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Opening word of DELM Conference, 6-8 November 2012, Chisinau, Moldova.

Hans Spinder,

7 November 2013

On behalf of Kerk in Actie and its official representative, Luitzen Faber, I welcome you at this conference of the DELM- Network. This Network for the Development of Ecumenical Leadership in Mission mainly consists of Kerk in Actie partners in Middle and Eastern Europe and some other partners working in the same field.

After conferences in Moscow, Lvov and Novi Sad is this the fourth conference in this format, which means a two days theological conference, organised by St. Andrews´ Biblical Theological Institute  in Moscow and a local organizing partner, in this case the association Filocalia. The third day we will have our consultation with all the partners in DELM, to discuss further cooperation and plans for the future.

 

This year the theme is `Faith in the Public Square´, an important and topical issue, but also a deep and complicated one. It has to do with the public character of the Christian faith, with secularism, the relation between church and state, Christian and general ethics, the prophetic role of the church, the missionary task of the church, the multicultural and multi-religious society, and so on.

Browsing through the Internet and my own library I found a confusing amount of ideas and positions. When you Google the theme you inevitably encounter references to a recent publication (2012) of Rowan Williams, the former archbishop of Canterbury, also called Faith in the Public Square. The variety of book reviews already offers a broad introduction into our conference theme.

From the different perspectives from which you can approach the theme, I will mention two:

  1. From the perspective of the relation state – religion  two extremes are avoided by the vast majority of authors: identification of state and religion, which implies a theocratic position, and, the other extreme,  total separation, the strict laicism position, which implies  to consider religion as an exclusively private matter. Most authors are looking for some kind of working relationship between state and church, in which both institutions can cooperate and complement each other, without violating each other’s independence and autonomy.
  2. Another starting point is to look at the characteristics of the church: how can we justify the public role of the church in the light of Bible and tradition? For example a British think-tank, called Theos, states [1]) that, referring to  Acts 1-5, the example of the early church can guide us in the question. The first Christians do reveal a fourfold pattern of engagement in the public square, which includes public proclamation, public assembly, public action and public confrontation.

I will not further develop these statement but limit myself to mention two examples from the Dutch context.

The first is about a book of the Dutch theologian Gerrit de Kruijf, written in 1994, called Alert and Sober (or Vigilent and of sober mind) [2])  with the subtitle: about Christian ethics in a democracy. The title, refers to 1 Peter 4 and 5, and expresses that the church and the Christians, in ethical and moral matters, have to think twice. The moral and ethical discussion starts for Christians within the Christian community, where the arguments and values of Bible and tradition can be fully used to come to a certain decision and standpoint. But the church is oriented to the society and to the world, on the  basis of creation she is part of the world, but the church cannot use its inner theological and ethical arguments in the world, that would imply a theocratic position. The church does not have a better knowledge and insight concerning moral issues than the world. But the Christian ethos is not only open to Gods commandment, but is also prepared to peaceful coexistence with others.  This means that the church wants to engage in the public ethical discussion in the world, to find a common ground, without losing its own orientation. In ethics the church and the Christians have to think twice: first in the own community of faith and secondly with people in the world. The Christian community is called to act cooperatively, alert and sober, in the society.

The second example is an activity of the Protestant Church in the Netherlands (PKN). Last week the European Committee for Social Rights of the Council of Europe urged the Dutch government to provide to immigrants without official status the basic needs for living, such as food, clothing and shelter.  [3]

This statement is the outcome of an investigation the Committee realized after receiving a complaint of the PKN through the Council of European Churches (CEC). Although the judgement of the committee is not imperative, the Dutch government cannot simply ignore it. The secretary general of the PKN said that the government has a responsibility for these people.[4] “The question is: how do we treat strangers? Also the difficult ones. Also the strangers without refugee status. One thing they do have: their humanity. One thing above all  is asked of us:  our compassion.” As a church we respect and honour  the government and also pray for them. We can cooperate with the government in many areas, also in the area of refugees and immigrants, but sometimes a confrontation is unavoidable; as it was in this case.

This last example refers to the four characteristics of the church, I mentioned before: public proclamation, public assembly, public action and public confrontation, especially the last one: public confrontation.

I am looking forward to hear the presentations of the speakers of the conference and I hope that we will have interesting discussions and exchanges of ideas.  I thank the organizing committee for all the preparations so far and I hope that this will be an inspiring event for all of us and a contribution to the development of ecumenical leadership in our churches and faith communities.

 


[1] http://www.theosthinktank.co.uk/comment/2008/05/24/a-private-affair

[2] G.G. de Kruijf, Waakzaam en nuchter, over christelijke ethiek in een democratie, Baarn 1994.

[3] Decision on admissibility: Conference of European Churches (CEC) v. the Netherlands, Complaint No. 90/2013.

http://hudoc.esc.coe.int/esc2008/document.asp?item=0

[4] http://www.pkn.nl/actueel/Nieuws/nieuwsoverzicht/Paginas/Comment-on-time—Compassion-for-strangers.aspx?r=o

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THE THINGS OF CAESAR AND THE THINGS OF GOD IN THE POST-ATHEIST BULGARIAN LEGISLATION: RELIGIOUS AND SECULAR DISCOURCES


Daniela Kalkandjieva

Sofia University St. Kliment Ohridski

 

On 10 November 1989, the removal of Todor Zhivkov from the leadership of the Bulgarian State and Communist Party marked the end of the totalitarian regime in this country. It also conditioned the return of religion in the public sphere. Among the other things, this process stimulated a restitution of immovable property which the communist regime had taken away from religious communities. A set of laws, adopted in the early 1990s, arranged a mass scale return of arable lands, forests, industries and urban real estates to physical persons and judicial entities, including religious denominations. In this regard, the Bulgarian Orthodox Church was expected to restitute 36,331 hectares of lands, many forests, office and residential buildings (temples were not included). This restitution was accomplished in 2012. Until now, however, there is no clarity yet, how much property the religious organizations have received in reality. In the case of the Orthodox Church, observers estimate the price of the returned tangible assets between € 0,5 billion and € 5 billion. During this restitution, no objections were made to the property rights of religious denominations on the grounds of the constitutional separation between religion and state. Instead, the major concern of society was who the eligible owner of the restituted estates and buildings was: the Synod of the late Patriarch Maxim or the so called Alternative Synod (There was a similar division in the Muslim community, but it was quickly overcome.). The ownership question gradually lost its relevance after 2004 when the state confiscated the properties of the Alternative Synod and transferred them to Maxim’s Synod. In the next years, the attention of society was attracted mostly to cases of misuse of restituted immovables by some metropolitans of Maxim’s Synod. At the same time, its hierarchs claim that 25% of the church lands have not been returned to the Orthodox Church. The lack of a register of the Church’s real estates, however, makes impossible to check their validity. Similar declarations are also made by the representatives of the Chief Mufti’s Office. In 2009, they announced that about 300 former vakaf properties and 2,000 hectares of arable land have not been returned to the Muslim community. According to Bulgarian media, the Chief Mufti’s Office filed 52 lawsuits for 83 vakaf properties in the last two years. The smaller religious communities also did not succeed in restituting many properties, e.g. the building of Plovdiv University used to belong to the Catholic Church.

The New Wave of Restitution

It is interesting that the restitution of property rights of religious denominations in post-1989 Bulgaria started with non-religious but profitable tangible assets such as arable lands, forests and office and residential buildings, while the question about the possession of churches, prayer houses, and monasteries has appeared in the public space only recently. It seems that the interest in it was provoked by an opportunity for the reconstruction of places of worship on European funding. The first steps in this direction were made in the end of 2011. Within the framework the Rural Development Program of the European Commission several village churches were renovated. At the same time, a joint committee with the participation of representatives of the state, the Bulgarian Orthodox Church and the Muslim community was set up to prepare applications for funding from the European programs for the period 2014-2020. To be eligible for it, however, the corresponding religious object (church, prayer house or monastery) has to have a clear ownership status. In some cases, however, it turned out that the Bulgarian Orthodox Church has no certificate of ownership.

In the last two years, the most debatable one became the case of the patriarchal cathedral “St. Alexander Nevski” in Sofia. Entirely built on donations of the Bulgarian people and state subsidies this temple was dedicated to the saint-patron of the Russian emperor Alexander II, commemorated as the Liberator of Bulgaria from the Ottoman rule. Therefore, from the very beginning it was defined as a hram-pametnik, i.e. a memorial church. Upon its consecration in 1924, the management of the cathedral was entrusted to the Holy Synod of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church. The latter, however, did not receive a certificate of property. Instead, the state and church authorities agreed that the temple would belong to the people (vsenarodna). Correspondingly, the Regulations for its management explicitly state that only public religious services can take place there and that the performance of private services and sacraments is strongly forbidden (Art. 9). They also postulate that the cathedral’s board includes a representative of the state (Art. 5) and that financial costs of the cathedral are covered by both, own revenues and annual state subsidies (Art. 7). At the same time, the Holy Synod succeeded to secure its special rights with regard of the cathedral’s ecclesiastical status. It declared St. Alexander Nevski church as a stavropegial temple, i.e. it was directly subjected to the Holy Synod (In those years, the Bulgarian Church had not patriarchal dignity). This mixture of civil belonging to the Bulgarian people with a religiously motivated stavropegial status of the cathedral did not provoke problems under the Tarnovo Constitution (1879-1946), which Article 39 subjected the Bulgarian Kingdom to the Holy Synod of the local Orthodox Church in the sphere of ecclesiastical affairs. Moreover, the constitutional status of Eastern Orthodoxy of the dominating religion in the Bulgarian Kingdom (Tarnovo Constitution, Art. 37) made the property issue irrelevant or at least diminished its significance for the local Orthodox Church (The religious minorities, however, had to secure their property rights and today they are better equipped with documents proving their ownership over one or another object or estate).

In most cases, however, the present ownership problems seem to be a result of the anti-religious policy of the former communist regime. Aimed to build an atheist society it used various pretexts to close religious buildings. Instead of blowing them, as the early Bolsheviks used to do, the Bulgarian communists employed softer methods. Churches and prayer houses were destroyed under pretext of building new roads. Sometimes they were transformed into social institutions, e.g. monasteries were used as madhouses. The most effective method was to present the suppression of religious freedoms as care for historical heritage (Some old religious building really needed special care). By declaring churches, mosques and monasteries as monuments of the national and/or world cultural legacy, the atheist regime turned them into state property. In some cases, however, the restoration of religious services in such places seem impossible due to the specific conditions that need to be maintained inside in order to preserve centuries old frescoes, e.g. the famous Boyana Church which is under UNESCO protection. Not less serious problem is the limited financial potential of the religious denominations in the country which does not allow them to maintain such centuries-old temples. Still, the Chief Mufti’s Office filed lawsuits for 13 mosques which have the status of monument of culture. By this moment, there are no such pretensions by the other religious communities in the country.

The Amendments

In July 2013, deputies from the new Bulgaria Parliament proposed amendments to be made in the Denominations Act, which concern the property rights of the registered religious denominations. One of them is aimed to guarantee their ownership over their places of worship. It states: “the monasteries, temples and prayer houses that have existed by the time of enforcement of this law and that have been designated as places of worship, together with the plots on which they are built, are property of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church – Bulgarian Patriarchate or correspondingly to other registered religious denominations and their local branches.” This rule is not valid in case they are used for non-religious ends. Finally, the draft law also foresees amendments in the Civil Procedure Code, the Law of Local Taxes and Fees and the Law of State Taxes. According to them the churches, monasteries and prayer houses have to be exempted from any taxes, fees and financial debts.

The Motives

The proposed changes are justified by principles and norms embedded in the European and Bulgarian national legislation. The first of them is Article 10 of the European Charter of Fundamental Rights (which is consistent with Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights). The second group includes guarantees of the freedom of religion entrenched in the Bulgarian Constitution:

“The practicing of any religion shall be unrestricted” (Art. 13.1);

“The freedom of conscience, the freedom of thought and the choice of religion and of religious or atheist views shall be inviolable. The State shall assist the maintenance of tolerance and respect among believers from different denominations, and among believers and non-believers” (Art. 37.1).

Finally, the amendments are justified by the principle of separation of “religious institutions” and the state in the national legislation (Constitution, Art. 13.2; Denominations Act, Art. 4.1). There is also reference to Article 4.2 of the Denominations Act which guarantees the autonomy of religious institutions. In this regard, the authors of the draft law consider that the status of autonomous religious institutions separated from the state requires a specific treatment of the ownership over places of worship. They point that the immovable and movable utilities and items that are used in liturgy and worship, are functionally linked with and of essential importance for the exercise of the right of freedom of religion.

In cases when there is no certificate of ownership, however, its acquisition means to pass through time-consuming and costly procedures. According the deputies, who are pleading for changes in the Denominations Act, these fees and payments “exceed the financial resources of the religious denominations.” In their view, the present version of the Denominations Act offers a solution: its Article 25.1 allows state financial and economic allowances to registered religious denominations (currently they count about 130). On these grounds, they propose certificates of ownership for churches, monasteries and prayer houses to be issued for free. In addition, the draft law foresees an exemption of the registered religious denominations from any state and local taxes and fees. In this regard, an often used example are the annual taxes and fees of St. Alexander Nevski cathedral, which are estimated at € 1,5 million. In fact, the Bulgarian Orthodox Church and the Muslim community are the major debtors in the case of garbage fee, while the smaller religious denominations pay it. In short, the creation favorable conditions for the restoration, arrangement, and exercise of the rights to possession of monasteries, churches and prayer houses is stated to be “an indirect act of fulfillment” of Article 10 of the European Charter of Fundamental Rights and the Bulgarian Constitution as it would provide material support for the right of worship. In this regard, however, it is possible to argue that the proposed full-scale exemption of state and local taxes and fees is a discrimination of non-profit public structures which are not engaged in religious activities.

Secondly, the amendments are justified by a definition of churches, monasteries and prayer houses as a special category of immovable property. Their authors point that upon their consecration, these buildings become res sacrae, i.e. dedicated to God and thus they have to be excluded from the civil realm. As such their protection needs to be carried out by legal mechanisms which differ from those used in the case of the non-religious subjects of private law. Such reasoning, however, can be questioned on the grounds of the pre-communist experience of St. Alexander Nevski cathedral. As it was discussed above, its consecration did not deprive this cathedral from the quality of a church of all people, but added a new one – that of stavropegial body thus reflecting the specificity of its ecclesiastical status.

In addition, the initiators of the changes in the Denominations Act consider that the ownership over res sacrae (i.e. over immovable objects as churches, monasteries and prayer houses as well as over movable ones such as holy antimensions, sacred vessels and relics, etc.) imposes some restrictions. One of the arguments was that the selling of a temple “sounds as an absurd and sacrilege.” Still, no evidence of such acts has been presented. There is only a reference to cases of monasteries and churches for which the Bulgarian Orthodox Church has no certificates of ownership and which have been declared as state or municipal property after 1989. What the motives do not mention is whether this ‘nationalization/municipalization’ was used to provide financial means from the state or municipal budgets for the reconstruction of these religious building thus assisting the freedom of religion or on the contrary, the new ownership has brought about restrictions of the freedom of religion, e.g. a ban on worship. According to the authors of the proposed amendments, they address future eventualities, i.e. they will secure the exclusive nature of property rights of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church and the other religious denominations of buildings designed and used for worship. In such cases, the changes in the Denominations Act are aimed to make the property rights of religious denominations imprescriptible, i.e. nobody else except for the registered religious denominations can own churches, monasteries and prayer houses. Still it is necessary to mention that arguments based on res sacrae do not seem fully applicable to all religious denominations. For example, when private houses are used as places of worship their exemption from taxes and fees can be problematic due to the difficulty to distinguish between res privatae and res sacrae.

Finally, the motives raise questions about the retroactive effect of the proposed amendments. According to their authors, by voting the draft law for the amendment of the Denominations Act “the State de jure recognizes a genuine status of the temples, monasteries and prayer houses, many of which have existed before the [establishment] of the contemporary Bulgarian State [in 1878].” This statement is justified with the historical fact that “part of the properties of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church have been granted by gold-stamped acts [hrisovul] of the Bulgarian medieval tsars.” It means that the discussed amendments have effect over religious objects which have been built since the baptism of Bulgaria in 864. Such an approach is too unrealistic and tends to be counterproductive.

The Debate

The ownership of religious communities over their sacred buildings and prayer houses has provoked heated debates in Bulgarian society. In the case of properties associated with the Bulgarian Orthodox Church they are often concentrated on the encounter of the secular and the religious. On 22 July, the Holy Synod warmly welcomed the amendments. According to it, the unanimity of deputies from different political parties, who initiated the changes, is in tune with Jesus Christ’s words: “For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them” (Matt. 18:20). Such an interpretation sounds strange, having in mind that that some of these deputies are Muslims (one of them is a former secretary of the Chief Mufti’s Office). The Synod also pointed to the unsettled ownership status of the patriarchal cathedral St. Alexander Nevski and stressed that it “belongs to the Christ-loving and Orthodox [Bulgarian] people, presented by the Bulgarian Orthodox Church.” In the same way, the hierarchs defined the temples as “sacred buildings” which are open for everybody who searches to pray or serve God and which cannot be used for anything else, but for religious services only. The Synod declared that “the Bulgarian Orthodox Church has always had an understanding that there are some state legal requirements for the architectural appearance of temples with a cultural value which have to be respected.” In fact, this is the most expensive part of the maintenance of churches, e.g. in the planned reconstruction of St. Alexander Nevski cathedral is estimated at € 5 million.

On second place, the Synod emphasizes that temples have not become a cultural valuable by the means of formal state acts, but have been created as such, and that it was the Church which has preserved them without any certificates of ownership long time before the state has started taking care of them. Actually, this idea was expressed by Patriarch Neofit in before the official announcement of the discussed amendments. In an interview, on 1 May 2013, he mentioned that temples had been built as houses of God and their present functioning as museums or tourist attractions is of secondary importance. On this grounds, it was believed that “the status and treatment of some of our [BOC’s] temples as ‘cultural valuables’ has no connection with and no influence on the exceptional, centuries long property rights of the Church over them as an institution and organization of believers.” In similar way, the Synod argued that secular law stems from that of God and thus God’s law has priority over the former. In this regard, the metropolitans expressed sorrow that sometimes secular law deviates from that of God. In their view, in such cases churchmen bare responsibility to God in all church matters, while in everything rest they respect state legislation. The Holy Synod also declared that the Church has always given what is Caesar’s to Caesar (Matt. 22:21) and now “it is time to be seen whether the Caesar is ready to give to God what is God’s.”

Similar statements were also made by Borislav Tsekov, a jurist, former MP, strong supporter of the Synod of the late Patriarch Maxim and author of the Denominations Act of 2002. According to Tsekov, “the temple belongs to God and serves Him, and not to society, archeologists, academicians or donors. Only the corresponding religious community has the right to possession of this property with or without certificate of ownership.” In his view, those temples which are also monuments of culture have to be returned to the Church under the condition to observe strictly the special restrictions aimed to secure their preservation. At the same time, while the Synod avoids the issue of tax exemption, Tsekov considers that taxes should be paid by the temples, but only upon the adoption of certificates of ownership by the Church (e.g. St. Alexander Nevski cathedral, which ownership status is unclear, is said to awe about € 0.5 million for garbage fee.). At the same time, the supporters of a return of the property rights of religious denominations over churches and prayer houses do not raise the question about the taxes which these denominations have to pay for their non-religious immovable property restituted between 1992 and 2012. In this case, there is no clarity whether any taxes have been paid at all.

On 17 and 18 July, the draft law was approved by the parliamentary committees on Legal Affairs and on Religious Denominations and Parliamentary Ethics. Next days, however, the representatives of the parliamentary group of the xenophobic party “Ataka” changed its attitude to the draft law. They continued to support it only as a means for solving the problem with the right of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church to possess St. Alexander Nevski cathedral, but opposed the eventual benefits to the Muslim and Jewish communities. “Ataka” rejected the pretensions of the Chief Mufti’s Office to religious buildings from the Ottoman times which have functioned as museums since the late nineteenth century, e.g. the National Archeological Museum in Sofia (This building ceased to function as mosque after the two earthquakes in 1818 and 1858, i.e. during the Ottoman rule.). They insisted on imposing a ban on the restitution of formerly religious buildings which now have the status of monuments of culture. One of these deputies, Stanislav Stanilov, pointed that the religious denominations have not experts in maintaining monuments of culture and that the performance of liturgy in some of them will mean their exclusion from the UNESCO list of the world cultural treasure. Another nationalist political organization, the VMRO [Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization], which is not currently presented in the Bulgarian Parliament, took a similar position as well. According to its leaders, the draft law opens the doors for radical Islam and thus it needs a revision, particularly the texts concerning the non-Orthodox registered religious denominations.

This resistance influenced the decision of the Parliamentary Committee on Culture and Media. On 24 July, during it had a meeting during which none of its members agree the draft law to be put forward for voting in parliament. Looking for a compromise, the Chairman of the Parliament proposed the disputable religious monuments of culture to be included in a special category as a guarantee that this historical heritage will be protected. On this occasion, Hyusein Hafazov, a deputy from the Movement of Rights and Freedoms and a former secretary of the Chief Mufti’s Office comments that though he personally does not insist on the return of the property rights over the building of the National Archeological Museum to the Muslim community, the very fact that this former mosque does not belong to this community is unjust. He also expressed a view that it is disgrace for Muslims to know that alcohol has been served during cocktails there. In this regard, he has suggested a compromise: the Muslim community will not claim property rights over former mosques as the National Archeological Museum and St. Sedmochislenitsi church, if permitted to build a second mosque in Sofia in exchange. In another interview Mr Hafazov emphasizes that the refusal to recognize the property rights of religious denominations over their places of worship is a violation of the will of the donors.

On 5 August 2013, the Bulgarian Academy of Science also protested against the draft law. On behalf of his colleagues, its Chairman, Academic Stefan Vodenicharov, sent a letter of protest to the Parliament. It criticized the criterion “designated for liturgy/religious services” as a means of determining which buildings have to become property of one or another religious denomination. According to the scholars, the purpose for which a building has been constructed cannot justify a title of ownership of “prayer houses” which have lost their initial designation long time ago and today are functioning as museums, galleries, etc. The scholars point to multiple medieval temples which had been discovered in archeological excavations, organized and financed by the state, that need special care and expertise to be preserved for the next generations. Moreover, some of the preserved religious constructions used to serve various religious cults in a span of time, e.g. the Museum of Religions in the city of Stara Zagora is situated in a building which used to serve as a temple by the ancient Thracians, then was reconstructed and used by Christians as their church and finally was converted into mosque during the Ottoman rule. From such a perspective, the proposed amendments do not offer clear criteria which religious denomination is entitled to own such buildings.

The academic community also raised the question about the destiny of movable religious valuables such as the medieval ceramic icon of St. Theodor of Patleyna, found in archeological excavations and restored on state money. In this regard, Academic Vodenicharov refers to the practice of the Bulgarian Constitutional Court which considers that “in the case of cultural movable and immovable valuables the property rights cannot be treated on a common basis, as they concern the realization of the cultural rights of every citizen and they are guaranteed by the State’s duty to take care of the preservation of cultural heritage which stem from public law.” This position is shared by many journalists. In this regard, it was mentioned that only the Jewish Consistory, representing one of the smallest historical religious communities in Bulgaria, has submitted an annual report about activities for the protection of the Jewish religious cultural legacy (in correspondence with Article 13.3 of the Law on Cultural Legacy). In the last years, several churches monuments of culture suffered damages due to the lack of competence of clergy who allowed improper measures for their maintenance. The most scandalous case was the reconstruction of St. Marina church in Plovdiv where seventeenth century frescoes were destroyed as a result of the decision of the local metropolitan Nikolay the temple to be stuck all over with printed frescoes. The opponents of the draft law also reminded the inability of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church to protect its old icons many of which were stolen and sold on the black market in the last years. The archeologist Todor Chobanov, a former Vice-Minister of Culture, pointed that the Bulgarian Church itself had been set up by the state and defined as non-sense the Synod’s attempt to refute any property rights of the state over churches.

Not less important are the financial arguments against the proposed amendments of the Denominations Act. It is a public secret that the Bulgarian Orthodox Church has not sufficient resources to maintain and reconstruct its places of worship, ordinary ones (e.g. the Cherepish seminary) as well as those which are also monuments of culture. At the same time, the National Alliance of Municipalities warned that the change of the ownership status of some churches which have been reconstructed on European funding will break clauses in concluded contracts and probably they have to return the money. They also worry that the tax exemptions of religious denominations will reduce their incomes and some pseudo-religious structures will be set up to avoid the payment of local taxes and fees. In addition, it was estimated that the vote for the draft bill will deprive the Ministry of Culture of an income of € 350,000 which is paid by the visitors of museums situated in former or present places of worship. Some publications accused the Orthodox hierarchs of being greedy, e.g. the Bulgarian Orthodox Church has been already exempted from VAT and some other taxes, does not pay taxes on its incomes and owes considerable amount of money to municipalities.  These protests, however, were in vain. On 7 November, the Bulgarian Parliament voted the amendments in the Law on Local Taxes and Fees and the religious denominations will be exempted from them since 2014.

Conclusions

The ownership of places of worship turns to be a very sensitive and extremely complicated issue in former atheist societies. The Bulgarian debate on it reveals several groups of problems. The first of them stems from the general view of religion as a major victim of the communist rule and its militant atheism. From such a perspective the arrangement of the property rights of religious communities over their places of worship is considered to be an act of a retroactive justice. Another group of problems concerns the implementation of the principle of separation of religion/church and state. On the one hand, society tends to give priority to res publicae over res sacrae in cases of churches and prayer houses that have acquired the quality of monument of culture. On the other hand, the theological understanding of “what is God’s” tends to absorb the whole public sphere, especially in the case of places of worship.

The next set of problems, which seems to have special importance in Eastern European countries with religiously mixed population, has been provoked the interplay between the religious and the national and reflects a rivalry between religious leaderships for their shares in the public sphere. In Bulgaria, this rivalry inspires a strong opposition of religious and secular nationalists (both of Orthodox background) against the pretensions of religious minorities to owe buildings where their adherents used to pray in the past. This resistance is especially strong in the case of Islam due to the erection of multiple minarets which quickly changed the religious landscape. Instead of entrenching an interreligious partnership, this development tends to evoke associations with the centuries of Ottoman rule which assist the spread of nationalist claims about a re-Islamisation of Bulgaria.

Fourth, the debate on the property of religious denominations reveals tensions between the theologically motivated instruction “to render God what is God’s” and the human rights’ principle of freedom of religion and conscience. To reconcile them in a religiously diverse society as the Bulgarian one means to elaborate a mode of distribution which balances the interests of the different religious communities. Sometimes, however, it seems impossible to avoid arbitrary solutions, e.g. when a place of worship used to serve different religions. Finally, the property right over churches and prayer houses turns to be not only a theologically relevant issue, but also one of economic significance. On the one hand, as tangible assets these properties need to be maintained and this costs money. In this regard, the two major religious communities in Bulgaria, the Orthodox Church and the Chief Mufti’s Office, rely on European and national funding as well as on private donors. They also tend to omit the rule “to render the Caesar what is Caesar’s” which resulted in lawsuits filed against their representatives by municipalities. On the other hand, although the places of worships are non-profit entities they still receive incomes from selling religious items and candles, performed rites and rituals, voluntary donations, etc. Currently, however, they do not keep, at least officially, any records of their revenues. In fact, this is a great deviation from the pre-communist practice when the Bulgarian Orthodox Church maintained bookkeeping at all levels of its ecclesiastical administration, i.e. it was done by every parish, every diocese, every monastery and the Holy Synod. In this regard, it seems that the pre-communist experience offers useful models of financial and social accountability of religious denominations that may offer solutions for the present dilemma how to proceed with the things of Caesar and the things of God.

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How can the Church’s Dogmatic Teaching Impact the Worldview[1] of the Contemporary Western Society: In Search of the New Language of Christianity

Anastacia Wooden,

Catholic University of America

“When ecclesia docens cuts of the faithful from the study of her divine doctrines and the sympathy of the divine contemplations, and requires from them a fides implicita in her word, [then this] in the educated classes will terminate in indifference, and in the poorer in superstition.”

Cardinal John Henri Newman, On Consultinh the Faithful on Matters of Doctrine.

 

This paper has a rather specific focus – faithful transmittal of the Church’s dogmatic teaching in the contemporary cultural context. In my opinion, theology today is striving to respond to the changes in the cultural context, namely, the transition from the classicist to empiricist understanding of history and culture. In the classicist worldview, which was concerned with permanent and universal principles, the permanency and normativity of dogmas was apprehended without difficulty. The new empiricist culture, however, concerns itself with dynamism and development, with concrete experiences rather than permanent principles. In this context, the word “dogma” itself is immediately perceived as something to be neither intellectually or spiritually satisfying. Dogmatic teaching of “requirement based” faiths (such as, for example, the Roman Catholicism to which the author belongs) is often understood as requiring of believers to suspend their experience and their understanding of natural reality, to limit their human questioning and intellectual exploration by providing a set of a priori questions and answers. Therefore, today dogmas, can on the one hand, be reduced to probable opinions by empiricist theology, and, on the other hand, be relegated to a certain uncritical and untouched by changing historical circumstances “ecclesiastical ghetto,” where they stop interpreting concrete human experiences, creating a void which we now call the “secular sphere.”

Naturally, a question arises: Is the dogmatic and unchangeable content of Christian faith present an obstacle for proclaiming Christ today? How can dogmas be taught today?

To answer these questions, this paper will proceed in the following fashion:.

- it will briefly outline the meaning of dogmas in the building of the Christian community

- it will show that they do not play this role automatically in the changing historical circumstances

-it will outline a proposal of treating dogmatic expressions based on the work of lay American theologian Rosemary Haughton

- it will conclude with some practical suggestion.

What is a value of dogmas? How do they participate in the creation of the community of common meaning, community summoned by the Father in Christ by the work of the Holy Spirit? Does this happen automatically? What needs to get done for this to occur properly?

Dogmas, or church doctrines are understood to be truths concerning faith or morals, revealed by God, infallibly declared by the Church, and, thus, true and permanent due to their divine origin and authority. In other words, since dogmas proceed not from human experience or understanding but from God’s revelation of himself, these doctrines are not data to be analyzed and verified, not proofs to be demonstrated or proven. They have permanency and authority of revelation. Here I want to stress precisely this revealed character of dogmas makes them indispensable in the building of the Christian community because it guards this building from becoming a solely human pursuit. The acceptance of dogmas is an assent to “God’s claim to have a say in the aims and purposes, the direction and development of human lives, human societies, human cultures, human history.”[2]

The revealed character of dogmas, however, does not eliminate one crucial difficulty with their faithful transmittal: the revealed truths of dogmas are expressed in human language and, thus, tied to the historicity of human existence. So each church doctrine was a product of its own place and time and each met questions within a particular historical context. Even though there exists a real correspondence between the truth and its expression – otherwise, dogmas would tell us nothing – the truth and its historical expression are not equivalent. Therefore, the language in which the truths of faith find their expression in concrete historical situations can and sometimes should be changed in order to assure the permanence of meaning in a changing cultural context. Newness of expression then results not from a new revelation or faith but from a new cultural context.

How can we ensure, then, that in the practice of religious education the faithful transmittal of “truths” does not turn into a static-mechanical transmittal of religious “facts”?

 

From Pope Francis, interview to America:

“The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently…

When does a formulation of thought cease to be valid? When it loses sight of the human or even when it is afraid of the human…

The understanding of human existence to which the church has traditionally referred, as well as the language in which the church has expressed it, remain solid points of reference and are the result of centuries-long experience and wisdom. However, the human beings to whom the church is speaking no longer seem to understand these notions, nor do they consider them sufficient… We now interpret ourselves in a different way than in the past, using different categories. This is also due to the great changes in society, as well as a broader conception of what it means to be human…

The thinking of the church must recover genius and better understand how human beings understand themselves today, in order to develop and deepen the church’s teaching.”

 

This is precisely the concern that brought Rosemary Haughton to the world of theology.

 

Haughton’s proposal for treating dogmatic expression in the new cultural context:  “translation.” Dogmas as part of the “total language” of Christianity

American lay theologian Rosemary Haughton (British-born, 1927) came to theology by trying to make sense of her own religious experience. She was schooled by personal study and by her experience of a wife and a mother of ten children, two legal and several unofficial foster children, author of at least thirty books and lecturer in the post-war period and Vatican II era; and since 1981, as a member of Wellspring Community, which offers shelter and resources to homeless women and families through education, housing and economic development.[3] Frustrated with the academic theology of her time that “no longer communicated much of anything to anyone,” Haughton progressed from personal understanding to trying to interpret and communicate the Christian tradition to people of her days.

Haughton defined theology as “the poetic evocation of human events in such a way as to make clear their divine significance.”[4] Such theology can be successful only to the degree “that its formulations accomplish a recognizable expression of the human experience of the divine.”[5] Haughton sees Christianity in its totality as a language that expresses a whole range of common Christian experiences and desires by variety of means, where the “words” that need to be translated are human customs, relationships, food, ritual, are history. So she even considered her first theological book The Transformation of Man (1967) to be a dictionary in some sense aimed at translating “the symbolic language of Christianity into the human experience to which it referred.”[6]

The translation for which Haughton calls is not a simple replacement of one of the elements of the language with better fitting to our time contemporary one. She calls for the discovery of the meaning of the language in its totality.

Throughout Haughton’s work we can find three different types of translations:

First type: from yesterday’s mythological language to today’s language

Second type: religious to secular language for preaching to the world

Third type: converted to unconverted language within Christian community

The need for the first type of translation arose because modern day Christians have forgotten how to understand mythological and symbolic vocabulary of their faith: “The deposit laid down in our language by centuries of religious symbols has been seriously eroded in our time. That erosion has not only separated us from our past but significantly limited the ability of language to open up our present and our future for us… The boundaries of the possible have been narrowed.”[7] According to Haughton, mythological language is two-fold: on the one hand it indicates reality beyond the reach of our experience, and, on the other hand, it expresses the real human experience. If the connection between Christian mythological and symbolic language and real human experience is not re-established, if the realities beyond our reach which we affirm by faith will not be connected again with our everyday lives, then the words by which we proclaim our faith will cease to mean anything human or humanly important.[8]

Second type of translation is important for the proclamation of the Word of God to the world. It has to do with the need of translating Christian language, which is religious and cultic, into non-religious language. Christian language uses and gives a new meaning to a lot of common words such as bread and wine, community, sex, death, and it also has technical words such as grace and sin, redemption and salvation, resurrection and glory. The latter group of words indicates reality beyond the reach of any language. It would not be enough, as in the first translation, to try to connect these realities with experience because non-Christian people do not recognize the existence of any such realities (even though they may experience them). For them “technical Christian language refers to nothing but myth and therefore it is not effective in preaching the Gospel.”[9] In order to be able to accomplish this translation we need to fulfill the first task of understanding of the meaning of our own language. “It is for lack of this understanding that many Christians [theologians], when they want to explain what they mean, can only go on using religious words.”[10] When Christian can understand their own mythological language, then they will be able to translate their awareness “into a secular language which is intelligible to the world.”[11]

The third type of translation that is needed is from the transformed, “converted” language to the language of formation; in other words, it deals with personal holiness. The need for the third type of translation is connected with a new meaning and new significance that the same words acquire in the community consciousness of the converted.

It is necessary to clarify the term “converted” as it is used here. Conversion, or transformation, for Haughton is not one-time event, but a long process of a total personal revolution. It begins with the experience of being loved which brings about need for repentance and rejection “along with actual sins of the whole apparatus of natural virtue as irrelevant and misleading.” [12] True conversion is prepared but not determined by a long period of formation. Christian community essentially is a community of formation for transformation.” Belonging to a Christian community is not determined by conversion (transformation) but by desire for it and by willingness to submit oneself to formation toward transformation.

Since unconverted lack the experience of conversion, it is impossible to translate “converted language to unconverted ears.”[13] (For example, think of a different understanding of “sin” demonstrated by the great saints of the Church and by those who are in the beginning stages of their faith-journey.) So the distinction needs to be made between the stages of formation and transformation, whereas all the structures of the Christian community and its language should be viewed essentially as the structures of formation.

As we can see, Haughton approaches the three needs for translation by insisting that the language of Christianity must remain directly and verifiably connected with the actual and common human experience. This principle is the foundation of Haughton’s “theology of experience” which aims to interpret everyday experience in such a way that would show their divine significance. Among authentic Christian experiences Haughton names the experiences of community, of ministry, of family, the intuitive experience of sexuality, and experience of the Spirit “which could transcend all things.”[14] We can actually listen to God when we observe however small or dramatic human events and reactions in the right way.”[15] Such was the theology of Jesus, of St. Paul, and of patristic fathers.

What to do? Who is going to do it?

Based on Haughton’s three types of translation, one can point out three prerequisites of the persons qualified to accomplish this task:

First, it should be somebody who internalized the Christian teaching by connecting it with his or her own everyday experiences. Second, it should be somebody who is well familiar with contemporary culture in order to express Christian “technical” language in its terms. Third, it should be somebody who is daily striving for personal holiness (perfection) in ecclesial community. Besides these, one more prerequisite can be added – it should be a lot of these people to bring human teaching to every human condition and circumstance!

Where can these people come from? It is my contention that theologically educated laity are uniquely qualified for this task because, in the words of the Constitution on the Church of Vatican II,

laity, by their very vocation, seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and by ordering    them according to the plan of God. They live in the world, that is, in each and in all of the secular        professions and occupations. They live in the ordinary circumstances of family and social life, from which the very web of their existence is woven. They are called there by God that by exercising their proper        function and led by the spirit of the Gospel they may work for the sanctification of the world from within as                 a leaven. In this way they may make Christ known to others, especially by the testimony of a life             resplendent in faith, hope and charity. Therefore, since they are tightly bound up in all types of temporal                affairs it is their special task to order and to throw light upon these affairs in such a way that they may                come into being and then continually increase according to Christ to the praise of the Creator and the           Redeemer. [LG 31]

Now the laity are called in a special way to make the Church present and operative in those places and    circumstances where only through them can it become the salt of the earth (2*). Thus every layman, in          virtue of the very gifts bestowed upon him, is at the same time a witness and a living instrument of the    mission of the Church itself “according to the measure of Christ’s bestowal. [LG 33]

We have come a full circle here: We started from expressing the need for lay people to be educated in the “hard core” matters of doctrine and concluded that on the scale of the whole Church this can be done successfully only by lay people prepared to do so. Only lay people, in virtue of them being “tightly bound up in all types of temporal affairs” and them being “present and active” in all places and circumstances of family and social life, can they find a new language of Christianity. But theological education of laity is a new task of the Church; it has never been attempted on such a scale. It required enormous spiritual and material resources. Can we afford it today? Or, rather, can we afford not to educate laity? Without educated laity, can the Church win the battle for meaning in the contemporary culture?..

The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few. Therefore, pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest field.” Luke 10:2


[1] Worldview – assumed model of reality through which society understands and interprets the world.

 

[2] Lonergan. Theology in Its New Context, 9.

[3]Eilish Ryan, Rosemary Haughton: Witness to Hope, Kansas City: Sheed & Ward, 1997, 28.

[4] Rosemary Haughton, The Passionate God, New York: Paulist Press, 1981, 14.

[5] Ryan, 74-75.

[6] Rosemary Haughton, The Transformation of Man, Springfield, IL: Templegate Publishers, 1967, Introduction.

[7] The Passionate God, 15-16.

[8] The Transformation of Man, 243.

[9] The Transformation of Man, 262.

[10] Ibid., 260-261.

[11] Ibid., 262-263.

[12] Ibid. 7.

[13] Ibid., 184.

[14] Rosemary Haughton, Theology of Experience, New York: Newman Press, 1972, 160.

[15] Ibid., 12.

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International Conference Faith in the Public Square

Vasile Ciobanu,

Orthodox Church from Moldova,
Vice director AO „Filocalia”

07.11.2013

Personally I have always promoted the idea of a „trialogue”, meaning a dialogue between those that hold Christ as their Lord, God, and Savior with a strict condition of calling upon His presence among us; for without Him any dialogue is sterile. We can succeed therefore only through a “trialogue” with God, through prayer, for without Him we can do nothing.

Confessing ones faith in public always bears a risk, because it is tied to truth, and the truth has always been persecuted, it is for this reason that most of the prophets of the Old Testament were martyred, for The Spirit of Truth was talking through them.

Thus those that aspire to speak The Truth of Christ’s Gospel assume a conscious risk, walking as sheep among wolves.

John the Baptist confessed his faith publicly and paid with his head, The Savior Himself confessed and they crucified Him. And after The Pentecost the Apostles came out publicly, and no one could stop them as they marched from the provincial Jerusalem to the Imperial gates of Rome.

See “Acts” (Luke) and there you will find the answer and solution to the fundamental question posed by our Conference in Chișinau.

They confessed in public squares, in temples, in synagogues, in homes, on the streets, on Areopagus, in the palaces of rulers and kings.

Yes, issues of the faith are being pushed more and more into the realm of personal lives by contemporary legislation, but there is still freedom of speech. When public morals degenerate more and more and affect the family, children, and schools, will I stay silent? There is such a silence that can betray God, through which you become an accomplice to crime, through which hundreds of martyrs are betrayed across the ages. All the while sodomite manifestations against the nature of God are more and more present in the public sphere. Should we sound the retreat? Never! Let us march with the Conquering Christ, our God, Which holds “all the power in heaven and earth…” (Mathew 28,16-20) and say “ Shame on you duplicitous Pharisees,  woe be to you, Jerusalem… Brussels, Paris, Moscow and Chisinau if you make peace with Sodom!” And I urge you to not parade and go to demonstrations, and take heart and thus anytime anyone asks about our faith and conscience “the prince of this world” (John 14:30) will hold no sway over us.

In the European space this year marks seventeen hundred years since the Christian faith has become a “legal religion” after the Milano decree by Constantine the Great, free to be practiced in public along other religions. Here in the post-communist sphere we are almost in the same situation.

However in the West, in universities, a person can no longer wear the symbols of his faith publicly. It is a sign of a post-democratic decline, while here in our sphere it does not bother us who is displaying what symbols (bar those of an anthropophobic, fascist or bolshevik nature). We can tackle religious issues on TV, radio, in mass-media. So are we a more “legal religion” in a more democratic space, as strange as it may seem, than in the West? Surely we realize that this phenomenon is but temporary.

Someone once said:

-         In the beginning the Christian faith was a personal relationship with Christ;

-         Then in Athens it became a Philosophy

-         In Rome – Legislation

-         In Europe – Culture

-         And in America – Business (entertainment)

God Save us from Business on the back of Christ’s sacrifice!!!

There is “another side to this coin”. Certainly, the relationship with Christ is a personal one, however it is necessary that “two or three” unite in His name, for all that they desire be granted. For this reason it is necessary that our conference be Christocentric and in “trialogue”.

Thus when we are provoked to publicly name a lie as truth, or when our children and grandchildren are perverted, and the Christian family body assaulted, we will have no choice but to confess the Gospel, or side with Judas, God forbid!

Therefore, while respecting everyone form our society and their faith, let us not deny our own in the personal and private space, as well as in the public one!

So help us God!

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Faith and Belief beyond Modernity

Reflections about Theology and Contemporary Culture

 

John Alonzo Dick, PhD, STD

Visiting Professor — University of Ghent

Emeritus Professor — Catholic University of Leuven

 

I          Opening Observations about Faith and Culture

  • The best definition of theology is still that of Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109): Fides quarens intellectum – faith seeking understanding. When we do theology – when we reflect in depth about our Faith experiences of the Sacred, the Divine, the Transcendent: of God.
  • When we do theology we necessarily express ourselves in the symbols, words and rituals that are products of our culture. In fact all of our concepts and our experiential interpretations are shaped and influenced to a great extent by the culture and the language out of which they emerge.
  • There is no theology without culture.
  • There can be a culture without theology. This of course is the situation in which many people find themselves today: in a theological desert. The process has been ongoing for some time.
  • In an 1886 review of Herbert Spencer’s Principles of Sociology, the French sociologist Emile Durkheim (1858-1917) dismissed all gods as unimportant window dressing and insisted that religions are just rites and rituals. Thus began a new social-science orthodoxy: religion consists of participation in rites and rituals – only.
  • In The Origin of Species (p. 470), Charles Darwin commented that: “The feeling of religious devotion is a highly complex one….Nevertheless, we see some distant approach to this state of mind in the deep love of a dog for his master, associated with complete submission, some fear and perhaps some other feelings.”
  • Ever since Darwin equated human devotion to God with a dog’s devotion to its master, biologists have been postulating religious instincts and other neurological bases for religion; and their work has increasingly attracted considerable attention, especially in the popular media. Time Magazine, for instance periodically announces this “new” revelation.
    • II And so the questions that many contemporary people ask:
      • Dose God exist? Have we discovered God, or have we invented God? Are there so many similarities among the great religions simply because God is the product of universal wish fulfillment? Have human beings historically created supernatural beings, because of their need for comfort in the face of existential tragedy and to find purpose and significance in life? Or….have people in many places and in many times, to a greater and lesser degree, actually gained glimpses of God?

III       Three approaches in contemporary theology try to answer these questions: hypertheism, overhumanization, and theological humanism.

  1. 1. Of the three, I find theological humanism providing the only satisfactory kind of response.
  2. The first consideration is hypertheistic theologies. Here hypertheistic theologians simply revert to and reproduce the old theology: they unquestioningly defend the beliefs and practices handed down from the past.
    1. For hypertheistic theologians, historical critical reflection and questioning are not only unnecessary but dangerously unorthodox. They would say that only people of little faith raise questions.
    2. The hypertheistic consider the old theology, clothed in the language of an earlier culture to be self-evident, authoritative and exclusive.

3. The exaggerated reaction to the hypertheistic comes from the overhumanized theologians.

Here so-called “post-theistic” theologians often substitute unending critique for genuine theological thinking. 

I am thinking in particular about the best-selling authors Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion), Daniel Dennett (Breaking the Spell) and Sam Harris (The End of Faith).

Many of these post-theistic theologians (if one can really call them theologians!) are strongly influenced by the thinking of the French philosopher Jacques Derrida (1930-2004).

  1. c. They celebrate the creative capacities of autonomous human beings by deconstructing all that is considered sacred.
  2. d. Radical “post-theistic” theologians fall victim to what can be called an overhumanization of theology: or what some would call extreme secularism.
  3. e. They reduce the signs of the sacred to signs of linguistic, political or social expectations and fears. In the end, it is but a short step to nihilism.

IV       Theological Humanism: a constructive contemporary theological agenda

TODAY, we need to find a way to articulate the human experience of the Divine that reduces it neither to the extreme secularity of the post-theistic theologians nor to the unthinking and closed-minded certitude of the hypertheistic.

  1. We need to find a way to understand the positive, substantive and normative meaning of transcendence as it makes a claim on human beings within contemporary historical existence: within contemporary culture.
  2. Francis, the new Bishop of Rome, reminded us recently:

God is in history, in the processes. We must not focus on occupying spaces where power is exercised, but rather on starting long-run, historical processes.

  1. We need to find a new theological language. As Paul Ricoeur noted already in The Symbolism of Evil (Emerson Buchanan translation, Boston: Beacon, 1967, p.349), “It is not regret for the sunken Atlantis that animates us, but hope for a re-creation of language. Beyond the desert of criticism, we wish to be called again.”
  2. Contemporary people want the security of answers – yet contemporary religion often seems to give them answers from a place far away from their daily lives. Indeed religious fundamentalism and much current churchly theology seems motivated by this longing for the sunken Atlantis!

 

V         Five principles for a life-giving theology anchored in contemporary culture

  1. 1. The AIM of theology cannot be a kind of nostalgic retreat to recover a lost mode of being in the world. For example, we would not do this with medicine or economics or psychology. We really cannot turn-back the clock. To become a religious child again would mean to abandon the adult capacity to think and make one’s own judgments on the basis of critical principles. That is why the upsurge of fundamentalism today is so offensive. It is fundamentally faulty.
  2. 2. Theological thinking today needs to feel and experience the call of the Sacred (the Faith experience) by interpreting and thereby re-creating the meaning and power of religious language. The truly contemporary theologian must have one foot anchored in the present and the other in the tradition of the past. There must be a dynamic tension between contemporary religious consciousness and historical critical consciousness.
  3. 3. When we do theology – when we reflect in depth about our Faith experiences of God – we necessarily express ourselves in the symbols, words and rituals that are products of our culture; but we also look for the resonance and dialogue with tradition: with the theological expressions of earlier cultures.
  4. 4. A truly authentic theology can never be simply the expression of individual, subjective experience. Theology is the result of deep reflection about my Faith experience AND your Faith experience and the Faith experience of the community of Faith: today as well as yesterday. Yesterday’s theology becomes a heritage, a tradition that finds expression in historical doctrine, scripture, symbol, ritual and patterns of conduct.
  5. 5. Theology therefore relies on culture but can never become locked within a particular culture.
    1. Nor can it venerate any particular culture.
    2. All cultures perceive reality through their own particular lenses; and these lenses are shaped and adjusted by shared human events and great movements in human history.
    3. Every healthy theology (because its focus is what lies within and yet beyond culture in all of its historical manifestations) is continually engaged in a critical reflection and a critique of the contemporary and previous cultures.
    4. When a theology becomes so locked within a particular culture that it is hardly distinguishable from it, we are on the road to idolatry: when the words, symbols and rituals of a particular culture no longer communicate and connect people to the depth of the human experience but become objects of worship in themselves.

 

VI       Theological humanism is an essential part of the Christian tradition rooted in an incarnational theology.

  • In our deepest experiences as men and women we encounter the Living God.
  • There is something tremendously exciting about a theological humanism. Nor is it a new vision.
  1. Erasmus of Rotterdam (1466/1469-1536) explored it already when he wrote in his Enchiridion Militis Christiani (1503) that God is simply the life of the human soul.
  2. Much earlier of course, Augustine of Hippo (354-430) could write to God in his Confessions “When I recognize myself, I recognize you!” and in his treatise On True Religion “Go not outside of yourself, but return within yourself, for truth resides in the inner part of the (hu)man.”  God is the inner illumination of the mind, which propels the self beyond itself into the Divine. God is the light of the world reflected in the human soul.
  3. And even earlier, Paul of Tarsus (died c. 64) proclaimed in front of the Areopagus: “we live, move and have our being in God.”

And so we read in Acts if the Apostles, Chapter 17:

The God who made the world and everything in it, God who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is God served by human hands, as though God needed anything, since it is God who gives to all mortals life and breath and all things……

For in God we live and move and have our being,  as even some of your own poets have said, For we too are Gods offspring.’”

  1. TODAY………Theological humanism challenges us as individuals and as members of communities of faith to be CARING, CRITICAL and CREATIVE observers of  human life.
  2. With one foot in Scripture and Tradition and the other in contemporary life, we listen to the signs of the times and  to the beatings of the human heart.
  3. We human beings do possess great capacities to sense, understand, and respond to events of transcendence manifest in everyday existence.
  4. We simply need to attune our ears and open our eyes but………
  5. Opening ourselves to grace — to an enhanced experience of the Divine – cannot be just an intellectual experience.
  6. We need to engage ourselves – face to face – with our brothers and sisters in their joys and hopes as well as in their deep sorrows and despair.

10.  We need to adjust our “sensors of the Divine” which are found in ritual, music, symbol, drama, poetry, and art.

11.  Our parishes – our communities of faith – must become creative centers of excellence that provide the stimulus and the resources for the kind of human reflection and imagination that open doors to the Sacred —–  disclosures of divinity within the natural world and the historical and daily realities of women and men today,  with heartfelt gratitude, steadfast humility, and demanding compassion.

 

VII     A closing reflection for today and tomorrow

The challenge for a life-giving  theology in contemporary culture is the challenge I read in Elizabeth Johnson’s Quest for the Living God

 

“First off, a person can no longer be a Christian out of social convention or inherited custom.  To be a Christian now requires a personal decision, the kind of decision that brings about a change of heart and sustains long-term commitment….

“When, nevertheless persons do make a free act of faith, the factors characteristic of the modern world impart a distinctive stamp to their spiritual experience.

“This is not surprising, since the path to God always winds through the historical circumstances of peoples’ times and places.

“Inhabiting a secular, pluralistic culture, breathing its atmosphere and conducting their daily lives according to its pragmatic tenets, Christians today have absorbed the concrete pattern of modernity into their very soul.” – p. 29

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Kjetil Fretheim, PhD

Professor, Ethics and Christian Social Practice MF Norwegian School of Theology

Public theology - combining secular and religious discourses 
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Legal Contradictions Limiting Public Expression of Faith: the Bulgarian Context

Viktor Kostov ( for people interested in the place of publication of the full version - please feel free to contact dr.viktor.kostov@gmail.com )
Summary

Faith in the public square is intrinsically related to expressing one’s faith and engaging society with one’s religious values in politics and law-making. Bulgaria is a nation which was under communist regime from 1944-1990. It has been an emerging democracy, or a society with a democratic form of government since 1990. As a result changes in the legislation and the constitution have been made to adopt values and rights like freedom of religion, freedom of association and freedom of speech, which guarantee the public expression of faith. However, rejecting faith and its expression in the public square still exist in Bulgarian legislation. This contradiction shows a cultural and legal confusion: there are provisions in the Criminal Code and the Law on Higher Education which limit faith in politics and education. If there are laws on the books which express an attitude toward religion which are negative, even if not applied, such norms will affect the public sphere by excluding or limiting religious expression. There are several reasons for the existence of contradicting attitudes toward the public expression of faith: confusing the secular state with the atheist state; the church, both protestant and Eastern Orthodox, does not see value in engagement in the public sphere especially, through the proper format, in the political process; thirdly, the idea of the separation of church and state, as applied in the Bulgarian context, serves to reinforce the exclusion of faith from the public discourse. A possible remedy comprises of theological and missiological assessment of the church-state model and work not only to push back state legislation and executives to secure free religious expression in politics and academia, but also to produce arguments which will convince the church of the value of its participation in the public square through the proper formats, typical for a contemporary society.


Dr Valentin Kozhuharov

Bulgarian Orthodox Church, Diocees of Veliko Tarnovo, Head of Missionary dep.

Is Christian mission possible today?

Is Christian mission possible today? To answer this, we need to examine what Christianity and mission are, and what possibilities for mission exist today. No one would affirm that mission is not possible today, otherwise it would be difficult to answer the question of evangelisation and mission which is currently being done by almost 4800 foreign mission agencies and by more than four hundred thousand missionaries worldwide working in foreign lands.[1] On the other hand, we need to ask the question of what type of mission is being done today, what the goal of mission is, and how do we do mission. It is not always clear what mission is, and sometimes we may call a ministry mission and vice versa – a missionary work can be defined as a ministry.

From the perspective of these questions, we need to properly analyze what possibilities for mission exist today and to what extent mission is possible in our societies, especially in the context of the European societies where our interest lies.

Let us briefly summarise the most common views on what Christianity and mission are and then try to see where in Europe we can find true missionary efforts to give us the idea of the extent to which mission is evident and possible today, especially on the “old continent.”

I. Most common views on what Christianity and Christian mission are.

1. What is Christianity?

- Christianity is the worldwide communities of Christians.

- Christianity is the worldwide communities of followers of Christ

- Christianity is the movement of Christians.[2]

- Christianity is a liturgical religion; The Church is first of all a worshiping community.[3]

- Christianity is not a religion but the faith in Jesus Christ as our Saviour.

- Christianity is the largest world religion.

- “What at first glance appears to be the largest world religion is in fact the ultimate local religion”[4]

2 What is Mission?

A. Defining mission.

- Christian mission is an organised effort for the propagation of the Christian faith.

- Mission is going (out) and spreading (preaching) the gospel.

- Mission is making disciples of Christ.

- Mission is the participation of the people of God in God’s action in the world [5]

- “The Church is mission and that to be mission is its very essence, its very life”[6]; “it is the Eucharist that transforms the Church into mission.”[7]

- Mission is going out, crossing of cultural barriers, proclaiming the gospel and making disciples.[8]

- Mission is ministry in the dimension of difference[9]; mission is when it addresses the not-us, the different, the other[10], mission is the encounter with difference.[11]

- “Ultimately, mission remains undefinable; it should never be incarcerated in the narrow confines of our own predilections. The most we can hope for is to formulate some approximations of what mission is all about.”[12]

B. What is the goal of Mission?

- Proclaiming the Good News.

- Salvation of souls.

- Conversion of people.

- Planting churches throughout the world.

- Promoting the Kingdom of God.

- Establishing authentic Eucharistic worshipping communities.[13]

- To free the world from the dominion of Satan and the slavery of death and of sin and all other bondages.[14]

C. Which models of mission?

- The sending-out model.

- The gathering-in model.[15]

- The solidarity model.[16]

- Centrifugal and centripetal models.[17]

- Inculturation.

- Co-operative mission.

- Locality evangelism/mission (rural evangelism/mission, urban mission, university evangelism/mission, etc.)

- Mission as inter-faith encounter.

- Mission as changing the world.[18]

D. How do we do mission?

- Through apostolic mission, sacrifices and martyrdom.

- Through Christian religious orders.

- Through the Crusades.

- Through individual acts of missionary zeal (mostly by monks, but also by other Christians).

- Through acts of nationalism and imperialism.[19]

- Through inculturation.

- Through evangelism.

- Through Christian social action (including economic, medical, educational, etc. activities).

- Through numerous missionary agencies and other Christian bodies.

E. Mission, churches and missionaries

- Mission isn’t optional: it is commanded, and it is the truth.[20]

- Paying the price while doing mission: weariness, threats, career, family, facing risks, antagonism, embarrassment, possible death.

- Do we make a difference between doing mission and proselytising (or between giving aid to the poor and proselytising)?

- More than 40 thousand “denominations” in the world[21]: what type of mission they all are doing?

- From “a European/Mediterranean faith”, today the majority Christians live in the South: from where to where is now mission done?

- Insufficient number of priests in almost all churches in the world: how do churches do mission then? Who is the leader of mission (apart from God Who is the main Leader of mission)?

- In Europe, every day thousands of Christians leave the churches, church buildings are sold, etc.: where Christianity has failed and where is the mission of the Church?

- African, Korean, Caribbean, etc. missionaries being sent to Europe: who does mission where?

- Tens of millions have left their home countries in Europe and the churches’ membership and composition has changed: how efficiently have the churches adapted to these changes?

II. Possibilities for mission.

Bearing in mind the above summarised characteristics of Christianity and mission, let us now try to identify what specific missionary efforts and activities can be found and to what extent these represent the mission of the Church. Before entering into this analysis however, it is worth mentioning the two important aspects of consideration: the global and the local perspectives in mission.

1. Mission in local terms.

Speaking of mission originating from the context of the local churches, we can pose the following thesis: if Christianity is ultimately a local faith, then it seems that we need to discuss the issue of whether mission is possible or not only in local terms, that is, we can only say “mission is possible for this church/parish” or “mission is not possible for that church/parish”. Only when we consider specific Christian communities can we consider the possibilities for mission. In this, the following issues seem important:

- What IS mission and what IS NOT mission in our ecclesiastical activities?

- Serving the liturgy (worshiping God): is this mission? If yes, in which occasions?

- Feeding the hungry, healing the sick, visiting the prisoners, giving home to orphans, etc. – are these mission? If yes, in which occasions?

- What “a missionary parish” is? Who are the missionaries in our parish?

- How welcoming are the church members (including the church leaders) to everyone coming to their church (especially bearing in mind the ever more increasing processes of migration)?

2. Mission in global terms.

Many churches and mission agencies consider Christianity a global religion and are convinced that every nation in the world must hear the Good News and have the possibility to be baptised and become Christians; still two thirds of the world is not Christian and some two billion people have not been evangelised.[22] This is the reason that mission agencies continue to send missionaries “out there” to “make disciples”. How do we do mission today in global perspective?

- Currently, more than 5000 foreign-mission agencies send missionaries to serve among other nations and ethnic groups[23]: which of these proclaim the gospel and build the body of Christ in proper manner and ways? And which of these “use the situation” and try to proselytise?

- Who should be evangelised: those who have never heard the Gospel and/or those who are only “nominal” Christians?

- Is mission possible in cases where foreign aid is done on the condition of accepting the faith of the donor?

- How true is mission when we “buy Christians”?

- Of 5000 foreign-mission sending agencies, there are only a few Orthodox: why Orthodoxy is not a missionary church?

- Is Orthodoxy “too mystical and otherworldly to motivate social changes?” [24] 

- How feasible are the current mission models in today’s world? 

3. Is Christian mission possible today? 

Three answers: “yes”, “no” and “yes but.”

a. Yes, mission is not only possible but it continues to characterise today’s Church in her manifold ministries in many countries of the world. If more than four hundred thousand missionaries work in foreign lands while proclaiming the Good News and helping local people in their everyday needs and in knowing Jesus Christ, this truly means that the Church is in mission. When we see that more than 500 new congregations are globally formed every day (with more than 5 million congregations/worship centres today, while in the next 15 years we will see some 2,5 million newly organised Christian congregations/worshipping communities)[25], then we cannot affirm otherwise but only state that the Church is in mission. As some 200 hundred thousand Bibles are published every day (with 71 million Bibles in 2011, and more than 110 million in 15 years time)[26], this certainly speaks of a vast educational missionary work throughout the world.

Today, Christian mission is very much evident in the lands where Christianity can be relatively freely spread through the efforts of missionaries. At the same time the mission of the Church can be seen (sometimes – only felt) in those lands where Christians are persecuted, harassed and discriminated. Persecution of Christians is especially true for many Muslim countries. The number of the persecuted and discriminated Christians in many ways speaks of the number of missionaries who spread the gospel there under constant risk for their lives and their families. If the statistics of some 200 million Christians persecuted and discriminated is true[27], this would also mean that many missionaries work in these societies in order to diminish or cease these persecutions and discriminations.

b. No, Christian mission is not possible today, at least not in the forms and the approaches the churches have been employing for the last two centuries. Mission cannot be imperialistic and colonial any more, and this fact made numerous mission agencies withdraw from many countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Today missionaries from Asia, Africa and Latin America come to Europe to evangelise the nations which now seem not to be Christian as it were in the past: what type of mission is this? Is this re-evangelisation and “reminding” the European citizens of the faith of their ancestors? On the other hand, missionaries today reach out the unevangelised in their lands while the sending body (a church, a mission agency, a Christian society, etc.) has already provided everything necessary for their life and mission in the new location. In this way, most missionaries “do mission” in the comfort of their new homes and their new friends. Rarely can we see true mission as sacrifice, trials, predicament, and even martyrdom (although such type of mission does exist).

Mission (especially in Europe) seems almost impossible because of the ever more decreasing number of churches, congregations and Christians. Evangelising among traditionally Christian nations presents more severe or more moderate forms of proselytism but not mission. The opposition between the main Christian denominations and the spirit of competition and of showing which church is “truer” makes mission in Europe inefficient and even impossible. Claiming that the Protestant communities are not “churches,” and affirming that only your own “church” is the true Body of Christ does not make the situation better.

The obvious and widespread dissatisfaction of Christians with their hierarchy and the structures of the church, the inability of the church to adequately respond to the demands of the contemporary societies in their spiritual hunger makes mission an obsolete ecclesiastical enterprise. Below is the view of a Catholic missiologist who desperately sees the need for a change and renewal of church life if the Christians in Europe are to remain true to their evangelistic call. While observing the European perspectives on mission and the challenge the Church is facing today, Peter Hunermann considers eight “theses,” where he shows the main obstacles to mission in Europe today[28].

Thesis 1: The European church as institution is in a process of dissolution (mostly because of obsolete institutional structures and of big shortage of priests) (cf. pp. 58-60).

Thesis 2: The people of God in Europe has shrunk since mid-20th century, and continues to shrink at an ever growing rate (cf. pp. 60-61).

Thesis 3: The religious climate of European society is characterized by a pluralism of religions, on the one hand, and large blocks of population that are without any religion, on the other hand (cf. pp. 61-64).

Thesis 4: The current crisis of the church in Europe is linked to the crisis of the transformation of European society in modernity, in which the basic characteristics of the emerging society are in discontinuity with the institutional structure of the church (cf. pp. 65-68).

Thesis 5: This institutional structure of the church is still deeply imbued with and operating from a concept of society that most Europeans consider obsolete (cf. pp. 68-74).

Thesis 6: It must be admitted that Vatican II is marked by an ecclesiology that perpetuates the older European concept of society, but alongside this appears a new vision of the church as the community of the faithful constituted in its public form by the Word of God and the dynamism of the Holy Spirit (cf. pp. 74-75).

Thesis 7: How intuitive is the Church in modern European society? (cf. pp. 75-78)

Thesis 8: The form of the Church as institution needs a fundamental revision. We need a flexible network of local and particular churches that respect the legitimate interests of the church-as-a-whole and of local and particular churches (cf. pp. 79-80).

There is another dimension of mission which makes it almost impossible in Europe today: the flux of people between countries, that is, the issue of migration. The changes in today’s societies intensified after the changes in Eastern Europe that took place after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1990. And it is the Eastern European countries which were greatly affected by migration. Russia and the former Soviet republics which separated from the Soviet Union have experienced big challenges where millions of people moved far beyond the places of their homes. According to research done by the Pew Research Centre in 2012, Russia has some 12.3 million immigrants which puts it at the top five destinations for migrants, followed by Germany 10.8 million, France 6.7 million, the United Kingdom 6.5 million and Spain 6.4 million migrants[29]. The issue of migration and family severely affected Eastern European societies after the changes of 1989: in Romania “some 350 thousand children had at least one parent working abroad on a long-term basis”, and some 126 thousand children grow up without either of their parents[30]; in Moldova a quarter of the economically active population is occupied abroad and the state and the churches need to deal with thousands of “orphans” and with prostitute trafficking[31]; similar statistics is characteristic of the other Eastern European countries, as well.

In such a situation, many churches were caught unprepared to welcome the newcomers, not to speak of nurturing them and making them real members of the Church. A true missionary sense and experience is needed by the church leaders (the church hierarchy) and the whole congregation so that the processes of migration are felt as opportunities for mission and not as obstacles to growth in faith.

c. Yes, mission is possible today but the churches and the bodies preparing missionaries need to adequately respond to the challenges of modernity and the specific circumstances of every society and group of people. Mission should be constantly revisited and reflected on, and the studies of mission should adequately respond to the contemporary mission practice. This means that Missiology should be included in every theological education at all levels. If there is no Missiology at a church or theological institution, this for certain would mean that the mission practice in those churches and theological establishments is either carried out in old forms and content or it is inefficient and self-centred, or there is no mission at all.

Mission is possible only if the churches, the mission agencies and the sending Christian communities again adopt the missionary models of the early Church while abandoning any national or denominational claims. If we “plant churches” in foreign lands only for the immigrants of our own ethnic group, is this mission? Such a situation is especially true for most of the Orthodox churches where we can see many church buildings built and congregations formed in foreign countries but they are intended to serve the needs of the ethnic group to which the “missionary church” belongs; we can see many Russian, Greek, Romanian, Serbian, etc. churches in many countries of the world where the services are in Russian (or Old Church Slavonic), in Greek, in Romanian, in Serbian, etc., and where the congregation consist almost entirely of believers of the relevant ethnic community. Some are tempted to see mission in these “church planting” efforts but the missionary experience of the Church in her history does not confirm such affirmations. Missionary practice should not be Greek-centred, Russian-centred, etc. (as was eloquently shown by an Orthodox missiologist who considered the case of the Greek Orthodox church in Africa, [32]): mission can only be Christ-centred and worldwide opened.

We may agree with the view that the Eucharist transforms the Church into mission[33] but we also need to see the missionary zeal of those participating in the Eucharist – a zeal which should make them “go out and teach all nations.” If these believers remain in their church and don’t even cross its fence, then we may have a true Christian community but not a missionary community. We may well like the term “missionary parish,” and many missiological writings insist in creating such ecclesiastical bodies, but we also need to see these parishes “in action,” that is, going out, crossing cultural barriers, proclaiming the gospel and making disciples[34]. If a parish claims to be “missionary” but its activities are only done in its own region, then this parish is not missionary. Here an important remark is needed: collecting money and other resources within a parish to support missionaries still does not make this parish “missionary:” the churchgoers of the parish themselves must encounter the different, the not-us[35], and make disciples of those who are not followers of Christ. If the goal of mission is the establishment of authentic Eucharistic worshipping communities[36], are we prepared (and able) to offer such communities to everyone, not only to the people of our own ethnic group? Are we prepared to inculturate our vision of Christianity in the local people in the best possible way which corresponds to the ways by which Jesus Christ overcame all cultural barriers in His ministry?

Yes, mission is possible but… Let us again re-examine our Christianity and pray the Lord that He gives us wisdom, strength, abilities, and most of all – love towards God and our neighbour and towards every stranger in the world where, being led also by the love of God and the confidence of the Holy Spirit, we turn our Christianity into a missionary faith and missionary deeds.

Appendix *

1. Status of Global Mission, 2011
  1900 1970 mid-2000 24-h change mid-2011 2025
Population            
Global population 1,619,625,000 3,685,782,000 6,115,367,000 234,000 6,988,019,000 8,011,538,000
Cities over 1m 20 161 402 0.03 507 650
Urban poor 100m 650m 1,400m 167,000 1,920m 3,000m
Urban slum dwellers 20m 260m 700m 94000 1,010m 1,600m
             
Religion            
Christians 558,131,000 1,231,110,000 1,997,613,000 83,000 2,306,609,000 2,703,179,000
Muslims 199,728,000 581,433,000 1,294,172,000 79,000 1,578,470,000 1,973,345,000
Non-Christians 1,061,494,000 2,454,672,000 4,117,754,000 151,000 4,681,410,000 5,308,359,000
Total Christians as % of world 34.5 33.4 32.7 0.00 33.0 33.7
             
Denominations 1,600 18,800 34,100 2.2 42,000 55,000
Congregations (worship centres) 400,000 1,433,000 3,500,000 510 5,171,000 7,500,000
             
Evangelism            
Unevangelised 879,942,000 1,641,168,000 1,829,951,000 59,000 2,053,206,000 2,304,664,000
Unevangelised as % of world 54.3 44.5 29.9 0.00 29.4 28.8
Foreign mission sending agencies 600 2,200 4,000 0.2 4,800 6,000
Foreign missionaries 62,000 240,000 420,000 -3 409,000 550,000
World evangelization plans 250 510 1,500 2.65 2,000 3,000
Bibles distributed 5,452,600 25,000,000 53,700,000 195,000 71,425,000 110,000,000
* Statistics taken from the “International Bulletin of Missionary Research,” Vol. 35, No. 1 (January 2011), p. 29.