February 20, 2004

THOUGHTS ON EASTERN ORTHODOX UNITY

   By Demetrius Manolakos, Archon

Now that we have welcomed the 2004th year of the celebration of the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, I feel obliged to address certain issues that have arisen during the past year which affect the Eastern Orthodox Church.

For some unknown reasons, there arose misunderstandings between hierarchs relating to the jurisdiction of the Mother Church in the person of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and other Orthodox Churches, and even other Patriarchates and eparchies which have resulted in controversy, and this, to the detriment of the unity of our Church.

At a time when the whole world is focused on globalization, cooperation amongst nations for the good of mankind, and even talks between the representatives of the major religions and faiths aimed at bringing about a better understanding between peoples, we see minor conflicts within our own faith owing their origin to matters of jurisdiction and even administration that threaten the unity of the Church. Although we preach ecumenism and the oneness of the Church of Christ, our own pettiness in enforcing the application and/or interpretation of the canons of the Church have mushroomed into issues that would divide the Church rather than protect its unity.

We all know of the sacrifices that have been made in order to maintain and protect our most venerable Ecumenical Patriarchate as the centre of Christian Orthodoxy in the world notwithstanding so many political and demographic changes during the years. At a time when we should be adapting to these changes and realities and grow with the times, we raise issues that may ultimately have the opposite effect. Nothing is written in stone except the word of our Lord or the logos upon which the Church was established.

Considering the pressure brought upon our faith by other forces throughout the world, not the least of which have been wars, philosophies and politics, the ethnic and religious conflicts over the centuries, and the social and economic injustices which are perhaps the root of all evil, we are called upon to accept these injustices in the name of peace, democracy or any other word or pretension that is supposedly exercised for our own good.

As a Church, where do we stand when we should speak out against these sins to mankind? We tend to tow the line lest we too become victims of the powers that are. Yet, when it comes to matters relating to the internal administration of our Church, we are adamant and unshakable in our positions, and particularly, in claiming the jurisdiction we believe is our own.

In our own Greek Orthodox Church, for example, there is a complex hierarchy that is centuries old. Apart from the first few centuries of its history, our Church is characterized by changes in both the constitution, jurisdictions, and the hierarchy insofar as it applies to its eparchies and the changes brought about by the nationality and ethnicity of its faithful, the languages used and the different geographical locations.

The Eastern Orthodox Church abandoned the symbol of a Holy See as maintained by the Roman Catholic Church through the Vatican in a strict enforcement of a single authority. In the present treatise, I do not wish to embark on a study of theocracy and/or apostolic succession. To try to go back and reorganize the Church almost 2000 years of history is nothing more than a formula for disaster, unless, of course, the Holy Spirit would be present. What we must do is find a new solution that would provide for the democratization of our Church in view of the reality of our times.

Without addressing the history and the establishment of the seven patriarchates, and the creation of the numerous autocephalous churches which together comprise the greatness of Eastern Orthodoxy, we must begin with the reorganization of our own Ecumenical Patriarchate and the archdioceses and eparchies under its jurisdiction. We cannot pretend to be anything other than the survival of the original Hellenistic Church founded by the Emperor Constantine the Great as established in the ancient historical City of Constantinople.

That we have survived to this date is nothing less than a miracle and a tribute to the hierarchy, the clergy and the laity dedicated to the Church over the years.

But, circumstances have changed. Civilization has spread to all five continents, and oceans, and whereas travel was rare and communications primitive, today, no diocese or eparchy of the Throne is more than 20 hours away by air travel from the Phanar. Modern media and telecommunications, the internet, etc., have made contacts easily accessible. No longer is it necessary for written correspondence to reach its destination through the postal system. Also, a language, spoken by few and rarely understood by the faithful is no longer acceptable as a means of communication by and between the hierarchy, the eparchies, the parishes, communities and the laity. I refer to the classical Greek nourished under the Byzantine Empire as opposed to contemporary Greek.

With very few exceptions, such as the Hellenic Community of Montreal, in Canada in particular, and possibly some communities in Australia, the Church under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate has been obliged to accept the infiltration and widespread use of local languages in its liturgies and sacraments. It is the communities alone that have demonstrated the ability to maintain the language of the New Testament in their Churches, whereas the Mother Church has proved powerless.

This was evident when, after his election as spiritual leader of the newly created Archdiocese of America (USA), His Eminence Archbishop Spyridon, following the instructions which he no doubt received from the Ecumenical Patriarch, His All-Holiness Bartholomew I, endeavoured to enforce the use of the Greek language in the Church. His actions and policies were met with great opposition by some of the influential American faithful who exercised their financial clout, forcing the Patriarch to have a change of heart over his original opposition to their demands, and yield to their tactics which were aimed at causing the removal of what many believed to be an exceptional hierarch and spiritual leader from his throne. And this, in a democracy where it was necessary to hold an election for the citizens of California to have their Governor recalled! What happened to the Constitution of the Archdiocese and the application of its By-Laws and Regulations? Where was the participation of the deliberations of its Biennial Clergy-Laity Congress evident?

I personally served the former Archdiocese of North and South America when Canada was under its jurisdiction as a member of the Archdiocesan Council (l971-1984) under His Eminence Archbishop Iakovos, to whom I shall always be grateful for the opportunity, but often scolded by the Chair and members of the Council for speaking Greek at Meetings, and this by first generation Americans who had forgotten and/or never learned the Greek language or thought it un-American to express themselves in a foreign language.

Fortunately, our Church in Canada has not yet succumbed to this reality and enrollment in our own parochial schools has shown an increase in the number of students, notwithstanding the decline in our population despite the low birth-rate in families and virtual absence of new immigrants from Greece.

In order to arrive at some concrete recommendations destined to provoke some thought by the Eminent members of the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, I respectfully submit the following:

1. We have embarked on a New World Order. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the emergence of the former soviet republics lead by Russia and the resurgence and re-establishment of the Orthodox Church in all its splendour and glory has been a positive impact on the awareness of world orthodoxy. We cannot minimize the fact that there are more Orthodox Christians in Russia than anywhere else in the world combined. To even think of bringing the Hierarchy of the Russian Orthodox Church and administration under the authority of the Ecumenical Patriarchate is ludicrous if not naive. The Patriarch of Moscow, His Beatitude Alexi II, is by far the hierarch with the greatest following of any other, a status which he is not likely to relinquish.

2. The Church of Greece, and its charismatic leader, His Beatitude Archbishop Christodoulos I, with his accomplished if not unequalled rhetoric, has emerged as a major force of the hellenistic Church and will not be over-shadowed by anyone outside his jurisdiction. Recent skirmishes with the Phanar regarding the appointment of metropolitans and bishops in the so-called New Lands eparchies proved detrimental to the position of the Phanar, and risk alienating the Church of Greece from the Ecumenical Patriarchate. This may even result in a cut of financial aid to the Patriarchate by the Greek Government in return for anticipated support by the Archbishop.

3. The Patriarchates of Alexandria, Jerusalem, Antioch, Moscow, Serbia, the Churches of Greece and Cyprus as well as other autocephalous Churches have been restrained in their activities within their respective jurisdictions but are not cause for concern at present.

The Ecumenical Patriarchate must re-evaluate its direction and proceed without delay to consider the following:

a) Cease living in an unreal world whereby the Holy Synod is composed exclusively of hierarchs who are Turkish nationals and have limited knowledge and training as to the needs of the faithful throughout its eparchies, themselves being Metropolitans of ancient titular dioceses composed of inexistent flock;

b) The Holy Synod of the Patriarchate should include all Archbishops and Metropolitans of its eparchies outside Turkey, including America (USA), Britain (Thyateira), Australia, Canada, South America, Central America, New Zealand, France, Belgium, Switzerland, etc., as well as such other Metropolitans and Bishops that the Holy Synod may elect. Surely pressure can be brought upon the Turkish Government to modify the conditions for eligibility that require all members of the Holy Synod to be Turkish citizens, unless, of course, they prefer the status quo for obvious reasons.

For years now, the Vatican has included hierarchs from all over the world in the Synod of the Roman Catholic Church, and His Holiness, Pope John Paul II, himself a Polish national.

To date, the Turkish Government has been blamed for preventing our Church from keeping up with the times, and as a result, with one exception in the person of the late Patriarch Athenagoras I, following the intervention of the then President of the USA, Harry S. Truman, the Church was deprived, in recent times, of potential Patriarchs, such as Iakovos, the former Archbishop of North and South America, and Meliton, the late Metropolitan of Chalcedon and Chancellor of the Patriarchate under the late Athenagoras I and Demetrius I.

c) Through negotiations with the Turkish and Greek Governments, now that relations between them have improved, and possible trade-offs that may be required for the re-opening of the Great Theological School in Halki, such as allowing Turkish residents in eastern Thrace or elsewhere in Greece to have their own schools.

This School should become a tri-lingual school. Greek, English and Turkish (out of respect for the country in which it operates), and solicit its students from all eparchies of the Throne. Prospective students for the priesthood and theological studies should be directed to Halki, supported by Archdioceses and Metropolitanates and other organizations and/or foundations providing scholarships, etc. The School could once again become the great institution it once was and become the world centre for Orthodox studies.

d) Grant to the Archbishops and Metropolitans of eparchies outside Turkey the administrative powers worthy of their office and jurisdiction within specific guidelines common to each of them and the constitution, by-laws and regulations governing their respective eparchies.

e) Provide for periodical Ecumenical Councils of the Orthodox Church in collaboration with all Patriarchates, autocephalous Churches, etc., thereby fostering cooperation and unity in the preservation of our common Orthodox Faith.

f) Adopt a regulation that would allow for the implementation of certain practices that have been adopted by many Orthodox Churches in conformity with other faiths permitting family members or distinguished personalities to participate during or following sacraments or holidays, e.g. eulogies following a funeral service, etc.

g) To take a stand against issues such as the right of the Government of Israel refusing to ratify the election of the Patriarch of Jerusalem, or any other State having the right to interfere with what should constitute internal matters of the Church.

If we take steps in this new direction, indicative of the reality of our times, and conscious of our shortcomings, limitations and prejudices, we can lead the Church into a new era of growth, and restore glory, honour and prominence to the faith that unites us all, through Holy Baptism in the name of the Triadic God - the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

[ Orthodox Truth | www.orthodox-truth.bugs3.com/art_49a.html  -  February 20, 2004 ]