Orthodoxy and Fundamentalism
Over the last few years a new tension has arisen caused by the radicalization of religious phenomena around the world, which has found expression in varying forms, ranging from mild conservatism or dynamic traditionalism to extreme forms of fundamentalism, fanaticism, and outright intolerance. At the same time the Orthodox Church and its theology has encountered the various challenges of the modern or late modern world by increasingly recognizing the need to deal with this most urgent issue, especially in the wake of the Holy and Great Synod convened in Crete in June 2016. At this Synod, Orthodoxy, despite facing its own internal difficulties which are directly or indirectly connected with fundamentalism, attempted to witness the truth of Christ, and to articulate a message of unity and hope in a world dominated by hatred, fanaticism, and the rise of nationalism, as well as brutality, the dominance of populism, the lack of tolerance towards the other, but also poverty, social injustice, limitation of human rights, the weakening of democratic values, lack of respect for the environment, and so on . These and other challenges, that theology is called upon to face in the 21st century, seem unpredictable in relation to the historical past, a fact that often makes this dialogue extremely difficult by triggering conflicting reactions.
Faced with these challenges of the current worldview, Orthodoxy persistently seems to be unable to face up to the circumstances. Committed as it is, often in a static manner, to its rich patristic tradition, it appears that the majority of theologians or the official institutional representatives from all the so-called traditional Orthodox lands, particularly in Eastern Europe, express not only a fundamentalist understanding and interpretation of the historical past but also of the surrounding atmosphere, expressing themselves in a way that is inconsistent with the ecclesial way of existence. Although any critical attitude towards the achievements of modernity, democracy, human rights or the surrounding reality, characterized by a pluralism of views, ideas, cultures and religions, should not be characterized as fundamentalism by definition, particular features of it, as have been accurately defined by modern scholarship, can describe and, above all, justify the existence of a clear, though not always distinct, current of an “orthodox fundamentalism.”
Therefore, the reaction to the supposed (or often real) risk of marginalization of religion from the public sphere in the aftermath of the slow but inevitable process of secularization and modernization of traditional societies, where Orthodoxy for centuries dominated not only the field of religion but was also close to political power, seems to characterize the wider movement of fundamentalism, which has recently emerged in a dynamic way in “orthodox” settings. From this perspective, new conspiracy theories constantly emerge to justify the need for resistance, if not attack, at the risk of alienating life, the downgrading of the “traditional values” and the ethos of Orthodox nations and societies. However, for this struggle to gain an ideological background, a selective use of the rich tradition, or in particular the Fathers of the Church, is often required, transforming them into an instrument of confessional constructions that do not correspond to historical facts. Furthermore, a “moral manichaism” (the fact that the world generally lies in the dark as opposed to the monastic and other religious communities experiencing the divine grace in purity), as well as the “infallible character” in the confession of faith (as expressed with regards to certain Fathers of the Church, and modern spiritual elders of monastic communities) contribute together with a necessary dose of apocalyptism (for the imminent destruction of the world, as a sort of punishment by God because of the sin that dominates the de-Christianized Western world in opposition to the “traditional values” of the Orthodox East) to the formation of a strong international “pan-orthodox fundamentalist current” which tends to dominate the ecclesiastical and theological scene, preventing the witness of the Gospel and the salvific mission of the Church in the modern world.
Can the Church with its theology, as its prophetic voice, resist and overturn this present situation? Without ever abandoning its rich tradition, Orthodoxy is called upon to go out into the world without fearful reflexes, repeating what the Fathers of the Church have done for centuries contextualising and inculturating the Gospel in their era. Following this dialogical patristic ethos and the hermeneutical approach to the historical truth, orthodox theology is today called upon to update its message without changing its faith or becoming entrapped in itself, constantly seeking to flee backwards to a glorious past, irrelevant to the present reality. In the context of late modernity, the Church and its theology have been called upon to both bravely and effectively address the challenges posed by the rapid development of the sciences, the gradual dominance of anti-democratic perceptions and practices, the marginalization of the weak of the world, by implementing in practice the sacrificial ethos being taught by its Lord Jesus Christ, in the perspective of the coming Kingdom of God, who will ultimately judge the truth of beings and history. In the light of the biblical and patristic tradition, any trace of fundamentalism, contrary to the continuous incarnation of the Gospel in the world and its history, the opening and the response of the Church to every other, can only be rejected as an expression of both an anti-Christian spirit in general and, in particular, an anti-Orthodox morality.
It is in this spirit that the Volos Academy for Theological Studies, abiding by the tradition of critical reflection on timely theological topics, has organized its activities for the current academic year 2017-8. A series of events, lectures, book presentations, meetings and conferences have been organized in cooperation with other Orthodox and ecumenical bodies, institutes and seminaries.