Voices from Russia

Friday, 18 December 2009

Orthodox Theologians Proposed a Theoretical Model on the Provision of Autocephaly and Autonomy in the Church

Fr Nikolai Balashov (1958- ), the deputy head of the MP Department for External Church Relations and Secretary of Inter-Orthodox Relations

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Participants in a meeting of the Inter-Orthodox Preparatory Commission in Chambésy (Switzerland) prepared theological papers on the regulation of the procedure for granting autocephaly and autonomy in the Orthodox Church. On Friday, Fr Nikolai Balashov, the deputy head of the MP Department for External Church Relations, who was a member of the MP delegation to the recent talks, spoke to our Interfax-Religion correspondent. In his words, “We believe that this meeting was a success, for its results made progress in inter-Orthodox cooperation”.

The main purpose of convening these meetings and inter-preparatory commissions is to prepare the ground for a Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church. Such a Council, if convened, would consider the issues which require the evaluation of the whole Church that have accumulated over the centuries since the Seventh (and last) Ecumenical Council. Fr Nikolai noted that, despite the fact that the original positions of some Local Churches, as previously expressed in their reports regarding the preparation of such a council, were sometimes “substantially different and sometimes diametrically opposed, as a result of this meeting, the gaps between these positions have significantly narrowed. This led to a unanimous approval of proposals on the granting of autocephaly (complete independence of a Local Church) and autonomy (self-government of any part of an autocephalous Local Church). These will now be forwarded to the Inter-Orthodox Pre-Conciliar meeting, and, then, would be reviewed and approved at a Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church”.

Explaining the essence of the negotiated proposals, he clarified, in particular, the proposition that a Tomos (Ecclesial Act) of Autocephaly must be signed by the Ecumenical Patriarch of New Rome, who is first in precedence in the diptychs {Editor’s note: Liturgical commemoration of the heads of the Local Churches in communion with one another.}. However, in any solemn proclamation of a Tomos of Autocephaly, all the other heads of the autocephalous Local Churches, or their delegated representatives, must sign along with him as his colleagues. This action witnesses to the fact that it is an Inter-Orthodox agreement. Before the Patriarch of New Rome signs such a Tomos, a decision by the Mother Church that is granting autocephaly to a new Local Church precedes it, as well as gathering Inter-Orthodox consensus in the form of conciliar or synodal decisions from the various Local Churches. Thus, according to Fr Nikolai, the proposed procedure for granting autocephaly “recognised the key importance of two factors. The approval of the Mother Church and the gaining of Inter-Orthodox consensus are necessary factors in the universal recognition of any new autocephalous Local Church”.

He emphasised to us that, currently, there’s no recognised Inter-Orthodox procedure for the granting of autocephaly to a new Local Church. In this connection, he reminded us that the EP unilaterally granted autocephaly to the Polish Church in 1924. The MP didn’t recognise this action, so, in 1948, on its part, it issued its own Tomos of Autocephaly to the Church of Poland. Contrariwise, the autocephaly granted by the MP to the Czechoslovak Church (now, the Orthodox Church in Czechia and Slovakia), was not recognised by the EP, who, a few decades later, issued their own Tomos of Autocephaly for this Church. In addition, for quite some time, until 1990, in fact, the EP did not recognise the autocephaly of the Church of Georgia, although the MP recognised the autocephaly of the Georgian Church in 1943. The Tomos of Autocephaly granted by the MP to the Orthodox Church of America in 1970 remains unrecognised by the EP and some other churches. Thus, as Fr Nikolai stated to us, this meeting in Chambésy was an important step towards a “recognised Inter-Orthodox procedure for the granting of autocephaly to any new Local Church without any contest between the gathered Local Churches”.

Fr Nikolai informed us that the members of the Inter-Orthodox Preparatory Commission adopted a position on the granting of autonomous status that was in congruence with the long-held view of the MP. He said, “The granting of autonomy to any of its constituent parts is an internal matter for each Local Church. The procedure for granting autonomy begins and ends within the autocephalous Local Church involved, which then notifies all the other Local Churches of this decision”.

To date, there have been four Inter-Orthodox Pre-Council Meetings (Chambésy in 1976, 1982, 1986, 2009) and six inter-Orthodox Preparatory Commissions (Geneva in 1971; Chambésy in 1986, 1990; 1993, 1999, and 2009). The long hiatus in the convening of meetings and Preparatory Commissions was due to the complication of relations caused by the differences between the MP and EP over the issue of ecclesiastical jurisdiction in Estonia. Agreements reached at a meeting of First Hierarchs and their representatives from all Local Churches in October 2008 in Istanbul facilitated the resumption of inter-Orthodox cooperation in the preparation of the Council.

18 December 2009

Interfax-Religion

http://www.interfax-religion.ru/?act=news&div=33429

Editor’s Note:

We should note that this was just a meeting of theologians discussing possible topics on a hypothetical agenda of a notional Council that no Local Church has even hinted at. What was decided here, really? NOTHING. This meeting decided nothing that was binding upon any Local Church. This process has been going on since 1971; it has been chugging along for my entire adult life with no real or substantial progress to show for it.

This isn’t about a fanciful “Council” that’s never going to be convened. Rather, the MP and the EP, who’re the main actors in the drama in any case, are telling the world what they think autocephaly and autonomy are. This does NOT bode well for the so-called OCA. In Fr Nikolai’s words, “The approval of the Mother Church and the gaining of Inter-Orthodox consensus are necessary factors in the universal recognition of any new autocephalous Local Church”. There’s no inter-Orthodox consensus on the OCA. Ergo… the MP can lift the Tomos without qualm. Indeed, if you add the statement on autonomy, “The procedure for granting autonomy begins and ends within the autocephalous Local Church involved”, it is clear that the MP’s intent is to cancel the Tomos. The grounds shall be that it has not gained “inter-Orthodox consensus” and that the MP shall either dissolve the OCA or reincarnate it as an autonomous body within the ROCOR (for the ROCOR is a constituent part of the MP).

JP was recently in Moscow… he issued an interview that was “interesting”. He said, “The Catholic Church is a loyal friend to Orthodoxy (Католическая Церковь лояльно относится к Православию)”. His pal, Hilarion Alfeyev, said in an interview with Der Spiegel, “However, the differences between Orthodoxy and Catholicism aren’t of a fundamental nature. We recognise the sacraments of the Catholic church. If a Catholic priest converts to Orthodoxy, we accept him as a priest”. The main protector of the OCA in Moscow has been HA. Well, HA is under intense fire in Moscow for his soft-pedalling the differences between Orthodox and papists in the interview. My sources tell me that KMG is incensed at his remarks and that His Holiness is on the warpath. What does this have to do with the topic under discussion?

Simple… HA and JP have handed KMG a perfect pretext for lifting the Tomos of Autocephaly of the OCA. “It hasn’t received a consensual acceptance…” Trust me, KMG would say that with the most “sincere” insincere smile in all of Christendom and JP and HA would be toast. He would also hoist Bart with his own petard. This not only applies to the OCA situation, but, to the situation in the Ukraine as well, as is witnessed by, “Before the Patriarch of New Rome signs such a Tomos, a decision by the Mother Church that is granting autocephaly to a new Local Church precedes it”.

In short, this is more about present-day manoeuvres in Church politics than it is about an airy-fairy Council that shall never convene. In any case, most faithful have never heard of these meetings. Hell, most priests don’t know or care about ‘em. They’re far too busy baptising kids, burying the dead, marrying couples, doing liturgy, visiting the sick, soliciting funds, and maintaining the church building to care about such arcane and irrelevant froufrou (many also have to work a secular job to put food on the table… such a fellow is going to follow such nonsense? I think not!). I’ll also confide that most bishops couldn’t care less about it either. They all have full days chock-a-block with this, that, and the other, and they don’t have the time either. Only “theological hobbyists” care about such things.

Remember, sometimes, hardheaded pragmatists such as KMG use fanciful intellectual gabfests like these to provide the rationalisation for action in the real world. Do attend to the OCA… it may not be such much longer… “The gaining of Inter-Orthodox consensus is a necessary factor in the universal recognition of any new autocephalous Local Church”. It doesn’t have that.

BMD

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