Orthodox Social Thought in Pre-Petrine Russia

One cannot overstress the social aspect of Russian religious ethics…. [O]ne must keep in mind that through all the centuries of medieval and Muscovite Russia her religion was predominantly social…. An enforced individualism enters the Russian Church life only since the reform or revolution of Peter I. ~ G. P. Fedotov On February 24, 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine. Low estimates count roughly 10,000 killed, nearly 4,000 of those civilians. The reality is likely much higher, and the fighting continues. Fleeing for their lives, 5.8 million have become refugees. I have views about this tragic bloodshed between…

Orthodox Social Thought and Monastic Enterprise

Inasmuch as the present rests on the shoulders of the past, we can generally claim that our contemporary economic life is built upon the foundations set by the ascetic monastic labor of medieval Europe. ~ Fr. Sergei Bulgakov In the early twentieth-century, Adolf von Harnack observed in his historical study that “in Western monasticism we have to recognise a factor of the first importance in Church and civilisation.” The sociologist Max Weber, Harnack’s contemporary, also acknowledged this, for the West, in his major work The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. By contrast, both figures…

Orthodox Social Thought in Christian Rome, Part 2

[W]ithin three centuries of Christianity’s appearance in the world, Christians took over the seat of power and set out on a long journey to effect change in society, creating a Christian civilization in the process. ~ Fr. John McGuckin In the powerful ending of Schindler’s List, Oskar Schindler, after sacrificing so much of his own wealth and risking his own life to save the lives of some 1,200 Jews in Nazi Germany, says, weeping, “I could have got more out.” He looks around at the possessions he could have sold: “This car … why did I…

Orthodox Social Thought in Christian Rome, Part 1

If the centurion Cornelius, having fully become a Christian, remained a warrior … then it is clear that he became a Christian warrior. A collection of such warriors forms a Christian army…. Consequently, if there can be a Christian army, then by the same token and even all the more there can be a Christian state. ~ Vladimir Soloviev In the seventh Harry Potter book and the first part of its film adaptation, there is a scene where Harry, the young wizard protagonist, attends a wedding. In the previous book and film (spoiler alert!), his mentor…

The Catholic Church in Pagan Rome

More than by words, Christianity was served by the actual renewal of life which appeared in the Christian community and was in the final analysis alone capable of proving the life-giving force of the Gospel. ~ Fr. Alexander Schmemann In 1941, the liberal biblical scholar Rudolf Bultmann asserted, “We cannot use electric lights and radios and, in the event of illness, avail ourselves of modern medical and clinical means and at the same time believe in the spirit and wonder world of the New Testament.” To Bultmann, one must get beyond this primitive worldview to its…

Orthodox Social Thought and History

The starting point of the Christian faith, is the acknowledgement of certain historical events, in which God has acted, sovereignly and decisively, for man’s salvation, precisely “in these last days.” ~ Fr. Georges Florovsky In the film adaptation of The Fellowship of the Ring, Frodo first sees Gandalf riding down the road to the Shire in a carriage loaded with fireworks for his uncle Bilbo’s “eleventy-first” birthday, and he calls out to him, “You’re late!” “A wizard is never late, Frodo Baggins,” Gandalf reprimands, “nor is he early. He arrives precisely when he means to.” Unable…

Orthodox Social Thought and the Biblical Apocrypha

“I could not venture to reject [Revelation]…. For if I do not understand I suspect that a deeper sense lies beneath the words. I do not measure and judge them by my own reason, but leaving the more to faith I regard them as too high for me to grasp. And I do not reject what I cannot comprehend, but rather wonder because I do not understand it.” St. Dionysius of Alexandria My friend Nick hosts a podcast about UFOs. In his first episode he jokingly riffs on a John Steinbeck quote: Steinbeck once wrote something…

Orthodox Social Thought and the Apostles

“I am convinced and believe that even after the resurrection [Christ] was in the flesh. Indeed, when he came to Peter and his friends, he said to them, “Take hold of me, touch me and see that I am not a bodiless ghost.” And they at once touched him and were convinced, clutching his body and his very breath. For this reason they despised death itself, and proved its victors.” St. Ignatius of Antioch Growing up, my mother tried to enforce age-appropriate entertainment consumption for me. However, she did make exceptions, one such being legal dramas…

Orthodox Social Thought and the Gospel, Part 3

[T]he scope of our art is to provide the soul with wings, to rescue it from the world and give it to God, and to watch over that which is in His image, if it abides, to take it by the hand, if it is in danger, or restore it, if ruined, to make Christ to dwell in the heart by the Spirit: and, in short, to deify, and bestow heavenly bliss upon, one who belongs to the heavenly host. This is the wish of our schoolmaster the law, of the prophets who intervened between Christ…

Orthodox Social Thought and the Gospel, Part 2

It may come to pass that the good Samaritan of the Gospel may find someone going down from Jerusalem to Jericho … falling back from the martyr’s conflict to the pleasures of this life and the comforts of the world … [and] may, I say, not pass by him but tend and heal him. St. Ambrose of Milan   In Till We Have Faces, C. S. Lewis’s retelling of the myth of Cupid and Psyche, one scene vividly captures a recurring phenomenon in the Gospels. As Lewis tells it, Orual, the story’s narrator and half-sister of…