Thursday, February 5, 2009

Sourcing Problems in Contemporary Orthodoxy

There are some major problems in contemporary Orthodoxy. I classify major problems as those that divide Orthodox from Orthodox:
  • the involvement of Orthodox in the WCC and similar ecumenical gatherings,
  • jurisdictional pluralism in the New World,
  • the institution of a revised calendar,
  • and the adoption of the Gregorian Calendar (complete with Gregorian Easter) by Finland.
In Orrologion I read a post which reprinted a 2005 letter to the Ecumenical Patriarch (EP) from Alexei II of Moscow and All Russia, concerning the situation of the diaspora. The "situation" is one of jurisdictional plurality, compounded by the EP's resistance to recognize the OCA. Patriarch Alexei characterized the problems as stemming from a) the creation of a [Greek] Archdiocese of North and South America under the EP, and b) EP pretentions of universality outside traditional Orthodox countries.

Here is what the Patriarch had to say:
As regards America, from 1794 Orthodoxy on that continent was represented exclusively by the Church of Russia, which by 1918 had brought together some 300,000 Orthodox of different nationalities (Russian, Ukrainians, Serbs, Albanians, Arabs, Aleuts, Indians, Africans, English). The Greek Orthodox were among them, receiving antimensia for their parishes from the Russian bishops. This situation was recognised by all the local Churches, who released clergy for the American parishes into the jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox Church. The Patriarchate of Constantinople followed the same practice. [...] Jurisdictional pluralism in North America began in 1921, when an “Archdiocese of North and South America” was created without the agreement of the Russian Church, which was not informed of the matter.


Patriarch Meletios IV developed the theory of the subordination of the whole Orthodox diaspora to Constantinople. It is precisely this theory, which is clearly non-canonical, that is quite obviously “hostile to the spirit of the Orthodox Church, to Orthodoxy unity, and to canonical order.” It is itself, in fact, the expression of “an expansionist tendency that is without canonical foundation and is unacceptable on an ecciesiological level.” By claiming a universal spiritual power, it does not correspond to the Orthodox canonical tradition or to the teaching of the Holy Fathers of the Church, and represents a direct challenge to Orthodox unity.
As I read the letter, it was if a light went on. I wondered if the Patriarch Meletios IV mentioned above was the same person that presided when the offensive archdiocese was created - the dates dovetailed, as I remembered them. But then, hadn't I read somewhere that Meletios was involved in the ecumenical movement before it ever became one?

Not knowing where this line of questioning would take me, I began this post with a list of (as I see them) the central problems of contemporary Orthodoxy. I began researching.

1) Patriarch Meletios IV Metaxakis (1921-1923) was indeed the same person who both single-handedly created jurisdictional plurality in North America and who claimed a larger role for the EP than had previously existed (primacy of honour translated as primacy of power). A simple check of the dates confirmed that. The throne at Constantinople had been empty for the three years prior to Meletios' elevation.

2) Astonishingly, Patriarch Meletios IV Metaxakis was also the patriarch who presided over the 1923 synod that saw the adoption of a revised calendar. He resigned his seat in 1923 due to the [violent] protests of the people.

3) And again, as I searched I found Patriarch Meletios - this time as the Patriarch who seized Russian parishes in Finland and brought them under the EP.

4) And yet again, there he was ... Patriarch Meletios, worshipping with Episcopalians (1921), recognizing Anglican orders (1922), holding a synod with an Anglican bishop present (1922), attending Lambeth (1930) ... going further in the direction of ecumenism than any prior Patriarch, paving the way for the controversial presence of Orthodox in the WCC.

As a bonus, I discovered that he tried to become Ecumenical Patriarch in 1912 and he attempted to become Archbishop of Cyprus in 1916. He was also the heads of two other autocephalous Churches: Meletios III Archbishop of Athens (1918-1920) and Meletios II Patriarch of Alexandria (1926-1935) ... and a bishop in a third autocephalous Church: Meletios of Kition in Cyprus (1910-1918). A truly ambitious man.

I am flabbergasted. If I am reading this right, the source of some of the most divisive problems in Orthodoxy is the man Meletios. How can one man sow so much strife? For years my poster child for the "enemy of Orthodoxy" has been Tsar Peter the Great [so-called]. If I read this right (and how could I not?) Meletios has done as much or more wrong to Orthodoxy.

Here is an interesting article that summarizes this man's life, covering the most salient (and scandalous) material, not least of which was his status as a Mason. You will find the same information duplicated at OrthodoxWiki, albeit without the jaundiced eye.

Lord have mercy.


If you are like me, you are familiar with the above problems - how controversy has been roiling the people of God for a century - without attaching them to the work of one man. And you, like me, wish to see these ongoing tragedies undone.

I cannot help but feel that we would work immeasurably to the unity and glory of Christ's Church if we repealed the decisions and the actions made by this enemy in our midst, wait 2-3 generations, and then, if the people of God so desire it, convene an Ecumenical Council where the calendar is revisited.

In the meantime, leave Canada to the Ukraine, restore America to Russia and her daughter Church (the OCA), and put Western Europe and Australia under a single Church - perhaps the former to Romania?

I'll leave those details to the hierarchs. But I can't see us going forward until we go back and undo the wrong that has been done.

- V.


AR said...

I've long felt that the most pernicious influence in the history of the Christian religion is personal ambition on the part of clergy. Although the Orthodox Church has resisted organizing this impulse in the shameful way the Roman Catholic church did, we certainly are not exempt from individual examples. It's every bit as sad as you say.

As far as ending jurisdictional divisions in the U.S. I think it must be the putting away of the passions of ambition and party spirit on a large scale that will lead to a solution. If I understand what I am reading in Met. Ware's 'The Orthodox Church' there is no direct survival to the ecclesiastical body that ruled here in the U.S. before 1921.

A creative, truly Christians solution is needed, one that involves kenosis: everyone giving up their "right" to rule and submitting the whole of American Orthodoxy to one patriarchate, preferrably one not now involved in the dispute, who will in turn allow us to keep our present organization structure as much as possible. In other words, it shouldn't be a question of which of the present churches gets to head up the whole affair. The Church that heads up the whole affair needs to be composed immediately of everyone that is now here.

In such a case no bishops would need to be deposed if the dioceses were subdivided and presently ruling bishops were assigned to head smaller areas. However the number of churches under their care would not change much in this case, though local congregations would have to get used to new bishops pretty often. We do this anyways whenever one dies. I suspect that the movement to elect a lot of convert bishops is part of a behind-the-scenes preparation for this possibility, to avoid ethnic tension. The other possibility is that a process is put in place whereby the future organization of dioceses is decided upon, only to take effect grdaually as bishops die or retire.

The downside is that as of right now if the bishop is a terror, you can change jurisdictions and get a new one, while if this reorganization happens that will no longer be an option outside of relocation. But I suppose that has been the normal situation of Orthodox people everywhere for a very long time.

s-p said...

I'm pretty sure most of the presiding Bishops know all of this stuff. The fact that we continue to wallow in the jurisdictional mire says many of them are more interested in territory than unity.
It is what it is and unfortunately laity have little to say about it except on blogs and discussion lists. sigh.

V and E said...

Thanks for the comments.

I like the hope you have, AR. I would question, though, the assumption that ethnic tension is the only thing that needs answering on the road to a single jurisdiction. The calendar has to be addressed (and what we have right now is not a solution but a bandaid). I am part of a parish that is in communion with SCOBA. We celebrate Old Calendar, as do the Serbs. But the Greeks, OCA, and Romanians in my city celebrate the New Calendar. This is very problematic in terms of unity.

A truly Orthodox approach to time involves living the calendar, celebrating the Saints, remembering the Feasts ... in community with other Orthodox. This baptism of time is crippled where the Body is separated.

Problem-solving the jurisdictional crisis always leaves me brainstorming ways to alert our bishops to the will of the laity. Regrettably, kenosis is not something that we can enjoin. But then, I am uneasy about anything resembling an anti-episcopal rebellion (even if sometimes that is the only way one can see things moving).

Speaking personally, I try to remain aware of things. Sometimes I post. Sometimes I pray.

Monastics and ascetics in the world would tell me that the first is not necessary, and that posting about it is completely gratuitous. Their witness is that there is a beginning and an end and a middle to our response to episcopal matters, and that is prayer.

Obviously, I'm not there yet. But that is the goal.

- V.

AR said...

I don't see what's so goal-ish about it. If that's what we are supposed to be doing, let's do it. I'll desist spouting my opinions about this situation (what do I know anyway) and we can all insert a prayer for this situation in our prayer books.

Now that I think of it, I wonder what madness we were under. Assigning blame is rather a slavish way of disposing of corporate sin. If the jurisdictional disunity has prevailed so long, it must be a manifestation of our spiritual disunity as a whole community in the west. It is our sin; it is my sin.

Besides, if we are going to start praying in earnest, the assignment of blame becomes a hindering thought once we are standing at prayer.

The Ochlophobist said...

All very well put. This is a good summary of the issues at hand. Would that more Orthodox in the "mainstream" jurisdictions in North America be made aware of these facts.

Anonymous said...

I read the summary from Priest Srboliub Miletich. As a Catholic I really have no right to give my opinion in this kind of discussion. My comment was that I was interested to note that Meletios went to the 1930 Lambeth Conference.

That particular conference holds special significance for Catholics, as it was the catalyst/precipitator that eventually led to the necessity for the Pope Paul VI document Humanae Vitae, which was itself, and still is, a touchstone of dissent in the Catholic Church, particularly in North America.

Interesting convergence there.

V and E said...

I hadn't heard that about the 1930 Lambeth Conference ...

First Protestant denomination to allow contraceptives in limited circumstances, breaking with almost two millenia of tradition.

Eerie convergence.

On the other hand, I am not in favour of war, abortion, or racial segregation (all of which were denounced in the same conference), so I can't call it a complete waste.

- V.

V and E said...

More on the 7th Lambeth Conference (1930):

I find it hard to understand how a body - especially a Christian one with long-standing traditions - can reverse its avowed statement in a matter of 10 years.

Here is what they stood for 10 years previous, at the 6th Conference...

From Wikipedia:

- Supported political lobbying against "such incentives to vice as indecent literature, suggestive plays and films, the open or secret sale of contraceptives, and the continued existence of brothels."


Resolution 68

Problems of Marriage and Sexual Morality

The Conference, while declining to lay down rules which will meet the needs of every abnormal case, regards with grave concern the spread in modern society of theories and practices hostile to the family. We utter an emphatic warning against the use of unnatural means for the avoidance of conception, together with the grave dangers - physical, moral and religious - thereby incurred, and against the evils with which the extension of such use threatens the race. In opposition to the teaching which, under the name of science and religion, encourages married people in the deliberate cultivation of sexual union as an end in itself, we steadfastly uphold what must always be regarded as the governing considerations of Christian marriage. One is the primary purpose for which marriage exists, namely the continuation of the race through the gift and heritage of children; the other is the paramount importance in married life of deliberate and thoughtful self-control.

We desire solemnly to commend what we have said to Christian people and to all who will hear.

- V.