Posts Tagged ‘Eastern ecclesiology’

As commonly used in reference to Orthodoxy and Eastern Catholicism — broadly considered (I can’t speak about other Churches) — in the Western world, the informal noun jurisdiction seems to indicate a particular ethnic, national, and/or patriarchate’s Church in a given country, region, or continent(s) … considered a part of The One Single Orthodox Church [or “The Catholic Church,” in ECs’ case], completely sharing the same doctrine and Faith, “In Full Communion” and not separate “denominations.”  (However, the term may also be used, less commonly, in connection with “non-canonical” groups.)  I believe the term in this usage is so prominent in the West because, due to “overlapping” (or disagreement regarding … jurisdiction), there are so many here, more per square mile than in ‘the Eastern world’ where Orthodox Church structures are mostly integrated in one way or another.

I’m describing this very carefully.  Technically, any Ruling Hierarch’s area or class of responsibility might be (and sometimes IS) called his jurisdiction, or for Greek words, his eparchy (“to rule over”) or omophorion (his liturgical-vestment stole, essentially, symbolic of his shepherding [like a Latin metropolitan-archbishop’s pallium]).  However, I believe in common, colloquial discussion, the term is rather used as I stated above.  This may be because any local bishoprics within “a jurisdiction” are perceived as being able to “come and go” over time, as with their boundaries, while “the jurisdiction” itself — in this case a parent body if you will — has had a longer existence, and often a more stable or knowable one, especially in the eyes of people less familiar with the jurisdiction under discussion at this or that moment.

I said “a particular ethnic, national, or patriarchate’s Church” generically, too.  A “jurisdiction” in fact may be a Bishopric, a cluster of Bishoprics, or one or more parishes overseen in some other way.  To flesh this out, in the United States and Canada, the following are currently clusters of Bishoprics commonly described as (“canonical”) jurisdictions:

  • The Autocephalous Orthodox Church in America (OCA), consisting of 11 “territorial” dioceses (one called an Exarchate), 3 additional “ethnic” dioceses (these latter may also sometimes be referred to as “jurisdictions,” even though they are parts of The OCA), and 3 parishes in Australia;
  • the Antiochian Archdiocese of North America, structured as 9 territorial dioceses, as well as the overlapping Western Rite Vicariate;
  • the Greek Archdiocese of America, consisting of 8 metropolises (local/regional bishoprics), a Direct Archdiocesan District, the overlapping “Vicariate for Palestinian/Jordanian Communities in the USA” (which may also be referred to as “a jurisdiction”); and a Patriarchal monastery with its dependent monasteries, parishes, and missions in the U.S. and Belize, Central America;
  • the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA, with 3 eparchies;
  • the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada, also with 3 eparchies;
  • The Serbian Orthodox Church in North and South America, with 4 dioceses in the U.S. and one in Canada; and
  • the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR), with 3 dioceses in the U.S., one in Canada, 2 in Western Europe, one each in Australasia and Russia, along with an “ecclesiastical mission” in Jerusalem, a cluster of parishes in South America, and an Old Rite (Old Believer) parish administered by a vicar-bishop (auxiliary) of the First Hierarch (primate) of ROCOR.

The following are currently single Bishoprics commonly described as (“canonical”) jurisdictions:

The following are currently other parish structures commonly described as (“canonical”) jurisdictions:

  • The Patriarchal Parishes of the Russian Orthodox Church in the USA, administered by a vicar-bishop (auxiliary) of the Patriarch of Moscow, and
  • the Patriarchal Parishes of the Russian Orthodox Church in Canada, also administered by a vicar-bishop (auxiliary) of the Patriarch of Moscow.

How are they (within “canonical” Orthodoxy) different from denominations?  Due in part to unfamiliarity, rough analogies, and/or misinformation, Orthodoxy is widely considered “a family of churches,” compared to the Oriental Churches or the historic Anglican Communion, contrasted with the Papacy of Rome, etc.  But I believe Holy Tradition from within Orthodoxy views it as a single Church, subdivided into Patriarchates and other Autocephalous Churches, just as these are further comprised of Autonomous, Semi-Autonomous, and other local Churches — ecclesiastical provinces and bishoprics, generically speaking.  We Westerners aren’t used to thinking of a single Church including more than one ‘effective’ Patriarch, who “does not submit to another patriarch,” since the Patriarch of Rome is effectively “more equal” than his Eastern Catholic and other Latin Patriarchs … with whom most Westerners are unfamiliar anyway!  (This isn’t a put-down of Catholicism in this case, merely an observation.)  Orthodoxy has no human ‘top dog’ able to force other Bishops to his will “under pain of excommunication” the same way Rome has, “merely” a First Among Equals — the same for over 1,600 years.

Orthodoxy’s internal squabbles, turf battles, boundary disputes, and apparent “ethnic” divisiveness, further remind Westerners more of Protestant denominations than of a single Body.  But the institution of the o/Orthodox Ecumenical Synod (Council) makes Orthodoxy’s unity, oneness, most visible.  Before the 20th century it was not unheard of in Orthodoxy to say we had had 9 of these: the 7 commonly-considered during the first Christian millennium, an 8th in there, and the 9th during the 1300s.  It’s been a while, but the next has been in the works for most of the last century (the first that won’t be “strongly encouraged” together by an Orthodox Emperor!).  o/Orthodox Ecumenical Synods have refuted errors and the erroneous, sacked Patriarchs, even examined Popes of Rome for heresy, as well as brought greater order to disorder in the Church … all under the heard/felt, experienced, confirmed leadership of the All-Holy Spirit of God, One of the Trinity, in the meetings and among the holy ones outside the meetings — the true “guardians of the Faith” — who received their Teaching (and rejected “robbers’ synods” lacking the Spirit and misleading the Flock).  Today’s autocephalous Orthodox Churches are the true successors of the 1st millennium’s autocephalous ecclesiastical provinces, and the ante-Nicene “autocephalous” bishoprics, maintaining The Church’s conciliarity, Truth, and reasonableness for nearly 2,000 years.

So internal — if you will, inter-jurisdictional — disagreements are temporary … even if it takes a while to work them out … this seems to be God’s Most Holy Will.

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