Saturday, September 9, 2023

Orthodox History asks, "How Did Orthodoxy Get Into This Mess?"

Matthew Namee is doing work no one else is doing. It's important work and brave. Who else would go to a conference at Holy Cross and tell all in attendance that Constantinople's claim to diasporal territory is a convenient fiction? Who else would do a deep dive into the US government's meddling in Orthodox administration? If you have some names, happy to add them to my reading list.

(Orthodox History) - It almost goes without saying that the Orthodox world is a mess right now. The situation in Ukraine alone is a disaster: a Russian invasion of the country backed by Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, persecution of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) by the state, and a recognized-by-only-some Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) that was created by the Ecumenical Patriarchate by joining together and legitimizing two schismatic church bodies. Moscow has broken communion with Constantinople and the other churches that have recognized the OCU: Alexandria, Cyprus, and Greece. In Africa, Moscow has established dioceses on the territory of the Patriarchate of Alexandria. Antioch has been out of communion with Jerusalem for close to a decade due to Jerusalem’s claim of jurisdiction in Qatar. Far from being a unifying event, it seems that the long-hoped-for Holy and Great Council of 2016 was, at best, a mixed bag, and after it, everything went downhill.

How did we get into this mess? In a word: geopolitics. This is nothing new; it’s a pattern we’ve seen play out since the Old Testament. But in our modern age of rapid travel and communications, geopolitical change occurs more quickly, and is communicated more widely, than ever before. And so the changes wrought upon the Orthodox Church by the powers of this world toss us to and fro, fast enough to give an observer whiplash. We witness more history over a given time interval now than humans did at any other point in the past. Sometimes, the Orthodox Church responds effectively to that change; more often, we’re caught on our heels and are carried along by the waves.

In this article, I will try, as briefly as I can, to give some small beginning of an explanation of what led us to this dark place. Understanding the origins of our troubles is important if we’re ever going to find our way out – although the only true way out of our crisis is undoubtedly repentance.

I should say, this is not at all meant to be some kind of definitive history of world Orthodoxy in the past 100 years. I’m trying to show how we got into our current mess, not tell the entire story of the Church. So I’ll be ignoring all kinds of important and interesting and edifying stories (and even saints), because my aim here is simply to give some small insight into our current, and very difficult, state of affairs...

Complete article here.


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  2. Wonderful detail, a hearty thanks to our host for posting this. I maintain that without an Empire and an Emperor, Orthodoxy just does not have a theological and thus ecclesiastical schema to work out how to be "One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church..." within the vagaries of history.

    Heck, it took the western RC Church from about Charlemagne to Vatican I to work out its theory of Unam Sanctam, and if we were to judge them now we would have to admit it does not appear to be successful by any measurement we would want to use.

    The author (and many other Orthodox) appears to believe that the status quo before the last 100 years (i.e. when Orthodoxy was rather static under the Russian, Ottoman, and Hapsburg empires), was something of a 'place of light' vs. the current dark times. Perhaps so in some sense, but that in no way means that Orthodoxy had a workable and innate Unam Sanctam, only that historic circumstances allowed us to largely ignore it...

  3. I'm the author of this article. I can assure you t hat I do not "believe t hat t he status quo before the last 100 years ... was something of a 'place of light' vs. the current dark times." I have written extensively, for years now, about the very bad situation of Orthodoxy in the Ottoman Empire during the 19th century. Likewise, I've written an article called "The Unholy Side of Holy Russia," showing that 19th century Russian Orthodoxy was not just a golden age as some portray it. There is no golden age. Our mess is its own phenomenon, a challenge facing the Church in our age. The previous mess was not less of a mess, but it was different.

    1. Thanks Matthew for your article thoroughly enjoyed it and I learned some things!

    2. Of course Matthew, I stand corrected! I very much appreciate your work on the EP's situation in 19th century Ottoman Empire.

  4. Generally speaking, my observation is the Orthodox Church has historically seen itself as a servant of the state, as much as is possible. So in regards to the current Russian Orthodox Church, I'm not really critical of Patriarch Kirill's support of the war in Ukraine. Likewise, I don't see anything particularly problematic with Fr. Alexander Karloutsos' close association with Washington D.C. either. This all seems normal to me in the context of relations between church and state in Orthodoxy.

    Where I do criticize the Russian Orthodox Church is in their breaking of communion with the Ecumenical Patriarchate over the jurisdiction of Ukraine. Perhaps this break is even understandable given the context of church-state relations in the Russian Federation, but it is like shooting Orthodox Christianity in the foot. It is going too far. The only solution is for the Russian Orthodox Church to lose jurisdictional rights over any part of Ukraine that is not actually part of the Russian Federation.

    One of main paradigm differences between the Orthodox Churches and the Roman Catholics is the existence and ecclesial function of autocephalous churches. The Roman Catholics only have one autocephaly. The Orthodox have many. Yet the Russian Orthodox Church's list of recognized autocephalous churches is shrinking (minus Constantinople, Alexandria, Cyprus, Greece), thus becoming more like the Roman Catholics. The Russian Orthodox Church, with its global presence and shrinking dyptychs, is becoming more papal.

    The purpose of autocephaly is really to negate the outside influence and interference of geopolitics. For example, the OCA's autocephaly has negated the interference of Cold War politics with Russia. Autocephaly allows and liberates the church to be a servant of the state when there might otherwise be suspected conflicts. It is also a function within Orthodoxy that keeps other autocephalous churches from overextending their influence and jurisdiction beyond their borders.