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Religion Library: Eastern Orthodoxy

Modern Age

Written by: Beth Davies-Stofka

As the Eastern Orthodox Communion makes its way into the 21st century by examining its recent past and recommitting to Orthodox fellowship and unity, it faces the challenges inherent in participating in the international community. Relations between eastern and western Christians have historically not been good. Eastern Orthodoxy still bears the scars of the pillaging of Constantinople by Western Christians in 1204. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, an influx of enthusiastic and well-funded evangelical Christians has arrived from the west, threatening the integrity of Orthodox communities. There have been recent signs of hope for reconciliation between Orthodox and Roman Catholic Christians. In 2001, Pope John Paul II made a papal visit to Greece, the first visit by a pope to Greece in a thousand years. And in 2004, the Roman Catholic Church returned the relics of St. John Chrysostom to Constantinople. These relics were originally plundered by the Crusaders in 1204.

In perhaps the most significant sign of reconciliation, the Eastern Orthodox Chalcedonian and non-Chalcedonian churches, first divided in 451, began a process of dialogue to heal their rift. After a series of meetings between 1964 and 1991, participants stated that the two traditions have preserved the same faith in Jesus Christ. While the two are not yet officially in full communion, there is close cooperation and sometimes intercommunion in many places, particularly Syria.

Meanwhile, the accelerating immigration of Orthodox Christians to the west, and particularly to the United States, has created unique conditions for immigrants, who seek proper organization and support. As churches are increasingly filled with second- and third-generation Orthodox, communicants feel themselves to be more western than eastern in ethnicity and language. The Orthodox Church in America (OCA) was formed in 1967, and was recognized by the Moscow Patriarchate in 1970. However, the other patriarchates did not follow suit, and the church is still unrecognized by most Orthodox. In spite of this, the OCA operates an influential seminary, St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary in New York, and an active publishing program. An English-language communion, the OCA represents indigenous American Orthodoxy, and could help to deepen and enrich worldwide Orthodox identity.

Study Questions:
1.     In the 19th century, how was the church forced into becoming a political agent?
2.     Why are the effects of the Soviet Union still damaging to Eastern Orthodoxy today?
3.     What is the Philokalia? How is it useful in the modern age?
4.     How is Eastern Orthodoxy attempting to reconcile itself with the global community?


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