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Posts Tagged 'orthodox unity'

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

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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.

Xenophobia, xenophilia, and watching what everybody else is doing

There’s a C. S. Lewis quote from Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer that Orthodox love to pull out:

What pleased me most about a Greek Orthodox mass I once attended was that there seemeed to be no prescribed behaviour for the congregation. Some stood, some sat, some knelt, some walked; one crawled about the floor like a caterpillar. And the beauty of it was that nobody took the slightest notice of what anyone else was doing. (p. 10)

My instinct is that the reason why this dynamic worked is because except for him and his wife (elsewhere he mentions attending the Divine Liturgy when they were honeymooning in Greece), everybody and their families had been Orthodox as long as anybody could remember, and it was an entirely natural thing to be there and to be doing whatever they were used to doing.

I suggest that we Orthodox Christians in America, cradle and convert alike, have been less successful in reproducing this dynamic, and it seems to me there are a number of reasons for this. For us converts, we’re new to this, everything is totally unfamiliar, and we’re all here because we think Orthodox Christianity is Right and therefore we want to do things the Right Way.

I might also suggest that the presence of pews or rows of seating otherwise in many American churches, contributing to the sense of passive participation as it does (see article by Paul Meyendorff here), also makes us even more afraid to do something different from what the congregation as a whole might be doing.

So, to some extent, we think we have to take notice of everybody else; we’re all sort of nervously and self-consciously glancing sideways at the rest of the congregation, not wanting to stick out like a sore thumb and wanting to Do Thing the Right Way.

Among cradles, I’ve seen definite reactions to what they perceive as “things only done in the Old Country”; I’ve seen ethnic Arabs freak out when fasting gets talked about, or when there’s a conversation about possibly removing chairs from the nave, for example. I’ve also seen a Romanian woman get very nervous and almost confrontational when it seemed like women wearing headscarves was something that might catch on at a particular parish.

I’d say that for both cradle and convert alike, there can be a worry that, if you do something that I don’t, it’s because you think that you’re holier than I am, and if what you do catches on and becomes normative, I’m going to be judged because I don’t. Another nuance could be that there’s something disingenuous-seeming about somebody telling you how non-legalistic and non-clericalist Orthodox Christianity is, just before that same person, say, does three metanias before asking for a priest’s blessing, kissing his hand, and then looking at you expectantly to see if you’re going to do the same thing. (In the interest of clarity, I don’t shake priests’ hands, I kiss them, so this is not a knock against that practice by any means.)

It’s an odd mixture of self-consciousness and pride. Is that uniquely American? Could be — I’m not sure.

There’s a deeper aspect to taking too much notice of what other people are doing, however, and that’s a particular xenophobia, as well as its twin, xenophilia, that can occur with converts. There’s the person who wants to be Orthodox for convictions of faith, but upon encountering anything the slightest bit Greek, Arabic, Russian, or otherwise non-Western, gets extremely uncomfortable and wants to write off all of these things as ethnic custom, “little-t tradition,” that we should jettison as quickly as possible and replace with practices which seem more “American.” There’s also the exact reverse of this person, who will tell you why the Orthodox traditions of <fill in the blank with a country name> are actually the “purest” version of Orthodox practice, and anything else is a deviation.

These are two manifestations of the same overall problem: preoccupation with something which seems exotic, which we could restate, in keeping with our present theme, as preoccupation with what somebody else does.

Realistically, this is going to take a few generations to work out, but I think figuring out how to be Orthodox Americans in a non-self-conscious manner is going to be a necessary step towards unity, and, to get back to what I was saying yesterday, I think having our own saints, our own indigenous models of sanctity, will be one of the major things that helps us do that.

One other thought along these lines — as some have pointed out, there is an irony to a foreign-born hierarch telling American-born priests what is American and what isn’t. Surely, as the natural reaction to this goes, this isn’t 1970 anymore, and people aren’t going to make negative assumptions about somebody with a beard these days.

Here’s where I think the disconnect is — I think Met. PHILIP and company have a very Wall Street-level perspective of what “being American” is. I think the question they’re asking is, “What do wealthy, powerful Americans do, how do they dress, how do they act?” This is not totally unexpected, given that Met. PHILIP has made it clear that those are the very people he wants to be able to influence. Those are, nonetheless, exactly the people who don’t care about Orthodox Christianity, simply because they are least likely to have any reason to care. What we do will be far more effective in the long run, I am convinced, if we ask ourselves what the urban poor, the lower class, and the rural would do and to what they can relate. If you’re going to build a big church in a bad part of town, throw your doors open to your neighbors — don’t do everything you can to keep them out. Minister to the masses, and the classes will follow. Minister to the classes, and the masses aren’t going to care. Isn’t that what Christ told us to do in the first place?

Sunday of Orthodoxy qua Orthodoxy in America

This last Sunday, being the first Sunday in Great Lent, was the so-called “Sunday of Orthodoxy,” commemorating the victory of iconodules over iconoclasm at the Seventh Ecumenical Council (“Nicea II — The Wrath of Arius”). In years past, there has been a Sunday evening Vespers in Indianapolis, participated in by all the area clergy and their parishes. This year, instead of Vespers, a morning Divine Liturgy was planned at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church, who had just started worshiping in their new building in December.

All Saints’ participation was determined rather late in the game; being an hour and twenty minutes south, and with some of our parishioners commuting from as much as an hour away even further south, it took some figuring out. Ultimately our deacon stayed behind and served a Typika for those who weren’t going to Indianapolis, allowing Fr. Peter to concelebrate and a group of us from All Saints to attend.

The morning was stunning in several respects. For the occasion, a new icon was commissioned of All Saints of North America, which now includes Indiana-born St. Barnabas. The original was put out for us to venerate, and we were all given prints of it as well. I’ve jokingly called Holy Trinity’s new building the satellite campus of Hagia Sophia, but it really is frickin’ huge. As the pictures make clear, I think we had close to a thousand people in there, and people were still having to gather in the narthex. We had everybody, too (among the clergy as well as the people); Serbians, Greeks, Arabs, Bulgarians, Russians, Ukrainians, Romanians, American converts, and even a handful of Copts, Ethiopians, Eritreans and Indians. (Okay, I’m not sure we had any Finns or Estonians.) The communion of the faithful easily took half an hour, and that was with six chalices, I believe. Add another twenty minutes or so for the communion of the clergy.

Some general observations: Holy Trinity is an example of a church which I think would be too big for me to be comfortable in it as my home parish. It is a beautiful building, and it will only get more beautiful as they fresco it, marble the floors, put up the iconostasis, etc., but I’d rather see the design principles applied to a church maybe a quarter of the size. (This begs the question of why Holy Trinity, which I believe has something like 600 people, doesn’t plant some churches, but never mind that now.) I’ve heard it suggested that past 250 souls or so, you really overtax a priest’s ability to minister; I’ll throw out another possible metric, which is that you don’t want the building to be any larger than that in which the cantor can sing comfortably and be understood and heard without needing a microphone. (This assumes that churches are being built with attention to acoustics, which isn’t even necessarily the case with Holy Trinity, unfortunately — there were one or two odd decisions made on that front.) That said, I think it’s wonderful that a traditional-looking Byzantine temple now exists which is large enough to hold everybody in the metro area. I somewhat wonder if perhaps, with Detroit being, well, Detroit, there might not be talk behind the scenes of moving Metropolitan Nicholas’ throne to Indianapolis, hence the building being a size more appropriate to a cathedral than a parish church.

I wound up joining the choir; Max Murphy, my counterpart at Ss. Constantine and Elena, conducts the choir for these big combined services and I sing for him when I am able. The music was, more or less, OCA music with some simplified Byzantine things reworked for a large ensemble. My trouble is that the Orthodox musical heritage is so much richer than the utility music which tends to dominate services like this, but the reason why it dominates services like this is because it is easily scalable to huge ensembles (as well as makes congregational singing reasonably easy). Mark Bailey once told me that Kievan common chant is great because you can get 50 people singing the front page of the New York Times to it in fifteen minutes; on the other hand, he freely admitted, the downside of Kievan common chant is that you can get 50 people singing the front page of the New York Times to it in fifteen minutes. There wasn’t an overabundance of Kievan common chant at this service, but the principle was still largely the same. At any rate, it was, mostly, the music that virtually everybody in the Indianapolis area sings except Holy Trinity (and All Saints, for that matter), so it was familiar to Max, the majority of the choir, and a good chunk of the congregation.

There were some interesting moments during the procession of the icons; Fr. Taso (the pastor of Holy Trinity) originally asked the congregation to all sing the litany responses in their own languages, in the spirit of our coming together as a symbol of our unity as Orthodox Christians. This didn’t quite work the way he intended, so ultimately he led us in the Tone 4 threefold English “Lord, have mercy” common to Greek parishes (and Antiochian parishes during Holy Week if one is following Kazan). That worked just fine (although it was different from the responses the choir prepared — Max gave up when he realized that Fr. Taso was going off-script).

One always wonders what happens behind the scenes when that many clergy gather on another priest’s turf, particularly when the event functions something of a “coming out party” for said turf, but Fr. Peter made a point of bringing up that very question last night after the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts. “It was very peaceful, as surprising as that sounds,” he said. “Fr. Taso called us all together and said, ‘Brothers, what do you want to do?’ To have the protos do something like that, particularly at a Greek church, is unheard of.” (When there were some inevitable uncomfortable chuckles, he said, “That’s not a swipe against the Greeks — they’d tell you the same thing!”)

Given events of the last few weeks, there have been conversations about what Orthodox unity in America means, if it can even happen at all now, if we’re looking a big step backwards, what’s the path from here, etc. etc. etc. I think that to some extent these nervous questions are a bit misguided; it’s not exactly like the AOCNA and OCA were preparing to announce an administrative merger next week and the news out of Damascus derailed it at the last second. However, I think we can look at events like this Sunday of Orthodoxy Divine Liturgy and make some informed guesses about what the practical side of jurisdictional unity might look like.

  • Somebody’s going to have to be the protos, as it were, and it’s probably going to be whoever has the resources to be so effectively, including the space to be a meeting ground for everybody. This was true in 1975 when Met. PHILIP and Met. MICHAEL unified the Antiochian churches in this country, and Met. MICHAEL stepped down; it will still be true going forward.
  • Along similar lines, there will be a group who is numerically dominant. There were ten or so parishes represented at Holy Trinity this last Sunday, and at least half of the congregation was Holy Trinity’s own people.
  • It will be up to the group who is numerically dominant and who functions as the “protos” to be a loving and welcoming brother in Christ. It will be up to the others to be receptive to that, and to return it in-kind.
  • It might be a bit of a cacophony for awhile until people figure things out. The job of the dominant group will be to help guide everybody into unity, and to do so in love.

Looking at these points, I’d argue this wouldn’t be a bad model for how things should be now, even, with or without unity on paper.

One other thought for the moment. That icon of All Saints of North America? A couple of them are American born; some of them were active in America. However, with the exception of St. Peter the Aleut (who was martyred young), none of those saints were both born here and active here. Let me suggest that before we have an indigenous church, we’re going to need indigenous saints. Some might argue that we should start with Fr. Seraphim Rose (which reminds me — I’m reading The Soul After Death right now); while recognizing he’s a controversial figure, I don’t really think that it’s in question that he is a native-born model of sanctity. I personally think he is a saint, and I believe he interceded to heal my mother from a heart issue a few years back, but I also think it will take time for the amen of American faithful to be uttered. I know a priest, and perhaps a bishop or two, who I believe might be glorified after their respective reposes. I have heard some suggest Lynette Hoppe; certainly this book seems designed to make that case. There are others I can think of, too.

My point is, until there are models of holiness who have been raised up out of “our people,” as it were, I’m not sure it makes any sense to be so neurotic and anxious about our earthly organization. Once we start producing saints, administrative questions will take care of themselves. The importance of saints who are local and recent, I have come to realize, is that they shine forth the light of Christ in a way that is immediate. What is more powerful, reading a story about somebody who supposedly did something fifteen hundred years ago, or hearing first-hand accounts of people who did those very things within the last few years? We run a great risk by holding ourselves at a distance from saints — they are less convicting that way, I suppose, meaning they’re more comfortable to be around, but they are also less compelling and convincing.

In other words — if we want a solution to the jurisdictional problem in this country, maybe what we need to do is, before we write a letter or join a lay activist organization or start a blog (all potentially worthy things to do, don’t get me wrong), we need to go out and be saints.

We will see.


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