June 14, 2010

Greek Orthodoxy, the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and the Church in the USA

V. Rev. Archimandrite Elpidophoros Lambriniadis
Chief Secretary of the Holy and Sacred Synod
of the Ecumenical Patriarchate

Lecture during the Summer Seminar at St. Vladimir's Theological Seminary, New York, June 12, 2010.

Venerable Hierarchs,
Rev. Dr. John Behr, Dean,
Reverend Clergy,
Brothers and Sisters,

It is a particular privilege and pleasure to be among you today, in the academic halls of St. Vladimir's Theological Seminary, this nursery of theological letters and priestly vocation, which has been grounded in the Russian spirituality and intellectual thought of such great theologians and ministers of the church as the fathers George Florovsky, Alexander Schmemann and John Meyendorff.

I wish to express my sincere gratitude to the successors of these extraordinary theologians for the invitation extended to me to participate in this distinguished scholarly Symposium in order to enjoy the opportunity to convey to all of you the paternal greetings and Patriarchal blessings of His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, Primate of the Great Church of Christ, the Mother Church of Constantinople.

[I regret that, owing to the last session of the Holy and Sacred Synod, my arrival was delayed and consequently did not permit me to attend the two extremely interesting presentations by Dr. Timothy Clark and Dr. George Lewis Parsenios.]

The topic that I have been asked to address today: "Greek Orthodoxy, the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and the Church in the USA." Beginning with the content and historical development of the phrase "Greek Orthodoxy," I will endeavor to explore its relationship to the Ecumenical Patriarchate in order, finally, on this basis, to interpret the perception of the Church of Constantinople with regard to the ecclesiastical situation in the United States and present its vision for the future of Orthodoxy in this land.

From its very foundation on this earth by our Lord Jesus Christ, but especially from the outset of its organization by the local Bishops, the Church of Christ was profoundly - and quite naturally - influenced by the political, administrative and cultural context of the Roman Empire, which was in turn characterized as an empire by syncretism, multiethnicism and multiculturism as well as uniformity of law, government, language, currency, and so forth. From the moment that Christianity was first registered as recognized and tolerated after the period of persecution and thereafter as formal religion of the empire, the very identity of the Church was directly affected, while in turn affecting the identity of the Roman citizen. I will discuss neither the degree to which Divine Providence in this way prepared the political and cultural historical context for the extension and establishment of the Church of Christ, nor the scope to which the multiethnic and multicultural identity of the empire facilitated a Christianity that was based on the same external elements.

Nevertheless, I would like to draw your attention to the concept and content of the Roman citizen (or inhabitant of the Roman Empire), especially from the time that he or she began to sense the Christian faith as a characteristic feature of identity.

The Roman Christian could - at least ethnically - belong to any race and have any native language. Yet, in spite of this, the Roman Christian would be a faithful under the one Bishop of a particular city that served as either temporary or permanent residence, just as he or she would be subjected to the Roman administrator or governor of the region. The identity of the Roman Christian as citizen of the Kingdom of God bore - analogically speaking - the same characteristics of identity enjoyed by every citizen of the Roman Empire, irrespective of race, language or origin.

The same applied to one's identity within the Church of the Roman Empire: namely, the basis and criterion of organization was always geographical, with
one bishop elected for every city, to whom all inhabitants of the region weresubmitted without any discrimination (linguistic or other), in accordance with the Apostolic instruction: "There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male nor female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus." (Gal. 3.28)

On the basis of the same principle, the Orthodox Churches today are called "Church of Alexandria," "Church of Antioch," "Church of Jerusalem," "Church of Russia," and so on - that is to say, they are defined geographically. In this respect, it is both untraditional and uncanonical from an ecclesiastical perspective for the Patriarchates to be named "Russian," "Serbian," "Romanian," "Bulgarian," or "Georgian," or for their Patriarchs to be addressed as "Patriarch of the Russians," "of the Serbs," "of the Romanians," "of the Bulgarians," or "of the Georgians." For these characterizations introduce - not only in the Diaspora, but also in the local Orthodox Churches - a criterion of ethnophyletism, thereby dividing the flock of the local Bishop on the basis of ethnic origin and allowing the possibility of infringement into another eparchy or jurisdiction. This applies to both realities, in local Churches and in Diaspora, since the sacred Canons cannot have selective or circumstantial but universal application.

This experience and teaching of the Church was also confirmed by the decisions of the Ecumenical Councils, which codified and recorded in a binding manner for all of Christianity not only the "faith once delivered" together with its doctrine, but also the principles of administration and organization. I would remind you that the Ecumenical Councils did not dogmatize ex nihilo; nor did they impose definitions and conditions of ecclesiastical organization that hitherto did not exist. Both in matters of faith and in matters of administration, they codified the Apostolic teaching, the Church experience and the Patristic tradition. There is no reason here to expand on the well-substantiated refutation of the erroneous distinction of sacred Canons into doctrinal (and therefore not conducive to revision) and administrative (and hence susceptible to modification).

Resuming the analysis of the terminology, I would call to mind the fact that the Church within the Roman Empire - that which Western historians in the 18th century labeled as Byzantine - was in fact originally called Roman, particularly when schismatic and heretical ecclesiastical structures appeared and required some form of distinction from a terminological perspective. This was especially evident and instituted in the Orthodox east after the Schism of 1054 and, in particular, with the prevalence of the Ottoman over the Eastern Roman Empire.

Henceforth, the non-Christian Sultan ratified and formally instituted the phrase "Roman Nation" (Rum Milleti), which included all Christian Orthodox inhabitants of the occupied empire. For the Sultan, just as for his predecessor the Roman Empire, there were no distinctions according to race, but only according to religion and confession. This is precisely why the populations that embraced Islam were not called "Roman Muslims" but Turks. Those who converted to Islam became Turkish - that is to say, they changed identity.

Therefore, the Ottoman Empire adopted and respected the existing ecclesiastical terminology, according to which the conquered Roman Christian was not distinguished on the basis of linguistic or ethnic origin, but on the basis of his or her identity as a member of the Church.

In this respect, in the eastern languages (namely, Greek, Turkish, and Arabic), the Patriarchates (the Ecumenical Patriarchate as well as those of Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem) were characterized as "Rum (or Roman) Orthodox" in contradistinction to "Rum (or Roman) Catholic" or the Armenian and Syrian Churches.

Problems arose when, with the rise of nationalism in the Balkans (19th century), the term "Rum" was translated as "Greek" in order also to determine the principle of reorganization and independence of the various Orthodox peoples from an ecclesiastical viewpoint. Meanwhile, of course, the Greek Nation had been established and every concept of Hellenism was understood in nationalistic terms, thereby attributing an entirely different content to the original term "Rum."

Without further expanding, I would summarize as follows: The source of the phrase "Greek Orthodoxy" has in our day assumed an ethnic sense, which however distorts reality. The phrase "Greek Orthodoxy" or "Rum Orthodox" is more accurately rendered in English as "Roman Orthodox." Just as the phrase "Roman Catholic" cannot be translated as "Italian Catholic," so too the term "Rum" or "Roman" when referring to Orthodox Christians should not be translated as "Greek Orthodox" in a way that conveys an ethnic content to a purely ecclesiastical terminology.

The original sense of the term is even preserved in the Uniate Churches, which unfortunately bear the inappropriate title "Greek Catholic." For their members are certainly not Greeks, but Uniates subjected to the Pope and adhering to the Byzantine (or Eastern Roman) rite.

Another characteristic fact is that all the Slavic peoples - at least in the period preceding the rise of nationalism - had no problem whatsoever in being called "Rum Orthodox" and being under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, which - we should not forget - never endeavored to Hellenize them, since this was contrary to its principles and very identity as Ecumenical. Indeed, there was no attempt to Hellenize the Slavs even during the period of their Christianization. On the contrary, their language was enhanced - essentially engendered - with the creation of a specific alphabet and the consolidation of a cultural identity.

It is not by chance that the Church of Russia from the 18th century until the October Revolution had no difficulty being called "Greek-Russian,"2 while even your own Church here in the United States was, until 1971, called "Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church of America."3

Thus, since I believe that we have together established sufficient evidence that the phrase "Greek Orthodox" - at least in reference to the Patriarchates of the East - is not an accurate rendering of their actual reality, we may better interpret contemporary developments in Diaspora as well as within the Patriarchates themselves.

The rest of the speech, including footnotes, is available in .pdf form here: