Monday, April 13, 2009

Moscow to Constantinople: Back Off

Bishop Hilarion of Volokolamsk

This is not perhaps the best timing for this discussion (the beginning of Great and Holy Week), but the issue is fairly important. In the wake of efforts by the Ecumenical Patriarch's surrogates to assert a claim to universal jurisdiction over the Orthodox world in the "barbarian" lands and a firmly worded response from Metropolitan +Jonah, Moscow has now joined the fray.

From the Russian news service Interfax...

Moscow, 10 April, Interfax - Bishop Hilarion of Volokolamsk, head of the Moscow Patriarchate Department for External Church Relations expressed his disagreement with the Constantinople Patriarchate urge to govern all church communities in the Orthodox diaspora.

"One of the major challenges for inter-Orthodox relations I see the claims of Constantinople Patriarchate to a special role in the Orthodox Church," Bishop Hilarion said at Interfax press conference.

"The Orthodox Church is going to be enforced the model of the Catholic Church, which is the most centralized church power leaded by the one bishop of the Universal Church," the Bishop said.

He reminded that "there was no such a model in the Orthodox Church" and voiced his doubt "that we have the right to review our teaching of the Church."

According to Bishop Hilarion, the leading bishops of Constantinople Patriarchate urge to review the principle of the priority in the Orthodox world. This model envisages that the Constantinople Patriarchate "shall govern all churches in the so-called diaspora." Communities not included within the borders of historical national churches shall assume the jurisdiction of Constantinople.

Bishop Hilarion said that this whole complex issues shall be discussed at the inter-Orthodox meeting, where the Constantinople model shall be imposed on the Russian Church.


orrologion said...

I'm curious to hear more about how people with such 'papal complaints' of the EP define such 'papal' ideas as universal jurisdiction. Of course, immediate and universal jurisdiction in the Catholic church means that the Pope can himself act directly at any time in any diocese of his church. I do not think that is what the EP is claiming.

If all "communities not included within the borders of historical national churches" have to be under a bishop somewhere - if they are not prepared to or able to govern themselves - then they may as well be under the EP. This is not papalism. An argument could be made for them to be under Jerusalem, too, or split between the 4 remaining ancient patriarchates, or to be put under Russia, even.

I wrote elsewhere that the idea of primacy in the Orthodox Church is a question that is almost being raised for the first time. As the local churches have come into greater contact with each other, it has become clear that some churches give a great deal of authority to their primate and others very little, e.g., Russian and Serbia, respectively. I think it is becoming clear that the local bishop and his church/diocese alone are not the Church, but that local churches are each truly Church, as are all of the local churches together Church. This is an intra-Orthodox discussion that will be interesting to watch.

Artyom said...

I agree with Metropolitan Jonah's arguement that those who identify more with American Orthodoxy (of the OCA variety) should well have independence from the EP. The EP's claim seems based on its very ancient place in the Orthodox world and the problem there is exactly that - its an ancient perspective and a lot has changed in the last 1000 years. Seems to be a discussion that has to be had at the forthcoming pan-Orthodox council.

Carlos Antonio Palad said...

Someone has to tell Interfax to hire a better translator.

The "Voices of Russia" blog had done some fine work doing exact translations of some Russian articles on Church issues before its author went silent.

Death Bredon said...


When the (East) Roman Empire (a/k/a Byzantium) was still formidable on the earth, all Christians in true diaspora (non-Christian lands) naturally clamored for the political protection of Constantinople via its Patriarchate. In short, the diaspora rule was a temporal expediency, not one binding in perpetuity.

In any case, the Rome Empire no longer exists; Constantinople no longer exists; so neither does the Ecumenical Patriachate -- oh yes, nostalgic, ethnic anachronists are whole up in the old light-house district of Instanbul, pretending to be head of an Imperial Church that no longer exists, but this is all stuff for Dungeons and Dragons fans, not grown men.

Finally, it seems that both Moscow and the Bishop of Istanbul (a Turkish citizen with a local flock of some 5000 soul) are completely oblivious to the point that the Orthodox diaspora has had it own, local Episcopal College for quite a while now and that both once recognized its validity.

James the Thickheaded said...

"I think it is becoming clear that the local bishop and his church/diocese alone are not the Church, but that local churches are each truly Church, as are all of the local churches together Church."

Leaving aside for the moment the problem inherent in "I think" in pondering the recursive paradoxes in this statement, I am impressed with the emphasis on the truth of experience... and what comes to my mind is not differ with this, but to redirect towards the parallels within the nature of harmony and music. Harmony does not necessarily require that all notes are sounded at the same time but allows for a wide range of possibilities that ultimately blend their sounds together in the ear and in the mind as they linger. Harmony may also include temporal dissonance as well as its resolution. We are not after some sort of incomprehensible modernist tone poem... but real music here, so rhythm is equally important to the meaning conveyed... time and dynamics as well. And these are written and performed in ways that lead us clearly through a journey that is identifiable, understandable, and readily absorbed so as to be repeatable. From a Bach fugue to Satie's work through to hot jazz there is wide variety in styles and manners of harmony that all offer fruit. Yet the end should offer a song or a hymn... and not just notes randomly voiced from divergent instruments. This complements the teachings of the church... and is what should constitute its structure if it is to endure. Thus I think in many ways that it may be more useful to renew the thinking of the ecclessiology of a church which sings its liturgies through the metaphors of music composition and performance. I can think of few better able to do this than Bishop Hilarion. It seems unfortunate that his thoughts were so poorly translated in this as to leave us filling in the gaps and risking much harm to his message. It would be equally unfortunate were he to respond with less than the whole of his person and address the matter without the benefit of his understanding of music. However, I am encouraged that he is engaged and hope much comes of it.

orrologion said...

'I think' only because I do not know and cannot see, cannot hear. 'I think' only because I do not speak for Orthodoxy and am open to correction and the mind of the Church. 'I think' only to compare and contrast my mind with the Church's.

I am very happy that Bp Hilarion has been put in his current role.

AMM said...

How did the Third Rome theory ever gain any acceptance then?

orrologion said...

Has the Third Rome theory ever gained acceptance outside of Russia? is it accepted by all of Rus'? For instance, is Ukraine and Belarus as accepting of Moscow as the Third Rome?

Of course, the Church of Russia has more believers than all the other local churches combined, so what it believes holds weight, but it must still find some consensus with the other local churches to maintain communion and conciliarity. Orthodoxy doesn't replace an infallible bishop with an infallible local synod of bishops, after all.

AMM said...

[i]Has the Third Rome theory ever gained acceptance outside of Russia?[/i]

Perhaps in places, but neither I guess has Constantinople's thinking of itself gained acceptance. The Third Rome theory shows that at least within the MP, there has historically been a strand of thought that saw that in itself there was a "special role" for the entire church. That is sort of inherint in any "Rome Theory". Hopefully Bishop Hilarion rejects this as well.

What comes to my mind is what defines the boundary of a national historic church, and what is a diaspora? For instance on the site of the MP in the USA it says

The jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox Church shall include persons of Orthodox confession living on the canonical territory of the Russian Orthodox Church in Russia, Ukraine, Byelorussia, Moldavia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kirghizia, Latvia, Lithuania, Tajikistan, Turkmenia, Uzbekistan and Estonia and also Orthodox Christians living in other countries and voluntarily joining this jurisdiction .

That sounds like something of an international diaspora to me (that is of course even aside from the permanent structure of the church abroad). So it seems to me Moscow's issue is not with a diaspora, but who controls it. Which tells me (which is my own suspicion anyway) that this is not about ecclesiology, the canons, staying true to the apostolic model, etc.; but this is a turf war between two hierarchies.

James the Thickheaded said...

Dear orrologian - forgive me. Your thoughts here and elsewhere always excellent and my own deficiencies... simply obvious.

I did not and do not mean to suggest that thinking should be stifled ... least of all yours. So I apologive for the inference.

What troubles me is how these two words lead us to focus overly on our opinions - including mine - rather than sharing our experience and observations.

My intent was to emphasize the latter part of your quote... which actually captured the struggle with complexity very, very well. Seems to me that the strength and weakness of the Orthdox Church lies in an ecclesiology dependent on holiness the way music is dependent on beauty.. that thing we call "musicality". Both are so integral... and at the same time so ephemeral.. that they leave you always wanting something more than what you have - almost. There are always those exceptional circumstances of near perfection... where "almost" is fulfilled and defines a "classic" for music, or a saint for the Church. And yet this imprecision is precisely the stimulus that draws out the desired factors in each case. Maybe there are failures, but where they lie, so too is resolution and redemption.

I'm sorry I did not make my point with more care.

orrologion said...

James, sorry my comments were unnecessarily obscure. I didn't mean to take a swipe at you, but simply riffed off your comment. I see it didn't come off as I meant.

I agree that what I or any of us think, as in our personal opinion unconformed to the mind of the Church, is silliness. There is a great deal of that on all sides, too much.

Fr. Andrew said...

AMM's quote of the claimed boundaries of the Russian church goes beyond mere "diaspora." Indeed, it is an ecclesiology foreign to Orthodoxy, including both a geographic element (which is traditional) and a universal one—you can belong to the Russian church literally anywhere on the globe so long as you choose to.

This puts the geographic boundaries of the Russian church to include anywhere at all. Indeed, Russia has parishes even inside universally agreed-upon canonical territory belonging to another church (Finland), and there have been attempts to do with other churches' territory, too (Alexandria and Jerusalem).

So, as AMM says, it seems to me that Moscow's ecclesiology is just as suspect as Constantinople's, though even more expansively. Constantinople at least is a touch more conservative and doesn't claim that you can belong to the EP anywhere in the whole world just by choosing to.

orrologion said...

Agreed that this is a common problem in Orthodox ecclesiology. I am not aware of the examples in Alexandria and Jerusalem. Finland may be different in that its autonomy was due to the Bolshevik Revolution and the Russian Civil War; it also follows the Gregorian Calendar (including for Pascha), which would make it suspect to any Russian living in Finland; there are just two Russian parishes in Finland.

I wonder if some of these moves are attempts to define a Russian prerogative regarding important Russian sites visited regularly by Russians. The precedent of this is the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in Palestine. The practice of 'representation churches' is also common in Russia and outside of Russia whereby the parish is a sort of 'embassy' that is officially the territory of another church (like secular embassies are the actual 'territory' of the foreign country it represents) and commemorates their home-country hierarch, then the local hierarch, then their home-country administrator (if he is a bishop). I wonder if this is not a common practice on the territory of the EP and those churches long under its authority (Antioch, Alexandria, Jerusalem, Cyprus) - perhaps there has been some misunderstandings on this point.

But, I know a Romanian-American priest with strong ties to ROCOR that has often said that Russians are bullies, at least ecclesiastically. There are cultural factors at work here in America where world Orthodoxy is all bumping up against one another in ways they never have had to before, and revealing assumptions and differences in mores and norms regarding how we all do church within an Orthodox context. For example, how obedience is understood relative to Patriarchs, Metropolitans, bishops and lower clergy/lay assemblies and organizations. In some local churches, the primate has a great deal of centralized authority over all his bishops (Russia), whereas others are extremely decentralized and 'co-equal', almost autonomous (Serbia). I'm sure the EP has its own 'local traditions' and mores.

Andrew said...

Hey it's neat you put up a photo of Bishop Hilarion at my church.

P.S. The way you set up your blogroll is awesome.

Anonymous said...

Russians are convinced that the Russian Impire are alive-and only Russian orthodoxy is the right way.Russian imperialism was and ist unfortunately still alive-and throwe other people from Orthodoxy away-they see Orthodoxy as a Russian chauvinistic project.

orrologion said...

The same language could be used concerning the Greeks and the Romans. I tend to prefer the smaller Orthodoxies of Romania, Serbia, Georgia, etc. without such imperial presumptions, but their Orthodoxy is also often 'chauvinistic' just without the imperial pretensions.