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A LISTENER'S REPORT

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Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology
October 5, 2002

Prepared by
Valerie Karras, Th.D., Ph.D.
St. Louis University,
St. Louis, Missouri, USA

Deenabandhu Manchala
World Council of Churches,
Geneva, Switzerland

Anton C. Vrame, Ph.D.
Patriarch Athenagoras Orthodox Institute,
Berkeley, California, USA


I. Introduction

1.1 From October 3 - 5, 2002, hierarchs, clergy, scholars and theologians, students and interested members of the community convened at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Brookline, Massachusetts to discuss the topic "The Orthodox Churches in a Pluralistic World." The conference was subtitled "An Ecumenical Conversation" and the speakers represented the diversity of Christian traditions. The conference was co-sponsored by the World Council of Churches and was held in cooperation with the Boston Theological Institute and the Initiatives in Religion and Public Life of Harvard Divinity School. The conversation was enriching and edifying. We thank Holy Cross and the conference sponsors for the opportunity to engage in a conversation on these issues in an atmosphere of mutual respect.

1.2 The issue was placed before the conference plainly: Dr. Konrad Raiser stated, "all religions have to come to terms with the reality of religious plurality." In his keynote address, His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios of America defined the challenge posed to Orthodoxy in positive terms: "The pluralistic world is not an obstacle to Orthodoxy; it is rather an opportunity. In a pluralistic global society, the Orthodox Church is challenged to match her incarnational Christology with an equally incarnational ecclesiology." His Eminence proposed the pledge of St. Paul to the first-century Corinthian Church as a paradigm for meeting the contemporary challenges of globalization and pluralism, "I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some" (1 Corinthians 9.22). The challenge of pluralism is to come to terms with the challenge of relatedness between and among communities and people of different religions and cultural traditions.

1.3 The participants offered analyses and insights into the issues of globalization and pluralism, including such areas as human rights and violence, the rise of nationalism and ethnic conflict, social activism and mission, and the need for reconciliation and forgiveness.

II. Globalization and Pluralism

2.1 Globalization is the transcendence of territorial boundaries and the compression of time and space through the rise of information technologies, transnational financial corporations, networks and markets, international movements seeking universal human rights and a sustainable environment, and the emergence of non-territorial, flexible organizations and networks. This reality has challenged the assumptions of modernity about privatized religion and secular public space.

2.2 Religious communities have entered the public sphere with both positive and negative messages in response to this globalization. The events of September 11 are a dramatic example of a negative response. On the other hand, religion has unexpectedly emerged as the only significant moral force against an unchecked global economism since the fall of communism. The Church has to discern how to be a public actor, agent of change, and conscience-keeper without becoming a political actor.

2.3 Pluralism is the reality in which all religions now find themselves. No religious community can assume a religiously homogeneous society, but must learn to function in a "religious marketplace." As Diana Eck pointed out, pluralism "is not just another word for diversity… or a mere tolerance of the other (but) an engagement, not the abdication, of differences and particularities." In fact, within Orthodox parishes in America, there is a parish pluralism, with communities comprised of members from many ethnic backgrounds and through interChristian marriage, various Christian traditions.

2.4 According to Emmanuel Clapsis, "Particular, local cultures and communities are challenged by the new globalizing cultural realities to re-define their identities in light of the presence of … multiple others.… All particular cultures and identities in a globalized [and pluralistic] world are involved in a highly complex and dialectical process of reconfiguring themselves in conversation with … multiple others, as ideas and cultural forms invade their living space."

2.5 Theologically, the Orthodox Churches have been relatively silent on these realities. At times, many Orthodox Churches have exhibited ambivalent behavior in response to their new pluralistic environment due to their socio-political history. However, as Elizabeth Prodromou has articulated, the possibilities of constructive engagement over static ambivalence is dependent upon "the willingness of Orthodox churches to remain faithful to the Trinitarian concept of pluralism at the center of the Orthodox theological imagination." The translation of the Holy Scriptures into multiple languages and the diversity of liturgical expressions are examples of the Church’s concern for "the particular and specific cultural elements of local" communities, meeting the needs of socio-cultural and ethnic pluralism (Archbishop Demetrios).

III. Human Rights and Violence

3.1 The concept of human rights is a modern Enlightenment concept rooted in western cultural and religious traditions of the Middle Ages. The ancient Greek concept of the city (polis) affirmed a contrary concept of what we today call "human rights." The Orthodox concept of personhood transformed the ancient Greek political event into the Eucharistic body of the Christian Church.

3.2 The "Ecumenical Decade to Overcome Violence" has caused us to reflect on the links between "religion and violence." In the Judeo-Christian tradition, violence is notably absent in the creation story, yet present in the journey of the Hebrew people. Orthodoxy provides a non-violent alternative to western Christianity’s atonement theology based on Christ as sacrificial scapegoat by an incarnational soteriology in which Christ shares our mortal human nature, restoring it through His death on the Cross and His resurrection. Violence is clearly a part of our sinful, fallen condition. While disagreements may exist as to whether it is permissible, much less necessary, to limit violence through violent means, such means can never be viewed as a "good." There is no just war theology in the Orthodox Tradition.

3.3 While love of one’s homeland is a positive value, nationalism or ethnophyletism is destructive when it rejects pluralism, i.e.,"when it fails to acknowledge, or deliberately ignores the distinctiveness of others" (Tsetsis). Phyletism may be characterized as the idolization of national loyalty, which is not authentic to Orthodox tradition, but rather reflects the manipulation of the Church by the State. While the Orthodox Churches condemned phyletism in 1872, "nationalism remains one of the central problems of the Church," in the words of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. Ethnic violence and ethnic cleansing caused by excessive nationalism must be condemned by all people of faith. Violence against one nation in order to "save" another nation sets us against Christ by applying the same logic used to crucify Christ. The Church’s rejection of ethnophyletism, as Metropolitan John of Korca noted, is based on Orthodox theological anthropology, which sees the image of God in all persons, and on an incarnational soteriology, which proclaims that Christ died for all.

IV. Reconciliation

4.1 Globalization and pluralism make forgiveness and reconciliation not a private affair but a public statement of far-reaching political importance. If forgiveness is real and the possibilities of reconciliation manifold, how do people and communities of faith model this reality in a civil society?

4.2 Orthodox theology requires an eschatological orientation. The Church is not to be identified as the Kingdom of God, but prepares the way for the Kingdom, which will culminate in the eschaton (Vassiliadis). "An eschatological vision of reality and the world offers a way out of the impasse" of the negative impact of globalization and pluralism (Chryssavgis). It offers a prophetic critique of our present status and offers a vision of God’s intent for humanity and the cosmos. Our unrealized eschatology must be matched by a realized eschatology, with implications for our presence and conduct in the public arena. The dynamism of the "ecclesia" depends on its ability to hold together its present "being" and its "vocation" in a creative tension.

4.3 Thus, theology does not absolve the Orthodox Churches from working as an agent of reconciliation and forgiveness. Orthodoxia requires orthopraxia. We pray, "Your kingdom come. Your will be done." The Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops affirmed (Sept. 20, 2002), "As we pray, so we believe. As we pray, so we act." Evidence of Orthodox Churches and Orthodox Christians acting as they pray and believe is growing on a global scale in the area of missions and evangelism, service to the poor and victims of violence, and working to challenge structures of injustice and oppression. Nevertheless, we must strengthen our prophetic voice and our ecclesial response in solidarity with the oppressed, victims, and economically disadvantaged as a necessary consequence of our recognition of all persons bearing the image of God.

The Conference speakers were: His Eminence Prof. Archbishop Demetrios (Trakatellis), USA; Metropolitan John (Pelushi) of Korça (Albania); Richard Falk, Princeton University, USA; Rev. Dr. Emmanuel Clapsis, Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, USA; Dr. Elizabeth Prodromou, Boston University, USA; Dr. David Little, Harvard Divinity School, USA; Dr. Christos Yannaras, Panteion University of Athens, Greece; Dr. Diana Eck, Harvard University, USA; Dr. Konrad Raiser, World Council of Churches, Switzerland; Rev. Dr. Stanley Harakas, Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, USA; Dr. Petros Vassiliadis, Aristotle University of Thessalonike, Greece; V. Rev. Dr. George Tsetsis, Switzerland; Rev. Dr. Thomas FitzGerald, Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, USA; Prof. Paschalis Kitromilides, University of Athens, Greece; Rev. Kwame Labi, World Council of Churches, Switzerland, Rev. Dr. John Chryssavgis, Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, USA; Dr. Christopher Duraisingh, Episcopal Divinity School, USA; Dr. Rodney Petersen, Boston Theological Institute, USA.