Monday, June 6, 2005

Valerie Karras on Ligonier: A Traditionalist Response

by Hieromonk Patapios Agiogregorites, Holy Monastery of St. Gregory Palamas, Etna, CA

Editor's Note: Hieromonk Patapios holds an honors B.A. degree from Cambridge University, an M.A. from Pennsylvania State University, an M.A. and an M.L.S. degree from the University of Pittsburgh, the Lic. Theol. from the Center for Traditionalist Orthodox Studies, and a doctoral degree from in Patristics from the Graduate Theological Union at Berkeley, where he was a Newhall Teaching Fellow. He is a spiritual son of Archbishop Chrysostomos of Etna, having joined the Synod of Metropolitan Cyprian in 1991.

The following article was sent to us by a Reader in one of our parishes. I think it prudent to make a few remarks, in response, to our faithful, since some of the issues are important and deserve our consideration. I have placed my remarks between dashes within the text. I am hopeful that my comments will help to place much of this material in broader perspective, thus perhaps affording a more precise and perspicacious view of matters that are not quite as clear-cut as Dr. Karras suggests, and especially with regard to various Church traditions. We have no desire to spark debate or spawn contentiousness, but simply to affirm that the scholarly witness is not as definitive as she would like us to believe. While this is not written as a formal rebuttal of Dr. Karras, you are free to pass it along to anyone who may be interested in our reactions.

Hieromonk Patapios, Visiting Scholar,
Graduate Theological Union,


by Dr. Valerie A. Karras

Presented at the 17th Annual Meeting of Orthodox Christian Laity
Oak Brook, Illinois on October 30, 2004

Dr. Valerie A. Karras, Scholar, Teacher, Theologian, has addressed OCL meetings in the past. Her insights and research on Orthodoxy in America are well respected by many faithful Orthodox Christians of all jurisdictions. The members of OCL are always challenged by her thoughtful essays and comments. OCL is committed to encouraging lay theologians to meet and encourages them to speak out on the issues facing Orthodox Christianity in a pluralistic society. Dr. Karras presented her thoughts on where Orthodoxy is 10 years after Ligonier at the 17th Annual Meeting of Orthodox Christian Laity which took place in Oak Brook, Illinois on October 30, 2004. We look forward to reading her book, "Women in the Byzantine Liturgy," published by Oxford University Press. She is also a member of the editorial board of the St. Nina Quarterly, P.O. Box 397252, Cambridge, MA - web page

I just noticed a couple of days ago that my talk has been advertised as being on "The Nature of the Church." I had actually communicated with Archbishop Nathaniel about doing something more specific to Ligonier. (So, I hope that those of you who were dying to hear something vague and insubstantial on the nature of the Church won't be disappointed.) Given that we are celebrating the tenth anniversary of the SCOBA conference in Ligonier, I thought it might be interesting to reflect on progress and impediments to Orthodox unity since 1994, and particularly to place Ligonier within the broader historical context of attempts at Orthodox unity in North America.

Since we find ourselves among those whom Dr. Karras would probably call "sectarian traditionalists" (vide infra), we have little to say about the non-inclusive unity that seems to be such a desired goal in Orthodox America. We can, however, make a few comments about the assumptions which underlie the issues that she raises, as they impinge on the status of us so-called sectarian traditionalists. If we are to be approached by epithets that seem designed to thwart any face-to-face dialogue and engagement with those who would dismiss us as virtual cretins, this does not impede us from making comments for anyone fair enough to listen to what we have to say. This freedom is as old as that enjoyed by the ancient philosophers. It is also equally efficacious.

Personally, when I look at what has happened over the past ten years, I find myself filled with both hope and frustration. Since the Orthodox Church in this country is a patchwork of jurisdictions, movement toward unity has been neither consistent nor collective. What we have seen in addition to collective action by SCOBA and other bodies are the individual movements of each jurisdiction, and even these have not always been wholly consistent within a given jurisdiction. These fitful starts, stops, and even reverses have been motivated not only by the commitment and vision - or lack thereof - of the bishops, clergy, and laity of an individual jurisdiction, but also by the vision, confidence, and/or fears of the bishops of that jurisdiction's mother church, and even by the worldwide Orthodox Church. In other words, Orthodox unity in North America is inextricably linked to the relationships between mother and daughter churches among the various jurisdictions. These relationships reflect not only certain historical realities but also the commitment - or, again, the lack thereof - of the mother churches to Orthodox unity in North America.

It behooves us to express our concern about spiritual integrity and the inner struggle for union with God, which, from our putatively sectarian position, is a far more important concern for Orthodoxy in America. Unity is the product of authenticity in Faith, in the first place. In the second place, administrative order and preoccupations with merely structural canonicity should, in our minds, always remain subordinate to the "kanona tes pisteos," or the rule of Faith. While the former is desirable, it is rooted in the latter. And if one single aspect of "canonicity" (adherence to the rule) is necessary and sufficient, it is that aspect which pertains to matters of Faith and practice, not administrative order. Hence, the oft-cited and wise caveat that, if one must choose between prophecy and order, peril will befall those who favor order over prophecy.

Before discussing the past ten years, however, I believe it is important to place the aftermath of Ligonier in the broader historical perspective of Orthodoxy in North America and particularly movements toward Orthodox unity. As most of you know, the first Orthodox Church to establish a true local church here, with a normal diocesan structure, was the Church of Russia, whose monks had begun evangelizing the native Alaskans in the eighteenth century. The sale of Alaska to the United States in the mid-nineteenth century suddenly moved part of the Church of Russia to the United States in terms of its political identity. The Russian Orthodox Church here, which eventually became known as the "Metropolia," relocated its administrative center twice, moving from Alaska first to set up its diocese in San Francisco and then, as it expanded across the continent, later moving to New York. As other non-Russian Orthodox immigrant groups began establishing themselves and forming parishes in this country, some retained loose affiliations with the churches of their motherland, but most recognized the legitimacy of the Russian Orthodox Archdiocese as the one Orthodox Church in this country, and so came under its jurisdiction. Thus it is that the first Arab-American Orthodox saint, St. Raphael (Hawaweeny), was a bishop of the Russian Orthodox Archdiocese here in the U.S.

So, it is ironic to realize that Orthodoxy, splintered in such an uncanonical manner today, actually established itself in North America in a canonical manner as a single jurisdiction. The uncanonical establishment of multiple, ethnically-based jurisdictions began only after the Bolshevik revolution, when the mother Church of Russia came under extreme persecution and was forced to abandon its daughter church here to her own devices. Notwithstanding this capitulation to the political exigencies of the rise of Bolshevism in Russia and the rise of nationalism in Europe after World War I, most Orthodox hierarchs recognized the uncanonical nature of the situation, especially as time passed and successive generations of Orthodox born and raised here no longer considered themselves to be a diaspora, although they usually retained strong ethnic identities.

Some bishops from the 1920's on were keenly aware that we were becoming an American Orthodox Church and so urged the use of English in catechetical instruction and liturgy, such as Bishop Joachim (Alexopoulos) of the Greek Archdiocese and Metropolitan Anthony (Bashir) of the Antiochian Archdiocese. John Erickson, dean of St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary, in his excellent textbook, Orthodox Christians in America, noted that the far-sighted Bishop Aftimios Ofiesh in 1927 railed against the ethnic jurisdictional divisions which were impeding Orthodox development in this country. Bishop Aftimios decried the multiplication of ethnic jurisdictions in that decade and argued that "[t]he true ideal of one Orthodox Catholic Church in America for the growing thousands of Americans born and reared in Orthodoxy was lost in the over-zealous patriotic desire of the immigrant generation to parallel in America the national resurrections taking place in Europe."[1] Unfortunately, Bishop Aftimios was well ahead of his time, and his attempt to create an American Orthodox Catholic Church was a short-lived failure.

With all due respect to Bishop Aftimios's vision of an American Orthodoxy, there were also deficits in his witness as vivid as the "lacunae" in this historical sketch of the history of Orthodoxy in America. We might, for example, cite the role of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, which is neglected here, as well as the Cleveland Sobor in the mid-1940s, which led to a significant schism between the "Metropolia" and the ROCA and which is symptomatic of an American Orthodox experience which is not quite as inspiring or as edifying as contemporary histories, often whitewashed and serving jurisdictional ends, would suggest. We are not suggesting that the whole and accurate story of American Orthodoxy is one of "good" against "evil"; rather, it is a story of ecclesiastical politics and jurisdictional rivalry, with errors on all sides, that still colors and taints the fabric of Orthodoxy in this country.

However, his vision had not died. Orthodox remained uncomfortably aware of the uncanonical nature of their divided ecclesiastical structure in North America. Another attempt at some type of Orthodox unity was the Federated Orthodox Greek Catholic Primary Jurisdictions established in 1943 by Archbishop Athenagoras of the Greek Archdiocese and Metropolitan Anthony Bashir. Yet, despite its much more modest aim of simply coordinating Orthodox activity, this too was short-lived. Nevertheless, while both of these attempts were ultimately unsuccessful, the underlying desire for unity propelling them persisted.

Once more, there are those of us, whether dismissed as sectarians or cretins, who would emphasize that the primary goal of the Church is the transformation of the human being through immersion into its Eucharistic and Hesychastic traditions, and not merely external unity. Our yearning for the Church should center on these traditions; for, indeed, the Church is first a charismatic body of those transformed by Grace and made one in love, and only after that a body of dioceses, national Churches, and so on.

In 1960, this quest for unity manifested itself again, and this time it would not simply die on the vine. Archbishop Iakovos (Coucouzes), as the new head of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, organized a conference of Orthodox bishops from various jurisdictions to discuss coordinated activity. This new creation, the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas (SCOBA), established joint commissions for such areas as ecumenism, religious education (OCEC), military chaplaincies, scouting, and, in more recent decades, for college campus fellowships (OCF) and international charitable work (IOCC).

SCOBA also strove in its early years to initiate a process of Orthodox unification in North America, what a 1965 report of its Ad Hoc Commission on Unity titled "unity by degrees".[2] Because SCOBA recognized that "it would be absolutely impossible to simply 'jump' into that ideal future" of "one Orthodox Church unified in its canonical structure",[3] it proposed transforming itself first into a provisional Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church in America, allowing each jurisdiction to continue to administer its own internal affairs, but coordinating at the synod level such activities as the ordination of bishops, religious education programs, and global inter-Orthodox relations.[4] This provisional synod was to provide an intermediate step toward attaining full Orthodox unity.

Unfortunately, these plans were vetoed by most of the mother churches, who were having problems among themselves in determining the agenda of a proposed Great and Holy Council of the Orthodox Church (in fact, in their still ongoing preparatory discussions they have now removed the situation of the Orthodox churches in North America from the agenda entirely). As John Erickson discusses,[5] their solution to these inter-Orthodox tensions was to concentrate on "safe" topics. The uncanonical situation of the multiple Orthodox jurisdictions in North America was not safe, particularly since it included another uncanonical situation nested within the larger one, namely, the frosty and almost non-existent relationship between the Metropolia and the Patriarchate of Moscow, which had existed since the Bolshevik Revolution.

One area that we might suggest for consideration is that of the development of the personal virtues (spiritual and otherwise) that would allow Orthodox to sit down with one another in a forum free from self-assigned status as "official" or "True" Orthodox (impediments and faults surely existing on both sides of the traditional divide, as any objective student of the matter can readily ascertain) and dedicated to the revitalization of the Orthodox Faith as a prerequisite for any sort of administrative unity. The Patristic focus of our Faith is preeminently and ineluctably on our union with God and our personal communion with the spiritual ethos of Orthodoxy, not on purely organizational matters.

This situation was resolved when discussions between the two, begun in 1968, resulted in a reconciliation and, in 1970, in Moscow's granting autocephaly to the Metropolia. The Metropolia was renamed the Orthodox Church in America and began yet another effort at Orthodox unity as the Albanian Orthodox Archdiocese and the Bulgarian Orthodox Diocese joined it, although these created mini-schisms as well, as some parishes remained under their mother churches; the Romanian episcopate, under Bishop Valerian, had already joined the Metropolia in 1960. As I discussed with OCL in a previous address here in Chicago several years ago, Orthodoxy's history includes three different modes of granting autocephaly: 1) the decision of an ecumenical council, 2) a decree of the emperor, and 3) an act of the mother church. Therefore, the purported ecclesiological rationale for the refusal of many Orthodox churches (mainly the Greek-speaking ones) to recognize formally the OCA's autocephaly - namely, their argument thatautocephaly can only be granted by a pan-Orthodox council - is on shaky grounds given the historical record, and most especially since the Patriarchate of Constantinople itself granted autocephaly to the Czech Church just a few years ago. While most agree that there was probably some Soviet pressure on the Patriarchate of Moscow to cut the American Church loose, the Patriarchate of Moscow engaged in full, sometimes difficult discussions with the representatives of the Metropolia before agreeing to autocephaly; furthermore, it has not attempted to revoke that autocephaly since the fall of communism a decade ago.

Autonomy and autocephaly, in fact, may be the most pragmatic intermediate step toward Orthodox unity in this country. The greater the daughter churches' independence from their mother churches, the more freedom they have to act in concert with other Orthodox churches toward creating a unified Orthodox jurisdiction in this country. Several jurisdictions in this country either were established as autonomous churches or have developed into autonomous churches. The Romanian Orthodox Archdiocese enjoys the same high level of autonomy as other dioceses in Romania itself. For example, two years ago the Romanian Archdiocese elected a new archbishop through a nominating and election process here, with the Romanian patriarchal synod in Bucharest simply ratifying the election. This is the normal procedure for autonomous churches (Finland is another example), although theoretically the mother church could choose the presiding hierarch of the autonomous church on her own. We will see a similar process with the newly-autonomous Antiochian Archdiocese, which was formally granted its autonomy just days ago.

Unfortunately, at the same time that most Orthodox jurisdictions in North America have moved to autonomy and autocephaly, some churches have been moving away from self-governance, most notably the Serbian and Greek Archdioceses. In both cases, the autonomy which they formerly enjoyed has been taken by them, in the early 1930's for the Greeks and a couple of decades ago for the Serbians. The Serbian Archdiocese essentially had its autonomy revoked by its patriarchal synod some 25 years ago in a set of actions which broke up the Archdiocese and created a schism that still has not been healed, despite a Supreme Court ruling in the matter (the court ruling has problems of its own, which I will briefly discuss below).[6]

The Greek Archdiocese was established as an autonomous church in 1922, then had its autonomy revoked and diocesan structure abolished in 1931 by the fraudulent backdating of documents (as Paul Manolis has shown in his multi-volume set of Archdiocesan archival documents). It moved back toward a more traditionally diocesan, though not formally autonomous, structure in 1977. As Andrew Walsh described it, "Under Iakovos, who served as archbishop from 1959 to 1996, the American archdiocese had enjoyed substantial, if informal, autonomy."[7] In the late 1980's and early 1990's, a committee began working with the Ecumenical Patriarchate on a revised charter which was informally called the "autonomy charter".

Unfortunately, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, elected and installed in 1991, has consistently shown an antipathy to autonomy for the GOA through a multitude of actions, most notably the breakup of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, the rejection of the work of the joint charter committee, and, of course, his condemnation of the Ligonier conference. "Bartholomew had been caught off-guard and responded by pressuring the sitting Greek Orthodox archbishop in the Americas, Iakovos Coucouzes, into retirement [in 1996]." The patriarchate replaced Turkish-born but long-time American resident Archbishop Iakovos, who had striven for three decades for greater autonomy and Orthodox unity in America, "with an American-born hierarch [who had not lived in the United States since his teens], Spyridon George, a man with a clear record of loyalty to Constantinople and a mandate to reestablish obedience to the Patriarchate."[8] (This just goes to show that one should not assume a hierarch's priorities and vision based on the heaviness of his accent.) Archbishop Spyridon aroused considerable animosity both within and outside the GOA by his attempts to dismantle and reshape both the Archdiocese and SCOBA (he attempted, for example, to wrest control of the Orthodox Christian Mission Center from SCOBA back to the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, which under Archbishop Iakovos had given it over to SCOBA in the first place). In fact, he became so unpopular because of his extreme actions with respect to Holy Cross seminary, St. Basil's Academy, and the Mission Center that an Archdiocesan-wide movement developed to unseat him. In 1999, the Patriarchate of Constantinople replaced Spyridon with Demetrios Trakatellis, a much beloved Greek hierarch and former professor at Holy Cross.

Unfortunately, Archbishop Demetrios, despite strong personal reservations about the actions of the Patriarchate, has been unwilling to voice public opposition to anything Bartholomew has done, from as trivial a matter as revoking an invitation to Archbishop Christodoulos of Athens to serve as grand marshal to the Greek Independence Day parade in New York, to as weighty a matter as the illegitimately-imposed revised charter for the Archdiocese. The philosophy of "divide and conquer" evident in the patriarch's opposition to Ligonier and his earlier breakup of the GOA into four archdioceses and metropolitanates, is continued in this new charter, not by the elevation of diocesan bishops to metropolitan status, but rather by the ecclesiastical structure implied in the order of commemoration, whereby the diocesan metropolitans now commemorate the Patriarch directly as opposed to commemorating the head of their eparchial synod, Archbishop Demetrios. This uncanonical order of commemoration weakens the traditional Orthodox synodal structure, and is evident in the de facto workings of the synod.

With respect to the legal challenge mounted by OCL to the imposition of this revised GOA charter, I would like to raise an issue which is of importance to Orthodoxy at large in the United States, and which I believe should lead the other Orthodox jurisdictions to file amicus briefs, if that is appropriate in this type of legal action. This is one of the issues opposed by Evan Chriss himself in his Affidavit and Memorandum of Law, namely, the court's assumption that the Orthodox Church's being "hierarchical" is to be interpreted in an essentially Roman Catholic sense, i.e., the highest authority (interpreted as the Patriarchate of Constantinople) in the church has the final say in all matters. The American court system's recognition of only two ecclesiological models - hierarchical and congregational - is a natural result of the predominant models in Western Christianity. However, the Orthodox model, while hierarchical, is far more complex in its understanding of the relationships among laity, clergy, hierarchs, and the state. Unfortunately, that complexity does not lend itself readily to concrete American legal structures.

The problem is intensified because, historically, the balance to episcopal authority in the Orthodox Church on the lay level has normally been exercised by the state, whether that was the emperor or tsar in earlier times, or the Ottoman sultan, or the modern Greek and Russian states. This creates a peculiar paradox in the United States because of its constitutional separation of church and state: the state will not and cannot exercise the role historically it has played to prevent the episcopacy from wielding power unchecked and thus has effectively removed the traditional balance of authority which has existed in Orthodoxy.

Even worse, by imposing a Western hierarchical model on the Orthodox Church, i.e., by making the mother church legally exempt from abiding by its own contractual obligations (e.g., charters with daughter churches), the American court system is leaving the daughter Orthodox churches in the U.S. with no legal protection from their respective mother churches. We are subject to the whims of our mother churches because of certain jurists whose convoluted understanding of the free exercise of religion has led them to the remarkable opinion that American daughter churches have no legal right to enforce contracts entered into with their mother churches.

While administration is not our domain, this is a rather curious way to look at the hierarchical administration of the Orthodox Church. If it is true that hierarchy itself, as we affirm, rests on spiritual relations and virtues, and not on administrative or authoritative prerogatives, such things as the "free exercise of religion" and "contractual fidelity" should be reckoned wholly foreign to the ethos of Orthodox. Such concepts as these do not derive from order based on spiritual precepts.

Those American Orthodox bishops who currently look favorably upon the American courts' imposition of a simplistic hierarchical model on Orthodox church matters should think twice. Except for the OCA, this model means that every jurisdiction in this country is subject to whatever changes desired by their mother churches, even if they have autonomy. That autonomy could be revoked and the American courts would uphold it (in fact, they did just that in the Serbian case). Every Orthodox jurisdiction in this country would do well to consider not how the legal hierarchical model enforces unfettered episcopal authority, but rather how that unfettered episcopal authority, at it highest level, has the potential to be used against the Orthodox churches in the U.S.

Moving back to the question of autonomy and Orthodox unity in North America, I do not believe that it is coincidental that the Serbian and Greek Archdioceses, the two which have moved backward in terms of autonomy and openness to Orthodox unity, share two traits in common: they are the most explicitly ethnic of the jurisdictions, and they both have mother churches which either are or were politically oppressed when they made decisions breaking up their daughter churches and exercising more direct control. In other words, in a reverse from the situation which obtained with respect to the Moscow patriarchate and the Metropolia, political pressure or, alternatively, fear emanating from a siege mentality, have led these mother churches to attempt to control more directly their daughter churches.

One is hard-pressed to imagine that Orthodoxy should be defined by a preoccupation with such matters. Granted, I speak from the within the confines of a monastery, but perhaps the image of the spiritual illumination of the monastic by the light of Angels and the illumination of the laity by the light of monasticism is not a bad one to apply here. In a monastic setting, where administration is grounded in spiritual obedience and love, that administration takes its form from that in which it is grounded. This may be a model that would serve the jurisdictional problems that face Orthodox in America today. The challenge is an idealistic one, of course, but so is the challenge of Christianity and all efforts at spiritual transformation.

Of course, these attempts to tighten control and authority are doomed to failure, in both practical and theoretical terms. As a practical matter, the mother churches exhibit woeful ignorance in their understanding of the realities of Orthodox church life in American society. They ignore the consequences of both ethnic and religious inter-marriage as well as the challenges posed by a confessionally pluralistic society which creates a religious marketplace. Instead, such mother churches operate under a false notion of diaspora and, insofar as they do recognize the ever-diminishing ethnic and mother-church identity of their faithful in North America, they naively believe that it can be remedied through language instruction, dance and youth groups, and greater control by the mother church over ecclesiastical affairs here.

Of course, most attempts to exercise greater control, because they are based in a false understanding of the realities of the church here, are unsuccessful and simply create animosity toward the mother church and strengthen the American faithful's resolve to become self-governing. Moreover, from a historical perspective, these attempts to govern from abroad are doomed to failure because no mother church has managed to maintain strong control over a geographically distant daughter church for very long. Finally, impeding the establishment of a self-governing local or regional church is theologically and ecclesiologically untenable. It cuts against the grain of Orthodox practice and replaces traditional Orthodox ecclesiology with a series of mini-Catholic models (or not so "mini" in the case of the Ecumenical Patriarch, who has meddled in the affairs of the Church of Russia in Estonia, Ukraine, and even its relations with the Vatican).

So, where have we come since Ligonier? Not nearly as far as most of us had hoped. Perhaps our American bishops have become too American. Rather than - as bishops in Greece would certainly have done - standing up to the Ecumenical Patriarch and other mother church hierarchs opposed to Ligonier, the American Orthodox bishops caved in to opposition from abroad and essentially retreated. Nevertheless, I believe that the autonomy granted by the Patriarchate of Antioch to the Antiochian Archdiocese bodes well for the future. Specifically, I optimistically foresee the OCA and Antiochian Archdiocese uniting to form the nucleus of a truly pan-ethnic autocephalous Orthodox Church in America, although it is unclear to me whether the autonomous Romanian Archdiocese and other smaller Orthodox jurisdictions will join them. The Serbian and Greek Archdioceses, however, will remain outside this unity as a result of ethnic insularity and opposition to unity from their mother churches (I believe that ethnic insularity plays a greater role in the Serbian Archdiocese, while maternal ecclesiastical opposition plays the greater role in the GOA). Unless and until conditions change in these two mother churches, I believe their two daughter churches will remain stagnant and insular, although maintaining cooperative ties with other Orthodox. However, I also believe that their numbers are likely to diminish over time, as less ethnic future generations "vote with their feet" and leave these archdioceses either for a united American Orthodox Church or, tragically, for non-Orthodox churches.

Paradoxically, I observe that at the same time that we are striving for unity across jurisdictions, we are becoming more internally divided within jurisdictions and even within parishes. I foresee this deepening rift creating a reorganization and reshaping of Orthodox jurisdictional lines in the future along the lines of two competing philosophies: on the one hand, the main American Orthodox church, with a dynamic and acculturating approach to Orthodox tradition and history; on the other hand, a smaller, perhaps uncanonical body, with a more static and sectarian approach to tradition and history, i.e., a traditionalist Orthodox church.

It is rather amazing to see "tradition" used as a demeaning epithet. And again, the use of the word "uncanonical" is a rather strange one, particularly when applied to jurisdictions rightly more concerned with the practice of the Faith (the canon of Faith) than the prerogatives of administration.

In reality, most people - and even churches - combine aspects of both these approaches, often in an unconscious and inconsistent manner. To give one example, traditionalists often insist that clergy should wear cassocks, not a clerical collar, and keep their beards and hair uncut because that is Orthodox tradition, as they believe. However, the historical evidence, both literary and artistic, is that clergy for many centuries had short hair and close-cropped beards and that monks - in the East as well as the West - retained their monastic tonsure (the shaving of the upper part of the head which always makes medieval monks look bald).

Dr. Karras certainly must be aware, as a scholar, that she is citing here diversity in practice over a long period of history. Both the full tonsure and practices that survive as the dominant custom in Orthodoxy today existed in the very first centuries of Christianity. Uncut beards and hair were inarguably the more common feature in Eastern monasticism, as evidenced by the fact that they survived and the exceptions did not. One must avoid off-handed scholarship that feigns authority which is not there. A good graduate school guide would find much to criticize and correct in her scholarly presumptuousness.

As for clerical attire, as late as the 18th or 19th century, drawings in the Benaki Museum in Athens depict a village priest dressed in typical village attire, not in specifically clerical garb.

There are, of course, artistic representations of this kind, and naturally one can find village Priests, both in Greece and elsewhere, in civilian attire while working or in other circumstances, even today. They are, however, rare.

In actual fact, the anteri (cassock) was monastic dress and only later came to be adopted by secular clergy; the exoraso (the robe with wide, flowing sleeves) and kalamafki (pillbox hat) which virtually all bishops and many priests wear comes from the judicial robes worn in the Ottoman Empire: during the Ottoman period, Orthodox clergy became judges and the ecclesiastical courts served as civil and criminal courts for intra-Orthodox disputes

This is a muddled account of the very complex history of clerical dress. It is partly based on the kind of limited scholarship that inspired the Calendar innovation and had its provenance in the absolute distaste for traditionalism among many Greek clergy and scholars in the first few decades of the twentieth century. (See an excellent discussion of the "Europeanization" of Orthodoxy favored by these modernists in Dimitri Kitsikis's THE OLD CALENDARISTS AND THE RISE OF RELIGIOUS CONSERVATISM IN GREECE [Etna, CA: C.T.O.S., 1995]. Professor Kitsikis is a distinguished historian, member of the Royal Academy of Canada, and Professor emeritus at the University of Ottawa). This same trend, which centered on what can only be called an abuse of scholarly standards, can be seen in the pitiable theological writings of the advocates of the"Living Church" movement in Russia, after the Bolshevik Revolution. These turn-of-the-century modernists eschewed objective scholarship for the purpose of finding any justification for their innovations, and this in a spirit of disdain for Church tradition that is rather astonishing.

In the first place, special dress for the clergy is not something new. Canon 27 of the Fifth-Sixth Oecumenical Synod (692), for example, not only warns clergy (and not just monks) to avoid "inappropriate clothing," but directs them "to use the garments that have already been assigned to those ranked among the clergy." And we are not here, as some innovative interpreters have suggested, talking about liturgical dress. As well, St. Basil the Great (fl. fourth century) tells us that the clothing that we wear is an expression of our spiritual witness and way of life (see PATROLOGIA GRAECA, XXXI, col. 980). This advice is given to monks, but it obviously applies to all clergy, as evidenced by the Canon cited above. The rason (raka in its ancient form"), anteri, or cassock, was the garb of monks from the early centuries of Christianity. In fact, there is little specific evidence of its developed form until the eleventh century, except in references to monastic garb; so, we do not know precisely what married clergy wore, though it is likely that they dressed in a manner much like monks. At any rate, from the eleventh century forward, as Dr. Karras certainly knows, there are many representations of every rank of Byzantine clergyman in clerical robes of various styles. It was not unusual, just as monastic practice dominated in the liturgical formation of the Church, that monastic practice should have thus prevailed in the dress of married clergy.

As for the present inner and outer cassocks worn by Orthodox clergy, they are quite different in style than those worn by officials and jurists in the Ottoman Empire. Anyone who has studied the matter even casually can see this. The clerical dress of Orthodox clergy at the time was very much influenced by the Turkish model (included in this influence, for example, was the adoption of the kalymmauchion in a form much like what we use today). But this was a matter of influence in style, not of invention or wholesale adoption. This influence is also reflected in the Sultan's various dicta requiring Orthodox clergy to wear their clerical garb. These were not institutions of innovation, but a matter of enforcement. The question of the informal judicial role of clerics within the Orthodox community had very little to do with this change in style. Such an assumption is simply not based on adequate scholarship.

To place the complex matter of clerical dress in perspective, let us just note that the official and judicial attire of the Ottoman Empire, which empire was theocratic, as we often forget, was borrowed from the dress of Moslem clerics. This raises the perplexing and difficult (if fascinating) question of the model of Islamic clerical dress, which many trace to the monks who occupied the lands in which Islam came to flourish. These are scholarly matters that need tremendous attention, and one cannot simply argue his point without due regard for the canonical, Patristic, and historical witness as a whole.

Finally, let us grant (and only for the sake of argument, since the evidence for the maintenance of traditional clerical garb in the Orthodox Church is far more abundant than Dr. Karras opines) that present-day Orthodox clerical attire derived from the Turkish court and judiciary (and, again, to make this assumption is to ignore historical data to the contrary). What would this mean? Our present style of dress is still a living tradition that should not be dismissed simply because of taste or whim. For example, many Hasidic Jews wear clothes styled in part on the formal dress of the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Central European gentry (though with many specifically Jewish components, it must be observed). I rather doubt that any of them would find it reasonable to argue that, because their clothing resembles that of their former oppressors, they should discard it as "foreign" to their tradition, and especially after centuries of use.

By the same token, it is patently absurd to imagine that something which has entered into Orthodox tradition (which is, in fact, ancient, even if we will set that fact aside) should be discarded in favor of a new form of dress that makes Orthodox clergy, whose witness should be separate and unique, look like the heterodox around them. One has to wonder, in all candor, about the aims of those who support such an abrupt departure from tradition in the direction of social conformity. What motivations underlie such a proposition? Moreover, from the standpoint of spiritual life, not just a few Priests would benefit from the limitations imposed on their less-clerical activities and temptations by the easy and immediate attention that Orthodox clerical dress affords. And if the argument that this brings such Priests ridicule arises, what, indeed, would the Gospels and the Fathers have to say about a desire to avoid ridicule occasioned by our observance of the Faith?

In the end, Dr. Karras argues with passion and a lack of objectivity. These traits are not conducive to good scholarship or compatible with the Patristic mind-set.

Traditionalists are not the only ones guilty of an uninformed or hypocritical application of their model. Sometimes even those who in general follow the dynamic approach to tradition occasionally visit the traditionalist side, often with equally uninformed results. (I am applying here a "pox on both your houses" approach.)

This is an unfortunate portrayal of traditionalism. Though certainly many traditionalists are guilty of overstatement at times, our respect and our reverence for tradition are things that should not be dismissed simply on account of the harshness with which some may express them. If we are called to more moderate language and thought, so are those who wish to dismiss any tradition as "sectarian" or whatever. Not long ago, I read a most regrettable attack on my spiritual Father and Bishop, sent to me by a friend in one of the "official" Orthodox jurisdictions. Among other things, my spiritual Father was described, in a quotation from a clergyman, as being "too humble." I was astounded by this statement, even if it was meant to cast doubt on the authenticity of the humility attributed to my spiritual Father. It strikes me that many of the attacks against traditionalists, today, are designed to question the genuineness of their personal virtues. This is something about which I will not comment. But the tactic employed, that of using virtues and lofty precepts (such as traditionalism) in a pejorative or vulgar way, speaks to the disrespect for Holy Tradition generated in these sophomoric slaps at traditionalists and those who uphold customs and standards that some may dislike. This habit must be avoided.

For example, I was dismayed to read the statement just issued by the Holy Synod of the OCA, from their meeting at St. Tikhon's ten days ago. They were responding to a controversy, emanating largely from traditionalists, about the participation of girls in altar service. The synod, seeking to maintain "the integrity of the Church and its traditions reaffirms the ancient practice of the Orthodox Church that only males are to be admitted to service within the holy altar." This affirmation is, quite simply, factually false, and I am extremely distressed that, in the 21st century, a synod of Orthodox bishops theologically trained in the United States would make what most of them must have known to be an untruthful claim and then use it to buttress the exclusion of young women from a particular area of church service.

Perhaps the more important issue is that of seeing that not just any male is allowed in the Altar and that some order must be preserved. This issue, I would argue, is one of order, not of gender and prerogative.

Granted, I know a bit more about this particular area than even most bishops. It has been one of my major areas of research for well over a decade now, and I am in fact completing revisions to a book on the liturgical participation of women in the Byzantine Church.

We cannot lay claim to knowing more than "most Bishops," I admit, and our scholarly approach is always that of explaining and defining the traditions of the Church as they are. To revive practices that have died out, such as the female Diaconate, to which Dr. Karras is referring here, is perhaps theoretically possible. However, such Deacons (Deaconesses), were they to serve properly, would have to show the humility, respect, and obedience to their Bishops that would obviate self-advocacy.

Nevertheless, modern Orthodox research on the ordained female diaconate in the Eastern Church began with Evangelos Theodorou's publication of his doctoral work on this topic in 1954 and 1955. Subsequent research over the past five decades, including my own, has proved conclusively that women were ordained at the altar and received the Eucharist from the bishop at the altar in the Byzantine Church. They were considered full deacons, although their diaconal functions did not include public liturgical service. However, these functional limitations were consistent with the cultural distinctions at that time between public and privates roles which men and women in general followed; they were not the result of canonical restrictions. There are no canons, for example, excluding female deacons from doing petitions during the liturgy. St. Nektarios, who ordained several nuns as deaconesses at the women's monastery he founded on the island of Aegina, ordained them in large part precisely so they could do petitions and therefore allow the nuns to enjoy fuller services (what is called the Liturgy of the Hours) when there was no priest.

This whole matter must be approached with humility and spiritual circumspection. Scholarship is inadequate as a path to actual practice. We must reflect on the level of virtue among Orthodox today. If Deaconesses were allowed to function outside of convents, for example, is this something from which a society increasingly exposed to the passions and the life of the flesh would benefit? Should men and women serve together? I have no definite answer to this, except as someone who knows the spiritual state of those who turn to our monastery for guidance and confession. From that perspective, I cannot imagine such a scenario. Moreover, the spiritual life is not about rank, position, and authority, but about service and submission. Would it perhaps not be better for women to seek a monastic profession, if they feel a spiritual calling? These are questions that must enter into this debate.

The modern liturgical service of women is further evidenced in most Orthodox countries, where nuns serve as acolytes in their monasteries. Even in parish and cathedral settings, the bishops of the OCA, above all others, should be aware that non-monastic, non-ordained women help vest the clergy in the altar area of the large cathedrals in Moscow and St. Petersburg, and no one blinks an eye.

If this is so, it is QUITE inappropriate and shocking, and especially if the clergy are monastics (which applies to Bishops, of course). This kind of contact between men and women in the Church violates the proper limits that a society like ours (and perhaps all societies) would be wise to impose. Common sense must prevail in this instance.

As for boys and young men serving as robed acolytes, that is not even a traditional Orthodox practice to begin with (we have adopted it in this country from Roman Catholic practice),

This is quite a strange statement, since young men have long been blessed by the Church to assist in the Altar, as we see in ancient hagiographic accounts.

so there is no historical foundation to exclude girls and women from that role.

Logically, if this is not a role proper to men and boys, how is it appropriate to women and girls? I do not mean to be rude, but this statement shows us that we must exercise caution in discussing Church matters, never bringing into the Church, with a choleric ardor that militates against logical consistency, the debates and controversies of society at large.

I cannot stress strongly enough how damaging this synodal statement is going to be to the spiritual and liturgical well-being of women and girls throughout the Orthodox Church. Orthodox lack of unity and ethnic insularity are not the only factors leading to the continuing exodus of cradle Orthodox from the Church. Faulty theological arguments and practices which exclude fully half of our faithful from broader liturgical participation play an important - and too often overlooked - role as well.

I would think that such a restriction would call women and girls to a renewed vision of humility and prompt them to explore the many ways that women may serve the Church without resentment, today.

In conclusion, the above examples help to highlight the challenges facing us as we strive to bring to reality the vision of Ligonier, not only for Orthodox unity, but also for Orthodox mission and evangelism. Our churches are hampered in their quest for unity by threatened mother churches, by concerns over power and prominence among some of our hierarchs, and by lethargy and inertia on the part of our laity.

This is all the more reason for us to look to spiritual guidance and principles and to separate ourselves from administrative concerns and Protestant Evangelical concepts of mission. The path to holiness begins with our observance of the Orthodox Faith and the attraction that the our acquisition of holiness holds for others. That is the basis of Evangelization. We must be humble enough to see that not many are endowed with such gifts, first among them myself and those whom I know as fellow-strugglers.

Our churches are hampered in their witness to Christ and His Church by a devotion to ethnicity over Orthodoxy, on the one hand, and by a traditionalist and sectarian mentality, on the other hand.

I agree that we must avoid Phyletism, but I am not sure that traditionalism should be so easily dismissed as sectarian, simply because it disallows what we may consider our personal agenda for Orthodoxy. We must rise above such ideas as quickly as we rise above the notion of ethnic exclusivism.

Yet, we have a canonical obligation to pursue Orthodox unity, and a dominical obligation - from the Lord himself - to mission and evangelism.

Again, in an Orthodox, not a heterodox context; that is, by transforming ourselves, that others might find in themselves what Grace effects in us.

Nor can these obligations be divorced from each other: an essential problem with our limited Orthodox witness in North America is our lack of unity and the all-too-apparent reasons for that lack.

Our unity as I have stated, must begin with spiritual pursuits and with the abandonment of personal agenda, name-calling, epithets, and any sense of self-importance. In that way, acquiring virtue, we can approach unity.

The two statements from Ligonier, on Orthodox unity and on mission and evangelism, are more than simply desiderata. They are a moral as well as ecclesiological mandate to the Orthodox in North America, and to fail to take them seriously is, I believe, essentially to sin. Let us, therefore, fulfill Christ's charge to us in Matthew: to help build His Church, against which "the gates of hell shall not prevail" (Matt. 16:18), by "teach[ing] all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit" (Matt. 28:19).

Let us, instead, begin with a less lofty goal, which we find in the words of St. Peter (I St. Peter 1:22): "Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the spirit unto unfeigned brotherly love, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently." In the purification of our hearts, or deification, we are made Apostles and Evangelists, not in administrative manoeuvres and restructures.

Least Among Monks,

+ Hieromonk Patapios


[1] John H. Erickson, Orthodox Christians in America, Religion in American Life (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), p. 100.
[2] Ibid., p. 117.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid., p. 114.
[5] Ibid., p. 115.
[6] v. Serbian Orthodox Archdiocese.
[7] Andrew Walsh, "The Patriarch's Visit: Pouring Oil on Troubled Waters," Religion in the News 1:1 (Summer 1998)
[8] Ibid.

Friday, June 3, 2005

Some Patristic Quotations on Divine Justice, Substitution and Propitiation as Aspects of the Atonement

"[T]he Word, being the Image of the Father and immortal, took the form of the servant, and as man underwent for us death in His flesh, that thereby He might offer Himself for us through death to the Father...Formerly the world, as guilty, was under judgment from the Law; but now the Word has taken on Himself the judgment, and having suffered in the body for all, has bestowed salvation to all". (St. Athanasios the Great, Contra Arianos I.41,60)

"But beyond all this, there was a debt owing which must needs be paid; for, as I said before, all men were due to die. Here, then, is the second reason why the Word dwelt among us, namely that having proved His Godhead by His works, He might offer the sacrifice on behalf of all, surrendering His own temple to death in place of all, to settle man's account with death and free him from the primal transgression. In the same act also He showed Himself mightier than death, displaying His own body incorruptible as the first-fruits of the resurrection." (St. Athanasios the Great, De Incarnatione, 20)

"Now as to the season spoken of, he will find for certain that, whereas the Lord always is, at length in fulness of the ages He became man; and whereas He is Son of God, He became Son of man also. And as to the object he will understand, that, wishing to annul our death, He took on Himself a body from the Virgin Mary; that by offering this unto the Father a sacrifice for all, He might deliver us all, who by fear of death were all our life through subject to bondage." (St. Athanasios the Great, De Decretis, 14)

"If Phinees, when he waxed zealous and slew the evil-doer, staved the wrath of God, shall not Jesus, who slew not another, but gave up Himself for a ransom, put away the wrath which is against mankind?...Further; if the lamb under Moses drove the destroyer far away, did not much rather the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world, deliver us from our sins? The blood of a silly sheep gave salvation; and shall not the Blood of the Only-begotten much rather save?...Jesus then really suffered for all men; for the Cross was no illusion, otherwise our redemption is an illusion also...These things the Saviour endured, and made peace through the Blood of His Cross, for things in heaven, and things in earth. For we were enemies of God through sin, and God had appointed the sinner to die. There must needs therefore have happened one of two things; either that God, in His truth, should destroy all men, or that in His loving-kindness He should cancel the sentence. But behold the wisdom of God; He preserved both the truth of His sentence, and the exercise of His loving-kindness. Christ took our sins in His body on the tree, that we by His death might die to sin, and live unto righteousness." (Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures, XIII)

"Note carefully in the above the words, "I gave to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for the blood shall make atonement for the soul." He [Moses] says clearly that the blood of the victims slain is a propitiation in the place of human life. And the law about sacrifices suggests that it should be so regarded, if it is carefully considered. For it requires him who is sacrificing always to lay his hands on the head of the victim, and to bear the animal to the priest held by its head, as one offering a sacrifice on behalf of himself. Thus he says in each case: "He shall bring it before the Lord. And he shall lay his hands on the head of the gift." Such is the ritual in every case, no sacrifice is ever brought up otherwise. And so the argument holds that the victims are brought in place of the lives of them who bring them...While then the better, the great and worthy and divine sacrifice was not yet available for men, it was necessary for them by the offering of animals to pay a ransom for their own life, and this was fitly a life that represented their own nature. Thus did the holy men of old, anticipating by the Holy Spirit that a holy victim, dear to God and great, would one day come for men, as the offering for the sins of the world, believing that as prophets they must perform in symbol his sacrifice, and shew forth in type what was yet to be. But when that which was perfect was come, in accordance with the predictions of the prophets, the former sacrifices ceased at once because of the better and true Sacrifice.

"This Sacrifice was the Christ of God, from far distant times foretold as coming to men, to be sacrificed like a sheep for the whole human race. As Isaiah the prophet says of him: "As a sheep he was led to slaughter, and as a lamb dumb before her shearers." And he adds: "He bears our sins and is pained for us; yet we accounted him to be in trouble, and in suffering and in affliction. But he was wounded on account of our sins, and he was made sick on account of our iniquities, the chastisement of our peace was upon him, and with his stripe we are healed. ...And the Lord hath given him up for our iniquities ...for he did no sin himself, nor was guile found in his mouth.'' Jeremiah, another Hebrew prophet, speaks similarly in the person of Christ: "I was led as a lamb to the slaughter." John Baptist sets the seal on their predictions at the appearance of our Saviour. For beholding Him, and pointing Him out to those present as the one foretold by the prophets, he cried: "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world."

"Since then according to the witness of the prophets the great and precious ransom has been found for Jews and Greeks alike, the propitiation for the whole world, the life given for the life of all men, the pure offering for every stain and sin, the Lamb of God, the holy sheep dear to God, the Lamb that was foretold, by Whose inspired and mystic teaching all we Gentiles have procured the forgiveness of our former sins, and such Jews as hope in Him are freed from the curse of Moses, daily celebrating His memorial, the remembrance of His Body and Blood, and are admitted to a greater sacrifice than that of the ancient law, we do not reckon it right to fall back upon the first beggarly elements, which are symbols and likenesses but do not contain the truth itself. And any Jews, of course, who have taken refuge in Christ, even if they attend no longer to the ordinances of Moses, but live according to the new covenant, are free from the curse ordained by Moses, for the Lamb of God has surely not only taken on Himself the sin of the world, but also the curse involved in the breach of the commandments of Moses as well. The Lamb of God is made thus both sin and curse—sin for the sinners in the world, and curse for those remaining in all the things written in Moses' law. And so the Apostle says: "Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us"; and "Him that knew no sin, for our sakes he made sin."For what is there that the Offering for the whole world could not effect, the Life given for the life of sinners, Who was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a lamb to the sacrifice, and all this for us and on our behalf? And this was why those ancient men of God, as they had not yet the reality, held fast to their symbols.

"He then that was alone of those who ever existed, the Word of God, before all worlds, and High Priest of every creature that has mind and reason, separated One of like passions with us, as a sheep or lamb from the human flock, branded on Him all our sins, and fastened on Hirn as well the curse that was adjudged by Moses' law, as Moses foretells: "Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree." This He suffered "being made a curse for us; and making himself sin for our sakes."And then "He made him sin for our sakes who knew no sin,"and laid on Him all the punishments due to us for our sins, bonds, insults, contumelies, scourging, and shameful blows, and the crowning trophy of the Cross. And after all this when He had offered such a wondrous offering and choice victim to the Father, and sacrificed for the salvation of us all, He delivered a memorial to us to offer to God continually instead of a sacrifice." (Eusebius of Caesarea, Demonstratio Evangelica, I.10)

"And the Lamb of God not only did this, but was chastised on our behalf, and suffered a penalty He did not owe, but which we owed because of the multitude of our sins; and so He became the cause of the forgiveness of our sins, because He received death for us, and transferred to Himself the scourging, the insults, and the dishonour, which were due to us, and drew down on Himself the apportioned curse, being made a curse for us. And what is that but the price of our souls? And so the oracle says in our person: "By his stripes we were healed," and "The Lord delivered him for our sins," with the result that uniting Himself to us and us to Himself, and appropriating our sufferings, He can say, "I said, Lord, have mercy on me, heal my soul, for I have sinned against thee." (Eusebius of Caesarea, Demonstratio Evangelica, X.1)

“A sacrifice was needed to reconcile the Father on high with us and to sanctify us, since we had been soiled by fellowship with the evil one. There had to be a sacrifice which both cleansed and was clean, and a purified, sinless priest…. God overturned the devil through suffering and His Flesh which He offered as a sacrifice to God the Father, as a pure and altogether holy victim – how great is His gift! – and reconciled God to the human race…Since He gave His Blood, which was sinless and therefore guiltless, as a ransom for us who were liable to punishment because of our sins, He redeemed us from our guilt. He forgave us our sins, tore up the record of them on the Cross and delivered us from the devil’s tyranny. The devil was caught by the bait. It was as if he opened his mouth and hastened to pour out for himself our ransom, the Master’s Blood, which was not only guiltless but full of divine power. Then instead of being enriched by it he was strongly bound and made an example in the Cross of Christ. So we were rescued from his slavery and transformed into the kingdom of the Son of God. Before we had been vessels of wrath, but we were made vessels of mercy by Him Who bound the one who was strong compared to us, and seized his goods.” (St. Gregory Palamas, Homily 16, 21, 24, 31)

Monday, April 25, 2005

Fr. Jim Rosselli on the Mission of Orthodoxy

Fr. Jim Rosselli, a clergyman of the Orthodox Church of Canada (Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church), has some very thought-provoking words on the mission of Orthodoxy in the world. As we enter into Holy Week, let us attend:

Orthodoxy's mission in the world is simple: witness Jesus Christ.

It has always been simple. The Lord didn't tell us to develop a spirit that would divide us into parties, He forbade it. But we do it anyway. He didn't tell us to lock outrselves up in attractive buildings and wait for Him to deliver people to us: He told us to go out into the highways and byways and compel men into the feast. But we hide out, anyway. Jesus didn't tell us to mutter weak, safe, pious-sounding prayers, but to pray in expectant faith, imagining we already have what we are asking for. He told us to heal the sick and raise the dead, and He promised that signs and wonders would accompany the preaching of His Word. Instead, we edge away from spiritual exuberance, fearing the ridicule of those who set themselves up to ridicule anyone whose head happens to stick up and who regard smiles in worship as targets.

When someone says, "say a prayer for me," do we mutter, "sure will," and then forget about him? or do we lay hands upon him then and there, bringing him before the Lord with genuine love and concern, in expectation that the Lord, Who loves him and is more concerned for him than we could ever be, will enter his life and repair it?

This is simple stuff. It's stepping out of my box, and stepping into a hurting and collapsing world, bearing the Holt Spirit and bringing Jesus.

That's the mission of Orthodoxy in the world. That's all it ever was.

We abdicated, and gave it to the Protestants to do. Instead of leading them, we fumed and resented them. When they made a mess of the stuff, we bought ourselves off by saying the stuff was never meant to actually be done, in the first place.

For lack of leadership, they collapsed. Their great confessions apostasized, and became the World, and various National, Councils of Churches. Too late, we decided we would lead them after all, and joined their organization expecting an embrace and a welcome. Instead, they greeted us as we deserved: as negligent parents who had turned them out on the street to go bad, who didn't need us anymore.

Having run out of others to disdain, we took to disdaining each other. Now it's Russians vs. Greeks; Old World vs. New World; SCOBA vs. everybody. And that's even before you get to the infighting we do among ourselves!

It's all a waste of time.

The mission remains the same, and as simple, as it ever was: feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit prisoners, heal the sick, raise the dead and preach the Gospel in the midst of it all that the Name and the Presence of Jesus Christ might be exalted above all peoples and lands and nations, and that He might dwell within the hearts of men.

The mission never changed, and never did the invitation to pursue it. We can start any time we'd like--uplifting each other with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, allowing the Holy Spirit to transform us by the renewal of our minds, discovering and being who we are in Christ--and then going out into a world full of the empty lives and shattered dreams of broken icons of God--bearing with us the Serum for what ails them.

Saturday, March 5, 2005

Betwixt and Between: Some Thoughts on "Independent Orthodoxy"

In the world, and especially in North America, there are quite a number of faith-communities that call themselves "Orthodox", and may well actually have an Orthodox confession of faith, but are autogenic (self-originating), independent, and have no relationship, canonical or otherwise, to what could generally be recognised as the Holy Eastern Orthodox Church.

I do not speak here of the legitimate Greek Old Calendarists (i.e., those who actually derive historically from the divisions introduced by the adoption of a hybrid ecclesiastical calendar and canon-violating involvement in the Ecumenical movement by the Church of Greece, e.g., the Holy Synod in Resistance, the Church of the Genuine Orthodox Christians of Greece, the Milan Synod, and the Matthewites), or their analogues in Romania, Bulgaria, and Georgia. Or some of the irregular-status Ukrainian groups. Or even the HOCNA, ROCiE and ROAC, the unlawful assemblies that have split off from the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia as she and Moscow have begun to effect a reconciliation in the post-Soviet age. These bodies, whether or not they are justified in their separation from the main body of the Orthodox Church, are hardly autogenic, and largely exist because of certain problems between them and the mother Church which just have not, as yet, been resolved.

The "Independent Orthodox" movement, on the other hand, is a mixed bag. They vary in every way. Some are really truth-seeking, God-fearing people that are trying to be faithful Christians. One of these, for instance, was the "Evangelical Orthodox Church", which was ultimately received en masse into the True Church via the Antiochian Archdiocese of North America.

It is well known, though, that other groups in this class are nothing but smokescreens for some kind of iniquity. A classic example is the "Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Vasilopolous (fancy Greek word for 'Queensborough')", which was the vehicle by which the notorious paederast, Demetrios "Metropolitan Pangratios" Vrionis, kept himself supplied with young altar servers, and networked with other predators and deviants that skulked about on the fringes of the Orthodox Church: men like Samuel "Father Benedict" Greene and Gleb "Father Herman" Podmoshensky. There are other examples of small "churches" that exist for a host of reasons, whether tax-dodge, white-supremacist conclave, sodomite organisation, or just the power-trip of some unbalanced pseudo-hierarchs.

Clearly, a great degree of care is necessary when examining the "Independent Movement". Many of these groups are listed on Alfred Green's "Religious Groups That Use 'Orthodox' in Their Names But Are Not Canonical Eastern Orthodox Churches".

Keeping all of the above in mind, when we Orthodox hear of something like the "Orthodox Church of the Far Isles", alarm bells go off.

I present here some words from Hieromonk Aidan (Keller) of the St. Hilarion Monastery (Milan Synod) in Austin, Texas, bringing to the question of autogenic "Independent Orthodox" faith-communities a perspective that is not often heard in our rush to dismiss the phenomenon.

The comments are reprinted from the Occidentalis internet forum, a Yahoo Group devoted to Western-Rite concerns. A Bishop from one of these independent, autogenic Orthodox faith-communities had joined and introduced himself to the forum. The almost-immediate response of one particular OCA Reader was: "Surprised you don't also trace your descent from Bishop Oftimios [sic] Ofeish! Not impressed by your geneology. Are you in communion with any of the apostolic sees? Keep trying, please!" Such a response, of course, was quite offensive to the other clergyman, and, to his credit, the OCA Reader did apologise sincerely.

Fr. Aidan's Comments:

The recent exchange demonstrated rather neatly the sort of tensions that occur every day due to the coexistence, in the world, of centuries-old Orthodox Churches and newer, small churches which profess the Orthodox Christian faith.

I hope that members of age-old Orthodox Churches will not simply dismiss the members of what, to them, appear to be johnny-come- lately, fly-by-night operations which claim the majesty and martyric venerability of the Orthodox Church via a simple filing of incorporation papers. Orthodox people should ponder that "in- between places," refuges betwixt Episcopalianism and Byzantine Orthodoxy, for example, may be a real necessity--given the disintegration of modern Western forms of Christianity and the apalling indifference not a few Byzantine Orthodox exhibit to the spiritual and human needs of Western people. When an underwater diver rises too quickly from the depths to the surface, he suffers from the bends. He may need to spend time in a recompression chamber. Similarly, those who have, with internal violence and suffering, made a stand of faith, and broken with much of their heterodox past, cannot perhaps always leap into the arms of one's favourite Orthodox Church. A kind of ecclesial recompression chamber may be necessary, and "in-between places" have historically delivered substantial numbers of believers to the official Orthodox Churches in the end. Often, attacking the autogenic Orthodox has the effect of causing them to feel further alienated from, even persecuted by, the Christians with whose faith they have made common cause.

Those who are in small, autogenic Orthodox-believing bodies should also ponder the purpose of the Church. If it is to unite believers before the throne of God, then what (ultimately) is the usefulness of maintaining small, feuding, defensive, un-recognised church bodies in isolation from the principal fonts of historic Orthodoxy? Life-rafts are good, but they can become death-rafts unless the shipwrecked souls make it back to the mother ship.

Much corruption, history-rewriting, and "purple fever" can (I admit) attend small autogenic or separated Orthodox-believing bodies. However, this is by no means always the case (wherefore snap judgments and broad-brushing are inappropriate), and I am not convinced that the politicking and careerism of official Orthodox churchmen is a topic more edifying.

People do a lot of harm when they are convinced too easily that their church-politic actions represent God's Work On Earth. Is it possible that Mary Poppins was existentially spot-on when she said a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down?

Time fails me, so the soapbox is now free for the next human bellows.

in Christ our true God,

Fr. Aidan+ a sinner

I, of course, am not suggesting that we Orthodox drop our natural skepticism regarding these faith-communities. But I can't say it would hurt any of us to take Fr. Aidan's admonition to heart the next time we run into one of these folks on an internet forum, or even (if one can imagine such a thing!) out in the real world.

An addendum:

The words of Fr. Ambrose O'Maonaigh (ROCOR-NZ) in response to Fr. Aidan are also worthy of great consideration:

The problem centres not on a lack of charity toward those who wish to create what Fr Aidan aptly calls "autogenic" Churches but on their sheer multitude. These Churches are a great confusion to the faithful and to those seeking genuine Orthodoxy and genuine Sacraments/Mysteries (something absent in the autogenic ecclesial groups.)

A quick read of Al Green's website < > will show that there are dozens of faux-Orthodox Churches in the States. Priests, as pastors of their sheepfolds, have a duty to alert people to this problem and guide them wisely in true Orthodoxy. I recall the case of a young man and his family who entered into, I think, the American Orthodox Church whose Primate was very charming and plausible. He became a deacon, and it took the whole family several years of heartache to discern that they were in a group which was simply not Orthodox and that they were not able to commune in any canonical Orthodox Church. Then they had to move, as a family, into a canonical Orthodox Church which was a strain on the family and on the teenagers who had become accustomed to their American Orthodox Church.

So, what we are confronting is a pastoral problem and it imposes two obligations on the clergy - 1. to encourage and nurture those who are in autogenic/graceless Churches to move towards the fullness of Orthodoxy, and 2. to protect the existing flock from being deceived by those who, whatever their good/naive intentions, are in effect wolves circling the sheepfold.

Fr Ambrose

Another Addendum:

Some correspondence generated by this essay:

[Alfred Green's comments are in italics, my responses in normal type.]


Your thoughts are...well...thought-provoking. I especially like the way you avoid using the word "schism" to describe those groups that have "separated" themselves from their mother church over some dispute. However it is worded, a schism is a schism, and every group that "separates" itself from its mother church is fractionalizing the ONE Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.

Well, I try to be a bit more charitable in my essay-type writing than I necessarily am in other venues. As I know you are aware, I have not hesitated to use this word with regard to both Suzdal and Mansonville.

At the same time, however, I would probably take exception to the idea that /all/ of the groups I have mentioned are /necessarily/ schismatic, because of various spiritual and historical circumstances. There are times, such as in the ROCOR issue, that "schism" is not the proper word to use. A temporary breach of communion is not always a schism. If it were, then I must ask, in 429, who was the schismatic--Nestorios, who called for everybody to "just get along", or our Father Among the Saints Cyril of Alexandria, who refused to have any kind of Communion, prayerful or otherwise, with Constantinople, and IIRC, even helped to set up parallel structures so the faithful of the imperial city might be walled off from that Patriarch's soul-destroying heresy?

How about the years where there were two Serbian Churches? Who was schismatic? Beograd interdicted the Free Serbs for separating from the Mother Church. Yet the Metropolia, ROCOR, and others remained in Communion with both.

If the line is quite as hard and fast as you say, then the American Metropolia (now the OCA) was certainly schismatic at least from 1946-1970 (remember--they were under interdict from both Moscow and ROCOR until just before the Autocephaly), maybe from even before that. Now, as I believe you are aware, I am not one of the ROCOR guys that thinks the OCA is actually schismatic--I try to be a little more dispassionate in my view of history, and I realise that 1946 was a confusing time for the Russian Diaspora; the MP was looking like it was on the resurgence, the Synod Abroad was in disorder, fleeing to the West as the Allies allowed the Iron Curtain to fall across the continent and the repatriation teams flooded out of the Kremlin. I can understand why 1/3 of the Metropolia Bishops opted to remain with Metr. Anastassy while the other 2/3 tried to return to Moscow, only to reject the demand for clergy loyalty-oaths, and become independent. And I fail to find reason to condemn either side, while I pray for a reunification of the Russian Church, inclusive even of the schismatics in Mansonville, Suzdal, etc., who need to be called to repentance.

Many times, the situation occurs because of an entire lack of loving behaviour on the part of the Mother Church. The Greek situation could easily have been averted had the Church of Greece shown any kind of charity toward the 10% of the Greek population that took the issue of Ecumenism (of which the calendar issue was the symbol) seriously enough to disobey the innovation of the Venizelos-inspired hierarchs who imposed it on them. They left no room for discussion, but rather immediately began using the coercive power of the government to persecute those people, killing them in the streets, breaking up their services just after the Anaphora and trampling the Holy Gifts, arresting the priests, shaving them and stripping them of their ryassa, and removing all civil rights from the adherents of the Old Calendar.

The proto-martyr of the Old Calendar movement was a housewife named Catherine Routtis, who was bludgeoned to death by a policeman, under orders from the Archbishop of Athens to break up an Old Calendar Liturgy, when she refused to allow the priest to be arrested.

How was our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ served by the Church of Greece on that day in 1924?

The situation in Romania at the same time was similar, but the bloodshed was even worse.

If, as you have often asserted, there was no real issue of faith and dogma in all this, why did the Mother Churches feel it necessary to seal the division with the blood of the resisters? I submit that there was indeed an issue of faith and dogma, and that issue was the course of modernising and Ecumenising the churches in accord with the 1920 Encyclical of the Phanar and the 1923 renovationist "Pan-Orthodox Congress" of Meletios IV. All this was the zeitgeist--it was in the air after WWI--it produced the League of Nations, the Living Church, and the Calendar Reform. Sure, it faded away for a while after that, until Athenagoras breathed new life into it in the 60s. But we should certainly take it into account in dealing with the Old Calendarists.

(I remind you that your own jurisdiction only avoided the defection of parishes over the calendar by allowing both calendars. At least Syosset showed some regard for the welfare and convictions of those who did not agree with the calendar-change.)

And this isn't the first time things like this have happened. How much different might things have turned out had Nikon and Alexei Mihailovitch shown an ounce of compassion toward the Staroobriadtsy, and refrained from burning such luminaries as the Protopriest Avvakum at the stake?

I imagine these "separations" in Orthodoxy is exactly how the plethora of protestant denominations, sects, cults, etc., got their start. The church of my birth is a classic example of the "separation" you describe in Orthodoxy: Because of some unresolved dispute or disagreement, the Methodist movement started by the Wesley brothers in the Anglican Church and which after their deaths became the Methodist Episcopal Church, has spawned The Primitive Methodist Church, the Free Methodist Church, The Evangelical Methodist Church, The Wesleyan Church, the Wesleyan Evangelical Church, etc. I see the same protestant breakaway spirit developing in Holy Orthodoxy. We, as Orthodox, may point to the 30,000+ divisions in protestantism, but we are not that much better.

I can't argue with you there. And I know that you have watched me dispute with actual schismatics enough times to know that I am not fundamentally in disagreement with you. I suppose where we differ is in what you say below--I am not sure there are only two categories: internal strugglers and external separationists. As with various situations in the Church from time immemorial, from the two Orthodox jurisdictions that existed in Antioch in the Fourth Century, to the the situation with the Russian and Serbian Diasporae in the Twentieth, it seems evident to me that there have occurred many times divisions within the Church, illnesses that must be healed. And I hope that we will all work to bring such about, following the model that we have seen in Beograd, and which we are now seeing between the ROCOR and the MP.

As I said, a schism is a schism regardless of the "separation" spin one places on the terminology. And, I believe that schism, or separation, places one OUTSIDE the Holy Church. I'm unshakable in this belief. Change can only come from internal struggles, not external separations.