Saturday, December 3, 2016
Not Great, not Holy, and not Conciliar
The Bulgarian Patriarchate didn't use the term "ludicrous," but they might as well have.
As a refresher, I previously posted on this proposed pan-Orthodox Synod, a conciliar, authoritative meeting of all the Church's Patriarchs, here and here. With characteristic prescience, I observed that the only issue that actually mattered--the status of the so-called "diaspora" Churches--was all but absent from the Council's agenda, and there was no consensus on this and other ecclesiological disputes. Theologically, the Faith was declared at the culmination of the Seventh Council, so there is nothing left to talk about there. Hence, the Council's work product was, and could only be, a collection of aspirational statements on administrative and external matters, which a number of hierarchs refused to endorse. The Council made no attempt to address Antioch's protests over Jerusalem's incursions into her territories, the Orthodox Church in America was shamefully ignored, and zero progress was made on the status of the "diaspora" Churches. Four venerable, autocephalous jurisdictions refused to participate, which should have shut down the Council right there.
What are the broader lessons, for people not concerned with Orthodox Christian arcaneum?
1. Sovereignty: Don't let your reach exceed your grasp. The Ecumenical Patriarch, the (post-Schism) First Among Equals, commanded his brothers to listen and attend. Four of his brothers told him to go pound sand, which means he is no longer the First Among Equals. I do not envy the Greek Patriarch.
Everybody wants to be the He Who Answers To Nobody. There are a lucky few in that category, but when they have to remind people that they are the sovereign, then Sovereignty has started slipping away from them.
Here's Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu in 1989, finding out he's no longer the sovereign.
I'm not saying the Ecumenical Patriarch will meet Ceausescu's fate, and he's still sovereign over his Patriarchate, but he's no longer the First Among Equals even if people don't realize it or are too polite to mention it.
2. Substance: Focus on what matters. Everybody wants peace, harmony and good will, but human affairs return endlessly to the question of Who gets to live Where and run the Institutions. A few vestigial Greek bishops run Alexandria and Jerusalem, for now, but the actual Egyptians became Copts, and the Jerusalemites are increasingly restive Arabophones. Everybody says, "There is neither Jew [ha!] nor Greek," but nobody acts like it. Canonically, a single hierarch should be presiding over the territory of the United States. The facts on the ground are the OCA, the Antiochians, and the Greeks (and the Serbians, and the Romanians) have staked out their respective jurisdictions and remittances, and nobody but nobody is going to change that. Why is this? Why do people cling to a certain jurisdiction or particular praxis? There may be a non-prescriptive solution if we'd ask the right questions.
The inability of the Ecumenical Patriarch to command a Great Council knocked out the substance, so this became a Parish Life Conference for Orthodox hierarchs. Nice and all, but not substantive. Dignity, like Sovereignty, must be jealously guarded; don't waste time on frivolous matters.
I tried to come up with an elegant trinity of points but these two are all I could muster.