Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov

“Imagine That” is now available on Kindle

Posted in Theology, Uncategorized by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 6 December 2015

Imagine That… 

Mental Imagery in Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Private Devotion 

a book by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov

 

This work examines the use of mental imagery in private devotion in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions of prayer. The research is based on the writing of the saints of the two Churches, as well as on the analysis provided by some of the best theologians of the Russian Orthodox Church. The core of the argument is that the two traditions followed significantly different paths in their approaches to spiritual life. These differences exist in many aspects of devotion, but can be exemplified by the favorable view of the use of imagination in Roman Catholic prayer and the caution with which it is approached in the Eastern Orthodox Church. The difference in devotional paths and the standards of prayer that have been canonized through the glorification of saints by each Church may present a much bigger challenge to the dialogue between the two Churches than heretofore has been acknowledged. This work highlights the reality and significance of the differences between the two traditions and urges the continuation of the research within the framework of the dialogue between the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches.

Published with the blessing of His Eminence Kyrill, Archbishop of San Francisco and Western America, Russian Orthodox Church.

 NOW AVAILABLE ON KINDLE!

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ISBN: 1-4392-2993-7

EAN13: 9781439229934

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Since the times of the Early Church, Christians have been very discriminate about their prayer and in whose company they choose to pray. Already in the Apostolic Canons (Canon 65, for example), a document arguably dating back to the end of the second century, both lay people and clergy are prohibited from praying with heretics under the threat of excommunication. Apostolic Canon 45 mandates: “Let any Bishop, or Presbyter, or Deacon that merely joins in prayer with heretics be suspended…” Similarly, Canon 33 of the Council of Laodicea (ca. 363-364 A.D.) says that “one must not join in prayer with heretics and schismatics.” Yet common prayer is one of the central goals of the contemporary ecumenical movement, including the ecumenical dialogue between Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches. Seemingly in defiance of the ancient canons, Catholic and Orthodox hierarchs have routinely joined each other in prayer, to the joy of the proponents of such practices and to the dismay of opponents.

Those working to make common prayer more common argue that the belief in one true God unites the different branches of Christianity and even those outside of the larger Christian community, thus all prayers ascend to the same divine destinations. Opponents often assert that heretics do not pray to the same God, but to the devil instead (cf. John 8:44). Thus, joint prayer is viewed as impossible (cf. 2 Cor. 6:15) or having the risk of accidentally addressing the wrong “authority”.

There is another point of view: if prayer is viewed not simply as locution or interlocution, but as an experience that is transformative for the devotee, even as a way or a mode of life, then it becomes easier to understand why those who doubt each other’s orthodoxy are so cautious about praying together. It is not the risk of accidentally addressing the “wrong” god that becomes central to warnings against praying with heretics, but the risk of being influenced by a way and a mode of life with which one may disagree, in other words, it is the risk to one’s spiritual health. (Imagine That… : Mental Imagery in Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Private Devotion, Introduction)

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Life as Liturgy: Making Life Whole

There Is No Sex in the Church!: On the Problematics of Sexuality and Gender In Orthodoxy

Break the Holy Bread, Master: A Theology of Communion Bread

Imagine That…: Mental Imagery in Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Private Devotion

Prayer: A Personal Conversation with God? What is prayer and why we pray.

Fasting for Non-Monastics [Kindle Edition]

Morning and Evening Prayer Rules in the Russian Orthodox Tradition

The Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom: Parallel Slavonic-English Text

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Follow this link to see all books and articles by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov: https://www.amazon.com/author/sveshnikov

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There Is No Sex in the Church!: On the Problematics of Sexuality and Gender In Orthodoxy

Posted in Articles, Practical Matters, Theology by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 16 April 2013

NOW AVAILABLE IN PAPERBACK!

A new book by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov

There Is No Sex in the Church!:

On the Problematics of Sexuality and Gender In Orthodoxy

CLICK HERE TO ORDER

This work is a collection of essays written over the years on topics related to human sexuality and gender issues within Russian Orthodox Christianity: marital sex, homosexuality, ritual impurity, and others. In an introduction to one of the sections, the author writes:

“…Having written a couple of opinion papers touching on the difficulties of discussing matters of human sexuality in the context of the Russian Orthodox Church, and having pointed out the existence of a wide spectrum of opinions on what Christians should do in bed—ranging from the strictest and almost total prohibition of any form of sexual behavior with possible exceptions for the most penitentiary of position and then only a few times in a lifetime specifically for the purpose of procreation, to an attitude of total permissiveness brushing off any questions with assertions that the marriage bed is undefiled and whatever married people do in their bedroom is all blessed—I have, quite naturally, been asked to clarify my own position on what should and should not be allowed… I should like to discuss three topics: 1) the idea that a husband and wife should attempt to live “like brother and sister,” that is to say, abstaining from sex altogether or limiting it only to specific times and forms necessary for procreation; 2) the idea that a husband and wife can do whatever they want as much as they want in the privacy of their bedroom and none of it is the Church’s business; and 3) a possible middle ground which does not reject the joy of the married state moderated by a certain measure of ascetic discipline of the body and the soul…”

WARNING 

This book deals with adult subject matter and is intended for adult readers. If you are offended by the discussion of human sexuality, this book is not for you. Some sections of this book contain very graphic language and reader discretion is strongly advised.

CLICK HERE TO ORDER

Contents: (more…)

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Thinking Out Loud About Gay Marriage

Posted in Articles, Theology by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 3 April 2013

Not long ago, I was invited to participate in a discussion on gay marriage on a radio program of Oregon Public Broadcasting. The occasion seemed timely enough—a proposition to legalize gay marriage was on a ballot in Washington, a neighboring state. A few days later, I found out that the main guest on the program would be Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop of the Episcopal Church. Bishop Robinson had published a new book which was being introduced on the show. Naturally, the author received most of the airtime. The host, Dave Miller, did allow me a few minutes in which to represent my point of view—hardly enough to even begin to develop an intelligent argument. The issue of gay marriage, however, is most certainly here to stay. Thus, I have decided to put down a few thoughts on the digital equivalent of paper…

NOW AVAILABLE IN PAPERBACK!

A new book by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov

There Is No Sex in the Church!: On the Problematics of Sexuality and Gender In Orthodoxy

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An Interview About Gay Marriage on OCN

Other Books by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov

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Life As a Sacrament

Posted in Practical Matters, Theology by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 24 December 2011

Русский: Жизнь как Таинство

A talk given at St. Herman Orthodox Youth Conference on 24 December 2011 in Ottawa, Canada

Introduction

We all know of the sacraments of the Church and recognize them as certain events or milestones in our Christian lives: we get baptized, we prepare for confession and Communion, get married, and some may get ordained to the holy priesthood…  These important markers provide us with the time and place to be face-to-face with God, to unite with Him within His Holy Church, His Body.  But what about the rest of our life?  Well, we pray for a few minutes in the morning and also in the evening.  But what about the rest?  All too often, our lives are fractured: there is the Christian part—Church sacraments and services, prayers and readings; and there is the secular part—school, work, a party at a friend’s house, a movie on Friday night—and the two parts seem to be as far apart as the east is from the west.  Indeed, what is so spiritual about cooking breakfast?  Or, how can one be (or not be) a Christian while brushing one’s teeth?  The very mechanistic separation between Church and the rest of life seems to be as commonplace in modern Christianity as the separation of Church and state.  But can there be another model?  Is there a way to reconcile the broken pieces of the modern fractured life and to live one whole and simple Christian life?  Here, we will discuss the meaning of the word “sacrament,” the role that sacraments play in our life, and also some ways in which we can guide and shape our everyday life toward a greater connection with God and His Church. (more…)

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There Is No Sex in the Church!

Posted in Articles, History, News, Practical Matters, Theology by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 17 January 2011

This paper explores the attitudes within the Russian Orthodox Church toward marital sex by putting the issue into historical,theological, and pastoral contexts.  It strives to begin a dialogue between the laity, married clergy, and monastic hierarchy of the Russian Orthodox Church about one of the important aspects of every Christian marriage–marital sex.

NOW AVAILABLE IN PAPERBACK!

A new book by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov

There Is No Sex in the Church!: On the Problematics of Sexuality and Gender In Orthodoxy

+

Other Books by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov

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Support our church! Make a small donation today!

To donate through PayPal, click here

Or mail a check to Russian Church, PO Box 913, Mulino, OR 97042

Click this link for the donation page

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Rauschenbusch’s “The Social Principles of Jesus” and the Identity of Western Christianity

Posted in Theology by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 10 July 2010

It is said that Walter Rauschenbusch (1861-1918) was “the leading spokesman for the theology of the Social Gospel in American Protestantism” (from the introduction by Pelikan, 586).  Although a Baptist minister, Rauschenbusch apparently rejected biblical literalism in favor of historical criticism—a method of biblical analysis that originated in Rauschenbusch’s fatherland in the first half of the nineteenth century.  This method, quite popular even today, allowed Rauschenbusch to see the Gospel through the prism of the contemporary understanding of history, which in the age of social revolutions was dominated by the struggles of the lower classes.  In a series of books and essays, Rauschenbusch applied principles he believed were found in the Gospel as calls for social reform that continue to ring true for many modern Christian theologians.  In “The Social Principles of Jesus,” Rauschenbusch’s last essay published in 1918, the author attempted to use his reading of the Gospel as a foundation for social philosophy.  It is this reading, however, that, in our view, makes the foundation rather shaky.

The problem is in the fact that Rauschenbusch’s historical analysis turns Jesus into a failed Jewish revolutionary, and the Church into a piece of corrupted machinery with aimlessly spinning wheels (587-8).  Of course, Rauschenbusch curtseys to the traditional notions of Christ’s divinity in the opening paragraph of the essay, but immediately announces His losing in the “great spiritual duel … between him and the representatives of organized religion” (586).  As such, however, neither Jesus nor His Church can serve as a foundation for anything, except perhaps something like Vladimir Lenin’s “we will follow a different path.”[1] (more…)

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Varietal or Generic? On William James’ “The Will to Believe.”

Posted in Theology by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 9 July 2010

For approximately a millennium, from the era of the first few Ecumenical Councils and through the Reformation, Christian faith was guided by a rather small number of established traditions.  This was not the case in the first few centuries of Christendom, as many competing views on core Christian teachings were vetted, and theologians sought ways of talking about new concepts and doctrines.  The result was not only the development of uniquely Christian ideas, such as the full humanity and divinity of Christ, but also the crystallization of a new theological language.  This new language gave new definitions to already existing philosophical terms and developed many new ones.  And as Christianity struggled to give precise definitions to such terms as hypostasis or ousia, among many others, strong traditions of Christian theology were established in part through the precision of language and clarity of thought.  Thus, the formation of traditional Christian theologies can be seen as the result of the polemic between the greatest thinkers that Christendom could produce.

A very similar process appears to have been restarted in the West, as post-Reformation Christendom fell apart into various creeds and theologumena.  And just as fitting definitions were sometimes elusive in antiquity, the language employed by modern thinkers is sometimes marked by a lack of clarity.  Apart from the issue of inclusivity—a type of thinking that purposefully avoids rigid definitions on the basis that someone is sure to disagree—some modern Christian theology often lacks definitions as if unintentionally.  Perhaps, this murkiness is due to a more intuitive understanding of faith that does not rely on reason as heavily as did the medieval scholastics.  More likely, however, this is due to a more simplistic approach to faith, rejection of the old dogmas, and a renewed process of finding “new and improved” definitions.  In this sense, in the last four hundred years Western Christian thought has been going through a process of discovering its own beliefs not unlike that of the first five centuries of Christendom.  Whether this is an ascent on the eternal spiral of human self-discovery, or the West’s attempt at reinventing the wheel is a topic for a different paper.  It suffices to say here that while some of the ideas born by modern Christian theologians do excite the taste with their freshness, many others fail to find their way out of the graveyard of ancient heresies. (more…)

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On the Significance of the Ritual of the Russian Orthodox Church Surrounding Death and Dying for the Grieving Process of the Bereaved

Posted in Articles, Practical Matters, Theology by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 7 June 2010

Presented at the Pastoral Conference of the  Western American Diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church

San Francisco, California, 18 March 2008

Imprimatur: † Kyrill, Archbishop of San Francisco and Western America

Introduction

For them that mourn and grieve who look for the consolation of Christ, let us pray to the Lord! (From the Great Litany during the Panikhida or the Requiem Service)

This workshop was designed to be presented to the clergy of the Western American Diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church abroad during the Spring 2008 Lenten Conference in San Francisco, California.  The purpose of the workshop is to provide the clergy with another tool in their work with grieving parishioners and their families as well as to raise the level of awareness of the stages of the process of grieving and the healing properties of the Church rituals which may be explored in relation to the grieving process.  As Lundquist writes in Ethnic Variations in Dying, Death, and Grief: Diversity in Universality, “death [in the dominant culture of the U.S.] is frequently treated as a taboo topic in conversation” (32).  This cultural conditioning of Orthodox Christians living in the U.S. goes against the millennia-old tradition of the Church Who reminds Her children that death is the ultimate culmination of the earthly life of every human.  The conversation about death, therefore, must be continued and supported within the Church which teaches, “in all you do, remember the end of your life, and then you will never sin” (Sirach 7:36 NRSV).  The participants of the workshop were invited to look at the meaning of Church rituals not only as the expression of Her beliefs concerning the fate of the reposed, but also and primarily, for this exercise, as a pastoral tool in helping the bereaved to transform the period of grieving and loss into a period of spiritual development and gain. (more…)

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Blessed Augustine’s View of Self

Posted in Theology by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 21 May 2010

It has been asserted that Saint Augustine of Hippo (A.D. 354-430) has had enormous influence on the formation of Western thought and Western civilization.  Some, as F.J. Sheed, for example, have even argued for St. Augustine’s “towering importance in the history of mankind” (Augustine 323).  It is not my goal in this paper to examine whether St. Augustine’s importance was indeed towering in the history of all mankind.  Nor do I wish to examine Jasper’s assertion that St. Augustine is “by far the most important hermeneut of the early Christian church”[1] (Jasper 39) from the position of the Eastern Orthodox Church.  Both issues, however, are of utmost importance to our discussion, but the authors’ statements and my implied questions are merely rhetorical.  One fact cannot be denied: St. Augustine indeed played a prominent role in the formation of the Western mind.   

Sheed notes that St. Augustine’s was “the one light that shone steadily” for the seven centuries between St. Augustine’s death and the twelfth century, when “first-rate thinkers were once more in action in the Church” (Augustine 324).  Despite the lack of an obvious reference to the Western Church, the context of Sheed’s remark leads me to believe that he would not challenge a hypothesis that the East was nourished by its own lights, while being somewhat shaded from the rays of St. Augustine’s “enormous intellect” (Augustine 324) by the cultural and ecclesiastical divide between the two parts of the Roman Empire.  Although, even in the West, such theologians as John Scotus Eriugena, whom Sheed apparently considers a second-rate thinker, were studying the Eastern Fathers (Pseudo-Dionysius, Maximus the Confessor, the Cappadocians, and others, in Eriugena’s case), and were not blinded by the illustrious Augustine.  In his discussion on the issue of the filioque, the Irishman apparently was not convinced by the Doctor’s arguments and preferred to search for answers, alas!—self-admittedly, in vain, elsewhere.  

Herein lies the area of my interest: if the East and the West are different (and I choose to presuppose that they are), and if the ecclesiastical, cultural, theological, and even intellectual divides have not been healed, despite centuries of pontifical[2] efforts, then it may be possible to find some early signs, some symptoms of the early stages of the looming Great Divorce, in the persona of St. Augustine of Hippo who “single handed… shifted the center of gravity” for the West (Martindale, qtd. in Augustine 324).  I do not wish to imply that St. Augustine’s work was the sole source of the estrangement between the East and the West—this matter is too complex to be addressed in a short paper.  But if St. Augustine’s influence in the West was as great as it is touted to be, then “cut off from its intellectual sources” in the East (Augustine 324), cut off from the ecclesiastical life within the Grace of concensus patrum, the West may have inherited not only the greatness of Bishop Augustine of Hippo, but also his individuality, peculiarities, oddities, and (ready?!)… flaws (!).  Quite apart from looking for straws in St. Augustine’s eyes—thankless pursuit indeed—I shall embark on a voyage of celebrating some of the differences in his and “the Easterns’” (as Pius IX referred to us in his [in]famous epistle) view of self. (more…)

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On The Parable of the Talents/Minas

Posted in Theology by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 5 May 2010

“He Put Before Them another Parable” (Matt. 13:24)

Jesus told the crowds all these things in parables; without a parable he told them nothing. (Matt. 13:34)

Of all the passages in the Gospels, some of the best known and most often retold are probably the parables of Christ.  The stories of the Prodigal Son, the Good Samaritan, the Rich man and the Beggar Lazarus, the Publican and the Pharisee, the Talents and others have not only given rich homiletic material to preachers from across the full spectrum of Christian denominations, but have served as staples of Christian children’s education for many generations of the faithful and have become part of the collective cultural make up that has shaped the Christian world.

Perhaps due to this assimilation and acculturation of the Parables of Jesus within the Western mindset, many preachers and Sunday school teachers tend to forget the fact that Jesus was not an American televangelist and that his audience did not live in the American Suburbia.   Relatively recently scholars began the colossal work of putting many familiar stories into their proper first-century Palestinian context.  The shear amount of material uncovered by the historical social sciences will be enough for schools of theologians to sift through for years and decades to come.  Yet, as Richard Rohrbaugh writes in his recently published work The New Testament in Cross-Cultural Perspective (2007), very little work specifically on the parables of Christ “has taken into account recent efforts to use the social sciences in New Testament interpretations.  That is certainly the case with the parable of the talents…” (109) (more…)

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The Lion’s Song

Posted in Theology by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 12 March 2010

It has been noted that, according to Genesis 1:3, light has been created by God[1]  before the heavenly “lights,” the sun, the moon, and the stars, were created three “days” later (1:14-19).[2]  In fact, even “vegetables” were “brought forth” by the earth before the sun existed to make them ripe.  The nature of the light that was created on the first day as well as the entire account of the creation of our world found in Genesis has occupied the thoughts of some of the greatest minds of humanity.  This intense interest in the creation story is easy to understand: our views on the origins of the world and humankind have a great effect on our understanding of our purpose and destiny. (more…)

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Mental Imagery in Eastern Orthodox Private Devotion

Posted in Theology by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 1 March 2010

See also: Imagine That…: Mental Imagery in Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Private Devotion

Deutsch: http://vatopaidi.wordpress.com/2010/01/19/mentale-einbildungskraft-im-gebet/

 Just as there can be a properly trained voice, there can be a properly trained soul.[1]
 

—Fr. Alexander Yelchaninov

This presentation is based on the research that I undertook for a book titled Imagine That… : Mental Imagery in Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Private Devotion, published in paperback in February of 2009 with the blessing of His Eminence Archbishop Kyrill of San Francisco.  The work is an analytical comparison of Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox attitudes toward mental imagery.  In this presentation, I wish to focus specifically on the Orthodox tradition of prayer. (more…)

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“You, Brood of Vipers!”—Or What to Say to People Who Have Come to Be Baptized

Posted in Articles, Theology by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 22 February 2010

See also “On the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector.”

It is usually understood that when John the Baptists thundered “You, brood of vipers!” (Matt. 3:7; Luke 3:7) he was speaking to Pharisees and Sadducees and that this was not a very nice thing to say.  Indeed, Matthew makes it quite clear to whom John was speaking and that they—the Pharisees and Sadducees—were not good people (see Matt. 23:15, 23, 25, 27, 29).  Yet, what we know about the Pharisees is that they were very pious, religious, seekers of God, attempting to fulfill all of the religious rules and customs (Roetzel 39), and that their belief system in many aspects was very close to that of later Christianity (Brown 80).  Additionally, John said those words to the people who came to be “baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins” (Matt. 3:6). [1]

In this paper, I shall explore the possible meaning of the phrase “you brood of vipers” found in the parallel passage in the Gospel of Luke (3:7), where John is addressing the crowds.  Are we “much perplexed by his words and ponder what sort of greeting this might be” (Luke1:29)?  What did the author try to express and convey to the community by putting these words in the mouth of John the Baptist?  Was this an insult, a warning, or praise?  What would the intended reader of this passage learn from it? (more…)

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Maslenitsa —A Pagan Holiday?

Posted in Theology by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 8 February 2010

Русский: Масленица—языческий праздник?

One often hears that Maslenitsa[i] is a pagan holiday and that it is not good for Christians to participate in such festivities.  Is this so?  There is not a simple answer to this question and many similar questions that meet at the intersection of Christianity and pre-Christian pagan culture and customs.  The answer to this question is complex.  That is to say, it consists of several parts.

(more…)

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On the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector

Posted in Theology by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 1 February 2010

This paper is a development of the study on the Gospel of Luke started in the previous work titled “You brood of vipers!–Or What to Say to People Who Have Come to Be Baptized.”

In almost two thousand years of Christianity, we have learned to understand the Holy Christian Scriptures in our own particular way.  We have learned to apply the Scriptures to our own time, our own situation, and to derive meaning particular to what we believe.  In our prayers we may ask God to grant us “the humility of the Publican” from Christ’s parable (Luke18:9-14) and compel each other to “flee the proud speaking of the Pharisee” (Lenten Triodion 106).  The very words “Pharisee” and “pharisaic” (“pharisaical”) can be used in a derogative way by some Christians to describe “hypocritical censorious self righteousness” (Brown 79, fn 19), apparently drawing on passages such as Matt. 23:15, 23, 25, 27, 29.  But did the author of the Gospel of Luke and the early Christian community put the same meaning in those words?  Did they understand them in the same way that we so often do? (more…)

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The Sovereignty of God

Posted in Theology by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 13 January 2010

Among the Western thinkers of the Cold War Era, Iris Murdoch (Jean Iris Murdoch, 1919-1999) holds a very special place of honor and distinction.  It is not the fact that she was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire,—there have been scores of distinguished women before and after Murdoch; and in 1987, she was one of nine.  Nor was it that she was truly intelligent, for although the truly intelligent may be more rare these days than the Dames Commander, they nonetheless abound even among Murdoch’s contemporaries.  What sets Murdoch apart is the rarest quality of all—honesty, primarily with herself, which cannot but captivate and humble her reader. (more…)

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On the Role of Women in the Church

Posted in Articles, Practical Matters, Theology, Women in the Church by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 13 November 2009

The issue of women in the Church has been raised many times during the history of Christianity, beginning with the very first decades of the Church’s existence.  That is why, when in the twenty-first century one asks about the role of women in the Church, one does not speak of this role—Christ Himself spoke about it and the Apostle Paul wrote about it in his letters—but the continuing problem of the relationship between genders in the family, society, and the Church.

In Church consciousness, this problem is usually expressed in terms of bearded men in black possessing administrative authority which they withhold from women, even if the latter choose to glue on a mustache and don a black robe.  From the point of view of modern Western culture—to which not only immigrants making their lives in the United States belong, but also in a significant way Orthodox people living in the European part of Russia—there is clear evidence of the discrimination of the Church against women only because they were born women.  This is why it seems somewhat strange to me that I, a bearded man in a black robe who possess some limited administrative authority in my parish—a small part of the Church, have been invited to tell women about their place in the Church…

NOW AVAILABLE IN PAPERBACK!

A new book by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov

There Is No Sex in the Church!: On the Problematics of Sexuality and Gender In Orthodoxy

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Other Books by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov

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