"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).

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Encyclopedia of Eastern Orthodox Christianity (7)

The recent news out of Chambesy that the Orthodox are unable to agree on the diptychs and autocephaly is no surprise to anyone who has followed these "pre-conciliar" discussions for some time--depressing, yes, but surprising no. For some guidance on these questions, we continue our exploration of the excellent two-volume Encyclopedia of Eastern Orthodox Christianity, on which I have commented previously.

This marvellous collection, under John McGuckin's superb editorship, contains, surprisingly, no entry on the diptychs. (The only serious English-language study that I know of is Robert Taft's.) That is at once surprising but also realistic in that they are not nearly so important as the spokesmen quoted at Chambesy would have us believe. Yes, one needs to know with whom one is in communion, but the order of those commemorations is scarcely more than an expression of nationalistic pride; no ecclesiological principle is at stake, and it is fatuous to think that an issue such as this should impede deeper Christian unity.

Nor does the Encyclopedia contain a stand-alone entry on autocephaly. That, too, seems odd given how prominent a role autocephaly plays in current inter-Orthodox disputes. Autocephaly is mentioned briefly under a number of other entries dealing with particular churches. E.g., the entry "Orthodoxy in the United States of America" briefly treats the grant by Moscow in 1970 of autocephaly to what became the Orthodox Church of America. The fuller story is recounted in Aleksandr Bogolepov's Toward an American Orthodox Church: The Establishment of an Autocephalous Church. I am not bothered by the omission of autocephaly if one can see in it a downplaying of an overheated notion that has as much if not more to do with nineteenth-century nationalism than it does with any ecclesiological or theological principle. As the Orthodox theologian Nicholas Lossky has suggested, too much of Orthodoxy today is still beholden to the still prevalent “autocephalist ecclesiology” in which “relations among the ‘sister churches’ tend to resemble . . . the relations between sovereign states.”

Two other entries shed some welcome light on these Orthodox disputes. The first is Tamara Grdzelidze's "Church (Orthodox Ecclesiology)." This is a good theoretical overview, though in tone and scope it clearly evidences a somewhat problematic "Dionysian" approach to these questions; it does not, in other words, really deal with the messier historical-sociological aspects of the Church. I am also surprised--as I am in many entries--at how limited the "References and Suggested Readings" list at the end is. Missing are several important works one would expect to see here, including Nicholas Afanasiev, The Church of the Holy Spirit; John Meyendorff, ed., The Primacy of Peter: Essays in Ecclesiology and the Early Church; John Zizioulas's Eucharist, Bishop, Church: The Unity of the Church in the Divine Eucharist and the Bishop During the First Three Centuries; or Kondothra George's essay "Ecclesiology in the Orthodox Tradition" in The Routledge Companion to the Christian Church.  George's essay, as I've noted elsewhere, is not perfect, but reading it with Grdzelidze's would be useful in allowing each to balance the other.

The second significant entry is McGuckin's essay "Patriarchate of Constantinople." As with all of his other entries and overviews in this collection, the essay on New Rome's patriarchate is a marvel of composition, saying just what one would expect in an article of this type and length. With great cogency he gracefully sketches the early, especially conciliar and canonical, history of the rise of the patriarchate, its clashes with others (Rome and Alexandria especially), and its increasingly large position and expansive authority exercised with what McGuckin twice calls the "home synod" (almost all modern treatments speak of a "permanent" or "residential" synod, that is, the synodos endemousa, whose most authoritative scholarly treatment remains Joseph Hajjar, Le synode permanent (synodos endemousa) dans l’église byzantine des origins au XIe siècle [= Orientalia Analecta 164, Rome, 1962]). McGuckin also notes how many patriarchs have been outstanding leaders, and how many have been martyrs, but also how many succumbed to the bribery and pressures placed upon them under the Ottomans and their millet system. He notes the sad decline of Constantinople after World War I and the Greco-Turkish War of 1922 and its resulting massive population transfers, leading to a decline of Christians in the city which today is almost complete. He also briefly discusses the disputes between Constantinople and Moscow over the issue of autocephaly, and the extent, if any, of the former's jurisdiction over Christians in North America and Europe. Constantinople of course claims a very expansive jurisdiction, which Russia greatly resents, not least when it sees the Ecumenical Patriarch reaching into the "Russian sphere," whether in Estonia, Ukraine, or Russian parishes in the United Kingdom and France.

In any event, The Encyclopedia of Eastern Orthodox Christianity does not contain entries on everything (no book could), but it is still an invaluable resource continuing John McGuckin's superlative scholarship. No library, personal or institutional, will want to be without these two volumes.

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