Orthodox readers: Please Explain!

In a comment on her blog, Dixie has included the following quotation from Fr Stephen Freeman:

The Orthodox Church has perhaps the weakest ecclesiology of all, because it depends, moment by moment, on the love and forgiveness of each by all and of all by each. Either the Bishops of the Church love and forgive each other or the whole thing falls apart. “Brethren, let us love one another, that with one mind we may confess: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” These are the words that introduce the Creed each Sunday, and they are the words that are the bedrock of our ecclesiology…

That puts Orthodox ecclesiology quite nicely I think. And of course is not always a bad thing to be “weak”, as St Paul said that “God’s power is made perfect in weakness.”

Nevertheless this sort of ecclesiology sounds fine in theory, but does it actually work in practice? A footnote in a “The Primacy Of The Bishop Of Rome And The Ecumenical Dialogue” by Father Andriano Guruti (I don’t have the actual reference in front of me here and now) calls into question this “sweetness and light” version of Orthodox ecclesiology.

So does the following story from Catholic World News:

Split deepens among Orthodox in Ukraine

Kiev, Feb. 12, 2007 (CWNews.com) – An Orthodox group in Ukraine loyal to the Moscow patriarchate has asked the country’s government to make Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople a persona non grata in their country, and extend the same designation to Orthodox prelates affiliated with the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

The request made by the Union of Orthodox Citizens of Ukraine (UCCA) is the latest move in a fierce contest for leadership of the Orthodox believers in the country. The group accused the Ecumenical Patriarchate of “stirring up interdenominational hostility” in their country by recognizing the growing Kiev Patriarchate– an Orthodox group that split from Moscow after Ukraine achieved independence.

The UCCA request came at a time when Petro Yushchenko, brother of Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, is visiting Constantinople to meet with Patriarch Bartholomew. The Yushchenko government has sought to ease tensions among Orthodox leaders, without accepting the claim of the Moscow patriarchate to exercise sole jurisdiction over the Orthodox churches of Ukraine.

Perhaps one of our orthodox readers would be kind enough to explain how a communion “of love and forgiveness of each by all and of all by each” is demonstrated in such a situation?

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12 Responses to Orthodox readers: Please Explain!

  1. Dixie says:

    I am hoping a “seasoned” Orthodox Christian will show up and address your concern…not just this neophyte!

    What I would point to is 2000 years of success with this ecclesiastical formula–at the leading of the Holy Spirit. That doesn’t mean that on occasion someone, some group, somewhere doesn’t attempt to have their own way at the expense of love and forgiveness. It happens…but my priest pointed out that in Orthodoxy there are no options other than to work things out. The Cup cannot be divided. So…this will eventually be worked out.

    Besides…you have your own set of renegades in the Roman church today even with a single ruling pontiff…SSPX, Some of the Eastern Rites, etc. A pope doesn’t eliminate the problems…think about the birth of Protestantism.

    So…while I think you found an incriminating article and hope to use it to deny the effectiveness of Orthodox eccelesiology…I think 1) it’s far too early to call this situation–it has to be worked out–even the Scriptures show us the Apostles had to work out disagreements, and 2) and having a pope doesn’t stop people from being prideful, unloving, etc.

    I hope a knowledgable Orthodox will further the discussion–this is the best I can do. I don’t keep up much with current events. I think that’s a pride thing with me…if I can’t influence it then what’s the point! ;)

  2. Lucian says:

    That’s the whole problem: it works. (We can’t explain it, but unfortunately it does). We haven’t changed in 2000 yrs. (Catholics have evolved; Protestants have unevolved; we remain the same).
    You don’t have to believe me. (It’s not a matter of faith). Check it out.


  3. Lucian says:

    Please bare in mind I didn’t say “dude” (as in “Check it out, dude” — I didn’t want to sound “too” Australian). :-)


  4. Schütz says:

    Dear Lucian:

    We do not say “dude” in Australia. We say “mate”. “Dude” is an American importation (as in Bill and Ted).

    Okay, mates (nb. “mate” is non-generic, so that includes Dixie), the point here is ecclesiology. Both the Orthodox Churches and the Catholic Church have an ecclesiology of communion. The question is, how is that communion established and maintained so as to manifest the unity of the Church of Christ.

    We Catholics are quite specific on this. It is in communion with the Bishop of Rome that communion between the local Churches is maintained. The Catholic Church is “governed by the successor of Peter and by the bishops in communion with him”. According to the Second Vatican Council (UR 3#1) there are two levels of division: “certain rifts” “in the Church” (which do not break communion) and “much more serious dissensions” in which “large communities became separated from full communion with the Catholic Church”.

    Disagreements between liberal and conservative Catholics, or between bishops, do not break communion with one another as long as communion is maintained with the See of Peter. “More serious dissensions” include those such as the Protestants, the SSPX, Archbishop Milingo, AND the Orthodox Churches. Of course, the Church is always working hard to heal these dissensions, but they are not “rifts” within the Church, but groups separating themselves from full communion with the Petrine See. You can’t stop people leaving full communion with the Church, or refusing your invitation to re-enter full communion, but in Catholic ecclesiology (a “strong” ecclesiology, to use Freeman’s terminology) the unity of the Catholic Church itself (in which the one true Church of Christ subsists) is not impaired.

    Thus, although we make various judgements concerns the ecclesiological verity of the separated Churches and communities (eg. Orthodox Churches and the SSPX are true local churches, although their ecclesiological nature is wounded through lack of communion which means that the one church of Christ does not subsist in them; whereas the ecclesiological nature of the protestant groups is even more wounded still–through lack of communion AND a lack of valid orders and eucharist–such that the Catholic Church cannot recognise them as true local Churches ).

    Now I guess that my question is twofold with regard to the Orthodox situation in the Ukraine:

    1) do these Ukrainian Churches consider themselves to still be in communion with the Ecumenical Patriarch and those in communion with him?

    2) if not, what is their judgement on the ecclesiological nature of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and those in communion with it?

    3) If they are not in communion with the Ecumenical Patriarchate, what does this say for the unity of the True Church of Christ, which, according to Orthodox ecclesiology, is to be indentified only with the true Orthodox Churches living in a communion of “love and forgiveness”?

    The Catholic Church, despite “rifts” within and “dissensions” from it, remains one and united (and can never really be divided, given the definition of the Catholic Church as being all those in communion with the Bishop of Rome!). How do the Orthodox Churches continue to manifest the Oneness and Unity of the Church when there are dissensions among themselves?

    Oh, and re “not changing in 2000” years, that’s a bit of mythology. Of course the Churches of the East have changed. They’re hardly doing things now as it was done in time of the apostles! The point is that at some stage they stopped evolving–or more to the point, they lost the instruments of evolution (when was the last ecumenical council?). And even that’s not quite true. There have been changes in Orthodoxy, just very slow and very painful, and not always capable of answering new needs when they arise.

  5. Lucian. says:

    Read about the first thousand years of Christianity. How were things then? We’re not trying to be more Catholic than the Pope, or more Christian then the first Christians.
    And Ecumenical Councils were not held for the fun of it.


  6. Schütz says:

    Sorry, Lucian. You’ve lost me there. A few too many non sequiturs to handle in one go. What point are you making exactly?

  7. Lucian says:

    Have You by any chance seen the German 2006 movie “Requiem”? If so, then what did You think of it?


  8. Schütz says:

    No. Why? Should I? Is this another of your non-sequiturs, Lucian, or are we going someplace on this?

  9. Joel says:

    The Meletian schism back in St Basil the Great’s day shows a more serious example of an intra-episcopal dispute taking place within the Church. It makes this Ukrainian squabble seem rather benign by comparison. If you can get your hands on Puller’s The Primitive Saints and the See of Rome, the Meletian schism and other similar disputes are there discussed in detail.

  10. Peregrinus says:

    Surely the important point is that both Catholic and Orthodox Christians are capable of failing to live up to the ideal of communion to which they consider themselves to be called?

    David goes on to make the point, as I understand it, that when this happens in the Catholic environment the result cannot be a fractured or divided church, because Christians not in communion with the Bishop of Rome are not a split-off or renegade wing of the Catholic church; they have ceased to be in the Catholic church. Whereas two groups of orthodox Christians who are spitting blood and fire at each other can still both be in the Orthodox church.

    As a Catholic, I’m not sure that I take a lot of comfort from this, and I am inclined to regard it as a somewhat secondary point. At one level, it can be seen simply as a semantic point, focussing on one of several undertandings or definitions that we have for the word ‘church’.

    There’s no doubt that the Catholich Church is injured and weakened by these divisions; arguably, indeed, the injury is all the greater if its necessary consquence is that some Christians or Christian communities cease to be part of the Catholic Church at all. The fact that the integrity of the concept of ‘Catholic Church’ is unaffected is not much consolation. The situation in the Orthodox church, where there are divisions, is that both sides at least recognise that they are called to heal those divisions, to perfect their communion and to restore unity. But there are plently of examples in the western church of divisions where at least one side to the division doesn’t see any problem at all, and does not discern any call to restore communion or to work towards unity.

  11. Lucian says:

    … I was just curious if You’ve sen the movie, and what Your opinion about it may be … that’s all. (I’m sorry for upseting You).


    (I saw the Holywood-production “The Exorcism of Emily Rose”, and I was left with the impression that it was too holywoodian. Then I saw the German movie…)

    And by my non-sequiturs I meant things like that described by Joel above, for instance…

  12. Schütz says:

    Hmm. I’ll look up the Meletian schism, Joel. Thanks for the tip.

    Peregrinus, I think you might be missing my point just a little.

    I am not talking about the “concept” of “Church” or even various definitions of “Church”. In my job (ecumenism) we need to be clear about realities.

    Let me take you through the elements of Catholic ecclesiology:

    According to the teaching of the Catholic Church, there is “one Church and one Church only” (UR 1, cf. LG 13). Contra to the protestant doctrine of the “invisible church”, this one and only Church is a “constituted and organized in the world as a society” (ie. a visible group of people), and moreover “subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him.” It does not subsist anywhere else, although “elements” that belong to the true Church are to be found beyond its visible boundaries.

    Thus the “one and only Church” is an always will be “one and one only”–never divided in multiple “Churches”–because of a fundamental principle of its organisation and consitution: communion with the See of Peter.

    When Christians are not in communion with the See of Peter, or when Catholic Christians abandon this communion, the Church itself is not divided, because those who forsake communion are not “the Church”.

    Thus, in all the Church’s teaching, it is never said that the “Church” is divided by those schisms which rupture communion, rather that “Christians” are divided. The purpose of ecumenism is to restore full visible unity to all Christians, not full visible unity to the Church, which already exists.

    Furthermore, it is not said that such schisms “injure” or “wound” the unity of the one Church of Christ, but rather that division between those who claim to follow Christ “openly contradicts the will of Christ, scandalizes the world, and damages the holy cause of preaching the Gospel to every creature.” (UR 1) The ecclesial nature of those groups outside of full communion with the Holy See IS injured and wounded, however, to a greater or lesser extent.

    It should be noted that there are schisms which rupture full communion between the Catholic Church and Christians outside her visible boundaries, and yet which do not entirely obliterate the real communion that continues to exist on the basis of baptism and faith in Christ (and, in the case of the Orthodox churches, in ministry and the Eucharist). We say that this communion that remains with our “separated brethren” is “real but imperfect”.

    The Second Vatican Council declared (UR 3): “Nevertheless, our separated brethren, whether considered as individuals or as Communities and Churches, are not blessed with that unity which Jesus Christ wished to bestow on all those who through Him were born again into one body, and with Him quickened to newness of life-that unity which the Holy Scriptures and the ancient Tradition of the Church proclaim. For it is only through Christ’s Catholic Church, which is “the all-embracing means of salvation,” that they can benefit fully from the means of salvation.”

    It should therefore be clear enough that I am not splitting hairs over terminology. Catholic ecclesiology is “strong” to use Freeman’s terminology. That may or may not be a virtue, as I have said, but it does mean that there is some clarity about what constitutes the unity of the Church. This is not “theory” or an “ideal” for which we strive. It is a reality that exists here and now for any who want to see it.

    I do not find the same clarity in Orthodox ecclesiology. Orthodox Orthodox theologians (if one can say that!) will all agree that the “Roman Catholic Church” is heretical, and not a true Church. The one true Church of Christ is to be identified with Orthodoxy and Orthodoxy alone. It is seen locally in the presence of the Bishop with his people and clergy in the celebration of the Eucharist. It is manifested by the “love and esteem” in which the Bishops of the Orthodox Churches hold each other.

    I can accept all that–in theory. In the case of the Orthodox, however it seems we are indeed dealing with an “ideal” to be striven for, a rule more often proved in the transgression than in its observance. My question is what happens to the Unity of the Church (the one true Church with which Orthodoxy identifies itself) when these dissensions arise?

    There. I think that’s clear, don’t you?

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