"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev

The Russian Orthodox Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev is a prolific scholar and musician, having previously authored such works as a recent book on eschatology and soteriology (Christ the Conqueror of Hell: The Descent into Hades from an Orthodox Perspective), two introductions to Orthodoxy in general (The Mystery of Faith: An Introduction to the Teaching and Spirituality of th(e Orthodox Church, and Orthodox Witness Today), and two others: St Symeon the New Theologian and Orthodox Tradition, and The Spiritual World of Isaac the Syrian.

St. Vladimir's Seminary Press just sent me a copy of the metropolitan's newest work, the first volume of a projected multi-volume series in translation from the original Russian: Orthodox Christianity Volume I: The History and Canonical Structure of the Orthodox Church (Crestwood, NY: SVS Press, 2011), 340pp.

If this book holds true to its title, it will most likely be a major study of an area still not well examined in Orthodox ecclesiology. At risk of being immodest, I would say that the only other recent, updated, largely comprehensive study of the canonical structures of the Orthodox Churches would be my own Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy: Ut Unum Sint and the Prospects of East-West Unity, wherein I undertook, inter alia, to provide a previously unprecedented survey of the canonical structure of more than a dozen churches: the five ancient patriarchates, the modern European patriarchates (of Sofia, Bucharest, and Moscow) and then many of the so-called non-Chalcedonian churches, including the Copts; the Syrians, and the Indian churches derived from them; and then the Armenian Apostolic Church, to which I gave special attention because of its utterly singular structure. When I was working on that book, I quickly discovered that no such comprehensive, up-to-date survey had been attempted. I was breaking new ground.

Lest anyone think this discussion of canonical structures is academic-ecclesial arcana that nobody could possibly find relevant, I would remind the reader that disputes over ecclesial structures are at the heart of the on-going search for not merely Catholic-Orthodox unity, but unity among the Orthodox themselves, as, e.g., Met. Hilarion made clear following the Ravenna meeting. (I discuss Alfeyev's concerns in an article available here.) Witness, too, e.g., the debate in the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese of North America about the status of their bishops. While there are certainly grounds for deploring that decision, one cannot simply say that the reduction of previously installed diocesan bishops to the rank of "auxiliary" (itself a deplorable concept inspired by modern Roman Catholic practice, which should be scrapped and replaced with much smaller jurisdictions: the problem is not too many bishops, but too few presiding over, as Joseph O'Callaghan showed, dioceses needlessly and unjustifiably larger than some of the world's largest corporations, making it almost impossible for a bishop to be, in any serious sense, a spiritual father) is somehow "unOrthodox" as though there were one model that all Orthodox follow, or ought to follow.  One of the important lessons my research revealed was that there is no such thing as "the" structure of the Orthodox Church true across all Orthodox churches--or even true across the same church in different periods.

Thus one sees, once more, that the shibboleths one so often hears from lazy, ignorant, or simply tendentious apologists for Orthodoxy--in this case that the Orthodox Church is always and everywhere "synodical" or "conciliar" while the Latin Church is always and everywhere "monarchical" and "papist"--is just so much rubbish. There is, as I show in my book, a long history of synodical governance in the Latin Church, and, as I show, a significant history of some patriarchs in some Orthodox Churches at some periods having powers (Τον Δεσπότην indeed!) that the pope of Rome could only dream of and drool over. For these and other juicy details, you really must buy Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy: Ut Unum Sint and the Prospects of East-West Unity

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