Posts Tagged ‘Greek Church’

Uncreated Star of Bethlehem

Five years ago I alluded to this, but I’ve just seen concise discussion of it from no less than the Father of the Church St. John Chrysostom, and from certain Old Testament prophecies ‘in its Light.’

It also makes me think of how some non-Orthodox “got saved” by God….  The Apolytikion (a hymn) given on this page brings home the point.  The Magi are commemorated as Saints on Dec. 25.  (Recall that Orthodoxy commemorates the Magi’s Adoration of the Incarnate YHWH not on Jan. 6 but at Christmas; our Great Feast of Theophany [Epiphany] focuses on His Baptism in the Jordan by St. John the Forerunner [Baptist].)  OrthodoxWiki mentions the memory of their eventual baptism by St. Thomas the Apostle to the Indo-Iranians, and service to The Church as Bishops.

What about the mentions of an angel?  Readers of this blog may recall our discussions of the uncreated Logos-Angel from many Old Testament theophanies … highlighted in the writings of Greek-American theologian Fr. John S. Romanides (†2001) … so this need not be a problem, especially because Orthodoxy reminds us that the Divine Hypostatic Logos is not circumscribed by His Incarnation, ie, not ‘completely contained’ in or limited by His Human Body.  Could He appear as Infant and “Angel” at the same time?  Unusual perhaps, but I don’t see why not, although I must confess I haven’t seen this explicitly discussed anywhere yet.

One Web source I read said Western European pagans, even before Christianization, appreciated this, as it were their ‘cameo’ appearance at the very beginning of Christianity’s New Testament.  Similarly, I can say that even as a blond Western Catholic child here in the States, I was fascinated by and appreciated my family’s small wood-and-hay(?) Nativity set featuring non-Mediterranean-looking “kings”: a blond, an African, and an East Asian!*  I also read that extracanonical accounts ‘internationalizing’ them are quite old indeed.  Well, they do “represent the Gentiles,” and foreshadow many more of our ancestors’ conversions to the Faith….  For some reason I thought of the “White” one as some aged King of England — I didn’t know then that that title and State didn’t exist during Christ’s life on Earth!

I couldn’t leave this off without a plug for Bethlehem, Pennsylvania’s “Christmas Star” (or another picture of it).  One night during college, around 1985-86, I was driving around town lost (though sober)** and someone told me I almost knocked it down or something!  It sits atop Wyandotte Hill/South Mountain, one of Penna.’s many long, skinny, relatively-low,*** ridge-like mountains, that divides the Lehigh Valley from the main Philadelphia area, as well as from my undergraduate school campus just south of Bethlehem.

And, twelve “kings”?  Catholic priest / sociologist / novelist Andrew Greeley’s Russian (Orthodox) lay student / artist / mystic / beauty / love interest in his 1997 Christmas / spiritual classic Star Bright! (available here) alludes to a 12-magi tradition, without many details except to say something I haven’t encountered personally in Orthodoxy yet, that “We Russians know there were 12 kings” (or words to that effect).  But an English translation of the apocryphal Syriac Revelation of the Magi has recently come out, and it names twelve.  Furthermore, if one Amazon reviewer reports correctly, if you have any Western European ancestry, you may have one or more Magi in your family tree.  How’s that for Gentile foreshadowing?!  Other reviews lead me to doctrinal caution about the Revelation [Apocalypse??] of the Magi, but also hint (seemingly unknowingly) at o/Orthodox Uncreated Energies Theology perhaps.  But some of the kings named by the Armenian reviewer have names or associations I might have encountered a long time ago while tracing my Norman Irish ancestors (Hibernicized McCoogs) into traditional medieval West European royal and noble genealogies … the kind today’s experts say are dubious, but were part of our cultures for most of the last thousand years if not longer … and geneticists now say we might all share in some way.  (Something like some Assyrian kings back there too, being Semites, traditionally then Kin of God!)  (This is another review I saw of it, from a Catholic perspective.)

PS: Many Years to Fr. Greeley!  Glad to see he’s doing better some!  Thank God!

(*–The one with the wind-up music box playing “Silent Night.”)

(**–If you can read and comprehend this without getting a headache, you’re a better driver than I was!)

(***–Compared to, say, the Adirondacks, or the Rockies.)

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.)