Posts Tagged ‘history of Christianity’

Weighty possibilities I haven’t come across before for the phenomenon — reportedly not rare — of Orthodox clergy who seem reluctant to receive a convert, especially in the Western world, are presented by a Greek priest in Australia.  (NB: I’ve never heard of a language requirement before.)

His piece reminds us that most Orthodox didn’t come to the West as missionaries.  Of course, most non-Indigenous didn’t come to North America, Australia, etc., as missionaries — their religions basically followed them here.  (Of course, conversion of the Indians was part and parcel of colonial policy in Latin America.)  We easily forget ethnic distinction in religion wasn’t brought here by the Orthodox; to this day many Protestant and Catholic congregations are still predominantly of one or another ethnicity (or two), even if they don’t include it in their buildings’ names anymore.  But active explicit or implicit competition for adherents began apace at least in the U.S. with its (eventual) very “free-market” approach to religion.  Since overall, Orthodox are more-recent arrivals than other Christians, they’re mostly still in that earlier phase so to speak.

Sometimes a little sociological understanding can go a long way….  Kind of a correlate to Khouria Frederica Mathewes-Green’s 12th “…Thing I Wish I’d Known…

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.

It’s being noted in news coverage that Moscow Patriarch-elect KYRILL was “Locum Tenens of the Patriarchal Throne” since shortly after the repose of Patriarch ALEXEI.  This concept is not unknown in Western Christianity … in fact, locum tenens is the traditional Latin-language term whose Greek or Slavonic counterpart I do not know, but seems commonly used by Orthodox jurisdictions in the English-speaking world at least.

A locum tenens is “the person holding the place” of another — in Christian contexts, the post of a bishop who has died, resigned, or been removed from office.  Sometimes traditionally in the case of a typical diocese, the local primate or metropolitan-archbishop would automatically become locum tenens upon the vacancy.  Sometimes he or the local synod of bishops might proceed to choose another bishop to be locum tenens more long-term, until a permanent successor takes office.  Currently in North America, Orthodox Church in America (OCA) primate, Metropolitan JONAH, is Locum Tenens of the Bulgarian Diocese, but their synod has named Eastern Pennsylvania bishop TIKHON Locum Tenens of the Western Pennsylvania diocese.*  Similarly, two of the Antiochian Archdiocese’s new local dioceses still await Bishops of their own, and so their primate, Metropolitan PHILIP, is serving as locum tenens of the Diocese of Worcester and New England, but Bishop JOSEPH of Los Angeles and the West is serving as locum tenens of the Diocese of Eagle River and the Northwest.  Relatedly, Metropolitan JONAH is also locum tenens of the OCA’s Alaska Diocese (since the retirement of Bishop NIKOLAI), but Bishop BENJAMIN of San Francisco and the West (who previously served in Alaska as a priest) is temporary Administrator of the Alaska Diocese, assisting Jonah with his responsibility.

The idea seems to be that a flock should never, or only very, very briefly if necessary depending on jurisdictional practice and guidelines, be without a shepherd in at least some capacity, considering that in o/Orthodox Christianity a Bishop is not only some kind of feudal lord or bureaucrat, but ideally spiritual father of the Church … and a local Orthodox Church, and Orthodox Christians, should always have spiritual guidance.

When it’s a Patriarchate or Autocephalous Province whose incumbent has moved on, similar procedures may be put in place, since he is not only his diocese’s spiritual father, but his region’s or country’s, and an important overseer of that Church’s central administration.  In the case of Moscow, Patriarch ALEXEI reposed on December 5, and on December 6 the Synod met and chose Metropolitan KYRILL Locum Tenens.  Thus, he remained Ruling Hierarch of the Diocese of Smolensk and Kaliningrad and Chairman of the Patriarchate’s external relations department, and also took on the Patriarchal locum tenentes, the state of being locum tenens.

Once again, the Western Christian post most comparable to Orthodox Patriarch of Moscow is Pope of Rome.  When a Pope dies (a few in the distant past have abdicated), that office is said to temporarily cease to exist, the state known in Latin as Sede Vacante, vacant See or Throne, a state accompanied by elaborate activities around the actual, dramatic suspension of Roman Catholic Church and Vatican State activity except the burial of the late Pope and election of his successor, as amply covered by newsmedia.  Some Latin commentators have even ventured that the RCC itself temporarily ceases to exist, since the Church is in the reigning Pope, there.  And this takes weeks or longer, especially in the age before telecommunications and air travel.  In the meantime leading Cardinals in Rome assume temporary administration of these activities, but to my knowledge, Locum Tenens theory is not technically employed: the Diocese of Rome and the churches in communion with it are without an actual shepherd for as long as it takes to elect a replacement.  I would gladly be corrected on this point; it seems to be a different approach, a different theory, a different attitude, a different theology, from Orthodoxy.

Locum Tenens theory early on was subject to abuse: an early Church council issued a Canon condemning locum tenens — obviously lower-ranking hierarchs — who used the temporary post to lobby for election to the vacant See as a means of careerist promotion not necessarily in that diocese’s or province’s own best interests.  Remember that this was also a time when local dioceses almost everywhere had the tradition of electing or nominating their Bishops, usually from among their own local clergy or laymen (even primatial or patriarchal Sees), more rarely from outside their own locality or district, and when provincial synods had the tradition of extremely reluctantly translating Bishops from one post to another  (normally a Bishop “married” his Church for life, and still today Orthodox refer to a vacant See as “widowed”), by Canon only in a case of anticipated extraordinary benefit to the destination-diocese.  So bishops maneuvering like chess pieces, angling for “promotion,” was officially heavily frowned upon; even today I don’t hear about bishop transfers in Orthodoxy nearly as much as I did as a Catholic … for good or for ill.

OTOH, locum tenentes of the Patriarchal Throne of Moscow seemed to be  all who held that whole Church together during the very darkest times under Communism.  Moscow’s 1917-1918 Council restored the Patriarchal dignity allowed to lapse by Tsar Peter “the Great” in the early 1700s.  St. Tikhon (Bellavin), former Archbishop of North America, was elected Patriarch by lot just in time to deal with the first flush of Revolutionary rule.  He was martyred in 1925, and leadership of the Church passed to locum tenens, Metropolitan St. Peter of Krutitsy, himself martyred in 1937.  When St. Peter was arrested at the end of 1925, deputy locum tenens, Metropolitan Sergius, effectively became primate of the Church under Peter’s nominal or technical locum tenentes, until assuming the full locum tenentes upon a premature report of Peter’s death in prison in 1936.  It wasn’t until 1943 that Stalin, feeling the need of the Church’s support for the war effort, allowed Sergius’ election as Patriarch, and lessened its harsh treatment.

(*–His Late Eminence Archbishop KYRILL led both dioceses simultaneously.  In November the assembly of the West. Pa. diocese nominated a priest-monk with area roots, Archimandrite Melchisedek [Pleska], for consideration by the Synod possibly in May to become their new Ruling Hierarch.)