Considering Chambesy: The Chairmanship of the Ecumenical Patriarch

In this series of blogs I will be commenting on issues dealt with and created by the Fourth Pre-Conciliar Pan-Orthodox Conference in Chambesy (June 6-13, 2009).  The first blog was Considering Chambesy: The Mother Churches, then Considering Chambesy: The Diaspora, third Considering Chambesy: The Issues, 4th Considering Chambesy: The Decisions, and then Considering Chambesy: The Articles Governing the Assemblies.   All of the ideas expressed and questions raised are my own, as one Orthodox Christian living in the USA,  and do not reflect the opinion of any other person or organization.   I am commenting here on the Chambesy document   RULES OF OPERATION  OF EPISCOPAL ASSEMBLIES IN THE ORTHODOX DIASPORA. 

 Article 4.    The Chairman is ex officio the first among the Bishops of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and, in the absence thereof, in the order of Diptychs. The Chairman of the Episcopal Assembly convenes the meetings thereof, directs its work and presides over its colleagues.

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew

The bishops at Chambesy re-affirmed the basic canonical order of the Orthodox Church in placing the chairmanship of the Episcopal Assemblies in the hands of the bishops of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.  In as much as granting of autocephaly by the Moscow Patriarchate and the creation of the OCA had not brought about the unity of the Orthodox jurisdictions in America (neither had the formation of SCOBA for that matter), what Chambesy proposed for all situations in the world like what exists in North America is a new, even if temporary, organization to attempt to deal with the anomalies which exist in the Orthodox Churches which exist beyond the ancient borders of the Byzantine and Russian Empires.  It remains to be seen whether this newly created temporary, and “extra-canonical” organization will succeed where other efforts have not.   Additionally in America the OCA at this point still has its autocephaly and thus the relationship of the OCA bishops to the other jurisdictions will still have to be worked out by the proposed Great Council of the Orthodox Bishops of the world which promises to take up the issue of who can grant autocephaly.

The chairmanship of the Episcopal Assemblies is key because it is the chairman who basically set the agenda for the work of the Assemblies.  In other words the Ecumenical Patriarchate will be deciding what can and cannot be discussed and what direction discussions may take.

The bishops of Chambesy while allowing the bishops in a region to discuss Orthodox unity, are not leaving it solely to the discretion of the local bishops how to inact or implement that unity.   Here the Ecumenical Patriarch has reserved the right of final say for himself and apparently he will have veto power over the decisions of the Episcopal Assemblies.

Article 5.   1. The competencies of the Episcopal Assembly are:

a.     to safeguard and contribute to the unity of the Orthodox Church of the Region in its theological, ecclesiological, canonical, spiritual, philanthropic, educational and missionary obligations.

Safeguarding and contributing to the unity of the Orthodox is the stated goal of the Episcopal Assemblies and it is a noble one.  I assume that the unity includes administrative unity, though that is not specifically mentioned unless it comes under the ecclesiological and canonical topics.   The document speaks specifically about obligations of the regional Church:  “theological, ecclesiological, canonical, spiritual, philanthropic, educational and missionary.”   I much appreciate the word obligation because to me it implies the church cannot treat these topics as ideals or good ideas but rather as the mandated work of the Orthodox Church.  It implies the Regional Church does not exist merely to take care of the mother church’s “Diasporal” interests; rather the Church in any region is obliged to undertake outreach and missionary work to native and regional populations who are not Diaspora.  Orthodoxy does not belong to any one people or ethnicity including a Hellenic one.  The Gospel is apostolic, evangelical and catholic, like the Church is supposed to be according to the Creed we profess.

5.1.c.  Relations with other Christian Churches and other religions.

5.1.d. Anything that entails obligations of the Orthodox Church in Her relations with society and government.

The relationship of the Orthodox Church to other Christian Churches is a key issue for those of us Orthodox living in “the West.”   We live as tiny minorities not only in the countries of which we are citizens but even among the Christian populations in our home countries.   Intermarriage between Orthodox and non-Orthodox not only happens but must be considered normative for us.  Our voice is one of a tiny minority in a sea of other Christians – Protestant and Catholic.  The Orthodox leadership have behaved in ways which are contrary to a “one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church” understanding, instead behaving like sectarians and even that of (nationalistic) ethnic minorities.   To encourage all of our bishops and parishes to behave as Orthodox in relationship to church and state would be a good thing.

U.S. Bill of Rights
U.S. Bill of Rights

Additionally, Orthodoxy has not officially worked out its relationship to the modern Western world in which there exists a separation of church and state.  Most Western nations consider themselves officially “secular” even if they have strong Christian roots.  No Western nation embraces the ancient Byzantine imperial idea of a symphony between church and state.  It is the Orthodox leaders who now have to understand what their relationship to nations and governments really is.  For example in Orthodoxy there still exists strong assumptions that the church and state will co-operate, that the Church has the authority to influence the state and that the state will legally support the interests of the church.  Orthodox bishops wear the garb of imperial Byzantium obvious in the miter they wear.  Yet in America bishops do not represent the interest of the state, the state is forbidden from influencing the election of bishops or the policies of a religion.   Orthodox bishops however have often acted like national ambassadors to the American government, and seem to love having photo opportunities with American presidents as if they as bishops were in fact government representatives rather than Christian bishops.  

Orthodoxy must embrace a totally new attitude toward the new world.  Of course one would think at this point in its own history the Ecumenical Patriarch might be willing to consider giving up any imperial pretentions as well as imperial dress and insignias considering their own existence in an officially secular, but de facto Muslim state, in favor of other dress that might be more appropriate to our being disciples of Christ in the non-Byzantine world.  Perhaps the Turkish state would not allow such a change in the Orthodox leadership in Turkey and prefers to remind the Orthodox bishops through their dress that they in fact are the last representatives of a defeated empire.

The real question for all Orthodox is whether we will work through the Episcopal Assemblies to assure that Christ is the head of our Church and not just limit headship to men even if canonically correct. 

Next:  Chambesy:  The Beginning of the End or the End of the Beginning?