Friday, August 17, 2007

Sharing the cup: Orthodoxy and inter-communion

There is an interesting thread going on over at the Byzantine Forum. The topic began with someone posting to the effect that he is Orthodox but lives in an area where there are no Orthodox parishes within a reasonable radius to him. He has thus been attending an Eastern Rite Catholic parish. Quickly thereafter someone posted a note basically welcoming him to the catholic Church ands stated that going back and forth between the Orthodox and Catholic Church aught not to present an issue. My reply to this and the subsequent discussion it has provoked can be found here (page 6 of the thread). However I think my most recent post sums up the point I have been attempting to make in response to the claims that inter communion has been tolerated in some instances.
Originally Posted By: Matt
Ad Orientum,

The Orthodox churches are self-governing. It is up to the Antiochian Orthodox Church to decide how, or whether, to apply church cannons. There is not some universal agreed upon way of applying them. Some "Super Orthodox" still follow the prohibition of praying with schismatics and heretics. Wanna know how closely that is followed by the Orthodox churches and believers? Even at St. Tikon's (the "conservative" Orthodox seminary) I believe it is usually the "spirit" of the cannon that is appealed to rather then the "letter". Moreover, it is quite possible that some Antiochians do not believe the Melkites are heretics and schismatics as you seem to suggest. If such is the case then Antiochian actions seem even more justified.

Also, if the Melkites are not Orthodox because they are not in communion with your bishop then what of the old-calendarists? Are they also out of your Orthodox circle? What about seemingly random folks like "Patriarch Photios" (aka Joseph Farrel)? Heck, some Eastern Orthodox now believe the Copts are Orthodox and you haven't been in communion with them for 1500 years. I just don't think your system works.

In any event, I hope I am not coming off to harshly.

All the best
My Reply:


Again I do not dispute your point that there have been instances of inter communion. The question is whether or not it is proper and correct. You correctly point out that each (canonical) Orthodox Church is self governing. And yes that means the Antiochians have very broad rights in determining whom they are in communion with. So let me ask the question. Is the Antiochian Patriarchate in communion with Rome? Have they formally repudiated the Council of Constantinople of 1484? If they have then I missed the memo.

You ask if certain groups are "Orthodox" or not. My answer in most cases is that I leave that up to God and the legitimate hierarchs of The Church to determine. The question I would ask is; are they in communion with me via my bishop? If the answer is yes then there is no problem. If the answer is no than we have a problem which may or may not (there are many reasons for not being in communion) touch on matters intrinsic to The Faith.

You say that each Orthodox Church can decide how or when to apply Church Canons. Thats a very broad statement that I am not able to fully agree with. Yes, there is such a thing as oikonomia which is far better understood and more widely practiced in Orthodoxy than in the Latin Church. But economy is not carte blanche to disregard the immemorial disciplines of The Church. If some in the Antichian Church are communing in the Melkite/Latin Church then the question which needs to be asked is; is this with the blessing of their bishop?

If the answer is yes than I am constrained to express my respectful disagreement with that policy. But beyond that it is indeed up to their Synod to determine if anything improper is going on. If they are doing so without the blessing of their bishop than it is a serious sin which by default places the offending party outside communion with his/her own bishop. While Orthodoxy is not quite as legalistic as some might think neither are we a do it yourself church either.

Finally another question looms. Even if there have been some instances of inter-communion sanctioned (or at least tolerated) by one or two bishops mostly in Lebanon, what are the broader implications? My answer is very few. Even after 1484 there were isolated cases of inter-communion between Orthodox and Latins. But they were "isolated." They were, and I would argue, are today extremely rare.

You refer to the Church Canons prohibiting praying with schismatics and heretics. And you correctly note that few outside of the Old Calendarist sects practice akria (a strict application of the letter of the law as opposed to oikonomia). But as far as I know all of the canonical Orthodox prohibit communion with non-Orthodox. That for us is the litmus test of your relationship to The Church. Are we in communion with one another? Is it possible that there have been aberrations and tolerances or abuses of this canon? It is more than possible. It is certain. But thats not to be seen as restoration of communion. If any Orthodox jurisdiction wishes to restore communion with Rome they are free to do so. But actions can have consequences.

This is where I note my objection to your assertion that each jurisdiction has absolute authority to determine if, when, or in what manner they will obey Church Canons. If a jurisdiction strays too far from what the rest of the Orthodox world is prepared to accept they may find themselves isolated to one degree or another. Orthodoxy (despite some superficial similarities in ecclesiology) is not the Anglican Communion where one jurisdiction can do whatever it wants and the rest just have to lump it. Orthodox jurisdictions have severed communion with one another for far less significant things than permitting open communion. While I will not make concrete predictions I think that any Orthodox jurisdiction that chose to restore communion with Rome before there was a consensus within The Church as a whole that the time was right, would find itself quickly isolated. That isolation would likely (IMO) also extend to communion with the other Orthodox Churches.

This brings us back to my litmus test. Is the church / parish you wish to commune in itself "in communion" with your bishop? If the answer is "no" then do not do it, unless it is your intention to sever communion with him.



Anonymous said...

An Antiochian Orthodox priest with whom I am acquainted told me some five years ago that either his bishop or Metropolitan Philip had given his clergy firm orders, albeit without publicity, that Armenians, Copts and any other "Oriental Orthodox" that presented themselves for communion, or requested communion, were to be treated in every respect as though they were fellow "Orthodox Christians."

Young fogey emeritus said...

Just about everybody agrees that the Oriental Orthodox are not really Monophysites after all but estranged Orthodox who don't use the Byzantine Rite. I've been saying for some time echoing Kallistos (Ware) and others that official Oriental Orthodox-Eastern Orthodox reunion is only a matter of time and will happen much sooner than any big East-West reconciliation... because they're both Eastern! It seems that locally with the Antiochians it's happening.

The Middle East seems a case of 'when in Rome'. Melkite and Antiochian families - Christian Arabs surrounded by Muslims - identify as one or the other but intermarry, intercommune and have their kids baptised and chrismated at each other's churches all the time and the clergy know it. Also, the custom is for a wife to join her husband's church, regardless. The clergy are fine with that too and nobody is excommunicated. The only division is the clergy don't concelebrate.

(The sort of thing that makes doxer-than-thou converts in the US have kittens which is rather fun. 'Graceless Western heretics! Papists!', the fulminations of ex-Protestants who've taken their anti-Roman prejudice with them and reinforce it with the most obnoxious, anti-Western, xenophobic Orthodox reading material they can get their hands on. Not the same as a civil, charitable difference of opinion about the origin and scope of the papacy.)

That said, the Orthodox situation in the US is different, rather like the Roman Catholic Church used to be. Unlike the laid-back approach of Italians and Hispanics for example, American RCs were rule-enforcers. 'Rules are made by Rome and enforced in the United States.' (Which is why Europeans were really shocked by the massive rebellion in America after Vatican II!) Anyway in America the Orthodox enforce the rule against intercommunion so to avoid scandal (unlike in the Lebanon and Syria where it's accepted) don't do it!

Some well-meaning high-church Byzantine Catholics, not liberals theologically, seem to adopt a kind of antinomianism about this (ecclesiological liberalism regarding the sacraments) which seems wrong even though one can point to the Middle East as precedent looking at this logically. So essentially I agree with you: no, it's not OK for an isolated Orthodox to commune with the local Byzantine Catholics (or vice versa) unless he intends to formally change churches by so doing. This isn't Damascus or Beirut - that's how it works in the States.

Is the church/parish you wish to commune in itself "in communion" with your bishop? If the answer is "no" then do not do it, unless it is your intention to sever communion with him.


John (Ad Orientem) said...

Dr. Tighe & TYF,
I have heard anecdotally similar reports which the Young Fogey also speaks of. And I do tend to think that it is only a matter of time before one or more of the Orthodox jurisdictions (probably the Ants) make it official.

The whole issue of who one may commune with can get a bit complicated in Orthodoxy since there are groups out there who are certainly Orthodox but also in an irregular relationship with the rest of The Church, i.e. many of your Old Calendarists and until recently ROCOR. To make matters worse some of these groups are not really Orthodox and still others are so far out there that they can be lumped in with the lunatic fringe. It takes a certain amount of discernment to figure out who is merely schismatic and who is a malicious nut case.

Thus Ad Orientem's rule that TYF quoted above. When there is some doubt about another group that might be in impaired communion with one's own bishop for reasons other than heresy, another litmus test would be to ask if they are in communion with Constantinople. Although the EP is not the Orthodox Pope, he holds a primacy of honor decreed by a Church Council. Anyone not in communion with the EP is likely someone I would steer clear of, even on an emergency basis.


Richard said...

In general, I'm pleased that this didn't deteriorate into acrimonious accusations of anti-Catholicism. Too much of that going around.


Sophocles said...

Ad Orientum and fellas,

Vladimir Putin took out his frustrations recently about the issue being discussed on this thread.

G Sanchez said...

Just to dissent a bit...

TYG may be right that certain segments of Eastern Christianity aren't Monophysites, but that alone isn't enough to say they are in communion with the rest of the Orthodox Church. What goes on in the Middle East is--as he does point out--an exception and the fact they are surrounded by large numbers of people who are hostile to the Christian faith, regardless of its communal affiliation, has more than a little to do with it. Still, just because it happens doesn't make it right, though I'll leave it to the hierarchy of the Church to determine the extent to which these practices are acceptable.

As for the picture of American converts, it's a little skewed. I agree that there is anti-Catholic animus within Orthodoxy in America, though it has diverse roots. Orthodox tend to object to liberal Catholics as much as they do to liberal mainline Protestants and, honestly, outside of the pages of First Things, the experience of many Orthodox seems to be with the liberal wings of the Roman Church. Besides, the very traditional Catholics, i.e., those Orthodox might actually have some real common ground with on matters of fidelity to their respective confessions, tend to have no time for the Orthodox. From their vantage point, we are schismatics--end of story.

As for the alleged Monophysites/Eastern Christians and their participation in Orthodoxy in the USA, I believe the trend is one of acceptance. The Antiochians have never had any problem communing Copts, Ethiopians, etc., in their parishes--convert or cradle in composition. I know for a fact that at least one diocese of the OCA allows intercommunion so long as permission is given by the ruling hierarch. In my experience, I have certainly never witnessed the disdain towards alleged Monophysites from Orthodox converts in the way I have witnessed it towards standard Roman Catholics or, for that matter, mainline Protestants.

Richard said...


The traditionalist Roman Catholic disdain for Orthodoxy often can be overcome on a personal level. My wife and I have as friends a family who attend a SSPV chapel, and we've had conversations where they tell us, "You know, we have to remind ourselves you aren't Catholic," and we've told them, "We have to remind ourselves you aren't Orthodox!" We jokingly refer to ourselves around these people as "the original sedevacantists," and in general we find that we have a much greater common vocabulary than perhaps we would have expected.

Of course, the tragedy is that it's precisely because of that that the differences wind up being taken more seriously.