIN online at Conciliar Press.

Read Solzhenitsyn’s Harvard Address.

Read Orwell’s Politics and the English Language.

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.