The Orthodox Dilemma Review Page 2

25. Aug, 2018

Review by Fr. Angelos of Holy Trinity Orthodox Theological Seminary, USA

Email- angelos.stanway@hts.edu

Review of: George Alexander, The Orthodox Dilemma: Personal Reflections on Global Pan-Orthodox Christian Conciliar Unity (Kerala: OCP Publications, 2017).

George Alexander has been working on his project of pan-Orthodox unity for over a decade, leading the Orthodoxy Cognate PAGE Society (and its website, theorthodoxchurch.info) since 2007.

This book is the culmination of his work in this field and presents his reflections on various themes relevant to the life of the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Churches and the search for reconciliation and unity.

The contents of this book are an impassioned plea for this reconciliation and unity by the author, based on the supposition that both communions share the same faith, dogmas, and theology. While the author of this review holds the contrary position, believing that serious and genuine Christological and dogmatic issues dating from the council of Chalcedon in 451 exist and need to be resolved before any unity can take place, it can be admitted that the position held by Mr. Alexander is indeed a common one, especially in the time since both communions initiated ecumenical relations and issued joint statements.

A great deal of the content consists of the author’s experiences of and reflections on the interaction between clergy and laity of both communions, both positive and negative. Living in the United Arab Emirates, a veritable melting pot of jurisdictions, he has had the opportunity to meet and fellowship with members of various churches. While some members of his own communion received him frostily at times, he has been made welcome by a number of Eastern Orthodox communities. This is an indictment of the ethnocentrism that can be prevalent in some parts of both Eastern Orthodox and Oriental communions, something that both struggle with.

The second and third chapters of the book are a fairly comprehensive and helpful overview of both communions, their administration, their histories, and contemporary relations between the two, as well as the trials and tribulations of Vatican meddling in their lives. The author also provides his thoughts as to how unity should be approached, and the means by which he thinks that it can be accomplished. He recommends closer work and cooperation between the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental communions, and less engagement with the Vatican, Protestant bodies, and the World Council of Churches. Although some of his ideas are thought-provoking, they may be somewhat overly dynamic for churches that are slow-moving and cautious.

Chapters four and five deal with the use of the internet in fostering engagement between faithful from both sides and for cultivating Orthodox outreach. He suggests a variety of ways in which Orthodoxy can be promoted in the online world and gives examples of the widespread ignorance of Orthodoxy among many people. The final two chapters deal with Mr. Alexander’s vision for a united communion and its witness to the world. He gives his opinion on various kinds of Orthodox Christian, some of whom are favourable to union, some of whom are not. A major part of his vision is joint cultural and social events and organisations, uniting Orthodox Christians from all over the world in order to promote knowledge of the various cultures and peoples within the church.

Although in disagreement with the fundamental presupposition of the book, I nonetheless commend Mr. Alexander for his work in promoting knowledge and friendship between our communions, as well as the effort he put into writing this book. It is obviously a labour of love, built on firm convictions. My own experiences have shown me that friendship between Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Christians can be fruitful and one of the major themes in The Orthodox Dilemma is that we should cultivate these friendships in order to better understand each other and our respective traditions, which are ancient, rich, and rooted in the Christian worldview. This is a righteous pursuit and should also be commended.

The Orthodox Dilemma is a useful reference, as well as an enlightening glimpse into the world of Eastern Orthodox – Oriental relations through the writings of someone who genuinely desires and works towards that union. Those who favour union will no doubt find this to be an encouraging work, while those who oppose ecumenism (“the fundamentalists”) will find it to be a helpful way of understanding the mindset of their opponents.

6. Jul, 2018

The Orthodox Dilemma has revolutionized my understanding of the Holy Orthodox faith - Lance Goldsberry 

Review by Lance 

George Alexander has a burden; his burden is for unity for the Holy Orthodox Church, he wants to see complete unity for all Eastern, Oriental, and Independent Orthodox Churches. George’s book, the Orthodox Dilemma, is a labor of love. Drawing from his wide experience of travel and serving the church in official capacities as layperson, George has offered a systematic plea for unity among the Orthodox, and united witness in the world. He has his fingers on the pulse of world Orthodoxy.
 
As an Orthodox revert, I have a lot appreciation for his perspective. Although chrismated in the Greek Church, and attending a Parish of the Orthodox Church in America, my interest in Orthodoxy was largely rekindled by our sisters and brothers of the Oriental Orthodox Church. I have been greatly enamored with the legacy of His Imperial Majesty, Haile Selassie, and the Ethiopian Orthodox church in particular, and for my own daily devotions at home, I use prayers from the Syrian/Indian Orthodox tradition. I am a great admirer of the Indian Orthodox Bishop Geevarghese Mar Osthathios, who was an advocate of social justice from the perspective of Orthodox teaching. I accept the Orthodoxy of Eastern and Oriental and even some of the independent Orthodox Churches.
 
George does too, and his goal is to restore the unity of the Orthodox Church. In his book, this aspiration is expressed beautifully on every page.
 
Unity
Alexander’s main thesis is that the lack of Orthodox unity, even within the same communions, undermines the witness to the world of Orthodox Christianity. There is not only disunity between the two great historic branches of Eastern and Oriental Orthodox churches, but disunity among jurisdictions in both communions.
 
I was saddened to read of a few instances in Alexander’s own experience in his travels, being shunned while visiting Orthodox churches other than his own. Some of these experiences were in person, visiting other Churches, and some were experienced in a social media environment, be defriended or treated rudely on Facebook, for example.
 
This lack of unity hurts the Orthodox witness, in a world that badly needs spiritual and moral light.
 
Alexander however, has also cultivated friendships all over the world with people from multiple faith backgrounds.He also has stories of remarkable cooperation between Orthodox Christians around the world. We need to see more of it. 
 
The Church of the East
I appreciate greatly Alexander’s openness to the Assyrian Church of the East, which has been historically characterized as “Nestorian” by the Orthodox and Catholic Churches. Alexander’s vision of Orthodox unity includes dialog with the Church of the East.
 
In my own view, not speaking for Alexander, I find some of the Christological controversies of the 5th Century that divided Eastern and Oriental Orthodoxy and the Church of the East, to have as much to do with language, culture and Imperial politics as it does with theology. I believe that all three of these communions hold to one Christ, who is truly and fully human and divine, but have sadly divided over the precision of terms and theological concepts.
 
Our brothers and sisters in the Assyrian Church have been some of the most severely persecuted Christians in the world today.
 
Roman Catholicism
Alexander is sharply critical of the Roman Catholic Church, but is not an anti-Catholic. He respects the Christianity of Roman Catholicism, and recognizes the Pope as the Patriarch of Rome and of the West. The pope, in a re-united Church with the Orthodox, will take his place as first among equals of brother bishops, as he was in the ancient Church.
 
I was raised Roman Catholic, and spent ten years in the Ruthenian Byzantine Catholic Church for 10 years before converting to Orthodoxy, and I still deeply respect Catholicism for its spirituality and social teaching. But Alexander’s criticisms are fair, blunt accurate. He criticizes the Catholic Church for Uniatism, the strategy that the Catholic Church has employer the last 500 years of seeking union with various Orthodox national Churches, instead of approaching the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox communions for unity. Historically, many of these Orthodox Churches were Latinized, sometimes by force, although reform among some Eastern Catholic Churches toward more authentic Orthodox liturgy and practice have been underway in recent decades.
 
Alexander does not reject dialog with the Roman Catholic Church, but insists it must be based on mutual respect, and collegiality among jurisdictions and brother bishops, and not a ruse for absorption into the Roman Catholic Communion.

Social Media
George Alexander draws from his experience in social media in speaking about Orthodox unity. He has many friends from all over the world, from different religions and backgrounds. I myself became friends with George on Facebook, and hope to visit him in India one day. He operates a web page called, the Orthodox Cognate page, which is a clearing house for news and information about world Orthodoxy. It is valuable resource, as is his book.
 
Alexander believes that the Orthodox Churches are not leveraging social and broadcast media to the fullest extent to reach the world with the saving message of Our LORD Jesus Christ. He himself is one of the people who is working effectively in bringing Orthodox witness on the internet and social media. 
 
 
 
5. Dec, 2017

Review by Metropolitan Abba Seraphim of Glastonbury - Primate of the British Orthodox Church

Alexander, George, The Orthodox Dilemma. Personal Reflections on Global Pan-Orthodox Conciliar Unity (OCP Publications, Kerala, India: 2017), xl + 346 pp. & illus. Pbk.

George Alexander makes it clear that he does not claim to be a theologian, but that he writes from the perspective of his personal thoughts and reflections and extensive personal contacts. As a devout member of the Indian Malankara Orthodox Church and through his active membership of the Orthodoxy Cognate Page Society (OCP), he is passionately concerned with global pan-Orthodox Conciliar Unity. However, this goes beyond the mainstream dialogue between the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Churches to encompass a desire to see the ancient Assyrian Church brought back into the Orthodox fold, alongside Old Believers, Old Calendarists, non-canonical and new generation, unrecognised Traditional Orthodox Churches. He does not see Orthodoxy as merely one of the major churches or “denominations”, affirming that it is the true Church of Christ; nor does he see it as a Religion, because Orthodoxy is not there merely to cover the psychological needs of man, but to heal spiritually ailing humanity and bring it to sanctification.

He views Pan-Orthodox unity as reconnecting with our own family members, with whom we are not in communion because of various unfortunate events in history, among which he includes theological interpretation, certain misguided terminologies, words, language and politics, which have brought about separation, using the words of Saint Athanasios as inspiration, “Disputes merely about words must not be suffered to divide those who think alike.“

George Alexander notes that there are two languages of dialogue: the theological and the-day-to day practical, and offers various realistic examples from his own experience as an Indian Orthodox working in the Middle East region of loving acceptance as well as hostility, sometimes born of racism and ignorance. He quotes the late Metropolitan Paulos Mar Gregorios contrasting between the “unsanctified, power-hungry, quarrelsome, self-preoccupied and selfish life in the world” with the “evangelical and eucharistic sanctity in ordinary life, manifesting the love, freedom and wisdom of God to mankind”, both of which are attributes to be encountered among Orthodox.

The purview of his thesis ranges over an extensive and diverse compass of conflicts, both historical and contemporary: Macedonians versus Serbs; Armenians versus Georgians; Ukrainians versus Russians; the political interference in the Ethiopian and Eritrean churches and Jerusalem, where internecine strife has been commonplace for centuries. In looking closer to home at the Old Church of Thozhiyoor and the Malabar Marthoma Syrian Church of Malabar, whilst admitting that they have a Protestant nature, he desires to encourage dialogue not alienation because “the very essence of their origin is none other than Orthodox”.

The first edition of this book received some criticism for its attitude towards the Roman Catholic Church, which some even described as “polemical”. George Alexander rejects this view and reiterates that he is not against ecumenical dialogue with Rome, with its undeniable political and financial influence, but fears that sometimes the Orthodox have adopted a “false” approach. He asks how it is possible to forgive Rome for some of its past behaviour towards the Orthodox, yet for Orthodox churches not to be forgiving in their treatment of their own “schisms”.

If this book has a weakness, it is that it attempts to chronicle such a wide range of current and historical issues, but its strength is the honest and open way in which they are approached. It is partisan only inasmuch as it is written by a committed Orthodox Christian, but the fact that he even dares to raise attitudes and behaviour impartiality and without prejudice gives his argument greater credibility. This is a passionate cry from the heart by someone who desires peace and reconciation and although it offers no easy solutions it confronts us with realities which challenge us to show a willingness to listen and an openness to dialogue.

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25. Nov, 2017

Author Effie Kammenou' - Good Reads 

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When I read the title of The Orthodox Dilemma written by George Alexander, the expectation of the subject matter was quite different to the reality of its content. The dilemma, I believed, was much like that of most Christian sects—an attempt to hold to the cannons of the church in an ever-changing society that believes itself to be too modern and progressive to live by two thousand-year-old beliefs. 

Alexander’s dilemma was far more complex and it was evident that he was not only well educated on the matter, but also extremely passionate. As a person who was born into a religious Greek Orthodox family with a father who is also very well read on theology and the history of the church, I was under the assumption that I was knowledgeable myself. I knew of the different Orthodox churches, their patriarchs and that they were equal—none claiming supremacy over the others. I knew that other than the Great Schism with Rome, there was one before it and from it was born the Coptic Orthodox church. I’d heard my dad speak of the oriental churches, but what I didn’t know was that all the churches Mr. Alexander speaks of were splintered from each other. It was always my assumption that we came from different countries, but that was all. We were all one and the same. 

It’s sad really when you think of it. The church began after Christ’s death as one. It’s people who have splintered it. It’s the darker side of human nature to thirst for power where only humility should reign and politics has no place.

Do I think these Orthodox churches will ever come to agreement? Possibly, but it’s doubtful. More doubtful is the talk of unity between Rome and the East. Too much has changed in the West that the East will never accept.

Honestly, for the masses, they don’t understand the intricate details of the faith that only theologians study. They go to church, and pray to Christ and the saints, and follow the holidays and the traditions. If only the leaders would go back to basics and preach the love Christ came to spread.

If the history and details of the faith is of interest to you then this is a very informative read.

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25. Nov, 2017

De Vernet - God Reads

It was a very interesting and very informative book. I learned so many new things about the Orthodox confessions in different parts of the world. I did not know that the Orthodox Christianity existed in India in the 5th century, long before the Portuguese conquest of Kerala.

I also liked that the author mentions and describes his own experiences, when he was visiting the Orthodox churches in different countries. 

I would recommend this book to not only to a person who is interested in Orthodox religion but also to anyone who wants to discover different cultures.

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