Tuesday, March 31, 2009


Owing to parish obligations, the webinar on the psychology of leadership for this afternoon has been canceled.  Sorry.  I will post an announcement when it is rescheduled

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

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Friday, March 27, 2009

OCL responds to the EP talk at Holy Cross | AOI Observer

Some thoughts about a recent speech at Holy Cross School of Theology from the American Orthodox Institute blog. Your comments are, of course, welcome (but please, keep them charitable, by which I mean gentle.)

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

George Michalopulos, Orthodox Christian Laity board member and frequent contributor to the AOI blog, penned the official OCL response to Arch. Elpidophoros Lambriniadis recent talk at AOI. Original article is posted on the OCL website.

An OCL Board Member Responds to the Message of Chief Secretary of The Holy and Sacred Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate
George Michalopulos

March 25, 2009 - the Feast of the Annunciation

I. Introduction: An Archimandrite Speaks

Recently, a certain archimandrite, the Very Rev Dr Elpidophoros Lambriniadis, spoke at Holy Cross School of Theology in Brookline, Massachusetts. His position is one of auxiliary professor at this seminary but his formal title is “Chief Secretary of the Holy and Sacred Synod.” His remarks thus were more than the observations of a mere academic; indeed he stated from the outset that they were authorized by the Ecumenical Patriarch himself and “with the consent” of Archbishop Demetrios, the primate of the Greek archdiocese.

What began as astute observations of American Orthodoxy by a highly educated clergyman-scholar quickly descended into vituperation, slander against other jurisdictions, and almost total ignorance of America. Moreover, his understanding of canon law and Byzantine history itself was questionable. It is unknown whether this was deliberate or merely the result of ignorance. At best, this willful twisting of history can be viewed as Phanariote propaganda, which like all good propaganda uses words and ideas for some higher purpose. The purpose of this reply is not only to identify that which is propagandistic, but to point out the severe internal and logical contradictions contained therein.

It has been reported that several of those who attended his lecture left in disgust in the midst of his speech and that of those who remained, disgruntled comments were audible upon the completion of his oration. The following day, during a private meeting with the faculty of Holy Cross, clear disagreements were enunciated towards him and his views. Others have pointed out in the interim that his speech should be viewed by many as the intellectual case (such as it is) of the Phanar regarding the claims it will press at the upcoming “Pan-Orthodox Synod” which is in the planning stages at present. Given his standing at the Phanar, his speech deserves serious consideration. More importantly, as seen within the turmoil of the GOA in the aftermath of the Ligonier Conference in 1994, the Phanar’s capabilities for mischief cannot be underestimated. (Henceforth, for purposes of brevity, I will refer to Archimandrite Lambrianides as “the speaker” and his remarks as “the speech.”

Read the rest here: OCL responds to the EP about Holy Cross talk.

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Thursday, March 26, 2009

Job and the Defense of the Weak

In his anger, he overturns the weak;

Therefore when he rise up,

No one believes his own life is safe.

(Job 24.22, LXX)

Having just been slandered by Eliphaz in chapter 22, Job responds with his own mediation on the both God's will and the lot of the wicked in chapter 23-24.

In reflecting on God's way of relation to him, Job implicitly rebukes Eliphaz and the rest of those who seeing Job's situation accuse him of wrong doing:

Who then would know, that I might find Him,

And might bring this matter to an end?

I would state my case before Him

And fill my mouth with arguments.

Would that I knew the words He would answer me A

And could understand what He would tell me. (23.3-5, LXX)

Job knows what he doesn't know, what he doesn't understand; he doesn't know or understand the will of God. And yet, unlike his accusers, Job is not afraid to acknowledge his poverty before God (and implicitly the human community represented by Eliphaz and the others).

Why? Job says that while God is a God of strength, He—unlike Job's critics—does not use His strength against humanity. God will always speak the truth, He will even rebuke us (and Job expects to be rebuked) but He does so with exceeding gentleness.

Like a warrior, it is His own strength and love of truth that restrains God in the presence of frail humanity. And not only that, God limit's Himself not out of any human insecurity as if God were somehow, as fathers reminds us, subject to human passions, but in the service of liberating Job from his suffering at the hands of both Satan and his human opponents:

Though He would come on me in His great strength,

He would not use the occasion to threaten me.

For truth and rebuke are from Him.

And He would bring my judgment to an end. (vv. 6-7, LXX)

This passage brings into sharp focus the intent of words in the epigraph. Job's accusers—both human and demonic—are motivated by anger; they threaten and bully and humiliate others in order to raises themselves up over others. In the words and actions, Eliphaz and the others stand in sharp contrast to God.

Reflecting on these verses, St Gregory the Great sees in Job's words about God a veiled revelation of the coming of Christ. The saint writes, it is “the only begotten Son of God” Who remains “invisible in the strength of the divine nature.” Why does the Son do this? Following the letter to the Hebrews (2.11-19), Gregory says that God assumes “our weakness, that He might elevate us to his own abiding strength.” (“ Morals on Job,” 16.36-37, quoted in ACCS , vol VI, p. 125)

In the divine economy, my strength is at the service of your weakness. Strength, power, authority are all at the service of the good of others.

But as we see in the example of Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar, it is not enough to simply be formally correct in our words and actions toward each other. Our words and actions must be truthful, yes certainly, but they must also be applicable to the truth of the situation of the person to whom we are responding.

While I must “speak the truth in love,” (see Eph 4:15) I must be at least as certain I am loving as I am that I am right. As has become clear by Eliphaz's words in chapter 22—and Job's retort to him in 24.22—this is not how things are in his case. Truth has trumped love. Or maybe more accurately, having forsaken love, Eliphaz cannot speak the truth and instead resorts to unjust accusations against his suffering friend.

As I think about all of this, I come to see a different facet of Job's response to his critics. Yes, Job is more than a little frustrated with his circumstances. And yes, I imagine that Job is hurt that he has been so misunderstood by his family and friends.

For all this his external circumstances have changed, and changed radically to be sure, Job is still, well, Job. He is still the man we meet at the beginning of the book.

And if he is no longer able to care for naked (22.6), give water to the thirst, provide food for the hungry (v. 7), care for widows and orphans (v 9) because of his impoverishment, this does not mean that he has forgotten the poor and the outcast. Job still cares for those who have no one to care for them.

Where once that care was material, and so external in some ways to him, his care for them is now more internal. Where once he offered clothing, water and food, now he offers words. Not sweet words or easy words to be sure. Job's words are powerful and directed at those who abuse their power through their neglect of the weak.

That Job does this by referring to himself, to the injustice of his own circumstances, does not make his witness any less effective. Like Christ, Job offers the poor, the weak and the forgotten among us the only thing he has, the witness of his own life. And his witness is a witness on behalf of the poor,the weak and the forgotten is this: Job stands, weak and crushed as his is, in opposition to those who would neglect and oppress those who cannot defend themselves. Having himself been stripped of everything, Job nevertheless finds in his own poverty and suffering the strength to defend others.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Webinar Announcement

Just a reminder, I'll be leading a webinar on the psychology of leadership THIS afternoon. We'll be looking at some of the recent research on leadership as it applies to parish ministry. The seminar starts TODAY , Tuesday March 24, 2009 at 2pm CDT (3pm EDT).

This afternoon's seminar will look primarily at the theoretical foundations of leadership in general. The will be a second seminar, next Tuesday, March 31, 2009 at 2pm CDT (3pm EDT) that will look at the application of the psychological research to the concrete circumstances of the parish.

Open to whomever wishes to participate, the seminars are sponsored by the OCA Diocese of the Midwest Parish Health. You do need to register however and can do that for today's presentation here.

A number of people from varied backgrounds, both clergy and laity, Orthodox Christians as well as Christians from other traditions, so it should be a very good gathering.

See you online later today!

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Tricksters, Con Men & Priests: More Thoughts on the Book of Job

Thanks to the most excellent inter-library loan services of my local library, I have just started reading The Big Con: The Story of the Confidence Man, a popular, and classic, sociological study of con men by the David Maurer. Until his death in 1981 Maurer was a linguist and professor of English at the University of Louisville.

Maurer argues that confidence men “are hardly criminals in the usual sense of the word, for they prosper through superior knowledge of human nature.” (p. 3) He continues that unlike violent criminals or common thieves, the con man is “sauve, slick, and capable” who “prospers only because of the fundamental dishonesty of his victim. . . . Thus arises the trite but none the less sage maxim: 'You can't cheat an honest man.'” (pp. 1-2)

What I find most arresting in Maurer's take on the con man, however, and where his work converges with what we read in Job, is his assertion that in their methods, confidence men “differ more in degree than in kind from those employed by more legitimate forms of business.” (p. 3)

It has always seem to me that there is something very much like the con man in every priest. Or if not exactly a con man, then that more archetypal figure, theTrickster. While sometimes malicious—even if unintentionally so—the trickster breaks the rules of conventional behavior and socially constructed morality in the service of a greater good. Within the tradition of the Orthodox Church there is I think a parallel between the various mythological figures of the trickster and the “fool for Christ.”

The fool for Christ is a class of saints whose ascetical witness includes the performance of odd, even bizarre, actions.

One form of the ascetic Christian life is called foolishness for the sake of Christ. The fool-for-Christ set for himself the task of battling within himself the root of all sin, pride. In order to accomplish this he took on an unusual style of life, appearing as someone bereft of his mental faculties, thus bringing upon himself the ridicule of others. In addition he exposed the evil in the world through metaphorical and symbolic words and actions. He took this ascetic endeavor upon himself in order to humble himself and to also more effectively influence others, since most people respond to the usual ordinary sermon with indifference. The spiritual feat of foolishness for Christ was especially widespread in Russia. --(Excerpted from The Law of God, Holy Trinity Monastery, Jordanville, NY: 1993)

But there is in the Fool, the constant temptation to the very sin of pride he is trying to root out. While demonstrating the limits of this world and of mere social conventionality, the Fool is always at risk of serving his own ego under the guise of something greater.

In a similar fashion, I think, the priest always risks becoming merely a con man. Our tools are primarily persuasion and a working knowledge of human nature. The confidence man appeals to my basic dishonesty to “inspire” me to do the evil I do not have in myself the courage to do. The priest, on the other hand, appeals to my basic goodness and again to inspire me to do the good thing that I do not have in myself the courage to do. In both cases though, I am “conned” or “tricked” in to doing or being something that is just outside the limits of my everyday way of being.

The difference between the confidence man and the priest is found in Zophar's words to Job that I quoted at the head of this post. Both the priest and the con man are tricksters, they do their best work by flipping our ordinary ways of thinking and acting. And while both use words and ideas as their stock and trade, for the later, his words conceal what is evil and base in him even as it evokes what is evil and base in me.

Commenting on the book of Job, Origen says of heretics (another form of the trickster), “They have theories that are not sweet but as the gall of asps, that is, evil” He continues, “The gall of asps is in the belly of the heretics and those who declare impious dogmas contrary to truth.” (“Fragments on Job,” 14.41, quoted in ACCS, vol VI, p. 109) While Origen is certainly correct in his assertion, if the priest is doing what Christ requires of him, his words will sometimes sting and leave a bitter taste.

The confidence man, the heretics, and the negligent priest, all play on our initial distaste for the truth and our preference for, well, heresy (that is, our own will). It is somewhat sobering to me to realize that just as the difference between the honest business man and the con man is one of degrees (or I maybe better, goal) so too the difference between the priest and the con man, between the sermon and the con, is narrower than I might like to think. How easily the skills of one can serve the goal of the other even as, again and again in Job, his accusers speak the truth, but not in love to liberate, but in envy to condemn.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Monday, March 23, 2009

Mirror of Justice: Harvard's Dr. Green on the Pope, Aids, and Condoms in Africa

Michael Scaperlanda at the Catholic legal theory site Mirror of Justice offers an interesting comment by Dr. Edward Green, Director of of the AIDS Prevention Research Project at the Harvard School of Public Health about condom use and AIDS prevention in Africa (and my extension other parts of the world I suspect).

In response to media criticism of Pope Benedict XVI's comments that condom use not only did not stem the spread of HIV/AIDS but encouraged the spread of the epidemic, Green says this in a recent interview: "I am a liberal on social issues and it's difficult to admit, but the Pope is indeed right. The best evidence we have shows that condoms do not work as an intervention intended to reduce HIV infection rates in Africa." Green went on to say, "[w]hat we see in fact is an association between greater condom use and higher infection rates."

Abstracting from the specific issue of condom use in Africa, from the point of view of philosophical anthology I find the whole safe (or, "safer") sex argument interesting. Essentially the argument being made is this: It is to a person's benefit (in terms of physical health) to allow his or her sexual desires to be shaped and directed by a cultural or societal norm (in this case, that s/he should use a condom). In other words, safe sex proponents are arguing for a rather thin understanding of chastity (i.e., that social norms should guide and shape how we act on our desire).

Where this becomes problematic, both theoretically and practically, is that it runs contrary to the radical, ontological individualism that informs much of the contemporary discussion of not only sexual ethics but any number of other ethical issues. We cannot, it seems to me, have it both ways. Either my personal desires should be guided by objective (in the sense of societal) norms or they shouldn't. If my desires should be shaped by objective norms, then the question is which norms will I follow.

And here it is here, it seems to me, that most contemporary forms of individualism reveal themselves as anthropological deficient. Once we isolate the person from society, we undermine any sense of not only community but even shared practical wisdom. We find ourselves now in a situation in which we have so emphasized the individual over the community, that we have not only eroded community life but also the health of the person, not only physically (in the specific case of AIDS and other health related matters) but also psychologically (see for example the growing rates of depression and personality disorders) socially (since I know can stand as a critic over all social groups, not only picking and choosing among them, but also taking only those of there elements I like and leaving the rest) and spiritually (since we learn to love and live for the Kingdom of God in and through our life in the various, smaller and transitory communities of this life).

A similiar thing happens in the life of the Church. We too easily reward people for their individualism when it is directed at non-Orthodox Christian churches and communities. But we fail to see that the same criticism of, say, Evangelical Christianity of Rome Catholicism, can easily be adapted (and often is) to criticism of the Orthodox Church.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

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Webinar Annoucement

Just a reminder, I'll be leading a webinar on the psychology of leadership tomorrow afternoon.  We'll be looking at some of the recent research on leadership as it applies to parish ministry.  The seminar starts tomorrow, Tuesday March 24, 2009 at 2pm CDT (3pm EDT).

The event is free and sponsored by the OCA Diocese of the Midwest Parish Health.  You do need to register however and can do that here.

See you online tomorrow!

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Saturday, March 21, 2009

For Consideration

My dear friends, readers and commentators,

For all that I love theology and philosophy--indeed the humanities in general--I also have a great respect for empirical, quantitative research. Granted, statistical analysis is often a blunt instrument--but sometime we simply need a hammer.

Over the last several days we have had--at my instigation to be sure--a conversation about a recent talk given at Holy Cross School of Theology. In that time this blog has lost some 20% of its subscribers.

I will not close down the debate about the issues raised by the good Archimandrite's presentation but I would pose a question: Does our debate serve the Gospel? If the statistics here are any indication, it seems that (at least in the short term) the answer is "No."

Our debates, I would suggest, about ethnicity and the role of "foreign" bishops in America not only do not serve the Gospel, the serve to alienate people--both those inside the Church and those outside of her visible boundaries.

What value are our discussions if they serve to alienate not only our own faithful and people of good will but even us from each other? Is this Gospel of peace? Is this what we really mean when, with the Church fathers, we say God became as we are that we might become as He is? Again, I think not.

What then are we to do? Shall we give up the pursuit of truth? Again, I think not. But much do our debates reflect the self-emptying compassion of Christ? Very little I think.

Like many who read this blog, I have always been impressed by the words of the later Alexander Solzhenitsyn in his 1978 address at Harvard. In his address, Solzhenitsyn observes a simple anthropological and sociological truth:

The split in today's world is perceptible even to a hasty glance. Any of our contemporaries readily identifies two world powers, each of them already capable of entirely destroying the other. However, understanding of the split often is limited to this political conception, to the illusion that danger may be abolished through successful diplomatic negotiations or by achieving a balance of armed forces. The truth is that the split is a much profounder and a more alienating one, that the rifts are more than one can see at first glance. This deep manifold split bears the danger of manifold disaster for all of us, in accordance with the ancient truth that a Kingdom -- in this case, our Earth -- divided against itself cannot stand.

Our his words then about the political order any less true today for us in the Church?

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Guest Post: Comments on the Archimandrite's talk

His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholo...Image via Wikipedia
Below are Chrys' comments in response to John Couretas's post on the American Orthodox Institute's blog "Ecumenical Patriarchate: American 'Diaspora' must submit to Mother Church."  As my own re-post of the original speech would suggest, I agree with John's observation: "The battle is joined."

As Chrys, and other Orthodox respondents have pointed out, the Archimandrite's arguments for the primacy of the Ecumenical Patriarch are at least as applicable to Rome as to Constantinople. Given the rather lukewarm response of the EP to the great moral challenges of our age in favor of a rather poorly thought out participation in the environmental movement, I have to agree with Chrys, "he demonstrates NO effort to understand the arguments of those whom he believes are critics of the claims of the Patriarch."  As I've said before, it is not enough to simply argue that your opponents are wrong--you must actually respond to the concerns that motivate their arguments.  In his talk Fr Elpidophoros has not done this--he has not engaged his critics even as the EP has not engaged those (both outside and inside the Orthodox Church) who reject traditional Christian moral teaching.

So with that, let me now give the stage over to Chrys and your comments.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

The Archimandrite makes a provocative if unconvincing argument. Many of his observations about American culture ring true, which makes for a good beginning and builds some good will.

He argues that ethnic separatism is wrong.  Agreed: philetism is a heresy.  He then makes the potentially contradictory claim that we should maintain - or at least not be detached from - our culture of origin.  He gives particular weight to what he claims is a broadly understood Hellenism, but in fact serves to demand deference to a very particular culture.  He claims to value the American experience but then criticizes both the local parish and the "corrective" Athonite monastic movement in the US.  (I wonder how the monks on Mt. Athos would respond to these comments.)  He demonstrates an appreciation for the contributions of the laity in the US but then asserts a very high view of primacy.  It is a view of primacy that would seem to erase or at least significantly diminish any notion of conciliarity.  (So much for the wonderful work of Zizioulas and others.) In fact, so far as I can see, there is no good reason given in his argument to stop at Constantinople; the logic chain leads as well - if not better - to Rome.  At the end of his address, he quotes the Patriarch of Antioch as something of a proof.  Unfortunately it is not a proof, merely an illustration.  Quoting St. Ignatios of Antioch would have been much more compelling - but, as I understand the saint's comments about the (local) bishop would have much better served those with whom the Archimandrite disagrees than his own position.

That said, he demonstrates NO effort to understand the arguments of those whom he believes are critics of the claims of the Patriarch.  And here we come to the purpose of his talk.  The intensity of his disagreement with critics frequently substitutes a zealous demeanor and unyielding demands for carefully considered data.  His tone exceeds the quality of his argument and suggests some desperation.
As a result, his attacks rarely addresses the central claims of "the critics."  He seems to simply dismiss them for not subscribing to his quasi-papal view.  His claim that his view is the traditional and essential view begs the question; no real evidence is offered.  Worse, he often resorts to ad hominem attacks that do no credit to his arguments and unfortunately contradict the Christian character that he should, in his official role at least, embody. 

He makes some claims that don't square with my understanding of history - but I may be wrong.  It is my understanding that most of the autocephalous Churches often "took" their status without the blessing of Constantinople.  Either way, the notion that the Patriach finally granted Alexandria such status in 2002 only serves to undermine his purpose further.  That it took 1900+ years surely serves his critics' purposes, not his.  (Either that, of the Church in the US can look forward to official blessing for self-rule sometime in the year 3800.)

He argument ultimately seeks to establish that the health of the Church here depends upon its deference to the Patriarch.  Obedience is often a great source of blessing, but that argument is not offered.  In the end, the "patrimony" that he claims is intrinsic to the Patriarch of Constantinople alone is not demonstrated - at least in his presentation.  He claims that it is essential to the life of the American parish, but does not convincingly demonstrate how.  The purpose, however, is clear enough: America should not consider self-governance.  (Which is ironic since this is what America is known for and, as the "empire" of the current age, would seem to be have the standing upon which both Old Rome and New Rome asserted their preeminence.)  Indeed, he seems so intent on defending the idea of the value of the Patriarch that he fails to address the seemingly transparent reason for his urgency -- which is that the opposite is actually true.  It is rather the Patriarch who is desperately dependent on the US for political and financial support. 

In the end, his effort to assert the claims of Constantinople and (uncharitably) silence the growing American Church's desire for increasing self-governance are more urgent than considered, more demanded than demonstrated.  And for that, he may have done his cause far more harm than good.
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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Orthodox Christian Fort Sumter?

Below is a talk given in the Chapel of the Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, Brookline, MA March 16, 2009 by the Very Reverend Archimandrite Dr. Elpidophoros Lambriniadis, Chief Secretary of the Holy and Sacred Synod. The talk is titled, "Challenges of Orthodoxy in America And the Role of the Ecumenical Patriarchate," and was posted on the web site of Greek American News.com.

Please take the time to read the whole talk. It is, not to put too fine a point on it, it grieves me more than I can say to hear a representative of the Ecumenical throne would speak with such condescension. Personally,I am deeply hurt and offended by Fr Elpidophor's ad hominem argument against Metropolitan JONAH (who he consistently calls JONAS).

While Father makes several good points about the state of the Orthodox Church in the US, I will have to refrain from criticizing his argument lest I sin against charity.

While the talk is long, I encourage you to read all of what Fr Elpidophor has to say and draw what conclusions you do.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Reverend Protopresbyter Nicholas Triantafyllou, President,

Reverend Protopresbyter Thomas Fitzgerald, Dean of the School of Theology,

Reverend and Esteemed Members of the Faculty and staff,

Dear Students,

It is an exceptional honor and a great joy for me to be here today, among you, with the blessing and permission of His All Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch and the consent of His Eminence the Archbishop of America, in order to share with you some thoughts regarding the present condition of Orthodoxy in America and our Ecumenical Patriarchate's position towards it.

You have, my brothers and sisters, the privilege to be citizens of a country which determines to a great extent the fate of many people on our planet; a country where pioneering technologies as well as ideas and philosophies have been discovered and disseminated. The cultural peculiarities and characteristics of the United States find also a reflection in, as it is only natural, and exercise an influence on the religious communities of this country. It is far from accidental that none of the "traditional" religions (coming either from Europe or elsewhere), remained the same once they were replanted on American soil.

The same change can be of course observed in the case of Orthodoxy, whose appearance and development in America was influenced by certain indeterminable factors.

The first and main challenge that American Orthodoxy faces is that it has been developed in a region which, from an administrative and technical point, is that of diaspora. By the term "diaspora" we indicate that region whose ecclesiastical jurisdiction is been unfortunately claimed by a variety of "Mother" Churches, which wish to maintain their pastoral care over their respective flocks, comprised by the people who, over the years, immigrated to the superpower called USA.

In this way, the Orthodox faithful in America became organized according to their national origin and not according to the canon law of the Orthodox Church—that is, they organized themselves not in accordance with the principles of Orthodox ecclesiology which dictates that neither national origin, nor the history of a group's appearance in a particular region but rather the canonical taxis and the perennial praxis of the Church, as codified by the Ecumenical Councils, has the ultimate authority.

According to such ecclesiological principles, in any given region there can be one and only one bishop who shepherds the Orthodox faithful, regardless of any nationalistic distinction. It was, however, the very opposite scenario that took place in America and today one observes the challenging deplorable condition where a number of bishops claim pastoral responsibility for the same geographic region.

A second challenge of the Church in America is that it was brought here by people who left their homelands at a time that these homelands were economically underdeveloped. Economic immigration created, from the very first moment, the need for these people to assimilate to their adopted land in order to achieve, as soon as possible, the high living standards of the privileged Americans and therefore to enjoy the fruits of the American dream. Towards that goal, they changed their names, they put an emphasis on the English language in every aspect of their lives, and at last they succeeded in becoming true American citizens, holding ever higher positions in the financial, commercial, academic, artistic and political life of this country. The negative aspect of this strong emphasis on cultural assimilation was the consideration of the faithfulness in one's cultural background as an impediment to the progress and success in the American society. Thus, the complexes of an alleged inferior nationality or class that, in order to enjoy the fruits of the American dream, is supposed to eradicate any bond to its distinctive culture.

The third challenge of Orthodoxy in America concerns the manner of its ecclesiastical organization. The Orthodox faithful organized themselves in communities of lay people, who, in turn, became identified with the ecclesiastical community in the manner of the traditional organization of Christian communities. Thus, the parish (κοινότητα) being now governed by lay elected members, builds its own Church, school and other such institutions, and provides the priest's salary. Such communal organization improves, as it is right and desirable, the role of laity in Church administration, and increases the sense of responsibility and participation in the life of the Church, offering thus the change to the Church to profit of its talented and able parishioners. On the other hand, however, four very concrete dangers lurk behind such a communal organization of the local Church:

a) That the priest might become alienated from his administrative duties, and from being the spiritual leader of the parish would become a clerk of the parish council,

b) That the parishioners would find it difficult to comprehend the rules according to which the Church is governed and instead they would follow their own secular reasoning,

c) That the structures of the parish would become influenced by the prevalent Protestant models and thus they would replicate and imitate practices that are foreign to the Spirit of Orthodoxy, and

d) That the parishes would degenerate into nothing more than membership clubs, invested with some ecclesiastical resemblance.

As you all know, one of the secrets for the success of the American miracle in its financial, political and technological aspects was precisely its desire to detach itself from the traditional models of the old world, its ability to break free from the established norms, its willingness to question whatever was considered as given or beyond any criticism. As it might have been expected, these tendencies soon found an expression within the life of the Church, sometimes in more extreme ways, other times in more temperate ways. Thus, soon Orthodox clergymen became indistinguishable from the clergy of other denominations, choirs in the western style were adopted, the liturgical tradition became more and more impoverished by being limited only to the bare essentials, etc.

Against that gradual secularization of Orthodoxy in America, a reaction soon made its appearance in the form of a number of rapidly spreading monasteries of an Athonite influence, characterized by ultraconservative tendencies, attached to the letter of the law, and reacting to any form of relationship with other Christian denominations. All of this is nothing but the manifestation of the intense thirst for a lost spirituality and a liturgical richness of which the Orthodox people of America have been for very long now deprived, forced, as they were, to embrace the Church only in the form of a sterile social activism.

The traits of the American clergy today also appear to undergo certain differences.

The secularization of the parish life, as described above, fails to inspire young men and to cultivate in them the religious vocation, so that tomorrow's pastors would be part of the very flesh of today's parish. That vacuum in clerical vocation is covered by candidates who, being unusually older than what was perceived the standard age, have already on their shoulders the domestic burden of a family. Thus they struggle to obtain the necessary degree that would secure for them among others the society's respect.

Another great number of candidates to the priesthood come from converts, who possess little, if any, familiarity with the Orthodox experience and they are usually characterized by their overzealous behavior and mentality. It is of interest that the converts who become ordained into priesthood represent a disproportionally greater percentage than the converts among the faithful. The result of this disanalogous representation is that, more often than not, convert priest shepherd flocks who are bearers of some cultural tradition, but because their pastors either lack the necessary familiarity with that tradition or even consciously oppose it, they succeed in devaluing and gradually eradicating those cultural elements that have been the expression of the parishes that they serve.

It is particularly saddening that the crisis in priestly vocation has decreased dramatically the number but also the quality of celibate priests, who one day will be assigned with the responsibility of governing this Church. Lack of spirituality makes the monastic ideal incomprehensible and unattractive especially among the youth (with the exception, of course, of the aforementioned monastic communities with their own peculiarities).

Having attempted this general evaluation of the American Orthodoxy, allow me to consider briefly the Holy Archdiocese of America, this most important eparchy of the Ecumenical Throne.

The image we depicted above in rough brushstrokes holds also true for the Archdiocese. Thanks to the selfless dedication of our immigrants and under the protection of the first See in the Orthodox world, a strong Archdiocese was created that, in time, reached a level of maturity and excellence and it is today the pride of the Church of Constantinople. The Archdiocese took advantage of the possibilities that a deeply democratic, meritocratic and progressive state, like the United States, was able to offer, in order that the Orthodox faith of our fathers take root deep in the American land.

To this effect, the active participation of the lay element was, as we have seen, very important. We believe that the younger generations of the omogeneia are free of the past's prejudices and complexes, according to which, if you wish to succeed in America you have to forget your cultural patrimony and your language in order to be left naked, so to speak, in the thorny desert of the Wild West. Today's omogeneia has overcome that denial and has come to understand that the secret of the American civilization's success does not lie in the obliteration of one's cultural background but rather in the free and harmonious co-existence of people and races who have come to this hospitable land seeking a life in freedom, in faith and in dignity. Our cultural heritage and our national conscience is not, by any means, an obstacle for our progress and for the successful witness to our faith, especially insofar as ecumenicity (οἰκουμενικότης) is the heart of Hellenism and by definition alien to any form of nationalism or cultural chauvinism.

The Holy Archdiocese of America under the Ecumenical Patriarchate is the most organized, well-structured and successful presence of Orthodoxy today. This is not accidental. This success was not achieved by foregoing its cultural identity. It was not achieved by ignoring the sacred canons and the decisions of the Ecumenical Councils. It was not achieved by succumbing to the temptation of secularism. It was not achieved by imprisoning itself in the darkness of the extreme fundamentalism, nationalism and sterile denial.

Precisely because the Holy Archdiocese of America occupies such an esteemed position in this country we are obliged to offer a self-criticism but also to defend ourselves against the unjust accusations that target this jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

Examining, then, ourselves, I believe that we ought to be more careful towards the easiness with which we are ready to abandon our Hellenism, both as language and as tradition. As we have already said, it is nothing but a myth the opinion that Hellenism is an obstacle to the creative and successful incorporation in the American reality. Hellenism is identified with its ecumenical character and for that reason it can never be nationalistic for both of its manifestations, its culture and its Orthodox faith are concepts that transcend the boundaries of the national.

I do not support the opinion that we can today oblige everyone to speak Greek, but I think that we have to offer that possibility to those who so desire, to learn Greek in well organized schools, by talented teachers. I think that we owe our children the possibility of choice. We owe to our culture the obliteration of contempt for a language that expressed the Gospel and became the vehicle for the most subtle meanings in the articulation of the dogma by the founders of our faith and Fathers of Christianity.

I do not support the opinion that the services here in America should be done exclusively in Greek. Simply I do not understand how it is possible that any priest of the Archdiocese might not be able to serve in both languages. It is not understandable how an institution of higher education cannot manage to teach its students a language, even in the time span of four years!

My brothers and sisters, I am not one of them who believe that there is a sacred language (lingua sacra) for the Church. I just wonder why in every Theological School in the world the students are expected to learn the Biblical languages, and it is only in our School of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America that such a requirement seems anachronistic, nationalistic or conservative.

Speaking now of your Theological School, do you think that the Church's expectation that the graduates of this School know theology, canon law, Byzantine music, be able to celebrate the service of matins, vespers and the sacraments, be able to preach the Word of God and instruct our youth in the catechism is unreasonable or excessive?

My dear brothers and sisters, allow me now to return to the problem of the diaspora and the jurisdictional diversity that one observes in the USA.

First of all, allow me to remind you that the term "diaspora" is a technical term denoting those regions that lie beyond the borders of the local autocephalous Churches. It does not mean that the Orthodox people who dwell in these regions live there temporally, as misleadingly it was argued by His Eminence Phillip in a recent article ("The Word"). According to the 28th Canon of the 4th Ecumenical Council one of the prerogatives of the Ecumenical Patriarch is precisely His jurisdiction exactly over these regions, which lie beyond the predescribed borders of the local Churches. The canon in question uses the technical term "barbaric" in order to denote these lands, since it was precisely referring to the unknown lands beyond the orbit of the Roman Empire.

On account of this canon, the Ecumenical Patriarchate has suffered the unfair and unjust criticism of two American Orthodox Hierarchs: Metropolitan Phillip and the newly elected Metropolitan Jonas.

It is my duty to refute the injustice directed against the Mother Church of Constantinople for the sake of historical truth and for the sake of moral conscience.

Metropolitan Jonas, while he was still an abbot, in one of his speeches presented what he called "a monastic perspective" on the subject "Episcopacy, Primacy and the Mother Churches". In the chapter on autocephaly and primacy he claims that "there is no effective overarching primacy in the Orthodox Church." He seems to be in opposition to the institution of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, because he considers that such an institution "is based on primacy over an empire-wide synod" and that this "has long become unrealistic." What surprised me the most in this "monastic perspective" of His Eminence Jonas was the claim that allegedly "now only the Greek ethnic Churches and few others recognize the Ecumenical Patriarchate to be what it claims to be." It is indeed saddening the ignorance of this Hierarch not only on account of History and canonical order but even on account of the current state of affairs. How is it possible that he ignores that there is no Church that does not recognize the Ecumenical Patriarchate? Perhaps he is carried away by the fact that the ecclesial schema over which he presides and which has been claimed as "autocephalous" in rampant violation of every sense of canonicity, is not recognized but by few Churches and it is not included in the diptychs of the Church.

Please allow me, by way of illustration, to sample a few other points of the same article that should not remain unanswered.

Metropolitan Jonas claims that in America "there is no common expression of unity that supersedes ethnic linguistic and cultural divisions." Does His Eminence ignore the fact that under the canonical jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in America belong Greeks, Palestinians, Albanians, Ukrainians and Carpathorussians? Is this not proof enough of a common structure that supersedes ethnic and cultural divisions? Does he imply perhaps that SCOBA either constitutes a common expression of unity that supersedes such divisions?

The most provocative of his claims is that which asserts that with the formation of the so-called OCA "the presence of any other jurisdiction on American territory becomes uncanonical, and membership in the Synod of the Orthodox Church in America becomes the criterion of canonicity of all bishops in America." It is perhaps a sign of our times that he who violated the holy canons par excellence, the most uncanonically claimed as allegedly autocephalous, makes now himself the criterion of canonicity and vitiates the canonical hierarchs as uncanonical. O tempora, o mores!

Instead of acknowledging the mercifulness of the other Patriarchates which, in spite the uncanonical status of the so-called OCA, accept it in communion, its representatives choose to subject them to such an unfair treatment that contributes nothing to the common cause of Orthodox unity. I would be interested to hear an explanation from His Eminence in response to the question "How will the so-called OCA contribute to our common Orthodox witness in diaspora by electing bishops holding titles which already exist for the same city". Especially our Ecumenical Patriarchate not only is it not "unable to lead" as most unfortunately Metropolitan Jonas claims, but already since last October (in order to limit myself to the most recent example) has launched under the presidency of His All Holiness the process for the convocation of the Holy and Great Synod. I am not sure whether His Eminence, upon his ordination to the episcopacy, refused to put on the vestments of a bishop, which he, in the same article, and while he was still an abbot, had called as unfitting to the real nature of the arch-pastorship (p. 11).

Let me add that the refusal to recognize primacy within the Orthodox Church, a primacy that necessarily cannot but be embodied by a primus (that is by a bishop who has the prerogative of being the first among his fellow bishops) constitutes nothing less than heresy. It cannot be accepted, as often it is said, that the unity among the Orthodox Churches is safeguarded by either a common norm of faith and worship or by the Ecumenical Council as an institution. Both of these factors are impersonal while in our Orthodox theology the principle of unity is always a person. Indeed, in the level of the Holy Trinity the principle of unity is not the divine essence but the Person of the Father ("Monarchy" of the Father), at the ecclesiological level of the local Church the principle of unity is not the presbyterium or the common worship of the Christians but the person of the Bishop, so to in the Pan-Orthodox level the principle of unity cannot be an idea nor an institution but it needs to be, if we are to be consistent with our theology, a person.

The second article that I have to mention here is that of His Eminence the Antiochean Metropolitan Phillip under the title "Canon 28 of the 4th Ecumenical Council—Relevant or Irrelevant Today?"

Metropolitan Phillip begins his argument with an entirely anti-theological distinction of the holy canons into three categories 1) dogmatic, 2) contextual and, 3) "dead".

I would like to know in which of these three categories, following his reasoning, His Eminence would classify the canons of the Ecumenical Councils that demarcate the jurisdictions of the ancient Patriarchates. Are they "contextual"—subject, as it is, to change? Does His Eminence believe that in this way he serves the unity among Orthodox, by subjugating the holy and divine canons under the circumstantial judgment of some bishop?

Based on the above distinction, and although he accepts that canon 28 of the 4th Ecumenical Council is not "dead" (since there is so much debate about it), he affirms that indeed it gives certain prerogatives to the Ecumenical Patriarch, on the other hand, however, he claims that this happened for secular and political reasons that have nothing to do with today's state of affairs. Implicitly and yet all too clearly, Metropolitan Phillip implies that the prerogatives of the Ecumenical Patriarch can be doubted. The question then is: does His Eminence know of any Church whose status (Patriarchal or Autocephalous) were not decided according to the historical conditions that they were current at the time? Or, does His Eminence know of any Church that has received its status on the basis of theological reasons exclusively? Every administrative decision of an Ecumenical Council is equally respected to perpetuity together with its dogmatic decisions. Imagine the consequences for the Orthodox Church if we begin to re-evalutate the status of each local Church!

The correct interpretation of canon 28 is considered by His Eminence as "novelty", by invoking only sources of the 20th century, while it has been scientifically established already by the late Metropolitan of Sardeis Maximos the uninterrupted application of the canon in question during the history of the Church of Constantinople.

The question, my brothers and sisters, is rather simple:

If Constantinople was not given that prerogative by canon 28, how was she able to grant autocephalies and patriarchal dignities to the Churches of Russia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Georgia, Czech Lands and Slovakia, Poland and Albania? Under the provision of which canon did Constantinople give the right of jurisdiction over the remaining of Africa to the Patriarchate of Alexandria in 2002?

And if the Ecumenical Patriarchate has not granted the Patriarchate of Moscow the privilege to bestow autocephaly as it pleases it, then what gives it the right to do so on the expense of the Orthodox unity?

Summarizing my lecture, I wish to call your attention to the following points:

1. The Ecumenical Patriarchate is a Church that undergoes martyrdom, a Church that often has received unfair criticism, especially by those Churches which were most richly benefited by it. At no point, the spirit of nationalism took hold of the Ecumenical Patriarchate because that is incompatible with the concepts of Hellenism and Ecumenicity (ecumenical character) as well as with the Christian Orthodox faith. The proof of this emerges in the most decisive manner throughout the 17 centuries of its history, during which it never Hellenized, not even attempted to Hellenize the nations to which it gave through its apostolic missions the undying light of Christ. What better example than the Slavic tribes which owe even their alphabet to the Thessalonian brothers Cyril and Methodios. I, who speak to you tonight, although I am an Antiochean from my maternal side, nevertheless I serve as the Chief-Secretary of the Holy and Sacred Synod of the Church of Constantinople.

2. The Ecumenical Patriarchate neither had nor has territorial claims against the sister Orthodox Churches. That truth is testified by the fact that, although the Patriarchates of the East were virtually destroyed during the difficult times of the 17th and 18th centuries, nevertheless, the Patriarchate of Constantinople was taking the care to have a Patriarch elected for those Patriarchates, supporting their primates in every possible way.

3. The submission of the diaspora to the Ecumenical Patriarchate does not mean either Hellenization or violation of the canonical order, because it is only in this way that both the letter and the spirit of the decisions of the Ecumenical Councils is respected. The Mother Church knows, however, that such a submission is difficult to be accomplished under the present historical conditions. For this reason, and by employing the principle of economy, it was suggested and it has now become accepted in Pan-Orthodox level, that there will be local Pan-Orthodox Episcopal Assemblies in the diaspora (like SCOBA in the US). The principle of presidency is followed, namely the representative of the Ecumenical Patriarchate presides over these Episcopal Assemblies in order to preserve the necessary element of canonicity.

As you surely know, last October the Ecumenical Patriarchate summoned in Constantinople a Synaxis of the Primates of the Orthodox Churches. The Primates accepted the proposal of Patriarch Bartholomew to move ahead with the Pan-Orthodox preparatory meetings, within 2009, so that the Holy and Great Synod of the Orthodox Church take place as soon as possible. For the record, please note that this decision was reached thanks to the concession on behalf of the Ecumenical Patriarchate which accepted that the Autonomous Churches will no longer be invited as to avoid the thorny problem of the Church of Estonia in the relations between Constantinople and Moscow.

4. With regards to the United States, the submission to the First Throne of the Church, that is, to the Ecumenical Patriarchate is not only fitting with the American society and mentality but also it opens up the horizons of possibilities for this much-promising region, which is capable of becoming an example of Pan-Orthodox unity and witness.

The Mother Church of Constantinople safeguards for the Orthodox Church in America those provisions that are needed for further progress and maturity in Christ.

Please allow me to conclude with the phrase of His Beatitude Ignatios Patriarch of Antioch during last October's Synaxis of the Primates at the Phanar: "In the Orthodox Church we have one primus and he is the Patriarch of Constantinople."

Thank you for your attention.

The Psychology of Leadership I: Looking at the Research

Here is the information for my upcoming webinars, "The Psychology of Leadership I: Looking at the Research"  (Tuesday, March 24, 2009, 2:00 PM CDT/ 3:00PM EDT/7:00 PM GMT) and "Psychology of Leadership II: Applying the Research to the Parish" (Tuesday, March 31, 2009, 2:00 PM CDT/ 3:00PM EDT/7:00 PM GMT).  The  event is sponsored by the Diocese of the Midwest of the Orthodox Church in America.

A couple of things to note. I'll be doing live PowerPoint presentations both days.  While participants will be able to ask questions and make comments via instant messaging, you will not be able to speak directly to or IM the other  participants.  Most users who have computers equipped with speakers and running some version of Windows, Linux or Mac OS and running IE, Firefox, or Safari should have no trouble. 

I have reproduced below information about the webinar's from the Parish Health Ministry web page.

Look forward to meeting some of you online next week!

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory


When we say that someone is "a strong leader" we often mean that we see in the person particular skills (e.g., being a good communicator, or a good organizer) or personality traits (e.g., forceful and directive) that we value.  Just as frequently, we evaluate another as a "weak leader" because of the perceived absence of these valued skills and traits or the presence of skills and talents we don't value.   In either case, we tend to think of leadership in very abstract terms and without reference to the whole social and organizational context within which the person functions in a leadership role.

Recent empirical research into the psychology of leadership, however, argues that context is a key element in understanding leadership.  Leadership, it is argued, emerges from social situations and what is effective style of leadership in one context might be harmful in another.

Organizationally, any individual is a leader only within the context of personal and administrative relationships.  Being a leader implies not only the presence of followers, but also that one is interacting with those who are peers/colleagues and supervisors.  Among other things, how I evaluate an individual as a leader depends on my organizational relationship with that person and in the community.

For example, in looking at the priest as the leader of a parish what relationship do we see?  Most immediately the priest relates on a daily basis with parishioners (i.e., "followers").  But he also relates to his brother clergy ("peers" and/or "colleagues", and his bishop ("supervisor").  All of these people are reasonably concerned with different skills, personality traits and outcomes.  For this reason the standard for what makes a successful leader is not necessarily a shared standard.  It is more accurate to say that in the Church (as with any other human community, religious or secular), there are multiple standards and outcomes that serve as the standards by which we determine who is, and who isn't an effective leader.  While these standards and outcomes are often complimentary, they are not necessarily so.  Sometimes they are unrelated, but they may also be contradictory and even mutually exclusive.

In this, the first of two webinars, we will look together at lay and clerical leadership within, and for, the parish in light of the current psychology research.  We will begin by brief summarizing this research on the psychology of leadership and followership.  What we will see is that leaders not only need followers, in a different context a leader can be, and often is, also a follower. 
We will conclude by looking at two dysfunctional of parish organization:  collusion and competition.  We will see that not only are these self-defeating forms of parish administration they are contrary to the biblical witness of the Church as "one body with many members"

Rev. Fr. Gregory Jensen, Ph.D. Priest-in-charge, Holy Assumption Orthodox Church (OCA), Canton, OH.

A native Texan, after finishing his doctorate in counseling, ministry and spirituality at Duquesne University's Institute of Formative Spirituality in 1995, Fr. Gregory was ordained to the holy priesthood 1996.  Together with his wife Mary he served for 7 years as missionary in rural northern California where he also taught psychology and served as a consultant and trainer for area social service agencies. From 2003-2007, he was the Orthodox chaplain for the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University. 

A psychologist by profession, his research focuses on the relationship between classical and contemporary psychology theories of personality and Christian spirituality.   His conference and published work focus on theoretical and applied issues in clinical and developmental psychologies, pastoral theology, and Christian spirituality.  An avid blogger he maintains the blog Koinonia (www.palamas.info), is active in the Youngstown, OH chapter of the Society St John Chrysostom (an ecumenical group devoted to Catholic/ Orthodox reconciliation) and is a frequent speaker at retreats.

Learning Objectives

1. Participants will be introduced to the current social psychological research on leadership and followership.
2. Participants will have a better understanding of the different facets of lay and clerical parish leadership.
3. Participants will come to understand why effective leadership within the parish must take into account the role of the parish in the deanery, the diocese and the national Church.
4. While not directly concerned with outreach and evangelism, religious education, the philanthropic ministry of the parish, or stewardship, this webinar offers the parish a more effective, empirically based, foundation for the planning and implementation of these and other critical parish ministries and programs.

The Details

  • Date: Tuesday, March 24/31 2009
  • Time: 2:00 PM CDT/ 3:00PM EDT/7:00 PM GMT
  • Registration: Click here for Part I and here for Part II.si
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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Webinar SNAFU

Guinness cupcake with Bailey's Irish Creme fro...Image by ChrisB in SEA via Flickr

Alas, the webinar scheduled for this afternoon didn't come to pass--fear not though my loyal readers, it will be re-scheduled soon.

Your prayers please, gentle readers, I've got to give a workshop on stewardship this evening.

(When did I become the practical one?)

Oh, and Happy St Patrick's Day!

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory
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Sound Familiar?

TS at Broken Alabaster, has an interesting quote from Tracey Rowland's Ratzinger's Faith. According to Rowland, Ratzinger "speaks of the twin pathologies of bourgeois pelagianism and the pelagianism of the pious. He describes the mentality of the bourgeois pelagian as follows." And so, (to quote Ratzinger) for the bourgeois pelagian,"If God really does exist and if He does in fact bother about people He cannot be so fearfully demanding as He is described by the faith of the Church. Moreover, I am no worse than others; I do my duty, and the minor human weaknesses cannot really be as dangerous as all that."

Rowland continues that "This attitude is a modern version of 'acedia' - a kind of anxious vertigo that overcomes people when they consider the heights to which their divine pedigree has called them. In Nietzchean terms it is the mentality of the herd, the attitude of someone who just cannot be bothered to be great. It is the bourgeois because it is calculating and pragmatic and comfortable with what is common and ordinary, rather than aristocratic and erotic."

As for the "pious pelagians," what of them? They "want security, not hope. By means of a tough and rigorous system of religious practices, by means of prayers and actions, they want to create for themselves a right to blessedness. What they lack is the humility essential to any love - the humility to be able to receive what we are given over and above what we have deserved and achieved. The denial of hope in favor of security that we are faced with here rests on the inability to bear the tension of waiting for what is to come and to abandon onself to God's goodness."

Thinking about these words, I realize that I encounter this as well in the Orthodox Church. Many of those born and raised in the Orthodox Church suffer from what is described here as "bourgeois pelagianism," while many of those who join the Church later in life suffer because they are "pious pelagians."

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

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Game Theory and Trust

Besides the beginning of the Great Fast, my time these last two weeks have been has been taken up preparing for several presentations I'll be making between now and the beginning of April.

Currently, I am finishing the research for a two part online seminar on parish leadership (a webinar). In addition to reviewing the psychological literature on leadership, I've had the chance to look at some VERY introductory material in game theory (Rock, Paper, Scissors: Game Theory in Everyday Life, by Len Fisher and Game Theory: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions), by Ken Binmore)

"Game theory?" you ask, "what is game theory?"

Glad you asked. I'll tell you.

Game theory, according to the Wikipedia (that online repository of everything) article on the subject, is a branch of applied mathematics that "attempts to mathematically capture behavior in strategic situations, in which an individual's success in making choices depends on the choices of others." In addition to its application in the social sciences (especially economics), the theory and insights of game theory have be applied to disciples as diverse as "biology, engineering, political science, international relations, computer science (mainly for artificial intelligence), and philosophy."

While there's a great in game theory that I find interest—and useful—one of the things that has caught my attention as a I prepare for my parish leadership seminar is what game theory says about fostering trust in interpersonal relationship.

When trust is lost, when I offend or hurt you, if I'm a descent person, my natural inclination is to apologize and try and win back your trust. While the first half of my response—the apology—is a good thing, my second step, my attempt to win your trust, is (assuming I've understood what I've read) is likely to have a result opposite that for which I hope (that you trust me). So the question now becomes why? Why do I so often fail when I try and win back your trust?

Game theory is concerned with "strategic situations." In somewhat simplistic terms, strategy is about acting to achieve a particular goal. A strategic situation is one in which the participants are each trying to accomplish a goal relative to each other. They might, for example, be in competition with each other, or they might cooperate with each other. The riding on a seesaw is an example of the later, game of chess is an example of the former.

"But what about restoring trust Father Gregory?! How do I do that?" I'll tell you.

The best way to foster trust or cooperation, or so some game theorists argue, is not to ask for it, but to offer it. That's why apologizing when I've caused you harm is a good thing and often brings a good response from you. And it is also why asking (or trying) to win your trust often fails. Let me explain.

When I, or anyone for that matter, apologizes I'm making myself vulnerable to you. My vulnerability, my willingness to be rejected or in some way hurt by you, demonstrates my trust in you to treat me with respect and to not take advantage of me. When, however, I follow my apology up with the request, "How can I earn your trust back," I am asking you to be vulnerable to me—to let your guard down by asking you to reveal to me (a self-acknowledge untrustworthy person) the ways in which I can hurt you.

Let me try and explain this a bit better.

My wife and I have begun house hunting in anticipation of our upcoming move to Madison, WI. Like most home buyers, we will apply for a mortgage to help us purchase our new house. Now in addition to a credit check (i.e., our character in financial matters) and a check on our income (i.e., how much money we've got), the bank will also require from us two things: a deposit on the house (that is, that we pay them a percentage of the house's cost) and collateral (in our case, the house itself).

Why does bank wants a deposit and collateral from borrows? The deposit isn't to lower the amount that they will borrow; nor is putting the house up as collateral meant to give the bank something to sell if the borrowers default on the loan. It is rather to raise the cost for the borrowers of their defaulting on the loan. In effect, the bank is willing to trust us (or any borrowers) only to the degree that we have something to lose if we fail to repay the loan.

Trust is won by my willingness to suffer loss if I am untrustworthy in our relationship. If dishonesty or untrustworthy behavior doesn't cost me anything, you are unwise to trust me.

At first this might sound a harsh and judgmental standard—it certainly did to me. But as I thought about it, I began to ask, what is it that I mean by trust? Is it simply a warm feeling or is it my ability to predict your future behavior? While forgiveness need not be mutual, trust must be. Trust requires that we walk together as it were. It isn't necessarily bad or sinful if we don't walk together—but if we don't walk together our relationship is not trustworthy for the simple reason that we aren't together on this or that issue.

What has all this to do with pastoral leadership?

I think were often pastors go wrong is that we are not clear as to the cost of failure to us if we fail in a pastoral relationship. Or maybe it is more accurate to say, the cost we bear for failure is not relevant to those we fail. Often clergy and laity deal in rather different "currency" from each other. Most priests I know that failure very personally, but this deep, personal sense of failure while sincere, is often not seen (or necessarily valued) by those that we fail.

I will, in my next post, come back to what might be a more meaningful pledge by clergy to those we serve. I suspect that much of the tension we see in the Church today reflects the fact that we do not have a shared standard of valuing the cost of behavior (whether perpetrated by clergy or lay leaders) that violates the bond of trust that holds us together.

Until then, your comments, questions and criticisms are not only welcome, but actively sought.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

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Monday, March 16, 2009

Upcoming Webinar on Parish Leadership

Tomorrow, Tuesday, March 17th and then again on Tuesday, March 31st at 2:00 PM (CST), 3:00 PM (EST), 7:00 PM (GMT) I will be leading an online seminar on parish leadership. The first seminar, "Psychology of Leadership I: Looking at the Research," will be an overview of some of the psychological research on leadership. The second seminar on the 31st will meet at the same time and will more directly apply the findings of the psychological research on leadership to the parish. Both webinars will last approximately 45 minutes and you will be able to submit questions via instant messaging. Finally, the webinar is free.

If you are interested you can register by clicking here.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

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The Art of Living | Front Porch Republic

Stewart K Lundy of the blog Front Porch Republic does a very good job of what I was trying less successfully to say about the need for the Orthodox Church to articulate a vision of natural law. Here's a snippet of his post.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

p.s., More posts later--Lent's keeping me busy.


According to Okakura Kakuzo’s short work, The Book of Tea, this conservative impulse is the “art of being in the world.” Isn’t this “art of life” precisely the virtue Alasdair MacIntyre claims we have lost in his After Virtue? Humility, gratitude, and the pursuit of virtue affirm nature as normative not because it dictates morality but because it is a gift. Nature surely does not mean to us what it did to the Scholastics, but I wish we could rediscover the earth as our home. The loss of a normative sense of nature has set up the world against the earth in a destructive manner. We can thank the likes of William of Occam, Francis Bacon, and Descartes for the loss of nature and the birth of modern science. It used to be that nature was seen as the artwork of God, as an acheiropoieta (an icon “not made by human hands”). But no longer do we see nature as an icon, giving glimpses of God; instead, we see nature as blocking us from God. Instead of seeing truth through the physical world, fideism sees truth in spite of the physical world and its natural counterpart, atheism, limits truth to the physical world. Speaking of the spiritual realm as “supernatural” is only a step away from speaking of the “unnatural” realm. The natural-supernatural divide has cut off access to God. The death of God followed the death of nature. Before, creation was seen as the art of God; now, creation is dead and so is its Creator.

H/T: Rod Dreher: The Zen of conservatism

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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A More Than Moral Life

Then Bildad the Shuhite answered and said: "How long will you speak these things, and the words of your mouth be like a strong wind? Does God subvert judgment? Or does the Almighty pervert justice?
(Job 8:1-3, NKJV)
Writing in FIRST THINGS: On the Square, R. R. Reno offers an interesting observation. In his review of "Jacques Barzun's searching analysis of modern education, The House of Intellect," in which Barzun explores "the triumph of the Bohemian ideal, and the end of what John Lukacs has called the Bourgeois Era," Reno comments briefly on what he terms the "Bohemian project," which

retails itself as the royal road to self-discovery through the alchemy of self-expression. It promises a more "real," more authentic, and more individual existence. As Barzun suggests, the claims are hollow. The emerging Bohemian Era will be anti-intellectual: characterized by an externalized and collective sense of purpose (politics über alles) and an undifferentiated, amorphous inner life (the empire of desire).

As I read this, I began to think about the difference in character between Job and his friends. For all that Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar might present themselves as champions of religious orthodoxy in the face of Job's (seeming) dishonesty and self-deception, these men embody in their words to Job the very anti-intellectualism and "externalized and collective sense of purpose . . . and an undifferentiated, amorphous inner life" that Reno argues has taken hold of contemporary Western culture.

Precisely however because of the historical and cultural distance between Job's time and our own, it seems to me that these men typify not only cultural decadence, but a collapse, and even a rejection, of the human possibility of transcendence. Rather than undergo the deep, inner struggle as does Job, his friends flee to mere moralism a way of life that is not only the opposite of a life of transcendence, but the sign that we have refused the possibilities open to us in the spiritual life.

This is not to suggest by any means that we can dispense with the moral law. Indeed, reading through the patristic commentary on Job, it becomes clear that the fathers generally agree with the anthropology that Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar articulate. Even when a particular father disagrees with the applicability to Job's situation of the words spoken, they nevertheless see the general applicability of statement. Just to offer one example, in his own reflection on the Bildad's comment to Job that I quoted above, St John Chrysostom writes:

[E]ven though Bildad's words are not entirely applicable to Job, let us see what he means. Do you not perceive the profound justice that reigns in the creation and its profound order? And how everything is well regulated and settled? Therefore could He Who maintains justice and order among the senseless creatures overturns the rules in your case?

Instead of answering his own question, Chrysostom asks more questions, the asking of which reveals (as we say earlier) the convergence of cosmology and anthropology in the life of the particular person:

Further why did God create everything? Is it not because of you . . .? And so He Who has created so many things, did He not give you what was right to share? He Who has created you out of love, if He has shown His benevolence toward the universe, this also is proof of His power.

This then is the crux of the matter: We are created in the image and likeness of the God Who creates "out of love" and Who, again "out of love," has ordered and regulated the whole creation in justice. Creation makes manifest the goodness of God precisely because of its own inner harmony, its own internal integrity on both the microscopic and macroscopic levels. Or, in a word, the justice of creation "declares the glory of God." (Ps 18/19.1)

And what of us?

Again, while he may have missed the mark in his estimation of Job, in Chrysostom's view Bildad has nevertheless grasped something profoundly true about humanity in general: "We often overturn justice because of our powerlessness, but "He has created everything" he says. Will He, Who is so wise, so just, so powerful, be unjust?" ("Commentary on Job," 8.2A-3B, ACCS, vol VI, p. 44)

Here then is the difference between the spiritual life, the life of the inward man, and life of mere moralism, of merely external conformity and pseudo-self-expression. This difference turns on my response to my own powerlessness.

As Job says of himself in his retort to Eliphaz, "My life is lighter than speech and perishes with an empty hope." (7.6, LXX) He continues:

Remember then, my life is a breath, and my eye will no longer return to see good. The eye of him who sees me will not see me again; your eyes are on me, I am no more. I am like the cloud that cleared away from the sky. (7.7-9, LXX)

Job and his friends all acknowledge the powerlessness of the human. Each in, his own way, offers us a meditation on the often converging themes of human contingency and sinfulness. But for the critics of Job, there is (I think) some comfort to be found in the possibility that Job suffers because of some secret on his part that makes him qualitatively different from them. The reason I say this is because even though Eliphaz cannot convince Job that this is so, it is still worth his effort to make the argument if only to convince himself that he is safe from the affliction that has visited Job. In this Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar reveal themselves to be men of pure externality in response to their own inner poverty.

Job, for his part, does not, and will not, take this route. He will not use the occasion of meeting a friend, even a friend who has betrayed him, as the opportunity to comfort himself at the expense of the truth of the human condition. For Job, there is no denial of his own powerlessness; he denies neither his contingency nor his sinfulness. At the same time, he sees himself and his condition in others, even as he sees others in himself.

Commenting on Job's words, St Gregory the Great says that "this mortal life passes day by day; . . . . Just as we said before, while the time in our hands passes, the time before us is shortened. Moreover, of the whole length of our lives, the days to come are proportionally fewer to those days that have gone." ("Morals on the Book of Job," 8.26, quoted in ACCS, vol VI, p. 41) It is the pain of human morality, of their own contingency, that Job's friends fight against. And it is just this, the fragility of all humanity, that, verse by verse, Job grows to more and more accept in his own flesh.

None of this is to suggest that Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar are bad men. They aren't. But they are weak men and so seek safety and security in the merely moral. Like Job, they have learned "to restrain the flesh by continence." Unlike Job, however, each man suffers because his "mind has not been taught to expand itself through compassion" for his neighbor. (Gregory the Great, "Morals on the Book of Job," 6.53, quoted in ACCS, vol VI, p. 32) Later in his reflections on the book of Job, St Gregory reflects on the condition of those in the Church who are like the friends of Job. He says that they are the one "who certainly keep from the gratification of the flesh, yet grovel with all their heart in earthly practices."

Gregory continues his mediation by imagining the Church saying of these "earthly" and "dusty" Christians that

are members of me in faith, yet . . . are not sound or pure members in practice. For they either are mastered by foul desires and run to and fro in corruption's rottenness, or, being devoted to earthly practices, they are soiled with dust. For in those whom I have to endure, people filled with wantonness, I do plainly lament for the flesh turned corrupt. And in those from whom I suffer, those who are seeking the earth, what else is this but the defilement of dust that I must bear? ("Morals on the Book of Job," 8.23, quoted in ACCS, vol VI, p. 41)

Even while he says that his life "is a breath," Job shows himself to be a man of substance. He sees the fragility of his own life but there is no hint of narcissism in his complaints nor does his own suffering become the excuse for a lack of compassion for his neighbor.

And now we see the real struggle of the spiritual life: To embrace the whole truth of our situation, the good and the ill. But as Job's own situation also makes clear, to live this way will—necessarily it seems—put us at odds with those who, like Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, have yet themselves to turn inward.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

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