Monday, April 6. 2009
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A poignant and excellent piece until the very end, where a rhetorical question directed at the hierarchy, perhaps Metropolitan Jonah I believe, leaves us forgetting much of the content and wondering which way would be better. And then really has us rethink the way Fr. Plekon framed his 'response'.
I don't think Fr. Plekon realizes how many people still think things ought to be done for "the good of the church" and how many would agree with the latter portion of the final question. Nor how many would rather go to Liturgy and never think about the hierarchy until forced to hear them named in the Litany.
I reread that portion several times to make sure I understood it, so corretions are welcome if I'm off.
In my opinion, that issue has already been answered. Even Metropolitan Jonah clearly understands the things that happened were healthy changes. How exactly concilarity is framed, and successful inasmuch as a schauspiel is the question, which he does allude to.. If the AAC is not cost effective, nor timely, nor effective in governing, then that detail needs ironing.
The article was intended to be a response to Metropolitan Jonah's paper, but the paper is not referred back to directly. I dislike subtlety and would prefer Fr. Plekon just come out and say it. References to the Metropolitan's paper would have been good. Perhaps there is still fear?
#1 Daniel E. Fall on 2009-04-06 07:40
Thank you, Fr. Michael, for a thorough, thoughtful and illuminating reflection on the origins and significance of the conciliar model represented by the OCA statute.
It's much too easy for discussions of governance to devolve into battles for power, but both Met. Jonah's talk and your reflection come at these matters in a constructive and churchly manner. It is useful to see that we do not face a choice between right and wrong, but a real discussion and examination of valid alternatives.
I hope there will be a continued exploration of a variety of approaches and considerations.
#2 Rebecca Matovic on 2009-04-06 07:50
I can not recommend strongly enough that everyone who visits this website read Fr. Plekon's brilliant and comprehensive overview of the basis for conciliar governance in the Orthodox Church. What a tragedy that this vision has been obscured, and largely abandoned, by so much of the OCA leadership, since the death of Fr. Alexander Schmemann. With malice aforethought no less!
It further pains me that some of the Anglican converts to Orthodoxy, who have been elevated to the Episcopate or other leadership positions and should know better, have had lead roles in undermining conciliar ecclesiology. It reminds me of the divergent roles played by two leading Anglican converts to Roman Catholicism in the 19th Century. Cardinal Manning became one of the leading champions of unbridled papal authority, while Cardinal Newman, a conservative to his very core, but not a reactionary or radical proponent of authority, sought a more conciliar approach that allowed for the ongoing development of doctrine and a corresponding recognition of the continuing and active role of the Holy Spirit.
Fr. Plekon's reflection outlines the basis for the only way forward for a healthy and vibrant Orthodoxy in North America, and in the world for that matter. May God give strength and perseverance to those willing to embrace this vision!
#3 Kenneth R. Tobin on 2009-04-06 08:00
Thank you for this excellent, intelligent, and informative Reflection! There have been people posting on this site who question the need for our Church leaders to have a seminary education. The quality of your paper attests to the fruits that result when such a theological education has been achieved! It is sad that so many Church leaders who are lacking such an education hide that missing element behind blustering, intimidation, and totalitarian edicts. I, for one, am thankful that we now have a Metropolitan who has both the theological education and vision and openness to communicate with those on all levels of our Church: hierarchy, clergy, and laity. I also rejoice that many more of the membership of our laity are more educated concerning their Orthodox Faith, whether that education is on an official level at one of our seminaries, or is done personally through reading and studying of available materials. Eleven years ago, on the last Octet from St Vladimir's Seminary, I was comforted to see the lay people in parishes of all jurisdictions hungering and thirsting for the truth of the Gospel! May this continue, and may open lines of communication and conciliarity also continue to grow, so that we may witness to the Kingdom of God to those in our midst!
#4 David Barrett on 2009-04-06 09:14
I also was thrown by the ending, and anytime I hear someone speak of "women and men," I suspect the wrong spirit at work. It's Adam and then Eve, Father. Read 1 Cor. 11.
(Editor's note: Which offends you, women or men? I suggest you re-read the first creation account, in Genesis 1:1 to Genesis 2:4 again. Now, tell us what you thought of his points about conciliarity, which was the purpose of the article.)
#5 Anonymous on 2009-04-06 09:33
I think the point of the reflection is to attempt to restore a true ecclesiology, a true koinonia, recognizing that while there is hierarchy within the church there is also equality. This mystery exists in the Holy Trinity where the three persons are equal but there is a hierarchy, with the Son being begotten from the Father and the Spirit proceeds from the Father.
His Beatitude's paper discussed the conciliarity of Bishops, but not the conciliarity (unity) of the whole Church.
The Church, in Fr. Michael's assessment, is the collection of believers - not the Bishops in isolation, nor the presbyters, nor the laity, but all three sharing the bond of being part of one body in Christ, one communion in Christ. The Church is all of us.
Martin D. Watt
#6 Dn. Marty Watt on 2009-04-06 13:00
Your reference to Manning and Newman are intriguing. Manning argued for the temporal powers of the papacy as well, only later changing his tune because the pope lost the battles (literally). Newman did not disagree with ultramontanism in principle, but only argued it was not "prudent." Vatican I decided as it did, and yes, there were politics involved, and Newman accepted it. So, with Newman not actively seeking to oppose it, as Lord Acton did or even Strossmayer, the examples could be troubling if placed upon Orthodoxy: those who are for ultramontane tendencies and those who accept them. Have we any Strossmayers or Actons? I think we do.
I think we have those who would oppose ultramontane tendencies and do so without the arguments one might find in Acton or Strossmayer, for we would, as Fr. Michael did, underscore Orthodox ecclesiology. For this reason, I agree fully with your final sentiments. Fr. Michael has touched on an important perspective in an elucidating manner.
How this all plays out, I do not know, but I think the sort of Sobornost that Fr. Michael is upholding is on the right track.
The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod just called, they want their misogyny back. Feel free to go with it.
An Orthodox Christian with such phobias should not worry so much about headship as much as having a brain in that head.
Well done, Fr. Michael!
#8 O. Felix Culpa on 2009-04-06 17:24
Thank you. That needed a response, but I found myself uncharacteristically rendered speechless.
#9 Rebecca Matovic on 2009-04-06 20:00
Isn't there a difference between conciliarity and the unity of the whole Church? I often think there is a misunderstanding or misuse of terms when discussing 'conciliarity'.
Isn't conciliarity specifically related to bishops? Historically, they are the ones that meet 'in council' as the highest authority in the Church. It seems as if many in the Church see this 'episcopal conciliarity' as the real conciliarity, properly defined.
However, conciliarity is also often used as a synonym for the 'unity of the Church' meaning the working together of the bishops, the lower clergy and the laity. In more modern times the bishops, lower clergy and laity do meet 'in council', but I'm not sure how ancient this 'ecclesial conciliarity' is in the Church or how authoritative. It would be interesting to learn more. As it is, I think many people throw the term around rather loosely.
For instance, ecclesial conciliarity is not the same as a bishop taking the counsel (not 'council') of his presbyters, it is not these all listening to their flock of laity and their concerns. Ecclesial conciliarity is also different than the entire Church's responsibility to 'receive' or not the actions of her hierarchy, e.g., the non-reception of Lyons and Florence, the Synod of the Oak, etc.
The Moscow Sobor of 1917-18 is often cited as an example of ecclesial conciliarity, but it should be noted that there was a great deal of wrangling regarding what was to be reserved to the bishops alone (episcopal conciliarity) and what would be the domain of the entire assembly (ecclesial conciliarity). We see this same dilineation in the OCA where the AAC and the Metropolitan Council are canonically barred from acting in certain areas that are canonically reserved to the bishops alone. There is a difference, canonically, between the two spheres and always will be as long as we are Orthodox and not something else.
It should also be remembered that the Moscow Sobor of 1917-18 was held in extra-ordinary circumstances and never implemented. An argument can be made that this Sobor was never 'received', so it is not perhaps as solid a foundation to build off of as we would like.
Conciliarity is often forgotten to also be intra-Orthodox. This 'universal' or 'oecumenical conciliarity' means that a particular local church (or any of her dioceses, eparchies, etc.) does not set off on its own path apart from the other local churches. One local church cannot proclaim a new dogma, a new heresy, a new practice or discipline, or communion with a separated church apart from its reception by the other local churches. Or, rather, one local church can at the risk of schism and/or heresy. However, such is not 'bearing with the weaker brethren'.
Examples of the dangers inherent in not heeding 'oecumenical conciliarity' can be found in Rome's breakaway from the other apostolic churches over her doctrine of her own authority, the Old Ritualist Schism in Russia under Patriarch Nikon, and in the Calendar crisis of the 20th Century that split the Orthodox Church in many countries up to today. Such is not 'bearing with the weaker brethren', regardless of which side was 'right' or 'wrong', who 'won' or 'lost'.
As we consider questions of conciliarity, it is good for us to reflect on what sort of conciliarity we are referring to, and whether we ourselves are to be found acting 'conciliarly' in our own demands.
Not surprisingly, Mr. Orr has articulately thrown down the gauntlet on an expansive view of conciliarity--so let me pick it up.
No, unity of the Church is not a substitute for true conciliarity, which most definitely is not the exclusive prerogative of the hierarchy. In fact, true unity, is not possible without conciliarity for bishops, clergy and laity alike. My only quibble with Fr. Pleton is that he should have entitled his reflection 400 Years of Conciliarity, since the Apostolic period should be seen as a time of conciliarity, even if loosely defined, in the Church's history--at least until 325 AD. So add 300 some years to the roughly 100 years of the modern period.
I do not generally believe in making sweeping historical judgments from the perspective of the present. But we should try and learn from historical experience. And I firmly believe that with the fullness of time we can see that the Church's leadership paid a terrible price for so closely allying themselves with the Roman State in 325 AD. To model Church governance after that of the secular state was truly a deal with the devil. Perhaps understandable in the context of the times, but now a repugnant and outdated anachronism that needs to be abandoned, and seemingly had been abandoned in the OCA, until the past raised its ugly head in recent years.
The fact that much of world Orthodoxy is still mired in the past with respect to governance issues is no excuse or justification for North America not moving forward with a vision that resurrects the Apostolic past, and is self-evidently in harmony with the Gospels and the teachings and example of our Lord. As a matter of fact, I challenge the proponents of the imperial and autocratic hierarchy to distinguish this grotesque mockery of the Good Shepherd from any of the many other failed governance models of this fallen world.
The bishops, even if heirs of the Apostles, are not The Church or even primarily the Church, but rather the servants of the Bride of Christ. Any other role borders on idolatry and despotism.
#11 Kenneth R. Tobin on 2009-04-07 11:26
Just to be clear, KRT, I am not attacking an expansive view of conciliarity, just noting what seems to be the different forms of conciliarity in the ecclesiology of the Orthodox Church. I find that they are often conflated and confused with each other, even in people that are not arguing for a change in the doctrine and practice of the Church.
Arguing against the 'taint' of things Roman and Byzantine (and Russian) is a difficult thing. When we start looking for the 'pure' tradition underlying it, I have often found people find what they are looking for. That is, they have already decided themselves what they want the tradition to be and then set about to find proofs for their position. An example of this kind of approach outside of Orthodoxy can be found in the excitement over the adelphopoiia rite and how this is 'proof' of gay marriage in the Orthodox Church; similar examples are purposeful misunderstandings of the role and status of deaconesses in the Orthodox Church.
We start looking for the 'true Church' and end up creating it in our own image.
This is a real danger, one that I hope we all take care to avoid.
The problem one runs into is that it is nothing but arbitrary to identify a given period as representing the 'pure' tradition. Do we look to pre-1917 Russia, pre-Fall Constantinople, pre-1054, the Photian Council of 879/880, the Seventh Ecumenical Council, Chalcedon, Ephesus, Nicea, or a reconstruction of the ante-Nicene Church a la Protestantism in its various forms?
There is a difference between Reform and Repentance, but it is easy to confuse the one for the other as we attempt to struggle on behalf of the Church. It is difficult to discern when we cease allowing the Church to reform us and begin trying to reform the Church. I appreciate your vigor in working toward the betterment of the Church. After all, there is no standing still in the spiritual life, we are either going forward or backward; you can't tread water in a river.
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