"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, November 25, 2013

Orthodox Constructions of the West: I

If I were a rich man, I would immediately order at least a thousand copies of Orthodox Constructions of the West and send them to every serious Christian academic library. Then I would order another thousand copies or so and send them to various ecumenical institutions and leaders around the world. After that I'd start sending copies to anyone and everyone who has ever commented on or thought about Orthodox-Catholic relations, Christian history, the historiographical process, Byzantium, liturgical history, and much else.

Edited by Fordham's two Orthodox theologians, George Demacopoulos and Aristotle Papanikolaou, this book is the collected proceedings of a 2010 conference held there under the same title. It is a goldmine of insights and wonderfully refreshing blunt talk, making it an excellent book for the scholar and general reader alike. I thought I would dip into articles individually to give you a taste of what to expect, but only a taste because you need to buy and read this book. 

Naturally enough, even before reading the introduction, I turned immediately to the chapter by the philosopher (and Greek Orthodox priest) John Panteleimon Manoussakis, "Primacy and Ecclesiology: the State of the Question." It is a short article, and was given at a conference nearly a year before my own Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy: Ut Unum Sint and the Prospects of East-West Unity was published so it is not (unlike my book) a comprehensive coverage of the question, but it is very valuable nonetheless. I greatly enjoyed the author's take-no-prisoners approach. He comes out swinging: "the phenomenon of antipapism, understood as the denial of a primus for the Universal Church and the elevation of such a denial to a trait that allegedly identifies the whole Orthodox Church, is, properly speaking, heretical" (229). He notes that for too many would-be defenders of Orthodoxy--Manoussakis focuses almost entirely on contemporary figures in the Greek Church--"heresy is all they see" when looking Westward.

What I found especially depressing was how recent some of the attitudes are. E.g., a 2010 statement of a conference in Greece at which several metropolitans of the Church were present makes the demonstrably foolish claim that there is no theological justification at all for any kind of primacy in the Church. Obviously, as I wrote sarcastically in the margins of the book, Metropolitan John Zizioulas did not get this memo--nor the dozens of other Orthodox theologians I surveyed. Zizioulas, precisely one of the finest theological minds of contemporary Greek Orthodoxy, has been arguing cogently for decades in a variety of books and articles that primacy and synodality stand or fall together, and no Church properly so called can function except with both primacy and synodality exercised together. For hierarchs trying to argue otherwise reveals an ignorance of their own tradition, which is truly intolerable. You can say whatever you want about Catholicism; but when you try telling me what Orthodoxy is or stands for when it can easily be proven otherwise, you've just revealed yourself as a completely unserious person.

The author gives other examples of what he calls the "rogue fanaticism of para-ecclesial groups" (239) before showing how they do not even understand the very Orthodoxy they purport to defend. He himself has no patience for them, and instead sets forth in a calm and lucid fashion some of the principles needed for the proper understanding of primacy. The whole essay, while short (he tells me via e-mail that he has a longer work coming out in 2014, For the Unity of All: Contributions to the Theological Dialogue between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, for which I will be eagerly watching in the new year) is a wonderfully bracing blast of the cool air of reason.

In Part II: comments on the introduction and Robert Taft's essay. Stay tuned. In the meantime, buy this book, which deserves the widest possible audience. 

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this, I look forward to purchasing it -- along with a couple of other works I found following your links. I have a great fondness for the Western Fathers, including St Augustine, and am always interested in serious reflection on their place in Orthodox tradition and life. This promises to be a good tool in that delightful process!


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