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Current Dynamics within Orthodox Christianity: Between Tradition, Innovation and Realpolitik (2/3)

Panel Chair: Vasilios N. Makrides | Friday, August 28, 9-11 a.m. | Venue

During the last 100 years, the areas where Orthodox Christianity predominates have experienced numerous socio-political and other upheavals, including communist rule. Moreover, processes of globalisation, local nationalisms, political cleavages and regionalisms have heightened the challenge of religious pluralism in these regions, as well as increased the number of Orthodox faithful residing in “the West”, outside the traditionally Orthodox heartlands in Eastern and Southeastern Europe. All these developments continue into the 21st century and have already prompted various responses within the Orthodox world. Underlying most of them is the question of authority within the church: To what extent are pressures from secular models, societal modernisation processes, global developments and strategic political considerations considered legitimate from the point of view of Orthodox Christian theology? How do the various Orthodox Churches react to these pressures and accommodate them? Are there any discernible differences in this respect between the historical Orthodox mother-churches and the Orthodox transnational communities across the globe? The nine papers of this panel, divided in three sessions, attempt to offer glimpses of the evolving dynamics within the contemporary Orthodox world and its oscillation between traditional commitments and the challenges of change and innovation.

Georgios Trantas

Pro- or Anti-European? The Orthodox Church of Greece at the Crossroads

The overall attitude towards the concept of Europe within the Church of Greece is neither unitary nor homogeneous. Disparity can be identified between its Holy Synod – itself partly fragmented – and the official representation of the church in Brussels. The Holy Synod has pursued a utilitarian approach while differentiating itself from the EU, indicative of ‘introvert state-centrism’, whereas the church’s representation in Brussels is prepared to engage in dialogue and seeks convergence, thus demonstrating an extrovert predisposition. Late Archbishop Christodoulos of Athens (1998-2008) often served as mediator between the two camps at times of discord. Current Archbishop Hieronymos (since 2008) is distanced from politics and avoids instigating further public unrest. The paper will try to assess the whole situation and explore the plural facets of Greek Orthodoxy, which, being far from a monolithic bloc, adapts to ongoing changes in dynamic ways.

Dragan Šljivić

On the Enemy within: The Serbian Orthodox Church’s Response to the Civic-Liberal Critique in its Official Periodicals (2007-2012)

In general, the Orthodox Church has had relatively little experience with democratic governance and is critical of liberalism, which has caused some researchers to question the compatibility of Eastern Orthodoxy with a liberal democratic political order. This was undoubtedly connected to the historical absence of a tradition of democratic culture in most Orthodox majority countries. This paper asks how the Serbian Orthodox Church has reacted to the attempts to foster a democratic political culture in Serbia since the end of the Cold War. Against the background of various theories on religion and democratization, it argues that the absence of a genuine dialogue between the church and other participants within Serbian society could be detrimental for the overall development of Serbian democracy. The more serious inclusion of the Serbian Orthodox Church in the dialogue on the future of Serbian democracy appears thus to be important for its final and successful consolidation.

Valdis Tēraudkalns

Standing between Conflicting Loyalties: The Orthodox Church in Contemporary Latvia

The aim of this paper is to analyse how the Orthodox Church of Latvia positions itself in the public space and how it is perceived by political actors on the one hand, and by the media on the other. First, it is an integral part of the Moscow Patriarchate, which functions as an arm of the public diplomacy of the Russian state, often placing the local church in a difficult situation. Second, the Orthodox Church in Latvia proclaims its loyalty to the state of Latvia. It sees the support of the state as a safeguard against the Estonian scenario of two separate and competing Orthodox Churches. The Latvian Orthodox Church also looks for allies in promoting the gender politics of the Patriarchate of Moscow. Finally, it positions itself as standing above ethnic conflicts, while at the same time having to deal with various nationalisms (both Latvian and Russian) present in contemporary Latvian society. All this attests to the adaptive potential and the dynamics of Orthodoxy within the specific Latvian context.


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