A Conversation About Who Speaks for Orthodoxy

So, my recent posts and the following discussions in the comments sections have yielded some really great insights about Orthodoxy and authority and who speaks for the Church. One of my readers (extra thanks Joel!) who is an Orthodox catechumen has also asked these questions in an email conversation with a friend of his. Below is the link to the conversation:

Who Speaks for the Church?


~ by crossingthebosporus on July 11, 2012.

11 Responses to “A Conversation About Who Speaks for Orthodoxy”

  1. A couple of points I wanted to leave as comments:
    1. I think the Oriental Orthodox and the Roman Catholic Church might be in communion with each other. I seem to recall reading that somewhere. Edit: Nope, I must have falsely remembered.
    2. I think the paragraph talking about Roman Catholicism as a monarchy is rather a misinterpretation of the Catholic structure. I think the reality is rather more nuanced (one of the titles of the Pope is “servant of the servants of God.”) Also, I think it’s a safe bet that the criticism that some Catholics simply “ignore the Pope” can also be leveled against some Orthodox members as well regarding their relationship to some church doctrines.

    But overall, I think these emails make very good points about the Orthodox voice and authority. For me personally, I still can’t help but feel undecided. Like I have one foot in Rome and one in Constantinople. And as much as I’ve loved having this entire conversation, I can’t help but wonder that as long as we continue to play Rome off Constantinople (as it were), doesn’t that simply serve to increase the divide? At least within our minds as we struggle to lead a faithful Christian life?

    I don’t know, but once again thanks to Joel for being so willing to enter into the conversation, do so much research, and get all these answers for us!

    • Really grateful to you and to Joel – and his friend. It isn’t that I lean towards the Copts, it is simply that they are the one group of Orthodox I know very well (through my co-author). They are not in communion with Rome, nor likely to be in the foreseeable future; the same is true of the OO and EO. Joel’s friend is right, all Orthodox speak for Orthodoxy – and you’ll see reunion about the time everyone agrees. I know from C’s experience that those at the top dealing with ecumenism tend to get on so well with the opposite numbers that they forget that the guys and gals in the congregation have the final word.
      I never met an Orthodox Christian who, having told me how all Orthodox spoke for the Orthodox, did not in some way think Rome more centralised than it is, or who pointed to the various debates within Roman Catholicism as a sign there was quite as much disagreement there as in Orthodoxy; that seems to be having it both ways – too centralised and too diverse?
      Catholics can ignore the Magisterium all they like, but the outside world and the Church knows who speaks for the Church. Joel’s well-educated and lovely friend can say the guys on the internet don’t speak for orthodoxy, they can say the same about him, and they’re both right. That means that those of us outside take pot luck. If there is an OCA or Antiochene Church near by, we meet Joel and his friends and think they are marvellous. If there is not, and we meet the Russians I met in the nearest city to me, you think you’ve walked into a Putin fan club complete with picture of St. Vlad the Great.
      In the end, for me, it is the ethnic character of the Orthodoxy of which I have experience which keeps me away. I am a mixed bag genetically (as my surnam suggests) but culturally I am English, and Anglicanism is an English form of Orthodoxy – or so I keep trying to believe.

  2. I am posting an update to the document right now, including some comments on the Western Rite.

    • Thanks, I just learned about the western rite in the Orthodox Church the other day. I had no idea there was such a thing. Of course along with learning about it, I also learned that there are some people online who think it is heresy and the death of Orthodoxy. Sigh, such is life…

  3. [blog author]: The point he is making is not to say that the Orthodox always follow their leaders. His point is that the Roman claim to such clarity and unity of faith (in supposed contrast to the Orthodox) doesn’t really hold as much water when many millions of Catholics don’t care what the pope says. E.g. I recently saw some statistics about the ‘rate of birth control’ in various places. Do you which continent had the highest rate of birth control in the world? South America. The most Catholic continent in the world. So it is nice to have an ‘official pronouncement of the pope,’ but the reality on the ground is just as messy as that or the Orthodox Church. And this isn’t even to mention post-vatican 2 chaos (liturgical, etc) in the Western Catholic world. For the Catholics (and those sympathetic to them), it seems that the final word is “well, we know that the pope said *this*.” For the Orthodox, the final word is “the witness of the Spirit in the life of the Church is *this*.” And sometimes that takes a while to discern (as we’ve talked about before). You said: “I can’t help but wonder that as long as we continue to play Rome off Constantinople (as it were), doesn’t that simply serve to increase the divide? At least within our minds as we struggle to lead a faithful Christian life?” But what if the point, especially for us wanderers, isn’t to ‘close the divide.’ I would humbly suggest, in line with my friend, that the divide is what it is, and it can only be healed naturally and organically (with much struggle), and not simply by calling it ‘okay.’ Please forgive me if that sounds harsh. I only mean to say that the ‘divide’ in your mind is there because the divide is a reality. To try to “close it in your mind” as you struggle to live a faithful Christian life may be to create a misleading mental fantasy. Again, forgive me for my forthrightness. These are only my humble thoughts.

    JessicaHof: You said: “Catholics can ignore the Magisterium all they like, but the outside world and the Church knows who speaks for the Church.” This is a comforting statement *if* you do truly believe that the Pope speaks for *the Church.* But, as I said before, *certainty* doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with Truth. If you do end up truly believe that the Pope is the Vicar of Christ on earth and speaks to infallibly guide the Church into all Truth (by the Spirit), then you must bring yourself into communion with Rome. Period. But I would truly hope that the feeling of security in that voice doesn’t play a leading role in your journey. *And I’m not saying it is* (!!) – you are obviously wrestling with deep questions and have much experience! – but rather warning about possible implications of your statements. Also, oddly enough, my friend believes that one of your points (Orthodoxy’s cacaphony of voices) is Orthodoxy’s most compelling apologetic, as you may have gathered. I have also experienced the Orthodox criticising both the centralization and the diversity of Rome. It does sound like ‘having it both ways.’ But those are two different objections. The first, regarding the (ordaining, teaching, etc) authority of the bishop of Rome over all the bishops/faithful of the world and his clear, consistent, infallible papal voice (the voice of the Holy Spirit) to lead and guide the faithful and to prevail against the gates of hades, is a christological/theological/historical/ecclesiological objection. The second, regarding the prevalent disagreement and ignoring of papal teaching *on the ground* is a response to the claim that this bishop in Rome will guarantee the *actual* unity of the Church. My friend points out that what this often amounts to is ‘as long as you agree to the authority of the bishop of Rome, we’re united.’ Obviously that is a short-hand summary of something more complex in reality. But is it misguided? What have the Eastern Rite Catholics had to do other than accept the authority of the bishop of Rome? You have, for example, Eastern Rite (and ex-Anglican) married priests who are looked down upon by other priests, and whose parishioners feel completely isolated and rejected by the rest of the Latin-rite Catholic Church. Well, that is what I’ve read about anyways… The point would be that real unity is a unity of spirit, a unity of mind (‘have this same mind’), a unity of heart, a unity of *faith*. And, even in spite of their disagreements on certain issues, the Orthodox would say that that is what they have. My friend’s argument is that, in spite of Orthodoxy’s lack of world-wide centralization and lack of ‘papal voice’ to guide them, they are *on the ground* (in terms of liturgy, theology, ascetical practice, etc) a very united body of Christians on earth, united in faith. The fact that they still even exist today, amidst both persecutions and more pointedly amidst the lack of any good reason other than the Holy Spirit for the bishops and faithful of the Church to still commune at the same cup in the midst of historical tensions and controversies, is the best apologetic to its existence as the Church of Christ. How else to explain it (obviously not an incontrovertible theological argument, more of an appeal to the heart)? Sure, you can hear a cacophony of voices (especially on the internet) regarding the Western Rite, union with the Oriental Orthodox or the Catholic Church – but these are very tricky, theologically intricate, messy realities on any account. Period. If there was no struggle and everybody just hopped into communion with one another we would be dealing with the chaotic mess for years and probably all break communion with one another within a short time. Nor would we *actually* have unity; it would only be administrative. And, that is assuming that communion is even possible without repentance and the joining of all others with one particular communion (thus *ending/repenting of a schism*). I know you don’t like Fr. Stephen, but I find this quote on the Church to be powerful:
    [begin quote] Into this playing field of discussion come the Orthodox. We are familiar with Pillar and Ground of Truth, True Light, True Faith, Fullness, etc., words of excellence and perfection. Of course, as soon as they are uttered, gainsayers will point to everything about us that appears less – and there is so much at which to point (our messy jurisdictionalism, internal arguments, etc.) People who have mastered cut-and-paste functions on their computer can quote concatenations of the fathers proving that our Pillar and Ground of Truth was always sitting in Rome. What’s an Orthodox boy (or girl) to do?
    I do not think we give up conversation, but we have to be aware of the nature of our conversation. We utter “Pillar and Ground of Truth,” etc. “in a sacred mystery.” Pulled out of its context (that is the living Church) and placed in argument, the phrase becomes words weakened by every other word we have ever spoken, and particularly the actions we have performed or failed to perform. Such phrases are no less true, but they were never meant as offensive weapons (except perhaps in spiritual warfare).
    I would start, as an Orthodox boy, with the fact that everyone who is Orthodox has agreed to “deny himself, take up his cross and follow Christ.” The ecclesiology of the Orthodox Church, the Pillar and Ground of Truth, is found precisely in its weakness and is found there because God wants it that way. If salvation means loving my enemies like God loves His enemies, then I am far better served by my weakness than my excellence. If humility draws the Holy Spirit, then my weakness is far more useful than any excellence I may possess.
    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.
    We live in a wondrous age of the Church. Having suffered terrible blows at the hands of the Bolsheviks, we were smashed into jurisdictions (they don’t really start until the 1920′s), and often turned on one another in our rage. Today, the Bolshevik has been consigned “to the dustbin of history.” Moscow and the Russian Church Outside of Russia are actually going to gather at the Lord’s table together. We still have the spectre of a powerful Patriarch of Constantinople bumping into a powerful Patriarch of Moscow here and there, first in Estonia, then in London, who knows where next.
    But in each and every case the only ecclesiology that will work, that will reveal the Church to be the Pillar and Ground of the Truth will be an ecclesiology of the Cross: mutual forgiveness and abiding love. This will be the Church’s boast: that it became like Christ in all ways; or it will have no boast at all. [end quote]

    Your ‘in the end’ issue is a very real and powerful one. And it speaks to the failure of many contemporary Orthodox people to die to themselves, and their ethnic identity, and live to Christ and his mission to baptize all nations unto the obedience of faith. As the Orthodox like to say, the Church is a hospital for sinners and not everybody takes their medicine.
    It is not like this everywhere, however. And I think that, within a generation (or two) that problem will more or less correct itself. There were statistical predictions that the (Western) Orthodox Church would die 20 years ago precisely because of its ethnic make-up. However, another reality has begun to take place. Orthodox seminaries are filled with converts in North America. There are already many, many, many parishes (at least in America and Canada) where those ‘Patriots of the motherland’ are the minority (or non-existent!). The 30-person parish in which I was recently received as a catechumen is half Russian, with some Greeks, Indians (OO) and Caucasians. They are very welcoming, and by far love Orthodoxy more than their motherlands. Our liturgy is 95% English. True, it is still socially difficult when their first language is Russian and they are, culturally, very different. But we struggle together.

    Anyways. I hope that you know now to get a strong cup of coffee before attempting to slug your way through one of my long comments… 😉 Forgive me and correct me if I have misspoken or misrepresented others in my comments.
    Kyrie Eleison.

    • The fallout of Vatican II is one of the major reservations I have about Catholicism. I think the allegation of Orthodox chaos could just as well be applied to the current confusion that is Catholicism.

      But my point about “playing one side off the other” was more something of me wondering out loud as it were. I’m certainly not trying to just brush over major differences as if they don’t exist. It was more that I am feeling as if I’m standing at one end of the Grand Canyon and on one side is Catholicism and on the other is Orthodoxy. But as that link about the “myth of schism” discussed, perhaps the reality is not Grand Canyon-sized. Maybe just a difficult walk through a moderate-sized valley. It’s just that with the whole discussion I was starting to feel like if I take that first step onto one side or the other, then somehow I would need to adopt all the arguments against the other side or something… Not that it’s the fault of the discussion here, just how I tend to throw myself into things. Let’s just say that religiously, wherever I’ve been, my major intellectual temptation has been falling into orthodoxinfo mindsets.

      So when I meant closing the divide, it was more a communal and group effort by both sides to understand each other better and hopefully find a reconciliation. That’s a process that I think often starts with each of us. So perhaps I wasn’t clear enough, for which I apologize, but I think we’re essentially saying the same thing about healing the divide naturally and organically.

      Do you know anything about current Orthodox openness to reevaluate some of the Western Fathers (such as Augustine)? I’ve a few things here and there. Is that something related to the Western Rite? One of the major things that it’s hard for me to give up if I were to pursue the Eastern route is much of the witness of western saints and monastics. However, as you’ve undoubtedly seen, I’m having quite a difficult time discerning whether my path lies East or West. Still, most of the saints I love tend to be pre-Schism, so there’s definitely no controversy there. It’s just when I consider such people as Saint Francis of Assisi, Julian of Norwich, and Severinus Boethius (who predates the Schism but his canonization postdates the Schism) that I feel somewhat less certain about an Eastern path. Then I pray from my Jordanville Prayer Book and the liturgy strikes at my heart deeper than most Catholic Masses have and I sway on back Eastward.

      This contemplating of East and West occupies a major part of my daily thinking. None of this stuff has easy answers. But thanks for everything you’ve been willing to post and your willingness to contact others on my behalf. I really appreciate all of it.

  4. Joel – There is a Catholic authority, and if some choose not to follow, that does not negate it any more than the fact that most of those who heard Christ chose not to repent and follow Him.
    If we accept an Ignatian concept of episcopy then the Roman Catholic Church is wherever the bishop of Rome is; that some are in disobedience does not mean the Church is divided; it simply means it is a Church of sinners.
    If one follows (and I do) Hart Bentley’s views on questions such as the filioque, one sees easily enough how Rome and the Eastern Catholics have come into communion with no compromise on either side, surely? It may be that some individual bishops don’t like this, but the Pope does, and unlike the Orthodox Church, the recalcitrance of individual bishops is of no ecclesiological significance.
    That the Orthodox are here and on the ground is no more a guarantee of anything than is the fact that my very much larger communion is here and one even more ground; there are far more Anglicans in the world than there are Orthodox, and ethnically we are more diverse than any church save Rome itself. The same arguments you use to say the OC is the Church of Christ are valid for my own Church – which has brought the Gospel message to far more people. I’m obviously not disagreeing with the argument – I wouldn’t be an Anglican if I did – but do you see why it can’t be definitive for me about the OC?

    Everything Fr. Stephen says, the Copts and the Syriacs can say. What makes Fr. S’s version the one to accept. The Russians had 75 years of persecution, the Greeks 350 – the Copts have had 1600, the Assyrians 1700; their witness, on Fr Stephen’s argument, is far more remarkable. I fear his comments, for me, show the extreme narrowness of his form of Eastern Orthodoxy; still, who says he speaks for anyone save himself? So why pay attention to what he says and not what the Monks our friend does not approve of say? That monastery has as much right to speak for Orthodoxy as anyone else.

    It may be, and I would pray it is, that America can be the furnace in which some of the problems can be melted away, but Americans do have a tendency to think that what commends itself to them will do so to others. The day the Russian Patriarch accepts the kind of approach the OCA has will be an historic one. 🙂

    Hope the coffee was good – and thank you for your witness and patience with me.

  5. Jessica,
    Thank you for the reply. I overstated my case. I wasn’t trying to make *the* case for Orthodoxy (I did cast my friend’s comments in that way), but rather simply reflect on some elements of it. You are right that other bodies can make the same case with the same arguments. My journey has been fuelled more by Christological and historical concerns, as opposed to such a case as I presented in the last comment. I suppose the case is more of an ‘insider’s perspective’ (in whichever communion) than an apologetic argument. That said, my friend might very well say that it does apply to the Copts just as much as to Orthodoxy, and that we are ready for union.

    As you probably well know the Orthodoxy would interpret St. Ignatius’ comments in quite a different way. The fullness of the Church is wherever *a* bishop is and wherever he (or his representative priest) presides over *a* eucharist – Rome’s would simply be one of many places of the fullness. This is how the Orthodox understand the ‘catholic’ mark of the Church (kath’holos in Greek, “according to the whole”).

    In light of your criticisms of the supposed ecclesiological significance of ‘recalcitrant bishops’, what do you make of these previously quoted statements from the Fathers of the Fifth Ecumenical Council?

    “…it is comely that the priesthood should after common discussion impose a common faith.”

    “For although the grace of the Holy Spirit abounded in each one of the Apostles, so that no one of them needed the counsel of another in the execution of his work, yet they were not willing to define on the question then raised touching the circumcision of the Gentiles, until being gathered together they had confirmed their own several sayings by the testimony of the divine Scriptures. And thus they arrived unanimously at this sentence, which they wrote to the Gentiles: “It has seemed good to the Holy Ghost and to us, to lay upon you no other burden than these necessary things, that ye abstain from things offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication.” But also the Holy Fathers, who from time to time have met in the four holy councils, following the example of the ancients, have by a common discussion, disposed of by a fixed decree the heresies and questions which had sprung up, as it was certainly known, that by common discussion when the matter in dispute was presented by each side, the light of truth expels the darkness of falsehood. Nor is there any other way in which the truth can be made manifest when there are discussions concerning the faith, since each one needs the help of his neighbour, as we read in the Proverbs of Solomon: “A brother helping his brother shall be exalted like a walled city; and he shall be strong as a well-founded kingdom;” and again in Ecclesiastes he says: “Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour.”
    [end quotes]

    Is the council bogus? Is there some organic way to read that as giving robust support for always being able, at any time, to look to the Pope to discern the voice of the Church?

    I also think that you underestimate Orthodox authority. The Orthodox do not follow the voice of the *people*, but the voice of the Holy Spirit. Once the Holy Spirit has spoken through the Church in Council, then it doesn’t matter whether specific bishops disagree. Arius disagreed. Nestorius disagreed. Eutyches disagreed. Appollinarius disagreed. Joe Blow bishop today might disagree. But then he will be defrocked or will himself break communion from the Church (or will be judged by God). Just because the Orthodox Church does not pronounce dogma on the what we should eat for breakfast doesn’t mean that *nothing* is obviously binding on Orthodox Christians – even if it is not adhered to by all Orthodox Christians! Our desire for clarity on specific issues that we believe important will not necessarily be granted to us – at least not necessarily when we want it, even in our lifetime – by the Pope of Rome or the Holy Spirit.

    And, depending on how you look at it, the Roman papal office has either been the strongest source of unity or the most pervasive source of division in history! Location, location, location. 😉

    Two last comments:
    1) I truly hope that you will not allow the ‘hardness’ and ‘uncomfortableness’ of Orthodoxy to prevent you from truly encountering it. Perhaps you will come to the conclusion that Rome is the Church of Christ. Or the Coptic Church. And if that is the case, then I pray that God will have mercy on both of us as we struggle for our salvation. But it is important for you to know that the Church of Christ (if it is the Orthodox Church) will not necessarily cater itself to you and your English cultural sympathies. It is either the Church or it is not, whether the Patriarch of Moscow is an asshole or not; whether the OCA ‘vision’ becomes prevalent or not; whether union with the Copts is achieved or not; whether you would have to worship in a parish full of Russiophiles and pictures of Putin on the wall, or not. That is for you and I to struggle with, and I wish you God’s blessings and peace on your journey.
    2) I passed on your last comment (https://crossingthebosporus.wordpress.com/2012/07/11/a-conversation-about-who-speaks-for-orthodoxy/comment-page-1/#comment-137) to my friend, and he replied to it. I am willing to send it to you if you wish, but it is not really fitting for the public google document. I will leave that ball in your court. haasjoel[at]yahoo[dot]ca

    I have really appreciated talking with you guys – you are very honest and bright, and truly yearn for the fullness of Christ. You are both on fascinating journeys and I will pray that God will shine his light on your paths. I pray that you will find his fullness, just as I pray that for myself.

    I think it would be wise for me and my salvation to bow out of any further discussions for now (I will read any responses to my comments and arguments, but will not add anything). These tend to take over my life, as you’ve noticed with my long comments and contacting of friends. I have made my decision. I have been compelled and drawn to the Orthodox Church as the Church of Christ – ethnic, canonical, chaotic warts and all (it is not as if I bring anything less than sin, poison and cancer into the body anyways. Lord have mercy) – and I pray that my wife will soon experience the same. At this time, nothing less than openness to Christ as I seek him in faithfulness to my rule of prayer, measly asceticism, worship, and a daily dying to my egotistical self will cure my soul.

    Please forgive me for any comments that spoke more of the state of my heart than of the Truth. Sometimes I so badly want others to be compelled as I have been that love and reason suffers.

    Great to meet you guys. God’s gracious blessings on your confusing journeys!

    • Can I say again, Joel, how much I appreciate your spirit of irenicism and Christian love; your new Church is gaining one who will be a credit to it.
      I agree about the Pope – unity and division; but it was ever thus – even Our Lord was betrayed by one. I agree with the 5th Council, but if it worked like that, there’d be no schisms. All that happens is that the ‘heretic’ goes off and starts his own church and condemns those who condemned him; both sides lay claim to their mutual inheritance – and the hungry sheep look up – and may be fed stones.
      Certainly in the UK it is not possible to separate Orthodoxy from ethnicity. Most of the few congregations there are are Russian.Their way of treating women seems far from that practised by Our Lord, and terribly like the way their patriarchal society behaves. I have one Orthodox Church in a 120 mile radius, and it holds zero appeal – unless I want to be treated like a Russian peasant – which I don’t.
      I’d be interested, of course, to read your friend’s a/c – I am at jessicahoffx(at)gmail(dot)com.
      My prayers are with you on your journey.

  6. Again, Fifth Ecumenical statements can be found here:

    • Hey Joel,

      I sent you an email from my email address a while back, but I haven’t seen anything from you. I just wanted to make sure it didn’t end up in your spam folder or something. I was really looking forward to seeing some of those resources you mentioned.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: