A Call for the Unity and Dignity of the Orthodox Church
On Thomas Sunday, April 11th, many of the leading Orthodox intellectuals throughout Western Europe signed a letter decrying the recent, unfortunate trend in Orthodox ecclesiology and administration that is moving the Church away from its traditional ecclesiology into an uncritical acceptance of phyletism as the normative structure of Church order. Specifically, the letter challenges the February 11th "Appeal" of the Romanian Orthodox Church (read that earlier appeal here). Entitled "A Call for the Unity and Dignity of the Orthodox Church" the document, originally written in French, follows in a translation by Fr. Stephan Bigham (Quebec).
"We the undersigned have come from various waves of immigration during the 20th century or are of Western origin.
We have received Orthodoxy from our fathers, an Orthodoxy which is “the Church of Christ on earth,” and this reality takes precedence over any social, cultural, or national concern.
Wherever it is found, the Orthodox Church is called to become part of the local culture, for it is “the new life in Christ” and as such universal. This universality, however, is never abstract: it is always tangible in each place, in each Eucharistic community. There, all the faithful who share the same Orthodox faith, a faith received from the Apostles and passed on by the Fathers, gather together in diversified unity.
In Western Europe, for four generations now, we find ourselves among Orthodox Christians of various origins and have come to understand that we must witness to Orthodoxy together in brotherly dialog with other Christians in the world who have a hunger for God. For fifty years, the Orthodox Fraternity, among other groups, has been searching for ways to bring all Orthodox Christians together in Eucharistic unity within a canonical structure that conforms to our ecclesiology. Our doctrine of the Church is territorial in nature and is free from all forms of “nationalism” and competition between dioceses, without denying any culture, language, or nation. From this point of view, the creation of the Assembly of Orthodox Bishops in France in 1997 was a significant step forward.
In this context, we have learned with great sadness of the message from the Holy Synod of the Romanian Orthodox Church, issued on February 11, 2010, entitled “A Call to Unity and Romanian Dignity.” In this message—which makes no reference to God, Christ, or the Holy Spirit—the Holy Synod of the Romanian Church claims to be following the Russian and Serbian examples and calls all Romanian Orthodox clergy and faithful outside Romania, those who find themselves “without a blessing” in other sister Orthodox Churches, to reestablish “direct communion” with the Romanian Patriarchate.
We understand Bucharest's pastoral concern for isolated Romanian faithful in foreign lands. All the same, is it not shocking to see such concern expressed as a prerogative imposed by the Holy Synod on Romanian Christians in whatever foreign country they may be living and in opposition to Orthodox ecclesiology? On this point, the reference to the Council of Nicaea is not acceptable because the Fathers of that Council rejected the notion of dioceses defined by ethnic considerations; instead, they held, like the Apostles, only to the territorial principle.
At the present time, and in the framework of the preconciliar process, all the Orthodox Churches are reflecting together about the future of the communities in the so-called “diaspora”–a notion which is to a great extent out of date. We are therefore troubled by this call which gives the impression that every Romanian Orthodox in foreign lands must naturally prefer “direct” communion with the Romanian Orthodox Church. Now, since there is only one Church, Christ's Church, we all have direct communion with each other in His body and His blood. Some Romanian faithful in the West may find themselves attached to sister Churches of the Romanian Church, and this as a result of circumstances in their lives and the ups-and-downs of ecclesiastical relations. Do not these sister Churches share the same fullness of the Orthodox faith? Are they not the very same Church of Christ? In the name of what principle should we dismember Western Orthodox communities that are de facto multi-ethnic and send people back to their Churches of origin?
Such initiatives destabilize our communities which are trying to witness to the Resurrection of Christ in a fragmented and indifferent world. They are the source of suffering, tension, and national rivalries for the faithful. We fear that such an initiative not only undermines the dignity of the Churches who practice it but also the unity and the catholicity of the Church. Our fear is based on what the Fathers of the Council of Constantinople, 1872, had to say: “We reject, censure, and condemn ethno-phyletism as being contrary to the teaching of the Gospel and the holy canons of our Fathers, that is, distinctions made on the basis of ethnic origin. We also condemn the quarrels and divisions based on nationalism that arise within the Church of Christ.”
The Church of Christ cannot be used as an instrument for promoting the unity and dignity of a nation. The Church, as the arch of salvation, opens the Kingdom of God and does not belong to any nation. Despite our unworthiness, we are trying to witness to the reality of this salvation and call all Orthodox Christians in the West, and elsewhere, to work for the unity of the Orthodox Church and to the defend its dignity. This begins by respecting the Church's apostolic ecclesiology: ever since Pentecost, “there can be no Greek or Jew...or Scythian, for you are all one in Jesus Christ.” (Col 3: 11)
Christ is risen.
April 11, 2010, Thomas Sunday.
Signed by twenty-eight (28) members of the staff of the Orthodox Fraternity in Western Europe
Nicolas Behr, retired, Executive Committee, Orthodox Fraternity in Western Europe, Paris
Fr. Boris Bobrinskoy, Honorary Dean, St. Sergius, Paris
Fr. Hildo Bos, priest, St. Nicholas of Myra, Amsterdam
Fr. John Breck, professor St. Sergius, Paris
Denys Clement, doctor, Executive Committee, Orthodox Fraternity in Western Europe, France
Sophie Clement-Stavrou, lecturer, St. Sergius; Executive Committee, Orthodox Fraternity in Western Europe, Paris
Fr. Christophe D’Aloisio, rector, Holy Trinity and Sts. Cosmos and Damian, Brussels, president of Syndesmos
Fr. Michel Evdokimov, professor emeritus University of Poitiers; rector Sts. Peter and Paul, Châtenay-Malabry, France
Fr. Alexandre Fostiropoulos, rector Sts. Peter and Paul, Clapham, London
Fr. Jean Gueit, dean South-East France (Archdiocese of Russian Churches in Western Europe); chaplain, Orthodox Fraternity in Western Europe
Jean-Marie Gourvil, teacher, Executive Committee Orthodox Fraternity in Western Europe for Western France
Fr. Claude Hiffler, doctor; rector Sts. Cosmas and Damian, Avignon, France
Jean-Jacques Laham, co-organizer Orthodox Youth Festival, Paris
Daniel Lossky, teacher, Executive Committee, Orthodox Fraternity in Western Europe, Belgium
Fr. Nicolas Lossky, professor, St. Sergius, archpriest Our Lady Joy of the Suffering-St. Genevieve, Paris
Ana Palanciuc, teacher University of Paris VII
Fr. Ignace Peckstadt, rector St. Andrew, Ghent, Belgium
Jean-Claude Polet, professor University of New Louvain, Belgium,
Noël Ruffieux, lecturer University of Fribourg, Switzerland
Cyrille Sollogoub, teacher-researcher National Conservatory of Arts and Trades; Paris; president Russian Students Union
Matthieu Sollogoub, professor University of Paris VI; Executive Committee Orthodox Fraternity in Western Europe
Michel Stavrou, professor St. Sergius, Paris
Fr. Alexis Struve, rector Holy Trinity, Paris
Daniel Struve, lecturer University of Paris VII-Diderot
Anca Vasiliu, Research Director CNRS (Centre Léon-Robin, Paris-Sorbonne)
Fr. Dominique Verbecke, priest St. Andrew, Ghent, inspector of Orthodox education, Belgium
Bertrand Vergely, lecturer St. Sergius, Paris
Fr. Vladimir Zelinsky, rector Our Lady Joy of the Afflicted, Brescia, Italy."
As the writer's make clear, the trend they speak against is not confined to the Romanian Church, but has been used by the Greek and Serbian churches as well to justify recent actions. Just last week the Russian Patriarch, Kyrill, even while announcing joint programs with the Alexandrian Patriarchate in education and assistance, stated that Russian churches, staffed by Russians, would now begin to be built throughout Africa for "Russian speaking people." According to a posting on the Interfax-religion news agency on April 12th the Patriarch justified the erection of the new Russian parishes throughout Africa by stating:
"The Alexandrian Patriarch unites many nations and countries under his patriarchal omophorion. The Russian Church also preserves the unity in spirit of our nationals, now living in various countries, but (still) belonging to the one space of Holy Russia."