Renewal movements are playing a greater role in Eastern Orthodoxy throughout the world, although their track record in generating change in churches is uneven, writes Paul Ladouceur in the current issue of St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly (55:4, 2011).
The two main structures in Eastern Orthodox churches are the parish and the monastery, but in the last century there have been many movements seeking to counter the effects of communism, fascism, and, more recently, secularism. The Greek Orthodox renewal movement Zoe was instrumental in reviving religious life among the laity in Greece in the 1940s and 1950s, but lost much of its influence due to internal problems and the rising indifference and materialism of Greeks.
In contrast, the Orthodox Youth Movement (MJO) in the Middle East’s ability to complement the clergy and parishes rather than substitute for them (as in the case of Zoe) and its role in publishing has made it a major force in the churches of Lebanon, Syria and the diaspora, and the most successful renewal movement in Orthodoxy. In Russia, Orthodox brotherhoods or fraternities have themselves been revived since the fall of communism.
On one hand, the brotherhoods have been instrumental in strengthening the weak condition of the Orthodox Church, even starting a university and a range of media. On the other, several of the brotherhoods have veered into “fundamentalism,” espousing nationalism and anti-Semitism and fanning these elements in the wider church. In contrast, the revival of the Martha and Mary House of Mercy in Moscow and a related religious order in Belarussia has combined monastic practices with social ministry under the work of deaconesses.
There are also uncanonical Orthodox groups that have experimented with new communities, such as Bethanie in France experimenting with a Gallican (early French) rite and serving as a retreat center for various Christians and spiritual seekers (not common in Orthodoxy). Ladouceur concludes that these attempts at renewal remain controversial for churches because they are fleshing out a “theology of the laity” that remains undeveloped in Orthodoxy.
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