Talking “Ism”s, Post-Pride

Two news stories out of the Russian church, of ambivalent significance, bookended this year’s Pride marching season.

At the end of June, Olav Fykse Tveit, general secretary of the World Council of Churches, met with Patriarch Cyril in Moscow.  Good news: the patriarchate under Cyril is not going to walk away from ecumenical dialogue with the other Anglican and Protestant bodies which comprise the WCC.  Bad news: the condition of such continued participation in ecumenical dialogue is the official silence of the WCC on homosexuality and female ordination.   

And about a month earlier the Libreria Editrice Vaticana published at Rome an Italian translation of Patriarch Cyril’s politico-theological writings.  Good news: the Russian church, maybe for the first time since the misfortunate metropolitan of Kiev who signed on the dotted line at Florence-Ferrara in 1438-39, has a serious philo-Catholic for its primate.  Bad news: his proposed Roman-Muscovite alliance for the “re-evangelization of Europe” centers on public opposition to homosexuality and abortion.

Chiesa quotes the patriarch as writing:

Both of the questions [i.e., homosexuality and female ordination] confirm, among other things, the thesis about the liberal nature of Protestantism, as previously defined.  It is absolutely evident that the introduction of female priesthood and the admission of homosexuality have taken place under the influence of a certain liberal vision of human rights: a vision in which these rights are radically opposed to sacred tradition.  And a certain part of Protestantism has resolved the question in favor of this conception of human rights, ignoring the clear norm of faith in the tradition.

The question whether or not Protestantism may be, in its essence, a religious manifestation of “liberalism,” is a long geschichte.  But the question I would like to ask, is why does opposition to “liberalism”—opposition to liberalism having just been defined by the patriarch as support for sacred tradition—necessarily entail opposition to homosexuality, or to female ordination?  The Orthodox churches, just for example, have been ordaining women to the diaconate, time out of mind; and when S. Paul commends to the church of Rome the deaconess Phoebe, and also greets his co-adjutors Prisca and Aquila (Rom. xvi, 1-4), he surely has no notion of United Nations (or WCC) statements on human rights.

Conservatism, Healthy and Unhealthy

We have characterized this blog as “conservative,” meaning that we support sacred tradition.  And yet what His Holiness Patriarch Cyril finds to be “absolutely evident” and “clear” in the tradition, we do not. 

A.I. Solzhenitsyn, certainly the twentieth-century Orthodox public intellectual best known in the West, made the following observation about the underlying harmony of the principles of continuity (read: a rightly-ordered conservatism) and of change (read: a rightly-ordered liberalism).  The context is a discussion of literature at the National Arts Club of New York in 1993, but what he says here of literature and the fine arts, comparatively true, is perhaps superlatively true of religion and philosophy: 

The divine plan is such that there is no limit to the appearance of new and dazzling creative talents, none of whom, however, negate in any way the works of their outstanding predecessors, even though they may be five hundred or two thousand years removed.  The unending quest for what is new and fresh is ever close to us, but this does not deprive our grateful memory of all that came before.  No new work of art comes into existence (whether consciously or unconsciously) without an organic link to what was created earlier.  But it is equally true that a healthy conservatism must be flexible both in terms of creation and perception, remaining equally sensitive to the old and to the new, to venerable and worthy traditions, and to the freedom to explore, without which no future can ever be born. [1]  

There exists in Orthodox ascetic theory, on the other hand, a diagnosis for the vice or passion which may be associated with an unhealthy conservatism.  Its defining characteristics are a sad complacency; insensibility of the need for continual striving; lack of pleasure in life or vocation.  Pseudo-conservative traditionalism—as distinguished from authentic conservative tradition—is, looked at supernaturally, only so much acedia.

Fortunately, since humans are still humans, and still bear the image of God (the Fall notwithstanding), “[t]he unending quest for what is new and fresh is ever close to us.”


Victor de Villa Lapidis

[1] “Playing upon the Strings of Emptiness,” The Solzhenitsyn Reader: New and Essential Writings, 1947-2005, ed. Edward E. Ericson, Jr., and Daniel J. Mahoney (Wilmington, Delaware: ISI Books, 2006), pp. 585-86.

Published in: on July 12, 2010 at 9:25 pm  Leave a Comment  
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