Friday, March 24, 2006

Signs an "Orthodox" Church is Non-Canonical

Unfortunately, so many churches laying claim to the title "Orthodox" have no connection to the Orthodox Church. Worse, not all are forthcoming about their ecclesiastical status. Aside from the obvious -- glaring flaws in their faith, order, or morals -- here are a few signs that an "Orthodox" church may be falsely so-called:

1. It traces its lines of apostolic succession. Those currently in communion with an Orthodox bishop do not wrangle over "endless genealogies." Orthodoxy does not hold to a strictly "tactile" view of apostolic succession, anyway, so presenting such a list does not of itself prove Orthodoxy.
2. It recounts its (usually fractious) jurisdictional history. Independent churches often justify their existence by claiming they broke ranks from an "ecumenist" jurisdiction (or several in succession), or that they were "granted autonomy" at some vague date.
3. Its name juggles the words "Orthodox" and "Catholic" with exotic modifiers. Although the Orthodox Church regards Herself as the Catholic Church, all legitimate jurisdictions in North America go by the shorthand "Orthodox." Those churches calling themselves the "Orthodox Catholic Church" should set off alarm bells. Thus, one finds "Episcopal Orthodox," "Roman Orthodox," the "Anglican-Catholic Byzantine Church of America" (!), and even the "Charismatic Orthodox," none of whom are members of the Orthodox Church.
4. It proclaims it is "canonical." Canonical churches don't feel a need to say they are; they just are.
5. It defines canonicity as "following the canons." Which canons? Do they eat in restaurants with Jews? Allow their parishoners to marry actresses? Administer Holy Communion with a spoon? Then they're breaking the canons made at ecumenical councils. The discipline of the Church is administered by bishops -- proper bishops who are part of the Church. Certainly wishing to follow the norms of Orthodoxy is praiseworthy, but it does not make one a member church of the Orthodox communion.
6. It says Orthodoxy means only "fidelity to the Orthodox faith." Similar to the above, these groups will claim to hold the pure Orthodox doctrine. Unlike Protestantism, Orthodoxy is not an ecclesiastically invisible communion of right-thinkers without any outer stricture. Becoming part of the Church means sharing Her faith, communion, and hierarchy. Many Lutheran, Anglican, and "Uniate" priests genuinely believe to "the Orthodox faith" (and God bless them for it!); however, this does not make their parishes part of the Orthodox communion.
7. It considers any discussion of canonicity an "attack." Ironically, this is usually followed by an attack on some action of supposedly "ecumenist, modernist" jurisdictions.
8. It accuses its critics of having a "papal" view of the Church. One often hears the strawman argument: "We don't need to be in communion with the Patriarch of Constantinople; he's not the head of Orthodoxy!" Indeed. However, the Church has the right to draw its own boundaries. To be part of the Orthodox Church, one must not only hold the faith but be in communion with one of the autocephalous or autonomous Orthodox Churches in the world. It need not be Constantinople, nor even a patriarchate.* But it must be one of the churches listed at the link above.
9. It responds with false historical analogies. It will claim ROCOR is not in communion with any patriarchate (although it is in communion with both Serbia and Jerusalem). Or that St. Maximos the Confessor had to flee Eastern bishops (to the Pope of Rome). Or....
10. It claims all canonical status is based on "political considerations." Church politics haunts Orthodoxy as much as any other human ecclesiastical institution, but the Gnomes of Zurich do not run the Church. The EOC had to knock quite a bit...but it made the effort.
11. It claims it is "pursuing relations with Orthodoxy." Some claim to be involved in "ecumenical discussions" with Orthodox that are somehow constantly frustrated. At least such an admission would acknowledge the jurisdiction is outside the Church. If a catechuman wants to be Orthodox, he should simply join the Orthodox Church.
12. It boasts of "frequent concelebrations" with real Orthodox. Unlike whether a given jurisdiction is in communion with any other, this claim is not readily verifiable. This is particularly true when the Orthodox "concelebrant" is unnamed or deceased. But of itself, this proves nothing; Copts innocently concelebrated with the Gnostic Orthodox, who were still blasphemers. The vagante definition of "concelebration" also seems to differ from the norm; merely being present in the church sometimes qualifies.
13. It claims it is "in communion with" legitimate jurisdictions. Again, real Orthodox don't state they are "in communion with" one another (unless a local schism has recently healed). If asked, some vagantes will say they are "in communion with the patriarchates" or "have never broken communion" with a given Church. By this, they mean their priests will commune Orthodox, but the inverse is not true. Ths is a form of deception.
14. It declares any discussion of canonicity "distracts from the task of proclaiming the Gospel." The "Can't we all just get along" dodge. Any individual may "proclaim the Gospel," but only the Church can genuinely care for the newborn Christian soul -- washing it in baptism, sealing it in the Holy Spirit, nourishing it with the Body and Blood of Christ. If this "Orthodox" organization truly cared for its souls, it would refer them to the Holy Orthodox Church (and follow them into Her loving embrace).

These are just a few tips. In general, if you feel something is uncertain or a correspondent in a church seems less than forthcoming, contact a legitimate Orthodox Church and find out about the group's status. Or better yet, stick with the legitimate Orthodox jurisdictions in the first place. To make the matter easy for those investigating the WR, officially, there are only two jurisdictions in the world with a Western Rite: Antioch and ROCOR. Save yourself confusion and potential heartache; join one of these.

To those outside the Church: if you truly believe the Orthodox faith, regardless of whether you wish to worship according to the Western Rite, you are to be commended. God has planted this desire in you so you will follow it all the way to full communion with His Bride, the Holy Orthodox Church. We in the Western Rite do not wish to battle you; we wish to worship with all men (and women) of goodwill. Join with us. Help us secure the position of the Western Rite within the unquestionable boundaries of our Holy Mother, the Church. There is much work to do, and we can use the assistance. More important to us, we long for the fellowship of devout souls. Above all, we pray you will find that for which you truly long: the Church established by Christ and His Apostles, the Body of Christ and sure Ark of Salvation.

And to my fellow Orthodox tempted toward complacency, remember: were there not so many Orthodox jurisdictions in the West, all seemingly dedicated to Old World loyalties and ethnic fetishism, this kind of confusion would be impossible, and the true Church would be judged by Her faith and Her Founder.

* - ...Although offhand I cannot name any legitimate Orthodox jurisdiction that is not in communion with at least one patriarchate.

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8 Comments:

Blogger Huw Raphael said...

Much of this is true of the Vagantes I tracked when I was in the ECUSA World Mission office. It was a fun hobby.

I don't want to downplay the dangers of these pseudo-orthodox groups, HOWEVER... I want to point out that given the same criteria (and my experience tracking the Vagantes) and given the material available at the time (early 90s) it was hard to decide between ROCOR and the OCA. They both had a lot of talk about canons and what is really canonical and succession and tradition. And then (even in the early 90s) there was a perception that the refusal of several patriarchates to recognise OCA Autocephally (which continues) constituted an canonical issue. It's hard for an outsider to realise what's up - even based on info available.

5:07 PM  
Blogger The Rambler said...

I would agree that what you offer is a good practical guide. Unfortunately, there are "hard cases" both now and historically, which do justify a more "nuanced" approach. Unfortunately, as Huw Raphael indicats, it is very difficult for those looking "from the outside" to be able to make the necessary distinctions in those type of cases...which is precisely why they are the ones genuine schismatics and vagantes prey upon.

7:41 AM  
Blogger OrthodoxMonk said...

I agree with the previous comments. You have offered an important guide. However, the landscape of Orthodoxy (especially in the West and worse in America) is more complicated than you describe and does require a "more "nuanced" approach".

Even so equiped one must look to God for discernment based upon --not only your guide-- one's experience and prayer.

11:09 AM  
Blogger Ben Johnson said...

This is not "my guide"; it's the mind of the Church. One's experience is only valuable if it conforms to that.

5:57 PM  
Blogger Huw Raphael said...

Ben, tthe mind of the church is not clear here. That is what I mean to say. Especially with your last comment, you put forward something as if it were, when it is not.

It is, at best, the Mind of SCOBA. Which, while possibly true is WAY biased.

11:47 AM  
Blogger Ben Johnson said...

Huw, I'm afraid we're going to have to agree to disagree here. OCA Autocephaly is one issue; it's being an actual member of the Orthodox communion is not, which is the issue on this thread. Orthodoxy has the ability to set its ecclesiastical boundaries, as any other communion does. (Or this country, for that matter.) :)The fact that people occasionally ignore both boundaries does not invalidate their existence, IMHO.

3:04 PM  
Blogger Aristibule said...

Case in point - ROCOR is still considered a 'part of the Church' by the Church. Communion of laity between most of SCOBA and ROCOR has continued, even through the 80s/90s when ROCOR was under the influence of the Greek Old Calendarists (now, no longer in communion with the Church - the last part breaking communion recently.) We're back at 1970s normalcy with that issue.

So, does this post express the 'mind of the Church'? I'd have to say yes - not particularly that of 'SCOBA' (Moscow, Jerusalem, and ROCOR are not SCOBA after all - been refused at communion by all three of those lately?) One doesn't need Pietist 'personal experience' when one has the judgment of one's holy bishops and priests.

5:36 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

I ran into the Holy Catholic Orthodox and Apostolic Church. They listed a parish in my area but it turned out to be a former (although he considers himself to be presently a priest) Orthodox Priest who was part of a Charismatic Episcopal Church parish. They were wonderful people just not what I expected. Given the lack of alternatives we went a few times but the whole insistence of the CEC that they are bringing back charisma into the Roman Catholic and Orthodox "streams" was just stupid. What they really should really are doing is trying to make Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy entertaining and fun (by modern standards). The CEC priest went out of his way to assure me that his orders were gold. He even told me that the Roman Catholic Church accepted the CEC orders.

It is interesting that I never heard APCK or the ACA ever say or do anything to prove they are Orthodox. They just are (atleast in their minds). I know of a ACA priest that has presided over Armenian Orthodox funerals and given pastoral care. Let me tell you I have never been in a church that felt more otherworldly than Olde St. Pauls in Portland, ME.

It was tough to hear (I am hard of hearing) but it was on par with the divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. I think I liked it because the people were much more reverant, people weren't complaining the the priest was taking to long or discussing where to go to lunch after the liturgy. It was also nice to see that people got there on time instead of showing up five minutes before communion and then leaving just after.

2:51 PM  

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