Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site


For the Life of the World: savvy and radically Christian

  • 23 July 2020
An outsider’s image of the Orthodox Church is often of heavily bearded men in enveloping clerical dress and striking headwear. It speaks of a church focused on personal holiness and on ritual, with little interest in social concerns. These are left to often overbearing Governments. Not a promising source of enlightenment as Australians turn to the shaping of society after COVID-19.

For the Life of the World, a recent document prepared by Orthodox clerical and lay scholars and ratified by the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, challenges that perception. Based strongly in the faith of the church and addressed primarily to members of the Orthodox churches, it is confident and independent in its voice and radical in many of its conclusions. For Catholic readers it might evoke a rather more rebarbative Pope Francis. For any attentive readers it will provoke reflection on what kind of society they want, and why.

Its introductory exposition of Orthodox faith emphasises that God’s love for each human being underpins human dignity. It calls for a response also based in love, to live in communion among human beings and with the created world. Because human beings and the institutions they shape are estranged from God, however, the path of Christians personally and communally to contribute to a transfigured world always takes them into a strong head wind. Its shape is given in Christ’s life and teaching, and is embodied in the celebration of the Eucharist. That shapes a polity from which cultures and societies can be judged.

From this perspective other allegiances to race and nation are relativised, and their benefits and limits are open to discussion.

'Christians may and often must participate in the political life of the societies in which they live, but must do so always in service to the justice and mercy of God’s Kingdom... The Kingdom of God alone is the Christian’s first and last loyalty, and all other allegiances are at most provisional, transient, partial, and incidental.' (par 9)

This relativising of political institutions leads to a carefully qualified endorsement of civil disobedience. It also limits the right of national states to act solely in their own interests to the neglect of the common and universal good:

'Institutional documents are often designed to offend no one and to discourage an attentive reading by outsiders. For the Life of the World is not one of these. It is written with moral passion and worldly savvy.'

'The modern nation-state is