Tag Archives: Ukraine

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

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

 

Diocesan Ownership of Parish Property: Aspirational or Actual?

My response to a recent post on property rights and the Church over at the Acton Institute’s PowerBlog (Protecting private property: The road to sainthood?).



Fr Ben,

Thanks for posting this. I especially appreciate your pointing out the shared appreciation of the right to property in both Catholic and Orthodox moral teaching.

One of the challenges with the right to property is that this right is typically a bundle of rights. For example, in The Basis of the Social Concept of the Orthodox Church (2000), the bishops of the Moscow Patriarchate affirm the human vocation to labor and right to “the fruits of labour.” The latter includes “the right to own and use property, the right to control and collect income, the right to dispose of, lease, modify or liquidate property” (VII.1).

So immediately, we see that the right to property includes not only (1) actual ownership but (2) use the property, (3) control how the property is (and so isn’t) used, (4) obtain income from the property, (5) sell for profit or donate the property, (6) rent or lease the property, (7) alter the property in some way (e.g., build a house on land I own) or (8) surrender the property in partial payment of debts.

I leave the law to others, but the interesting thing about this bundle of rights is that exercise of any and all of them must be done in conformity to at least to the moral demands of the moral law. What happens though when the exercise of one or more of these rights come into conflict with other rights in the bundle.

Ownership of church property in Ukraine, to return to your post, is anything but straightforward. In addition to competing claims and counterclaims among the various Orthodox jurisdictions, there is the conflict between Orthodox and Greek Catholic communities. I agree with the representative of the Kyiv Patriarchate, Archbishop Yevstratii, that banning the Moscow Patriarchate is counterproductive politically and, more importantly, immoral (here). Adjudication of these claims is anything but easy.

Without prejudice to the Holy Spirit, a just solution to the property conflicts in Ukraine requires a clarity about the canonical control of parish property that we don’t as Orthodox Christians have.

Historically at least diocesan control over parochial property is typically aspirational rather than actual. For example, in traditionally Orthodox countries, the Orthodox Church is an established Church and, as such, the ultimate control of Church property belongs to the State.

Interestingly, from the early centuries, Orthodox monasteries and church buildings were often established as private foundations with the deed for the property held by an individual. This happened throughout the Byzantine era (Byzantine Monastic Foundation Documents). It was done in part to keep monastic and parish communities independent of diocesan, and so Imperial, control.

Diocesan ownership of parish property in the US is more or less established under American law. Typically, the parish holds the deed to the property in trust for the diocese with the latter having ultimate control over the property. In other words, diocesan control is possible in the US because the courts will (usually) support the diocese.

Even in the US, however, bishop rarely exercise control over parish property. When they do it is typically because of either a schism or an unwillingness of the local bishop to allow a parish to leave one Orthodox jurisdiction for another.

This means that in practice, diocesan control over parochial property reflects not just the canonical tradition but (as you allude to) the peculiarities of American law on property and religious non-profits.

(An interesting and profitable discussion could, I think. be had on whether or not the Orthodox Church is a “hierarchical church” as defined by US law. The definition embraces not only the Roman Catholic Church but also mainline Protestant denominations such as the Episcopal Church USA, the Presbyterian Church USA and the United Methodist Church. As an aside, the Catholic Church in the US didn’t actually obtain diocesan control over parochial property until late in the 19th century.)

At least in some states, the Orthodox Church has a hybrid status. We are both hierarchical and congregational. For example, in 1993, the Appeals Court of Massachusetts agreed with the trial judge in Primate and Bishops’ Synod of Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia v. Russian Orthodox Church of Holy Resurrection, Inc., that the parish “was hierarchical in terms of internal administration, discipline, and matters of faith,” but “congregational as far as the control and use of its property.” The appellate court went on to say that “While the only person who could appoint a priest was the bishop, property and indeed churches belonged to various groups, including tradesmen, nobles, and the Tsars.”

A footnote in the case is interesting and offers a caution to assuming that the American Orthodox Church is necessarily a hierarchical church under US law:

Unlike the Roman Catholic Church, there was evidence that in the Russian Orthodox Church authority was vested in the whole body of the laity as well as with the hierarchy; it was described as “an organic, as opposed to a juridical notion of authority.” There was also testimony that there were congregational aspects in the orthodox faith; in theory the bishop is elected by the people as well as the clergy, and that even in appointing the priest, the bishops would not impose someone upon the parish that the parish did not want (for more on this go here).

Evidently, our eucharistic ecclesiology and emphasis on active lay participation in the governance of the Church look very different to US courts than it does to us. Moreover, the observation that the Orthodox Church has a mixed polity, isn’t unique to the Massachusetts Appellate Court. Though he is critical of this mixed structure, Fr Nicholas Frencez makes an argument similar to that of the Court in American Orthodoxy and Parish Congregationalism.

Returning to the situation in Ukraine, while I think the proposed laws are imprudent, and even arguably immoral, they are not wholly without basis in either the canonical tradition or historical practice of the Orthodox Church. Indeed, they are not without precedent in the practice of the Moscow Patriarchate. In the 1990’s, the Moscow Patriarchate advocated for a position similar that in bill № 4128.

In 1990, a quadripartite commission was formed that included representatives of the UGCC, the Vatican, the Moscow Patriarchate, and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate). One of the key points of contention was how to distribute church property. The UGCC insisted on returning churches that were forcibly taken from her in 1946 and transferred to the ROC. Representatives of the Moscow Patriarchate refused to negotiate with the UGCC as an institution that could claim lost property and insisted that the fate of the church buildings should be decided by the communities themselves locally. In other words, individual Greco-Catholics—but not the Church as an institution—could claim the property of their own communities. Following this logic, where most of the community identified as Greco-Catholic, the church building was transferred to the Greco- Catholics, and where the majority was Orthodox, the church building was theirs (more here).

Again, I’m not advocating for the proposed laws. More importantly, I agree with your point that secure, legally defensible property rights serve to secure other rights among them freedom of religion and conscience.

In defense of the right to property in general and of the Orthodox Church’s right to property, we need to be careful, however, that we do not confuse the ideal to which we aspire and the reality that we live. Diocesan, and indeed episcopal, control of parish property is in our canonical tradition. However, this tradition is more complicated than we think. Diocesan control has depended to a greater or lesser degree on the authority of the state and the co-operation of the lower clergy and laity. When the latter is absent, bishops have appealed willing to the former. St Paul’s warning against Christians appealing to civil courts comes to mind here (1 Corinthians 6:1-8).

Without minimizing the all too human elements of the conflict in Ukraine, part of the conflict arises out of the Orthodox Church’s lack of clarity regarding her own practice.

This is why, and I’ll conclude here, both this essay and Orthodox involvement in think tanks like the Acton Institute is of critical importance for the Church. For the first time since the 4th century, the majority of the Church has (in principle at least) the political and social freedom to structure our own, internal life and how we relate to the larger society. The challenge now is to figure out what to do with the mixed blessing of such freedoms.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory