Submitting to the Church

This post is a argument about rather then statement of the Tradition of the Orthodox Church.

What is meant when we say that that Orthodox Christians submit to the teaching of the Church? Unlike the Roman Catholics there is no central magisterium to which one can turn to find the teaching of the Church and to which to submit oneself. On this ground it would seem that speaking of submitting to the teaching of the Church is rather an import from a Roman Catholic model of the Church. The Orthodox Christian has no such authority to which to submit himself. He cannot find a normative Church voice in any particular one of the hierarchy in and of themselves. Any particular hierarch, or synod of hierarchs, is potentially fallible and cannot be said to infallibly present the teaching of the Church. Moreover what is meant by the teaching of the Church? This implies a body that teaches of itself, such again as the Roman Catholic idea of the Church headed by the Pope that operates in a manner autonomously on earth. The Orthodox Churches though have no single voice which speaks for the Church, which also cannot be conceived as separated from the Head, Christ, so the teachings of the Church are properly the teachings of Christ, her Head. The Church does not provide its own teachings but presents those of Christ; that is it teaches the Gospel. How does it present the teachings of Christ? Through its hierarchy, that is the Fathers.

So then, the Orthodox Christian follows the teachings of Christ as preserved and presented by the Fathers and submits to them as to Christ. Which Fathers? Those whom are recognised as authorities by those in the communion of the Orthodox Churches which had been received in continuity and conformity by the previous generations of the Church. Primarily it is certain canonical writings that are maintained as normative beginning with the Scriptures and including the teachings of the Ecumenical Councils, regional councils and individual Fathers. Christ’s teachings are preserved and maintained in all these writings, at least that is what is believed by the Orthodox. All these writings are both useful for salvation and require one’s belief to be in conformity to them. They establish the rule of the orthodox Faith given to the Apostles and not that of one’s own opinion. If one cannot accept any of these teachings then one is not Orthodox. If one reads some of these teachings in a manner that contracts other teachings then one is not Orthodox. If one accepts only part of the teachings held by the communion of Orthodox Churches today then one is not Orthodox in terms of this communion although such a one may consider themselves orthodox in there own opinion or that of a group separated from the Orthodox for self-opinion (heresy). While any particular Father is fallible on account of his humanity, some Fathers have been generally regarded as reliable in all of their writings, as well as those particular writings given direct normative value in the Ecumenical Councils, such as Sts Athanasius, Cyril, John Chrysostom, Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, Maximus the Confessor, Photius the Great, Dionysius the Areopagite, Gregory Palamas, Ignatius of Antioch and others. To understand the Faith in contraction to any of these Fathers is to not be orthodox, although on a couple of points any one of these Fathers may not present the teaching of Christ as consistent with the others but it is very unlikely to find such a point.

Being Orthodox though is more that being orthodox in Faith, it requires ecclesiological communion with those hierarchs who teach, present, and preserve the Faith passed on by previous generations of orthodox hierarchs/Fathers; the reason for this is beyond the scope of this post. There is no magic formula for knowing who these are apart from searching the truth and looking at the evidence and of course humble prayer that God leads one aright. Communion with hierarchs is distinct from a communion of believers of one mind because the hierarchy assumes structure, obedience and historical continuity. The system is bigger than an individual believer, or even hierarch, and precludes independent opinion as legitimate in its own right even if individuals, such as St Maximus the Confessor, may need to stand against the majority at that the time to ensure historical continuity of the Faith as well as geographical continuity. It also precludes self-starting a community of believers. The community must be generated by previously appointed hierarchs (Fathers). That is it is God as Father who gives birth to the members of the Church, sons of God, via the hierarchy, who bear the name Father on account of this mystery and who also ordain other hierarchs because it is from God that all authority comes.

So it is contended here that rather than speak of the submitting to the Church or the teaching of the Church, it is more appropriate for Orthodox Christians to speak of submitting to the communion of hierarchs that maintains the teaching of the Fathers who have preserved, presented and passed on the teaching of Christ, that is the Gospel. These hierarchs are the present day Fathers who pass on the Tradition once received as did the Apostles, should of course they rightly divide the word of Truth. Orthodox should speak and refer to the Fathers rather than the Church in terms of obedience and teaching. It is not wrong to say Church but it rather betrays a Roman Catholic tendency to see the Church as somewhat autonomous in itself with a single magisterium headed by the Pope. In a wider sense this is the tendency to see the church as the present day organisation without necessary reference to the previous generations so that what a church, rather its present leading authority, says now requires obedience regardless of its consistency to the past.


  1. So your point is really about a particular understanding of ecclessiology, and the ‘submission to teachings of Church’ is a related but side issue? In other words, the crux of the matter is what is meant by “the Church”.


  2. Robert,

    It is not so much as what is meant by “the Church” rather as defining the source(s) of what it is that we need to believe as Orthodox. Our reference and speech should be in terms of the Fathers rather than “the Church”.


  3. Interesting essay. I have a few worries about some of the points, and perhaps one way to get into them would be just to ask whether you think there is patristic consensus about two of them (and if there is, if you could present some evidence): a) Why think we must believe in accord with everything the Fathers teach rather than only those things which have to do straightforwardly with doctrine or with practice strictly speaking (e.g., liturgical matters) (This is a worry I had about your earlier post on head coverings) b) Why think that because some Father are referenced more or had more of a historical impact that they are more infallible generally than others?


  4. Jeremiah,

    Regarding point a: Firstly, God becomes all in all in theosis that is His life becomes ours in every aspect so the teaching of the Gospel is applicable to every aspect of life. Teaching that second marriages are not permitted at all is a heresy just as teaching that the Son is not God. Both affect the fullness of the life of God becoming ours. Thus, we cannot restrict the teaching of the Fathers to limited topics such as doctrine and liturgy. This does not prevent a prioritisation of teaching but it does forbid restricting teaching, which we must follow and believe, to narrow areas. Secondly, I did not say that we need to believe everything that the Fathers teach. Those parts that have been given ecumenical recognition we must believe but others are not necessarily binding on our faith. Nevertheless, to believe contrary to a Father should only be done if this Father is teaching contrary to the others on this point. Even then we must take care that we are not missing a nuance of teaching that is not contrary but in harmony at a particular level. I believe that it is more beneficial to try to harmonise the Fathers rather than writing off any particular teaching of any particular Father as wrong, nevertheless without excluding that this may indeed be the case.

    Regarding point b: It is not so much the amount of influence that a particular Father may have nor how much that he has been referenced that determines the trustworthiness of the Father but rather the testimony of others in terms of how they regard the Father. I included St Dionysius the Areopagite, rather the teachings attributed to him, because of the testimonies of St Maximus and St Gregory Palamas and not on historical impact nor reference amount. There is some correlation between trustworthiness and impact because trustworthy Fathers are generally referenced more often and generally have a greater long term impact, if not necessarily so. However, we presently trust these Fathers because their successors found them so and we accept this line of testimony by uniting with those hierarchs who, at least formally, continue to trust these Fathers.


  5. Fr. Patrick,

    It seems to me that if one wants to take this approach (i.e. submitting to Fathers is more accurate than submitting to Church b/c the latter betrays Latin influence) then one could easily extend the logic to the rest of the proposition. I am not aware that the traditional language of the Church involves the word “submit” or “submission.” This seems to a Latin import just as much as “Church” (maybe more.) I would submit (no pun intended) that the Patristic word is “agree” or in Greek συνάδω (to sing along), or “follow.” This language would seem to reflect a more Orthodox ecclesiology.


  6. Fr. Patrick,

    Could you help me out here. I am a catechumen in the Orthodox Church, and this is an area of some confusion for me at times – especially when I attempt to speak of the Church’s perspective to those friends and family members (and my wife!) outside of the Church.

    On the one hand, you speak of “submitting to the communion of hierarchs that maintains the teaching of the Fathers who have preserved, presented and passed on the teaching of Christ, that is the Gospel. These hierarchs are the present day Fathers who pass on the Tradition once received as did the Apostles, should of course they rightly divide the word of Truth.” But then on the other hand you speak of St. Maximus’ defence of the Truth against *the majority* of the hierarchs of his time.

    How can submitting to the communion of hierarchs be part of what it means *to be Orthodox* when we have the obvious example of St. Maximus, for whom the following of this advice would have led to heresy. Following from this, how do I know today whether my bishop (and those in communion with him) is within the perimeters of your definition or of St. Maximus’ experience (without setting myself up as his authority)? I guess part of my problem is that the Orthodox perspective is often articulated in a neat and tidy way whereas the history and actual experience of it is always messy (what were the laity in Egypt to do when all of their bishops broke communion with Constantinople, etc, after the 4th council?).

    The question is obviously more hypothetical than currently relevant – unless one considers the acceptance of Protestants by chrismation only (and a host of other practices of ‘economia’) as an issue demanding break in communion. But regardless, it becomes very important when I try to speak to inquirers of why submission to bishops in apostolic succession and in communion with those who have been in communion with the apostles is necessary…

    I hope my question is clear.


  7. Joel,

    The hierarchy is a mystery of the presence of Christ coming to us in synergy with man. The hierarchy provides a tangible relationship that enables us to form the relationship with God needed for theosis. We don’t just relate to God in the abstract but by means of tangible relationships within which Christ is present. We still relate to Christ as God-man and this is realised in the hierarchy where Christ is present through man. Thus, if we separate from the hierarchy then we separate from Christ. This is drawn from St Ignatius of Antioch.

    The hierarchy though are still men with their freedom. Thus, while they have the grace of the Holy Spirit to lead them into all truth they still need to study and learn as well as be obedient to the teaching of the Fathers. They can introduce their own opinions and this is unavoidable because they are in the image of God and their freedom cannot be denied them without losing this image. God does not control the hierarchy as robots. So, any one or a number of hierarchs can fall into heresy. This eventuality is unavoidable but God nevertheless preserves the Church.

    Yes, the history of the Church is messy and it is not easy to always discern orthodox hierarchs from non-orthodox hierarchs. However, we need not be too strict on this because God is aware of our weakness and often two orthodox bishops may be in schism but both saints and at times heretics remain in communion and those under the heretic become saints regardless. This is especially true in the heat of a conflict but once things are settled and it becomes clearer the position of each then we need to be more careful in our choice with whom to commune. Those seeking the truth in humility and faith will find it.

    The hierarchy recognise each other and if we remain in communion with those hierarchs that do so across a number of nations etc then we are in a better position than joining an isolated group which have separated from the wider body. Such a group is most likely to be in schism. If it is clear though that the majority are formally teaching material contrary to the faith of the Fathers as seen in Scripture and the Ecumenical Councils then we are justified in breaking communion as far as we are capable of being aware and can act. While St Maximus was correct in his position, someone of much less theological acumen than himself may be correct in maintaining communion with the hierarchs if he didn’t really understand or know the conflict. If the positions are clarified and groups separated into clearly different “churches” then one is responsible to choose the orthodox church.

    In the present situation, there are a number of problems with bishops in many churches but there is not a formal acceptance by the bishops as a whole of doctrine contrary to the Fathers. Thus, the Athonite monks’ position of protest but remaining in communion with the widely recognised hierarchies. The “Old Calendar” groups while often correct in their evaluation of the problems have, I believe, rather too quickly broken communion and are liable for being schismatics, and in justifying themselves at times teach other dubious doctrines.

    So, in principle we need to be in communion with those hierarchs who formally teach the Faith of the Fathers and who are in communion with other such hierarchs, particularly in communion with the Patriarchs. Only, if such hierarchs teach previously defined heresies are we permitted to part from them. If it is a new heresy then inspired individuals may fight against it but I do not think that the majority are obliged to choose until the positions have been clarified in councils and a division has resulted where it is clearly one group or another. We cannot avoid this situation without either denying Christ’s continuing tangible presence in the hierarchy, not merely presence in spirit, and our need to be united with Him, or by denying the humanity of the hierarchs. We must be united with the bishop(s) but remain aware of heretics. Such is the advice of St Ignatius and the Apostle, see Hebrews 13.


  8. Before the Fathers and before the Canons are the liturgical cycles, prayers and all the components of the interior life of the Church. One enters into this by showing up, and doing the life individually and within one’s various communities, including the parish. It ain’t easy, especially the fasting expectations, but that is what I submit and give assent to, all the things to which I say amen. And that’s a lot more difficult than a purely intellectual assent to anything, and what I believe is meant when Orthodox might use the term assent.

    So to put the Fathers or the Canons or anything else before embracing the prayer life is the cart before the horse.


  9. Stephen,

    Who do you think created the liturgical cycles, who wrote the first prayers, who lead the first community services, who showed us the way of practicing the interior life? Assent to the Fathers is assent to the very basics of Orthodox Christian life. It is not merely intellectual assent to something and mostly it is obedience to their rules of life as expressed in their canons and epistles. The Apostles are also Fathers and the teaching of the Fathers includes oral tradition.

    Without being shown the way of life how do we enter it? Surely we must be taught before we follow, even though we continue to learn through practice and continual reading or listening to the Fathers. How can we participate and unite with the Church and Christ without being received by the hierarchy, that is Fathers?

    So, the Fathers are central to living an Orthodox Christian life and not an optional extra for intellectual study.


  10. Fr. Patrick, no dispute or contradiction from me. How do we submit is the question, or what do we understand when we say submission? I would suggest that this is done first and foremost by entering into the prayer life of the Church, much like we did as babies. We couldn’t even read, much less comprehend, anything, but we did partake of the Holy Mysteries and show up. All I’m saying is that that is the first step to agreement or submission, whether as a baby or as an adult. For are not the writings of the Fathers and the Canons and Holy Scripture understood only within the context of the life of the Church?


  11. Stephen,

    The writings of the Fathers and the Canons are targeted to a range of levels of understanding and responsibility. Some of the writings are targeted at gentiles to bring them into the faith, some are targeted at catechumens, others at new converts, some to laymen and others to monks, and yet others to monks well advanced in the spiritual life. So not all writings are only understood in the context of the life of the Church yet many are indeed so, or rather for those having reached particular maturity in living the life of Christ in the Church. Without this maturity of living the life of Christ then we will struggle, or even not be able, to understand many things taught but the Fathers or commanded in the Canons, although this does not necessarily limit our ability to obey them.

    Obedience is a core aspect of being a Christian. If you love God then you obey His commandments. We enter the Church through obedience, in faith, to repent. We begin to pray because we obey the teaching to do so. To understand prayer takes a lifetime of praying and as we mature in doing prayer we understand more deeply the Scriptural and Patristic teaching on prayer. We begin though in obedience.

    Initially we obey because we do not yet understand, in faith we trust the commands of the Fathers, and in beginning to do we gain understanding in action and then we learn to obey more precisely and to understand more deeply. Exterior commandments eventually become unnecessary. A command in itself is usually easy to understand, such as to avoid fornication or to give alms to the poor, the depth of how such commands affect our character and transform our life to participate in God is only something understood by obedience in practice over time.

    So, rather we begin with obedience, even without understanding but with faith, and then we gain understanding. We cannot gain understanding without obedience because unless we do what God commands us then we cannot develop the correct understanding in actively living the life of God as He directs us.


  12. As the token Old Calendarist commentator on this blog, I would point out that we do in fact believe that there is formal espousal of heresy within World Orthodoxy. I also would dispute the claim that “a person of less theological acumen than him [St. Maximus] maybe correct in maintaining communion with the hierarchy.” Every person has a duty to seek the truth, and God does not allow the truth to be so hidden that only a theological genius is capable of apprehending it. While it is true that some situations can be very confusing, and no one should make hasty decisions, nevertheless, our Saviour desires all should be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth, even if that makes our life a little more difficult, and even if we are just ordinary people. Otherwise we risk falling into an ecclesiology which justifies any belief on the grounds of sincerity… a very popular notion these days, but certainly not Orthodox.


  13. Fr Maximus, you are not the only person here on the Old Calendar (though I don’t consider myself an ‘Old Calendarist‘. 🙂

    My reservations about Fr Patrick’s ideas about authority in the Church haven’t changed since the discussion on head coverings. I believe there should be less emphasis on hierarchy and more on the Church as a whole — the communal / catholic / sobornost aspect. After all, lots of bishops caved (albeit, under pressure) at Florence, but the rejection of it by the Church as a whole, rendered it null and void.


  14. Well, many years to all who are celebrating the feast of our Lord’s Transfiguration today according to the ecclesiastical calendar.


  15. Fr Maximus,

    I understand your position regarding Old Calendarists and it is inevitable that you would dispute my comment to Joel which supported the wider communion of bishops rather than the Old Calendarist bishops. However, I think that we are on the same page in terms of your reasoning. The issues are about the weight to be given to remaining in the wider communion and the weight to be given to the heresy in question. While my choice has been to put the greater weight on the communion, I understand the other position and have empathy for it.


    The emphasis on hierarchy is for a number of reasons that go deeply into understanding the Church and Christ’s continuing presence with it. In the example of Florence where the bishops caved how can you speak of the Church as a whole rendering it null and void if you are then excluding the bishops from within this whole? Rather I would say that Christ rejects what is false and the faithful share this rejection in there union with Christ.

    One main point of what I am trying to say in the post is that Christ is really present with us and leads us in synergy with the hierarchy. The Church cannot be seen operating as a body apart from its head with special powers etc but as those in a union of synergy with Christ, which is expressed publicly and tangibly via the hierarchy and also in private via parents, husbands and monastic heads. We don’t need to find some enclosed mechanism in the Church to deal with heresy, it is Christ who deals with it and expresses His will primarily through the hierarchy but at times should the hierarchy fail through the laity.


  16. Fr Patrick,

    I am not excluding the bishops from the pleorma — what an idea! Rather, I am insisting that the hierarchy alone cannot represent the final authority of the Church. Rather, it is the Church as a whole — the ecclesiastical pleroma — encompassing all the members of the ecclesia, clergy and laity — the catholicity of the Church, which is the ultimate source of authority in the Church.

    To take a fairly recent example, what happened amongst the Latins in the wake of their Second Vatican Council — a massive change imposed from the top down — could not happen in the Church. And that is at is should be.

    As I understand it, the authority of the Church does not reside in any portion of the Church, let alone a single person or office, but in the pleorma of the Church. The hierarchy has a special role to teach and to ensure the teaching is transmitted and ordination is an important grace to aid them in doing so. Preferably, the bishop is a monk of many years who is advanced in the spiritual life. And, normally, the laity should see the bishop as a spiritual father of spiritual fathers (a ‘spiritual grandfather’?) and follow his guidance and leadership. Only under the most extraordinary of circumstances should a member of the Church separate from his bishop. (I think comparing oneself to St Maximos the Confessor — which was a most extraordinary circumstance — as a justification for taking that route is usually hubris and prelest/planē.)


  17. Thomas,

    The authority of the Church is Christ. Your comment still reflects the idea that the Church is an entity in itself needing an authority in itself other than Christ. I am arguing that this is not an Orthodox understanding. The Church, either as hierarchs nor as a collective of the whole, does not propose doctrine nor order that is not already received from the Fathers, so a Vatican II situation is not applicable to the Orthodox Church regardless if it was the “top down” imposition of the hierarchy or the collective will of the whole. Also, while the laity may not receive a council this does not mean that they formally participate in determining the decisions of a council alongside bishops so they cannot on this account be part of the authority of the Church.

    Again the authority of the Church is Christ in synergy with the hierarchy. At times the human hierarchs may err and Christ inspires laity to civil disobedience until the hierarchs repent but the authority remains Christ in synergy with hierachs.


  18. It seems to me, Fr Patrick, that it is you dividing the Church from Christ here. I see the Church as the body of Christ which internally manifests — through the faith of the Church within the ecclesiastical pleroma — our Lord’s authority (as opposed to Western Christianities which rely on an external authority, whether papal or sola scriptura). The body of Christ, having the mind of Christ, does not introduce novel teachings.


  19. An additional thought: what if — just for the sake of argument — every last one of the bishops were to gather together and decide to introduce a new teaching? It seems to me that, with your model, the laity would be required to submit to the new teaching, whereas in my framework, the laity would be able to (indeed, would be required to) resist the new teaching, thus preserving the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic faith.

    (Of course, for the sake of argument, if every last member of the Church decided to follow a new teaching, there would be no one to offer resistance.) 🙂


  20. Thomas,

    In reply to your second comment. The laity, at times, need to resist the hierarchy because the laity too know the truth and have the Holy Spirit and all the hierarchy can potentially be in heresy. The issue that I may have with your position is that the laity cannot of themselves form the Church without the hierarchy and they alone cannot generate a hierarchy, which must be established by preceding hierarchs. As St Ignatius of Antioch says: “In like manner, let all reverence the deacons as an appointment of Jesus Christ, and the bishop as Jesus Christ, who is the Son of the Father, and the presbyters as the sanhedrim of God, and assembly of the apostles. Apart from these, there is no Church.” Historical cases of laity going it alone in the face of supposed or real heresy have not ended in lasting churches of God, such as some Old Believers and some Old Calendarists.

    I am struggling to see how you think that I am separating Christ from the Church unless you are assuming that I am suggesting some other presupposed model of hierarchy or divorce the hierarchy from the laity, who are “really the Church”.

    How in your thought does our Lord’s authority become internally manifest in a manner that can be tangibly obeyed as authority? This, I am arguing, is through the hierarchy that tangibly manifests the authority of Christ within the Church as authority that we can obey through having the structural relationship of obedience clearly expressed. Are we rather to give obedience to anyone and everyone who claims to speak of the Lord thus manifesting Christ’s internal authority? Or do we not have an obedience due to any structural element rather than the general obedience to all? What then of the structure of marriage? Monastic obedience? Why obedience to the hierarch as instructed by St Paul, see Hebrews 13, if this is not also obedience to Christ? Do we obey men as men as well as obeying the Lord as Lord? I would say that the obedience owed to men is due to their synergy with Christ and it is primarily obedience to Christ through his presence in man via a structure that is appointed by the Church as a mystery. Even outside the mysteries of the Church we obey such as a secular ruler in that he is appointed by God as God’s minister. All this obedience is only to the level that it is consistent with obeying Christ. Should it run contrary to Christ then we are not obliged to obey, which shows that obedience is primarily to Christ and manifest through structural relationships with man, which make obedience to Christ incarnate.


  21. In reply to your second comment. The laity, at times, need to resist the hierarchy because the laity too know the truth and have the Holy Spirit and all the hierarchy can potentially be in heresy.

    We are in agreement.

    The issue that I may have with your position is that the laity cannot of themselves form the Church without the hierarchy and they alone cannot generate a hierarchy, which must be established by preceding hierarchs.

    But, Fr Patrick, I have consistently maintained that the laity are not of themselves the Church. The hierarchy is an important essential component of the Church (as are the laity).

    I am struggling to see how you think that I am separating Christ from the Church unless you are assuming that I am suggesting some other presupposed model of hierarchy or divorce the hierarchy from the laity, who are “really the Church”.

    It appears to me that you are divorcing the hierarchy from the laity. I see any suggestion of a ‘teaching Church’ separated from a ‘listening Church’ as false.

    How in your thought does our Lord’s authority become internally manifest in a manner that can be tangibly obeyed as authority?

    That authority is normally manifested as it usually is: n Holy Tradition, This is usually evinced in the prayers of the Church along with her members’ expression of the faith in word (written and verbal) and deed.

    This, I am arguing, is through the hierarchy that tangibly manifests the authority of Christ within the Church as authority that we can obey through having the structural relationship of obedience clearly expressed.

    Normally, yes — but I see the hierarchy less as an authority over the laity and more as shepherds gently guiding the flock, ensuring they keep on the established path.


  22. Thomas,

    The hierarchy do have a public role in teaching and the laity are expected to listen. This is part of the Tradition of the Church as expressed in the Canons (64 of Trullo). This does not mean that the laity cannot teach in private and they should do so as they are able. Public teaching though is properly restricted to the hierarchy, although there are notable exceptions. This is not to divorce the hierarchy from the laity but to recognise distinct functions in particular situations in order to bring us to Christ. There is not an absolute separation into teaching Church and listening Church but at the public level there is such a distinction between hierarchs and laity.

    We do obey the Fathers in their written commands as preserved in Holy Tradition but we also need to obey within a living person to person relationship; God is not a text but a living person. This is the structure to which I refer, where Christ’s authority is made tangible, and the structure that we must be within for our salvation.

    Yes, the hierarchs though should not lord it over the laity, who are free and equal in nature, but lead as gentle shepherds giving themselves for the flock. It must not be forgotten, though, that the hierarchs do have real authority and particularly in binding or loosing sins. If they need to exercise this as such then they can and should as did St Paul. This is the responsibility of the hierarchs. The responsibility of the laity is to listen and to obey even if the hierarch is lording it over them; he sits in Moses’ seat so to speak. Nevertheless, the laity should also test the hierarchs to ensure that the obedience and teaching is that in Christ.

    These points are in terms of standard practice. There may be exceptional circumstances where the normal order needs to be set aside for a time but these exceptions do not define the doctrine and need to conform to the norm as much as possible.


  23. I came across ‘Orthodoxy and the English’ by Archimandrite Symeon Lash (apparently written about 1985) which had this wonderful section which accurately summarises my understanding:

    It often surprises people when they are told that, despite appearances, the Orthodox Church is the least clerical of churches. An Orthodox Bishop was once asked why he had not visited a certain parish for many years and he replied: ‘The Bishop does not go where he is not wanted’. The late Archbishop Athenagoras told me that what had most shocked him at the last Lambeth Conference he had attended was not the theological liberalism or the question of the ordination of women so much as the fact that the bishops could speak as private individuals. ‘An Orthodox Bishop’, he said, ‘can only proclaim the faith of his people ‘. In the last analysis it is the People of God who are the guardians of the Faith — the People of God baptised in the Spirit, enlightened by Christ, born again as sons of the Father. The freedom of the sons of God may not always produce tidy solutions, may, in this fallen world, produce conflicts and tensions, but the conflicts and tensions are family conflicts, family tensions, and are lived in the love of brothers for each other and for their Father in Heaven.


  24. Thomas,

    From my understanding of the Orthodox Tradition/Faith, the bishop does not speak as an individual because he speaks for this Tradition/Faith, which is believed by himself and the laity. He does not just speak the faith as of the group of laity in his diocese in themselves, which they happen to presently believe in some form of undefined consensus. Such a speaking by the bishop for the laity of the diocese in themselves can taken from your quote and thus from your position.

    I am stressing “obedience” to the Fathers rather than to the Church because the latter can be understood as referring to those living on earth at the present time whether bishops, in a magisterium, or the whole people. This understanding implies that whatever the magisterium, or the whole people, decides in terms of faith or “discipline” must be followed now because of this authority in itself, which represents, or is, the whole Church now. Rather the patristic approach demands following that faith and discipline that is handed down by the Fathers, which cannot be changed by any definable group of the present but only preserved. There is no need to oppose hierarchy only and the whole people in terms of authority because they are under the same obedience to the same Faith/Tradition. The hierarchy are charged with the public teaching and preservation of this faith and the laity to private teaching and preservation of this faith.

    I believe that the Papal model puts authority of the present magisterium above that of the Fathers and so permits change of faith or discipline without recourse of appeal to the Fathers, requiring consistency with them. Taking this idea of the authority Church, as being its present authority whether expressed only in the bishops or some form of “whole people”, and applying it, in Orthodox terms, to national, or even local, churches, who each see itself as “the Church”, can lead to similar changes in Tradition because “the Church” speaks, whether these changes are implemented by the hierarchy alone or by the whole people in that nation/locality. Either way, they can abandon Tradition and are no longer Orthodox. This does not limit the freedom of rule of the present hierarchy to adapt or implement local customs, so long as these remain consistent with the Tradition.


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