‘The Orthodox Dilemma’ is Revelatory and Timely, especially in a Period Riddled with Internecine Violence and Religious Tribalism

OCP Publications- Review of The Orthodox Dilemma- 19/5/16

Review by Dr. Glenville Ashby – San Francisco Book Review

Website- www.glenvilleashby.com

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The Orthodox Dilemma offers a detailed panorama of Church History and is a boon for researchers and proponents of interfaith dialogue. It is revelatory and timely, especially in a period riddled with internecine violence and religious tribalism.

Ironically, in his uncompromising, strident promulgation of Orthodox supremacy, Alexander may be an inadvertent contributor to the global divide he is determined to fight.

 George Alexander’s thesis is as lucid as it gets: The Orthodox Churches are the true heirs to the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church of Christ, but a centuries-old schism between Eastern and Western orthodoxy threatens its identity and survivability more than ever before.

According to Alexander, there is disinterest and lassitude in resolving theological misunderstandings concerning Christology, in particular, the nature of Jesus. Political and ethnic differences have also fanned the flame of discord. Although some steps have been taken toward compromise and accommodation, the author presents a fractured Church rife with internal strife, citing tensions between the Antiochian and Jerusalem patriarchates over canonical rights regarding Jerusalem; conflicts between the Serbian and Macedonian churches; the separation of Old Calendar Greek churches from the Greek Orthodox Church; and Old Believers parting ways with the Russian Orthodox Church.

He decries the use of term, ‘heretical’ against Eastern Orthodoxy, reminding accusers that Oriental believers are not monophysites as commonly held. Notably, he invokes the stature and wisdom of St Cyril, the ostensible father of both families of Orthodoxy, who comprehensively explained the mystery of Christ. Both bodies, Alexander opines, define the same truth through their own political and cultural prisms. Compellingly, he chronicles his ostracism by Eastern Orthodox prelates during a visit to the Middle East, and recounts similar anecdotes to cement his exigent call for dialogue. “For me,” he writes, “the acceptance of the seven Ecumenical Councils [by Oriental Orthodoxy] and the subsequent removal of anathemas should be modelled upon step by step constructive dialogue…”

Alexander laments the failure of the 1964 Addis Abba conference to address disunity, although he is marginally encouraged at efforts toward rapprochement between 1964 and 1984.

Further, he cautions against meddling in orthodox affairs by the Roman See, arguing that its overtures to some oriental churches work against orthodox homogeneity. While Alexander does not denounce ecumenism, he views the Vatican as surreptitiously and subtly attempting to bring orthodoxy under its control. He emphatically states that “the pope cannot be a coordinator for orthodox unity,” and warns against falling “prey to the pomp and glory of the Vatican,” and the divide and conquer tactics it employs. Instead, he advocates prioritizing inter-orthodox dialogue at local, regional, national and international levels; the establishment of theological and secular institutes; and the use of mass media to promote pan-Orthodox issues.‎He also asks that the faithful be vigilant against the evangelizing efforts of Christian churches. It is a point that he advances throughout his work.

 “I feel that we have not done justice to Jesus Christ and His Church because we still keep the body of Christ divided.” (p.47)

Alexander’s “bloodless revolution” calls for conciliar unity and full sacramental communion. It is a broad based. Beyond canonical churches, he welcomes an all-inclusive platform that invites old believers, old calendar, non-canonical, new generation, recognized, and traditional orthodox churches to heal the wounds within the orthodox body. Robust pan-Orthodox institutions do not require full communion among churches, he argues.