Posts Tagged ‘papacy’

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.)

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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.)

(Opinion Alert: Just a few ruminations.) 

Was it an accident that Rome and Constantinople’s break in communion of 1054 became permanent?  Like I’ve said, there were previous ones.  Doctrinal divergence?  Even this hadn’t prevented patching-up differences previously.  And between 1054 and 1453 there were several attempts to do so again.  The last one actually resulted in a brief reunion: the final service in Hagia Sophia as Constantinople was falling to the Turks – without the promised help from the West – included Latins and Orthodox.  The Union of Florence was repudiated by the Russians, Greek monastics and laity, and finally the Greek episcopate.

According to their official position historically, Rome continued seeking to ‘make real’ that Union by signing local unions with Orthodox communities under various conditions, not all of them voluntary or truthful.  (These are the Eastern Catholic Churches, aka Uniates or Uniats.)  At the same time ISTM the sense of doctrinal divergence pointed to as early as the 1200s by Orthodox canonist and Patriarch of Antioch Theodore Balsamon, and at the time of the Council of Florence itself by the Metropolitan of Ephesus, St. Mark Eugenicos, grew on other Orthodox as time wore on.  Some say that as long as the Latin Church hasn’t been condemned officially by a council of the whole Orthodox Church, that doesn’t matter … but ISTM that hasn’t been the sense of most Orthodox Christians.  To Orthodox, some things are established by tradition, which we strive to make the Life of the Spirit of God in the Body of Christ, the whole Orthodox Church, even in the absence of a universally-denominated “ecumenical synod.”  There certainly weren’t any “ecumenical councils” before Nicea!

So that may be a human evaluation of how we got where we got.

The blogger from the previous post, Mr. Brooks Lampe in the Washington, DC, area, here tackles some heavy stuff, without it coming across too heavy! He’s reporting and reflecting mostly on a book by Philip Sherrard, whose writing can be extremely dense – well-planned, well-packed, making for downright oppressive reading, like much philosophy can be – but finally rewarding to the effort. It’s the sequel to Lampe’s article linked to in the previous post.

A few reflections of my own:

  • Fr. Gregory Matthewes-Green referenced there is the husband of Frederica Matthewes-Green, speaker, critic, and columnist about Orthodox and other topics, in person, in print, and on radio. They are the pastor and khouria (Arabic for priest’s wife [priest is khoury, like the surname], apparently pronounced like Korea) of Holy Cross Antiochian Orthodox Church in Linthicum, Maryland, near Baltimore.
  • Lampe blew me away by saying the following, even before getting to Sherrard! (emphasis added): To a large extent, in fact, I credit Western Christianity for leading me to the East…. [T]he West has always been introspective in trying to identify and return to the true faith where it perceives cracks in the truth. Anglicanism and the C.E.C. in particular, I believe, live out the agonia of a faith that has been partially damaged or compromised. For Western Christians, present-day Christianity in part means salvaging and rebuilding the Church. This is most obvious in terms of living in a world where the Church has been “broken” into multiple parts, but it is also evident in the liturgy and sacraments, where there is a sense that the inherited forms and meanings of the modern West are lesser versions of a former glory. In the minds of most high-church Westerners, that former glory can never be restored; as such, the best thing to do is stay the course and counteract the Church’s entropic tendencies. Western Christianity’s “agony,” then, plays a large role in protecting us against complacency (although skeptics and agnostics can become complacent) and in stimulating a desire for a seemingly unreachable ideal. In studying the particular theological differences between Rome and Orthodoxy, I am beginning to see that this agony is not the necessary dead end.
    • ISTM Rome itself might disagree with such a characterization, but one might see it in Rome’s, just like Protestantism’s, constant searching for new ways to express what it has of the tradition, or ways to say what it has better; hence all the ‘schools of theology’ throughout its history and their struggles and conflicts and politics (perhaps unfairly represented, for readers/viewers of Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose, by the great philosophical/theological question of the debate, “Did Christ own the clothes He wore?”).
  • Lampe points to the insight that even when we use the same words, Orthodox and Latins are often not saying the same thing. This is a theme of Fr. John Romanides as well.
  • Learning that the papacy of Rome – to paraphrase somebody in the musical 1776 (“John Adams”?) I think? – did not ‘spring full-grown from the head of Christ,’ but historically evolved from a local bishopric to doubt-worthy and damaging claims of universal jurisdiction, infallibility, and necessity for salvation, was key to my leaving it the first time in favor of the Quakers in 1991, returning to it ‘on my own terms’ in ’98, and thus in the background of my leaving it again for Orthodoxy in ’02.
  • Where Lampe/Sherrard(?) uses the word parish, IIUC I believe we Orthodox have to usually understand bishopric or diocese (of whatever title). Some early Councils use parish not in the modern sense of a subdivision or outpost of a diocese, but the whole, presided over by its Ruling Hierarch. In truth, the Whole Orthodox Church and Christ’s Body is indeed theologically present in every Eucharistic assembly, with or without the in-person presence of its Ruling Hierarch, but at least with his authorization… though this is true par excellence under his actual presidency: the Bishop, his priests, deacons, and other clergy, in the midst of the laity. This is why for us a Hierarchical Divine Liturgy is such a big deal.
  • This article points to the theological importance of the Local Church better than I’ve ever seen before, something with which the Latin Church wrestled after its Second Vatican Council, until ‘localizers’ were basically ‘pinned’ (to extend the wrestling metaphor!) by the “tag team” of John Paul II and then-Cardinal Ratzinger, his doctrinal chief, in favor of the papacy again, at least as far as official discussion is concerned. This is why the dribs and drabs that came out in connection with the “dropping of the title Patriarch of the West,” from Ratzinger – now Pope Benedict XVI – and others last March, were so unexpected, uncertain, unsatisfying… and untrusted! This presentation of Orthodoxy, and many others, starts with the Local Church; Latins instinctively look first to a “Universal Church” of which their pope is the merely-human head, and local dioceses mere outposts with an uncertain practical-theological significance, amid his universal jurisdiction even theoretically over every individual believer, even around that believer’s local bishop.
    • (NB: On the subject of Local Catholic Churches – or not! – I believe the concern expressed over the 2002 establishment of 4 ‘normal’ Latin dioceses in the Russian Federation, with one of them, in Moscow, as their ‘chief,’ has proved unnecessary. The Latin ecclesiastical province of “the Mother of God of Moscow” seems, like all other Latin ecclesiastical provinces in recent centuries, virtually toothless, and not an “innovation” such as an Orthodox autonomous metropolia. Each diocese’s relationship with Rome remains full and direct. The four bishops do form the Russian Federation Catholic Bishops’ Conference, which is for now as relatively powerless as all other Latin national bishops’ conferences. The four dioceses’ former post-Soviet existence as “apostolic administrations” is normally considered by Latins an interim structure, on the way to being made a diocese. [They are called “apostolic” because of their status as sort-of appendages of Rome, sometimes called by Latins “the Apostolic See.”] It’s true that few Latin bishops are titled “Metropolitan” as apparently their Archbishop of Moscow has been sometimes referred to as, but his formal title is normally just Archbishop; he is described as ametropolitan archbishop” to distinguish him from the relatively few Latin archbishops who are not the mostly-titular heads of these mostly-toothless “provinces.” I also note that Latins in the disputed Sakhlin Islands [between Russia and Japan] remain outside the “province” of Russia, within an undeveloped structure called an “apostolic prefecture,” though their bishop in Irkutsk, Siberia, is pulling double duty as prefect of Sakhalin. And the Latin bishop of Novosibirsk was named to serve also the handful of parishes throughout the country of Russian and Ukrainian Byzantine Catholics, but neither has received its own bishop otherwise either, and there are indications the Vatican has committed itself not to make a move that would be so provocative to the Orthodox. [This linked article is very partisan, but in many places throughout the world Eastern Catholics of one or more spiritual traditions remain under Latin bishops’ jurisdiction… and in some places Latins are under Eastern Catholic bishops!])
    • (emphasis added) …Sherrard articulates the Orthodox belief that “unity” or “wholeness” of the Church is not found in the sum of all the parishes together, but in each local parish itself. Each eucharistic center is the Church because even though the body of Christ is distributed in many parts, each part is whole and complete in itself:* “There cannot be one local church which is more catholic or more united than another, because one manifestation of the Eucharist cannot be more, or less the manifestation of the body of Christ than another…. Christ is equally present whenever his body is manifest {eucharistically}, so the principle of catholicity and unity is equally present. The local church which manifests the body of Christ cannot be subsumed into any larger organization or collectivity which makes it more catholic and more in unity, for the simple reason that the principle of total catholicity and total unity is already intrinsic to it.”
    • (*–ie, Just like the Communion bread itself!)
  • Not having read Metropolitan JOHN (Zizioulas’) well-known work on “eucharistic ecclesiology” – just some critiques of it – I can’t say if Sherrard is saying the same thing, or something different.
  • A key insight of Sherrard’s is something I have felt instinctively for a few years now (emphasis and brackets added): Eventually, Sherrard states explicitly that the Papacy is a misguided idea because {ironically!!} it destroys the eucharistic unity of the Church. If [Rome’s] Petrine doctrine is correct then the Church is not unified through the Eucharistic celebration, but in that central organ or instrument of government that is the Pope. The responsibility of guarding the faith lies ultimately with the pope and not with the laity and clergy, not with the body as a whole. In other words, the apostolicity of the Church is reduced from the whole body to its head. The local parishes cease to be the full expression of the Church because they in themselves lack that quality of functioning as an apostolic body.
    • In effect, Rome’s theology of primacy is exaggerated or overblown – “a one-man ecumenical council, even a one-man Church,” I have called it elsewhere – a danger to the reality and faith of the rest of its Patriarchate and anyone else “in communion with” it. IIUC, even Eastern Catholic (aka “Uniate”) patriarchates – Maronite, Melkite, Syriac, Coptic, Armenian, and Chaldean – have to have the Pope of Rome “extend communion to” their newly-elected patriarchs, apparently functionally equivalent to the “autonomous” status of the Orthodox Patriarchate of Constantinople’s Church of Finland, its Church of Estonia, I believe its Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada, and possibly some others of its jurisdictions. A requirement like this is apparently all that prevents communion between Rome and the Assyrian Church of the East (aka “Nestorian”), and also organic reunion between the Assyrians and the Chaldean Catholics, now that Rome and the Assyrians have concluded they agree theologically after 1,600 years apart. In addition, I get the impression from their own printed sources that at least some Eastern Catholic patriarchs function almost like ‘little popes’ over their own jurisdictions, sounding much less collegial, conciliar, or synodal than even the most centralized Local Orthodox Churches. Does this come from association with Rome? I don’t know enough of their history to say.
  • This article also contains an excellent description of Orthodox Church conciliarity like I’ve never seen it before (emphasis and brackets added): The conciliar structure of the East, on the other hand, reflects the body functioning organically, in agreement and unity with itself and without reducing any local parish to being a piece of the whole: “What is intended through a council is that the identity {ie, identicalness} of the faith manifest in each local church, and vested therefore in each bishop, should be affirmed and confirmed through the mutual witness of all the bishops. It is the fact that its pronouncements affirm and confirm the unity and catholicity of the truth established a priori {ie, from the beginning!} in the Church–and through the act itself of the Church’s foundation–that makes a council an authoritative organ of the Church…. It is the whole body of the Church that is the criterion of orthodoxy. It is the Church which determines the councils, not the councils that determine the Church.”
  • Orthodox are sometimes chided for ‘theologizing everything,’ especially for perceiving the Filioque even in Latin Church structure and discipline. But like I’ve said, Orthodox are very theological! That’s why we’re “o/Orthodox”!
  • In fairness to the Latins, Protestants often see more than Latins do in Latins’ “meritorious acts,” because of Luther’s errors. Technically in Latin salvation, positive virtue is optional; only avoidance of “mortal sin,” or sacramental absolution of it, is necessary. When I entered the high school seminary of a Latin religious order whose main task is youth work, I learned – and experienced – one of their key principles: If you keep adolescents too busy – not necessarily doing ‘good,’ perhaps just ‘morally neutral’ – they’ll have less time to sin! An idle mind, or body, is the devil’s workshop, I guess. But when I encountered what some call the “positive ethics” of the Quakers much later – not just or primarily focused on avoiding evildoing, but promoting good-doing, with their self-improvement, pacifism, social justice work, “mysticism,” “Divine leadings,” etc. – was when I felt liberated from Latin “negative ethics” for the first time… and also had less time to sin… but felt better about it!!! (From an Orthodox perspective I see more clearly the problems with both systems now. Quakerism risks self-delusion, eg, [1] the idea that I’m frequently, consciously, authoritatively experiencing Divine input into my thoughts, perceptions, words, or deeds, without more serious work on my passions, or o/Orthodox belief or membership in Christ’s Body the Orthodox Church, and [2] the idea that I’m progressing, even in humility[!], toward “the state Adam was in before he fell… even the state of Christ that never fell” [early Quaker, George Fox], ie, actual [not forensic] sinlessness and perfection even during life.)

(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!)