Social Justice from the Perspective of the Contemporary Orthodox Christianism


This study presents an analysis of the concept of social justice from the perspective of the Eastern Orthodox Christianism, showing the specificity of the Orthodox approach and the elements in common with the Western religious and lay perspective. Social justice is one of the concepts necessary to today’s religious and political vision, often used prudently in the East-European area, especially due to the fact that during the communist period it was used as a current slogan, without much coverage in practice. This concept is an essential component of the prophetic message, in the Hebrew area, but also in the Evangels’ discourse. For the Christians, social justice is a community imperative, resulting from the revealed, divine message itself. The article presents the main elements of this concept, in its historical evolution, its development in the Western, Catholic area, and its comparative approach in the Orthodox area. We have analysed the concept, both theologically, theoretically, and practically, as it can be found in the conception of the Orthodox Church and as it has been promoted by means of the social-philanthropic mission.

Keywords: Social equityChurchsocial-philanthropic missionOrthodox

1. Introduction

The present approach also concerns the contribution that the Orthodoxy brings to the construction of

a better, juster and more humane world, by Christian humanism understanding the principle of respect

and of promotion of man and all that is his, as a special being, created in God’s image, with deep

spiritual aspirations (Clement, 1988). Consequently, the Church has the awareness that it is her duty to

bring“hope where there is despair; love and communion where there is division and hate; dignity

where human dignity has been forgotten or disconsidered”. (Daniel, Patriarch of the Romanian

Orthodox Church, 2007)

Social justice is, from a Christian perspective, a need of any human society, without which one

cannot conceive peace and social harmony. It is a fundamental right of the human being, bestowed by

the Creator, which refers to the fact that man’s dignity needs to be respected, including regarding the

access to means supporting man’s existence materially. From a Christian perspective, social justice

refers to man’s equitable access to work and to what is necessary for the daily life.

Consequently, when we talk about this concept, we refer, on the one hand, to the communities’ and

the states’ obligation of excluding noone from the possibility of earning his daily existence, and, on the

other hand, to the modality by which, when man finds it impossible to have access to these

fundamental rights, he is supported to lead a minimal existence.

At the same time, the whole social-philanthropic activity of the Church is included in the concept of

social justice, because this is the aim of the Church, to make equity easier to achieve in the

communities made up of or inhabited by Christians.

Having the calling to reveal “ the signs of God’s word“ (Mihăiţă, 2005: 36), the Church attaches

maximal value to the human existence, considering it God’s most precious gift, because: “ She sees in

man, in each man, the living image of God Himself, an image that finds its full meaning in Christ and is

called to find out to a deeper scope its full meaning in Christ, the perfect Image of God, the Revealer of

God to men and the Revealer of man to himself”. (***. 2006: 70)

The Western area is dominated, regarding the social doctrine of the Church, by the documents of the

magisterium, and as a historical departure point, Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical “ Rerum novarum ” is the

main reference element. The Orthodox area has no official magisterial document, yet the concept can

be found in the episcopal pastoral letters and in the holistic approach of the social policy of the Church.

(Heckel, 1978: 21).

2. Social Justice –a Contemporary Doctrinal Necessity

From a practical perspective, social justice has in view the concrete accomplishment of St. James

the Apostle’s principle, according to which “ faith, if it has no deeds, is dead ” and refers to the

solidarity, communion and love that need to dominate the Christian communities or the communities

inhabited by Christians, as St. Paul the Apostle said: “ And if one member suffers, every member suffers

with it ”(1 Cor. 12: 26) or “Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of

Christ ”(Gal. 6: 2).

Supporting those in various difficulties, deprivations and needs is an obligation for every Christian.

The fact of materially supporting one’s fellow going through a difficult period of his life is a necessity

springing from the commandment of love given by Jesus Christ our Lord, but also a practical need

having in view the stability, peace and harmony in a certain human community.

No Christian faithful to Christ’s teachings can be indifferent to his fellow who is in difficulty and

constraint, no authentic Christian can continue his existence without caring for his fellow and without

doing something to change his fellow’s unfortunate state. (Teşu, 2003: 6: 68)

Thus, “The Church has rejected the totalitarian and atheist ideologies, associated in the modern

times with communism or socialism. At the same time, she has rejected the individualistic capitalism

and the absolute primacy of the human labour market. The regulation of the economy only by

centralized planning perverts the basis of the social connections, its regulation only by means of the

market law cannot achieve social justice, because there are numerous human needs that cannot be met

by means of the market.” (***, 1993: 502-503)

Social justice also has in view an equitable repartition of the goods and an adequate reward of work

in society, a correct access of the people to the means needed for their daily life, and a system meant to

correct the eventual slids of certain inequitable situations.

Man’s fundamental duty given by his Creator is to work (Dufour, 2001: 455), but when he cannot

do this fundamental human act, he needs to be supported, because without work he cannot have the

daily necessities. The Church never tried to promote a certain type of social system or social-political

ideology, although there have been cases when Church people have promoted ideologies or social

systems, a fact that cannot be considered as ecclesial involvement.

There have even been cases when the promotion of the idea of social justice was considered as a

tendency of leaning towards communism or socialism, especially in Eastern Europe, regarding the

Orthodox Churches, or in South America, concerning the Catholic Church. To this day, there are

enough supporters of Samuel Huntington’s civilizational clash theory, or Max Weber’s ethical theory

(Weber, 2003), which establish a relation between economic performance and the Christian

confessional belonging, putting the Protestantism (and, among its various types, Calvinism) on the first

position in this sense, then the Catholicism, and, after that, the Orthodoxy. (Popescu, 1998: 72)

This theory is, however, not enough to make a deep analysis of the faith-related psychology and its

impact on the economic life, but is rather a theory belonging to the Cold War period, which was

justifying post partum a state of fact, claiming the superiority of capitalism over communism including

with religious arguments.

Regarding communism, we need to affirm that it was not promoted by the Orthodox Churches and

even by no Christian Church at all, and it was not an offspring of Christianism, but, on the contrary,

Christianism was the fiercest adversary of communism.

The trend of certain clerics - Catholic, South-American leftists - belonging to the so-called theology

of deliverance, must be viewed in the larger social-political and economic context of that area, yet with

the mention that the Church does not dogmatize, does not ideologize any socio-political and economic

theory, and sometimes personal and even sliding are personal options of one or the other of the Church

servants, which means no commitment for the institution, since the Church, on the contrary, often took

measures when they became a must. (Dalberg-Acton, 1998: 614)

3.Social Justice – Common Hebrew-Christian Theological Patrimony

Social justice is a Hebrew-Christian concept, because although it has had an amazing development

in Christianism, the roots of this concept can be found in the work of the Hebrew prophets who

promoted social justice in their writings and activity.

We find, therefore, very topical ideas in the writings of the biblical prophets, who can constitute a

source of inspiration for the contemporary social Christian activism, but who substantiate, from a

doctrinal perspective, the Orthodox Christian teaching of faith and not only it.

From this perspective, the most eloquent example is that of Prophet Elijah, considered the first and

the most important fighter for social justice in the biblical area. The Hebrew tradition records many of

his actions; however, from the Holy Scripture, we know about his action in defence of his concitizen

Naboth, from whom King Ahab wanted to take away his property, namely a vineyard.

The prophet successfully defends the poor and powerless, whom the king was about to aggrieve,

although a king is supposed to be the first example of justice and goodness.This is just an example,

but, in numerous other situations, prophet Elijah acts as a defender of justice, which he sees as an

expression of God’s will, this is why it needs to be respected, because any infringement of it is an

impiety against the Creator (1 Kings 21:20-23).

Another example of prophet committed to the promotion of social justice is Amos, who vehemently

stands against injustice, against the exploitation of the poor, against the desire of dishonest gain, and

against aggrieving the poor and totally defenceless. He establishes a clear connection between social

injustice and the infringement of God’s will (Amos 5:7, 10-12; 6:4-7; 8:4-7). Another strong example

of promoter of social justice is Prophet John, the Lord’s Forerunner and Baptizer, who makes the

passage from the period of the Old Testament to that of the New Testament. With strong words (Mt.

3:7-8, 10, 12), he criticizes social injustice and those who commit it, showing that they are submitting

themselves to an immediate divine justice (Luke 3: 10-14).

Not doing any injustice to God’s most precious creature, namely man, is an obligation, since the

human being, created in God’s image, has inalienable rights. Then, it is only for man that God became

a man or was embodied, as we confess in the Niceo-Constantinopolitan Symbol of Faith and, for this

reason, man has a special, divine dignity, and infringing it means offending the divine majesty,

infringing the Fatherly love of the heavenly Father.

The dignity of being created in God’s image, after His endless likeness (Genesis 1: 26, 28), gives

man fundamental rights, and violating them leads to God’s immediate intervention in favour of the

oppressed. Man has been created for solidarity, communion and love (Nellas, 1994: 7), man is a social

being (Breck, 2001: 269), and therefore has the duty to militate for social justice.

The human being was created by God, not to launch himself in “ the infinite race after earthly goods,

but in the endless race after God’s likeness. The race after material goods is a diabolical overturn of

the race to which man has been called, of the race after perennial and absolute values, truth, good,

beauty, love, holiness... “ (Popescu, 1998: 78-79)

4.Social justice in the doctrine of the Orthodox Church

From the perspective of social involvement, the Orthodox Church has not elaborated a special Body

of Doctrine, as the Catholic Church, which has numerous papal encyclicals, or magisterial documents

regulating, from a doctrinal perspective, the ecclesial social involvement out of two reasons.

The first is that the commandment of love given by Christ comprises in it the whole foundation of

the Christian social involvement, and the second is the fact that the Orthodoxy tends rather towards the

liturgical, cultic side, devoid of excessive dogmatization and regulation.

Sure, this does not mean that there are no synodal decisions, pastoral hierarchic letters or other such

documents providing clarifications on the social involvement of the Church. The Orthodoxy considers

each problem of a human person as being also a problem of the community, and the social Orthodox

ideal is that of communion, according to the principle of the Eucharistic Communion. (Zizioulas, 1967)

From this perspective, in the social domain, the Orthodoxy promotes the Eucharistic principle of

communion and solidarity, even though the present civilization tacitly imposes that model of “ homo

consumericus ” (Lipovetscky, 2007: 7)

The Orthodoxy has always given prevalence to action rather than theory; consequently, it preferred

to act, without needing a Body of Doctrine meant to justify its social-philanthropic actions. The

supreme reason substantiating the ecclesial activity in favour of social equity is constituted by the

Embodiment of God’s Son and by the example of His activity in favour of man (Lk. 22: 27; Mt. 25: 31-

41), which makes “life in the Church, to which each one is called [be]: ceaseless service of Christ and

of man ”. (Sorescu, 1997: 187)

We have got used - especially in the theological, but also in the mediatic area - to considering that

the Protestant Churches and the Catholic Church are, exclusively, those making great and many

philanthropic actions, and the Orthodoxy would prefer the so-called liturgical ghetto. (Bădiliţă &

Urian, 2003: 148) There is nothing less true than this, since the Orthodoxy, especially the Romanian

one, has promoted the acts of spiritual and physical charity, social justice, as the doctrine would put it,

since always.

Yet, the Orthodoxy has had a reticence regarding the popularization of its actions, following the

principle that good actions are not made for publicity and gaining earthly pride and praises, but they

ought to be accomplished by any man, following the all-merciful example of God Himself.

As we move on in this information age, an age in which information is especially short and with a

massive emotional impact, the Orthodox Church has begun to make its social-philanthropic activity

known, with discernment and yet still with a certain discretion, precisely in order to show that she is

not at all unaware of the contemporary man’s needs and aspirations and she is by the side of her sons

and daughters during all the moments of their life, and especially during the hard ones.

The Orthodoxy is aware that it cannot solve all the social problems of humanity, it could not, even if

she wanted to, because if even the very rich States cannot eliminate social inequality, how could the

Church manage to do it, since she does not have their financial and legislative resources!

Yet, the Church continues to do what she must do and what she knows to do, what her Divine

Teacher is teaching her, namely: offer help according to her powers, according to the extent of her

believers’ involvement, to provide examples, for the people, especially for the believers, to imitate

what she does by providing such an existential paradigm.

The Orthodoxy has neither codified nor theorized its social-philanthropic mission, considering that

love to one’s fellow is an aspect inseparable from the love to God, therefore from the quality of

authentic believer, yet she is acting for the better of the society in which she is active.

The philanthropic logic of the Orthodoxy is that man is the most important being in the Universe,

and economic activity and profit follow him and are not above him, which is why the famous capitalist

expression time is money is not relevant for the Eastern area, where man means everything, and time is

the greatest gift of God for man, after life.

And while money can be made, time does fly irremediably, and cannot be brought back. The

importance of time in the Orthodoxy is given by the fact that it is the framework in which life, the

knowledge of God and the practice of His likeness take place. (Lorenz, 1996: 34)

The emergence of a new civilizational paradigm given by the industrialization age, caused major

social-economic changes, challenging the Church to an adequate answer, since a new form of property,

namely capital and a new form of work, salarized work, characterized by oppressive production

rhythms... determined only by the criterion of profit-increase efficacy had emerged. (Ică & Marani,

2001: 135)

In the West, the Catholic Church, with an early experience in the capitalist economic development,

but also in the effects of secularism and globalization, more marked than in the East, according to its

juridist and doctrinal organizational spirit, theorized its social doctrine by means of the encyclicals:

Rerum Novarum (promulgated by Pope Leo XIII in the year 1891); Quadragesimo anno (promulgated

by Pope Pius XI in the year 1931); Pope John XXIII’s Mater et magistra ” (1961), and Pacem in terris

(1963); Pope Paul VI’s Populorum Progressio (1967) and Octogesima adveniens (1971); Pope John

Paul II’s Solicitudo Rei Socialis (1987); or Pope Benedict XVI’s Caritas in veritate (2009).

These documents express the Catholic social doctrine from an official perspective, being norms for

the Catholic Church, and many of the ideas here have been used as well even by Eastern theologians,

yet without being appropriated by the Orthodox Churches, as they also bear the specific mark of the

Catholic theology, which in some aspects differs from the Orthodox one.

The Orthodoxy views responsibility to our fellows’ needs and even the very need for social equity

as coming from the notion of God’s image (Lossky, 1993: 144) and from freedom as an inalienable

divine gift. (Stăniloae, 1995: 80) There is, and we need to highlight this as well, a common, ecumenical

action, too, regarding social justice worldwide, involving all the Christian confessions and a testimony

in this sense are the various and increasingly numerous ecumenical reunions and common actions, or

the documents of the World Council of Churches.

This main forum of ecumenical Christian dialogue, in which the Orthodox Churches are members,

has a specialized department for social mission, and in its important documents, the social problems

and the issue of social equity are always present.

As a theologian at the Archiepiscopate of Târgovişte, I would like to highlight that the social

activity of this eparchy has in view the intensification, from one year to the next, of the social

involvement, in order to support the attainment of a social equity as wide as possible.

Thus His Eminence Father Archbishop and Metropolitan NIFON , Professor at the Faculty of

Theology and Education Sciences of “ Valahia ” University of Târgovişte, in all his pastoral letters

emitted on the occasion of our Lord’s Birth and Resurrection, or in the messages issued on various

occasions, approached, each time, a complex set of social problems, from the concrete issues of

poverty, and social inequity to the problems of the abandoned or lonely children, or the diseased and

the elderly from social institutions. (***, 2002-2016)


Social justice represents a fundamental theological concept for the teaching of faith of the Orthodox

Church, as, actually, of the whole contemporary Christian theology, being very important for today’s

social-philanthropic mission.

It refers to the ecclesial activity meant to support the realization of social justice in our world, by

means of solidarity and love, in a concrete manner by helping those in need, but also by creating a just,

correct and harmonious social atmosphere.

The Christian social justice has nothing violent or revolutionary in it, like the social Marxist politics,

but aims to revolutionize the social paradigm by means of inner change, transfiguration and

spiritualization, but also by promoting solidarity, by giving rise to a community effort meant to help

those in need.

The transformation of the social framework, often affected by inequity, is achieved according to the

Christian conception and action by means of the Church, by a common sacramental, spiritual and

philanthropic action, which has in view our fellows’ welfare.

The Orthodoxy brings this vision, as a gift and contribution, for our world, which has had enough of

the utopic or inefficient ideologies and models that have generated conflicts or tensions and have nor

managed to create a correct, just, harmonious social climate, capable of giving hope and faith.

The Orthodox Christian has in his conscience the image of the Final Judgement, which, all of it, as it

is presented by the evangelist Matthew, has, as its criterion of judgement, the care for our fellow, the

way we have manifested our help to our fellows. From this perspective, the Orthodox Christian knows

that his salvation, his eternal happiness is related to the solidarity and love for our fellow who is here in

need, in trouble or in suffering.

The present study has wished to highlight the general features of the Orthodox conception on social

justice and the practical way of accomplishing this desideratum, in the light of my Romanian Orthodox

theological, scientific and administrative activity in the framework of the Archiepiscopate of



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