Articles on Faith Issues
1. Confession, Communion and Preparation for Communion
A. 3 part article by Father on Preparation for Communion
B. exerpt from the Rudder
C. exerpt from an article by Fr. Alexander Schmemann
2. Territorial Jurisdiction According to Orthodox Canon Law. The Phenomenon of Ethnophyletism in Recent Years
On the Church’s Guidelines for Holy Communion by Father Harry Linsinbigler
(Note: the following three-part article appeared in modified form in several issues of the Ukrainian Orthodox Word)
Recently I have been asked a very significant question from several different people regarding parish life and practice: “What are the Church’s guidelines for Communion?” It is important for our Faithful to be clear as to what is expected of them with regard to taking Holy Communion. As with many things in Orthodoxy that involve individual circumstance, we are given a “field” of acceptability, where each Bishop for His diocese (or Spiritual Father for parishioners-- cf. Canon 102 of 6th Ecumenical Council) may use “exactness” or “economy”. It is somewhere in between these two “gates of the sheepfold”, based on the circumstances of each, that the “sheep” are encouraged to roam by the Pastors of the Church. The Orthodox Church already has basic guidelines for Communion established through Scripture, canons, service books, and writings of the Fathers. Although some Bishops, based on particular local circumstances within the diocese, may impose further guidelines than what the whole Church as adopted (for instance, requiring confession prior to each partaking, fasting beyond the calendar of the Church, etc.), many refrain from doing so in order to avoid laying a burden too hard to bear upon the faithful, and thus abide by the guidelines of the whole Church. The guidelines listed below include Communion guidelines that have been put forth in Scripture, Ecumenical and Local councils, Orthodox Canon Law, the writings of the Fathers and the service books. These give the priests and the people a clear idea of the “range of acceptability” with regard to partaking of the Most Holy Mystery of the Eucharist.
One of the first principles for partaking of Communion comes directly from Scripture:
--Whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. (Holy Scripture: 1 Cor. 11.27,28)
This sobering passage is one of several reminders that the reception of Holy Communion is for those members of the Flock who have prepared themselves properly and abide by the guidelines of the Church. Prior to the reception of Holy Communion, therefore, a person must examine himself/herself, do repentance as is necessary, ask the Lord to make him worthy by grace, and then partake. He or she must believe all matters of Faith in accord with the Church, above all the Symbol of the Orthodox Faith (i.e. the Creed, which each Communicant says with the rest of the Faithful at every Divine Liturgy), and that truly Christ is the Son of the Living God and truly the Communion He gives us by the Holy Spirit from the Father is His Body and Blood, which we also confess at every Divine Liturgy.
Holy Communion, therefore, is for those Orthodox Christians (members of the Holy Orthodox Catholic and Apostolic Church of Christ) who live the life of Christ, coming regularly to His Holy House in prayer, loving God above all, one’s brothers and sisters in Christ, one’s neighbor, and keeps the love of self in balance. Such persons attempt to fill their days with good and charitable deeds, prayer, and moderation (by fasting to the best of their ability on fast days and, on other days, refraining from gluttony, drunkenness, and lack of sobriety). Such a person must be in good standing, and not under penance, nor a state of mortal sin. According to the 32nd Chapter of the Typikon, the person should keep properly the preceding week as a Christian--that is, in prayer, feasting and fasting in accord with the calendar of the Church as far as possible, and approach the Chalice in a state of spiritual sobriety. The Pedalion of the Orthodox Catholic Church (Book of Canon Law of the Orthodox Church) states of those who commune that they should do so “with the proper preparation of contrition, confession of sins, satisfactory atonement (i.e. make right what you wronged as much as possible), and, as far as possible, fasting…” (p22).
And as far as possible, fasting…
There are two types of food fasts that the Orthodox Christian should be particularly aware of regarding preparation for Communion. One is not eating anything from midnight Saturday night/Sunday morning until the partaking of Communion, which is known as Eucharistic fasting. The other is Ascetical fasting on most Wednesdays and Fridays and during fast periods, where the type of food eaten is restricted and, during the daytime, the amount is also restricted. St. Isaac of Syria states that all have the duty to fast the ascetical fast at least to some degree on days that are set aside for this purpose: "If you cannot fast for two days, fast at least until evening; if you cannot fast until evening, be careful not to overeat."
One must remember that fasting in the Christian sense is not simply abstaining from food, but first and foremost is abstention from gluttony and enslavement to other sins as well. "Let us fast an acceptable and very pleasing fast to the Lord. True fast is the estrangement from evil, temperance of tongue, abstinence from anger, separation from desires, slander, falsehood, perjury. Privation of these is true fasting" (Hymn in 1st Mon. of Lent, by St. Basil the Great). Likewise St. John Chrysostom states "Fasting is a spiritual perfume. ... I have said this, not for the purpose of condemning those who have eaten, but that I may show the advantages of fasting. I do not, however, call mere abstinence from meats fasting; but abstinence from sin is fasting even before refraining from food" (On the Statues Hom. 10). We do this together as a Church, with each one doing it to the best of their ability by several different fasting practices.
The first and foremost means to enact the fast is by limiting the amount of food that goes into the mouth. We do this both for the Eucharistic fast several hours before receiving communion, as well as the absolute ascetical fast (which during Lent may also coincide with Eucharistic fasting for Presanctified Liturgies, particularly Wednesdays and Fridays) on designated fast days in which, during the morning and early afternoon food is very limited more than on non-fast days. Limiting the kind of food (no flesh-meat, no eggs, etc.) is a secondary kind of engagement in fasting and self control known as partial abstention. The Church also does this Wednesdays and Fridays and days of Lent. Sometimes, there is an ascetical fast and no strict fast. Again, we are to do these acts so that together we may truly fast from evil as a Body of Christ.
By canon law, unless one is naturally in a state of fasting because of age (the young and the elderly) or by “bodily necessity” (Gangra Can. 19, i.e. infirmity, illness such as diabetes or other legitimate medical restriction), one must fast from all food prior to partaking of Communion from midnight of the night before. Canon 8 (Q&A) of St. Timothy states that “Fasting was devised in order to humble the body. If, therefore, the body is already in a state of humbleness and illness or weakness, the person ought to partake of as much as he or she may will and be able to get along with food and drink” But what if I don’t have diabetes, and am not sick, and have not eaten anything Sunday morning, but I accidentally swallow water or toothpaste when brushing my teeth?” Canon 16 (Q&A) of St. Timothy states: “If anyone fasting with a view to communion, while washing his mouth, or in the bath, has swallowed water involuntarily, ought he to commune? Answer: Yes, Since Satan has found an occasion whereby to prevent him from partaking of communion, he will keep on doing this more frequently.” As for Ascetical fasting, following many of the Holy Fathers, all are encouraged to keep fasting from evil first and foremost, while feasting and fasting to the best of one’s ability in accord with feasts of the Church (Can. 89 of 6th, 1 of Dionysius) and the fasts of the Church (esp. great Lent—cf. Canon 69 of the Apostles and Can. 29 of the 6th Ec. Council). On weeks when it is a feast, we feast, and when it is a fast, we fast. The Church herself expects all to enjoy, in moderation (for overindulgence you cannot enjoy, but get sick to the stomach, etc.), life’s bounty and variety as much as is possible according to the calendar and discipline of the Church—and to come to Communion on a regular basis after having examined themselves and asking God to bestow worthiness upon them.
Attendance on Sunday
In order to partake of Communion one should have been in the Church in order to hear the Epistle and Gospel, and thus should be in Church for the whole Divine Liturgy. However, it is evident from the structure of the services and the requirements of Faith (i.e. that the person affirms the Faith in the Creed before partaking, that the person is part of the Faithful and the offering), that the person who is about to Commune absolutely MUST be in prayerful attendance for the Liturgy of the Faithful (i.e. for the prayers of the Faithful preceding the Great Entrance), including the Entrance when the gifts are presented, for the Peace and the Creed, and for the entire Anaphora (Eucharistic Offering). If a person was not in Church to hear “The doors guard the doors, In Wisdom Let us Attend” then that person wasn’t in Church early enough. Communion is a natural continuation of participating in the entire Eucharist, which begins back at the Entrance, and indeed, even before this point. The “doors” are the doors which used to be shut and no one allowed in after the priest made this exclamation. No one, in good conscience, should come to Communion who arrives after these words are spoken unless there is extreme and irregular circumstance (an accident that day, etc.), of which the priest should be informed and, with such knowledge, give of the Sacred Gifts or withhold them as is deemed appropriate in the circumstance. If there is doubt on the part of the Communicant as to whether he or she should partake, he or she should approach the priest after Divine Liturgy if he has not yet consumed the gifts and abide by his counsel for that Sunday.
Confession and Communion
The Orthodox Church’s basic guidelines for Confession before Communion are enumerated below. As for the laws of the Church, by canon law one must partake of the Mystery of Repentance (i.e. Confession, in which mortal or grievous sins must be specifically confessed vocally to one’s confessor—“confess your sins one to another,” cf. Can 5 of 7th Ecumenical Council) and fulfill any penances before partaking of Communion under the following circumstances:
1. Is in a state of mortal sin. There are some sins which by their grievous nature cause spiritual and psychological pathologies which are harmful to themselves and others (if there is a pattern of the following it indicates that a serious pathology of one or both types is already there): 1. Blasphemy, denial of Christ, apostasy, idolatry, mutilation of one's own body (i.e. castration, cutting oneself, etc.), the denial of the goodness of God’s Creation or abuse of God's creation, sacrilege including the spurning of the Sacraments, sorcery & witchcraft, murder, pedophilia, bestiality, incest, extramarital intercourse (adultery), non-marital sexual intercourse or activity (opposite sex or same sex), theft and other acts of covetousness and greed, bearing false witness against neighbor (perjury and other related sins), intentional harm to the human body whether alive or dead, whether yourself or another’s, substance abuse, extortion; grievous unrepentant and uncorrected acts of disrespect/reviling toward Christ, his Church, bishop, priest, parents, spouse, police and other authority figures, and uncorrected acts of schism and divisiveness within the Church (cf. 1 Cor. 5.11, 6.9-10; Can. 2-4 of St. Gregory Nyssa and Canons of St. Basil).
2. In a state of uncorrected sin which has caught the upper hand and has ballooned out of control and caused pathology or severe addiction and cut one off from the life in Christ. According to the Canons of the Church, “it is a mortal sin for sinners to remain uncorrected in their sin” (Canon 5 of the 7th Ecumenical Council). Because many have a difficult time recognizing this in themselves, confrontational intervention from pastors, therapists, and loved ones may be needed. Canon 2 of Antioch is very clear: “As for all those persons who enter the church and listen to the sacred Scriptures, but who fail to commune in prayer together and at the same time with the laity, or who shun the participation of the Eucharist, in accordance with some irregularity, we decree that these persons be cast out of the Church until, after going to Confession and exhibiting fruits of repentance, and begging for forgiveness, they succeed in obtaining a pardon. Furthermore, we decree that communion with those excluded from communion is not allowed, nor in another church is it to be allowed to admit [to communion] those who have no admittance to another [Orthodox] church.” The reason for this is not to be “too strict”, but rather that the person may not acquire sickness or death for partaking of Communion in a state of separation, “for he that eats or drinks unworthily eats and drinks condemnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s Body. For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep [i.e. have died]” (1 Cor. 11.29-30). One may be put under penance, not allowed to go to Communion, until they have “cleaned up their act” with regard to sin. This allows time to be restored through spiritual exercises to move once again into a state of preparedness to receive.
3. Also requiring reconciliation through Penitence and Confession are those who have not partaken of Communion (Can. 9 of the Apostles and Can. 2 of Antioch) or failed to go to Liturgy for three or more Sundays in a row without “grave necessity”, health difficulties or for reason of great distance in travel (Can 80 of the 6th Ecumenical Council). Once a person knows of this statute he or she is bound to go to Confession and after receiving the absolution and blessing of the priest to partake of Communion as regularly as possible.
4. If any are currently under penance they must fulfill the time of penance and receive release and absolution prior to partaking of Communion or otherwise are to be formally excommunicated for a greater period of time (Apostolic Can. and Nic.An.25).
However, that being said, we also must acknowledge that there have been different practices from one Local Church to another regarding the relationship of Confession to Communion as well. Although the Orthodox tradition as a whole makes no theological requirement of Confession before every partaking of Communion “under any circumstance”, most Orthodox Dioceses require taking Confession at least once a year even if one is a regular Communicant of the Church for their own Spiritual welfare. One Orthodox Patriarchate requires Confession before each partaking. Other Patriarchates and Dioceses do not require Confession for regular Communicants outside of mortal sin or lapse in attendance. Still others emphasize taking it during each of the four fasting periods, and still others emphasize once a month. With regard to those who have not committed a sin which separates one from the Church (i.e. sins which are, as St. John the Theologian says, “not unto death” that we may simply “pray about” for forgiveness cf. 1 John 5), and who Commune regularly after preparing to the best of their ability, they are not required, unless bid so by their spiritual father, to partake of the Sacrament of Confession before each partaking of Eucharist, as canon 80 of the 6th Ecumenical Council indicates. As St. Basil the Great has taught us, there is that sin which separates us because we have been overcome by it (and this requires confession), and on the other hand is the common sin which is overcome daily through prayer and through other pious means by grace, enabling the person to remain in the regular life of the Church. This is in accord with the teachings of St. John the Theologian, that “there is sin unto death…all unrighteousness is sin, but there is sin not unto death” (1 John 5.16-17). In this passage, St. John states that if anyone sees his brother sinning sin which is “not unto death” (i.e. non-mortal sins) and prays about it, it will be forgiven. However, St. John also points out that there is “Sin which is unto death” for which simple or private prayer is not enough. For this, there is Penance (i.e. Confession), which includes reparation as much as possible as well as practices to make well the deep sickness in our soul that results from mortal sin (i.e. “sin unto death), culminating in a verbal confession of sins to the Church in the Mystery of Christ of Binding and Loosing to the person of the priest and being obedient in penitence.
Nevertheless, although no set time has ever been established for Confession throughout the whole Church, frequent Confession is encouraged for anyone who derives spiritual benefit from doing it more, if in accord with one’s spiritual Father, since the same canon states that different methods and spiritual medicines and frequency of spiritual medicine will differ from person to person. St. Symeon of Thessalonica recommends for most to go once a month. Another Father recommends at least 4 times per year. As stated before, most dioceses either mandate or recommend going no less than once a year. Once a person receives the Mystery of Holy Confession (Holy Repentance) in a proper manner (i.e. not hiding any mortal sin during the confession—see below for instances in which Confession must be taken before Communion), he or she should as soon as possible receive Communion, since Communion is the seal of all things and unites us back fully to the Church.
St. Nicholas Cabasilas (14th c.) says: “We must resort to the priests on account of our sins so that we may drink of the cleansing Blood. But…we should by no means commit great offenses thereby bringing guilt upon ourselves so as to be excluded from the Holy Table. It is the impious who disrespectfully approach the sacred Gifts after committing a sin unto death; but those who are not afflicted with such diseases [i.e. those who have not committed mortal sins] may not rightly flee from that Bread. For those who are still in their wills fighting its coals it is right to beware of the Fire and not receive Christ to dwell with them until they have been reconciled to Him. Those whose wills are rightly disposed but who are sickly in other respects have need of the strengthening medicine (i.e. Holy Communion), and should themselves be taken to Him who gives spiritual health, and who ‘has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases” (Life in Christ 6.14).
How Frequently should we Commune?
How frequently are we to take Communion? St. Makarios of Corinth in the 18th century teaches us that "to receive Communion the usual two or three times a year is good and helpful, but to receive Communion more frequently is far better. Remember, the nearer a person comes to the light, the more light he gets. The closer he draws to the fire, the warmer he is. The nearer he approaches sanctity, the more saintly he becomes. In the same way, the more frequently one draws near to God in Holy Communion, the more one receives light and warmth and holiness. My friend, if you are worthy of making your Communion two or three times a year, you are worthy of making it more often, as St. John Chrysostom tells us”, for we are called to maintain preparation and call upon God’s bestowal of worthiness all year round even to take it once a year. St. Makarios continues, "But what does stop us from taking Communion? The answer is our carelessness and laziness. And we give way to these faults so much that we are not sufficiently prepared to be able to receive Communion...Where did God or any one of the Saints for that matter, bid us Communicate [only] two or three times a year? Nowhere is this found..." He then goes on to point out that "It is both necessary and very beneficial to the soul for a person to receive Communion frequently. It is also in obedience to the commandment of God...the proper time is the moment that the priest exclaims 'In the fear of God and with faith and love draw near.' Is this heard only three times a year? Oh, no. Yet although everyone must eat two or three times a day in order that the material body may live, must the unfortunate soul only eat three times a year or perhaps even once--the food that gives it life in order to live the spiritual life? And isn't this completely absurd?" St. Ambrose points out “God gave us this Bread as a daily affair, and we make it a yearly affair.” St. Basil the Great states that “It is good and beneficial to receive communion every day, and to partake of the holy body and blood of Christ. For he distinctly says, 'He that eats my flesh and drinks my blood has everlasting life.' And who doubts that to share frequently in life, is the same thing as to have manifold life. Truthfully I communicate four times a week: on the Lord's day, and Wednesday, on Friday, and on the Sabbath, and on the other days if there is a commemoration of any Saint” (Letter 93). The Faithful are supposed to, in a well disciplined manner with the right frame of mind, partake of Communion every Sunday and holy days, as Sts. Gregory and Symeon of Thessolonika state (cf. p951 of the Philokalia, and chap. 360) and Sts. Nikodemos and Agapios of the Holy Mountain, compilers of the Pedalion of the Orthodox Catholic Church (the book of Canon Law of the Orthodox Church), likewise upheld. But the canons themselves mandate frequency in partaking of Communion. Canon 9 of the Holy Apostles states the following: “All the Faithful [not under penance] who enter and listen to the Scriptures, but do not stay for prayer and Holy Communion must be excommunicated, on the ground that they are causing disorder in the Church.” Likewise the following from the words of the 12th century canonist Zonaras: “The present Canon demands that all those who are in the church when the Holy Sacrifice is being performed shall patiently remain to the end for prayer and Holy Communion” (page 21 of the Pedalion). The commentary on the eighth and ninth Apostolic Canons emphasizes this: ‘The commands of these canons are very strict and severe, for they excommunicate those who come to the Liturgy but do not remain until the end and take Communion’” (Pedalion/Rudder, Com.Can 9). The notion that one should abstain because one is “not worthy” is rejected by the Holy Fathers, since we humble ourselves in repentance and then rely on God giving us his grace. We become worthy by God’s energy even if we are not worthy from our own. We do this by admitting our faults and shortcomings on a weekly basis to all whom we have wronged. St. Nikodemos of the Holy Mountain has the following to say regarding this very point: “There is no doubt from a Patristic and historical point of view: It is necessary for the faithful and Orthodox Christians to receive the Body and Blood of our Lord frequently throughout our lives, so long as there is no objection from our spiritual father, and that frequent Communion produces great benefits for the soul and body; while delaying this, on the contrary, produces many harmful and destructive results.” The Council of Constantinople of 1819 endorsed the teachings of these “Kollyvades Fathers” (i.e. St. Nikodemos, St. Makarios of Corinth and the rest) insistence that Communion should be partaken of regularly by clergy and faithful alike. This is simply a reaffirmation of what the Orthodox Church has always officially held down through the ages. For our Lord Himself warned, “unless you eat the flesh of the son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” (John 6.53). The verbs “eat” (Gr. faghte, phagite) and “drink” (Gr. pihte, pite) do not connote a one time event, but a continuous practice of eating and drinking. Thus, just as we eat food and drink on a regular basis to give the body life, we eat the Heavenly Food and Drink to give both Body and Soul eternal life: “Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day…He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in Him…He who eats this Bread will live forever” (John 6.54-58).
Therefore we ought always examine ourselves, seek reconciliation with our brothers and sisters in Christ, family, friends, co-workers and neighbors, partaking of Repentance (Confession) as often as conscience and proper conduct yield, and preparing through acts of goodness, relying upon God and trusting that He will bestow worthiness upon us. For we are not able to partake of Communion because we have in some way made ourselves worthy, but rather because we are a member of the redeemed community in which Christ is in the midst. St. John Cassian states: "We must not avoid Communion because we consider ourselves sinful. We must approach it more often for the healing of the soul...that considering ourselves unworthy...we would long even more the medicine for our wounds. Otherwise it is impossible to receive Communion once a year, as certain people do...considering the sanctification of heavenly Mysteries as available only to Saints...such people manifest more pride than humility, for when they receive, they think of themselves as worthy. It is better to think that by giving us grace, the Sacrament makes us pure and holy...It is much better if, in humility of heart, knowing that we are never worthy of the Holy Mysteries, we would receive them every Sunday for the healing of our diseases." We must rely upon Christ to make us worthy and not the things that we do. For "only God is good," as our Lord says, and it is He that works within us and His worthiness which enables us. As St. Basil the Great has formulated in a preparatory prayer before communion, "I know that I am unworthy to receive your Holy Body and Precious Blood...But trusting in your loving-kindness I come unto you who said: He that eats my Body and drinks my blood shall abide in me and I in Him. Therefore, O Lord, have compassion on me and make not an example of me, your sinful servant. But do unto me according to your great mercy, and grant that these these Holy Gifts may be for me unto healing, purification, enlightenment, protection, salvation...the Communion of the Holy Spirit...and for Life Eternal. Amen." In the pre-Communion prayers we pray to the Lord Jesus Christ that we may be united to His Body and Blood and have Him, with God the Father and the Holy Spirit, dwelling and abiding within us.
In accordance with the above guidelines Orthodox Christians may partake of Eucharist as follows: 1. If under penance or a ban must complete the time and penance allotted 2. If committing a sin unto death (see above), or even if remaining uncorrected in “sin not unto death” as Scripture calls it, or if having missed Liturgy without a valid reason for more than three weeks (the local hierarch may narrow this time), on must partake of Confession and then approach. 3. In all other cases, Orthodox Christians who after examining themselves truly approach “with the fear of God, faith and love,” and say the prayer “I believe O Lord” prior to taking Communion with awareness and sincerity in what is being said. So then, we will finish with the words of one of the Canons of the Sixth Ecumenical Council of Constantinople: "If anyone wills to be a participator of the immaculate Body and Blood in the time of the Synaxis, and to offer himself for the Communion, let Him draw near, arranging his hands in the form of a cross, and so let him receive the Communion of grace" (Can. 101).
B. Excerpt from the Rudder
"Moreover, an Apostolic Canon permits communion every Sunday, and excommunicates those who fail to remain for prayer and divine Communion without a good and sufficient excuse. 'All the faithful who enter and listen to the Scriptures, but fail to remain for prayer and holy Communion must be excommunicated on the ground of causeing disorder in the church' (9th Apostolic Canon)... There is no question that one ought to commune worthily, but the question is whether one is sinning or not by partaking continually of the divine mysteries, especially as regards one that delights himself in the Lord by meditating His words and by partaking of His Body. The Church declares that a Christian ought to commune continually and to listen to the divine word continually when it is preached. One is called a Christian that does not live in sins, but spends his time in repentance and keeps advancing in virtue, one that hates unrighteousness and injustice, and loves righteousness and justice. Such Christians are children of God, and they ought to eat at His table the heavenly bread unremittingly. Those of you who love the Lord, says the prophet, hate ye things that are wicked or evil. Hence it is logical to infer that anyone that hates wicked and evil things is one that is entitled to commune every day, because it is for him that the divine food is made ready and served on the table. An enlighted priest recommends divine communion to his laity and teaches them how Christians ought to come to the mystery of Communion in order ot derive the greatest benenfit from it. He is gratified when he sees them coming to partake of the divine food which he has prepared, and does not cease recommending that he "Approach with fear of God, faith and love." But on account of the uneducated and unlearned state of the clergy and because of its impiety the divine ordinances have already fallen into desuetude, and for this the clergy is responsible and accountable to God. The laity, on the other hand, has become accustomed to mistaking what is legitimate for innovations, adn the prejedices and by products of the clergy's ignorance and religious indifference for legitiame or permissible practices. As for us, however, we are teaching and enlightening the ignorant and erring ones both by what we say and what we do. Accordingly, we not only teach that one ought to come to divine communion wirthily, foirst examining himself, trying himself, proving himself (1 Cor. 11.28), but at the same time and in parallel therewith we also teach that he ought to come continually, after making himself worthy, on every Sunday and every festival, as often as he attends the divine liturgy; for divine communion is the true food of a Christan and one which will capacitate and fit him for moral work" (Rudder pp366-367)
C. Does one need to take Confession before Communion?
Penance and Holy Communion
When the communion of the entire congregation at each Liturgy, as an act expressing their very participation in the Liturgy, ceased to be a self-evident norm and was replaced by the practice of a very infrequent, usually once-a-year communion, it became natural for the latter to be preceded by the Sacrament of Penance i.e. confession and the reconciliation with the Church through the prayer of absolution.
This practice, and I repeat once more, a natural and self-evident one in the case of infrequent, once-a-year, communion, led to the appearance in the Church of a theory according to which the communion of laity, different in this from the communion of clergy, is impossible without the sacrament of penance, so that confession is an obligatory condition always and in all cases for communion. I dare to affirm that this theory (which spread mainly in the Russian Church) not only has no foundation in Tradition, but openly contradicts the Orthodox doctrine of the Church, of the Sacrament of Communion and of that of Penance.
To be convinced of that, one has to recall, be it very briefly, the essence of the Sacrament of Penance. From the very beginning this sacrament was, in the consciousness and teaching of the Church, the sacrament of reconciliation with the Church of those excommunicated from her and this means of those excluded from the eucharistic assembly. We know, that at first, the very strict ecclesiastical discipline allowed for only one such reconciliation in ones lifetime, but that later, especially after the entrance into the Church of the entire population, this discipline was somewhat relaxed. In its essence, the Sacrament of Penance, as the sacrament of reconciliation with the Church was for those only who were excommunicated from the Church for definite sins and acts clearly defined in the canonical tradition of the Church. This is still clearly stated in the prayer of absolution: "reconcile him with Thy Holy Church in Christ Jesus Our Lord . . ." (This, incidentally, is the prayer of absolution, used universally. As to the second one, unknown to the Eastern Orthodox Churches "I, unworthy priest, by the power given unto me, absolve . . ." is of Latin origin and was adopted in our liturgical books at the time of the domination of Orthodox theology by Western theology.)
All this, however, does not mean that the "faithful," i.e. the "non-excommunicated," were considered by the Church to be sinless. In the first place, according to the Churchs teaching, no human being is sinless, with the exception of the Most Holy Mother of God, the Theotokos. In the second place, a prayer for forgiveness and remission of sins is an integral part of the Liturgy itself (cf. the Prayer of the Trisagion and the two prayers "of the faithful"). Finally, the Church always considered Holy Communion itself as given "for the remission of sins." Therefore the issue here is not sinlessness, which no absolution can achieve, but the distinction always made by the Church between, on the one hand, the sins excommunicating a man from the Churchs life of grace and, on the other hand, the "sinfulness" which is the inescapable fate of every man "living in the world and wearing flesh." The latter is, so to speak, "dissolved" in the Churchs liturgy and it is this sinfulness that the Church confesses in the "prayers of the faithful" before the offering of the Holy Gifts. Before the Holy Chalice itself, at the moment of receiving the Mysteries, we ask for forgiveness of "sins voluntary and involuntary, those in word and in deed, committed knowingly or unknowingly," and we believe that, in the measure of our repentance, we receive this forgiveness.
All this means, of course, and no one really denies it, that the only real condition for partaking of the Divine Mysteries is membership in the Church and conversely, that membership in the Church is fulfilled in the partaking of the sacrament of the Church. Communion is given "for the remission of sins," "for the healing of the soul and body," and it implies, therefore, repentance, the awareness of our total unworthiness, and the understanding of communion as a heavenly gift which never can be "deserved" by an earthly being. The whole meaning of preparation for communion, as established by the Church ("The Rule for Holy Communion") is not, of course, in making man feel "worthy" but, on the contrary, in revealing to him the abyss of Gods mercy and love ("I am not worthy, Master and Lord . . . yet since Thou in Thy love . . . dost wish to dwell in me, in boldness I come. Thou commandest, open the gates . . . and Thou wilt come in love . . . and enlighten my darkened reasoning. I believe that Thou wilt do this . . .). Before the Lords table the only "worthiness" of the communicant is that he has been and realized his bottomless "unworthiness." This, indeed, is the beginning of salvation.
It is therefore of paramount importance for us to understand that the transformation of the sacrament of penance into an obligatory condition for communion not only contradicts Tradition, but obviously mutilates it. It mutilates, in the first place, the doctrine of the Church by creating in her two categories of members, one of which is, in fact, excommunicated from the Eucharist, as the very content and fulfillment of membership, as its spiritual source. But then it is no longer surprising that those whom the Apostle called "fellow citizens with the saints and of the household of God" (Ephesians 2:19) become again "worldly" (kosmiki, miriane), are "secularized" and their membership in the Church is measured and defined in terms of money ("dues") and "rights." But also mutilated is the doctrine of Communion, which is understood then as the sacrament for a few "worthy ones" and no longer as the sacrament of the Church: of sinners who by the infinite mercy of Christ, are always transformed into His Body. And finally, equally mutilated is the doctrine of Penance. Transformed into a formal condition for communion, it begins more and more obviously to replace the real preparation for communion, that genuine inner repentance, which inspires all the prayers before communion. After a three-minute confession and absolution a man feels "entitled" to communion, "worthy" and even "sinless," feels, in other terms, that which is in fact the very opposite of true repentance.
But how then could such a practice have appeared and become a norm, defended today by many as truly Orthodox? To answer this question one must consider three factors. We have already mentioned one of them: that nominal and lukewarm approach to faith and piety of Christian society itself which led, at first, to an infrequent communion and, finally, reduced it to a once-a-year "obligation." It is clear that a person, approaching the Divine Mysteries once a year must be really "reconciled" with the Church by means of an examination of his conscience and life in the Sacrament of Penance. The second factor is the influence on the Church of monasticism, which is, of course, on the whole beneficial. The latter knew from the very beginning the practice of the "opening of thoughts," of the spiritual guidance by an experienced monk of a less-experienced one. But, and this is essential, such a spiritual father or "elder" was not necessarily a priest, for this type of spiritual guidance is connected with spiritual experience and not priesthood.
In the Byzantine monastic typika of the XII XIII centuries a monk is forbidden both to approach the Chalice and to abstain from it by himself, of his own will, without the permission of spiritual father, for "to exclude oneself from communion is to follow ones own will." In womens monasteries the same power belongs to the Abbess. Thus we have here a confession of a non-sacramental type, confession based upon spiritual experience and permanent guidance. But this type of confession had a strong impact on sacramental confession. At a time of spiritual decadence (which can be seen in its true scope and meaning in the canons of the so-called Council in Trullo, 6th century A.D.) monasteries remained the centers of spiritual care and guidance for the laity. In Greece, even today, not every priest has the right to hear confessions but only those who are especially authorized by the Bishop. Yet for the laity this spiritual counseling naturally led to sacramental confession. We must stress, however, that not every parish priest is capable of such spiritual counseling, which implies and presupposes a deep spiritual experience, for without that experience "counseling" may lead, and in fact often leads, to genuine spiritual tragedies. What is important here is that the sacrament of penance became somehow connected with the idea of spiritual guidance, solution of "difficulties" and "problems," and that all this in the present conditions of our parish life, of "mass" confessions concentrated during some evenings of Great Lent and reduced to a few minutes is hardly possible and does more harm than good. Spiritual guidance, especially in our time of deep spiritual crisis, is necessary, but to be genuine, deep, useful it must be disconnected from sacramental confession, although the latter is obviously its ultimate goal.
The third and decisive factor was, of course, the influence of the Western, Scholastic and juridical understanding of penance. Much has been written about the "western captivity" of Orthodox theology but, it seems to me, that few people realize the depth and real meaning of the distortions to which this Western influence led in the very life of the Church and, above all, in the understanding of Sacraments. This is obvious in the sacrament of penance. The deep distortion consists here in that the whole meaning of the sacrament was shifted from repentance and confession to the moment of "absolution," understood juridically. Western Scholastic theology transposed into juridical categories the very concept of sin and, accordingly, the concept of its absolution. The latter stems here not from the reality, the genuine nature of repentance, but from the power of the priest. If in the initial Orthodox understanding of the sacrament of penance the priest is the witness of repentance and, therefore, the witness of the fulfilled "reconciliation with the Church in Christ Jesus . . . ," the Latin legalism puts the emphasis on the power of the priest to absolve. Hence, the practice, totally alien to Orthodox doctrine, yet quite popular today, of "absolutions" without confession. The initial distinction between sins, excommunication from the Church (thereby requiring a sacramental reconciliation with the Church), and sinfulness, not leading to such excommunicating, was rationalized by Western Scholasticism in the distinction between the so-called mortal sins and the so-called venial sins. The first ones, by depriving man of the "state of grace" require sacramental confession and absolution; the others require only an inner repentance and contrition. In the Orthodox East, however, and especially in Russia (under the influence of the Latinizing theology of Peter Moghila and his followers) this theory resulted in a simple, compulsory and juridical connection between confession and communion.
It is ironic indeed that this most obvious of all Latin "infiltrations" is viewed by so many Orthodox as an Orthodox norm while a mere attempt to re-evaluate it in the light of the genuine Orthodox doctrine of Church and sacraments, is denounced as "Roman Catholic."
(This article is an exerpt from a report by Fr. Alexander Schmemann to the Synod of Bishops, accepted and approved by the Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America February 17, 1972)
Territorial Jurisdiction According to Orthodox Canon Law.
The Phenomenon of Ethnophyletism in Recent Years
In the ancient Church, each city had its own bishop, who was the president of the eucharistic assembly and its shepherd, responsible for pastoral service in all its guises and the person who “rightly divided the word of truth”. Even small towns or places were the seats of bishops, each of whom exercised a certain episcopal jurisdiction independently of the bishop of the city. Because of the persecutions, the problematical conditions and the awkwardness of the situation for the Church, it was difficult to deftne the boundaries of each of the episcopal regions over which the bishops were to exercise thetr jurisdiction. As a result of this, confusion and conflict often arose within the administration of the Church, over the ordination of clerics or the dependence of presbyters on two bishops, given that there were often two bishops in one and the same place. When the persecution of the Christian Church by the Roman state ceased, the legislative authority of the Church was able to define the boundaries within which the bishop could exercise his episcopal authority. In this way, the canonical provincial administration was formed.
In the fourth and fifth centuries, the metropolitans/bishops of the Roman Empire, of the capitals of the Dioceses, acquired even greater power, and important ecclesiastical matters were handled in these major cities. The metropolitans of the five most important cities of the Christian world were called Patriarchs, while the metropolitans of the smaller cities, over time, lost their complete independence, though they retained their former title, “metropolitan”, and also their sees. The most important matters of the geographical eccle-siastical region were now handled by the Patriarchal Synod, by which metropolitans were now elected and consecrated, and then installed by the Patriarch. The Patriarchal Synods, under the chairmanship of the Patriarch, were at first made up of the metropolitans, then later also of the bishops of the patriarchal geographical region. The provincial metropolitan/episcopal synods under the chairmanship of the metropolitan were retained, and dealt with local provincial matters. They remained, however, under canonical dependence upon the patriarchs and their synods, in which they also participated.
The boundaries of the patriarchates are geographical and nothing more. They are not ethnophyletic, cultural, liturgical or anything else of the sort, and were defined by Ecumenical Synods through sacred canons and ecclesiastical regulations in accordance with Christian teaching against racial discrimination, with Orthodox ecclesiology and with canon law and pastoral requirements.
Canon 6 of the 1st Ecumenical Synod says “Let the old customs prevail as well as the later canons”, and goes on to confirm the geographical boundaries of the jurisdiction of Rome, Alexandria and Antioch. “Let the ancient custom prevail which obtained in Egypt, Lybia and Pentapolis, to allow the bishop of Alexandria to have authority over all these parts, since this is also usually accorded to the bishop in Rome. Likewise with reference to Antioch and the other provinces, let seniority be preserved in the churches”. Thus “the bishop of Alexandria precedes those in Egypt, Lybia and the.province of Pentapolis, Africa; Antioch similarly heads Syria, Coele or Hollow Syria, Mesopotamia and both Cilicias...” i. e. the diocese of the East; “and the bishop of Rome is senior in the western provinces”.
The bishop of Jerusalem, because of the sacred nature of the city “through the redemptive passion of Christ”, was declared patriarch by the 4th Ecumenical Synod, with his jurisdiction extended to include the three provinces of Palestine, known as the “Three Palestines”. So Jerusalem was senior to “the provinces in Palestine, in Arabia and in Phoenicia.. .”.
As Patriarchate, Jerusalem occupied the fifth place, after Antioch, while since the schism between East and West it has taken the fourth place in the Orthodox Church. In the case of Jerusalem, too, the criteria applied by the 4th Ecumenical Synod for canonical jurisdiction- “ground” — were geographical and no more.
The Ecumenical Patriarch, the Archbishop of Constantinople-New Rome, occupies the first place, the primacy of honour in the canonical structure of the Orthodox Church. This position, as well as his canonical jurisdiction — the “ground” — have been defined by the sacred canons of the Ecumenical Synods, in other words by irreversible ecumenical decisions, and their application is binding for all Orthodox.
As regards the primacy of honour of Constantinople, this has been legislated for by the 2nd Ecumenical Synod (Canon 3), the 4th (Canon 28) and the Quinisext (Canon 36). Thus: “the Throne of Constantinople shall enjoy equal seniority with the throne of Older Rome, and in matters of the Church shall be magnified as the latter, coming second after it...”. Since the schism Constantinople has held the primacy of honour and of διακονια in the Orthodox Church.
By a decision (Canon 28) which is of universal status and validity, the 4th Ecumenical Synod confirmed a long tradition and action of the Church as regards the canonical jurisdiction and the territory of the Ecumenical Throne. The geographical extent of its own ground was extended to the then administrations of the Roman Empire in Pontus, Asia and Thrace, as well as to the “barbarian” lands, i. e. those which were outside the boundaries of the then Roman Empire: “... only the metropolitans of the Pontic, Asian and Thracian dioceses shall be ordained by the aforesaid Most Holy Throne of the Most Holy Church of Constantinople and likewise the bishops of the aforesaid dioceses which are situated in barbarian lands...”.
The adjective “barbarian” defines the noun “nations”, which is omitted from the text of the canon, but which is to be inferred, as Zonaras interprets it. Barbarian nations or countries are, as has been said, those provinces which lay beyond the Roman Empire at the time of the 4th Ecumenical Synod: “While it called bishoprics of the barbarians those of Alania, Russia and others”. The other barbarian lands, apart from Alania and Russia, are, in general, “the Barbarians”, according to the interpretation of Aristenos of Canon 28: “... the (bishops ) of Pontus and Thrace and Asia, as well as the Barbarians, are consecrated by the Patriarch of Constantinople...”.
According to the “Notitiae episcopatuum” (Συνταγμάτιον) bearing the name of Emperor Leo the Wise (886-912), but actually dating more or less to the llth century, the eparchies of South Italy, i. e. Calabria and Sicily, are also under' the Ecumenical Throne of Constantinople. Besides, according to the “Exposition” of Emperor Andronikos II Palaeologos (1282-1328), which was generally valid until the 19th century, these eparchies were subject to the Ecumenical Patriarchate. With the passage of time, however, this dependence in fact weakened away because of the propinquity of these provinces to Rome and because of the impossibility of Constantinople maintaining communications with them, situated as it was within the Ottoman Empire.
In the Order “of the Thrones of the Orthodox Eastern Church”, i.e. the (Συνταγμάτιον)of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of the year 1855, there is no reference to these eparchies.
Moreover, from the 8th century, all the provinces of Eastern Illyricum, i. e. the Balkan region from the borderş of Thrace to the Adriatic, were removed from the jurisdiction of Rome and placed under the canonical jurisdiction of Constantinople.
The newer lands of North and South America, of Australia, the Far East and so on, and also those in general that are outside the boundaries of the local Churches as defined by the sacred canons and the decisions of the Ecumenical Synods, as well as by the Patriairchal and Synodical Tomes, are included in theory, and hence in practice, in the “other” barbarian lands, according to the general terminology of the 4th Ecumenical Synod and of the other synods. This has nothing to do with an ethnological or any other modern cultural definition, but is geographical, since they were not included, at the time of this synod, within the bounds of the then Roman Empire and were not named in the canonical sources, as were Alania or Russia.
The Ecumenical Throne of Constantinople thus has canonical jurisdiction over the Orthodox in all the “barbarian” countries which constitute its geographical area and “ground”, while the exercise of its canonical rights over all the Orthodox in these countries should not in any way be considered as being“beyond the boundaries” (of its “ground”), i. e. “υπερόριος”.Through Patriarchal Synodical Tomes or Acts, specific metropoles, archbishoprics and bishoprics which were part of the geographical area of the canonical jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople have been ceded to the newer autocephalous local Churches, in Russia, in the Balkans and beyond. After autocephaly, these autocephalous Churches acquired canonical, administrative and pastoral jurisdiction over them. Any exercise of administration or pastoral tasks by these autocephalous Churches over Orthodox outside and beyond their own defined geographical boundaries, on the basis of national, racial, linguistic or “cultural” criteria, constitutes, according to canonical exactitude, an action “beyond the boundaries” (υπερόριον) and an intrusion (εισπήδησιν) into another province, thus violating the fundamental principles of canonical jurisdiction and the tradition of the Church.
The history of the transmission of Christianity from Constantmople to Russia, Great and Little, (10th century), is well known, as is the entry of this eparchy into the canonical jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.
According to the “Notitiae episcopatuum”, i. e. the constitutional record of metropoles, archbishoprics and bishoprics subject “to the Patriarch of Constantinople”, referred to commonly by the name of Emperor Leo the Wise (886-912), though in fact dating from the llth century, the Metropolis of Russia (Kiev) occupied the 61st position.
Twelve bishops are subject to this Metropolis in Great Russia (Novgorod, Chernigov, Suzdal, Rostov, Vladimir, Chmelniskii, Byelgorod the Great, close to Kiev, Yurief, Polotsk, Riazan, Tver, and Sarai).
Likewise, under the Metropolitan of Kiev there are seven bishops in Little Russia (Western Region) (Galicia, Volynia, Peremysl, Putsk, Turof, Cholm and Smolensk).
The Metropolis of Kiev (Russia), under the Ecumenical Patriarchate, had geographical boundaries which cover Great and Little Russia, in accordance with the canonical order, so that, without distinction, the people living in this area could be served evangelically, administratively and pastorally.
Historical developments and events brought changes as regards the seat of this metropolis and its geographical boundaries until the political and ecclesiastical centre was stabilized at Moscow. When Moscow became the dominant power in the region, its bishop was recognized as the Metropolitan of Russia. In the year 1459, because of the difficultieş in communication between Moscow and Constantinople following the capture of the latter by the Ottomans (1453), the Metropolitan of Russia was made independent of the Ecumenical Patriarch as regards his election, while the see was divided into two: the Metropolis of Moscow and that of Kiev.
In the year 1588, the Patriarch of Constantinople, Jeremiah II, went to Moscow, where he agreed to elevate the Metropolis of Moscow to the rank of Patriarchate and, under pressure, ordained (sic) Job, the Metropolitan of Moscow, as Patriarch on 26 January, 1589.
An Endemousa Synod was called in Constantinople by Jeremiah to ratify what had taken place in Moscow. This was called again, in 1593, at the wish of the Tzar, so that one of its participants could be Meletios Pegas, the Patriarch of Alexandria, who had reacted against these developments. The synod ratified the elevation of the Metropolis of Moscow to the status of Patriarchate, which was to occupy the fifth position in the Diptychs, i. e. after the Patriarchate of Jerusalem.
The Patriarch of Moscow was to be elected by the hierarchs of the Patriarchate of Moscow.
According to the Patriarchal and Synodical Act of this Endemousa Synod: “the throne of the most venerable and Orthodox city of Moscow is and shall be called Patriarchate' ... and all Russia and the Far-NorthernTerritories shall be subject to the Patriarchal Throne of Moscow and all Russia... It has its place after His Beatitude of Jerusalem in the sacred diptychs and in ecclesiastical gatherings, and so we have firmly retained the canons previously formulated by the holy Fathers.. .it is the head of this region of Moscow and all Russia and the Far-Northern territories and shall be recognized as such in accordance with canon 34 of the holy and all-praised Apostles...”.
Thus, according to the Patriarchal and Synodical Act founding the Patriarchate of Moscow, ratifying what had taken place in Moscow (1589) under Patriarch Jeremiah II, the Patriarch of Moscow, fifth in rank in the Diptychs after Jerusalem, has canonical jurisdiction over Moscow, as its bishop, and as the first in all Russia and the Far-Northern Territories of Moscow within the Russian realm. Ţhe Patriarchate of Moscow, as a local Church, and according to the official ecclesiastical Acts regarding its foundation, also has canonical jurisdiction, with geographical boundaries and geographical limits, and thus conforms to the canonical teaching and ecclesiology of the Orthodox Church. Its canonical jurisdiction- its “ground”- extends to “the whole of Russia”, i. e. as was mentioned earlier, within the boundaries of the Russian realm, not beyond it. It follows that its “missionary ground” also extends to the boundaries of its officially-defined expanse and lies within the boundaries of the Russian realm, not outside it.
Missionary work conducted outside the geographical boundaries of the canonical jurisdiction of local Churches by their members or in their name is uncanonical and ecclesiologically unacceptable. It can be regarded as canonical and ecclesiologically acceptable only if preceded by an invitation from a local Church to specific missionaries from other local Churches, who would, without fail, come under the local canonical bishop during the course of their mission. They would commemorate only the name of the local bishop during services and would carry out their missionary and pastoral work solely in the name of the local bishop, so that this work would be canonical, pure and beyond reproach. Otherwise it is an intervention “beyond the borders” (“υπερόριος”) and an “intrusion” (“εισπήδησις”) into another province, which is specifically forbidden by the sacred canons and decisions of the Ecumenical Synods: “Let no bishop dare confer ordinations outside his own boundaries, in cities and territories not subject to him. If he be proved to have done so against the wishes of those having possession of those cities or territories, let him be deposed, as well as those whom he has ordained”.
“Let no bishop dare to go from one province to another and ordain anyone in church... unless invited to come by letter from the metropolitan and other bishops of the territory into which he is going. Should anyone so go without invitation and irregularly ordain someone in violation of the order of the things in the church... anything performed by him is invalid. He himself shall incur a suitable punishment for his irregular behaviour and his unreasonable enterprise, having already been deposed from office by the holy Synod” (Canon 13 of the Synod in Antioch).
Thus, according to Orthodox canonical teaching and ecclesiology, “each of the patriarchs should be content with his own privileges and not seize any of those of another eparchy, since from the beginning it is not under his hand. For this is conceit in secular power...”.
This canonical order of the Church, based on ecclesiological dogmatic conditions, i.e. on ţhe teaching concerning the Church, its structures, its bishops, its work, its jurisdiction and so on is its official and unshakable position. It is based on Holy Scripture, the sacred canons and the decisions of Ecumenical Synods, which, as expressions of the infallibility of the Church, are obligatory for all the local Orthodox Churches. Besides, the Orthodox Catholic Church, despite its administrative decentralization is still, one, with common faith and dogma. The same sacraments sanctify within it, the same synodical canons regulate matters of its life and order within it.
The Church was revealed by God to the world through Jesus Christ for the salvation of all people and of the world itself, regardless of race,and not to serve political or personal ambitions or other secular pursuits and opportunistic goals. The Church is not Russian or Greek, Serbian or Rumanian and so on, but the Orthodox Catholic Church in Greece, in Russia, in Serbia, in Rumania and so on. The boundaries of the local Churches are geographical and were defined not with national and racial criteria, but with administrative ones, following, in general, the civil administrative divisions of the Roman Empire (Saint Photios), in order to provide the best pastoral care for the people of God, irrespective of race, to bring them to salvation in Christ.
Ethnophyletism is a phenomenon which arose at the end of the 18th and the 19th centuries, a product of the Enlightenment and the French revolution. It was the new political theory, on the basis of which were created the nation states of Europe, and, in particular, those of the Balkan peninsula. This theory is, alas, still being applied in the Balkans today, with its familiar disastrous consequences on the lives of the people of the region and on peace.
The idea of “the nation” in the historical sources, in the lives of ordinary people and in the formation of states before the 18th century, i.e. before the French revolution, did not have the ethnophyletic meaning which is attributed to it today. In antiquity and until the 18th/19th centuries, “the nation” was defined by religion and culture, not by race. This was the politico-religious theory of the Persians, of the Ancient Greeks, of the pagan Romans and also of the Christian Romans (Byzantines), as well as of the Jews (as it still is to this day), and of the Muslims. When the latter, Arabs first and then later the Ottomans, conquered Roman (“Byzantine”) countries and territories, they applied an administration “by nations” (millet), i. e. by religious communities, not by race. The religious leaders of the communities within the Muslim states were also ethnarchs of these communities. So the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople was also the ethnarch of the Orthodox Christian “nation” within the Ottoman Empire, irrespective of race or language, as were the other patriarchs, metro-politans and other bishops locally. The Sultan/Caliph was the ethnarch of the Muslims, irrespective of the particular race, and so on. The ideas of the French revolution (1789) and of the Enlightenment created, as has been said, a new political theory, which ignored religion or culture as elements shaping communities and administrative units. States were now formed according to this dominant theory, on the basis of ethnophyletic criteria — either those already in existence or, mainly, those invented by means of politics or propaganda — with all the melancholy consequences we know today (ethnic cleansing and so on). Of course, for Christ and His Church, “there is neither Jew nor Greek... for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3, 28).
To a great extent, then, the politics of nationality which was dominant in the 19th century created the nation states of Europe, and particularly those of the Balkan Peninsula. An immediate consequence of this was the dissection in South-Eastern Europe of the Orthodox Catholic Church, the unified task of which underwent considerable external transformation. The most significant points of evolution were:
1. the creation of national Churches which, for a certain time were alienated from each other, and
2. the gradual entry into the East of a secular (profane) spirit and, particularly, of individual Liberalism, based on intellectual currents imported from the West.
Those who were informed with this spirit of ethnophyletism collaborated with foreign political powers and were moved to declare the arbitrary autocephaly of churches in Greece (1833), Rumania (1865), Bulgaria (1870) and Albania (1922-1928-1937). The Church of Serbia displayed a different and more peaceful spirit.
It is a fact that the then Great Powers had planned the dissolution of the ailing Ottoman Empire and its restriction to Asia, though not the restoration of the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantium) which could have proved a competitor to their economic and political interests in the Balkans and in the Eastern Mediterranean. On the basis of the prevailing political theory of ethnophyletism, they preferred the creation of small, weak states which would be dependent upon them. In order for these ambitions to succeed, the spiritual, cultural and ecclesiastical unity of the region also had to be shattered, and local autocephalous Churches established, subservient to the states created, which were, in their turn and depending on circumstances, subservient to one or the other Great Power.
Cognizant of its responsibilities towards Orthodoxy, as the First Throne of the Church, the Ecumenical Patriarchate, independently of the conditions prevailing at the time, adopted a position against this most significant phenomenon. Initially, it censured the Greeks (1833-1850) and then, at the Great (Μείζων) Local Synod in Constantinople (1872), went on to condemn ethnophyletism, which was not merely a deviation from the healthy love of one's nation and state, but constitutes a real impediment to cooperation between local Orthodox Churches in the world and is the greatest enemy to the unity of the Church.
This Great Synod published a “Resolution” condemning ethnophyletism in the Church, a resolution which was based on general principles formulated by a special committee of the Synod.
In brief, these general principles are as follows:
“... in the Christian Church, a society which is spiritual and charged by its Head and Founder to include all nations in one Christian brotherhood, phyletism is foreign and completely unthinkable. And, indeed, phyletism, i. e. the formation of special national Churches in the same place, which accept all those of the same race, but exclude all those of other races and which are administered solely by those of the same race, are unheard of and unprecedented , though they are what the adherents of phyletism aspire to.”
All the Christian Churches, founded in all places, were, from the beginning, local, containing the faithful of a particular city, or a particular local region, without racial discrimination. And thus, they were usually named after the city or territory, but not the racial provenance, of the members.
In the first place, the Church of Jerusalem consisted, as is well known, of Jews and proselytes of various nations. In the same way, the Churches of Antioch, Alexandria, Ephesus, Rome and all the others were made up of Jews and Gentiles. Each of these Churches constituted in itself something compact and indivisible; each recognized as its apostles the apostles of Christ, all of whom were Jews by race; each had a bishop ordained by these apostles, without any regard to race, as the history of the first Churches of Christ testifies...
This way of establishing Churches in various localities also obtained after the apostolic age, i. e. in the regional or Diocese Churches, which were defined in accordance with the prevailing civil divisions or other historical reasons. The congregation of the faithful in each of these churches consisted of Christians of every race and language.
Thus, the Churches of the Patriarchal Thrones of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem and the Archbishopric of Cyprus, which have, by God's grace, been preserved to this day, are local Churches, in the sense that they are contained within geographical boundaries. They are not national. This is why they are named after the capital city rather than after the various nations of which they consisted: Greeks, for example, Egyptians, Syrians, Arabs, Wallachians, Moldavians, Serbs, Bulgarians and others among those who usually live in concourse in the regions of these Churches.
Such, also, were the boundaries of the archbishoprics of Ochrid, Pec and Turnavo: i. e. Churches within drawn boundaries. They were neither constituted by reason of phyletism nor were their members of the same race and language. The later expressions “Latin, Greek, Armenian Church” and so on, do not, in general, express discrimination by nation, but differences in dogma. In the same way, the Church of Greece, of Russia, of Serbia, of Wallachia, of Moldova, or, more improperly, the Russian, Greek, Serbian etc. Church, mean autocephalous or semi-independent Churches in autonomous or semi-independent realms and with definite boundaries: those of the political realm, beyond which they have no ecclesiastical jurisdiction. It follows that they exist not because of nationality, but because of the political situation, and that their members are not all of one race and language...
The Fathers of the Holy Synods- partial or general, local or ecumenical- did not present themselves in an ethnic capacity, either their own or that of their flocks, but as representing the Church of which they were the head. And if, in the acts of the first synods and in Church history we do find bishops designated not by city or territory, but by nation, such as bishop of the Saracens, of the Goths or of the Scythians, this was so because of the ill-defined and badly constituted political and social conditions within some nations. Such titles can therefore easily be understood, since only a few people within these nations had accepted the Christian faith and had not yet gathered together in towns.
And if we have recourse to these very sacred canons, on which the structure of the Church is founded, we shall find not a trace of phyletism. The canons dealing with the election and consecration of bishops, metropolitans and patriarchs, as well as of the other functionaries of the Church nowhere define the racial characteristic as a qualification of eligibility. They mention only the moral and religious qualities which were laid down by the Apostle of the Gentiles in his epistles to Timothy and Titus. In the same way, the sacred canons of local Churches, which were aimed at the constitution, unification, or division of eparchies and parishes, projected ecclesiastical or political necessity, never ethnophyletic aspirations...
But the principle of phyletism also overturns the sacred structure of the Orthodox Church. The structure of the Orthodox Church, i.e. its administrative organization as a visible communion, is apparent in the sum total of its legislation, which is made up of the divine and sacred canons of the holy Apostles and of the Holy Synods, both ecumenical and local. Any action referring to the Church and tending towards the infringement of these canons in whole or in part, essentially violates the very structure of the Church... Canon 8, for instance, of the 1st Ecumenical Synod legislates that: “there be not two bishops in the city”. But, according to the principle of phyletism, two, three, or more bishops of the same faith can have their seats in the same city; in other words, as many as there are races living there. Canon 12 of the 4th Ecumenical Synod states: “Let there not be two metrqpolitans in the same eparchy”. But, according to phyletism, two or more metropolitans can have one and the same province as their see, depending on the number of races there.
Stricture against abrogation of the Church politeuma (by phyletism) is even clearer in the Churches of the Dioceses (Patriarchates and autocephalous Churches). Canon 2 of the 2nd Ecumenical Synod says:
“Let bishops not go to churches beyond the boundaries of their own dioceses...”
The Synods of these Dioceses together with their primate, president, archbishop, exarch or patriarch, constitute the highest ecclesiastical authority in the whole region of the Diocese. And according to this institution, there remain to this day Orthodox Patriarchates in the lands of the East, and, in the other realms, the administrative synods with their presidents. But according to the aspirations of the phyletists, there are no specific loci for the administration of the local Church. The racial, highest ecclesiastical jurisdictions also expand and contract in accordance with the eternal ebb and flow of nations, in groups or as individuals, wandering and migrating hither and thither...Thus, in one and the same ecclesiastical diocese, there will be, on the one hand, many exarchs or patriarchs of the same faith, and, on the other, many administrative synods of the same faith, in despite of so many sacred canons. In sum, according to the principles of phyletism, it is not possible for Diocesan Churches, Patriarchal, provincial or metropolitan Churches to exist, nor for there to be a bishopric or even a simple parish or church in some small village or settlement, if they are to have their own area and are to include all those of the same faith living therein”.
This Report, which also contains other historical and canonical arguments, concludes: “If things are thus, as, indeed, they are, phyletism is clearly in opposition to and conflict with the spirit and the teaching of Christ...”
These general theological, historical and canonical principles expressed in this Report were taken into consideration by the Holy and Great Local Synod which met at Constantinople in August, 1872. It condemned phyletism and published a “Resolution” (Όρος) concerning it, in which, among other things, the following is stated: “censuring and condemning it, we reject phyletism, that is racial discrimination and nationalistic contention, enmities and discord in the Church of Christ as being contrary to the teaching of the Gospel and the sacred canons of our holy Fathers, who support the holy Church and adorn the whole of the Christian life, leading to divine Godliness”.
Despite this, and after the decision of the Synod in Constantinople, phyletism, in the sense of unrestrained nationalism, unfortunately continued to influence the thoughts and actions of some local Orthodox Churches in this direction, at least as regards certain questions, to the detriment of Church unity. This is clear in the so-called Orthodox Diaspora, where canonical disorder prevails and where the nationalist element is powerful.
Orthodox faithful, members at first of different local Ghurches and states, have emigrated to new countries, settled and live there. They no longer belong, in Church terms, to the ecclesiastical provinces from which they came, because, as residents now of these new countries, they belong to the new ecclesiastical province in which they have settled and in which they experience their eucharistic and sacramental and spiritual life. They are thus members of the local Church under its bishop. This was always the canonical way of ordering things, it was the practice and tradition of the Church and has continued to this day in regions other than the new countries mentioned earlier. In Egypt, for example, in Libya, Pentapolis and the other territories of Africa, which are subject to the jurisdiction of the Patriarch of Alexandria,.new churches are being established by missionaries or emigrants. These new communities are independent of the national provenance of the missionaries or of the emigrants or of the original autocephalous Church from which they came. The missionaries and emigrants, living and working in the region proper to the Patriarch of Alexandria, and with his canonical permission, are automatically placed under his jurisdiction. The same is true in Antioch, in Jerusalem and so on. This ought also to be the case in the new ecclesiastical provinces of America, Australia and so on, though it is not so because here the criteria of ethnophylestism prevail to this day.
The Orthodox Church is, in general, conscious of the ecclesiological and canonical irregularity which was created by the appearance of ethnophyletism in the 19th century and which is apparent in the formation and establishment of new provinces in America and elsewhere.
For this reason, one of the subjects for discussion by the Holy and Great Synod of the Orthodox Church which is to be convened is also that of the so-called Diaspora, on the basis of canonical order and Orthodox ecclesiology and not ethnophyletic criteria. A good deal of progress has been achieved in this direction by the preparatory committee of the Synod in its sessions. The application of canonical order in the new provinces of the so-called Orthodox Diaspora does not mean uniformity in the parishes. Today's pastoral reality, and expediency, would not permit the absorption of one by the other and the levelling out of everything. Besides, as we see in the Gospel, Jesus Christ, the “Good Shepherd” and the “Chief Shepherd” of the Church, did not scorn the cultural features of His environment.
He did not destroy things that were well-loved, but rather used these features in order to communicate with people and save them. People must certainly retain their faith above all, but without feeling contempt for their culture and without being cut off from their roots.
This variety, which enriches the life of the Church in the new provinces and is demonstrably necessary, pastorally, for the survival and development of the local communities, must find expression within the ecclesiological and canonical framework defined by the sacred canons and decisions of the Patriarchal and Synodical Tomes of the Ecumenical Throne concerning the autocephalous status of the recent autocephalous Churches, and thus provide diversity in canonical unity, within the defined territorial limits of the local Churches.
* A paper read at the International Congress of Canon Law, Budapest, 2-7 September 2001.
. Valsamon, Commentary on Canon 6 of the1st Ecumenical Synod. Cf. Similar commentaries by Zonaras and Aristenos on the same canon, in RALLIS AND POTLIS, Constitution of the Divine and Sacred canons... (in Greek), vol. II, p. 129.
. Valsamon, commentary an Canon 6 of the 1st Ecumenical Synod, RALLIS AND POTLIS, op. cit. vol. II, p. 131.
. MANSI 7,179.
. Valsamon, Commentary on Canon 6 of the 1st Ecumenical Synod, RALLIS AND POTLIS, op cit. vol. II, p. 129.
. Cf. Canon 36 of the Quinisext Ecumenical Synod.
. This title has been in use for the Patriarch of Constantinople since the 6th century. He is the bishop of the capital of the Roman Empire, i. e. of the whole of the inhabited, civilized world, according to the political theory of the Romans.
. Canon 3 of the 2nd Ecumenical Synod, Canon 28 of the 4th Ecumenical Synod, Canon 36 of'the Quinisext Ecumenical Synod.
. Canon 36 of the Quinisext Ecumenical Synod. Cf. Novella 131 of Justinian, Basilika, BookV, title 3.
. Interpretation of Zonaras of the above canon.
. Interpretation of Valsamon of Canon 28 of the 4th Ecumenical Synod.
. RALLIS AND POTLIS, op.cit., vol V, p. 474. Cf. also the Cataloque of Neilos Doxapatris in Goar in Allatius' de Consensu, p. 411 (note 1 in RALLIS AND POTLIS).
. According to the testimony to the undersigned of G. Ferrari, late Professor of Patrology and Dogmatics in the Theological School of Bari, the Archbishop of Paronaxia was sent to these eparchies by the Ecumenical Patriarch in the 18th century on a pastoral tour.
. On the term “Barbarian” in the canons, see MAXIMOS, METROPOLITAN OF SARDEIS, The Ecumenical Patriarchate in the Orthodox Church (in Greek), Thessaloniki 21989, p. 277..
. Cf. Vlasios PHEIDAS, “Οικουμενικός Θρόνος και Ορθόδοξος Διασπορά” in Ορθόδοξος Μαρτυρία και Σκέψις art. 19, 1979, pp. 5-6.
. In RAlLIS and POTLIS, op. cit. vol. V, p. 474. Cf. the registers of Darrouzes and Gelzer “Notitiae episcopatuum...”.
. In RALLIS AND POTLIS, op. rit., vol. V, p. 149 ff.
. Canon 35 of the Apostles.
. Cf. also Canons 6 and 15 of the Ist Ecumenical Synod and the interpretations of these by Zonaras, Valsamon, Aristenos. Also Canon 8 of the 3rd Ecumenical Synod and interpretations of it.
. Comment by Aristenos on Canon 6 of the Ist Ecumenical Synod, in RALLIS AND POTLIS op. cit. vol. II, p. 131.
. Cf. Sir Stephen RUNCIMAN, The Orthodox Churches and the Secular State, p. 26 ff. Auckland Oxford 1971. On the meaning of “Nation” in the sacred canons, see Canon 34 of the Apostles, which is repeated in Canon 9 of the Synod in Antioch. See also the interpretation of Zonaras on this. “Nation” in the sacred canons means the metropolitan province as geographical boundaries.
. MAXIMOS, METROPOLITAN OF SARDEIS, The Ecumenical Patriarchate op.cit. p. 320. Cf. Gerasimos konidaris, The Greek Church as a Cultural Force in the History of the Balkan Peninsula (in Greek), pp. 28-29.
. The text of the Report is in MAXIMOS, METROPOLITAN OF SARDEIS, op. cit. pp. 323-330.
. The text of the Report also refers to Canons 34 and 35 of the Holy Apostles, Canon 2 of the 2nd Ecumenical Synod; Canon 8 of the 3rd Ecumenical Synod; Canon 6 of the Ist and Canon 28 of the 4th.
. The 'politeuma' of the Church is the system of governance in the Church, in its ecclesiological and canonical dimension.
. In MAXIMOS, METROPOLITAN OF SARDEIS, op, cit. pp. 323-330.
. For more, see PANTELEIMON RODOPOULOS (METROPOLITAN OF TYROLOE AND SERENTION), An Ecclesiological and Canonical View of the Orthodox Diaspora, in his collection Meletai A', Thessaloniki 1993, pp. 180-181 (in Greek).
. panteleimon rodopoulos, op. cit. 184-185.
. metropolitan aimilianos of selyvria, The Revitalization of the Local Community, (in Greek), in Επίσκεψις 192 (1978), p. 10