Orthodox Christians often find themselves answering the following question: why is Orthodoxy divided along ethnic lines into different churches?
At least officially, the answer to that question has been quite clear: we are not divided; we are one Church, united in faith and worship, with an administrative structure that organizes itself along local lines, in accordance with the ancient traditions and canon law of the first millennium of Christian history.
In recent years, however, there’s been a problem: while the answer given above is true in theory, it’s often not implemented in practice.
Starting in the late 19th century, and in increasing numbers after the World Wars, millions of Orthodox Christians began to emigrate from their ancestral homelands to Western Europe, the Americas, and Australia. Instead of organizing churches in these new lands in accordance with the canonical and theological principle that there be only one bishop in each locale, a web of overlapping Orthodox “jurisdictions” developed. As a result, parish churches in some of the larger American cities are under the authority of eight or more different bishops: the Greek parishes under a Greek bishop; the Serbians under a Serb; the Russians under a Russian, etc.
Some were happy with this arrangement, some saw it as a necessary pastoral accommodation to the realities of an unprecedented emigration, and some were dissatisfied for theological and practical reasons. But everyone agreed that the situation was a temporary aberration, a departure from apostolic church order, and at odds with the Orthodox theological tradition.
Starting in the early 60s, as immigrants became more assimilated, a number of prominent bishops and theologians began to speak and write with passion about the need to conform our modern-day polity to our traditional theology. A relatively broad sense of enthusiasm for “Pan-Orthodox” cooperation and unity emerged. Various institutions and organizations appeared, working across jurisdictional lines on local, regional, national, and even international levels. A series of Pan-Orthodox Conferences took place in Rhodes, where bishops and other official representatives of canonical Orthodox churches from around the world met to discuss common concerns.
By 1968, a plan to hold a “Great and Holy Council” had emerged, and, by 1976, an agenda of ten items had crystallized, including the question of how to organize the administration of the Church in the “diaspora.” Meetings and preparations for a worldwide council of bishops continued with relative enthusiasm through the late 80s.
Then, in 1989, the Iron Curtain fell and another massive emigration began. In the last 26 years, millions of Eastern Europeans have left their homelands for economic opportunities elsewhere. From Bulgaria alone — a country whose total population is only 7 million — an estimated 3 million people have emigrated to Western Europe and beyond. The emigration of Orthodox Christians from their traditional homelands shows little sign of ending soon. In fact, it’s spreading, as a solid minority of the refugees and migrants who are currently leaving the Middle East are Orthodox.
Despite these demographic shifts and an emerging impasse in the attempt to find a common vision for Orthodox polity, plans to hold a “Great and Holy Council” never dissipated entirely. Some progress occurred in the early 90s, and, more recently, a flurry of activity has taken place since 2008.
Within the context of these preparatory deliberations, every Orthodox Church around the world formulated an official position on various topics, including the governance of the Church in places like America and Australia.
In the course of these deliberations, a stark theological division has emerged. Years ago, almost everyone agreed that the status quo of overlapping jurisdictions in the diaspora was a clear violation of Orthodox canon law and a departure from the apostolic tradition of church order. In recent years, however, some of the largest Orthodox churches have started to argue that the status quo accords with the Orthodox understanding of the Church. A change of this magnitude has required these Orthodox churches to re-think the way in which they explain the governance of the Church and, in some cases, modify theological principles.
The emerging majority opinion is not merely that administrative division in the diaspora allows for the maintenance of distinctive liturgical, theological, and spiritual traditions (and is therefore a pastoral benefit to the Church), but that the division itself is either (1) not actually a departure from apostolic church order and canon law, or (2) only a violation in a technical sense, and not a serious concern, as various present-day sources of authority (e.g. statutes passed by a national church’s synod of bishops) are of equal or greater authority to the canons promulgated by the Ecumenical Councils of the first millennium of Christian history.
In February 2011, for example, the Holy Synod of the Romanian Orthodox Church promulgated an “Appeal to Romanian Dignity,” which spoke of a need for “ethnic Orthodox solidarity” and called on all Orthodox people of Romanian heritage throughout the world to submit to the jurisdictional authority of the Romanian Church. The call to do so, the document stressed, accords with the Romanian Church’s modern-day statutes, which state that it “is the Church of the Romanian people and encompasses all Orthodox Christians in Romania and the Romanian Orthodox Christians abroad.”
The Romanian Synod promulgated this appeal for specific reasons, but more important than its motive is the document’s theological reasoning and its conception of the Church. Two aspects of the appeal merit consideration. First, the guiding principle and most important point of reference in its ecclesiological vision is the present-day definition of the Romanian Church found in official synodal documents. Second, according to this line of thinking, the pastoral ministry and authority of an autocephalous Orthodox church is not limited to a specific place. On the contrary, the church exists to serve a particular people throughout the world.
Since 2011, an increasing number of Orthodox churches have expressed aspects of this same “new ecclesiology” in a variety of official and unofficial settings. Most significant among these is the Russian Orthodox Church, given its size and importance in inter-Orthodox relations. In December 2013, the Holy Synod of the Patriarchate of Moscow promulgated an official position paper on the issue of primacy in the Universal Church. Several months later, Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev) gave a speech in which he explained the official document’s key points and theological rationale. At the time, Orthodox commentators focused on the obvious implications for Catholic-Orthodox dialogue (and rivalries between Moscow and Constantinople). A closer reading of the official position paper and Metropolitan Hilarion’s explanation also reveals elements of the “new ecclesiology.”
In his speech, Metropolitan Hilarion explains that one of Moscow’s core objections to the most recent agreed statement of the Catholic-Orthodox dialogue is that it “does not fully correspond to the principles of church order as accepted in the modern-day Orthodox Church,” specifically because “the contemporary Orthodox Church is structured differently” than it was in the first millennium. According to the modern Orthodox conception, within each autocephalous Church “there is the canonical territory of the autocephalous Local Church … and the Diaspora, where there are parishes and dioceses located in the jurisdiction of the autocephalous Local Churches.”
The Metropolitan’s argument exhibits a familiar pattern. First, the apostolic order of governance called for in the canons was normative for the ancient Church, and still applies today to some degree, but we cannot forget that the Church has changed, growing beyond the conceptions of the first millennium. In fact, “the contemporary Orthodox Church is structured differently.” Furthermore, the current administrative structure of the Church is not an accident of history that calls for repentance and change, but a reality that informs and inspires theological reflection and teaching. As a result, a truly Orthodox theology of the Church requires a federation of autocephalous Local Churches, whose pastoral authority includes a given territory and the worldwide diaspora of people who emigrate from that territory, as well as those they convert. Thus, the status quo is normative.
Other Orthodox churches have expressed similar conclusions for some of the same reasons. At last week’s meeting of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the United States of America, the churches of Georgia, Bulgaria, Serbia, Moscow, ROCOR, and Antioch — all representing the official position of their Mother Church — made it clear that the status quo of overlapping jurisdictions throughout the world should be maintained. Each church has justified its decision in slightly different ways. For Antioch, in particular, it’s not clear to what degree the announcement represents a temporary tactical move or a long-term transformation. Nevertheless, the real development is not that the majority of Orthodox churches are taking unity of governance in the diaspora off of the table, but rather their justifications for doing so — and the degree to which these justifications correspond to the portrayal of Orthodox ecclesiology in a growing number of official documents and synodal decisions.
Many Orthodox people are quite happy that there will be no imminent change in governance, either because they value ethnic solidarity; or fear a reorganization would lead to changes in liturgy and church discipline; or prefer the particular ethos and network of relationships they have developed; or are loathe to cede control over the financial and institutional resources within their own orbits of influence — or some combination of all of these reasons, plus others. Yet these are not the reasons one finds in statements from official sources. No doubt, practical and ethnic and spiritual and political motivations lurk behind the scenes, but the official justifications are canonical and theological. And therein lies the problem. Practical or pastoral objections can be temporary, but the justifications we are seeing carry the potential weight of permanence. In stating that there is no canonical or theological reason to seek unity in governance — in fact, that unity means preserving the status quo — we are beginning to re-define our ecclesiological self-understanding.
Do the ends justify the means? Quite obviously, for some they do. There is a certain comfort in the knowledge that outside of the old country, Orthodoxy is like a Baskin-Robbins: which flavor do you like best? Division allows people to choose the kind of purity they prefer. Yet the (unintended) theological and spiritual implications of the “new ecclesiology” are profound. Justifying division in the diaspora on canonical and theological grounds introduces a new hermeneutics, which inverts the traditional Orthodox preference for patristic modes of life and prioritizes history over dogmatics. There are pastoral implications as well. Just as form follows function, the governmental structure of the Church influences its sense of calling and purpose. Prescriptively dividing the Church into camps reduces ministry to chaplaincy and mistakes catholicity for preservation. Even if such a Church provides a temporary firewall against the scourges of modernity, it will eventually collapse under the weight of its own inward focus.
One of the larger questions of this new ecclesiology is how to evangelize people who are not ethnically any of the groups who have emigrated to the West. Converting to Orthodoxy is a huge step for people from Western cultures and adding the stress of having to become whatever ethnic group is represented by their local parish may prevent many who would otherwise desire to become Orthodox from taking that step. As a convert from America, I cannot be anything but American. How does this new ecclesiology address that? I know Antioch and ROCOR have adopted a Western Rite in order to bridge that gap and it may be a answer to this dilemma. I would be interested in your opinions of this aspect, Seraphim.
Perhaps folks like us (North American Orthodox) are just building our own “ethnic” jurisdictions in the OCA and Antiochian diocese. It often seems that way. Western Rite is a part but not all of that, also, as many “ethnic North American” parishes uses an Eastern rite in English.
I’m not sure which side I’m on in all this, but such developments would provide a response to the dilemma you identify, and maybe not a terrible one. Honestly, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I really like my cozy all-English Canadian parish full of other folks with whom I easily identify culturally…
And I like my middle-western Mississippi Valley church that has English services with occasional old Slavonic prayers and hymns; two priests, one American and one Russian; and a parish that is evenly divided between the two small-t ” traditions.” That is to say, I’m blessed with the best of both (no, all) world’s. I believe that growth and adaptation is possible without harming the roots.
Congregational singing in English. Keep the Liturgy as it always has been…just do it with congregational singing and in English.
This is such a timely article. It is clear to many observers and insiders that the double headed eagle is having an identity crisis. On one hand, while the Ecumenical Patriarchate embraces globalization, autocephalous churches such as the OCG are pending towards territoriality. This is nothing new. There’s also the question of jurisdiction in the diaspora, as this article attempted to address. Scholars such as Victor Roudemetof have written extensively on the subject. His article titled “Greek Orthodoxy, Territoriality and Globality: Religious Responses and Institutional Disputes” is a great introduction to the topic. Even though I’d replace the term “modernity” for “secularism”, and “inward focus” for “internal disputes”, it’s great to see some critical reflection taking place that does not default euphemistically to tradition. As the old adage says, admitting the problem is the crucial first step.
Thanks for your comment. I would say, however, that one of the points of the article is that a growing number of Orthodox churches are saying there is no problem.
Indeed… that, however, is the predominant position among autocephalous churches and those who identify with its ethnic nature, which in the end seeks to preserve the status quo of influence in the diaspora. The challenge, or “problem”, as I stated it, emerges when the Ecumenical Patriarchate attempts to position itself as the supracultural expression of the Church. As my fellow commentator Nicholas Griswold proposed, the challenge of a transcultural Orthodoxy will still remain a problem under this new ecclesiology.
For those who would claim the Byzantine Church as the Universal Church, there is a problem… history does not show the success of a purely theological union of local churches. Instead, history shows that the Byzantine Church’s doctrinal cohesion was based on a complex dynamic of give and take between ascetic experience and the political will of the Eastern Roman Empire. If we take dogmatic organization and canonical considerations to be above administrative and cultural concerns, we fail to see the original context in which those definitions occurred, and fail to understand the witness, virtue and saintly faithfulness of churches that did not submit to Constantinople or to Rome.
This is why Metropolitan + Hilarion Alfeev’s approach to ecclesiology is so important – it not only honestly approaches history, but it says that the Apostolic Church, regardless of its participation in or acceptance of Byzantine Councils (which they like to call “Ecumenical”, meaning, not “Universal” but for the “Household” of the Roman Empire), is essentially an Orthodoxy of faithfulness and continuity, a focus on Eucharistic worship within the receiving language and cultural context of whatever people were baptized into the Church. Divisions necessarily arose, not because of an unwillingness to communicate across linguistic or cultural barriers, but because some Church’s mistook their temporal power, wealth and authority to be their “Right to Rule”. “Desiring preeminence among the brethren” (3 John 1:9-11) they “put out brethren from among the Church.”
This is a hard reality for the Orthodox to face, especially as the intent and theology of the Coptic Orthodox, Syriac Orthodox, Church of the East, etc, are made clear through translation and a multi-cultural, tolerant Western culture. Many Byzantine Orthodox realize that this lays bare a problem within Eastern Roman history, and have worked to create more understanding and greater Christian unity between Apostolic Churches; but many more desire to fight repentance and insist on the correctness of what can only be seen as, honestly, as a faulty approach to both history and ecclesiology on the part of arrogant, imperial Greeks, on the same path that they despise from the historically zealous, “my way of the highway” Latins.
Such a reaction is seen in the following article…
There is a lot to like about this comment, methinks, and I appreciate the candor of the author, though obviously it will make a lot of people rather incited. It seems as though the implications of what it is saying relate to two concepts of unity, one which is a unity from below, i.e. from “faithfulness and continuity” and the other a unity from above, i.e. from imperial or papal fiat. The Orthodox Church has had some mix of both for most of its history, though in a post imperial world, the unity from above is no longer extant, though attempts have been made to locate it in the Ecumenical Patriarch to little or no avail. In another forum, I made the point that this type of unity “form above” does not exist anymore, so it is futile to try to construct it in the diaspora nations. All we have is the unity “from below,” and for many, this is apparently enough to constitute the “One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.” The author of this comment points out the virtue of such “unity from below” by allowing non-imperial churches to retain their integrity and demonstrate their own sanctity and apostolic inheritance.
However, I do think there is a danger in minimizing the often antagonistic relationship between the Church and the Byzantine state, parties which were not often easy to identify (e.g. the iconoclastic periods). Similarly, the diversity of thought and praxis within Byzantine Christianity (at least diachronically) can be minimized in this approach. For example, the miaphysite theology that the author mentions in relation to the Oriental Churches, was advanced within the empire. I suppose it is easy to forget that Egypt and Syria (Antioch) were a part of the empire at the time. So, while they were not in traditional Greco/Roman lands, they were nonetheless well assimilated into the Roman oikoumene. So, this was, more properly, in intra-imperial controversy, which only later came to exist outside of it (the exception being Armenia). The attempts by many emperors to forge a compromise and reconciliation cannot be minimized, and both sides were equally unwilling to follow much to the dismay of someone even as powerful as Justinian.
This raises a question that I hoped Seraphim’s (very helpful) article would address more fully at the end, and perhaps he can respond here. What does “unity” mean in the Orthodox Church?
As you point out, Eric, unity “from below” was not so easy in the Byzantine Empire and it’s even harder now. While perhaps, as Joseph noted, disunity in the Church in the first millennium arose primarily out of a desire for power and prestige, today disunity lies in the simple fact of pluralism– broad access to information and hence compelling non-Orthodox viewpoints, a wide range of spiritual choices, etc.
That the Orthodox church (esp. in the “diaspora”) cannot stave off the pluralism inherent in secular modernity, I gather from Seraphim’s article, is a major downside to the status quo, and perhaps it is. It’s difficult now to articulate what continuity with the Orthodox tradition means without simply saying, loudly and defensively, what it is against. I have a feeling that bringing all the Orthodox churches together under one episcopal roof is not going to make it any easier.
I certainly don’t want to downplay the importance of canon law, but I think the most important expression of Orthodox unity is and will always be faith (and here I really mean the basics: scripture, creed, and icons), and the sacraments which ground the faith in lived reality. The correct form of episcopal arrangement is secondary. Form follows function yes, but to me the right “function” of the Orthodox faith has relatively little to do with what goes on in church gov’t. Let the bishops take care of their squabbles while we get on with the hard work of Christian life together, and focus efforts on the unity that the Orthodox church already has.
I deeply respect your opinion, Eric, and enjoy reading your blog posts. I was primarily thinking of the Assyrians, declared independent of the Roman Church in 410AD at the Council of Selucia-Ctesiphon to make clear that they, as loyal citizens of Persia, could not be subject to Rome. As you mention, the Armenians, were also only a part of the Roman Empire much later. The Church of Georgia, which, if scholarship is correct (per Tarchnisvili), started, not as a plant of Antioch, but of Assyrian and Armenian missionaries and was only later granted “autocephaly” in exchange for recognition and a yearly tax in silver by Antioch. These narratives directly question the constructs of later Byzantine canonists and scholastics. The perspective of the Ethiopians should not be overlooked either, because their histories show an immediate identification of Byzantine Orthodoxy with imperial policy and officially sponsored persecutions. They had their own bishops, but instead of breaking with the Coptic Church, they loyally followed them and maintained their Tradition, even though they were also outside of the Roman Ecumene, only being granted their own patriarchate in recent years for administrative reasons.
All of these Churches, outside of the coercive sphere of imperial influence, maintain crystal clear narratives of the usurpation of Christianity for State-building purposes. Even as I maintain the legitimacy and worth of the Byzantine Tradition, and in no way negate its theological and philosophical contributions, these witnesses allow a less fundamentalist and more open approach to ancient Christianity. This approach is far more realistic and true to history. The Oriental Orthodox and the multi-cultural Metropolitanates of the historical Church of the East (in China, India, Afghanistan, Mongolia and Sumatra, long before it was identified with Assyrianism), though certainly not guiltless of aggression, political intrigue, coercion and persecution, certainly did maintain communication and cooperation across linguistic, cultural and economic boundaries, resulting in a federation of Churches that is the epitome of “Unity from Below”, and a model for how the Eastern Orthodox Churches must move forward.
Perhaps what the Byzantine Orthodox are experiencing in the West is actually normal, and as ROCOR so famously declared last year, that practical, pastoral and linguistic factors do, indeed, trump the abstract and unattainable canonical structures, which reflect mysteries that may be revealed only in the Second Coming of Christ. Perhaps, just maybe, a belief that the Church is One in Christ, and a realization that our Communion is first with Christ and then with all others that are in Him, is enough… If so, the Eastern Orthodox will, for the first time, be able to understand the perspective of those Churches which it itself persecuted through the mighty arm of the Emperor, an authority that God, maybe graciously, has removed.
Again, verbose nonsense. The Church is Catholic locally and universally, and that is why the Holy Apostles decreed one Bishop for one city.
well, you may disagree with Joseph’s ideas, but you’ve to admit that what he is saying is exactly what Orthodox are saying today. They are saying “hey, our culture is the basis of our difference…we are Romanian before we are Orthodox, or rather, our Romanian-ness has to be seen as part and parcel of our Orthodoxy.” what Joseph is saying is: why not extend this to the Copts? to the Syrians? etc. Seems the burdern of proof is falling on you.
Laying the blame for the fall-out of Chalcedon on only one side is the most a-historical thing I can possibly imagine.
Truly, brother, the Orthodox Church is a beautiful, powerful, irreducible part of Christendom. In no way do I wish to detract from its beauty or its truth. I stand with you in your critique of Rome. However, I do believe that Orthodoxy has remained united, not because of theological cohesion, as more and more of Orthodox life tumbles into the realm of “theologoumena”, but because of its inability to call pan-Orthodox Councils.
With the loss of its emperor, Orthodoxy has lost its traditional mechanism for enforcing unity. I don’t think that anyone doubts that, if push came to shove (and the MP hadn’t already preemptively declared that any meeting in 2016 has no binding canonical authority), simple issues such a secularism, birth-control, calendar, territorial claims, the order of honor amongst the patriarchates within the diptychs, wouldn’t split the Orthodox Communion right open. We can also see how lesser issues disrupt Jerusalem and Antioch. This is why it is of utmost urgency to some Patriarchates to see that such councils do not happen.
The radical divergence in praxis and in interpretation of the Tradition within the Orthodox Church is greater than any period in history, and yet, unlike the fractious years of endless definition, anathematization, and banishment, we no longer believe that these call for excommunication or schism, thus, preserving the appearance of communion without a truly substantive doctrinal unity or canonical regularity. Orthodox unity is now based on shared history and upon the mutual recognition of a shared liturgical tradition.
We should all be grateful for the Antiochian Patriarch “In Partibus Infidelium”, Blessed Theodore Balsamon for his establishment of Constantinopolitan usage as regulative norm within the Orthodox Church. If the Antiochians were still using its native Liturgy of St. James, the African Church using the Liturgy of St. Mark, and the Russians using the pre-Nikon Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, we would all be far less likely to recognize all the local Churches as the “same”. Thankfully, “lex orandi lex credendi”, and the unity of the Orthodox Church remains intact!
The radical divergence in praxis and in interpretation of the Tradition within the Orthodox Church is greater than any period in history, and yet, unlike the fractious years of endless definition, anathematization, and banishment, we no longer believe that these call for excommunication or schism, thus, preserving the appearance of communion without a truly substantive doctrinal unity or canonical regularity>. Orthodox unity is now based on shared history and upon the mutual recognition of a shared liturgical tradition.
There are canonical irregularities, to be sure, and there are also some relatively minor theological disagreements, but both are (in both the geographic and philosophical sense) peripheral by most anyone’s reading. The idea that the Orthodox churches have no substantive common faith or praxis is a radical claim that’s going to need some proving.
Yes, Father. As I showed in the paragraph before your selected quotation…
“I don’t think that anyone doubts that, if push came to shove (and the MP hadn’t already preemptively declared that any meeting in 2016 has no binding canonical authority), simple issues such a secularism, birth-control, calendar, territorial claims, the order of honor amongst the patriarchates within the diptychs, wouldn’t split the Orthodox Communion right open. We can also see how lesser issues disrupt Jerusalem and Antioch. This is why it is of utmost urgency to some Patriarchates to see that such councils do not happen.”
Do you believe that this is an inaccurate view of the current situation? I know I could be wrong on this, so I would appreciate your expert clarification. This is what the situation looks like to those “outside”.
This seems to me to be a unity by default, by disfunction, not a unity of love, agreement and mutual submission – a unity based upon political and economic constructs, instead of upon mutual recognition within the Eucharist, as it was within Early Christianity and still is among non-Byzantine Orthodox Churches. The Oriental Orthodox could rightly insist that such unity was broken along time ago and replaced with the Imperial Prerogative, which forced canonical regulations into existence that were not only impossible to follow, but are now impossible for the Orthodox themselves to actualize.
These “canonical irregularities” do touch on issues of faith, because the canons and the declarations of Byzantine Councils are what separate the Eastern Orthodox from all the other Ancient and Apostolic Churches. If the Byzantine Church cannot live up to the requirements of their own canonical system, it seems inconsistent to demand the compliance of other local Churches, established with equal apostolicity and episcopal sovereignty. It is this issue that seems to me to tear away the facade of infallibility that has amassed over the course of many controversies within the Church and substantiates the claims of the other Churches.
I read the things you mention. They are not irrelevant to the faith, but disagreement in those things does not constitute such a doctrinal disarray as the comment suggested. They are not core dogmatic questions.
“I do believe that Orthodoxy has remained united, not because of theological cohesion, as more and more of Orthodox life tumbles into the realm of “theologoumena”, but because of its inability to call pan-Orthodox Councils.”
I think you are on to something here that is very important. Mr. Danckaert’s article takes the time to criticize just about every local church BUT the Phanar (most likely because that is where his loyalty and theological inclinations lie – I know he worked (works?) directly with GOA on their MYOCN.NET project, and is obvious a graduate of Holy Cross).
The Phanar’s take on the “barbarian lands” cannon is of course the crux, and besides being rejected historically (by Rome immediately) it will continue to be rejected in the future, for a whole host of reasons – some of them good and some of them bad.
There is no urgency to “solve”this problem, and Mr. Danckaert does not really explain why ” Even if such a Church provides a temporary firewall against the scourges of modernity, it will eventually collapse under the weight of its own inward focus.” follows necessarily for example.
While I appreciate any efforts to tackle this situation, this piece has too much of the Phanar party line/criticisms that have been discussed ad nauseam already. You are on to something – it is actually everyone else BUT Phanar that is actually being creative and honest. The dream of a vast “diaspora” ruled from Istanbul is dark indeed, and simply not going to happen (I personally give thanks to God for that). Have we reached the point where the EP has more bishops and metropolitans of place names that have not had Christians in them for generations than he has actual communing members? If not, it is going to be soon. It’s beyond the point of parody…
p.s. It’s not just in the realm of ecclesiology that Orthodoxy has a “theologoumena” problem. Look at the recent “I am Orthodox and a Universalist” phenomenon…
This comment didn’t actually address what is put forward in the article, namely, how some Orthodox churches are now giving theological justifications for not following the tradition of “one bishop, one city.” That tradition isn’t the “party line” of the Ecumenical Patriarchate or any other church — it’s what’s in the ecumenical canons. What we’re now seeing is an explicit decision not to follow those canons in certain cases, given theological backing.
The “barbarian lands” question isn’t even addressed in the article and isn’t necessary for asking questions about these developments in ecclesiological theology.
As for where Seraphim’s loyalties lie, that’s irrelevant ad hominem. That said, he’s an employee of an OCA seminary and originally became Orthodox in an OCA parish. He’s also a friend of mine, and I have never known him to be anyone’s partisan.
Please also refrain from cattiness in your comments. I have in mind especially the patently untrue comment about having more EP metropolitans than faithful. There are more EP faithful in the GOA parish closest to me (probably by a factor of 10 or more) alone than there are metropolitans in their patriarchate.
As for the problem of universalism, it is not one that is writ very large, to be honest. Only a relative handful of Orthodox fancy that idea, and none of the churches have adopted the view.
In short, let’s stay respectful and on-topic. Thanks!
“This comment didn’t actually address what is put forward in the article, namely, how some Orthodox churches are now giving theological justifications for not following the tradition of “one bishop, one city.” That”
Exactly! The “one bishop, one city” is simply the starting point, the “1+1=2” position. Of course, but *now what* – because we have this little thing called history, life, and the Church in the world. We have had these events (Roman Empire, destruction of said Empire by Isalm and other forces in west, Russian Empire, captivity, communist revolution, western “democratic” states, immigration – all pointed out in the article), so *now what*. Once you move past “would it not be a good idea to adhere to the canonical norm” you actually have to fit those cannons into the historical situation. It is here that things break down, and it is here where Joseph rightly points out that it is Moscow and others who are being honest – and the Phanar is grasping at ancient straws. I suspect it is because of their *modern* situation (which is quite desperate).
We need to move past the basics and face reality. The article does what is so often does – assume a mere political/ethnic take on Moscow and Antioch and others rejection of the Phanar canonical take. It’s all rather tedious…
I don’t grant GOA as a true (local) “flock” of the Phanar, as I don’t grant it’s canonical take on the matter, so they don’t count IMO.
My bishop by the way is a “Metropolitan” or some such of one of those ancient place names under the Phanar (Ukranian USA urisdiction). It’s a bunch of ecclesiastical/canonical/theological non-sense IMO, so I suppose guilty as charged – I not respect it. I love my bishop however 😉
We need to move past the basics and face reality.
Does “reality” mean that we shouldn’t follow the relevant canons any more? If not, why not?
The article does what is so often does – assume a mere political/ethnic take on Moscow and Antioch and others rejection of the Phanar canonical take.
It does? Would you mind citing specific lines where it does that?
I don’t grant GOA as a true (local) “flock” of the Phanar, as I don’t grant it’s canonical take on the matter, so they don’t count IMO.
The GOA certainly regards itself as part of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. And the EP likewise sees them that way.
The liturgy of John Chrysostom is Antiochian in origin. I don’t know where you got the idea that they used the liturgy of St. James.
Verbose nonsense. The crux of the matter is Primacy and Apostolic Canonicality, not a particular Hierarch or See.
The Severians and the Nestorians, being heterodox, are irrelevant to this subject.
I like the one comment about Western Rite churches. I am in a Western Rite Parish, but I have attended Eastern Rite Liturgies, from Greek, to Russian, to Antiochian. I love them all.
We have both a Western Rite and a Greek here in my town. When I began researching Orthodoxy I looked into both. To be honest the only reason I chose Western Rite over the Greeks was because our Greeks do not have a Priest and only hold Liturgy about once a month with visiting Priests. The Western Rite had/has a full-time Priest.
I struggled with the East vs West thing for several years. I felt somewhat an outcast on forums and such when I brought up the Western Rite. Then, I came to realize through “Offering The Lamb” by Rev Michael D. Keiser that I am not Greek or Russian etc. I am an American with a blood line somewhere between American Indian, German and Irish.
I believe Western Rite could bridge the gap between Eastern Orthodoxy and the West. We believe the exact same things – doctrine does matter. Our Liturgies may be slightly different, but they are truly the same.
I am alittle lost when it comes to the jurisdictional issue. Our jurisdiction seems simple enough as we are under Bishop Bazil in wichita KS, Metropolitan Joseph in Philly and patriarch John in Antioch. I have not witnessed any problems in our jurisdiction except for the problem Jerusalem and Patriarch John have been having.
So, maybe the Western Rite could bridge the gap. The only thing we’d have to loose is our standing as the best kept secret in America.
I think that Met. Joseph is in New York City.
Thank you very much for this report, Mr. Danckaert. I have a Protestant background and ultimately hope to be able to become an Orthodox Christian. It had appeared from what I had read that Protestantism had departed from Orthodox tradition relating to the church. However, if I have understood your article correctly (and please forgive me if I haven’t), it appears that “the churches of Georgia, Bulgaria, Serbia, Moscow, ROCOR, and Antioch” are now themselves proclaiming a new ecclesiology that departs from the way it had been understood by Orthodoxy from ancient times up until at least the late 1980s. One of the above commentators refers to “autocephalous churches and those who identify with its ethnic nature, which in the end seeks to preserve the status quo of influence in the diaspora.” Wishing to define a church in terms of its ethnicity, and seeking to preserve a church’s influence over those of the same ethnicity, wherever they may go, would not appear to be a good reason for departing from the traditional understanding of the church and creating a new doctrine relating to the church. I am going to have to give this whole matter a lot of consideration, but at first glance, it appears to me that what this means for me is that I should focus on trying to join an Orthodox church that adheres to the traditional Orthodox understanding of the church, rather than one which adheres to this new ecclesiology. Thanks once again for your article (and thanks to the above commentators, as well).
For whatever it may be worth, I wouldn’t conclude that a new ecclesiology really has taken hold just yet. What we’re seeing is a theological developmental controversy, and the Church is in the process of working through it. Such theological controversies happen every so often.
If one decides which church to attend based solely on there being a controversy — rather than outright, formal heresy — then that sets up a rule that could be very problematic if followed faithfully. What if a controversy arises within one of the “good” jurisdictions that you convert into? They have all had them at one point or another. And what about the fact that all these jurisdictions remain in communion with each other?
None of this has hardened yet. Honestly, I think the main criteria for choosing which church to convert in or simply to be a member of is whether it is Orthodox and whether you can connect there. I would try the parish closest to your home first.
Thanks for your advice, Father. I don’t want to over-react either.
Is it fair to say that the difficulty lies less in the governance structure, and more in the communal aspects of Church Life? How can we have shared communion without shared community?
I’m less interested in how the Church will be governed than I am how the Bishops will live together in harmony, and establish unity of faith, and (to a degree) praxis. We (I think) do ourselves a disservice by setting us up in competition, as the unchecked nature of humanity is to alter the practice to fit the “consumer.” If one could expect the same disciplines of fasting and confession and communion and almsgiving and prayer among the various ethnicities’ governance structure, there would be less of an issue, in my view.
Of course, that ignores the issue of who will be the ethnarch for the Americans and the Canadians? The Latin Americans? In listening to the “new” theology of more than one bishop in a place, I am thinking that the natural conclusion is that the Russian Church was proper in granting autocephaly to it’s daughter Church, since the ministry of other Churches were to those of a particular descent.
I have this problem: On one family tree branch, I am fourth generation German Catholic, who fled to America specifically to get away from the Catholic Church. On another, I am descended from English (very likely Catholics) who settled in Maryland in the mid-1600’s. On yet another, I am Scots-Irish (Calvinists). And I grew up non-liturgical Southern Baptist, and the Western Rite has no appeal to me. Where do I, and those like me, fit in the “new” ecclesiology?
I definitely hope you don’t worry too much over this, Ross.
I think that the article could perhaps have been a little bit more careful in the use of terminology. I don’t think what is happening has anything to do with changes in what I would call “theological ecclesiology.” There is a very strong Orthodox consensus there wherein the Church is understood as those Christians and church bodies who are in full communion with one another, and thus form the body of Christ by way of, well…communion. To be in communion is to be in communion, and that remains true in all of this. ROCOR and Constantinople may not be thrilled with each other right now, but they are in communion, and that is what makes us one Church.
What is at question is really about Church governance, and the Orthodox Church (and churches) do not equate these two on a one-to-one basis. That is to say that both the traditional and “newer” approach to the diaspora problem here are predicated on the same notion: that communion is communion, and irregularities in Church governance can be tolerated within certain limits as we work toward their resolution without communion being broken. One of the biggest problems with the situation in North America is how livable it actually is on the ground, especially for the laity. I can attend any Orthodox parish without worrying in the slightest about whether they will recognize me as Orthodox.
So, keep squarely in mind that these are debates happening among churches that all recognize one another’s Orthodoxy, and all have the same theological ecclesiology, but may be starting to consider different strategies regarding Church governance, and are now talking through that problem. In a lot of ways, these debates over what is here being called a “new ecclesiology” (and might better have been called a “new approach to global Church governance”) are precisely about how we can value and properly preserve real communion in a world that is quite different from the one in which our old forms of governance were born. These issues are causing struggle (in my experience anyway) precisely because the Orthodox churches want to maintain communion (and all understand its fundamental nature in the same way) rather than the opposite.
In short, the big question we are all asking here is “how do we stay together,” not “how to we break apart.” We know we are one body of Christ, on the same terms we have always been. How do we build a Church governance structure that witnesses to and maintains that in a globalized world? It’s not an easy question, but we share the fundamentals as we struggle, prayerfully (most of the time) toward an answer (and it may take a very long time).
I hope that is some comfort. As you decide on a parish home, choose a canonical Orthodox jurisdiction, and from there just pick a parish where you feel well supported in your work of conversion. There is no fundamental divide on theological ecclesiology happening right now–just on politics.
As Mr. Cole intuits above good bishops make things simple. Bp. Basil, by the grace of God, is a good bishop. What makes a good bishop? As St. Ignatius infers (see the thread on him) a good bishop is one who’s bishop is Jesus Christ.
The key to knowing that is evidence that the bishop willingly lays down his life for his flock and shows his love for them. In addition we have the criteria St. Paul articulated to Timothy.
Interestingly enough when I thanked Bp. Basil for his care of us he said the people of my diocese make it easy.
Maybe we should spend more time on the two great commandments given us by our Lord and the principals of unseen warfare. The first two of which are: have a daring trust in God; trust yourself in nothing.
I know I need that or speculation and opinion too easily overtake my heart.
A great hallmark of modernity/secularism is that everybody’s opinion matters and each are equally valid. Except the ones that aren’t.
Pray for Godly bishops now and in the future. Pray even more fervently that God make each of us worthy of such men.
Lord have mercy.
I was a little afraid that this article would solely explain the rationale behind this “new ecclesiology” and not give any kind of judgement about it. What I read in the last paragraph really is comforting, and I think we’d need even more of that to start showing our bishops what we want, in America or in Western Europe, where I am.
It is obvious that the preservation of this uncanonical status quo agrees with the financial interests of all the autocephalous churches involved, and that would certainly be the reason why the Ecumenical Patriarchate won’t recognize the OCA.
But who could say that this is the sole reason why much wealthier churches, like Moscow or Bucharest, do it ? What’s made obvious in this article is that the new ecclesiology is the attempt at finding a theoria to justify a praxis that no one wants to change. The preparatory debates led in Constantinople at the synaxis in 2014 showed that everything is now being discussed on a national basis (every autocephalous church is not a national one, but the majority of them are, and they’re the ones who advocated, and obtained, the principle of unanimity instead of majority for decisions to be taken).
The real problem is that our churches are now in a (discreet) conflict for leadership, and leadership itself should not be available for competition. Not because there should be one leader for all à la romaine, but, conversely because leadership in the Church is a thousand times different from what it has been transformed into, especially inside national churches.
This is not all to mean that national churches are bad and contrary to Orthodox theology, but rather that the idea of a “national church” has a narrow field of application, and that practice has diverged a lot from it throughout history. One very good example of that lies in the titles given to the Primate of the Georgian church, who is called both His Holiness and His Beatitude. That is because Georgia was not a part of the Roman Empire, and as such, received its autocephaly in the form of the jurisdiction over a given territory, which is called a Catholicate (hence His Beatitude) -a function that was quite different from that of the five Patriarchates. The Catholicoi of Georgia were completely independent but they were not called Patriarchs, according to the missionary practice of Antioch, which is also visible in other heterodox churches of the East. This was not retained, throughout History, but it would have helped greatly in showing the specific nature of the national church: one that is concerned with a territory unified over a culture, and nothing outside of it. Of course this may not be easy to accept for those who are so attached to the prestige of their homeland churches, but fact is that the appellation “Patriarchate” was not meant for every single autocephalous church.
As for the real problem at stake here, that of evangelisation, it’s been made obvious that our way of associating our ethnics with the life of the Church, although it does not prevent everyone from becoming Orthodox, has been a major hindrance for our mission. And the real solution to the need of a local church in America, it seems to me, cannot come from churches whose jurisdiction apply to a foreign country.
I am a new convert from Protestantism who has seen my fair share church politics. The main gripe I have about the state of the Orthodox Church here in American is that it is so ethnically focused. Sorry folk but the beauty of our Church in the book of The Acts of the Apostles is that it transcended culture. The gospel is for all nations. When the Jewish Christians tried to make the Church an ethnic entity, they were rebuked by St. Paul and the rest of the Church. By not establishing a North American Orthodox jurisdiction we are reverting to the oldest sin of the Church ethnocentrism. This quenches evangelism because instead of working towards one singular goal; the conversion of North America . We are insulating ourself from the culture and from one another.
If we really believe that we offer the hope of humanity we will not be so self centered and ethnically cloistered, it’s shameful. Cannon Law is correct and if we submit to the wisdom of the Fathers we claim to represent we will be blessed or else we become more divided.
Orthodox ecclesiology is that every nation gets its own Church. The Church Local is part and parcel of the Church Universal. What is happening now is the unprecedented transnational movement of peoples. The Church’s ecclesiology has not caught up. It’s easy to tell a few Bulgarian sojourners in Istanbul that they have to answer to the local bishops. It’s harder to figure out what to do when a million Greeks show up in the US, or thousands of Antiochians all over the Americas.
Orthodox ecclesiology is that every city (or approximately equivalent territory) has one bishop. National churches are not local churches. As a phenomenon, most of them fall somewhere between the provinces of yesteryear (i.e. in the Roman Empire, when each province had a metropolitan and a synod of his suffragan bishops) and the patriarchates of the high Byzantine and post-Byzantine period, where synods of a selection of the bishops of the whole jurisdiction on a rotating basis (e.g. the Endemousa Synod of Constantinople) met to handle necessary business a few times a year.
Nicholas, your comment in general is a proper corrective to the prior comment to which you responded. However, historically, the Endymousa Synod of Constantinople was not comprised of a “rotation” of members. Rather, it consisted of all hierarchs present (or residing) in Constantinople, at least until the end of the Turkish period. Then for many decades only “active” hierarchs resident in Constantinople and its environs participated. Only in the contemporary period under Patriarch Bartholomew has a rotating membership been initiated to include (and this being permitted by the Turkish government) bishops of the so-called diaspora.
Nonetheless, all this underscores an ecclesiological problem (perhaps crisis would be too strong) that erupted with the fall of the old imperial systems in the East (Byzantine, Ottoman, Russian, Soviet, etc.) and the emergence of the modern nation-state and accompanying nationalistic tendencies. Much of this is the product of the last three centuries…
Thanks for the correction Fr David. I am not as up to date on the history of the Ἐνδημοῦσα as I should be, given that I’m a historian 🙂 I did know about the early history as a synod of all bishops resident or visiting on business in Constantinople, which I was viewing as a kind of de facto rotating membership that in some ways prefigures the current system, as a practical way to manage a patriarchal superstructure that transcends the older system of bishops gathering in provincial synods. I believe the Church of Greece has a similar system for day-to-day business, although all the bishops sometimes meet in a general synod.
Do you happen to know if all the autocephalous churches have a similar system, or does it vary? I am under the impression that the Patriarchte of Antioch, since they have far fewer metropolitans, they generally meet all together.
I’m not yet within the Orthodox Church, will be hopefully beginning in the next few weeks, yet I find this particular topic close to home. As an American the divides between the jurisdictions was a stumbling block to me and yet if this new ecclesiology has any legs it is basically saying a stumbling block is not a stumbling block. Now I realize any uniting would be a long drawn out process yet if the Orthodox Church claims to be the one true Church should it not seek to remove stumbling blocks from the path home. If the leadership of the Church chose cultural unity over Church unity are not the leaders choosing for the Church to finally stand as accused, which is putting man made traditions ahead of the Church.
You are speaking from the perspective of a citizen of a propositional State. Personally, I don’t regard human biodiversity as “man made.” I can point you to three different and patently ethnic expressions of Nativity hymns which are compelling in their own ways (I think a hyperlink resulted in my last comment being eaten). Americans seem to be hearkening to replace the old Byzantine ecumen with their modernist, secular, democratic model. (The US is a creature of Enlightenment philosophy which is, suffice to say, at complete odds with Orthodox historicity.)
I don’t think the hierarchs ever contemplated a world where the Americas were discovered and people could get on a boat and leave when the jobs disappeared or wars broke out. The historically unprecedented mass, transnational movements of peoples means people are carrying their nations with them wherever they go. How else to explain the continuing appointments of ethnic Armenian hierarchs in, say, Canada?
We are all on terra nova at this point. Eventually the Church’s ecclesiology will reflect the facts on the ground rather than an idealized model which has not been immanentized for centuries, assuming it ever existed.
Thanks for your comments, everyone. I can’t reply to each point, but I would like to point out that we are not talking about a feature of *Byzantine* Christianity, nor even a hoary point of canon law. According to the *apostolic* order of the Church, unity of faith corresponds to unity in governance: one Lord, one faith, one baptism — and, as St. Ignatius makes so clear, submission to one bishop, who is archpastor of all right-believing Christians in his See. Schismatics may organize themselves in various ways, but the Catholic Church has one way, just as She has one Lord and High Priest.
Various people seem to shrug their shoulders, as if we’re talking about a minor infraction on the order of kneeling on Sundays. No, no. As the Apostolic and Pre-Nicene Fathers make clear, we’re talking about what “catholicity” itself means.
Thank you very much for this essay, alarming though it is.
This. Exactly this.
I don’t understand why so few people say this; let alone see it.
Amen and amen!
Yes. It would appear that with the fall of the Iron Curtain and the risks to the Christian populations in the Near East, socio-political considerations are requiring a new apologetic. This, however, will be temporary, and historical theological “controversies” (and ecclesiology should be included) were not solved or brought to a close quickly. The so-called “Arian” controvery (-ies!) arguably took a few centuries to finally resolve. The compact narratives of our history books and systematic reflection often ignore the organic movement from the first to the sixth ecumenical council (the seventh is perhaps not directly related to the Christological arguments of the previous six, at least in the same manner).
One may note as well that the displacement of populations (for example, from Cyprus) during Byzantine times, also resulted in deviation from the canonical norms of ecclesiastical governance. The so-called “diaspora” problem is related to the waves of immigration starting in the 20th century. It may take a century for this to play out, but once the conditions on the ground are stable, there is no doubt that the canonical norm that sought to preserve catholicity will be restored. Of course, this is not an argument for complacency in seeking to protect that principle (as seemed to be a concern even of Saint Paul in his correspondence with the Romans), only optimism.
” I can’t reply to each point, but I would like to point out that we are not talking about a feature of *Byzantine* Christianity… we’re talking about what “catholicity” itself means.”
True, but you too easily criticize local Churches whom are looking past the Phanar’s non-solution. What IS your solution?
What is “the Phanar’s non-solution”? If you’re referring to the creation of the Assemblies of Bishops to work on the solution, it should be remembered that all of the Orthodox churches signed onto that process.
Their solution is their (at first glance traditional/normative) interpretation of “barbarian lands” and their rule from Istanbul as if the Roman Empire still existed.
The creation of a committee is not a solution or a theological position – this is so obvious I am surprised it even needs to be said…
Their solution is their (at first glance traditional/normative) interpretation of “barbarian lands” and their rule from Istanbul as if the Roman Empire still existed.
Would you mind giving some evidence for this? Even if true, then the creation of the Assemblies, tasking them with coming up with a solution, would seem to be a change in policy.
The creation of a committee is not a solution or a theological position – this is so obvious I am surprised it even needs to be said…
Aren’t bishops the ones responsible for governing their flocks? Asking the shepherds of those flocks to come together and decide what to do in the midst of difficulty is very much in keeping with the tradition of the Church.
“Would you mind giving some evidence for this?”
Wow! Genuine surprise on my part that this is even questioned. Truly, I think you are asking this in a rhetorical manner – wish you would be more upfront.
Rather than tediously documenting with a dozen or more statements (which could easily be done) this one should give anyone a basic understanding of the Phanar’s explicit position (this is linked several places – I chose one at random):
That is an interesting speech that I am sure represented the views of Metr. Elpidophoros, but that has no official standing. What has official standing is the creation of the Assemblies.
Got anything else?
” has no official standing.”…”Got anything else?”
Now your simply being dishonest…
Unless I am mistaken, that speech has never been approved as a synodal document of the Ecumenical Patriarchate nor even given official, solemn sanction by Patriarch Bartholomew.
Am I mistaken?
“…approved as a synodal document of the Ecumenical Patriarchate nor even given official, solemn sanction…”
I don’t follow it like a journalist but it would not surprise me, it’s the classical bureaucratic maneuver- plausible deniability and all that – but you understand that already (thus the dishonesty)
Antioch, Moscow and others – they are not quite so willing to hide – good for them. Honesty is a virtue…seems in short supply when it comes to anything with the Phanar…
So you don’t have any actual evidence that the EP’s official position is as you say? And you maintain that position even despite official actions to the contrary?
Really, if you declare someone a liar, then you can say anything is what he really believes. And since he is a liar, then there is no evidence which can be brought forward to gainsay what you say about him.
“despite official actions to the contrary?”
Sorry, committees or even “Great and Holy Councils” are in no way “official actions to the contrary”. Is the EP’s stepping into (admittedly difficult) situation a bold “official act to the contrary”. It is an act (and not a position or a committee discussion or anything so nebulous) fulling in keeping with an idea of “submission to the First Throne of the Church ” and Phanar’s understanding of it’s canonical role. The Phanar (or you as their champion) can not hide their understandings or intentions – they are explicit.
This role and understanding may have had a place in the Roman Empire – is a no go today.
Father, would you like me to send you a “Denial is not a river in Egypt” bumper sticker? Truly, I will send you a box full if it will help 😉
I’m no one’s champion. But is it not right to give accusation only with evidence? Surely if what you say is true, there should be something one can actually point to other than what essentially amounts to “Well, everyone just knows!”
I’m just asking for actual evidence. Insinuation doesn’t really count.
Nope, Archimandrite Dr. Elpidophoros Lambriniadis (now a “Metropolitin”) was not insinuating anything – he was explicit. The EP’s excursion into the Ukraine is not an “insinuation”, or even a statement – it is reality. The whole message coming from the Phanar for the last 75 years is clear as a bell.
I don’t think “insinuation” means what you think it means – thinking of the Princess Bride here 😉
Honesty is the first step to recovery…
No, I wasn’t referring to Metr. Elpidophoros’s speech as “insinuation.” Rather, I was referring to the idea that that represents the official position of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
There are various ecclesiologies being put forward by various people associated with the Patriarchate. Metr. John Zizioulas’s views, for instance, are different from Metr. Elpidophoros’s, and he is a rather more important figure in the Patriarchate. But even his views haven’t been given official status, either.
One has to be careful and honest about these things, not just going with whatever propaganda is current. One man’s “clear as a bell” is another’s “sustained anti-EP propaganda.” That’s why it’s important to look at official proclamations and actions, not just at what someone happens to say in a speech.
Anyway, this is all drifting off the topic of the article. Let’s please keep it there — thanks!
” Metr. Elpidophoros’s”
Strange you should bring him up. Is he not the guy who bluntly asserted a very modern papal conception of the EP place? I would say “neo-Papal” but as I understand it you don’t need to qualify it as such.
I am not interested in this or that perception/sentiment. I am interested in facts. Your attempt to limit facts to “official declarations/actions” is a bureaucratic deflection from the facts. By your definition, there have been no facts at all since the last “Great and Holy council” or some such.
When your in a hole, don’t keep digging!
Besides, it’s all a mute point. The local Churches will never accept a Papism, a neo-papism, or the Phanar’s explicit and well known understanding of “barbarian lands”, etc….
” Metr. Elpidophoros’s” Strange you should bring him up.
The link you posted was to a speech by him prior to his consecration to the episcopacy. And yes, he does appear to hold to a view that’s roughly as you describe.
That said, there have been a lot of official statements from the EP, his synod, etc. Many are published right on their website.
In any event, I asked you to keep things on-topic as per the post itself. You’re welcome to have the discussion about what you would like to discuss elsewhere. There are certainly plenty of places where that all rages on rather without ceasing.
It’s frightening that the Old Country churches and their American counterparts are now rationalizing
staying in separate jurisdictions in the New World, when it’s beyond obvious that it is a non-canonical
Let’s face it, the Old World Patriarchs, Metropolitans, whatever, don’t want to lose control, turf and
money from the New World Churches. That’s the other elephant in the room besides “Constantinople
wants to have all New World churches under him”.
And administrative unity doesn’t mean that each parish can’t decide if they want to still keep the
old liturgical languages, as excluding and non-evangelizing as that is.We would however, not
be able to continue using the pagan Julian Calendar. To have disunity in our liturgical life based
on a non-theological issue like a calendar, which is man’s invention anyway, would be unacceptable.
And why should we wait for “Permission” from these Mother Churches? Russia didn’t!
Constantinople didn’t give them autocephaly – they took it! Unfortunately, the bishops and metropolitans
in this country don’t have the courage to simply gather together, become the Synod and elect an American
What are the Old Country Patriarchs going to do if that happens? Excommunicate everybody? Doubt it.
Sometimes you just have to take the bull by the horns and “just do it.”
In my humble opinion, we shouldn’t take the bull by the horns and do it because we’re not ready for it. The Orthodox Church in America (I mean all of them together, not specifically the OCA) is not mature enough for such a step, despite what many of us may think. Because your average American believer, or at least the ones who are vocal, is probably more educated theologically than in most Old World countries, we tend to think we are ready to be on our own. But our all of our book learning doesn’t amount to much practically, at least not yet. We mustn’t forge that “Knowledge puffs up, whereas love builds up.” Especially now, when many of the mother churches need support from their daughters abroad. At some point we’ll have to grow up and move out, but for now we need to support the home budget, economically (yes, it’s not just a matter of the Old World hierarchy’s greed) but especially morally. The relation resembles St Paul’s collection for the Jerusalem church a little.
By which I don’t mean to imply that I agree with the “new ecclesiology” that Seraphim critiques in this post. The US, and everywhere else outside the traditional jurisdictions, should have its own episcopally-united autocephalous Orthodox Church eventually, and the sooner the better. Ideally that would pass through a state of being an autonomous church, running her own internal affairs for the most part independently, but still answering to a Patriarch elsewhere, but I am aware that that would be very controversial, because it would be hard to agree on which Patriarch that should be.
“Many Orthodox people are quite happy that there will be no imminent change in governance”
I am one of them; I live in Chicago.
Outstanding essay, Seraphim: very concise, compelling & timely!
Even before Romania’s synod made its explicit statement in 2011 I was worried about the emergence of this “new ecclesiology”, which seemed to be implicit in certain statements & actions of various Orthodox Churches. Now, as you pointed out, it is unequivocal that the notion has taken root in the ethos of many Churches.
Of course, there are numerous reasons for the rise of this “new ecclesiology”, but I believe that chief among them is the contemporary & novel Constantinoplitan interpretation of the 28th canon of Chalcedon that was postulated about a century ago, which is as untenable as it is ridiculous (I say this as a faithful/loyal GOA member). That canon clearly referred to the bishops & their respective flocks who existed just outside of the imperial boundaries (i.e., among the barbarians) of Pontus, Asia & Thrace (i.e., only those three civil dioceses/geopolitical regions), who’s bishop were subject to the jurisdiction of the patriarch of Constantinople rather than the adjacent metropolitan. However, when a quazi-universal claim of jurisdiction is made based upon this canon we seem to have an equally aberrant & truly opposite ethno-phyletistic reaction that comports with Newton’s 3rd Law of Motion.
Our analysis & discussion is ration, but ultimately there is a dark spiritual force behind all this.
I have been firmly convinced, for quite a few years now, that the deviation in Orthodox theology as reflected by this novel governance is the emerging heresy of our day – one of ecclesiology itself. Every age has had its unique heresy, mostly related to the persons of the Holy Trinity, but now we’re progressing toward the end of the Symbol of Faith to the Church herself.
With God’s mercy this root of heresy will be brought to naught by the grace of the Holy Spirit before it completely ravages the Church & will have to be extinguished at the 8th Ecumenical Council. I think this essays & discussions like this are a good start to initiating the process. My hat is off to you, good sir!
Leaving aside all the various (semi-) branch theory ecclesiological views espoused by notable persons in the Church, I see two new ecclesiologies in the Church which seem to me to be dependent upon one another:
1) Neopapalism (the EP) based upon the importance of “person” in Orthodox theology. This view holds that a first without equals or universal primus guarantees unity and theological truth in Orthodoxy.
2) Ethnophyletism (the rest of the local churches) on the rise due in part to the ever-increasing Neopapalism. This view holds that the ancient canons are basically irrevelant as long as Orthodox still use the same services and get along relatively well. However, let some dispute pertain to territory (e.g. Estonia, Jerusalem, Qatar) and all of a sudden those irrelevant canons re-energize.
Constantinople has this problem as well, for instance, the EP can pray with the heterodox in violation of the canons whilst also enforcing the canons strictly whenever they pertain to the authority of Constantinople. To the idealist in me, the predicament we’re in is a bona-fide scandal and it appears absurd to call this group of increasingly innovative nationalist churches the ‘One Holy Church’. What have we come to? Lord have mercy! There is an assault on Orthodox ecclesiology from the right (phyletism + ignorance masking itself as “traditionalism” and/or “pastoral necessity”) and from the left (apathetic doctrinal relativism + renovationism masking itself as “ecumenism” and/or a “mission to the heterodox”). And we call the Old Calendarists fragmented, are we really any better?
While there is an analogy to the Old Calendarists, our situation actually is much better. They routinely issue anathemas at one another, break communion, condemn one another, etc., all quite frequently. We have our serious problems, but we’re not fragmented to that level. They really are almost impossible to keep track of.
Within my lifetime we’ve seen jurisdictions mentioned in this article denying the grace of other jurisdictions mentioned in this article.
There weren’t anathemas, per se, but the clear teaching that other jurisdictions were fifth-column Orthodox seeking to destroy the Church. And to be blunt, I heard that from nearly every jurisdiction mentioned above.
The Balkanization of Orthodoxy in “the Diaspora,” my homeland, has the effect of even converts playing the “I’m glad I’m not in that jurisdiction” game. Let’s not pretend that such divisiveness is not baked into this new ecclesiology.
For accuracy sake, I’m sure for the rest of my life I will say I am a member of An Orthodox Church.
My favorite comment by the former Rector of our parish happened outside our home after a house blessing. Our neighbor, who is Jewish, bumped into us as she was going home with friends. After a brief introduction there came this:
She: “Are you Greek Orthodox?”
He: “American Orthodox.”
She: “Oh.” (quizzical look)
Doesn’t matter which “in Diaspora” ethnic jurisdiction the parish, American Orthodox suits me just fine. 😉
Seraphim Danckaert deserves praise and support for this article which is 100% correct. Many Orthodox Church leaders do not take criticism very well and Seraphim should be commended for putting this discussion front and center. This is the type of leadership that is needed in the Church today.
Most especially welcome is his reminder that the Church is most healthy when it is a missionary church that evangelizes the culture in which in exists.
Thank you Mr. Dankaert for your honest synopsis. Your digest certainly leads us to think on how autocephalous churches are called to interact with one another; and calls into question the very health regarding their effort to function as a single-minded mission of the One Church of Christ to the world. Likewise, I appreciate your reference to an alternate, growing trend and discussion of a so called “new ecclesiology,” and additionally to citing an example of one indigenous church claiming “their” people world wide irrespective of another indigenous church, namely the OCA in America. I use the word indigenous instead of autocephalous to under score a crucial point. Where one indigenous and autocephalous church already exists in America, she is challenged by parallel churches on the same land who trade off her very ethos for an unhealthy pathology of independence and attachment to the same church in foreign lands.
These issues raised by your paper remind me of two editorials written by Protopresbyter John Meyendorff, which appeared in The Orthodox Church Newspaper. Both editorials bring to light, in the biblical context, the meaning of the word “diaspora” and the implication of its usage with respect to mission. The first editorial is written in March of 1974 titled, “Church or Diaspora?; and the second in February of 1977 titled, “What is Diaspora?” These are extremely relevant to the current discussion. Anyone wishing to read these brief editorials can find them in the book titled, Vision of Unity published by SVS Press, 1987.
As adamently as Fr. John spoke then, so we can say now that the concept of diaspora still needs clarification. Ignored and unresolved, the issue continues to hinder the genuine mission of the Church.
Looking back to his two articles, diaspora designated those of Jewish faith who lived outside Israel yet continued to nurture the hope of returning to her through strong cultural and political loyalty. The Old Testament sanctioned this by the promises of God.
Fr. John wrote adamently that the concept of dispersion is not transferable to the New Testament life in Christ. Instead it is a secularization of the Christian mission. Here, I would quote Fr. John: “In the Lord Jesus Christians discover the ultimate reason why Israel had been originally chosen: the Messiah-i.e., Jesus Himself- was to appear there from the seed of David. However, His appearance and His teaching bring salvation to all nations. Neither Israel, not any other country, can make an exclusive claim to divine election anymore. Israel was indeed elected, but the goal of that election has now been reached: the God of Israel has been revealed in Jesus as Lord and Saviour of the whole world. But since there is no ‘promised land’ any longer (except the heavenly Jerusalem, Apoc 21-22), there cannot be any ‘diaspora’ or dispersion either. Or else Christians can all be seen as being in dispersion -whether they live in the East or in the West, whether they form a majority or a minority in a given country’s population-until they find their true home in God’s heavenly kingdom. This is why the very term ‘diaspora’ or dispersion is never used in the canons of the Orthodox Church.”
Mr. Dankaert, I believe your analysis is correct. However, it remains to be seen how and with what singleness of mind and heart will the Orthodox carry out unity in America. As Fr. John has said, “diaspora or The Church.”
We shouldn’t mistake that Fr. John is against a multi-cultural/ethnic presence united church in one continent or state. It is not a new phenomenon. More than two hundred years of Orthodox Christianity is Alaska is a wonderful example of diversity in unity; and the same was the desire for all of America by St. Tikhon when bishop in America. The fruit of that one missionary labor is the recent canonization of two saints in America of Serbian descent, one American born. Saints Raphael of Brooklyn, Nikolai of South Cannan, John of San Francisco, Innocent and Herman of Alaska, and
many others gave up self-will for God’s will. Practicing the courage to do the same is nurtured by the prayers of these missionary forefathers: and our task therefore should be made less cumbersome.
I most strongly concur with John Lickwar especially Fr. John Meyendorff’s writing and teaching about autonomy and autochephally. He also maintained that a permanent council with representatives from the autocephalous churches is clearly needed to encourage unity and open and frank discussion in the Church. Unfortunately this has not happened. Also it is good to remember that in the 1980s and 1990s, the so called smaller local churches were the proponents of a balanced view of what autonomy and autocephally was and should be. A good article Seraphim!
Well put, John. Unity must mean unity in all respects and dimensions according to the holy canons, without losing our rich and treasured diversity within that unity. Anything less is watering down of Church life so that it becomes something less than what is intended by the divine will. If the Church cannot follow the creed and the spirit and letter of the canons on such an important matter, how can we expect the world to heed the message of the Church?
The issue of jurisdiction is a difficult one. I, myself, am Greek but live in Australia. I was born and raised here. The Greekness of my church has helped me, my family, my children retain their identity. Unfortunately, we do have a tendency to be an ‘ethnic ghetto’ and the language barrier can be immense. I have noticed that cooperation has increased between jurisdictions much more than when I was young.
A couple of observations – the Roman Catholic Church has adopted the idea of overlapping jurisdictions for its Uniate branches. In the USA there are nearly as many Uniate jurisdictions as there are Orthodox jurisdictions but this does not prevent Roman Catholics from incessantly complaining about Orthodox disunity.
Many Protestant groups also have their ethnic divisions. Lutherans did (and do) have German, Swedish and Finish branches in Australia that are not part of the Lutheran church in Australia. The Dutch Reformed Chuch in Australia has remained aloof from the Presbyterians. The Hungarians in Australia even have their own Reformed Churches. There are lots of independent ethnic evangelical churches too, especially Chinese, Tongan, Samoan and and Korean. Needless to say all of these churches are in decline. The USA has similar groups. I just wanted to show that ethnic solidarity is not unique to Orthodoxy.
One problem is that the Orthodox Church is relatively poor. If there was more money then jurisdictions would be less of an issue. What happened was that parishes were organised by parishioners along ethnic lines. They did it themselves with their money. If a Russian bishop turned up and paid / help pay to build a Greek, Antiochinan, Bulgarian, Albanian, Romanian church and establish a community then that community would be much more inclined to follow that bishop. This, of course, did not happen when the bulk of Orthodox migration was happening.
Small steps forward, maybe a step back but I firmly believe that our unity of faith with lead to a unity of jurisdiction.
There can be no theological justification for the concept of the so-called “diaspora” as a territory or territories that are really essentially different from the mother churches, and standing on a different canonical footing such that there ought not to be canonical unity – unity in terms of ecclesiastical government – in those areas.
This “new ecclesiology” is nothing less than a departure from (and hence betrayal of) true Orthodox ecclesiology, which is rooted in unity, one of the 4 “marks” of the Church mentioned in the Nicene Creed.
It also represents, to some degree, a caving to the principle of divisions along ethnic and national identities – a form of phyletism.
It grieves me to see people who want administrative unity and want it NOW–or, better still, yesterday!–spew negativity. And I’m flummoxed by it.
Do people think they will change other people’s minds by pouring scorn, ridicule, even hate, attributing the worst motives to them?
Instead, why do we not get to know and love one another? Serve one another? And devote our time to repentance, as we all called to do.
Politics are a temptation to which we must not succumb. The devil is active among us, wants to distract us from the task at hand, the one thing needful.
Let us, instead, pray more and learn to pray more deeply. Let us search our hearts, repent, confess, fast, commune, and live the faith, which is not a set of propositions that we affirm, but true doctrine and orthopraxy, and let the faith, over time, transform us, such that we grow in Christ’s likeness and draw others to Christ shining within us, rather than drive them away by our venom. As we struggle, fall, repent, confess, and rise, again and again, we will grow in humility, compassion, patience, hope, wisdom, charity, generosity of spirit, and love. And together the practice, by grace, of the faith and the fruits, by grace, of that practice will inevitably draw us together in love–and others irresistibly to us. But, as we are Orthodox, not with all of us under the EP! And this will take time. In the meantime, we have work to do–within ourselves. If we do it, in time, by grace, we’ll draw ever closer to Christ and one another. Let us take heart therefore and attend to the work at hand. With hope and love. Praying for and encouraging one another and bearing one another’s burdens.
Here’s a good, short talk for us all.
[And please understand that I’m not pointing a finger at you (whoever you may be), when I spoke of people pouring negativity. I meant that generally.
And let those who want badly to be under the EP, and are not, simply change jurisdictions, so that they are where they wish to be. The rest of us will be very happy for them. May God bless them richly.]
So What Is “The Trench”?
September 23, 2015 Length: 5:04 minutes
So what is “The Trench”? In episode one, Christian discusses why “The Trench” and the centrality of relationships in the Christian life.
I want to weep every time I read a thread such as this. The scorn and derision directed at one side or another through jargon and abbreviations that are a barely veiled accusation of outright heterodoxy are shameful for any who would call ourselves Christians. However efficient and rhetorically powerful it may seem to abbreviate (MP, EP, Moscow, Phanar, etc), it breeds, and conveys, and habituates us to, contempt.
I would submit that the cultural character of each “local” Church is both the richest blessing and the darkest curse of the Church. It is a blessing because it tends to baptize the entirety of human life, sealing it with the gift of the Holy Spirit, and expressing the ongoing reality of the Lord’s Incarnational salvation of the entire created order. But it is a curse because it becomes an idol, an occasion for offense, an essential misunderstanding of the most fundamental nature of the Church. For when our reason for preferring one or another cultural instantiation of the Church is that we are comfortable there – then we are preferring our own comfort to the hard labor of being transformed. To this temptation, every layman, every priest, and every bishop is susceptible.
I had therefore rejoiced at the hope that, in the not-too-distant future, I, and the people entrusted to my pastoral care, would be moving toward a day-to-day Church life in which we were constantly challenged by the varying practices, norms, and expectations of brother priests and sister parishes of other cultural traditions. I did not expect it to be easy, but I expected to grow in humility and Christian love as the cultural primacy of our identity was subordinated to the primacy of the Faith. I expected it to be difficult to function as a single, locally united, diocese with parishes of such divergent traditions – but I expected that difficult work to be blessed.
I may be wrong, but I fear that all the fancy words of this new ecclesiology are just a veil for a comfortable ethnocentrism. Inasmuch as I learned to fear ethnocentrism from the stated positions of the Orthodox Church in America and the Antiochian Archdiocese, I must end as I begin – I weep to see the same error become apparent policy for those jurisdictions.
Fr. Anthony, yes, what could be (or ought to be) more clear?! Jesus prayed to the Father that we might be one as He and the Father are One. To say, in whatever way, that our Orthodox disunity in America (or elsewhere) is acceptable is not the case. Let us ask someone from outside looking in – how does he see us? Would he say, “My, how they love one another”? Or does he see that we are not one in America? We can make all the arguments we want, all the justifications we can come up with, but that does not change the reality.
I think the answer for unity is simply humility. If we were all more humble, unity would naturally happen of its own accord. But since we all seek our own way, God has given to us that which we desire.
Father, you said you weep over this. I wonder if our Lord weeps too?
The major problem with this post on AFR is that THERE IS NO DIASPORA. A diaspora indicates that people in one region belong to another. This is just a false premise. Originally used with the Jews, maybe they all belonged to Israel, but with Christians, we worship in “spirit & truth.” We don’t belong to any one region. Orthodox Christians coming to the US aren’t going back to Russia; same with Syrians, Bulgarians, Greeks, etc. America is the land of immigrants and none of us belong where our ancestors came from. AND, the Orthodox bishops in these foreign countries have no authority over territory outside their own nor people who are no longer in those territories. Orthodox Canon Law supports this vigorously. THERE IS NO DIASPORA. Therefore, a “local church” in North America is exactly what Orthodox Canon Law prescribes. Foreign bishops have no authority in the US – read your Canon Law and what the Holy Apostles taught & did.
I don’t think the word “diaspora” necessarily has a negative meaning, especially in Christian use. The verb at the root of “diaspora” is used several times in the Acts of the Apostles to refer to the disciples who were scattered from Judaea due to the persecution following the martyrdom of Stephen. It basically means “scattered like seeds,” which implies that the seeds will put down roots where they settle and will bear fruit. This is what happens in Acts, because these disciples started spreading the faith among the Jews in those regions, and possibly among some Gentiles (it’s not clear in the text, perhaps because Luke wanted to emphasize Paul and Peter as the first to evangelize the Gentiles).
In any case, these disciples still referred to the mother of the churches in Jerusalem (Acts 15) and St Paul continued to support and refer to the Jerusalem Church, although claiming independent apostolic authority directly from Christ (Corinthians, Galatians, etc.).
People in the diaspora must realize their responsibility to put down roots and bear fruit, so I agree with you that they won’t necessarily go back to the motherland. But they also can’t just set up their own independent churches. Canon law in fact does not make much provision for the situation in which we find ourselves. The ethnic jurisdictions we have today were the result of pastoral necessity. We have to grow out of them, but we can’t just forget them and act as if they never existed, with all their good and bad elements. The bishops ordained in the diaspora are accountable to the bishops from the old country who ordained them, until the diaspora churches are mature enough for them to attain some kind of independence (autonomy or/then autocephaly).
Hello Ladies and Gentlemen
I’d like to start my reflections introducing the situation of Italy. I’m Italian, of course: I was a server in a Russian parish for years. Services: ALL slavonic, not a word in Italian. Clergy: ALL russian; People: I was the only italian in that church. Other jurisdictions aren’t more opened. Generally, Orthodox here are in a ghetto. “Ethnic solidarity” can be translated as “racial lock”: orthodox people don’t want italians, they dislike us, if we convert to Orthodoxy, they say: “please, return catholic! you are not russian / greek / romenian ” … if you are in a group of parish member, people will speak in their mothertongue, not in our common language ( italian).
Americans speaking about their “horrible” orthodoxy are funny for me: I’m used to “my” diaspora, that’s more awful, because italians here are a ghetto themselves. We are afraid to speak in italian. A lot of italian converts is learning russian or greek to be accepted. Americans have english-speaking parishes, the most part of the clergy is american, and you have american bishops!
Please, pray for Italian Orthodoxy, and pray for a genuine ecclesiology in our West, without ghettos, according to the First Millennium Church.
The situation Marco describes above is very wrong. It goes without saying it shouldn’t be allowed to continue.
But what I tried to say about what’s going on here needs also to be understood.
My reply to Fr Anthony Cook post of October 1, 2015 at 5:25 pm did not post. Perhaps it was too long to post. So, I’ll split it in two and post it immediately after this.
Comment moderation happens as we get time to take care of it. Please don’t repost comments repeatedly. That will get you noticed by our automatic spam filter.
Fr Anthony, I don’t believe it is merely ethnocentrism.
Have you heard of a priest called Robert Arida? He scares a lot of people, but obviously not everyone–not his parish, for instance. Perhaps not his jurisdiction, though I personally doubt that is the case as I know many priests and laity in his jurisdiction who don’t think as he does. But clearly he is of one mind with some (significant?) part of his jurisdiction. Frankie Schaeffer, though not of the same jurisdiction, too claims his parish is in accord with himself.
There are other issues as well. They all need to be worked out. Before we can even contemplate any kind of admin unity. They cannot be dismissed.
What I find incredible is how we treat, speak and write of one another. We are supposed to be Christians. But are we? And we aren’t daft. Are we?
For we appear to think people will be dazzled into wanting to be in a single administrative unit with us by our erudition, our prose, dripping as it is with disdain and derision. For them. Yes, that’s how bright we are! And that, still others, looking at us from the outside, will be drawn to us.
Not all the extant jurisdictions prevented us from becoming Orthodox. But we, thank God, had the immense good fortune of not reading anything on the web. May others likewise not read any of it. It is for salvation in Christ, for the depth, beauty, and fullness of that salvation that we come to Orthodoxy. A salvation that cannot be found elsewhere in such surpassing fullness, profundity, and beauty.
May our brilliant, bitter attacks not dissuade others from diving into the deep where the treasure lies. May they too, by adoption, profit from the very riches we have been given through adoption.
And let us consider this: How could we begin to think anyone would want to have admin. unity with us, if we think of the calendar we are not on as the “pagan Julian calendar”, the PJC that needs to be jettisoned.
Or if we ridicule those who, following a saint, believe (and have always believed) they shouldn’t participate in Halloween because it has pagan roots (note: they aren’t telling the rest of us what to do), though we ourselves may think it’s alright to baptize it? For surely we can dress as saints or flowers and pumpkins, which are good or harmless and aren’t the same as dressing as ghouls… Nothing will avail us, so long as we have no love. And we have no love. We have no charity. And that is a quite, quite terrible.
Many people don’t want to be under the EP–and I don’t abbreviate disrespectfully. For that matter, I never thought AP, BP, MP, SP, EP… were disrespectful, just easier to type–not because he’s Greek (as opposed to what? An Arab, an Albanian, a Bulgarian, A Serb, A Romanian, another Balkan person, a Slav… none of which I am?) but because they reject the idea of an Orthodox pope (or mini pope) and always will. Consequently, they’d rather be under the AP, BP… than under him. They may be equally amenable to be under the GP (Patriarch of Greece), if that were possible, as under any other P, for he makes no such papal or papal-like claim, but by no means the EP. That’s one reason (though hardly the only one) they aren’t (and never will be) Roman Catholics or Uniates. But they are very happy for those of their Orthodox siblings who wish to be under the EP to be just that.
Many people feel strongly also that the EP’s sad predicament under the Turks, while it elicits compassion, is one that makes him eminently ill-suited to represent all Orthodox because it colors his theology, praxis, interactions with Heterodox… as parts of those are very much at variance with what they themselves know to be true and right, no matter what the EPs fans may say. Such people have not the slightest wish to quarrel with the EP and his fans. But they wouldn’t dream of being in a single admin. unit with them. It is quite possible that these people and they will someday, sooner or later, be in two different communions. Should that happen, they will watch these people leave our communion with sorrow but without acrimony–there are prophesies that there will be widespread apostasy as we get closer to the end, which could be a century (or two or 3…) from now, a millennium into the future or whenever. While we don’t know when, we do know that each day we draw closer to it.
Fr Andrew, thank you for the advice.
This is the 2nd part:
This is not to say these folk hate the Heterodox. They don’t. Nor is this to say that we shouldn’t work closely with the Heterodox on matters of common concern. We should. But many people simply aren’t with the EP on issues such as primacy. And shall never be. I am not, nor is my family. Likewise many priests and people I know, across jurisdictions. We are aware of what the EP and his fans believe. We disagree very strongly, though we have no wish to argue with them. But so long as they remain Orthodox, we commune of the same Chalice, are members of the same Body, His Body, and the same Blood courses through our veins, the Blood of Christ. If/when they leave to become Uniates, as others have done before them, we mean to have no acrimony toward them, but rather focus on our own spiritual struggles.
Then, there is the situation of our Orthodox people in the Middle East, thanks, in no small measure, to our nation’s foreign policy. Hardly the time to sever ties with the See of Antioch, I should think.
None of these have anything to do with ethnocentrism.
No doubt there are people who are ethnocentric. Someone I know attended liturgy at a Greek parish this summer, when the Bishop visited, as he does every 4 years or so. He asked her where she was from. She gave the name of a neighboring town. He said, “no, ethnicity. What is your ethnicity?” This was when she went to kiss the cross and receive antidoron. He said/asked nothing else. She has friends there whom she loves and she loves the priest and presvytera there, so she’ll continue to visit, but she said she’d never go there again, when the Bishop visits. His sermon was about preserving and handing down the religion, the language, and the culture. I don’t believe there is anything wrong with that. In Constantinople, our Orthodox people, who antedate the Turks in all of Asia Minor, are oppressed. They weren’t allowed to speak in their native tongue in buses… Here, there are no such restrictions. Why should they give up their language? Happily for us here, unlike for our poor brother Marco (in Italy), there are other Orthodox parishes, for those who want a different kind of parish. But Bishops should not ask and should not be fixated on the ethnicities of Orthodox faithful attending liturgy. So, yes, there surely are people who are ethnocentric. But that is not necessarily the reason many who oppose admin. unity do so. And believe me, there are many converts who do! They didn’t become Orthodox to be no different from some other option available on the religious scene here! Two of the jurisdictions that have now stated they are uninterested in the proposed admin. unity constitute the best places for a person (cradle or convert) to be, in terms of Orthodox formation. They are not buffeted by the winds of time, the vicissitudes of life in America/the West. And they have English parishes, loving people, convert priests and bishops, and even English monasteries. The Antiochian Archdiocese is (and Antiochians here are) benefited by being a part of the ancient Petrine See of Antioch, which antedates both Constantinople and Rome, and where, according to Scripture, we were first called Christians. Our strong connection to the Middle East and Orthodox countries in Eastern Europe, where Orthodoxy had a thousand or two thousand years to shape the culture of our Orthodox people, helps keep us, Orthodox in America, from being no different from our increasingly debased pop culture here, which accepts all kinds of aberrant conduct as normative.
People give all manner of reasons because they don’t want to fight with the people who scare them, people whom they deeply distrust, people with whom they strongly disagree… Why would they want to be drawn into an argument with such people? They don’t. But they wouldn’t want such people to call the shots. They wouldn’t want to be under such people. Or be administered in a single unit with such people. They don’t necessarily want to tell those people how to run their affairs. Their own shortcomings are more than enough for them to deal with, to work on rectifying. But not for anything do they wish to be governed by them. We each have own own messes to straighten out by prayer and struggle, through the grace of God. That is enough. Let others straighten out their own messes. When we’ve all done that, we are more likely to be able to have admin. unity. That is, if everyone really wants to put their house in order, which it isn’t clear everyone wants to do, as, for example, not everyone today considers disordered what Orthodox traditionally have considered just that.
Why, some of us even consider orthopraxy optional, even though Orthodoxy is not a religion solely of belief but one that informs and transforms every aspect of our lives. Some, in some jurisdictions, have never been to confession. That’s right, never. Others of us don’t make any effort to fast (we seem to believe fasting is, today, meant only for monks in monasteries), while most other Orthodox believe it needs to be done under the direction of one’s spiritual father, who, knowing one and one’s particular circumstances well, will guide one accordingly. Some of us dismiss such divergent practices and beliefs among us, thinking we should have admin. unity shoved down all of our throats as we want it, we deem such differences inconsequential, and brand anyone who believes otherwise–or even fasts–as purists, rigorists (we are never slack, enslaved, addicted…), Pharisaical, legalistic, and a whole host of other things.
And we are astonished and dismayed when we find others aren’t desirous of being administered with us. That’s what’s astounding. Nothing else.
We are SO not ready to be one admin. unit. Nor shall we ever be, if we go on as we are. But what’s that? It’s nothing when compared with our salvation, which itself we jeopardize by being as we are. Disparaging others, pillorying them, while seeking to force our will on them. They aren’t forcing us to fast, give up our calendar, go to confession, not become Heterodox, if we wish to, nor address God as ‘You” (rather than Thou/Thee)… They simply want to be left in peace to follow, in humility, the way of their forebears, which they know to be salvific. If we want admin. unity, the onus is on us. We must draw them in love to us, by transforming ourselves, by humbly living the Faith, the only true salvific Faith, by conforming to Christ, in Whose image we were created and in Whose likeness we are here, together, in community, to grow.
But let us not despair. We’ve no cause for that. The Lord calls us all to repentance. In humility, let us turn around. Let us love and serve one another. As we do it, our capacity to love and serve will increase and we will love and serve more and more, and from that good things will result, for those who remain Orthodox, which may, by grace, be all of us. We can but hope. And pray. And work on ourselves. Strive.
Nothing is beyond the Lord. Let us hope in him.
No matter how things pan out in terms of admin. unity, we need to grow in patience, in love, in charity. Let us work hard on that. And leave the rest to God. If we do, good things will happen. While I know not what those good things will be, I am confident what will happen will be good, very good. It will be for our eternal good. May God forgive us, lead us, bless us.
This is quite plainly an attempt to push a liberal, globalist agenda on the Church. It’s also inaccurate, as many younger people are turning not towards so-called ‘conservatism’, but to nationalism. I’ve seen countless millenials on social media who have simultaneously embraced Christianity, and also asked ‘what has conservatism conserved?’ They very rightly feel that globalist, and yet supposedly traditional visions of modern Christians have failed to maintain even a single Christian value, and have capitulated to modernism virtually without exception. And the response to such concerns, instead of Christian sympathy? Contempt: You’re just too stupid to understand that we know what’s best for you, and similar rhetoric. Even if you disagree with the trend towards nationalism, why in the world do you think anyone would find that response to their views appealing in any way?
Over a year and a half later, the lines are VERY blurred when it comes to conservatism vs. nationalism. It’s strange that you bring American secular politics into a discussion of Orthodox ecclesiastics. It says far more about your agenda than that of the author.
Kudos, Seraphim. Interesting and enlightening article. Glad to see you’ve done well for yourself the past two decades.
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