Category Archives: Ecclesiology

Schismophrenia: A Reflection on Ukrainian Autocephaly

by Fr. Bohdan Hladio

“No earthly joy exists unmingled with sorrow” —St. John of Damascus

We are all no doubt aware of the controversy surrounding the recent proclamation of autocephaly for the Orthodox Church of Ukraine by the Patriarchate of Constantinople. As a Ukrainian Orthodox priest, I cannot help but see how St. John’s words are an apt description of the situation of the Orthodox Church in general and myself personally.

I recently traveled to Ukraine, visited friends in previously “non-canonical” churches and monasteries, and was able to serve the Liturgy with them. This brought much joy to us all. For most Orthodox Ukrainians the recognition of the Church in Ukraine as worthy of autocephaly is the correction of an historical injustice, the righting of an ecclesial wrong.

Yet I have friends within various Orthodox churches here in North America who see this proclamation of autocephaly as a source of sorrow. And I have trouble understanding why. Continue reading

Clericalism and the Sexual Abuse Crisis

by Matthew Briel

If we follow Augustine’s and John Henry Newman’s line of thought, the Church is fundamentally the body of Christ, with Christ as head and the faithful as the body. In Newman’s conception, the faithful consists of the entire Church, hierarchy and laity. The laity thus have an essential role to play in all aspects of the Church. The most recent rounds of sex abuse scandals have brought Catholics’ attention again to the question of the role of the laity in church life.

Indeed, Catholics’ anger at bishops in the past month has not been directed so much at the abusers as at those who facilitated this abuse, what some are calling the “second abuse.” Bishops and chancery clerics allowed this abuse to continue because their primary concern and attention was directed towards their fellow priests and not the abused laity.

Catholics know the reality of sin. We live in a fallen world and the rate of abuse among Catholic priests is comparable to that in other branches of Christianity, in our public and private schools, and in the scouts. What’s different about the Catholic abuse crisis, and what infuriates the laity above all, is the cover-up of abuse and the contempt not just for the victims of the abuse, but for the laity as whole. Continue Reading…

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…