Posts Tagged ‘religious icons’

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.)

Advertisements

I just learned of the demise last year of the Milan Synod’s St. Hilarion Monastery in Texas, and of their website, odox.net.  This group was not in communion with the Orthodox Church, but the Wayback Machine seems to have stored at least their images of Western Saints icons, which I have always found edifying.

A very insightful post at Alana Roberts’ blog.  She’s converted from Evangelicalism.

Bishop JOHN (Berzins) of Caracas, (temporary) administrator of the Diocese of South America, of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, is one of ROCOR’s newly-elected and -consecrated hierarchs.  Many Years, Master!

Interestingly, as their news release with lots of interesting photos mentions, he was consecrated a couple weeks ago at, and according to, what I believe is the only canonical Old Believer parish in the Western world, Nativity of Christ in Erie, Pennsylvania.  Furthermore, most of their members are converts to Orthodoxy or their families!

Old Believer is the traditional nickname for a group more accurately called Old Ritualist because they follow the Old Rite of (Russian) Orthodoxy.  In Russia they have traditionally been termed Schismatics, Raskolniki, and I believe I read that the Russian surname Raskolnikov / Raskolnikoff derives from this also.

Although the Orthodox liturgies are ancient, “usages,” or how they’re carried out, have continued to adjust a little bit since ancient times.  The Russian Old Rite derives – or persists – from practices in the Russian Empire before the 17th century.  I can’t personally vouch for everything in the Wikipedia article or others linked from it, but it seems like it gives a good idea of the topic.

The Old Rite is not just about how one holds one’s hand while making the Sing of the Cross, though like many things in controversies, that became emblematic of them and for them.  This page seems to provide the clearest description of it, relatively briefly, that I can find.  But when I try to do it, it’s very uncomfortable for my hand, almost painful, especially when going for the right shoulder, so maybe I don’t quite have it.  The main point is that while “new rite” Orthodox hold together the thumb, index finger, and middle finger to represent the Trinity, and touch their forehead, torso, and shoulders with these (with their 4th and 5th fingers planted in their palm) … those of the Old Rite hold together the thumb, 4th and 5th fingers, but touch their forehead, torso, and shoulders with their index and middle fingers (held together with the middle one bent slightly) … as everybody tries to explain.

It’s the same gesture often seen when figures in icons, including Christ (eg, from the famous 6th-century Sinai icon), hold up their hand in blessing, when it’s not the “newer” ICXC gesture.

The Erie parish is led by Bishop DANIEL (Alexandrow) of Erie, an Auxiliary Bishop to the First Hierarch of ROCOR, with an interesting life discussed in the linked article.

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!