Letter 76

DAY 76

Aristotle Papanikolaou

Professor of Theology, Archbishop Demetrios Chair in Orthodox Theology and Culture
Fordham University
April 5, 2021

Dear President Biden, Vice President Harris, and Members of the 117th Congress,

I write this letter during the fourth week of Orthodox Lent, a sacred time as we journey to the crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. There are many fasting rules during Lent, and inasmuch as Lent presents an opportunity, it also presents a danger. Greater distance from God occurs not because we fail to follow the rules, but because we follow them in a way that treats our relationship with God and with others like a checklist.

This focus on the rules can obfuscate the real point of asceticism, which is a training toward a transformation of the heart: a heart that loves as God loves the world and all that is in it. That kind of love takes work and practice. That kind of love requires asceticism. It’s not easy, yet it’s possible. We can love as God loves. We can become god and be deified—this is the core of our belief in the Incarnate Christ: Theosis.

“We need a politics of love, of communion, of theosis.”

One may be prompted to ask, as another great observer of the human condition once did: “What’s love got to do with it?” That is the great error in thinking about politics—that love has nothing to do with it. In our Orthodox tradition, ascetics went into the Egyptian desert to become closer to God. The political space is but one of many deserts in which we must resist the temptation to demonize the stranger and enemy. Especially in the field of politics, we are challenged to realize what is possible for human beings: to love the other, even the enemy and the stranger (Leviticus 19:33-34; Mark 12:31) .

In a time of heightened demonization, in an era when so many hide behind the law to avoid responding to the demands of justice for the marginalized in our country, we need to think of a politics beyond the contractual, a possible politics that facilitates incarnating patterns of relationships where all are seen in their irreducible uniqueness. We need a politics of love, of communion, of theosis.


Aristotle Papanikolaou

Aristotle Papanikolaou, Ph.D.
Professor of Theology, Archbishop Demetrios Chair in Orthodox Theology and Culture
Co-founding Director, Orthodox Christian Studies Center
Fordham University

the author

Aristotle Papanikolaou, Professor of Theology and Archbishop Demetrios Chair in Orthodox Theology and Culture at Fordham University, is Co-Director of the Orthodox Christian Studies Center.  He is also an Archon of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and author of The Mystical as Political: Democracy and Non-Radical Orthodoxy.