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Orthodox Fundamentalism


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#1 Lakis Papas

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Posted 10 February 2015 - 07:15 PM

Article by George E. Demacopoulos

One of the cornerstones of Orthodox Christianity is its reverence for the great Fathers of the Church who were not only exemplars of holiness but were also the greatest intellectuals of their age. The writings of men like St. Basil the Great, St. Gregory the Theologian, and St. Maximos the Confessor have been and will always remain essential guides to Orthodox Christian living and Orthodox Christian faith.


Thus it is alarming that so many Orthodox clerics and monks in recent years have made public statements that reflect a “fundamentalist” approach to the Church Fathers. And unless leaders of the Orthodox Church unite to repudiate this development, the entire Orthodox Church is at risk of being hijacked by extremists.


Like other fundamentalist movements, Orthodox fundamentalism reduces all theological teaching to a subset of theological axioms and then measures the worthiness of others according to them. Typically, this manifests itself in accusations that individuals, institutions, or entire branches of the Orthodox Church fail to meet the self-prescribed standard for Orthodox teaching. For example, when the Theological Academy of Volos recently convened an international conference to examine the role of the Fathers in the modern Church, radical opportunists in the Church of Greece accused it and its bishop of heresy.


The key intellectual error in Orthodox fundamentalism lies in the presupposition that the Church Fathers agreed on all theological and ethical matters. That miscalculation, no doubt, is related to another equally flawed assumption that Orthodox theology has never changed—clearly it has or else there would have been no need for the Fathers to build consensus at successive Ecumenical Councils.


The irony, as identified by recent scholarship on fundamentalism, is that while fundamentalists claim to protect the Orthodox Christian faith from the corruption of modernity, their vision of Orthodox Christianity is, itself, a very modern phenomenon. In other words, Orthodoxy never was what fundamentalists claim it to be.


Indeed, a careful reading of Christian history and theology makes clear that some of the most influential saints of the Church disagreed with one another—at times quite bitterly. St. Peter and St. Paul were at odds over circumcision. St. Basil and St. Gregory the Theologian clashed over the best way to recognize the divinity of Holy Spirit. And St. John Damascene, who lived in a monastery in the Islamic Caliphate, abandoned the hymnographical tradition that preceded him in order to develop a new one that spoke to the needs of his community.


It is important to understand that Orthodox fundamentalists reinforce their reductionist reading of the Church Fathers with additional falsehoods. One of the most frequently espoused is the claim that the monastic community has always been the guardian of Orthodox teaching. Another insists that the Fathers were anti-intellectual. And a third demands that adherence to the teachings of the Fathers necessitates that one resist all things Western. Each of these assertions is patently false for specific reasons, but they are all symptomatic of an ideological masquerade that purports to escape the modern world.


The insidious danger of Orthodox fundamentalists is that they obfuscate the difference between tradition and fundamentalism. By repurposing the tradition as a political weapon, the ideologue deceives those who are not inclined to question the credibility of their religious leaders.
In an age when so many young people are opting out of religious affiliation altogether, the expansion of fundamentalist ideology into ordinary parishes is leading to a situation where our children are choosing between religious extremism or no religion at all.


It is time for Orthodox hierarchs and lay leaders to proclaim broadly that the endearing relevance of the Church Fathers does not lie in the slavish adherence to a fossilized set of propositions used in self-promotion. The significance of the Fathers lies in their earnest and soul-wrenching quest to seek God and to share Him with the world. Fundamentalist readings of both the Fathers and the Bible never lead to God—they only lead to idolatry.


George E. Demacopoulos: Professor of Historical Theology; Director and Co-Founder, Orthodox Christian Studies Center at Fordham University


http://www.acadimia....-fundamentalism


Edited by Olga, 10 February 2015 - 09:02 PM.
Added paragraph spaces for ease of reading


#2 Anna Stickles

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Posted 10 February 2015 - 07:50 PM

Typically, this manifests itself in accusations that individuals, institutions, or entire branches of the Orthodox Church fail to meet the self-prescribed standard for Orthodox teaching.

This article to me seems like the pot calling the kettle black.  Very much in the way of judgment and demolition, not much in the way of constructive and sensitive discussion of the issues.

 

Not that I disagree with the basic idea that fundamentalism is not Orthodox in its approach to Christ, but rather that this article is fundamentalist in its approach to fundamentalism.

 

Maybe the question is, in what way does Orthodox Christianity differ in its approach to solving differences in opinion from fundamentalists and from the modern tolerance crowd.


Edited by Anna Stickles, 10 February 2015 - 08:00 PM.


#3 Phoebe K.

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Posted 10 February 2015 - 09:11 PM

I think in dealing with the issues of fundamentalist aspects withing the Orthodox Church (there always have been such people and there always will be) and responding to the challenge which modernist, and those who want to harmonise the church with society, we have to be balanced and pragmatic.  This is following in the Spirit of the Fathers of the Church, even if it means being open to refelcting on how we handle some delicate pastoral issues within parishes.  Though in some situations it is right and proper to be firm for the truth, we must also be able to be flexible and merciful for certain situations where an exception must be made, and not judge another ourselves if they are granted a great economy so that they can continue, as that is between them, the Lord and their spiritual father.

 

In the Lecture he gave last week, Metropolitan Hilarion made the point that in the diolog between the churches there may not be agreement on docrins we can agree on the fundermental moral bases of the church.  This is a chalange but we can work with other Christian traditions on practical and moral things, while disagreeing with each other doctrinally, Metropolitan Hilarion made the point that the Orthodox Church (or at least the Russian part where he heads up ecumenical dialog) has broken off bilateral relations with other churches when they have moved away from the received moral code of Church tradition.

 

There dose need to be reflection in the Church on how we live and work in the world as it now is, reading and learning from the fathers eastern and western for all the fathers before 1054 in the west are Orthodox too and have many useful things to say about situations we now find ourselves in.  We need to be discerning and pragmatic, being willing to cut through traditions which are ethnic and inappropriate to the situation or which stifle the life of the Church, while also refusing to be drawn into the wholesale changes which the protestants have engaged in.  We need to uphold Holy Trodition but not turn it into a law which stifels and kills as the rules of the Pharises did, or we will find ourselves as they did, doing everything perfectly but failing in the great matters of love and mercy.

 

 It is easy to want rules we can just follow but that is not how the fallen world is, the Desert Fathers worn us that as the age draws to a close it will become harder and harder to be saved, and that it will seem that the whole world has gone mad (yet the world will view us a the ones who are mad).  It is a possible to be true to tradition and yet merciful to each persons situation as we see in the situations described in the life of some of our saints, it is seeking to be Christlike in this way that we should emulate not trying to be holy by a group of rules.



#4 Rdr Thomas

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Posted 10 February 2015 - 11:05 PM

I've been curious to see if this would make its way to Monachos.  Father John Whiteford wrote an excellent response, found here:

 

http://fatherjohn.bl...talists-by.html



#5 Rick H.

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Posted 10 February 2015 - 11:10 PM

I have to wonder if it is willful ignorance or a lack of awareness and experience with the topic at hand when Fr. Whiteford considers "fundamentalism" a meaningless term and asks for definition in his response.



#6 Rdr Thomas

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Posted 10 February 2015 - 11:51 PM

I think his point is that regarding religion, the term "fundamentalism" is already quite well and tightly defined, and the good professor is not using it the way it is understood.  It naturally follows to ask him to explain what he means, especially given the broad and quite vague examples of how his definition of the term manifests itself.  He did mention the Volos conference, which was the only specific example.  (I also found some of the contents of the Volos conference a little concerning).  Here's one attendee's take on the Volos conference in question:  https://lessonsfroma...hodox-theology/

 

In any case, Father John replied back with specificity, rather than vague generalities, which at least to me gives his views a little more credence.



#7 Rick H.

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Posted 11 February 2015 - 12:04 AM

It has been my experience that when one desires to enter the conversation
about fundamentalism and asks for clarification of the term, or states that it
is a meaningless term, or doesn't know what it means, regardless of rank, in the
end it invariably turns out that the same one is either playing games or
honestly doesn't know what it means and he/she is honestly not aware and/or not
experienced with this state of being, way of knowing.  


#8 Herman Blaydoe

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Posted 11 February 2015 - 12:06 AM

So am I being willfully ignorant or unaware if I agree with Fr. John and have said very similar things in this very thread? It IS a meaningless term because it's meaning is so very vague and misused to the point of meaninglessness, as typified by the article it is critiquing. 



#9 Rick H.

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Posted 11 February 2015 - 12:24 AM

Actually, I remembered you said that when I wrote my last post and hoped
you wouldn't be offended.  But, to answer you question, in a word, yes.

 

Does this mean anything to you?:

 


There is a profound difference between myths and idols.


 

The challenge  for Christianity is not the de-mythologization, but the
de-idolization, because only then the mythical language loses its
rigidity.

 

After de-idolization, it is then possible for the coupling of personal and charismatic
speech to the legendary. Idols with static, unchangeable in form, concepts and
representations are those which always threaten the authenticity and genuineness
of Christianity and not the myths.

 

Actually all New and Old Testament texts are mythical/legendary oral traditions that
happened to be recorded (some other failed to be recorded, yet they are as
mythical as the recorded ones). They are living myths as opposed to dead
idolization. This difference is also connected to "fundamentalism" which is the
title of this thread. 


#10 Rdr Thomas

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Posted 11 February 2015 - 12:44 AM

 
Actually all New and Old Testament texts are mythical/legendary oral traditions that
happened to be recorded (some other failed to be recorded, yet they are as
mythical as the recorded ones). They are living myths as opposed to dead
idolization. This difference is also connected to "fundamentalism" which is the
title of this thread. 

 

Rick, where did this come from?



#11 Rdr Thomas

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Posted 11 February 2015 - 12:52 AM

It has been my experience that when one desires to enter the conversation
about fundamentalism and asks for clarification of the term, or states that it
is a meaningless term, or doesn't know what it means, regardless of rank, in the
end it invariably turns out that the same one is either playing games or
honestly doesn't know what it means and he/she is honestly not aware and/or not
experienced with this state of being, way of knowing.  

 

My take on this is that Father John is giving Professor Demacopoulos the benefit of the doubt.  It's offering him a polite way out of a poor position, in other words.



#12 Rick H.

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Posted 11 February 2015 - 12:53 AM

Thomas, it is something Mr. Papas wrote in the thread "What does Fundamentalism Mean?"



#13 Rdr Thomas

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Posted 11 February 2015 - 01:02 AM

Thomas, it is something Mr. Papas wrote in the thread "What does Fundamentalism Mean?"

 

Wow.  I must admit that that is borderline offensive.  What's the thread URL?  I'd like to see it in context.



#14 Rick H.

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Posted 11 February 2015 - 01:10 AM

It looks like we are on opposite sides of the fence Thomas, to me it is a thing of beauty full of wisdom and knowledge and especially experience.

 

I don't know if my attempt at a link will work here or not, but you can use the search feature to pop it up pretty quickly by searching the title if the link doesn't work:

 

 



#15 Rick H.

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Posted 11 February 2015 - 01:11 AM

PS  I think the link works.  Please scroll to the bottom of the page, second from the bottom.



#16 Rdr Thomas

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Posted 11 February 2015 - 01:30 AM

Well, after skimming the other thread, and reading the above posted article, color me "fundamentalist" if I simply accept what the Church teaches on certain subjects, and when I say that the canons mean something and should be obeyed.  After all, that is what "canonical" means.

 

Hopefully The Lord will amend my many shortcomings one day.  Until such time as He corrects me, I will continue to reject the seduction of "nuanced" teaching and lean on the witness of the Saints.  They're physical proof that "classical" Orthodoxy works (by which I mean simply "Orthodox"), instead of a theoretical "this teaching might be made better".  The quote from Elder (now SAINT) Paisios in the above referenced article (see here) pretty much sums that up.



#17 Rick H.

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Posted 11 February 2015 - 01:58 AM

Fair enough.



#18 Rick H.

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Posted 11 February 2015 - 02:11 AM

PS  If you get a chance to read the other thread more closely you might notice there are two separate/unconnected conversations going on there.  That is why I am so taken by Mr. Papa's contribution because he transcends both.


Edited by Rick H., 11 February 2015 - 02:19 AM.


#19 Anna Stickles

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Posted 11 February 2015 - 02:27 AM

http://orthodoxinfo....-ecumenism.aspx

 

An Orthodox example of how to stand for the truth and be fundamentalist in a good way.

 

We’re all needed within the Church. All the Fathers, both the mild and the austere, offered their services to Her. Just as the sweet, sour, bitter and even pungent herbs are necessary for a man’s body (each has its own flavor and vitamins), the same is true of the Body of the Church. All are necessary. The one fills up the spiritual character of the other, and all of us are duty bound to endure not only the particular spiritual character, but even the human weaknesses we each have.


Edited by Anna Stickles, 11 February 2015 - 02:36 AM.


#20 Anna Stickles

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Posted 11 February 2015 - 02:56 AM

Elder Paisios touches on what we want to avoid in the paragraphs right before this.

I would further like to say that there does exist another, third group, within our Church. They are the brethren who remain as Her faithful children, but who don’t have spiritual concord between themselves. They spend their time criticizing one another, and not for the general good of the struggle. The one monitors the other (more than himself) to see what he will say or write so as to ruthlessly nail him. ...

 

Great harm comes of this; for while the one injures his neighbor, the other strikes him back before the eyes of all the faithful. Often times, disbelief is sown in the souls of the weak, because they are scandalized by such people. Unfortunately, some from among us make senseless claims against the others. We want them to conform to our own spiritual character. In other words, when someone else doesn’t harmonize with our own character, or is only mildly tolerant—or even a little sharp—with us, immediately we jump to the conclusion that he is not a spiritual person.


Edited by Anna Stickles, 11 February 2015 - 03:09 AM.





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