Posts Tagged ‘ecumenism’

(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!)

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Christos anesti!  Alithos anesti!

As in all religious groups, in canonical Orthodoxy you will find a spectrum of approaches to other religious groups, from fervent opposition and isolationism to full embrace, and from the laity to Patriarchs, with a variety of justifications offered for each position.

Ironically, Orthodox in ecumenism have a reputation for arrogance and aloofness – I know not least because I thought them so as a Protestant reading about them in the church press in the ’90s!  While I believe it’s possible to present Orthodoxy more positively than our reputation, sometimes it seems like President Harry Truman: “‘Give ’em hell, Harry,’ his supporters would say.  And Truman would say, ‘I never give ’em hell.  I just tell the truth and they think it’s hell.”’  “The truth” is that Orthodoxy’s historical approach to other Christian bodies has been similar to Rome’s as well as that of some Evangelical and Fundamentalist churches: to consider itself THE Church of Christ* and all others in error and/or schism ultimately from it, to which they need to return to have the best chance of Salvation.  (They got it from us! 😉 )  It is also true that many Orthodox in ecumenism are taking other approaches, otherwise for certain we would have been long since disinvited!

(*–Ideally Orthodox say so adding ‘humbly, by God’s Graciousness and no doing of our own, we being so sinful, imperfect, political, etc etc, that Orthodoxy’s preservation is nothing less than a miraculous work of God and a sign from Him that there’s something of worth here!’)

Martin Luther once remarked that he believed the pure Faith of primitive Christianity is to be found in the Orthodox Church,” according to this very informative UK site on Orthodoxy.  I’ve also read that some early Lutheran leaders in Germany corresponded with a Patriarch of Constantinople over a number of years.  But in the end, IIUC, the Patriarch concluded they weren’t quite coming around, but instead just debating with him.  Too bad.  Imagine how history might have changed!

(Opinion Alert: Just a few ruminations.) 

Was it an accident that Rome and Constantinople’s break in communion of 1054 became permanent?  Like I’ve said, there were previous ones.  Doctrinal divergence?  Even this hadn’t prevented patching-up differences previously.  And between 1054 and 1453 there were several attempts to do so again.  The last one actually resulted in a brief reunion: the final service in Hagia Sophia as Constantinople was falling to the Turks – without the promised help from the West – included Latins and Orthodox.  The Union of Florence was repudiated by the Russians, Greek monastics and laity, and finally the Greek episcopate.

According to their official position historically, Rome continued seeking to ‘make real’ that Union by signing local unions with Orthodox communities under various conditions, not all of them voluntary or truthful.  (These are the Eastern Catholic Churches, aka Uniates or Uniats.)  At the same time ISTM the sense of doctrinal divergence pointed to as early as the 1200s by Orthodox canonist and Patriarch of Antioch Theodore Balsamon, and at the time of the Council of Florence itself by the Metropolitan of Ephesus, St. Mark Eugenicos, grew on other Orthodox as time wore on.  Some say that as long as the Latin Church hasn’t been condemned officially by a council of the whole Orthodox Church, that doesn’t matter … but ISTM that hasn’t been the sense of most Orthodox Christians.  To Orthodox, some things are established by tradition, which we strive to make the Life of the Spirit of God in the Body of Christ, the whole Orthodox Church, even in the absence of a universally-denominated “ecumenical synod.”  There certainly weren’t any “ecumenical councils” before Nicea!

So that may be a human evaluation of how we got where we got.