The Orthodox Churches’ Accelerating Crises: The Fractiousness of the Orthodox Churches and the Agenda of the Holy Spirit

Source: Notes on Arab Orthodoxy

June 9, 2016

Are the accelerating Orthodox developments a crisis or an
awakening? Both the Bulgarian and Serbian Orthodox
Churches have withdrawn their signatures, having
previously signed all the decisions by the preparatory
conferences and committees for the Great Orthodox Council,
including the Synaxes of 2014 and 2016 in Geneva (I myself
was present at the latter). Today they are withdrawing and
today they are saying the opposite of what they said
yesterday. Is this an awakening from an extended coma or
was there yesterday a watchword for signing, then today
there was a watchword for withdrawing the signature? Is
the Orthodox world today at the end of a crisis and the
beginning of an awakening? Are things escalating and
colliding or will there be a course-correction and a
renewed course of unity? I have previously said and
written that there is an “official agenda for the
council” and then there is the “agenda of the
Holy Spirit” who sometimes intervenes without us
realizing it, especially when we do not leave the way open
for the Holy Spirit to blow along our paths.

Are we at the beginning of an awakening or the beginning
of a state of fragmentation because of the Orthodox
world’s inability to reconcile tradition and
modernity? Modernity isn’t “modernization”
in the sense of taking the superficial aspect of modernity
but remaining in essence petrified. Not everyone who uses
an iPhone or WhatsApp has reached modernity. Rather, it is
a modernity of thinking and vision and a capacity for
looking forward to the future. It is as though today, the
Orthodox Churches, each of which until now has acted as
though it sees itself as the entire body and not one of
the members of the body, have started to realize that
today they need the rest of the members of the body and
that they cannot continue to live in parallel to the other
churches because each is a member of the body and not the
body itself and so, consequently, each must interact with
the rest of the members of the body in order to build up
the unity of the body. It appears that today “the
razor reached the chin” and a brake was necessary. It
remains that unity is not given to us so that we can treat
it like someone making a withdrawal from a savings
account.

For a long time now, Antioch has not ceased repeating and
cautioning the churches that unity cannot be divided as it
is a state of mutual participation between all the
members, that if one member suffers, all members must heal
its wounds, and that the issue of Qatar is not an issue of
a boundary disagreement between two patriarchates, but
rather an issue of indivisible communion between all the
Orthodox churches. Their unity is based first of all on
communion of faith and secondly on respect for the canons
of the ecumenical councils in cooperation with each other,
so any attack on a part is an attack on the whole.

Yes, unity is the “stature of Christ” which is
indivisible and to which we must rise. It requires of all
the members effort, taking things slowly, patience, and
awareness, ways of communion and cooperation, ways of
unity, spiritual discernment and apprehension. Is what is
happening today part of the agenda of the Holy Spirit, who
enters into us like a fireball, corrects the course, and
brings us out of competing policies between the churches
to mutually complimentary policies among the Orthodox
churches? The council is not a goal in itself. Unity is
the goal. Not a simulated unity, but actual unity in the
image of the Trinity: unity and diversity. Let us pray to
the Lord!

Below is what I wrote in the preface to my study for the
latest meeting of the Holy Synod of Antioch, before all
the latest developments, whose positive and negative
aspects we must analyze equally and take from the positive
aspects, so that the Lord may speak to us through them.

* * *

Conclusion One: The Orthodox Churches’
Accelerating Crises

+ The Orthodox world is experiencing a great crisis, a
crisis of “fleeing forward”, a crisis that in
essence is not a crisis of faith, but which may lead to a
serious ecclesiastical crisis and a crisis of unity if
matters are not set in order and the course leading to the
abyss– which, in the words of Fr Touma (Bitar), is taking
the Orthodox world in the “wrong theological,
ecclesiological and pastoral direction”– is not set
aright.

+ The driving forces behind the crisis are many and
varied. There is no room to delve into them here, but two
fundamental driving forces can be highlighted. The first
of them lies in the repercussions of the “age of
globalization” which is hastening– indeed,
exploding– the conflict and collision within the Orthodox
churches between tradition and modernity. The second is
the repercussions of the acute political competition that
has been accelerating for two decades between two basic
Orthodox pole: the Hellenic, Greek pole on the one hand
and the Russian, Slavic pole on the other hand. It is a
crisis of competition of a new sort, whose goal is to
strive by all available means for primacy in the
leadership of the Orthodox world. It is striking deeply at
all the elements of Orthodox conciliar life and communion,
on which the Orthodox Church’s ecclesiology is based.

+ In this context, the Great Orthodox Council appears to
be a cover for these competing ecclesiastical politics–
competition that will be ongoing before, during and after
the council set to be held on Crete this coming June. The
truth is, one can say more than this– that by not
addressing the Orthodox Church’s real dilemmas, the
council is a facade of simulated unity for Orthodox
churches that have not yet undertaken a historical
evaluation of their path in today’s world.

+ Consequently, there are enormous real dangerous hovering
around Orthodox unity,with an increasing escalation of
criticism against the hasty, hurried approach to the
preparation and call for the Great Orthodox Council. This
growing critical movement comes from various Orthodox
actors in Greece and elsewhere, whether episcopal,
theological, academic or in many circles of the faithful
in the East and the West. Metropolitan Seraphim of Piraeus
in Greece has expressed its seriousness when he said,
“the Pan-Orthodox Council is a council without the
Orthodox.” This movement may subject the Orthodox
world to dangers of schisms that might appear here and
there and which may grow today more than at any time in
the past because of the effect of rapid communications
that link various actors across borders in a networked
world.

+ The crisis of the Orthodox churches today is not a
crisis of faith or a crisis of unity or a crisis of dogma.
Rather, it is a crisis of modernity and of how to deal
with the modernity of today’s world. It is in form and
essence a crisis of fractiousness that is increasingly
keeping the Orthodox world away from the engines of true
witness to Christ and from the engines of evangelism in
today’s world. It may lead the Orthodox world to
modernization in form and petrification and museumization
in content. The transformations in today’s world,
which the Orthodox world has not yet analyzed
sufficiently, are a lightning-bolt that is exploding the
internal situations in all the Orthodox churches inclined
toward traditionalism that are living in history more than
in geography and reality and are therefore completely
estranged from the geography, psychology and sociology of
today’s world.

+ The greatest evidence for this is the ambiguous
relationship between the mother Orthodox churches and
their diaspora across the five continents. This dossier is
the heart of the issue, and the arena for strife,
competition and hot and cold wars between the two poles
and between the churches. It is the axis of all the
battles before, during and after the Great Orthodox
Council. This relationship between the mother church and
its diaspora exists and is understood– implicitly, not
openly– in a single administrative direction. That is,
the direction of the mother church which does not realize
that its diaspora is a new life for it and for the
Orthodox Christian message. It does not realize the
necessity of prioritizing evangelism over management,
since the Orthodox diaspora is a grace from God’s
economy that can only be aright through a
mutually-participatory and mutually communicative
relationship between the mother churches and their
diasporas.Today’s world, the world of networks,
globalization and the revolution in digital communications
has exploded the situations of all the Orthodox churches
inclined toward traditionalism. A significant proportion
of these churches have not yet realized the importance and
necessity of undertaking a critical review of the
Church’s ways of governance and of launching them into
today’s world and the necessity of departing from
traditional approaches that have become obsolete in order
to renew pastoral care and evangelism in today’s
world. Consequently, the most important challenge that the
Orthodox Church is experiencing today is the challenge of
fractiousness and petrification and of holding back from
looking at the reflection in the mirror.

+ The Orthodox churches that have started to understand
these dynamic factors in today’s world, the
interconnected world of networks and not the world of a
unilaterally-acting center– churches such as Romania, for
example– have started putting into place
mutually-participatory, cumulative policies to build up
the influence between the mother church and the local
churches spread around the world. Here the Russian and
Romanian Churches seem to be leading the way in this
direction, each of them in its own way and with its own
means, while the other churches that are still stuck, to
varying degrees, in old-fashioned methodologies are
candidates for increasing the elements of the crisis and
deviating toward becoming historical museums.

+ The Great Orthodox Council is an outward facade that
does not address these critical dilemmas, but rather
ignores them while at the same time expansionist
ecclesiastical politics continue on the ground.
Consequently, the escalation of internal crises in the
churches that do not protect themselves in these new
situations and continue to act internally and externally
in an old-fashioned manner, have not endeavored to develop
their concepts, and have not undertaken historic reviews
in order to modernize their positioning, discourse and
their ways of working are now subject, more than any time
in the past, to predation and proselytization by other
Christian churches that are more dynamic and active in
today’s world.

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