Trinity College, Faculty of Divinity, University of Toronto

Registration open until Friday 15 September

See the full list of Fall 2017 courses which can be taken for graduate credit or audited, both in class and online. If you are interested, please contact info@trinityorthodox.ca as soon as possible as registration closes on Friday.

We would like to highlight especially the course Orthodox Life: Eastern Christian Understanding of Ethics, Society and the World (TRT3675). A recording of the entire first class can be viewed below. If this piques your interest and you would like to wrestle with what it means for the Orthodox Church to live its evangelical life in a pluralistic world of social and ethical complexity, and can join us on Monday evenings (in person or online), please get in touch.

Orthodox Life: Eastern Christian Understanding of Ethics, Society and the World

In a rapidly changing world, the Orthodox Church has struggled to identify its place and find its voice amid contemporary moral and ethical debates, waking up from long neglect of perceiving ethical questions as valid in their own right, distinct from monastic spirituality, canon law, and episcopal ukase. While many of us may feel that at least the Church's teachings on subjects like abortion, medical assistance in dying, appropriate marriage, and human sexuality are clear, much work remains to be done to articulate the inner logic even of such teachings so as to express them today as something more than wooden rules for behaviour, or arbitrary restrictions on human choice. And then there are the host of other burning ethical issues – ecology and environment, bioethics, church and state in a civil democracy, social welfare, economic ethics, and others, all of which were keenly debated in the writings of the Fathers — on which Orthodox writers today are just making the first beginnings of seeking for contemporary ethical norms.

Join us as we seek to explore the problematics of the Church's ethical understanding, starting with the approach to God and human beings upon which this understanding must be founded. What might be the unique gifts which Orthodoxy has to offer to the current ethical dilemmas? But equally we must ask what the contemporary world – both of non-Orthodox churches and also of secular society – has discovered which might provide valuable insights to Orthodoxy as it strives to find its feet in the present ethical confusion.

Watch the recording of the entire first class:

Particular Topics

Among topics to be considered will be the following; in every case we will be discussing how an Orthodox believer with an educated grounding in the Orthodox Tradition would approach and defend stances on questions such as:

  • Issues of church and state: The political theories and practices of Orthodoxy were formed in close symbiotic relation with a monarchical state; how should Orthodoxy function in the modern “secular” state, especially in socially pluralistic democracies? In societies where Orthodoxy is the major church, should it seek Establishment? Should the Church take stands on political issues, and in democracies – especially those dependent on constitutionalized “rights” — what principles should motivate voting in elections, or voting on laws by legislators? What is the meaning of “nationalistic” prayers? Can an Orthodox world-view provide a basis for recognition of the “correct” stance in questions of “civil rights”? Or “universal  human rights”? Does Eastern Christianity acknowledge “natural law”?

  • Women in society and the Church: How does the Orthodox Church epistemologically understand women’s place and role in the human race and in the social fabric?  Is the special question of ordination of women a theological, or a cultural issue?

  • Bioethics: What stand should Eastern Christians take with regard to the possibilities of biotechnology and its potential for human social engineering? What about end-of-life issues? Genetic modification? Conception and pregnancy? Stem-cell research? Abortion of “hopelessly” deformed foetuses? And so on. What is “life”?

  • General ethics and epistemological issues: How does Eastern Christianity respond to the questions posed by “Situation Ethics” or the theology of moral Probablism? Is there a universal ethic, or are morals existentially personal? Can Orthodox Christians cope with a culture which firmly advocates plurality of truth, at least in dialogue? What is the Eastern stance on crime and retributive justice? In general, what is“justice” in Christian ethics? and what are “rights” (especially in secular democracies with separation of church and state)? How should abortion laws be regarded, and are they an issue of bioethics or of juridical ethics? What is the ethical Orthodox response to suffering? 

  • Wealth, social care, and charity: Does the Orthodox world-view entail any particular form(s) of social order? What is the scriptural, and the patristic basis for understanding social disparities, especially economic disparities? And what is the appropriate Christian response? The gospel of love leaves no room for doubt about the priority of charity and care for the poor, but for the Orthodox world-view, what is the appropriate stewardship, the useful form of such charity, in the modern world? Can the parables of “labourers” and “stewards,” whose exegesis in Scripture applies to evangelism, be equally well applied to socio-economic issues? What values should be connected with “wealth,” and how does wealth relate to financing the churches and charity? How does this social issue affect our understanding of Christian anthropology?

  • The environment: To what extent is concern for the environment and ecological consciousness a grounded priority in Orthodox awareness and outlook? What are the patristic and Scriptural bases for this view? In particular, is vigorous and activist environmentalism defensible as synergy with the energies of the creative Trinity, and not just as pragmatic self-protection? Are ethics toward animals, or toward all life, an environmental issue, a bio-ethical issue, or an extension of general ethics? How does this environmental outlook change our understanding of Christian anthropology?

  • Marriage and human sexuality: In Orthodox praxis there are many rules surrounding marriage and sexuality; what is the anthropological grounding on which they are based? When approached from the viewpoint of Orthodox ethics and of love, should some of these rules or practices be regarded as theologoumena, and be open to further discussion? In particular, what should be said about divorce, death of a spouse, priestly marriage, same-sex attraction? What does the view of marriage and sexuality say about Orthodox anthropology? And how does this affect Orthodox ethical stance on disparity of cult in Christian intermarriage?

  • How to use Tradition, Scripture, Canon Law, and Patristic Texts: Are “rules” the principles of Orthodox ethics? Does Orthodoxy know of timeless ethical norms? How?

  • War and peace: Orthodox history and many texts in Orthodox liturgy present what at first glance seems to be a highly triumphalist, military-based reading of the scriptural intention for an eschatological Christian world; in light of the dialogue between Orthodox Tradition and the world we live in, is this a justifiable exegesis – does Orthodoxy support the notion of a “just war”? How should we respond to a world where there is so much international lawlessness and violent crime against humanity? What message should orthodox military chaplains bring to their evangelism? What understanding does hagiography contribute to this question?

  • Missions, missiology, and diversity of cultures: In light of modern multiculturalism, on what basis should Orthodox carry out mission and evangelism? In what terms, with what language should Orthodox speak to non-Orthodox? Is it justifiable to evangelize other Christians?  How much of Orthodox praxis — especially liturgical rubrics – must be conveyed in outreach to other cultures? What about the special cases of liturgical language and ethnic uniformity in an Orthodox community?

  • Relationship to non-Christians; multifaith activities: Extending the issues of  pluralism of values, democratic rights, and diversity of cultures into a “global” Christian anthropology, how should Orthodox in the 21st century live and interact with neighbours of other religions? In what ways is it appropriate – or even an obligatory priority – for Orthodox to join with such neighbours in common activities for the welfare of God’s world, and what form should such activities take? Do Orthodox Christians have a unique and different response, or a common “human” response, to situations of disaster or human need? Is there room for interfaith marriage?