Some Recent Work and Publications Concerning American Orthodoxy

After having spent the last several months concentrating on some of my own historical theology work, I thought I would take the time to update SOCHA readers not only on that, but on some other publications that might be of interest.  Fr. Andrew, Matthew, and Aram continue their good endeavors here, of course, but I hope the reader will pardon my little interruption.  What I especially wish to call readers to note is the recent issue of the St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Quarterly (56:3, 2012).  This issue contains four articles addressing various aspects of Orthodox Christian history in America as well as a review of Amy Slagle’s book The Eastern Church in the Spiritual Marketplace: American Conversions to Orthodox Christianity (based on ethnographic work at three Orthodox parishes).  I highly recommend her book, by the way.

The first article in this issue I would highlight is that by Fr. John Erickson, in which he examines the role of Slavophile thought in the Russian Mission.  This is a fascinating article that will hopefully begin some considerations on this topic.  Highlighting St. Tikhon and Metropolitan Platon is useful.  There are a few footnotes that seemed incomplete, and I think citing Jennifer Hedda’s His Kingdom Come could have augmented the discussion of the liberal wing of Orthodoxy.  I found his speculation concerning Bjerring’s apostasy (possibly upset at the change in Russian theological emphases away from liberalism) interesting, but Bjerring himself had little to say on this issue, interestingly, merely noting that he preferred to remain an American citizen.  Also, as Erickson noted, the Russian government had pulled funding of Bjerring’s chapel.  I think Erickson’s discussion concerning converts such as Irvine is interesting and overall, this is a good article that I would recommend to anyone grappling with the history of the Russian Mission in America.  Erickson’s central thesis, that Slavophile conceptions affected the Russian Mission and later died away is spot-on and a reminder of just how transnational of a phenomenon American Orthodoxy has always been.

 The second article, by Ivana Noble, concerns Fr. Georges Florovsky and especially the issue of Florovsky’s “Hellenism.”  One of the more helpful points I found at the outset, was the balance struck when discussing the relationship between Florovsky and Bulgakov.  I think this is sometimes missing at the popular level, so the reader is well served to encounter this.  Her main offering to the reader, though, I think, is to note that Florovsky was just as willing to see Latin patristics as fully Patristic, and was even willing, at least at one point, to state as much in a margin note.

That said, I was struck by how far Noble took this.  In footnote twenty-two, she sided with Matthew Baker versus Brandon Gallaher regarding the extent to which Florovsky sought to “proselytize” the non-Orthodox rather than see both Latin and Hellenic Christianity as Patristic.  Personally,  I think Florovsky is clear that a “pseudomorphosis” occurred in Orthodox theology (at least in his read of its history) and in that sense, I wonder if Noble (with Matthew Baker’s article in hand) isn’t “talking past” the likes of Brandon Gallaher and Dn. Paul Gavrilyuk on this one.  That is to say, Noble could well be right (in fact, I think she is) that Florovsky was willing to see a return to the Fathers as something allowable to Latin Christianity and yet Gallaher and Gavrilyuk could well be right (and I think they are) in noting that Florovsky was quite critical at times of Western theological developments and their impacts upon Orthodox Christianity (whether real or perceived).  Anyhow, I fully expect Florovsky to remain a debated figure amongst contemporary theologians and historians, probably increasingly so.

A third article worth noting is Paul Meyendorff’s article on Fr. John Meyendorff’s historical role in the creation of the OCA’s autocephaly and how Fr. John Meyendorff understood that autocephaly’s importance.  This article made good use of the OCA archives and is a useful and important read for anyone interested in the relationship between Moscow and the OCA and/or American Orthodox jurisdictional unity.

Finally, this issue included an article I wrote on Fr. Boris Burden’s role in two failed attempts at Orthodox jurisdictional unity.  Both attempts (the first begun with Bishop Aftimios as the Holy Eastern Orthodox Catholic and Apostolic Church of North America in the late 1920s and the second as the Federated Orthodox Greek Catholic Primary Jurisdictions in the first half of the 1940s) failed.  One reason they failed (and not the only, but one reason that is common to both failures) was that Orthodox disagreed over how to respond to non-Orthodox.  SOCHA has discussed both movements and figures in both, so readers can quickly update their knowledge of all of this.

So, all in all, I’d recommend the recent SVTQ issue.  I would also like to mention the new issue of LOGOS: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies (53:3-4, 2012).  I wrote an article entitled, “An Old World Response to a New World Situation: Greek Clergy in the Service of the Russian Mission to America,” which is based on the paper I gave at the Princeton Symposium in October, 2011.  The priests mentioned in the article have been covered here on the SOCHA site and I suspect they will receive further treatment in the future, especially as 2016 nears, as that would be the 100th anniversary of the death of one of these Greek priests, Archimandrite Theoklitos Triantafilides.

This is not the only piece I have written in the last few months.  I have written a couple of book chapters (though book publishing moves slowly, so it’ll be some time before they’re available).  One is a short piece on Meyendorff and Schmemann and the other a survey of Russian Orthodoxy in the Academic disciplines directly related to theology.  Shortly before Christmas (on the Revised Julian Calendar) I signed a book contract with Oxford University Press.  I hope to offer more on that someday in the future.  Perhaps I’ll have more to say to that in the summer or fall this year.  In the meantime, may we all keep one another in each other’s prayers and may we all continue to support one another in our work and interest in the ongoing history of American Orthodoxy.


[Addendum:  It has come to my attention through private emails that some readers might mistakenly think I intended to conflate Matthew Baker's positions on Florovsky with that of Ivana Noble's.  I wish to clarify that such was never the case.   I meant only to show the debate into which Noble entered and upon whom she relied when making her point.  It should be pointed out that Matthew Baker does not deny Florovsky's claim regarding the Orthodox Church as the "una sancta," nor Florovsky's critique that Eastern Christianity often engaged in a "servile imitation" of Western sources, which Florovsky considered a "pseudomorphosis."  Baker's main point would be that Florovsky's critique of pseudomorphosis is part of a larger ecumenical vision expressed by Florovsky, according to which the return of both Orthodox and Western Christians to the sources of patristic tradition, which Orthodoxy especially claims as her own, would enable a free and constructive ecumenical encounter.  It is on the basis of this larger point that Noble made use of his work, pressing it (in my read) a bit farther than Baker himself.  As I mentioned above, I expect that the discussions surrounding Florovsky have only but begun and if that is the case, then Baker's work (as is also the case with Gallaher's, Gavrilyuk's, and Noble's, among others) will be important as this discussion rolls along.]

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