ANOTHER JANUARY, ANOTHER CELEBRATION OF OUR MORAL SUPERIORITY by Giacomo Sanfilippo

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I debated with myself on whether to call this article the celebration of our moral superiority, the commodification of our moral superiority, or the gentrification of our moral superiority. Pick one.

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On October 10 Orthodoxy in Dialogue published my “Abortion, Contraception, and Christian Faith.” In a world where the tragic reality of abortion has always existed and will never go away, it argues—reluctantly, for I am the father of five and grandfather of two whom I would not wish unborn—it argues for the moral imperative of keeping abortion legal, accessible, and performed by properly trained and licensed medical professionals.

The premise of the article was meant to be simple, easily understood by all: when we cannot save two lives, we have a moral obligation to save one. If abortion stops a beating heart, back alley abortion stops two beating hearts. Ensuring the accessibility of legal abortion signals to a woman that the sanctity of life includes the absolute sanctity of her life, regardless of what decision she makes with respect to her pregnancy: we want our wife, mother, sister, daughter to come home from the clinic alive. Is this so hard to understand?

(NOTE: Canon 2 of St. Basil the Great shows no less concern for the life of the woman having an abortion than it does for the unborn child: “For in most cases the women die in the course of such operations.” St. Basil’s care for women’s lives goes completely unaddressed in the movement to deny women access to legal, professional abortion.) Read More


IT’S TIME TO MERGE ST. VLADIMIR’S AND HOLY CROSS by George Demacopoulos

Orthodoxy in Dialogue typically does not cross-post articles. Yet we find the present remarks by Dr. Demacopoulos to be an exceptionally important conversation starter, as they touch implicitly on questions much broader than the future of Orthodox theological education in the US. If we truly envision, truly desire, an American Church fully united under a single Holy Synod and the presidency of a single Primate—if we are not merely paying lip service to this ecclesiological and canonical imperative—what are some first steps that we can take? Then what are our next steps? 

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It has always been the case that forces beyond the control of the Church have prompted changes in the practice of theological education. For example, Ottoman repression led many Greek Christians to seek education abroad. Tsar Peter I imposed Western-styled seminaries upon the Russian Church. And the Bolshevik Revolution crippled religious education throughout Russia and much of Eastern Europe.

While not as dire as those examples, Orthodox seminaries in the United States face significant structural challenges. At one and the same time, the real cost of operating a seminary is steeply rising while active participation in the Church is diminishing.  What is more, the very nature of seminary education is undergoing a profound change that requires genuine transformation.

When they were founded, St. Vladimir’s Theological Seminary and Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology functioned as cultural and theological oases, preparing priests for Russian and Greek immigrant communities. Over the past ten years, however, because fewer and fewer young men raised in Church pursue the priesthood, the majority of divinity graduates have been adult converts to Orthodoxy. What is more, both seminaries attract a large number of students who have no intention of pursuing ordination—instead, they seek positions as chaplains, lay ministers, or academics. And, whether cradle or convert, male or female, the cultural horizon of these students is no longer Russian or Greek. It is distinctively American.  The questions, debates, and sub-groups among students and faculty largely mirror those of twenty-first-century America. Read More


DONALD TRUMP AND ORTHODOX SPIRITUALITY by Giacomo Sanfilippo

I believe, O Lord, and I confess
that Thou art truly the Christ, the Son of the living God,
who camest into the world to save sinners,
of whom I am first.

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Since we do not know how to pray as we should, the Orthodox prayer book teaches us how. The prayer book is a true school of prayer. In this school our invisible teacher is the Holy Spirit, who instructs us and forms us through the inspired (in-Spirited) words of many Fathers among the saints. The more we pray in their words, the more we learn from them how to pray; and the more we learn from them, the more our own prayer — “in our own words” — sounds like theirs.

publican3I am the first among sinners. I have done nothing good on the earth. No one has committed the sins that I have. Like cast-off rags is my so-called righteousness. My sins are more in number than the hairs of my head, the stars in the heavens, the sands of the sea. I am worse than the harlot who came to touch Thee…Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner. 

Standing before God in prayer I am revealed to myself not as one sinner among many, but as the sinner, the only sinner. Who am I, the first among sinners, to judge the fifth, the three hundredth, the ten millionth, the fifty billionth among sinners?

Over and over again the prayer book knocks the pharisee in us to his knees—who praises himself, who congratulates himself for being better than other people, who wants to feel good about himself, who “prays with himself.” It places on our lips and in our hearts the words of the publican, that we may be heard in our unworthiness and receive from the super-abundance of divine mercy: Show forth Thy goodness in this way, that Thou hast mercy even on the likes of me. Read More


CHRISTIAN UNITY: EUCHARISTIC UNITY: A UNITY WE ALREADY HAVE? by Theodor Avramov

The third article in our Christian Unity Series comes from a young theology student in Bulgaria.

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You for your part will remember your behavior and feel ashamed of it when you receive your elder and younger sisters and I make them your daughters, although this is not included in my covenant with you. I shall renew my covenant with you and you will know that I am the Lord, and so remember and feel ashamed and in your confusion be reduced to silence, when I forgive you for everything you have done—declares the Lord God. (Ez 16:61-63)

When we think about Christian unity this is not the first passage we think of. And yet, kneeling before a cross in a medieval cathedral with twenty thousand young adults in Basel, Switzerland, in silence, it is hard not to think of it. Can so many be united by…silence? They have gathered for a kind of pilgrimage, the 40th Taizé European Meeting, praying in song and silence: but is this unity? It is in this same silence, kept for a longer moment during all of the three daily prayers, that this question emerges. But immediately I am reminded that, at least for the Orthodox, unity is unity in the Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Christ, in the Body of Christ—His Church. Read More


THE PROMISED LAND? AN ORTHODOX RESPONSE TO CHRISTIAN ZIONISM by Benjamin Amis

Zionism has again come to the forefront of our public dialogue with the recent decision of the President to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, including plans to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv—where all nations with diplomatic ties to Israel have their embassies—to Jerusalem. As of this writing, only one other nation, Guatemala, has decided to follow the US on this policy.

The politics of this decision are steeped in Zionism. Particularly in the US this takes the form of Christian Zionism, which is prevalent in some circles of American Protestantism as part of a larger eschatological framework called Dispensationalism. I will analyze the history and theology of this problematic teaching first, and then contrast it with the ancient teachings of Orthodoxy on Israel and the end times.

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John Nelson Darby (1800-1882)

The doctrine of Dispensationalism was invented in 19th-century England by an Anglican priest turned Brethren minister named John Nelson Darby. Darby was the first to create a systematic paradigm of Dispensationalism, which teaches that God acts in different ways at different times to administer His overall plan for the world. While this is built on earlier concepts that date all the way back to St. Irenaeus of Lyons in the 2nd century, Darby goes much further in systematizing this concept.

A key concept, unique to Darby, is that the prophecies of the Old Testament that speak of an eternal Israel, such as those found in Isaiah 60, require the physical re-establishment of the nation of Israel on earth, that this is separate from the establishment of the Church, and that this must happen before the “end times.” This idea was strongly advocated by Darby, who travelled much of continental Europe and North America to spread this idea. It has caught on in a number of Protestant circles, and is as good as Gospel for them: Israel must be re-established and fully recognized before Christ can return. Read More


CHRISTIAN UNITY: UNION WITH THE TRINITY IN THE CHURCH by John (Patrick) Ramsey

This is the second article in our Christian Unity Series.

rublevChristian unity is foremost unity established through Christ. More specifically it is participation in the unity of the Trinity: “That they also may be one in Us.” Christ gives this to those believing in Him: “And the glory which You have given to Me, I have given to them, so that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; so that they may be perfected in unity.” So Christian unity is something received from Christ in union with the Trinity. 

When we speak of union with the Trinity, this is effected through union with Christ and becoming members of the household of God, the Church, and forming one Body. They are built onto the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets. So the unity of the those united to Christ is seen in the formation of one Body or one Church, which is built on the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets. Christian unity, then, is the the gathering of the faithful in one Body or Church. 

The Church is manifest in each location as those gathered around the one bishop and presbyters in that location because, in gathering with the bishop and presbyters, one gathers with Christ and the Apostles as tangibly manifest in that location through the bishop and presbyters. So Christian unity is gathering with the bishop and presbyters of the Church in their particular location. Because there is only one Christ and one Church, there is only one such gathering in each place, and this gathering must then be of the whole catholic Church in that place, because there are no parts of the Church apart from this gathering. Read More


CHRISTIAN UNITY: A CATHOLIC PERSPECTIVE by Julien Hammond

This is the first article in our Christian Unity Series.

Last_Supper_miniature_from_a_Psalter_c1220-40Every year, in the third week of January (in the northern hemisphere), many Christian individuals, parishes, and associations organize ecumenical liturgies, Bible studies, and other activities to animate a Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (WPCU). The WPCU calls Christians to repentance for sinful events and attitudes that led (and lead) to divisions in the church, and promotes the way of ecumenism, which aims to restore unity within the global Christian family.

The Week is typically organized around a scriptural theme and focuses on the Christian context of a particular country or region of the world. Resources for the Week are prepared by a local writing team from the featured country, and are jointly published by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the Commission on Faith and Order of the World Council of Churches. Those using the resources are invited to adapt the materials to their own context while attending to the Christian reality as it is lived out in that specific part of the world.

In my ministry as an Ecumenical Officer, the WPCU is obviously a highlight of the pastoral programming year. In our Archdiocese, for instance, we encourage all of our parishes and institutions to reach out to their Christian neighbours during the Week and join in some way in Jesus’ own prayer for His disciples—that other “Lord’s prayer”—“that they may all be one” (Jn 17:21). Read More