Tag Archives: Moscow Patriarchate

One Church or A Confederation of Churches?

Central to the Moscow Patriarchate’s objection to the recent Tomos of autocephaly for the Orthodox Church of Ukraine is that there is no central authority in the Church. Rather, we saw earlier, the claim is that the Church is administratively “a confederation … of independent Churches which are not subordinate to each other, even if by protocol they occupy certain places.” It’s important to remember that this analogy is self-consciously drawn from the realm of secular politics rather than either the Scriptures of the Church fathers. Let me offer a few examples from the Scriptures to help explain why this appeal to secular geo-politics is theologically questionable.

For the Apostle Paul, the Church is the Body of Christ. For example, he reminds the fractious Corinthians that just as the human (or indeed, any) “body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body” we who are in Christ are one.

For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit. For in fact, the body is not one member but many (1 Corinthians 12:12-14).

He draws out the practical implications (vv. 17-18) of this a few verses later when he asks

If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling? But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased.

Likewise, in Ephesians (4:1-16()Paul goes on to articulate the bodily analogy in terms of specific charisms (spiritual gifts) that are distributed to individual believers for the benefit of the whole Church.

He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ;

In addition to the more general goal of building up the whole body, these gifts are also given so that

…we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ—from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.

The gifts are meant to function both to build up and correct. Or as he tells Timothy about Scripture “for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

None of this, to be sure, means the Church is not administratively a confederation of independent churches. It does, however, mitigate against the rejection of a strong sense of primacy in the Church.

St Paul, for example, has no problem publicly castigating St Peter for the latter “compel[ling] Gentiles to live as Jews” and thereby denying by his actions that “a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified” (see Galatians 2:11-16).

Likewise, we read in Acts that the early Church had the authority to impose a universal norm on the whole Body of believers. In response to the controversy that arose because Paul and Barnabas baptizing, but not circumcising, new Gentile Christians “The apostles and elders” of the Church in Jerusalem “met to consider this question.”

After hearing both sides the Apostle James delivers what he explicitly describes as “my judgment” for the whole Church. Gentile Christians need not keep the Law of Moses but only “abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood” (Acts 15:1-22).

While this does not demonstrate a universal primacy, it does give pay to the idea that each local church is independent.

Underlying Moscow’s position, however, is a faulty logical and theological assumption. In the political realm, independence is not absolute. One major point of the UN, to use Hilarion’s example, is so that nations can hold each other accountable to each other in a real and not just abstract moral sense.

In the Church, there are moments when our freedom in Christ can ONLY be exercised through deference. We are, after all, told by St Paul, that to submit “to one another in the fear of God” (Ephesians 5:21). And, in another place he says, “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.” It is in this way that we come to have the mind of Christ (see Philippians 2:3-5).

This submission is true not only in the political realm but on all levels of the Church. Child to parent but also parent to the needs of the child. We see it between husband and wife. We see it in the parish between the pastor and the congregation and in the diocese in the relationship of bishop and clergy and clergy with the bishop to the laity.

At one moment or another, we all of us are called by Christ to submit to another. And we do so not out of fear but as the natural consequence of the charisms. Just as the charismata are the concrete ways or modes by which we are in communion with Christ they are also, in Christ, the way in which we are in communion with each other.

To assert that the Orthodox Church is, administratively, a mere confederation of local Churches as Metropolitan Hilarion does, means that in truth we are NOT One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic. In all levels of the Church, there are moments of subordination. We cannot place a fence around the local Churches because, if we do, if there are never moments in which one Church is subordinated to another, then there is no accountability, and so no communion.

Moscow’s argument is that each Church is independent and there is no Church is subordinated to any other Church or indeed the other Churches. To say this is to say that the gifts of the Church of Russia are not gifts also for the Church of Greece or Serbia or America or Constantinople.

It is instead to say the Churches exist as parallel social groups.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Consensus & the Heckler’s Veto

One of the arguments against autocephaly the Orthodox Church of Ukraine is that it was granted without a consensus of the other national Churches. I’ll speak about consensus in a moment but first I think it’s worth pointing out that the Moscow Patriarchate (through its representative Metropolitan Hilarion of the Department of External Affairs) contends that “administratively the Orthodox Church is a confederation (using the language of civil society and a comparison with a political structure) of independent Churches which are not subordinate to each other, even if by protocol they occupy certain places.”

His Eminence goes on to say that the Churches are

…like countries in the United Nations. They are listed in a certain order, but it does not mean that one country is subordinate to another one. In the same way, the Orthodox world has never known subordination of one Church to another Church. Now the Patriarchate of Constantinople wants to create such subordination, and the newly established organization in Ukraine is an “autocephalous church” (I say it in inverted commas), designed in accordance with the desires of the Patriarchate of Constantinople. It is not a truly independent Church, because the tomos granted to it lays down many conditions on which it receives this so-called “autocephaly.”

Sticking to the Orthodox anglosphere the OCA in its response to events agrees with Moscow that the autocephaly of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) is illegitimate and so they will not commemorate the primate of the OCU His Beatitude Epiphaniy, Metropolitan of Kyiv and All Ukraine noting “That no changes be made to the diptychs, noting that the Orthodox Church in America has not been formally requested to make such changes.”

Bracketing for the moment the ecclesiological question of whether or not the Orthodox Church is administratively one or not, there is the epistemological question of the nature of consensus. What do Orthodox Christians mean by the term?

While some (notable the Moscow Patriarchate) seem to think any decision about the autocephaly of the Church in Ukraine be one to which all the Churches agree (i.e., unanimous). Moreover, this unanimity must be reached before any action is taken.

The former at least is not the plain meaning of consensus; the latter seems impossible given the requirement of a unanimous decision. And, in both cases, this turns “consensus” into a heckler’s veto.

The Catholic scholar James Chastek writing at Just Thomism offers what I think is a helpful insight as Orthodox Christians work through our current ecclesiastical crisis. In his post Consensus and Silence, he writes that what I would call the only relative value of consensus:

In the end, scientific or academic consensus is just one more set of arguments, no more or less than Plato’s descent of regimes, Mill’s Socrates and the pig, Hume’s fork, or Euclid 3.16.

He goes on to say that the appeal to consensus conceals within itself “the breakdown in social trust that allows people to accept an argument without having to go through it all.” Sociologically he traces this wound to trust to the growing “disillusioned with authority in the ’60’s and ’70’s.” Over time, distrust–suspicion–has become an intellectual habit of the disillusioned. And so “insisting on consensus is probably just a symptom of this disillusion.”

While Chastek is concerned with the peer review process in academia, his observations about this process are equally applicable to the Church. “Consensus is largely peer review, peer review is peer pressure, and peer pressure only silences dissent when it is relatively weak.” When the community is intellectually, morally and spiritually healthy. there is no

…need to silence anyone since contrary opinions never arise. They’re never even thought. You don’t usually need to tell people that what they’re thinking is not comme il faut any more than you need to tell them that what they’re wearing is.

What I think Chastek is pointing to is this: In a healthy community there is an ability to disagree agreeably. There is no need to silence minority opinions. The eccentric knows he views are marginal but there is still room for his views in the community.

It is only when I forget that our discussions, debates, and disagreements are all in the service of articulating the truth or am insecure in my own convictions that I am tempted to impose silence on those who disagree with me.

This temptation “is exacerbated” when I or the community has become “rigidly peer-pressured” and abandons an appreciation for the positive role of “eccentrics.”

In other words, we are where we are because (some of us at least) have grown to value conformity more than charity. The schism in Ukraine has gone on for almost 30 years. By the standards of the Great Schism–now more than a 1,000 years long–this is small potatoes.

But in both cases, I see a worrying tendency to seek out reasons to avoid the hard work that reconciliation requires.

To its credit, Constantinople has been willing to do the hard work. At the Council of Crete and in bilateral discussions with Moscow, the Ecumenical Throne tried to involve other Churches in the process of reconciling the various splinter groups in Ukraine. Unfortunately, these overtures were not reciprocated by Moscow or some of the other local Churches.

The challenge we face is this. To think of the Church administratively as a confederation of Churches degrades the conciliar nature of the Church. AAnd if, as Metropolitan Hilarion contends, the Church administratively is merely a confederation of Churches in which no Church “is subordinate to another one” consensus is nothing more the heckler’s veto rather than what it should be: the shared discernment of the truth.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

King’s Wine, King’s Tune

Writing in today’s Wall Street Journal (Russia Wages a Religious War Against Ukraine), Loyola University Chicago is history professor (and author of “Russia’s 20th Century: A Journey in 100 Histories,” forthcoming from Bloomsbury), Michael Khodarkovsky writes about the conflict between the Moscow Patriarchate and the Ecumenical Throne over the latter’s establishment of an autocephalous (self-governing) Church in Ukraine.

Khodarkovsky briefly sketches out the history of the conflict. What is, I think of most interest, however, is his observation about the close relationship between the Russian State and the Moscow Patriarchate.

The ties between the Kremlin and the Moscow Patriarchate are as old as Russia itself. Throughout its history, the Russian Orthodox Church had been subservient to the state and an unshakable supporter of autocracy. Since the late 15th century, the church provided Moscow’s rulers with a political theology of manifest destiny, asserting that Moscow had become the Second Jerusalem and the Third Rome (Constantinople being the second).

While the relationship is more complex than what the author suggests (or can reasonably address in an editorial), his fundamental point is sound.

The close relationship between Church and State in Russia has worked to the harm of the former. This was never more the case than with the rise of Communism at the beginning of the 20th century.

The emergence of the atheist Soviet state in 1922 dealt a severe blow to the church. The state confiscated most ecclesiastical property. It destroyed many churches while turning others into storage places. Steeples that rose high enough became jamming stations to prevent Voice of America or the BBC from reaching Soviet citizens. Few seminaries survived. Those that did, trained a small number of priests. The KGB infiltrated the priesthood, informing on clergy and promoting Soviet interests abroad.

Writing in the comments section, two readers made points especially important to those of us concerned with the evangelical work of the Church as well as to the overall health of the Church in America and worldwide.

Don Dewitt writes, “This is exactly what happens in nations without a tradition of separation of church and state.” He goes on to say that “Evangelicals and VP Pence” should “take note–partnering with government turns a church into a tool of the state, not the other way around.”

Another comment by David Holmes makes the point that the struggles of the MP in Russia parallel those of the Catholic Church in China (for example, here).

Bottom line, the Church does well to keep a distance from the State since, to borrow from the Acton Institute’s Fr Robert Sirico, “to drink the King’s wine” means “to dance to the King’s tune.”

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory


Property Law in Orthodox Social Thought

A right that can’t be enforced isn’t particularly valuable. As we’ve seen, the canons of the Church assume a basic right to property. The question now is whether Orthodox Social Thought (OST) offer more than merely theoretical support to property.

Reminiscent of John Locke’s argument that property rights emerge when the person mixes his labor with natural resources, the Basis of the Social Concept of the Orthodox Church affirms property “as a socially recognised form of people’s relation to the fruits of labour and to natural resources.” And like contemporary economic theory, property rights in Orthodox Social Teaching are actually a bundle of rights. Specifically this means the power “of an owner … to own and use property, … to control and collect income, … to dispose of, lease, modify or liquidate property (VII.1).

Portrait of John Locke, by Sir Godfrey Kneller...

Portrait of John Locke, by Sir Godfrey Kneller. Oil on canvas. 76×64 cm. Britain, 1697. Source of Entry: Collection of Sir Robert Walpole, Houghton Hall, 1779. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

To be sure, and again as in Locke, there are moral limits to property rights. For Locke individual property rights are legitimate so long as “there is enough, and as good, left in common for others” to own (Second Treatise on Government, 5:27). OST has its own version of the Lockean proviso. After affirming the moral and soteriological importance, and limitations, of the material dimension of human life the Basis remind the reader that

The attitude of Orthodox Christians to property should be based on the gospel’s principle of love of one’s neighbour, expressed in the words of the Saviour: “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another” (Jn. 13:34). This commandment is the basis of Christian moral behavior (Basis, VII.1).

Charity however also includes a respect for law—civil to be sure but also canonical. And so for both Christians and all men of good will, the regulation of “interpersonal relationships, including property,” (Basis, VII.1) is a moral imperative. It is something that must be done and done not simply out of concern for a just society but also love. Both just and love are (or should be) the fruit of humanity’s gratitude to God.

According to the teaching of the Church, people receive all the earthly blessings from God who is the One who holds the absolute right to possess them. The Saviour repeatedly points to the relative nature of the right to property in His parables on a vineyard let out to be used (Mk. 12:1-9), on talents distributed among many (Mt. 25:14-30) and on an estate handed over for temporary management (Lk. 16:1-13). Expressing the idea inherent to the Church that God is the absolute owner of everything, St. Basil the Great asks: “Tell me, what do you have that is yours? Where from did you take it and bring to life?” The sinful attitude to property manifested in the conscious rejection of this spiritual principle generates division and alienation among people (Basis, VII.1, emphasis in original).

This means that far from being a matter of mere utilitarian social organization, the “various forms of ownership” are in the service of both justice and charity. This is possible however only if ownership, and the laws governing property, are rooted in gratitude to the Creator and respect for human freedom and creativity. While they are all the result of contingent socio-historical factors, “Public, corporate private and mixed forms” of ownership as well as intellectual property rights are all morally legitimate ways of creating and using wealth (Basis, VII.3).

Finally, law not only protects an individual or a community’s right to property. As with law in generally, the legal protection of private property right can advance the Gospel. This happens not by “turn[ing] the world lying in evil into the Kingdom of God, but to prevent[ing] it from turning into hell” (Basis, IV.2).

However, in the cases where the human law completely rejects the absolute divine norm, replacing it by an opposite one, it ceases to be law and becomes lawlessness, in whatever legal garments it may dress itself. For instance, the Decalogue clearly states: “Honour thy father and thy mother” (Ex. 20:12). Any secular norm that contradicts this commandment indicts not its offender but the legislator himself. In other words, the human law has never contained the divine law in its fullness, but in order to remain law it is obliged to conform to the God-established principles, rather then to erode them (Basis, IV.3, emphasis in original).

In the case of property, respect for God’s law means rejecting “the alienation and re-distribution of property” in ways that violate “the rights of its legitimate owners.” While an exception can
be made “for the alienation of property based on the law [i.e., eminent domain], conditioned by the interest of the majority of people and accompanied by fair compensation” this must be done carefully and with respect for the demands of justice and charity rooted n thankfulness to God. Otherwise, and as “Russian [and American] history has shown” the State’s “violation of these principles” can (and has) result “in social upheavals and people’s suffering” (Basis, VII.3).

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory