Episcopal Assemblies: New Wine, New Garment, New Wineskins

The Lord Jesus told this parable: “No one tears a piece from a new garment and sews it on an old garment; otherwise the new will be torn, and the piece from the new will not match the old.   And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the new wine will burst the skins and will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed.   But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins.  And no one after drinking old wine desires new wine, but says, ‘The old is good.’”   (Luke 5:36-39)

1st North American Episcopal Assembly

Recently all of the canonical Orthodox bishops of North America met in the first ever Episcopal Assembly called together by the Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew.  They established some committees and offices to carry on the work which they have begun.

Though the original meeting of the Orthodox bishops in Chambesy which established the Episcopal Assemblies said that one of the goals was to deal with the problem of the “diaspora,” the North American bishops, at least in their communiqués, were careful to avoid using “diaspora” in reference to what they are doing.

I have written elsewhere that it is time for all the bishops to recognize that we North American Orthodox are disciples not diaspora.  The Church was commissioned by Christ to go into all the world and make disciples of all nations.  Christ didn’t say that we to become diaspora in all nations.   We need to take up the Great Commission in how we see ourselves.

The purpose of my writing today is to ask the bishops who serve on the committees that will continue the work of the Episcopal Assemblies between their official meetings to keep in mind the parable of Jesus mentioned above (Luke 5:36-39, and parallel passages in Matthew 9 and Mark 2).

Attendant bearing Wineskin (Persepolis, 480BC)

We cannot deal with the canonical problems of North America by simply taking “old world” (traditional lands) ideas and sewing a piece of the new cloth of new world Orthodoxy to it.   Those holy fathers who adopted the canons and ecclesiology of our Church never envisioned a new world when they spoke.  The ecumenical notion they had is that they knew the entire world, and yet God had kept the truth about the earth hidden from their eyes.  So their ecclesial partitions proved to be inadequate for the real world.  They thought they were ecumenical and yet they did not envision the whole world  for their knowledge was limited by their time and place.

Orthodoxy in the world beyond traditional Orthodox lands, represents a new garment, new wineskins and new wine.   Christ said, no one puts new wine into old wineskins, not even Orthodox bishops should do that.   The issue that the Orthodox Church has to address is wrongly understood if it is put in terms of diaspora for that is old thinking – putting new wine into old wineskins which leads to the loss of both wineskins and wine.  When the problem is defined as a diasporal problem, the effort is made to force the new wine into the old wineskins (where the old wineskins are the partitioning of the known world based in the Patriarchical Pentarchy).    When the Orthodox who live in lands beyond the division of the old world are seen as disciples not diaspora, then we begin to deal with the new wine and the new wineskins about which Christ spoke to us.     We cannot sew new world Orthodoxy like a patch to the old garments of Orthodoxy.

Jesus concluded his words saying those who drunk the old wine will say “it is good” and have no desire for new wine.  The canonical partitioning of the old world has satisfied the thirst of the leadership of the Church living in traditional Orthodox lands.  They have no desire for new wine, and thus see no need for new wineskins.

The Episcopal Assembly however is able to look at the situation from a new point of view.  The appropriateness and implications of Christ’s parable for our situation are much more obvious when we realize we have had to drink of the new wine, and so we need new wineskins as well  (and note in the photo how large the wineskin is!). 

We who live in North America are the ones who have to reconcile our situation to the teachings of Christ in the new world.  We have to understand how the new garment, the new wine and the new wineskins parables are to guide us into maintaining our unity with each other as well as with the mother churches and with the Church’s canonical thinking throughout history.

God Questions His Creation: The Conclusion of the Flood (b)

See: The conclusion of the flood (a)

A brief final comment about the Source Theory which I utilized in my reflections:  Source theory in a very particular way reveals to us that the final editor of our Bible, himself inspired by God, recognized God’s hand in giving him more than one version of a story to include in the Scriptures.  The editor is indeed a third human hand in the writing of the Scriptures; he adds his work to that of the J-Source and the P-Source.  However, if we unwind the story into its two component parts – J and P – each strand seems to read pretty well by itself, which suggests the final editor didn’t add much material but utilized what he had.  He did rearrange a few lines, but if he added anything to what he received it is minimal. Some Source Theorists actually think the same “hand” that recorded the P-Source is the same hand that is the final editor of the text.  If that is true, what is amazing is that he kept in the final edited version (our Bible) ideas from the J-source that contradict his own thinking.  In that sense he apparently did think the J-source material was in fact inspired by God and so dared not edit it out!   Thus Source Theory actually lends credence to the notion of the divine inspiration of Scripture.   The human temptation to clean up the story and to get rid of materials contradicting his own ideas were stayed by the hand of God which was guiding what the final editor wrote.

If the story of the ark is one of salvation, what constitutes salvation for Noah?  The story certainly is about escaping death, which in the story is an “ultimate” destruction.  Though the rest of the world dies, destroyed by the flood, Noah and his family elude death – at least for the moment.   However, the story of the ark is not about getting to heaven or about eternal life.  There is no discussion in the story about life everlasting or the grandeur of heaven or about anything invisible.   The story is about this earth and life in this world, yet it sets the stage for understanding Christ and life in the world to come.     The story is very importantly a typology.   It gives us a glimpse into what salvation is, and what it means to overcome death.  But it still is all about events that happen within the confines of this fallen world.   It is only when we understand the story as a typology, do we see how it is but a sketch or model of the real salvation which will be revealed in Jesus Christ.  The Noah story is very much like the Exodus story which is also a typology.  In the Exodus story the people of God move from captivity and slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land.  At Pascha in the Orthodox Church we recognize the Passover and Exodus story as a typology of Pascha, the resurrection of Christ.   In the final and fulfilled Pascha, the people of God no longer move from Egypt to the Promised Land, but now as we sing at Pascha, we sojourn “from death to life, and from earth to heaven”, for that is where Christ our God leads us.    The Exodus Passover is a prototype of the ultimate Passover which is the event to which the original Passover points and from which it derives its meaning.  Similarly, the story of the flood is a typology which helps us understand salvation in Jesus Christ.   However, there is a great difference between the Noah story and the Christ story.  In the Noah story Noah escapes death – a first time – by being in the ark. Nevertheless,  despite being saved from a destruction which kills every other human being except Noah and his family, Noah eventually succumbs to death (Genesis 9:29).  Jesus Christ on the other hand does not escape death the first time.   He dies on the cross.  He however is raised from the dead to live eternally.   Noah escapes the death which kills all the rest of humanity, only to die later.  Christ does not escape the death which claims all of humanity, but then rises from the dead and destroys death.  In Christ we begin to see the symbolic and real importance of the Noah story.  The ark story is a type – it shows us the way in which God deals with evil, sin and death.  But God’s ultimate plan, of which the Noah story was just a preliminary sketch, is fully revealed in Jesus Christ.   It is the fulfillment of the plan which ultimately shows us what the sketch was trying to reveal.  That is how typology works.  Noah’s salvation was for the life of the world, but it was a temporary sparing of his life.   Christ’s life was not spared – also for the life of the world – but His death is an eternal destruction of death and the bestowing of life on all.

Next: God Questions His Creation:  Genesis 10:1-14 (a)