Primacy in the Church (Chryssavgis, ed.)

In October, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press released a two-volume set, Primacy in the Church: The Office of Primate and the Authority of Councils, edited by John Chryssavgis (Ecumenical Patriarchate). The publisher’s description follows:

primacy-set-graphic1__10048-1462973145-300-300-1PRIMACY IN THE CHURCH is a careful and critical selection of historical and theological essays, canonical and liturgical articles, as well as contemporary and contextual reflections on what is arguably the most significant and sensitive issue in both inter-Orthodox debate and inter-Christian dialogue—namely, the authority of the primate and the role of councils in the thought and tradition of the Church.

Volume One examines the development and application of a theology of primacy and synodality through the centuries. Volume Two explores how such a theology can inform contemporary ecclesiology and reconcile current practices. Chryssavgis draws together original contributions from prominent scholars today, complemented by formative selections from theologians in the recent past, as well as relevant ecumenical documents.

 

 

Pope Francis in Armenia

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Pope Francis and Patriarch Karekin II of the Armenian Church (Crux)

Last weekend, Pope Francis made an apostolic journey to Armenia, a small, landlocked country of three million in the South Caucasus, bordering Turkey, Iran, Azerbaijan, and Georgia. The official motto of his journey was “Visit to the First Christian Nation,” a reference to Armenia’s being the first state to adopt Christianity as its official religion, in 301 A.D., a matter of great national pride. Only a small percentage of Armenians are Roman Catholics; more than 90% belong to the Armenian Apostolic Church, a member of the Oriental Orthodox communion. Yet Francis received an enthusiastic reception from the Armenian Church hierarchy, the government, and the everyday people who crowded his public events. It’s worth focusing on the reasons for the warm welcome, and on the diplomatic and ecumenical significance of his journey.

Armenia is in a rough neighborhood. To the east, the country is locked in a frozen conflict with Azerbaijan, a majority-Muslim country, over Nagorno Karabakh, a region populated by Christian Armenians that seeks independence from Azerbaijan. A ceasefire has been in effect for about 20 years. In April, Azerbaijan renewed the conflict; Armenians successfully resisted the Azerbaijani attack, and the ceasefire was restored, but nerves remain on edge. To the west, Azerbaijan’s ally, Turkey, another Muslim-majority nation, has closed its border with Armenia, preventing needed economic development. To the north, relations with Georgia are peaceful but mixed; Georgia has its own breakaway regions and leans towards Azerbaijan in the Nagorno Karabakh conflict. The only strategic partner Armenia has in the region is its neighbor to the south, the Islamic Republic of Iran, which, somewhat surprisingly for outsiders, cooperates with Armenia on a number of issues. Armenia also has close relations with Russia. Indeed, the US typically thinks of Armenia as Russia’s proxy in the Caucasus. But the situation is more complicated than that. Russia plays both sides of the conflict in Nagorno Karabakh—it sells weapons to Armenia and Azerbaijan–and Armenians increasingly distrust it. As I say, a rough neighborhood.

The pope’s visit was a welcome sign that the outside world, and especially the West, has not forgotten Armenia. Even more, in Armenia, Francis once again went out of his way to use the word “genocide” to describe the massacre of as many as 1.5 million Armenians in Ottoman Turkey during World War I. Before the visit, the Vatican had suggested Francis Continue reading

Kreeft, “Ecumenical Jihad”

This January, St. Augustine’s Press will release “Ecumenical Jihad: Ecumenism and the Culture War” by Peter Kreeft (Boston College).  The publisher’s description follows:

Ecumenism and JihadJuxtaposing “ecumenism” and “jihad,” two words that many would consider strange and at odds with one another, Peter Kreeft argues that we need to change our current categories and alignments. We need to realize that we are at war and that the sides have changed radically. Documenting the spiritual and moral decay that has taken hold of modern society, Kreeft issues a wake-up call to all God-fearing Christians, Jews, and Muslims to unite together in a “religious war” against the common enemy of godless secular humanism, materialism, and immorality.

Aware of the deep theological differences of these monotheistic faiths, Kreeft calls for a moratorium on our polemics against one another so that we can form an alliance to fight together to save Western civilization.

More on the Holy Sepulcher

Back in January, I wrote about the Status Quo at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, the informal set of customs that governs the rights and responsibilities of the major Christian communities in the shrine. From a secular and theoretical perspective, the Status Quo is a fascinating answer to a collective action problem. But the church is a place of deep faith as well, a site that has drawn pilgrims for centuries. Yesterday, the Washington Post ran a piece that adds some human context to the subject, an essay on the nightly liturgies that take place in the church. It’s all very beautiful, but, in keeping with the Status Quo, there’s an undercurrent of watchfulness. “We keep almost awake at night here to see that things are done properly, on time, that no one will trespass the other’s right by doing things that he’s not supposed to do,” one priest explains.  “So we have to be careful and watch what we do or what they do.” Worth reading.

The Holy Sepulcher as a Collective Action Problem

Inspired by last month’s announcement of an agreement to repair the Church of  the Nativity in Bethlehem, over the break I read an interesting recent book on the church’s sister shrine, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, which many Christians believe to be the site of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. Like the church in Bethlehem, the Holy Sepulcher  is shared among monks from three different Christian communities, Armenian Apostolic, Greek Orthodox, and Latin (Roman Catholic), according to something called the “Status Quo,” a kind of customary law dating to Ottoman times, which governs possession and use of the church in minute detail.

It is not an entirely harmonious relationship. Monks from the rival communities not infrequently come to blows in disputes about use of altars. Only a couple of weeks ago in Bethlehem, monks got into a fistfight about who had authority to clean parts of the Church of the Nativity in preparation for Christmas celebrations. You might think these fights are driven by theological differences, but those are somewhat secondary. Under the Status Quo, cleaning an area is an assertion of possession. So communities bitterly resent unauthorized attempts to tidy up. Similarly, because paying for repairs likewise indicates possession, the communities often block each other’s attempts to repair common areas of the church, like the roof. This can lead to delays in necessary maintenance that place the church in danger of collapse.

From a Christian or even conservationist perspective, all this is very disedifying. From the perspective of a secular lawyer, however, the Status Quo is fascinating. In Saving the Holy Sepulchre: How Rival Christians Came Together to Rescue Their Holiest Shrine (Oxford 2008), Hebrew University Professor Raymond Cohen describes the decades-long process by which Armenian, Greek, and Latin monks negotiated an agreement to make essential repairs to the Holy Sepulcher, which had reached a terrible state by the middle of the last century. Working within the Status Quo,  the three communities, each of which distrusted the other, somehow worked out a modus vivendi that allowed them to save the shrine. (One important prod: the communities’ fear that if they didn’t reach agreement on saving the church among themselves, secular authorities would intervene and upset the Status Quo in a way each would find unpleasant). The process led, if not to affection, then to a kind of  mutual regard among the monks – at least some of them. Cohen’s story is one of the triumph of rationality over a massive collective action problem: inspiring, no matter what one’s religious commitments.

On Earth as in Heaven: Eastern Orthodoxy and Environmental Stewardship in Law and Policy

This month, Oxford University Press publishes On Earth as in Heaven: Ecological Vision and Initiatives of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, collecting the theological-environmental works of His All Holiness, Bartholomew, Archbishop of Constantinople, New Rome, and Ecumenical Patriarch.  In this position, Patriarch Bartholomew is the spiritual leader of an estimated 300-million Orthodox Christians worldwide.  The Patriarch is also geographically situated to promote understanding and tolerance between Western Christianity, Eastern Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.

Moreover, the Patriarch has championed an approach to environmental issues that combines spiritual command, scientific research, and political action.  For more on the Patriarch’s work in this area and specific undertakings, please follow the jump. Continue reading

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