Speaking about human rights in Orthodoxy, we must clearly understand why we need this discourse and how it will influence theology and religious consciousness. In my opinion, it has two primary purposes: protection of the weak and inclusion. Today, the debate about human rights increasingly affects Orthodox political theology and anthropology but does not affect ecclesiology. Clerical power structures colonized the Orthodox ecclesiological consciousness and control the vision of the church norm, church structure, and the church’s boundaries. Incorporation into the church rests in the hands of a privileged group and depends on that group’s arbitrary power, which impedes the development of inclusion.
Clericocentricity is a distinctive feature of most ecclesiologies. Through them, the rest of the church views clerics as a chosen part of the church people, whose priesthood gives them advantages not only of a practical nature but also, in some interpretations, of an ontological nature (ordination changes the nature of a person). Ecclesiologies describe the church so that clerical structures inevitably become their focal points and replace the church’s image. When we talk about the church in everyday life, we immediately imagine a clergyman, worship, or church building. These ecclesiologies contain the message that if a person belongs to the right jurisdiction, participates rightly in the right style of worship and sacraments, follows the right practices, and correlates his faith with Orthodoxy—the content of which is also controlled by the clerics—then he will be saved. Such ecclesiological concepts as schism, heresy, Eucharistic communion, etc., become instruments of power control. Even the place of women in the church is discussed mainly in a clerical manner as the topic of female priesthood.
“The actions of Constantinople in Ukraine are not in accordance with the tradition of the Church. We are on the side of order and canon,” . . . He also added that “Many are going to say that we [the Serbian Orthodox Church] are on the Russian side. But we are on the side of orders and canons.”
Such all-too-common statements ignore the fact “that concerning. . .the manner of establishing the autocephaly of any part of the Church, none of the sacred canons provides direction or inkling.” Statements such as those of the Patriarch beg the questions “Which canons? Whose order?”
Today, the Orthodox Church maintains cordial relations with other Christian churches and communities and participates in joint efforts with them to recover the visible unity of all God’s people. While most of the Orthodox faithful perceive the Church’s involvement in this joint quest for unity to be guided by the Holy Spirit, others express fear that the faith of the Church is somehow compromised for the sake of a unity not always grounded in truth. Why has the Orthodox Church decided to be involved in the ecumenical movement? How does this involvement relate to her claim to be the embodiment of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church?
In an encyclical addressed to all Orthodox churches in 1902, the Ecumenical Patriarchate invited the Orthodox churches to move towards more dynamic inner communion, conciliarity, and cooperation to work with other Christian churches and communities towards visible unity. In 1920, the Ecumenical Patriarchate issued a second encyclical addressed to all Christian churches suggesting the formation of a “league of churches” for common witness and action. It stated that the Orthodox Church “holds that rapprochement (προσέγγισις) between the various Christian churches and fellowship (κοινωνία) between them is not excluded by the doctrinal differences which exist between them.” The Ecumenical Patriarchate had hoped that the churches could move towards greater unity if they could overcome their mutual mistrust and bitterness by rekindling and strengthening the evangelical love. This could lead them to see one another not as strangers and foreigners, but as being part of the household of Christ, “fellow heirs, members of the same body and partakers of the promise of God in Christ” (Eph. 3:6). In 1986 the Third Preconciliar Pan-Orthodox conference unequivocally stated that the “Orthodox participation in the ecumenical movement does not run counter to the Orthodox Church’s nature and history. It constitutes the consistent expression of the Apostolic faith within new historical conditions.”
As a Greek Orthodox living in the Western world and experiencing this new “Corona era,” one feels that Orthodoxy needs to decide today, globally and locally, on the following: to what extent do we, as Orthodox Christians, truly believe that Christ is the Son of God, the Son of Man?
For what we have been seeing and experiencing the past several weeks, alongside the turbulence caused by a frightening virus the spread of which was quite early identified as pandemic, is a totally novel thing. And those among us who were lucky enough to serve as the “necessary personnel” in empty, locked churches experienced an ultimate ambiguity, at least.
On the one hand, we read and chanted Services consisting of hymnological and liturgical artifacts of a unique, terrific treasure, a treasure containing the quintessence of the Orthodox life, experience, tradition, doctrine, theology, mysticism, and art, visual and audio-visual, and all that simultaneously assumed by the unparalleled, incomparable, and irreplaceable daily Services of the Holy Week and the Easter.