ROCOR Says Overlapping Dioceses are Canonical: An Ecclesiological Analysis

The Manhattan Headquarters of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia

The Manhattan Headquarters of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia

Editorial Note: O&H doesn’t usually post about ecclesiastical politics per se, but in this case there were some interesting ecclesiological doctrinal issues touched upon, which is what this post is about. As with all posts on O&H, the views expressed here represent the poster and not necessarily the editors or any other writers for the site. The only comments that will be published are those which deal with the substance of this post, i.e., with the ecclesiological/canonical questions. This isn’t a place to hash out church politics in general. —The Editors

On January 15, 2014, the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) clarified its vision for the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of North and Central America. This came in the form of an epistle from Archbishop Kyrill of San Francisco, acting as the Secretary of the Synod of Bishops of the ROCOR to Archbishop Demetrios, chairman of the Assembly of Bishops. This letter was subsequently posted to the official ROCOR website. Before we analyze the contents of the letter, some background is necessary.

The Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops is an institution established out of the decision of the 4th Pre-Conciliar Pan-Orthodox Conference, convoked in Chambésy, Switzerland in 2009. Among many tasks, the Assembly of Bishops is charged with “The preparation of a plan to organize the Orthodox of the Region on a canonical basis” (Rules of Operation of Episcopal Assemblies, Article 5). This plan was agreed to by all fourteen Autocephalous Churches, including Moscow, based on their desire for “the swift healing of every canonical anomaly that has arisen from historical circumstances and pastoral requirements.” Pursuant to this goal, in the 2013 meeting of the Assembly of Bishops, the Committee for Regional Canonical Planning presented a Proposal for Canonical Restructuring of the Orthodox Church in the USA, followed by lengthy discussion with the bishops. The centerpiece of this proposal is the restructuring of the various Orthodox jurisdictions so that no bishop’s territory overlaps another’s, according to apostolic custom: one bishop in one city. Some of the details of this proposal were presented by Protodeacon Peter Danilchick in Cleveland in November of 2013.

In responding to this, admittedly ambitious, proposal, the epistle from ROCOR to the Episcopal Assembly makes a bold claim, namely:

…we cannot and do not consider… that the present situation of multiple Sister Churches tending to the diverse needs of the flock in the unique cultural situation of North America is, of itself, a violation of canonical order.

Put simply, ROCOR does not believe that the overlapping dioceses are a violation of canonical order but rather that there are other violations of canons which must be the primary task of the Assembly, especially

the conducting of inter-faith marriages; the practices of reception into the Church; divergent approaches to fasting; issues of confession and preparation for Holy Communion; the release and reception of clergy; etc.

In support of this opinion, Archbishop Kyrill puts forward three arguments:

  1. The unique challenge of the unity-in-diversity of North and Central America.
  2. Previous canonical precedent for diocesan variation.
  3. The achievement of the goal of the “bond of love.”

The goal of this writing is to analyze the claims made in this document to see if they hold up to theological and historical scrutiny. I am not however attempting to put forward any plan of unity, or endorse any such particular plan. The difficulties are great, and indeed many political ambitions are present. However, any such political ambitions as such are not the intention of this work. Rather, the goal is to examine the specific arguments presented in this document and to weigh them against the Patristic dogma of the Church.

Unity in Diversity

The first argument against the reorganization of the Orthodox Churches in this region according to the principle of a single bishop in a single city is that America itself possesses such a high degree of unity in diversity that this gives rise to a new pastoral situation. On this point, the letter begins:

Yet the history of Orthodoxy in North America has been unique, at once plagued by the many troubles of the twentieth century in particular, and at the same time blessed with the unique diversity of peoples this land represents. In this land we find Russians and Greeks, Arabs and Romanians, Bulgarians, French and Germans, Italians and English as well as native peoples; and we find, also, many differing degrees of ethnic life. For many, particularly of later generations of emigration, those past origins may have subsumed into a singularly American identity, whereas for others, there remains a strong, abiding sense of connection to their national or ethnic origins, united to their new cultural life in these lands. For all these things we rejoice, for this is in some sense the true uniqueness of the American lands: that from many, there is one (‘e pluribus, unum’), not by a collapse of those differing identities, but by their peaceful co-existence and united life. This unity-in-diversity is made more perfect in the Church where, as the Holy Apostle says, “there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither bond nor free, neither male nor female; for ye are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). We remain richly diverse, the manifold creation of God who orders all things; yet we are one in faith, in mission, in communion, in calling and in sacred hope. (emphasis added)

What Orthodox Christian in North America could not heartily agree with such sentiments? Indeed, this does capture perfectly the ethos of both the American lands in general and the experience of Orthodox life in these lands in particular. However, the helpful articulation of the American narrative ends here. The letter continues:

This, we firmly believe, is also the means of forging a stronger unity amongst the Orthodox churches of North and Central America — not by the collapsing of the identities and structures of the nine jurisdictions currently represented in this territory, however well-intentioned a “restructuring” may be, or however attentive intentions may be towards questions of ethnicity — but through an increased bond of mutual love that permits us to live together in our diversity, yet in the more perfect unity of the Spirit.

The opinion of ROCOR here seems to be that the ethnic diversity of the American context necessitates a diversity of institutions. Phrased another way, the opinion of ROCOR is that the unification of episcopal structures necessitates the “collapsing of [ethnic] identities.” This assumption could not be more incorrect. Indeed, the very Latin phrase quoted as being quintessentially American, e pluribus, unum, proves this point. This aphorism was coined in 1776 by Pierre Eugene du Simitiere for use in the Seal of the United States. The plurality mentioned in this phrase may refer to any number of things (states, race, gender, etc.) except the common governance. It is this governance, specifically the US Federal Government, that is the unity that binds together the diversity. ROCOR’s interpretation of American diversity can only be understood as e pluribus, pluria.

In fact, the American project, while being a uniquely noble as a self-conscious goal, is not really all that different from many times and places, the most notable of which is the ancient Roman empire itself. This raises the question, did the Apostles themselves ever face such a challenge of maintaining unity in diversity?

To answer this question, we need search no further than Acts 6. At the opening of this chapter we are greeted with a church in crisis due to ethnic tensions between the Hellenistic and Hebraic Jews. Rather than restructuring the church in Jerusalem into ethnic jurisdictions, the Apostles appoint seven deacons to the task of preserving the ministry of the Church in a single institution across ethnic lines. This ancient Church, united under the apostleship of James, the Brother of the Lord and the local bishop of Jerusalem, assigned the task of managing ethnic diversity to its lowest ranked clergy.

Indeed, the lead proposal of the Assembly of Bishops proposes something very much like this: Ethnic Vicariates. The Ethnic Vicariates provide an avenue for strong participation in one’s ethnic identity. While these vicariates would be organized at a regional level, allowing fraternity across a wider range, this structure would ultimately report to the diocesan bishop. It is not my intention to endorse such a plan, but rather simply to point out that this mirrors closely the apostolic model we see in Acts 6 through the submission to the local bishop, while at the same time providing pastoral adaptation to modern forms of travel through regional fraternity.

And we also have to ask: If ROCOR sees no canonical problems with overlapping jurisdictions based on a sharing of the Orthodox faith and the bond of love, why does it organize itself internally into geographically limited dioceses? If North America is truly a unique situation which permits this kind of territorial pluralism, what prevents its own bishops from overlapping with each other? Perhaps there could be a ROCOR bishop tasked with the care of Russian immigrants, another for Americanized Russian parishes, while still another for parishes of converts. Indeed, both the OCA and the Greek Archdiocese already have ethnic dioceses that seem to imbibe this very notion. Even further, why not let parishioners themselves be divided within a single parish between different bishops? All of these organizational structures seem to be implied if the “bond of mutual love” supersedes “one bishop, one city” as the organizing principle of Orthodox ecclesiology.

Canonical Precedent

In citing two canons as canonical precedent for the “diversity of institutions,” ROCOR makes an implicit acknowledgement that our current situation is a canonical anomaly. Indeed, it is the opinion of ROCOR that the precedents

demonstrate acceptable means by which the historically normative principle of local organization with a singular ruling bishop in a singular physical territory have been accommodated by the Holy Fathers, Councils and hierarchs of the past in ways that befit the pastoral needs of a region.

Three historical examples are given of situations which, ROCOR believes, provides justification for suspending this canonical normalcy, and I will deal with them each in turn.

Canon 39 of the Council in Trullo

The letter explains this canon like this: “[The canon] allowed for an independent ecclesiastical province of the Church of Cyprus in the region of another local Church’s territory.”

Yet, when we read the canon, we get a different picture:

Since our brother and fellow-worker, John, bishop of the island of Cyprus, together with his people in the province of the Hellespont, both on account of barbarian incursions, and that they may be freed from servitude of the heathen, and may be subject alone to the sceptres of most Christian rule, have emigrated from the said island, by the providence of the philanthropic God, and the labour of our Christ-loving and pious Empress; we determine that the privileges which were conceded by the divine fathers who first at Ephesus assembled, are to be preserved without any innovations, viz.: that new Justinianopolis shall have the rights of Constantinople and whoever is constituted the pious and most religious bishop thereof shall take precedence of all the bishops of the province of the Hellespont, and be elected by his own bishops according to ancient custom. For the customs which obtain in each church our divine Fathers also took pains should be maintained, the existing bishop of the city of Cyzicus being subject to the metropolitan of the aforesaid Justinianopolis, for the imitation of all the rest of the bishops who are under the aforesaid beloved of God metropolitan John, by whom, as custom demands, even the bishop of the very city of Cyzicus shall be ordained.

This canon is densely worded and difficult to unpack. Archbishop/Patriarch John of Cyprus was forced to flee Cyprus with his people due to an invasion. He settled in a region outside Constantinople which already had a bishop nearby. This led to a set of canonical restructurings. John retained his rule of Cyprus, but from a new city. This city was removed from the authority of the nearby bishop and placed under John. John’s new city then gained rank over the nearby bishop’s city in order to preserved the dignity of his office. At no time were there multiple bishops in a city. Fr Meyendorff describes the situation this way:

The Council did not admit the creation of a parallel Cypriot jurisdiction in Hellespont, and so preserved territorial unity. It solved quite radically a question of precedence at the expense of the existing authorities – Constantinople and Cyzicus – but it did not divide the Church. The pattern of ecclesiastical structure remained the same: one Church, one bishop, one community in every single place. The canons of the Church have always protected this simple principle against all attempts to create several separated ecclesiastical administrations in the same place or country, and also against the tendency of some big and important Churches (Rome, Alexandria, Antioch) to deprive the local bishops of their authority and to affirm their own power over the rights of the local synods. (Catholicity and the Church, p. 115-116, emphasis added)

It is also important to note that this situation was entirely temporary. The relocation of the arch-episcopal see of Cyprus to Asia Minor was soon reversed. At no time was there more than one bishop in a city nor did dioceses overlap.

Canon 2 of the First Council of Constantinople

According to the epistle, this canon

states “the churches of God that are situated in territories belonging to barbarian nations (i.e. where there is no established local Orthodox Church) must be administered in accordance with the customary practice of the Fathers,” which, according to the ancient explanations of the canons, means the sending forth of bishops from established eparchies to care for them (thus demonstrating that the situation of Sister Churches mutually caring for their flocks in the diaspora and thereby “supplying what is missing for a local synod” is what the canons themselves consider, not an aberration, but the ancient practice of the Fathers) (emphasis added).

The canon itself states:

The bishops are not to go beyond their dioceses to churches lying outside of their bounds, nor bring confusion on the churches; but let the Bishop of Alexandria, according to the canons, alone administer the affairs of Egypt; and let the bishops of the East manage the East alone, the privileges of the Church in Antioch, which are mentioned in the canons of Nice, being preserved; and let the bishops of the Asian Diocese administer the Asian affairs only; and the Pontic bishops only Pontic matters; and the Thracian bishops only Thracian affairs. And let not bishops go beyond their dioceses for ordination or any other ecclesiastical ministrations, unless they be invited. And the aforesaid canon concerning dioceses being observed, it is evident that the synod of every province will administer the affairs of that particular province as was decreed at Nice. But the Churches of God in heathen nations must be governed according to the custom which has prevailed from the times of the Fathers. (emphasis added)

Little detail is given to us in this canon or in the ancient epitome, and certainly nothing which justifies the wide-sweeping deviation ROCOR is suggesting from the apostolic order. Archbishop Peter L’Huillier reminds us that this is the first place in canon law where the word diocese appears, making any attempt to recast the word diocese to mean something other than geographically based and non-overlapping on the basis of this canon absurd. St Nikodemus, in complete agreement with Zonaras and Balsamon (two historical canonical commentators generally regarded as authoritative in Orthodoxy), records this:

As for the churches of God that are situated in the midst of barbarian nations, where there either were not enough bishops to make up a synod, it was necessary for some scholarly bishop to go there in order to bolster up the Christians in their faith. These churches, I say, ought to be managed in accordance with the prevailing custom of the Fathers. To be more explicit, neighboring and more able bishops ought to go to them, in order to supply what is missing for a local synod. (The Rudder, 2nd Canon of the 2nd Ecumenical Council, emphasis added)

Notice that both St Nikodemus and the ROCOR epistle use the phrase “supply what is missing for a local synod” in drastically different ways. As St Nikodemus intends it, this means simply occasionally sending “some scholarly bishop to go there in order to bolster up the Christians in their faith.” This is clearly not ROCOR’s reading. Where St Nikodemus desires to advance the fledgling churches quickly to independence through the help of experienced bishops, ROCOR is implying an entire church structure made up of their own synod! Surely ROCOR does not intend to imply that her own synod is in some way incomplete.

Hence, all this canon supports is the pastoral mentoring of missionary bishops by more established bishops. One bishop in one location is still assumed everywhere.

Hefele (a 19th c. Patristics scholar) gives us one example of a church which was missionized “according to the custom” of both the canon and the ancient explanation: Abyssinia. This church grew under the missionary efforts of Alexandria and eventually received a diocesan bishop. This church’s development is, in a word, unremarkable in the sense that there is no dispute over territory, but the establishment of a normative canonical boundary.

Stavropegial Institutions

This precedent is given no explanation in the letter, just a mere mention. However, contrary to the assumption, stavropegial institutions do not prove an exception to the rule, but rather depend on the traditional order. To understand this, we need to look at the origin of such institutions.

The earliest stavropegial communities were exclusively important institutions typically along important waypoints of travel. Canonical travel restrictions for clergy can be quite stringent. Stavropegial status provided a solution to this travel difficulty by placing the institution under the control of a bishop for a larger region. Occasionally this status would also be granted to places of great sanctity, facilitating easier travel restrictions for pilgrims. In time this came to apply to educational institutions too, as it provided a convenient place for clergy gatherings for many reasons. It was not until the time of Patriarch Nikon that such institutions were chosen based upon the good pleasure of the Patriarch/Archbishop, and even this is done rarely.

The emergence of the concept of stavropegial institutions is entirely dependent on the traditional order of the church by geography without overlapping dioceses. If dioceses overlap, there is no serious travel restriction across diocesan lines. Without this restriction, the stavropegial status would never have developed. Thus, the concept of stavropegial institutions is entirely a complement to, not a variation from, the apostolic order of geographic church alignment.

The Bond of Love

We come at last to perhaps the most important part of the letter. The significance of the concept of the “bond of love” in this letter entirely relates to our theology of church or ecclesiology. The word “bond” appears in the epistle eight times, and seven time it is used to describe a close personal relationship of mutual affection. What does the phrase “the bond of love” mean in this epistle? And how does this relate to ecclesiology? To answer these questions we need to first look at one of the central passages of the letter. In describing the reunion of ROCOR and Moscow, the epistle says this rapprochement was

not through the conglomeration of administrative entities or the restructuring of canonical territories, but by an act of reconciliation which allows the Church abroad and the Church in the motherland to exist side by side, in mutual love and work, each free and operating within that freedom, yet bonded inseparably like a mother to her daughter. And within our Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, this renewed bond with our Mother Church came to us as a longed-for prize, a pearl of great price, and a bond of spiritual strength that shall not be broken.

Indeed, the healing of this schism is a pearl of great price for all in the Christian World, not simply for ROCOR alone, and should be celebrated as such. However, two things should be noted about this passage.

First, what is described here is not unity but fraternity. If ROCOR is truly side-by-side with Moscow, then there should be no harm in normalizing the diocesan structure in North America. Only if ROCOR is subject to Moscow could the realignment of dioceses jeopardize this relationship. For example, what prevents the existence “side by side, in mutual love and work” between Romania and Serbia? Nothing—precisely because this bond is one of fraternity and not of submission. On the other hand, if diocesan realignment is truly a threat to ROCOR’s relationship with Moscow, then it is not a matter of the “bond of spiritual strength” but rather of choosing one hierarchy over another. But admitting this is precisely the problem: the choice to prefer submission to Moscow instead of diocesan regularity is a novelty and antithetical to the Apostolic custom.

Second, this understanding of the unity of the church is not the assertion of a “temporary abnormality” to be healed over time but rather the new canonical norm. ROCOR is not proposing that the Orthodox jurisdictions resolve other issues before reorganizing dioceses, but rather that such an organization is entirely unnecessary where the “bond of love” and the “unity of the Spirit” are present. What is so shocking, and entirely ironic, about this assertion is that it is the very doctrinal assertion deployed by the World Council of Churches. To understand why this is so, we will need to consider the development of these phrases in antiquity.

The phrase “bond of love” does not appear in the Holy Scriptures, but a similar phrase does:

I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. (Ephesians 4:1-6, KJV)

St Cyprian of Carthage

This passage first finds use in St Cyprian during the Novatianist controversy. The Novatianists or Cathari (Puritans) did not feel that the Orthodox Catholic bishops were being strict enough in disciplining sinners, particularly sins of apostasy or of sexual immorality. As a response, they set up a parallel episcopal hierarchy in the cities of Catholic bishops, sometimes using newly ordained bishops and sometimes pre-existing bishops via overlapping territory (indeed, Socrates gives us much detail on the topic). St Cyprian responds sharply saying:

And, indeed, among our predecessors, some of the bishops here in our province thought that peace was not to be granted to adulterers, and wholly closed the gate of repentance against adultery. Still they did not withdraw from the assembly of their co-bishops, nor break the unity of the Catholic Church by the persistency of their severity or censure; so that, because by some peace was granted to adulterers, he who did not grant it should be separated from the Church. While the bond of concord (concordiae vinculo) remains… But he could not hold the episcopate, even if he had before been made bishop, since he has cut himself off from the body of his fellow-bishops, and from the unity of the Church; since the apostle admonishes that we should mutually sustain one another, and not withdraw from the unity which God has appointed, and says, “Bearing with one another in love, endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:2-3) He then who neither maintains the unity of the Spirit nor the bond of peace, and separates himself from the band of the Church (ecclesiae vinculo), and from the assembly of priests, can neither have the power nor the honour of a bishop, since he has refused to maintain either the unity or the peace of the episcopate. (Epistle LI.21, 24, emphasis added)

One should note that while the Church has never confirmed St Cyprian’s theory about the cessation of orders in schism, this passage clearly includes the condemnation of pre-existing bishops who agree to shepherd flocks in another bishop’s territory for the purpose of guarding against disciplinary laxity. And in case there is any question what St Cyprian means by the “bond of peace” and the “unity of the Spirit,” this he himself clarifies for us:

[Jesus Christ] Himself in His Gospel warns us, and teaches, saying, “And there shall be one flock and one shepherd.” (John 10:16) And does any one believe that in one place there can be either many shepherds or many flocks? The Apostle Paul … says, “Forbearing one another in love, endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:2-3) (On the Unity of the Church, 8)

For St Cyprian, the bond of love is not a feeling of mutual fraternity. Nor is it uniformity of discipline, otherwise the bishops that practiced different disciplines would be excluded from the “bond of concord” (Epistle LI.21). Rather, the “bond of peace” and the “unity of the Spirit” are nothing other than the “one flock and one shepherd.” It is the bishop who goes beyond “one shepherd” who separates himself from the “bond of the Church.”

One last thing must be said about St Cyprian. At the end of Epistle LI (paragraph 24), St Cyprian recognizes that, even within the bond of peace (“one flock, one shepherd”) there are some who stir up dissension. This act, even though not directly severing the bond of peace, is a violation of the “bond of love” (vinculum charitatis).

St Augustine of Hippo

Shortly after the Novatianist controversy, a new rigorist schism developed under African bishop Donatus Magnus. This schism had been dealt with, somewhat successfully, by the Council of Arles (314). However, Julian the Apostate, seeing an opportunity to create dissension in the Church, rekindled the debate. Much of the arena of debate was similar to the Novatianists, with one notable exception: the Donatists shared St Cyprian’s ecclesiology, most especially the principle of “one flock, one shepherd.” On this basis, the Donatists asserted that sin on the part of the bishop rendered any ordinations performed by him null and void. This ideology served as immediate justification to elect their own bishops, and they did this quite frequently via false accusations of sin on the part of the Orthodox Catholic bishops.

St Augustine was bishop of Hippo during the second wave of Donatism. His primary task in the debate was to reclaim St Cyprian’s ecclesiology from the Donatists. To this end, St Augustine writes On Baptism, Against the Donatists in which he argues that the Catholic Church is the true recipient of St Cyprian’s theology. His reply to the Donatists is simple. No matter how pious the Donatists may be, no matter how many good works or miracles they may perform, no matter how many martyrs they may produce:

…yet because they do all these things apart from the Church, not “forbearing one another in love,” nor “endeavoring to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace,” (Ephesians 4:2-3) insomuch as they have not charity, they cannot attain to eternal salvation, even with all those good things which profit them not. … For [the Donatists are] severed from the bond of peace and love (vinculo caritatis et pacis)… And so there is one Church which alone is called Catholic… (On Baptism, Against the Donatists I.12,14, emphasis added)

St Augustine even maintains the distinctions present in St Cyprian that even if one possesses the “bond of peace” one may, even in the Church, lack the “bond of love”:

But the enemies of this brotherly love, whether they are openly without, or appear to be within, are false Christians, and antichrists. For when they have found an opportunity, they go out, as it is written: “A man wishing to separate himself from his friends, seeks opportunities.” But even if occasions are wanting, while they seem to be within, they are severed from that invisible bond of love (invisibili caritatis compage). (Ibid., III.26)

Later Protestants will eventually latch on to this last phrase (“invisible bond of love”) to articulate, via Aquinas’ indelible mark of baptism on the soul, a doctrine of the “invisible church.” This in turn will be used by the ecumenical movement to justify that mutual affection can be achieved without institutional or doctrinal unity. However, that is not at all what St Augustine means here. He means simply that the bond of peace, what we might call canonical normalcy, is not sufficient. We need to use the bond of peace to actualize the bond of love.

While we find nothing in On Baptism similar to St Cyprian’s notion of “one flock, one shepherd,” it must be noted that this is everywhere presumed by both parties: both the Donatists and the Catholics. As evidence to this fact, we need look no further than Canon CXVIII of Carthage, which stipulates the manner in which overlapping dioceses between the Donatists and Orthodox are to be normalized to the principle of one bishop per territory.

Ecumenism, The Two Bonds and the Ordo Ecclesiae

Aristotle, in book II of On the Soul, defines three states of potentiality and actuality. This framework would later be deployed by St Simeon the New Theologian to articulate the dogma of the divine energies. And more importantly, this distinction is used directly in ROCOR’s letter itself: “…the salvation of our flock, considered not in terms of potentiality but actuality.” Aristotle describes these states in this way:

We can speak of something as ‘a knower’ either (a) as when we say that man is a knower, meaning that man falls within the class of beings that know or have knowledge, or (b) as when we are speaking of a man who possesses a knowledge of grammar; each of these is so called as having in him a certain potentiality, but there is a difference between their respective potentialities, the one (a) being a potential knower, because his kind or matter is such and such, the other (b), because he can in the absence of any external counteracting cause realize his knowledge in actual knowing at will. This implies a third meaning of ‘a knower’ (c), one who is already realizing his knowledge-he is a knower in actuality and in the most proper sense is knowing, e.g. this A. Both the former are potential knowers, who realize their respective potentialities, the one (a) by change of quality, i.e. repeated transitions from one state to its opposite under instruction, the other (b) by the transition from the inactive possession of sense or grammar to their active exercise. (On the Soul II.5)

In this example, these three states can be described as such:

  1. Being a rational being.
  2. Having an education.
  3. Using their education.

The theology of the Church which develops over these two controversies and which, everywhere in the East, is presumed canonically has a distinct order to it. The first prerequisite, implied by both Ss Cyprian and Augustine, is the Apostolic faith. Unless this is held, there can be no union. The second requirement is the Apostolic church structure of “one flock, one shepherd” or, expressed canonically, “one bishop to one city.” This is the “bond of peace.” The third state goes even beyond this to actualize the potential we have as Christians in the true Church of Christ: the bond of love. In this state I have gone beyond merely sharing the apostolic church order with others to actually loving them and desiring nothing which can impugn this peace.

Hence, like Aristotle’s order of knowledge, so too does the Church’s ecclesiology have an ordo:

  1. Apostolic faith
  2. Apostolic governance (“bond of peace”/”one flock, one shepherd”)
  3. The bond of love

The end (telos) of the Christian communal life is the actualization of the bond of love. Subservient to and a necessary prerequisite of this is to share the the Apostolic faith in the Apostolic governance.

We can see at this point what precisely makes false-ecumenism a heresy. Branch-theory ecclesiology bypasses the first two states of the ecclesiastical ordo. It attempts to achieve the “bond of love” without either the Apostolic faith or governance. This is precisely the reason we must spurn such advances.

However, we need to note that ROCOR’s ordo, as articulated in the epistle, is similarly deficient. Rather than the ancient Orthodox Catholic ordo, it proposes something like this:

  1. Apostolic faith
  2. The bond of love
  3. Apostolic governance (?)

In this case, ROCOR is content that the Orthodox jurisdictions share the Apostolic faith. On this basis, and without the Apostolic governance of one bishop in one city, ROCOR believes she possesses the “bond of love.” While clearly not going as far as most modern ecumenists, the ecclesiological definition found in ROCOR’s epistle is based on the same core error of false-ecumenism. The difference is only in degree, not kind.

Conclusion

I think it needless to say that I find ROCOR’s ecclesiological theology in the letter to Archbishop Demetrios severely deficient. It deeply misunderstands the American multi-cultural diversity to imply a diversity, rather than a unity, of governance. It applies canons in defense of this understanding which clearly defeat rather than bolster its claims. And, perhaps most importantly, the ecclesiology of the document betrays a critical misunderstanding of ancient ecclesiology.

I am deeply sympathetic to ROCOR’s desire for “the salvation of our flock, considered not in terms of potentiality but actuality.” This too is my desire. However, ROCOR considers “any such restructuring to be a matter of gravest spiritual peril to the souls of all our flocks in these lands.” This is, to me, deeply troubling. The bond of love does not flower merely by the “increased cooperation between all our jurisdictions,” but by living according to the command of Christ that there be “one flock, with one shepherd.”

After obtaining a BS in Christian Ministries and Music Composition from Indiana Wesleyan University, Nathaniel McCallum studied Historical Theology and Biblical Studies at Asbury Theological Seminary. He is a member of St Athanasius Orthodox Church in Nicholasville, KY, along with his wife and five children.

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96 thoughts on “ROCOR Says Overlapping Dioceses are Canonical: An Ecclesiological Analysis

  1. In regards to ethnic diversity within a unified ecclesiastical authority, the Orthodox Church of Albania comes immediately to mind as an example. There is significant diversity in ethnicity, liturgical practices, and language, even calendar, yet there is one bishop, one diocese, one Archbishop Primate. Montenegrans, FYRMacedonians, Greeks, Romanians – all have communities within the Albanian Church.

  2. Obviously the situation with the Church in Cyprus is not exactly analogous, but for a reason that you did not mention. North America is not a recognized autocephalous Church. Even the tomos of autocephaly received by the OCA, while it granted the OCA independence, provided for the continuation of a presence of the MP in North America, and stated that it did not imply that the other jurisdictions in America were uncanonical — and so really, it was never autocephaly in the traditional sense.

    We can quibble about the canons endlessly, but the bottom line is that ROCOR does not believe that the present situation is in and of itself a violation of the canons… and practically speaking, no one else does either, because I don’t see anyone being brought up on canonical charges by anyone else, on this question.

    The bottom line is ROCOR has some concerns about the proposals for a quite integration of the jurisdictons, and those concerns will have to be addressed in order to bring ROCOR and the Russian Church into agreement. However, ROCOR is not stating a categorical opposition to jurisdictional unity, with ROCOR included, as ever happening. It is just opposed to such a union as things stand, and under the current proposals.

    You may have seen the video of the meeting that was held in Cleveland in which Protodeacon Peter Danilchick spoke. However, I spoke with Bishop Peter, who was also there, and he said that there were comments that were edited out of the video… and one of them was a question in which someone asked if America had a future as an autocephalous Church. He answered that yes, it does, however, he listed a number of things that he thought would need to happen first. Metropolitan Savas, said “No”, but that rather the American Church would be autonomous, under the EP — and that is a future that, as things stand, I would not want to see come to pass.

    See http://fatherjohn.blogspot.com/2014/01/rocor-and-assembly-of-bishops.html for more.

    • “and that is a future that, as things stand, I would not want to see come to pass.

      An ominous and worrisome comment, Fr. John. However, I’m not sure your or my desires are necessary for the Church to be Who She is.

      • True, but in a Conciliar Church, if you want something done, you will have either get everyone on board, and start cutting people out of the Conciliar circle because they are either heretics or schismatics. The Russian Church is not going to have the future of its parishes in North America dictated by the EP. But the Russian Church is not saying that there is no way it would ever agree to a united American Church, and in fact our bishops have laid out their concerns, and those concerns will have to be addressed.

    • Fr. John,

      Bless!

      Would you say that ROCOR’s interpretation of the canons in this regards seems kind of novel? Also, won’t the interpretation of our jurisdictional overlapping as “the ancient practice of the Fathers” eventually negate a fervent desire for administrative unity? Just because someone hasn’t been brought up on charges doesn’t mean the canons aren’t being violated. People should certainly be brought up on charges for ecumenical excesses and canonical laxity but no one has yet. The canons are being violated nonetheless. That’s the reason why I completely agree with ROCOR’s bottom line although I wonder about the canonical justification for the position.

      • Actually, ROCOR’s interpretation of the canon seems to be pretty similar to all the other local Churches who have established parishes in North America. After all, the Russian Church was here first. Every other jurisdiction that is here now, interpreted the canons to mean that they could establish their own ecclesiastical presence in North America, to meet the needs of their people who had come here. The fact that no one has been brought up on canonical charges when you have a 100 years worth of people doing something is a good sign that no one thinks the canons are being violated. Now is the situation an anomalous one? Yes. But no one has set out to violate the canons, in any of the legitimate jurisdictions we have in North America.

        • There is a difference here, though. It’s true that many Orthodox jurisdictions have established overlapping dioceses in NA, but it is only the ROCOR who has come out and explicitly said that this is not a problem, complete with an ecclesiological theory and appeal to history and canons.

          If “no one thinks canons are being violated,” then why did all the autocephalous Orthodox churches—including the MP—come together to establish the Assemblies? It seems to me that pretty much everyone thinks the canons are being violated, except, it seems, the ROCOR.

      • How do you propose charges be brought up? Canonical trials require that both the prosecutor and defendant be under the same authority so that proper canonical penalties can be applied. It is impossible to have canonical accusations across jurisdictions. This is why accusations such as “fix your lax discipline on X and we will merge” are inherently Novatianist. If accusations need to be made, so be it. But for a just trial to take place, the accuser must be in the same governance as the accused. This is the way of Christian equity.

        • How did St. Cyril raise the issue of Nestorius’ heresy? He wrote a public letter, and made demands that something be done, and then when those demands were not met, he broke communion with Nestorius, and pushed for an Ecumenical Council. Since every local Church that could claim to be harmed by this “violation”, has engaged in the same thing they would be condemning, it is no coincidence that no such push has been made by any local Church.

          • Did the Ecumenical Council he called for have jurisdiction over both parties (Nestorius and St Cyril) with the authority to depose the party advancing false teaching? Yes. I will be happy to grant that the Assembly of Bishops is the proper jurisdiction for handling such accusations if you grant that they are the proper authority to realign the dioceses in North and Central America.

    • Father, Bless!

      Fr. John, below I’ve cut & pasted my 1.17.14 post from Byzantine, TX on this topic.

      ~ ~ ~ ~

      Pardon me while I pick my jaw up off the floor…

      It never cease to amaze me how bishops & even entire synods are willing to wrench canons out of their historical contexts so they can ascribe novel & idiosyncratic interpretations designed to suit their agendas.

      Canon 39 of the 6th Ecumenical Council did not “allow for an independent ecclesiastical province of the Church of Cyprus in the region of another local Church’s territory (demonstrating that the canons permit, in cases of pastoral need, a departure from the normal localization of episcopal oversight even within the territory of the established Churches).”

      On the contrary, as the full text of the canon reads and the commentary in the Rudder explains, as well as the understanding that Fr. John Meyendorff put forward in his book “Catholicity and the Church” the canon did precisely the opposite. Rather than permitting the creation of a parallel Cypriot jurisdiction in the existing province of Hellespont it actually preserved the basic territorial principle of unity.

      This is evidenced by the fact that when Emperor Justinian II transferred a large number of the Cypriot faithful along with their metropolitan archbishop, John (who was primate of the autocephalous province of Cyprus), from Cyprus to Artake (modern day Erdek) which was a town in the province of Hellespont near the metropolis of Cyzicus (who’s metropolitan had been for some time primate of the autonomous provincial synod of Hellespont, under Constantinople), and Artake was renamed New Justinianopolis in honor of the emperor, the Council actually transferred the provincial primacy from Cyzicus to John in his new local Church of New Justinianopolis. In addition, Hellespont was no longer subject to Constantinople as an autonomous province, but, in deed, became autocephalous again in order to continue the prerogatives of the autocephalous primate of Cyprus, and all the bishops of Hellespont were placed under his jurisdiction (the bishops of Cyprus remaining under his jurisdiction as well). All that for a situation, which in the end, turned out to be quite temporary, I might add.

      Thus, everything was overhauled in order to preserve the basic canonical order and unity of the Church.

      ROCOR isn’t alone on this “chose your own adventure” canonical insanity. A couple of years ago the Patriarchate of Antioch (mainly here in the US) decided to keep all their dioceses (i.e., local Churches) in place with all the basic structures of local Churches, including bishops, but stripped those bishops of all canonical episcopal authority by making them “auxiliary” bishops so that in the vast regions of the US & Canada they have a single ruling bishop, Metropolitan Philip, who has control of it all…nice, eh? How is this any different than the “universal ecclesiology” of the Catholics? The EP promotes an interpretation of Chalcedon’s canon 28 “barbarian” clause that is patently absurd & completely untenable based upon history. Etc., etc., etc., …

      I don’t mean to sound disrespectful, but when I read this stuff I’m tempted to ask: “How was the traffic in from space today?”

      We can’t even agree amongst ourselves on basic ecclesiology & we’re talking with the Catholics about primacy. Its discouraging to say the least.

      ~ ~ ~ ~

      Fr. John, you are well know & respected as a good pastor with a keen mind, but you keep stating that ROCOR is merely saying that they want to approach unity with caution so that the pure faith & a healthy spirituality can be preserved. Well, who in their right mind would argue with that?

      The problem is that the ROCOR never said any such thing. They could have easily stated that serious discussions about jurisdictional restructuring / unity were tabled until the issues of praxis were worked out first. However, they didn’t.

      Instead, the ROCOR synod unequivocally stated that they believe that the status quo, i.e., the jurisdictional jungle we live in here in the US “diaspora”, is canonically acceptable. Then in order to defend this claim they put forward a lame (at best) / bogus (at worst) argument build around c. 39 of the VI Council, which actually serves to further undermine, albeit unintentionally, the rudimentary Orthodox ecclesiological principle of localism, i.e., one church in one place headed by one bishop. It’s almost (but not quite) as embarrassing as the EP’s “barbarians” interpretation of c. 28 of Chalcedon (I say this as a GOA parishioner…it egg on my face).

      Who edited out Bp. Peter’s & Met. Savas’ comments on autocephaly & autonomy from the Cleveland video? More importantly, why? Somebody clearly has an agenda & is willing to cook the books for it…never a good idea.

      Among the bishops (ROCOR or otherwise) somebody needs to have the hutzpah to tell the EP that they can pack it up if they don’t knock off the c. 28 “barbarian lands” stuff because avoiding a potential conflict by proffering ridiculous red herring arguments that belie Orthodox ecclesiology is not an acceptable substitute.

      Am I wrong? If so, please explain why & how. Many thanks.

      • I would have written the letter differently, but nobody asked me to write, and I am not a bishop. But this letter was written within a context of discussions among the bishops. It pressed the question that the status quo is not a canonical crime, because the argument has been that it is, and we have to fix it right now. But the people who want to fix it right now, want it fixed right now on terms that they find acceptable… not on terms that we find acceptable. We don’t have to fix it right now. We should try to fix it as soon as we can, but jurisdictional unity is not the only consideration that we should be concerned with.

        • And my argument is:
          1. The failure to fix it right now is, according to the Fathers, a greater risk to our salvation than any particular terms we might find objectionable.

          2. The idea that we don’t have to fix it right now is fundamentally the same theological move as the Protestant notion of the “invisible Church” which undergirds the ecumenical movement.

        • Fr. John, I couldn’t agree with you more!

          However, the problem is that the ROCOR letter didn’t say that. Its truly sad that none of the bishops are willing to explicitly talking about the elephant in the room, i.e., watered down / secularized Orthodoxy & “EP/GOA hegemony”, as George Michalopulos puts it.

          I’m certainly not attempting to lambast you personally, nor do I think that anyone else posting here has that intent. Most of us have profound respect for you as a priest & an apologist, but it is obvious that your noble effort to defend your bishops is not anywhere close to the same caliber that your typical statements embody. In other words, usually when you says something it is “spot on”, but in this case you’re ascribing intentions & goals that are simply not in the text of the letter, and that, Father, is “way off”.

          Instead, letters like this just muddy our ecclesiology which has gotten pretty murky by this point. We, as laity & clergy, can call a spade a spade until the cows come home, but it doesn’t have much practical effect because, as you stated, we’re not bishops participating in the assembly.

          The hierarchs need to stand up & speak the truth in love! Pussyfooting around these critical issues is worse than worthless because it often leads to confusion as we are currently witnessing with ecclesiology.

          The bishops shouldn’t be afraid of honest & forthright discussion motivated by love because it might rock the boat. As St. Paul wrote: “First of all, when you come together as a Church, I hear that there are schisms among you, and in part I believe it. For there must also be heresies among you, so that those who are approved may have become evident among you.” (I Cor. 11:18-19)

          This abscess has be festering for years & it desperately needs to be lanced…

          • The reason the bishops can’t talk about the so-called “elephant in the room” is that the “elephant in the room” must be categorized either as heresy or disciplinary laxity. If it is heresy, then there should be no intercommunion at all. If it is disciplinary laxity, then diocesan realignment should occur immediately since, for at least the last 1700 years since the Novatianist controversy, disciplinary laxity is not a valid reason to hold up diocesan realignment. This is precisely the reasons why alternative ecclesiologies are being proposed.

            • Nathaniel,

              Surely we can’t blame ROCOR for the situation we’re in, nor can we solely blame them for “holding up” realignment. Aren’t the Bulgarians the originators of these arguments? The Antiochians have supposedly completely pulled out of the Assembly. There are many factors working against the restructure. If heresy is a charge, then surely it is wise for the ROCOR synod to cautiosuly wait and hope for amendment. St. Nikolai Velimirovich states that the Church suffers heretics within Her bosom for a time for two reasons:

              “One, She is awaiting their repentance and change. Two, She does not want to make an even greater evil out of this which is to say, push them downhill into the army of heretics while destroying their souls.” (Missionary Letters)

              Also, many times in the history of the Church the disciplinary laxity of the Latins was a stumblingblock to peace in a diocese or area. Valid or not, it happens and it takes time to deal with it. I completely agree with Fr. John’s bottom line but also think the canonical interpretation in the epistle is a stretch.

            • There is enough blame for everyone. I have no intention of singling out ROCOR on this (in fact, both GOArch and the OCA get some blame in my article). However, ROCOR is also the one that made the theological articulation. I’m just critiquing it. That is the *only* reason this is ROCOR-centric.

            • Fr. Andrew,

              Bless!

              Thanks for clearing that up. There is a lot of misinformation out there. On what basis was participation suspended?

            • Fr. Andrew,

              Many sources in the Antiochian jurisdiction say that Met. Philip has directed all Antiochian bishops to resign as of 01/17/14.

            • Right, because the synod said that the Church of Antioch is suspending its participation. The idea that the resignation represents a permanent, complete withdrawal is beyond what was actually indicated.

              Anyway, this is getting off track. I just wanted to correct a factual error.

          • Timmy,

            Amen.

            Fr. John,

            Perhaps we are all in dire need of another Sorrowful Epistle in the tradition of Met. Anthony Khrapovitsky and Met. Philaret.

  3. Nathan,

    Didn’t the Church confirm St Cyprian’s theory about the cessation of orders in a prolonged schism when she canonized St. Basil’s Epistle 188 at the Trullan Council (Canon 2)? St. Basil refers specifically to the Cathari:

    “The Cathari are schismatics; but it seemed good to the ancient authorities, I mean Cyprian and our own Firmilianus, to reject all these, Cathari, Encratites, and Hydroparastatæ; by one common condemnation, because the origin of separation arose through schism, and those who had apostatized from the Church had no longer on them the grace of the Holy Spirit, for it ceased to be imparted when the continuity was broken. The first separatists had received their ordination from the Fathers, and possessed the spiritual gift by the laying on of their hands. But they who were broken off had become laymen, and, because they are no longer able to confer on others that grace of the Holy Spirit from which they themselves are fallen away, they had no authority either to baptize or to ordain. And therefore those who were from time to time baptized by them, were ordered, as though baptized by laymen, to come to the church to be purified by the Church’s true baptism. Nevertheless, since it has seemed to some of those of Asia that, for the sake of management of the majority, their baptism should be accepted, let it be accepted.” (Canon 1)

    St. Maximus also demonstrated Sts. Cyprian and Basil’s understanding when referring to the Monothelite heretics:

    “They have repeatedly excommunicated themselves from the Church and are completely unstable in the faith. Additionally, they have been cut off and stripped of priesthood by the local council held at Rome. What Mysteries, then, can they perform? And what spirit descends on those whom they ordain?” (St. Dimitri Rostov: Life of St. Maximus)

    With all that said, I still acknowledge that the Spirit blows where He wills.

    • St Basil’s first canon is often misunderstood in Orthodoxy. In this passage, up until “Nevertheless…” St Basil is simply summarizing the views of St Cyprian and St Basil’s own predecessor St Firmilian. However, in expressing his own opinion, St Basil clearly agrees with the baptismal teaching of Arles (314), Nicea (325), and Laodicea (365). This teaching will be again confirmed in Constantinople (381), Trullo (692), Constantinople (1484) and Moscow (1667). One should note that this teaching of the councils and St Basil on baptism is also explicitly (with historical record) the teaching of both Alexandria and Rome before the time of Ss Cyprian and Firmilian. Both Ss Cyprian and Firmilian also, in their own writings, give hints that the ancient praxis of Alexandria and Rome are also the ancient praxes of Carthage and Caesarea, respectively. The reason for this temporary departure in the middle of the 3rd century is complex. But the opinion of the Church is clear: we don’t rebaptize Trinitarian baptisms (with some caveats).

      On the topic of ordination outside of the Church, Orthodoxy has never systematically dealt with the issue. This is precisely why I chose the phrasing I did in the above article. St Cyprian’s theory of the cessation of orders has never been explicitly upheld or dismissed. However, we have, on many occasions both in history and in our modern age, received people into the Church in their orders without reordination. But this should not be taken as anything other than what it is: ancient, continuous precedent. There are also numerous saints in antiquity which say things differently than St Maximus, such as, for instance, St Jerome. That is not to say either saint is incorrect, only that the topic is complex and resistant to simplistic positions.

      • FYI, St Athanasius was one of the ancient Greek Fathers who received Arians in their orders even when they had been ordained outside of the Church. In fact, his doing this caused a small three-way controversy with Lucifer of Cagliari and St Jerome.

        • Amen. The “Dialogue with a Luciferian” lays it all out. St. Basil accepted Encratites in their orders as well: “I am aware that I have received into episcopal rank Izois and Saturninus from the Encratite following. I am precluded therefore from separating from the Church those who have been united to their company, inasmuch as, through my acceptance of the bishops, I have promulgated a kind of canon of communion with them.” We may disagree on what basis the Saints could do this.

          The Basic Principles of the Russian Church document (1.17) states: “the Orthodox Church does not assess the extent to which grace-filled life has either been preserved intact or distorted in a non-Orthodox confession, considering this to be a mystery of God’s providence and judgment.” I’m satisfied with that.

      • The criteria of what constituted an acceptable baptism has never been simply that it was trinitarian in wording, but that it also be trinitarian in action… and this is not the case in most Protestant Churches, which baptize by a single immersion.

        • On the tradition of “simply … trinitarian in wording” we need look no further than 257AD:

          Inasmuch as you have written thus, setting forth the pious legislation, which we continually read and now have in remembrance—namely that it shall suffice only to lay hands on those who shall have made profession in baptism, whether in pretence or in truth, of God Almighty and of Christ and of the Holy Spirit; but those over whom there has not been invoked the name either of Father or of Son or of the Holy Spirit, these we must baptise, but not rebaptise. This is the sure and immovable teaching and tradition, begun by our Lord after his resurrection from the dead, when he gave his apostles the command : Go ye, make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. This then was preserved and fulfilled by his successors, the blessed apostles, and by all the bishops prior to ourselves who have died in the holy church and shared in its life; and it has lasted down to us, because it is firmer than the whole world. For, he said, heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.

          – Epistle of St Dionysius of Alexandria to Pope St Sixtus II

          The non-rebaptism policy was reaffirmed by Arles (314), Nicea (325), Laodicea (365), Constantinople (381), Trullo (692), Constantinople (1484) and Moscow (1667). These last two synods explicitly affirmed the validity of single pouring which had long been established in Spain since the 4th century (cf Canon 38 of Elvira). The caveat has always been, since Arles, that the Trinitarian wording had to actually mean something very similar to Trinitarian doctrine. Modalists, for instance, are excluded. Arians, however, are not.

          • That the mere Trinitarian words alone are not sufficient is shown by Canon 7 of the Second Ecumenical Council, which states: “As for those heretics who betake themselves to Orthodoxy, and to the lot of the saved, we accept them in accordance with the subjoined sequence and custom; viz.: Arians, and Macedonians, and Sabbatians, and Novatians, those calling themselves Cathari (or “Puritans”), and (those calling themselves) Aristeri “lefthand.”), and the Quartodecimans, otherwise known as Tetradites, and Apollinarians we accept when they offer libelli (i.e., recantations in writing) and anathematize every heresy that does not hold the same beliefs as the catholic and apostolic Church of God, and are sealed first with holy myron (more usually called “chrism” in English) on their forehead and their eyes, and nose, and mouth, and ears; and in sealing them we say: “A seal of a free gift of Holy Spirit.” ***As for Eunomians, however, who are baptized with a single immersion,*** and Montanists, who are here called Phrygians, and the Sabellians, who teach that Father and Son are the same person, and who do some other bad things, and (those belonging to) any other heresies (for there are many heretics here, especially such as come from the country of the Galatians: all of them that want to adhere to Orthodoxy we are wilting to accept as Greeks. Accordingly, on the first day we make them Christians; on the second day, catechumens; then, on the third day, we exorcize them with the act of blowing thrice into their face and into their ears; and thus do we catechize them, and we make them tarry a while in the church and listen to the Scriptures; and then we baptize them.”

            There is only one reason given for why Eunomians were not received by chrismation, as even Arians were… and that is because they baptized by a single immersion.

            • … they used a single immersion because they believed God to be fundamentally simple to the exclusion of the Son and Spirit. Thus, their praxis revealed a different God. This is not the case of 4th century Spain. I admit that there was scholarly question on this topic in the canonists from the 11th century to the 15th, but almost all of them upheld the validity of single pouring, as did Constantinople (1484) and Moscow (1667).

              Besides, we are well off topic now. I will not be responding to this line of thought any further. Let’s please stay on track with the original article.

            • The Arians believed Christ was a creature… and yet, their thrice baptism was accepted. The Eunomians’ baptism was rejected, and all we are told is that it was by a single immersion. I would like to see the texts of the two later councils you mention. I know that in the Hapgood service book there is no provision for recieving baptists by Chrismation, thou there were many baptists living in the Russian Empire, and so it seems unlikely that this was a mere instance of them not having come to mind.

          • Nathaniel,

            I think the issue is much much more complex than Trinitarian wording and not all hold to your interpretation of St. Basil. Your view has patristic precedent because most of the Fathers in the West held to something similar. I hold to St. Nikodemos’ interpretation (the distinction between akribeia and oikonomia), which, according to Fr. G. Dragas, has “been sanctioned by the Ηοly and Sacred Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate”. The majority of the heterodox accepted into the Church on Mt. Athos are baptized, including the eminent Roman Catholic patristic scholars and monastics Frs. Gabriel Bunge and Placide Deseille.

            Archimandrite Deseille states: “In the East, however, thanks especially to the influence of Saint Basil, the ecclesiology and sacramental theology of Saint Cyprian never ceased to be considered as more in conformity with the tradition and spirit of the Church than the doctrine of Saint Augustine. Baptism remained the absolute norm, akribeia [lit. exactness]; although, taking into account the practice of those local churches which recognized the baptism of heretics who did not deny the very fundamentals of the faith (the doctrine of the Trinity), it was accepted that when reasons of “economy” demanded it (that is, out of condescension for human weakness) they could be received by the laying on of hands, or Chrismation… Athos is a country where only monks live, who by virtue of their calling must strive to live out as best they can all the demands of Christian life and the Church’s Tradition. They engage in no pastoral activity, nor do they seek to proselytize, that is, to draw people to Orthodoxy by making things easier for them. It is therefore normal for them to abide by akribeia, though without blaming those who, finding themselves in different circumstances, have recourse to economy. Athos’ vocation is akribeia in all spheres. It is normal for non-Orthodox who become monks there to be received by baptism. Yet the monks of Athos are not men given to the constant condemnation of others, nor do they prefer severity to mercy, nor are they attached to a narrow-minded rigorism. The issue is on an altogether different level.”

            Fr. Dragas succinctly describes this “different level”: “IT IS NOT UNIFORMITY, (emphasis mine) but the freedom, which characterizes the Orthodox position. Such position lays stress οn the act of the Holy Spirit who perfects (teleioi) in us all that the Lord has accomplished for us objectively.” Fr. Dragas believes that the solution to the “problem lies in a patriarchal document from 1875.

            Patriarchal αnd Synodical Letter (26 May 1875)

            “…the baptisιn of the Westerners, was sometimes regarded as valid, because it wαs done in the name of the Holy Trinity and was referred to the proper baptism, and sometimes as invalid, because of the many irregularities of form with which it was clothed with the passage of time by the constantly increasing vain study of the Western Church. Hence, the Most Holy Russian Church, taking its lead from obvious reasons makes use of the Decisions of the newer Synod of Moscow under Patriarch Ioasaph of Moscow, discerning that they are contributive tο the benefιt of the Church in that place, whereas the Churches in the East consider it necessary for the benefit of Orthodoxy to follow the Horos which had been issued under Cyril V.”

            http://www.myriobiblos.gr/texts/english/Dragas_RomanCatholic_4.html

            I won’t make any more comments in this vein either.

  4. Also, I think it is unhelpful to try to tar ROCOR with charges of Ecumenism because it wishes to proceed with caution on the path to jurisdictional unity. Were it not for the modernistic and ecumenistic elements present in some of the larger jurisdictions in North America, there would be a lot less caution on the part of ROCOR.

    • Ecumenism is kind of a slippery word that means many different things. FWIW, though, I don’t think Nathaniel is suggesting that ROCOR is “selling out” (which seems to be the most usual negative use of the word) but rather that the ecclesiology put forward in this letter bears a striking resemblance to that used by the proponents of the “invisible Church” doctrine. Whether that’s “ecumenist” I really don’t know, nor am I sure whether the label is helpful in general.

      • It has no resemblance to an invisible Church, because if it did, we would not care whether someone was a member of a legitimate Church or a vagante jurisdiction… but we do. The problem is, there are issues of modernism and ecumenism that are the reason why ROCOR is moving with caution, and yet if we don’t rush forward, and ask questions later, we have ecumenist kooties? Come on.

        • Father, I think it’s pretty clear that’s not what’s being said. The point is the ecclesiology being put forward, namely, whether the bond of love happens within existing common governance or is a prerequisite for it. That the bond of love is a prerequisite for common governance (if that governance is desired at all) is essentially an ecumenist-style ecclesiology, whereas historic Orthodox ecclesiology always presumes that we’re all under the same governance in the same place, which makes the bond of love possible.

          • ROCOR is not denying that a unified American Church is what we should have, and would like to have. However, one does not have to be willing to accept that immediately, under whatever terms might be dictated by the EP. There are worse options that not having jurisdictional unity, and that would be losing the purity of the Faith. St. Mark of Ephesus said that there can be no compromise on matters of the Faith, and there are matters of the Faith that are at issue.

        • Fr. John,

          Why doesn’t ROCOR (and Moscow) just come and out say why they’re so cautious explicitly?? Perhaps the Church in the U.S. needs to hear it. Do you think Nathaniel’s interpretation of the canons in the post is sound? We ARE in an anomalous situation but a lack of addressing the issue is one thing and canonically justifying it is another.

          • ROCOR has said what it is cautious about, but it has not posted a laundry list of complaints, because it is trying to not be inflammatory. I do not agree with much of Nathaniel’s applications of the canons, because they fail to take into account the anomalous situation we have in America, which came into existence for a number of complex reasons. He makes far too much of the fact this epistle argues that the status quo is not a canonical crime, and responds to it as if the position of the Russian Church is that it should continue forever, when that is not what the letter states.

            He also uses two arguments that are themselves inflammatory: 1. the “You’ve got the Ecumenist kooties” argument, that I have already mentioned, and 2. ROCOR is only taking this position because it is carrying water for the MP. The MP is represented at the Episcopal Assembly by Archbishop Justinian. I have not gotten any sense from anyone in ROCOR that ROCOR is being forced into any position by the MP. However, making these kind of charges is an attempt to open the wounds received during the fight for reconciliation with the Moscow Patriarchate, when those who eventually went into schism claimed that we would just be stooges for the MP and that we were giving up the fight against ecumenism, and we thus now ecumenists ourselves. The relationship between ROCOR and the MP has actually been a very good one, and the MP has been very careful not to interfere with ROCOR or to come off as heavy handed, even in some cases where they might have had a good argument for doing so, had they been so inclined. And ROCOR is very clear on its stance on Modernism and Ecumenism… and as I said, were this only true of all the Orthodox in North America and their respective mother churches, we would have no serious obstacles to a united Church in North America.

            ROCOR simply is not going to be rushed into a quick union, on the EP’s terms, without their concerns being addressed, and all the ramifications being given due consideration. However, ROCOR reaffirmed in this letter that it intends to continue to work with the Episcopal Assembly processes. On the other hand, Antioch has completely withdrawn, in order to Protest the Jerusalem Patriarchate having established a parish in Qatar… and yet there are no lengthy responses that I have seen taking the Antiochians to task for their actions… but leaving the Episcopal Assembly altogether obviously makes coming to some eventual agreement are less likely than taking the position that certain issues need to be dealt with first before an agreement can be reached.

            So rather than expending all this energy giving ROCOR grief for its epistle, I would suggest expending energy dealing with the issues that have been raised, and working patiently to come to an ultimate agreement that it likely to work well, and takes the legitimate concerns of all local Churches into account.

            • Just as a point of fact, Antioch has not “completely withdrawn” from the Assemblies but rather suspended participation in them. Here’s the relevant bit: “The Synod also decided to suspend the Church of Antioch’s participation in all the Assemblies of Canonical Orthodox Bishops abroad (in the Diaspora) until the removal of the violation of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem.”

            • I think taking both Fr. John and Fr. Andrew’s comments together would yield a better picture for, while the participation is suspended, it is a total not a partial suspension (where there would still be a limited involvement with the assembly). So, while I hope this temporary withdrawal is short lived, I don’t think Fr. John is wrong to put it as he did.

    • Thank you Fr. I greatly appreciate your thoughts, on this point specifically. Let me say that I’m not even Orthodox but am an inquirer of the Church. One of the things that most attracts me to The Church is the fact that it hasn’t changed to accept modern day, Western ideas about church. From my experience, both the Roman church and virtually every current day Protestant church are completely beholden to modern day thought. I’m conflicted by the fact that while I want myself and everyone else I know to enter The Church, I also greatly fear what tons of American converts would do to The Church. Hence the reason I appreciate your comments about ROCOR proceeding with caution to avoid the modernistic and ecumenistic elements that (you believe) are already creeping into other Orthodox jurisdictions.

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  6. I’m so glad I found this post, and I’m excited about the priests who are commenting. Fr. Andrew’s Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy was a very difficult read for me as a Catholic investigating Orthodoxy, because it was the first time I was forced to take a hard look at whether history was on Catholicism’s side. Now Orthodox, I attend Fr. John’s parish whenever I visit family in Houston.

    When I first read this letter, I was troubled by what seemed to be a focus on preserving ethnic heritage and diversity. I don’t think administrative unity would cause a loss of ethnic identity – after all, weren’t there a variety of Catholic immigrant parishes under the same diocese back when immigration from traditionally Catholic countries was more frequent? I’m also unsure of the historical examples provided in the letter, but I’m not sure I know enough to get a good handle on what they mean for us now, or how different the circumstances need to be before they are considered “too different” to apply.

    I do think it’s very important that the divergent practices that the letter mentions as canonical anomalies be addressed, and I can see why bishops would be hesitant about any administrative restructuring before these differences have been resolved. For the practices mentioned (“divergent practices on the conducting of inter-faith marriages; the practices of reception into the Church; divergent approaches to fasting; issues of confession and preparation for Holy Communion; the release and reception of clergy; etc.”), don’t parishes follow whatever is directed by their bishop? If there was a restructuring before these issues were resolved, would bishops continue to follow the practices of the jurisdiction they hail from, or would they pick from the variety of “acceptable” choices? Or would they leave it to the parishes? Whatever happens, wouldn’t this scenario be a little scary for everyone?

    If all of these divergent practices were addressed, do you think the ROCOR bishops would then be open to administrative restructuring? Or has it always been the case that the divergent practices would be addressed first, or simultaneously, with the restructuring? I’m not entirely sure how the goals of the Assembly of Bishops are supposed to be met, or what order there may be to it all.

  7. The reservations by ROCOR and the Bulgarians about the state of Orthodoxy in this country and the dangers of a rush toward “collapsing together” the various jurisdictions may be well-founded (although I think there are some old-world politics hiding there too), but their reliance on muddled ecclesiology is not. Thank you, Nathaniel, for a sound rebuttal of the arguments advanced. It is clear that we have been operating under extreme oikonomia in North America and the rest of the “diaspora” for the past century. Hence nobody should be put on trial, either for heresy or disciplinary laxity, but neither should the situation be normalized. I noticed that the ROCOR document also seems to imply a Russian view of the origins of Orthodoxy in the Americas — i.e. everything since 1917 is a decline from a pristine pan-Orthodox Russian Archdiocese. Recent historical work has severely challenged that view. This is another elephant in the room that will need to be addressed at some point or another. Probably the best way to address it will be to agree to disagree on the meaning of the historical precedents, and come to a theological (i.e. ecclesiological) consensus regarding the way to go forward. But given the above debate, that will take time and patience — hopefully that will allow Orthodoxy in America enough time to mature so that it can stand as an administrative unity.

    • I don’t believe the healing of this situation requires time (as in decades), but rather will. This is the only thing lacking. Every year that goes by we become more accustomed to our situation and invent creative reasons to justify it. There is no justification.

      • Nathaniel,

        You’re exactly right. To become so accustomed so as to say that this situation is normal and “the ancient Tradition of the Fathers” is just too much.

  8. Regarding the OCA’s situation, you’ve obviously never heard me talk after a few beers. :) Regardless of the dire seriousness of the OCA’s situation, the matter clearly falls in the laxity category.

    The recent Antiochian restructuring is an interesting one. I read it to be a canonical loophole. That is while it may be a violation of the spirit of the law, especially as relates to the constant concern of the canons for maintaining the dignity of the clergy, it doesn’t really violate any canons that I can see. The bishops were not demoted from their order (they still retain apostolic succession and are capable of ordaining) but from their rank (diocesan => chorepiscopoi).

    The question of titular bishops is a complex one, as is the notion of auxiliary bishops. Whole books have been written on the topic. Rome has a similar oddity with titular basilicas. Both of these oddities serve to help manage the organization and support of an important apostolic see that is demographic decline. On this basis I am, at least, somewhat sympathetic. These seem like potentially justified oddities to me.

  9. Our city has one Greek Orthodox Church and one Antiochian Orthodox Mission. I have visited the Antiochian Orthodox Mission in our city several times and have immersed myself in things Orthodox. It has been a slow process, but I have a wife that I am nurturing . . . as I want our family to enter into Orthodoxy together. This post and the comments following have been most depressing.

    There is a fog that seems to be lifting . . . and what I am seeing is an Orthodoxy that is not a unified Church. I understand the history and unique problems for the dispora. Regardless, the conduct of various Orthodox Churches between one another resembles the conduct of Protestant churches.

    So if we become Antiochian Orthodox . . . which Orthodox will look on me as suspect? If my wife and I decide to move so we can be near an OCA Church . . . which Orthodox will look on me as suspect?

    I was hoping that our family could enter into Orthodoxy and then ask the question, “What does the Orthodox Church believe?” Whatever the answer . . . that is what we will believe, and then we will wear those robes with confidence. But apparently, the answer will depend on which corner Orthodox Church doors we happen to walk through.

    It seems I now have to concern myself with the problems of Modernism and Ecumenism and whether or not the Church is administering a sacrament correctly and I don’t know what else. So now I have to educate myself to make an informed decision on which direction in Orthodoxy our family should take? That means “choice” is involved. Choice isn’t supposed to be part of the equation . . . just submission and obedience to one faith. It appears there isn’t one faith. I’m befuddled.

    • My primary response to this is to suggest reading this article from O&H contributor Richard Barrett: “Becoming Orthodox in Spite of the Internet.”

      I’ll also say this, though: It’s notable that those who speak about “ecumenism” and “modernism” in accusatory tones almost never actually come out and define the terms. It’s also notable that most Orthodox have never heard of those things and wouldn’t know what they are. It’s also further worth noting that the Internet makes mountains out of molehills (see the article above).

      The problems addressed in this post and the subsequent comments actually have relatively little to do with the everyday life of almost every Orthodox Christian alive. Do controversies come up? Yes, certainly, and this site is (among other things) about addressing some of them, especially when there is a doctrinal issue at hand. But that does not mean that there are a bunch of different versions of Orthodoxy out there where everyone believes different things. Let’s face it—the kind of stuff most people talk about on the Internet with regard to Orthodoxy is pretty ancillary to the actual Orthodox spiritual life, including much of what’s on this site. (In our defense, of course, many of these things have the potential to affect real spiritual life, but they are mostly on the borders. Part of our purpose for this site is to help keep them there.)

      My best piece of advice for someone in your predicament is to engage Orthodoxy locally, without paying attention to what draws controversy on the Internet. After all, locally is where you live your spiritual life.

        • Right, I’ve seen those. But where are the actual definitions? “Ecumenism is the teaching that…” and “Modernism is the teaching that…” To be frank, Father, most of what I see about these things out there is insinuation and not actual engagement with direct statements.

          As an example from the first link: “Briefly, modern ecumenism is both a movement and an ecclesiological heresy. It poses a grave threat to the very ‘pillar and foundation of the Truth’ (1 Timothy 3:15) itself—the Church.” So we have these dire warnings, but the “it” is never actually defined anywhere on that page. That first sentence has a wonderful opportunity to define things succinctly, since it begins with “Briefly,” but then it doesn’t actually do it. You’d think an “Introduction” to “Ecumenism Awareness” would actually introduce us to the topic! It’s as though everyone is supposed to know what these things are and find them frightening and terrible, but no one is going to come out and actually say it.

          Anyway, this is perhaps worthy of a separate post, as it is only obliquely relevant to this one. Would you be interested in writing a post for O&H defining “ecumenism” and “modernism” and giving a refutation to them, including specific instances where these doctrines are being taught?

          Update: And, just to be clear, I’m not inviting a post on how certain clergy are sinners or violators of the canons, etc. I’m interested in doctrinal teachings.

          • I would be willing to write such an article. Ecumenism, in its most blatant form is the teach that non-Orthodox Churches are nevertheless part of the one true Church. You have many who say things that suggest this is what they believe, more often then not they stop short of saying it unequivocally. For example, the EP has on many occasions referred to the Roman Catholic Church as a “Sister Church”, stood in his Mantia, while the Pope celebrated the Mass, and had his deacon read the Gospel, fully vested in that mass. While the phrase “sister church” is capable of a broader interpretation, it has a specific meaning in Orthodoxy. Also, it is explicitly contrary to the canons to pray or serve with either heretics or schismatics, and the Roman Catholics are both.

            And Modernism is the belief that our modern approach and way of thinking is superior to that of ages past, and so, for example, while St. Paul may have “ignorantly” thought homosexuality is a sin, a modernist would argue that we know better now, and so the Church needs to change with the times. Numerous other examples could be cited.

            You can see this on display in this video, which though made by a Greek Old Calendarist group, shows video that accurately depicts Modernism and Ecumenism in action: http://www.synodinresistance.org/Publications_en/Video/Videos%20On%20Ecumenism/E4d1005Ortho1995VideoPart3Tainia1-256Kbs.wmv

            • My point is that ecumenism is wrong, but it is only a symptom of a deeper theological problem: namely, the reordering of the ecclesiastical ordo. The reason ecumenism teaches that “non-Orthodox Churches are nevertheless part of the one true Church” is precisely because the bond of love is seen as not requiring any institutional unity. The true teaching is that our institutional unity is a necessary prerequisite for the bond of love to flower. This is precisely why St Cyprian broke communion with Novationists, not the other way around.

            • St. Cyprian broke communion with the Novationists because the Novationists went into schism with the Church. It was not a question of more than one local Church establishing Church in a new region, which had no established ecclesiastical authority.

              And by the way, the Church of Japan is a Church that has an established ecclesiastical boundary, and a functioning hierarchy. Nevertheless, the Ecumenical Patriarchate was established a parallel Japanese exarchate: http://www.patriarchate.org/pastoralhealthcare/metropolises-programs/metropolises/asia
              So if you want an example of what definitely does violate the canons of the Church, there you have it.

            • St. Cyprian broke communion because a new bishop (Novatian) was elected where there already was a bishop. This happens every few years in the US.

              Why are you continually attempting tu quoque argumentation? I agree that the OCA and EP are also grossly in violation. This too should be fixed quickly. My article is not about my church vs yours, but about what is good and right and true. If the OCA had written the epistle, I would have challenged it exactly the same way.

              The far more insidious side of your argument is the implication that if no one can follow the law than the law isn’t worth following. This style of argumentation is de rigueur among those arguing for all sorts of sexual perversity. Is this really the style of argument you desire to use?

            • It is not the tu quoque fallacy, when the argument is this does not apply in this situation, but here is where it does. I did not say that the canons could not be followed, I said that the canons do not spell out how to handle the situation in America. That is not at all analogous to questions of sexual sins, clearly defined to be such by both Scripture, Tradition, and the Canons.

              The canons do directly address the situation in Japan.

              Novatian set up a rival altar, in Rome, which was certainly an established Church, with established boundaries, and doing that is the classic definition of a schismatic. When he refused to repent, he was excommunicated for it.

              As much as you try to stretch the labels of ecumenism, modernism, and sexual perversity to apply to the jurisdictional situation in America, none of these are remotely appropriate. However, all of those issues do relate to the question of a hurried and ill-considered fix to the jurisdictional situation in America.

              But aside from all that, there is no more reason that the Russian Church should have the solution dictated by the EP, than there is that the Russian Church dictate the solution to everyone else. We will have a solution when the reasonable concerns of all the local Churches have been addressed, not before, and it is no violation of the canons for a local Church to stand its ground and demand that their reasonable concerns be addressed first.

          • If anyone wants to know what modernism and (pseudo)ecumenism are about then they should read “The Orthodox Church and Ecumenism” by St. Justin Popovich and the Sorrowful Epistles of Metropolitan Philaret (ROCOR). Met. Philaret briefly defines modernism:

            “Modernism consists in that bringing-down, that re-aligning of the life of the Church according to the principles of current life and human weaknesses… Modernism places that compliance with the weaknesses of human nature above the moral and even doctrinal requirements of the Church. In that measure that the world is abandoning Christian principles, modernism debases the level of religious life more and more. Within the Western confessions we see that there has come about an abolition of fasting, a radical shortening and vulgarization of religious services, and, finally, full spiritual devastation, even to the point of exhibiting an indulgent and permissive attitude toward unnatural vices of which St. Paul said it was shameful even to speak.” (Second Sorrowful Epistle)

            Hieromonk Seraphim Rose defines the heretical kind of ecumenism: “Ecumenism” is a heresy only if it actually involves the denial that Orthodoxy is the true Church of Christ. A few of the Orthodox leaders of the ecumenical movement have gone this far; but most Orthodox participants in the ecumenical movement have not said this much… (In Defense of Fr. Dimitry Dudko)

            Everyone knows these forces are at work in the Church, and they always have been. Just look at the pages of the Old and New Testaments and read church history. It saddens me when people deny the reality of these “pan-heresies” (St. Justin Popovich) and act like you’re an Old Calendarist if you speak and guard yourself against them. It also saddens me that these issues are rarely addressed by traditional hierarchs in the Church although there are a few exceptions.

            • While I agree with St Justin Popovich, he is not attempting in this passage to describe the *cause* of ecumenism. He is merely describing ecumenism itself. What I am trying to do is to point out the core theological error that *causes* ecumenism. This core theological error can cause many other symptoms as well. These include: being okay with US jurisdictionalism, church shopping, laxity of discipline, etc. All of these are symptoms of the core error.

              But in treating a spiritual disease, we must not seek to treat symptoms alone, but go to the very root of the problem for healing. The root of the problem is an incorrect theological ordo. That is what I’m trying to address.

              I’m *not* trying to pick on ROCOR, which I think does no worse than anyone else, including my own church (OCA). ROCOR is actually better at maintaining the spirit of most canons. The focus on ROCOR in the above article has nothing to do with pointing fingers or disliking ROCOR. It entirely has to do with ROCOR is the only one that attempted to theologically define the situation. They got it wrong. Most jurisdictions get it wrong! But ROCOR is the only one who has defined it publicly.

            • Nathaniel,

              I agree with you and I also understand where you’re coming from better. Fr. Seraphim also said something similar:

              The whole question of ecumenism and apostasy cannot be placed simply on the canonical-dogmatic-formal level; it must be viewed first spiritually. Fr. Dimitry also speaks forcefully against letting a purely formal approach to the canons bind us spiritually and actually strangle church life, thus allowing Protestants to take over with their fresher approach. (Letters, July 29/Aug. 11, 1976)

              In my previous comment, however, I only quoted brief definitions by Met. Philaret and Fr. Seraphim not St. Justin. People who are interested in his views on (pseudo) ecumenism should begin by reading his book. Here is a good article as well:

              http://www.academia.edu/2619413/_St._Nikolai_Velimirovic_and_St._Justin_Popovic_on_Ecumenism_

    • David, unless you have in mind some facts that you haven’t shared, aren’t you exaggerating the problems a bit? Are there really lots of Orthodox around who consider other Orthodox “suspect”?

      • Thankfully, I don’t have any specific facts in mind. However, when I read that there are Orthodox Churches that will not agree to having all Orthodox within a geographical area to submit to one bishop for whatever reason . . . what I hear although the words are not actually spoken . . . is that there is something less than communion taking the place of communion . . . that division has placed a foothold in the body.

        Words are important. So are actions. And you know which carry the most weight. For the Orthodox to “say” that they are unified under one faith is not the same as “being” unified under one faith. When one or more churches say to each other that there are problems that need to be worked out before we can agree to be under one bishop . . . what they have actually said is that there are problems that need to be worked out before we can be One. When there is more than One . . . there is division. And when there is division . . . what follows is scepticism from one group about the faith of another. It naturally follows. The scepticism may not manifest itself in the laity at first. But in time, those who follow their bishops will adopt their stances. And we want the laity to follow their bishops . . . right?

        I come from a strand of believers who have experienced division after divison. So I’m preconditioned to see the signs of unhealthy relationships brewing.

        • The situation we’re in has a long history with lots of complications, but its primary cause is the multi-vectored immigration that brought Orthodoxy to the US (and some other places in the world). We are indeed in the process of fixing this problem. This post from Nathaniel McCallum is a criticism of one group of bishops’ opinion about the problem. This is not a problem everywhere in the world, however, and Orthodoxy in America only represents at most about 0.4% of the world’s Orthodox population. So even though it is a problem for us, it is a fairly small issue, generally speaking. And for most Orthodox at the parish level, they may not even be aware that there is a problem at all, because their own parish is where they live their spiritual lives.

          Update: It should also be noted that the fact that we see this as a problem at all (or even that a few see problems with “ecumenism” and “modernism”) really is an indication that we do recognize each other as Orthodox. If we didn’t recognize that we had the same faith, we wouldn’t even be talking about this.

          • Father Andrew, bless!

            A few quick questions & points.

            You wrote: “This is not a problem everywhere in the world, however, and Orthodoxy in America only represents at most about 0.4% of the world’s Orthodox population. So even though it is a problem for us, it is a fairly small issue, generally speaking.”

            Where did you get your statistic that US Orthodox comprise 0.4% of the world’s Orthodox population? I ask because it there is a website or relatively current paper I would be interested in reading it myself since the demographics are quite interesting. I wonder what percentage of the Orthodox the global so-called diaspora comprises?

            While I agree that this issue of overlapping “jurisdictions” only presents an immediate problem in the so-called diaspora this is simply because the boundaries of Local Churches, i.e., bishoprics, are well-established in the autocephalous Churches of the historically Orthodox regions of the world. However, I would hasten to point out that the confusion is not limited to the so-called diaspora, as evidenced by the fact that the mother Churches of all these “jurisdictions” are clearly NOT of the same mind on how to define or solve this problem – or even if there is a problem that needs to be solved according to this ROCOR epistle. Consequently, it seems self-evident that this is, indeed, a relatively big problem for world-wide Orthodoxy. Do you disagree?

        • “I come from a strand of believers who have experienced division after divison. So I’m preconditioned to see the signs of unhealthy relationships brewing.”

          Orthodoxy has never had institutional unity. It’s had institutional unity in the one geographical area, but not overall. At the boundaries there always were believers living within a few km of each other under different bishops, and even different patriarchs.

          I think it’s right to be concerned, but I don’t think the problem is the same as the divisions in Protestantism. The divisions are over ethnicity and liturgical language, not theology.

          • Xpusostomos, I respectfully disagree. I would humbly submit that it is about theology. Its about the doctrine of the church, i.e., ecclesiology.

            The question is very simple. What is the Church?

            According to the fathers, and the entire tradition for that matter, the answer is the bishopric, which is to say all the faithful in a particular geographic area along with the deacons & priests surrounding their bishop who presides in the place of Christ at the eucharistic celebration. This is the Church in its fullness or catholicity.

            While it is also true that the clustering of neighboring local churches (i.e., bishoprics) into discrete groups comprising autocephalous churches, or all the local churches considered together as the universal church are equally the church, the essential definition of the church is the bishopric. It is the one, holy, catholic & apostolic church that we refer to in the creed.

            When the actions & the words of some / most / ? all jurisdictions in the “diaspora” betray this doctrine then it become a theological problem rather than merely “church politics”. Innumerable cases of mere church politics could be cited that do not betray our Orthodox ecclesiology, but to be sure, there are certainly aberrations taking place that need to be recognized, acknowledged & addressed.

            Every age has its heresy, and many have posited that ours is not Christology, Pneumotology, etc., but ecclesiology. I have to agree.

            It needs to be put to rest by a Pan-Orthodox synod, because until then good people searching for The Church, such as your friend, David Brent, who shared his depression & confusion over this issue above will be misled. The problem is that if one goes to Rome rather than Orthodoxy because its ecclesiology is so darn tidy then the authentic spirituality that leads one to a noetic encounter with God is virtually absent, and without that what is the purpose of Christianity or the Church?

            Years ago I never understood why the prayers for the bishops & the Church were in our prayer books since Christ had promised us that the gates of death would not overpower the Church. Now it clear to me. This is matter that we should all pray about because bloviating on blogs won’t fix it.

            Lord have mercy!

            • Timmy, I do agree with you that there is a theological problem involved here. My point was that this “division” in the church is not a wide ranging theological problem in the way that Protestant divisions are. The mere division is Orthodoxy’s problem. The division isn’t caused by other theological problems.

              I would say though that a certain amount of the problem is abstract. What I mean is that in the beginning, tiny (by today’s standards) cities had their own bishop. Now we have for example, one ROCOR bishop over like a quarter of the world. In reality, a lot of that real estate has no Orthodox believers, and where there are believers you could argue that his territory is a subset of a mega city. Maybe if they’d had such mega cities in the first millennium they too would have multiple bishops. In the greater metropolitan area of a mega city, where does the city end and the next city begin? A certain amount of it is cartography.

              One other thing, I don’t think Rome is any better here. They have eastern rite churches which as far as I know have parallel eastern rite bishoprics. I’m not an expert on how that all works out, but every time I research it, I don’t see Rome is doing so much better here. They have a pope, that’s about all you can say.

            • Ancient Rome (before the fall of Rome) was definitely a “mega city.” But it was comprised of multiple smaller cities (much like NYC’s boroughs). Each of the smaller cities had their own bishop. Just one, of the many, many examples of this is St Hippolytus *of Portus*, who was the bishop of the city of Portus. Hence, something like “bishop of Queens” or even “Bishop of Astoria” has clear historical precedent.

  10. Xpusostomos:
    I’m not sure I can appreciate your distinction between “wide ranging” & “other” theological problems or “mere” divisions contrasted with plain old theological problems & divisions.

    I would say that the theology of ecclesiology is a wide ranging problem in the Church today, and that this theology is fundamental in the sense that it is credal, i.e., we confess faith in the Church at every liturgy.

    Given the fact that our Orthodox “jurisdictions” (I once heard Jaroslav Pelikan say at a talk that he wasn’t eve aware of the existence of a word in either Greek or Russian for “jurisdiction”) in the so-called diaspora can’t even agree on basic ecclesiology & this has subsequently resulted in some very real divisions, which are now being defended, that the matter is hardly “abstract” any more.

    Everyone seems to be hung up on labeling this a “canonical” problem or a matter of “church politics”, but in reality it is theological.

    After all, the canons are simply expressions of the Church’s immutable dogmas that are appropriate for the temporal conditions of any given historical epoch that she finds herself in. Thus I would argue that we can’t reduct the matter to “canonical infractions” per se, as if it were simply a legalistic problem. Our practices are organically connected to & manifest our beliefs, or put another way “actions speak louder than words”.

    I wasn’t implying that Rome’s ecclesiology is completely congruent with their theology, but simply much less messy than ours.

    Nathaniel:
    Dividing large cities into multiple bishoprics in order to meet the pastoral needs of the flocks does not violate the theology of ecclesiology because each bishop is still overseeing his own Church, and the Churches are still territorial & not overlapping.

  11. It seems to me that perhaps we are arguing about the wrong problem. Maybe the real problem is a kind of creeping papalism where bishops, especially high ranking ones, love to have rule over huge amounts of real estate. So for example, ROCOR has one bishop over eastern America AND Australia, and Indonesia, and I think a lot of other places too. With such a land grab it’s inevitable that jurisdictions overlap.

    If we went back to the 1st millennium model of one bishop for a church, or at least the reasonable sized ones, then we wouldn’t have to have bishops sitting around arguing over maps. I highly doubt the bishop of Portus and the bishop of Rome sat down to draw a dividing line. The current situation just plain smells uncanonical when you have a Greek bishop of Australia and a Russian bishop of Australia. But if you had a Russian bishop of suburb A in Sydney and a Greek bishop of suburb B in Sydney, then hmm, it doesn’t seem so bad.

    Some people will say that these churches are too small for their own bishop. Maybe sometimes they are, but I’m sure 1st century churches weren’t that big either.

    The trouble is, bishops don’t like to give up prestige of having large numbers of churches.

    • Brother, somehow we’ve ended up talking past each other, but I agree with your point that we would be better off with a larger number of dioceses that are geographically smaller. Isn’t this what would happen if we eliminated the overlapping dioceses in the so-called diaspora & restructured them so that they were discrete & side by side?

      To your creeping papalism comment, my thoughts go toward a particular Orthodox archdiocese in North America. I can’t seem to figure out how a situation (in which one ruling bishop in an ecclesiastical province has all the episcopal authority & the diocesan bishops are considered auxiliaries) is theologically or canonically sound. If you or anyone else on this thread can help me understand this I’d love to have my perceptions corrected because it would certainly assuage the angst it generates inside me.

  12. Issues dealing with modernism, ecumenism, and the proper practice of sacraments that could keep an Orthodox Church from placing itself under the bishop of another Orthodox Church are what concerns me.

    Modernism for example
    Has the acceptance of same sex marriage or same sex relationships gained a foothold in any of the OCA or Antiochian parishes or any of the other Orthodox Church parishes in America even though the official position of their Orthodox Jurisdiction has not endorsed it publicly? If a church in any city or any church leader has leaned this way and has not been corrected by its bishop . . . that is a sign of where that Jurisdiction is headed. The One Apostolic Faith cannot entertain both acceptance and unacceptance. Has there been any behavior in this matter by one of the Orthodox Jurisdictions that would give another Orthodox Jurisdiction a reason to question their faith? Does ROCOR have a concern about how one of the other Churches is handling this matter? If so, this is definitely a matter of doctrine and should be a matter of concern for all. This is one of those problems that, should it exist, will keep Orthodoxy from achieving a state of being One and is a sign that doctrinal division is the reality in America, that Tradition has been compromised.

    Ecumenism for example
    Have any of the Orthodox Churches in America participated with The Ecumenical Movement in the goal of union of the various “Churches”? Has there been any loosening of Tradition in an attempt to gain reconciliation with non-Orthodox? Put another way, although one Jurisdiction may say that it has not lessened Tradition, would all other Jurisdictions agree? Does ROCOR or any other Jurisdiction have any reason to have doubts about another Jurisdiction in this matter? If so, then potentially, there is a doctrinal issue. And however it is perceived, real or not, it will be a barrier to the Orthodox achieving a state of One and may be a sign that doctrinal division is already the reality . . . that Tradition has been compromised.

    Sacraments for example
    We have been asked not to discuss baptism, and so I won’t. I perceive we already know what the issues are. You know the routine. Has Tradition already been compromised? Is division already a reality?

    These are the kinds of things that concern me as I stand on the brink of seeking to enter into Orthodoxy. This is why I said in my first comment that I’m now feeling the need to “educate myself to make an informed decision on which direction in Orthodoxy our family should take.” I’m perceiving that the matters that are hindering the Orthodox from being “One” in America are a sign of deeper problems with doctrine in one or more Jurisdictions.

    I want to stand with Tradition. Where should I stand?

    • David,

      I can understand your concerns, and I can also appreciate how stumbling onto an essay like this followed up with very candid comments like this could easily be disheartening to someone exploring Orthodoxy as authentic Christianity. You think to yourself: “Yes! I’ve finally found THE original Church of Christ which has preserved the true beliefs & practices. (Naturally followed by a BIG sigh of relief.)”. Then you stumble into an Orthodox “fight-club”, so to speak : )

      At the same time, I can assure you that what you’ve been observing here is the friendly back-and-forth of grounded Orthodox Christians who are being VERY self-critical, with constructive rather than a destructive or despondent intentions, of course.

      To answer your question about who you should stand with (i.e., what “jurisdiction” to affiliate with) in order to be firmly grounded in Holy Tradition – I would say that it doesn’t matter. Every “jurisdiction” has its strengths & weakness, but these are often stereotypes or caricatures that have some basis in truth yet are often quite exaggerated. More importantly, very parish community differs to a certain extent. The most important thing is to find a good priest who celebrates a lot of liturgical services on a regular basis (go to them), who is ideally pastoring a vibrant parish community. The personal relationships are most critical. You can’t really absorb Orthodoxy from reading books and/or blogs, but I’m sure you know this.

      I’m basically saying that despite variations from jurisdiction to jurisdiction or parish to parish Orthodoxy is Orthodoxy because in truth it is all the same. Even lousy parishes with disengaged priests & clueless parishoners still have what we need for our spiritual welfare (& warfare), but it may not be as “emotionally satisfying” if that’s the case. God provides.

      Orthodoxy is shared by every jurisdiction and parish, but there certainly can be (indeed, will be) people who are more or less grounded in this Orthodoxy. Some people are amazing & you’ll wonder if they’re living saints. Others that you will meet basically have a secular modernist / postmodernist or even Protestant / Catholic mindset. This is mostly among the laity, but you can find the same thing with priests, albeit less often & typically to a lesser extent. On top of all this people have their own idiosyncrases. This is to be expected…the wheat & the tares, as Christ told us. Everybody in the Church is working out his or her salvation & we don’t know who’s who, nor is it our place to judge. We focus on our own spiritual lives. The fullness of Christ & His Holy Mysteries is there, and that is what we need in order to encounter Christ & be united with Him.

      Even though the Orthodox Church is the original & authentic Church its members are far from perfect. They never have been & never will be, and I think that you would agree that even a cursory reading of Church history can confirm this. Name a time when the Church hasn’t been beset with laxity, legalism, hypocrisy, heresy & schism? Why would we expect today to be any different?

      It is my belief that the crisis the Church is currently embroiled in is the crisis of ecclesiology itself, which is to say the beliefs & practices related to the nature of the Church herself rather than trinitarian or soteriological theology or moral teachings, which have already been challenged & defined. Also, I’m not referring to confusion about the Church’s mission & purpose, which is quite clear, but rather to a fundamental self-understanding, definition & practice of being the Church. The discordant beliefs & practices on this matter could very well represent heresy & it could potentially lead to schism. As St. Paul said in his 1st letter to the Corinthians: “First of all, when you come together as a Church, I hear that there are schisms among you, and in part I believe it. For there must also be heresies among you, so that those who are approved may have become evident among you.”

      If it comes down to schism, God forbid, then how do you know who’s right & who’s wrong? I’d say look at the big picture. Nathaniel nailed it when he commented above that if the current hoopla is ultimately categorized as disciplinary laxity then diocesan realignment should occur immediately (one church, i.e., bishopric, comprising ALL the faithful of a defined geographic area headed by one bishop), but if its identified as heresy then communion should be broken. The answer lies in who breaks communion & why? If the reasons are not clearly rooted in all the multifaceted richness of Holy Tradition then it will be self-evident for anyone with eyes to see & ears to hear.

      Alas, the gates of hell / hades have not yet prevailed against Christ’s Church, nor will they ever, according to Christ’s promise. Again, as Christ promised, the Holy Spirit will guide us into all truth (always has & always will), but that doesn’t mean that its a quick, easy or simple process (key word being process). Historically there were many heresies that ravaged the Church for long periods of time before they were formally condemned & then it typically required even more time to pass before they were quelled, only for another wave to buffet the Ark.

      My friend, the Ark can be cramped & smelly at times, but what hope do we have outside of Her. Come on in.

      ~Timmy

    • David,

      As Timmy points out, the working out of salvation, even within the Orthodox Church (maybe especially in an Orthodox church, but for different reasons than in Reformed or Evangelicalism), can be a messy business. The bottom line for me as a convert is to find the healthiest parish I can that is workable for me (that I can attend regularly) that is in a canonical jurisdiction. It could be OCA, AOC, ROCOR or GOA–all are canonical. The majority of Priests and parishes will be attempting in good faith to practice the faith as received. There are some unhealthy parishes (and unhealthy elements in every parish), and you will need to figure out with a Priest you trust which parishes (if you have choices) are going to be best for you and your family. I started out in one parish and had to move to another for my own and my family’s sake. Fortunately, I’m in an area where I did not have only one option.

      Where we have concerns about some of the realities with Orthodoxy in America (or elsewhere) “on the ground”, we should voice these to our Priests and our Bishops and listen carefully to their perspectives. Only the Holy Spirit knows when it is time to cut off a dead branch, and when that time comes, it is not our, but rather the Bishops’, responsibility to take those decisions following the Holy Spirit’s lead. That this often doesn’t happen as quickly as we sometimes think it should is likely God’s mercy. He alone sees the end from the beginning.

  13. While I.m not the smartest guy in the room am I missing something? I can go serve and recieve communion in any Orthodox Church here in the Chicago area as a priest. Our Bishops celebrate together the same faith. As far as I am concerend we have unity in Christ and recieved the same body and blood of Christ. Maybe simplistic or naive I’m not sure which, but Orthodox have unity, and it happens everytime we stand at the altar and change the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ and we partake of the one time sacrifice in the eternal Kingdom. As William Wallace said to the Nobles…you are so busy arguing over the scraps from Longshanks table that you are all missing your God-given right! In this case it is living out the Orthodox faith in piety, humility and love. We live in a fallen world with fallen people. It is evidenced in the early dayds from the council of Jerusalem and the need to settle disputes. And I think earthly disputes will forever remain in the church until Christ returns. I think if if we all strive to BE Orthodox in the fullness of the faith that has been passed on then people will want to come to Orthodoxy, and our unity will be a sign of strength instead of chaos and disunity. I agree with so much that has been said here and think Fr. John and Fr. Andrew share more than they disagree. You are all godly and brilliant men, but in my humble opinion we have a unity already that is being overlooked or downplayed. Love you all brothers!

  14. If you are Orthodox, you really should listen to this talk given by Fr. Josiah Trenham of St. Andrew’s Orthodox Church in Riverside, CA. This is one of the best and well presented talks I have heard on the topic of Orthodox unity. Here is a particularly poignant excerpt:

    “I had a family once that was becoming Orthodox in my parish, very sincere, and after an extensive period of catechism they decided not to join the church. I asked them why and these were the words that came from the husband’s mouth: ‘I simply find it hard to believe that you are the one holy, catholic, and apostolic church and so divided.’ What could I say? I said nothing, because I understand the temptation, and if you think that that family’s nuts, then let me read something from 1970. This is a statement of SCOBA’s ad hoc commission on unity, reporting in their minutes of the eleventh meeting of SCOBA in 1970, presented by such lights as Fathers Alexander Schliemann and John Myendorf who were on the committee and wrote this. Listen to what they say, quote:

    ‘The Orthodox Church cannot claim to be the true holy, catholic, and apostolic church if she is actually divided into a plurality of mutually independent competing and overlapping jurisdictions. This division has long ago ceased to be justified, by the peculiarities of Orthodox immigration in America, and has become an open scandal to the faithful, a source of demoralization and dissatisfaction in the laity, and an obstacle to any effort or progress.’

    That family made an understandable judgment, and that is just one example of many, where we are imperiling people’s souls, and the missionary witness of the church by tolerating unorthodox ecclesiology.”

    Link to the talk:
    http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/thearena/orthodox_unity

    • I understand both sides of rushing to Orthodoxy unity and not rushing. When I read Archbhishop Kyrill’s letter the first time, I could read betwen the lines and was very happy that his intention was to protect people from a watered down Orthodoxy that might happen if we rushed. However, sometimes I also feel so sad we are not unified similar to the family above you mentioned. As a convert of a few years at an OCA parish, and previously at an Antiochian parish, I think the ethnic issues are pretty minor compared to the issues Father John Whiteford had the courage to mention in his blog. Maybe we need to pursue unity aggressively for the edification of the faithful while at the same time boldly declaring the Truth, and calling out what needs to be called out, without fear, also for the edifiication of the faithful….From a simple stay at home mom who from time to time searches the internet looking for edification when I should probably be doing something more constructive.

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