In some North American quarters the Orthodox faith has come to be associated with extreme forms of social and political conservatism and—in some alarming cases—even with white supremacist nationalism. Deacon Hayes’ short reflection attests to a time, not so long ago, remembered by those of us old enough or Orthodox long enough to have experienced. In publishing this companion piece to Jim Forest’s article of December 12, Orthodoxy in Dialogue hopes to bring into the open a vitally important conversation that is mainly limited to anguished Facebook comments by those who hardly recognize their Church anymore. Hayes concludes with a parodoxical observation: only a changeless theology has the power to change the world. 

Berrigan Time fixeda

January 25, 1971 cover of Time

Jim Forest recently wrote a biography of a Jesuit priest, Father Daniel Berrigan, who died in 2016. 

Why would an Orthodox Christian write a biography of a radical Roman Catholic priest, and why would an Orthodox Christian want to read such a thing? Forest himself wrote an answer to that question for Orthodoxy in Dialogue the day before yesterday: 

When he died last year, age 94, obituaries focused on the anti-war aspects of Berrigan’s life: he was eighteen months in prison for burning draft records in a protest against conscription of the young into the Vietnam War; then there was a later event in which he was one of eight people who hammered on the nose cone of a nuclear-armed missile. No one has kept count of his numerous brief stays in jail for other acts of war protest. He was handcuffed more than a hundred times. 

But this raises another, wider question, too. 

For the last few years the mainstream media have focused on the phenomenon of the religious right. But 50 years ago the focus was more on the religious left, exemplified by people like Daniel Berrigan protesting against the Vietnam War. 

I first learned of Daniel Berrigan in 1969 through a radical Christian magazine called The Catonsville Roadrunner. The magazine was inspired by the actions of Berrigan and his brother Philip, who with several others had broken into an office containing records of military conscription and publicly burnt them. It became a legendary act of Christian civil disobedience.  Read More


The Christ who Heals: How God Restored the Truth that Saves Us                                        
Fiona Givens and Terryl Givens                                                                                                    
Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2017

Christ_Who_Heals_coverThe Christ who Heals is a remarkable book, one that any Orthodox Christian interested in Mormon studies should read. It is the third book by Fiona and Terryl Givens, who are among the foremost scholars in Mormon studies. At a time of crisis in the Mormon world, the Givenses turn to the “Eastern Fathers” to let in some new light and fresh air. Mormonism meets Orthodoxy in this slim volume.

The crisis in LDS Church history has been going on for decades, but has received new impetus with the Internet, which allows people to bypass official channels and verify historical claims against the sources. As a result, individuals are discovering that many anti-Mormon tropes are founded in facts, facts long denied or ignored in the official LDS Church history.

The Givenses sidestep the whole issue of history and historicity and maintain that the new scriptures produced by Joseph Smith are divinely inspired and official canon. They assume and find meaning in the “great plan of happiness” that Mormons learn from a young age. By this method they avoid the danger of appearing out of line with the leadership, even while they offer a radical rereading of Mormon history, scripture, and practice, trying to find a Mormonism that only ever existed in aspiration, one that is embracing of foreign ideas, even incorporating them when appropriate. The Givenses are introducing Mormons to the world of the Fathers, complete with biographies and a simplified history familiar to any Orthodox: Eastern Fathers good, Western Fathers go bad after Augustine, who comes in for repeated bad notices as the source for multiple errors, the worst being his teaching on original sin.

Read More


forestbookA friend who thinks of the Roman Catholic Church as the oldest form of Protestantism recently asked, “Why should an Orthodox Christian be interested in Dan Berrigan?” He was slightly scandalized that I, a member of the Orthodox Church since 1988, had written a biography of this often-jailed Jesuit priest, At Play in the Lions’ Den.

The core of my answer is that every Christian, no matter what church or communion or sect he belongs to, should interest us to the extent that he or she has lived a Christ-shaped, Christ-revealing life. While no community of Christians has been more attentive to preserving the theology and liturgy of the first millennium as the Orthodox Church, we don’t have a monopoly on sanctity. Christ did not say it was by our excellent theology that his followers would be known, but by their fruits. All sanctity deserves our interest—our divisions should not blind us to holiness on the other side of our ecclesiastical borders. As I recall, it was Metropolitan Platon of Kiev who, in the 19th century, remarked: “The walls we build on earth do not reach to heaven.”

“And just what is it,” my friend asked, “that was so Christ-revealing about Berrigan’s life?”

When he died last year, age 94, obituaries focused on the anti-war aspects of Berrigan’s life: he was eighteen months in prison for burning draft records in a protest against conscription of the young into the Vietnam War; then there was a later event in which he was one of eight people who hammered on the nose cone of a nuclear-armed missile. No one has kept count of his numerous brief stays in jail for other acts of war protest. He was handcuffed more than a hundred times. Read More



Clockwise from top left: Cardinal Cassidy, Cardinal Silvestrini, Melkite Patriarch Maximos V Hakim, Cardinal Ratzinger

On December 8 Father James Graham described in detail for Orthodoxy in Dialogue the ecumenical vision of Elias Zoghby, a Melkite Greek Catholic archbishop. [See Father Graham’s article here.] The Melkite Greek Catholic Church is an Eastern Catholic patriarchate in union with the See of Rome and centered in Antioch. Archbishop Elias,  like many Melkites, felt deeply the pain of the 1724 schism between them and the Antiochian Orthodox Patriarchate, whom they considered to be their Sister Church. He proposed the idea of dual communion between the Melkite Church and both the Antiochian Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church, based upon the shared faith of Catholicism and Orthodoxy in the first millennium before the Great Schism. Father Graham lays out the entire vision in his article: for Elias, the common faith of the first millennium provided a valid basis for communion today, despite any growth of theological development in the East and the West since then.

In 1997 Pope John Paul II tasked the heads of three Vatican dicasteries with writing to Melkite Patriarch Maximos V Hakim on why they felt the so-called “Zoghby Initiative” was untenable. The letter was written by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (who later became Pope Benedict XVI) of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith; Achille Cardinal Silvestrini of the Congregation for the Eastern Churches; and Edward Cardinal Cassidy of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity.

The letter has never been officially published, but some news outlets reported on it at the time. I read about it then and contacted Melkite Bishop Nicholas Samra, who was kind enough to fax me the original French text. In 2011 a friend gifted me with a translation, which I published at the time on a blog which is no longer active. Read More


Orthodoxy in Dialogue has decided to publish this lengthy article without abridgement. It deserves a careful reading and broad discussion by those concerned for restored communion between the Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church. Despite the rejection of the “Zoghby Initiative” by the Antiochian Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church, we can ask ourselves and each other if any of its individual elements can contribute to a road map forward in the 21st century.


Archbishop Elias Zoghby (1912-2008)

In February 1995 Melkite Greek Catholic Archbishop Elias Zoghby, former Patriarchal Vicar in Egypt and Sudan and retired Metropolitan of Baalbek, dropped a bombshell into the ecumenical arena with his “declaration of faith”— 

  1. I believe everything which Eastern Orthodoxy teaches.
  2. I am in communion with the Bishop of Rome as the first among the bishops, according to the limits recognized by the Holy Fathers of the East during the first millennium, before the separation.

The “Zoghby Initiative,” as it came to be known, received overwhelming endorsement from the Melkite Synod of Bishops (24 in favor, two opposed), but was rejected by the Synod of the Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch and by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome.

But Zoghby (1912-2008) had promoted East-West reunion for many years. In the essays collected in A Voice from the Byzantine East (R. Bernard, trans., West Newton, MA: Diocese of Newton Office of Educational Services, 1992; original French edition, 1970) and the monograph Tous Schismatiques? (Beirut: Heidelberg Press-Lebanon, 1981; English translation as We Are All Schismatics, Diocese of Newton, 1996), he presents an ecclesiological vision that goes far beyond the two statements of his declaration of faith.

Archbishop Elias bases his ecclesiology in the first millennium of undivided, but diverse, Christianity. During that period, he says, the Churches founded by the Apostles grew and evangelized the known world, developing liturgically, theologically, and ecclesiologically according to the particular needs of each geographical location and also according to their unique historical-cultural-political situations. A basic agreement on the essential content of the Christian faith, derived from the Scriptures and the teaching of Jesus and the disciples and their successors, and articulated for the universal Church at the seven Ecumenical Councils, united all Christians, despite their wide geographic dispersal and their many divergent local practices.

In summary, he proposes that the Catholic and Orthodox Churches should realize their reunion in the following way: Read More



Patriarchs and Heads of the Local Churches in Jerusalem

Yesterday Patriarch Theophilus III of Jerusalem was first signatory among the Patriarchs and Heads of Local Churches in Jerusalem, which are historically based in the Holy City, in their joint plea to President Donald Trump. They wrote:

We are certain that such steps [by the American government] will yield increased hatred, conflict, violence and suffering in Jerusalem and the Holy Land, moving us farther from the goal of unity and deeper toward destructive division.

Their letter speaks of the desire to build a just, inclusive, and sustainable peace—and of their fears that such American actions risk upending such peace-building efforts. For us Christians, even at a distance, questions about Jerusalem must find a particular echo in our hearts, and summon our attention and our prayers.

[A PDF of the original letter has been provided by Haaretz here.] 

I first met Jerusalem in 2001, in the midst of the last Palestinian intifada, when suicide bombings were a terrifying but not uncommon factor of daily life in that most complex and spiritually rich of cities. In the sixteen years since, I have wandered her streets, studied in her libraries, taught in her schools, feasted with her citizens, and prayed in her churches and synagogues. For part of the last several years, my home has been the Ecce Homo convent on the Via Dolorosa, right in the heart of the Old City, a stone’s throw from the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif. As a Christian, as a student of the Bible, and as an interfaith activist, I love Jerusalem deeply…but I also know the very real wound it represents in the lives of so many people. It simultaneously inspires me and breaks my heart. And I realize that there are so many levels to Jerusalem that an outsider like me will never fully grasp.  Read More

AN OCA DIOCESE’S GAY PURGE OF 1977 by Giacomo Sanfilippo


It is commonly assumed that the strident homophobia of the contemporary American Orthodox Church has been imported with the influx of thousands of unconverted converts from Evangelical fundamentalism since the late 1980s to the present. Many of these seem to regard the Orthodox Church as the last bastion of Christian social conservatism. While this phenomenon may certainly account for a marked exacerbation in our Church’s inability to have a rational discussion on sexual and gender variance in human nature, the following very brief excerpt from my MA thesis (2015) offers a more nuanced historical perspective.

Response and Counter-Response: A Brief Pastoral History 

To my knowledge, the earliest instance in which same-sex orientation surfaced as a public pastoral issue in the North American Orthodox Church occurred in the late spring or early summer of 1977 at St. Seraphim of Sarov mission parish in Long Beach, California. Samuel Garula, a freshly ordained priest acting under orders from Archbishop John (Shahovskoy) of the Diocese of the West of the Orthodox Church in America, excommunicated en masse the dozen same-sex oriented members at his new parish assignment within weeks of his arrival in May. The excommunicants’ appeal for pastoral understanding, mailed to priests throughout Southern California and signed “Your gay Orthodox brethren in Christ” was met with howls of laughter.[1] The congregation of some seventy weekly worshippers, largely supportive of their same-sex oriented brothers and sisters, quickly began to dwindle. The parish folded after a protracted death, and Long Beach’s once vibrant, rapidly growing English-language Orthodox mission became a distant memory.[2] Read More