Posts Tagged ‘first among equals’

(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.)

(Polished and expanded a little on 18 January 2008.)

How can Orthodoxy possibly dovetail with liberal Roman Catholicism?

  • Collegiality and conciliarity; no Papal Infallibility. While the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople has some very supportive supporters, he’s really not supposed to be a worldwide ecclesiastical autocrat, merely “first among equals” among the bishops of the Orthodox Church, permanent chairman if you will. The Primates of Orthodoxy’s regional and national Synods wield alot of influence therein – some of it comes from being effectively CEOs of denominations – but they can still be challenged, even driven from power ‘from below,’ as recently happened with the Patriarch of Jerusalem, and a few years ago with a Greek Archbishop of America. And as far as “faith and morals” go, we place our trust in Holy Tradition, not the decrees of individual Patriarchs.
  • Spirituality. See my early posts about God’s Uncreated Divine Energies, Light, etc.
  • Contraception. You’re supposed to talk it over with your priest, but it’s not the automatic sentence of mortal sin and eternal damnation like it is in the RCC … though some disagree, and are free to.
  • A sense of Church History. We’re not afraid to find out that our Patriarchs’ posts evolved, or that monks and laity overruled some Church Councils. Actually Church history is often liberating!
  • Deaconesses. See here.
  • Collaborative ministry. From the parish to the ecumenical council, priests and bishops are within their churches, not above them. Laity and lower clergy, even lay theologians, have always had a key role in the life of the Church. In some jurisdictions they even help select bishops, primates,* and patriarchs (as seen in 2007 in Romania), did anciently, sometimes since then, and may do so more again soon, for instance in the Moscow Patriarchate, whose 1917-1918 council authorized the practice as represented now in The Orthodox Church in America (OCA). (*–The Archbishop of Cyprus’ election has a very “American” feel, with campaigning, the equivalent of primaries, the election of an Electoral College, controversy, secular media coverage….)
  • Liturgy. It may be long, but it’s great, beautiful, magnificent, etc. etc.!
  • ‘Physical’ worship. All five senses adore the Lord in Orthodox worship; the whole body is involved, even more than in the Mass.
  • Real theology. Like I’ve said before, theology has really fallen apart in the West; some trace it all the way back to Augustine of Hippo. I’ve had 9 years of parochial school, 5 years of minor seminary and novitiate, 4 years with a minor in Theology, 6 years of grad school in Western theology … and still, every time I read Orthodox Theology, it’s a revelation!
  • Art and architecture. There’s nothing like Orthodox icons and churches.
  • Music. Good Byzantine or Russian chant just might cure you of the need for guitars!
  • Divorce and remarriage; a pastoral sense, non-legalism. We don’t bother with annulment, but your bishop can grant an ecclesiastical divorce, clearing the way for up to 2 more marriages. Despite (or Because of?!) being “orthodox,” we have a reputation for leniency, compassion in pastoral practice. It’s called economy, in Greek oikonomia, the opposite of acriveia or strictness, and called into play when an exception may be necessary rather than fear losing a soul’s salvation.
  • Patristics, incl. patristic social justice. The Fathers and Mothers of the Church are the source of the best Orthodox theology (though even “100 pct. of the Fathers are 85 pct. right!”). And how’s this for social justice?: “The bread in your cupboard belongs to the hungry man; the coat hanging unused in your closet belongs to the man who needs it; the shoes rotting in your closet belong to the man who has no shoes; the money which you put in the bank belongs to the poor. You do wrong to everyone you could help but fail to help” (St. Basil the Great).

A Fundamentalist who converted to the Latin Church wrote a book entitled Rome Sweet Home. I might call mine New Rome, Sweet Home: A Liberal Catholic Discovers Orthodoxy! (New Rome was the official name of Constantinople or Byzantium.)

Yesterday was the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, the Apostles. The Gospel reading for Divine Liturgy was Peter’s confession at Caesarea Philippi, Matthew 16:13-19 (here, from the NAB).

13
When Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”
14
They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
15
He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
16
Simon Peter said in reply, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
17
Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.
18
And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.
19
I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

IMHO, it’s clear from the text that Peter indeed is the Rock on which the Lord says He will build His Church, in the context of Peter’s o/Orthodox confession of faith, a faithfulness revealed to him in his experience of the Father, as happens to anyone who experiences Glorification in the Trinity’s Uncreated Energies. It is Christ’s Orthodox Church on which the gates of Hades will not finally close-in — not one local Church in particular, but the Whole Church in general, again, in the context of witness to o/Orthodox f/Faith. (In fact, if we consider that the Church is the Body of Christ, then on Great Saturday the gates of Hades failed to prevail against it/Him; He arose on Pascha/Easter morning.) The Greek makes it clear that it is to Peter individually that the Lord says He will give the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven; whatever Peter binds or looses on earth will be so in Heaven — a responsibility extended shortly after to all the Twelve at Matthew 18:18.

Orthodoxy affirms that Peter held a special place among the early Christians, though not over them like an absolute lord (Matthew 20:26-28). (In Acts 15:13-21, James, the first bishop of Jerusalem, ‘clerked‘ the Council of Jerusalem, while Peter testified.) Historically St. Peter has been associated with the foundations of the Churches of Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria, and Rome, Italy. To none of these ‘successors’ does the Lord say Peter will ‘hand-off’ the keys. But as if to illustrate a lasting role potential, during many of the theological controversies that convulsed the Universal Church in the first millenium, in spite of its own beginning theological drifting, Rome’s local Church did indeed provide a sufficient anchor of o/Orthodoxy within the Church Universal, like Peter did at Jerusalem. And remember that the Gospels, Acts, and Paul do not fail to depict a very imperfect Peter, one with whom all of us can identify, however low or high.

But if Rome should ever fall from Orthodoxy, ie, from the faith- and Truth-giving (John 16:13) experience of Glorification and ministry of service-leadership, Petrine ministry as described above will remain with the Orthodox Church, the other Petrine Sees, and the other Apostolic Sees; from AD 1100-1500, Constantinople, and from 1500-1900, effectively Moscow. All Orthodox Churches are equal, and the Council of Jerusalem remains the Biblical model for Orthodox decisionmaking in the Body of Christ. And a council can prevail upon any bishop, even a Patriarch, even the “First Among Equals.”

I’m trying to keep the light on Orthodoxy alone, but it has to be said that Rome has taught increasingly that authoritative revelation is given only to one of its adherents, the Pope of Rome, forgetting that Pentecost and Glorification — Orthodoxy just celebrated Pentecost and All Saints Sundays — are offered to the Whole Orthodox Church, not only to one person. Conciliarity may be messier, but it’s where the Holy Spirit is presumed to act — nay, experienced acting, historically — in the Whole Church, not just certain leaders. The things that Rome forgets continue to be taught by Orthodoxy.

Lord have mercy on us!

(In the event of reunification, Orthodoxy will require Rome to re-embrace o/Orthodox theology and conciliarity. Yes, sadly, we think we’re farther apart than Rome does!)