Coping with Change

Orthodox Christian Dynamics between Tradition, Innovation,and Realpolitik

by Vasilios N. Makrides (Volume editor) Sebastian Rimestad (Volume editor)
©2020 Edited Collection 266 Pages


The book offers glimpses of Orthodox Christian dynamics in various contemporary contexts, either in Eastern and South Eastern Europe or in the USA. Contrary to long-established notions of an Orthodox fixedness and immobility, this book attempts to show how Orthodox dynamics work in various ways and on different levels, at times towards a re-traditionalisation and at times with an innovative agenda, always depending on the particular constellations of each context and on the constraints of Realpolitik. Using various theoretical perspectives and disciplinary lenses, this book mainly focuses on issues of identity, politics, and jurisdiction, and brings to the fore a variety of policies and strategies that Orthodox institutions and individual actors use in their attempt to creatively engage with the numerous challenges of modernity and the global era.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title Page
  • Copyright
  • Table of Contents
  • Orthodox Christianity Today: Charting Changes, Understanding Developments – An Introduction
  • Elder Ephraim and Contested Identities in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America
  • The Spirituality of Greek Orthodox Women in America: “You have to question…, but you also have to find answers that bring you peace with God and with yourself”
  • Religion on Maidan: The Case of Orthodox Christians in Ukraine
  • The Greek Orthodox Church and Symphonic Secularism: Church-State Relations Seen through the Prism of Blasphemy
  • Shifting the Centre of Gravity of Greek Orthodox EU Policies: A Matter of Leadership?
  • Symphonic Democracy: Is there a Form of Modern Democracy Suitable for Orthodox Countries?
  • The Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople: Power and Geopolitics
  • Using History as a Weapon: Jurisdictional Conflicts in Diverse Orthodox Contexts
  • Autonomy or Autocephaly, Recognition or Isolation? A Comprehensive Approach to the Macedonian Schism in the Serbian Orthodox Church
  • The Return of Duklja: The Montenegrin Orthodox Church’s Recasting of History
  • Notes on Contributors

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Orthodox Christianity Today: Charting Changes, Understanding Developments – An Introduction

Sebastian Rimestad / Vasilios N. Makrides

The world of Orthodox Christianity is in flux, especially in the current global context after the end of the bipolar world order. The famous German Protestant theologian Adolf von Harnack at the turn of the twentieth century argued that the Orthodox Church of his day had remained essentially unchanged for more than a millennium.1 For Harnack, a proponent of the liberal Kulturprotestantismus, this was basically a negative assessment. In fact, mainstream Protestantism was then considered the pinnacle of Christian development across time, a vehicle for progress and fully compatible with modernity. In the frame of the Kulturkampf in Germany, Harnack’s critique was also directed against Roman Catholicism and its antimodern stance at that time. But things were different with regard to Orthodox Christianity, which had already been massively criticised in the past by the Western Christian dominant discourse as a monolithic, backward, and stagnant religious system that bore no relevance to the modern age and its exigencies.2 The discourses about Orthodox Christianity were “Orientalist” and “Balkanist”, a trope that partly re-emerged in recent decades in the wake of the fall of the former Eastern Bloc.3

It is true that the Eastern Orthodox world did not develop in the same way and at the same pace as Western Latin Christianity has managed to do from the High Middle Ages onwards, mainly out of socio-political, cultural, and, last but not least, religious reasons. Interestingly enough, during the first centuries of the Christian era, it was the Byzantine (East Roman) East that initiated the major developments in church life, ranging from the Ecumenical Councils for the formulation and the consolidation of the mainstream Christian doctrine to the legitimation of the practice of icon painting and veneration. However, with the passing of time, traditionalist trends became stronger and more pervasive in the East, while special emphasis was put on preserving the true Orthodox faith, bequeathed by the Church Fathers and the Church Councils, unaltered and ←7 | 8→uncontaminated. In particular, the Orthodox used to look down upon later developments in the Latin West, considering them heretical and thus dangerous deviations from the pristine Orthodox faith. In fact, the Orthodox kept feeling superior to the West because they claimed to exclusively possess the true Christian faith. As a result, they often despised the overall development achieved in the West in mundane domains, especially in the course of modern times, as trivial and insignificant in comparison to the religious authenticity they claimed to represent. All this is hardly accidental, given that in Orthodox Christianity the past holds clear priority over the present and the future, an orientation that shows the excessive and normative value that tradition holds in our context.4

All this notwithstanding, it would still be a mistake to characterise Orthodox Christianity diachronically, collectively, and indistinctly as an immovable religious system and as a custodian of outdated religious knowledge. This does not only hold with reference to the past, but especially regarding the modern and contemporary situation. The principal difficulty stems from the way we view and define “tradition” and “change”, both historically and with regard to modernity. For a long time, these terms were regarded as opposite, contradictory, and mutually exclusive while progress was mainly connected with Western modernity. However, more recently, in the context of postmodern and postcolonial approaches, these older perspectives have been radically reassessed and articulated anew.5 Tradition is no longer a useless and arid remnant of the past, but is important for understanding various overlapping social processes and ongoing fermentations, both in the religious realm and beyond. Further, tradition is no longer seen as opposed to or surpassed completely by modernity, but as an element that coexists with it and complements it in numerous ways.6 Breaking the long chain of tradition renders societies “amnesic”, and this has tremendous implications, which is what happened in Western societies in the course of modern times due to the process of secularisation.7

←8 | 9→

Given the intrinsic connection between religion and tradition, this new approach led to a significant re-evaluation of the role that religions play in today’s world at different levels. Not the least, this also led to a fresh and more positive look at Orthodox Christianity. In this respect, the view of the Orthodox Church as a backward and reactionary force has changed. There certainly still are scholars and commentators looking at Orthodoxy from this angle, arguing that Orthodox Christianity did not foster various developments in the course of modern times and even delayed many of them. Although the latter argument contains certain seeds of truth, other scholars place more emphasis on the fact that Orthodox Christianity has had an encounter with modernity, even if it is a partial one, and that it seeks to find a suitable role for itself in the modern world. Any observed deficits or particularities in this process are considered normal and expectable.8 Given the growing and interdisciplinary interest in the examination of religious dynamics,9 the question is how exactly to understand and assess the numerous changes happening within Orthodox Christianity and the dynamics that transpire through these processes Do they show a fundamental compatibility of Orthodoxy with modernity in terms of innovation, development, and progress? Or do they also include elements and trajectories that point to a re-traditionalisation that is deemed necessary in the present global age?

Before discussing these questions, it should be mentioned that the modern world is the result of developments that mainly happened in Western Europe and North America, i.e., outside of the regions where Orthodox Christianity usually dominated and still survives today. Truth be told, in the context of postmodern and postcolonial approaches the constant interconnections and interferences between the Western and the non-Western worlds have gained in prominence and significance in a more global setting. Older, more static, Eurocentric theories and perspectives have been abandoned and new inclusive models of development (e.g., the multiple modernities approach10) have become more popular and widespread. Nonetheless, one cannot deny that, historically speaking, modernity has a “fundamental Western character”, even if this feature tends to vanish in the present global melting pot. In religious and other terms, Western developments ←9 | 10→were in fact an exception from broader global trends.11 More importantly, this is evident in the way the Orthodox have always considered modernity, namely as something intrinsically “Western”. This explains also why modernity and modern developments have always been viewed critically by Orthodox actors, namely as something foreign and external to their own culture. The Orthodox Church and tradition were never consciously viewed as being a part of modernity. In fact, Orthodox Christianity was often not even recognised as part of the Christian world, as can be seen in the frequent evocation of the term “antemurale Christianitatis” (bulwark of Christianity) in early modern Poland-Lithuania and Hungary. In many cases, the Orthodox Christians in South Eastern Europe or in Russia were not considered any better than the Muslim Ottomans that threatened Western Europe and Christianity.12

Nevertheless, since the late eighteenth century, modernity – and not only in terms of scientific and technological innovations – started to gain hold also within Orthodox Christian cultures. Especially enlightenment ideas and nationalism entered the Orthodox world and triggered a number of serious fermentations and subsequent transformations. This took place within the confines of the Orthodox world, which was thereby forced to find a modus vivendi under the new conditions. In other words, due to the intensification of globalisation, the modern world unavoidably came to the Orthodox Christians, and the latter had to find ways to accommodate it in their lives, albeit mostly not in the same way as in the West. At the same time, there was an excessive Orthodox critique of modernity, which was conceived of as a further stage in the long chain of Western Latin deviations. The critique was part of the phenomenon of Orthodox anti-Westernism that survives in numerous forms up to this day.13 Despite this at times vociferous criticism, it remains a fact that Orthodox Christianity (exactly as many other religions worldwide14) has had an unavoidable encounter with globalised modernity and cannot be understood today without taking this crucial parameter into consideration.

Furthermore, Orthodox Christianity has encountered the modern world at other, more concrete levels. Whereas globalisation in the sense described above ←10 | 11→happened rather passively – with the Orthodox Christians reacting to the modern ideas and tenets that trickled into their societies –, this second sense relates to the active encounter with and the arrival of modern institutions and of a thorough modern frame to Orthodox cultures. This took place, on the one hand, every time Orthodox Christians moved from a predominantly Orthodox country to the West, either as voluntary migrants or as refugees from the wars that have ravaged the eastern part of the European continent over the twentieth century. As expected, these migrants brought with them their incomplete understanding of modernity. Consequently, they complemented it upon their arrival in the West or they clung to their Orthodox faith and tradition, in order not to get lost in what they perceived as a challenging and at times hostile modern world.15 The Russian Orthodox diaspora in Western Europe and the USA after the October Revolution of 1917 is a case in point, given that Russian key Orthodox thinkers (e.g., Sergei Bulgakov, Nikolai Berdiayev) initiated a quite fruitful, albeit at times controversial, dialogue with Western modernity.16

On the other hand, and more importantly, it is about the political institutions of modernity, into which also predominantly Orthodox countries have been integrated during the last decades, especially after the fall of the “Iron Curtain”. The most comprehensive of these is today’s European Union (EU), which has four predominantly Orthodox member states at the moment: Greece (accessed 1981), Cyprus (2004), as well as Bulgaria and Romania (2007). The eastward EU enlargement process is a paramount example of the Orthodox arrival to modernity.17 Hence, after several centuries under Muslim rule and many decades under communism, several Orthodox states of Eastern and South Eastern Europe have reached another level in their encounter with modernity. This is not to say that there was previously no integration of Orthodox states in the project of modernity at all. Yet, their entrance into the EU, even if a limited one up to now, is proof of a long process coming to fruition in terms of a more thorough interaction between Orthodoxy and modernity.18

←11 | 12→

Despite these momentous changes, which may have been inconceivable a few decades earlier, the Orthodox world is far from uniform on this matter. The Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople (based in Istanbul, Turkey) has shown a remarkable adaptation of the Orthodox tradition to the exigencies of modernity. Under the leadership of current Patriarch Bartholomew (in office since 1991), it has become a noted and respected global player with a huge geopolitical significance at different levels, despite the many domestic constraints it still faces in Turkey. Its position on the issue of modern human rights19 or its most recent formulation of an “Orthodox social ethos” in 202020 are indicative of its overall spirit and orientation to attain a constructive relationship with modernity in the present global era.

The numerically largest Orthodox Church of today, namely the Russian one, headed by the Patriarchate of Moscow, has developed in post-communist times to an important domestic and global player as well, directly challenging the reactivated role of the Patriarchate of Constantinople. Backed by a powerful state and being part of Russia’s “soft power” worldwide,21 the Moscow Patriarchate has articulated a church agenda that has brought it into tension and even conflict with the basic tenets of modernity on numerous occasions.22 The official documents on the “Social Concept” (2000)23 and on modern human rights (2008)24 attest to this, as they are permeated by a spirit that seeks to reverse various achievements of modernity and longs for a pre-modern, non-secular socio-political and religious order. Even if modernity itself has been self-reflective and allowed for internal critique and subsequent revisions in the frame of postmodernity,25 the Russian Orthodox critique of modernity is formulated ←12 | 13→from another angle and has different goals.26 In fact, Constantinople’s and Moscow’s positions on modernity diverge significantly and attest to the existing internal variation within the wider Orthodox Church body. The quest for greater Orthodox unity on such matters is more pressing than ever, and Pan-Orthodox attempts, such as the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church in 2016, did not bear the expected results.27 In all these cases, we are dealing with changes that constantly take place within Orthodox Christianity, trigger various dynamics, and need a pertinent explanation and contextualisation.

In this context, the specific case of Ukraine is highly interesting one, as it is about a predominantly Orthodox country between East and West with a related turbulent political and religious history that experienced tremendous changes in recent years. The Orthodox Church in Ukraine was divided among several church structures, variously recognised by world Orthodoxy since the end of the Soviet Union. Since the summer of 2018, however, there was a serious development, which was also politically backed, towards a greater internal unity and independence of Ukrainian Orthodoxy from Moscow. This process ended with the official declaration of the autocephaly of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church by the Patriarchate of Constantinople in early 2019.28 This development caused heated reactions from the Moscow Patriarchate, which saw in this step a curtailing of its ecclesiastical rights in the region and which subsequently broke off its communion with Constantinople. There were mixed reactions on the part of the other Orthodox Churches to this radical development, a fact signifying that the issue will bother the Orthodox world in the years to come. From our perspective, the ways this conflict is being carried out using modern media channels and attempts to influence political institutions in one’s own favour clearly show how ←13 | 14→the Orthodox Church has become part of the modern world. Needless to say, there are similar ongoing conflicts in the wider Orthodox world, some of which are treated in the present volume as well.29

Furthermore, the situation in the Orthodox Christian diasporic communities in Western settings around the globe is quite interesting in our context. It reveals the unexpected and complex dynamics that these communities often unleash towards enabling novel adaptations and reformulations of tradition according to the specifics of each local context. Tradition is thus not a fixed element beyond space and time, but is constantly negotiated in numerous creative ways by various categories of believers including converts to Orthodoxy.30 The cases of the Orthodox communities in Western Europe31 and the USA32 are quite telling in this respect. The concept of religious agency is very important here,33 as it is about individual believers that are eager to creatively adapt the Orthodox tradition to their particular life circumstances. As the first two chapters by Kostarelos and Karpathakis in the volume show, this process may follow either a traditionalist direction or a more innovative path.

Bearing all this in mind, the contributions in this volume attempt not only to revise the outdated view that Orthodox Christianity is an immobile and fixed religious system, but also to show the multiplicity of developmental strands within Orthodox Christianity, which exhibit quite various facets and trajectories. We should bear in mind, though, that it is not possible to put all these changes strictly and exclusively under a common denominator and describe the course of Orthodox Christianity in a single, pre-arranged direction. In fact, the options remain open and flexible, and Orthodox institutions or individual actors take decisions, depending on the circumstances, that are far from uniform. In other words, the Orthodox dynamics that unfold in specific contexts may take various directions, not an a priori defined and prescribed one. This situation has been aptly summarised in the subtitle of the present volume as an oscillation between “tradition, innovation, and Realpolitik”.

This means, first, that one option always turns towards the past and the inherited tradition, no matter how these may be concretely interpreted and ←14 | 15→employed today. Such a re-traditionalisation in our context should not occasion any surprise since Orthodox Christianity can be considered as the most traditionbound Christian Church compared to Protestantism and even to Roman Catholicism. Cases of re-traditionalisation and even of traditionalism are thus not out of the ordinary here, and it is in this direction that current changes are still taking place today. The phenomenon of Orthodox rigorism/fundamentalism, which experiences a growth in many Orthodox contexts, attests to this.34 A second option relates to innovation attempts, even if the term “innovation” often has a negative connotation among Orthodox thinkers, who see it as being connected with Western Latin deviations. Yet, in actual fact, a whole array of novelties is what characterises the Orthodox scene in modern times up to our times, even if these novelties are often covered under the protective veil of tradition and are subsequently portrayed as “traditional”.35 Orthodox ecclesiastical nationalism was such a sweeping innovation in the Orthodox Church structure, a change that radically altered the traditional face of the Orthodox Church worldwide. This notwithstanding, for a number of reasons this nationalisation of the Orthodox world is paradoxically often portrayed today as being fully in conformity with traditional Orthodox practice.36 Finally, the aspect of Realpolitik points to the very fact that changes often take place in realistic terms and pragmatic ways according to specific factors, parameters, power struggles, and constellations. In other words, Orthodox institutions or actors are forced to make ad hoc compromises underscored by reasonable considerations rather than absolute ideals and premises. Especially the terrain of ecclesiastical politics is full of such cases showing how the Orthodox Churches pursue their goals or allow for realistic concessions. But, mutatis mutandis, the same holds true at the level of individual Orthodox religiosity in the wake of growing reflexivity, which is a core dynamic of modern personal religious experience.37 Hence, the above outline intends to show that changes in the context of Orthodox Christianity do not strictly follow a one-way road, but exhibit significant diversity and allow Orthodox dynamics to operate in numerous different ways. In turn, this speaks once more, yet from another angle, against perceptions about Orthodox Christianity as a basically static, past-oriented, arid, and motionless religious system.

←15 | 16→

Undoubtedly, there are plenty of cases to be examined from the above perspective, yet the present volume focuses on three major clusters, namely issues of identity construction, relations to politics, and jurisdictional conflicts. All of them illustrate the encounter of Orthodox Christianity with modernity at different levels. Thus, the first part of the volume touches on issues of Orthodox identity and what it means to be Orthodox in different settings. First, Frances Kostarelos focuses on the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (GOARCH) and is concerned with developments within this church structure related to the influence of the Athonite monk Ephraim, who has considerably changed the Orthodox Christian landscape in the country through the spread of Athonite monasticism and the founding of numerous monasteries. The Orthodox worldview promoted by Elder Ephraim and his adherents cannot be characterised as modernity-friendly (in the conventional meaning of the term), yet it became particularly attractive to many Orthodox in the USA, including also to numerous converts to Orthodoxy. It focuses on processes of re-traditionalisation and at times radicalisation oriented towards an Orthodox heritage that claims to be more authentic than various allegedly secularised versions of Orthodoxy that have been established in the USA. Such a genuine Orthodox tradition was lost within the pluralist, liberal, and syncretistic American religious melting pot. This specific case demonstrates that full adherence to an open and liberal modernity is not always the most attractive option for a religion today and that more traditional or conservative worldviews have good chances of becoming very influential and effective. The recent intensification of Orthodox rigorism/fundamentalism in various contexts is a case in point, a phenomenon that also relates to the movement initiated by Elder Ephraim. Given that the GOARCH is overall firmly rooted in modern culture, Elder Ephraim’s influence among clergy, monastics, and ordinary believers created serious cleavages within Orthodoxy in the USA between long-established conformist and conventional trends and new traditionalist ones, with the latter claiming absolute truth and fidelity to the Orthodox tradition and castigating the former. Kostarelos has done empirical research in several Orthodox parishes documenting the internal rifts among Orthodox believers along the question as to what constitutes the genuinely Orthodox identity. This development has also been a serious test for long-standing parish members as far as their loyalty to the Orthodox Church was concerned. Interestingly, Elder Ephraim’s teachings resonate in many respects with the overall rise of conservative worldviews and outlooks within American society at large, a phenomenon with far-reaching repercussions. In addition, Ephraim’s growing influence is hardly openly opposed or constrained by the GOARCH leadership that keeps a rather diplomatic and mediating stance on the matter, a fact that in Kostarelos’ view complicates the overall situation and does not resolve tensions and conflicts. It remains thus to be seen how all these fermentations will affect the articulation of Orthodox identities in the USA in the future, especially after the death of Elder Ephraim in 2019.

←16 |

Anna Karpathakis also focuses on the GOARCH, but with a slightly different emphasis. Based on her extensive fieldwork among Greek Orthodox immigrants in the USA and on numerous conducted interviews, her focus is on gender and especially on Orthodox women. She focuses on women that at some point felt that their Orthodox parish was not able to provide them with the spiritual home they were looking for in the modern world, as it was mostly male-oriented and utterly ignored the women’s special needs and problems. Consequently, by initiating their “silent revolt”, many women started drifting away from everyday parish life, although some of them decided, few decades later, to return to an active community role out of different considerations (e.g., the strong interconnection between Orthodoxy, Greek history, and identity). This reveals, first, the strong individualisation urges among such women, who were also influenced by feminist ideas and intended to find their own particular way to the Orthodox faith; for instance, by distinguishing their belief in God from the church institutions and the priests. This was mainly a result of growing reflexivity on their part, which lead to the ability to cognitively disembed themselves from institutional ties and to construct new ways of legitimising their religious ideas, worldviews, practices, and in the end, their Orthodox identities. Second, it shows the existing ambivalence in their course of action, which did not provide a final or permanent solution to their problems. Third, it discloses the women’s openness towards other Christian traditions, such as when they admired Protestant communities for their intense social consciousness and work. Karpathakis traces all these ambiguities, namely the journey of these women away from the parish and back again, showing that for many interviewees the important thing was not whether the local parish had fully arrived to modernity, but rather how modernity could be integrated in the everyday parish life. This quest included both conservative and traditional as well as more flexible and liberal positions.

The third chapter in this part tells the story of evolving Ukrainian Orthodox identities during demonstrations and civil unrest between November 2013 and February 2014 on the Independence Square (Maidan Nezalezhnosti) in Kiev (also called “Euromaidan” in this context). This was a significant turning point in the political history of independent Ukraine in post-communist times. As is well known, the later history of Ukrainian Orthodoxy became even more complex and conflictual due to the mounting ecclesiastical problems with Russia and finally the declaration of the Ukrainian Church autocephaly by the Patriarchate of Constantinople in 2019, which led the Moscow Patriarchate to break off its communion with Constantinople. This rift and the processes connected to it have completely changed the current face of Ukrainian Orthodoxy. Oleg Kyselov’s chapter on Maidan Orthodoxy sheds light on the period prior to church autocephaly, which is a quite important one for understanding the momentous changes within Ukrainian Orthodoxy, even though some of the church structures that he describes no longer exist. The chapter, thus, offers a useful view and ←17 | 18→assessment of the politicisation of Orthodox identities and their opposition to the government in this specific context. This is quite an important point, given that the Orthodox Churches did not usually challenge political authority in the past and have a strong tradition of subservience to the state. The situation during the communist was a case in point. As Kyselov mentions, there were also some Protestant participants on Maidan, however their opposition activities do not surprise, as Protestants have always had a long and influential tradition of antiregime opposition. Such demonstrations were quite unusual for the Ukrainian Orthodox, who thereby showed a quite different face than in the past. Here again we observe a considerable change, which in turn calls in question the alleged immutability of the Orthodox religious system and its supposed overwhelming fixation to the past tradition.

The four chapters in the second part on politics cover the multi-layered relationship between the political institutions of modernity and various structures of the Orthodox Church at different levels. First, Daniel Jianu’s chapter on blasphemy in the current Greek Orthodox Church sets the scene against the background of the longue durée of church-state relations in Byzantium and under Ottoman rule. He thereby attempts to show that the modern concept of the rule of law does not fully resonate with the Orthodox tradition of symphonia, where the religious and the political sphere harmonise and provide the legitimacy for each other. The separation between church and state in West European modernity does not apply fully to the Orthodox contexts, in which there is a mixture of traditional and modern elements. This phenomenon can be aptly described as “symphonic secularism”, which shows the still existing ambivalence between the religious and the secular in the Orthodox context. Drawing on cases of perceived blasphemies against Greek Orthodoxy that were raised during the recent severe economic crisis in the country, Jianu argues that these blasphemy cases are quite telling. Initially raised at the political level by a newly emerged extreme right-wing political party and not by the official church, they tend to upset the ideally sought harmonious link between church and state by challenging the foundations and the ideological parameters of a presumed state secularity.

The chapter by Georgios E. Trantas concerns the political culture in Greece and the role of the Orthodox Church in the context of the European Union (EU) by comparing the political role of the two most recent Archbishops of Athens and All Greece – Christodoulos (1998-2008) and Hieronymos II (since 2008). This is a quite fruitful comparison, since these two church primates were fairly, if not radically, different in their approach to the political involvement of the church, especially in relation to the EU. On the one hand, Christodoulos was very extrovert and assertive and pushed for a direct and active interventional role of the Greek Orthodox Church in EU politics. On the other hand, his successor, Hieronymos II, has showed a much more compromising approach, leaving the international scene and foreign policy to the elected politicians and focusing much ←18 | 19→more on the fruitful cooperation with the state, on social welfare, and on the spiritual mission of the church. In other words, he was more respectful to the established delineation between the spheres of church and state in modern times, which resonates better with the overall logic of modernity. Trantas’ contribution underlines the role of agency by making clear that a lot depends on the specific Orthodox actors that undertake important functions within a given set of sociohistorical parameters. In turn, this also means that such cases are always contingent and relative, thus they should never be generalised as reflecting the very “essence” of the Orthodox stance in such matters.

Such a differentiated approach to the political involvement of the church is also evident in Dragan Šljivić’s chapter, which traces the development of democracy in Serbia and Bulgaria in post-communist times and especially in the period between 2007 and 2012. For Šljivić, the concept of “symphonic democracy” concisely delineates the functioning of these two polities, of church and state. A closer look at both countries reveals an alliance between church and state that may appear peculiar to a Western political scientist. Šljivić shows how these countries must be looked at in a nuanced way and with a flexible agenda in mind, one that challenges the discussions in the early post-communist years about the incompatibility between liberal democracy and Orthodox Christianity. This is because the apparently failing democratic institutional structures in these countries surprisingly hide democratising forces and a related potential, which even include the Orthodox Church as a significant actor. This underlines once more the necessity of looking at Orthodox cultures in a differentiated manner, looking at the agents involved in specific processes and without pre-conceived ideas and stereotypes.

The final chapter in this second part provides a transition to the last part of the volume, namely to jurisdictional issues. Nicolas Kazarian takes the difficult relationship between the Patriarchates of Constantinople and Moscow into consideration, putting it on a broader geopolitical canvas, thus showing the great geopolitical relevance of Orthodox Christianity in the present global age, which has been underlined in various civilisational theories including the notorious “Clash of Civilisations” of Samuel Huntington. This is because both Patriarchates are highly interested in representing global Orthodoxy, albeit with very different approaches, agendas, and available means. This role was traditionally undertaken by the Patriarchate of Constantinople, which as the sole Orthodox Church also bears the name “Ecumenical”, and still is. However, the gradual rise and the strengthening of the Moscow Patriarchate has marked a serious challenge to Constantinople’s authority, a phenomenon that appeared anew in post-communist times. It is thus interesting to observe how the Patriarchate of Constantinople adapted its policies and changed its resources of power in order to counterbalance the growing Moscow influence. The developments in Ukrainian Orthodoxy since the end of 2018, which are not treated in this chapter, also justify the above image.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2020 (July)
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2020. 266 pp., 3 fig. col., 2 tables.

Biographical notes

Vasilios N. Makrides (Volume editor) Sebastian Rimestad (Volume editor)

Sebastian Rimestad is a Senior Researcher with a focus on Christianity at the Department of Religious Studies, University of Erfurt, Germany. Vasilios N. Makrides is a Professor of Religious Studies (specialising in Orthodox Christianity) at the Department of Religious Studies, University of Erfurt, Germany.


Title: Coping with Change
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