Posts Tagged ‘ecumenical councils’

Till (maybe) you’ve read the recent Sunday (Triumph) of Orthodoxy sermon of Serbian Orthodox Bishop MAXIM of the Western USA.  Blew me the heck away on a whole bunch of levels I don’t need to bother you with.

(BTW, there’s nothing “ecumenically incorrect” about calling the First Sunday of the Great Fast [Lent] “The Triumph of Orthodoxy.”  The “Orthodoxy” referenced is regarding Holy Images, theoretically maintained by Old Rome and even some High Church Protestants to this day, though in different ways from Eastern Christians, e.g., statues and naturalistic paintings of sacred subjects.  The 7th Ecumenical[!] Synod was several centuries before the break between Rome and the rest of the Church.  ISTR reading that at least some Eastern Catholic Churches still call that Sunday “of Orthodoxy,” and certainly they don’t commemorate something they don’t believe they still share in, even by Rome’s allowance.)

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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.

The main meaning of the Greek verb baptizo, from which the English word baptism is ultimately derived (as Mr. Portokalos advised us!), is to dip, as in water.

Christianity as such didn’t invent the practice of dipping converts in water.  The Old Testament Church sometimes baptized proselytes, and so did some other Near Eastern religions.  But dipping quickly became a hallmark of Christianity.  The Lord was baptized by the Holy Prophet, Forerunner, and Baptist, John, and very early, Christians commemorated this on a yearly basis, along with the Lord’s other “manifestations,” on the Great Feast of the Theophany, January 6.  The Gospel According to St. John the Theologian 3:22, 4:1-2 indicates that the Lord Himself and/or His disciples baptized followers very early.  Water imagery is frequent in the Gospels.  And of course, the Lord commanded his Apostles to ‘make students [disciples] of all nations, dipping them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,’ which they did, as the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles attest.

However, I haven’t made a study of it, but I have never seen a depiction, East or West, of the Lord’s Baptism by John, in which He seemed completely immersed in the waters of the Jordan River by John.  (That might be hard to draw or paint.)  Usually what seems to be going on is that the Lord, or both He and John, are standing in the river, partially immersed, with John pouring water over the Lord’s head.  Today Orthodox Judaism requires total immersion for some mikvah bath-taking, including for conversion to the faith.  Something similar is reflected in Orthodox Christian theology, East and, originally, West, from very early on, including in the canonical Epistles.  The most profound o/Orthodox theology around Christian Baptism is actually uniting the convert to Christ’s Death, Burial, and Resurrection from the Dead, as the Holy Apostle Paul is well-known to point out (see Romans 6).  The early Fathers of the Church discuss how triple-immersion Baptism mimics burial in the ground and resurrection from the dead – done three times, once for each day the Lord spent in the tomb; or for His (1) Death, (2) Burial, and (3) Resurrection from the Dead; and of course for (1) the Father, (2) the Son, and (3) the Holy Spirit, as He commanded.  In fact some Christian sects baptized by single-immersion, and this was condemned by Ecumenical Councils as “baptism only into His Death,” as if not also into His Burial and Resurrection from the Dead.  Thus, even now, the unbaptized enter Orthodox Christianity by triple immersion.

Theologically, Orthodox Baptism unites you to the Lord’s Death, Burial, and Resurrection from the Dead – the Mystery of our Salvation.  In this way, you are united energetically – in His Energies, but not His imparticipable Essence – to Him, becoming a member of His Body, His Orthodox Church, just like His hands and feet, eyes and ears, mouth and nose, as St. Paul says repeatedly.  God’s All-Holy Spirit, of course, is “everywhere present, filling all things,” as Orthodox pray constantly in the prayer “O Heavenly King.”  But especially in Christ’s Body, whether during His three years on Earth, now in Heaven, or in His Body on Earth the Orthodox Church since Pentecost.  So it is as a member of Christ’s Body that you have the Holy Spirit dwelling in you too after Baptism and the sealing with the Holy Spirit, Chrismation (“confirmation”), immediately after Baptism.  Thus is Adam and Eve’s sin, the Ancestral Sin, removed from you – through your “death,” “resurrection from the dead,” union with Christ Himself “who knew no sin,” and filling with His Divine Spirit.

Somehow much of this has been lost in Western Christian tradition, where baptism became associated only formalistically with water, washing, joining the church, and salvation, as exemplified by the old Catholic Encyclopedia article.  By which I mean that they may sometimes still say the words in the homily or in spiritual journals or theological essays, but as someone who studied for both Latin and Protestant ministries, I can say they lack the resonance that they have in an Orthodox Church that baptizes by immersion.  As the CE points out, non-immersion Baptism was (and still is, in Orthodoxy) always considered permissible in unusual circumstances – unavailability of sufficient water, illness or decrepitude, disability, maybe even a perceived need for secrecy in situations of persecution.  But according to this source (scroll to bottom), baptism by pouring became the usual method in the West just on the eve of the Protestant Reformation.  I am unable to find out why it did so even in the case of infants – the most common candidates for baptism – who should be pretty easy to dip!  But I have a theory: In what might be called ‘standing immersion,’ as with depictions of the Lord, water was poured over the candidate’s head – in o/Orthodox Christianity, perhaps evoking His Burial at least by completely covering the body with some water, even after the fashion of throwing dirt on the grave.  Now if the association of Baptism with Christ’s Burial and Resurrection from the Dead was essentially lost in the West, you were left with pouring water over the head without standing in water, a theology mostly of (merely) washing (ie, “washing away Original Sin”), and from there, the degradation of the rite and its associations in faith and practice, until you reach a point where a slightly-revived Immersion practice (post-Vatican II) is feared by some Latins as threatening the theology of the sacrament!  You even have the obsession of some Western schools of theology – Latin and Protestant, for and against – with the question of ‘how little is required to have a “valid baptism”?’, leading to exhaustive, contrived discussions of sprinkling, smudging, use of sand, baptism by a nonbeliever, even baptizing in utero, and all the other s/Scholastic excesses that never had any significant place in actual Western Christian life.  I don’t have specific historical information regarding how the association with Christ’s Burial and Resurrection from the Dead were essentially lost, except to cite the general erosion of o/Orthodox t/Theology in the West, especially after the final real loss of Communion by the West with the rest of the Church dated at AD 1054.  (Celt that I am, I’m developing a renewed appreciation for just how “dark” the “Dark Ages,” a Western phenomenon,* really became – tragically.  Why would God allow that?)

Under Western influence, some Orthodox dioceses (and apparently most Byzantine-Rite Eastern Catholics) temporarily adopted Baptism by Pouring as their main method in the 16-1800s, but I believe most if not all Orthodox now normally use some form of Immersion again.  There is some discussion about how to receive converts to Orthodoxy who have been previously baptized by various methods in Heterodox Christianity, and it has varied somewhat historically from time to time, from place to place, and from Heterodox church to Heterodox church, but I believe the most common method, at least in the United States now, is by Chrismation – as I was received into the Greek Archdiocese of America in 2002 – not seeing an absolute need for a fresh Orthodox Baptism given the situation here.  (It’s actually more complex than that, and I don’t have a firm grip on it myself, but this is the decision of our Bishops and Synods, whose responsibility it is.  Greek Orthodox Metropolitan ISAIAH of Denver, who I am under the impression is quite the theologian, discusses this pastorally in a couple letters to his clergy in 2000 here and here.  The Archdiocese also advises me that it’s technically on a case-by-case basis.)

(*–Remember that only in the West did the true Empire of the Romans fall in the middle of the first Christian millennium.  It lived on in the East for another 1,000 years, with civilization, urbanity, literacy, science, etc.  Constantinople was the world’s largest city outside China!)