Posts Tagged ‘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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The blogger from the previous post, Mr. Brooks Lampe in the Washington, DC, area, here tackles some heavy stuff, without it coming across too heavy! He’s reporting and reflecting mostly on a book by Philip Sherrard, whose writing can be extremely dense – well-planned, well-packed, making for downright oppressive reading, like much philosophy can be – but finally rewarding to the effort. It’s the sequel to Lampe’s article linked to in the previous post.

A few reflections of my own:

  • Fr. Gregory Matthewes-Green referenced there is the husband of Frederica Matthewes-Green, speaker, critic, and columnist about Orthodox and other topics, in person, in print, and on radio. They are the pastor and khouria (Arabic for priest’s wife [priest is khoury, like the surname], apparently pronounced like Korea) of Holy Cross Antiochian Orthodox Church in Linthicum, Maryland, near Baltimore.
  • Lampe blew me away by saying the following, even before getting to Sherrard! (emphasis added): To a large extent, in fact, I credit Western Christianity for leading me to the East…. [T]he West has always been introspective in trying to identify and return to the true faith where it perceives cracks in the truth. Anglicanism and the C.E.C. in particular, I believe, live out the agonia of a faith that has been partially damaged or compromised. For Western Christians, present-day Christianity in part means salvaging and rebuilding the Church. This is most obvious in terms of living in a world where the Church has been “broken” into multiple parts, but it is also evident in the liturgy and sacraments, where there is a sense that the inherited forms and meanings of the modern West are lesser versions of a former glory. In the minds of most high-church Westerners, that former glory can never be restored; as such, the best thing to do is stay the course and counteract the Church’s entropic tendencies. Western Christianity’s “agony,” then, plays a large role in protecting us against complacency (although skeptics and agnostics can become complacent) and in stimulating a desire for a seemingly unreachable ideal. In studying the particular theological differences between Rome and Orthodoxy, I am beginning to see that this agony is not the necessary dead end.
    • ISTM Rome itself might disagree with such a characterization, but one might see it in Rome’s, just like Protestantism’s, constant searching for new ways to express what it has of the tradition, or ways to say what it has better; hence all the ‘schools of theology’ throughout its history and their struggles and conflicts and politics (perhaps unfairly represented, for readers/viewers of Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose, by the great philosophical/theological question of the debate, “Did Christ own the clothes He wore?”).
  • Lampe points to the insight that even when we use the same words, Orthodox and Latins are often not saying the same thing. This is a theme of Fr. John Romanides as well.
  • Learning that the papacy of Rome – to paraphrase somebody in the musical 1776 (“John Adams”?) I think? – did not ‘spring full-grown from the head of Christ,’ but historically evolved from a local bishopric to doubt-worthy and damaging claims of universal jurisdiction, infallibility, and necessity for salvation, was key to my leaving it the first time in favor of the Quakers in 1991, returning to it ‘on my own terms’ in ’98, and thus in the background of my leaving it again for Orthodoxy in ’02.
  • Where Lampe/Sherrard(?) uses the word parish, IIUC I believe we Orthodox have to usually understand bishopric or diocese (of whatever title). Some early Councils use parish not in the modern sense of a subdivision or outpost of a diocese, but the whole, presided over by its Ruling Hierarch. In truth, the Whole Orthodox Church and Christ’s Body is indeed theologically present in every Eucharistic assembly, with or without the in-person presence of its Ruling Hierarch, but at least with his authorization… though this is true par excellence under his actual presidency: the Bishop, his priests, deacons, and other clergy, in the midst of the laity. This is why for us a Hierarchical Divine Liturgy is such a big deal.
  • This article points to the theological importance of the Local Church better than I’ve ever seen before, something with which the Latin Church wrestled after its Second Vatican Council, until ‘localizers’ were basically ‘pinned’ (to extend the wrestling metaphor!) by the “tag team” of John Paul II and then-Cardinal Ratzinger, his doctrinal chief, in favor of the papacy again, at least as far as official discussion is concerned. This is why the dribs and drabs that came out in connection with the “dropping of the title Patriarch of the West,” from Ratzinger – now Pope Benedict XVI – and others last March, were so unexpected, uncertain, unsatisfying… and untrusted! This presentation of Orthodoxy, and many others, starts with the Local Church; Latins instinctively look first to a “Universal Church” of which their pope is the merely-human head, and local dioceses mere outposts with an uncertain practical-theological significance, amid his universal jurisdiction even theoretically over every individual believer, even around that believer’s local bishop.
    • (NB: On the subject of Local Catholic Churches – or not! – I believe the concern expressed over the 2002 establishment of 4 ‘normal’ Latin dioceses in the Russian Federation, with one of them, in Moscow, as their ‘chief,’ has proved unnecessary. The Latin ecclesiastical province of “the Mother of God of Moscow” seems, like all other Latin ecclesiastical provinces in recent centuries, virtually toothless, and not an “innovation” such as an Orthodox autonomous metropolia. Each diocese’s relationship with Rome remains full and direct. The four bishops do form the Russian Federation Catholic Bishops’ Conference, which is for now as relatively powerless as all other Latin national bishops’ conferences. The four dioceses’ former post-Soviet existence as “apostolic administrations” is normally considered by Latins an interim structure, on the way to being made a diocese. [They are called “apostolic” because of their status as sort-of appendages of Rome, sometimes called by Latins “the Apostolic See.”] It’s true that few Latin bishops are titled “Metropolitan” as apparently their Archbishop of Moscow has been sometimes referred to as, but his formal title is normally just Archbishop; he is described as ametropolitan archbishop” to distinguish him from the relatively few Latin archbishops who are not the mostly-titular heads of these mostly-toothless “provinces.” I also note that Latins in the disputed Sakhlin Islands [between Russia and Japan] remain outside the “province” of Russia, within an undeveloped structure called an “apostolic prefecture,” though their bishop in Irkutsk, Siberia, is pulling double duty as prefect of Sakhalin. And the Latin bishop of Novosibirsk was named to serve also the handful of parishes throughout the country of Russian and Ukrainian Byzantine Catholics, but neither has received its own bishop otherwise either, and there are indications the Vatican has committed itself not to make a move that would be so provocative to the Orthodox. [This linked article is very partisan, but in many places throughout the world Eastern Catholics of one or more spiritual traditions remain under Latin bishops’ jurisdiction… and in some places Latins are under Eastern Catholic bishops!])
    • (emphasis added) …Sherrard articulates the Orthodox belief that “unity” or “wholeness” of the Church is not found in the sum of all the parishes together, but in each local parish itself. Each eucharistic center is the Church because even though the body of Christ is distributed in many parts, each part is whole and complete in itself:* “There cannot be one local church which is more catholic or more united than another, because one manifestation of the Eucharist cannot be more, or less the manifestation of the body of Christ than another…. Christ is equally present whenever his body is manifest {eucharistically}, so the principle of catholicity and unity is equally present. The local church which manifests the body of Christ cannot be subsumed into any larger organization or collectivity which makes it more catholic and more in unity, for the simple reason that the principle of total catholicity and total unity is already intrinsic to it.”
    • (*–ie, Just like the Communion bread itself!)
  • Not having read Metropolitan JOHN (Zizioulas’) well-known work on “eucharistic ecclesiology” – just some critiques of it – I can’t say if Sherrard is saying the same thing, or something different.
  • A key insight of Sherrard’s is something I have felt instinctively for a few years now (emphasis and brackets added): Eventually, Sherrard states explicitly that the Papacy is a misguided idea because {ironically!!} it destroys the eucharistic unity of the Church. If [Rome’s] Petrine doctrine is correct then the Church is not unified through the Eucharistic celebration, but in that central organ or instrument of government that is the Pope. The responsibility of guarding the faith lies ultimately with the pope and not with the laity and clergy, not with the body as a whole. In other words, the apostolicity of the Church is reduced from the whole body to its head. The local parishes cease to be the full expression of the Church because they in themselves lack that quality of functioning as an apostolic body.
    • In effect, Rome’s theology of primacy is exaggerated or overblown – “a one-man ecumenical council, even a one-man Church,” I have called it elsewhere – a danger to the reality and faith of the rest of its Patriarchate and anyone else “in communion with” it. IIUC, even Eastern Catholic (aka “Uniate”) patriarchates – Maronite, Melkite, Syriac, Coptic, Armenian, and Chaldean – have to have the Pope of Rome “extend communion to” their newly-elected patriarchs, apparently functionally equivalent to the “autonomous” status of the Orthodox Patriarchate of Constantinople’s Church of Finland, its Church of Estonia, I believe its Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada, and possibly some others of its jurisdictions. A requirement like this is apparently all that prevents communion between Rome and the Assyrian Church of the East (aka “Nestorian”), and also organic reunion between the Assyrians and the Chaldean Catholics, now that Rome and the Assyrians have concluded they agree theologically after 1,600 years apart. In addition, I get the impression from their own printed sources that at least some Eastern Catholic patriarchs function almost like ‘little popes’ over their own jurisdictions, sounding much less collegial, conciliar, or synodal than even the most centralized Local Orthodox Churches. Does this come from association with Rome? I don’t know enough of their history to say.
  • This article also contains an excellent description of Orthodox Church conciliarity like I’ve never seen it before (emphasis and brackets added): The conciliar structure of the East, on the other hand, reflects the body functioning organically, in agreement and unity with itself and without reducing any local parish to being a piece of the whole: “What is intended through a council is that the identity {ie, identicalness} of the faith manifest in each local church, and vested therefore in each bishop, should be affirmed and confirmed through the mutual witness of all the bishops. It is the fact that its pronouncements affirm and confirm the unity and catholicity of the truth established a priori {ie, from the beginning!} in the Church–and through the act itself of the Church’s foundation–that makes a council an authoritative organ of the Church…. It is the whole body of the Church that is the criterion of orthodoxy. It is the Church which determines the councils, not the councils that determine the Church.”
  • Orthodox are sometimes chided for ‘theologizing everything,’ especially for perceiving the Filioque even in Latin Church structure and discipline. But like I’ve said, Orthodox are very theological! That’s why we’re “o/Orthodox”!
  • In fairness to the Latins, Protestants often see more than Latins do in Latins’ “meritorious acts,” because of Luther’s errors. Technically in Latin salvation, positive virtue is optional; only avoidance of “mortal sin,” or sacramental absolution of it, is necessary. When I entered the high school seminary of a Latin religious order whose main task is youth work, I learned – and experienced – one of their key principles: If you keep adolescents too busy – not necessarily doing ‘good,’ perhaps just ‘morally neutral’ – they’ll have less time to sin! An idle mind, or body, is the devil’s workshop, I guess. But when I encountered what some call the “positive ethics” of the Quakers much later – not just or primarily focused on avoiding evildoing, but promoting good-doing, with their self-improvement, pacifism, social justice work, “mysticism,” “Divine leadings,” etc. – was when I felt liberated from Latin “negative ethics” for the first time… and also had less time to sin… but felt better about it!!! (From an Orthodox perspective I see more clearly the problems with both systems now. Quakerism risks self-delusion, eg, [1] the idea that I’m frequently, consciously, authoritatively experiencing Divine input into my thoughts, perceptions, words, or deeds, without more serious work on my passions, or o/Orthodox belief or membership in Christ’s Body the Orthodox Church, and [2] the idea that I’m progressing, even in humility[!], toward “the state Adam was in before he fell… even the state of Christ that never fell” [early Quaker, George Fox], ie, actual [not forensic] sinlessness and perfection even during life.)

I recently gave a rather legalistic or juridical description of the Orthodox Church. (Being an ex-Catholic seminarian, that may be an occupational hazard!) Such is necessary in a world plagued by groups calling themselves Orthodox Churches that “ain’t necessarily so.”

What’s more important about the Orthodox Church than that it answers to the description I gave before, is that it’s the Body of Christ. It serves Christ in the world. The Holy Spirit of God dwells in it. It teaches and holds to Christian O/orthodoxy and has since the beginning. It’s the locus of God’s Uncreated Energies more than elsewhere in the world, and has experienced this since the beginning. It’s the Church of Martyrs. And much more.