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

Monday, September 5, 2011

Canonical Territory

It is fascinating to read that other Orthodox hierarchs have finally come around to challenging the Russian Church over its (shall we say) sui generis understanding of the canons of the Ecumenical Councils. Though the English in this piece is somewhat tortured in places, the import of it is not:
“Due to the events which have recently taken place in the Orthodox Church,” the Council stressed the necessity that the Orthodox Churches should respect and strictly observe the geographical borders of their jurisdictions “as defined by the holy canons and Tomoses on the foundation of these Churches.” 
In addition, it is heartening to see the Ecumenical Patriarchate stating clearly that
the Constantinople Patriarchate stated in the Tomos on the autocephaly of the Orthodox Church in Poland issued in 1924 that it never legally renounced its jurisdiction over the Kyivan Metropolitanate. As for the whole Moscow Patriarchate and its canonical borders, the Constantinople Council observes the Thomos of 1589 according to which the territory of the present-day Ukraine is not part of the Moscow Patriarchate.
This takes us into some very complicated history, much of which is very clearly sorted out in Borys Gudziak's superlative study, Crisis and Reform: The Kyivan Metropolitanate, the Patriarchate of Constantinople, and the Genesis of the Union of Brest (Harvard Series in Ukrainian Studies, 2001), 512pp. One should also see the collection of articles edited by B. Groen, Four Hundred Years Union of Brest (1596-1996) A Critical Re-Evaluation (Peeters, 1998), 269pp. 

I follow these seemingly recondite debates with great interest and have for five years been working on an article on the notions of canonical territory, which I was able to treat only very briefly in my Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy: Ut Unum Sint and the Prospects of East-West Unity.

Much nonsense is talked when this phrase about "canonical territory" is invoked. One of the few decent studies I have seen is Johannes Oeldemann, "The Concept of Canonical Territory in the Russian Orthodox Church," in the collection edited by Thomas Bremer, Religion and the Conceptual Boundary in Central and Eastern Europe: Encounters of Faiths (Studies in Central and Eastern Europe).

"Canonical territory" is a nice theory, but nobody lives it today, as Robert Taft acidly observed both in his famous interview with John Allen in 2004 and more recently and with an abundance of historical documentation in his lecture in June at Orientale Lumen. These are problems afflicting not merely Orthodoxy, but also the Roman Catholic Church and, since at least 2003, the Anglican Communion. I'm giving a lecture on these notions in a few weeks and that prospect, together with encouraging discussions with Taft and Met. Kallistos Ware at Orientale Lumen in June, has encouraged me to return to that article I started five years ago. Several interesting developments have since taken place in the last half-decade, including the erection of Anglican ordinariates on the part of the Roman Catholic Church, and the so-called Chambésy process in the Orthodox world. Both of these developments suggest to me that the Roman and Eastern Churches might finally be getting serious about "canonical territory." We shall see.

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