"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Monday, June 18, 2012

Change? What Change? We're Orthodox

It is an amusing conceit among some Eastern Christians to maintain that theirs is an unchanged and unchanging tradition stretching back to the Fathers if not to the Apostles themselves. Anybody who has the slightest serious acquaintance with real history instead of "confessional propaganda" (Taft) knows what a romantic farrago of nonsense this is. Though some like to sneer at the West for all its "innovations," in some matters it was--at least until the fall of the empire in the West--far more stable, far more conservative, far less prone to change than almost anybody else in Christendom. In witness of this, consider but one of a myriad of examples plucked more or less at random: the rebuke of Pope Gregory I to Patriarch John the Faster of Constantinople over the latter's innovatory claim to the title "ecumenical" patriarch. Almost all of the major problems in the first millennium were "innovations," if not outright heterodoxies, originating in the East--Arianism, monophysitism, monothelitism, iconoclasm, etc.

How different things are today. Today the Christian East today is marked, in many places, by a deep conservatism and a resistance to change--indeed, an often ferocious fear of it, as recent reactions in both the Russian and Greek Churches to the proposal to use liturgically modern Russian and modern Greek respectively in place of Old Church Slavonic and old liturgical Greek. For some in North America especially, Orthodoxy is regarded as the one Christian tradition that has not changed and will not change on such controverted issues as the ordination of women or same-sex relationships. As a result, it has been perceived as a refuge for Christians fleeing more liberal traditions. 

A book set for release later this summer proposes to look at the question of change in the Greek Church: Trine Stauning Willert and Lina Molokotos-Liederman, eds., Innovation in the Christian Orthodox Tradition?: The Question of Change in Greek Orthodox Thought and Practice (Ashgate, August 2012), 256pp. 

About this book the publisher tells us:
The relationship between tradition and innovation in Orthodox Christianity has often been problematic, filled with tensions and contradictions starting from the Byzantine era and running through the 19th and 20th centuries. For a long period of time scholars have typically assumed Greek Orthodoxy to be a static religious tradition with little room for renewal or change. Although this public perception continues, the immutability of the Greek Orthodox tradition has been questioned by several scholars over the past few years. This book continues this line of reasoning, but brings it into the centre of contemporary discussion. Presenting case studies from different periods of history up to the present day, the authors trace different aspects in the development of innovation and renewal in Orthodox Christianity in the Greek-speaking world and among the Diaspora.
Part I Conceptual Overview:
  • How can we speak of innovation in the Greek Orthodox tradition? Towards a typology of innovation in religion (Trine Stauning Willert and Lina Molokotos-Liederman);
  • Orthodox Christianity, change, innovation: contradictions in terms? (Vasilios Makrides).
        Part II: Encounters with other Christian Denominations:  
  • Double-identity churches on the Greek islands under the Venetians: Orthodox and Catholics sharing churches (15th to 18th centuries) (Eftichia Arvaniti);
  • Religious innovation or political strategy? The rapprochements of the Archbishop of Syros, Alexandros Lykourgos (1827–1875), towards the Anglican Church (Elisabeth Kontogiorgi).
Part III Adaptations to Modernity:
  • Emancipation through celibacy? The Sisterhoods of the Zoë Movement and their role in the development of 'Christian feminism' in Greece 1938–1960 (Spyridoula Athanasopoulou-Kypriou);
  • The new sound of the spiritual modern: the revival of Greek Orthodox chant (Tore Tvarnø Lind).
Part IV Reform and Power Struggle in Religious Governance;
  • Holy Canons or general regulations: the ecumenical Patriarchate vis-à-vis the challenge of secularization in the 19th century (Dimitrios Stamatopoulos);
  • A innovative local Orthodox model of governance? The shrine of Evangelistria on the island of Tinos (Katerina Seraïdari).
Part V Change in Contemporary Socio-Political Contexts:
  • A new agenda for religion in Greece? Theologians challenging the ethno-religious understanding of Orthodoxy and Greekness (Trine Stauning Willert);
  • From mobilization to a controlled compromise: the shift of ecclesiastical strategy under Archbishop Hieronymus, (Konstaninos Papastathis).
Part VI Beyond National Borders: the Greek Orthodox Diaspora:
  • Innovation within Greek Orthodox theology in Australia: Archbishop Stylianos and the mystique of indigenous Australian spirituality (Vassilios Adrahtas);
  • Continuities and change in Greek American Orthodoxy (Effie Fokas and Dena Fokas Moses).

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