Barbarians Among Us?

Fr. Gregory Jensen

Fr. Gregory Jensen

The Rejection of Tradition

On a post on my blog Koinoia (“An Editorial: Orthodoxy & the Public Square“), I wrote that whether or not I like Frank Schaeffer’s politics or his moral theology, or whether or not his support of abortion and gay rights are compatible with the tradition of the Church, the reality is that he is well within the mainstream of current Orthodox opinion in America. According to the PEW survey, the majority of Orthodox laity agree that abortion and gay marriage should be legal.  It may surprise you, then, that the problem isn’t Schaeffer – it’s us; specifically, it’s the clergy.  For reasons that are not entirely clear to me, we clergy are not effectively communicating the moral tradition of the Church to the laity.  Or, if we are, the laity aren’t listening –- which would imply that the clergy are willing to tolerate the laity ignoring the Gospel.

We see the same prevalence of pro-choice, pro-gay marriage positions among Orthodox politicians.  This kind of a consistent pattern of belief does not just happen.  As in the Catholic Church, we see in the Orthodox Church evidence of a significant pastoral failing.  This appears to be more than just a widespread lack of sound moral education for the faithful.  It appears to be an embrace of, or at least resignation to, the influence of secularism in our parishes. 

This is a very serious problem.  This isn’t a debate about the practices of potentially faithful followers – as can be the case when addressing, say, Old Calendar or New Calendar, or the issue of women wearing headscarves, or whether priests should have beards and wear cassocks, or whether we have pews or not, or whether to use an organ to lead the choir.  This goes much deeper – to the heart of Christian discipleship.  It seems that we have simply lost sight of the beauty and power of Christian virtue; perhaps worse, it seems that we have given over leadership to moral barbarians.

I know that sounds like a harsh judgment, but what else can one call it?  A barbarian isn’t a bad person. A barbarian isn’t likely to love his wife and children any less than you or I.  He isn’t necessarily an atheist or polytheist.  In fact, many barbarians believed –- and believe — in Christ, though for the same reason that they believed in the old gods: to secure power for their people.

John Courtney Murray writes in his introduction to The Civilization of the Pluralist Society that “the barbarian need not appear in bearskins with a club in hand,”  Instead he:

…may wear a Brooks Brothers suit and carry a ball-point pen with which to write his advertising copy. In fact, even beneath the academic gown there may lurk a child of the wilderness, untutored in the high tradition of civility, who goes busily and happily about his work, a domesticated and law-abiding man, engaged in the construction of a philosophy to put an end to all philosophy, and thus put an end to the possibility of a vital consensus and to civility itself.

In Murray’s view, the perennial “work of the barbarian” is “to undermine rational standards of judgment, to corrupt the inherited intuitive wisdom by which the people have always lived.”  He does this not “by spreading new beliefs” but,

…by creating a climate of doubt and bewilderment in which clarity about the larger aims of life is dimmed and the self-confidence of the people is destroyed, so that finally what you have is the impotent nihilism of the “generation of the third eye,” now presently appearing on our university campuses. (One is, I take it, on the brink of impotence and nihilism when one begins to be aware of one’s own awareness of what one is doing, saying, thinking. This is the paralysis of all serious thought; it is likewise the destruction of all the spontaneities of love.)

In the modern world, then, “the barbarian is the man who makes open and explicit rejection of the traditional role of reason and logic in human affairs. He is the man who reduces all spiritual and moral questions to the test of practical results or to an analysis of language or to decision in terms of individual subjective feeling.”  By this criteria, it seems that we live in an increasingly barbarian world – even in our own parishes.

Faith & Reason or Force & Fear?

Though tempting, we should not dismiss his argument as extreme.  Nor should we give in to the understandable desire to apply it to others but not ourselves.  In both cases to do so is to flee in the face of “Christian theological intuition” as well as “all of historical experience” both of which remind us that. both personally and socially, we live “life always more or less close to the brink of barbarism.”  The prospect of collapse into barbarism reflects the fragility of our world in both its physical and cultural dimensions.  At the same time he is clear that threat we face today arises from more than the usual challenges to our health and well-being posed by “physical illness” or “the disorganizations of mental imbalance.”  No, the real threat comes from “the decadence of moral corruption and the political chaos of formlessness or the moral chaos of tyranny.”However harsh this diagnosis might seem, I think that Murray is correct.  

In a civilized society Murray says, we “live together according to reason, embodied in law and custom, and incorporated in a web of institutions that sufficiently reveal rational influences, even though they are not, and cannot be, wholly rational.”  In a barbarous society, on the other hand, reason is no longer given its rightful place in human life and instead we “are huddled together under the rule of force and fear.”

Once force and fear come to dominate, as they do in the barbarous society, power becomes the key value.  Now, it is certainly true that civilized societies are also concerned with power—with acquiring it, exercising it and even extending it.  The difference is that for the barbarian, even the “Christian” barbarian, power is always an end in itself.
Murray’s observation from almost 50 years ago is as true today as it was then.  Looking around he saw the emergence of an increasingly barbarous society in which,

…economic interests assume the primacy over higher values; when material standards of mass and quantity crush out the values of quality and excellence; when technology assumes an autonomous existence and embarks on a course of unlimited self-exploitation without purposeful guidance from the higher disciplines of politics and morals (one thinks of Cape Canaveral); when the state reaches the paradoxical point of being everywhere intrusive and also impotent, possessed of immense power and powerless to achieve rational ends; when the ways of men come under the sway of the instinctual, the impulsive, the compulsive. When things like this happen, barbarism is abroad, whatever the surface impressions of urbanity. Men have ceased to live together according to reasonable laws.

You might well be asking at this point, what does any of this have to do with the life of the American Orthodox Church?
I would suggest that in American culture we are facing trends that will ultimately lead to a barbarious society.  This is not happening because this is a “Western Christian” society but because it is increasingly neither Western nor Christian.  However unintentionally, many Orthodox Christian have allied themselves with our society’s willful rejection of its own Western Christian foundations.  If we are not careful, we may find ourselves repeating the mistakes of “the eighteenth-century philosopher, who neither anticipated nor desired the brutalities of the Revolution with its Committee on the Public Safety” but who Murray argues, “prepared the ways for the Revolution by creating a vacuum which he was not able to fill.”

Painful though it is to acknowledge, many American Orthodox Christians find ourselves in the same position as traditional and observant Roman Catholics, Protestants, Jews or other religious believers.  We are being attacked not only from the outside but we are increasingly being undermined from within.  Part of this occurs as a result of our own efforts to “kick down the barricades.”  It may be that this is done in the name of our specific concerns as Orthodox Christians, but it effectively serves the agenda of a pervasive and destructive barbarism that is beyond our ability to control or direct.  In the end, I fear that we will find that our anti-Western Christian rhetoric is simply self-defeating.

Bad Money Drives Out Good

An Orthodox polemics that would dismiss Western Christianity as rotten to its core does nothing to advance the cause of the Orthodox Church.  In fact – and I think the empirical evidence bears this out – rejecting the foundations of Western Christian culture and trying instead to create a Church that is thus divorced from the surrounding culture has undermined our ability to fulfill the mission of the Church.  To understand why this is NOT in the Church’s best interest, let me borrow an idea from economics: Gresham’s law

Named after the English financier during the Tudor dynasty Sir Thomas Gresham (1519 – 1579), Greshem’s law says that “Bad money drives out good.”  In the Church, the “bad money” is our indifference, if not outright hostility, to Western Christian culture.  The “good money” is not simply Western culture, but also the tradition of the Orthodox Church. 

Having rejected a variety of Western insights that were immensely important in the development of western society – such as the partnership of faith and reason, natural law, and the objective and universal character of Christian morality (to name only three insights that Schaeffer dismissively touches on in his essay), we have — however inadvertently — allied the Church with the cultural forces of barbarism.

Our alliance with barbarism has happened because we have rejected the Christian roots of Western culture in a misguided effort to (1) keep the Church “Greek” (or “Russian,” or “Arab,” or “Serbian”) or (2) to distinguish “True Orthodoxy” from “false Catholicism” or (3) because, like Frank Schaeffer, we are simply cultural-despisers who have found that the Orthodox tradition is a convenient cudgel with which to continue waging our political or cultural battles.  Whatever the reason, this amounts to a refusal to engage in any meaningful way with the cultural marketplace of ideas.  As a result, it leaves the public square utterly naked — even as we moan and complain about it privately.  Worse, it makes us the tools by which Nietzsche could proclaim that God was a non-factor (“dead”) in modern life.  It puts us in a position where we not only fail America –- to be salt and light for our neighbor and our country — but also Christ and ourselves.

We should instead look at Western Christianity, and especially Roman Catholicism, as an ally.  Yes, there are important differences that separate us and these differences should not be minimized. But neither should they be so emphasized that we find it impossible to work with others with whom we share a deep, common concern.  Pastorally, this means that the challenge for the Orthodox Church is to become American among Americans, and –- in our own particular way — Western among Western Christians.  This need not come at the expense of the faith — anymore than it did for the Fathers of the Church.  It does however mean that we must do here and now as we have done at other times and other places.
Like the Fathers, we must discern and nurture what is best in Western culture.  Our failure to do this, and more importantly, our apparent unwillingness to do this, has not resulted in a stronger Church here in America but rather one that looks increasingly like an Eastern-rite Mainline Protestant denomination.

The use of the vernacular –- a gift that the West has borrowed from the East –- must mean more than serving Liturgy in the spoken language of the marketplace.  It also means learning to faithfully express the meaning of the Gospel in the cultural life of our country.  While not without risk, it will – when done successfully (and we have Christ’s promise that we will be successful) – not only grow the Church, but transform the culture.

The spiritual genius of the Orthodox Church has always been the ability of the Church to take on and transform the dominate culture.  This means that just as Jesus was the authentic Jew among Jews, the Church has been – in turn – authentically Greek among the Greeks, and authentically Russian among the Russians, so too we must be authentically American among the Americans.  While have rarely done this perfectly, we have largely done this without sacrificing the Gospel or the communion of the various local or ethnic churches. 

Is there any reason, other than sloth or despair, why we think we cannot do this in America as well?

Rev. Gregory Jensen is psychologist of religion and a priest of the Diocese of Chicago and the Midwest (Orthodox Church in America). He blogs at Koinonia.

The Byzantine Liturgy as Missionary

Fr. George Morelli

This article is based on the President’s Message column featured in the Society of St. John Chrysostom- Western Region (SSJC-WR) Newsletter: The Light of the East, Spring, 2010.


Fr. George Morelli

One of the major developments in the modern age is the marginalization and indifference toward Christianity in society.  (Jacobse, 2010; Morelli, 2006, 2008, 2009, 2010). The disunion among Christian communities has not been a beneficent witness to the unity prayed for by Christ Himself “that they may be one” (Jn 17:11). Secular and politically correct values have shaped doctrinal and moral teaching and practice among some groups calling themselves Christian: abortion, euthanasia, female ordination, same sex marriage, are but a few examples that are obvious departures from the teaching of Christ. Archbishop Hilarion Alfeyevi, Chairman of the Department of External Affairs of the Russian Orthodox Patriarchate of Moscow, has suggested an alliance between Catholics and Orthodox be advanced because these apostolic churches have held fast to the essentials of Christ’s teachings. This suggestion certainly conforms to the goals of the Society of St. John Chrysostom which has as one of its goals: to make known the history, worship, spirituality, discipline and theology of Eastern Christendom.ii

It should be noted that the Byzantine Liturgy is an outstanding missionary out-reach to fulfill Christ’s command to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations. . . .” (Mt 28: 19) and stands as a witness to the fullness of the truth of Christ’s teaching. The Liturgy could stand as a model for the suggested Catholic-Orthodox alliance. Archbishop Hilarion points out that the Byzantine Liturgy contains “psalms, litanies, hymns, prayers and the celebrating priest’s invocations follow one another in a continuous stream. The entire service is conducted as if in one breath, in one rhythm, like an ever unfolding mystery in which nothing distracts one from prayer. Byzantine liturgical texts [are] filled with profound theological and mystical content….” The Liturgy has doctrinal authority: “as solemn entries and exits, prostrations and censing, are not intended to distract the faithful from prayer but, on the contrary, to put them in a prayerful disposition and draw them into the theourgia in which, according to the teaching of the Fathers, not only the Church on earth, but also the heavenly Church, including the angels and the saints, participates.” iii

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Educating Narcissus

Orthodox Schools Association

By: Bryan Smith

Several poets of antiquity tell a charming but frightening tale about a young man who saw his own reflection in a pool and became so infatuated that he vowed never to marry. He even ignored the lovely nymph, Echo, who had followed him to that place, leaving her to wander off alone until she at last pined away to nothing but a faint, whispering voice. The young man’s name was Narcissus, and he has become the image of the excess of self-love. When we say that a person is narcissistic, or that we live in an age of narcissism, we are alluding to the self-absorbed young man who sat, day after day, staring at his own reflected features while ignoring the rest of the world around him.

Listen to Kevin Allen interview Bryan Smith on the Illumined Heart radio program hosted by Ancient Faith Radio.

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The story is, of course, a parable of one of the many pitfalls to which humans are susceptible—self-absorption. Though the danger is present to people of all age groups, it is no accident that the Narcissus of fable was a youth. One of the most basic sensibilities a young person forms is that of either looking outside himself for answers or remaining cloistered in the cell of his own psyche; of judging himself and the world around him by something “outside”, or of judging all things according to his own opinions, moods, and natural inclinations. This latter condition is one that, in its full flower, acknowledges no objective truth and can even come to question the validity of perception itself.

As Orthodox Christian teachers we must remember the warnings of St. John Chrysostom who began his lessons on the education of children with stern admonitions against this self-absorbed condition. Anticipating the question as to why such a young man would grow up to follow only the precepts of his appetites, St. John asked, “Did you not marvel at him? Did you not sing his praise? Did you not lead him on to his present state by applause and flattery?”

Unfortunately, we now have behind us several decades of professionally sanctioned educational practices which, in their methods as well as in their results, could be called an education to narcissism. Child-centered learning, whole-language practice, and multiple-intelligence theory have taught countless children that nothing matters which has its origin outside the self.

Though perhaps not overtly, the lesson has, nevertheless, been taught. It has been taught in stream-of-consciousness “journaling” where external forms such as spelling and grammar are of no consequence; it has been taught in anti-knowledge schools where memorization is belittled as “rote learning” and administrators declare openly their inability to predict what children will need to know in the future. It has been taught by teachers telling students there are no right answers, and by the cheap teen novels once hidden from the instructor but now assigned as classroom reading because she believes the young people can “relate” to them better. It has been taught in social studies where students learn nothing of the sacrifices of heroic men and women of the past, but everything of their own personal entitlements. In these and so many other ways, our current “progressive” schools encourage children to gaze no farther than their own adolescent images.

There are many problems with this approach. Most practically, it simply fails as a means of education—a fact by now so well documented that only those with careers rooted in the old theories still echo their empty tenets. Moreover, this approach to education assumes a Romantic optimism about human nature that is unjustified by practical experience, denies the fallen nature, and robs young people of the noblest ideas and examples of human kind while forcing them to wallow in the low, the base, and the mediocre. Furthermore, the progressive approach squanders the best opportunity—that of the early school years—to instill a body of objective factual content that can become a network of epiphanies in later years, and to inculcate habits of diligence in the attention to minute details that must always accompany successes that are not accidental. The most dangerous effect of all, however, may be that this progressive approach to education gives children the idea that the universe orbits around the parochial world of themselves and their peers—that the world will forever reconfigure itself around their desires, moods, and natural inclinations.

Many Christian schools, we must admit, are not guiltless of this pedagogical folly. Caricature Bible stories and cartoon illustrations promote a thought-world for children that is not merely immature but shallow and silly. Teen-conducted youth chapels tell young people that the world of adults is not for them and that their own inclinations to sentimentality and sensuality can be deflected into worship by merely deifying the direct object in a song lyric. Unable to encourage young people to “lay aside childish things” and “grow to full stature” in Christ, many youth pastors (find that in the Bible) create the pitiful spectacle of an older guy strumming a guitar, knitting his brow, and warbling ambiguous praises to stimulate teenagers who could not worship in the absence of electricity. The theology teacher who uses a “Skater’s Bible” has simply lost his way. So it is that many Christian schools fail most egregiously in the process of conversion—of turning children away from themselves. If teachers in Christian schools wish to encourage their students to be “like Christ” let them do so, and let the first lesson be that we know nothing of Christ as an adolescent. What would Jesus do? He would apparently be obedient to his parents as he grew in wisdom and stature—quietly, off-stage, and unknown.

The education offered by Orthodox Christian schools has as one of its intentions to lure Narcissus away from his pool. Our focus on the history of Christian Civilization is an attempt to ground young people outside themselves in a legacy of ideas, actions, and aesthetics that span continents and millennia. We want them to see society as comprising the dead, the living, and those yet unborn. Our studies of great historical personalities are intended to impress upon the students how greatly their own lives and options have been shaped by the prudent foresight of another generation. Even in our study of other cultures we are not so impressed with the insular cults of folk-ways as we are with the common nature all humans share—a nature which universally acknowledges one natural law and so points to the existence of a standard higher than the assumptions of any one self-approving group.

The literary, philosophical, and theological works of the Western canon also act as windows to a wider world, showing young people an incredible spectrum of options for thought and action, while also providing the benefit of an opportunity to reflect at a safe distance on the consequences of many of those actions. Also, as Lewis said, we read “old books” to discover that we are not alone; and it is an indisputable benefit for any student to read in the lines of an old Greek poet the very agonies that torment his young American soul.

Our focus on languages, and especially the highly inflected classical languages, works along with mathematical studies to offset the infection of subjectivity and narcissism. Apart from the practical benefits of improving facility in language, logic, and problem solving, both of these disciplines take the emphasis in education away from the self by demonstrating to students that natural canons exist which are absolute, unchanging, subject to no private interpretation, and belonging to a world not of their own making.

Finally, and most profoundly, our Orthodox Christian identity works to pull students out of themselves by the insistence that God is transcendent, that certain crucial truths and doctrinal definitions rely neither on personal discovery nor on individual inclinations, that it is we who must conform, who must sacrifice the self, and who must declare with the Forerunner: “I must decrease, that He may increase.”

Our nation is rife with schools that would let Narcissus languish by the pool while the teachers ask little more of him than a description of his feelings. We must ask more. We must ask, first of all, that he come away from the pool—that he lift his eyes to better images, and that he open his heart to eternal truths and the tongues of angels.

Byron Smith is a founding member of the Orthodox School Association.

Who We Are: Responding to the PAOI Study “The Orthodox Church Today”

Fr. Gregory Jensen

Fr. Gregory Jensen

By: Fr. Gregory Jenson

In his 2008 study, “The Orthodox Church Today: A National Study of Parishioners and the Realities of Orthodox Parish Life in the USA,” Alexei D. Krindatch makes a fascinating, if potentially disturbing, observation. The research, sponsored by the Patriarch Athenagoras Orthodox Institute (PAOI), surveyed almost “one thousand respondents from 103 Orthodox parishes situated in various parts of the country,” (p. 5) and argues that while the Church in America has been able to maintain a dogmatic unity, or agreement about the “big questions” of the faith (p. 3). This dogmatic unity, however, has not protected us from the “increasing fragmentation” of the “American Orthodox community.” As he describes the situation (and this certainly matches my own pastoral experience), there is a “growing conservative-liberal gap” in the Church that arises as “Orthodox teachings and established traditions are personally and communally interpreted.” These “local interpretations” are important because they “shape the social and religious behavior of American Orthodox Christians clergy and laity and the culture of American Orthodox congregations” (p. 4).

What follows is offer a brief overview of “The Orthodox Church Today.” This will include a discussion of the methodological limits of the study itself and what these limits mean for how we use the study. After this I will look at the Krindatch’s framework for understanding what he calls the increased fragmentation of the American Orthodox Church. Whether psychological or spiritual, pathology is a parasite, it feeds off of that which is healthy. As I will argue, concealed within the fragmentation we see is the call for the Church in America to more systematically, dare I say intentionally, take up the work of spiritual formation for both the laity and the clergy.

The Limits of the Study – or – Is This Really the Orthodox Church Today?

Unlike other earlier and more generally studies of religious life in America (for example, the Pew Religious Landscape Survey), “The Orthodox Church Today,” looks specifically at American Orthodox Christianity. Together with his earlier studies of the American expression of Orthodox Christianity, Krindatch’s work gives us an empirically sound snapshot of the Church in America. As with all social scientific research, “the Orthodox Church Today” is only one part of the larger work of understanding and guiding the American Orthodox Church. It is neither the first word nor the last word about the Church. Rather, it is an instrument for focusing an ongoing conversation. We’ve all had the experience of entering into the middle of a conversation and know it can be frustrating it can be. This need not be a problem however, if we remember that there is more happening than what we see at the moment. It is only when we assume that we know everything that there is to know that conflict ensues.

So what is Krindatch’s study about?

“The Orthodox Church Today” seeks to address “three general questions” about the American Orthodox Church:

  • Who are the members of the two largest American Orthodox Churches (denominations)?
  • What do the church members think about the everyday patterns of life in their local parishes (congregations)?
  • What are their general religious attitudes and approaches to the “big” Church related issues such as future of Orthodox Christianity in America, the role of laity in the Church, ordination of women, relation to the outside non-Orthodox community, etc? (Krindatch, p.2)

It is relative “to these broad questions, [that] special attention has been paid to the differences among various generations of American Orthodox faithful, between the “cradle” Orthodox and “convert[s]” to Orthodoxy, and between those who identified their theological stance and general approach to the Church life as either “liberal, moderate, traditional, or conservative.” (p. 2)

Building on his earlier study, “Evolving Visions of the Orthodox Priesthood in America” (Krindatch, 2006), these three broader questions are posed in order to begin to answer two, more narrowly defined, questions that the study’s author (rightly I think) describes as “crucial for the Church’s future” here in America:

  • To what extent do the social and religious attitudes of American Orthodox laity reflect those of their clergy?
  • What does it take to be a “good Orthodox parish priest” at the beginning of the third millennium from the perspective of the ordinary “people in the pews?” (p. 3). Stated another way: Do the clergy and laity have a shared vision of the Church, her pastoral situation, and her future in 21st century pluralistic America?

While these are important matters to be sure, the study does not seek to answer them through a global survey of all Orthodox Christians in America. Nor is the study presented as an examination of the whole American Orthodox Church. The study’s aims are more modest: “The Orthodox Church Today” is the “first nationally representative and comparative [emphasis in original] study of the laity—non-ordained ordinary church members—in the two largest American Orthodox jurisdictions (denominations): the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (GOA) and the Orthodox Church in America (OCA).”

The question we might ask is: Why is the studied limited to these two jurisdictions? The author answers that, “the GOA and OCA account for more than half of all American Orthodox Christians and parishes” in America. For this reason, “the outcomes of the ‘Orthodox Church Today’ study reflect the ‘profile’ of the American Orthodox community at large.” (p. 2)

This is probably the least problematic assumption in the study. While accurate numbers are—as Krindatch’s earlier studies have demonstrated—somewhat difficult to come by, it seems likely that the OCA and GOA together comprise more than half of Orthodox Christian faithful in America and account for better than half of all the parishes.

More problematic is the assertion that the GOA/OCA accurately reflects “the American Orthodox community at large.” While I don’t dispute this, it seems that this is more of an intuition on Krindatch’s part (albeit, an empirically informed intuition) than an empirically validated fact. Until we have a more accurate statistical picture of the other jurisdictions in the US, it will be difficult to determine how closely the GOA and OCA mirror the more general pattern of Orthodox Christianity in America.

Additionally, I think we need to be careful of how we use the GOA/OCA as a template to understand the other Orthodox jurisdictions. We run the risk of confirmation bias, that is, of focusing on features of, say, the Serbian and Antiochian experiences in this country that merely ratify the patterns laid down in the GOA and OCA. For example, while both the Greek and Serbian communities are generally seen as communities within which ethnic identity (e.g., culture, language, history, etc.) play a more prominent role in the life of the parish, we ought not to assume that an individual’s experience is the same in both communities. Nor should we conclude that ethnicity serves the same function in, say, a Greek parish as it does in a Serbian parish. Likewise, while both the OCA and Antiochian Archdiocese are seen as more open to new Orthodox Christians, it is not clear that the experiences of converts is the same across both jurisdictions.

Truthfully, these are relatively minor cautions that tangentially touch the integrity of the study. Greater caution should be exercised is in our understanding–and application–of Krindatch’s study itself. The survey does not offer a snapshot of the rank and file Orthodox Christian laity. Rather, because participants in Krindatch’s study were not randomly selected but where chosen by their parish priests for the study, it examines a much narrower segment of the laity.

“The Orthodox Church Today” is actually a survey of those members of the laity identified by the priest as active participants in the life of the parish. For example 90% of the participants attend services at least once a week; 27% attend service several times a week (p. 7). Only 26% of Orthodox Christians as a whole however, attend services at least once a week (U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, 2008). Further, while 55% of those surveyed were “not in a leadership position currently,” 45% currently serve on parish councils, teach Sunday school, or sing in the choir. Some are currently serving in multiple volunteer ministries (p. 8). In other words, a significant number of the participants are formally or informally in leadership positions in their parishes and are significantly more invested in the liturgical life of the Church then the average Orthodox Christian.

Kindritch is clear about the sampling: “The survey tells us [about] who are the active and regularly involved members in the GOA and OCA parishes.” It is certainly reasonable that, “in each participating parish, the survey participants were chosen by the parish clergy who, in turn, were given instructions on the selection of respondents.” This has a methodological advantage: “The chances are great[er] that most of our respondents were persons participating in church life regularly and actively, thus, being more likely available to the clergy [and so] to complete the questionnaires” (p., 7). Thus, while this selection criterion is certainly legitimate, we need to be careful that we do not base our view of the laity as a whole on the study group. I am concerned that those who make use of his findings have a clear understanding that the study was intentionally limited to lay participants selected by the clergy.

Why does this matter? Because the survey reflects not so much the view of the broader laity, but of a select laity who have meet the unstated standards of their parish priest for inclusion in the research.

Digging a little deeper, the study’s findings suggest a correlation between active participation in the life of the parish and a close relationship with the priest on the one hand, and a generally positive view of the parish on the other. For example, 59% of the laity surveyed said their parish will grow in the next 5 years (p. 20). Likewise, when asked to identify the three most important aspects of the parish (p. 22), 91% indicated that they valued participation in the Eucharist; 51% saw “spiritual guidance/care by the priest” as important; 33% identified preaching (sermons/homilies) as a priority.

But all is not necessarily well with this group. As we read in press release, “Not all Orthodox are equally “Orthodox.” While 90% of those surveyed “cannot imagine being anything but Orthodox” it is not clear what, if anything, the phrase means for our lay leaders since the majority responded that “regular Church attendance, obeying the priest and observing Great Lent” are not essential to be a “good Orthodox Christian.” The reality is that the respondents have a skewed view of the Orthodox faith.

Put another way, the lay people who highly value for themselves an active role in the life of the Church—for example, regular, weekly attendance at Liturgy, serving in volunteer lay ministries, obedience (within limits) to the priest as leader of the parish community and spiritual father—do not see these characteristics as normative for other Orthodox Christians. As I will argue below, the most active and committed Orthodox Christians have privatized the Christian life. In so doing, they accept an understanding of the Christian life that is devoid of substantive content.

If the Christian life does not consist in a life of worship and service, then what else is it except an expression of personal sentiment? Even, more worrisome is their desire for uniformity in the parish. Quoting from the summary offered in the press release:

More than two-thirds of the respondents say that they wanted to belong to parishes that “require uniformity of belief and practice and where people hold the same views.” In other words, American Orthodox Christians have varying (“liberal-moderate,” “traditional,” “conservative”) personal approaches to Church life, but they prefer homogeneous “like-minded” parishes. Only one in four respondents favor “big-tent parishes that tolerate diversity of beliefs and practices, where people hold different views and openly discuss their disagreements.”

Uniformity in the Church is a tricky thing. It can (and often does) reflect an appreciative obedience to the tradition of the Church. But it can also (even at the same time) reflect an attempt to dominate others. Is domination happening here? In large part I don’t think so. But domination is a possibility that must be considered if only to guard against it. There are two reasons for my assertion:

First, the study is not a study of the rank and file of the laity. For practical reasons the researcher chose to focus his attention on a small subgroup composed of the most active members of the laity. For this reason, I think the study is more accurately characterized as an examination of the views and practices of approved laity. Whether the findings can be generalized to the laity as a whole is open to question.

Second, if the survey represents the views and practices of a subgroup and not “rank and file” American Orthodox Christians, then how well does it reflect the views of active laypeople who either dissent from the views of their priest or don’t meet his expectations? Obviously there is no way to answer this question within the confines of the study. Moreover, as recent events in the Church have demonstrated, “active” and “dissenting” are not necessarily mutually exclusive categories.

It appears (at least within the context of the study) that the laity who have a trusting personal relationship with their parish priest are optimistic about the current state and future of the Church. Are these views more generally applicable to the broader parish? The study can’t say.

Are there active lay people from whom we didn’t hear? For example, what about the views of active lay members who are at odds with their parish priest? And what about the lay people who center their spiritual lives in places beside the local parish but, say, a monastic community? Where do they fit in to the life of the Church? I don’t know. Thus, I wonder whether those surveyed by Krindatch reflect the views of the majority of the Orthodox lay faithful.

Fragmentation of the Church

A central concern of “The Orthodox Church Today” is what Krindatch and others describe as the increasingly fragmented character of American Orthodox Christianity. These divisions seem less pronounced than what we see in Catholicism or mainline Protestantism, but nevertheless exist as most parish priests attest. Further, our differences are often drawn so narrowly that they can be as embittering as those we see among Western Christians. Debates about the use of the Old Calendar versus the New Calendar, the place of monasticism in the life of the Church, and the myriad polemics pertaining to the Church’s participation in the ecumenical movement are just three examples that come to mind.

While both non-Orthodox and Orthodox Christians see the Church “as essentially [theologically] homogeneous,” this unity is expressed only “in terms of orthodoxy as a doctrine” or on the level of what Krindatch calls “macro-theology.” When our interest is in theology–-that is, historical, patristic, biblical, and liturgical” theology–and seeks to answer the “big questions” of faith,” there is a high degree uniformity among Orthodox Christians. This dogmatic unity that is typically stressed in our catechetical and apologetic literature. Yet, formal agreement on creedal matters is not the whole story for Orthodoxy in America. The unity of “big question” theology exists side by side with what Krindatch calls the diversity and disagreements in “micro-theology,” or the individual’s “self-definition as being theologically either ‘conservative,’ or ‘traditional,’ or ‘moderate’ or ‘liberal’”(p. 161).

Borrowing from Antony Vrame’s (2008) work, Krindatch makes use of a four-fold typology to “at least partially” help his readers understand the different micro-theologies we encounter in the typical Orthodox parish. Key to the different categories is “the willingness of Orthodox individuals and communities to accept changes and to adapt to life in a culturally and religiously pluralistic society” (p. 4; those familiar with the distinctions within contemporary Judaism, will notice a parallel with Vrame’s distinctions). The four micro-theologies are (p. 4):

  1. Conservative (Fundamentalist) Orthopraxy. It rejects changes and emphasizes the exactness of once and forever developed practices in spite of changing local contexts. It also separates itself deliberately from the mainstream American culture.
  2. Traditional Orthopraxy. It strives to observe Orthodox tradition and cherishes church heritage immensely, but accepts evolutionary changes, permitting praxis to evolve slowly over time.
  3. Moderate (Reform) Orthopraxy. It supports intentional changes and is willing to “fit in” and be “accepted” by the wider American society and by mainstream American religious life.
  4. Liberal (Reconstructionist) Orthopraxy. It seeks to introduce “innovative” practices, to generally “rethink” orthopraxy, and to develop a new expression for America.

These distinctions certainly reflect my own pastoral experience both in the GOA and the OCA. They are seen among both “cradle” and “convert” Orthodox Christians. My informal conversations with other Orthodox clergy and laity lead me to conclude that the vast majority of clergy and lay leaders would agree. And again, even if the differences in micro-theologies are not as wide as those we see in Western Christian communities, I think Krindatch is correct in concluding that they point to a “significant diversity” in how the faithful approach the tradition of the Church (p. 3).

The existence of diverse micro-theologies can be risky, but not necessarily bad. I disagree with Aristotle Papanikolau’s assertion that “the inability to adapt to American cultural pluralism has led to an increasing fragmentation of the American Orthodox community” (p. 179). Yes, within the Church we see “diverse interpretations and appropriations of the tradition that lead to diverse theologies that span the spectrum of the extremes of the so-called ‘Culture Wars’” (quoted in Krindatch, p. 179). But one could also argue that the diversity of personal and parochial adaptations of the tradition are part of the normal process of experimentation that the Church must undertake in order to fulfill her evangelistic calling in America. Much like the role of the States in the American system of governance, the parishes are “laboratories” – though not of democracy but of pastoral care.

There are two ways in which this otherwise healthy process can be inadvertently truncated. The first is to misunderstand what this process of adaption means to those who are in the midst of it. The second is for Orthodox Christians to refuse to engage American culture. Let’s look at the second consideration first.

The Janus Face of Sectarianism and Secularism

In Roman mythology, the god Janus guarded the doorways of homes and buildings. As the god of entrances and exits, he was depicted with two faces turned in opposite directions. The two minority forms of orthopraxy that Krindatch identifies, Conservative or “fundamentalist orthopraxy,” and Liberal or “reconstructionist orthopraxy” at first seem diametrically opposed to each other. They are, but in only the manner of Janus.

While both forms look in opposite directions, they are similar in that they counsel the Church to avoid engagement with American culture. The fundamentalist undertakes sectarian withdrawal. We can call them the sectarian wing. Reconstructionists embrace culture but at the expense of the Church’s tradition. We can call them the secularist wing. Sectarian (in Krindatch’s typology “Conservative”) Orthodox Christians turn inward; secularist Orthodox Christians turn outward. What is missing in both is a balanced response to the demands that arise naturally–and providentially–from the convergence of Holy Tradition and American culture. Albeit for different reasons, both approaches frame the encounter between the Church and culture not in terms of reconciliation and redemption, but of power and dominance. Thus, both embrace the notion that the Church is, and must be, absent from the larger culture.

Fr. Richard John Neuhaus helps us understand the necessity of intentional cultural engagement that “The Orthodox Church Today” identifies as the majority position within the Orthodox Church. In the December 2008 article, “The ‘American’ Religion,” Neuhaus writes,

Christians who, knowingly or unknowingly, embrace the model of “Christ without culture”—meaning Christianity indifferent to culture—are captive to the culture as defined by those who control its commanding heights. They are not only captive to it but are complicit in it. Their entrepreneurial success in building religious empires by exploiting the niche markets of the Christian subculture leaves the commanding heights untouched, unchallenged, unengaged.

Neuhaus’ critique is not limited to conservative Evangelical Christians. It also expresses how most Orthodox Christians in America understand the Church’s relationship to the larger culture. Whether “cradle” or “convert,” whether one is on the cultural left or the right, there are a surprisingly large number of Orthodox Christians who are content to live in an Orthodox ghetto—at least on Sunday morning.

Even for Orthodox Christians who reject the option of an ethnic enclave or a crude imitation of monastic life, I suspect that what is “cultural” is seen as that which “typically cater[s] to the Christian market” – much like their Evangelical neighbors. The fact that a local Protestant congregation expresses their cultural captivity with such things as praise music and “witness wear,” and that the Orthodox express it with ethnic food festivals, or by making sure we keep the parish for “our” people, or by dressing in the latest 19th Orthodox Christian peasant chic makes little difference. In many cases the Orthodox parish is content “with being a subculture.”

This is a dangerous identity to assume Neuhaus writes:

Christianity that is indifferent to its cultural context is captive to its cultural context. Indeed, it reinforces the cultural definitions to which it is captive. Nowhere is this so evident as in the ready Christian acceptance of the cultural dogma that religion is essentially a private matter of spiritual experience, that religion is a matter of consumption rather than obligation. Against that assumption, we must insist that Christian faith is intensely personal but never private. The Christian gospel is an emphatically public proposal about the nature of the world and our place in it. It is a public way of life obliged to the truth.

Like our brothers and sisters in western Christian traditions, Orthodox Christians “have uncritically accepted the dichotomy between public and private, between fact and value, between knowledge and meaning.” We imagine that we are preserving the cultural riches of Hellenism or the spiritual riches of monastic life, when in fact we betray our vocation by forming our lives around the “dichotomies [that] are deeply entrenched in American religion and culture” and accept “what is often described, and frequently decried, as American individualism.”

When we embrace the sectarian or secularist approach, we withdraw from the work of cultural engagement and surrender Orthodox Christianity to American culture. This failure is compounded when we fail to confront those who lead from the extremes and accept their leadership out of a misguided sense of loyalty. The locus of cultural engagement begins with the challenge to those outside and inside the Church who insist that faith remains solely a private affair. As Neuhaus argues, the debilitating sin of the American approach to religion is the privatization of religious belief. For Orthodox Christians, the notion that “my religion, [is] certified and secured by the fact that it is mine” is heresy pure and simple. It rejects Christ and the Gospel.

Bringing our Orthodox faith into the public square through debates, philanthropy, evangelical outreach and so forth happens when we shed the notion that our faith is private, a mere preference. This doesn’t mean that people will agree with us, or even (as Krindatch shows) that we will always agree with each other. Far from it.

We may not find agreement but we will find this: the more we bring our faith into the public square, the more we will be challenged to repent of our egoism. This can lead to a purification of faith and Church. The purification will necessarily compel the jettisoning of triumphalism, sectarianism, secularism, and other erroneous notions that keep the Gospel of Christ under the bushel. This challenge is the only way to fulfill the evangelical commission and strengthen the faithful and thereby strengthen the Church.

And this brings us to central pastoral challenge of Orthodox fragmentation.

The Objective and Subjective Dimensions of Faith

While sectarianism and secularism represent a danger to the spiritual heath of the Church, there is a greater danger implicit in Orthodox fragmentation. To help us understand it, let me offer a key distinction in Thomistic anthropology that proved helpful in my pastoral ministry: the objective and subjective dimensions of faith.

Faith in an objective sense is what we believe as Orthodox Christians or, if you prefer, the content of the Church’s faith. The objective dimension of faith is the fides quae creditur–the “faith which” is believed. Pastorally, “faith” in the objective sense is distinguished from faith as a personal act. Faith as a personal act has a subjective dimension and is the fides qua creditur (the “faith by which” we believe). The Catholic theologian Fr Aidan Nicholas writes that “If the fides quae is objective faith, then the fides qua is the subjective faith, not in the sense of partial, individual opinions about faith, but the faith that pertains to me as an acting subject in my own right” (“The Shape of Catholic Theology,” emphasis in the original). This Thomistic vocabulary is absent from the text of “The Orthodox Church Today,” but the substance of this distinction is central to the study’s understanding of one of the major questions facing the Church: “the issue of the ‘conservative-liberal’ divides in Church life” (Krindatch, p. 3).

Though not unrelated to faith in its objective dimension (fides quae), the four fold typology of orthopraxis is in fact an expression of the subjective dimension of faith (fides qua). If we lose sight of this distinction, we risk not only misinterpreting Krindatch’s work, we also risk drawing misleading conclusions about the pastoral life of the Church. Even though the typologies might be right or wrong relative to the tradition of the Church, they nevertheless reflect how people understand themselves and the local and national Church in the American cultural context.

For many Orthodox Christians and parishes, criticizing or rejecting their typology is tantamount to nullifying their identity Orthodox Christians. Further, this is not simply a problem for those on the extremes—the conservative or liberal Orthodox Christian or parish—but it is also to those in the middle categories, the Orthodox Christians who understand themselves as traditional or moderate.

The four-fold typology explains some of the pastoral challenges facing the Church at the beginning of the 21st century. Moreover, while I do not want to minimize the importance of what the study reveals, I also believe we need to critically examine our assumptions about the nature of tradition, in particular the relationship between the person and tradition that has guided us so far.

Claiming Our Baptism: Lay Spiritual Formation

Central to “The Orthodox Church Today” is the contention that there is an increasing fragmentation in the Church. I certainly don’t deny this. But is this the only way to interpret the data?

As the study points out, the increasing fragmentation on the micro-theological level has resulted in the emergence of parish communities that are disconnected from each other. If we are not careful, parishes will come to reflect in an exclusive way the personalities and interest of the priest and a relatively small group of lay leaders. We risk dogmatizing legitimate differences and even eccentricities.

However, fragmentation may also be the byproduct of necessary and healthy experimentation. Experimentation is a word generally not associated with the Orthodox Church, yet a certain amount of experimentation is unavoidable nonetheless. The truth is that the Orthodox Church contains within herself a rich pluriformity of spiritual, liturgical and pastoral practices. Holy Tradition is not static but dynamic and each new cultural or pastoral situation presents the Church with new challenges and opportunities to enter more deeply into the Mystery of Grace.

The potential growth and development that the American context offers the Church is just that: potential. There is no guarantee that the Church in America will successfully navigate the pastoral challenges we face. Yet, while we affirm that a certain degree of experimentation is necessary and even inevitable, we acknowledge that the taxonomy outlined in “The Orthodox Church Today” reflects unhealthy forms of pluralism and pragmatism that dominate American cultural discourse. Thus, the “micro-theology” of an individual believer or parish is often simply a form of emotivism. Micro-theologies do not necessarily have theological content and may simply be expressions of approval or disapproval of what people perceive to be normative Orthodox practice relative to American culture. We need to remember too that much in American culture is highly fluid and often lacks substantive content.

Thus, looking at not only at this study but also studies both by Krindatch and others, it appears to me that the central pastoral challenge facing the American Orthodox Church is not educational. Yes, of course we need a systematic, Christ-centered, catechesis for the laity and for continuing education for the clergy. But theological information and pastoral technique without sound human and Christian spiritual formation is, to borrow from the fathers, a work of demons.

What we need instead is a systematic approach to lay spiritual formation. Neglect this, and all other efforts will remain anemic and subject to failure. Yes, that’s a strong statement, but the truth is that every survey of American Orthodox Christians shows that a plurality, and even a majority, of our faithful (including clergy) are not forming their lives according to the tradition of the Church.

What passes today for spiritual formation is deficient. A bit of Church history, a little instruction on setting up an icon corner, the rules for fasting or keeping a daily rule of prayer, are simply not sufficient for the Christian life. Given the challenges facing the Church, the paucity of our teaching is sentimentality and best and merely managed decline at worst. As other Christian and non-Christian communities are also discovering, the blessings of liberty are for the Orthodox Church a severe mercy. God, in His great love for us and for the whole human family, has established His Church in a religious and cultural environment marked by intense religious and cultural competition. While we live and move and have our being in Christ, we are called to minister in a religious and philosophical free market.

For example, relative to the overall number of Orthodox Christians in America, our parishes are mostly empty on Sunday morning. The vast majority of us do not see attendance at Liturgy as more valuable then whatever else we might do Sunday morning. But this isn’t all. The need for sound spiritual formation is also reflected in the large numbers of Orthodox Christians (both cradle and covert), who simply drift away from the Church. Over 50% of converts leave. While people may have a reason to join, they have fewer reasons to stay. Moreover, if we cannot give adult converts a reason to stay, why are we surprised that those baptized as infants leave?

It is not sufficient to say that those who leave simply did not have a life grounded in concrete communion with Jesus Christ that was informed by the Tradition of the Church. Indeed, one way to understand the fragmentation in the Church (as Kindritch reveals) is that they are the consequences of neglecting sound Christian formation.

For most Orthodox Christians, spiritual formation is a new idea. Given the conservatism most of us share, if a new idea isn’t a bad idea, then at least it’s an idea we hold with suspicion and often we lay it aside. But Christian formation has had great effects in Catholic, and to a lesser degree Protestant, seminary education and pastoral care.

In my own pastoral work, I borrow from the work of the Catholic priest and clinical psychologist Adrian van Kaam to show people that the tradition of the Church has two foundational goals for their spiritual lives:

  1. The Church’s tradition guides me in the process of self-discovery and growth in self-knowledge. To overly simplify the matter, the tradition does not so much helps me know facts about myself but to rather helps me give the right weight and place to those facts in my daily life.
  2. The tradition can guide me in the process of self-expression. That is to say, I have a vocation and that vocation is inscribed in my heart by the same Holy Spirit that has guided the Church from the beginning. The Holy Spirit’s presence in the Holy Tradition helps me live out my vocation in the concrete circumstances of my daily life.

When I teach these two goals well and with consistency, people respond with a marked increase in their commitment to Christ and the Church. Fail to do this and people drift away. All the data I’ve seen points to the same thing: a failure in the spiritual formation of the faithful. In its place we offer mere morality (which can’t reveal more than general truths about humanity; it lacks the power to release self-knowledge), lessons about monasticism (which for many supplants the ascetical discipline appropriate for non-monastics), some history (which lacks concrete specificity to the present), sometimes some cultural training, and not much more.

Guided and guarded by the Church’s dogmatic and moral teaching, and nurtured by a life of prayer and asceticism (especially fasting and care for the poor), we become ever more sensitive to what is Good, True, Beautiful and Just. We see these first in the Scriptures and the lives of the Saints, especially as they are communicated to us in the Church’s liturgical life. And then, building on this foundation, we become ever more aware of the presence of the Good, the True, the Beautiful and the Just in ourselves and in the world of persons, events, and things that constitute our everyday life.

This discovery that these elements are not abstract notions but embodied realities is only the start of the journey. As I come to recognize the Good, the force of that recognition confronts me with the presence of wickedness, falsehood, ugliness and injustice first in my own heart and then in the world around me. As I remind my students, I do not learn from my mistakes. I learn what is true and only in the light of Truth do I come to see I am mistaken. The journey to Christ is the journey into a deep humanity as well.

Our problem is that we have rarified Holy Tradition. We have made it an object, a standard to be imitated rather than something that can be experienced within, something that transforms our thinking and ways of acting. To borrow from Vladimir Lossky, we have lost sight of Holy Tradition as the Presence of the Holy Spirit in the Church as it leads and guides the faithful throughout history.

We can call it, like St. Paul does, “living in the Spirit.” It is the Spirit that gave the Apostles their word, and inspired others to write them down. It is the spirit that breathes through our worship like the wind at Pentecost, and counsels the secret places of the heart. It is the Spirit that sustains the Saints and gives courage to the martyrs. It is Spirit that taught Christians in ages past how to live as Christians in cultures with dangers like our own.

This ways and the workings of the Spirit are congruent with the knowledge preserved in Holy Tradition. But if Holy Tradition is not internalized, if it remains an object of veneration only with no human penetration into its mysteries, it becomes on more source of division in the human heart and family.

And the Tradition can only be known by first believing and living the Gospel. If, as His Beatitude Metropolitan JONAH said recently, 60% of the Orthodox faithful are pro-choice, we have failed. Our failure is not absolute, but looking at the statistical portrait of the laity in “The Orthodox Church,” we must agree with His Beatitude’s assessment of a widespread catechetical and spiritual failure.

The question facing us is: Will we rise to the challenge?

Rev. Gregory Jensen is psychologist of religion and a priest of the Diocese of Chicago and the Midwest (Orthodox Church in America). He blogs at Koinonia.

Manhattan Declaration and Signers


For more information see

Manhattan Declaration: A Call of Christian Conscience

Drafted on October 20, 2009

Released on November 20, 2009


Christians are heirs of a 2,000-year tradition of proclaiming God's word, seeking justice in our societies, resisting tyranny, and reaching out with compassion to the poor, oppressed and suffering. 

While fully acknowledging the imperfections and shortcomings of Christian institutions and communities in all ages, we claim the heritage of those Christians who defended innocent life by rescuing discarded babies from trash heaps in Roman cities and publicly denouncing the Empire's sanctioning of infanticide.  We remember with reverence those believers who sacrificed their lives by remaining in Roman cities to tend the sick and dying during the plagues, and who died bravely in the coliseums rather than deny their Lord.

After the barbarian tribes overran Europe, Christian monasteries preserved not only the Bible but also the literature and art of Western culture.  It was Christians who combated the evil of slavery: Papal edicts in the 16th and 17th centuries decried the practice of slavery and first excommunicated anyone involved in the slave trade; evangelical Christians in England, led by John Wesley and William Wilberforce, put an end to the slave trade in that country.  Christians under Wilberforce's leadership also formed hundreds of societies for helping the poor, the imprisoned, and child laborers chained to machines.

In Europe, Christians challenged the divine claims of kings and successfully fought to establish the rule of law and balance of governmental powers, which made modern democracy possible.  And in America, Christian women stood at the vanguard of the suffrage movement.  The great civil rights crusades of the 1950s and 60s were led by Christians claiming the Scriptures and asserting the glory of the image of God in every human being regardless of race, religion, age or class.

This same devotion to human dignity has led Christians in the last decade to work to end the dehumanizing scourge of human trafficking and sexual slavery, bring compassionate care to AIDS sufferers in Africa, and assist in a myriad of other human rights causes – from providing clean water in developing nations to providing homes for tens of thousands of children orphaned by war, disease and gender discrimination.

Like those who have gone before us in the faith, Christians today are called to proclaim the Gospel of costly grace, to protect the intrinsic dignity of the human person and to stand for the common good.  In being true to its own calling, the call to discipleship, the church through service to others can make a profound contribution to the public good.  


We, as Orthodox, Catholic, and Evangelical Christians, have gathered, beginning in New York on September 28, 2009, to make the following declaration, which we sign as individuals, not on behalf of our organizations, but speaking to and from our communities.   We act together in obedience to the one true God, the triune God of holiness and love, who has laid total claim on our lives and by that claim calls us with believers in all ages and all nations to seek and defend the good of all who bear his image.  We set forth this declaration in light of the truth that is grounded in Holy Scripture, in natural human reason (which is itself, in our view, the gift of a beneficent God), and in the very nature of the human person.  We call upon all people of goodwill, believers and non-believers alike, to consider carefully and reflect critically on the issues we here address as we, with St. Paul, commend this appeal to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.

While the whole scope of Christian moral concern, including a special concern for the poor and vulnerable, claims our attention, we are especially troubled that in our nation today the lives of the unborn, the disabled, and the elderly are severely threatened; that the institution of marriage, already buffeted by promiscuity, infidelity and divorce, is in jeopardy of being redefined to accommodate fashionable ideologies; that freedom of religion and the rights of conscience are gravely jeopardized by those who would use the instruments of coercion to compel persons of faith to compromise their deepest convictions. 

Because the sanctity of human life, the dignity of marriage as a union of husband and wife, and the freedom of conscience and religion are foundational principles of justice and the common good, we are compelled by our Christian faith to speak and act in their defense.  In this declaration we affirm: 1) the profound, inherent, and equal dignity of every human being as a creature fashioned in the very image of God, possessing inherent rights of equal dignity and life; 2) marriage as a conjugal union of man and woman, ordained by God from the creation, and historically understood by believers and non-believers alike, to be the most basic institution in society and; 3) religious liberty, which is grounded in the character of God, the example of Christ, and the inherent freedom and dignity of human beings created in the divine image.

We are Christians who have joined together across historic lines of ecclesial differences to affirm our right – and, more importantly, to embrace our obligation - to speak and act in defense of these truths.  We pledge to each other, and to our fellow believers, that no power on earth, be it cultural or political, will intimidate us into silence or acquiescence.  It is our duty to proclaim the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in its fullness, both in season and out of season.   May God help us not to fail in that duty.


So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. Genesis 1:27 

I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
John 10:10 

Although public sentiment has moved in a pro-life direction, we note with sadness that pro-abortion ideology prevails today in our government.  The present administration is led and staffed by those who want to make abortions legal at any stage of fetal development, and who want to provide abortions at taxpayer expense.  Majorities in both houses of Congress hold pro-abortion views.  The Supreme Court, whose infamous 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade stripped the unborn of legal protection, continues to treat elective abortion as a fundamental constitutional right, though it has upheld as constitutionally permissible some limited restrictions on abortion.  The President says that he wants to reduce the "need" for abortion – a commendable goal.  But he has also pledged to make abortion more easily and widely available by eliminating laws prohibiting government funding, requiring waiting periods for women seeking abortions, and parental notification for abortions performed on minors.  The elimination of these important and effective pro-life laws cannot reasonably be expected to do other than significantly increase the number of elective abortions by which the lives of countless children are snuffed out prior to birth.  Our commitment to the sanctity of life is not a matter of partisan loyalty, for we recognize that in the thirty-six years since Roe v. Wade, elected officials and appointees of both major political parties have been complicit in giving legal sanction to what Pope John Paul II described as "the culture of death."  We call on all officials in our country, elected and appointed, to protect and serve every member of our society, including the most marginalized, voiceless, and vulnerable among us.

A culture of death inevitably cheapens life in all its stages and conditions by promoting the belief that lives that are imperfect, immature or inconvenient are discardable.  As predicted by many prescient persons, the cheapening of life that began with abortion has now metastasized.  For example, human embryo-destructive research and its public funding are promoted in the name of science and in the cause of developing treatments and cures for diseases and injuries.  The President and many in Congress favor the expansion of embryo-research to include the taxpayer funding of so-called "therapeutic cloning."  This would result in the industrial mass production of human embryos to be killed for the purpose of producing genetically customized stem cell lines and tissues.  At the other end of life, an increasingly powerful movement to promote assisted suicide and "voluntary" euthanasia threatens the lives of vulnerable elderly and disabled persons.  Eugenic notions such as the doctrine of lebensunwertes Leben ("life unworthy of life") were first advanced in the 1920s by intellectuals in the elite salons of America and Europe.  Long buried in ignominy after the horrors of the mid-20th century, they have returned from the grave.  The only difference is that now the doctrines of the eugenicists are dressed up in the language of "liberty," "autonomy," and "choice."

We will be united and untiring in our efforts to roll back the license to kill that began with the abandonment of the unborn to abortion.  We will work, as we have always worked, to bring assistance, comfort, and care to pregnant women in need and to those who have been victimized by abortion, even as we stand resolutely against the corrupt and degrading notion that it can somehow be in the best interests of women to submit to the deliberate killing of their unborn children.  Our message is, and ever shall be, that the just, humane, and truly Christian answer to problem pregnancies is for all of us to love and care for mother and child alike.

A truly prophetic Christian witness will insistently call on those who have been entrusted with temporal power to fulfill the first responsibility of government: to protect the weak and vulnerable against violent attack, and to do so with no favoritism, partiality, or discrimination.  The Bible enjoins us to defend those who cannot defend themselves, to speak for those who cannot themselves speak.  And so we defend and speak for the unborn, the disabled, and the dependent.  What the Bible and the light of reason make clear, we must make clear.  We must be willing to defend, even at risk and cost to ourselves and our institutions, the lives of our brothers and sisters at every stage of development and in every condition.

Our concern is not confined to our own nation.  Around the globe, we are witnessing cases of genocide and "ethnic cleansing," the failure to assist those who are suffering as innocent victims of war, the neglect and abuse of children, the exploitation of vulnerable laborers, the sexual trafficking of girls and young women, the abandonment of the aged, racial oppression and discrimination, the persecution of believers of all faiths, and the failure to take steps necessary to halt the spread of preventable diseases like AIDS.  We see these travesties as flowing from the same loss of the sense of the dignity of the human person and the sanctity of human life that drives the abortion industry and the movements for assisted suicide, euthanasia, and human cloning for biomedical research.  And so ours is, as it must be, a truly consistent ethic of love and life for all humans in all circumstances.


The man said, "This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman, for she was taken out of man."  For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. Genesis 2:23-24 

This is a profound mystery – but I am talking about Christ and the church.  However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.
Ephesians 5:32-33 

In Scripture, the creation of man and woman, and their one-flesh union as husband and wife, is the crowning achievement of God’s creation.  In the transmission of life and the nurturing of children, men and women joined as spouses are given the great honor of being partners with God Himself.   Marriage then, is the first institution of human society – indeed it is the institution on which all other human institutions have their foundation.  In the Christian tradition we refer to marriage as "holy matrimony" to signal the fact that it is an institution ordained by God, and blessed by Christ in his participation at a wedding in Cana of Galilee.  In the Bible, God Himself blesses and holds marriage in the highest esteem.

Vast human experience confirms that marriage is the original and most important institution for sustaining the health, education, and welfare of all persons in a society.  Where marriage is honored, and where there is a flourishing marriage culture, everyone benefits – the spouses themselves, their children, the communities and societies in which they live.  Where the marriage culture begins to erode, social pathologies of every sort quickly manifest themselves.  Unfortunately, we have witnessed over the course of the past several decades a serious erosion of the marriage culture in our own country.   Perhaps the most telling – and alarming – indicator is the out-of-wedlock birth rate.  Less than fifty years ago, it was under 5 percent.  Today it is over 40 percent.  Our society – and particularly its poorest and most vulnerable sectors, where the out-of-wedlock birth rate is much higher even than the national average – is paying a huge price in delinquency, drug abuse, crime, incarceration, hopelessness, and despair.  Other indicators are widespread non-marital sexual cohabitation and a devastatingly high rate of divorce.

We confess with sadness that Christians and our institutions have too often scandalously failed to uphold the institution of marriage and to model for the world the true meaning of marriage.  Insofar as we have too easily embraced the culture of divorce and remained silent about social practices that undermine the dignity of marriage we repent, and call upon all Christians to do the same.

To strengthen families, we must stop glamorizing promiscuity and infidelity and restore among our people a sense of the profound beauty, mystery, and holiness of faithful marital love.  We must reform ill-advised policies that contribute to the weakening of the institution of marriage, including the discredited idea of unilateral divorce.  We must work in the legal, cultural, and religious domains to instill in young people a sound understanding of what marriage is, what it requires, and why it is worth the commitment and sacrifices that faithful spouses make.

The impulse to redefine marriage in order to recognize same-sex and multiple partner relationships is a symptom, rather than the cause, of the erosion of the marriage culture.  It reflects a loss of understanding of the meaning of marriage as embodied in our civil and religious law and in the philosophical tradition that contributed to shaping the law.  Yet it is critical that the impulse be resisted, for yielding to it would mean abandoning the possibility of restoring a sound understanding of marriage and, with it, the hope of rebuilding a healthy marriage culture.  It would lock into place the false and destructive belief that marriage is all about romance and other adult satisfactions, and not, in any intrinsic way, about procreation and the unique character and value of acts and relationships whose meaning is shaped by their aptness for the generation, promotion and protection of life.  In spousal communion and the rearing of children (who, as gifts of God, are the fruit of their parents’ marital love), we discover the profound reasons for and benefits of the marriage covenant.

We acknowledge that there are those who are disposed towards homosexual and polyamorous conduct and relationships, just as there are those who are disposed towards other forms of immoral conduct.  We have compassion for those so disposed; we respect them as human beings possessing profound, inherent, and equal dignity; and we pay tribute to the men and women who strive, often with little assistance, to resist the temptation to yield to desires that they, no less than we, regard as wayward.  We stand with them, even when they falter.  We, no less than they, are sinners who have fallen short of God's intention for our lives.  We, no less than they, are in constant need of God’s patience, love and forgiveness.  We call on the entire Christian community to resist sexual immorality, and at the same time refrain from disdainful condemnation of those who yield to it.  Our rejection of sin, though resolute, must never become the rejection of sinners.  For every sinner, regardless of the sin, is loved by God, who seeks not our destruction but rather the conversion of our hearts.  Jesus calls all who wander from the path of virtue to "a more excellent way."  As his disciples we will reach out in love to assist all who hear the call and wish to answer it.

We further acknowledge that there are sincere people who disagree with us, and with the teaching of the Bible and Christian tradition, on questions of sexual morality and the nature of marriage.  Some who enter into same-sex and polyamorous relationships no doubt regard their unions as truly marital.  They fail to understand, however, that marriage is made possible by the sexual complementarity of man and woman, and that the comprehensive, multi-level sharing of life that marriage is includes bodily unity of the sort that unites husband and wife biologically as a reproductive unit.  This is because the body is no mere extrinsic instrument of the human person, but truly part of the personal reality of the human being.  Human beings are not merely centers of consciousness or emotion, or minds, or spirits, inhabiting non-personal bodies.  The human person is a dynamic unity of body, mind, and spirit.  Marriage is what one man and one woman establish when, forsaking all others and pledging lifelong commitment, they found a sharing of life at every level of being – the biological, the emotional, the dispositional, the rational, the spiritual – on a commitment that is sealed, completed and actualized by loving sexual intercourse in which the spouses become one flesh, not in some merely metaphorical sense, but by fulfilling together the behavioral conditions of procreation.  That is why in the Christian tradition, and historically in Western law, consummated marriages are not dissoluble or annullable on the ground of infertility, even though the nature of the marital relationship is shaped and structured by its intrinsic orientation to the great good of procreation.

We understand that many of our fellow citizens, including some Christians, believe that the historic definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman is a denial of equality or civil rights.  They wonder what to say in reply to the argument that asserts that no harm would be done to them or to anyone if the law of the community were to confer upon two men or two women who are living together in a sexual partnership the status of being "married."  It would not, after all, affect their own marriages, would it?  On inspection, however, the argument that laws governing one kind of marriage will not affect another cannot stand.  Were it to prove anything, it would prove far too much: the assumption that the legal status of one set of marriage relationships affects no other would not only argue for same sex partnerships; it could be asserted with equal validity for polyamorous partnerships, polygamous households, even adult brothers, sisters, or brothers and sisters living in incestuous relationships.  Should these, as a matter of equality or civil rights, be recognized as lawful marriages, and would they have no effects on other relationships?  No.  The truth is that marriage is not something abstract or neutral that the law may legitimately define and re-define to please those who are powerful and influential.

No one has a civil right to have a non-marital relationship treated as a marriage.  Marriage is an objective reality – a covenantal union of husband and wife – that it is the duty of the law to recognize and support for the sake of justice and the common good.  If it fails to do so, genuine social harms follow.  First, the religious liberty of those for whom this is a matter of conscience is jeopardized.  Second, the rights of parents are abused as family life and sex education programs in schools are used to teach children that an enlightened understanding recognizes as "marriages" sexual partnerships that many parents believe are intrinsically non-marital and immoral.  Third, the common good of civil society is damaged when the law itself, in its critical pedagogical function, becomes a tool for eroding a sound understanding of marriage on which the flourishing of the marriage culture in any society vitally depends.  Sadly, we are today far from having a thriving marriage culture.  But if we are to begin the critically important process of reforming our laws and mores to rebuild such a culture, the last thing we can afford to do is to re-define marriage in such a way as to embody in our laws a false proclamation about what marriage is.

And so it is out of love (not "animus") and prudent concern for the common good (not "prejudice"), that we pledge to labor ceaselessly to preserve the legal definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman and to rebuild the marriage culture.  How could we, as Christians, do otherwise?  The Bible teaches us that marriage is a central part of God's creation covenant.  Indeed, the union of husband and wife mirrors the bond between Christ and his church.  And so just as Christ was willing, out of love, to give Himself up for the church in a complete sacrifice, we are willing, lovingly, to make whatever sacrifices are required of us for the sake of the inestimable treasure that is marriage.

Religious Liberty

The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.  He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners. Isaiah 61:1 

Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's.
Matthew 22:21

The struggle for religious liberty across the centuries has been long and arduous, but it is not a novel idea or recent development.  The nature of religious liberty is grounded in the character of God Himself, the God who is most fully known in the life and work of Jesus Christ.  Determined to follow Jesus faithfully in life and death, the early Christians appealed to the manner in which the Incarnation had taken place: "Did God send Christ, as some suppose, as a tyrant brandishing fear and terror?  Not so, but in gentleness and meekness…, for compulsion is no attribute of God" (Epistle to Diognetus 7.3-4).  Thus the right to religious freedom has its foundation in the example of Christ Himself and in the very dignity of the human person created in the image of God – a dignity, as our founders proclaimed, inherent in every human, and knowable by all in the exercise of right reason. 

Christians confess that God alone is Lord of the conscience.  Immunity from religious coercion is the cornerstone of an unconstrained conscience.  No one should be compelled to embrace any religion against his will, nor should persons of faith be forbidden to worship God according to the dictates of conscience or to express freely and publicly their deeply held religious convictions.  What is true for individuals applies to religious communities as well.

It is ironic that those who today assert a right to kill the unborn, aged and disabled and also a right to engage in immoral sexual practices, and even a right to have relationships integrated around these practices be recognized and blessed by law – such persons claiming these "rights" are very often in the vanguard of those who would trample upon the freedom of others to express their religious and moral commitments to the sanctity of life and to the dignity of marriage as the conjugal union of husband and wife.

We see this, for example, in the effort to weaken or eliminate conscience clauses, and therefore to compel pro-life institutions (including religiously affiliated hospitals and clinics), and pro-life physicians, surgeons, nurses, and other health care professionals, to refer for abortions and, in certain cases, even to perform or participate in abortions.  We see it in the use of anti-discrimination statutes to force religious institutions, businesses, and service providers of various sorts to comply with activities they judge to be deeply immoral or go out of business.  After the judicial imposition of "same-sex marriage" in Massachusetts, for example, Catholic Charities chose with great reluctance to end its century-long work of helping to place orphaned children in good homes rather than comply with a legal mandate that it place children in same-sex households in violation of Catholic moral teaching.  In New Jersey, after the establishment of a quasi-marital "civil unions" scheme, a Methodist institution was stripped of its tax exempt status when it declined, as a matter of religious conscience, to permit a facility it owned and operated to be used for ceremonies blessing homosexual unions.  In Canada and some European nations, Christian clergy have been prosecuted for preaching Biblical norms against the practice of homosexuality.  New hate-crime laws in America raise the specter of the same practice here.

In recent decades a growing body of case law has paralleled the decline in respect for religious values in the media, the academy and political leadership, resulting in restrictions on the free exercise of religion.  We view this as an ominous development, not only because of its threat to the individual liberty guaranteed to every person, regardless of his or her faith, but because the trend also threatens the common welfare and the culture of freedom on which our system of republican government is founded.  Restrictions on the freedom of conscience or the ability to hire people of one's own faith or conscientious moral convictions for religious institutions, for example, undermines the viability of the intermediate structures of society, the essential buffer against the overweening authority of the state, resulting in the soft despotism Tocqueville so prophetically warned of.1  Disintegration of civil society is a prelude to tyranny.

As Christians, we take seriously the Biblical admonition to respect and obey those in authority.  We believe in law and in the rule of law.  We recognize the duty to comply with laws whether we happen to like them or not, unless the laws are gravely unjust or require those subject to them to do something unjust or otherwise immoral.  The biblical purpose of law is to preserve order and serve justice and the common good; yet laws that are unjust – and especially laws that purport to compel citizens to do what is unjust – undermine the common good, rather than serve it.

Going back to the earliest days of the church, Christians have refused to compromise their proclamation of the gospel.  In Acts 4, Peter and John were ordered to stop preaching.  Their answer was, "Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God's sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard."  Through the centuries, Christianity has taught that civil disobedience is not only permitted, but sometimes required.  There is no more eloquent defense of the rights and duties of religious conscience than the one offered by Martin Luther King, Jr., in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail.  Writing from an explicitly Christian perspective, and citing Christian writers such as Augustine and Aquinas, King taught that just laws elevate and ennoble human beings because they are rooted in the moral law whose ultimate source is God Himself.  Unjust laws degrade human beings.  Inasmuch as they can claim no authority beyond sheer human will, they lack any power to bind in conscience.  King's willingness to go to jail, rather than comply with legal injustice, was exemplary and inspiring.  

Because we honor justice and the common good, we will not comply with any edict that purports to compel our institutions to participate in abortions, embryo-destructive research, assisted suicide and euthanasia, or any other anti-life act; nor will we bend to any rule purporting to force us to bless immoral sexual partnerships, treat them as marriages or the equivalent, or refrain from proclaiming the truth, as we know it, about morality and immorality and marriage and the family.  We will fully and ungrudgingly render to Caesar what is Caesar's.  But under no circumstances will we render to Caesar what is God's.

1Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

Drafting Committee

  • Robert George         
    Professor, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence, Princeton University
  • Timothy George 
    Professor, Beeson Divinity School, Samford ?University
  • Chuck Colson 
    Founder, The Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview (Lansdowne, Va.)


Signers (as of November 19, 2009)

  1. Dr. Daniel Akin
    President, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (Wake Forest, N.C.)
  2. Most Rev. Peter J. Akinola
    Primate, Anglican Church of Nigeria (Abika, Nigeria)
  3. Randy Alcorn
    Founder and Director, Eternal Perspective Ministries (EPM) (Sandy, Ore.)
  4. Rt. Rev. David Anderson
    President and CEO, American Anglican Council (Atlanta)
  5. Leith Anderson
    President of National Association of Evangelicals (Washington, D.C.)
  6. Charlotte K. Ardizzone
    TV Show Host and Speaker, INSP Television (Charlotte, N.C.)
  7. Kay Arthur
    CEO and Co-founder, Precept Ministries International (Chattanooga, Tenn.)
  8. Dr. Mark L. Bailey
    President, Dallas Theological Seminary (Dallas)
  9. Most Rev. Craig W. Bates
    Archbishop, International Communion of the Charismatic Episcopal Church (Malverne, N.Y.)
  10. Gary Bauer
    President, American Values; Chairman, Campaign for Working Families
  11. His Grace, The Right Reverend Bishop Basil Essey
    The Right Reverend Bishop of the Diocese of Wichita and Mid-America (Wichita, Kan.)
  12. Joel Belz
    Founder, World Magazine (Asheville, N.C.)
  13. Rev. Michael L. Beresford
    Managing Director of Church Relations, Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (Charlotte, N.C.)
  14. Ken Boa
    President, Reflections Ministries (Atlanta)
  15. Joseph Bottum
    Editor of First Things (New York)
  16. Pastor Randy & Sarah Brannon
    Senior Pastor, Grace Community Church (Madera, Calif.)
  17. Steve Brown
    National Radio Broadcaster, Key Life (Maitland, Fla.)
  18. Dr. Robert C. Cannada, Jr.
    Chancellor and CEO, Reformed Theological Seminary (Orlando, Fla.)
  19. Galen Carey
    Director of Government Affairs, National Association of Evangelicals (Washington, D.C.)
  20. Dr. Bryan Chapell
    President, Covenant Theological Seminary (St. Louis)
  21. Most Rev. Charles J. Chaput
    Archbishop, Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Denver
  22. Timothy Clinton
    President, American Association of Christian Counselors (Forest, Va.)
  23. Chuck Colson
    Founder, The Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview (Lansdowne, Va.)
  24. Most Rev. Salvatore Joseph Cordileone
    Bishop, Roman Catholic Diocese of Oakland, Calif.
  25. Dr. Gary Culpepper
    Associate Professor, Providence College (Providence, R.I.)
  26. Jim Daly
    President and CEO, Focus on the Family (Colorado Springs, Colo.)
  27. Marjorie Dannenfelser
    President, Susan B. Anthony List (Arlington, Va.)
  28. Rev. Daniel Delgado
    Board of Directors, National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference; Pastor, Third Day Missions Church (Staten Island, N.Y.)
  29. Patrick J. Deneen
    Tsakopoulos-Kounalakis Associate Professor and Director, The Tocqueville Forum on the Roots of American Democracy, Georgetown University (Washington, D.C.)
  30. Dr. James Dobson
    Founder, Focus on the Family (Colorado Springs, Colo.)
  31. Dr. David Dockery
    President, Union University (Jackson, Tenn.)
  32. Most Rev. Timothy Dolan
    Archbishop, Roman Catholic Diocese of New York, N.Y.
  33. Dr. William Donohue
    President, Catholic League (New York)
  34. Dr. James T. Draper, Jr.
    President Emeritus, LifeWay (Nashville, Tenn.)
  35. Dinesh D'Souza
    Writer and Speaker (Rancho Santa Fe, Calif.)
  36. Most Rev. Robert Wm. Duncan
    Archbishop and Primate, Anglican Church in North America (Ambridge, Pa. )
  37. Dr. Michael Easley
    President Emeritus, Moody Bible Institute (Chicago)
  38. Dr. William Edgar
    Professor, Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia)
  39. Brett Elder
    Executive Director, Stewardship Council (Grand Rapids, Mich.
  40. Rev. Joel Elowsky
    Drew University (Madison, N.J.)
  41. Stuart Epperson
    Co-Founder and Chariman of the Board, Salem Communications Corporation (Camarillo, Calif.)
  42. Rev. Jonathan Falwell
    Senior Pastor, Thomas Road Baptist Church (Lynchburg, Va.)
  43. William J. Federer
    President, Amerisearch, Inc. (St. Louis)
  44. Fr. Joseph D. Fessio
    Founder and Editor, Ignatius Press (Ft. Collins, Colo.)
  45. Carmen Fowler
    President and Executive Editor, Presbyterian Lay Committee (Lenoir, N.C.)
  46. Maggie Gallagher
    President, National Organization for Marriage (Manassas, Va.)
  47. Dr. Jim Garlow
    Senior Pastor, Skyline Church (La Mesa, Calif.)
  48. Steven Garofalo
    Senior Consultant, Search and Assessment Services (Charlotte, N.C.)
  49. Dr. Robert P. George
    McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence, Princeton University (Princeton, N.J.)
  50. Dr. Timothy George
    Dean and Professor of Divinity, Beeson Divinity School at Samford University (Birmingham, Ala.)
  51. Thomas Gilson
    Director of Strategic Processes, Campus Crusade for Christ International (Norfolk, Va.)
  52. Dr. Jack Graham
    Pastor, Prestonwood Baptist Church (Plano, Texas)
  53. Dr. Wayne Grudem
    Research Professor of Theological and Biblical Studies, Phoenix Seminary (Phoenix)
  54. Dr. Cornell "Corkie" Haan
    National Facilitator of Spiritual Unity, The Mission America Coalition (Palm Desert, Calif.)
  55. Fr. Chad Hatfield
    Chancellor, CEO and Archpriest, St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary (Yonkers, N.Y.)
  56. Dr. Dennis Hollinger
    President and Professor of Christian Ethics, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (South Hamilton, Mass.)
  57. Dr. Jeanette Hsieh
    Executive Vice President and Provost, Trinity International University (Deerfield, Ill.)
  58. Dr. John A. Huffman, Jr.
    Senior Pastor, St. Andrews Presbyterian Church (Newport Beach, Calif.); Chairman of the Board, Christianity Today International (Carol Stream, Ill.)
  59. Rev. Ken Hutcherson
    Pastor, Antioch Bible Church (Kirkland, Wash.)
  60. Bishop Harry R. Jackson, Jr.
    Senior Pastor, Hope Christian Church (Beltsville, Md.)
  61. Fr. Johannes L. Jacobse
    President, American Orthodox Institute; Editor, (Naples, Fla.)
  62. Jerry Jenkins
    Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Moody Bible Institute (Black Forest, Colo.)
  63. Camille Kampouris
    Editorial Board, Kairos Journal
  64. Emmanuel A. Kampouris
    Publisher, Kairos Journal
  65. Rev. Tim Keller
    Senior Pastor, Redeemer Presbyterian Church (New York)
  66. Dr. Peter Kreeft
    Professor of Philosophy, Boston College (Mass.) and at the Kings College (N.Y.)
  67. Most Rev. Joseph E. Kurtz
    Archbishop, Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Louisville, Ky.
  68. Jim Kushiner
    Editor, Touchstone (Chicago)
  69. Dr. Richard Land
    President, The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the SBC (Washington, D.C.)
  70. Jim Law
    Senior Associate Pastor, First Baptist Church (Woodstock, Ga.)
  71. Dr. Matthew Levering
    Associate Professor of Theology, Ave Maria University (Naples, Fla.)
  72. Dr. Peter Lillback
    President, The Providence Forum (West Conshohocken, Pa.)
  73. Dr. Duane Litfin
    President, Wheaton College (Wheaton, Ill.)
  74. Rev. Herb Lusk
    Pastor, Greater Exodus Baptist Church (Philadelphia)
  75. His Eminence Adam Cardinal Maida
    Archbishop Emeritus, Roman Catholic Diocese of Detroit
  76. Most Rev. Richard J. Malone
    Bishop, Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, Maine
  77. Rev. Francis Martin
    Professor of Sacred Scripture, Sacred Heart Major Seminary (Detroit)
  78. Dr. Joseph Mattera
    Bishop and Senior Pastor, Resurrection Church (Brooklyn, N.Y.)
  79. Phil Maxwell
    Pastor, Gateway Church (Bridgewater, N.J.)
  80. Josh McDowell
    Founder, Josh McDowell Ministries (Plano, Texas)
  81. Alex McFarland
    President, Southern Evangelical Seminary (Charlotte, N.C.)
  82. Most Rev. George Dallas McKinney
    Bishop, Founder and Pastor, St. Stephen's Church of God in Christ  (San Diego)
  83. Rt. Rev. Martyn Minns
    Missionary Bishop, Convocation of Anglicans of North America (Herndon, Va.)
  84. Dr. C. Ben Mitchell
    Graves Professor of Moral Philosophy, Union University (Jackson, Tenn.)
  85. Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr.
    President, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (Louisville, Ky.)
  86. Dr. Russell D. Moore
    Senior Vice President for Academic Administration and Dean of the School of Theology, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (Louisville, Ky.)
  87. Most Rev. John J. Myers
    Archbishop, Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Newark, N.J.
  88. Most Rev. Joseph F. Naumann
    Archbishop, Roman Catholic Diocese of Kansas City, Kan.
  89. David Neff
    Editor-in-Chief, Christianity Today (Carol Stream, Ill.)
  90. Tom Nelson
    Senior Pastor, Christ Community Evangelical Free Church (Leawood, Kan.)
  91. Niel Nielson
    President, Covenant College (Lookout Mt., Ga.)
  92. Most Rev. John Nienstedt
    Archbishop, Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis
  93. Dr. Tom Oden
    Theologian, United Methodist Minister; Professor, Drew University (Madison, N.J.)
  94. Marvin Olasky
    Editor-in-Chief, World Magazine;  Provost, The Kings College (New York)
  95. Most Rev. Thomas J. Olmsted
    Bishop, Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix
  96. Rev. William Owens
    Chairman, Coalition of African-American Pastors (Memphis, Tenn.)
  97. Dr. J.I. Packer
    Board of Governors' Professor of Theology, Regent College (Canada)
  98. Metr. Jonah Paffhausen
    Primate, Orthodox Church in America (Syosset, N.Y.)
  99. Tony Perkins
    President, Family Research Council (Washington, D.C.)
  100. Eric M. Pillmore
    CEO, Pillmore Consulting LLC (Doylestown, Pa.)
  101. Dr. Everett Piper
    President, Oklahoma Wesleyan University (Bartlesville, Okla.)
  102. Todd Pitner
    President, Rev Increase
  103. Dr. Cornelius Plantinga
    President, Calvin Theological Seminary (Grand Rapids, Mich.)
  104. Dr. David Platt
    Pastor, Church at Brook Hills (Birmingham, Ala.)
  105. Rev. Jim Pocock
    Pastor, Trinitarian Congregational Church (Wayland, Mass.)
  106. Fred Potter
    Executive Director and CEO, Christian Legal Society (Springfield, Va.)
  107. Dennis Rainey
    President, CEO, and Co-Founder, FamilyLife (Little Rock, Ark.)
  108. Fr. Patrick Reardon
    Pastor, All Saints' Antiochian Orthodox Church (Chicago)
  109. Bob Reccord
    Founder, Total Life Impact, Inc. (Suwanee, Ga.)
  110. His Eminence Justin Cardinal Rigali
    Archbishop, Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia
  111. Frank Schubert
    President, Schubert Flint Public Affairs (Sacramento, Calif.)
  112. David Schuringa
    President, Crossroads Bible Institute (Grand Rapids, Mich.)
  113. Tricia Scribner
    Author (Harrisburg, N.C.)
  114. Dr. Dave Seaford
    Senior Pastor, Community Fellowship Church (Matthews, N.C.)
  115. Alan Sears
    President, CEO, and General Counsel, Alliance Defense Fund (Scottsdale, Ariz.)
  116. Randy Setzer
    Senior Pastor, Macedonia Baptist Church (Lincolnton, N.C.)
  117. Most Rev. Michael J. Sheridan
    Bishop, Roman Catholic Diocese of Colorado Springs, Colo.
  118. Dr. Ron Sider
    Director, Evangelicals for Social Action (Wynnewood, Pa.)
  119. Fr. Robert Sirico
    Founder, Acton Institute (Grand Rapids, Mich.)
  120. Dr. Robert Sloan
    President, Houston Baptist University (Houston)
  121. Charles Stetson
    Chairman of the Board, Bible Literacy Project (New York)
  122. Dr. David Stevens
    CEO, Christian Medical and Dental Association (Bristol, Tenn.)
  123. John Stonestreet
    Executive Director, Summit Ministries (Manitou Springs, Colo.)
  124. Dr. Joseph Stowell
    President, Cornerstone University (Grand Rapids, Mich.)
  125. Dr. Sarah Sumner
    Professor of Theology and Ministry, Azusa Pacific University (Azusa, Calif.)
  126. Dr. Glenn Sunshine
    Chairman of the History Department, Central Connecticut State University (New Britain, Conn.)
  127. Joni Eareckson Tada
    Founder and CEO, Joni and Friends International Disability Center (Agoura Hills, Calif.)
  128. Luiz Tellez
    President, The Witherspoon Institute (Princeton, N.J.)
  129. Dr. Timothy C. Tennent
    President, Asbury Theological Seminary (Wilmore, Ky.)
  130. Michael Timmis
    Chairman, Prison Fellowship and Prison Fellowship International (Naples, Fla.)
  131. Mark Tooley
    President, Institute for Religion and Democracy (Washington, D.C.)
  132. H. James Towey
    President, St. Vincent College (Latrobe, Pa.)
  133. Juan Valdes
    Middle and High School Chaplain, Florida Christian School (Miami, Fla.)
  134. Todd Wagner
    Pastor, WaterMark Community Church (Dallas)
  135. Dr. Graham Walker
    President, Patrick Henry College (Purcellville, Va.)
  136. Fr. Alexander F. C. Webster, Ph.D.
    Archpriest, Orthodox Church in America; Professorial Lecturer, The George Washington University (Ashburn, Va.)
  137. George Weigel
    Distinguished Senior Fellow, Ethics and Public Policy Center (Washington, D.C.)
  138. David Welch
    Houston Area Pastor Council Executive Director, US Pastors Council (Houston)
  139. Dr. James Emery White
    Founding and Senior Pastor,  Mecklenburg Community Church (Charlotte, N.C.)
  140. Dr. Hayes Wicker
    Senior Pastor, First Baptist Church (Naples, Fla.)
  141. Mark Williamson
    Founder and President, Foundation Restoration Ministries/Federal Intercessors (Katy, Texas)
  142. Parker T. Williamson
    Editor Emeritus and Senior Correspondent, Presbyterian Lay Committee
  143. Dr. Craig Williford
    President, Trinity International University (Deerfield, Ill.)
  144. Dr. John Woodbridge
    Research Professor of Church History and the History of Christian Thought, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Deerfield, Ill.)
  145. Don M. Woodside
    Performance Matters Associates (Matthews, N.C.)
  146. Dr. Frank Wright
    President, National Religious Broadcasters (Manassas, Va.)
  147. Most Rev. Donald W. Wuerl
    Archbishop, Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, D.C.
  148. Paul Young
    COO and Executive Vice President, Christian Research Institute (Charlotte, N.C.)
  149. Dr. Michael Youssef
    President, Leading the Way (Atlanta)
  150. Ravi Zacharias
    Founder and Chairman of the Board, Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (Norcross, Ga.)
  151. Most Rev. David A. Zubik
    Bishop, Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh
  152. James R. Thobaben, Ph.D., M.P.H.
    Professor, Bioethics and Social Ethics, Asbury Theological Seminary (Wilmore, Ky.)

Nationalism in Greek Orthodoxy

By: Sir Steven Runciman

Excerpts from “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.”

Sir Steven Runciman

Sir Steven Runciman

In the East money making has never, as it was in the feudally minded West, been considered to be incompatible with aristocracy. A moneyed nobility began to emerge among the Greeks, closely knit by common aim and interests and by intermarriage, but open to newcomers. These rich families were ambitious. Authority among the Greeks was in the hands of the Patriarch. It therefore became their object to control the Patriarchate. Calling themselves “Archontes” of the Greek nation, they built their houses in the Phanar quarter of Constantinople, to be close to the Patriarchal buildings. They obtained for their sons positions in the Patriarchal court; and one by one the high offices of the Great Church passed into lay hands. Their members did not enter the Church itself. That was considered to be beneath their dignity. The bishops and the Patriarch himself continued to be drawn mainly from bright boys of humbler classes who had risen through intelligence and merit. But by the end of the seventeenth century the Phanariot families, as they were usually called, dominated the central organization of the Church…. But the Patriarchate could not do without them; for they were in a position both to pay its debt and to intrigue in its favor at the Sublime Porte (pgs. 361-362).

It was good for the Church to have to meet an intellectual challenge; but the challenge was too abrupt. The strength of the Byzantine Church had been the presence of a highly educated laity that was deeply interested in religion. Now the laity began to despise the traditions of the Church; and the traditional elements in the Church began to mistrust and dislike modern education, retreating to defend themselves into a thickening obscurantism. The cleavage between the intellectuals and the traditionalists, which had begun when Neo-Aristotelianism was introduced into the curriculum of the Patriarchal Academy, grew wider. Under Phanariot influence many of the higher ecclesiastics followed the modernist trend. In the old days Orthodoxy had preferred to concentrate on eternal things and modestly to refuse to clothe the faith in trappings of modish philosophy. The Phanariots in their desire to impress the West had no use for such old-fashioned notions. Instead, seeing the high prestige of ancient Greek learning, they wished to show that they were, by culture as well as by blood, the heirs of ancient Greece. Their sons, lively laymen educated in the new style, were now filling the administrative posts at the Patriarchal court. As a result the Patriarchate began to lose touch with the great body of the faithful, to whom faith meant more than philosophy and the Christian saints more than the sophist of pagan times.

Above all, the Phanariots needed the support of the Church in the pursuits of the ultimate political aim. It was no mean aim. The Megali Idea, the Great Idea of the Greeks, can be traced back to the days before the Turkish conquest…With the spread of the Renaissance a respect for the old Greek civilization had become general. It was natural that the Greeks, in the midst of their political disasters, should wish to benefit from it. They might be slaves now to the Turks, but they were of the great race that had civilized Europe. It must be their destiny to rise again. The Phanariots tried to combine the nationalistic forces of Hellenism in a passionate if illogical alliance with the ecumenical traditions of Byzantium and the Orthodox Church. They worked for a restored Byzantium, a New Rome that should be Greek, a new center of Greek civilization that should embrace the Orthodox world. The spirit behind the Great Idea was a mixture of neo-Byzantinism and an acute sense of race. But with the trend of the modern world the nationalism began to dominate the ecumenicity. George Scholarius Gennadius had perhaps unconsciously, foreseen the danger when he answered a question about his nationality by saying that he would not call himself a Hellene though he was a Hellene by race, not a Byzantine though he had been born at Byzantium, but, rather, a Christian, that is, an Orthodox. For, if the Orthodox Church was to retain its spiritual force, it must remain ecumenical. It must not become a purely Greek Church.

The price paid by the Church for its subjection to the Phanariot benefactors was heavy. First, it meant that the Church was run more and more in the interests of the Greek people and not of Orthodoxy as a whole. The arrangement made between the Conquering Sultan and the Patriarch Gennadius had put all the Orthodox Church within the Ottoman Empire under the authority of the Patriarchate, which was inevitably controlled by Greeks (pgs. 377-379).

If any Orthodox Palestinian wished for advancement he had to learn Greek and entirely identify himself with Greek interests; and the Patriarch (of Jerusalem) himself spent much of his time at Constantinople or in the Principalities. The Greeks were not prepared to let this luscious plum fall into other hands. Yet it is doubtful whether in the long run the Greek nationalism that was being increasingly infused into the whole Orthodox organization was beneficial to Orthodoxy. It was not in the old Byzantine tradition. Though within the Empire itself a knowledge of Greek was necessary for any official position, there had been no distinction of race; and the Byzantines had encouraged vernacular liturgies and had been cautious in trying to impose a Greek hierarchy upon other peoples. But the Great Idea encouraged the Greeks to think of themselves as a Chosen People; and chosen peoples are seldom popular, nor do they fit well into Christian life.

This attempt to turn the Orthodox Church into an exclusively Greek Church was one of the outcomes of Phanariot policy. It lead also to a decline in spiritual values, by stressing Greek culture as against Orthodox traditions and seeking to turn the Church into a vehicle of nationalist feeling, genuine and democratic up to a point, but little concerned with the spiritual life. At the same time it place the Patriarchate on the horns of a moral dilemma. It involved the Church in politics, and subversive politics. Was it not the duty of the Church to render unto Caesar the things which were Caesar’s? Could a Patriarch justifiably jettison the agreement reached between the Sultan and his great predecessor Gennaidus? Could he abjure the oath that he had sworn to the Sultan when his election was confirmed? On a more practical level, had he the right to indulge in plots which if they failed would undoubtedly subject his flock to ghastly reprisals? The more thoughtful hierarchs could not lightly support revolutionary nationalism. Yet if they failed to join in the movement from a sense of honor or from prudence or from spiritually minded detachment, they would be branded as traitors to Hellenism. The Church would lose its hold over the livelier and more progressive elements of his congregation. The rebirth of Greece was to involve a gallows erected at the gate of the Patriarchate and a Patriarch’s corpse swinging thereon (pgs. 382-384).

Locality, the Episcopate, and Canonicity: Reflections on the Recent Pre-Conciliar Meeting at Chambesy

By: George Michalopulos

ABSTRACT: In previous essays posted on this forum, the present author analyzed the formation of autocephalous churches, the role of the metropolitan and its role within the episcopate, the canonical claims of existing patriarchates regarding primacy within the so-called Diaspora, and the current jurisdictional crisis within North America. As to the idea of a “diaspora,” certain issues need to be more fully developed. Specifically, which autocephalous church has the authority to evangelize within such an area? How is autocephaly to be proclaimed? Are parallel dioceses and/or multiple episcopal seats in one city evidence of schism? And can fidelity to the Gospel trump the claims of an already existing diocese? Parts 1 through 5 are primarily historical whereas the last two sections contain analysis and commentary based on recent events.

I. Introduction: The Bishop and the Church

One of the problems vexing Orthodoxy in North America has been a basic misunderstanding of the nature of the bishop. In all too many jurisdictions in North America, this ecclesial officer has been viewed as a subordinate to a national primate and/or a foreign holy synod. This same phenomenon is replicated in other lands whose Orthodox churches are the results of immigration. Rarely, if ever have episcopal appointments in these areas followed the authentic Christian practice of election or even popular acclamation. Worse, major ecclesiastical decisions involving dioceses, bishops, and even entire eparchies have been handed down by fiat, with almost no consideration for the subjects at hand or canonical protocols for that matter. Until very recently, diocesan seats themselves have been provisional in most jurisdictions.

What accounts for such arbitrary attitudes? Some would argue that such capriciousness is due to the minuscule number of Orthodox Christians in any given area; certainly financial upheaval in the Old World as well as the lack of qualified candidates play a part as well. Regardless, the net result has been that most of these bishops have been viewed as ecclesiastical bureaucrats with no fixed address and little loyalty to an admittedly fluid, diocesan structure.

Truth be told, the seeds for the bishop-as-bureaucrat were laid in the later stages of the Byzantine Empire. The authentic Christian attitude on the other hand, was the bishop as a locally elected presbyter, accountable to his flock and only his brother bishops in the regional synod. This structure began to attenuate during the so-called Pentarchy (ca. AD 500-1100), a time during which some regional churches began to lose the right of election of their metropolitans. In the West, the augmentation of the papacy of Rome was due in part to the ability of that city’s bishops to exercise the authority to consecrate the suburbicarians, bishops who presided over dioceses adjacent to Rome.

In the East, the metropolitans of three regions adjacent to Constantinople (Pontus, Thrace, and Asia) became subject to Constantinopolitan consecration thanks to the 28th canon of Chalcedon (AD 451). In neither case however, was the right of election taken from the people for their bishops. Still, this was a gradual process, so gradual in fact that during the latter part of the Middle Ages, Russian bishops could demand greater autonomy for their eparchy from Constantinople by hearkening back to the primitive practice of popular election and episcopal consecration of the metropolitans,2 which were still “on the books” canonically speaking. Indeed, the Russian bishops successfully petitioned the ecumenical patriarchate for greater autonomy in the selection of the Kievan metropolitans.

When all was said and done, the popular election of the bishop, the regional election of the metropolitan, and the institution of new dioceses and independent churches was clearly the ideal. That these processes exist today only in attenuated circumstances, does not mitigate against their authenticity but instead points to practices that the Orthodox Church today should willingly embrace. Moreover, in doing so, the Church would avoid needless controversies and more effectively spread the Gospel.

II. Eucharist and Catholicity: The Bishop and His Role Within the Church

The present scenario (that of bishop as assigned bureaucrat or administrator) was not envisioned when this office was created in the sub-apostolic age. In The Didache, an ancient Christian manual of discipline from the first century, we are told that one of the functions of the office of bishop is to manifest unity within a particular locality, unity of course being a hallmark of love (John 15:9).3 This is epitomized in its essence by the consecration of the gifts of the people into the Eucharist by the bishop of the locality.

This understanding of the episcopal office has been termed (understandably) “eucharistic ecclesiology.” The revival of this concept has been widespread. In addition to Orthodox eminences such as Georges Florovsky, Alexander Schmemann and John Zizioulis, who championed this concept in the latter half of the twentieth century, Roman Catholic and Evangelical theologians of great repute have come to similar conclusions as well.4 Indeed, in the Roman church, one of its prime advocates is Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, presently Pope Benedict XVI.5 Benedict in fact has made it a prime focus of his pontificate, especially in his dialogues with the Orthodox Church. He has chosen to view the papal office as the primary teaching office of the Christian Church, one that presides in love as opposed to that of a supreme hierarch who enjoys a special archiepiscopal charism that allows him to serve as the administrative head of a vast bureaucracy. (This in fact can be considered to be the Orthodox view of the papacy as described by Bishop Kallistos Ware in his book, The Orthodox Church.6) As to the equality of the episcopate, this is in fact the normative view of the Orthodox Church. That it has been largely forgotten by many of the laity does it not negate its reality.

The eucharistic understanding of the role of the bishop has tremendous implications for the Church today, up-ending centuries of a strict top-down hierarchy, not only in the West, but in the East as well.7 The emphasis on the Eucharist has even more bearing on the present reality. Among other things, it solidifies the liturgical participation of the laity in the life of the Church. It is no coincidence that laymen who partake frequently of the mysteries of the Church tend also to be involved in the life of the parish. This includes not only frequent confession, but in leadership roles as well. It is not too much to say that such laymen feel an organic connection to the universal Church as well as their own particular congregation.

But what does it mean to say, that the bishop’s primary role is “eucharistic”? Does this imply merely a liturgical role? What about his evangelistic mission? Is that secondary? The peremptory answer would be an emphatic negative. The ritual acts of the bishop and his deputies (the presbyters) were in fact kerygmatic. The kerygma was in its essence, the proclamation of the Gospel, which was not only a recitation of historical events or merely a code of ethics, but the proclamation that the Kingdom of Heaven was “at hand” (Matt 3:2, 4:17, 10:7). Part of this proclamation was that the Church’s worship was eschatological, and in the Eucharist, we find that the eschatological notions of the Church were already realized to a very great extent. When Christians gather together to worship, they are entering into a mode of existence that is beyond time and space; indeed, partaking of a heavenly worship that is ongoing within the heavenly realm (Rev 14).8 In other words, the corporate worship of the Church in its locality, under the presidency of its bishop, “is the Church in all its fullness, not just a part of the Church…it is the basic unit on which all subsequent speculation must be based, the primary experience underlying all effort at definition.”9

When we consider the sub-apostolic age, we see that none of the above is controversial. According to Ignatius, we find that the bishop personified the unity of the local church.10 To stress this point, Ignatius said that the bishop “stood in the place of God.”11 According to modern commentators such as Zizioulis, this is to be understood to mean that the catholicity of the Church is manifested in its entirety within the diocese. This phenomenon is best explained in this way:

One church may be established by Peter, another by Paul, another by a missionary hundreds of years later. Yet all are equally and fully apostolic, just as they are one, holy and catholic. For the structure of the local church –the bishop surrounded by the college of presbyters, the deacons, and all the faithful—has a direct iconic relationship to the kingdom of where Christ stands surrounded by the apostles.12

This icon of the local Church as the “Catholic Church” leads inexorably to the conclusion that all bishops are equal. According to another Church Father, St Cyprian of Carthage, each bishop occupies the cathedra Petri or the seat of Peter, not just those bishops whose specific churches (such as Rome or Antioch) that were founded by this Apostle. Though Cyprian’s view of the episcopate was less theocentric than Ignatius’, the essential equality of all bishops was upheld. It was for this reason that a plurality of bishops was required to consecrate a new bishop. This was historically manifested in the concatenation of dioceses into a local, or regional synod, which operated under the principle of collegiality as explicated in the 34th Apostolic canon.13

Having said that, how did these bishops differentiate themselves? Was there a hierarchy among them? How could there be if all the bishops were equal? After all, we do know that there existed the office of metropolitan, usually the bishop of the largest or most important of the diocese within a regional church. Again, we need to turn to Ignatius who wrote in the “Prologue” to his Epistle to the Romans, that some bishops may “preside in love.” Erickson, takes this to mean that the presidency of the regional church was predicated on the belief that these bishops “more completely and perfectly share all that they are with the others.”14 The charisms were the same in each diocese, but the ability and willingness to share the Gospel were the deciding factor as to which bishop would preside within a given episcopal college. And quite apropos of the present discussion, these regional councils were autocephalous churches.15 The metropolitan was the president of the diocesan bishops when it met in council, nothing more. As stated in canon 34, he was to be informed of all major decisions by the bishops, and he in turn was required to inform all the bishops of any significant actions on his part.

The concept of episcopal independence transferred rather easily to the patriarchal level as well. As late as the ninth century, Patriarch Photius of Constantinople reacted vehemently to the activities of German missionaries in Bulgaria. Although his concern was specifically related to their insertion of the Filioque clause into the Nicene Creed (which at this time was still rejected by Rome itself), we can tell that Photius considered Bulgaria to be within the ecclesiastical purview of Constantinople.16 What gives this opposition special urgency was that Photius himself recognized the primacy of Rome within the Church and in other contexts submitted to Roman approval. Nor was this a prerogative of venerable patriarchates alone: the first patriarch of Bulgaria, Theophylact, prevented incursion from the Church of Constantinople into the new Bulgarian church, even though he himself was a Byzantine and owed his elevation to the Bulgarian throne because of the Byzantine mother church. The principle of diocesan autonomy legitimized Theophylact’s abruptness.

III. The Bishop and His Missionary Role: How Did He Go About It?

In reading the writings of several Church Fathers, one gets the decided impression that teaching was paramount. The vast canon from the ante-Nicene Fathers overwhelmingly concerns doctrine, not liturgy or even the Church calendar for that matter. Why is this so? After all, the written Gospels certainly existed by this time and the New Testament was well on its way to being closed. But what did the Gospel mean? What does it mean (for example) when Jesus says that the eucharistic elements were really His “body and blood,” or that the Kingdom of Heaven “suffereth violence”? Could any man exposit on it?

This is reflected in the many doctrinal controversies that rocked the Church from its inception. For example, in Acts 15, we find that an apostolic council was convened in order to resolve the issue of gentiles within the Church and to what degree they had to accept the Mosaic Law. Also in Acts, we find the curious career of Simon Magus, a sorcerer who sought to purchase the gifts of the Holy Spirit from the Apostles (Acts 8:18-24). These were profound doctrinal controversies, of the kind that would later consume the careers of Ss Irenaeus, Ignatius, Cyprian, Polycarp, and a host of others.

The celebration of the Eucharist is merely accepted as a given in comparison. Even the great gnostic heresiarchs such as Marcion and Basilides celebrated this central rite of the Church, the only difference being the principle underlying the meaning of the rite, whether it was really the body and blood of Christ or merely a “remembrance” In other words, the great polemicists of the Church were dealing with doctrinal differences rather than liturgical ones. We can see therefore the paramount importance of doctrine; adjustments to it could lead to liturgical differences (or at least differences in interpretation of liturgical practices), but it was the teaching behind any given liturgical rite that concerned the Apostles and their successors. It is for this reason that throughout the history of the Church, there existed a very real fear that even subtle differences in doctrine can result in dire implications, including the breaking of Communion –that is to say, schism.

How then does a bishop fulfill his role as a teacher? Is he the sole preacher within his church as well as the sole celebrant of the divine mysteries? The answer is an emphatic negative. Again, in turning to the Acts of the Apostles, we find how the Apostles were already stretched thin when the problem of almsgiving reached a breaking point. For this reason, they decided to delegate this authority to a new class of ordinands, men whom they called diakonoi (“servers,” also “ministers”). These men were charged with serving the needs of the impoverished Hellenistic Jews living in Jerusalem. In Timothy, we find another class of ordinands, men called presbyteroi or “elders,” who were tasked with authority over individual congregations. It is unclear whether these men constituted a separate class from the episkopoi (“overseers”) but we can surmise that as heads of congregations, it was they who presided over the Eucharist.

By the end of the first century, it is clear that there are men called “overseers” (such as Ignatius) who was most definitely a special kind of elder. What made men like Ignatius stand out? No doubt their evangelistic fervor and theological acumen played a significant role. At any rate, sometime in the later second century, the final cleavage between the office of presbyter and bishop seems to have occurred, no doubt probably because of the proliferation of house-churches within a given city. Therefore the concept of one bishop per church had to be relaxed. In time, other orders came into being, including lectors (readers) and deaconesses.

There was precedence for this. In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he describes several of the offices then in existence. Among them are “prophets, evangelists, exorcists, those who speak in tongues,” etc. All of these existed within the first generation of the Church. Careful boundaries existed between them as we can tell by Paul’s exhortation that not “all were called” to be such. Perhaps it would be too hasty to say that a type of licensure existed in order to proclaim to the Church their respective competence, but the implication that they were ordained by the Apostles based on spiritual discernment cannot be denied. For our purposes, it is clear that boundaries existed between these offices.

The above foray into the inner life of the early Church is based on the consideration at hand; that is whether the bishop is the lone initiate into the mysteries of the Church. Clearly he is not. The above-mentioned charisms of the Holy Spirit were open to all believers but Paul’s emphasis was on “order” and how it proceeded within strictly defined parameters. Their existence leads us to more questions: who possessed these gifts and how were they transmitted? Could there be more than one evangelist within a congregation? Could one be both a prophet and a healer? These questions vexed the early Church as we can tell by Paul’s admonitory words. At present, answers to these questions remain unknown (at least to this writer). For our purposes it is merely enough to know that the ultimate enforcer of order within the local congregation was clearly the bishop. It was he who was its presiding officer and he alone who could ordain other officers within it. As for his own office, as already noted above, he received it from a multiplicity of other bishops, who in turn received it from earlier bishops in a chain going back all the way to the Apostles. (It goes without saying that all charisms come from the Holy Spirit.)

Therefore, in order to go about his duties, no bishop was handicapped. The concept of delegation of authority was well established. No doubt, the environs of his church kept him busy. In addition to presiding over the Eucharist, he was responsible for adjudicating torts, disbursing alms, maintaining order, and of course preaching the Gospel. (In some cities, the rectitude of Christian bishops was so pronounced that they were often called to act as judges in civil actions between non-Christian parties!) This presents us with a dilemma: if the bishop was responsible only for his locality, then how was the Gospel spread? For clearly the Church did not remain confined to its birthplace in Jerusalem. Even during the time of the persecutions of the Church, it is clear that it grew exponentially throughout the Greco-Roman world.

For the Christian, the growth of the Church is nothing less than a miracle. The number of the original Apostles was relatively small –Scripture tells us of the original eleven disciples and another seventy, men who are also confusingly called disciples and apostles. The names are familiar to even the most casual observers –Timothy, Silas, Barnabas, Luke, and Mark, for example. Most of these men (and a few women such as Thekla) traveled in small groups for mutual support and protection. In some cities, they found that the message of Jesus had already preceded them. In others, they founded local churches where there was already a sizable Jewish population; in fact, it was often from factions within these local synagogues that they drew their first converts. This of course explains the foundation of churches such as those in Rome, Corinth, Antioch and Ephesus, and appears to have been the template while the Apostles were still alive. Even Paul, a notorious “Hellenizer,” made much of the fact that he “went to the Jews first, then the Greeks” (Acts 14:1). After the death of the last Apostle (John ca AD 105), church planting did not stop. Thanks to the Council of Javneh (ca AD 85), which legitimized anti-Hellenistic attitudes among the Rabbinate, dialogue between Church and Synagogue came to an abrupt halt. It would be hard therefore to imagine that Christian evangelists could rely on the continued hospitality of the local Jewish congregations for either material support or converts.

And yet, the Church grew. This time, its acceleration within the non-Jewish world became more apparent, to the point where it became almost completely a non-Jewish phenomenon with only a few Jewish remnants. The fact that the Roman government recognized the claims of Judaism over and above those of Christianity certainly did not help matters any. Despite the destruction of the Second Temple, Judaism was allowed to spread and receive converts. This was denied to the Church, which remained a superstitio illicito; where it was allowed to exist, it remained largely conditionally and underground. Yet evangelism was taking place. The question is how? How were bishops who were consigned to one city able to take the message of the Gospel to a neighboring city? After all, there were perhaps less than a dozen cities whose churches could reasonably point to an apostolic founder, yet there were thousands of cities throughout the Roman –and even outside it—that had vibrant local churches.

Because of the scarcity of documents from this period, the question must remain rhetorical. What we do know is that it became a given that bishops of towns that were adjacent to unevangelized areas were responsible for all missionary activity throughout the immediate area. Such missionary activity took place even during the period of persecutions. It seems to have accelerated after the Edict of Toleration in AD 313. Once Christianity became a licit religion, the question of diocesan formation became acute. By the time of the Council of Carthage (AD 419), a canon was promulgated which stated that it was the duty of the nearest bishop to spread the Gospel to that area nearest him.17 From what we can tell, this was consistent with the prevailing attitude of episcopal autonomy. This was also in keeping with the Council of Sardica (AD 341), which circumscribed the Roman pope’s universal appellate authority to the calling of ad hoc regional councils for purposes of final adjudication. This cannot be stressed enough: within the local church, one bishop presided. He was responsible to only those bishops who were adjacent to him and the regional metropolitan. Within his diocese, he had a college of ecclesiastics over which he presided and who assisted him with his tasks, but ultimately it was his diocese and no other bishop, including the regional metropolitan, could exercise authority over it.

IV. The Gospel and Its Relationship to Episcopal Canonicity

In a previous essay, this writer explicated on the present supremacist claims of the ecumenical patriarchate regarding its supposed jurisdiction over lands not presently belonging to any of the Orthodox churches.18 This claim is supposedly mandated by canon 28 of Chalcedon, which surreptitiously gave the archbishops of Constantinople the right to consecrate the metropolitans of Thrace, Pontus, and Asia. This fabulous claim has been dealt with elsewhere and shown to be utterly without merit.19

As such, some in Constantinople’s camp have brought forth another, equally fantastic claim to buttress its supremacist claims, namely, that the Byzantine church’s founder was none other than St Andrew, the elder brother of Peter. This legendary founding has no historical foundation and was first promulgated centuries after Byzantium’s founding.20 Ironically, no recourse is made to the actual legitimate claims of Constantinople which were propagated by that church’s proponents during its heyday. In their eyes, a church’s legitimacy did not rest on its apostolic foundation (or lack thereof) but on its fidelity to the Gospel.21

That Andrew engaged in an evangelistic mission is not in dispute. His execution in Patras ca. AD 65 is based on a firm oral tradition. His legend and cultus among the Scythians in and around the Black Sea region is also well attested. It was so pronounced and ancient in fact, that the Scottish nobility –- who fancied themselves as descendents of these same Scythians — made an unambiguous appeal to his authority as the founder of their nation’s church to the pope in Rome. In their Declaration of Arbroath, Andrew is stated to be the preeminent member of the Apostolic college,22 second only to Peter. They also made the claim that the Scots were among the first nations to be evangelized; hence, their demand for independence from England was for them a matter of theological necessity.

In any event, the bishops of Constantinople never claimed him as that city’s first bishop or founder even during Byzantium’s agogee. Indeed, there was no need for such a special pleading. Constantinople’s preeminence was political and statutory. This was not controversial. Because of its cultural importance, it became the hub of Christianity and an intellectual beacon for Christians everywhere. Although its elevation to patriarchal status was not met with Alexandria’s approval, the statutory principle was well ingrained by then. After all, Alexandria’s precedence over Antioch was based on its own cultural superiority, not because of the merits of their respective apostolic founders –- after all, Antioch was founded by St Peter, whereas Alexandria’s first bishop was St Mark, a disciple of Peter. And of course Jerusalem’s elevation to patriarchal status came centuries after its own founding. (In fact previous to the Second Ecumenical Council, Jerusalem’s bishops were suffragans of the metropolitan of Caeserea.)

It is here that we get to the crux of the argument: Despite its past flirtation with Arianism (of which more below), Constantinople’s partisans claimed that its prominence now rested upon its doctrinal orthodoxy. One Byzantine proponent disdained the very idea of apostolic foundation as the sole, or best criterion for a church’s primacy. In this, he was correct. As already noted, it was the Gospel which trumped foundational claims of antiquity.23 After all, all bishops were equal, the charisms were the same in each diocese, but the ability and willingness to share the Gospel was the deciding factor as to which bishop would preside within a given episcopal college. In this respect, material resources and location certainly played a role, in addition to a church’s apostolic foundation, martyriology, and antiquity. Yet all of the above were secondary considerations. Of utmost importance was whether its presiding bishop “more fully” shared the Gospel; it was this characteristic which allowed him to “preside in love” over other bishops as Ignatius stated in his Epistle to the Romans. Kerygma and the willingness to uphold it was the trump, not the number of relics.

To be sure, such a strict adherence to doctrinal principles as opposed to apostolic foundation was a two-edged sword. One of Alexandria’s briefs against the elevation of Constantinople’s archbishop to patriarchal status was that for the better part of a century, that city’s bishops remained firm in their adherence to the doctrines of Arius. In this, the bishops of Constantinople were unfortunately following the lead of the Flavian descendants of Constantine, who were likewise committed to Arianism, this despite the fact that the First Ecumenical Council had anathematized Arius and his teachings. No matter, for the partisans of Alexandria, the line of Arian bishops of Constantinople had cast a decided pall over that see and no matter how prominent that city had become, it was not enough to purge it of its Arian past.24 Constantinople of course saw things differently. It could not reasonably be held to account for past transgressions; after all, Alexandria’s hands were not exactly clean either in this matter: Arius was a bishop from that city and St Athanasius, who was the champion of Nicaea, suffered exile at the hands of the Alexandrians on several occasions.

V. Territory and Ethnicity: The Historical Reality and Its Resolution in Canon Law

The Church of course grew in spite of the various heresies that roiled it. Its diocesan structure came to be ordered within the confines of the so-called Pentarchy, an arrangement of five venerable patriarchal sees that took on the presidencies of some of the independent metropolitan regions by consecrating their metropolitans. It should be remembered however that this phenomenon occurred within the boundaries of one nation –- the Roman Empire. The Orthodox concept of the national church was not yet in evidence. The first such church was that of Bulgaria which in a relatively short time, acquired autocephaly and its own patriarchate in AD 918. Serbia would follow this pattern some three centuries later. In both cases however, the idea that membership in the local church was only open to the members of a certain ethnicity was not in evidence. Both of the Bulgarian empires and the Serbian kingdom were multi-ethnic states and its patriarchs were the spiritual overlords of all Christian peoples residing within them.

Nevertheless, as the Middle Ages waned, the rise of the nation-state began to subvert the concept of Christian unity. Even in the West, where by this time the universal jurisdiction of the popes was a given and the concept of autonomous patriarchates was unknown, the French kingdom began to view its church as a semi-autonomous “Gallican” church sometime in the fourteenth century. The concept of the national church came to its full fruition in England during the reign of Henry VIII (d. 1547), who fancied himself the “supreme governor” of the “Anglican” church, that is to say, the Roman Catholic Church in England. When the full effects of the Protestant Reformation had subsided, all of the German and Scandinavian states had state churches whose territories were rigidly defined by the borders of their respective nations. Unfortunately, their independence was lost and their churches became wholly dependent bureaucracies. It was this regrettable model that Peter the Great of Russia found so appealing in his travels to the West and which he mandated for the Russian Empire. In Obolensky’s opinion, the subjugation of the Church to the state –wherever this occurred (in the West as well as in the East)—planted the seeds of totalitarianism in most all modern state, not merely in the former Soviet Union.25

With the ascendancy of the Ottoman Empire, both the Bulgarian and Serbian churches lost their autocephaly to Constantinople (1763). Regrettably, this was done by the armies of the Turkish sultan acting at the behest of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. It was thus understandable that with the decay of Turkey and the subsequent independence of their Christian subjects in the Balkans, the newly independent Christian kingdoms would look to the past as one of comparative glory. This made inevitable the quest of these nations for autocephaly from the Church of Constantinople, which was increasingly controlled by a chauvinistic faction of wealthy Greeks called Phanariotes. Ironically enough, it was the newly liberated Greeks who first demanded emancipation from the ecumenical patriarchate in 1830. In short order the Serbs and Bulgars would reclaim their autocephaly.

These new Balkan states however were not multi-ethnic empires but decidedly mono-cultural states with miniscule populations of Jews, Muslims, and Catholics. For all intents and purposes, they came to identify membership in the national church as the sole criterion for citizenship. The Church became the guarantor of the nation’s boundaries so to speak. Or put another way, it was membership in the local church that decided whether one was a “true” Greek (or Serb, or Bulgar). The Church and state became one and the former became decidedly dependent upon the latter for material support, not unlike the Lutheran churches of the Germanic lands.

As regrettable as this came to be, the idea of the local church being defined by the boundaries of the polity is not a novel one. Indeed, it was the accepted practice in the first millennium as Apostolic canon 34 makes this clear. The difference of course is that in the Roman Empire, the various political regions were not mono-cultural (for the most part). Rome as noted many before, was a multi-ethnic, multi-racial empire. Even in its diocesan subdivisions, the menagerie of races and ethnicities was apparent. That the Church understood this can be gleaned from Canon 28 of Chalcedon, which makes mention on several occasions of “barbarians” living in and near the three provinces in question. Thus, it would be wrong to view the modern Orthodox phenomenon of intensely nationalistic churches as inevitable.

Regardless, the question of nationalism came to a head in the city of Constantinople when Bulgarians living there demanded a bishop of their ethnicity in the latter part of the nineteenth century. The ecumenical patriarchate convened a council in 1872 which ruled against the concept of “phyletism,” calling it an abject heresy.26 Some of course would state that the Phanar was being self-serving, that by doing so, it was solidifying its power over Orthodox immigrants. Appearances to the contrary, this was not the case as Patriarch Joachim III readily granted a tomos of autocephaly to the church of the newly independent Serbian kingdom in 1873. Indeed, Joachim’s own words to this effect bear scrutiny. In an earlier essay, this writer quoted Alexander Bogolepov, one of the first proponents of American autocephaly. This particular passage bears repeating. According to Bogolopev, Joachim III granted autocephaly to Serbia when he came to the realization that local churches may be established:

…not in conformity with the historical importance of the cities and countries in Christianity, but also according to political conditions of the life of the people and nations.” Referring then to Canon 28 of Chalcedon and other canons…he reaffirmed: “The ecclesiastical rights, especially those of parishes, usually conform to the structure of the state authority and its provinces.27

Clearly, the idea of territoriality was not lost. Nations could order their churches according to “political conditions,” a principle which reinforces ancient canons, especially those canons which mandated that diocesan boundaries should follow “the municipal model.” Does Joachim’s assessment however leave open the possibilities of migratory incursions of different ethnic groups being granted a special waver? For example, a displaced population of refugees, should its needs not be met vis-à-vis a bishop of their own nation? After all, these things happen in the ordinary course of the lives of nations. Even in a situation such as this, where pastoral concerns must be taken into consideration, the danger of phyletism is so pronounced that an exception would ultimately be hurtful. Regardless, Joachim’s tomos was granted just one year after this particular issue came to a head in the city of Constantinople itself, when Bulgarian émigrés demanded a bishop of their own nation. What Constantinople found objectionable was the concept of tribal churches that catered to ethnic dispersions; not to churches of nations.

VI. Chambesy: Blueprint for the Future or More of the Same?

The present dilemma of course has to do with the lands of the “diaspora.” To their credit, the primates of the autocephalous churches which met in Istanbul in October, 2008, qualified this term by calling it the “so-called Diaspora.”28 Perhaps they realized how theologically untenable such a term is for a universal religion like Christianity, or at the very least how abrasive this term sounds to those Orthodox who are natives of the lands in question.

The primates at Constantinople appeared to understand the tenuousness of Orthodoxy in traditionally non-Orthodox lands; the issue of the creation of new autocephalous churches was to be the primary agenda items of the much anticipated “Great and Holy Council.” Nevertheless, they told the various bishops from these lands that they would not be welcomed during the pre-conciliar deliberations to be held the following June in Cyprus. The irony was astonishing: even though it was agreed that the issue of the normalization of the churches of the “diaspora” was going to be settled once and for all at this upcoming council, the concerns of native bishops could not be vocalized by the very bishops in question. Rumors abounded that the patriarchates of Constantinople and Moscow were engaging in behind-the-scenes gamesmanship related to autonomous churches that the primates of these churches found problematic.29

Be that as it may, the conference was relocated to Chambesy, Switzerland and was presided over by Metropolitan John Zizioulis of Pergamum. Interestingly enough, this is the same Zizioulis — who as a recognized theologian of the first order — had a profound appreciation for the eucharistic role of the bishop and his equality among his brother bishops. Further ironies abounded: Zizioulis was now the titular bishop of a defunct diocese himself, despite the fact that he had earlier written about the absurdity of such a concept.30 As noted, none of the bishops from the so-called diaspora were invited to this conference, thereby casting a cloud over its very legitimacy in the eyes of many. Bickering in fact preceded it and in its aftermath, the Russian church threw cold water over some of it findings,31 thus raising the question as to whether anything of substance transpired.

This of course is unfortunate, because even with the above disqualifiers, the signatories at Chambesy stressed the correct nature of the episcopal office as it was understood in ancient times. Zizioulis for his part remained true to his earlier principles of episcopal equality and autonomy. Given its moribund nature in many non-Orthodox lands, some could reasonably say that the original meaning of the episcopate had in fact been revived. Moreover, the previous fantastic claims of the canon 28 enthusiasts were not even entertained. Instead, a process for convening episcopal assemblies in the disputed lands was formulated which objectively speaking, was non-controversial. It was decided that in any given area where there were bishops representing different ethnic migrations, the presidency of such a council was to follow a precedence based on the diptychs. In other words, the representative of the patriarchate of Constantinople was to preside as its interim chairman. Should no Constantinopolitan exarch exist, then a bishop from the see of Antioch would preside. Absent an Antiochian bishop, then chairmanship would devolve to a bishop from the Russian Orthodox Church, and so on (at present, there are no exarchates of the sees of Alexandria or Jerusalem in the lands in question, hence, no provision is made for any émigré bishops from these churches).

Equally important, it was decided that these erstwhile episcopal councils were to meet regularly and “normalize” church life within these lands as expeditiously as possible. The purpose (and hope) of such councils was to create a framework from which an autocephalous church could be created. This hoped for result seemingly put to rest claims of critics of Istanbul, most of whom castigated that see as wanting to aggrandize its own power over these lands in perpetuity.32 As such, Chambesy was viewed as a remarkable come-down from the supremacist claims of the Phanar that had been propagated some three months earlier by its Chief Secretary in a ill-received speech delivered at Holy Cross in Brookline, Massachusetts.33 Despite the fact that no local churches of the “Diaspora” were invited, the framework of Chambesy could be viewed as providing something for everybody; after all, although it was agreed that the chairmanship of these councils were dependent upon the order of the diptychs, there was no guarantee that once a local church achieved autocephaly, that this same bishop would necessarily be its metropolitan.

Others however, were not as sanguine about the workability of the Chambesy formula. For one thing, the Orthodox Church had been down this road before. In a recently republished essay on the subject of Orthodox unity, it was pointed out that our collective memory was very short indeed. According to the author, the recent meeting in Chambesy — in almost all its particulars — was a mere repetition of earlier meetings that had transpired there almost twenty years ago. Then, as now, the ecumenical patriarchate had been the driving force in another pre-conciliar conference. Just as in 2009,

…as part of the preparation for the great and holy synod, convened an inter-Orthodox preparatory commission to take up the last and most difficult question on the synod’s agenda: the “diaspora.” Two meetings were held at the ecumenical patriarchate’s center at Chambesy, Switzerland, in 1990 and then in 1993. At those meeting, a plan was developed for organizing the “diaspora” very much like the present SCOBA, with the addition of an assembly of bishops that would meet regularly and for practical purposes function like a single holy synod. There was a timeline intimated for establishes the “diaspora” churches as first autonomous and then autocephalous.34

To quote Yogi Berra, the recently concluded pre-conciliar meeting at Chambesy was “déjà vu all over again.” This of courses raises several questions, the most significant of which is, why should this most recent meeting be taken any more seriously than the two previous “inter-Orthodox preparatory commissions”? Nor should it be forgotten that the Ligonier confreres took their cues for setting up such an American episcopal assembly not only from these two meetings in Chambesy, but from Patriarch Bartholomew himself, who was “the architect of these commission meetings.” Bartholomew’s intentions in this regard require special attention:

…the real reason for optimism was…Metropolitan Bartholomew of Chalcedon, now the newly elected Patriarch of Constantinople. Metropolitan Bartholomew was largely responsible for the very successful visit of Patriarch Demetrios to the United States in 1990, including the visit to the Washington Cathedral of the Orthodox Church in America, where [Demetrios] spoke of the scandal of Orthodox disunity in the “diaspora.” In July 1994, just months before the Ligonier meeting, Patriarch Bartholomew sent Metropolitan Spyridon of Italy as his personal representative to the clergy-laity congress of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese [Chicago]. In his address to the Congress, he spoke to the “diaspora” question by saying that the Patriarch has focused his attention on bringing some resolution to the problem.”35

In fact, Spyridon received thunderous applause from the assembled delegates (most of whom were Greek-American) when he condemned the existence of “ethnic ghettos” in the United States. It was in this context of optimism that the overwhelming majority of American bishops convened in Ligonier, just three months after Spyridon’s speech in Chicago. Unfortunately — and inexplicably — Bartholomew vehemently rescinded his earlier sentiments. The new patriarch condemned the meeting in no uncertain terms and summoned the GOA bishops to Istanbul, where in a “rather medieval fashion” they were “forced to ‘repudiate’ their signatures to the Ligonier documents.”36 In light of the above, honest critics cannot be faulted for looking askance at the protocols derived in Switzerland earlier this year; whether the Ecumenical Patriarchate is in fact serious about the problem of church formation and autocephaly in the first place.

Other problems loomed over the horizon: the present Chambesy protocols allowed the various ethnic jurisdictions to continue in existence and to “rely” upon their mother churches. It was feared that the various eparchies could continue to vote en bloc. Russia for its part made explicit claims regarding existing jurisdictions (presumably its own) not becoming subject to Istanbul. North America presented its own unique set of problems. For example, no mention was made as to how to eradicate parallel dioceses or the scandalous multiplicity of episcopal seats in certain American cities (such as in Chicago, Detroit, New York City, or Los Angeles). More importantly, North America presented another problem which none of the other regions have; namely that it already possesses a local church, whose independence is recognized by five other autocephalous churches (including the largest Orthodox church in the world.) The encroachment of yet another layer of bishops onto its territory is thus problematic to say the least. Indeed, according to one well-respected monastic in the Patriarchate of Antioch, Fr Touma Bitar, the OCA is “the only canonical church in North America.”37

In any event, it is not at all clear that any of the ethnic jurisdictions presently want to meet in a continental assembly — the bishops of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese included. According to Fr Mark Arey, the general secretary of the Standing Council of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in America (SCOBA), there are roughly “55 to 60 bishops in North America,” a relatively large number, that would make such a continental assembly one that is fraught with peril — at least for those exarchates who have no intention of breaking with their mother churches. More to the point, though Chambesy created a formula which ratified the primacy of the Greek archbishop in America (at least as its interim chairman), there is no guarantee that once situated, the overwhelming numbers of other bishops would accede to this jurisdiction’s perpetual presidency. The reason is because unlike other areas of the world, the bishops of the Greek-American jurisdiction would be outnumbered by at least five-to-one.

Moreover, this fear is justified in North America because of the experience of SCOBA. This organization, which began in the mid-1960s, was intended to draw together the primates of the existing ethnic jurisdictions, with the goal of eventual administrative unity. Instead, SCOBA has proven to be an inept organization with no canonical standing and precious little moral authority. Its fecklessness became apparent soon after its founding. According to one critic within the GOA, “frustrations with SCOBA [were] legendary,” the fault lying in the primates themselves, who “have consistently refused to take those decisions that would the church here closer, making themselves accountable to one another and to the whole.”38 Part of this problem was structural: its chairmen were to serve on a rotating basis based on jurisdiction. Although this rotating chairmanship mitigated against Greek triumphalism, it anticipated Chambesy (even going back to the first meeting in 1991) in many particulars. Especially in the insistence that the respective jurisdictions could still operate independently of one another and that the broader episcopal body could not impose its authority over them.

In any event, SCOBA’s official structure became ossified with the GOA archbishop serving as its de facto permanent chairman. As long as Archbishop Iakovos Coucouzis was alive, there was no problem with this as he had generated much goodwill towards him personally. Things started to deteriorate however with his forced resignation. At present, there is talk behind the scenes of SCOBA disbanding as its meetings are often desultory in nature. Though its ministries continue to gain in number and scope, the fact remains that they are by and large the ideas of laymen from the various jurisdictions. It is they who staff them, finance them, and provide most of the manpower needed for their operation.

The belief that the best days of SCOBA are behind it was on full display recently in Crestwood, where a historic symposium on American autocephaly took place. Two of the major speakers there — one an archbishop, the other a layman— were quite dismissive about its continued relevance, and said so on more than one occasion to Fr. Arey, who gamely tried to put the best face forward. What made such criticism stand out is that the layman in question (Charles Ajalat) has been one of the stalwarts of SCOBA for at least twenty years and is in fact the driving force behind the most recent SCOBA ministry (FOCUS).39

Other considerations mitigate against the longevity of SCOBA or the inception of a true continental episcopal assembly. For one, the widespread belief that the Ecumenical Patriarchate has absolutely no intention of emancipating its American exarchate (whether true or not) has deflated the hopes of many who seek administrative unity. To prevent the occurrence of such an event, Metropolitan Jonah welcomed the selection of Archbishop Demetrios of the GOA as its interim chairman — provided of course that once the episcopal assembly was convened, the election of a president should proceed forthwith.40 The implication is that should a free and open election not be held, then the worst fears of many will have been realized: the new episcopal council for North America would be nothing more than an expanded SCOBA, and like it would be nothing more than another bureaucracy created for the express purpose of permanently frustrating American autocephaly, appearances to the contrary. It would in fact be a continuous repeat of the previous episcopal assembly which convened in 2006 in which any talk of administrative unity was blocked by SCOBA itself. (Among other things, the purpose of the earlier assembly was to “coordinate” the creation of new missions so that they would not be placed near existing ethnic parishes.)

Be that as it may, even propagandists for SCOBA cannot gainsay when the first such episcopal assembly will take place or more importantly, when the putative Great and Holy Council which will supposedly recognize the autocephaly of the various episcopal councils throughout the “Diaspora” will transpire.41 In a recent interview, Arey himself admitted that he did not even know if “assistant” or auxiliary bishops will be invited to participate in such an assembly. The best he could say was that he was led to understand that only bishops with “pastoral authority” would be invited to join. Thus to put the eggs of administrative unity and American autocephaly in the basket of an “interim” episcopal council would be foolhardy indeed.

Perhaps this assessment is unfair, especially since Jonah spoke glowingly about Demetrios and his apparent goodwill, yet such a perception among almost everybody else has resulted in the retrenchment into the ethnic cores of many of the jurisdictions. Examples include the healing of the schism between the two Serbian jurisdictions and talk of union between the two Romanian exarchates into a “maximally autonomous” Romanian metropolitanate. Another indicator of growing ethnic chauvinism was the recent debacle in the Antiochian jurisdiction, a series of missteps and scandals that culminated in a contentious national church convention where the fissures between the native and convert contingents became exposed. At this event, Metropolitan Philip made it plain that he would come down on the side of unity at all costs rather than entertain a union with the OCA, which many in the Arab contingent refused to countenance. And rounding out this picture is the Ecumenical Patriarchate itself, which exacerbated this entire morass when it sent a high-level functionary to pour salt into the open wounds of American Orthodoxy in the aforementioned speech at Holy Cross.42

VII. Conclusion: Is a Great and Holy Council Necessary?

The question therefore remains. Despite the absence of bishops from the “diaspora,” the ability of foreign patriarchates to order church life in traditionally non-Orthodox lands remains an open question. Some hold out hope that the upcoming “Great and Holy Council” will resolve this issue once and for all, especially since that is its stated agenda. A few of these critics have even gone so far as to say that the bishops of North America should make all haste to accept the Chambesy formula for unity lest a more onerous one be imposed on this continent by this council whenever it meets.43

However, this strategy quite possibly presupposes more than is warranted. For one thing, the Christian Church has had in place a method of evangelizing non-Christian lands from its inception. This method became codified in the Council of Carthage, when it was decided that this by rights belonged to the bishop nearest the city or region in question. In no way can it be understood that Canon 28 — which was confined to three metropolitan sees contiguous to Byzantium — trumped this protocol. At any rate, there is no yet firm date for a meeting for this council. Nor for that matter has a venue has been chosen. This is not an idle point: the pre-conciliar meeting that took place at Chambesy was originally scheduled for the island of Cyprus. No reason was given as to why it was changed almost at the last minute. Some may ask what guarantees are there that such a sudden shift will not happen again? Left unsaid is whether it can be considered Christian to “impose” a settlement in the first place.

Equally as important, the question of who can convene this council has not been resolved. In previous ages, it was the secular power which called the ecumenical councils. With the loss of the Roman imperium, all subsequent councils have been local ones; though guided by the Holy Spirit, they do not have universal application. Other churches may cite their proceedings for consideration but they are not beholden to them, unlike the seven ecumenical councils. Finally, it cannot be forgotten that in the ancient Church, all metropolitan regions were autocephalous and that it was the right of the constituent dioceses to elect and consecrate their metropolitan (and it was the right of the people to elect their local bishops). It was only through a gradual piecemeal process that this procedure fell into abeyance. In retrospect, it is hard to vouchsafe the present system of rigidly centralized national churches that incessantly interfere into the territories of other churches. Or churches that consider the Gospel secondary to national identity for that matter.

Most problematic of all is the concept of national churches. This phenomenon did not exist during the time of the ancient councils. This presents another unanticipated problem: during the first Christian millennium, there was only one nation whose churches for all intents and purposes were represented — Rome. The bishops who attended these conclaves were citizens of that nation and they represented the hundreds of dioceses throughout this vast unified state. Though it was a multi-racial, multi-ethnic empire, the concept of the emperor as the vice-regent of God and the only legitimate secular authority was fully ingrained in the consciousness of the people.

Indeed, as late as the fourteenth century, Patriarch Antony IV of Constantinople admonished Grand Duke Basil I of Moscow for removing the name of the Byzantine emperor from the litanies of the Russian church. “My son,” Antony gently rebuked him, “it is not possible for Christians to have the Church and not to have the Empire. For Church and Empire have a great unity and community; nor is it possible to be separated one from the another.” Although Antony did not believe that Byzantium enjoyed political sovereignty over the Russian lands, he justified this fantastic claim in theological terms: “The holy emperor is not as other rulers and governors of other regions are…he is anointed with the great chrism, and is elected baslieus and autokrator of the Romans — to wit, of all Christians.”44 With the fall of Constantinople to the Turks in 1453, such lofty sentiments were transferred to the Grand Duke of Moscow by Patriarch Jeremiah II of Constantinople, who lauded this potentate with these words: “thou alone under heaven art now called Christian Emperor for all Christians in the whole world.”45

Admittedly, Byzantine bureaucrats were known for their excessive flattery. Yet even so, the sentiments behind these excessive words betrayed a theological reality in the collective mind of the Orthodox Church. Specifically, that only Orthodox emperors could “rule” over the Oecumene, that is, the Christian world. As such, only these emperors had the legitimate authority to convene ecumenical councils. It stands to reason that the 1200-year absence of an ecumenical council is therefore not as deleterious as some would have us believe. (In fact, given the monarchical mindset of the Orthodox Church, it may not even be possible to convoke such an assembly.) At any rate, no burning doctrinal heresies loom on the horizon either. This is no small consolation as there is a great dread among some Orthodox pietists that the erstwhile “Great and Holy Council” runs the very real risk descending into apostasy.46

Be that as it may, the new “local churches” are now national churches, each embodying the hopes and dreams of their respective nations (one could almost say races). Some of these nations — such as Serbia — are in peril. Like most Western European nations, the traditionally Orthodox nations are themselves in demographic collapse. Any recourse by the Ecumenical Patriarchate to mitigate this reality by invoking the 1872 council of Constantinople’s declaration against the heresy of tribalism could very possibly be met with skepticism if not outright scorn. After all, Constantinople ignored its own protocols when it set up Greek jurisdictions in the various lands of the “diaspora,” most famously in North America, which already possessed a local church. Such an action, coming as it did on the heels of the grant of Serbian autonomy, raised more than a few eyebrows. Perhaps the Ecumenical Patriarchate when faced with a fait accompli vis-à-vis the Serbs decided to put the best face on the situation, but when it came to émigré communities it decided to dig in its heels? This admittedly is speculative but it does comport with the reality at least on a superficial basis. Moreover, the Ecumenical Patriarchate continues to segregate Greeks, Ukrainians, Carpatho-Russians, and now Palestinian Arabs into separate ethnic eparchies on this continent.

Old habits indeed die hard: In Great Britain, Istanbul has set up another ethnic eparchy among Russian immigrants who are in schism from Moscow and even welcomed Bishop Basil Osborne (who was previously under Moscow) into its fold. Both actions were vehemently protested by Alexeii II, the previous Russian patriarch.47 In both England and Hungary, fights over church property between Constantinople and Moscow have been turned over to secular courts and in both instances, the Constantinopolitan exarchate lost.

Indeed, in his controversial speech at Holy Cross, Istanbul’s Chief Secretary continued to promulgate the view that the ethnic eparchies could continue to exist in North America provided that they “first submit to the first throne of Orthodoxy.” This was taken to mean that only a Greek metropolitan who was subordinate to the ecumenical patriarchate would be allowed as the national primate. Furthermore, any talk of granting this erstwhile “united” American church independence was quashed by this same speaker. This stunning declaration of bad faith only roiled the waters further and marshaled the forces of those already hostile to Istanbul in preparation of Chambesy. As already noted, it only added to the suspicion that whatever else it may do in Western Europe or Oceania, the Ecumenical Patriarchate had no intention of giving up its eparchies in the Western Hemisphere but instead was actively seeking to aggrandize its power even more. To be fair, Istanbul is not the only transgressor in this regard as most of the other Old World patriarchates have absolutely no intention of giving up their North American eparchies. Be that as it may, it is in fact most ironic that all of the Old World patriarchates now exercise a near-papalist “universal authority,” in that they feel it is their right to set up dioceses and exarchates wherever their émigrés choose to settle.

The future of course is unknowable. The Great and Holy Council may in fact take place. It may operate unimpeded and its deliberations may be robust, open, and in good faith. It may invite all canonical bishops to its assemblies and deliberations, including those from the lands of the so-called diaspora. Therefore any fears of a Chambesy-like embargo of these same bishops may be overblown. If on the other hand Chambesy proves to be the model, or — worse yet — only certain national primates are invited, then it will be difficult to see how it can be termed a “Great and Holy Council” let alone an “ecumenical” one. More importantly, it will be impossible to see how any such council would have the statutory authority to order the lives of local churches without their representation. In the final analysis, the temptation to adhere to a slightly augmented Chambesy model may prove to be too strong, since some of the patriarchates have problems with certain autonomous churches (as already mentioned).

What then is to be done? Given all of the above, the need to order the life of the North American church should proceed on its own merits and in conjunction with the direction of the already established Orthodox Church in America (albeit without its present ethnic exarchates which present the same canonical problems that the major ethnic exarchates represent). To give heed to those who counsel caution, that acceptance of the protocols established at Chambesy as the lesser of two evils, would therefore be unwise. In this writer’s opinion, such timorousness would only continue the present problems, one of which is an adherence to the heresy of phyletism; the other being the creation of episcopal assemblies which will never be allowed to congeal into true holy synods –all protestations to the contrary.


  1. John Meyendorff, Rome, Constantinople, Moscow: Historical and Theological Studies (Crestwood: SVS Press, 1996), p 16. These ten bishops coincided with the civil prefecture of the city of Rome itself. It was only these ten bishops that the popes had specific authority to consecrate as metropolitans. This right was granted by imperial authority as was the papal right to appoint special vicars to dioceses in Gaul and Thessalonica. Incidentally, the bishops in question were not appointed by the pope but could only be elected locally.
  2. Dmitri Obolensky, “Byzantium, Kiev, and Moscow: A Study in Ecclesiastical Relations,” Byzantium & the Slavs (Crestwood: SVS Press, 1994), pp 109-55; see especially p 133: “Canon law stipulated that a metropolitan was normally to be ‘appointed’ (i.e. both elected and consecrated) by the bishops of his ecclesiastical province, with the assistance of bishops from neighboring districts.” Even though this right was gradually lost in the East to the resident synod of Constantinople, “…the old canonical prescriptions, which gainsaid the current policy of ecclesiastical centralization, were never abrogated.”
  3. John Erickson, “Collegiality and Primacy in Orthodox Ecclesiology, The Challenge of Our Past: Studies in Orthodox Canon Law and Church History (Crestwood: SVS Press, 1991), p 75.
  4. Ibid., pp 73-89. See especially, pp 76-77.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Timothy Ware, The Orthodox Church (London: Penguin Books, 1993 ed.), p 28. “…on the whole, during the first eight centuries…the Roman see was noted for the purity of its faith: other Patriarchates wavered during the great doctrinal disputes, but Rome for the most part stood firm. When hard-pressed in the struggle against heretics, people felt that they could turn with confidence to the Pope.”
  7. Metropolitan Maximus of Sardis, The Oecumenical Patriarchate in the Orthodox Church (Thessalonica, 1976),.
  8. Erickson, Op cit., p 78.
  9. Ibid., p 75.
  10. St Ignatius of Antioch, Epistle to the Ephesians 1.
  11. Ignatius, Epistle to the Magnesians 6.
  12. Erickson, Op cit., p 78
  13. Apostolic canon 34: “The bishops of every nation must acknowledge him who is first among them and count him as their head and do nothing of consequence without his consent; but each may do those things only which concern his own parish and the country places which belong to it. but neither let him who is first do anything without the consent of all…”
  14. Erickson, Op cit., p 75
  15. Erickson, “Autocephaly and How It is Proclaimed,” The Challenge of Our Past: Studies in Orthodox Canon Law and Church History, (Crestwood: SVS Press, 1991), pp 91-113; see especially pp 93-94.
  16. St Photius the Great, The Mystagogy of the Holy Spirit (Brookline, Mass: Holy Cross Press, 1987, Transl. by Joseph Farrell).
  17. Council of Carthage, canon 13: “If a bishop takes no pains to win over to Catholic unity those places which belong to his jurisdiction, he shall be exhorted to do so by the neighboring bishops. If he does not do so within six months from this warning, they shall belong to the bishop who wins them to the Church…”
  18. George C Michalopulos, “Canon 28 and Eastern Papalism: Cause or Effect?”
  19. St John Maximovitch, Archbishop of Shanghai and San Francisco, “The Decline of the Patriarchate of Constantinople,” delivered at the Second All-Diaspora Sobor of the Russian Church Abroad, Yugoslavia, 1938.
  20. Milton V Anastos, Speros Vryonis Jr, Nicholas Goodhue, Aspects of the Mind of Byzantium: Political Theory, Theology and Ecclesiastical Relations With the See of Rome (Variorum Collected Studies Series, 717m 2001). “Byzantium itself at first seemed not to be interested in the full exploitation of the traditions about Andrew. But by the seventh century, Constantinople was frequently described in Byzantine texts as an ‘apostolic city,’ without specific reference to Andrew, who was not named as the founder of the Church of Constantinople until the latter part of the seventh century, or the beginning of the eighth…”
  21. John Erickson, “Collegiality and Primacy in Orthodox Ecclesiology”, The Challenge of Our Past: Studies in Orthodox Canon Law and Church History (Crestwood, SVS Press, 1991), p 80-81: “Yet it was not completely forgotten that precedence and honor in the Church exist only in view of ministry and service.”
  22. Declaration of Arboath (1320). “They journeyed from Greater Scythia by way of the Tyrrhenian ea and the Pillars of Hercules, and dwelt for a long course of time in Spain among the most savage trives, but nowhere could they be subdued by any race, however barbarous…The high qualities of these people were they not otherwise manifest, gain glory enough from this: that the King of kings and Lord of lords, our Lord Jesus Christ, after His Passion and Resurrection, called them, even though settled in the uttermost parts of the earth, almost the first to His most holy faith. Nor would He have them confirmed in that faith by merely anyone but by the first of His Apostles — by calling, though second or third in rank — the most gentle Saint Andrew, the Blessed Peter’s brother, and desired him to keep them under his protection as their patron forever.”
  23. Erickson, Op cit., pp 75-80.
  24. Gregory Afonsky, “The Canonical Status of the Patriarch of Constantinople in the Orthodox Church, March 24, 2009,
  25. Obolensky, “Russia’s Byzantine Heritage” Byzantium & the Slavs (Crestwood: SVS Press, 1994), pp 75-103, see especially, pp 97-100.
  26. Council of Constantinople (1872): “We have concluded that when the principle of phyletism is juxtaposed with the teaching of the Gospel and the constant practice of the Church, it is not only foreign to it, but also completely opposed, to it. We decree the following in the Holy Spirit: 1. We reject and condemn racial division, that is, racial differences, national quarrels and disagreements in the Church of Christ, as being contrary to the teaching of the Gospel and the holy canons of our blessed fathers, on which the holy Church is established and which adorn human society and lead it to Divine piety. 2. In accordance with the holy canons, we proclaim that those who accept such division according to races and who dare to base on it hitherto unheard-of racial assemblies are foreign to the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church are real schismatics.” (Emphasis added.)
  27. Alexander Bogolepov, Toward an American Orthodox Church: The Establishment of an Autocephalous Church (Crestwood: SVS Press, 1963), pp 14-15.
  28. “Statement of the primates of the autocephalous Orthodox Churches,” Istanbul, Oct. 2008.
  29. The ecumenical patriarchate has yet to recognize the autocephaly of the Orthodox Church in America while the Russian Orthodox Church refuses to countenance the claims of the Estonian and Ukrainian churches.
  30. John D Zizioulis, Being as Communion: Studies in Personhood and the Church (Contemporary Greek Theologians Series, No 4) (Crestwood: SVS Press, 1991 ed), p 153, footnote no. 52.
  31. John Couretas, “Moscow Patriarchate Report of Chambesy Meeting,” June 30, 2009,
  32. To be sure, these criticisms have never gone away. Many critics still feel that Istanbul is acting in bad faith, that is that while it may allow autocephalous churches to form in Scandinavia, the Low Countries, and France, it will never relinquish its hold over the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.
  33. Elpidophorous Lambrianides, “Challenges of Orthodoxy in America and the Role of the Ecumenical Patriarchate,” (an address given at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, March 16, 2009).
  34. Nicholas K Apostola, “How Much Unity? How Much Diversity,” Greek Orthodox Theological Review Vol 50:1-4, 2005 (Brookline: Holy Cross Press, 2005), pp 119-140.
  35. Ibid. p 123.
  36. Ibid. p 124.
  38. Apostola, Op cit., p 133.
  39. Metropolitan Jonah Paffhausen, Archbishop Nathanial Popp, Charles Ajalat, et. Al., The Tomos and the Council: 20th Century Landmarks Towards a 21st Century Church, Jun 18-20 (St Vladimir’s Seminary, Crestwood, NY.)
  40. “Interview with Metropolitan Jonah,” (Ancient Faith Radio), Aug 16, 2009.
  41. “SCOBA’s Fr Arey on Chambesy,” Aug 28, 2009.
  42. In The Orthodox Observer for example, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America was stated to be “the canonical jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in America.” (Feb xx, 2008). Such a clumsy locution implies that neither the Ukrainian nor Carpatho-Russian eparchies of this see are canonical.
  43. Nick Katich, “A Call to Gather Together as a Church: Reflections on IV Chambesy,”
  44. Obolensky, Op cit., pp 175-76.
  45. Sir Stephen Runciman, The Great Church in Captivity (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ Press, 2004 ed.), p 331.
  46. Daniel Rogich, “The Life of our Father Justin, Abbott of Chelije,” St Pachomius Library (may be accessed at
  47. The Declaration of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church relating to the decision of the Holy Synod of the Patriarchate of Constantinople concerning the reception into its jurisdiction of Bishop Basil (Osborne),” (

Unraveling Chambesy — Administrative Unity In Our Time

Presented by Ancient Faith Radio

Presented by Ancient Faith Radio

Our canons call for there to be one bishop in one place but here in America as well as other countries of the so called “diaspora” immigration and pastoral concerns have served to violate those canons. To address this issue, the leaders and representatives of all of the autocephalous Mother Churches were convened by HIs All Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew first in Constantinople (modern day Istanbul) and later in Chambesy, Geneva, Switzerland to commission certain Episcopal Assemblies who will in turn develop regional plans to correct this anomaly.

To help you sort through this complicated process, Ancient Faith Radio has produced a 2-part documentary featuring Fr. Mark Arey, General Secretary of SCOBA (The Standing Conference of Orthodox Bishops in America), Charles Ajalat, former chancellor of the Antiochian Archdiocese and long time champion of Administrative Unity, Metropolitan Jonah, primate of the Orthodox Church in America, and Nick Katich, an attorney who helped orchestrate the healing of the Serbian schism in the United States several years ago. We would encourage you to read the documents referenced on the SCOBA website.


In this first installment, John Maddex talks with Fr. Mark Arey, General Secretary of the Standing Conference of Orthodox Bishops in America (SCOBA) about past efforts at bringing about Administrative Unity, including the so called Ligonier conference in 1994. We will also hear from Charles Ajalat, Metropolitan Jonah, and Nick Katich.

Listen to Part 1:

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In this second part, we learn more about the actual process and related complications of unifying all of the Orthodox churches administratively. In this episode we hear from all of our guests in the first part plus Matthew Namee of the American Orthodox History podcast.

Listen to Part 2:

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The Idea of Primacy in Orthodox Ecclesiology

By: Fr. Alexander Schmemann

Fr. Alexander Schmemann

By primacy we mean here an ecclesiastical power, superior to that of a Bishop whose jurisdiction is limited to his diocese. In Church history and canonical tradition we find the following forms of primacy:

a) regional primacy — within an ecclesiastical province or metropolitan district, i. e. in a group of dioceses (as defined, for example, in Apostolic Canon 33).
b) primacy within the so-called autocephalous churches: the power of a Patriarch or Archbishop (e. g. the Patriarch of Moscow), and
c) universal primacy: that of Rome or Constantinople.1)

But if facts are known, their ecclesiological interpretation is virtually absent from Orthodox theology. We badly need a clarification of the nature and functions of all these primacies and, first of all, of the very concept of primacy. For both in theory and in practice there is a great deal of confusion concerning the definition of the "supreme power" in the church, of its scope and the modes of its expression. Of the three types of primacy mentioned above, only the second — the primacy within the autocephalous church, is defined more or less precisely in each particular "autocephaly." But even here the ecclesiological dimension is obviously lacking and the great variety of existing patterns — from the almost absolute "monarchy" of the Russian Patriarch to the more or less nominal primacy of the Archbishop of Athens — reveals the absence of a common understanding of primacy, or of a consistent canonical theory of it. For two hundred years Russian bishops and canonists denounced the synodal government instituted by Peter the Great as non-canonical, yet it was recognized as canonical by the other Eastern churches.2 Why is the actual patriarchal monarchy in Russia (the bishops even call the Patriarch their "father") more canonical than the collective government or the Holy Synod?

What are, in other terms, the criteria of canonicity? Obviously no existing administrative system can be simply equated with canonical tradition. In the empirical life of the Church one administrative system is replaced by another, and each of them is the result of a "canonical adjustment," i. e., the application of the canonical tradition to a particular situation. Yet, only a clear understanding of the canonical tradition itself with all of its theological and ecclesiological implications can supply us with solid criteria for a canonical evaluation of any of such "adjustments" and for measuring their canonicity.3

As to the regional and universal types of primacy, there does not exist even a de facto consensus of Orthodox opinion. Regional primacy, although it is clearly sanctioned by our canonical tradition,4 has practically disappeared from the structure and the life of the Orthodox Churches in the triumph of centralized autocephalies. And the idea of universal primacy is either rejected as alien to the very spirit of Orthodoxy or formulated in terms so vague and ambiguous that, instead of solving, they only obscure the whole problem of primacy.5

And yet the solution of this problem is certainly on the agenda for our time. It would not be difficult to prove that the canonical and jurisdictional troubles and divisions, of which we have had too many in the last decades, have their roots in some way or other in this question of primacy, or, to be more exact, in the absence of a clearly defined doctrine of the nature and functions of primacy. And the same unsolved problem constitutes a major handicap for the unity and, therefore, the progress of Orthodoxy in countries like America where, paradoxically enough, the loyalty to a certain concept of "canonicity" leads to the most uncanonical situation that can be imagined: the coexistence on the same territory of a number of parallel "jurisdictions, and dioceses…6 Finally, there can be little doubt that Ecclesiology, the doctrine of the Church, is today at the very center of our relations with the non-Orthodox. Among Roman Catholic theologians, there is a growing interest, and not only a "polemical" one, in Orthodox views on Primacy;7 as to the Protestants, it is of vital importance that they understand our concept of the Church’s universality. There are thus reasons for a genuinely theological reconsideration of the whole question. And even if no final answer can be given immediately, it will not be reached without a sustained theological effort.


We have defined primacy as a form of power. This definition, however, must be qualified at once. For there is a preliminary question: does the Orthodox Church possess a power superior to that of a bishop, i.e., a power over the Bishop, and hence, the Church of which he is the head? This question is essential for the whole problem of primacy.8 But the answers given it by ecclesiology on the one hand and the various ecclesiastical administrative systems on the other hand are contradictory. Theologically and ecclesiologically the answer should be "no": there can be no power over the bishop and his Church (i. e. dioceses) for, "if power belongs to the Church as one its constituent elements, it must correspond to the nature of the Church and not be heterogeneous to it."9 The ministry of power and government, as all other ministries within the Church, is a charism, a gift of grace. It is bestowed through the sacrament of order, for only sacramentally received power is possible in the Church whose very nature is grace and whose very institution is based on grace. And the Church has only three charismatic orders with no gift of power superior to that of a bishop. No sacramental order of primacy, no charism of primacy exists, therefore, in the Orthodox Church; if it existed, it would have a nature different from grace and, consequently, its source would not be the Church.

But in the present canonical structure of the Church such supreme power not only exists, but is commonly conceived as the foundation of the Church, and the basis of its canonical system.10 Theoretically, it is true, a personal power of one bishop over another bishop is rejected; the "supreme power" is exercised usually by the Primate together with a governing body: synod, council, etc… For us, however, the important fact is that such supreme ecclesiastical government is always characterized as power over bishops, who are therefore subordinated to it. "Supreme power" is thus introduced into the very structure of the Church as its essential element. The divorce between canonical tradition and the canonical facts is nowhere more obvious than in this universal triumph of the notion of supreme power. Having rejected and still rejecting it in its Roman form, i. e., as universal power, the Orthodox conscience has easily accepted it in the so-called "autocephalies."

In this situation the question we have formulated above cannot be answered simply by references to historical precedent or canonical texts, isolated from their context, as it is too often done in contemporary canonical controversies. We must go deeper into the very sources of Orthodox doctrine of the Church, to the essential laws of her organization and life.


Orthodox tradition is unanimous in its affirmation of the Church as organic unity. This organism is the Body of Christ and the definition is not merely symbolical but expresses the very nature of the Church.11 It means that the visible organizational structure of the Church is the manifestation and actualization of the Body of Christ, or, in other terms, that this structure is rooted in the Church as the Body of Christ. But one must stress immediately that if the doctrine of the Church-Body of Christ is both scriptural and traditional, it has never really been elaborated and interpreted theologically. For reasons which cannot be discussed here (we shall mention some of them later) this doctrine disappeared rather early from canonical (i. e. ecclesiological) thinking both in the West and East, and its neglect by canonists constitutes, no doubt, a tragedy the results of which mark all domains of ecclesiastical life and thought. In the early Church the canonical tradition was an integral part of ecclesiology — of the living experience of the Church. But little by little it became an autonomous sphere in which the visible ecclesiastical structures, the functions of power and authority, and the relations between Churches, ceased to be explained in terms of the Church-Body of Christ. Loosing its ties with ecclesiology, the canonical tradition became "canon law." But in Canon Law there was no room for the notion of the Body of Christ because this notion has nothing to do with "law." The life of the Church came to be expressed in juridical terms, and the canons which originally were (and essentially still are) an ecclesiological testimony were transformed into, and used as juridical norms.12 The "mystery of the Church" was neither denied nor forgotten. It simply ceased to be understood as the only law of the whole life of the Church.13

Today, however, an ecclesiological revival is taking place. And it is moved primarily by the desire to express the Church — her life, her structures, her visible unity — in adequate theological terms, and first of all in terms of the Body of Christ. It is within this revival and in connection with this "rediscovery" of the traditional concept of the Body that new attempts are made to clarify the basic ecclesiological notions of organism and organic unity. And these, in turn, shape and condition the whole understanding of primacy.

The Church is an organism. The Church is organic unity. In a series of articles the contemporary Russian theologian and canonist Fr. N. Afanassieff shows that there existed (and still exist) two ecclesiological "elaborations" or interpretations of this organic unity: the universal and the eucharistic.14 This distinction, we shall see, is of capital importance for the understanding of the Orthodox idea of primacy.15

The universal ecclesiology finds its fullest expression in Roman Catholic theology, crowned by the Vatican dogma of 1870. Here the only adequate expression of the Church as organism is the universal structure of the Church, its universal unity. The Church is the sum of all local churches, which all together constitute the Body of Christ. The Church is thus conceived in terms of whole and parts. Each community, each local church is but a part, a member of this universal organism; and it participates in the Church only through its belonging to the "whole." In the words of one of its best exponents, Roman theology seeks a definition of the Church in which "parts would receive within the whole, conceived really as a whole, the status of genuine parts."16

We do not need to go here into all details of this ecclesiology. The important point here is for us to see that in the light of this doctrine the need for and the reality of a universal head, i. e. the Bishop of Rome, can no longer be termed an exaggeration. It becomes not only acceptable but necessary. If the Church is an universal organism, she must have at her head a universal bishop as the focus of her unity and the organ of supreme power. The idea, popular in Orthodox apologetics, that the Church can have no visible head, because Christ is her invisible head, is theological nonsense.17 If applied consistently, it should also eliminate the necessity for the visible head of each local church, i.e. the bishop. Yet it is the basic assumption of a "catholic" ecclesiology that the visible structure of the Church manifests and communicates its invisible nature. The invisible Christ is made present through and in the visible unity of the Bishop and the People: the Head and the Body.18 To oppose the visible structure to the invisible Christ leads inescapably to the Protestant divorce between a visible and human Church which is contingent, relative, and changing, and an invisible Church in heaven. We must simply admit that if the categories of organism and organic unity are to be applied primarily to the Church universal as the sum of all its component parts (i. e. local churches), then the one, supreme, and universal power as well as its bearer become a self-evident necessity because this unique visible organism must have a unique visible head. Thus the efforts of Roman Catholic theologians to justify Roman primacy not by mere historical contingencies but by divine institution appear as logical. Within universal ecclesiology primacy is of necessity power, and, by the same necessity, a Divinely instituted power; we have all this in a consistent form in the Roman Catholic doctrine of the Church.


Is this ecclesiology acceptable from the Orthodox point of view? The question may seem naive. The Orthodox Church has rejected as heretical the Roman claims and thus has implicitly condemned the ecclesiology which supports them. This answer, however, while correct in theory, is not the one which we find in facts, in the reality of life. We must remember that the rejection of Roman claims at the time of the Western Schism was due to an Orthodox "instinct" more than to a positive ecclesiological doctrine. It was helped by violent anti-Roman feelings among the Easterners, and by the whole alienation and estrangement of the West from the East. It is well known today what atmosphere of hatred, mutual suspicion, and bitterness accompanied the doctrinal controversies, adding an emotional dimension,19 to the dogmatical rupture. The rejection of Roman errors did not result in a positive elaboration of the Orthodox doctrine as was the case after the condemnation of Arianism, Nestorianism, etc. Our ecclesiology is still lacking an "oros," similar to the Nicean Creed in Triadology or the Chalcedon definition in Christology. But at the time of the Schism, the Church conscience both in the West and in the East was deeply affected by ideas alien to Orthodox ecclesiology. We shall deal with some of them later. Here we must stress that all of them were a denial de facto of the living sources of the eucharistic ecclesiology which constitutes, in our opinion the basis of the true canonical tradition. I say de facto because the Orthodox Church, different in this respect from Rome, has never transformed this denial into a doctrine, into an ecclesiological system. Various types of "canon law" have neither poisoned the prime sources of Church life, nor abolished or replaced the canonical tradition. Thus there is the possibility of a return to them.

What then, from the point of view which interests us in this essay, is the essence of this Orthodox ecclesiology? It is, above all, that it applies the categories of organism and organic unity to "the Church of God abiding…" in every place: to the local church, to the community led by a bishop and having, in communion with him, the fullness of the Church. Fr. Afanassieff terms it "eucharistic ecclesiology." And, indeed, it is rooted in the Eucharist as the Sacrament of the Church, an Act, which ever actualizes the Church as the Body of Christ.20 A similar view is expressed by Fr. George Florovsky. "The Sacraments," he writes, "constitute the Church…Only in them the Christian community transcends its human dimensions and becomes the Church."21 Through the Eucharist we have the whole Christ and not a "part" of Him; and therefore the Church which is "actualized" in the Eucharist is not a "part" or "member" of a whole, but the Church of God in her wholeness. For it is precisely the function of the Eucharist to manifest the whole Church, her "catholicity." Where there is the Eucharist, there is the Church; and conversely, only where the whole Church is, (i.e., the people of God united in the Bishop, the Head, the Shepherd), there is the Eucharist. Such is the primitive ecclesiology, expressed in the tradition of the early Church and still recognizable in our canons and in the liturgical "rubrics," which to so many seem obscure and non-essential.22 There is no room here for the categories of the "parts" and of the "whole," because it is the very essence of the sacramental-hierarchical structure that in it a "part" not only "agrees" with but is identical to the whole, reveals it adequately in itself, and in one word is the whole. The local Church as a sacramental organism, as the Gift of God in Christ, is not part or member of a wider universal organism. She is the Church. Objectively, as the Body of Christ, the Church is always identical to herself in space and time. In time, because she is always the people of God gathered to proclaim the death of the Lord and to confess His resurrection.  In space, because in each local Church the fullness of gifts is given, the whole Truth is announced, the whole Christ is present, who is "yesterday and today and forever the same." In her sacramental and hierarchical order the Church reveals and conveys to men the fullness of Christ into which they must grow (cf. Eph. 4:13).

The essential corollary of this "eucharistic" ecclesiology is that it excludes the idea of a supreme power, understood as power over the local Church and her Bishop. The ministry of power, as all ministries and charisms, has its source in and is performed within the organic unity of the Church. It is rooted in the sacraments whose aim is to fulfill the Church as the Body of Christ. This ministry of power belongs to the Bishop and there is no ministry of any higher power. A supreme power would mean power over the Church, over the Body of Christ, over Christ Himself. The Bishop is vested with power, yet the root of this power is in the Church, in the eucharistic gathering, at which he presides as Priest, Pastor and Teacher. "Power" in the Church can be defined and understood only within the indivisible unity of the Church, the Eucharist, and the Bishop. It cannot have a source different from that of the Church herself: the presence of Christ in the sacrament of the "new eon," of the life in the Spirit. And for the early Church all this was a living reality such that it would not be difficult to show that this reality shaped the foundations of the canonical tradition.23 When, for example, our present and highly "juridical" canon law affirms that all Bishops are equal in grace, does this not mean what has been affirmed above? For what is the grace of episcopate if not the "charism" of power? And since the Church knows of no other charism of power, there can exist no power higher than that of the Bishop.24


Does all this mean that Orthodox ecclesiology simply rejects the very notion of primacy? No. But it rejects the fatal error of universal ecclesiology which identifies primacy with power, transforming the latter from a ministry in the Church into power over the Church. To explain the Orthodox conception of primacy we must now consider the approach of eucharistic ecclesiology towards the Church universal. It must be stated emphatically that this type of ecclesiology does not transform the local Church into a self sufficient monad, without any "organic" link with other similar monads. There is no "Congregationalism" here.25 The organic unity of the Church universal is not less real than the organic unity of the local Church. But if universal ecclesiology interprets it in terms of "parts" and "whole," for eucharistic ecclesiology the adequate term is that of identity: "the Church of God abiding in…" The Church of God is the one and indivisible Body of Christ, wholly and indivisibly present in each Church, i. e. in the visible unity of the people of God, the Bishop and the Eucharist. And if universal unity is indeed unity of the Church and not merely unity of Churches, its essence is not that all churches together constitute one vast, unique organism, but that each Church — in the identity of order, faith and the gifts of the Holy Spirit — is the same Church, the same Body of Christ, indivisibly present wherever is the "ecclesia." It is thus the same organic unity of the church herself, the "Churches" being not complementary to each other, as parts or members, but each one and all of them together being nothing else, but the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.

It is this ontological identity of all Churches with the Church of God that establish the connecting link between Churches, making them the Church universal. For the fullness (pleroma) of each local Church not only does not contradict her need for other Churches, and, indeed, her dependence on them, but implies them as her won conditio sine qua non. On the one hand the fullness of each local Church is the same that is given to every other Church; it is a fullness possessed in common as the gift of God. And on the other hand, she has it only in agreement with all other churches, and only in as much as she does not separate herself from this agreement, does not make the one and indivisible gift her own, "private" gift…

"A new bishop shall be installed by all bishops of the province…" In this Canon 4 of the Council of Nicea (which simply sanctions an already existing practice — (cf. Hippolytus’ Apostolic Tradition) we find the first and the most comprehensive form of the inter-dependence of several churches. The local Church receives the condition and the "note" of her fullness — the episcopate — through the Bishops of other Churches. What is the meaning of this dependence? The universal — "whole-and-parts·" — ecclesiology uses this canon as its main justification and proof: the plurality of the consecrators signifies the "whole" to which the local church — the "part" — is therefore subordinated.26 Such interpretation could appear only at a time when the real link between the Bishop and his Church was forgotten and the charism of episcopacy had come to be thought of as a personal gift which any "two or three" bishops could bestow on anyone, and when "valid consecration" became the only content of the notion of apostolic succession. The meaning of this canon appears quite different if we look into the early practice of the Church as described, for example, in the "Apostolic Tradition" of Hippolytus. The consecration of a bishop is followed by the Eucharist which is offered by the newly consecrated bishop and not by any of the consecrators.27

This seemingly minor "liturgical" detail expresses in fact an important norm of the primitive ecclesiology. From the moment he is elected and consecrated, the Bishop is the president of the eucharistic assembly, i. e. the head of the Church, and his consecration finds its fulfillment when for the first time he offers to God the Eucharist of the Church. Thus the consecration of a Bishop is first of all the testimony that this man, elected by his own Church, is elected and appointed by God, and that through his election and consecration his Church is identical with the Church of God which abides in all Churches…28 It is not the transfer of a gift by those who possess it, but the manifestation of the fact that the same gift, which they have received in the Church from God, has now been given to this Bishop in this Church. Episcopate is not a "collective gift" Which any "two or three" Bishops can convey to another man, but a ministry in the Church, a gift given to the Church; therefore the "cheirotonia" of a Bishop bears testimony that the Church has received it. The unbroken Episcopal succession, which was the decisive argument in the polemics against gnosticism, was understood primarily as the succession of bishops within every Church and not in terms of "consecrators."29

Today, however, the emphasis in the doctrine of Apostolic succession has shifted to the question of consecrators. But such was not the meaning given this doctrine by St. Irenaeus;30 for in spite of the fact that no bishop could be consecrated by his predecessor in the same chair, it is precisely this succession in the chair which is all important to St, Irenaeus and is to him the proof of the "identity" of the Church in time and space with the Church of God, with the fullness of Christ’s gift — for "the Church is in the Bishop and the Bishop is in the Church." The consecration of a bishop by other bishops is thus the acknowledgment of the will of God as being fulfilled in this particular Church. This fulfillment includes, to be sure, the bestowing of the charism of the Holy Spirit upon the candidate, and from this point of view the consecrators are the ministers of the sacrament of Order. But this they are because of their function and ministry in the Church and not in virtue of a power over grace, inherent to their "rank."

Sacramental theology has dealt almost exclusively with the right of the bishops to consecrate other bishops but has badly neglected the ecclesiological content and meaning of this right, which come precisely from the bishop’s function as witness of God’s will in the Church, his "charism" being to keep the Church in the will of God and guide her towards its fulfillment. The Church whose bishop has died has also lost the power to express this testimony. The testimony, therefore, must of necessity come from other Churches and through their ministers who have the charism of proclaiming the will of God. In other terms, this aspect of testimony (the absence of which may lead eventually to an almost magical understanding of the sacrament of order) is essential to the consecration; while the gift of the Spirit comes not from the bishops, yet their presence, unity, and testimony are the signs of its having been given to this particular Church by God Himself; they are indeed the "form" of the sacrament.31

The dependence of each Church on other Churches is thus a dependence not of submission but of testimony: each Church testifying about all others and all together testifying about each that they are one in faith and life and that separately and all together they are the Church of God — the indivisible gift of the new life in Christ. Each Church has fullness in herself, acknowledged and fulfilled in the unity of the Bishop and the people; and it is the identity of this fullness with the fullness of the Church of God (and, therefore, with the "pleroma" of every other Church) that is both expressed and maintained in the consecration of a new Bishop by other Bishops. Thus the organic unity of the Church as Body of Christ does not divide her into "parts" nor make the life of any local Church "partial"; it prevents the isolation of the local Church into a self-sufficient organism with no need for other Churches. And we should add that the conscience of the universal unity of the Church, of living koinonia and mutual responsibility and the joy of belonging to the one household of God, has never been stronger than during the short triumph of precisely this type of ecclesiology.32


The sacrament of episcopal consecration reveals the first and the essential form of primacy, or rather the basis of primacy: the synod of bishops. In Orthodoxy the synod is usually given an exceptional importance. The Church is often described as the Church of the Councils and her government as "conciliary" ("sobornyi" in Russian). But very little has been done to define the nature and function of synods in theological terms. Canonically the synod is interpreted as the "supreme authority" in the Church. Such, we have seen, is the inescapable logic of canon law once it has ceased to be governed internally by the doctrine of the Church as Body of Christ. In fact, to the Roman doctrine of a personal supreme power one opposed, on the Orthodox side, the theory of a collective supreme power; and in contemporary controversies the only question debated is that of the limits of such a "college" — whether it should consist of bishops only or include "representatives" from clergy and laity. This theory acquired a new vitality after it was combined — in a rather inconsistent way — with the Slavophile teaching about the "sobornost," and this combination made it possible to accuse Roman Catholicism with a clear conscience for being over juridical in its ecclesiology.

However, the idea of Synod as "the visible supreme constitutive and governing organ of Church power"33 does not correspond either to the Slavophile doctrine of "Sobornost"34 or to the original function of the synod in the Church. The Synod is not "power" in the juridical sense of this word, for there can exist no power over the Church Body of Christ. The Synod is, rather, a witness to the identity of all Churches as the Church of God in faith, life and "agape." If in his own Church the Bishop is priest, teacher and pastor, the divinely appointed witness and keeper of the catholic faith, it is through the agreement of all Bishops, as revealed in the Synod, that all Churches both manifest and maintain the ontological unity of Tradition, "for languages differ in the world, but the force of Tradition is the same" (St. Irenaeus). The Synod of Bishops is not an organ of power over the Church, nor is it "greater" or "fuller" than the fullness of any local Church, but in and through it all Churches acknowledge and realize their ontological unity as the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.

Ecclesiologically and dogmatically the Synod is necessary for the consecration of a bishop. The sacrament of order is its ecclesiological foundation35 because, as we have seen, the synod is the essential condition of the fullness of each local Church, of her "pleroma" as Body of Christ. But it also has another equally important function. The Church which by her very nature belongs to the new eon, to the Kingdom of the age to come, yet abides in history, in time, in "this world." She is in statu patriae, but also in statu viae. She is Fullness, but she is also Mission: the Divine love, the Divine will of salvation addressed to the world. And it is by being Mission, by loving those for whom Christ died, that the Church realizes herself as the Fullness. A Church that would isolate herself from the world and live by her eschatological fullness, that would cease to "evangelize," to bear witness to Christ in the world, would simply cease to be the Church — because the fullness by which she lives is precisely the agape of God as revealed and communicated in Christ. "Mission" cannot, therefore, be a static relationship with the world. It means fight with, and for, the world; it means a constant effort to understand and to challenge, to question and to answer. And this means finally that within the Church herself there must constantly arise doubts and problems and the need for a fresh renewal of the living testimony. The "world" both outside and inside the Church, tempts and challenges her with all its powers of destruction and doubt, idolatry and sin. This challenge calls for a common effort of all churches, for a faithful and living "koinonia" and agreement. It is this mission of the Church in the world, her "working" in time and history, that give the Synod its second function: to be the common voice, the common testimony of several (or all) Churches in their ontological unity. Thus the Apostolic synod meets not as a regular and necessary "organ" of the Church, but in connection with a problem arising out of the missionary situation in the Church. There is no evidence for any synod of this type till the end of the second century when Montanism provoked a common resistance of the ecclesiastical body.36 In the third century the African synod appears as a regular institution, but again its regularity is not that of an organ of power, but that of orderly consultations on common problems. Finally the council of Nicea and all subsequent Ecumenical Councils always convened to confront a problem which was vital to all Churches and which required their common testimony. It is the truth of its decision and not any "constitutional right or guarantee" that makes it the highest authority in the Church.


It is in the Synod that primacy finds its first and most general expression. The Synod, since its basic purpose is the consecration of a bishop, is primarily a regional Synod, i. e. the council of a definite geographical area. The boundaries of such an area can be fixed in various ways: they can be geographical or coincide with a political administrative unit or be the limits of Christian expansion from an ecclesiastical center: in Church history there is ample evidence for all of these systems. But ecclesiastically the essential feature of a district is the participation of all its bishops in the consecration of a new bishop (cf. Canon 4 of Nicea). And its second constitutive element is the existence among these bishops of a clearly defined primacy of the first bishop. This primacy is defined in the famous Apostolic Canon 34: "The bishops of every nation must acknowledge him who is first among them and account him as- their head, and do nothing of consequence without his consent; …but neither let him (Who is the first) do anything without the consent of all; for so there will be unanimity…"

Here the essence of the regional primacy is stated quite clearly: it is not "power" or "jurisdiction" (for the primate can do nothing without the assent of all), but the expression of the unity and unanimity of all bishops and, consequently, of all Churches of the area.

There is no need to go into all the details of the rather complicated history of the metropolitan district in the ancient Church,37 There can be little doubt that it was the most common, the most natural and basic from of relationship between local Churches, the basic link of their unity, rooted in the sacrament of order. There can also be little doubt that for a long time the local primacy was universally understood and accepted as the basic expression of the very function of primacy. To use modern terminology each "metropolitan district" was "autocephalous" (this is confirmed by Balsamon), since the main principle of "autocephaly" is precisely the right to elect and consecrate new bishops.

But local primacy is not the only form of primacy to be found in our canonical tradition. Almost from the very beginning there existed also wider groupings of Churches with a corresponding "center of agreement" or primacy within them. One can argue which form of primacy appeared first. For, as it is well known, Christianity was settled first in the major cities of the Roman Empire and from there spread into the suburban areas. And since a metropolitan district implies the existence of a number of Churches in a given area, it is only natural to think that at first the function of primacy belonged exclusively to the Churches of the great metropolitan centers. Even after the growth in number of local churches and the consequent shaping of metropolitan districts, the original "centers" or "mother-churches" did not lose their special status, their particular primacy. One could call this later stage "second degree primacy." In the second and third centuries such was the position of Rome, Antioch, Alexandria, Lyons, Carthage etc. What then were the nature and the functions of this form of primacy? The well known canon 6 of Nicaea applies to it the term power (exousia). But Bishop N. Milash in his commentary of this canon shows quite clearly that "power" here must be understood as "priority" or "privilege."38 The canon defines the relationship between the Bishop of Alexandria and the four metropolitans of the Diocese of Egypt. In Egypt the metropolitan system appeared later than elsewhere and the Bishop of Alexandria, who was from the beginning the "head* of the whole Egyptian Church (i. e. the Primate of all bishop), had, therefore, the privilege of primacy everywhere (i. e. the right to convene the Synods for the consecration of new bishops). The Council of Nicaea, which sanctioned the metropolitan system, had to establish for Egypt a kind of synthesis between the universal norm and the local particularities. On the one hand, it emphasized that no bishop could be consecrated without the assent of the metropolitan (thereby affirming the "local primacy") but, on the other hand, it left with the Bishop of Alexandria the ultimate approval of all elections. But, as a general rule, this latter form of primacy was defined in Nicaea as priority, and history shows clearly enough the nature of that priority: one can describe it as primacy of authority. Let us stress that we have here not so much the primacy of a bishop (as in the case of the metropolitan district) but the primacy of a particular church, her special spiritual and doctrinal authority among other Churches. The great majority of local Christian communities was born from the missionary activity of some important urban Church. From the latter they received the rule of faith, the rule of prayer and the "apostolic succession." Many of these great Churches had, in addition, Apostles or their first disciples for founders. Furthermore they were usually better equipped theologically and intellectually. It is natural, then, that in difficult or controversial cases, these Churches took upon themselves the initiative of appeasement or, in other terms, of reaching and expressing the "agreement" of all churches. The local Churches looked to them for guidance and counsel and recognized in their voice a special authority. We have early examples of such authority in the activity of St. Ignatius of Antioch, St. Polycarp of Smyrna, St. Irinaeus of Lyons, and later, in the councils of Antioch and Carthage… Yet primacy of authority here cannot be defined in juridical norms, because it has nothing to do with "jus" as such; yet it was quite real in the life of the early Church and the seeds of the future patriarchates are to be found in it. Once again we must stress that its essence and purpose is not "power," but the manifestation of the existent unity of the Churches in faith and life.

Finally we come to the highest and ultimate form of primacy: the universal primacy. An age-long anti-Roman prejudice has led some Orthodox canonists simply to deny the existence of such primacy in the past or the need for it in the present. But an objective study of the canonical tradition cannot fail to establish beyond any doubt that, along with local "centers of agreement" or primacies, the Church had also known an universal primacy. The ecclesiological error of Rome lies not in the affirmation of her universal primacy. Rather, the eror lies in the identification of this primacy with "supreme power" which transforms Rome into the "principium radix et origo"39 of the unity of the Church and of the Church herself. This ecclesiological distortion, however, must not force us into a simple rejection of universal primacy. On the contrary it ought to encourage its genuinely Orthodox interpretation.

It is impossible to deny that even before the appearance of local primacies the Church from the first days of the existence possessed an ecumenical center of her unity and agreement. In the Apostolic and the Judeo-Christian period it was the Church of Jerusalem, and later the Church of Rome — "presiding in agape" according to St. Ignatius of Antioch. This formula and the definition of the universal primacy contained in it have been aptly analyzed by Fr. Afanassieff and we need not repeat here his argument.40 Neither can we quote here all the testimonies of the Fathers and Councils unanimously acknowledging Rome as the senior Church and the center of ecumenical agreement.41 It is only for the sake of biased polemics that one can ignore these testimonies, their consensus and significance. It has happened, however, that if Roman historians and theologians have always interpreted this evidence in juridical terms, thus falsifying its real meaning, their Orthodox opponents have systematically belittled the evidence itself. Orthodox theology is still awaiting a truly Orthodox evaluation of universal primacy in the first millennium of Church history — an evaluation free from polemical or apologetic exaggerations. Such study will certainly reveal that the essence and purpose of this primacy is to express and preserve the unity of the Church in faith and life; to express and preserve the unanimity of all Churches; to keep them from isolating themselves into ecclesiastical provincialism, loosing the Catholic ties, separating themselves from the unity of life. It means ultimately to assume the care, the sollicitudo42 of the Churches so that each one of them can abide in that fullness which is always the whole catholic tradition and not any "part" of it.

From this brief analysis of the concept of primacy we can draw the following general conclusion: primacy in the Church is not "supreme power," this notion being incompatible with the nature of the Church as Body of Christ. But neither is primacy a mere "chairmanship" if one understands this term in its modern, parliamentary and democratic connotations. It has its roots, as all other functions, in the Church — Body of Christ. In each Church there fully abides and is always "actualized" the Church of God; yet all together the Churches are still the same one and indivisible Church of God, the Body of Christ. The Church of God is manifested in the plurality of the Churches; but because ontologically they are the same Church, this ontological identity is expressed in a visible, living, and constantly renewed link: the unity of faith, the unity of action and mission, the common care for everything that constitutes the task of Church in "statu viae." A local Church cannot isolate herself, become a center in herself, live "by herself" and by her own local and private interests, because the fullness which constitutes her very being is precisely the fullness of the catholic faith and catholic mission, the fullness of Christ who fills all things in all. The Church cannot actualize this fullness, make it her own, and, therefore, be the Church, without ipso facto living in all and by all; and this means living in the universal conscience of the Church "scattered in the whole world and yet abiding as if it were in one home." A local Church cut from this universal "koinonia" is indeed a contradictio in adjecto, for this koinonia is the very essence of the Church. And it, has, therefore, its form and expression: primacy. Primacy is the necessary expression of the unity in faith and life of all local Churches, of their living and efficient koinonia.

Now we can return to our first definition of primacy. Primacy is power, but as power it is not different from the power of a Bishop in each church. It is not a higher power but indeed the same power only expressed, manifested, actualized by one. The primate can speak for all because the Church is one and because the power he exercises is the power of each bishop and of all bishops. And he must speak for all because this very unity and agreement require, in order to be efficient, a special organ of expression, a mouth, a voice… Primacy is thus a necessity because therein is the expression and manifestation of the unity of Churches as being the unity of the Church. And it is important to remember that the Primate, as we know him from our canonical tradition, is always the Bishop of a local Church and not a "bishop at large," and that primacy belongs to him precisely because of his status in his own Church.43 It is not a personal charism, but rather a function of the whole Church, carried and fulfilled by its Bishop. The early tradition clearly indicates the primacy of the Church of Rome, yet we know next to nothing about the first Bishops of Rome who, evidently, served as ministers of this primacy. The idea of primacy thus excludes the idea of jurisdictional power but implies that of an "order" of Churches which does not subordinate one Church to another, but which makes is possible for all Churches to live together this life of all in each and of each in all thus by fulfilling the mystery of the Body of Christ, the fullness "filling all in all."


This concept of primacy, as has been said already, is rooted in the "eucharistic ecclesiology" which we believe to be the source of Orthodox canonical and liturgical tradition. As result of its distortion or, at least, "metamorphosis" there appeared another type of ecclesiology which we have termed "universal." It leads necessarily to the understanding and practice of primacy as "supreme power" and therefore, to an universal bishop as source and foundation of jurisdiction in the whole ecclesiastical structure. The Orthodox Church has condemned this distortion in its pure and explicit Roman Catholic form. This does not mean, however, that our church life is free from its poison. The universal ecclesiology is a permanent temptation because in the last analysis it is a natural one, being the product of "naturalization" of Christianity, its adaptation to the life "after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ". Only the historical sources of this temptation in the East are different from those in the West. And inasmuch as all the controversies within Orthodoxy are obviously centered on this basic question of the nature of the Church, we must conclude this article with a short analysis of our own deficiencies.

At a relatively recent date there arose among the Orthodox the opinion that the Church is based in her life on the principle of autocephaly, the term "autocephalous" here being applied exclusively to the Eastern Patriarchates or the great national churches. According to this opinion, the principle of autocephaly is not only one of the historical "expressions" by the Church of her universal structure, but precisely the ecclesiological foundation of the Church and her life. In other words, the unique universal organism of Roman ecclesiology is opposed here to "autocephalous" organisms, each one constituted by several "dioceses" under one center or "supreme power." All these "autocephalies" are absolutely equal among themselves and this equality excludes any universal center or primacy.44

The appearance of this theory and its almost unanimous acceptance by contemporary Orthodox canonists is very significant. In the first place, the principle of autocephaly has indeed been for the last few centuries the unique principle of organization in Orthodoxy and, therefore, its "acting" canonical rule. The reason is clear: the "autocephaly" with this particular meaning is fully adequate to the specifically Eastern form of Christian "naturalization" or reduction of the Church to the "natural world." This explains in turn why of all possible forms it was precisely "autocephaly" which became for centuries the "acting canon law" in the Eastern Church and today is accepted by so many as an eternal and unchangeable principle of her canonical tradition.

All the deficiencies in the ecclesiology conscience in the East can be ascribed to two major sources: the close "identification" of the Church with the state (Byzantine "symphony" and its varieties) and religious nationalism. Both explain the unchallenged triumph of the theory of "Autocephaly."

The identification of the Church with the state (cf. the confused and often tragic history of Byzantine theocracy) deeply changed the very notion of power in the Church. It was shaped more and more after the "juridical" pattern of the State, and its understanding as a charismatic ministry within the Body of Christ was consequently weakened. More precisely there occurred a rupture between the sacramental and the jurisdictional power. A bishop, to receive hist power was, of course, still to be consecrated. Yet in fact the source of his "jurisdictional power" rested now with a "supreme power" before which he was to become "responsible." The bishop’s "report" to the Synod offers the best example of this change as it indicates first the quick transformation of the function of Synod in Byzantium, and second the equally rapid growth of a real "mystique" of the Supreme Power in the person of the Patriarch.

We know that in the early Church the synod was by its very nature a gathering of bishops (i.e. a more or less regular convention and not a permanent institution). There were regular or extraordinary synods, but in all of them the essential condition of their very "function" was the living identity of each bishop and his Church — for it was only as "head" of his Church, its "proistamenos" in the deepest sense of this word, that he took part in the synod which thus became the expression of the unity and unanimity of the Churches as the Churches of God. Beginning with the fourth century, although not everywhere at the same time, this idea of the synod was progressively replaced by another one: as the supreme and central power over the Churches. The best example here is the famous "synodos endemousa" in Constantinople which became the pattern for the future "synod." Brought into existence at first as a synod "ad hoc" — an occasional meeting of bishops who happened to be in Constantinople — this synod became little by little a permanent organ of power assisting the Patriarch45 with the result that the condition for participation in it was reversed a bishop left his church in order to become a member of this governing body. The bishops became, so to speak, "power in themselves" and their Synod became the supreme or central power. One step more, and the bishops from the jurisdictional point of view have become representatives or delegates of this high power even in their own Churches. This is, of course, only a scheme, but it would not be difficult to substantiate it with facts.46 The road from the "synodos endemousa" to the "Governing Synod" of the Russian Church is a straight one, complicated, it is true, by influences of the Western and Protestant "synodal" law. Yet the source of both is in the State, in its notion of "supreme power" as source of any "local power."

Not less characteristic is the development of what may be termed "patriarchal mystique" which finds its first expression in the development of the power of the Patriarch of Constantinople. In its essence this mystique is radically different from that of Papism. The latter has its roots in the experience of the Church as an universal organism, called to dominate the world; the former in the parallelism of the Church and Empire which required an ecclesiastical "counterpart" of the Basileus. Although one must stress again and again, that the origin of the Byzantine Patriarch’s unique power is not "lust of power" but the "Byzantine analogy" between the two supreme powers,47 yet here also it is the State and not the Church that shapes this new idea of power.

The metamorphosis of the very concept of "power," its disconnection, even if a partial one, from the ecclesiology of the Body of Christ and, as the natural result, the emergence of a "supreme power" — all this constitutes the first and yet most tragic crisis in the history of Orthodox ecclesiology. The time has come ie seems to us to admit openly that the Byzantine period of our history, which in many respects is still for us the golden age of Orthodoxy, saw, nevertheless, the beginning of an ecclesiological disease. The mystique of the "symphonia" (with its only alternative being the monastic "desert" and the individual work for "salvation") obscured the reality of the Church as People of God, as the Church of God and the Body of Christ manifested and edified in every place. It was the triumph of universal ecclesiology in the Byzantine form.

The state and its idea of power are, however, but the first of the two major causes of that disease. The second, not less important in its consequences, was the growth of religious nationalism. No one, I think, will deny that one of the fruits of Byzantine Theocracy, which for a long time obscured the life of the Orthodox East, was the growth of those religious nationalisms which little by little identified the Church, her structure, and organization with the nation, making her the religious expression of national existence. This national existence, however natural and therefore legitimate it may be, is by its very essence a "partial" existence — the existence as a "part" of humanity which though not necessarily inimical to its other "parts" is nonetheless opposed to them as "one’s own" to the "alien." The Early Church knew herself to be the tertium genus in which there is neither Greek nor Jew. This means that it proclaimed and conveyed a Life which without rejecting the "partial" and natural life could transform it into "wholeness" or catholicity. Hence it must be clear that religious nationalism is essentially a heresy about the Church, for it reduces grace and the new life to "nature" and makes the latter a formal principle of the Church’s structure. This does not mean that there can be no Christian people or a Christian vocation of a nation; it means only that a Christian nation (i.e. a nation which has acknowledged its Christian vocation) does not become the Church. Because the nature of the Church is the Body of Christ, she belongs to the Kingdom of the age to come and cannot identify herself with anything in "this world…".

Yet it is precisely this religious nationalism in combination with the new "state-like" concept of power which supplied the basis for the new theory of autocephaly and made it for centuries the "acting canon law" in the Orthodox East. Elsewhere I have tried to show the weak points in contemporary attempts to justify this theory and to erect it into an ecclesiological absolute. From the point of view which interests us here, however, the negative significance of this theory (defended, on the one hand, as a justification of the national divisions of Orthodoxy and, on the other, as sanction for the prevalent administrative centralism) introduces into the Orthodox doctrine of the Church the very elements of "universal ecclesiology" which she rejects and condemns as it is. It obscures the sacramental structure of the Church rooted in its life as Body of Christ, by a "national" structure, thus making a natural organism.

On the essential falsehood of this theory and on its fateful consequences in the life of the Church much has been written. One can affirm that the ecclesiastical consciousness has never "received" it as Tradition — as witness about the nature of the Church. Neither the doctrine of the "five senses" which was the first reaction of Byzantine canonists to Roman claims, nor the absolute "autocephalism" of national theocraties born as it was out of the fight against the theocracy of Byzantium, nor the synodal regime of the Russian Church — none of these succeeded in being accepted as an organic expression of Church consciousness or in obscuring to the end the genuine and living sources of ecclesiastical life. This source is still in the true canonical tradition and in the sacraments by which the Church lives and actualizes herself.

Is it necessary to mention all the harm done to the Church by this acting "canon law," disconnected as it is from the living sources of Orthodox ecclesiology? Such as, on the one hand, the bureaucratic spirit pervading the Church, making her the "religious department"; the absence of a living "sobornost"; the transformation of dioceses into mere administrative units living under the control of abstract "centers;" the abyss between the "power" and the body of the Church and, as the result of this, the "revolt of the masses;" the introduction into the Church of the ideas of "representation of the interests" of this or that category be it of the "lay control" or of the division between clergy and laity, etc. Or on the other hand, the deep and tragic division of Orthodoxy into national Churches each indifferent to the other, living in and by themselves, the crisis of the universal consciousness, and the weakening of the catholic links.

We must hope, however, that this crisis is not a mortal one. The strength of Christ is fulfilled in weakness and the gates of hell cannot prevail against the Church. In sufferings and sorrows there appears today a new thirst for the truth about the Church, a new interest in discovering the genuine sources of her life. The question which we raised and attempted to answer, however partially and schematically, in this article, that of "primacy," cannot be separated from a deep and consistent return to Orthodox ecclesiology.



  1. For the description and canonical analyses of various forms of primacy cf. .. Zaozersky, The Ecclesiastical Power (Sergiev Posad, 1894, in Russian) pp. 218 ff.
  2. Much pertaining material has been gathered in the Opinions of Russian bishops, presented for the Pre-Sobor Convocation of 1906-1912.
  3. cf. .. Afanassieff, "The Permanent and the Changing Elements in Ecdlesjastical Canons*," in The Living Tradition, Paris 1934, pp. 82-96 (in Russian) and also his article "The Canons and The Canonical Consciousness" in Put 1933, (in Russian).
  4. F. Zaozersky, op. cit., p. 228 ff. — P. V. Gidoulianoff, The Metropolitan in the First Three Centuries (Moscow, 1905, in Russian) — N. Milasfo, The Canons of the Orthodox Church with Commentaries (St. Petersburg, 1911, in Russian) Vol. 1, pp. 70 ff. — F. Balsamon, "Coram in Canon 2, Second Ecum. Council" in Athen. Syntagma, 2, 171 — V. Bolotov, Lectures in the History of Ancient Church (St. Petersburg, 1913, in Russian) vol. 3, p. 210 ff. — V. Myshtzin, The Organization of the Church in the First Two Centuries (St. Petersburg, 1909).
  5. Cf. for example, the controversy aroused by the Encyclical Letter of the Ecumenical Patriarch for the Sunday of Orthodoxy án 1950; details and bibliography in my article "The Ecumenical Patriarch and the Orthodox Church" in The Church Messenger of the Exarchate in W. Europe, 1951.
  6. Thus it is obvious, for example, that the fateful "jurisdictional" divisions in the Russian Church outside Russia are ultimately rooted in the question of ecclesiastical submission to the various "supreme authorities" i. e. to the problem of primacy. Cf. my essays The Church and the Ecclesiastical Structure (Paris, 1949, in Russian) — "A Controversy on the Church" in Church Messenger, 1950, 2 — "On the Neo-Papism" ibid, 1951 (all in Russian). The development of Church life in America, on the other hand, is deeply handicapped by the absence of any connections between the ten Orthodox national jurisdictions, which for the lack of a center of communion are practically isolated from each other. Here also the problem of primacy, and consequently, of an initiative of a "rapprochement" is quite central.
  7. F. Stanislas Jaki, OSB, Les tendances nouvelles de l’ecclésiologie (Rome 1957).
  8. …Afanassieff, The Lord’s Table (Paris, 1955 in Russian) — The Office of Laity in the Church — (Paris, 1955, in Russian).
  9. N. Afanassieff "The Power of Love" in Church Messenger, 1950, 1 (22) p. 4 (in Russian).
  10. cf. for example, the Statutes of the Russian Church as adopted by the Council of 1917-18 — "in the Orthodox Church of Russia the Supreme Power belongs to the Local Council…," "The Diocese is a part of the Russian Church…".
  11. Among Russian theologians F. E. Aquilonoff, The Church: The Doctrinal definitions of the Church and the Apostolic Doctrine of the Church as the Body of Christ (St. Petersburg, 1894, in Russian) — V. Troitsky, Essays in the History of the Doctrine of the Church (Sergiev Posad, 1912, in Russian) — G. Florovsky, "L’Eglise, isa nature et sa tache" in L’Eglise Universelle dans lo dessein de Dieu (Paris 1948). On the biblical and patristic ecclesiology Cf. P. Mersch, Le Corps Mystique du Christ, Etudes de Theologie Historique (2 vol. Paris 1933-36) — G. Bardy, La Theologie de l’Eglise suivant St. Paul (Pari«; 1943) — La Theologie de TEglise de St. Clement do Rome a St. Irenee flParis 1945) ·— La Theologie de l’Eglise de St. Irenee au Concile de Nicee (Paris 1947) — L. Bouyer, L’Incarnation et l’Eglise Corps du Christ dans la théologie de St. Athianase (Paris 1943) — H. du Manoir, "L’Eglise, Corps du Christ, chez Cyrille d’Alexandrie" in Dogme et Spritualite chez St. Cyrille d’A. (Paris 1944), pp. 287-366 cf. also S. Jaki, op. cit. pp. 154-203.
  12. We find in Suvorov, The Canon Law (Jaroslavl, 1889; in Russian) vol. 1. . 5, a classical expression of this juridical understanding of the Church — "The Church being a visible society cannot be outside law… As a society, it consists of several members, linked to each other by certain relations that grow out of their life in the Church, and it also has an organization with a particular sphere of activity for each organ… The regulation of relations, spheres of activities, and all the means and ways leading to the fulfillment of Church’s purpose require the order of law. And since "the means and ways’* imply practically all aspects of Church life, this means that the whole life of the Church requires the order of law. Outside this order there remains only the Church as "object of faith." (ibid p. 6).
  13. This lack of ecclesiology in theological development has been recently stressed by G. Florovsky, op. cit. and M. J. Congar in his Vraie et Fausse Re-forme dans l’Eglise.
  14. .. Afanassieff, "Two Ideas of the Church Universal" in Put. 1933, p. 16.
  15. N. Afanassieff, "The Catholic Church" in Orthodox Thought, 11.
  16. M. J. Congar, Chretiens Desunis (Partis 1937) p. 241. Cf. also my essay "Unity, Division, Reunion in the Light of Orthodox Ecclesiology" in Theology (Athens 1951).
  17. Here is an example from an article, directed against the very idea of an universal center in the Church: "Not only the Orthodox Church has never had such a center, but this idea completely destroys the mystery of Orthodox ecclesiology, where the Risen Christ, invisibly present, is the center of the Church." (E. Kovalevsky," "Ecclesiological Problem — On the articles of Fr. Sophrony and Fr. A. Schmemann," in The Church Messenger of the Moscow Exarchate in W. Europe (Paris 1950) 2-3, p. 14. This argument is far from being a new one…
  18. F. Ignatiuts of Antioch, Smyrn. 8, 2
  19. Many details in my unpublished essay The Unionistic Problem in the Byzantine Church.
  20. N. Afanassieff, "The Catholic Church" p. 21 ff.
  21. G. Florovsky, op. cit. p. 65. F. Zaozersky, op. cit. p. 21 ff.
  22. Limitations of space prevent me from dealing adequately with the connection between ecclesiology and liturgical theology. Cf. my article "Liturgical Theology: It’s Task and Method" in St. Vladimir’s Seminary Quarterly, (October 1957) pp. 16-27. There can be little doubt that all rubrics and rules concerning the unity of the eucharistic gathering (one Eucharist a day on the same altar by the same celebrant etc.) have an ecclesiological significance, i. e. preserve the meaning of Eucharist as expression of the unity and fullness of the Church. Outside this ecclesiological significance they become meaningless, and, as a matter of fact, are more and more frequently ignored or "by-passed" (second altar, "special liturgies" etc.).
  23. The basic fact for any theological interpretation of the power of the bishop (or priest) is the absolute connection between ordination and Eucharist. This connection is usually viewed as self-evident, yet it constitutes the starting point for a "theology of power" as power of grace.
  24. I cannot deal here with the difficult problem of the parish in its relation to the diocese. Evidently, the Early Church knew only the community headed by the Bishop who was the normal celebrant of the Eucharist, the teacher and the pastor of his church. The presbyters constituted his council — the presbyterium — F. J. Oolson, L’Eveque dans les communautés primitives (Paris 1951) — H. Chirat, L’Assemblee Chrétienne a Tage apostolique (Paris 1®49) and symposion Etudes sur le Sacrement de l’Ordre (Paris 1957). The division of the diocese into parishes and the corresponding transformation of the presbyter into the parish rector came later, and this change has never been seriously studied and interpreted theologically. In any case it cannot contradict the basic principles of eucharistic ecclesiology, for it would then contradict the nature of the Church.
  25. Cf. the already mentioned articles of E. Kovalevsky and also Hierom. Sophrony, "The Unity of the Church in the Image of Trinity" in The Church Mess. of Moscow Exarchate in W. Europe (Paris 1950) 2-3, pp. 8-33.
  26. N. Milash, op. cit. pp. 46-47 cf. Dom .. Botte, "Lordre d’après les prières d’ordination" in Le Sacrement de l’ordre, P. 31.
  27. Hippolytus of Rome, Apost. Tradition (éd. Sources Chrétiennes) pp. 26-33
  28. On the notion of witness in sacrements cf. N Afanassieff, "Sacramenta et Sacramentalia" in Orthodox Thought, 10.
  29. J. Meyendorff, in Maison Dieu, 26, 1954.
  30. Cf. Iren, of Lyons, Adv. Haer. IV, III, 3, and G. Bardy, La Theologie de l’Eglise de St. Clement de Borne a St. Irenee, p. 183 ff. On diadoche in Irinaeus cf. E. Caspar, Die älteste Römische Bishof liste (Berlin 1926) p. 444.
  31. For this reason both election and ordination are essential and necessary elements in the Orthodox rite of the appointment of Bishops.
  32. Iren, of Lyons, Adv. Haer — .., XXIV, 1.
  33. N. Zaozersky, op. cit. p. 223.
  34. Cf. A. Khomiakoff, "Letter to the Editor of L’Union Chrétienne" in Complete Works, 1860, t. 2, p. 30 ff.
  35. G. Florovsky, "The Sacrement of Pentecost" (A Russian View on Apostolic Succession) in The Journal of the Fellowship of St. Alban and St. Sergius, March 1934. . 23, pp. 29-34.
  36. A. Pokrovsky, The Synods of the Early Church (Sergiev Posad 1914 in Russian).
  37. Y. Bolotov, op. cit., t. 3.
  38. .. Milash, op. cit. v. I, pp. 194-204 — To E. R. Hardy this canon indicates that the Bishop of Alexandria was de facto Metropolitan of the whole Egypt eft Christian Egypt Church and People (New York, 1952) pp. S4-59.
  39. "Encyel. S. Offie. Ad Episcopos Angliae, 16 Sept. 1864" in Denzinger Banwart, ed 10, .. 16186.
  40. "The Catholic Church" in Orthodox Thought, 11.
  41. Much evidence, although analysed from a Roman Catholic point of view has been gathered by P. Batiffol, L’Eglise Naissante et le Catholicisme (Paris 1927) — La Paix Constantinienne (Paris 1929) — Le Siege Apostolique (Paris 1924) — Cathedra Petri (Paris 1938).
  42. It is noteworthy that after having analyzed all early Christian evidence on the primacy of Rome, Batiffol reaches an almost identical conclusion — "The papacy of the first centuries is the authority exercised ‘by the Church of Rome among other Churches, authority which consists in caring after their conformity with the authentic tradition of faith… and which is claimed by no other church but the Church of Rome" — Cathedra Petri, p. 28.
  43. cf. G. Florovsky, "The Sacrament of Pentecost" p. 31.
  44. The most "theological" expression of this theory is to be found in the articles, mentioned above, of the Hieromonk Sophrony and E. Kovalevsky. In a more juridical way it is defended by S. V. Troitsky; cf. J. Meyendorff, "Constantinople and Moscow" in Church Messenger, 16, pp. 5-9. Finally its justification in terms of ecclesiastical nationalism is given by M. Polsiky, The Canonical Status of the Supreme Ecclesiastical Government (Jordanville 1948) cf. my essay "The Church and Ecclesiastical Structure" (Paris 1949).
  45. M. SkaJballanovich, The Byzantine State and the Church in XI Century. Petersburg 1884 in Russian) ; E. Gerland, "Die Vorgeschichte des Patriarchats des ..G in Byz. Neues Jahrb, IX, 218.
  46. I. Sokolov, "The Election of Bishops in Byzantium" in Vizantisky Vremennik, 22, 1915-16 (in Russian).
  47. cf. my essays "The Destiny of Byzantine Theocracy" in Orthodox Thought 6, (in Russian) and "Byzantine Theocracy and the Orthodox Church" in St. Vladimir’s Seminary Quarterly, 1953.

This article article was originally published in "St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly" in 1960 and was reprinted in a collection of essays titled, "The Primacy of Peter" (The Faith Press Ltd., 1963).

E Pluribus Unum: One Church From Many?

By: George C. Michalopulos

In a recent essay1 for the American Orthodox Institute, I showed that in the Byzantine Church between the Council of Nicaea (325 AD) and the fall of Constantinople (1451 AD), the title of "metropolitan" was originally reserved for autonomous archbishops presiding over large ecclesiastical districts, especially missionary territories called eparchies. Their exercise of authority included both the administrative duties appropriate to pasturing such large regions and the Orthodox promulgation of the Good News of Jesus Christ, that crucial duty defined in the Divine Liturgy as "rightly dividing the Word of [God's] Truth." In this essay, I consider some major internal and external obstacles to American Orthodox ecclesiastical unity, reflect on how a consensus might be achieved, and offer a sketch of how an American Orthodox Church might be structured along traditional lines.

Ecclesiological Obstacles To Unity

During the post-Byzantine era, the improper use of the office of metropolitan has enabled the expansion and consolidation throughout North America of Old-World ecclesiastical authority. This has happened precisely during a time of great growth and flowering of North American Orthodox Christianity, as expressed in increasing numbers of converts across the country, the expansion of institutions such as seminaries, university graduate programs, and independent study programs, and increasing calls for unification into one self-directing North American Church.

Although an already established archdiocese existed in North America, several Old-World patriarchates took it upon themselves to set up their own eparchies, the better able to minister to their dispersed and growing flocks. Though irregular, there was some justification for this considering the upheavals that befell the Russian Orthodox Church because of the Bolshevik revolution. In addition, America was not an “Orthodox” land; there was no Orthodox imperium, but a secular republic, one that was religiously neutral. If hundreds of mainline Protestant denominations could coexist, then why couldn’t several ethnic Orthodox jurisdictions? Thus, for the first time in Orthodox Church history, the new phenomenon of ethnic –and parallel—jurisdictions arose in one land.

Those who believe in the continuing viability of American Orthodox independence find much encouragement in the recent elevation of +Jonah Paffhausen as Metropolitan of the Orthodox Church in America. Although the debilitating, scandal-plagued tenures of the previous two OCA Metropolitans had sunk the Church into bitterness and anxiety, the election of newcomer +Jonah was accomplished by an overwhelming majority of the assembled delegates, with immediate confirmation of their choice by the Holy Synod of Bishops. The dark cloud that had hung over the opening of the All-American Council was dispersed rapidly by widespread rejoicing that such a major decision could be reached peacefully and nearly unanimously. The OCA’s renewed sense of hope and purpose is heightened all the more because Metropolitan Jonah and the OCA are under no obligation to subject their vision for the future of their Church to a foreign, perhaps unsympathetic, higher church authority.

The reception by the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of fifteen American parishes that formerly belonged to the Patriarch of Jerusalem appears to mitigate the ecclesiastical chaos by reducing the number of old-world jurisdictions in America by one. But because the oldest of the parishes in question was first established during a schism within a parish of the Antiochian Archdiocese, its reception by the GOAA has been seen as a deliberate rebuff to Antioch. As well, the Church of Romania may soon unify its American parishes with those of the Romanian episcopate of the OCA into a new, "maximally autonomous" ethnic jurisdiction headed by yet another American metropolitan. Furthermore, representatives of the Ecumenical Patriarch continue to insist that any unified American Orthodox Church would have to submit to the authority of Constantinople.2

Clearly, Orthodox jurisdictional disunity on this continent is more than mere competition between differing "styles" of Orthodox life and worship. It goes beyond the problem that most Orthodox churches in this country were originally built to be not outward-looking missionary enterprises, but inward-looking preservers of cultural and linguistic identities among Orthodox immigrants and their families. It clearly involves questions of motive among the old-world Churches for refusing-even obstructing-unity or rapprochement among the American Orthodox faithful. All this flies against earlier American efforts at achieving unity, such as the establishment of SCOBA (the Standing Council of Orthodox Bishops in America) and the gathering in 1994 in Ligonier, Pennsylvania, of twenty-nine Orthodox bishops to discuss steps towards unity. It may have been in reaction to the Ligonier gathering that the impoverished Ecumenical Patriarchate moved to consolidate its control over the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese in America.

Yet a ray of hope shines through – perhaps even from within? – the midst of this disorder. The misuse of the office of metropolitan illuminates its true value all the more. The restoration and implementation of the ancient role of missionary archbishops could prove a powerful tool for bringing America to the light of Orthodoxy. American metropolitans could simultaneously advance the cause of unification under one central and native authority and confirm the united Church as a truly missionary one. As in the past, each metropolitan could preside over a missionary region, honing the message of Orthodoxy and bringing the American people to understand its timeless relevance. Such an arrangement would be sensitive to each region’s culture and needs and would honor existing Orthodox cultural legacies while maintaining a unified doctrinal vision. It would allow the faithful to move beyond current divisions and confusions into true unity of faith, worship, and witness.

The Endangered Health Of American Christianity

Orthodox Christianity is founded on the Word of God as understood and interpreted through the apostolic witness to Christ, which in turn is the basis of Holy Tradition. Every authentic Orthodox Church builds on this foundation according to the unique characteristics and needs of the culture around it. A true American Church must therefore take into consideration that the United States was established as a Christian nation on Christian principles,3 and that these principles still inform much of American culture, despite their dilution and distortion by competing philosophies such as individualism, atheism, or secular humanism, among others. Effective preaching of the Gospel engages any culture on its own terms. American Orthodox preachers and teachers must take into account the preconceived notions and previous experience with other Christian confessions of many of the people to whom they reach out.

Although American culture is leaning dangerously towards becoming a post-Christian culture, by comparison to Western Europe, America is still rightly called the most religious industrialized nation in the world. Church attendance outstrips anything found in most European countries. But America still presents special challenges to the modern missionary. American Christianity, though robust and mostly free from government intervention, bears only a modicum of resemblance to the Christian praxis of the first millennium (to say nothing of the Church of the catacombs). Liturgical worship and solemnity are mostly non-existent. The preferred worship tends to be exuberant and not demanding of interior reflection and ascesis. Perhaps most troubling of all, the moral consensus that animated Christendom through its first nineteen hundred years lies in ruins. Anarchy reigns in the moral realm. Ironically, abortion laws in the United States are far less restrictive than in most European countries. Many denominations now openly champion immorality as a fundamental Christian virtue, and others seem unable to stand up for more than vague principles of "tolerance" and "inclusiveness."

Perhaps because of this moral weakening among the mainline denominations, confessions4 with a more rigorous moral compass have seen considerable growth in North America as well as in other parts of the world. Despite recent liberalizing tendencies, the Southern Baptist Conference remains the largest Protestant denomination in the United States. The Mormon Church is probably the fastest-growing American religion in many parts of Latin America and the Third World. Pentecostal Christianity is the fastest-growing religion in sub-Saharan Africa and East Asia,5 far outstripping Islam in gaining converts. The largest Methodist and Presbyterian congregations are in South Korea; the largest Anglican provinces are in Nigeria and Kenya. All of these growing movements insist on traditional morality and rebuke their older American and European counterparts on that basis. Some, like the Anglican provinces of Africa, have even excommunicated the ultra-liberal Episcopal Church of the United States (ECUSA) and threatened schism from the Anglican Communion itself.

Other, more problematic faiths have seen explosive growth as well. The Nation of Islam has been making remarkable headway among African-Americans in the United States since the time of Malcolm X in the 1950s. The more traditional Wahhabi form of Islam is likewise making significant inroads in America as well. Interestingly, both recruit heavily among the black men who constitute about 50 percent of the prison population. Unfortunately, they are also attracting disaffected Americans of all ethnic backgrounds, sometimes turning them into jihadis.

The current religious and moral landscape in American Christianity is thus anything but serene. Traditional Christians who are concerned with modern distortions of the Gospel may see no recourse but to retreat inwardly, as the Amish and Mennonites did in centuries past. This is an understandable impulse and has a long history, as attested by the Christian monastic movement. But as viable a Christian witness as monasticism is, it cannot sustain a culture in and of itself. Unless Christian faith and practice are available and open to all who desire them, then traditional Christianity will lose contact with the modern world and slide slowly downward into moral and social irrelevance.

Orthodoxy’s Unique Promise For America

One might be tempted to laugh at the thought that contemporary American Orthodoxy-mired as it is in obscurantism, nationalism, and xenophobia-could lead the culture around it into Christian dedication and moral clarity. But Orthodoxy may yet be the best candidate among the confessions to do so. The Orthodox Church has never lost its fidelity to the Gospel or the undiluted Christian Tradition as it existed throughout history. While a telling indictment of Orthodoxy in the past five hundred years has been its loss of evangelistic fervor, this is an unfair indictment when set in historical context. It is true that those churches that fell under Ottoman rule were forbidden from evangelizing, but the same cannot be said of the Church of Russia, which undertook a massive missionary program across the vast Siberian expanse that finally alighted on Alaskan shores in 1794.

Seen from the perspective of the Orthodox Church’s long historical memory, American society and culture closely resembles the Hellenistic world in the century before Christ’s birth. Then, as now, many competing faiths flourished. Then, Christianity arose as a rejection of Judaic militarism against the Pax Romana, and as a viable-and universalist-alternative to the Temple cult in Jerusalem.6 Now, Christianity offers an equally promising and necessary alternative to the violent monotheistic religion-Islam-that is wreaking havoc throughout the world. Now, as then, the surrounding culture is mired in neo-paganism and is experiencing demographic collapse. Immorality, abortion, and euthanasia are on the ironic ascendant in the more "civilized" West.

A greater awareness of Orthodoxy seems to permeate the greater Christian atmosphere. Academic symposia involving prominent Orthodox theologians occur regularly, as do productive interfaith dialogues with more serious confessions such as the Lutherans and Catholics. Less productive efforts include continued involvement with confessions which have compromised themselves in both faith and practice, including many that belong to the National Council of Churches. Sadly, Orthodox participation in this body is used by other members to provide cover for their own theological innovations against criticism from their more conservative flocks.7 The time will come when the Orthodox Church will have to stand up for its principles in the broader ecumenical milieu. Continued ecumenical participation under current conditions only dilutes the integrity of the Gospel and darkens the light of Orthodox faith.

North America is crying out for an authentic Christian witness. As we have seen, mainline and eclectic Protestant confessions alike are irrevocably compromised, either morally, theologically, or both. Just as irrevocably, the Catholic Church, despite its roots in the Early Church and its admirable moral witness in the midst of Western decrepitude, is committed to the supreme authority of a single worldwide leader rather than a national leader. Only Orthodoxy, despite its comparatively miniscule numbers, can offer North America what even the Catholic Church cannot, an indigenous confession that is not necessarily beholden to foreign bishops.

Steps Towards Unity

Just as in the first millennium, Orthodoxy seeks to enlighten nations by baptizing their native cultures and preaching in the vernacular. And in order to make such missionary efforts permanent, it consecrates native priests as bishops and eventually makes their churches autonomous.8 How to do so in America? Before anything else, a conceptual consensus must be reached among the hierarchy, clergy, and laity. First, Orthodox Christians in America in no way form an Orthodox "diaspora." Christianity, unlike first-century Judaism, is not tied in any way to a particular land or locale, and those who use this term are theologically in error. Second, most Orthodox Christians in America are not immigrants, and that the use of parishes and jurisdictions alike solely to preserve ethnic identities has now become a hindrance to true Orthodox mission and identity in the New World. Third, American Orthodox Christians must realize that the only reliable method of church financing is the tithe. Fundraisers such as food festivals are ineffective and debilitating and send the wrong message about Orthodoxy to the American people. Fourth, tithing is difficult to accomplish in jurisdictions that are obligated financially to foreign authorities. Only when American Orthodoxy is free from the grip of overseas entanglements will tithing be able to provide funding necessary for Orthodox hospitals, universities, and other cultural and social institutions arise. Finally, only when clergy and laity alike arrive at the understanding that Orthodoxy possesses the fullness of the Christian faith can its undiluted glory shine fully across the land.

Once this consensus is reached, bishops, priests, theologians, and laymen must request an independent unity that is free of foreign constraints. This first phase of unity may proceed on several different fronts. The bishops who make up SCOBA can certainly meet more regularly and request the convocation of an all-American synod. Priests on the local level can meet with their counterparts regularly and receive from their parish councils the resources necessary to consolidate operations. Cities that have bishops can request that the resident bishop serve as the president of the local Orthodox ministerial association. Laypeople must likewise apply their talents and experience to the cause of unity. Lawyers will be needed to help draw up diocesan incorporations. Accountants and financiers will be needed to assemble strong, enduring, transparent financial structures. Medical doctors and bioethicists can be appointed as permanent advisors to and members of episcopal councils, advising bishops about the ethical implications of current and developing medical technologies. The demand must be from the "bottom up" as much as from the "top down." The universal call for unity cannot abate.

The particulars of unity would have to be worked out in anticipation of an all-American convocation on unity, which might run for several months or even years. Once the new dioceses and metropolitan districts are formed, then the existing bishops, archbishops, and metropolitans could decide among themselves who would administer each see, with final decisions open to lay review and approval. The consolidation of the new jurisdictions and the new patriarchal administration could then proceed apace.

The Structure Of Unity

We cannot forget that the canonical model for Orthodoxy is socio-cultural, not colonial. Americans must realize that Canada and Mexico must also have their native churches and their own indigenous metropolitans. In the case of Mexico, the metropolitan of that nation would have to assume responsibility for the entire Central American region and financial assistance from the United States would have to be forthcoming for the immediate future. As for South America, that continent is developed enough that its ethnic churches would have to come to the realization of unity on their own. Having said this, a successful North American experiment may serve as a model and a goad to pursuing jurisdictional unity on their own.

With that in mind, the structure of an autocephalous American church could look like this:


The Archbishop of Washington, D.C. would be the primate of the American Orthodox Church. "Archbishop of Washington" would be his primary title, although to distinguish him as the primary ecclesiarch of North America, he should be granted another title like "Patriarch of the United States and the Western Hemisphere."His diocese would include the states of Virginia, Delaware, and Maryland.

Metropolitan Archbishops

The existing metropolitans could be enthroned as archbishops of regional centers like Atlanta (Southeast), Boston (New England), Chicago (Upper Midwest), Dallas (South Central), Denver (Mountain West), Los Angeles (Pacific Coast), Seattle (Pacific Northwest), New York City (Middle Atlantic), Kansas City (Plains) and Pittsburgh (Midwest). Eventually, it might be best to create fifty metropolitan sees, one in every state capital, and comprising its own state synod. Each of these archbishops would be given metropolitan rank and their archdioceses would constitute ecclesiastical provinces or eparchies of the Orthodox Church of the United States. Upon recommendation of the bishops within his eparchy, a metropolitan could reassign, transfer, and discipline clergy. This last duty would include convening ecclesiastical courts of the first resort, or the courts that initiate disciplinary actions against clergymen and monastics (short of revocation of clerical orders and expulsion from monasteries). Extreme sanctions could only be enacted by ecclesiastical courts of the second resort, which would be convened only by the Holy Synod of Bishops.


Other major American cities, especially those with a population in excess of 250,000 people or at least five Orthodox parishes, could be given diocesan status, and their bishops granted full canonical authority. Each bishop would ordain priests within his diocese, tonsure monks and nuns, consecrate new parishes, create diocesan institutions, and convene regular episcopal councils made up of laypeople nominated by their pastors and elected by the parish as a whole9 (the episcopal council of the metropolitan eparchy would be known as its metropolitan council). Bishops would serve on the metropolitan synod with the local metropolitan as its president, in addition to serving on the Holy Synod of the United States. These bishops would be known as bishops or archbishops, but not as metropolitans.

Episcopal Elections

The bishops of the dioceses should be nominated and elected by the faithful parishioners residing therein. Metropolitans would be selected from the pool of bishops, priests, or monks residing within the metropolitan districts and subjected to a vote of the people in a special election held within the metropolitan see. No vacancies for any diocese should last for longer than forty days. Diocesan bishops may appoint exarchs and other auxiliaries, who may be bishops. Each diocese and archdiocese would have its own crest, which would include the date of its founding.


Episcopal and metropolitan councils would be held on alternating years. The Holy Synod, presided over by the Patriarch, would meet annually and would include a Lesser Synod, comprised of bishops, abbots, and abbesses from each ecclesiastical province. Every three years, the All-American Council would meet, comprising both the Holy Synod (including the entire episcopate) and the Patriarchal Council, composed of laypeople, theologians, and clergy with a lay president. The Patriarchal Synod would be responsible for setting the budget for the next triennium.

Lay Leadership

Great care would be taken to choose laymen with sufficient qualifications if they are to serve on parish, episcopal, metropolitan, or patriarchal councils. Only Orthodox Christians in good sacramental standing would be allowed to vote for bishops and metropolitans.

The undertaking I propose above would require enormous, selfless work on the part of all American Orthodox Christians. Even more necessary, however, would be fervent, continuing prayer for God’s blessing on the establishment of an American Orthodox Church; for peaceful, loving agreement with the traditional Patriarchates that such a Church is not only necessary, but potentially a tremendous boon to them; and for a successful planting of the Lord’s Vineyard in this splendid nation which has fed and nurtured Orthodox Christians and non-Orthodox alike. We must also invoke the prayers of Orthodox missionaries who suffered the yokes of martyrdom and privation, so that we may endure the suffering this great work will bring, and so that in the end, our sacrifices will bear fruit as theirs did.



  1. "The Role of Metropolitan and Its Relationship within the Episcopate: A Reappraisal." See See also Sir Stephen Runciman, The Great Church in Captivity, pp. 35-36.
  2. Mrs. Elenie Huszagh, former president of the National Council of Churches and a member of the GOAA, recently (2008) told a gathering of priests in California that unification could only come about under the authority of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. (As related to this author by several priests who were in attendance.)
  3. Though this sounds controversial in light of current and tortuous debates over the First Amendment, any sincere reading of American history from Plymouth Rock to the writings of the Founding Fathers, as well as the statutes of the various states and general piety of the American people, shows this to be true. Nowhere does the anti-religion interpretation, so favored by modern secularists, of Thomas Jefferson’s famous "wall of separation" appear in any of the foundational texts of the American republic. The First Amendment merely prohibits the federal legislature from establishing a national church.
  4. I choose to use this word rather than "denominations" since it is not the scope of this essay to comment on their fidelity to Trinitarian theology.
  5. Philip Jenkins, The Next Christendom: The Coming Global Christianity (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), pp. 15-38.
  6. Gentiles were allowed to worship in the Temple and to make offerings for sacrifice. It was the rejection of gentile sacrifices in AD 66 by the retrograde head of the Temple guard, Eleazar, which led the high priest to complain to the Roman authorities, thereby setting in motion the tragic events that followed. See Thomas F Madden, Empires of Trust: How Rome Built-and America is Building-A New World (Penguin: USA, 2008), p 272.
  7. In this essay, the words "autonomous" and "autocephalous" are interchangeable.
  8. Per canonical norms, he would have to inform the regional metropolitan of any decisions and/or disciplinary actions he has undertaken.


George Michalopulos is a layman in the Orthodox Church in America. He is married to the former Margaret Verges of Houston, Texas, and the father of two boys, Constantine and Michael. Together with Deacon Ezra Ham, he is the author of The American Orthodox Church: A History of Its Beginnings (Salisbury: Regina Orthodox Press, 2003), as well as several articles and essays published on the Orthodox Christian Laity website. He has served as parish council president of Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Tulsa, OK, and twice was a lay delegate to the Clergy-Laity Congress of 1998 and 2002. He helped found Holy Apostles Orthodox Christian Mission, a parish of the OCA in 2003 and continues to be active in pan-Orthodox events in the greater Tulsa area.