(Editor’s Note: We publish several reviews on a book written by our News Editor Mr. George Alexander. A highly illuminating book on the sacramental unity of the two families of Orthodoxy, The Orthodox Dilemma brings out cogent arguments for the unification of both of these Orthodox families. Please read the review and acquire this thought provoking contribution to Orthodox unity- Chor-Episcopos Dr. Kyriakos of Chicago)
Eastern Union – Review by John G. Panagiotou – Touchstone Magazine- May/June 2016)
The Orthodox Dilemma: Personal Reflections On Global Pan-Orthodox Christian Conciliar Unity by George Alexander [OCP Publications, 2015; 202 pages, $12.00, paperback]
reviewed by John G. Panagiotou
In George Alexander’s “The Orthodox Dilemma” the reader is given a highly accessible overview of the history, current situation, and possible future of Eastern Orthodoxy and Oriental Orthodoxy. Through personal vignettes and historical illustrations, the writer, himself Oriental Orthodox, seeks to explain and address how the Orthodox Churches have found themselves in their present circumstances.
To those with a relatively undeveloped knowledge of Eastern Christianity, many examples that Alexander cites regarding these churches in both Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox expression may seem esoteric and obscure, but his central reason for writing the book is plain—to issue a plea for greater Pan-Orthodox unity of witness on a global platform.
He begins by asserting that before any sort of coordinated form of Orthodox Christian witness can be made, the official estrangement and sacramental division between the Eastern Orthodox (Greek, Russian, Serbian, Antiochian, Romanian, and Bulgarian) and the Oriental Orthodox (Coptic, Armenian, Ethiopian, Syriac, and Indian Malankara) needs to be addressed. He makes very compelling arguments that this “Eastern Schism” is the result of linguistic misunderstandings in Christology that have long since been theologically resolved, and he notes that it has been the long-standing pastoral practice that Oriental Orthodox receive the sacraments in Eastern Orthodox Churches. It is high time, the author believes, that official communion should be acknowledged and proclaimed on the hierarchal level.
Nowhere is this point more pointedly made than where he observes that both Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox bishops and theologians have made great efforts to dialogue and ecumenically interact with the Western Church in both its Roman Catholic and Protestant expressions (in the World Council of Churches and elsewhere) while the Eastern Church has yet to get its own house in order, for which he provides multiple examples from the Council of Chalcedon (a.d. 451) on down to our own time. In the words of the famed Greek Orthodox theologian John S. Romanides, whom he quotes in the book, “The two traditions (Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox) survived the complexities of history, while always maintaining essentially the same Orthodox Faith.”
The official declaration of reunion of the Eastern Churches would aid much in dealing with the cultural estrangements, prejudices, and suspicions of its members for one another. The irony Alexander notes, however, is that ultimately this needs to be a “grass roots” movement from the bottom to the top, issuing from the laity and the clergy, and facilitated by the hierarchy through better communication and public acknowledgment that the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Churches are sisters.
This, coupled with greater opportunities for interaction between the members of both churches, should be happening throughout Orthodoxy. Concerted efforts along these lines would serve to mitigate prejudices, of which the author provides copious examples. Among the paradigms for reunion that the author cites to demonstrate the achievability of this are the reunification of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad (aka ROCOR) with the Patriarchate of Moscow in 2007, the Patriarchate of Moscow’s recent outreach to the Old Believers’ Church, and the Pan-Orthodox pioneering work of the Oriental Orthodox theologians Metropolitan Gregorios Paulose and Fr. V. C. Samuel.
It is important to note that Alexander is not calling for a oneworld administrative hierarchical bureaucracy, but rather for an integrated Orthodox Christian witness, which will serve as a platform compatible with the concilliar nature of the Church’s episcopacy. This platform would be an expression of sacramental unity in all of its spiritual aspects of love and shared faith. It is not a call for a single form of worship or administration based on ecclesial jurisdiction, but an incorporation of St. Irenaeus of Lyon’s theme of “unity in diversity.”
The author provides numerous suggestions for realizing a unified Orthodox platform through better theological education for clergy, better use of the modern means of communication and media, and work in social justice ministries. To my knowledge, this is the first published book to provide thoughtful detail on the execution of this vital project. In many ways, it is a seminal work.
John G. Panagiotou is a Greek Orthodox theologian and writer, a graduate of St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary and Wheeling Jesuit University. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Book: The Orthodox Dilemma: Pers onal Reflections on Global Pan-Orthodox Christian Conciliar Unity
Author: George Alexander
Reviewer: Dr Glenville Ashby
Early this year, Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill met in Cuba, delivering a historic joint declaration that partly outlined the following:
– Notwithstanding [our] shared Tradition of the first ten centuries, for nearly one thousand years, Catholics and Orthodox have been deprived of communion in the Eucharist. We have been divided by wounds caused by old and recent conflicts, by differences inherited from our ancestors, in the understanding and expression of our faith in God, one in three Persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We are pained by the loss of unity, the outcome of human weakness and of sin, which has occurred despite the priestly prayer of Christ the Saviour.
– Mindful of the permanence of many obstacles, it is our hope that our meeting may contribute to the re–establishment of this unity willed by God, for which Christ prayed. May our meeting inspire Christians throughout the world to pray to the Lord with renewed fervour for the full unity of all His disciples.”
Undoubtedly, the Great Schism in 1054 remains a thorny issue. And despite the climate of interfaith dialogue between the leaders of the Roman and Orthodox Church there is still a sense of an irreparable centuries-old damage caused by competing theological and political positions. While the meeting heightened expectations that “the one holy catholic and apostolic church” will one day signify a single body, many are doubtful. But beyond the Roman and Orthodox divide, there is an unnerving discord within the Orthodox Church itself.
Not surprisingly, there is a mood of pessimism that seeps through the pages of George Alexander’s “The Orthodox Dilemma.” His thesis is as lucid as it gets: The Orthodox Churches are the true heirs to the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church of Christ, but a centuries-old schism between Eastern and Western orthodoxy threatens its identity and survivability more than ever before.
According to Alexander, there is disinterest and lassitude in resolving theological misunderstandings concerning Christology, in particular, the nature of Jesus. Political and ethnic differences have also fanned the flame of distrust.
Although some steps have been taken toward compromise and accommodation, the author presents a fractured Orthodox Church rife with internal strife. He cites tensions between the Antiochian and Jerusalem patriarchates over canonical rights regarding Jerusalem; conflicts between the Serbian and Macedonian churches; the separation of Old Calendar Greek churches from the Greek Orthodox Church; and Old Believers parting ways with the Russian Orthodox Church.
He decries the use of term, ‘heretical’ against Eastern Orthodoxy, reminding accusers that Oriental believers are not monophysites as commonly held. Relatedly, he invokes the stature and wisdom of St Cyril, the ostensible father of both families of Orthodoxy, who comprehensively explained the mystery of Christ.
Both bodies, Alexander opines, define the same truth through their own political and cultural prisms. Compellingly, he chronicles his ostracism by Eastern Orthodox prelates during a visit to the Middle East, and recounts similar anecdotes to cement his exigent call for dialogue. “For me,” he writes, “the acceptance of the seven Ecumenical Councils [by Oriental Orthodoxy] and the subsequent removal of anathemas should be modeled upon step by step constructive dialogue…” Alexander laments the failure of the 1964 Addis Ababa conference to address disunity, although he is marginally encouraged at efforts toward rapprochement between 1964 and 1984.
Further, he cautions against meddling in orthodox affairs by the Roman See, arguing that its overtures to some oriental churches work against orthodox homogeneity. While Alexander does not denounce ecumenism, he views the Vatican as surreptitiously and subtly attempting to bring orthodoxy under its control. He emphatically states that “the pope cannot be a coordinator for orthodox unity,” and warns against falling “prey to the pomp and glory of the Vatican,” and the divide and conquer tactics it employs.
Instead, he advocates prioritizing inter-orthodox dialogue at local, regional, national, and international levels; the establishment of theological and secular institutes; and the use of mass media to promote pan-Orthodox issues. ýHe also asks that the faithful be vigilant against the evangelizing efforts of Christian churches. It is a point that he advances throughout his work.
Alexander’s passion is heartfelt, almost palpable. The historical mission of the body of Christ – the Church is marred by disunity
But he has an able response. His “bloodless revolution” calls for full sacramental communion. It is a broad based. Beyond canonical churches, he welcomes an all inclusive platform that invites old believers, old calendar, non-canonical, new generation, recognized, and traditional orthodox churches to heal the wounds within the orthodox body. Robust pan-Orthodox institutions do not require full communion among churches, he argues.
The Orthodox Dilemma offers a detailed panorama of the Church History and is a boon for researchers and proponents of interfaith dialogue. It is revelatory and timely, especially in a period riddled with internecine violence and religious tribalism. Ironically, in his uncompromising, strident promulgation of Orthodox supremacy, Alexander may be an inadvertent contributor to the global divide he is determined to fight.
The Orthodox Dilemma: Personal Reflections on Global Pan-Orthodox Christian Conciliar Unity by George Alexander 2015
By George Alexander
OCP Publications, $9.60, 202 pages, Format: eBook
Available at Amazon
Review by Fr. Dr. Jossi Jacob- Faculty- Holy Trinity Theological University College – Addis Ababa- Ethiopia.
Being a genuine and serious attempt of a non-clergy believer of Orthodox Christianity, ‘The Orthodox Dilemma’ deserves high appreciation. It is obviously an outcome of George Alexander’s deep conviction and passionate longing for establishing unity among Orthodox Churches of both ecclesial families. For me, the author of the book is not simply an individual, rather a representative of the young who ardently wishes the Orthodox Churches to have a global vision, and complete unity in faith and functionality to discuss the challenges of modernity and globalization with proper witness of the true way of Christian living in new time.
The venture of publishing such a book shall be an eye-opener to all the Holy Sees and hierarchs of the Orthodox Churches, of both Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox families, who are apparently more inclining to Cyprianic concepts of ecclesial authority and functioning of the Churches. This emerging consciousness, concern and sense of responsibility among the lay members of the Church shall open the eyes of the successors of the Holy Apostles in all the Orthodox Churches. This book implicitly reminds the hierarchs about the real need of strengthening the foundations of their acceptance by the people of God together with divinely granted authority being successors of the Holy Apostles.
I would see this project as a clear expression of ‘sobernost’ in practice, as the strength of fellowship and awareness of the Church from within to empower the body of Christ by healing her age-old wounds caused by the schism. I would wholeheartedly wish that this book will be a beginning in bringing the Orthodox Churches together and eventually to complete full conciliar unity. May God Almighty abundantly shower His blessings to make the ideas in the book to spread like a fire burning in the hearts of the Orthodox believers for bringing unity in the Holy Church, the Body of Christ.
Review by the Lausanne- Orthodox Initiative (LOI)
As Orthodox Christians of the Eastern family (as distinct from the Oriental Orthodox Churches) prepare for their Holy and Great Synod in Crete this coming June a new book has been published which calls for even greater unity within the Orthodox community.
In The Orthodox Dilemma: Personal Reflections on Global Christian Conciliar Unity, George Alexander, the founder and director of Orthodox Cognate PAGE, shares a passionate plea for a new conciliar approach to unity between all Orthodox Churches, both Oriental and Eastern. In the early pages of this moving book the author shares some of his personal experiences of rejection when trying to enter and share in worship in Orthodox Churches which were not of his ethnicity or tradition. These experiences, he claims, are not exceptional and he quotes the experiences of others who have experiences similar rejections.
Throughout the text he argues that there are no substantive theological differences between the different Orthodox Churches (a point which many would dispute) and that the historical, cultural, ethnic and linguistic differences which keep people apart could be overcome by the adoption of a conciliar approach to unity. In arguing this approach he uses the examples of other world communions of Churches such as the Anglican Communion and the Lutheran World Federation. Despite drawing on these other conciliar models of Church, Alexander is not afraid to begin his book with the bold statement, “[The] Orthodox Church is not one of the “churches” because she is the ONLY true Church of Christ. This naturally is not pride but the TRUTH. Since the Lord instituted only one Church, how can we speak of many?”.
The book deals with many of the sad divisions within the wider Orthodox community and calls for reconciliation and greater efforts towards inter-communion. Alexander touches on the Nestorian Dilemma, reminds us of the problems in the Eritrean Church and the divisions in India, Ukraine and Macedonia and gives credit to the many who have worked tirelessly to overcome division. In the end, however, he leaves us with little hope. His plea for unity is passionate but he fails to explain how the conciliar model adopted by many other churches (see the list on page 119) and the World Council of Churches itself can be applied to the one and only true Church of God, the diverse community of Orthodox Churches.
Of relevance to the work of LOI, Alexander suggests (Pg. 56) that Inter-Orthodox ecumenism is relevant to the “heterodox” churches because a united voice from the Orthodox would help “heterodox Churches to guide and find their lost Orthodox past … Each dialogue with heterodox should help them to gain insights into their Orthodox past, their original history, the true Traditions of Christ and His Apostles, the life of Church Fathers. At the same time, strategic working relationships in the field of charity and social outreach, Christian persecution and other common areas of concerns should be discussed.”
Review by Joel Dennstedt- Readers Favourite
Important to consider with any informative evaluation of The Orthodox Dilemma by layman George Alexander is the necessarily circumscribed focus of his attention – the historical delineations, early schisms, and later separations of Orthodox Christianity into various Churches, along with a specific concern for a conciliar unification of all the separate Orthodox Churches – as well as his own confession to having a highly restricted and non-definitive personal objective in writing this exhaustive treatise: “This book does not have any guidelines for Orthodox unity as such, but contains random thoughts, wild dreams, reflections and life experiences [of someone] who deeply desires to see the Church of Christ united in conciliarity,” defined as “the adherence of various Christian communities to the authority of ecumenical councils and to synodal church government.”
Therefore, The Orthodox Dilemma by George Alexander is a passionate and heartfelt plea for Orthodox Churches everywhere, but especially at the local level, to find a personal way – demonstrating basic Christian principles – to get along, while at the same time adhering to fundamental Orthodox doctrines such as the very nature of the One Lord Jesus Christ, perfect God and perfect Man, and the history of the Church traced in unbroken continuity from Christ and his Apostles. Alexander believes that these fundamental Orthodox canons, if pursued with sincerity, can still be the foundation on which conciliar unity is achieved and founded upon a common universal platform. The author stresses conciliarity “because the nature and structure of administration and decision in Orthodox Churches is always based on councils.”
The interested reader may find much of value in The Orthodox Dilemma, including several anecdotal experiences of both severe division and blessed unity within the Church. He may also feel, however unfairly, that George Alexander does not articulate much more of a practical agenda than his passionate demand for unification, heartfelt as that may be, though he is careful to enumerate in relentless detail the seemingly overwhelming odds against it, including a severe lack of Orthodox religious education among the membership in general. Still, if his purpose – as stated – is mostly to provoke the same desire and passion in others and to stimulate further ideas and plans for unifying actions, he may consider this book to be a particular success.
Review by Dr. Glenville Ashby – San Francisco Book Review
The Orthodox Dilemma offers a detailed panorama of Church History and is a boon for researchers and proponents of interfaith dialogue. It is revelatory and timely, especially in a period riddled with internecine violence and religious tribalism.
Ironically, in his uncompromising, strident promulgation of Orthodox supremacy, Alexander may be an inadvertent contributor to the global divide he is determined to fight.
George Alexander’s thesis is as lucid as it gets: The Orthodox Churches are the true heirs to the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church of Christ, but a centuries-old schism between Eastern and Western orthodoxy threatens its identity and survivability more than ever before.
According to Alexander, there is disinterest and lassitude in resolving theological misunderstandings concerning Christology, in particular, the nature of Jesus. Political and ethnic differences have also fanned the flame of discord. Although some steps have been taken toward compromise and accommodation, the author presents a fractured Church rife with internal strife, citing tensions between the Antiochian and Jerusalem patriarchates over canonical rights regarding Jerusalem; conflicts between the Serbian and Macedonian churches; the separation of Old Calendar Greek churches from the Greek Orthodox Church; and Old Believers parting ways with the Russian Orthodox Church.
He decries the use of term, ‘heretical’ against Eastern Orthodoxy, reminding accusers that Oriental believers are not monophysites as commonly held. Notably, he invokes the stature and wisdom of St Cyril, the ostensible father of both families of Orthodoxy, who comprehensively explained the mystery of Christ. Both bodies, Alexander opines, define the same truth through their own political and cultural prisms. Compellingly, he chronicles his ostracism by Eastern Orthodox prelates during a visit to the Middle East, and recounts similar anecdotes to cement his exigent call for dialogue. “For me,” he writes, “the acceptance of the seven Ecumenical Councils [by Oriental Orthodoxy] and the subsequent removal of anathemas should be modelled upon step by step constructive dialogue…”
Alexander laments the failure of the 1964 Addis Abba conference to address disunity, although he is marginally encouraged at efforts toward rapprochement between 1964 and 1984.
Further, he cautions against meddling in orthodox affairs by the Roman See, arguing that its overtures to some oriental churches work against orthodox homogeneity. While Alexander does not denounce ecumenism, he views the Vatican as surreptitiously and subtly attempting to bring orthodoxy under its control. He emphatically states that “the pope cannot be a coordinator for orthodox unity,” and warns against falling “prey to the pomp and glory of the Vatican,” and the divide and conquer tactics it employs. Instead, he advocates prioritizing inter-orthodox dialogue at local, regional, national and international levels; the establishment of theological and secular institutes; and the use of mass media to promote pan-Orthodox issues.He also asks that the faithful be vigilant against the evangelizing efforts of Christian churches. It is a point that he advances throughout his work.
“I feel that we have not done justice to Jesus Christ and His Church because we still keep the body of Christ divided.” (p.47)
Alexander’s “bloodless revolution” calls for conciliar unity and full sacramental communion. It is a broad based. Beyond canonical churches, he welcomes an all-inclusive platform that invites old believers, old calendar, non-canonical, new generation, recognized, and traditional orthodox churches to heal the wounds within the orthodox body. Robust pan-Orthodox institutions do not require full communion among churches, he argues.
Fr Dr Jacob Kurien on ‘ The Orthodox Dilemma’
“The Orthodox Dilemma is a clearly focused, prophetically articulated and uniquely challenging book.” Fr Dr Jacob Kurien – Theologian, Author, Academician and former Principal of the Orthodox Theological Seminary (India).
Dr. Wa’el Adnan Jabbour on ‘The Orthodox Dilemma’.
“The ‘Orthodox Dilemma’ echoes innocent and rightful questions on the unity of the One, Holy, Catholic & Apostolic Church of Jesus Christ and gives mature reflections, suggestions and an honest call to global pan-orthodox Christian conciliar unity” – Dr. Wa’el Adnan Jabbour – Medical Lab Diagnosis Specialist & Faithful of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch & All East (Latakia- Syria).
“Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the Kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it” (Mark 10:14-15).
If you let a little child attend any Oriental Orthodox church and any Eastern Orthodox Church at the same time with his inner innocence and positivity, he will not notice any differences except these three things: language, vestments and choir. For him, those two churches will be the place where he finds peace and love. For him, they will be nothing but two different editions for the same beautiful” toy”.
But when you push this innocent child to eat from the forbidden fruit of details, the sin will be upon you, not upon him. Because the child’s immediate response will be crying and asking loudly:” Why the schism? You are the same!! I will not attend your churches anymore “.
The Orthodox Dilemma by George Alexander echoes the same innocent rightful question of that little child mixed with the deep knowledge of the past of the One Holy, Catholic & Apostolic Church and Theological, Christological and political conflicts throughout the history. The Orthodox Dilemma doesn’t stop there. It gives us mature reflections, suggestions and an honest warm call to global pan-orthodox Christian conciliar unity. The author invites every true orthodox faithful and clergy to open their hearts for love and humility to the other side, and to sit together for a “cup of coffee” which is the simple yet convincing expression used in the book.
The Orthodox Dilemma- Review by Fr Thomas Ninan- M. Th. Priest of the Indian Orthodox Church.
The book reflects an enthusiastic and a sincere quest on one of the most debated issues in the History of Christianity, that of Church Unity, specifically on having a common Orthodox platform, with due reference to the Byzantine and the Oriental Orthodox churches. While giving a glimpse on some of the historical issues debated among the Orthodox churches with respect to the schisms, the author tries to find relevance in today’s context by raising questions which emanate from the sharing of the real life experiences he and various other laity have had while interacting with the different churches. In essence, the book raises the pertinent question of addressing the lack of understanding at the grassroots level about the relevance of the Universality of a radiant Orthodox spirituality and life, as practised by the Early Church, for a common and effective Orthodox witness today.
In a context where very little has been dealt with among the different Orthodox churches regarding what “Unity of churches” would mean, it sadly continues to be just a concept, discussed once in a while among interested church leaders engaged in Church dialogue. The prevalent Ecumenical Movement which came into being in the mid 20th century has unfortunately had a negative impact on the various Orthodox churches, in the way it was eventually practised. And because there was very little understanding of this within the Orthodox churches then, it became obvious that the word “Oikumene”, as introduced in the Acts of the Apostles, is more a taboo word among the Orthodox churches today, in the way it has been practised so far. Hence, in reality, the ancient Orthodox churches are yet to realise and practise what a true “Oikumene” would really mean as the Early Church practised. To this end, this book is a great inspiration to anyone who would want to dream and engage with what, Unity in this sense would mean in a distinct way, which the world is yet to see and realise. The author, while dreaming of such a Unity, has sincerely tried to give a glimpse of some of the realities the differences between the Orthodox churches has brought forth. It is in a way, a mini encyclopaedia for anyone wanting to delve into what these differences are all about.
The need for a sincere approach towards the understanding of “Oikumene” among the Orthodox churches remains a decision that needs to be taken today. This is in fact more a fundamental Biblical decision that needs to be taken, independent of what the history of the Church and Christianity has expressed itself with. The book gives a glimpse of the possibilities of what such a unity among the Orthodox churches can bring about, through the few attempts that have happened so far, at the grassroot level. After the various schisms that have happened in the history of Christianity, significant efforts towards Church unity by a pool of stalwarts from the Orthodox churches took place during the 20th century.
Like a star shining in the dark sky, their efforts continue to be a beacon today for all those who dream of such a reality. In fact, in the history of Ecumenism, their efforts stand out as one of the most daring features that brought together the two Eastern churches to a common table of learning. Much has happened after that in the Ecumenical World, both in the East and the West, to be able to reach a situation today where on one side, a few unsung heroes continue to bear the flag of unity while on the other side looms large the question of the relevance of such a Unity. Make no mistake, if it were for political reasons that there happened divisions in the history of the churches, there is no reason why one cannot comprehend the fact that the divisions today continue between the churches more because of the political reasons prevalent today, locally and regionally. Ethnicity, property disputes and other internal matters feed on to the political interests which keep alive the divisions between the churches. These factors are not just challenges to the cause of realising unity among the Orthodox churches today, but, in reality are challenges to the practice of basic theological tenets of Orthodox life today, as it were in the early periods of church history. It was Aldous Huxley who commented, “Medical science has made such tremendous progress that there is hardly a healthy human left.”
Can we see a similar line in the stream of theological studies today, where theological knowledge has made so much progress that it is very difficult to find an ounce of godliness in human beings today. If Orthodox spirituality, as it is practised today, cannot aim towards achieving godliness as its ultimate outcome, I must say it’s time we call such spirituality as something else. It was the late HH Baselios Geevarghese II, the third Catholicos of the Malankara Orthodox Church who said, “It is much more important to keep inner purity than to maintain cleanliness in the church. If not, our inner self will become a den of thieves, as Christ taught us…” Can we dream of such beauty? Is it realistic and achievable? Can we call our lives worthwhile otherwise….
The Orthodox Dilemma
Dina Blokland – M.A. Theol., M.A. Semit.
Ph.D. Candidate at Hebrew University
George Alexander addresses in his newest book ‘The Orthodox Dilemma’ disunity amongst the Orthodox Churches. The book carries the subtitle ‘Personal Reflections Global Pan-Orthodox Christian Conciliar Unity’. The Author calls for dialogue between Eastern, Oriental, Old Believers, Old Calendar, Traditional, Un-recognized, New Generation Orthodox Churches. Since the foundation of the Orthodox Cognate PAGE Society (OCP) in 2007, Alexander is committed to promote Orthodox Christian Unity and Faith.
The book is written in a personal style, and is refreshing in a sense that it does not split theological hairs, but speaks to the heart of Orthodox Christians. Alexander does not deny the existence of theological differences between the Orthodox Churches, but goes beyond, and calls for dialogue and interaction in Orthodoxy.
The book contains seven chapters; in the Introduction an overview is given of various Orthodox Churches worldwide, and the concept of Pan-Orthodox Christian Conciliar Unity is explained. Alexander describes the common ground of Orthodox Christianity and present situation in Orthodox Unity, illustrated by personal experiences with Orthodox Churches.
The schism between the so-called Oriental and Eastern branches of Orthodoxy is brought to the attention of the reader and historically explained, interlaced with personal encounters in Orthodox Churches.
Alexander notices for instance a shortage of theological institutes as well as a limited cooperation between Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Theological institutions. Western Christianity seems eager to substitute and fill shortages, therewith however for passing the rich Orthodox-theological heritage. Orthodox Christianity is too valuable to be deprecated, and steps should be made to preserve and continue Orthodox tradition to a flourishing representative of modern Christianity.
Alexander’s book gives many examples and encounters of daily life, personal as well as virtual of the Orthodox Christian in relation with other members in Christian Orthodoxy.
The author calls upon the Orthodox Churches to be aware and proud of the rich Orthodox heritage and to be proactive towards western ecumenism. In Alexander’s view, Orthodoxy can act as a full partner in worldwide ecumenism only after formation of an Orthodox union. The Orthodox voice has to be heard worldwide, and should not be marginalized by ecumenical politics of divide et impera.
The author speaks out in a plea for greater acceptance and tolerance between the various Orthodox Churches as equal members of Orthodox Christianity, in concordance with I Corinthians 12:27 “Now you are the body of Christ, and individual members of it.”
As the theological differences in Orthodoxy are not as distinct compared to those of the Catholic and Protestant Churches, with which ecumenical relations are established, assembling the diverse branches of Orthodoxy should be even more feasible.
Union cannot and should not be imposed, but has to start with interaction, followed by growth and development from the “grass roots”. Initiatives by members from the various Sister Churches Orthodoxy can overcome borders, created by traditions and the various languages in Orthodoxy. Apart from laity, clergy should likewise be involved in the process.
The reunification of the Patriarchate in Moscow with the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, as well as the making of connections with the Old Believers, is proof of the viability of a union between various branches of Orthodoxy.
Apart from personal encounters in real life, referrals to virtual meetings are included in the book, too. In our world the internet has become a place where people meet and make friends; a real, but virtual place which has immense possibilities for interactions between Orthodox Christians. Communication through the internet and other mass media can function as a platform, starting with the establishment of Pan-Orthodox Christian Conciliar Unity, in order to eventually reach a broader Christian unity worldwide.
The book is written from a very personal view, which, I think, is also the strength of the book. Alexander does not deny the existence of theological distinctions, does not call for the abandonment of specific forms of Orthodoxy, but clearly makes a very personal appeal on the reader.
When reading about the personal meetings, the conscious reader will ask himself or herself the question if his or her behavior is in accordance with God’s commandment. Jesus Christ has worded this in the Gospel of John 12:34 ff “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
When meeting others we aren’t always aware of the consequences of our words or deeds, the personal descriptions in this book however call our attention to become mindful of our behavior.
The quoted Bible texts therefore are to be seen as a command- each member of the Body of Christ has a different form and a different function, the body works optimal when they cooperate- with a loving attitude, as tells us the Gospel of John. On these terms, we can start, maybe slowly, but surely and steadily towards Orthodox Conciliar Unity.
© Dina Blokland – M.A. Theol., M.A. Semit.
Ph.D. Candidate at Hebrew University
Dina Blokland <firstname.lastname@example.org>
John Tsambazis – Award Winning Executive Producer at Clapstick Pictures
I am really happy that this book is out there and someone else shares my beliefs. For a long time, I have pondered on this issue, which, I believe, is one of if not the most important issues facing the Orthodox Church today.
With all the threats and dangers facing the Orthodox Church in these troubling times it is vitally important that cooperation and unity are something that is discussed and implemented. United we stand… is a famous phrase and it certainly applies here.
Although this book has no concrete solution, the author never claims to have the absolute solution, he just states he wants to get the discussion going, which is the important first step in securing our faith and traditions. I believe that in the future this can be seen as an important book which got the ball rolling on the much need process of unity within the Orthodox Churches around the world.
From a technical standpoint, the book is very well written and a joy to read. George Alexander’s passion comes through and his lack of arrogance in proclaiming that he knows he doesn’t have all the answers is super refreshing as many theological writers cannot admit that they don’t know the absolute truth. All in all a very enjoyable and important read, I highly recommend it.
“The Orthodox Dilemma” is a well-researched, well-written document that examines the conflicts and rifts within Holy Orthodoxy. The author echoes the cry of Our Lord when he prays that his flock may be one (John 17:21). This cry wells up within the hearts of many Orthodox Christians throughout the world, though not many have been so bold or asstraight-forwardly as George Alexander.
The work discusses important issues such as the dream of Orthodox Christian conciliar unity, the healing of the East vs. East schism, and ecumenical concerns while also addressing the need for Orthodox Christian outreach, consensus, and a unified world-wide witness. Major formative historical events are highlighted, various voices throughout the Orthodox world are heard, and the call for Christ’s Church to be one finds its way to our present age– where we must deal with the divided reality we find ourselves in.
All of the Orthodox faithful can take up the cause for unity– laymen and women as well as monastics and clergy alike. We each must do our part. Disunity and separation are sins which, with the help and guidance of the Holy Trinity, we must repent of and heal from.
As a former independent fundamentalist Baptist, former traditionalist Roman Catholic, and now an Orthodox Christian, I see clearly the divisions within Christendom. I weep for the deep divisions. While modern-day ecumenical efforts between the Church and the divided sects of Christianity and other faiths are noble, I strongly believe that we Orthodox Christians need to repent, heal, and unify ourselves so that we can present a tremendous witness to the world. We are members of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church with holds to the Orthodox faith, handed down to us from the apostles. We are the Body of Christ. It is time to come together as one, to reach the world with both truth and love.
This book is a much-needed piece in the broader “puzzle” which will help to make our struggle for Orthodox Unity become a reality.
Review by Joslyn Ramey – Orthodox Writer, Travel & Photography Expert
The Unity of World Orthodox Churches – The Orthodox Dilemma – Brief review by John D Kunnathu – Orthodox Christian Author and Academician.
The Orthodox Dilemma is a book that promotes the idea of a worldwide unity of the Orthodox Christian Churches. George Alexander, the author, is an authority in this field. He is the founder of Orthodoxy Cognate PAGE Society as well as the author of several books on this topic. As its subtitle states, it consists of the author’s personal reflections on global Orthodox Christian unity, and it is also a call for dialogue among all varieties of Orthodox churches around the globe.
As the author rightly admits, he is not an orthodox theologian, nor does he claim to have in his possession any formula for Orthodox unity; however, he calls himself an Orthodox layman who has a deep desire within him for worldwide Orthodox unity. All he presents in this book, as he claims, are his random thoughts, wild dreams, reflections and life experiences. Hence this book is an expression of the deep yearnings of the Orthodox Christian men and women all over the world. The author does not claim any authority to his ideas. He is simply initiating a discussion, in which people from the entire orthodox world may eventually participate, and work out ways of unity.
The author does not think that perfect unity of all the orthodox churches by coming under one head is either possible or desirable. He would rather have them stand as separate bodies but stand united without any enmity among them. They need to accept one another in spite of their differences. They need to agree to disagree. Such a unity of the Orthodox churches will help them tremendously to grow together and contribute to the wellbeing of humankind.
The introductory chapter introduces the Orthodox churches and their historical development. Chapter one traces the development of the author’s dream of Orthodox unity and the birth of Orthodox Cognate PAGE Society. Chapter two analyses the historical schism between the Eastern and oriental Orthodox Churches. Chapter three deals in some depth the kind of unity to be sought among the orthodox churches. Chapter four deals with some online encounters for unity. Chapter five deals with the Orthodox Christian Outreach using mass media. Chapter six calls for a genuine unity among the Orthodox churches. Chapter seven calls the world Orthodox churches for a united Christian witness.
The book is published by the publishing division of the Orthodoxy Cognate PAGE Society (OCP), which is a Pan-Orthodox society for the promotion of Orthodox Christian unity and faith established in the year 2007.
In conclusion, this book is an exciting introduction to the amazing attempts made by a committed Orthodox Christian for the unity of the Orthodox churches. This writer sincerely wishes and pray that these baby steps may eventually lead to gigantic leaps that will successfully unite the Orthodox world!
Source: OCP (All Reviews provided by Orthodox Cognate PAGE)