retrogressive looking back to the thinking of a former age but rather a belief that the same Holy Spirit who has guided the church in previous generations will continue to do so, speaking in a way which is both fresh and contemporary but also consistent with the past. The Fathers who witnessed to this tradition are the main source for these modern questions.
There are signs that this approach will provide a distinctive contribution. Almost as soon as the Russian communist government fell, the Russian Orthodox Church entered into a process of discussion and research by bishops, theologians and practitioners in various disciplines. In 2000, after six years of reflection, the Russian bishops' council issued a lengthy document on social policy. The stance adopted was conservative but it also demonstrated flexibility in dealing with new questions. So homosexuality was condemned as a sinful tendency; but divorce was sanctioned in certain circumstances, and contraception was not ruled out. Abortion and euthanasia were condemned. Thus Orthodox were shown that, while traditional teaching is to be upheld, they can and should engage creatively in difficult pastoral situations. Another area of involvement has been ecology. In 1989 the ecumenical patriarch Demetrios declared that the first day of the ecclesiastical year, 1 September, was to be a day of prayer for the protection of the natural environment. A major international conference on the environment was held on the island of Crete in 2001. The patristic emphasis not only on the responsibility of man to offer the creation in thanks to God but also on the involvement of the natural order in the final salvation brought by Christ has provided a spiritual and doctrinal basis for engaging in such questions. It points to the fruitful possibilities of the creative use of the teaching of the Fathers.
For the Orthodox Church, modern spirituality has a clear identity. The sudden political changes which have taken place since 1990 in eastern Europe have placed the churches firmly in a new modern age, with a set of opportunities and challenges to express and live the traditional faith. This Orthodox faith, as lived in the liturgy, the ascetical tradition and the teaching of the Fathers, is a living and creative faith, which provides both stability in a changing world and also the resources to engage with it. The success of Orthodox mission in the west and the attraction of many features of Orthodox spirituality to nonOrthodox and Orthodox alike testify to its relevance to the modern world. Structural problems remain acute and there seems little prospect of immediate resolution. This will hamper the development of the Orthodox Church into a truly international and ecumenical body. The temptation to become inward looking, reactionary and intolerant is ever present in all religious bodies, and especially in the Orthodox Church with its rich historical tradition.
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