Orthodox Life I

Eastern Christian understanding of ethics and the person

See weeks 1 to 6 for course syllabus and other details.

Week 7: Image and Worth: Wholeness, Ableness and Disability


  • Wholeness, personhood, and flourishing (theosis)
  • Disabilities — physical and mental
  • Image of God misconstrued as human capacity
  • Human value as God’s loving gift
  • Case study: ableism and disability rights


Case Study: Ableism and Disability Rights

Week 8: Constituents of Personal Identity: Race, Ethnicity, Trauma, Socio-economic Class


  • Personhood and “identity”
  • Baptism and Christian identity
  • Race and self-identity
  • Ethnicity, culture, history, and the construction of the self
  • Trauma (both conscious and unconscious) and the disruption of identity
  • Class, power, and inequality: social status and personhood
  • Case study: racism and anti-racism


Case Study: Racism and Anti-Racism

Thomas and Michael have also shared the following addition resources.

Living God’s Future Now Conversation No 11 with Revd Dr Sam Wells and Dr Jonathan Tran

  • Fr Steven Ritter, “Orthodoxy and Racism” from The Life of the Church Today podcast
    [warning: not an easy listen: clear example of the church “blocking” anti-racism]

Mother Katherine on “Racial Identities and Racism”

Orthodox Christian Leadership Initiative, “Orthodox Conversations on Racism – Galatians 6

Optional Lecture - Complex Post Traumatic Stress and the Orthodox Moral Tradition

In this lecture, scholar Kate McCray offers a critique from the perspective of trauma theory of the typical (North) American reading of Elder Thaddeus’s Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives, a recent but already classic work in Orthodox spirituality.

Kate McCray is a PhD candidate studying Christian Ethics at the University of Toronto, University of St. Michael’s College. She holds an MDiv from Princeton Theological Seminary and a ThM from St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary in New York. Her research examines the mythologies of the disabled body, offering alternative theological constructions of personhood. She specializes in areas of critical theory, hermeneutics, and moral theology, specifically questions moral agency in disability ethics. She can be contacted at kate.mccray@mail.utoronto.ca  

Kate has two book chapters under contract as well as several articles expected for publication this year, including ethical examinations of Orthodox funeral practices for suicidal parishioners and a reexamination of Balthasar’s aesthetics to include disabled bodies as images of God’s beauty. 

  • “Complex-PTSD and the Orthodox Moral Tradition: Critiques of Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives from Trauma Theory,” in Philip Mamalakis (ed), Isolation, Violence, Hope, and Communion Orthodox, Christian Association of Medicine, Psychology, and Religion. Sebastian Press (Spring, 2020)
  • “The Dying Church: Hierarchy as Self-Sacrifice in Pseudo-Dionysius,” in John A. McGuckin (ed), Orthodox Monasticism Past and Present (Sophia Studies in Orthodox Theology vol 8). Theotokos Press. New York. 2014.
  • “Imaging the Family: Gregory the Theologian on Family in Oration 14,” in N. Ermolaeva (ed), Family in the Orthodox Tradition. (Sophia Studies in Orthodox Theology vol 7). Theotokos Press. New York. 2013.
  • Orthodox Christian Discussion Guide, “Ending U.S.-sponsored Torture Forever,” The National Religious Campaign Against Torture. Summer 2010.


Question to ponder:

  • How have modern ideals of self-reliance and independence affected our understanding of Orthodox theology and life? How can we recover a spirit of interdependence on one another?

Week 9: Constituents of Personal Identity: Sex, Gender, and Gender Roles


  • Classical framing of male and female sexual identity
  • Development of gender
  • Gender roles and stereotypes
  • Sexual / gender essentialism
  • Feminism, women’s emancipation and equality of the sexes
  • Case study: the role and ministry of women in the church


Mindful that these are some heavy readings (particularly at this stage of the semester), here are two video alternatives. In the first Behr himself largely reprises his article above; the second, by eminent patristic theologian Sarah Coakley, picks up many of the same themes as Boersma’s chapter on St Gregory of Nyssa.

Fr John Behr: “From Adam to Christ: From Male and Female to Being Human”

Dr Sarah Coakley: “The Developed Patristic Doctrine of the Trinity: The ‘East/West’ Story vs the Story of the Trinity and Gender”

Case Study: Role and Ministry of Women in the Church

Initial Assessment Template


Download “Initial Assessment” Word document >

Additional resources (from which patristic quotes were drawn in the class, and which may be read along with rereading this week’s other materials before next week):


Week 10: Constituents of Personal Identity: Sex, Gender, and Gender Roles


  • Biological sex versus gender as identification
  • Gender expressions
  • Multiplicity / spectrum of gender identity and expression
  • Feminism and transgender theory
  • Case study: transgenderism


As this week is an extension of week 9’s discussion, you are invited to revisit the readings and videos delving into patristic theology of sex and gender, and how they are necessarily transcended as we grow towards the life of the kingdom. The following additional readings given after the week 9 class supplement the selections from Behr and Boersma, and the video with Coakley.

As you review these materials, consider the further dimensions of gender identity and expression that we will be discussing in week 10.

Case Study: Transgenderism


Watch (focusing on the Q&A at the end) Fr Myroslaw Tataryn: “Gender: But That’s What the Church Has Always Taught!” (response to the above Vatican document by a Ukrainian Catholic priest)

Nicholas Metcalf, “Why We Need Gender Fluidity”

Ma-Nee Chacaby: “Two-Spirit Identities”

Suggested Improvisation Template

And here’s a link to that chapter on “LGBT Identity” from Sam Wells’s book, How Then Shall We Live? Christian Engagement with Contemporary Issues (Norwich, UK: Canterbury Press, 2016):

Note that, in the presentation, the truncated quotation referring symbolically to Egypt and Babylon was perhaps a bit unclear. Here’s the full sentence from the chapter: “After hundreds of years of seeing LGBT people as living in Babylon, in an exile of their own making, the church is finally beginning to realize that they’re not in Babylon — they’re in Egypt, in a captivity imposed upon them by others.”

Week 11: Two Paths to Human Flourishing (Theosis): Monasticism and Marriage


  • Two paths, one goal: self-sacrificial love
  • Monasticism as proleptic eschatological life and model
  • Marriage as eschatological sign
  • Divine and human eros
  • Eros, sexuality, and asceticism
  • Case study: marriage, sex, and procreation


  • Sarah Coakley, The New Asceticism: Sexuality, Gender, and the Quest for God (London: Bloomsbury, 2015)
    • Yes, this is the PDF of the whole book (which is also available an eBook online through the U of T library), but do please read selectively
    • The introduction together with chapter 1 provides an excellent overview of the fundamental questions of eros (desire) and asceticism, setting contemporary issues of gender and sexuality within an ancient Christian framework
    • Chapter 2 would be an excellent addition for those tackling the case study on the ministry of women (week 9)
    • For this week’s case study (see below), Yousef and John are recommending chapters 3 and 4
    • Chapter 5 brings everything together as Coakley argues for a retrieval of asceticism (“overaccepting”) instead of falling into the Biblicism (“blocking”) and libertine approaches (“accepting”) of modernity vis-à-vis sexuality
    • Alternatively, if this is too much to read (even selectively), please have a look at this article: Sarah Coakley, “Prayer as Crucible: How my Mind Has Changed,” Christian Century (22 March 2011): 32-40

Case Study: Marriage, Sex, and Procreation

Week 12: Other Paths to Flourishing (Theosis): Friendship and Diverse Shapes of Family Life


  • Alternatives to monasticism and marriage as paths to self-sacrificial love and theosis
  • Friendship (philia) — its meaning, disappearance, and potential recovery today
  • Diverse shapes of family life within the church: single, widowed, divorced
  • Relativisation of family in the church
  • Sexual orientation and personal identity
  • Case study: same-sex partnerships and marriage


Case Study: Same-Sex Partnerships and Marriage