AN ENCOMIUM FOR FATHER ROBERT F. TAFT, SJ by A.A.J. DeVille

robtaftThe Orthodox priest-scholar and my friend Father William Mills passed on to me an e-mail from the Jesuit, Father John Baldovin, who was in to see Father Robert Taft last weekend and reported that he is no longer eating and is very weak and frail. Taft, now in his 86th year, will soon appear, it seems, before the “awesome tribunal of Christ,” as the Byzantine liturgy, which Taft has done so much to help us understand, plaintively puts it.

For those who do not know him, Taft has, more than any scholar of our time, helped Eastern Christians and others understand the Byzantine tradition, tracing out its liturgical history in all its fascinating and often messy details through hundreds of articles and books stretching back more than fifty years.

Though a Catholic, and a Jesuit whose whole life has been lived in the Russian recension of the Byzantine tradition, Taft has shaped many minds in the Orthodox world. Scholars such as Father Alexander Rentel at St. Vladimir’s Seminary in New York studied under him; Sister Vassa Larin was one of his last graduate students; and many other Orthodox and Catholic scholars today have been influenced by his myriad works. It is, in fact, impossible to study liturgy or Eastern Christian history seriously without coming across Taft’s works.

His formidable reputation precedes him, and so, when I was scheduled to be on a panel with him at the Orientale Lumen conference in Washington, DC in June 2011, I was a little nervous, for Taft is a gruff, no-nonsense kind of guy infamous for his take-no-prisoners style. He was still quite vigorous then, but clearly slowing down. We had, I was relieved to discover, a very amicable time together, in part because I had done my homework and was not indulging in some of the things Taft has long denounced, not least “confessional propaganda” masquerading, he says, as church history. Read More


REACHING FOR THE REAL by Richard René

As a prison chaplain in a pluralistic environment, I have often engaged in conversations with men and women of other faiths. This has challenged me to understand how Orthodox Christians can fruitfully engage in interfaith dialogue.*

To illustrate my own process of understanding, I would like to sketch an hypothetical interaction with an inmate called Damien, a Muslim who by all accounts practices his religion consistently, thoughtfully, and sincerely.

paulathensOne day, Damien asks me a question: How can he find out whether his religion is true? He comes to me and not, say, to his own Muslim Chaplain, because I will respect his freedom to search without coercing him (however gently) to my own answer. At the same time, my own faith commitment compels me to respond to Damien in a way that maintains the integrity of Orthodox Christianity, including its claims to exclusive fulness of truth. How do I prepare? I go to that quintessential scriptural interfaith engagement: the Apostle Paul’s speech to the philosophers of Athens (Acts 17:22-31).

In this speech, St. Paul identifies an “unknown god” (v. 23) as the basis of dialogue with his pagan Greek audience. This unknown god is singular, utterly transcendent, and independent not only of human control (vv. 24-25), but also of the human ability to imaginatively conceive and thus represent (v. 29). The Apostle highlights here a way of thinking about God that is developed more fully in later Christian theology: apophaticism, a systematic negation of positive human conceptions of God’s nature. Read More


THE SYNERGIC ANTHROPOLOGY OF SERGEY HORUJY by Robert F. Thompson

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Sergey Sergeevich Horujy

In surveying the contemporary world as it appears to us in the daily media, in academic papers, and in our own personal observations, we find much cause for concern about conditions and unsustainable trends on Planet Earth, whether we are considering the health (in all senses of the word) of human populations or the sources of nutritious food, clean water, and affordable housing—or even the quality and character of our thoughts. Freedom together with “good government” (however these are defined) are often short-lived and in limited supply around the globe. The level of discourse in the public square often seems vulgar. The character of public education at all levels often seems unrelated to the actual needs of many people, and the cost, beyond their ability to pay. Nor is it designed to form young people in warm-hearted humanity, which used to be fruit and flower of a kind of Christian humanism in Western civilization. There are, of course, reasons for public education being structured as it is. Education (or training) delivery systems seem designed to serve the interests of corporate entities around the globe, without regard to the telos of human being. 

None of these observations or concerns is new. They all, however, derive from who we understand ourselves to be and, consequently, from what we have done to ourselves and to our planet. What, then, is the human being?  How shall we understand humankind in the largest possible sense?

Sergey S. Horujy [Хоружий] is a contemporary Russian philosopher whose “Synergic Anthropology” offers both a critique of philosophical anthropology in Western philosophical tradition and also a positive account of the human being based on his knowledge of modern Russian religious philosophy, as well as—and especially—on hesychastic thought and practice. One of Horujy’s most stimulating conversation partners in recent years has been the Confucian scholar, Tu Weiming, of Harvard and Peking University.  Read More



A RESPONSE TO ROSS DOUTHAT’S ORTHODOX ADMIRER by Giacomo Sanfilippo

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The two innocent boys pictured in this photo might have romantic feelings for each other. In the secret recesses of their own minds if not out loud to others, they might describe their attachment as being in love with each other. Young children often experience romantic love for someone of the opposite or their own gender in all the freshness of innocence.

Every gay man from young adulthood to old age with whom I have ever spoken about these things—and there have been hundreds, over the years—was the age of these boys or younger when he realized, or began to realize, that he had the same interest in boys that most other boys had in girls. Ritch C. Savin-Williams begins his essay on gay teens, “Memories of Same-Sex Attractions” (Men’s Lives, 8th Edition, New York: Allyn & Bacon, 2010: 86-103), with the following introduction: Read More


REFORMATION 500: WOMEN AND THE REFORMATION by Amy Welborn

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This is the seventh article in our Reformation 500 Series.

do not owe you obedience and I will not obey you…I am in a good, pious, blessed, honorable, free, spiritual estate, wherein both my body and soul are well cared for…I want to stay here…I have given myself to God with full knowledge and awareness in eternal chastity here to serve Him…No one of the world can sway me….       

Anna Wurm to her brother (1524)

Anna Wurm’s brother, motivated by both financial interests and his passion for the new Reformed theology, wanted her out of the Strasbourg convent in which she had dwelt for over a decade. Anna obviously disagreed. 

It was a drama played out countless times in the 16th century as convents were closed and thousands of women returned into the world—some happily, but many others unwillingly.

Anna’s conflict with her brother provides a small, but illuminating window into what had been and what was to come in Reformation-formed societies: a world in which unmarried women would no longer have any space in which to live in acceptable and even honored ways, a world in which women would no longer have a role in public life, and one from which the feminine expression of the transcendent would be rigorously banished. Read More


AN EDITORIAL SHIFT ON SEXUALITY AND GENDER by the Editors

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When Orthodoxy in Dialogue went to press in August we made a conscious decision to limit the number and frequency of articles on sexuality and gender. We never intended for these to be the main focus of this blog.

Yet, as things have turned out over our ten short weeks of publication, 12 (counting our two articles on abortion) of 48 articles and editorials—a full 25%—have touched on some aspect of sexuality and gender. These account for an overwhelmingly disproportionate 50% of total visits by our readers. Our top four articles by far have to do with sexuality and gender.

Hardly a week has gone by that many of our readers—whether publicly on Facebook, or in private emails and messages—have not reached out to express their appreciation not only for the content of these articles, but for their frequency. At least one supporter has noted approvingly the persistence with which we have called attention to the lived human realities of sexual desire, transgender identities and gender dysphoria, the wide range of intersex conditions, and the tragic conditions of fallen life that make the provision of legal, accessible, clinical abortion a pastoral necessity. Read More