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cover of Seminar and a Panel discussion about Orthodox Political Theology in Toronto

With the participation of the Director of the Volos Academy

Dr. Pantelis Kalaitzidis

 

On January 9, 2016, two important international events, a Seminar and a Panel discussion about Orthodox Political Theology were successfully held in Toronto, Canada, with the participation, among others, of the Director of the Volos Academy for Theological Studies Dr. Pantelis Kalaitzidis.

 

A.    Seminar
On that day, the Orthodox School of Theology at Trinity College hosted a seminar with three contemporary Orthodox theologians on the topic of “Orthodox Political Theology for the 21st Century.” The seminar was held in the Rigby Room of St. Hilda’s College at Trinity College, University of Toronto. The speakers were Dr. Aristotle Papanikolaou, Dr. Perry Hamalis and Dr. Pantelis Kalaitzidis.
The seminar was chaired by Dr. Paul Ladouceur, who teaches at the Orthodox School of Theology at Trinity College and the Université Laval. In his opening remarks, Professor Ladouceur situated the seminar in the context of the development of viable Orthodox political theology over the past few decades. Orthodox engagement with modernity began in Russia in the late nineteenth century, but was largely in abeyance for much of the twentieth century as a result of cataclysmic world events. Contemporary Orthodox political thought is a key aspect of the engagement of Orthodoxy in constructive dialogue with modernity and post-modernity, with Western society and with Western Christianity.

Dr. Aristotle Papanikolaou, (Archbishop Demetrios Chair in Orthodox Theology and Culture, Co-Founder and Co-Director of the Orthodox Christian Studies Center, Fordham University, New York), spoke on “Political Nestorianism in Contemporary Orthodoxy.”
Professor Papanikolaou characterised a certain trend in Orthodox thought concerning Western modernity and liberal democracy as similar to ancient Nestorianism. Just as Nestorianism was a dualistic logic that could not conceive of the union between the fullness of divinity and the fullness of humanity, political Nestorianism in contemporary Orthodoxy sees God and the world in a dualistic and irreconcilable antagonism. This has implications for how Christians relate not simply to the church, but to the public political space, including civil society, culture, law, government, education and medicine. As a result of this dualistic thinking, certain political issues are seen as driven by a godless, politically liberal, humanistic agenda and any capitulation on these issues would mean a defeat for Christianity and a surrender to the dark side of human nature. In contrast, Dr. Papanikolaou offers a Biblical and patristic approach to modern society based on Christian love, tolerance and non-dualism, consistent with Chalcedonian Christology. Such an approach sees self-serving hyper-individualism as the principal target of Christian political engagement and political liberalism, thus providing a basis for dialogue in modern pluralist societies.
Dr. Perry Hamalis, (Cecelia Schneller Mueller Professor of Religion, North Central College Illinois) presented a paper on “Orthodox Political Theology and the Ethics of War.”
Professor Hamalis reviewed the four main theories of war ethics that have dominated Western thought: pacifism; holy war; just war, and political realism. None of these theories corresponds neatly with Orthodox tradition, nor with the history of Eastern Christendom. None of the Greek Fathers of the Church wrote systematically on war, unlike Western religious thinkers such as Augustine Thomas Aquinas and some of the leaders of the Reformation. Yet for Orthodoxy to develop an entirely unique approach would likely prove ineffective and non-ecumenical, nor can Orthodoxy excuse itself from the table and withdraw from the issue. Dr. Hamilis advances the option of a less well-known Western approach to war, that of just peace-making: the active engagement in measures which reduce the possibility of war and thereby promote peace. This is biblically grounded in the Beatitudes and other New Testament teachings. It is the theology and practice of a number of Christian communities, thus providing an existing conceptual framework, language and ecumenical partners. Should war be inevitable, the appropriate Orthodox response should be characterized by Christian realism, a spiritual response recognizing war as a tragic reflection of the imperfect state of human existence.
Dr. Pantelis Kalaitzidis, (Director, Volos Academy for Theological Studies Volos, Greece, Research Fellow KU Leuven, Catholic University) spoke on “Orthodox Political Theology: Person, Communitarianism and Community, and Its Relevance for Orthodoxy and Human Rights Debate.”
Professor Kalaitzidis’ talk challenged the hostile attitude of distinguished Orthodox hierarchs and theologians towards human rights, and the idea which lies behind that hostility, i.e., the notion that Orthodoxy is incompatible with modernity, conceived as promoting individualism inimical to the Orthodox tradition. This contrasts, in the eyes of critics, with the communal or even the communitarian dimension and values of Orthodoxy. Dr. Kalaitzidis presented the example of the participation of Archbishop Iakovos of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America in March 1965, at the side of Martin Luther King, in the “March on Selma,” to further the goals of the American civil rights movement and to commemorate the civil rights activist James Reeb, a Unitarian Universalist minister from Boston, who had been brutally murdered. Archbishop Iakovos did what he thought was morally right, even going against the opinion of the US Greek community, seeking at that time for acceptance and integration in the American society. Dr. Kalaitzidis points to Christ’s encounters with individuals, leading to a free personal conversion to his teaching, often against the then contemporary communal values, and to the radical new element in the human condition brought by the notion of personal relationship with God. Following from this, the modern development of Orthodox theology of the human person is a foundation for Orthodox engagement with modernity, including for example human rights. Dr. Kalaitzidis therefore suggested a synthesis (a non mutual exclusion) between the emergence of individual, and the social dimension of Christianity as it is exemplified in the communal structure of the Church, linking also the advocacy for human rights with the social engagement of the Church. In this regard Dr. Kalaitzidis reminded the difference between the American and the European political theology, the former focusing on issues of values and (sexual) morality, while the latter having its starting point on the solidarity in the name of Christ with the poor, the marginalized, and the victims of history.
The complete video recordings of the three talks and the following discussion are available on (http://www.trinityorthodox.ca/news/successful-seminar-orthodox-political-theology-21st-century

B.    Panel Discussion
Οn January, 9, 2016 (afternoon), the Society of Christian Ethics organized among other events an important panel discussion in the frame of its 57th annual meeting in Toronto (January, 7-10). The theme of the panel discussion was: “Political Theology in Post-Communist Orthodoxy.” The panelists included Dr. John P. Burgess, (Pittsburgh Theological Seminary), Dr. Perry Hamalis, (Cecelia Schneller Mueller Professor of Religion, North Central College Illinois), Dr. Pantelis Kalaitzidis, (Director, Volos Academy for Theological Studies Volos, Greece, Research Fellow KU Leuven, Catholic University), and Dr. Aristotle Papanikolaou, (Archbishop Demetrios Chair in Orthodox Theology and Culture, Co-Founder and Co-Director of the Orthodox Christian Studies Center, Fordham University, New York), while Dr. Stanley Hauerwas, (Duke Divinity School) offered a brief response. The meeting which was convened by Dr. Luke Bretherton, (Duke University), aimed at reflecting on the recent political theologies in the Orthodox tradition that have emerged since and in light of the post-communist context in the traditional Orthodox countries. In his presentation, Dr. John P. Burgess presented an overview of the present condition of Orthodoxy in the post-communist Russia. Russia is a country deeply damaged by decades of communist rule. But Russians still think of themselves as a great nation and civilization, where Orthodoxy offers them a sense of what is valuable about their culture and how they are part of, yet different from, the West. Dr. Perry Hamalis spoke about “Democracy and the dynamics of death: Orthodox Reflections on the origin, purpose and limits of politics”, where he focused on “the dynamics of death.” Τhe latter encompasses both the predicament of human death and the ways in which the reality and awareness of death shape human life in personal and political contexts, suggesting the value of “the dynamics of death” as an interpretive lens for examining democracy within contemporary Christian ethics and for building a fresh rationale for democracy from an Orthodox standpoint. Dr. Pantelis Kalaitzidis, on his part summarized the basic contours and arguments of his recently published book “Orthodoxy and Political theology,” Doxa & Praxis, WCC Publications, 2012. Taking as its starting point the invention of “political theology” by the German conservative philosopher of law Carl Schmitt, followed by the leftist turn in political theology initiated by theologians such as Johann Baptist Metz, Jürgen Moltmann, the book proposes to examine the reasons for which Orthodoxy—with few exceptions—has not developed a “political theology,” in the liberating and radical sense of the term. It looks also to understand why prominent Orthodox theologians have underestimated, or even misunderstood, the meaning and content of political theology. The book then, after considering the crucial question of the legitimacy of a public role for the church and theology in the secular pluralistic societies of late modernity, tries to gather the elements and premises of an Orthodox approach to political and liberation theology, based mainly on the eschatological understanding of the church and its eucharistic constitution, on the biblical texts and the patristic tradition, and on the works and major contributions of contemporary Eastern Orthodox theologians, especially those of the Diaspora. Finally Dr. Aristotle Papanikolaou argued that the fundamentalist critique of political democratic liberalism betrays the Christology of the Council of Chalcedon and mimics Nestorian logic insofar as it reinforces the dualisms that Chalcedon attempts to overcome, and leads to a politics of mutual exclusivity and self-identification vis-à-vis the proximate other.  Engaged in practices of divine-human communion, Orthodox Christians would be actively engaged in a Chalcedonian politics that does not see this pluralism as a threat.  They would, instead, attempt to shape this pluralism through a minimal set of under-determined normative principles that include freedom and equality, guaranteed through human rights language that is not linked to a specific religious morality, all the while being aware that the ecclesial is not the political, even if, as he argued, that the mystical is the political.