Wednesday, March 10. 2010
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Two important, pertinent texts related to Fr. Oleksa's comments regarding the 'imperial' place of the laity in the Orthodox symphonia:
...neither Patriarchs nor Councils could then have introduced novelties amongst us, because the protector of religion is the very body of the Church, even the people themselves...
This Apostolic charge and exhortation we have quoted for your sake, and address it to all the Orthodox congregation, wherever they be found settled on the earth, to the Priests and Abbots, to the Deacons and Monks, in a word, to all the Clergy and godly People, the rulers and the ruled, the rich and the poor, to parents and children, to teachers and scholars, to the educated and uneducated, to masters and servants, that we all, supporting and counseling each other, may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.
- From the 'Encyclical of the Eastern Patriarchs, A Reply to the Epistle of Pope Pius IX, "to the Easterns"' (1848)
...the Emperor played an active part in the affairs of the Church... Although Church and State formed a single organism, yet within this one organism there vvere two distinct elements, the priesthood (sacerdotium) and the imperial power (imperium); and while working in close co-opcration, each of these elements had its own proper sphere in which it was autonomous. Between the two there was a 'symphony' or 'harmony', but neither element exercised absolute control over the other.
This is the doctrine expounded in the great code of Byzantine law drawn up under Justinian (see the sixth Novel) and repeated in many of the Byzantine texts. Take for example the words of Emperor John Tzimisces: "I recognize two authorities, priesthood and empire; the Creator of the world entrusted to the first the care of souls and to the second the control of men's bodies. Let neither authority be attacked, that the world may enjoy prosperity." Thus it was the Emperor's task to summon councils and to carry their decrees into effect, but it lay beyond his powers to dictate the content of those decrees: it was for the bishops gathered in council to decide what the true faith was. Bishops were appointed by God to teach the faith, whereas the Emperor was the protector of Orthodoxy, but not its exponent. Such was the theory, and such in great part was the practice also.
- From "A History of the Orthodox Church: The Church of Imperial Byzantium" posted by Decani Monastery (Kosovo) adapted from Bishop Kallistos Ware, "The Orthodox Church", p. 12-16.
Bravo Father Oleksa!
This eloquent and reasoned argument for a modern understanding of conciliarity, and what it entails, is in my mind irrefutable. It is not a radical, but rather a conservative, approach to Christian ecclesiology, and should be embraced as such by all those who seek a Church that can witness and function in today's world.
The autocratic and imperial modes of Church governance are outdated anachronisms that now belong on the ash heap of history. As Father Oleksa rightly argues, they are even out of step with the ecclesiology of the Apostolic and post Apostolic Eras, that is prior to 325 AD.
St. Paul, and more importantly, our Lord, would not be amused by those seeking to preserve the outdated baggage of the past, not unlike the Sadducees of their time.
#2 Kenneth R. Tobin on 2010-03-10 16:13
Archpriest Michael Oleksa's reflection brings a few thoughts to mind:
(1) Protopresbyter Thomas Hopko's words have never been more burningly pertinent: "Everyone in the Church -- first of all her clergy and lay leaders -- must be convinced that everything in the Church begins and ends with Jesus. This may seem too obvious to say, but it must be emphasized since it is so easily forgotten and so often betrayed. In many Orthodox Churches and church institutions in North America today Christ and his gospel serve merely as a pretext for a variety of religious, ecclesiastical, social and political ideas and activities which have little, if anything, to do with the Lord's mission in the world." The same holds true for many Orthodox Churches and church institutions outside of North America today as well. It is quite telling, and sad, that none of the Chambesy documents make even one mention of Jesus Christ. Yet he is the only foundation on which we can build and the only measure for anything we do, if what we built and what we do is to stand.
(2) If the Orthodox Church is to "make it" in the modern world, it must remember that it is meant to be the Body of Christ and behave as such. It must remember that it has no other purpose other than embodying the saving presence of Jesus Christ, sharing his good news and grace with all who would have them, in whatever geographic, ethnic, cultural or linguistic environment in which it finds itself. This is the mission God gave it. He did not give it a mission to be the embodiment and perpetuation of "Byzantium Redux," "Holy Mother Russia," "Romania Mare," "Serbia Resurgent," etc., distractions in which its identity as the Body of Christ is so often obscured or lost, thanks to an emphasis on "culture" over "catechesis." Again, it is quite telling, and sad, that there is no mention of the Church's identity as and call to be the Body of Christ, "for the life of the world" in which it lives, in the Chambesy documents. If this was first and foremost in our mentality and motivations, our jurisdictional mess would vanish by dint of us putting Christ before all things. But without this sense of identity and mission, we will not fulfill God's purpose for us -- so how can we then expect to be blessed by him? "Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?" (Luke 14:34).
(3) Archpriest Michael Oleksa mentions "the notion that the faith, preached by the apostles and delivered to the Church, is proclaimed and preached by the ordained clergy, bishops and priests, but is defended by the whole people of God, who remain responsible for it," since "the whole body, the whole people of God, are the guardians of the faith, not just the professional theologians or the hierarchy." We need to go further and recapture the consciousness that the whole Church is a "royal priesthood" and all its members -- not just bishops and presbyters -- are "living stones, built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 2:5). Yes, within that "royal priesthood" there are different ministries, such as the ministry of presiding and parenting entrusted to bishops and presbyters, but those ministries do not exist on their own, but are rooted in the "royal priesthood" that is grounded in the whole of the Church. Nor can they function on their own, for they exist to serve the building up of the Church, "to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up" (Ephesians 4:7-16). Just as a body cannot coordinate its life and activities without a head, a head serves no functional purpose without a living, active, fit body. The laity are not mere spectators or consumers, but are "ordained" by dint of baptism, chrismation and the Eucharist to make Christ present in the world and serve as "priests, kings and prophets" with the guidance of the presiding and parenting ministries within the "royal priesthood" of all of the people of God, the Church. The baptized need to be reminded of that awesome fact and charge frequently, and the decisive difference of baptism and chrismation, sacraments so undervalued in contemporary church life in practice, needs to be taken more seriously. If anything, the future of the Church may very well be found in this mentality from the first three "pre-imperial" centuries of its history, rather than in the "Constantinian Age" that followed from the fourth century to the dawn of the 20th -- in a "return to the sources" and a return to our biblical, patristic and conciliar roots before "empire" became so enmeshed with the Church.
#3 Gregory on 2010-03-10 20:14
Fr Oleska's Reflection is sobering, intelligent, concise, and convincing. It is a document that should be printed and included in the Sunday or monthly bulletins of every parish in the OCA!
#4 David Barrett on 2010-03-10 20:25
THANK YOU, Fr. Michael! I always learn something from you. In our current circumstances, I pray your words bear fruit. Now if only some of my Antiochian brethren were listening....
#5 mickey Hodges on 2010-03-11 08:27
I, too, am most appreciative of Fr Michael's "letter." But have to agree with Gregory in pointing us back to what it means for us to be the "people of God," and members of the royal priesthood.
In speaking of the Church's benefactors, Fr. Michael says that "If in an autocracy an autocrat did, then in a democracy, the demos must." Unfortunately, the "Empires" and certain of their behaviors already reflect the demise of the New Testament reality of the Church, where the whole people of God were expected to offer their gifts and be benefactors for the whole Body of Christ (I Cor 12, Rom 12), and without any "lording over" as per Christ's instruction to his disciples. So in our present democratic state, maybe we need to recover our earliest roots, and use that as the point of reference for how all we demos serve the Church in our royal priesthood.
#6 Stefanie Yazge on 2010-03-11 09:16
THIS WEBSITE HAS DONE MORE HARM TO THE ORTHODOX CHURCH, THAT ONLY NOW DOES MARK STOKOE UNDERSTAND THE DAMAGE HE HAS DONE TO THE CHURCH! THE FACTS ARE! THE CHURCH HAS LOST ONE THIRD OF ITS MEMBERS! DUES ARE DOWN 30 TO 50 PERCENT. MANY MORE PEOPLE WILL LEAVE THE CHURCH THANKS ONLY TO THIS WEBSITE! THANKS MARK! RUMOURS AND GOSSIP HAS IT THIS IS THE MODERN CHURCH YOU AND OTHERS HAVE CREATED! BY THE WAY MARK, DO YOU AND THE OTHER BISHOP HAVE LOVE AND FORGIVENESS IN YOUR HART?
#7 Anonymous on 2010-03-11 11:03
In addition to what has already been stated, it is my hope that the OCA will use its voice to address abuses in other jurisdictions. With the emphasis on joint meetings and projects, it is incumbent upon the OCA to encourage other leaders to behave in a manner befitting of the Church.
#8 Gail Sheppard on 2010-03-11 13:27
Anonymous, no amount of misspelled and ungrammatical typing in Caps Lock mode (the Internet equivalent of shouting) can refute the fact that bishops and chancellors behaving in a dishonest, unethical and unchristian manner in financial and administrative matters is what has driven some people away from the Church and caused a drop in donations. Is Mark Stokoe perfect? No. Is this website perfect? No. But to blame him and it for the Church's woes, caused by poor or crooked leadership, is a mislaid charge that does not correspond with reality.
(Editor's note: This website is not perfect? )
#9 Gregory on 2010-03-11 19:52
Is this All Caps Guy, by any chance, a member of the Kondratick family??? Just asking!!
(Editor's note: Same crowd, different family.)
#10 David Barrett on 2010-03-11 21:03
I save my love and forgiveness for those who sincerely repent and turn away from sin. How can one forgive that which doesn't change?
#11 Gail Sheppard on 2010-03-12 03:58
Glory to Jesus Christ. The name of the game here is transparency and accountability; you cannot have transparency and accountability without dialogue and discussion; dialogue and discussion should always cause people to evaluate and reevaluate what they think and believe; when people evaluate what they believe they may choose to leave or withhold, or become more committed to what the Church is supposed to be about. Our Lord was not about numbers or money, but about accountability and transparency. When people met Jesus, they were often time amazed because they couldn't believe they had met some one so transparent, so authentic; that authenticity moved some to repentance and some to want to kill Him. When our Lord held the feet of the religious leaders to the fire of what they were supposed to be about, some believed in him, and the others conspired against Him, to kill Him, to silence Him. I consider this "audacity" to hold religious, political leaders accountability as a uniquely American gift to the Orthodox Church worldwide. As Chambessy moves forward, this gift is so unbelievably necessary; how many back room deals will be made to insure the "right" ethnos has leadership of the Church in America? These will need to be sniffed out and revealed. Even before this, we need to know if we are all truly sitting at the table as brethren, believing the same Apostolic Tradition. Can religious leaders complicit in the immoral positions of many politicians and government leaders be qualified to lead us as a unified Church in America. Before Met. Jonah and the Holy Synod sign on to anything reference administrative unity, there needs to be an agreement on what constitutes this Faith of the Apostles and how it is expressed in the world, particularly the whole sale condemnation of abortion. We hang and shake our heads at such atrocities as the holocaust and holodomor, but we allow the extermination of 1.3 million children each year for reasons other than the health of the mother, rape and incest. We (i.e., Americans) don't even flinch anymore when we reflect on this evil in our midst and there are some hierarchs within the Church who would rather cozy up to the very politicians who perpetuate this evil rather than stand for Truth and fulfill their God given responsibility to call evil, evil. Where are the blessed fools for Christ who would have the courage to hand President Obama a bowl full of raw meat as did Basil to Ivan Grosny and call him out on his duplicity. O, we must have the respect and ear of those in political office or we won't be taken seriously; I'm tired of this already. When will our hierarchs collectively speak with the clear voice of those entrusted with the proclamation of the Gospel - repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand; rather than just one or two lone voices? People of God, please, I'm beggin' ya do not be duped by all the talk of unity without the substance of obedience to all which our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ entrusted to His Church; Jesus couldn't have cared less about the political engine of His day, Rome, because He came to seek and to save that which was lost.
#12 Fr. Peter Dubinin on 2010-03-12 05:17
BALONEY! Mark and this web site have done incredibly GOOD things for the Orthodox in North America. Mark hasn't made things up, but has posted pertinent information for all Orthodox to know. "Light is the best cleanser!" Without this site, RSK would still be at Syosset stealing millions more, etc. So, Mr. #6, you're wrong! Maybe Mark's reporting isn't 100% accurate all the time, but that's why people can respond to correct the 2% inaccuracies.
(Editor's note: 2% inaccuracies? And I was going for 99.9% pure....)
Keep up the great work, Mark. The majority of Orthodox in N. Am. thank you!
#13 Anonymous on 2010-03-12 06:26
The comments you and Gregory have made with reference to the 'royal priesthood' (of all believers) are very well taken. I would only add that it is not always necessary to condemn a past practice that now in the fullness of time seems wrong or outdated, just as we should not fear to return to something of value that was seemingly lost or abandoned.
The marriage of Church and State in the aftermath of 325 AD has had profound consequences of the life of the Church over the course of time. As I have previously observed, it brings to mind Satan's temptation of our Lord in the desert. At the very least, this 'marriage' should be seen as an experiment gone wrong This is not to say that their must be a radical divide between Christianity and our political institutions, something, by the way, never contemplated by our Founding Fathers. But it does mean not corrupting either with a relationship based on power and position.
Christians, of all stripes, have made huge mistakes and committed grave sins both individually and corporately (yes, institutionally) since the time of our Lord. As with any fall from grace, we must pick ourselves up, acknowledge our mistakes, make amends and move on. It is long past time to move on from delusions of imperil grandeur.
#14 Kenneth R. Tobin on 2010-03-12 06:45
The sins, corruption, un-Christ like behavior, immorality and evil within the Church, have driven people away from the Church. Not Mark Stokoe or this website. That's like the pathetic and somewhat twisted argument used in some circles that it would have been better to continue to sweep priest abuse scandals under the rug, because then at least people were still going to Church and "comfortable" in their delusion. For a Christian Truth should be most important, most of all the Truth of the state of Christ's Church. If the Church lost people due to it's corruption, then maybe it should not have been corrupt in the first place. But since it was it's better to bring this darkness into the light, not continue to be content in the darkness of ignorance.
#15 Chuck Shingledecker on 2010-03-12 08:05
I happen to know that mark has a good hart. He even studied the Prayer of The Hart at seminery.
#16 Ba'ab on 2010-03-12 14:32
By always remaining open to the possibility of repentance, always being on the lookout for the "return" like the father of the prodigal son.
#17 Fr. Dennis Buck on 2010-03-15 06:38
Dear Gail, PLease, Please, Please do not save your forgivness for just those who repent. ( according to what ever your status demands/. How much larger you are if you can offer your prayer and love for all. Repentence is only Gods to give not yours.
Our sense of rightousness, is yet again another trick of the dark side. Toleration is a man-made sence of our own supirority. Don't save. Offer your love to all. This idea that you can judge the status of someons soul is a water-slide down the wrong path.
#18 Emily Newbury on 2010-03-15 21:01
Just remember stokoe i can show up at any time!
#19 Anonymous on 2010-03-16 10:31
and we know this how???????? empirical data, please. Yet another example of Orthodox exaggeration to make a point. keep it real, man.
#20 Anonymous on 2010-03-20 19:35
If Mark Stokoe has such power, I think I'd like to hire him as a consultant on a few "projects."
Mark Stokoe does not have the power to make some bishops sex addicts, or some priests greedy, or some deacons utterly stupid and easily seduced.
Have you forgotten that the Lord is the Head of the Church, and that He has sent "another Comforter, even the Spirit of Truth", and that He would be with us always, to the end of the age?
And you make Mark Stokoe a scapegoat for problems that only bishops could create?
By the way, the economy is a mess, and many have lost their jobs and savings. That is probably more the reason why tithing is down.
While you, ALL CAPS ANONYMOUS, might be the type to give money only those who suit you, you have no way of knowing why others do or do not give financially to the church.
Mark Stokoe did not invent the evil deeds done by people in the church.
Would it be better to leave these unexposed so that they evildoers have no hope of repenting this side of eternity?
Please. Mark Stokoe and brave others are doing this pathetic men a favor.
#21 Anonymous on 2010-03-20 19:43
Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!
#22 Rebecca Matovic on 2010-03-21 05:43
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