Category Archives: Ecclesiology

Episcopacy and Hierarchy Obverse and Reverse of the Same Coin

by Mark Arey

For many years now, the word “hierarch” has become a catch-all when referring to bishops with differing titles (e.g. Archbishop, Metropolitan, Auxiliary Bishop). Many of us have had that moment of discomfort when we address a “hierarch” and get their salutation or title wrong! The reactions can range from neutral indifference to a hurtful scolding. “Hierarch” has become a safe alternative, especially when in doubt. But it would be a mistake to leave “hierarch” as a mere synonym for any member of the Episcopacy.

All bishops, regardless of their titles, jurisdictions, antiquity, are hierarchs, or at least are called to function as hierarchs. As bishops, they ἐπισκοπεύειν, they “oversee” (literally) their flocks, hopefully in imitation of our Great Chief Shepherd, the Lord Jesus Christ. In all the Divine Services the bishops preside, and in the Divine Liturgy—the central and chief liturgy of the Church—they preside in the full complement of the signs of their episcopal dignity. The omophorion—the episcopal stole that represents the lost sheep carried home (Luke 15: 4-6). The crown—a late accretion but a referent of the Kingship of Christ. The sakkos—a vestment of the Byzantine Emperor shared first with the Ecumenical Patriarch and then with all bishops to honor their position. The staff—a wonderful mash-up of the Ascelpian staff and the brass snake that Moses raised in the desert (Numbers 21:9)—both symbols of healing. The dikērotríkēra—the set of candles in two (δίκηρον) and three (τρίκηρον) with which bishops bless the faithful. And there are others as well, some shared with presbyters and deacons. These vestments are not worn or used outside the celebration of the Sacred Services. Although these signs belong to the bishop, their symbolic value goes much deeper. Continue Reading…

Liberating Ecumenism Considering the Charismatic and Counter-hegemonic Contribution of Orthodox Ecclesiology

by Graham McGeoch  |  ελληνικά  |  ру́сский

Fr. Georges Florovsky (right) at a meeting of the Provisional Committee for the World Council of Churches

Conciliar Ecumenism reflects the institutional models of its formative period. Conciliar Ecumenism has been interpreted by the World Council of Churches as the coming together of Christians – locally, regionally or globally – for common prayer, counsel and decision. In addition, the search for unity is envisaged as a conciliar fellowship, with each local church possessing the fulness of catholicity and apostolicity. Like other movements, the ecumenical movement followed the patterns emerging around the Bretton Woods consensus and the UN system at the end of World War II and established its own international institutions as a contribution to conflict resolution, peace and reconciliation.

Within Conciliar Ecumenism, Protestants have read the Ecumenical Patriarch’s encyclical of January 1920, which called for a league of churches, similar to the League of Nations, as a major stimulus to Orthodox participation in ecumenical institutions. Less well known is a 1933 essay by Georges Florovsky which sets out a ‘canonical’ and ‘charismatic’ Orthodox ecclesiology. Continue Reading…

Bishops in Council: Are They Representative?

by Peter Bouteneff

It is commonly understood in the Orthodox Church that the bishop represents the Church, particularly within its conciliar life. But can he truly represent the Church, in its diversity, in every way and context?

The bishop represents the Church in at least two ways: (1) He distinguishes the local manifestation of the Universal Church from any random gathering of like-minded individuals. (Ignatius’s second-century epistles testify to this episcopal function with reference to the person of Christ.) (2) He carries the duty to maintain continuity with the apostolic faith, the traditio of right doctrine. The early church established a clear succession: Christ → Apostles → Bishops. Continue Reading…

On Ecumenoclasm: What Is Church?

by Paul Ladouceur

On April 22, 2016, the Holy Synod of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church issued a decision containing its objections to the draft document of the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church on “Relations of the Orthodox Church with the Rest of the Christian World.” The Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church of Greece took a similar decision on May 26, 2016. The brief decision of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, which contains no theological justification for its positions, rejects the use of the appellation “Church” to refer to non-Orthodox Christian denominations; it objects to the inference that Christian unity has been “lost”; and it deplores the absence of affirmation that the only way to Christian unity is the return of “heretics and schismatics” to the Orthodox Church. Neither the Bulgarian nor the Greek decision go as far as an earlier declaration of Bulgarian clergy and monastics which postulates that “heretics are outside the ship of the Church and as a consequence, beyond salvation” – but the practical conclusion is the same.    Continue Reading…