Church and Nationality

September 18, 2012

Here is part of a paper presented at the Orthodox Theological Research Forum recently held in Oxford, England. Metropolitan Kallistos Ware recommended it for publication, so I thought to share it here.

The sense of ethnic identity is part of self-identity. Each man has a personal character and he also reflects family, tribal, and regional or national identities or characteristics. In Christ these are placed below the unity of Christ, in that each man takes his primary identity from Christ but his human identities are not destroyed and so a man retains his personal, family and national characteristics. Thus, in the age to come there are people of all nations as all nations and yet one nation in Christ. The diverse human characteristics are united in Christ and do not divide as they do in themselves apart from Christ. Diversity is retained in the unity of Christ, except where that diversity is contrary to Christ. This unity requires that there are Church practices that are uniform to incarnate the mystery of Christ in all people and nations because that which is required to tangibly present Christ in human terms needs to be one in material/practical form since the unity of Christ includes unity in matter as well as in spirit. However, in the same manner that divinity does not consume humanity in Christ, neither does the humanity of Christ consume our humanity and so human diversity remains.

The unity of Christ is such that the Church cannot be defined along national or ethnic categories. Local and regional churches can only be defined in terms of geographical limits, within which there can only be one church, that is a synod in the form either of the bishop with his presbyters, the local diocese, or of a metropolitan with his bishops, a regional episcopal synod. However, these territorial limits can be taken from the territorial boundaries of a nation as well as those administrative boundaries within empires or states. Thus, in regional terms the synod of bishops can be defined in as those living in a particular national territory, as long as the definition is territorial rather than by any other category. Thus, if members of the Church from other regions/nations enter a territory they attend the services of the churches of that territory/nation within which they have entered rather than establishing their own churches. An exception to this is to allow parishes of different languages within the same territory to enable understanding of the services for those from other language groups. We have historical examples of this in Constantinople with Latin and Gothic parishes. Such exceptions will tend to reflect national differences but these latter differences should not be the reason for the exception but only language to enable understanding, following the teaching of St Paul.

The present situation in the UK and the US, as well as other places outside the established regions of Orthodox Churches, is rather complicated. The long established local religious communities in these places are heterodox and as such are not in unity with the Catholic Church, that is the Orthodox Churches in communion the Patriarch of Constantinople. Thus, the Orthodox emigrants to the UK or to the US did not have preexisting places of worship nor local hierarchy to establish such places. These had to be provided from their home regions. Sadly, due to lack of coordination between Orthodox Patriarchs, we have the situation of a number of hierarchs establishing churches for immigrants in the UK and the US. This situation has led to a neglect of the territorial definition of churches and to definition along national/ethnic categories, which is contrary to the teaching of Christ. We need to repent of this. It is suggested that the only way forward is to appoint and recognise a local territorially defined hierarchal structure for the UK or US with its own synod, although overseen by one of the present Patriarchs. Also, this hierarchy must attempt to convert the heterodox back to Orthodoxy and allow the local peoples to take ownership of the church within their own territory.

The use of vestments could be helpful to distinguish the hierarchy of the UK or the US from the hierarchies elsewhere. This is not in order to separate them but to highlight that the churches in the UK and the US are not part of other national churches, although most members within the churches in the UK and the US may be descended from these other nations. The churches in the UK and US should be seen as local churches in their own right. A distinction of vestments helps to provide visual recognition of this local hierarchy and to break it from being considered part of a nationally defined group. Yet, in terms of being orthodox, the vestments need to be consistent with the traditional form of vestments used through the history of the Church.

To enable the choice of vestments, even though most religious groups in the UK and the US are heterodox, some of their heritage comes from an orthodox background and maintains orthodox standards manifested in the cultural context of the UK and the US. It would be wise for the orthodox hierarchy not to impose an exterior manner of dress upon the UK and the US but rather to take what is already within that region consistent with Orthodox Tradition and establish it for use of orthodox Christians in that region. This would allow the local peoples to have greater identity and ownership of the church in their territory, rather than the church arriving as a foreign institution imposing its own national cultures as well as bringing orthodox Tradition. While it is important that each region or nation is established in the international community and participates in customs that are required for relationships across this international community, otherwise the local community becomes isolated and estranged, at the same time each region or nation should participate without losing the diversity of its own customs, where these do not go contrary to the international community. In orthodox terms the common customs of the international community are given in Holy Tradition, which is the common way of life in Christ as Christ that unites us with Christ, yet the regional customs are maintained that of self-rule in synergy with Christ as maintaining God’s image as man with the ability to govern. This governance is expressed in the diversity of customs within Tradition. For one national church to impose in entirety of its customs on another nation is to undermine and deny the self-rule of that nation thus denying the image of God in its people and the synergy of the relationship of God and man in deification.

For those wishing to look further into this here is a link to the paper of Metropolitan Kallistos on the same topic: ‘Neither Jew Nor Greek’: Catholicity And Ethnicity

How to see Tradition

September 4, 2012

There are variations in how people view Tradition. This post will briefly consider what may be two major views, although undoubtedly there are a number more and a range of nuances.

The first suggested view is that Tradition is some form of living thing that grows and develops over time and place such that how Tradition is manifest at the present time and place is how Tradition should be manifest. This means that the Tradition as presently practiced by churches in Greece is the Tradition of the Orthodox Church as it should be and this also applies in Russia, Serbia and all nations with an established Orthodox Church. While the Roman Catholic church, which sees Tradition somewhat in this manner, has centralised control over this, at least in theory, the Orthodox Churches do not have such centralised control and so Tradition becomes varied from place to place, as it has from time to time. Each variation in each place/time is seen as legitimate Tradition, even if it may be contrary to the Tradition held elsewhere because it is a continuation of that living Tradition foundered by the Apostles. An aspect of this view is that past expressions of the Tradition are no longer legitimate expressions of Tradition because they are not the expression of Tradition now. To revive such expressions becomes an innovation because they are not part of the living Tradition which only encompasses those practices/believes held now and there. This is also true of regional variations. A legitimate practice in one region is not necessarily legitimate in another because it is not the Tradition as it is in that region. The only question to legitimacy of this type of Tradition is whether one can remain in communion with other Orthodox regions. Mission is passing on the particular Tradition of the missionary in its full local form. This is because there is no means to distinguish a Church Tradition from a local custom; the two are almost synonymous. Authority, in this view, resides in the decisions of a recognised hierarchy, or the whole people, in itself. The authority is not constrained by the past, if though informed by it.

The other suggested view is that Tradition is a fixed set of teachings and practices that are passed on from generation to generation without change. This Tradition is the same in every time and place and variation from this Tradition due to time and place is not legitimate. The test for legitimacy is that of St Vincent:

This rule we shall observe if we follow universality, antiquity, consent. We shall follow universality if we confess that one faith to be true, which the whole Church throughout the world confesses; antiquity, if we in no wise depart from those interpretations which it is manifest were notoriously held by our holy ancestors and fathers; consent, in like manner, if in antiquity itself we adhere to the consentient definitions and determinations of all, or at the least of almost all priests and doctors.

This view requires continuance of the Tradition to continue to be orthodox; churches retain vigilance with each other and challenge the legitimacy of change and break communion should the change be considered a breach of Tradition because the one changing is effectively denying the unity of faith. While regions can leave orthodox Tradition, they can also repent and return to orthodox Tradition. This view does not reject variation in practices unless they are contrary to the fixed practices of Tradition. Thus, a legitimate practice in the past remains legitimate at any time, excepting pastoral reasons otherwise. Legitimate ancient practices can be revived and given life again because they are expressions of the Tradition, which lives above any particular local continuance of the Tradition. Missionaries pass on the fixed Tradition, which can be distinguished from local customs, and can permit local variation in expression among those receiving the Tradition. Authority, in this view, must always be exercised in conformity with the past. Since nothing new is added, authority is always exercised in faithfulness to the past and it can be tested and judged by such.

Both views can overlap and so one with the first view can recognise a continuity with the past and one with the second view can see temporal and spacial variation.


Submitting to the Church

August 14, 2012

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.

Sola Scriptura and Pope Gregory the Great

August 3, 2012

On occasion Protestant writers and apologists make claim for their theological distinctives as being found in the fathers. The doctrine of Sola Scriptura is one such case where a good many citations are brought forward to establish that this doctrine is nothing novel. And so Protestantism is introducing nothing new in advocating for the doctrine of Sola Scriptura.  The two major works from which practically all contemporary Protestant cases directly or indirectly depend on are by Whitaker and Goode. If you have read them (I have) there really isn’t much else to read.

One father who is advanced for the case of Sola Scriptura is Pope Gregory the Great (540-604) Gregory is usually enlisted to support a few parts of the doctrine of Sola Scriptura, scripture as the ultimate authority, its material sufficiency and perspicuity. The following citations are some of the usual suspects.

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The Love and Hate of God in Romans 9

July 8, 2012

[This was originally posted on Lux Christi.]

At last recovered from fishing (but more on that later). At last to some thoughts on Romans 9. One of my former Calvinist mentors once opined that most people had little problem understanding why God hated Esau: what the real conundrum was, was why did He love Jacob? For Orthodox, of course, this is a false alternative, for Romans 9, the passage in which St. Paul cites Malachi about loving Jacob and hating Esau, is not about individuals, but the divine providence in preserving the godly seed. As an aside, in beginning to think about this, I would commend St. John Chrysostom’s Homilies on Romans. Calvin unhappily cited St. John’s teachings on this subject: “Moreover although the Greeks more than others, and among these especially Chrysostom, have exceeded decorum in extolling the powers of the human will, nonetheless, all the fathers, with the exception of Augustine, in this matter are so wayward, vacillating, and confused, that nothing clear  can be had from their writings Read the rest of this entry »

The Pharisees of Sodom

June 5, 2012

(Musical selection A 07 The Pink Room)

EP is focused on Orthodox theology with a special eye to the theology of Maximus the Confessor. As such it is devoted to questions of historical and philosophical theology. It could be about other things relative to Orthodox theology such as Biblical theology as a discipline, but since I am not trained as a Biblical theologian, in the academic sense of that term, I tend try to limit myself to areas in which I have some competence. This is also why I try to steer the blog away from whatever happens to be going in the world, whether politics or the wider culture. There are plenty of other venues for that. I have a niche and I like my niche very much.

But every so often something pops up in the culture that impinges upon Orthodox theology. Of course the on going cultural yelling match (we haven’t yet begun to have an argument) about “Gay” marriage has had a flare up with the recent North Carolina state constitutional amendment. This I would usually ignore on EP except for the fact that David J. Dunn, has written for the Huffington Post an article as an “Orthodox Lay theologian” defending “Gay marriage” or at least objecting to it being banned.

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The End of Catholicity II & III

May 26, 2012

For those of you following, here are the last two iterations. Please (and I mean please) comment. I am severely straightened by house guests and plumbing problems from doing I would like to the blogs today.

Here’s End of Catholicity II.

And here’s III: The End of Catholicity III, or Calvin Uncatholicized, or Life without St. Ignatius of Antioch