23 March 2022

A major debate about ethics
in the Orthodox Church at
a time of division and conflict

Patrick Comerford

I have been invited to contribute a feature-length book review that amounts to a full paper in the current edition of Studies in Christian Ethics.

This is the leading, peer-reviewed English-language academic journal devoted exclusively to theological questions arising in the field of Christian ethics and moral theology.

The journal is published in conjunction with the Society for the Study of Christian Ethics based in the UK, whose annual conference furnishes the themed material for the first issue of each volume.

By publishing contributions from international scholars and influential theologians and philosophers, the journal seeks to strengthen debate and to foster research on the wide range of topics that emerge in this fast-growing field.

The latest edition is a special issue, with a collection of papers by mainly Orthodox theologians assembled by the guest editors of this special edition, Perry Hamalis and Gayle Woloschak, and devoted to For the Life of the World: Toward a Social Ethos of the Orthodox Church. This document, issued in 2020 by the Ecumenical Patriarchate on the social ethos of the Orthodox Church, provides guidance for catechesis and ample material for moral, doctrinal and scriptural debate.

The editors say the ‘breadth and seriousness of reflection manifest in these papers will surely inspire the most searching scholarship and dialogue both within and beyond the Orthodox communion.’

The papers in the latest edition may have an added poignancy created by the tensions between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Ecumenical Patriarchate, worked out in some of the current divisions in Orthodoxy in Ukraine.

I have been invited to contribute the major book review in the current edition of Studies in Christian Ethics, reviewing the published edition of this ground-breaking document: David Bentley Hart and John Chryssavgis (eds), For the Life of the World: Toward a Social Ethos of the Orthodox Church.

This special issue of Studies in Christian Ethics is published with the theme, ‘A Fresh Vision for Orthodox Social Ethics: Responses to For the Life of the World.’ The topics are introduced by Perry T Hamalis of North Central College, Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, Naperville, llinois; and Gayle E Woloschak of Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Department of Radiation Oncology, Chicago.

My fellow contributors to this issue include: the Revd Alexis Torrance, Department of Theology, University of Notre Dame; the Revd Dr Vasileios Thermos, Graduate Ecclesiastical Academy of Athens; Dr Stephen M Meawad, Caldwell University, Caldwell, New Jersey; Dr Carrie Frederick Frost, Western Washington University, Saint Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Seminary, Bellingham; Dr Elizabeth Theokritoff, a colleague at the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies, Cambridge; the Revd Dr Philip LeMasters, McMurry University; the Revd Dr John D Jones, Marquette University; and the Revd Dr Demetrios Harper of Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology and Holy Trinity Orthodox Seminary, New York.

The Editor of Studies in Christian Ethics, Dr Susan Frank Parsons, is Director of Pastoral Studies at the Margaret Beaufort Institute of Theology in Cambridge. The Reviews Editor is Kevin Hargaden of the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice, Dublin, who commissioned my paper.

Studies in Christian Ethics is regarded as the leading English-language journal in theological ethics in Europe. It offers first-rate work by British theologians and ethicists, but also showcases the best in North American and Continental scholarship in the field.

This is a high impact journal that has published cutting edge research papers by leaders in the field on both sides of the Atlantic, since its founding in 1988, making it the premier journal of theological ethics in the English-speaking world.

This is only one of two English-language journals in religious ethics. ‘The coverage of its book reviews is unequalled, making it essential for keeping one’s finger on the pulse of the field,’ according to Nigel Biggar, Regius Professor of Moral and Pastoral Theology at Christ Church Oxford.

• David Bentley Hart and John Chryssavgis (ed.), For the Life of the World: Toward a Social Ethos of the Orthodox Church (2020), reviewed by Patrick Comerford, Studies in Christian Ethics 35 (2), May 2022, pp 342-359, ISBN 0953-9468

Praying with the Psalms in Lent:
23 March 2022 (Psalms 43)

‘O send out your light and your truth; let them lead me’ (Psalm 43: 3) … sunshine reflected on the beach at Bettystown, Co Meath (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Before this day begins, I am taking some time early this morning (23 March 2022) for prayer, reflection and reading.

During Lent this year, in this Prayer Diary on my blog each morning, I am reflecting in these ways:

1, Short reflections on a psalm or psalms;

2, reading the psalm or psalms;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

Psalm 43:

Psalm 43 is a brief, five verses. In the slightly different numbering system in the Greek Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate, this is Psalm 42. In Latin, it is known as Iudica me Deus and in English it is sometimes by the opening words in the Authorised or King James Version, ‘Judge me, O God, and plead my cause against an ungodly nation’ (Psalm 43: 1).

Along with Psalm 42, this psalm is commonly attributed to the sons of Korah. In the Hebrew Bible, it comes within the second of the five books of Psalms, also known as the ‘Elohistic Psalter’ because the word YHWH is rarely used and God is generally referred to as Elohim.

Some ancient Hebrew manuscripts combine Psalm 42 and Psalm 43, and some commentators suggest that because of similarities of thought and language in Psalm 42 and 43, these two psalms were originally one. They form one single poem or song consisting of three stanzas, each with the same refrain (42: 5, 42: 11; 43: 5).

Verse 1 says: ‘Vindicate me, O God, and defend my cause against an ungodly people; from those who are deceitful and unjust deliver me!’ The phrase an ‘ungodly nation’ or an ungodly people comes from words literally meaning a nation without Chesed, meaning kindness or love between people.

The ‘deceitful and unjust man’ in some translations may be the leader of this nation, who may have deployed treachery and malice, but the words may also refer collectively to the inhuman nation in general, those people who use deceit and malice as their ways.

The Latin version of Psalm 43 is familiar to former altar boys of a certain vintage. In the Tridentine rite, this psalm was recited by the priest and the servers during the prayers at the foot of the altar before ascending to celebrate the Mass. The recitation of Psalm 43 at the beginning of Mass was suppressed in 1964 with the Instruction on Implementing Liturgical Norms, Inter Oecumenici.

‘Bring me to your holy hill’ (Psalm 43: 3) … the peaks of Mount Athos in Greece (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Psalm 43 (NRSVA):

1 Vindicate me, O God, and defend my cause
against an ungodly people;
from those who are deceitful and unjust
deliver me!
2 For you are the God in whom I take refuge;
why have you cast me off?
Why must I walk about mournfully
because of the oppression of the enemy?

3 O send out your light and your truth;
let them lead me;
let them bring me to your holy hill
and to your dwelling.
4 Then I will go to the altar of God,
to God my exceeding joy;
and I will praise you with the harp,
O God, my God.

5 Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my help and my God.

Today’s Prayer:

The USPG Prayer Diary this week has a particular focus on ‘Lingering Legacies’ and remembering the victims of slavery and the transatlantic slave trade. The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary this morning (23 March 2022) invites us to pray:

Let us pray for all organisations and people who fight against marginalisation of the poor and underprivileged.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

‘Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy’ (Psalm 43: 3) … the altar in the Lady Chapel in Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org