Orthodox

Communion or Chaos?

Pavel L Photo and Video / Shutterstock
Pavel L Photo and Video / Shutterstock

EASTERN ORTHODOX churches often pass beneath the media radar, despite their status as truly ancient. The attacks by ISIS on Orthodox communities in Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere have brought into focus dwindling populations of Christians in the Middle East. Russia’s invasion of Crimea and popular uprisings in Kiev raised the alarm on the tenuous position of Ukrainian Orthodox churches.

In February, headlines were made again when Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill met in Cuba, the first-ever meeting of a pope and a Moscow patriarch. Additionally, a historic meeting will be held in June on the Greek island of Crete, bringing together leaders of all 14 loosely linked Orthodox churches for the first time in 12 centuries.

Both the pope-patriarch encounter and the troubled preparations for the convening of the pan-Orthodox leaders are extremely complex; one might call them Byzantine.

The meeting between the pope and the patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church was years—and several papacies—in the making. There were always obstacles, not the least of which was the Soviet system and bitter internecine church wars in Ukraine that pitted the Roman Catholic-affiliated Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church against the Russian Orthodox Church. After the end of the Soviet regime, the UGCC entered a renaissance and the Orthodox churches in Ukraine splintered, which Moscow has cited as a reason for refusing any meeting between the Russian Orthodox and Roman Catholic Church.

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To Wear, or Not to Wear? French Jews Wrestle With the Yarmulke Amid Growing Fears

Image via REUTERS/Vincent Kessler/RNS

Claude Chiche doesn’t wear a skullcap, but he has strong opinions about them. “There are some here want to take off their kippah because they’re afraid,” said Tunisian-born Chiche, referring to the Hebrew word for yarmulke or skullcap. “But they shouldn’t accept this; they shouldn’t give in to fear.”

First Orthodox Church Council in More Than Millennium May Be Postponed

Hagia Irene church. Image via  / Shutterstock.com

A religious summit last held more than 1,200 years ago suddenly risks being downgraded or postponed because of Syria’s four-year civil war. This unexpected twist has come as the world’s Orthodox churches, the second-largest ecclesial family in Christianity, were supposed to be only months away from their first major council since 787.

Now it is no longer clear when or where the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church, a summit first proposed at least as far back as 1961 and provisionally scheduled for May in Istanbul, will be held.

With its traditional icons and complex liturgies, Orthodox Christianity can seem like an unchanging remnant of a long-lost era. But it lives very much in today’s world and its 14 autocephalous (independent) member churches can be wrapped up in its politics and subject to its pressures.

Orthodox Rabbis: 'Christianity Is Neither Accident Nor Error'

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel and Cardinal Augustine Bea, who was instrumental to "Nostra Aetate." Image via American Jewish Committee / RNS

A statement by a group of Orthodox rabbis calls Christianity part of a divine plan in which God would have Jews and Christians work together to redeem the world.

Although signed so far by 28 rabbis mostly from the more liberal wing of the most traditional branch of Judaism, the statement marks a turning point for Orthodox Jews, who until now have limited interfaith cooperation to working on social, economic and political causes. But this statement puts Christianity in a distinct Jewish theological perspective — and an extremely positive one.

“(W)e acknowledge that Christianity is neither an accident nor an error, but the willed divine outcome and gift to the nations,” the seven-paragraph statement, issued on Dec. 3, asserts.

GRAPHIC: Hipster Faith

Like the following graphic may attest, Nadia Bolz-Weber's church, House for All Sinners and Saints, is not your typical Lutheran church. Instead "House," as the community refers to itself, combines ancient liturgy, Eastern Orthodox iconography, and traditional hymns with a pierced and heavily tattooed hipster pastor, events like the annual "Blessing of the Bicycles," and a "queer-inclusive" congregation.

You can read more about Nadia Bolz-Weber and the House for All Sinners and Saints in Jason Byassee's April 2014 Sojourners cover article "Cutting-Edge Orthodoxy." The article highlights Nadia's unconventional faith journey and introduces readers to the church that is reimagining traditional practices for the Millennial generation.  

Created by Kara Lofton for Sojourners

Kara Lofton is editorial/online assistant at Sojourners.

Images from Shutterstock.com (from top left to right): Praying hands in black background, Jesus Cervantes; Church with the Holy Spirit and water, Irisska; Rock with cross abstract grunge image, jcjgphotography; Smiling female friends with dog on old loading dock, CREATISTA; Bicycle, onairda; A Catholic nun wears a crucifix, Ryan Rodrick Beiler; Catholic liturgy and prayer beads, Marijus Auruskevicius; Denver, Colorado skyline, Teri Virbickis; Young bearded hipster man, Anchiy; Handsome young man with tattoo, Halfpoint; Stained glass church window, joroma; Byzantine 11th century painting, Brigida Soriano; Burning candle in a church, Nykonchuk Oleksii; Ancient Orthodox icon, Oleg Golovnev; Happy hipster girl, Alliance; Handsome young African-American man, Malyugin; Portrait of two hipster girls, Dragon Images

 

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Orthodox Rabbis Charged in Jewish Divorce Shakedown Plot

Yeshiva Shaarei Torah of Rockland on 91 West Carlton Road in Suffern, NY. Photo via RNS, by Tim Farrell/courtesy The Star-Ledger

In a bizarre case involving threats of kidnapping, beatings, and physical torture — including the use of an electric cattle prod — two rabbis were charged in New Jersey in a scheme to force men to grant their wives religious divorces.

Two others were also charged in the case, which grew out of an undercover sting operation involving a female FBI agent who posed as a member of the Orthodox community seeking a divorce.

As many as six others may also be charged, officials said.

Jewish Feminists Say They’d Accept Western Wall Prayer Compromise

RNS photo by Michele Chabin
Women praying at the Western Wall. RNS photo by Michele Chabin

JERUSALEM — In a stunning reversal, a feminist Jewish prayer group said it will consider a government proposal to allow a mixed-gender prayer space at the Western Wall — but only after the government agrees to their conditions.

For 25 years, Women of the Wall has demanded access to pray at the sacred site that is home to the remnants of the Jewish Temple and is overseen by the Orthodox religious establishment. The group objects to the restrictions placed on them when they pray in the women’s section. They want to continue to pray in that section but will consider a compromise.

After a “comprehensive and emotionally trying decision-making process,” the group’s executive board on Monday overwhelmingly decided “to create a future in which, under the right conditions,” its members will pray “in an equal and fully integrated third section of the Kotel,” the Hebrew word for the Western Wall.

Women of the Wall has demanded the right to pray directly from a Torah scroll, wearing prayer shawls and phylacteries — practices and rituals that strict Orthodox Judaism reserves for men.

Religious Leaders Push for Kidnapped Bishops’ Release

JERUSALEM — Religious leaders from around the world have stepped up their pleas for the safe return of two Syrian bishops who were kidnapped April 22 by armed men as they were driving near the war-torn city of Aleppo.

The kidnappers, who have not been identified, abducted Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Boulos Yazigi and Syriac Orthodox Metropolitan Youhanna Ibrahim, both of Aleppo, while they were undertaking a “humanitarian mission” to help Syria’s Christian minority, according to Syrian Christian expatriates in the U.S.

The bishops’ Syrian Orthodox driver was killed in the attack.

Since 2011, more than 70,000 Syrians have died in fighting in the bloody civil war between forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad and rebels seeking to oust Assad’s strong-arm regime.

French Jews Face Uncertain Future After Scandal

Rabbi Gilles Bernheim (left) “borrowed” the work of others. Photo courtesy RNS.

Amid a finance scandal that touched the heart of France’s Socialist government, a quieter drama played out this month as the country’s top rabbi resigned his post after admitting to plagiarism.

Rabbi Gilles Bernheim offered his apologies for “borrowing” the work of others and lying about his academic credentials, ending a leadership crisis that has rocked the country’s 600,000-strong Jewish community, the largest in Europe.

Now, as the search begins for a new grand rabbi, questions are mounting about which direction the religious leadership will take — notably whether it will continue Bernheim’s move toward a more “modern” and perhaps more inclusive French Judaism, or return to a more inward-looking faith.

 

Fifty Years Later, Church Leaders Respond to King’s 'Birmingham Jail' Letter

Photo courtesy Bloomsbury Press
Jonathan Rieder, author of 'Gospel of Freedom,' said reporters initially ignored the letter. Photo courtesy Bloomsbury Press

Fifty years after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. challenged white church leaders to confront racism, an ecumenical network has responded to his “Letter from Birmingham Jail.”

“We proclaim that, while our context today is different, the call is the same as in 1963 — for followers of Christ to stand together, to work together, and to struggle together for justice,” declared Christian Churches Together in the USA in a 20-page document.

The statement, which is linked to an April 14-15 ecumenical gathering in Birmingham, Ala., includes confessions from church bodies about their silence and slow pace in addressing racial injustice.

“The church must lead rather than follow in the march toward justice,” it says.

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