Perry Hamalis, North Central College (Naperville, Illinois, USA)
Alexis Torrance, University of Notre Dame (Notre Dame, Indiana, USA)
Demetrios Harper, University of Winchester (Winchester, UK)
Nikolaos Loudovikos, University Ecclesiastical Academy of Thessaloniki (Thessaloniki, Greece)
Sebastian Moldovan, Lucian Blaga University of Sibiu (Sibiu, Romania)
Metropolitan Kallistos of Diokleia has famously suggested that the “quintessential problem” that faces Orthodox theology in the twenty-first century is anthropological: what is man? This exclamation of Job and the Psalmist reverberates with special urgency in our day, an age teeming with societal malaise and moral confusion. If the field of theological anthropology attempts to address this question, using theological criteria as its basis, the field of moral theology considers the question of how a human being (and human communities) should be and act. At first glance, the combination of the fields of theological anthropology and moral theology into a single section might appear haphazard, but when their underlying concerns are borne in mind, it becomes clear that the two are, from the perspective of Orthodox theology, altogether intertwined.
At their core, the issues of anthropology and morality are “once and for all” answered in the person of Christ. In the tumult of this age, the responsibility of Orthodox theology to remain steadfast to this truth is paramount. Christ is the anthropos spoken of by the Psalmist, as the Epistle to the Hebrews and the Gospel of John so beautifully explain. To understand “what is a human being?” and “how should a human be?”, we look to God made man, Him who in His compassion “is not ashamed to call us brethren.” This is not, moreover, an abstract task: Orthodox theology should avoid at all costs paying mere lip service to its Christocentric understanding of the human being, only to then capitulate in its details to the spirit of the age. The anthropology and ethics presented by and summed up in the living Christ and His Ecclesial Body down the ages is rich and full beyond compare. The resources of Orthodoxy are entirely capable of both buffeting and responding, in peace and in love, to the moral challenges of every generation. To doubt this is to doubt the Gospel itself.
That said, this is not to understand Orthodox anthropology and ethics as a static monolith as is sometimes done. Such an approach holds its own share of problems, not least of which is a tendency to embrace an ahistorical and even impersonal approach to anthropological and ethical questions. If a common thread has emerged in the last century of Orthodox reflection on these issues, it is that the human being is called to “life in abundance” as a person or hypostasis in loving communion with the Triune God and one’s neighbor, a reality freely given and experienced in and through the Body of Christ. That is to say, the personal and historical dimensions of our healing and salvation are central to Orthodox thought.
Our two sessions aim to grapple with some of the breadth as well as the specificity and depth of Orthodox anthropology and ethics. The prearranged session will look from various perspectives at the question of the role of ethics in Orthodox thought. It is sadly the case that a kind of dividing wall has been erected between ethics and wider Orthodox theology, which this session intends to help tear down. For our open session, as well as welcoming abstracts broadly related to the concerns of theological anthropology and moral theology, we particularly encourage submissions on the concepts of passion, emotion, and virtue in Orthodox anthropology. The Orthodox have a long history of reflection on these catchwords of the modern academy (and of modern society) which ought to be explored. What is the place of the emotions in Orthodox anthropology? The hymns of the Church repeatedly speak of attaining freedom from passions, but specifically as coming through Christ’s own Passion: the polyvalence of this term needs more attention. Likewise, what are the specific passions that especially plague our age and which we need to address? What is the nature of virtue according to the Orthodox tradition, and how can it serve to rescue us from the minefield of temptations presented in an era of technology and perpetual restlessness? These are the kinds of questions we hope the open session will address.
The very nature of theological anthropology and moral theology as fields of study demands not simply intellectual rigor in their pursuit, but a measure of decisiveness, even a kind of prophetic force, in their articulation. Without this, our answers to “what is the human being?” and “how should a human be?” will ring hollow and fall flat. It is not enough to call generically for a “contextual” or “pastorally sensitive” anthropology and morality, however desirable these might be in principle. “Pastoral,” that is to say, should never become a watchword in Orthodox theology for “nebulous” or “uncertain.” The role of the Orthodox theologian is not simply to be academically stimulating or enriching, but in doing so to cooperate with the Spirit of God, the Spirit whose activity is precisely to “reprove the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment.” This is not a nebulous or uncertain task, but it is nonetheless eminently pastoral, and its purpose is to drive people (including ourselves) to Christ: “He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall show it unto you.”
What is hoped for our section can naturally be extended to our hopes and prayers for the conference as a whole. No matter the precise field of study, each section is of course asked to speak with intellectual and academic robustness, in a manner fitting and relevant to the broader scholarly discipline of which it forms a part. If only this alone is done, the conference will be an academic success, a laudable feat, but one that in itself remains only on the level of worldly accomplishments. If, as many of us desire, this conference is to be of ecclesial and pastoral relevance, our sessions, papers, discussions, and, in short, all our interactions must be always with grace, seasoned with salt. Only then can we do “good to edification” in our work as Orthodox scholars, in a manner, as again St. Paul would advise us, not conformed to this world, but transformed by the renewing of our mind. If we lose sight of these things, our endeavor will be of mere transitory significance.