Posts Tagged 'modern orthodox problems'

Oh, for simpler times

From Juliet du Boulay’s marvelous ethnography-through-the-eyes-of-liturgy, Cosmos, Life and Liturgy in a Greek Orthodox Village:

…if the tribulation of the man in the fields, fulfilled in the wheat harvest, is parallel to the self-offering of Christ, fulfilled in the liturgical bread, this gets to the heart of why it is the man’s labour which, in spite of its being universally portrayed as the punishment for the fall, has at its heart ‘a blessing’. These mediating ideas are not openly expressed, but they surface in intuitive conclusions such as the final words in a discussion about whether or not to buy bread ready-made for the eucharist: ‘I don’t know. I’m just a stupid toothless old woman, but I say that the farmer himself should produce the corn from his own land to make the liturgical bread. That is what is good.’

The liturgical order thus brings in a series of transformations which overturn the fallen world, not only moving from women’s work being ‘cursed’ to the housewife being an icon of the Panaghia [the Mother of God], but also from man’s work being the punishment for sin to its ‘having a blessing’ in bringing forth the bread which is the body of Christ (pp. 333-4).

For some reason I’m reminded of a recent post of the Ochlophobist’s — but in any event, these are the kinds of things that make me think to myself, at least for a few seconds, “Yeah, we moderns are pretty much screwed.”

When, evidently, unity in Christ is not enough

Some bloggers are having an argument right now. (What a surprise.) I’m really hesitant to name some of the parties or link to them, because up to this point they’ve mostly ignored me (with one exception), and I’ve really enjoyed not being on their radar. More than that, I am really reluctant to give any of them referral traffic. Rather, I will link to this person, already on my blogroll anyway, who is discussing the matter rather succinctly (and accurately, I think). You can find a link in his post that will take you into the heart of the conflict.

(Metropolitan Kallistos Ware at some point explored the implications of treating monasticism as a track of apostolic succession parallel to the episcopate; I am wondering if perhaps we have reached the point where we need to posit yet another parallel track, that of the blogger who has taken it up on himself to exercise the prophetic office. But I digress.)

I’ve met a lot of people during my time in Orthodox circles who have absolutely no problem being hostile, implicitly or explicitly, to other Orthodox Christians. I’ve met “ethnics” and “cradles” who have absolutely nothing but contempt for the American who presumes to convert; I’ve met converts who think that it’s okay for them to be dismissive of “ethnics” as being Christ’s lost causes. Thankfully, there are fewer of either type than many might assume, but those who are out there are disproportionately loud and obnoxious, and I don’t mean exclusively in blogdom. I have had the misfortune of having to spend large amounts of time with people of both types, and have had to experience their open and very real hostility, either towards me or towards others.

The implication from either side that somehow there’s a second class citizen status among Orthodox Christians depending, positively or negatively, on heritage, is simply astounding to me. Is there a Christian birth certificate other than baptism?

To move to another facet of the problem for a moment, it has been suggested that part of why it’s acceptable to hostile to converts is because they aren’t really Orthodox Christians; they’re Protestants playing dress-up according to things that they’ve read in books rather than actually receiving a lived tradition of Orthodox Christianity from a living source. Presumably this line of reasoning is how such people justify showing disrespect to ordained clergy and consecrated bishops by calling them things like “Mr. Paffhausen” or “Mr. Freeman,” for example.

While I would concede that there’s a real problem being identified in such a statement, the extremity of the response to the problem reveals another problem or two.

There’s an ancient heresy called Donatism. You can look it up for yourself, but I don’t think it’s misstating the position to say that it was basically a macho movement within the Church gone horribly wrong; e. g., “If you’re not at least as rigorous or pious as we are, you’re not really a Christian, and there’s not any room for error.” They reserved the right for themselves to judge the validity of Mysteries of a priest or bishop whom they deemed less rigorous than they were; in effect, much like certain parties today, they were big on saying, “We’re more Orthodox than you.”

Origenism and Arianism were also early heresies (although, in the interest of full disclosure, I acknowledge that it was not until he had been dead for three centuries that Origen’s “fabulous” and “monstrous” views were anathematized), and the trouble there can perhaps be summed up as Origen and Arius trying too hard to make Christianity palatable for the educated elite of the day — to make it possible for a respectable philosopher to be intellectually honest with himself and be a Christian at the same time, in other words. For God to truly be God in the worldview of Greek philosophy, one could not meaningfully discuss the homoousios of the Son with the Father; Christ had to be something fundamentally other than God, however exalted he might otherwise be, or else God was not God.

Now, be these as they may, there is not necessarily a fundamental error of intent in either case. Being rigorous is not in and of itself a problem; neither is trying to have a Christian intellectual culture. Monasticism is perhaps one of the correct expressions of a rigorousness that might otherwise be inclined to Donatism, and without Origen, our tradition of Scriptural exegesis would be much impoverished. The trouble is the extent to which these intents are realized; the Donatists could not stand to be in a Church where there might be worse sinners than themselves, and Arius and Origen ultimately were catering to a target demographic.

One can legitimately argue that learning the Orthodox Christian faith from the works of Schmemann and Ware, the Popular Patristics series, and maybe even Pelikan and Rose for that matter, is, as a substitute for receiving a lived tradition, rather thin gruel. There is a problem there that is most certainly worth discussing, a problem which perhaps lends itself to Origenistic or Arian developments down the road — an overly-intellectualized Christianity that finds itself at variance with the actual faith. However, to then determine that problem invalidates at a sacramental level the chrismations, ordinations, and consecrations of individuals itself suggests an issue of Donatist proportions.

At a practical level, that attitude assumes that there are alternatives of which the “konvertsy” simply hasn’t availed himself, when that’s just not the case, many times. It’s not exactly like there are large ROCOR or Serbian parishes or monasteries everywhere one goes (and even that’s not necessarily a guarantee of “real” Orthodoxy, evidently, given a particular person’s ongoing disdain for Fr. Seraphim Rose and anybody who ever had anything to do with the St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood). A particular person commented to me yesterday that of course I was the “bad kind” of convert, since “I’m Antiochian.” Now, in all fairness, I acknowledge that this exchange was intended to be humorous, but as I told this commenter, it’s just not funny right now. It’s not funny coming from this particular individual given the kinds of negative comments they’re typically inclined to make (however cleverly and humorously formulated), it’s not funny given some of the current issues facing the Antiochian Archdiocese, and it’s not funny for the simple reason that actually, no, I’m not “Antiochan”; I’m an Orthodox Christian who happens to go to an Antiochian parish because that’s all there is locally, and I do so in spite of whatever reservations I may have about the AOCNA. Bloomington, Indiana isn’t exactly a hotbed of traditional Orthodox ethnicities and activity; all there is is the little group of people trying to work out their salvation with fear and trembling. There’s a little bit of everybody — Russians, Romanians, Arabs, Greeks, and us “konvertsy” — but not enough of anybody to constitute any kind of a critical mass. I guarantee you there are individuals in every ethnic group in this community would be more comfortable with a church of “their own people,” but that’s a luxury nobody can afford. It’s All Saints or nothing. I’d go so far as to say that our situation is absolutely fantastic relative to that of, for example, Fargo, North Dakota.

I am disheartened by people who jeer at Americans who are trying to live out their faith doing the best they can with what they’ve been given by Mother Church, which in many cases is next to nothing. I am not amused by those people when they insist that those Americans trying to do this or that in order to live out their faith and their calling more fully are not in fact Orthodox, but then refuse to offer any kind of a practical alternative. I can only conclude such people really mean that the Americans they are deriding are simply “not as Orthodox as they are.”

At the same time, I am disheartened by Americans who regard people of Greek or Russian or Arabic or whatever heritage with suspicion automatically, claiming that all of our problems stem from “foreign bishops” and culturally unintelligible practices, and assuming that such people probably don’t pray, don’t fast, don’t confess, don’t commune, don’t go to Vespers daily, and most importantly, don’t buy books or liturgical music recordings, and are only in the Church by an accident of birth, rather than Having Truly Grappled With the Big Questions the same way that they, being Godly Americans in a Godly Country, have done.

I am disheartened by people who would say that American converts are rigorous about all the wrong things and can never understand what Orthodox Christianity actually means in a lived cultural context, and use that as an excuse to disrespect the Mysteries those converts have received; I am just as disheartened by Americans who seem bent on proving exactly those points in order to demonstrate they’re better than the so-called “cultural Orthodox”. At some point, the sides start insulating themselves from each other, and then the snake is eating its own tail.

All of these things dishearten me because it would appear that unity at the Chalice, unity with Christ through Communion with Him in His Church, is simply not enough. It is evidently so meaningless as to in fact have it’s very existence be something that should be denied.

Tell me, why are we Orthodox Christians so inclined and eager to judge other Orthodox Christians so quickly? Are we not already small and scattered and minimized in this country, that it is necessary to try to splinter ourselves from each even more?

Is that love?

Is that Christlike?

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.

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…


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