“Let us take refuge in the Lord, and ascend a little to the place where thoughts dry up, and stirrings vanish. Where memories fade away and the passions die, where human nature becomes serene, and is transformed as it stands in the other world.”
-St Isaac the Syrian (+AD 700)
My name is Ryan Hunter. I am an Orthodox Christian writer, journalist, public speaker, and recent Stony Brook University graduate (BA, European History, 2016) and MA candidate in European History (2018). My future plans include pursuing a PhD in Russian, British, or Byzantine history, continuing to publish articles and write for various publications, and traveling to and speaking at academic conferences. I also seek to work in communications and parish ministry. Ultimately I wish to become a tenured university professor of history, but would also happily teach political theory, international relations, international politics, or world religions.
My principal academic research has been in the following areas:
- Early modern political and religious history in Russia, England, Scotland, France, and the Holy Roman Empire.
- Classical Greek and Roman studies, particularly in political theory, warfare, religious syncretism and monotheistic development, and the intersection between societal norms, political power, and gender and sex.
- Medieval and early modern political society, religion, political theory, and warfare in Europe, the Middle East, and East Asia, with an emphasis on: the Eastern Roman Empire; Viking, Muslim Arab, and Mongol ‘periphery’ conquests; Plantagenet, Tudor, and Stuart Britain; the Hundred Years War; War of the Roses; rise of the Muslim and Asian gunpowder empires; and the centralization of the monarchical political state across the world in the sixteenth through eighteenth centuries.
Prior to coming to Stony Brook, I studied history, international relations, political philosophy, and politics at American University’s College of Arts and Sciences and School of Public Affairs in Washington DC. During the Spring 2012 term I studied Scottish and English medieval and early modern history at the University of Edinburgh.
I currently work as the graduate assistant at the Office of the Dean in the Stony Brook University College of Arts and Sciences. In the recent past, I have worked in communications for the University’s Office of the Bookstore Liaison and as a Conference Planner for the Office of Conferences and Special Events. I also work as a tutor and independent consultant.
I am a contributing writer at Ethika Politika, an online journal of ethics, politics, and religion. I also write as a contributing historian for the Marie Stuart Society and The Crown Chronicles (TCC), a popular London-based British monarchist blog affiliated with the prestigious British Monarchist Society and Foundation, with which I am also affiliated. You may find my articles for TCC here. I am also a contributor to the BMS Crown and Country magazine and Pravoslavie.ru, the historic Moscow Stretensky Monastery’s popular Orthodox content website. You may find my articles for Pravoslavie.ru here. Besides writing here on Orthodox topics in particular and Christian ones generally, I often write on historical issues, political theory, international royal history, and touch upon contemporary political and social events.
Some of my previous positions in Washington, DC include: serving as a Staff Writer at the Institute on Religion & Democracy (IRD) from August-December 2013, serving as a conference planning assistant to Anita McBride, former Chief of Staff to First Lady Laura Bush, in summer and fall 2012; working as an undergraduate research assistant with an American University professor of British history, for which I received a coveted financial award, in summer 2011; and as a research and planning assistant at Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs, also in summer 2011.
Through American University, I served twice as a paid Teaching Assistant for a course on the history of international political thought and legal theory. I have completed two independent studies under the supervision of Dr Douglas Klusmeyer on the subject of the Thirty Years’ War and the Peace of Westphalia.
Striving for non-partiality, I co-hosted American TV (ATV)’s hit political news show “Capitol Politics” from fall 2011 to spring 2013, hosting the political news show “The Body Politic” the previous year. For both these shows, I offered broadcasts on international and U.S. political developments, and enjoyed interviewing former ambassadors, members of Congress, high-profile DC attorneys, professors, and prominent political personalities.
During the Fall 2012 semester I worked with Anita McBride, Executive in Residence at the AU School of Public Affairs’ Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies, as a Conference Planning Assistant with the AU Office of Development and Alumni Relations.
During Summer 2012 I worked as a research and social media coordinator and scheduling adviser with Jackie Norris at Points of Light Corporate Institute in Washington, D.C. I spent the previous summer as a paid AU undergraduate research assistant working with a British history professor, having received the prestigious $5,000 Matthias Undergraduate Research Award, and as a paid intern at Georgetown University’s interfaith Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs.
As a member of the American University School of Public Affairs (SPA) Leadership Program from 2009-2012, I completed a sophomore social action project that connected dozens of DC college students, religious and community leaders, and young professionals in establishing the first DC-wide student interfaith project, the DC Student Interfaith Forum.
In Summer 2010 I completed an independent study examining the effect of the Thirty Years’ War and the Peace of Westphalia on the development of states in Europe. This work was in preparation for my work as a T.A. for the undergraduate course JLS 202 “History of International Thought and Law”, a position I held in fall 2010 and 2011.
I’m greatly interested in current events, both internationally and in the U.S. I love talking about international economics, politics and political theory, law and legal and constitutional theory, world religions, and international relations. History is, and has always been, my passion. I love discussions about current international events, economic and religious ideas, philosophy, news, et cetera.
I hope to engage with and teach students as a college professor, and continue to publish in different historical and theological fields.
I am also a sinner with the humble hope of renewal and transformation through faith in the Theanthropos, the God-Man Jesus Christ. I am an Orthodox Christian, and in this, I strive to remember the words of the Jesus Prayer- “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”.
In this I am nothing, but may, through Christ, transcend everything and become what St. Peter describes as a “partaker of the divine nature”. I hold fast to the words of St. Irenaeus, that, having received the life-changing blessing of the promise of eternal life through Christ, I may cooperate in synergy with the Holy Spirit to allow the grace of God to guide me in all that I do and transform my soul in unity with the divine energies. This is the unique challenge which the Orthodox Church offers her faithful, the challenge to surrender our will, the societal constructs of autonomy and extreme individualism, to allow the Holy Spirit to work in us and transform us in union with the divine energies. This is nothing less than the process of theosis, of divinization by which we may realize the fullness of our life in Christ.
On Sunday, December 4, 2011, the Feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple (Julian calendar) I was received by chrismation into the Orthodox Church by His Beatitude Metropolitan Jonah, then primate of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA) at St. Nicholas Cathedral in Washington, D.C. I received the name Silouan after the beloved elder or staretz who spent the last decades of his life in ceaseless prayer on the Holy Mountain. In all humility, I consider having received this beautiful, challenging, and historic faith to be the most important and transforming event in my life. Entering into the fullness of the Orthodox Church, in my prayer life, in the Liturgy, in all that I am, is a blessing beyond compare.
My goal in creating and updating this blog is to share with you various articles, podcasts, essays and lectures on the Orthodox Church throughout history and in the world today. I also will be sharing different musings, stories and moments from my life with you that relate to the Orthodox faith, especially with regard to the Liturgy, Great Lent and other fasts, matters of theological doctrine and theosis, and Church history. Please feel free to comment and share your thoughts as you read my entries, whether you are Orthodox, of another faith, or of no faith at all.
St. Nicholas Cathedral in Washington, D.C, the Orthodox Church in America (OCA)’s primatial cathedral, was my parish and spiritual home from November 2010 to August 2012. I love and miss the Cathedral, and I very much admire Fr. Valery, Deacon Blagoje, and so many others there. I do not know Metropolitan Tikhon, but I sincerely pray for his primatial ministry, wishing him well as Primate of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA). I encourage anyone who is able to visit St Nicholas to do so; the parishioners are delightful and warm-hearted people who love God, the choir chants beautifully, and the Cathedral is a historic Washington landmark with magnificent Russian iconography!
My spiritual father, now a ROCOR Metropolitan, serves most often at DC’s beautiful and historic St John the Baptist Cathedral, the Russian Orthodox (ROCOR) church founded by St John of Shanghai and San Francisco, “the Wonderworker” of blessed memory. This is where I now most often attend Liturgy and Vigil along with many friends, young and old. Metropolitan Jonah has built a wonderful teaching ministry and Bible study program there, and often serves at Liturgy at the invitation of the very kind Rector, Fr. Victor Potapov, with the blessing of His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion, First Hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad. You are most welcome to visit both St John’s and St Nicholas!
In addition to my current obligations, I am a contributing historian at The Crown Chronicles, a popular London-based British monarchist blog affiliated with the prestigious British Monarchist Society and Foundation, with which I am also affiliated. You may find my articles for TCC here. I am also a contributor to the BMS Crown and Country magazine and Pravoslavie.ru, the historic Moscow Stretensky Monastery’s popular website. You may find my articles for Pravoslavie.ru here. Thus, besides writing here on Orthodox topics in particular and Christian ones generally, I often write on historical issues, international royal history, and touch upon contemporary political and social events.
I have also worked as a staff writer, researcher and blogger at the Institute on Religion & Democracy (IRD). You may find my articles here at the IRD’s blog page, Juicy Ecumenism.
I worked with the IRD to publicize and critique the latest developments in different faith groups, especially the mainline U.S. Protestant denominations. I principally focused on global events and internal developments affecting the ministry, theology and ongoing witness of the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches. My research interests include the international response to the Arab Spring; the ongoing humanitarian crises in Syria and Egypt; Christian faith in American and European public life; analyzing U.S. political movements from an orthodox Christian perspective; and the intersection between U.S. federal administration policy, Christian theology and religious liberty.
Any errors, misquotations or other mistakes that appear on this site are my own, and, of course, I appreciate any readers alerting me to any such inconsistencies.
All my entries can be found chronologically by clicking above on “Posts”. Please feel free to search my site using any keywords that may help you find what you are looking to read.
Wherever you are, may the Lord always bless you and give you peace.
Stony Brook, New York, May 2017
Thank you for visiting my little blog, I wish you success with your blog and hopefully will see you around the internet!
It was my pleasure! Thank you so much for visiting mine too Leah! It’s nothing special, just some things I like to share (musings, articles, pod casts, et cetera.) My hope is just to have some friendly discourse with fellow Orthodox, and for anyone who is not Orthodox that might see this blog to learn more about the faith and endeavor to see the Liturgy for themselves. In the meantime, I think God meets people where they are, and that a measure of grace, a part of the fullness of the Orthodox Tradition, exists among other Christian groups.
I just stumbled upon your blog by chance and I’m so glad i did! my hubby and I have been catechumens at a Greek Orthodox Church for a year now and we hope to be joining soon! Congratulations on your Chrismation in December of 2011 and Many Years to you as you continue on This journey of Faith that so many have travelled. I look forward to reading your posts!
Thank you for your kind words, and for your interest in my blog! What a joy that you and your husband will soon be received into the Orthodox Faith! The Greek Orthodox Church was where I first encountered the Divine Liturgy in all its Byzantine splendor and majesty, so I love going back to DC’s St Sophia Cathedral where I first experienced it! Our OCF chaplain at American University serves as a priest there. Many Years to you as you continue on your journey into the life of the Church! I’ve found that I continue to fall more in love with the Faith each day!
Your blog is great! May God strengthen you to your journey to Orthodoxy!
Many greetings from Greece
Thank you so much, you are very kind! I was received into the Church in December, but you are absolutely right- the journey to Orthodoxy is a life-long one in our process of theosis!
Warm wishes from Scotland!
May God grant you grace to live as one who follows the light of the true faith! Христос воскрес – Воистину воскрес!
Thank you for your beautiful comment Mendeleyev! Indeed I hope He grants me this grace.
Воистину воскрес! May the risen Lord bless you and your loved ones in this joyful season!
Blessings to you!
Thank you! Your journalistic coverage of the protests in Russia is truly wonderful. I have been sharing your reports with Russian friends living in America and many of my U.S. and British friends. Thank you for raising awareness of what is going on so people in the West can have more of an idea of the developments.
Thanks Silouan for these comments and also your thoughtful comments about His Beatitude’s requested departure from the Metropolitan See.
Thank you Nicholas! I hope you are well. His Beatitude, the Holy Synod of bishops, and the whole OCA need our prayers for healing in this time!
July 19, 2012
Ryan, I recently discovered your blog. Your photos of St. Nicholas Cathedral are beautiful. (I’ve been there, too.) I wish I could contact you off-line. From your blog I see that you are a recent convert. I, too, am a convert to Orthodoxy, thanks be to God that over 30 years ago I was received into the faith.
Our OCA is going through a difficult time of change. These are sad events. I can sense your pain and confusion in your blog, especially as Metropolitan Jonah chrismated you and has instructed you. You mention Fr. Valery. I urge you to talk to him, seek guidance. Ryan, I also urge you not to spend time on the other blog you’ve posted on recently. Its content is very dark, and it will only be a cause of confusion for you. You are having trouble understanding recent events in our church, the resignation of Met. Jonah as ruling hierarch of the OCA. Put your trust in God. Ask Him to help you find peace and seek His will. Talk to Fr. Valery.
As I was reading the old calendar gospel for today, some passages stood out:
Matthew 15: 13 He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up. 14 Let them alone; they are blind guides. And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.
Do not follow blind “guides” into a pit. Pray to Our Merciful Lord for discernment and comfort. Pray for our Holy Synod, which includes His Eminence, Metropolitan Jonah, and all the faithful of the OCA.
With prayers from a sister in Christ.
Dear sister in Christ, thank you for your very kind words. I have followed your advice and prayed to our Lord for discernment and peace of mind and heart. You write, “You are having trouble understanding recent events in our church”, but how would you have me understand them? How do you understand them for yourself?
I continue to pray for all members of the OCA Holy Synod, especially Metropolitan Tikhon and Archbishop Benjamin, and I pray every day for all my friends who remain in OCA parishes for any of the reasons they have chosen to remain there. I especially pray for the community at St. Nicholas Cathedral. There are so many good priests and faithful laity in the OCA who, I know, want no part in what must seem to so many like yet another scandal.
These are indeed sad events, but I trust in God’s providence to create good and healing out of a painful situation. I see that this providence is already manifesting, as Metropolitan Jonah has been warmly embraced by those who value his ministry in the Russian Church Abroad (ROCOR). If you ever have the opportunity, please visit St John the Baptist Cathedral, also here in Washington, where the parishioners have received Vladyka with great kindness. I know that no parish is perfect, since we are all human, but there is no political strife, no whispers of conspiracy in this parish, and this is a joy, to be in an environment free from such scandal.
It is too painful for me to continue regularly attending St. Nicholas Cathedral. It saddens me that this wonderful parish, where I learned much about the Faith from so many people, has unfortunately been caught up in the web of internal OCA politics. If I were to continue worshiping there, a place from which, after July, Metropolitan Jonah was banned from even entering, let alone serving, what would that say about me? That I believe the OCA bishops over my own spiritual father? That I believe the charges against him to be truthful, that I approve of the circumstances leading up to his resignation?
I do not judge those clergy who serve there, since they have wives and families to support, but as a matter of conscience, it does not seem morally right for me to continue attending there. If I had continued at St. Nicholas, it would have plagued my conscience, for I cannot bring myself to believe the accusations against Metropolitan Jonah. How can I continue worshiping in a church where the presiding clergy either believe the accusations or are willing to go along with those who do? Why would I put myself through that discomfort; how does it benefit my soul?
To an extent, ignorance is bliss, especially when it comes to internal Church politics, but in cases such as these, willful ignorance seems to me to be more of a covering of one’s eyes and ears. Simply accepting new changes in administration when, in fact, the process by which those changes came about is deeply flawed, strikes me just as you said, of the blind leading the blind into a pit.
I do hope you can understand how I am in an odd position. How can I believe what has been said about my spiritual father, especially from a Synod of bishops which has been at the heart of so much controversy since from before his tenure as Metropolitan? How can I trust the Synod’s claim that they removed +Jonah to avoid another scandal for the OCA, when in November they permitted another bishop, Matthias, to remain in charge of his diocese despite that he admitted to behaving inappropriately toward a young woman, sending her text messages of a sexual nature? This does not sound like a Synod concerned with preventing scandals. To ignore all this is to be as one of the blind, led by the blind.
I understand that you might be in a different situation, especially if you have been active in the OCA for many years since you were first received into the Church. I pray that you find peace as well.
We were part of a different journey in Memphis, TN and were under Metropolitan Philip. I have heard some of what has been going on, tragic really, stay strong and know that the faith will stay the same regardless of the occassional spurts of “humanity” that come into play.
Thank you for your kind words of counsel. What happened is tragic, but I have witnessed a truly incredible amount of healing in so many people.
I have a quiet yet steady faith that the Lord will answer so many of these prayers in His time, in His Providence. It is a joy to know the the Faith will remain intact no matter the doings of men. I appreciate your description of the “humanity” or human fallibility that sometimes impairs some in the Church.
I have read with admiration about your Metropolitan’s decision to allow the reception of so many ‘Evangelical Orthodox’, many from either mainline Protestant or more low church evangelical backgrounds, into the Antiochian Archdiocese. This seems to have been a truly incredible work of the Lord! I think of how many Orthodox missionary efforts and outreach programs the AOCA is organizing, and it is a marvelous thing.
We got lucky and has someone accepting, truly accepting and this only strengthened the Church by bringing in tens of thousands of Orthodox from down in the Southern States. It was truly a movement of our time.
I think so too!
Congrats on your lovely blog…is it possible to contact you privately by e-mail please?
Thank you very much!
What is your e-mail address? Then I will message you my e-mail address. I do not wish to share my e-mail address publicly here.
Hi Ryan! I’ve been meaning to visit St. Nicholas Cathedral at some point – I’ll keep an eye out for you when I do 🙂 One thing I wonder about the cathedral is that I have read that it is a national war memorial? Is that correct – and do you know what about the cathedral makes it a war memorial – is there a special place dedicated to remembering veterans of war?
The cathedral is a national war monument, indeed. The plaque on the beautiful bell tower commemorates all those Russian and American soldiers who lost their lives fighting for the White/Tsarist forces during the Russian Civil War following the Bolshevik Revolution. I learned much of this from my wonderful godmother who for years served as parish historian at the Cathedral.
The entire Cathedral, built with some assistance from the Moscow Patriarchate (the bell tower was a gift in 1988 to mark the 1000th anniversary of Kievan Rus’ baptism) serves as the war monument. Many older members in the parish served in World War II, the Korean War, etc, and military attachés to the Georgian, Ukrainian and Russian embassies often attend the Liturgies.
Your comment here has brought St Nicholas to my attention! I deeply love the people of the parish (I was chrismated there, sang in the choir, and came to know many of the parishioners), and I am sure I will be back soon, since I always feel drawn to it. Since August I have no longer attended divine services at the Cathedral as frequently as I had when Metropolitan Jonah was Primate of the OCA and often served there.
I love the Cathedral, and I very much admire Fr. Valery, Deacon Blagoje and Matushka Kathy, and many other wonderful people. I do not know Metropolitan Tikhon, but I wish him well as Primate of the OCA.
I very much encourage you to visit St Nicholas; the people are truly delightful and the Cathedral is a historic Washington landmark with magnificent iconography!
Metropolitan Jonah serves most often at DC’s St John the Baptist Cathedral, the Russian Orthodox (ROCOR) church founded in 1949 by St John Maximovitch of Shanghai and San Francisco. This is where I most often attend Liturgy and Vigil now. You are most welcome at St John’s and St Nicholas!
Congratulations of your entry into the Church. Did Met. Jonah not encourage baptism of converts when he was with the OCA?
Thank you John. You mean re-baptism? No, generally, as far as I know, he would receive those coming in from another Trinitarian Christian faith by chrismation and laying on of hands (preceded by confession, abjuration of any “Western heresies”, and the recitation of the unchanged Symbol of Faith). As far as I am aware, in the OCA, re-baptism of those entering the Church from another Trinitarian Church is not normative. I was baptized as an infant in the Roman Catholic Church.
You are right! Re-bapitism is a NO NO!
I thought so too – I believe that was one of the practices for which the Donatists were condemned as heretical. (Any correction on this, if I am mistaken, is welcome).
The issue for the Donatists was whether or not someone who was baptized into the Church who had fallen away and renounced the faith (initially this controversy arose during the Diocletian persecutions when many Christians apostasized in order to stay alive) needed to be re-baptized upon their return to the Church to erase the stain of their having fallen into heresy.
As someone who was baptized as a Roman Catholic, in the full name of the Trinity, I was not raised in the Orthodox Church then to fall into heresy and return to the Church, but I came into the fullness of the Orthodox faith in my adult life, by the grace of God.
The funny part is that the religion closest to our faith is the Catholics, and yet they are sometimes the furthest from us as well.
I’m not quite so sure about that! I think most Protestant denominations today are quite a bit further from us than the Roman Catholics 🙂
That is true, but there is a new atmosphere of acceptance and seeking in some protestant faiths that I find encouraging actually. Some even practice fasting now.
Oh, that certainly is encouraging to hear among some Protestant communities! One thing I have noted in my discussions with LDS/Mormon friends is that they, too, practice a form of fasting on the first Sundays of each month, called Fast Sunday (this is obviously not as rigorous nor as regular as ours, but essentially is done for a similar purpose).
I have found that, in my relatively short time as an Orthodox Christian, the faith journeys of so many I have encountered are each unique in their own way. No matter where a person is in life, regardless of his or her religious or faith background, many people are drawn to Orthodoxy who one would think would never wind up joining themselves to the Body of Christ! Glory to God for such miracles!
I stumbled across your blog today looking up something about the sacrament of confession (who knows why exactly). 🙂 My name is Christine and about a month ago I graduated from a program at George Washington University, but while in DC I was a parishioner at St. Nicholas Cathedral. I believe that I was in church the day that you were chrismated by Vladika Jonah. It was a very lovely morning (though, funny enough, a frosty one, and I remember thinking that it was too bad that you needed to have your shoes off for a little while!). Here is a much belated many years to you! I’m now at an OCA parish where I live in NYC that I am very happy with, although I do miss the community and clergy at St. Nicholas. It is unfortunate but I never had an opportunity to visit DC’s ROCOR cathedral. It looks stunning from the photos you’ve posted! Anyway, take care, and thanks for this blog.
Thanks very much for your kind post! Today is actually my name day (St Silouan!). Please excuse the long delay, but I have not been on here in awhile.
I hope you found what you were looking for back in July 🙂 Congratulations on graduating from your program at GW! What did you study there?
What a small world! I was a parishioner there from Fall 2010 until August 2012. I imagine that you and I have probably seen each other many times, without ever having been introduced!
I recall December 4 with such joy – and yes, I had *not* been expecting to have to take off my shoes! I don’t remember the floor being very cold, just thinking “this is so funny!”
Which church are you at in NYC? I will have to visit sometime. I’m so glad you have found a wonderful parish there! Even though my family live on Long Island, I have yet to ever visit any of the Manhattan cathedrals.
If you return to DC anytime soon, please come and visit St John’s – and St Nicholas of course 🙂 I’ve been meaning to go back to St Nicholas for awhile now. Vladyka Jonah is in England now until early October with my godmother, so in their absence I may go! I also greatly miss the clergy and community there. It holds so many memories. . .
I hope this reply finds you well!
Warmly in Christ,
First off, I want to say that I love what you’ve presented here in your blog – truly inspiring. I’m a couple years older than you, but I see in you a kindred spirit, someone who knows intimately the challenges (and the beauty) inherent in the spiritual journey: I read your posts and see someone who isn’t content with givens, with easy answers, but someone who strives for ever fuller, truer, more authentic experiences of faith. You’re obviously a searcher, a digger, and have a great gift for articulating the depth and integrity of your experience to others without sounding either platitudinous or stuffy. I suppose the other critical similarity I have with you is the fact that I am currently (as you were a few years ago) a practicing and committed Catholic who is deeply drawn to the beauty of the Christian East. Most of my reading over the past 6 months, or so, has centered – truth be told, almost obsessively – around Orthodox spirituality, liturgy, theology, history, etc. And I feel such a penetrating degree of resonance with the overall spiritual approach of the East that I’ve been discerning lately whether or not I might be being called by God to find a new spiritual home in Orthodoxy. Naturally, I’ve been wrestling with a lot of questions surrounding issues like Orthodox-Catholic ecumenical relations, the existence of the Eastern Catholic Churches, Papal Primacy – all the stuff I suppose one would expect to wrestle with as a Catholic interested in Orthodoxy – and losing quite a bit of sleep while I’ve been at it! You’ve obviously plied through this jungle of questions yourself…and come out the other side embracing Orthodoxy. Perhaps this isn’t the best forum for asking, but I’m wondering if you would, as a fellow brother in Christ, be able/have the time to shed some of your own personal insight on a few issues I’ve been struggling with…
1. It’s very possible that on your own journey towards Orthodoxy you never encountered this, but, speaking entirely for myself, I’ve encountered a good amount of material out there by Orthodox writers that exudes a lot of what I would consider almost willfully uncharitable, narrow-minded, and ignorant disdain towards the Catholic Church. For all its suspicions that Latin/Roman Christianity, by its very nature, represents a kind of indomitable, caesaropapist monolith that seeks to dismantle other forms of Christian culture and assimilate them into its Borg-like maw, it’s strange that these authors don’t look at their own history, which contains plenty of examples in the past of the Byzantine imperial mindset forcefully at work in the political and ecclesiastical affairs of other groups of Christians. The other thing I find curious in light of this fear-of-the-Latin-plague mentality is the fact that not a single Church in the entire Eastern Orthodox Communion (so I’m not including what have confusingly over time been termed the “Oriental” Orthodox Churches) ISN’T fundamentally Byzantine in it’s culture, liturgy, and spirituality – so no Alexandrian, West Syrian, East Syrian, or Armenian Rites – even in those places where an Eastern Orthodox patriarch has been set up as a counterpart to an already existing (and more populous) native one. I’m thinking here especially of Alexandria and Antioch, where the (Eastern) Orthodox presence there is entirely Greek/Byzantine in character. The irony of all this, of course, is that the Catholic patriarchs installed in each of these places have in large measure retained (and in the recent past, positively fostered) the liturgical and cultural inheritance of the traditional Christian population. Orthodox fears that the Catholic Church is still somehow out to Latinize every Christian in the world ought to be tempered by the fact that Catholicism, not Orthodoxy, is the only communion of churches in the world in which every historical rite finds expression. Hasn’t anyone talked about this before?
2. When one is able to look at them sympathetically, with an open mind, I feel that, with the exception of the doctrine of papal primacy, traditional doctrinal points of contention, such as the filioque, Original Sin, the Immaculate Conception, Purgatory, leavened vs. unleavened bread, etc., don’t really represent the impassable stumbling blocks they once may have in the past. I might be out of line here, but I don’t think it takes too much imagination to see how the Catholic and Orthodox positions on each of these issues can be reconciled. Regrettably, it seems that many (but I suppose not all, especially in recent years) Orthodox theologians and apologists don’t want to admit this, and would rather continue nitpicking, driving wedges between things where there needn’t be any in the first place. What’s the deal with that?
3. A significant element of Orthodox culture displays what I regrettably see in a lot of Protestants (at least in America), namely, a not-so-small tendency to define itself in what I’d call “negative” terms. In other words, both groups spend a lot of time and energy constructing an identity around how not-Catholic they are and brooding over centuries-old bad memories that no longer have any bearing on present-day reality. It reminds me of that all-too-classic scenario of a couple that breaks up after many years of being together: one person seems easily able to move on with her life, to the point that when she thinks about her past lover, she genuinely thinks well of him and hopes he’s happy; the other person, however, for some strange reason, even after all this time, is still stuck in a lot of resentment and pain. And though he’d never admit it, much of what he says and many of the decisions he makes in life are secretly in opposition to this phantom-her he can’t let go of in his imagination. He can’t simply feel good about himself anymore – he can only feel good about himself when he thinks about himself in relation to her, in terms of how much better off he is than her. His friends start getting annoyed and are tempted to ask him, “If you’re so over her, why do you keep talking about her?” I guess my point here is that it’s one thing for Orthodox Christians to be calmly critical of some of Catholicism’s beliefs and practices, but it’s quite another – not to mention unhealthy – to expend so much negative energy on maintaining what I’d call a pretty condescending attitude towards Catholicism. Catholic popes since Vatican II have made some pretty grand overtures to the Orthodox Churches over the years – something that takes guts and a lot of vulnerability – in an attempt to establish more positive relations with them, and, excepting perhaps the Ecumenical Patriarch, most of the time Popes have been received coolly, if not with outright hostility. My feeling is that this negative reaction on the part of many Orthodox has had less to do with genuine concern over doctrinal integrity and more to do with a crude, pathological xenophobia. Another example: I once took a trip to a Greek Orthodox monastery near my home town. When I arrived, I was bowled over by the beauty of the place and eager to learn more about it from some of the monks in charge of the guest area. When I approached one of them and told him who I was (which included my being a Catholic), it was like a record player had suddenly screeched to a halt: it got awkwardly quiet, he started to glance uncomfortably from side to side, as if I had said something wrong, and then he immediately proceeded to hand me a book which he, in all earnestness, seemed to think would be of great benefit to my spiritual progress. Almost comically, it turned out to be one of those hideous, triumphalistic “conversion” stories every religion in the world delights in handing out to people whose intelligences they don’t respect. And the story in this case was purportedly a “true account” of a Catholic who, through years of diligent, hard-knuckled study came to discover, in almost conspiracy theory-like fashion, how Catholicism had duped him and the rest of the world into thinking it was the true faith. I was not only disappointed but hurt that an Orthodox monk, of all people, would treat a Catholic brother so patronizingly. I suppose that underlying my long-winded complaint in all of this is basically: it seems that for vast swaths of the Orthodox population, being a good Orthodox is synonymous with (among other things, of course) disdaining Catholics. I’ve even read in places that many Orthodox, when they don’t outright deny the holiness of Catholic saints, at the very least say that Catholic saints were immature, less enlightened, overly prone to fantasy and the like. Catholics don’t officially celebrate post 11th Century Orthodox saints because it’s canonically impossible – but not because they think Orthodox saints aren’t somehow objectively holy. The whole thing smacks of spiritual hubris, an ironic hubris when you consider that Orthodox Christians down the centuries have spent a lot of ink vociferously denouncing the “intolerable” hubris of the Roman Pontiff.
4. The last thing I want to talk about – and then I’ll be quiet – is admittedly more abstract than what I’ve put out so far, so bear with me. It has to do with the Eastern affinity for symbol and paradox. Eastern spirituality and theology prides itself (and rightfully so) with sitting a lot more comfortably in contradiction, in the world of intuition and symbol, without feeling the need to analytically dissect everything – all of which I think is beautiful. The West has fallen under the spell of Descartes and has in large measure become a barren wasteland. People in the Christian West are thirsty for the deep waters the Christian East has to offer – I know I am. Now my reflections in this regard have to do specifically with the Catholic doctrine of papal primacy. The Orthodox Church claims that the principle of unity among the various churches is constituted by the invisible, mystical bond afforded by the sacraments, a common declaration of faith, and Christ himself. In other words, the idea goes – and I’ve seen this written explicitly in many places – Christ’s true Church in reality has no need of a visible locus of unity among its members in the form of a specific person exercising a specific office, someone like the pope, because it’s superfluous. But my question here is this: isn’t the whole idea of having a concrete, visible principle of unity on earth that symbolizes an invisible, mystical reality of unity beyond the material world entirely in keeping with Orthodoxy’s own theology of the Icon, a theology which, in Orthodoxy’s own words, comprises one of the most essential elements of its mystical and doctrinal life? Couldn’t it be argued that Orthodoxy’s disdain towards an effective, functional primacy – i.e., a primacy beyond the simply decorative or titular – is inconsistent with its own best contributions to Christian life and thought? The idea of having a universal pontiff in the form of the pope seems scary – I get it. “What will that do,” the argument runs, “to our cherished tradition of collegiality? Doesn’t the very notion of having a universal source of authority consolidated in one figurehead totally contradict, and thus threaten to destroy, our beloved tradition of synodality?” My tentative response to that question would be that the Christian faith is precisely a faith of contradictions. Aren’t we the faith of the Trinity (three-persons-one-being), the faith of the Incarnation (two-natures-one-person)? Antinomy and paradox shouldn’t scare Christians, least of all Orthodox ones, who traditionally lay such emphasis on paradox. Why embrace paradox in some instances and reject it in others? Why be selective about it? Couldn’t we imagine a world in which the Orthodox doctrine of collegiality and the Catholic doctrine of primacy both find just expression and in fact become a beautiful source of tension?
I suppose the reason why I sound crazy and angry is because I want a world in which Catholic and Orthodox are one Church again. I want to be able to drink deeply of the wisdom of the East without denying the immeasurable good that Catholicism has been, and remains, in my life. I want a world in which I can be both/and and not have to be either/or. And that I suppose is the tragedy of Catholicism and Orthodoxy’s current state of disunity: it perpetuates the existence of a wedge between two things that shouldn’t have been divided in the first place. I realize that unity will take time and that we have to be patient, but it doesn’t help that so many on the Orthodox side are either hostile or indifferent to the whole project, smugly content with the current state of affairs. And I want to make clear, Ryan, that none of what I’ve written to you here has been out of a desire to somehow “prove” Orthodoxy, or your personal path towards Orthodoxy, wrong. These are simply issues that bounce around my heart and mind as I try to discern what my life’s about and where God is leading me. I would be grateful to you if you took the time to read what I’ve had to say here and offer some perspective. Are my thoughts about all this, from your experience, totally off-base and uninformed? How, as a former Catholic, did you wrestle through all these questions?
Gratefully and exhaustedly yours,
I’m so sorry, for some reason I never saw your lengthy post here when you wrote in December 2014. I am swamped with coursework now, but I will take the time to review more carefully what you wrote, especially concerning Catholic-Orthodox relations, ecumenical dialogue, etc.
Until then, may God ever bless you,
26 October 2015
No apologies necessary – you’re a busy guy! As a matter of fact, over the past year, I’ve followed many of your posts on Facebook on the Catholic/Orthodox dialogue group there. I’m a semi-frequent poster there myself. I look forward to hearing your thoughts, but by no means feel you have to rush. Take care and best of luck with your course work!
Hello again! Thanks for getting back to me, and sorry again for the delay. I am glad we are both in that group — I think, despite its issues, it generally does good. Thank you for your kind wishes!
Hello, I would like to know if Matt’s questions were ever answered. I appreciated his candid questions and, what I considered, respectful tone. Ryan, would you mind posting your response so others could read it?
Was other Russian Orthodox Church under Synod of Bishops in Diaspora near Rockway Park area I go 2 in late 80s, but 4 get name
In the mid to late 20th C. One of the Cathedrals in DC were freshly painted with American Saints; I believe by an American iconographer. I am looking for this Iconographer ‘ s name and to locate him. Does any of this sound familiar?
Appreciatively in Christ,
ROCOR Hermitage of St John the Divine
Ryan, This is an excellent article and have referred people to it in the February Journal of the Marie Stuart Society; as editor I always seek information, interpretation and commentary on Mary, Queen of Scots. I was wondering if you would like to join the Society; details can be found at http://www.maryqueenofscots.co.uk/ Or perjhaps you’d like to contribute to the Journal. Thank you for your time.
— Jerry Ozaniec
Thank you for your kind message. Would you be so kind as to send me a copy of the Journal? I am happy to give you my e-mail or postal address. I would be delighted to join your Society and contribute the article to the Journal.
With thanks, and best wishes,
I just finished reading an article you wrote called, “Rival Letters.” It was about the many letters written between Queen Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots. I enjoyed it thoroughly, but hope you wouldn’t mind giving me a detailed explanation regarding a comment you made towards the end. You state that you believe Mary to be the more intelligent of the 2 women. I’m intrigued to know as to why you believe this to be so?
The article was actually called, “A Rivalry in Letters.”
Hello, I’m currently preparing a documentary for french tv about Mary Queen of Scots. Reading your article “Rivalry in letters”, I have a few questions to ask you! Thank you.
thank you for your work. I have just discovered, through a colleague who had confidently copied the misquotation, that your quotation from Patriarch Bartholomew has .’…a burning bush of God’s created energies’ instead of ‘…UNcreated energies’ – which I am sure you will want to rectify!
You might not agree with this, but it is a treasure of information: https://sites.google.com/site/95phecesoftheochrafuxchercks/