New York.- By Vicki James Yiannias
In February, 2009, His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios of America named His Grace Bishop Savas of Troas as Director of the Office of Church and Society. Bishop Savas, who has been a Bishop for seven years and has served as Chancellor of the Archdiocese for the past nine years, is also overseeing the Archdiocesan Advisory Committee on Science and Technology (AACST) and working closely with the Archdiocesan Youth Department.
Bishop Savasʼs charge is to develop programs and ministries that promote a creative Orthodox Christian engagement with the societal and cultural realities that affect the very fabric of the Orthodox community today. He will be addressing matters of current relevance such as the effects of online social networking, the popularity of so-called “reality” television and video games, and the resurgence of atheism.
Archbishop Demetrios cited Bishop Savasʼs “extensive education, mature grasp of current issues, deep appreciation of, and engagement with contemporary culture, and above all great love for Christ and His Holy Church” as exceptional qualifications for his new position and expressed confidence that Bishop Savasʼs appointment will be fruitful, especially for the young, “who look to the Church for assistance in meeting the challenge of living lives that are both fully and authentically Greek Orthodox and fully and authentically, twenty-first-century American.”
Bishop Savas shared his thoughts about his new position, his new blog titled “Living in the Logosphere”, pop culture, and the Internet with the GreekNews.
GN: Your Grace, In February, Archbishop Demetrios relieved you of your responsibility as Chancellor of the Archdiocese and assigned you to direct the Office of Church, Society and Culture. Some would say that was a demotion. What are your feelings about your appointment?
BS: I served as Chancellor of the Archdiocese for nine years, from December 1999 until the end of 2008. The late Fr George Bacapoulos was the only person who held that position longer than I in the 90-year history of our Archdiocese! As you can imagine, itʼs a very difficult position, involving priests and parishes in need and/or conflict, investigations, lawsuits. I used to describe my office as “The Complaint Department”. Itʼs not the sort of thing one wants to do forever. Iʼm deeply honored that His Eminence entrusted such a sensitive and vital ministry to me for so long a time, and I am profoundly grateful that he has now provided for me an opportunity to serve the Church in a more creative capacity.
GN: Please tell us something about your new office.
BS: The Office of Church, Society and Culture is actually the revival and adaptation of the Department of Church and Society, which was an important part of the Archdiocese from the ʽ60s through the 80ʼs. Archbishop Demetrios felt strongly about resurrecting that department to explore means of reaching out to the great numbers of Orthodox Christians who stand on the borders, as it were, of a full-blooded commitment to the Church.
You may recall that the theme of last yearʼs Clergy-Laity Congress in Washington, DC, was “Gather My People to My Home”. His Eminence and the Holy Eparchial Synod firmly believe that God has charged us to bring the world into the Church. To that end, my new directive is to promote a creative Orthodox Christian engagement with contemporary social and cultural realities. My office is charged with the task of developing and implementing programs and ministries that will assist those persons, and particularly young adults, who look to the Church for guidance in meeting the challenge of living lives that are both fully and authentically Greek Orthodox Christian and fully and authentically 21st-century American.
GN: I understand that one of the initiatives of your office is an upcoming blog.
BS: Yes. The word “blog”, of course, is a neologism, short for “weblog.” Itʼs a type of website with regular entries and that exists in a variety of types. I kept a personal, travel-diary-type blog when I spent two months in Florence, Italy, late last year, as a way of sharing my thoughts and experiences with friends and family. The blog I am preparing to launch for the Office of Church, Society and Culture will have a different, less personal, less whimsical character. It will provide commentary on a variety of topics that have an impact on our lives as contemporary Orthodox Christians in America, ranging from the political to the environmental, from bioethical issues to trends in popular culture. One of the things that sets a blog apart from say, a newsletter, is that it provides readers the opportunity to leave comments, to interact with the content. And I say “content” because it wonʼt be just text; it will include videos and podcasts as well.
GN: Whatʼs the difference between this sort of engagement—on-line, with possibly controversial questions—and other forms of religious education or pastoral guidance offered by the church? What do you see as the advantages and risks of using blogs and social networking technologies to take our faith into the marketplace of ideas?
BS: Blogs and social network technologies are the new marketplace of ideas and we ignore them at our own risk. They are where people go, especially young people, to find out about their world. On the other hand, there are significant risks involved in engaging people on line. Itʼs no secret that a cultural war is raging all around us. We have become a very polarized society, and weʼve taken to shouting our differences at each other over the airwaves. Cybershouting is made easier by the fact that people can hide behind avatars or pseudonyms in cyberspace. In other words, they can snipe at others anonymously. So thereʼs a scary dimension to expressing yourself on the Internet because people don’t necessarily have to account for their behavior.
GN: How will you deal with the problem of masked identity on your blog?
BS: People will have to register with their real names. This might cramp some people’s style, but those are the people that we wouldn’t want to appear on the blog anyway. Iʼll be the blogʼs gatekeeper, as it were, giving thumbs up or thumbs down on whether a comment appears or not, so it’s not going to be a free-for-all.
GN: When will the blog be up and running? How can we find it?
BS: Thereʼll be an announcement on the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese website (www.goarch.org) in the coming days, that will provide people with a link to the address.
GN: What is the name of the blog?
BS: “Living in the Logosphere”. Iʼve decided to call it that because I want to set this blog apart from the rough-and-tumble of the blogosphere, that virtual space where hundreds of millions of people are posting their opinions and reacting, often heatedly, to the opinions of others. I want the Logosphere to be a kind of metaphor for the Church. Itʼs where the Logos, the Word of God, the reason for everything, the Life of the world, reigns over all. Itʼs another way of saying “The Kingdom of God.”
GN: You mentioned that the blog will provide commentary on a wide range of topics, from politics to pop culture. Will you be addressing all of the topics personally?
BS: Mine wonʼt be the only voice you hear in “The Logosphere”. I’m the contributing editor, but there will be far better qualified voices than mine addressing topics like Church-State relations, bioethics, and green issues. My own expertise, such as it is, is on culture: film, literature, music, and thatʼs where I’ll largely be focusing my energies, evaluating what passes for entertainment today and helping people discern what is of lasting value or where dangers might lie. I am not a mindless kind of celebrant of whatever pop culture puts out there but neither am I a reflexive critic in the sense of being a denouncer who says “no good can come of this”, because I’ve experienced a lot of good from pop culture. I think that both ends of the spectrum are extreme and untenable positions; we have to have a more nuanced stand toward popular culture.
GN: You have taught a course titled “Looking for God in Popular Culture” at St Vladimirʼs Orthodox School of Theology recently.
BS: Yes, it was a seminar that I taught with my koumbaro, Dr. Peter Bouteneff, with whom I studied at Oxford. We argued the case that Godʼs voice, His presence, His will, can be discerned even in the unlikely world of popular culture: in popular movies, television shows, novels, music, trends – you name it.
GN: Thatʼs not a case you often hear Orthodox theologians make. Theyʼre generally more critical of popular culture, arenʼt they?
BS: Itʼs true that some people think of the world of pop culture as a wasteland, but I take it as a teaching of the Church that God is “everywhere present and fills all things.” Itʼs not as if the people who create pop culture have never heard of the Gospel; some of them take it very seriously and have responded to it very deeply and authentically, and have expressed that belief in their work in powerful and inspiring and surprising ways. I also contend that some artists are communicating the Truth in spite of themselves, without realizing that theyʼre doing it. People might think of pop culture only as a form of distraction, an unhealthy temptation analogous to eating junk food. Iʼm not saying that pop culture should be our only sustenance. Of course youʼve got to eat some real food, but if you know where to look for it some genuine nourishment can be found in pop culture. Some may say that the effort isnʼt worth it, that weʼre looking for diamonds in the dung heap, but a diamond is a diamond, wherever you find it. Itʼs also my firm belief that God is sending us there, to that “wasteland,” to “the highways and the by-ways,” as Jesus Himself put it in the parable of the wedding feast, to find people to gather into His home.