Posts Tagged ‘spiritual guidance’

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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Says an Antiochian Orthodox bookstore owner in Wichita, Kansas,* in this 2002 Publishers Weekly roundup / preview of then-new Orthodox books entering the mainstream book market (in English in the United States).

(*–For the record, home of 5 Orthodox churches, visible at orthodoxyinamerica.org.)

OK, OK, now that we’ve all had a laugh over a Vatican bureaucrat-archbishop’s politically-correct-sounding interview, first things first: what he was really about (Latin perspective).  For further background, from other sources on the WWW, I gather that what he was doing in the first place was providing advice to priest-confessors / spiritual directors in the Latin tradition, to broaden the traditional examination of conscience to cover things Sister Mary Rose may not have covered when His Excellency was in parochial school several generations ago.  Secondarily, to his faithful as they go to confession themselves – as he wishes they’d do more of (as should we all).

(More sober treatments are, for now at least, available from the Sydney Morning Herald and Reuters.)

The media didn’t have quite as much ‘fun’ when the Latins’ new Catechism of the Catholic Church did something similar over a decade ago, adding speeding and other such “modern” *  things to moral considerations.  As I recall they treated it as just a small, quirky highlight of a very long and detailed book about everything a Latin (or even an Eastern Catholic – with more Eastern Christian ‘flavor’ peppered-into it than we’d ever seen before) needs to believe in order to be saved (as they believe).

Someone with 6 years of graduate Western religious studies 😉 might like to say that this suggestion from Rome is indeed somewhat new, not altogether out of line with recent developments in Western moral theology regarding what it calls social sins or structural evil.  British United Reformed hymnwriter Dr. Brian Wren even penned one that conveys some of the idea:

1. Not only acts of evil will,
but bland routine and good intent,
can hurt and harass, starve and kill
the outcast and the innocent.
  In such a world, and in God’s name,
  we seek a gospel to proclaim.

2. Our normal, ordinary ways
of doing business, getting more,
entrap the poorest in a maze
of hunger, debt, disease and war.
  In Christ we would make good our claim,
  and find a gospel to proclaim.

(Speaking of which[!], you can look at the whole text at his copyright administrators Hope Publishing Company, but when they say you can agree to download one copy free and easy for personal use, they don’t mean you can save the HTML on your hard drive – it’ll hose your browser like it just did mine!  [All open tabs and windows!  Thank goodness WordPress auto-saves drafts.]  But they don’t bar highlighting and copying the text … for now.  BTW, I’m considering this truncated quotation an acceptable use under usual copyright laws; I even recommend his stuff for purchase by non-Orthodox choirs and congregations, so consider this a review.)

Not to mention someone with a background as an oppressed Irish Catholic [849 years, Your Majesty!], a Native American, a political and investigative reporter, a local labor union leader, and in Liberation Theology.

But I would be wrong to think this sort of thing is new, merely counter to stereotype, where we focus on personal failings in areas like sex, stealing, lying, cheating, killing, hurting, betraying – the stuff of the party game Scruples.  Important stuff, stuff that’s often hard not to do, a challenge!  But written Examinations of Conscience or Preparations for Confession have been ‘expanding upon’ or ‘contextualizing’ Commandments, Vices, and other violations for centuries.  ‘Ya haven’t killed anyone lately, but have you killed their reputation?’ etc.  And before that, you still had priests questioning penitents, especially if they seemed reluctant to come clean.

As pointed out, some of the specific things mentioned this week were technologically impossible not long ago, but variations on older temptations.  Other things, like contributing to social injustice, may have felt – rightly or wrongly – largely out of the reach of most laity in past eras, but most Christian Churches have frequently counseled rulers about this.  Today, with voting and rapid transit, not to mention the Internet(!), the average lay Christian in much of the world may sin against many times more people than in former times.

As the context of Confession points out, and as Orthodoxy emphasizes even more, it’s not just about resisting temptation, but repenting of sinfulness, known and unknown, voluntary and involuntary (scroll down to last paragraph).  The perfect Latin is considered possible, as I recently implied, if highly doubtful; and some Protestant groups at least historically believed in some form of perfectibility in life.  But in Orthodoxy we have the frequently-told tales of the saintliest of monastics on their deathbeds worrying sincerely – though not unhealthily – that they haven’t even begun to repent, and the monastic Father who, when asked what they do all day, replied, “We fall down and get up, fall down and get up, fall down and get up.”  “Orthodox aren’t perfect, just repentant.”  Seeming to successfully resist temptation can tempt to and induce pride, the deadliest sin of all; better to remember that we can never repent enough to divinize ourselves – repenting is merely the best preparation for God to do it.  And what happens then?  An even greater sense of our own sinfulness, of our responsibility for the sins of all humanity, even praying for the devil (they say) and seeking to refrain from killing bugs.  “New sins”?  We’ll probably never run out of sins!  But increased sensitizedness?  Even if it’s driven by news media like some of the archbishop’s seem to be – and as journalists say, “The news is usually bad” – is that a bad thing?  Is God unconcerned?  Brian Wren says no.

But consult your priest or spiritual parent.

(*–Who was the guy in the Old Testament who could be identified by watchmen while still several miles away from a fortress “because he drives like a maniac”?!!  I swear I read that exact phrase in a supposedly reputable translation a decade or two ago!)