Posts Tagged ‘church primates’

(Take One is here, where I ran off at the mouth for a while!)

Patriarch is one possible title for the presiding bishop or primate of a region of The Orthodox Church comprising a number of bishoprics, and/or even a number of smaller such regions.  Currently the other two possible titles are Metropolitan or Archbishop, although not all Metropolitans or Archbishops are presiding bishops of regions.

At this time Orthodoxy generally recognizes 9 Patriarchs of the following ‘home’ regions, listed in order of honorary seniority:

  1. Constantinople: northern and western Turkey, northern and eastern Greece, Semi-autonomous Church of Crete, Autonomous Church of Finland.  NB: Often referred to as the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, style bestowed during the 1st Christian millennium as C’ople was capital of the (“Byzantine”/Eastern) Empire of the Romans, ie, “the  Ecumene,” even while the Pope* and Patriarch of Rome and All the West was still First Among Equals, though most of the time outside the Empire.
  2. Alexandria: continent of Africa, excluding Sinai Peninsula
  3. Antioch: (headquartered in Damascus, Syria, since Middle Ages): southern Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Iran, Persian Gulf
  4. Jerusalem: Israel, West Bank, Gaza Strip, (Golan Heights?,) Jordan, rest of Arabian Peninsula, autonomous monastic Church of Sinai
  5. Moscow: former Soviet Union, except part of Caucasus (see Georgia below), Estonia (shared with Constantinople by temporary agreement), Autonomous Church of China (revival under negotiation with PRC; Hong Kong shared cooperatively with Constantinople), Autonomous Church of Japan (C’ople has a couple Greek parishes there), missions in Mongolia, North Korea
  6. Serbia: former Yugoslavia; ministry to Serbs in Romania and Albania by agreement with those Churches.
  7. Romania: that country; ministry to Romanians in Serbia by agreement with that Church.
  8. Bulgaria: that country.
  9. Georgia: that country and adjoining parts of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Turkey.  NB: Georgia’s primate is fully titled Catholicos-Patriarch, Catholicos having been an ancient primatial title in the Caucasus and Mesopotamia.

The following regions’ chief bishops are titled Metropolitan: Poland (autocephalous), Czech Republic and Slovakia (autocephalous), Orthodox Church in America (OCA, de facto autocephalous), Ukraine (Moscow Patriarchate, autonomous), Belarus (MP, autonomous), Japan (MP, autonomous), Moldova (MP, autonomous), several provinces in Romania, the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (aka ROCOR: MP, autonomous), the Ukrainian Churches of the USA and of Canada (parts of C’ople).  And the following regions’ chief bishops are titled Archbishop: Greece (ie, western Greece: autocephalous), Cyprus (autocephalous), Albania (autocephalous), Finland (C’ople, autonomous), Crete (C’ople, semiautonomous), the Greek Archdiocese of America (part of C’ople).

The title employed is a matter of local ecclesiastical tradition and evolution.  And as I mentioned, many Metropolitans and Archbishops do not head regions or clusters of bishoprics, but single bishoprics, or may even be auxiliary bishops.  But according to the common law of the Church, “A Patriarch never submits to another Patriarch,” nevermind to any other Bishop … except as equals in order of precedence or honorary seniority.  For example, if two or more Patriarchs find themselves in a meeting or church service together, the senior presides or chairs, but ideally does not ‘dictate.’

*–In Orthodox faith and practice, the title pope has never carried universal jurisdiction or significance, or even necessarily episcopacy.  Orthodoxy’s senior pope is the Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria and All Africa, “only” second-among-equals; its other popes, ie, “Fathers,” are parish priests in Greece, Romania, and Russia [hence such common family surnames as Pappas, Popp, and Popov, respectively; St. Innocent of Alaska was born into a family of Popovs in Siberia, but since there were so many unrelated Popovs when he went to school, he was assigned a byname, Veniaminov, by which he became known exclusively].  Thus, the Pope of Rome in their eyes was never more than a brother Patriarch, senior only because Rome was the first capital of the Empire of the Romans (as affirmed on paper by Ecumenical Synods).  OTOH, in its own eyes Rome’s “pope” effectively developed another, higher level of jurisdiction, even over other Patriarchs, sometimes embodied in the fuller title “Pope of the Universal Church.”  The rest of Christianity never accepted this, even if from time to time Rome took actions in the East that came to be accepted, even acclaimed with what is sometimes called “Byzantine hyperbole.”

Why Patriarch at all?  By the middle of the 1st millennium the 5 most important or regionally-influential bishoprics in Chalcedonian Christendom had been accorded recognition as ecclesiastical “country-rulers,” or from the Greek, patri-archs: Old Rome, New Rome (C’ople), Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem.  (This among several hundred Ecclesiastical Provinces, and thousands of bishoprics!)  This usage spread with Byzantine Christianity among the Serbs and Bulgarians, and eventually to the Empire of Russia, to Romania, and to Georgia.  Sometimes a new Local Orthodox Church’s primate was not called Patriarch, but “just” Metropolitan or Archbishop, only to have the higher honor of Patriarch bestowed upon him later in history.  The others listed above have not yet been “elevated” to Patriarchal status, and perhaps never will, since in modern times it seems established that a Local Orthodox Church can be autocephalous without having to be a patriarchate; in fact, Cyprus was formally affirmed as autocephalous by the Third Ecumenical Synod (the Council of Ephesus) in the 5th century, and has never been a Patriarchate.

By comparison, AFAIK Metropolitan as a distinct title was never used in Western Europe, although most Latin prelates called Archbishop are actually defined as metropolitan archbishops, that is, as chief bishops of ecclesiastical provinces.  But most Latin provinces have long since lost most of their significance in Church life to Vatican agencies and the relatively-new national and regional Bishops’ Conferences.  In my own state, the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference includes resident ruling hierarchs not only of the Latin Church, but also the Ukrainian and Ruthenian (aka “Byzantine”) uniate Churches.  Similarly, some Anglican primates or archbishops are defined as metropolitans, but not as a title.  OTOH, the most historically significant Latin Patriarchs other than Rome developed thanks to the Crusades’ introduction of the Latin Church into the Near East, and continued with later honorifics for bishops in Venice, Lisbon, the West Indies (ie, colonial Spanish America), and the East Indies (ie, colonial India and vicinity); but there has never been any question of the strictly subordinate character of these other Latin patriarchs to the Pope of Rome.

[In re: “Patriarch of the West”: The page just referenced at Giga-Catholic.com actually graphically illustrates the elevation of Rome above Patriarchates, just as this one does not list Rome AS a Patriarchal See — just as some Orthodox commentators feared when Benedict XVI disused his most influential ancient title, Patriarch of the West, a couple years ago.  What they critiqued is that from the o/Orthodox perspective, far from humbling Rome’s Papal office, this move sought to rely ever more on the unaccepted claim to “Pope of the Universal Church.”  Again ISTM the Orthodox and Rome are talking past one another without realizing it.]

Historically the Latins in many countries had national Primates.  Often these were the bishops of those nations’ oldest Sees, sometimes their most important even if not oldest — and then there are England and Ireland, each with TWO primatial Sees, Canterbury and York, and Armagh and Dublin, respectively!  Baltimore was kind-of considered primatial see of the United States, although the status never developed into as big a deal as in some European countries.  These primacies were usually honorific, sometimes real chairmen of their episcopates, although sometimes in local ecclesiastical politics, or even in dealings with civil rulers, they became real leaders of their peoples.  They are now said to be on the wane worldwide, again in exchange for Bishops’ Conferences.

(“Oops, I did it again.”  Oh well, live and learn!)

What’s a Patriarch?

The election just announced (“Новым Патриархом стал митрополит Кирилл” — with an icon streaming myrrh right there in the church in Moscow! More here and here temporarily. Good short biography here.) of a new Patriarch for around half of the world’s quarter-billion or more Eastern Orthodox Christians (after the repose last month of His Holiness Patriarch ALEXEI II of Moscow, All Rus, “and the Far North” as it was classically described at least once) — Metropolitan KYRILL of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, Russia, widely considered the “frontrunner” (God grant you Many Years, Your Holiness!) — might raise the question of what an Orthodox Patriarch actually is.

And myself coming from a Latin background and living in the West, addressing mostly others living in the West, in English, very familiar with the Pope of Rome — if you’ll permit me, I’ll start off by saying that an Orthodox Patriarch is not normally a “little Pope” whose word is law among those whose Patriarch he is.  Although like all Orthodox Bishops he is officially a leading teacher of Orthodoxy, he does not “develop doctrine,” alone or with anybody else, but merely teaches together with his brother Bishops “that which was handed down from the Apostles,” ie, Holy Tradition (traditio, handing down), including Holy Scripture.

The Orthodox Church is organized into clusters of dioceses, a Tradition established after the First Ecumenical Synod aka the Council of Nicea in AD 325.  No Orthodox Bishop in communion with The Orthodox Church stands alone, but with his brother Bishops, normally on a geographic basis.  (The best comparison for our purposes might be the Anglican Communion’s normative structure, with separate Church Provinces in different countries or regions, each led by its bishops collectively as equals, based on this tradition.)  Such a cluster might be called an ecclesiastical province, a catholicosate (historically), a patriarchate, or other terms such as National Church, Local Church (with a big-L and a big-C), jurisdiction, or simply Church.  And some of these may be ‘clusters of clusters.’

Normally the Ruling Hierarch of the political capital, largest city, or leading diocese, serves as ex officio chairman of the Bishops of that cluster of dioceses — First Among Equals — as well as overseeing its central administrative offices and functionaries, providing stability and focus for the whole Church in that cluster.  Traditionally his diocese was called that cluster’s metropolis, and he, its Metropolitan, or Metropolitan Archbishop.  Today some are instead called Archbishop, primate, or Patriarch.*  In a cluster of clusters, still one of the primates is traditionally ex officio presiding bishop of the whole, with seniority over fellow Bishops of equal rank … although often in such a case the chief bishop is titled Patriarch, so it’s clear.  Orthodox have never recognized any Bishop with greater seniority than a patriarch, and maintain the ancient dictum, “A patriarch never submits to another patriarch,” but takes his turn in the traditional established order of seniority even among patriarchs, as an equal.

(This, naturally, is the [big-T] Traditional problem — ecclesiopolitically if you will — with the claim of the Patriarch of Rome to jurisdiction over other Patriarchs, even back when he was First Among Equal Patriarchs.  “Pope” was never recognized as a rank higher than Patriarch outside the Western Patriarchate; in fact, Christendom’s other Pope, he of Alexandria, Egypt — no unimportant city in the Roman Empire or the later Church — has never aspired to what Orthodox have come to call papalism, that universal, immediate, ordinary, supreme, full jurisdiction over every Christian, asserted by Rome.  Nevermind all the other problems with Rome’s claims, which are not the topic of this post!  BTW, Orthodox Bishops have differing titles, “ranks,” and seniority, only for purposes of order, honor to the dioceses they lead, and varying responsibilities.  That is to say, at every meeting of them their speaking order and chairmanship is predetermined, with the aim of making things run smoother than otherwise; also who presides at a Liturgy with more than one Bishop present.  And a Bishop’s basic responsibilities may be as an auxiliary bishop, or else a Ruling Hierarch, which latter may along with that serve as provincial primate, or primate of a cluster of provinces.)

Today 9  of Orthodoxy’s local primates are Patriarchs, those of Constantinople (Istanbul), Alexandria, Antioch (resident in Damascus), Jerusalem, Moscow, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, and Georgia (this last titled Catholicos-Patriarch).  Each is the lead Bishop for Orthodox in the area around his city or country, and some also elsewhere because of 20th-century expansion in Orthodox evangelization and mass migration.  As such, a Patriarch’s (or other primate’s) exact responsibilities vary from place to place.  Besides administering his own diocese, chairing local meetings of synods and councils of Bishops and other churchmen and -women, and overseeing central Church administration and institutions, he often visits throughout his Local Church and other Local Orthodox Churches to maintain ties of fellowship / communion (Greek koinonia) in person, serves high-profile Liturgies, preaches, writes, advocates for public wellbeing and improvement and traditional, Orthodox-influenced culture(s), meets with governmental and non-Orthodox religious leaders, provides overall leadership in his Church, leads in the Church teaching and formation of young people and future churchpeople, and overall tries to help his people be saved….  In short, it’s the work of any Orthodox Bishop, ‘writ large’ if you will.  But normally in a far more collaborative spirit than many Westerners might expect considering Orthodoxy’s ‘oldness’ and ‘conservatism,’ “long beards, robes, and services,” headscarves (often), lack of “praise bands,” dearth of agitation, exhortations to piety and humility, ‘cloistered’ or semi-cloistered monasticism….

It’s a commonplace in the field of  Church History that a Bishop’s “job one” was to ensure the unity of his local flock, protecting it from the divisions of heresy and schism.  A Patriarch’s (or other primate’s), then, is to also ensure the unity of his Patriarchate or Province.  This is similar to the role of ruling bishops and primates in other Churches similarly structured, such as Anglicanism, Catholicism (Western and Eastern, papal and “independent”), the Oriental Churches (ie, Coptic, Ethiopian, Syriac, Armenian, Asian Indian, etc.), and the Assyrian Church.  In this way, it’s not unique to Orthodoxy.  Even the title of Patriarch is used by other “Eastern” Churches besides us.

And why the title Patriarch?  Really, Patriarch is ‘just’ a primate and Local Church granted more honor and seniority by the Church, for whatever reasons.  It’s not strictly theological or ‘necessary.’  All Orthodox Churches are equal.  Another irony is that Pope Benedict XVI of Rome the other year dropped the one of his many historic titles — Patriarch of the West — that o/Orthodox Tradition can theoretically deal with!

Also, a Patriarch (or Primate, or any Bishop ideally) is revered by Orthodox Tradition as a sacrament, symbol, sacred embodiment of his Church, hence their vestments and their hand-kissing by laity.  He is in a sense the father of his Church; episcopal consecration is part of the “Mystery” of Holy Orders, after all.  The ultimate ‘icon’ of a Church is its primate presiding over Divine Liturgy alongside his clergy, surrounded by the faithful.  After all, it’s not just about pushing pencils!

(*–BTW, an Orthodox Patriarchate is not in the first place what feminist theorists refer to as a patriarchal structure.  In Orthodox usage the word patriarch derives not from Greek words for father-ruler, but country-ruler [in broad and religious senses] … patria as fatherland or motherland, meaning simply a sizeable territory.)

This is good news, because it represents closer cooperation of another “canonical” jurisdiction with the main grouping of other canonical jurisdictions.  Bishop MERCURIUS of Zaraisk, who administers around three dozen parishes in the U.S. – referred to sometimes as “the Russian Orthodox Church in the USA” – on behalf of the Patriarch of Moscow personally, has attended some SCOBA meetings in recent years as an observer.  AFAIK there has never been any question about the “canonicity” of the Patriarchal Parishes of the ROC in the USA (as they are also called) as such, ie, their Communion with the rest of the Orthodox Church, at least since Moscow and the Orthodox Church in America (OCA) reconciled in 1970.  (Don’t ask me about before 1970 though; my history’s rusty.)

The PPs aren’t officially a diocese, but are under the personal jurisdiction of the Patriarch of Moscow, though as far as I can gather, they function almost like a diocese.  (There’s a similar cluster of parishes in Canada with its own administrator-bishop under the Patriarch.)  They were part of a rival diocese Moscow launched here, also called The Exarchate, after the OCA, then referred to as the Metropolia, declared temporary autonomy as a result of the Russian Revolution and Civil War through the 1920s and the disruptions it inflicted on the Patriarchate.  IOW, Moscow officially didn’t always recognize the Metropolia between the ’20s and ’70, although OCA histories point out that at least a couple times they continued to submit their newly-elected Primates to the Patriarchate for confirmation, and it confirmed them, sometimes years later.  After 1970, these were parishes that didn’t wish to be merged into the OCA right away, when Moscow assigned its canonical territory here to the OCA, and so it was agreed they wouldn’t have to, and that Moscow would only facilitate their integration into the OCA when each parish desires it.

To my knowledge, essentially only two other local canonical “jurisdictions” are not in SCOBA now, the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR, aka ROC Abroad / ROCA) and that of the Jerusalem Patriarchate.  AFAIK there is no question about their Communion with the rest of the Orthodox Church, it’s just that SCOBA membership isn’t mandatory.

A word about SCOBA itself is in order.  The Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas* actually is comprised ‘only’ of the 9 member-primates of certain jurisdictions headquartered in the U.S., and now also the PP administrator vicar-bishop, Mercurius (at this writing SCOBA hasn’t updated this page yet).  Jurisdictions themselves technically aren’t part of SCOBA, and neither are the other Bishops of jurisdictions with Primates in SCOBA, although SCOBA has organized so far three meetings of many of their other Bishops here, in Ligonier, Penna., in 1994; in Washington in 2001; and in Chicago two years ago.  SCOBA also sponsors several officially interjurisdictional ministries or organizations.  SCOBA is not a synod or jurisdiction, but a voluntary working-group for greater collaboration among Orthodox here, with an ultimate goal of jurisdictional unity of the Orthodox here.  There are (or perhaps have been) similar organizations in Australia, Germany, and France.  SCOBA has its critics: some say they’re going too slow towards Orthodox unity, others say they’re too involved with the Ecumenical Movement.  The Primates convene twice a year; this is interesting because according to ancient Orthodox Church Canons (rules), a local (provincial) synod of bishops is supposed to meet twice a year.

(*–“Americas,” I believe, because at the time the Greek Archdiocese of America was “of North and South America,” although today a couple other groups have some parishes in South America also.  But most Orthodox there are not part of SCOBA.)