How many people have at least general knowledge about the Orthodox Faith? How many Christians are familiar with the current situation within the Orthodox World or at least with its theology, tradition, and structure? How many of them are concerned about the plight of abducted Syrian clergy, detained Eritrean hierarch and thousands of Orthodox faithful, who are persecuted all over the world? How many Orthodox believers are informed on the recent developments in the dialog between Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Churches? Do we have a clear vision of Western Churches’ policy toward us and how we should interact with them? All these issues are thoroughly covered in the George Alexander’s new book called “The Orthodox Dilemma” that was offered me for review. Moreover, the publication has very interesting and valuable personal observations that show author’s deep and sincere concerns on the fate of the Orthodox Church.
The main issue raised in the book is why relations between Eastern Orthodox Churches and Oriental Orthodox Churches (as well as other non-canonical denominations) gain far less attention than ecumenical ones. Although the publication seems to be of polemical nature; it raises a lot of important questions that definitely worth being discussed by the broad community of Orthodox faithful. In my opinion, this proves the high value of “The Orthodox Dilemma” and surely another advantage of the book is its live and sincere way of narration.
At the same time, I’d like to take advantage of this opportunity and offer several comments on the message of the book. I’d also like to stress that this review is merely my opinion and in no way reflects the position of the Georgian Catholicosate which I belong to.
Firstly, I doubt the reasoning like “if we are so actively engaged in ecumenism, why don’t we seek Pan-orthodox unity at first”. Maybe we should ask: ”If we don’t strengthen relations with the Oriental Churches and don’t seek unity with them, why not to give up ecumenical dialog with the Western Churches?” As for me, such unity is not a goal in itself.
Often it is secular authorities who seek mere unity instead of the Truth, and Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann gave us a bright historical example of how it can affect the Church: “Constantinus might think he had completed his father’s work and achieved the longed-for peace in the Church, but since it was based on a meaningless compromise, the peace was bound sooner or later to end. A year and a half after the triumph of the Homoian party (as the new Church-state coalition was known), Constantinus died. A reaction took place, not against any particular theology this time, but against Christianity itself: for two and a half years (361-63) the mysterious and tragic shadow of the Emperor Julian the Apostate lay across the empire. His first act was to set up complete religious freedom. He is reported to have hoped that the Christians would dispute so bitterly among themselves that they would discredit their faith in all eyes. Actually, the brief reign of Julian demonstrated that the Church, when left to itself might solve its difficulties independently”. On the contrary, in Matthew 10:45 we even can read: “I did not come to bring peace, but a sword”. Heretics who leave the Holy Tradition representing the action of Holy Spirit in the Church’s life are self-condemned by their own secession from the true faith (Titus 3:11) , and it was alright in Apostolic times to admit they aren’t members of Church. Indeed, they were granted with the Gospel, so why they gave it up? Thus, for members of canonical Orthodox Churches and from the spiritual point of view it seems not a matter of unity but rather a matter of how many people in the world would save their souls and praise the true Lord.
For example, how can Orthodox World embrace such an oath-breaker, a corrupt, immoral and politically biased person as anathematized Kievan “Patriarch” Filaret? Remember that he supported schisms in Bulgarian (1992) and Serbian (2006) Orthodox Churches instead of heal them! How can his dignity be recognized after these uncanonical and anti-Orthodox actions? Does his vision of the Church comply with the Holy Scripture and the Holy Tradition? In my opinion, Ukrainian situation is rather different from the EO-OO division, because the so-called UAOC and UOC-KP didn’t inherit misunderstanding and schism historically, their believers and hierarchy behave deliberately and know exactly what they do.
Of course, putting aside theology, there is a need for a common platform for Orthodox World to discuss social, moral, educational and security issues, to defend the rights of Orthodox believers and help them in need. It also would be good to join our efforts to tell people about Orthodoxy more actively through the media. There are many worthy ideas on this matter in the book!
Secondly, George Alexander refers to the Oriental Orthodox Churches, Old-Calendarists, Old-Believers, various “True Orthodox” and other non-canonical denominations as true Orthodox. At least in the case of Oriental Orthodox Churches he says that their faith is the same as of the Eastern Orthodox Churches. I have no theological background and can’t examine Christological issues on my own. On the other hand, a reference to the 2014 declaration of the Joint Commission for the Dialogue between Eastern Orthodox Churches and Oriental Orthodox Churches can’t fully change my mind about this matter. And the mere feelings of believers can’t be referred to as a sufficient basis for such an assessment of faith as well. It is only Church as a whole can decide whether the schism happened in the course of Council of Chalcedon due to merely political and linguistic difficulties or there were more profound reasons. And in the former case (I wish it was like that), it is only Ecumenical Council that can correct the mistake.
Thirdly, there is no room for Revolutions in the Church. Decisions shouldn’t be made exceptionally by the hierarchy nor should they be blindly pushed by the laity. There should be mutual trust and consent between them. A common problem (as I see it) is that a lot of people are more or less distanced from the true life of the Church due to the past Communist repressions or the pressure of modern secular society. Their belonging to the Church is fused in the age of aggressive mass culture and social media. How can we define who represents the Church now? That’s why it’s so difficult to keep up true and responsible reception of a Synod’s decision. Thus, to get sure that any future agreement is inspired by the Holy Spirit but not politics, culture or something else, we should bring people back to the spiritual life of the Church. This work should be done simultaneously with the theological dialog. It is Christ who should be the focus of our life. Doing so, we’ll ease the implementation of rightful decisions as well.
Frankly speaking, there are statements like “However, in the efforts to unify, the true faith of Orthodoxy should not be compromised nor should a common platform be used to make liberal theological agreements with non-Orthodox Churches” that inspired me to read the publication to the end. But there are no personal accusations. For me it’s obvious that George Alexander’s faith and goals are sincere and fair. I just wish above mentioned ideas to be expressed more explicitly. The Orthodox Dilemma” is definitely worth reading, and I will be glad to see it getting attention among Orthodox Christian believers.