25 August 2010

Something that Makes Me Go: Hmm...

The Smalcald Articles confess that the Church cannot be better governed than if we all live under one Head, Christ, and have all the bishops equal in office - even if unequal in gifts - diligently joined in unity of doctrine, faith, sacraments, prayer, works of love and such. Lutherans, of course, by 1537 understand "bishop" to refer to the incumbent of the Office of the Holy Ministry who preaches the Gospel and presides over the Eucharist and administers the keys in a local community - the Shepherd of that place - as the very next sentence of the Smalcald Articles shows.  Read more on pastors as bishops here.

But what we Lutherans understand as applying to pastors, the Orthodox understand as applying to the men they call bishops, who are the chief shepherds not of a parish, but of a diocese. So it was with a bit of incredulity that I read this news out of Antioch.  To paraphrase Orwell, even though all bishops are equal, some bishops are apparently more equal than other bishops.  Metropolitan Philip has been confirmed in regarding *all* the bishops in his archdiocese as mere "auxiliary bishops" whom he has the authority to transfer at will.

Sounds like Rome!  I wonder if the non-Antiochian Orthodox will speak a fraternal word to their brothers regarding this decision, which seems (at least to this outside observer) to undercut the very structure of the Church in the Orthodox understanding of it as the universal communion of canonical bishops - each equal to the other - and their flocks.

The situation bears watching.


Pr Mark Henderson said...

I also read this news on a list this morning - my first thought was that is surely not "canonical" as the Orthodox understand it.

Btw, on the equality of bishops, it might interest American Lutherans to know that in the Lutheran Church of Australia all pastors, from the President down to the latest ordinand, are paid the same salary.

Chris Jones said...

The problem with this is in the very notion of an "auxiliary" bishop -- a man who is in episcopal orders but does not serve as the chief shepherd of anybody and does not exercise the office of the keys on his own, apart from the blessing of the "real" bishop. There is a term in Orthodox polity for a man who exercises sacramental and administrative functions as the delegate of a bishop: the term is "presbyter," not "bishop."

The problem, then, is not that "some bishops are more equal than others." It is that the men who bear the title "bishop" are not true bishops at all (functionally).

As a practical matter, I think that after 35 or 40 years of running the Antiochian Archdiocese all on his own, Metr Philip isn't really able to conceive of things being organized any other way. When the current diocesan structure was put in place (not that long ago), he never dreamed that the other bishops would try to act on their own authority, or that they would even want to do so. Honestly I do not think the situation can or will change as long as Metr Philip is on the scene. It is a shame, really, because Metr Philip has done a lot of good over his long tenure. His legacy is compromised now.

Chris Jones said...

I wonder, BTW, about how Lutherans handle the notion of an "auxiliary bishop." What is the status of "associate" or "assistant" pastors vis-a-vis the senior pastor in those congregations that have more than one cleric?

William Weedon said...

Pr. Henderson,

That is interesting. And I think it is downright healthy for the Church.


I agree that "auxilliary bishop" really doesn't seem to fit with what I know of the East. The West has had them, but the West doesn't conceive of the Church in the same way - given the thinking on the papacy. Doesn't this strike you as kind of "papal" in approach?

An associate or assistant pastor bears the exact same authority as the senior pastor when it comes to the exercise of the office of the ministry; they differ in how the senior pastor (administrative pastor) may delegate the various tasks, but essentially what one of them may do as a pastor, any of them may do as pastors.

Past Elder said...

If I may be permitted an uncharacteristic departure into near street language bluntness, rather than my accustomed measured academic discourse, we ought to forget about all this other pagan crap adapted from the Roman Empire and stick to our correct Lutheran understanding.

I mean really, "diocese" is a Roman secular administrative unit, named by Diocletian after himself, in his reorganisation of the fractured provinces. After his reign, and with his Christian persecutions ended, with Christianity becoming the state religion, the religious officers of the diocese became secular officers too. With the decline of political authority in the Western Empire and its eventual collapse, the bishops and their diocese were simply the survivors of the Empire, not a damn thing to do with "apostolic succession" or any other pious fiction invented to justify the political power they accrued.

Hell, why do you think they call them chancellors, chancel-ors? Why do you think they call them "metropolitans"?

This was less pronounced in the Eastern Empire and therefore in its state church because it survived the Western Empire by about 1,000 years, but it was not entirely absent either.

The diocese is nothing more than the survival of the territory and religious apparatus of the Roman civitates. While this structure was retained in the Holy Roman Empire and later emerging modern states, what a blessing that our Walther understood that the church here does not depend on a connexion to those structures, and need not imitate them either!

And we don't need any funny hats derived from their ancient secular origins either. Speaking of which, as Diocletian reorganised his empire, the Roman unit pagus, originally a rural district, became more the outlying regions not assimilated into the heart of the civitates. This gave root to two things: one, the word for "country" or "land", in for example my other language Spanish (I'm not a real German, I only play one in LCMS) pais, and two, the word "pagan" as one who stayed with the old religion rather than the new state one, Christianity, of the civitates.

The Roman church has taken all this spiritual fakery to even greater levels, with "titular" diocese and bishops, so the title can be bestowed for hierarchical reasons.

So again I say, let us forget about all this "bishop" and "diocese" horse manure, except to know it for what it is.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

this is certainly, as you say, an aberration, and a serious one. Yes, it will be corrected in due time; the Holy Spirit ever guards and keeps His Church.

But that time of correction may not be until there is a successor to Met. Philip.

This is not, by any means, the only abnormality of his ministry.

Chris Jones said...

Past Elder,

to know it for what it is

Your rather tendentious reading of history doesn't really plumb the depths of "what it is." At best it highlights some of the problematical developments in the Church's polity in some particular times and places. But the reality of the apostolic ministry is older and deeper than that. However much it may have been corrupted at times by fallen men, it was originally and still remains a gift from God for our salvation.


it will be corrected in due time

I trust that it will. But as always, "due time" for Orthodox doesn't conform to modern Americans' notion of "due time."

For those who have the fortitude to try to follow it, there is a more in-depth discussion of the canonical issues involved at the Ochlophobist's site here.

orrologion said...

Auxiliary bishops have always been seen as something akin to the chorepiskopos of the ancient church (and her canons). They, too, were beholden to the bishop of the main town, but were installed in a given see within the diocese/see of the 'real' bishop.

The move from 'parish bishop' to 'diocesan bishop' happened at an early stage across the various borders of the eastern churches, i.e., this is a common role found in the Monophysite and Nestorian churches, too, so it is part of the common tradition. The rise of the relatively modern auxiliary bishop came more from the fact that the diocese got larger and larger, which was possible with the regular use of presbyters serving in place of the bishop rather than alongside him. Obviously, a single bishop in the days before modern transportation could not travel as extensively as needed, so the canons regarding the chorepiskopos were taken up to slightly different ends (not just for an outlying 'township', but in the same secondary role to the diocesan bishop throughout the diocese.)

However, auxiliary bishops are not really the issue in this case (every local church has them, it's only the academics that really protest the 'validity' of auxiliaries). The issue here is whether it is canonical to demote an enthroned, diocesan bishop to the status of auxiliary without a trial. The result of the Synodal finding standardizes the roles of Metropolitan and bishop throughout the entire Antiochian Church worldwide. This is in line with how diocesan bishops came to be exclusively titled 'Metropolitan' in the Greek-dominated churches of the old Ottoman Empire with mere 'bishops' being understood as as auxiliaries to the diocesan hierarch (the Metropolitan). This change had to do with the Muslim, Crusader and Western conquests and the exile of senior hierarchs to the Empire - these more senior hierarchs would then be given a territory to live in and their 'seniority' naturally brought forth deference by the local bishop; this was especially true following the Turkish conquest of Constantinople when the EP himself was named the political ruler of all Orthodox Christians in the Empire, making his bishops more like Governors. In reality, it's just title inflation (diocesan bishops are now known as Metropolitans and bishops are what were previously known as auxiliary bishops or 'country bishops'), but there is a history to how it happened.

This is all complicated by the fact that Russians (and other Slavs?) retained the older understanding and titling of the episcopacy, and the Russian Church is itself larger than all the other local Churches combined. In the US, most Antiochian clergy (including priests) have also been trained at legacy Russian seminaries (St. Vladimir's in NY and St. Tikhon's in PA, both of the OCA) and the Antiochian Archdiocese itself was originally formed within the Russian Church's North American diocese (now the OCA) and was divided internally until not so long ago between the "Russian" and "Antiochian" camps.

BrotherBoris said...

Ah, the joy of politics and scandal in the Orthodox Church! All that "Byzantine intrigue."

My advice is that too much church politics will turn almost anyone into an atheist. I am aware of the politics, but I don't get heavily involved in it.

In my 15 years in the Orthodox Church, I have found that most scandals are eventually put to rest by having a few more funerals, usually of those involved in the scandals. Until then, keep a still upper lip and carry on.

William Weedon said...

Dear Brother Boris,

Too much church politics only turns to atheists those who have forgotten that the Church, including her pastors, is made up of real, honest to God sinners who live only by the gracious forgiveness of sins, and who while possessing fully the righteousness of Christ by faith continue to struggle in growing into that fullness, falling again and again. So this latest doesn't surprise me, but it does sadden me. That's this Lutheran's take.

Past Elder said...

Yeah Chris, I used to tell myself that same stuff when I had a hierarchy to defend that told me it was straight from Christ.

Ordination is a venerable rite and I have no quarrel with it, but it is no sacrament instituted by Christ but simply the way the church installs someone called to its public ministry of Word and Sacrament.

All the rest is what is left of the state religion of the Roman Empire, East and West, trying to justify its existence after the passing of the state which created it.

Not worth the bother. I imagine St Peter or one of the other Apostles, if he were to see one of these guys, East or West, in their respective silly get-ups, coming down the street he would wonder what sort of goof-ball sect this guy is from, and would be astonished to be told he is a successor to one of them!

Chris said...

This event occurs at a very strange time. Just months after the Episcopal Assembly of all Orthodox Bishops in America and Canada, the Antiochian Synod makes this declaration. Though the reduction of status of the bishops to mere auxiliaries is not canonical at all, what is more important, in my eyes, is how the document also rules that the Synod of Antioch is the final arbiter of all decisions. In essence, it revokes the "self-rule" or autonomy of the Antiochian Archdiocese in America.

That is interesting for two reasons. 1) Met. PHILIP has gone to great lengths to assure even the most convinced skeptic that self rule is maintained and kept. With self-rule, he can govern the archdiocese as he wants (and as he has wanted for many years) without any oversight. 2) This decision will really hurt any possibility of the Episcopal Assembly convening again. would the Antiochians have to have a representative from Damascus there? It would definitely impede any chance of unity.

It seems that the old world churches are trying to keep a tight lid on any possibility of anything leading to an independent Orthodox church. Why? Follow the money, unfortunately. Without the cash flow from the US, these old world churches would be unable to survive.

I'm really surprised that Met. PHILIP went along with this. No question he has wanted authority over the bishops for years (especially since he wants to remove one and put in one of his friends, who has been disgraced). As much as he wants authority, I'm surprised he would compromise on the self-rule, unless his defense of self-rule was subterfuge all along. Oh, the wonders of church politics.

Fr John W Fenton said...


An associate or assistant pastor bears the exact same authority as the senior pastor when it comes to the exercise of the office of the ministry; they differ in how the senior pastor (administrative pastor) may delegate the various tasks, but essentially what one of them may do as a pastor, any of them may do as pastors...

then you have given the definition of "auxiliary" bishop as Metropolitan Philip and the Holy Synod apparently envision it.

To put it in an analogy (albeit incomplete) that Lutherans might understand -- it appears to some that, after a mother congregation divided itself into 7 congregations, each with their sole pastor, these sole pastors have now been recombined to re-form the mother congregations, and the sole pastors have become associates or assistants.

In other words, the "auxiliary" bishops have not been stripped of their episcopal office, and so may exercise the same office as the Metropolitan when it comes to their sacramental obligations. However, as in a Lutheran congregation with more than one pastor, the Holy Synod's statement says that an "auxiliary" bishops must act in concert with the Metropolitan, who delegates various tasks.

This means, as Rdr Christopher Orr has pointed out, that the real issue is that of enthronement.

Kyrie eleison.

William Weedon said...

Implications rather huge, then, for Bishop Mark, no?

Fr John W Fenton said...

The ink is hardly dry on the Holy Synod's resolution, so to speculate on what this all means would be quite foolhardy. And like complaining, it usually does little good.

Lvka said...

To my knowledge, the decision is world-wide, and concerns the entire Antiochian Orthodox Church, not just the American Archdiocese.

The reason for the decision is simple: there are only very few Antiochian Orthodox world-wide. [I mean, Syrians are Muslims, and Orthodoxy is only a small fraction of the small Christian minority (since most Syriac Christians are Monophysite, not Orthodox)].

But, of course, -as usually-, Americans *HAD* to revolt, and make it ALL about THEM... for them, everything's a conspiracy, and everyone's a tyrant. (Sheesh!)