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And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Friday, September 30, 2011

Orthodox Diversity on the Problem of Primacy

Met. Hilarion Alfeyev, of whom I was recently critical, has come out with a restatement of his views--already in circulation since the fall of 2007 at least--on the issue of Orthodox understandings of primacy, correctly observing that “there are certain divergences, and there are different positions, of the Orthodox churches on the question of the primacy." He further noted that "we do not have a very clear picture as to what should be the role of the primate in the Orthodox tradition....Without having this clear and unified vision, we cannot easily discuss the issue of how we see the role of the 'primus inter pares' in the universal Church.” In other words, until Orthodoxy deals with its internal notions of primacy, external discussions about papal primacy with Catholics will probably not go very far.

I've heard this argument before, and rejected it. As I have argued in several places, most fully and with more detail than anyone else has ever done in my Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy: Ut Unum Sint and the Prospects of East-West Unity, the problem of primacy within Orthodoxy only becomes an issue after East and West part company.

I am convinced (and here follow the suggestion of Met. John Zizioulas in his essay in The Petrine Ministry: Catholics and Orthodox in Dialogue) that Met. Hilarion's proposed method for resolving this disagreement needlessly extends the process to a superfluous second step. He says Orthodoxy must treat internal notions of primacy first and then papal primacy. On the contrary, I am convinced that Orthodoxy and Catholicism must have this discussion together: "solving" the problem of papal primacy will ipso facto solve the problem of internal Orthodox orderings of primacy. For that, and many other germane arguments, you really will want to read Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy: Ut Unum Sint and the Prospects of East-West Unity.

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