Race, Reconciliation, and Communion

Weekend Fisher at Heart, Mind, Soul, and Strength last month inaugurated a Carnival of Christian Reconciliation. This month’s carnival is to be hosted at Dr Platypus and here is the announcement for this months carnival topic, which is on “Church and Racial Reconciliation”. So, if you read this before the 28th then you have a topic! For myself, in the daily blogging exercise, locating a topic is usually the hard part. Writing on a subject is easier, once a subject is before oneself. So, with that in mind, get your essay submitted post-haste. The meat of the post, you’ll find below the fold.

Metropolitan John D Zizioulas has written a book Communion and Otherness: Further Studies in Personhood and the Church, which directly addresses this issue, but which is quite abstract. In the following, I’m going to endeavor to examine the argument and how it might be seen in real life. A second book, which has direct implications toward this is Miroslav Volf’s The End of Memory: Remembering Rightly in a Violent World. This book is an examination of the memory of wrong, and it’s solution. Three things are considered ultimately in this book, two primary examples of memory and how it is treated, Passover and Easter as well as eschatological considerations of how memory might serve us … finally. I hope reflections on Mr Volf’s writing as well in this essay.

M. Zizioulas basic proposal goes as follows:

  • Sartre identifies “other” as the source of our original sin (the other is my enemy and my ‘original sin’). “In our culture protection from the other is a fundamental necessity. We feel more and more threatened by the other. We are forced and even encouraged to consider the other as our enemy before we can consider him our friend. Communion with the other is not spontaneous; it is built on fences which protect us from the dangers implicit in the other’s presence.”
  • Otherness as problem stems from the fall, or more precisely Adam’s rejection of God is the prototypical rejection of Other. Zizioulas writes, “the essence of sin is fear of the other, which is part of this rejection”.
  • St. Maximus realized the universal (or even cosmological) dimensions of this problem. That diaphora (difference) is good, but diairesis (division) is bad (and following the Fall leads to diaspasis (decomposition and death)).
  • He teaches that this is a fundamental (in modern terms ontological) problem and the difference vs division issue cannot be solved by ethics (being of ontological in origin). We need rebirth, which takes us to the ecclessial comuntion as the solution.
  • There are three main examples of ecclesial communion at work in the Church, Baptism and the Eucharist. In Baptism, a sacrement associated with forgiveness we are reborn. Our biological hypostasis is supplanted by a new eternal hypostasis (in this is the origin of the ascetical movement which is essentially an affirmation of the greater importance of the latter). In the Eucharist he writes, “God communicates to us, we enter into communion with him, the participants of the sacrament enter into communion with another, and creation as a whole enters through man into communion with God. All this takes place in Christ and the Spirit and offers to the world a foretaste of the Kingdom.” With communion enters the importance of keeping this communion “correct”, that is it must be open to all and that it must be free from heresy (heresy meaning a wrong ontology, e.g., if one denies the Tinitarian being of God then one ineveitably denies the existential consequences of communion and othernes).  The final example is of the Church’s ministry. It is also that via the charism of the Spirit can division be healed.

This book, Communion and Otherness is not an easy read, and what I’ve indicated above scratches the surface (of the Introduction no less) and within it, these claims are expanded and supported in detail (and to be honest, I’ve not yet finished it as yet). But we may here have enough with which to proceed.

In Mr Volf’s book, The End of Memory (of which you can find an excellent overview here by Scot McNight of Jesus Creed) the main investigation of the book is how to deal with the memory of wrongs done. Of the examples he considers, two are the Passover (that is generations of bondage and exile) and the Crucifixion. Both of these examples, for the Jewish and Christians have taken wrongs done and turned them into a positive light. Mr Volf examines ways in which we might take those examples of how to turn those hard memories into a redemptive nature. He also concludes that forgetting, when done correctly can help. One way to see that, is if one considers our memory of wrong eschatologically a kind of forgetting is implied. That is, when one is redeemed in paradise how then might memory of hurt be recalled. He proposes that in that time, one isn’t amnesiac or anesthetized by that one merely is not impelled to bring to mind those particular remembrances, forgetting without excision of memory by choosing not to recall as it were.

In real life, here is one small example of how this might work. The parish I have been attending (and joining … infomation here) for the last half-year is a good example of how this might be put in practice. In this parish, there are strong ethnic groups. Roughly 1/3 of the parish is of Slavic (mostly Russian) descent. Another 1/3 of Greek extraction. Finally the rest are a mix, ex-Protestants (like myself) and some Copts (which is Greek for Egyptian), and other ethnic groups round out the mix. Yet, there is unity. Eucharist does indeed provide unity, but Liturgy in general can bring tensions to the fore. For example, in music the Slavic tradition is to sing hymns in 4 part harmony, the Greek tradition is to have two parts, with one as a “drone” note (a low bass line holding a single note throughout). Yet within this, there is opportunity for ultimately easing these traditions as they styles of singing can be shared and intermingled in a single service, exposing everyone to things different. Difference and division or possibly division yielding to difference. This is a small example, but telling. In that it is these small differences rubbing together which lead people to division. Yet, with love and communion, with forgetting where needed diairesis can yield to diaphora.

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