Tag Archives: Orthodoxy

Mihai, “Orthodox Canon Law Reference Book”

In May, Holy Cross Orthodox Press released Orthodox Canon Law Reference Book, by Vasile Mihai. The publisher’s description follows:

In one manageable volume, Orthodox Canon Law Reference Book makes the canons of the Orthodox Church, which were written and complied over centuries, searchable and accessible to current inquirers. In his preface, Fr. Mihai explains the place of canons in relation to revealed faith and the personal experience of God s presence. A most valuable introduction distinguishes between Canon Law and secular law, and not only discusses how to interpret canons, but also offers several examples demonstrating the interpretive process of analysis and application. Alphabetized topics organize the pertinent canons, which are then listed chronologically under each topic. Numerous footnotes offer explanations for terms and understandings from historical contexts. Three appendices discuss the meaning of the word canon, the priest-penitent relationship, and Byzantine legislation on homosexuality.

Conference: “The Making of Jerusalem” (Jerusalem, July 2-4)

The Armenian Apostolic Patriarchate of Jerusalem in hosting a conference, “The Making of Jerusalem: Constructed Spaces and Historic Communities,” from July 2 to July 4:

Jerusalem is one of the most contested cities around the world with a rich and complex history. With its web of sacred sites, quarters, and neighbourhoods, it represents a polyglot of historical communities. Today’s Jerusalem is a testament to its temporal, physical and demographic transformations over the centuries. The purpose of this inter-disciplinary conference is to explore various aspects in the making of the city while focusing on historic communities and their concept of – and relationship with – space (be it sacred or secular). It brings together papers from different fields such as history, the social sciences, art, literature, religious studies and area studies, emphasising the Early Modern and Modern periods.

Details are here.

“Orthodox Christianity and Nationalism in Nineteenth-Century Southeastern Europe” (Leustean, ed.)

This July, Fordham University Press will publish Orthodox Christianity and Nationalism in Nineteenth-Century Southeastern Europeedited by Lucian N. Orthodox ChristianityLeustean (Aston University).  The publisher’s description follows.

Nation-building processes in the Orthodox commonwealth brought together political institutions and religious communities in their shared aims of achieving national sovereignty. Chronicling how the churches of Greece, Romania, Bulgaria, and Serbia acquired independence from the Patriarchate of Constantinople in the wake of the Ottoman Empire’s decline, Orthodox Christianity and Nationalism in Nineteenth-Century Southeastern Europe examines the role of Orthodox churches in the construction of national identities.

Drawing on archival material available after the fall of communism in southeastern Europe and Russia, as well as material published in Greek, Serbian, Bulgarian, Romanian, and Russian, Orthodox Christianity and Nationalism in Nineteenth-Century Southeastern Europe analyzes the challenges posed by nationalism to the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the ways in which Orthodox churches engaged in the nationalist ideology.

The Ukrainian Protests and the Orthodox Church(es)

Even casual observers know that Orthodox Churches traditionally have close ties with the state. So many in the West don’t know what to make of the fact that, in the current conflict in Ukraine, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church appears to be siding with the protesters. The New York Times, for example, reports that protesters running from riot police in Kiev take refuge in a historic Orthodox monastery, and that the Church’s patriarch, Filaret (above), strongly opposes the government. Filaret has stated that Ukraine should look West and join the European Union, and that President Victor Yanukovich, who recently announced that Ukraine would not agree to a long-anticipated trade deal with the EU, should resign.

To understand what’s going on, one has to know a little about the divisions within Orthodoxy in Ukraine. Patriarch Filaret is the leader of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kyvian Patriarchate. The Kyvian Patriarchate is in schism from the main body of Orthodoxy in Ukraine, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate, which, as its name suggests, is under the jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow. The Moscow Patriarchate does not recognize the canonical status of the Kyvian Patriarchate; indeed, no Orthodox Church  in the world does. (To make things even more confusing, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA is under the jurisdiction of neither the Kyvian or Moscow Patriarchates, but the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople).

It’s not at all surprising, therefore, that Patriarch Filaret would support closer ties with Europe and a weakening of Russian influence in Ukraine. He and his flock are likely to have more status and independence in a Ukraine that looks toward the West. This is just another example of how religious and political interests often converge. As Daniel Larison writes, it will be interesting to see if there is now a pro-Russian pushback from those Ukrainians loyal to the Moscow Patriarchate.

Will the Hagia Sophia Again Become a Mosque?

When I heard the rumors this fall, I have to confess, I dismissed them. And maybe it is only political posturing. But leading Turkish officials are actually talking about converting the famed Hagia Sophia in Istanbul back into a mosque.

The Hagia Sophia, or Church of the Holy Wisdom, was built by the Emperor Justinian in the sixth century. (“Solomon,” the emperor cried when he saw the completed church, “I have surpassed thee!”). For 1000 years, it was the largest Christian cathedral in the world and the emblem of Byzantium. After the empire fell in 1453, the Ottomans converted the church into a mosque. About 500 years after that, the secular Kemalist government made it a museum. And so it has remained.

Now, however, a nationalist party has introduced legislation to reconvert the building to a Muslim place of worship. The idea has support at very high levels. In October, the imam at the neighboring Sultan Ahmet Mosque–a government official–called for Hagia Sophia to reopen as a mosque. Last month, at a public event in Istanbul, Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister, Bulent Arinc, referred approvingly to two other churches-turned-mosques-turned-museums-turned-mosques-again, one in Trabzon and one in Iznik (once known as Nicea). And he made this comment about the Hagia Sophia itself: “We currently stand next to the Hagia Sophia Mosque. We are looking at a sad Hagia Sophia but hopefully we will see it smiling again soon.”

Arinc’s implication is unmistakable. According to the Religion News Service, Turkey’s ruling party, the Islamist AKP, is trying to shore up its base ahead of March provincial elections. It’s smart politics. AKP rank-and-file see Kemalism as a huge historical mistake and wish to return to the pan-Islamism of the Ottoman Empire. Converting Byzantine and other historical Christian monuments from museums into mosques is a way of rejecting secularism and returning to Turkish roots. The Hagia Sophia is the greatest symbol of all. That’s why, in the words of one observer, “Supporting the reopening of Hagia Sophia has become the litmus test of the true believer.”

When it comes to appropriating the temples of the vanquished, no great religion is innocent. Historically, Christians often built churches on the ruins of pagan shrines. One of my favorite sites in Rome, the Basilica of San Clemente, sits atop a Mithraic temple, the ruins of which are still visible. After the Reconquista, Rod Dreher writes, Christians converted the great mosque of Cordoba into a cathedral. The point of such conduct is obvious. The victor wishes literally to squash the altars of the vanquished, to humiliate and demoralize followers of the old way. Our god is greater than yours.

But this sort of thing doesn’t happen anymore in the civilized world. As Dreher writes, converting the Hagia Sophia into a mosque now, after it has been a museum for decades, would be “a stunning act of cultural aggression” against Christians in Turkey, particularly the handful of Greeks who somehow have managed to hang on there. It would put the lie to claims of pluralism. And it would underline, as few other acts could, what Samuel Huntington famously called “the clash of civilizations.”

Roudometof, “Globalization and Orthodox Christianity”

9780415843737This month, Routledge will publish Globalization and Orthodox Christianity: The Transformations of a Religious Tradition by Victor Roudometof (University of Cyrpus). The publisher’s description follows.

With approximately 200 to 300 million adherents worldwide, Orthodox Christianity is among the largest branches of Christianity, yet it remains relatively understudied. This book examines the rich and complex entanglements between Orthodox Christianity and globalization, offering a substantive contribution to the relationship between religion and globalization, as well as the relationship between Orthodox Christianity and the sociology of religion – and more broadly, the interdisciplinary field of Religious Studies.

While deeply engaged with history, this book does not simply narrate the history of Orthodox Christianity as a world religion, nor does it address theological issues or cover all the individual trajectories of each subgroup or subdivision of the faith. Orthodox Christianity is the object of the analysis, but author Victor Roudometof speaks to a broader audience interested in culture, religion, and globalization. Roudometof argues in favor of using globalization instead of modernization as the main theoretical vehicle for analyzing religion, displacing secularization in order to argue for multiple hybridizations of religion as a suitable strategy for analyzing religious phenomena. It offers Orthodox Christianity as a test case that illustrates the presence of historically specific but theoretically distinct glocalizations, applicable to all faiths.

Religion in Russia

My friend and St. John’s colleague, Peggy McGuinness, alerts me to a worthwhile review essay by the Berkley Center’s Irina Papkova, “Believing in Russia,” on a religion and media blog called The Revealer. Papkova reviews Geraldine Fagan’s Believing in Russia–Religious Policy After Communism (2013). Here’s an excerpt:

Without being iconoclastic, “Believing in Russia” is based on impeccable research, and brings a useful corrective to many widely held assumptions about religion in Russian society.  Journalists writing about Russian politics for major news outlets like the New York Times and the Washington Post usually present a cozy relationship between the ROC and the Putin regime, suggesting that this relationship is detrimental to religious minorities and non-religious Russians. There is some truth to this view but, as Fagan’s work demonstrates, the marginalization of minority faiths has as much to do with bureaucratic incompetence and the weakness of the rule of law in Russia as with the ROC’s plan to obliterate competition from other religions. Fagan tells the story of how religious policy is created and applied across the Russian Federation.  In doing so, she brings to light the role of personalities and personal convictions of bureaucrats in creating guidelines for how the state should deal with religion, and the efficiency with which they are applied.

You can read the whole review here.

European Court Rules Clergy Cannot Unionize Over Church’s Objection

In a much-anticipated decision, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights ruled today, 11-6, that Romania did not violate the European Human Rights Convention when it refused to register a trade union that Romanian Orthodox priests had formed against the wishes of the Romanian Orthodox Church. The decision, with important implications for church autonomy, overrules a contrary judgment by a chamber of the court last year.

Article 11 of the European Convention grants citizens–including, the Grand Chamber ruled today, clergy–the right to form trade unions, subject to restrictions that are necessary to advance legitimate governmental interests, including the “protection of the rights and freedoms of others.” Here, the Grand Chamber reasoned, Romania had restricted the priests’ right to form a union in order to protect the autonomy of Romanian Orthodox Church. Among other things, the proposed union was meant to promote members’ ability to obtain representation in the Holy Synod, the Church’s highest authority, and to strike in order to advance members’ interests within the Church. By registering a union with goals like these, the Grand Chamber reasoned, the state would hamper the ability of the Church to organize and govern itself according to its own rules:

Respect for the autonomy of religious communities … implies, in particular, that the State should accept the right of such communities to react, in accordance with their own rules and interests, to any dissident movements emerging within them that might pose a threat to their cohesion, image or unity. It is … not the task of the national authorities to act as the arbiter between religious communities and the various dissident factions that exist or may emerge within them.

In other words, because the union posed a real risk to the organizational integrity of the Romanian Orthodox Church, Romania was justified in refusing to register the union–particularly given the wide “margin of appreciation” the Convention grants states with respect to church/state relations.

The Grand Chamber’s decision contains language suggesting a sweeping view of church autonomy, but one could also see it as somewhat narrow. The Grand Chamber noted that nothing would stop clergy from forming a union “that pursues aims compatible with the Church’s Statute and does not call into question the Church’s traditional hierarchical structure and decision-making procedures.” And it emphasized the the fact-specific nature of the inquiry, stating at one point that “national courts must … conduct[] an in-depth examination of the circumstances of [a] case and a thorough balancing exercise between the competing interests at stake.” The resistance to a categorical rule is reminiscent of the US Supreme Court’s analysis in Hosanna-Tabor, the “ministerial exception” case. A third-party submission by the Becket Fund and the International Center for Law and Religion Studies discussed Hosanna-Tabor, but the Grand Chamber did not expressly rely on the American decision in its own reasoning.

The case is Sindicatul Pastoral cel Bun v. Romania (July 9, 2013), available at the ECtHR’s website, here. The Becket Fund’s press release about the decision is here.

“Orthodox Christianity and Human Rights” (Bruning & van der Zweerde, eds.)

We’re a little late getting to this, but last year Peeters published an interesting looking collection on the conception of human rights in Orthodox Christianity, particularly in nations from the former Soviet Union: Orthodox Christianity and Human Rights (Bruning & van der Zweerde, eds.). As the Pussy Riot trial showed, the view of human rights in those nations sometime diverges from the Western consensus in a way that leaves everyone a bit confused. This book may help resolve some of that confusion. Here’s the publisher’s summary:

Orthodox theology and the Orthodox Churches had, and continue to have an ambiguous relationship towards the concept of Human Rights: principal approval often stands alongside serious criticism. This is especially true for those Orthodox Churches which have their centre in a country of the former Soviet sphere. On the one hand, especially since the fall of Communism they enjoy religious freedom that forms a central element within the framework of Human Rights. On the other hand, the transformation process of the 1990s and the challenge of pluralism and globalization have all confronted them with aspects of freedom that could not but affect their stance towards the Human Rights concept in general. This also means, that doubts and reservations related to this concept came to the fore again, which had yet existed already decades before. These reservations focused on such issues as Church and secular society, Church and state, furthermore on the understanding of central terms such as “freedom”, “dignity”, “rights” – central also for an Orthodox anthropology, that needs to be reconciled with the partly differing approaches behind the Human Rights concept.

The chapters of this volume try and explore as much the philosophical and theological as the social, historical and practical aspects of this complex relationship. Based either on the discussion of differing theological concepts, or on empirical and concrete case studies respectively, they clearly show the tensions and fractures that do exist. On the other hand, in this way they also hint at possibilities to overcome these tensions, to continue a dialogue that already has begun, and to avoid the numerous misunderstandings between East and West which currently tend to form a hindrance to this dialogue at various points.

H/T: Eastern Christian Books

Is the US Selling Out the Middle East’s Christians?

Elizabeth Prodromou, a former Vice Chair of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, or USCIRF, has some harsh words for the commission’s annual report, issued last month. Prodromou sharply criticizes USCIRF and the entire US foreign policy team for ignoring human rights violations endured by Orthodox Christians in the Middle East.

For example, Prodromou complains that neither the US Administration nor USCIRF (an independent agency) has issued a statement about the kidnapping in Syria last month, most likely by Islamists in the opposition, of two Orthodox bishops. The kidnapping of two bishops sends an ominous message to Syria’s Christians, and Prodromou is outraged that the US did not see fit to introduce a Security Council resolution condemning the kidnapping. Russia, she notes, did introduce such a resolution.

I share Prodromou’s outrage about what is happening to Christians in Syria, most of whom are Orthodox, and her frustration at the West’s lack of attention to the problem. (This lack of attention is nothing new; the last US administration seemed more or less indifferent to the plight of Iraq’s Christians). But I’m not sure that official American statements would help the situation. Perversely, official expressions of concern from the outside often increase the danger for Christians in the Middle East. When Pope Benedict spoke about the obvious mistreatment of Copts a while ago, for example, Egypt withdrew its Vatican ambassador in protest. Things have not improved for the Copts since.

Moreover, it’s not plain how much credibility US government statements have in Syria at the moment. The US has worked itself into a situation in which neither of the major players in the conflict, neither Assad nor the Islamists who dominate the opposition, have an incentive to listen to what the US says. I’m not suggesting the US and the West should ignore the plight of Syria’s Christians and leave them to their fate; not at all. I mean only that official statements, without the wherewithal to back them up, do little, and often backfire.

Prodromou is on firmer ground when she criticizes the USCIRF report’s about-face on Turkey. Last year’s USCIRF report declared Turkey a “country of particular concern,” or CPC, a designation that signified that Turkey had an especially problematic record on religious freedom. This year’s report upgrades Turkey’s status from a CPC to a country that merely warrants monitoring. But, Prodromou notes, there hasn’t been any appreciable improvement of the situation for Orthodox Christians (and other religious minorities) in Turkey over the last year:

By the USCIRF’s own report in 2013, Halki [a famous Greek Orthodox seminary] remains shuttered 42 years after its closing and 10-plus years into the Erdogan era; there has been no overhaul of the property rights regime used to economically disenfranchise the country’s Orthodox Christian citizens and strip Orthodox foundations of their lands, so that the USCIRF characterized random returns of property, as in the case of forest lands around Halki returned to the Ecumenical Patriarchate, as “commendable” but “not codified by law.”  The 2013 USCIRF report also cited rising fear amongst Armenian Orthodox citizens of Turkey, because of hate crimes committed against members of their community, the most grotesquely emblematic case being that of an 84-year-old Armenian woman who was murdered in her Istanbul home with a cross carved into her chest.  The Commission obliquely commented that the “Turkish local police promptly launched investigations into three cases, but it is not known if any arrests have been made connected to any of these incidents.”

It does seem very strange that a country could go from being a “country of particular concern” to one merely “worth watching” in the space of a year, especially a country with Turkey’s spotty religious-freedom record. In fact, four commissioners dissented from USCIRF’s decision. USCIRF shouldn’t have named Turkey as a CPC in the first place, the dissenters wrote, but, having made that decision, USCIRF is now making the opposite mistake. “We believe that Turkey has not shown nearly enough improvement in addressing religious freedom violations over the past year to justify its promotion to the status of a country that is merely being monitored,” they explained. The dissenters would have placed Turkey in an intermediate category–among “Tier 2″ religious freedom violators, in the parlance of USCIRF.

You can read Prodromou’s entire post here.