Monday, June 20, 2016

Great & Holy?

"Bart, I want to go first."
The Great and Holy Synod of the fourteen ten Eastern Orthodox churches commenced over the weekend in Crete with Julian Pentecost. While the impending doom of Orthodox structures is overstated, the unfolding of events exposes a decayed fruit under the shiny rind of Byzantine Christianity. William Tighe recounted an intriguing passage Vladimir Solevyev's Russia and the Universal Church on Fr. Hunwicke's blog:
"It is obvious that there are questions on which the Russian Church could and ought to negotiate with the Mother See, and if these questions are carefully avoided it is because it is a foregone conclusion that a clear formulation of them would only end in a formal schism. The jealous hatred of the Greeks for the Russians, to which the latter reply with a hostility mingled with contempt — that is the fact which governs the real relations of these two national Churches, in spite of their being officially in communion with one another. But even this official unity hangs upon a single hair, and all the diplomacy of the clergy of St. Petersburg and Constantinople is needed to prevent the snapping of this slender thread. The will to maintain this counterfeit unity is decidedly not inspired by Christian charity, but by the dread of a fatal disclosure; for on the day on which the Russian and Greek Churches formally break with one another the whole world will see that the Ecumenical Eastern Church is a mere fiction and that there exists in the East nothing but isolated national Churches. That is the real motive which impels our hierarchy to adopt an attitude of caution and moderation towards the Greeks, in other words, to avoid any kind of dealings with them. As for the Church of Constantinople, which in its arrogant provincialism assumes the title of “the Great Church” and 'the Œcumenical Church,' it would probably be glad to be rid of these Northern barbarians who are only a hindrance to its Pan-Hellenic aims. In recent times, the patriarchate of Constantinople has been twice on the point of anathematizing the Russian Church; only purely material considerations have prevented a split."
The Eastern Churches, much like the Western Church after the Reformation, have been unable to deal with the changing phenomenon of nationalism. In Western Christianity the Church and states co-existed, although the Church's universality and cultural cohesion kept it safe from any one troublemaker until Luther came along and incited the age of nationalism which would make Catholicism no longer the religion of Europe, just the religion of a majority of the peoples of Europe.

The Eastern Churches suffer from the opposite problem: they are the national religions of essentially secular nations that have not formally renounced their Christian heritage. If the Great and Holy Synod eventually solicits a general council of the various autocephalous Byzantine churches, the fathers of that council would be hard pressed to compare their endeavor with the triumphs of Nicaea in 325 or the return of the holy images to the Hagia Sophia in 787. In post-Luther, post-Bismarck, post-Hitler, Merkelized Germany 16-20% attend weekly Mass; 15% in France. In Russia, where 400 of the 700 Orthodox bishops either reside or to which they attribute their devotion, an even worse 7% attend monthly or better. If the fathers of the First and Second Vatican Councils had no right to celebrate—and they did not—would their modern Orthodox counterparts?

Attending the Melkite and Ukrainian Catholic Churches for the last four or five years has given this author some perspective that the Orthodox churches may uncomfortably have to learn. Both the Melkite and Ukrainian Churches are churches which neither renounced their historical links to Constantinople nor their historical Communion with Rome, although they both eventual forfeited their de iure Communion with the Greeks to formalize their unions with the Latins. Both have had to play balancing acts between patrimony and politics. Both have had their share of martyrs in the last century, which means theirs is a lived faith, not a faith ornamented with national history and federal favor; they have enjoyed very little. There is certainly ethnocentrism in both Churches in the United States, which is to be expected of any national church, but the faithful are not necessarily trying to sublimate their desire to wear the babushka. The yoke is imminent death clarifies things better than the best corrective lenses.

The Orthodox are left with a remarkable debacle: do they meet and acknowledge significant differences in both Sacramental theology and ecclesiology or do they put it off in favor of more mini-synods and mask the problem for another century (or two, or twelve) of fragmented nationalism? The coming weeks may not be very instructive. After the initial dropout of the Antiochian and Slavic Orthodox Churches, the remaining Greek factions may want to stray from topics of weighty discussion.

16 comments:

  1. Last week a spokesman for Patriarch Bartholomew insisted that the decisions of this council will be "binding" whether Russia shows up or not. Other clergy in charge of organizing this meeting have described it as the Orthodox version of Vatican II. I believe it will be very interesting to watch the proceedings until they fall apart, as seems likely.

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    1. The Archbishop of the Bosporus playing at being the "Eastern Pope"?! Say it ain't so!

      Besides, Alexandria beat Constantinople to it centuries ago...

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  2. And yet, if history is any guide, it may still be received by posterity as an Ecumenical Council. (cf. Constantinople I, whose convocation the Roman see opposed and at which it did not attend). As one Orthodox priest put it in a combox response to Archdeacon Chryssavgis' claim that it will be "binding upon all Orthodox" despite lack of participation - yes, it will be, IF it turns out to be a council of Orthodox content and inspiration - i.e. TBD.

    I also cringe when I see fellow Catholics go all triumphalist about how this is "proof" that the EO need the Petrine ministry. Right - because the Petrine ministry and ultramontanism had nothing to do with the disastrous shape our Roman liturgy and church are in! Right! We don't have much room to boast, and I can sympathize with voices that say, better to have no council than a heterodox one...

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    1. Still, it is ironic that the Eastern churches in union with Rome (with a few obvious exceptions like the Maronites or some in some sort of Limbo, like the Syro-Malabar) still largely have their liturgies unchanged or de-Latinized.

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    2. Ah, but the point is that no council may not be feasible forever. The fabric of their unity is so strained that they have a choice between a drastic step to restore the material or let the last thread whither.

      No one is boasting....

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    3. "No one is boasting...."

      No one except Neocon Catholics and the American Convertodox.

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    4. I do agree with your assessment, Your Traddiness.

      Re boasting - I saw at least one piece, over at Catholic Culture doing just that.

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    5. Indeed. I really wonder how Catholics can boast with all the disunity inside their own church. It's a cognitive disconnect!

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  3. Dear Rad Trad. The local Melkite Church near ABS, Saint Nicholas in Delray Beach Florida, has a pamphlet introducing strangers to their Divine Liturgy and it is unnecessarily polemical (in a negative way) vis a vis we Latins,

    Now, ABS could get all warlike with them but the pamphlet bespeaks a lack of confidence in their history ,so, a smile and silence is all the response to the pamphlet will elicit even from this Irish-Injun.

    O, and thanks and God bless you for all of your continuing great work in here.

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    1. I think the Melkites have a bit of a chip on their shoulders. They are very eager to have favor with their counterpart Orthodox uniate church and would like to show the Orthodox world that one need not sacrifice one's patrimony to be in Communion with Rome. Occasionally it spills over into contrarianism towards the Latin Church. On the whole I love them!

      Thanks, ABS!

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  4. I don't even know what is going to be discussed I had heard they nixed the document on fasting, which may or may not be tragedy (depending on the contents). A re-evaluation of what constitutes penitential fasting is necessary in both the East (where fasting has sometimes devolved to a mere temporary diet) and the West (which takes Lent and equates it to Fish Fridays). Food has changed dramatically since the 4th century and people often get the wrong impression of why we fast.

    After all, which is truly the penitential option? The baloney sandwich on white bread or the Lobster Etoufee with a side of crab cakes?

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    1. "the East (where fasting has sometimes devolved to a mere temporary diet)" i thought that the fasting on the East is like super strict. it being in great lent necessitates it to be temporary. so what's the problem with it?

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    2. There's nothing necessarily wrong. The problem is sometimes that they focus is more on "don't eat meat and dairy" instead of "eat penitential food". There is a lot of overlap, certainly, but in our age of crazed diet fads it might be prudent to emphasize the real purpose of the fast a bit better.

      I admit thatI might be projecting a bit from my own circumstances. In my case, eating fish is not penance unless it is lower quality (sardines, canned tuna, and maybe tilapia or pollock). I grew up eating lots of beans and legumes for lent due to family food allergies. Tuna, Salmon, Shark, Mahi Mahi, Orange Roughy, Lobster... these are TREATS for me, not penance.

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    3. I see and i agree.
      If one wants to truly fruitfully fast and abstain, he should look for a low quality dish.

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  6. What they discuss: https://www.holycouncil.org/ :-)

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