Here’s the video of Metropolitan Jonah‘s talk last night at the American Enterprise Institute‘s Values and Capitalism program.In Christ,+Fr Gregory
Some recent posts here have been devoted to my own thoughts about the American Experiment in relationship to the tradition of the Orthodox Church. I thought the following two videos might be of some use.
The first is from Congressman Randy Forbes (R-VA-4th District) talking on the floor of the US House of Representatives about America’s Judeo-Christian heritage. The second is country music singer Rodney Atkins’ song “It’s America.”
Rep. Forbes, “Our Judeo-Christian Nation”:
Rodney Atkins, “It’s America”:
Yesterday’s back and forth between NeoChal and I on the morality of artificial contraception raises for me an interesting question. How did the Fathers of the Church regard what today we would see as the findings of empirical science? When, in other words, the Fathers appeal to the scientific understanding of their era, do the see this data as normative or only illustrative? In other words, is a moral positions being advanced based on the best possible science of the day or do the Fathers simply appeal to that science to elucidate an moral argument?
This is important not only for the question of the morality of artificial contraception, but also those areas of the Church’s dogmatic tradition that touch on matters explored today by the natural, social and human sciences. Think about what it might me for a central dogma of the Christian faith, the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Holy Trinity in the womb of the Mother of God.
In the ancient world, the best science of the day understood reproduction in a as analogous to agriculture. The male implanted a child in the female much as a farmer would sow seed in a field. The womb was merely the receptacle of the semen and the female was either fertile or not in much the same way that soil was capable of sustaining a crop. In this model of reproduction, the idea of the Virgin conceiving without a human father for the Christ Child isn’t much of a stress. But is the dogma isn’t dependent on the science, even if the science of the time offered humanity a way of entering more deeply into an appreciative understanding of the mystery.
Returning to the realm of moral theology, those who dismiss the patristic prohibitions against contraception, or the biblical texts cited in against homosexual activity because these positions are based in faulty science are (I think) following into much the same error as I sketched out above. We ought not to confuse, much less reduce, dogmatic or moral truths to our explanation of the truth.
Clearly this is much easier to say then to do in practice. We often don’t come to realize that we have conflated dogma and its explanation until science (or philosophy) undergirding our understanding of the truth is challenged. Thinking about this a bit more, it seems to me that we must always be on our guard that we do not put our faith in the fruits of our own reason. Reason is, or at least, should be at the service of faith. Does this mean that faith trumps reason? I don’t think so since faith needs reason even as reason needs faith.
Commenting on Wisdom 9.11 (“Wisdom knows all and understands all”) the late Pope John Paul II argues in Fides et Ratio that what “is distinctive in the biblical text is the conviction that there is a profound and indissoluble unity between the knowledge (cognitio) of reason and the knowledge of faith.” The Pope continues by reminding his readers that the “world and all that happens within it, including history and the fate of peoples, are realities to be observed, analysed and assessed with all the resources of reason, but without faith ever being foreign to the process.” How is this possible? It is possible because “Faith intervenes not to abolish reason’s autonomy nor to reduce its scope for action, but solely to bring the human being to understand that in these events it is the God of Israel who acts.” For this reason, he conclude, “the world and the events of history cannot be understood in depth without professing faith in the God who is at work in them. Faith sharpens the inner eye, opening the mind to discover in the flux of events the workings of Providence” (#16).
What this means is that when the Fathers appealed to the best science of their day they were not confining the Mystery of Faith to the merely empirical, they were not arguing that faith was dependent upon human reason, much less scientific research. What were they doing then? I would argue that they were illuming science, putting it at the service of faith and, in so doing, making clear the necessarily limited character of not only science but human reason itself.
Often when people, in innocence and without a self-seeking motive, dismiss patristic moral teaching because it is based on faulty science, they do so because they fail to reckon with the provision nature of empirical, and especially experimental science. Even the best scientific research is only provisional and this not simply because ALL human knowledge limited, but because scientific research is predicated on the willingness of the scientist to critically re-evaluate and even challenge today what was yesterday’s newly discovered truth. Ironically, even if we do so without malice, when we reject patristic moral (or dogmatic for that matter) teaching because it is based on faulty science we inadvertently wed ourselves to what itself will one day be judged as faulty or deficient science.
That said, however, I do not think we can go “backwards.” We can’t come to the Fathers as if the intervening centuries and changes in human knowledge and understanding of ourselves and the natural world has not happened. To do this is to dishonor the work of the Fathers and their willingness to struggle with the great issues and thoughts of their day. More than that though, when I “flee” to the Fathers as if the intervening centuries had not happened, I reduce faith to merely history and strip it of its personal quality. How? By imagining that I can divest myself of my own time and culture and imagining—fantasizing really—that I am a Christian not on my own time, but of another.
But I here to tell you, this is the path of delusion, of prelast. I either stand before Christ as a man of my time, faithful not only to what has gone before, but also of what is here and now, or I do not stand before Him at all.
While it is not a popular position for an Orthodox Christian, much less a priest, when I reflect on the history of uniatism—of those communities who left the Orthodox Church and joined themselves to Catholic Church—I am struck less by the machinations of Rome and more the failing of Orthodox Christians. Much of what we call uniatism is the fruit of our failure to be reconciled to each other, to support and encourage each other. How different would events then, and now, have unfolded if the actors had seen each other as the precious, irreplaceable gifts from God that each of us is to the other?
A classmate in graduate school once told me that (and I’m quoting), “You are the most cynical man I have ever met.” In response I told him “I am only cynical if I’m wrong; if I’m right you’re naive.” (His response to me was, “See!”)
Recent comments on one of my posts (see here) put me in mind of that exchange some 20 years ago.
In response to my query as to what he meant by “ Byzantine politics,” a reader (Peter) offers a number of observations that I am tempted to dismiss as cynical rather than face the possibility that they are true. He writes:
The EP never, and I mean NEVER picks a fight it cannot win. It has survived in a hostile land since 1453. It has plans within plans, and the EP’s statement made at Holy Cross was made for a very specific purpose – to assert the Phanar’s power over the Orthodox American flock. The OCA cannot afford to underestimate its strength as others have in the past (i.e. former Archbishop Spyridon, the OCL, GOAL, etc.) and have lost and are now simply voices in the wilderness.
Referring back to a speech given at Holy Cross School of Theology by a representative of the Ecumenical Throne, Peter argues that “The EP with that statement at Holy Cross just smoked out Metropolitan Jonas [sic], tested his resolve and now with Met. Jonas’ [sic] apology saw him cave in. The EP just won the battle and most people don’t realize it.” He offers then what is to my mind a frightening conclusion:
While everybody is arguing about this little war of word the EP has been working in Australia, Britain, Eastern Europe and elsewhere shoring up his power. Once this is done you will have a juggernaut that will be coming towards the OCA and will destroy it canonically. . . . Machinationsare now in place that could either canonically destroy the OCA or force it to join with the Greek Archdiocese.
My first thought in reading this was simply to dismiss the argument being made. To even have such thoughts is horrifying to me. But if I have learned anything as a priest it is to resist my own desire to minimize sin, my own or others, no matter how much I want to do so.
I have no idea whether or not Peter’s analysis is correct and I hope to God that it is wrong. At the same time I worry about the easy comfort that comes from dismissing information I don’t like or that makes me uncomfortable. If the above scenario is correct—and I have seen no evidence that it is—then there are those in the Church who are doing the Devil’s work for him.
While I think that a united American Orthodox Church is essential and (more importantly) God’s will for His Church, I also believe that unity can only come by way ofreconciliation.In the Old Testament the Jewish People were divided into the Kingdoms of Judah and Israel because they sinned against God. Division, whether from the Church or within the Church, is always and everywhere a consequence of human sinfulness. We can see the symptoms of our sinfulness not simply in heresies and schisms but in the acceptance of our parallel ecclesiastical lives across jurisdictions and within our dioceses and parishes.
The Orthodox Church is coming quickly to a moment of crisis. The scandals in the United State and in the “Old World” have highlighted our own spiritual anemia. Yes part of our weakness is the result of persecution by the Soviet government and Islam. But as events in America suggest that there is only so much blame we can shift those outside the Church.
Let me conclude with what I fear might be taken as a polemic comment. I’m not being polemical, but I do think we have overlooked something that my wife pointed out to me.
The saints of the American Orthodox Church, the saints that God has raised up in and for North America and the whole Church share two qualities. One they were, missionaries, evangelists and (with a few exceptions) monastics. And second they were under the omophorion of the Church of Russia. Unless this history is acknowledge and appreciated, there will be no real unity in America. God has shown His Church in America the way to unity and it is up to take that road not out of ethnic chauvinism but in gratitude to the work of God in America.
The real competition for leadership of the Church in America, and world wide, is not one that can, or should, be resolved through canonically arguments. Yes the canons have their place. But what is need is sanctity. The saints of North America have given us the path that God would have His Church here in America travel. We cannot be a monastic Church or an evangelistic Church; we must be both. And we can only be one if we are also the other.
Leadership in the Church must not to be based in sterile canonical arguments not but in the witness of holiness. For all that it might be canonically sound, our witness is not true if it is predicated on an attempt to usurp the role of other Churches. For us as Orthodox Christians in American this means, as Metropolitan Jonah has said, that we be shining examples of fidelity to the traditions of the Churches of the “Old World,” of the whole Church. We must be men and women known for love of the saints (both in the body and out of the body).
Some music to brighten your Saturday. First up a flash mob pays their respect to some bad music and some very bad pants:
Next up, an amazing new performance group, Voca People:
h/t: Brian Hollar from a great economics blog, Thinking on the Margin.
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Hmmm, tomorrow is Pentecost after all, I wonder, maybe I should preach a bit more like this? Yeah, maybe, well see.
h/t: Fr Philip Powell, OP at Hanc Aquam!