Ecclesiastical Regionalism: Structures of Communion or Cover for Separatism?

Issues of dialogue with Roman Catholicism

Paper delivered at a Colloquium on “The ecclesiology of Vatican II: dynamism and perspectives,” held at the Istituto per le scienze religiose, Bologna, Italy, on April 8-12, 1980.

In discussing issues of ecclesiology, the temptation is always great to manipulate concepts and doctrinal definitions, while avoiding a critical approach to their application in practice. It is easy, for example, for an Orthodox theologian to describe the ecclesiology of St. Ignatius of Antioch and to construct an apologetic argument in favor of the contemporary Orthodox position concerning Roman Primacy. But it is more difficult to analyze ecclesiastical institutions – as they developed in East and West – in their existential role of maintaining the faith, shepherding the faithful, and accomplishing the Church’s mission in the world. At all times, such institutions, whose aim is to express the nature and mission of the Church had the tendency to develop independently from ecclesiology itself, and to follow their own internal logic. They were conditioned not only by what we call today the “eucharistic ecclesiology” of the early period, but also by the practical requirements of the day, so that their original meaning later became almost unrecognizable. Some of these developments may sometimes be seen as both inevitable and desirable, in as much as they might have responded to the concrete needs of Christian mission in history. But, in that case, the dialogue on Christian unity itself must take history into account; it should be concerned not only with the content of the Christian faith and the validity of Christian institutions, but also with efficiency in the present and the future.

So, all the dimensions of the Christian faith become necessarily involved in the unity dialogue: is the Jesus-event,, an έίιταξ event, which judges history? Does the apostolic experience – the experience of the original witnesses of Jesus – contain a permanent and unchangeable model for Church institutions? Or are some institutions only a product of subsequent history and, therefore, legitimately changeable? Are they, in other words, the guardians of a reality which transcends history, or an expression of history itself?

Most Christians – particularly the Christians involved in ecumenism – will agree that these questions, formulated in this way, are legitimate and basic questions, and that they are particularly relevant in the field of ecclesiology. Orthodox and Catholics are generally ready to go a long way together in facing them. They agree that the apostolic kerygma implies basic sacramental and ecclesial structures, intrinsic to the very nature of the Church. This is, indeed, the starting point of the dialogue, which has been significantly expanded by Vatican II with the new emphasis, in Roman Catholic ecclesiology, on the significance of the local church and on conciliarity. In each sacramental community, proclaims the Constitution On the Church, “Christ is present” and “by virtue of Him, the one holy, catholic and apostolic Church gathers together.” (III, 26)[1]. Although episcopal conciliarity, as defined in the same Constitution of Vatican II, is formally and strictly dependent upon communion with Rome and the pope’s plena potestas – a dimension which clearly presents a major problem for the Orthodox – there is a new readiness, on the part of Rome, to accept such categories of ecclesiological thought as the concept of “sister-churches.” The term has been used in correspondence with Constantinople and various meetings between popes and patriarchs have adopted a procedure pointing at a certain parity of functions, not at papal monarchy.

It is clear, therefore, that the issue of regionalism – not only in the sense of the sacramental reality of the “local church” headed by a bishop – but also in the sense of regional primacies and synods, is on the agenda of today’s ecumenical discussion. The same issue is obviously central in terms of the internal structure of the Roman Catholic church (e.g. the authority of national and regional synods, vs. Rome) and of the Orthodox Church, which is constituted today by a rather loose communion of independent “auto-cephalous” churches. But the discussion of these issues involves not only abstract problems of ecclesiology, but also issues of practical administration, of age-old habits and mentalities, and of changing requirements in the contemporary world. These historical realities have existed in the past, as they exist today. In the eyes of some, they justify a relativistic approach to ecclesiology. Indeed, if church institutions can be reduced to relative historical phenomena, Christian unity, they say, should rather be understood as a “spiritual” fellowship with a minimum of institutional coordination. A hermeneutical approach to the New Testament stressing institutional and theological pluralism in the early Christian communities is also being used to justify ecclesiological relativism, as an acceptable ecumenical methodology.

If, however, one does not accept such an approach, and, if one accepts – as Catholics and Orthodox usually do – that the sacramental nature of Christian ecclesiology implies a given and unchangeable structure reflecting that sacramentality, then one is also obliged to approach historical development critically and look for Christian unity consistent with that which is originally and unchangeably given. However, even then, one has no right to discard historical development as such, or to deny that church institutions can legitimately be adapted to particular requirements of history.

Thus, historians and theologians have often recognized that the Roman Primacy has not reached its contemporary state of development for theological and ecclesiological reasons only. Factors of historical – and therefore relative – nature have also played a role in that development. The assumption by the Roman Church of the Roman imperial idea in the West, the politics of Italian courts during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, the Counter-Reformation, the modern challenge of secularism, and many other factors, have influenced not only the institution of the papacy, but also some of the doctrinal formulations, which express it. The problem now is to determine whether these developments were legitimate or not.

In this paper, however, I am not concerned with a critique of western institutional changes, but with regionalism in Orthodoxy, which is so often opposed to Roman universalism. Since the East has remained more reluctant than the West in finalizing its attitudes through formal dogmatic definitions, I do believe that the Orthodox theologian today enjoys full freedom to approach this aspect of the past and the present of his Church with a critical eye. Personally, I regret that this freedom is not used more widely, and I believe that, unless the Orthodox learn that form of legitimate self-criticism,

their claim to preserve apostolic Truth will remain ineffective in the contemporary ecumenical dialogues.

1) Regional structures in history

It is not necessary to recall in detail the origins and the ecclesiological basis of regional episcopal synods. According to the Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus (I, 2) the consecration of a new bishop required the presence of several bishops for the laying-on of hands. Moreover, the significance of regular synods of bishops in each province is well-attested in the third century by Cyprian. The particular role of the synod was to preserve doctrinal orthodoxy and disciplinary unity. There is no doubt that, at that time, the Church was already facing the problem of possible conflict between its concern for universal unity and the conviction, frequently expressed by individual bishops in their local churches and by provincial bishops assembled in council, that their responsibility for Truth was to God alone, and not to some institution outside of their own region. On the one hand, men like Irenaeus, Tertullian and Cyprian were all conscious of the unity of the world episcopate in the confession of the one Christian truth. Unity -which, at least hi the West included particular respect for “apostolic” sees – was seen as a major witness to the truth of catholic Christianity (as opposed to Gnosticism). But, at the same time, no provincial council of bishops -and certainly not the councils regularly meeting in Carthage – was ready to give up easily its convictions and accept external authority in the field of doctrine. The issue of the baptism of heretics, and the case of the presbyter Apiarius, sanctioned hi Carthage and admitted to communion in Rome, is the classical illustration of that provincial – or regional – self-consciousness, which reacted against the incipient Roman centralization.

The regional competence of provincial councils was formally codified in the fourth century. Nicaea (canons 4 and 5) gave them the ultimate authority hi appointing bishops, creating “metropolitan districts” – a basic and embryonic pattern of church polity, of which there will be numerous variations hi subsequent centuries. The original episcopal council reflected an ecclesiological necessity: it was “ecclesial” in nature. However, the principle, adopted in Nicaea, to have ecclesiastical organization coincide with the administrative divisions of the Empire (“provinces”) implied the beginning of secularization. Certainly, the Church could not avoid the practical necessities of its new situation (and its new mission) in the Empire, but the trend which consisted hi a gradual process of identification of the ecclesiastical and the imperial administrations tended to confuse the old ecclesiological criteria with legal patterns prevailing in the State.

The next steps hi that process included the establishment of groupings of several provinces, coinciding with the larger imperial administrative units, called “dioceses” (see particularly canon 2 of Constantinople, 381 A.D.). The principal bishops, or primates, of such bigger groupings were even at first called by the purely civil title of “exarch” (cf. the “exarch of the diocese” in canons 9 and 17 of Chalcedon, 451 A.D.), which then continued to designate some high ecclesiastical officials, as well as imperial administrators, throughout the Byzantine period. However, the biblical title of “patriarch” was eventually chosen for the major sees of Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem (which eventually Constituted the famous “pentarchy”), as well as for the newer patriarchates of Georgia, Bulgaria, Serbia, and Russia.

Ecclesiologically, these developments were justified by the same logic which originally led to regular provincial episcopal synods. The full integrity and catholicity of each local church required its communion with all the churches. The initial form of this communion was normally realized with neighboring churches in the framework of existing political structures. These canonical groupings were meant to serve unity, not create divisions. And hi addition, the universal unity of the Church, which – at the time of Irenaeus, Tertullian and Cyprian – was seen as a unity in a common faith going back to the apostles, with so-called “apostolic” churches enjoying a particular degree of authenticity and prestige, was now also secured in practice through services offered by the Empire: the emperor acted as the convenor of ecumenical councils and legally secured the enforcement of their decrees.

The late Francis Dvornik has clearly described the contrast which gradually developed between East and West in interpreting the meaning of regional primacies.[2] In the East, the power of the major sees, or patriarchates, was interpreted pragmatically, as an expression of the prestige of cities, around which local churches gathered themselves quite naturally and whose leadership, at first taken for granted, was later formally defined in conciliar legislation. Thus, Constantinople owed its rise to the fact of being the new imperial capital. In the West, meanwhile, the early collapse of imperial administration and the fact that Rome was the only “apostolic” see, led to the development of papal primacy, which claimed a divinely-established origin, and frequently served as a healthy balance to secularistic and caesaropapistic trends in Byzantium.

It is interesting that the collapse of imperial Byzantium in the late medieval period gave rise to a similar “primacy-phenomenon” in the East. Since the emperors of the Palaeologan period, besieged in their capital by invading Turks, were not in a position to act as unifying agents in world Christendom, as their predecessors had done, the patriarch of Constantinople became much more explicit in his own claims of exercising world leadership. In fact, he found himself in the position which in the West was that of pope Gregory the Great in the seventh century. The idea of a Christian empire was reduced to mere symbolism. The Church was left on its own hi maintaining its universal witness in a world divided between a multiplicity of “barbarian” states, or power-centers. So the patriarchs of Constantinople acted very much like the popes at the tune of the Barbarian invasions. To quote only one example, patriarch Philotheos Kokkinos, writing in 1370 to Russian princes who were refusing to comply with the policies of the patriarchal administration in Russia, denned his own position and authority in terms that went beyond the idea of primacy found in early popes, and which could have been used by Gregory VII (or Pius XII). Actually it implied a sort of “universal episcopate” of the patriarch:

Since God has appointed Our Humility as leader of all Christians found anywhere in the inhabited earth, as solicitor and guardian of their souls, all of them depend on me (πάντες εις έμέ άνάκεινται), the father and teacher of them all. If that was possible, therefore, it would have been my duty to walk everywhere on earth by the cities and countries, and to teach there the Word of God. I would have had to do so unfailingly, since this is my duty. However, since it is beyond the possibility of one weak and powerless man to walk around the entire inhabited earth, Our Humility chooses the best among men, the most eminent in virtue, established and ordains them as pastors, teachers, and high priests, and sends them to the ends of the universe. One of them goes to your great country, to the multitudes which inhabit it, another reaches other areas of the earth, and still another goes elsewhere, so that each one, in the country and place

which was appointed for him, enjoys territorial rights, an episcopal  chair,   and  all  the  rights  of  Our  Humility.[3]

There were no direct challenges to these claims of Philotheos at the time when they were made. On the contrary, the leadership provided by the strong “hesychast” patriarchs of the fourteenth century, exercised a lasting influence throughout the Orthodox world during the dark centuries of Ottoman rule in the Balkans and the Middle East. The Orthodox East clearly felt the need for universal leadership, and the exceptional personalities of some patriarchs like Philotheos provided it. However, this was done without any formal ecclesiological, or canonical basis. The canonical definitions of Constantinople’s rights (especially the canons of Constantinople I, Chalcedon and the Quinisext) were clearly limited hi scope, and could certainly not justify the views on universal authority expressed by Patriarch Philotheos. Consequently, the attempt at an Eastern “papism” failed and institutional regionalism eventually prevailed in the East.

There is no necessity to discuss here the origin and development of “national” churches in the medieval period. At least since the fifth century, beyond the borders of the Empire, there were independent churches, each headed by a primate who often carried the title of catholicos.[4] Very early, the identity of these churches was defined primarily along cultural, or ethnic lines. On the other hand, the Slavic churches of Bulgaria and Serbia also secured patriarchal titles for their primates. Although the original ideology of the Bulgarian and Serbian states was Byzantine and, therefore, accepted the principle of a united, universal Christian empire centered in Constantinople, the failure of Bulgarian and Serbian leaders to secure the imperial throne for themselves lead in practice to the creation of regional monarchies and regional patriarchates. There were no canonical obstacles to the existence of this patriarchal pluralism. On the contrary, the ancient canons of Nicaea and subsequent councils were still serving as the backbone of Orthodox canon law, and these ancient rules were sanctioning ecclesiastical regionalism in the framework of a universal unity of faith, secured by councils. Actually, this credal unity remained quite effective and allowed for the occasional emergence of universal leadership as well, as happened particularly in the case of Philothoes Kokkinos; but, institutionally and structurally, regionalism clearly prevailed. However, the character and meaning of regionalism underwent radical change with the rise of modern nationalism.

2) Nationalism, as a divisive force

In our time, the universal Orthodox Church presents itself as a loose fellowship of fully independent, or autocephalous churches, united in faith and a common canonical tradition. Formally, it is possible to affirm that this situation is in conformity with early Christian canonical polity. The legislation of the Council of Nicaea provides for the election of bishops by the Synods of each province (canons 4 and 5) and knows of no formal authority over the bishop of the provincial capital, or “metropolitan.” It is true that Nicaea also acknowledges the de facto traditional authority of some churches – Alexandria, Antioch, Rome (cf. canon 6) – over a wider area, but the content of this authority is not very precise and it is always clearly limited territorially. The Byzantine canonist Balsamon (twelfth c.) in his commentary on canon 2 of Constantinople was right in saying that “formerly all the heads of provinces were autocephalous, and were elected by their respective synods.”[5] However, this ancient regionalism was meant only to secure an effective functioning of local provincial synods. It also presupposed a sense of universal unity and interaction of the episcopate, to which the provincial “autocephalies” were never meant to be an obstacle. Nothing was more foreign to the early church structure than some modern understandings of autocephaly, according to which “in the sphere of international relations, every autocephalous church is a full and equal subject of international law.”[6]

Clearly, modern nationalism has effected a transformation of legitimate ecclesiastical regionalism into a cover for ethnic separatism.

For a historian, it is easy to detect where and how this transformation took place. It occurred as a direct consequence of the great revival of nationalities, which started in Western Europe in the second half of the eighteenth century and determined the entire history of the nineteenth. The new nationalist ideology identified the nation – understood in both linguistic and racial terms – as the object of basic social and cultural loyalties. It is not Universal Christendom, as the Middle Ages conceived it, and certainly not the sacramental community, created by the new birth of Baptism, as the Christian Gospel required, which was seen as the determining factor of human life, but the nation. And it was also implied that each nation had a right to separate statehood, so that the old european empires, inadequate remnants of Roman, or Byzantine universalism, crumbled one after another.

In Greece and in the other Balkan countries of Bulgaria, Serbia, and Romania, nationalism was generally promoted by a western-trained, and western-oriented secularized intelligentsia, which had no real interest in Orthodoxy and the Church, except as a useful tool for achieving secular nationalistic goals. When the various nationalistic movements began, the leadership of the Church often expressed skepticism and was instinctively afraid of the new secular and divisive spirit which had taken over the formerly united Christian millet in the Ottoman empire. But the Church obviously lacked the intellectual strength, the theological discernment and the institutional structures which could have exorcised the demons of the nationalistic revolution. On the other hand, the Church had no reason to support the status quo, which implied the continuation of a hated Turkish, or Austrian rule upon the Orthodox population of the Balkans. So patriarchs, bishops and, indeed, the parish clergy – sometimes enthusiastically, at other times wearily – joined the sweeping nationalistic movement, becoming directly involved in its political success, but also – more dangerously – accepting its ideological positions.

The immediate result was divisiveness. Indeed, if Greek nationalism rebelled against Turkish rule, Bulgarian nationalism could not tolerate the Greek dominance in the Church. Similarly, in the Habsburg empire, Hungarians rebelled against Austrians, but Serbs resented Hungarian supremacy and, further down the line, Romanians opposed the canonical primacy of the Serbian Patriarchate of Karlovci. So nationalism erupted among the Orthodox of all nationalities and was directed not only against Islamic, or Roman Catholic (Austrian, or Hungarian) overlords, but against fellow-

Orthodox as well. And since the political goal of all the nationalities consisted hi seeking the creation of nation-states – which were seen as the ultimate fulfillment of cultural growth and maturity,- the idea of “autocephaly” came to be thought of as the nation’s ecclesiastical equivalent: each nation had to establish its own auto-cephalous church. The ecumenical patriarchate of Constantinople opposed the trend, but unsuccessfully, partly because it itself had become the symbol, and occasionally the tool, of Greek nationalism, which – as all nationalisms – was necessarily blind and deaf to the nationalism of others, and therefore, unable to transcend the vicious circle of ethnic strife.[7]

Thus, the legitimate and canonical regionalism, sanctioned by the canons of the early Church, was transformed, in modern Orthodoxy, into divisive ecclesiastical nationalism.

I have said earlier that Orthodox ecclesiastical authority remained generally unaware of this dangerous development, and often became, in practice, the main spokesman of nationalistic ideology. However, there is a major and very fortunate exception: the decisions of the Council of 1872, held in Constantinople on the occasion of the so-called “Bulgarian Schism.” I do not want to discuss here the rather self-righteous character of the decrees, which condemned the Bulgarians, as if they alone were guilty of ecclesiastical nationalism, but the text itself makes clear ecclesiological statements of a general nature and of paramount importance for contemporary Orthodoxy. It condemns the heresy of “phyletism” (φυλετισμός) which is denned as “the establishment of particular churches, accepting members of the same nationality and refusing the members of other nationalities, being administered by pastors of the same nationality,” and as “a coexistence of nationally defined churches of the same faith, but independent from each other, on the same territory, city, or village.”[8] Ecclesiologically, the decree implies that the Church cannot adopt, as criteria of its structure and organization, the divisive realities of the fallen world (including nationalism), that, as a eucharistic community, it is called to transcend those divisions and reunite the separated. In its structure itself, it must witness to Christ’s victory over the world.

Very poorly followed in practice (to say the least!) the decisions of 1872 witness very fortunately to a strong residual ecclesiological awareness, without which the Orthodox Church could not be termed orthodox anymore.

In discussing divisive nationalism, I have referred so far primarily to the Orthodox churches in the Balkans, and I have not mentioned the largest Orthodox national church, the church of Russia. The historical fate of that Church has obviously been different, but the results, in the question which occupies us now, are the same. The universalist imperial ideology inherited by Moscow from Byzantium became nationalized and secularized in the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries by a process well described by the late Fr. Georges Florovsky.[9] The one major difference – and, perhaps, advantage – enjoyed by the Russian Church, in terms of preserving a “catholic” and therefore, supranational consciousness was the possibility of continuing missionary activity and thus maintaining a certain practice (and not only the principle) of Christian universality. Also, the emergence hi Russia in the nineteenth century of critical scholarship and, more recently, of a church-oriented intelligentsia (of which Florovsky himself is a foremost representative) allows for self-examination and self-criticism. But these factors still remain quite insufficient in overcoming ecclesiastical nationalism in practice, and in the consciousness of many people.

3) Issues for dialogue

The metamorphosis of regionalism into nationalism in modern Orthodoxy requires a critical evaluation on the basis of what the Orthodox claim to be their ecclesiological position. Such an evaluation is a clear pre-condition for dialogue with Rome, which also has attempted to reexamine its own ecclesiastical praxis, in the light of its own ecclesiology.

Indeed, it cannot be denied that the primacy of the Roman bishop, as it is witnessed by early Christian writers and the practice of the early Church, also went through a metamorphosis. Having first filled lie political and cultural void created by the fall of the Western Empire and, later, struggling for spiritual supremacy and political independence against the German emperors, the Bishop of Rome became a “Supreme Pontiff” with secular power on a universal scale. Later, as he lost much of the political recognition which he had achieved in the Middle Ages, the pope’s pastoral and doctrinal powers were defined hi terms borrowed from medieval legal vocabulary (plena potestas). In this new form, the Papacy has played a significant role in the spiritual make-up of Christianity in the West. Understood by some as a necessary and, indeed, God-established foundation of doctrinal security, ecclesiastical discipline and consistent pastoral guidance, it has been seen by others as an antichristian substitute for Christ, or, in any case, as a major opponent to human freedom and personal responsibility.

The dialogue between Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy necessarily includes the issue of regionalism, vs. universalism. Both sides agree that these always were essential aspects of Christian witness and Christian unity, and that they are still essential today. If everyone also accepts a measure of self-criticism and recognizes that Eastern Christian regionalism and Western universalism have often in the past taken forms which were ecclesiologically and ethically unjustifiable, the search for the true solution might become easier.

However, as one discovers, in joint research, the relative and changing realities of history, another basic theological issue arises: the question of the role of the Holy Spirit in history, i.e. the issue of continuous revelation, or doctrinal development. Indeed, one can easily agree that forms and structures of the Church can and should adapt themselves to the changing conditions of history. We have referred earlier in the paper to the wide acceptance of imperial political structures as de facto criteria for church organization in the East, and also the nearly “papal” self-affirmations by Eastern prelates, both hi Byzantium and later in Russia, in times when the Church had to maintain its witness in conditions of political chaos and disunity. The question may legitimately be asked therefore, whether similar – although much more prolonged and more consistent-developments in the West, which led the Roman bishop to assume universal leadership, can not be explained and justified in the same manner, as a legitimate response of the Church to concrete demands of History? And if this is so, is it not the Holy Spirit who guided the Roman Church along the way?

Clearly, the issue of doctrinal development, particularly in its application to church institutions, has been raised, since Newman, but it clearly involves even wider problems today with the adoption by so many of a “process” approach to theology. Indeed, change is recognized as the very sign of truth and as an intrinsic factor of Revelation. In the field of ecclesiology, this method is, of course, able to explain the emergence of an institution like the Papacy, but also to neutralize it in practice by referring to on-going and necessary change in the present and the future.

Generally speaking, the Orthodox approach to ecclesiology is rather uncomfortable with the “process” method, which seems to overlook the historical uniqueness (άπαξ) of the Christ-event, and, therefore, the completeness of the apostolic witness, enshrined forever in the New Testament and preserved by the apostolic Church. Without rejecting the idea of development, Orthodox theology would rather describe it in terms of novelty of formulation, not of content. Consequently, any historical change would be evaluated in terms of its consistency with the apostolic witness and with tradition, and only secondarily in terms of its relevance to the needs of the historical moment when it occurs. It remains, however, that this Orthodox concern for continuity easily transforms itself into frozen conservatism of almost anecdotic character. Moreover, blind fear of any change leads to a gradual drifting into sectarianism: as opposed to sects, “catholic” Christianity is both faithful to the depositum fidei and open to the realities of history…

It seems therefore that if the Orthodox-Roman Catholic dialogue is to handle the issue of doctrinal development, it should – especially in the field of ecclesiology – rediscover its antinomical, and ultimately mysterious character: the antinomy between divine revelation and human perception, between grace and freedom, between the universal and the local. The major discovery which might occur is that the antinomy – always challenging logical and legalistic thinking -is actually not a form of agnosticism, but a liberating contemplation of divine truth uncovered in the sensus ecclesiae, shared by all.

Speaking concretely, the Orthodox have clearly no right to object to Roman primacy solely on the basis of the ethnic provincialism of their national autocephalous churches as they exist today. These are undoubtedly covers for separatism. Moreover, they need to recognize that if regional unions of local churches are realized through institutional interdependence (regional synods), the universal unity of the Church can also receive an institutionalized form, implying defined channels of interdependence and a form of primacy,

models of which existed in the apostolic college and among the local churches of early Christendom.

If, by the grace of God, a Union Council ever meets, it will have to take up in its agenda the issue of “autocephaly” – as it is practiced now in the Orthodox Church – and of course the issue of Roman Primacy. These issues will have to be debated theologically, not only in terms of the content of the New Testament revelation, but also by asking the question of what is legitimate “doctrinal development.” The Orthodox side will undoubtedly try to interpret development in terms of jus ecclesiasticum only, but will also have to formulate ways by which the universality of the Christian message can be maintained on a permanent basis, and in an institutional form, as a necessary expression of the nature of the Church.

Then, the debate will have to include practical matters. What happens in practice in Western Christendom, when papal primacy is either denied, or only reduced in its real efficiency? Did not Conciliarism evolve into the Reformation, and the new emphasis on conciliarity at Vatican II into a critical breakdown of doctrine and structures?

On the other hand, what would happen concretely in the Orthodox world, if the present autocephalous churches accept the existence of a real center of authority, even if this center is defined only jure ecclesiastical

It seems to me that relationships between Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism will not advance much, unless a competent team makes the attempt of drafting an agenda, which would include questions challenging for both sides and testing their awareness of being members of the Catholic Church of Christ. Both sides will be ready to recognize

–  that such membership is fully realized locally, in the Eucharist;

–  that it also implies a regional (i.e. also cultural, national, and social) mission;

–  that regionalism is not always consistent with universalism, which nevertheless, also belongs to the very nature of Christ’s message.

On these three levels, a common sensus will have to be developed. Otherwise, no doctrinal agreements on particular theological issues, and certainly no symbolic gestures, or diplomacy will be able to realize the unity we seek.

Online publishing from St Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly, vol. 24, No. 3, 1980. OCR by Rev. Andrew Dudchenko. Special thanks to Mrs Marie Meyendorff for the offprint of the article.

[1] The Documents of Vatican II, W. M. Abbott, S.J., ed., New York: 1966, p. 50.

[2] Cf. particularly F. Dvornik, The Idea of Apostolicity in Byzantium and the Legend of the Apostle Andrew, Cambridge, Mass., 1958. Also J. Meyendorff, Orthodoxy and Catholicity, New York, 1966, pp. 49-78.

[3] F. Miklosich and J. Müller, Acta Patriarchatus Constantinopolitani I (Vienna, 1860), p. 521; on the issue, J. Meyendorff, “The ecumenical patriarch, seen in the light of Orthodox Ecclesiology and History,” Greek Orthodox Theological Review, XXIV, 2-3, Summer-Fall, 1979, pp. 238-239, and also Byzantium and the Rise of Russia, Cambridge University Press, 1980.

[4] The Armenian catholicos was Monophysite. The catholicos of Seleucia-Ktesiphon was Nestorian. But the catholicos of Georgia had remained faithful to the Council of Chalcedon and Byzantine Orthodoxy.

[5] G. A. Rhallis and M. Potles, eds., Σύνταγμα των θείων και Ιερών κανόνων II, Athens, 1852, ρ. 171. On the various meanings of the term “autocephalous” which only gradually, and very recently, became the terminus technicus designating an administratively independent church, see Pierre L’Huillier, “Problems concerning autocephaly,” Greek Orthodox Theological Review, XXIV, Nos. 2-3, Summer-Fall, 1979, pp. 166-168.

[6] S. V. Troitsky in Zhurnal Moskovskoy Patriarkhii, 1948, #7, p. 48.

[7] Source materials and secondary literature on Balkan nationalism are abundant. Among books in Western languages, the following can be quoted as of direct relevance to the ecclesiastical dimensions of the crisis: E. Picot, Les Serbes de Hongrie: leur histoire, leurs privilèges, leur église, leur état  politique et social, Prague, 1873; Stephen Runciman, The Great Church in Captivity: A Study of the Patriarchate of Constantinople from the Eve of the Turkish Conquest to the Greek War of Independence; Cambridge University Press, 1968; K. Hitchins, Orthodoxy and Nationality: Andreiu Saguna and the Rumanians of Transylvania, 1846-1873, Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press, 1977; R. W. Seton-Watson, The Rise of Nationality in the Balkans, New York, H. Fertig, 1966; Ch. A. Frazee, The Orthodox Church and Independent Greece, 1821-1852, Cambridge University Press, 1969.

[8] Quoted in Maximos of Sardis, To οίκουμενικόν πατριαρχεΐον εν τη Όρθοδόξφ Εκκλησία, Thessaloniki, 1972, pp. 323-325.

[9] Particularly in Puti russkago bogosloviya, Paris, 1937.

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