Posts Tagged ‘Orthodox Churches’

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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New OCA Primate ex-Episcopalian; Serbia Patriarch staying on; new Mexican ruling hierarch

On the 1st of this month Abbot Jonah (Paffhausen) from California was consecrated Titular Bishop of Ft. Worth, Texas, and Auxiliary Bishop in the OCA’s Diocese of Dallas and the South — probably the newest Bishop in the entire Orthodox Church.  Yesterday (Wed.) he was elected Primate of the OCA, quite possibly the first convert Patriarch or Autocephalous Primate in Orthodoxy in over a thousand years, succeeding Metropolitan HERMAN, who retired for health reasons in September.  Some say clergy and laity taking part in the OCA’s 15th All-American* Council in Pittsburgh, PA, this week, were really impressed when Bishop JONAH presented theological as well as frank responses, at the Synod’s request, to some poignant questions raised regarding the financial scandal of the last few years – the main topic of the Council apart from the primatial election – attracting several standing ovations.  (I’ve never heard him speak before, but after listening to a couple other excerpts of him, and hearing in this brief Ancient Faith Radio interview that he got only about 5 minutes to prepare his remarks, and that things were getting a bit unruly in the hall just prior, I think it’s reasonable to think he was just nervous and/or maybe a little emotional.)  His banquet speech after being elected is moving.  (I wonder if he slept, or was up all night pondering it, and everything else!!)  If you want to hear his sermon right before the election, use this audio MP3 link (availing yourself of the opportunity to use your own, more flexible, software), and advance to about 41 minutes in; the sermon is about 11 minutes long.  (The whole Liturgy is about 2 hours [“…Blackwood!’].  NB: The Scripture Readings used, Metropolitan JONAH says, were those of the day, and not specially chosen for the occasion of the Council or the Election.  Through the Fathers of the Church who composed the Orthodox Lectionary, the Lord moves in mysterious ways!)

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the local newspaper of record, provides their version of coverage (although at 62, Archbishop JOB of Chicago is hardly “elderly”!!!  Though DMITRI of Dallas, who’s 85 and has been trying for a few years to get an Auxiliary, certainly qualifies, and not as a put-down: his place in history starts with the Warren Commission investigation, in 1964, of the JFK assassination, since he was ministering to Russians and others in Dallas and vicinity, with whom Lee Harvey Oswald and his Russian wife might have interacted.).  This link includes details about the election procedure.  Briefly, the clergy and lay parish representatives nominate candidates, and the Synod elects them, or if one receives two-thirds support from the clergy and laity, may only reject him with stated reasons why.  A Provincial (or Patriarchal) Synod prerogative or requirement to confirm the election and translation of Bishops was established I believe around the middle of the first Christian millennium.  Later lower clergy and laity corporately – not counting Orthodox (or Muslim) Monarchs – mostly lost the right to nominate or elect Bishops, but the Moscow Council of 1917-18 attempted to re-establish it there in some form.  Although the Patriarchate was prevented from going forward with this plan by Bolshevik rule, those in North America followed through with it; also owing to their early developmental stage, and the importance lower clergy and laity had in swelling the size and structures of the North American Diocese (‘proto-OCA’) with the conversions and immigration from the late 1800s.  (It should be noted that in the final decades of the Ottoman Empire, the Patriarch of Constantinople was chosen by a “mixed council” of Bishops and laity, though this council was abolished after the fall of the empire.  Also, I believe I have read that the actual Synod of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem includes some lower clergy, who participate in Patriarchal elections.  And in Romania, as we recently saw, lay reps also take part.)  God Grant Metropolitan JONAH Many Years!

I’ve been busy with politics the last few weeks, so I didn’t know Patriarch PAUL of Serbia (Serbian PAVLE) asked to retire on account of physical disability.  But his Assembly of Bishops has just gotten him to agree to stay on.  I believe he’s been ailing for quite some time.

At the time I did note the election of the OCA’s Bishop ALEJO (Pacheco-Vera) of Mexico City to be Ruling Hierarch there, but didn’t make it over here to post it.  Fascinating story here.  In 1972 now-Archbishop DMITRI of Dallas was instrumental in bringing into the canonical Orthodox Church (a contingent from?) the Mexican National Catholic Church — an “independent Catholic” group that IIUC has been the source of Westernly-“valid” episcopal consecrations for many independent, uncanonical, or vagante groups — and as the OCA news brief notes, adding their bishop, JOSE (Cortes y Olmos), to the Holy Synod after Orthodox consecration.  (JOSE was even a Rome-trained canon lawyer before joining the MNCC.)  In fact 2008 is the 25th anniversary of JOSE’s 1983 repose.  (Memory Eternal!)  The MNCC’s discovery of Orthodoxy foreshadowed that of the Evangelical Orthodox who in ’87 were received into the Antiochian Archdiocese en masse after study:

The new bishop and his clergy became gradually convinced, through study and reflection, that the Old Catholic ecclesiological principles did not conform to the criteria of the One, True, Catholic Church. They came to identify with Orthodox Holy Tradition, and adopted the designation “Orthodox” – Iglesia Ortodoxa Catolica en Mexicao (Orthodox {Catholic} Church in Mexico).

Or put more chronologically, the EOs’ conversion echoed the Mexicans’.  Now, ALEJO was considered ‘only’ Titular Bishop of Mexico City before last month, serving as Auxiliary Bishop and Administrator for the Exarchate of Mexico under Abp DMITRI and/or Metropolitan HERMAN.  As Ruling Hierarch he now becomes actual Bishop of Mexico City.  And why “Exarchate”?: I believe the OCA doesn’t consider Mexico part of its ‘proper’ canonical territory … only the U.S. and Canada, as reflected in its Autocephaly documents.  IIUC they call Mexico an exarchate in the sense that it is a ‘jurisdiction-outside,’ the literal meaning of exarchate from the Greek, and akin to what they often call the exarchates of other Patriarchates here in the Western world outside their canonical territories as commonly understood.  I know of Greek, Antiochian, Moscow Patriarchal, and Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) institutions also in Mexico; I’m not sure if there are others there.  And while Orthodoxy doesn’t encourage us non-Bishops to play Canon Lawyer at home, ISTM functioning outside your canonical territory is considered OK if it isn’t anybody else’s canonical territory, “according to the ancient Fathers” as I believe it says somewhere, probably in the spirit of evangelizing new lands sooner or later — think of it as ecclesiastical Common Law perhaps … though preferably there’d only be one jurisdiction in each place embracing all Orthodox of all languages and cultures and identities, etc….  Anyway, Many Years to Bishop ALEJO of Mexico City!

(*–The expression “All-American” here isn’t necessarily meant to evoke patriotism or non-ethnicity, simply that it covers all of “America” in the East European [not Latin American] sense of all North America, including Canada.  [So technically it wasn’t ironic to have the previous All-American Council in Toronto.]  The precedent comes from the OCA’s mother Church of Russia, which has “All-Russian” councils; in fact, there are many “all-Russian” things, even non-religious, and this habit even survived during Communism, when instead they were “all-Union” as in Soviet Union-wide.  Similarly, the biggest gatherings of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia [ROCOR] are “All-Diaspora” Councils.  ISTM possible this usage came from the Greeks, who even today have numerous “Pan-Hellenic” entities and organizations, pan being Greek for all.  The same for the OCA Primate’s title, Metropolitan of All America and Canada, parallelled by the Patriarch of Moscow and All Rus … which is similar but not the same as “Tsar of All the Russias,” where historically you had Great Russia, Little Russia, White Russia, etc., hence, “All the Russias.”  Unless this is simply a translation issue, where I’m sure I’ll welcome correction!)

Just last week, the “fellowship” in Hong Kong associated with Archpriest Dionisy Pozdnyaev, which I believe includes both ex-patriates and Chinese, was formally reactivated as a parish by the Moscow Patriarchal Synod, 36 years after its closure following the repose of its last pastor.  Many years to the new parish and its new rector, Fr. Dionisy!

This year has also seen the first public ministry since the Cultural Revolution, by China’s last two surviving native clergy, to whom God also grant Many Years!  This article,* I believe copied from HK’s South China Morning Post (scroll down for English), depicts the Priest Michael Wang up top hearing a confession, and the Deacon Evangel Lu beneath taking part in the Great Entrance of the Divine Liturgy (analogous to the Offertory Procession in Latin-Rite Masses).  The article notes that Fr. Michael and Fr. Deacon Evangel have applied to the Communist government for permission to resume regular ministry to Chinese on Chinese soil (as opposed to in Russian diplomatic facilities as they did at Pentecost).  Also, that even the PRC is seeing conversions to Orthodoxy from Protestantism.

And I read earlier this year somewhere that the new Greek Metropolitan of Hong Kong, NECTARIOS, wants to extend ministry to Greek mariners in (other) Chinese port cities.  I note that Greece has a consulate in Shanghai; IIUC PRC law would allow them to hold services there regularly for non-Chinese, as in the Russian diplomatic facilities.

(It’s true that Moscow and Constantinople dispute canonical jurisdiction in Communist China, between the MP’s Church of China [50 years Autonomous], straitened since the Cultural Revolution but not dead and now rebounding, and the EP’s Metropolis of HK and Southeast Asia, set up in 1996 to care for Diaspora Orthodox and evangelize from Afghanistan eastward.  [This year the EP Metropolis’ western and southern countries were set off as the Metropolis of Singapore.])

(*–On Fr. Dionisiy’s blog.)