“For the Life of the World: Toward a Social Ethos of the Orthodox Church”
In June 2016, the Holy and Great Council of Crete convened under the omophorion of His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I. Subsequent to the Council, the Patriarch commissioned a group of theologians to prepare a document on the social teaching of the Orthodox Church, in the spirit of and reflecting upon the relevant decisions of the Council. This document was submitted to the Patriarch and to the Holy and Sacred Synod in late 2019 when it was blessed to be published for the faithful of the world.
The newly published book, For the Life of the Word: Toward a Social Ethos of the Orthodox Church, is the product of the theological group. Its primary subject matter and focus is the articulation of a social ethic for the Orthodox Church – in other words, it seeks to put Orthodox theology and spirituality into action in the world. It reminds us of the verse from the Epistle of James: “Be ye doers of the word, not hearers only.” (James 1:22) The statement does not pronounce clear-cut responses to social challenges, but instead proposes general guidelines to difficult questions. The purpose is to initiate reflection and conversation on what “the Spirit is saying to the Churches” (Revelation 2:7). In the words of His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros, “This text opens us up to the implications of what it means to be loved by God, and to respond to that love by loving one another.”
While the document was completed prior to the outbreak of the COVID-19 crisis of 2020, it nonetheless addresses the importance of social responsibility, the voice of faith in a world of science, medicine and technology, as well as the response of the Church on matters related to health care, social justice, and public welfare. In this regard, the document provides a framework for addressing current challenges as well as challenges we haven’t yet imagined.
For the Life of the World presents a way of reaching out across social distancing at a time of global calamity – as our faithful are either self-isolated and quarantined (a term that literally refers to a period of forty days and reflects the church’s struggle during Great Lent) – in order to address the role of the Church at a time of spiritual crisis, challenge, and concern. Therefore, the document is being released during a period of self-discipline and reflection on our interdependence and vocation to care for one another. It is offered with humility and love for reflection and conversation as all of us “shelter in place.”