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Posts Tagged 'ecumenical patriarch'

Review Essay: The Oecumenical Patriarchate in the Orthodox Church

maxresdefaultA couple of years ago, I contributed this piece to the sadly-now-defunct Red Egg Review. It seems quite relevant now, so I repost it in full here.

I find it curious that, amidst a series of heavier news reports of import to Orthodox Christians being covered in American media, such as the conflict between Ukraine and Russia and the civil war in Syria, the recent synaxis of the Orthodox primates at the Ecumenical Patriarchate made the Huffington Post via a Reuters story (although somebody at the HuffPo concocted an ill-informed headline on the piece, announcing that the synaxis had planned a new “ecumenical council” for 2016, and I’m not the only one who noticed this).  As can be typical, the writers of the piece seemed to stumble a bit when it came to explaining the role of the Ecumenical Patriarch; +Bartholomew is “the spiritual leader” of the Orthodox, the “senior-most Orthodox leader” who has a “prestige” position but a “tiny” church, with “no authority over other churches” and “none of the resources the large Russian church enjoys”.

The Ecumenical Patriarch is often a lightning rod for confusion and criticism by Anglophones, Orthodox and non-Orthodox alike. Not only is the American media not certain in what box to put him, but online chatter about the Patriarchate among American Orthodox converts is often sharply negative. He is critiqued for his support of environmental concerns and framing of them as a matter of Christian stewardship, for his willingness to interact with the Pope, for what the critics portray as a penchant for consolidating his own power, for a willingness to embrace political expediency in Turkey rather than bravely face martyrdom (as was at the heart of some critical reviews of his book, such as those by Rod Dreher and Charlotte Allen), and for a lack of concern for American issues besides shoring up support for the position of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese. Fr. Peter Gillquist’s allegation of the EP’s (+Demetrios in those days) poor treatment of the delegation from the Evangelical Orthodox Church is a story that is not easily forgotten, and it is trotted out with some regularity. Others offer the hypothesis that the Patriarchate seeks to establish itself as the “Orthodox papacy” specifically so that, when (so this line of thinking goes) +Bartholomew enters into reunion with Rome, it will be no conceptual difficulty to hand that authority over to the Roman Pope. Uncompromising reassertions of the primacy of the Ecumenical Patriarchate by Metropolitan Elpidophoros (Lambrianides) of Bursa have not helped the matter (at the same time, neither have similarly aggressive-sounding words from Moscow).

There are parallels here to the situation in 1970s. Greece had just emerged from its military dictatorship in 1974, the same year as the coup in Cyprus and subsequent Turkish invasion Lebanon’s civil war started in 1975; Soviet Russia was at its height – and the Orthodox world was preparing for a council. Preparatory meetings had been held since 1961, at Rhodes and at Chambesy, and in 1972, the same year that Patriarch Athenagoras passed away and a year after the Theological School in Halki was closed, a collection of the introductory reports of the Preparatory Commission were published under the title Towards the Great Council, the introduction to which contains the rather charming and confident statement that “[t]he Great and Holy Council of the Orthodox Church is planned to be held in all probability some time during 1974[.]”

The same year, Metropolitan Maximos of Sardes of blessed memory published a work of historical theology titled The Œcumenical Patriarchate in the Orthodox Church: A Study in the History and Canons of the Church, published by the Patriarchal Institute for Patristic Studies (Thessaloniki). The work begins in the Apostolic era, tracing the historical development of the office of the bishop through the Council of Nicea in 325, at which point +Maximos looks specifically at the episcopate as it developed in Constantinople. He spends quite a bit of time on the Council of Chalcedon, and then studies the way the role of the Patriarchate, as articulated at Chalcedon, was realized from the end of late antiquity up until the twentieth century. The book appears to have been conceived of in the context of an impending Great Council; +Maximos specifically has as his framing device the (then) recent memory of the first Conference at Rhodes in 1961, at which he was a delegate:

The conference was held primarily to demonstrate the unity which has held the Orthodox Church together in faith and service throughout the centuries, despite what at times has been considered as its injurious decentralization and the independence of the individual churches…  No doubt as a result of [such] misunderstandings, some curious articles have been published… about antagonism between the Oecumenical Patriarchate and the Russian Church, and about the victory of one over the other. Nothing could be further from the truth. No one scored a victory at Rhodes. Rhodes saw but one victory; the triumph of Orthodoxy (p. 15).

Space only permits a brief summary of +Maximos’ 327 pages’ worth of observations and conclusions; in a nutshell, the Church is a divinely-instituted, mystical (as in sacramental) Body; at the same time, it is a historical reality, with visible power and authority being given to the Apostles. The episcopate is a charismatic office that is derived from Apostolic origin but is not, essentially, apostolic in character; in other words, the Apostles had a fundamentally missionary role, whereas the episcopate has a fundamentally liturgical and pastoral role. Ultimately it is Christ who is the divine founder of the Church; it is the bishop who is the earthly – that is to say, historical – head; this power is properly considered to be within, rather than over, the Church, and the bishop is the personification of the organic unity of the Church.

As Christianity spread, and the need for bishops to decide things in synod developed, a system of precedence emerged out of necessity, with preference being given to the “mother church” of a given synod. As new communities started emerging in the periphery rather than the metropolitan centers, this practice of customary precedence came to represent concrete administrative power, but these prerogatives were accompanied with a “reciprocity” of obligation. As the 34th Apostolic Canon prescribed, the bishops in a given synod are not to do anything without their head, but neither is the head to act without his bishops, “because harmony and love must prevail amongst the bishops as an example to the clergy and people and for ‘the glory of God, through the Lord, by the Holy Ghost’” (322).

Within this system emerged metropolitans, then patriarchs of autocephalous churches, then the patriarchates of Rome and New Rome. This is a historical development that still must be seen as an organic necessity:

[O]nly in this organization can the Church continue to exist in the midst of human societies… Thus even the highest institutions of its historical development, such as the emergence of the office of patriarch in the oecumenical Church, must be seen as vitally necessary phenomena, deriving in ecclesiastical life by a gradual and continuous process from the ecclesiastical idea of order, organization, and perfection in administration, under the same conditions as those under which the whole administration of the oecumenical Church has evolved; phenomena fully in accord with the internal presuppositions of ecclesiastical order as these were recognized by the Church itself and were developed in its legislation… Thus even if all the bishops are equal by divine institution, enjoying to the same degree the gift of the episcopal grace and share the same unbroken Apostolic succession, they are not all equal-in-honor in the canonical system of the ecclesiastical administration… Some bishops emerge as senior to the others…Enjoying special privileges, they take the initiative in general ecclesiastical issues. (324-25)

In this context, the Patriarch of Constantinople has a precedence of honor that is related to his administrative function. This is not, +Maximos insists, a supremacy in all aspects of ecclesiastical life (the way he would define “neo-Papism”), but an authority in the context of the dual principles of “conciliarity and collegiality” and “non-intervention in the internal affairs of other churches” (326).

History does interfere, however. The Ottoman takeover of the former Empire is well-covered territory; more recently, +Maximos examines the problem of the rise of nationalism in the Balkans and Europe, where the boundaries of local churches were now being drawn according to self-consciously secular and political criteria – division by tribe; that is to say, racism. It was in this context that the Patriarchate condemned ethnophyletism in 1872: “We renounce, censure, and condemn racism, that is racial discrimination, ethnic feuds, hatreds, and dissensions within the Church of Christ, as contrary to the teaching of the Gospel and the holy canons of our blessed fathers which ‘support the holy Church and the entire Christian world, embellish it, and lead it to divine godliness’.” (300-309)

+Maximos also spends some time on the question of the diaspora (a loaded word for some in 2014 that presumably was assumed merely to be descriptive in the 1970s). He acknowledges the problem that the emphasis on national origins has posed in Europe, Canada, Australia, and North America: “This makes Orthodoxy appear divided and at odds with itself… with disastrous consequences when it comes to projecting its unity to the outside world” (309). +Maximos here suggests that the diaspora represents three problems to be solved: what the local principle in the organization of the Church means as an issue of dogma, the canonical jurisdiction of Constantinople over Orthodox Christians outside of the boundaries of established churches (per Chalcedon 28, which +Maximos deals with at great length in his fourth chapter), and the “so-called psychological question of ecclesiastical unity” (311). An article of Fr. Alexander Schmemann’s, dating from 1954 – sixteen years before Moscow’s granting of autocephaly to the Orthodox Church in America – is brought to bear in support of the Ecumenical Patriarch’s role in establishing unity in the diaspora. Apparently Schmemann was for the EP before he was against it.

The legacy of +Maximos’ book, particularly in Anglophone literature, is curious. The English translation was published in 1976. The Patriarchal Institute for Patristic Studies had commissioned Gamon McLellan, an Anglican who had been a student of +Kallistos Ware’s (now Metropolitan of Diokleia) and who was working with a team of paleographers at the Institute at the time of the commission. In preparation for writing this piece, I was fortunate enough to speak with Mr. McLellan by Skype, and I am indebted to him for his comments and his help in providing useful historical context for his work. He had a great deal of personal access to +Maximos, and they discussed his translation extensively. Mr. McLellan’s work was also reviewed by a team of senior theologians at the Patriarchal Institute. As much care as was put into the publication of the translation, however, it is unclear what the reception to the work was amongst English readers. WorldCat lists only forty-one libraries worldwide with a copy of Mr. McLellan’s translation in circulation, and the Patriarchal Institute in Thessaloniki has let the English edition go out of print. Indeed, while a second edition of the book was published in Greece in 1989, three years after +Maximos’ repose, no English translation has been published of that, and the Greek edition has proven impossible to acquire via Western interlibrary loan systems. On the whole, +Maximos does not appear to have been cited very much in English, save for a very small handful of scholarly works and a couple of essays on the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America website. And yet, a note of inquiry to +Elpidophoros of Bursa regarding the current appraisal of +Maximos’ study by the Patriarchate yields the following response: “…it does not merely reflect the thinking of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, it describes the Ecumenical Patriarchate as it is. After saying that I do not see any space for any Patriarch to change something about that.”

The book is, to be sure, a dense read. +Maximos’ command of historical sources is exhaustive. At the same time, Mr. McLellan’s translation renders the recounting of canons and Councils into English that is as readable as it could be, and it is rewarding and informative reading. While it is a different world today in terms of Anglophone scholarship than it was in 1976 – the translation of Metropolitan John (Zizioulas) of Pergamum’s ecclesiological studies into English has been monumental all by itself (and +Maximos relies on him greatly in the early chapters) – surely a refreshed translation of the 1989 second edition, along with perhaps a scholarly afterword bringing the study up to date, would be a worthwhile project for a publisher like Holy Cross Orthodox Press.

A thought that emerges in my reading of this work is the applicability of the Byzantine love of paradox;[1] certainly, +Maximos is careful to acknowledge the paradoxical nature of the picture he paints. “Power and service are indeed mutually contradictory,” he writes, “power usually destroying any idea of service… However, when the Oecumenical throne exercises the power given it by the canons and by history, the aspect which predominates is that of offering service in the entire Orthodox economy, thus imitating and carrying on the unique example of Our Lord Jesus Christ” (327). Mutual contradiction – that is to say, paradox – does not represent an impossibility; it represents the chance for Christ to make Himself known (and one need only attend a Salutations service during Great Lent to hear the manifold ways this is expressed regarding the Mother of God in the Akathistos hymn).

+Maximos’ presentation of the Ecumenical Patriarchate on its own terms serves as a useful corrective to the all-too-convenient picture that can be presented of a weak, ethnocentric, would-be Pope, and for that even if for no other reason, it is a work that deserves more of a hearing amongst Anglophone Orthodox than it seems to have received. Seen in the light of the picture +Maximos paints, +Bartholomew is an Ecumenical Patriarch who is trying to serve the oecumene – that is, the civilized world – not take it over and hand it to Rome in a neatly-wrapped package. Even if the reader, after giving him a fair hearing, still disagrees with +Maximos’ conclusions, it will be an exercise that, by the end, will make the reader more informed about Orthodox ecclesiological theology and the historical nature of Orthodox ecclesiastical structure, and will also be greatly illuminating in terms of where the Patriarchate and Patriarch are locating themselves in the scheme of Christian history.

[1] See, for example, Anthony Kaldellis’ exploration of this theme with respect to the Mother of God: ‘“A Union of Opposites”: The Moral Logic and Corporeal Presence of the Theotokos on the Field of Battle,’ in C. Gastgeber et al., eds., Pour l’amour de Byzance: Hommage à Paolo Odorico (Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 2013) 131-144.

 

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Metro Athens: “We are ascertaining the presence of a common tradition”

From Metro Athens, 6 July 2009, p. 9: (text originally in Greek, translation mine)

Word of unity from the Phanar

The Patriarch of Moscow and of All Russians Kyrill characterized as the most meaningful event of his visit to the Phanar the concelebration yesterday of a Divine Liturgy with the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew at the Church of St. George.

“This peaceful visit is the first of a series of visits to the sister local Orthodox Churches,” said Patriarch Kyrill, and stressed that “the visits will comprise a good beginning for the renewal of the brotherly relations in Christ between two great Orthodox Patriarchates of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church of Christ.”

One Orthodox Church

The Patriarch of Moscow and of All Russians made a particular reference to the processes which began at the initiative of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in 2008 for dealing with the problems of the Orthodox Churches. “From all our soul we are supporting the call which Your Holiness issued from here last year to the local Orthodox Churches, that we should be conscious of ourselves and function as one Church. This, our interpretation, comprises even our own sincere conviction,” said Patriarch Kyrill, speaking to Patriarch Bartholomew.

“A coordinating organ”

Patriarch Bartholomew on his side reiterated how “the structure of our Church according to Patriarchates and Autocephalous Churches in no wa signifies that we comprise Churches and not a Church.

“The Orthodox Church certainly does not employ primacy of power, but also it does not lack a coordinating organ, not compelling but expressing the unanimity of the local churches. This martyr’s Throne humbly exercises the ministry from the ages and sacred tradition in absolute fidelity to the imperatives of Orthodox Ecclesiology,” he added.

Strong ties

Patriarch Kyrill referred in detail to the great ties of the Church of Moscow with Constantinople. “We are ascertaining the presence of a common tradition, which unbreakably connects the Church of Constantinople with her former daughter, today the sister Church, equal in rank, of Russia,” he noted, and added, “Our common tradition comprises the firm foundation of our common witness to the modern world.”

PULL QUOTE NOT IN BODY OF TEXT: Kyrill: “Despite historical cataclysms, the name of Christ continues to be hallowed in this city.”

PHOTO CAPTION: Warm embrace of two hierarchs

Orthodox Christianity at the Crossroad: A Great Council of the Church — When and Why

For various reasons, I tend to not pay much attention to certain groups that have positioned themselves as voices within the Orthodox landscape of North America. Orthodox Christian Laity, as a general rule, tends to be one of those groups to whom I don’t pay much attention. I’d rather not go into a clinical level of detail about the reasons for this, except to offer the mild suggestion that their very name appears to set up a shibboleth about a particular view of ecclesial authority and its relationship to what a local, visibly unified both sacramentally and administratively, Orthodox Church in this country might eventually look like, and to note that certain parties associated with OCL appear to explicitly take the attitude of, “If you don’t agree with this,  then you are against having an American Orthodox Church.” (I will also mention that the word συνδιακονία appears to not actually exist; at the very least, it is not attested in the Great Scott, BDAG, or Sophocles. Perhaps it is in the Patristic Lexicon; I don’t know, because I don’t yet have that. Now, according to the Great Scott, συνδιακονός is attested to in the Classical literature as meaning “fellow-servant,” and according to Sophocles it means “fellow-deacon” in Byzantine works, but “co-ministry” seems to be, shall we say, a populist innovation along the lines of λειτουργεία meaning “work of the people” rather than “public service”. If I’m wrong, great — just let me know in which literature the word appears and has the meaning of “co-ministry”, and I’ll be more than happy to accept the correction.)

Nonetheless, Orthodox Christianity at the Crossroad: A Great Council of the Church — When and Why, a collection of proceedings from a symposium held in 2007 to celebrate OCL’s twentieth anniversary, is a worthwhile read. It is somewhat less than satisfying as a scholarly document, since references are not plentiful (although there are a handful), but it is useful as a collection of differing points of view on just what the forthcoming Council (a more speculative matter at the time than it is now) might be able to accomplish, or, well, not. Abp. Nathaniel of Detroit and the Romanian Episcopate (OCA) summarizes the question:

…[H]ow [is] autocephaly — or the right of self-rule, including election of its head — […] earned or recognized or taken[?] Who could answer this question? What body would decide? The idea was that perhaps the way to create this “united autocephalous” entity in North America is primarily through such a council. Among the possible answers to the question was: “Is this not the role of a Great Council of the Church?” (p. iv)

And depending on which paper you’re reading, the answer is, “Yes”. Or “No”. Or “Yes, but a Council shouldn’t happen right now anyway.” Or “Maybe, which is part of why a Council hasn’t happened yet.” Or “Yes, perhaps, but we’d rather it didn’t happen and we reserve the right to not play along anyway even if there is a Council and they do make a decision regarding North America.”

Metropolitan Christopher of the Serbian Orthodox Archdiocese of Midwestern America’s paper kicks off the book, and my two big takeaways were a) as long as he feels that the term “diaspora” is being used as a club by the Ecumenical Patriarchate to reserve as much control over the North American situation as possible, or being used at all for that matter, a Council cannot function properly, and he invokes the rhetoric of Fr. Justin Popovic that the Council as currently planned would cause further division; b) the Serbs keep their own counsel on the question of jurisdictional unity in this country.

Fr. Alexander Abramov, the representative of the Moscow Patriarchate to the United States, essentially says the same thing but with broader language; the basic points remain that Moscow doesn’t trust the EP’s intentions or procedures in trying to convene this Council, and that both the Patriarchal churches in this country as well as ROCOR may or may not choose to participate in a hypothetical united Orthodox Church in North America, depending on whether or not they perceive that it is in their interests to do so.

Fr. John Erickson of St. Vladimir’s Seminary gives a very useful historical overview of the series of events leading up to the present efforts to convene a Council, starting in 1930 (and including the material I examine here). He also offers a respectful analysis of the issues surrounding Chalcedon 28; while he refutes the understanding of it as giving control of the entire “diaspora” to Constantinople, he also says that “this assessment is not meant to diminish the leadership role that Constantinople could legitimately assume within the communion of the Orthodox churches… In this quest for tangible unity, the Patriarchate of Constantinople can play a leading role” (pp. 38-9).

Armenian Orthodox Dr. Vigen Guroian of the University of Virginia relates his perspective on how Orthodox youth seem to transcend the issues of ethnicity, and how he hopes this will plant the seeds of real Orthodox unity. I am tempted to designate this the “money quote” for the whole book:

The ethnic identities may serve the limited good of initially helping to bind the religious community together. That which is binding, however, may also keep apart those who share the same faith and ultimately reduce our mentality to a denominational one. (p. 57)

Finally, the paper of Dr. Elizabeth Prodromou of Boston University is unique in two ways. One, it provides what is probably the most scholarly analysis of the present situation. Secondly, she unequivocally defends the immediate need for the Council and the Ecumenical Patriarch’s prerogative in calling one at what she believes is a moment in history where we must be decisive.

[W]e, as the Church, are living in fundamentally different times and unprecedented conditions than those in which the Church has ever existed… human beings now possess the capacity to destroy all of God’s created order… [and] stand at the threshold of the capacity to create human life in a manner wholly separated from the act of erotic love. In this respect, the Church finds itself confronting the conditions whereby man believes that he can both threaten and — potentially — substitute for God’s role as Creator. The present moment, therefore, represents a combination of power and hubris unseen in human history or in the history of the Church… [N]either the canons of the Church in their current form, nor the full body of Holy Tradition understood as fixed, can begin to offer adequate responses to the unprecedented creative and destructive reality of the present historical moment. A Great and Holy Council, as an expression of the living Tradition of the Church, is a sine qua non for the Church in any meaningful effort to come to terms with, and transform, our current historical reality… [As well,] the need for a Great and Holy Council stems from the historically unprecedented condition of global religious pluralism, and — for Orthodox Christians in America — from the reality of incomparable religious diversity. (pp. 63-4)

As regards the Ecumenical Patriarchate,

it is important to voice support for the Ecumenical Patriarch to convene a Great and Holy Council. Laity, clergy, and hierarchy from the Orthodox world writ large must give voice to this message, which effectively acknowledges the ecclesiastical authority of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. A crucial component of this message, however, must be the need for the absolute inclusiveness in the participation at the Council; everyone must be invited to this spiritual banquet, from all jurisdictions and from all strata (ordained and lay) in the church as the body of Christ. By empowering the Ecumenical Patriarch to convene the Council, and just as important, by charging that Patriarch to be all-inclusive, the red herring of authority, which, in reality, reflects the worst kinds of struggles over power, will be eliminated. (p. 70)

In the end, however, the Council needs to be seen as a means to an end rather than an end in and of itself:

Orthodox Christians must recognize that the Great and Holy Council is not the answer, the terminus, the resolution of the challenges and opportunities confronting Orthodox people today. Instead, there is a need to reframe such an event in its proper context; specifically, the event of the Council is simply a part — albeit a crucial one — of the overall process of Orthodoxy’s continuing adjustment to, engagement with, and transformation of the world in which we live. (ibid.)

Overall, as I’ve said before, I feel sometimes like we’re a family of people who don’t like each other too much. There are, of course, historical reasons for this, but I will say that in reading this collection of papers, I find myself wanting to hope more in what the academics have to say than the clergy.

To sum up — it’s a quick read (80 pages or so), and provides a couple of exceptional essays as well as a good overview of what the various positions are. It’s worth your time.

Towards the Great Council

I mentioned earlier that I was researching the preparations that were going on in the 1970s for the Council that was supposed to happen at that time. Interlibrary loan hasn’t exactly been a ton of help; the acts of the preparatory meetings aren’t in any library that they can find, and then other publications are listed, but when a request is entered, it comes back as “unfillable”.

The one thing ILL has been able to come up with is the English edition of the collection of introductory reports of the Preparatory Commision, Towards the Great Council, prepared in 1971 and published in 1972. It’s a quick read, all of 52 pages. Here’s what the back cover says:

Preparations are under way for a Great and Holy Council of the Orthodox Church, the first since the seventh Ecumenical Council of 787. No date has been fixed as yet, but it could take place as soon as the long stage of preparation is terminated. In 1974 the First Preconciliar Panorthodox Conference should convene at Chambésy near Geneva. Its task will be to examine the six reports prepared by the Interorthodox Preparatory Commission in 1971 and presented in this edition, as well as to revise the catalogue of themes for the Great Council which was prepared by the First Panorthodox Conference at Rhodes in 1961.

The Great and Holy Council of the Orthodox Church is planned to be held in all probability some time during 1974 and, in preparation for its discussions, the Interorthodox Preparatory Commission, representing the various Orthodox Churches, was commissioned to draw up a series of statements on six topics proposed, in 1968, by the Fourth Panorthodox Conference.

Well. I guess when you don’t have an emperor to see that things come together or else, four decade delays can happen, right?

There is much in here that is interesting and worthwhile; I’ve already discussed the report titled “Fuller participation by the laity in the worship and life of the Church”, which is two pages (well, just over one when you figure in the space for the title on the first page) and amounts to “This is not an issue of great concern; if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

The first report, “Divine Revelation and the way it expresses itself for the salvation of man”, has some very interesting things to say about Biblical scholarship.

…our Holy Orthodox Church declares that Scripture, being divinely inspired, preserves unimpaired within itself the presence of the Holy Spirit, in those revealed truths which it narrates, teaches and expounds for man’s salvation. In its words it preserves intact the collaboration between the divine and human factor in such a way that, even should the human presentation and clothing of God’s word be imperfect, yet the substance of the divine content of the revelation is not impaired. The essence and distinctive character of both remain intact; the human element is to be investigated according to human methods, while the divine aspect is not to be formulated in a one-sided, individualistic, and subjective fashion, but all the details are to be judged in accordance with the entirety of Holy Scripture and Revelation, and this entirety in its turn is to be judged in accordance with the Tradition of the Church from the beginning, there being but one source for both the unwritten and the written divine word. […]…it must be acknowledged that the attempt to ascertain which is the genuine and original Greek text according to tradition in the Orthodox Church, and the publication of an edition of the New Testament embodying such a text, is fraught with difficulties. This is especially so inasmuch as there exist several families and categories of different classes of manuscripts, on which most of the editions have been based, without any one of them being adjudged entirely accurate, complete, and perfect.

There also exist in our Eastern Church, on a somewhat more official level, editions issued by the local Orthodox Churches, such as (among others) the edition brought out in 1903 by the Ecumenical Patriarchate. This did not have the same aim as the so-called critical editions, that is, the discovery and restoration of the original text of the sacred books; but its aim was simply to restore the most ancient text…as found in the ecclesiastical tradition, and most notably in that of the Church of Constantinople. …[O]ur Holy Orthodox Church should entrust to expert Orthodox theologians the task of editing the best possible scholarly edition of the original Greek text of the New Testament, so that the text so prepared may thereafter be recognized and accepted by the whole of our Holy Orthodox Church. (pp. 6-7)

Now, there’s an interesting thought — that the Orthodox should take a bolder, more central role in Biblical scholarship, and that we should maybe be looking to the Greeks to produce the definitive critical edition of the Greek text.

It is the remaining four reports, “Adaptation of the ecclesiastical ordinances regarding fasting to meet present-day needs”, “Impediments to marriage”, “Concerning the calendar and the date of Easter”, and “Economy in the Orthodox Church”, where we get into material that no doubt sparks arguments.

The report on fasting is actually an illuminating — and sourced — walk through the history of fasting practices in Orthodox Christianity. It ultimately recommends what I would hesitate to call a relaxation of fasting norms (although they use that word), but rather more of a pastoral acknowledgment that one size doesn’t quite fit all. This, of course, already happens frequently at the parish level; here the recommendation is that this be formally and universally understood as what is going to happen. One of the big specific changes the Commission recommends is something that the Antiochians already do anyway — eliminate fasting altogether between Pascha and Ascension.

It is clear that the Commission views this recommendation as being made for pastoral reasons, not for purposes of modernizing:

[We recognize] that most of the faithful in the society of today do not keep all the rules of fasting, on account of the difficult circumstances in which they live. Contemporary conditions demand a form of fasting that is less severe and shorter in length. Such a change is necessary in order to avoid creating problems of conscience such as result from breaking the strict ecclesiastical ordinances — problems which poision the spiritual life of the faithful. A change in the rules of fasting currently in force does not conflict with the basic principles of fasting. (p. 28)

What’s fascinating, though — and what rather dates this text — is the bit about “the difficult circumstances in which” the faithful live necessitating changes. I would argue that nearly forty years later, at least in America and perhaps elsewhere, people don’t keep the fasts for exactly the opposite reasons — because their circumstances are great. Archimandrite Joseph (Morris), current abbot of St. Gregory Palamas Monastery in Ohio, tells a story about how after a homily given during Lent, one of the “cradles” in his parish came up to him and said, “Honey — ” (“They always call you ‘honey,'” he muses at this point in the story) “– Honey, I heard you talking about fasting. That’s the old country. We don’t do that here.” What seems to be implied is that many of the faithful with ethnic ties to the faith associate fasting with the poverty they or their forebears were trying to escape.

The calendar discussion, of course, is already controversial; the Commission recommends solving the problem by adopting the new calendar and the current manner of reckoning the vernal equinox, arguing that it is

quite evident that the First Ecumenical Council considered the astronomical factor as of prime importance for determining the common date of Easter. It thus follows that all the Orthodox Churches following the decisions of the First Ecumenical Council, are abound to celebrate Easter on the first Sunday after the full moon following the vernal equinox, according to the most precise calculations that scientific astronomy can provide. In each case, this means employing the calendar considered by expert astronomers to be the most exact. (p. 37)

To its credit, the Commission “acknowledges certain local pastoral difficulties” with enacting and enforcing this idea, and “therefore proposes that the time and way of applying the resolution should be left to the discretion of the local Churches” (p. 38).

“Economy in the Orthodox Church” is doubtless the part that gets people in certain circles growling the “e” and “h” words. This is the issue the Commission seeks to address:

The problems concerning exactness and economy have attained vast proportions in contemporary Church life; for never before in the Church’s history have the issues of inter-Church and inter-confessional relations, of the rapprochement and union of Christians, and of ecumenical unity, been raised so persistently and in so many different guises. (p.41)

To that end, the Commission proposes, we may say the following about non-Orthodox:

The Church being one, all who are alienated from her may be considered as standing on different rungs of one and the same ladder leading up to her when they desire to return to the Church. More precisely, we could say that the Holy Spirit acts upon other Christians in very many ways, depending on their degree of faith and hope. It is consequently clear that Christians outside the Church, even when they do not maintain their faith intact and immaculate, none the less keep their link with Christ, through their unwavering hope in Him. These Christians rejoice ‘with the joy of hope’ (Rom. 12.12). They confess that, through hope, they possess Christ, the common Lord, along with all Christians, because the confession of Christ unites us all, He being our common Lord and the hope of our final salvation. (p. 45)

However,

all [of Orthodoxy’s] relationships with [the other Christian Churches and Confessions] are founded on the quickest and most objective clarification possible of the ecclesiological question and of their doctrinal teaching as a whole. [The Orthodox Church] also recognizes that rapprochement with them will be brought about on terms having as their centre the divine-human structure of the Church. Yet she by no means intends to forget the existence also of the multiple pastoral responsibilities belonging to the Church of Christ, comprising her duty to preach the Gospel ‘unabridged’, and to remove from the conscience of the faithful everywhere all manner of censure; for it is truly a scandal to them that Christians are divided, since ‘Christ is not divided’ (1 Cor. 1.13).

Our Holy Orthodox Church will in no way fail to apply akribeia [translated earlier as “exactness”] to those articles of faith and sources of grace which must be upheld, yet she will not neglect to employ oikonomia wherever permissible in local contacts with those outside her — provided always that they believe in God adored in Trinity and the basic tenets of the Orthodox faith which follow from this, remaining always within the framework of the teaching of the ancient Church, one and indivisible.

A further goal is, on the one hand, to provide a living witness to Christ and the true faith within a secular society and a world which for the most part does not follow Christ and, on the other hand, to lead all to the one Lord, the one faith, the one baptism, the one breaking of bread, the one God and Father of all (Eph. 4.5-6). (p. 50)

Thus, among the goals the Commission recommends, we find the following:

Within the bounds of economy — identified with the extreme loving-kindness of the Godhead — to find ways and means of applying this economy to the contemporary situation of good relations between the Christian Churches; with a view to furthering all aspects of common life in Christ: ecclesiastical practice, worship, common prayer, theological collaboration and consultation, etc., until the efforts of all the Churches toward union have been crowned with success.

And:

To act together on particular occasions, under the presuppositions accepted by the Orthodox Church…, in a spirit of mutual respect, striving, and cooperating in common for the edification of all in Christ. (p. 51)

Finally, the Commission maintains that, economy being the particular prerogative of the Orthodox Church and which “constitutes the only means whereby the church makes allowance for human weakness” (p. 51), these goals would constitute an application of economy “so that the work of man’s salvation on earth may come to fulfilment and all things may be reconciled in Christ at the last day” (p. 52).

If somebody would like to lend a hand in helping me unpack all of that, I’d be much obliged. It seems like there’s a lot there to which the people who feel strongly, one way or the other, about ecumenical activities might react, and I invite comments from all sides.

What is the most telling report of all in this little book, at least to me, is the section “Impediments to marriage”. Of particular interest is the two pages dealing with mixed marriages; we may sum up these two pages by saying, “We all handle this question a little differently, so we’re not sure what to do here.” It observes that each national church has a varying practice when it comes to mixed marriages, and that uniformity of practice would be good, but they are uncertain how to achieve that. Thus, “the Commission proposes that ways and means of applying economy in this matter be studied, and that in the meantime it should be left to the local Orthodox Churches to determine whether to apply economy under circumstances of necessity” (p. 35).

I had a professor of medieval history in my undergrad who said that a problem a unified Christendom ran into was that differing practices don’t have to be a problem, but that only works as long as they don’t have to be right next to each other, or as long as two groups in communion with each other but with different practices aren’t trying to evangelize the same people. Along related lines, in reading Clogg’s A Concise History of Greece recently, it became clear to me that part of the reason the various ethnic jurisdictions kept to themselves in this country for so long is because, well, they don’t like each other too terribly much (and not for bad historical reasons).

I am reminded of an edict from Rome I heard discussed a few years ago that Byzantine Catholic married priests are to stay away from the Vatican, because they will only serve to confuse the issue of priestly celibacy. Basically, the reality of different practices seems to be, “Sure, we can coexist and be in communion, but I’m afraid your difference in how you do things will only confuse my people if we interact too closely,” with a concomitant fear that efforts to standardize practice can only result in laxity (or rigidity, perhaps).

I have no idea how much this particular set of reports will inform the planned Council in its current form, but it is interesting to see what problems the Church hoped to solve at that time. The announced issues to be discussed this time around are as follows, per this article:

  1. The Orthodox diaspora, where the jurisdiction over the Orthodox flock beyond national borders will be defined. According to the canons now in effect, before the growth in the phenomenon of emigration the faithful outside of their home country belong to the ecumenical patriarchate.
  2. The manner of recognizing the status of autocephalous Church.
  3. The manner of recognizing the status of Church autonomy.
  4. Dypticha, meaning the rules of mutual canonical recognition among the Orthodox Churches.
  5. Establishing a common calendar for feasts. For example, some Churches celebrate the Nativity on December 25, others 10 (sic) days later.
  6. Impediments and canonicity of the sacrament of matrimony.
  7. The question of fasting in the contemporary world.
  8. Relationships with the other Christian confessions.
  9. The ecumenical movement.
  10. The contribution of the Orthodox in affirming the Christian ideals of peace, fraternity, and freedom.

Nos. 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9 seem to be directly related to what’s discussed in Towards the Great Council; we’ll see how much has changed in the intervening years when it comes down to actually talking about them.

Meanwhile, I’d still love to get my hands on the other preparatory materials from the 1970s in a way that doesn’t involve me having to travel to Geneva. If anybody has any thoughts, I’m all ears.

That’s “Jonah

So, I was going to post something about my bewilderment to the negative reactions I had read to the announcement of a pan-Orthodox synod. I was going to rant and rave that we’re treating bishops, particularly foreign bishops, as enemies and as antichrists, that we seem to be assuming the worst about certain figures by default, that it seems sometimes that our communion is very tenuous and fragile and can only be preserved by not talking about or trying to solve our issues. I was going to point out that it is the family that won’t discuss its problems that is dysfunctional, and that it is the fear of this synod happening that is the clearest demonstration of its necessity. I was maybe even going to let slip that I was investigating scholarly avenues to perhaps attend one of the planning sessions as a lay observer.

Then this hit. From an address given at Holy Cross Seminary by the Very Reverend Archimandrite Dr. Elpidophoros (“Hope-bearer”) Lambriniadis, Chief Secretary of the Holy and Sacred Synod of the Patriarchate of Constantiople:

With regards to the United States, the submission to the First Throne of the Church, that is, to the Ecumenical Patriarchate is not only fitting with the American society and mentality but also it opens up the horizons of possibilities for this much-promising region, which is capable of becoming an example of Pan-Orthodox unity and witness.

The Mother Church of Constantinople safeguards for the Orthodox Church in America those provisions that are needed for further progress and maturity in Christ.

Go read the whole thing. I’ll wait.

Here’s the thing — on some very big things, he’s not wrong. Ecclesial administration problems at the local level brought on by “how Americans do things”? Check. Orthodox Christianity being brought to America by people here to make money, not serve as missionaries? Check. How monasticism tends to work in this country? Check. Imbalance, demographic and otherwise, to say nothing of other issues with respect to priestly formation, among convert seminarians? Check. Lack of a decent pool of candidates to be monk-priests? Check.

Most important — thirst for an authentic faith in the United States? Check.

If he had left it at that, and then related those points to the possible function of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in the United States, that would have been fine.

But he didn’t.

Instead, he took some potshots (granted, not in a vacuum), strongly implied that the OCA is essentially a vagante group towards whom everybody else has just been magnanimous enough to not break communion, and made some assertions that it would take serious nerve on the part of anybody in any jurisdiction to make. I’ll leave it to my commenters to discuss what I might mean.

That there is disagreement over how the Church should exist in America is no surprise. The United States is a very strong center of gravity when it comes to political and economic influence, so everybody wants their own little piece of it, and nobody wants to give up the possibility of having a piece of it. The irony is, it’s everybody not wanting to give up their little piece of it that means Orthodox Christianity is unlikely to be more than a very minor blip on anybody’s radar.

I heard a story once about a Roman Catholic hierarch saying, “The trouble with the Orthodox Church is that it doesn’t exist.” Well, we exist, but sometimes it sure looks like we’re a communion of people who don’t like each other too much. We can appear as the family who keeps track of who isn’t talking to whom this week, and will only go to family reunions if we can each sit at our own table, alone.

Asia News: Journey begins toward convening of grand pan-Orthodox synod

Perhaps this could be the topic of my West European Studies Masters thesis. From Asia News:

The invitation letters have gone out for the two preparatory meetings that will be held in June and December. Ten topics of discussion. The ecumenical patriarchate has been trying to hold a synod of Orthodox Churches since 1901.

Istanbul (AsiaNews) – With the sending of letters of invitation to all the heads of the Orthodox Churches for the two preparatory meetings for the grand pan-Orthodox synod, scheduled for June and December of this year, Bartholomew has set in motion the decisions made at the recent pan-Orthodox meeting in October, held in Constantinople, and attended by deceased patriarch of Moscow Alexy as his last act in life.

Bartholomew has stepped up the pace for the convening of the grand synod, which has the objective of responding to all of the problems that have built up over the course of centuries, and continue to plague relations among the Orthodox Churches, with extensive repercussions for the dialogue between Orthodox and Catholics as well. The schism of 1054, with all of its grave consequences for the universal Church, also deprived the Orthodox Church of the necessary impetus and ability to be constantly present in the course of history.

In the recent past, a first initiative for the convening of a pan-Orthodox synod was undertaken by Patriarch Ioakim III in 1901. He wanted to smooth over the tensions among the autocephalous Orthodox Churches, in the conviction that only an Orthodox Church engaged in a constant and constructive inner dialogue could face the challenges of the contemporary world and act with one voice and one heart. This initiative did not succeed, in part because the Orthodox Churches, which had recently emerged from
Ottoman rule, were seeking their identity in an exaggerated identification with the nation, and the full breadth of the Christian message was not instilled in their clergy.

After various mishaps, in 1961 a pan-Orthodox conference was convened in Rhodes, with significant pressure from patriarch Athenagoras, for the purpose of preparing an Orthodox synod. This conference was also followed by numerous obstacles, because as theologian Giorgos Tetsetis observes, the local Churches did not have a clear idea of what they wanted from the Synod.

Now, the letters sent for the two preparatory meetings to be held in June, in Cyprus, and in December, in a place to be determined, present the following topics:

  1. The Orthodox diaspora, where the jurisdiction over the Orthodox flock beyond national borders will be defined. According to the canons now in effect, before the growth in the phenomenon of emigration the faithful outside of their home country belong to the ecumenical patriarchate.
  2. The manner of recognizing the status of autocephalous Church.
  3. The manner of recognizing the status of Church autonomy.
  4. Dypticha, meaning the rules of mutual canonical recognition among the Orthodox Churches.
  5. Establishing a common calendar for feasts. For example, some Churches celebrate the Nativity on December 25, others 10 (sic) days later.
  6. Impediments and canonicity of the sacrament of matrimony.
  7. The question of fasting in the contemporary world.
  8. Relationships with the other Christian confessions.
  9. The ecumenical movement.
  10. The contribution of the Orthodox in affirming the Christian ideals of peace, fraternity, and freedom.

The first four questions were the cause of friction in 1993 and 1999 with the patriarch of Moscow, because of participation in the work of the autonomous Estonian Church, with Moscow does not recognize.

“It is time,” says Fr. Tetsetis, a theologian for the ecumenical patriarchate, “that our Church finally realize that it is doing poorly as a whole. The Church needs an open and sincere dialogue. Because it is only then, with its rich tradition as a compass, that it will be able to emerge from its blind alley and together face its existential problems, which are becoming increasingly severe and complicated. It is only then that the importance of the Ecumenical Patriarch’s initiative can be understood.” According to the journalist Aris Viketos, the letter from Bartholomew is being well received in the Orthodox world.

Well, the misunderstanding about the difference between calendars aside, isn’t that interesting. Oh, to be a lay observer in the planning meetings…

Is it February already?

It’s been one of those proverbial long weeks. Rehearsals for a choral concert (my first extra ecclesiam gig in a couple of years), a vocabulary quiz in Syriac (which was, shall we say, humbling), plus all of my normal stuff. We’re reading the Gospel of St. Mark in my Syriac class; a moment of unintentional humor may be found in 15:34 — “Jesus cried out in a high voice: ‘My God, my God, why have you left me?’ which is, ‘My God, my God, why have you left me?'” I guess it tells you that the Syriac scribes were following as closely as they could.

I’m still waiting, by the way.

The current issue of AGAIN has a few things worth noting. More than anything, I want to point out the article by my friend Maggie Downham, “The Raphael House: An Orthodox Response to Poverty.” It’s a combination of elements of her senior thesis, “Eastern Orthodox Theology and Virtue Ethics,” with things she’s experienced since she moved to San Francisco to work for Raphael House. The article isn’t yet available online, but here is an excerpt or five (and I wouldn’t post so many if I didn’t think they were worth your time and/or if AGAIN were easily obtainable at Borders):

In 1971, Raphael House of San Francisco became the first shelter in the city to focus on the needs of the family as a holistic entity… [Its] approach to poverty goes well beyond the provision of shelter, however. While there are numerous family shelters in San Francisco, an Orthodox presence at Raphael House creates a very different atmosphere and purpose from those of its secular counterparts… [I]t is the sacramental focus of the Church that makes Raphael House a working whom in which the Liturgy is the focus and renewal of those who both live and serve here. The shared experience of the Kingdom and partaking of the Eucharist make it possible for this community to serve the residential families in a way that goes deeper than provision.

[…] The Church as the koinonia is charged with the responsibility to love its neighbor as Christ has loved His people. It is union with Christ through the cup that strengthens the people to return to the world as one body, just as they entered into it, and to perform the Liturgy after the Liturgy. Having been to the Kingdom, they are now able to understand what the world needs… The formation of the koinonia in the Liturgy is not complete or sufficient in and of itself. Instead, the purpose of the koinonia in the Liturgy is to work on behalf of all people everywhere and at all times, manifesting the social responsibility the koinonia has to the people and the world at large… It is the mission of the Church to make known to the world the love of Christ that is manifested to them through participation in the Liturgy and their mystical entrance into the Kingdom of God… Theoretically, the Church is the embodiment of what the world should be, for it is the manifestation of the reality that is to come. In this way, the Church is to transform the world… [T]he Church’s mission… is to transform the world into the Kingdom through the love and light of Christ it receives in the Liturgy.

[…] Addressing social ills, then, becomes more than an external issue. It is a spiritual matter at its root. Healing people is a matter of reaching out to their souls, of addressing the spiritual violence and evil that roars within. Our work should be oriented toward holistic healing: first spiritual healing, followed naturally by healing the physical consequences of spiritual ills.

It is the responsibility of the Orthodox to make our voice known and to take decisive action if we are going to transform the world.

So — how best to respond to her rallying cry? I’ve got some ideas, sure, on what might charitably be called a sliding scale of practicality. Some of them I’ve discussed here and elsewhere. I’m not sure, in general, that I’m the person to propose them so that anyone will listen. Maggie might be, however.

I’ll just say that I met Maggie when she arrived here to finish her undergrad studies, and in the nearly three years I’ve known her she has never ceased to amaze me, for all kinds of reasons (all of them good). I think she’s got a book in her, and that the work she’s doing (of which this article is just the tip of the iceberg) is very important. Her biographical blurb says that she “hopes to explore her interest in the connection between Orthodox theology and social action through her involvement in the nonprofit sector and in future graduate studies”; let it be so!

Along similar lines — elsewhere in AGAIN, a book due out in March by His All Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, Encountering the Mystery: Understanding Orthodox Christianity Today is discussed (“Conflicted Hearts: Orthodox Christians in an Age of Globalization,” John Couretas). Rod Dreher spoke somewhat dismissively of the book, essentially saying it wasn’t the bold work of prophecy he wanted the Patriarch to have written (and he’s not the only one to have expressed that criticism), but I have pre-ordered it and will discuss it further once I have read it. Couretas certainly makes it sound interesting one way or the other:

The patriarch sees how viewpoints on social questions informed by faith are “proving to be the subjects of renewed interest and attention” in politics and policy circles. Yet he provides a caution: It is not social dogma or political ideology that should be at the center of the Christian’s concerns, but the “sacredness of the human person, created in the image and likeness of God.”

Sounds like a book Maggie should read, too.

The letter column in the same issue of AGAIN also contains a letter from John Truslow, Jr., which makes the excellent and indisputable point that in the United States, Orthodox Christianity is not even a single pixel of a blip on the cultural radar, and up until recently we’ve tossed around demographic data which were inflated at best. He then takes this wonderful, important point and hangs exactly the wrong hat on it:

How we do things either helps or hinders the unchurched from coming to Christ and His Church and either encourages or discourages communicants — particularly “the next generation” of younger Orthodox — from either remaining Orthodox or moving on to other Christian faith communities, many of which are intentionally very attractive (and good for them for bothering to be attractive!). Our theology and morality are not up for negotiation. Everything else we do should be the subject of endless review and creative change.

I cannot disagree with Mr. Truslow in the least that we need to engage our culture more fully, and that disappearing Orthodox youth is a gaping wound we need to figure out how to close, and fast. I find his argument to be rather troubling nonetheless. Rather than shoot off my own mouth about it, I will direct the reader to Fr. Stephen Freeman’s recent blog entry, “At the Edge of Tradition”:

[…] The content of the Tradition is not a set of ideas – but a reality – God with us.

And this is the problem that always accompanies attempts to reach that reality through reform. It is not our reformation that is the problem in the first place. We cannot reform ourselves into union with Christ. We can submit ourselves to union with Christ and not much else. We can cooperate with union with Christ.

[…] You do not appropriate something whose content is God. You are Baptized into it. You are Chrismated into it. You are absolved for ever having lived apart from it. You are fed it on a spoon. You are splashed with it. But you cannot appropriate it. To paraphrase: Your life’s too small to appropriate God.

This is very much the point Maggie makes above: the Liturgy, what the Church does, is how we engage the world. As she says, it is in having been to the Kingdom in the Liturgy that we know what the world needs — not, emphatically not, knowing what the world needs, we now know how to serve the Liturgy.

I would also caution Mr. Truslow of the lessons learned the hard way by the Roman Catholics in Chicago as they’ve been trying to figure out how to stop losing Latinos in droves: “We keep trying to imitate the Protestants, but it doesn’t work.” Why does it seem like we’re trying to talk ourselves into making same mistakes everybody else has made in the last forty years? Maybe we all need to go back and re-read Laurence Iannaconne’s “Why Strict Churches Are Strong.” (Hint: it isn’t exactly because of “endless review and creative change”.)

If we want to engage the culture, then we need to show the culture more of what Orthodox Christianity is, not only try to carefully show them the parts we think they can handle. We’re told to not hide our lights under bushels; we aren’t told to still try to dim the lights when they aren’t covered so that we don’t blind people. This is certainly food for thought, too.

How about this — there are “evangelism packs” of books like Josh McDowell’s More Than a Carpenter; can’t we do something similar with Metropolitan Kallistos’ The Orthodox Church — say, five-packs that we then just give away randomly? He’s the closest thing to an Orthodox equivalent of C. S. Lewis that we have, after all.

…and then I discover that this group exists. Hmm. Y’know, I remember in the summer of 2004, something of a big deal was made over Bush visiting the Knights of Columbus during his campaign. As I recall, I wondered to myself — do the Orthodox even have an organization like that for presidential candidates to snub? Maybe we do. I think I’m interested in finding out more… but I’m also wary. There’s another, shall we say, “concerned laypeople” organization (which shall remain nameless for a couple of reasons) that I almost joined until I realized that what they were advocating was, for all intents and purposes, congregationalism with bishops being kept around for show.

Okay, it’s after midnight. In pace in idipsum dormiam et requiescam.


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