Posts Tagged ‘miracles’

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.)

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Yes, Orthodoxy still commemorates and venerates her (today, Saturday), because we still remember not only that she ministered to the Lord in His time of need on the way to the Cross, but also, by Tradition, that she was the woman He’d healed from her continuous flow of blood (Gospel according to St. Matthew 9:20 and parallel passages), and that she and her husband, the short St. Zacchaeus (Zacchaios) from the Gospels, evangelized in southern France.  Here is a writeup from a Greek-published book alongside an icon of her that doesn’t look as ‘new’ as the other one (though the hymns they give for the date are those of a pair of other saints commemorated today, not Veronica / Bernice).

The homepage of St. Paul’s now reports that although the Theotokos has stopped weeping, St. Nicholas has started, so they’re continuing twice-a-day Paraklesis with hymns to him also.

Recall that the original instances in 1960 were also in quick succession, as they mention.

This icon of “St. Nick” demonstrates the Orthodox experience that even store-bought print-icons (mounted on wood, or not), as contrasted with the more traditional hand-painted ones, participate in God’s Uncreated Energies like this.

BTW, the Greek writing quite visible on this icon says literally “The Holy Nicholas” or “The Saint Nicholas” or “Nicholas the Saint,” normally just seen as “Saint Nicholas.”  This is typical of icons, in whatever language, although sometimes the caption is expanded to include other titles or references related to the Saint.

On Sunday – Pentecost, Trinity Sunday – it’s reported that an icon of the Theotokos, the Birth-Mother of God, began weeping myrrh at St. Paul Greek Orthodox Cathedral on Hempstead, Long Island, NY, after a hiatus of some years.  Read all about it!  It’s one of two icons of the Virgin Mary there with a history of weeping … and one of three associated with that parish.  (The third isn’t at the church.)

They’re serving a special service called a Paraklesis twice a day there until further notice, and taking names to add for persons to pray for by (Orthodox given) name during the services, for health and salvation.

We are not worthy, but God is merciful!

Italy’s former Orthodoxy is attested by the ancient icons and Greek icon-style murals and mosaics to be found in many old Latin churches there to this day.  Rome itself has at least one icon said to have been painted by St. Luke the Evangelist (like a few in Orthodox hands, or rather, graced to Orthodox churches and/or persons), called the Hodegetria style meaning the Mother of God holds and points to the Child Jesus, in the famous St. Mary Major (Santa Maria Maggiore in Italian*) basilica, to which ancient miracles are attributed like many icons in Orthodoxy.  Its traditional account is here, but none of the images on that webpage are it.  This page of a scandalized Protestant seems to bear a copy of the icon, as well as a couple links to the University of Dayton (a Catholic school despite the name!).  The icon is nicknamed in Latin Salus Populi Romani, literally “Health of the Roman People” – that’s people in the singular, aka nation or populace – although often rendered “Salvation of the Roman People,” even more scandalously!  Don’t tell him that the icon itself may be what is called that, not just Mary!

In his diocesan newspaper column this week, Philadelphia Catholic Cardinal Justin Rigali notes that after Rome was spared heavy World War 2 damage, this icon was brought out and processed around the streets in thanksgiving.  (Rigali served 24 years in the Vatican curia in Rome. NB: He’s Italian [and Irish] American, not Italian-born.)

As noted on the linked pages, she and it are also called “Our Lady of the Snows,” for the miracle – a 4th century August snowfall – that inspired the construction of the original church on St. Mary Major’s site.

Despite the quote from a very old and prejudiced (iconoclastic) Protestant source, I’m pretty sure most Latin Rite Catholics don’t think of Mary, angels, saints, statues, or icons the same way they think of God, and certainly Orthodox don’t, even if sometimes flowery, devout, theologically imprecise, nonpedantic language is used.

As for iconography itself, Orthodox traditionally have preferred painted icons to statues because statues are incapable of representing the person or scene ‘in Glory,’ that is, radiating God’s Uncreated Energies or Divine Light, like icons do in rays (which is what haloes are, and why they properly surround the head or body, not float above it like the mystical bowl of oatmeal in that old TV commercial!).  If you tried to have a three-dimensional statue with rays, they’d obscure the image itself.

I’m not aware that iconostases – the icon screens that separate the altar area from the rest of an Orthodox church – were ever used in most of Western Europe, though older Episcopal churches at least (speaking of here in the U.S.) preserve the traditional “rood screen” enclosing the altar, from which was sometimes hung the cross (the “rood”) and possibly one or two other things.

Finally, traditional Orthodox icons are heavy in gold coloring, covering not just haloes but also the space surrounding the holy persons depicted.  Some Slavic traditions have incorporated Western influences different from this, including some icons indistinguishable from Western “naturalistic” paintings of holy persons and scenes, with little of the traditional Eastern indication of Uncreated Light.  But the late Fr. Seraphim Rose, a California convert revered by some Orthodox but who is not uncontroversial, counseled against what might be called neo-iconoclasm:

“There is a case (one of many) in which a church had old, original Russian icons—some good and some in rather poor taste, painted in a relatively new {ie, Western} style—and a zealous person took them all out and put in new, paper icon prints in perfect Byzantine style. And what was the result? The people there lost contact with tradition, with the people who gave them Orthodoxy. They removed the original icons which believers had prayed before for centuries.”

At the same time, Greek / Byzantine-style iconography is starting to be seen more among Latins and even Protestants, in what some Orthodox consider a mixed blessing – though I can’t remember why, and can’t find it again on the WWW.

(*–“Major” refers to the church; it’s dedicated to the Theotokos, not to some saint named Mary Major.)

On Monday August 1, we entered the Transfiguration / Dormition Fast, which continues through 8/14. (It’s usually just called the Dormition Fast.) And it occurred to me that Orthodox commemorate Mary’s falling asleep on the 15th, but the West, her Assumption, which we say took place within three days of her burial. That is, the Assumption may have taken place right after she was buried; all we know for sure is that her tomb was empty on the third day when St. Thomas, in God’s Providence, arrived from India and found it so.

Considering that the West is agnostic concerning her death, who is more credible?