Tuesday, January 25, 2011

On Schisms and Unity

Recent conversations have reminded me of an important truth - that schisms are not always clear cut. Many of us Orthodox Christians in the world Orthodox Churches (the Romanian Orthodox Church, the Albanian Orthodox Church, et cetera) view schisms as very black and white. One side, the side our hierarchs are in communion with, is right and the other is wrong. And in some cases that is certainly correct. The baseless schism of former Bishop Basil (Osborne) of Sergievo is a good example of such a schism (one that was resolved with little time, thank God).

There are many situations, however, when the lines simply are not so clear. Who is at fault for the schism between the Orthodox Churches accepting Chalcedon and those who reject it? The Orthodox who upheld St. Cyril's Christology and preached against comprise with the Nestorians for the sake of keeping more of them in the Church or the Orthodox whose emperors used the sword to persecute those who disagreed with their political policies as implemented through the imperially-convened ecumenical councils? Or, to use a more recent example, was the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad wrong to break away from the Moscow Patriarchate because of the latter's obvious and decades-long manipulation by the Soviet regime? Prior to 2007 many world Orthodox used to preach virulently against the Synod Abroad while also openly venerating St. John the Wonderworker of San Francisco, a staunch member and long-time hierarch of the Synod Abroad.

We have so many sad, wrenching schisms dividing us today and we are right to be zealous in their resolution because they do hurt the Church and its God-given mission in the world. But zeal for healing schisms shouldn't be expressed in vitriol, in arguments about gracelessness and closed-door politics and whatever else. I certainly have my views on who is right and who is wrong in India and the Ukraine and elsewhere, but in the end we should be working for unity, not striving to prove ourselves right and the other side wrong.

I have sinned in the past in how I've portrayed various schisms and contentions within the Church. I ask you to join me in praying for the resolution of these schisms and disputes. God knows I still have my opinions on what should be done, but praying for God's will to be done and for unity to be restored amongst us is far more important than our petty human opinions and agendas. God help us all!


  1. What you call the "baseless schism of the former Bishop Basil" was nothing of the sort - it was a moving to the correct canonical position for a group of Orthodox in Western Europe.

  2. He never even answered the summons of his Local Orthodox Church - his appeal to the Ecumenical Patriarchate was both groundless (at that point at least) and inappropriate.

  3. I don't know everything that was going on behind closed doors, however. God will be his judge and will weigh his actions and their effect on the Church.

  4. You might also like to look at this link:

  5. I'm sure that it's been a difficult situation for everyone involved, but that does not change the fact that the Diocese of Sourozh is a diocese of the patriarchal Russian Orthodox Church, its hierarch is to be elected by the Holy Synod in the former USSR, its auxiliary bishops are subject to the rules and disciplines of the Russian Orthodox Church, and the Ecumenical Patriarchate has no jurisdiction or right of intervention outside of its canonical territories in northern Greece, Thrace, Asia Minor, Pontus, and the Aegean unless following an ecclesiastical trial an appeal is made beyond the Local Orthodox Church in question to the Phanar.

    Metropolitan Anthony could well have transferred the diocese to the Synod Abroad (a legitimate church authority abroad) or the Parisians (a rather dubious church authority given the history of the diocese and the increasingly papist tendencies of Constantinople) had he been truly concerned about the influence of Moscow. As it is, he didn't and the diocese remains an integral part of the Moscow Patriarchate.

  6. The Russian Orthodox Church has no canonical right to have any presence in Western Europe - its canonical territory was defined in the Golden Charter of 1589 setting up the Patriarchate of Moscow and All Rus' as being the territory of the (then) Russian Empire.

    Absent the Pope of Rome being Orthodox, all Orthodox living in Western Europe fall within the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarch as the nearest Orthodox Patriarch geographically, or (some say) as locum tenens for the Pope of Rome.

    Therefore, any Orthodox in Western Europe who moved to the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarch were acting in a fully canonical manner.

  7. I wasn't aware that the heads of the Local Orthodox Churches had gathered to appoint the Patriarch of Constantinople locum tenens of the Patriarchate of Rome as well - I imagine a number of them would be rather surprised to find out he is given their rather extensive presence in Western Europe. (Have you seen the size of the Romanian Orthodox Episcopate of Italy? It's huge!)

    I honestly wish that we were working towards restoring the Church of Rome - it would make a lot more sense for the Orthodox in Western and Central Europe to be living and working together within one Orthodox Church, especially given the rise of the EU. Given the current situation, however, I don't see why a post-19th century interpretation of a canon of the Council of Chalcedon (an already widely disputed council) should make the Church of Constantinople supreme every it hasn't seen fit to issue a tomos. (Was it Constantinople issuing tomoses to the Churches of Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem, Georgia, and Cyprus in the old times? No, it was not. To her daughters in the Balkans and Rus' - yes, of course.)

  8. Not sure what "every it hasn't seen fit to issue a tomos" - either a typo or my general lack of sleep today :-). My apologies!