Geffert and Stavrou, “Eastern Orthodox Christianity”

Geffert and Stavrou, “Eastern Orthodox Christianity”

Eastern Orthodox Christianity.jpgIn May, Yale University Press released Eastern Orthodox Christianity: The Essential Texts by Bryn Geffert (Amherst College) and Theofanis Stavrou (University of Minnesota). The publisher’s description follows:

Two leading academic scholars offer the first comprehensive source reader on the Eastern Orthodox church for the English-speaking world. Designed specifically for students and accessible to readers with little or no previous knowledge of theology or religious history, this essential, one-of-a-kind work frames, explores, and interprets Eastern Orthodoxy through the use of primary sources and documents. Lively introductions and short narratives that touch on anthropology, art, law, literature, music, politics, women’s studies, and a host of other areas are woven together to provide a coherent and fascinating history of the Eastern Orthodox Christian tradition.

Human Rights and the Pan-Orthodox Council

Last week, the Eastern Orthodox Church, a communion of 14 autocephalous, national churches with roots in the Byzantine Christian tradition, concluded an historic synod on the island of Crete. Decades in the planning, the Pan-Orthodox Council, known officially as the Holy and Great Council, was meant to gather patriarchs from all 14 churches for deliberation on a series of issues in contemporary church life, including marriage, fasting, the Orthodox “Diaspora,” and relations with non-Orthodox Christians. At the last minute, four national churches, including the largest, the Russian Orthodox Church, declined to attend—a fact which, notwithstanding the protests of the Council’s supporters, seems as a practical matter to undercut the Council’s significance. Nonetheless, the Council is noteworthy for what it had to say on several topics, including the persecution of Mideast Christians and human rights in general. On the latter, the Council’s documents reveal, once again, important differences with the consensus understanding in the West.

First, though, a word about the churches that stayed away. From what I can tell, most (but not all) of these churches demurred in part because of concerns about what the Council might say about relations with other Christians. Ecumenism occasions much dispute within the Eastern Orthodox Church. Some, especially in monastic communities, believe that ecumenism implies that Orthodoxy has abandoned its claim to represent the one true church. Even referring to non-Orthodox Christians as “churches” can cause controversy.

In its declaration, “Relations of the Orthodox Church with the Rest of the Christian World,” the Council adopted (with all respect) a rather lawyerly solution. Yes, the document indicates, there is only one true church, and that is the Eastern Orthodox Church. But “the Orthodox Church accepts the historical name of other non-Orthodox Christian Churches and Confessions that are not in communion with her and believes that her relations with them should be based on the most speedy and objective clarification possible of the whole ecclesiological question.” In other words, the Council accepts that, historically, other Christian communions have been called “churches” (some of them, even, have been called “Orthodox Churches”!) and will work to clarify the situation. It’s an irenic statement. We’ll see how it is received, especially by those within the Orthodox fold who do not think clarification necessary.

Notwithstanding this hedging on the “ecclesiological question,” the Council did go out of its way to decry the persecution of Christians, Orthodox and non-Orthodox, in the Mideast today. In fact, it condemned the persecution of other religious minorities in the Mideast as well. The encyclical issued at the conclusion of the Council states, “The Orthodox Church is particularly concerned about the situation facing Christians, and other persecuted ethnic and religious minorities in the Middle East. In particular, she addresses an appeal to governments in that region to protect the Christian populations – Orthodox, Ancient Eastern and other Christians – who have survived in the cradle of Christianity. The indigenous Christian and other populations enjoy the inalienable right to remain in their countries as citizens with equal rights.” The Council refers to two Christian bishops, one Eastern and the other Oriental Orthodox, who were abducted two years in Syria and whose whereabouts are still unknown.

The Council’s official documents also speak about human rights generally, demonstrating, once again, how important the idiom is in contemporary debate. Today, everyone from secular lawyers to church patriarchs declares a commitment to the ideal of “human rights,” based in the concept of “human dignity.” It is the price of admission to polite discussion. But the Council’s documents reveal, once again, how differently people understand those terms. In today’s human rights discourse, people use the same words, but mean very different things.

The Council’s official documents are not always so easy to follow, but, taken together, they stand for these propositions: human dignity derives from the fact of divine creation; human freedom, correctly understood, is the freedom to progress toward spiritual perfection in Christ; and a secular understanding of human rights, which promotes Continue reading

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

Vovchenko, “Containing Balkan Nationalism”

In August, the Oxford University Press will release “Containing Balkan Nationalism: Imperial Russia and Ottoman Christians, 1856-1914,” by Denis Vovchenko (Northeastern State University).  The publisher’s description follows:

Containing Balkan Nationalism focuses on the implications of the Bulgarian national movement that developed in the context of Ottoman modernization and of European9780190276676 imperialism in the Near East. The movement aimed to achieve the status of an independent Bulgarian Orthodox church, removing ethnic Bulgarians from the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Constantinople. This independent church status meant legal and cultural autonomy within the Islamic structure of the Ottoman Empire, which recognized religious minorities rather than ethnic ones.

Denis Vovchenko shows how Russian policymakers, intellectuals, and prelates worked together with the Ottoman government, Balkan and other diplomats, and rival churches, to contain and defuse ethnic conflict among Ottoman Christians through the promotion of supraethnic religious institutions and identities. The envisioned arrangements were often inspired by modern visions of a political and cultural union of Orthodox Slavs and Greeks. Whether realized or not, they demonstrated the strength and flexibility of supranational identities and institutions on the eve of the First World War. The book encourages contemporary analysts and policymakers to explore the potential of such traditional loyalties to defuse current ethnic tensions and serve as organic alternatives to generic models of power-sharing and federation.

“Churches and States” (Hryn, ed.)

In July, Harvard University Press will release “Churches and States: Studies on the History of Christianity in Ukraine,” edited by Halyna Hryn. The publisher’s description follows:

This book collects nine articles that originally appeared in the journal Harvard Ukrainian Studies and that arose from the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute’s Millennium Project, an initiative launched in the 1980s to celebrate onemissing_jacket
thousand years of the Christianization of Kyivan Rus´. The articles cover a wide array of subjects: the ecclesiastical structure of the Christian Church in Rus´ in its earliest period (Andrzej Poppe); the conflict between Orthodoxy and the Uniate Church from 1569 to 1700 (Teresa Chynczewska-Hennel); an account of the Uniate Church and the partitions of Poland (Larry Wolff); the transformation of the Greek Catholic Church under the Austrian Empire (1848–1914) (John-Paul Himka); the Greek Catholic Church in the period between the two World Wars (Andrew Sorokowski); a rethinking of the relationship of Church and society in Galician Ukraine from 1914 to 1944 (Bohdan Budurowycz); and the Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine during the interwar period (Bohdan Bociurkiw). The book concludes with a bio-bibliography of Bohdan Bociurkiw, a scholar who devoted his career to the study of Ukrainian Church history (Andrii Krawchuk). These essays provide new insights and a fresh perspective to the discipline.

Conference: Tradition, Secularization, and Fundamentalism

Fordham University’s Orthodox Christian Studies Center will hold a conference on “Tradition, Secularization, Fundamentalism” from Thursday, June 23rd through Saturday, June 25th, 2016. Here is the conference description, from the event’s website:

While the very meaning of the “secular” remains contested, Christians globally are self-identifying in different ways in relation to an imagined secularization, all the while discerning how to live as a tradition.  This intersection between tradition, secularization and fundamentalism is especially evident in both post-Communist Catholic/Orthodox countries and the American context, where fundamentalist-like responses have emerged against the perceived threat of the secular.

Additional information and the event schedule can be found here.

Fairey, “The Great Powers and Orthodox Christendom”

In March, Palgrave Macmillan will release “The Great Powers and Orthodox Christendom: The Crisis Over the Eastern Church in the Era of the Crimean War,” by Jack Fairey (National University of Singapore). The publisher’s description follows:

51uqofjoh4l-_sx317_bo1204203200_This new political history of the Orthodox Church in the Ottoman Empire explains why Orthodoxy became the subject of acute political competition between the Great Powers during the mid 19th century. It also explores how such rivalries led, paradoxically, both to secularizing reforms and to Europe’s last great war of religion – the Crimean War.

Frary, “Russia and the Making of Modern Greek Identity, 1821-1844”

In August, the Oxford University Press released “Russia and the Making of Modern Greek Identity, 1821-1844,” by Lucien J. Frary (Rider University).   The publisher’s description follows:

The birth of the Greek nation in 1830 was a pivotal event in modern European history and in the history of nation-building in general. As the first internationally recognized state to appear on the map of Europe since the French Revolution, independent Greece provided a model for other national movements to emulate. Throughout the process of nation formation in Greece, the Russian Empire played a critical part. Drawing upon a mass of previously fallow archival material, most notably from Russian embassies and consulates, this volume explores the role of Russia and the potent interaction of religion and politics in the making of modern Greek identity. It deals particularly with the role of Eastern Orthodoxy in the transformation of the collective identity of the Greeks from the Ottoman Orthodox millet into the new Hellenic-Christian imagined community. Lucien J. Frary provides the first comprehensive examination of Russian reactions to the establishment of the autocephalous Greek Church, the earliest of its kind in the Orthodox Balkans, and elucidates Russia’s anger and disappointment during the Greek Constitutional Revolution of 1843, the leaders of which were Russophiles. Employing Russian newspapers and “thick journals” of the era, Frary probes responses within Russian reading circles to the reforms and revolutions taking place in the Greek kingdom. More broadly, the volume explores the making of Russian foreign policy during the reign of Nicholas I (1825-55) and provides a distinctively transnational perspective on the formation of modern identity.

Songulashvili, “Evangelical Christian Baptists of Georgia”

This month, Baylor University Press releases “Evangelical Christian Baptists of Georgia: The History and Transformation of a Free Church Tradition,” by Malkhaz Songulashvili (Ilia State University).  The publisher’s description follows:

Malkhaz Songulashvili, former Archbishop of the Evangelical Baptist Church of Georgia (EBCG), provides a pioneering, exacting, and
sweeping history of Georgian Baptists. Utilizing archival sources in Georgian, Russian, German, and English—translating many of these crucial documents for the first time into English—he recounts the history of the EBCG from its formation in 1867 to the present.

While the particular story of Georgian Baptists merits telling in its own right, and not simply as a feature of Russian religious life, Songulashvili employs Georgian Baptists as a sustained case study on the convergence of religion and culture. The interaction of Eastern Orthodox, Western Protestant, and Russian dissenting religious traditions—mixed into the political cauldron of Russian occupation of a formerly distinct eastern European culture—led to a remarkable experiment in Christian free-church identity.  Evangelical Christian Baptists of Georgia allows readers to peer through the lens of intercultural studies to see the powerful relationships among politics, religion, and culture in the formation of Georgian Baptists, and their blending of Orthodox tradition into Baptist life to craft a unique ecclesiology, liturgy, and aesthetics.

“Religion, Politics and Nation-Building in Post-Communist Countries” (Simons & Westerlund, eds.)

In March, Ashgate released “Religion, Politics and Nation-Building in Post-Communist Countries,” edited by Greg Simons (Uppsala University) and David Westerlund (Södertörn University). The publisher’s description follows:

The increasing significance and visibility of relationships between religion and public arenas and institutions following the fall of communism in Europe provide the core focus of this fascinating book. Leading international scholars consider the religious and political role of Christian Orthodoxy in the Russian Federation, Romania, Georgia and Ukraine alongside the revival of old, indigenous religions, often referred to as ‘shamanistic’ and look at how, despite Islam’s long history and many adherents in the south, Islamophobic attitudes have increasingly been added to traditional anti-Semitic, anti-Western or anti-liberal elements of Russian nationalism. Contrasts between the church’s position in the post-communist nation building process of secular Estonia with its role in predominantly Catholic Poland are also explored.

Religion, Politics and Nation-Building in Post-Communist Countries gives a broad overview of the political importance of religion in the Post-Soviet space but its interest and relevance extends far beyond the geographical focus, providing examples of the challenges in the spheres of public, religious and social policy for all transitional countries.

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