"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).

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Antoine Arjakovsky on the Great and Holy Council

I have on several occasions previously noted the important work of the Russian Orthodox historian Antoine Arjakovsky, author of such works as Entretiens avec le cardinal Lubomyr Husar. Earlier this year, as I noted at the time, he published another big book on the topic of the much-promised but much-delayed "great and holy council" of the Orthodox Churches: En attendant le Concile de l'Église Orthodoxe (Paris: Éditions du Cerf, 2011), 682pp.

Antoine Arjakovsky is a fascinating figure: a Russian Orthodox scholar from France who was the founding director of the Ecumenical Institute at the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv. Anyone who knows the slightest thing about relations between the Russian Orthodox and Ukrainian Catholic Churches in the last sixty years will know what an extraordinary thing it is to have a Russian Orthodox working for a Ukrainian Catholic institution, and dealing with ecumenism of all things, which is regularly reprobated by some Orthodox as the “pan-heresy.” In 2007, Arjakovsky published Church, Culture, and Identity: Reflections on Orthodoxy in the Modern World (Lviv: Ukrainian Catholic University Press), which I very favorably reviewed the following year in Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies. That book, I confess, made me change my mind on one important issue: eucharistic hospitality between Catholics and Orthodox. I am and remain greatly indebted to Arjakovsky for cogently compelling me to re-think that issue.

His 2007 book began by declaring that “the Orthodox world is in crisis.” One of the long-standing proposals for helping Orthodoxy overcome its crisis in the world of today has been to call a “great and holy council” of all the Orthodox Churches of the world. This proposed council has been discussed by many Orthodox since at least 1923 (see Patrick Viscuso’s fascinating 2007 book A Quest For Reform of the Orthodox Church: The 1923 Pan-Orthodox Congress, An Analysis and Translation of Its Acts and Decisions for early conciliar proposals), but as of 2011 is still a distant prospect. In fact, the very phrase “great and holy council” has occasioned some rather skeptical eye-rolling among some for whom such a council is an eschatological prospect, not to be realized in history.

For all that, however, discussions of such a council have, it is true, become much more prevalent in the last five years or so, led by the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople and its proposals for regional gatherings (“episcopal assemblies”). Why have councils at all, and what should this upcoming one—if it ever happens—be expected to do? These are some of the questions Arjakovsky takes up indirectly in his big book En attendant le Concile de l'Église Orthodoxe. (What lies below is the English original review of this book; the review will also be published in Ukrainian in Patriyarkhat. Michael Plekon will be reviewing this book in 2012 in Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies.) 

I approached this book initially thinking it was going to lay out a systematic case for the importance of the council, perhaps proceeding historically (Arjakovsky is trained as an historian), but it does not. This book—with a prologue and foreword, thirty-one chapters in four sections, an epilogue, and six appendices—tackles a wide variety of subjects. This book, like wider Orthodoxy, seems to be in no hurry to arrive at a particular destination. Two words in the title hint at this: “Waiting on the Council of the Orthodox Church: A Spiritual and Ecumenical Journey.” Arjakovsky’s book, then, offers the reader a very wide-ranging and astute analysis of the “signs of the times” (to use a phrase that the Second Vatican Council made famous) that any council must attend to.

Given the size and breadth of this collection, no review can cover everything. His first section has only two chapters and treats the postwar development of Orthodox theology. This section is useful for several reasons, not least in debunking the idea promoted by some Catholics and Orthodox alike that Orthodox thought never changes. His second section is “Towards a Practical Ecumenism”; the third, “Convergences Between Social Doctrines of the Churches”; and his fourth, “The Future of Ecumenism in Ukraine and Russia.” I will confine myself to his last and longest section but before I do so, however, let me urge Orthodox readers especially to take heed of two chapters, “The Orthodox Churches and Ecumenism” and “Eucharistic Hospitality Among Christians.” Some Orthodox today tediously claim (based on wild misunderstandings of the concept, process, and loyalty of the hierarchs and theologians involved) that “ecumenism” is a “pan-heresy” and they are horrified at the idea of eucharistic sharing with Catholics even though the historical and theological case for doing so, as Arjakovsky lays it out here and in his earlier book, is indubitable. 

Arjakovsky begins his fourth section with a short reflection on Pope St. Clement, about whom few details are certain though it seems he was the fourth bishop of Rome, perhaps ordained by St. Peter, and the first of the so-called apostolic fathers. Clement, after falling from imperial favor, was exiled to Kherson and probably martyred by drowning in the Black Sea. Today his relics are scattered in Rome, the Kyivan Caves Monastery, and in the Crimea. Arjakovsky briefly recounts some of these details in order to argue that the Church of Kyiv has always had a connection to West-Rome even as it has received its faith from East-Rome. This, he says, is a model of “double communion” that remains important today: the Church of Kyiv can and should show that it is possible to have communion with both Rome and Constantinople. He develops this idea with much greater historical detail in his next chapter, tracing out chronologically the diversity of Eastern Christians now present in Kyiv and all of Ukraine—the three Orthodox Churches, and of course the Ukrainian Greco-Catholic Church. (This chapter reminded me of Catherine Wanner’s book, Communities of the Converted: Ukrainians and Global Evangelism [Cornell University Press, 2007], in which she notes that Ukraine could become a model for the rest of Europe by being both secular but filled with robust religious groups freely practicing their faith and influencing society for the good.)

In his chapter “Friendship and the Ecumenical Institute of Lviv,” Arjakovsky reflects briefly on the gospel passage (John 15:13-17) where Christ instructs His disciples on the true nature of friendship. Arjakovsky stresses the importance of this for the healing of Christian divisions: it is one thing to have official theological dialogue, and to issue statements between churches, but it is quite another for Christians of different churches to come together in friendship as they did, he says, in such bodies as the Kyivan Church Study Group. Until and unless Catholics and Orthodox begin to be friends with one another on the most basic human level, the prospects of one united Church, both in Ukraine and elsewhere, will remain highly unlikely.

Arjakovsky’s twenty-fourth chapter, “Memories of the Pseudo-Synod of Lviv,” is extremely important. As I noted at the top of this review, he is Russian Orthodox, and the Russian Orthodox Church, of course, collaborated in the violent suppression and attempted destruction of the Ukrainian Greco-Catholic Church in 1946 at the pseudo-synod of Lviv. To this day, the Russian Church has refused to acknowledge that spurious synod as anything other than the legitimate “return” of the “uniates” to their rightful “mother-church” of Moscow. (Since East-Slavic Christianity began, as everyone knows, with the conversion of the Kyivan Rus' under Grand Prince Vladimir, the idea that Moscow is the "mother-church" is as Andriy Chirovsky said, "specious, since Moscow received Christianity from Kyivan missionaries two hundred years after Kyiv accepted the faith from Constantinople. The Moscow Church cannot be its mother's mother.") What makes Arjakovsky’s chapter so powerful is not merely the fact that he is Russian Orthodox. As a well-trained historian, he simply lays out the evidence without polemics or hysterics, allowing the demonstrable mendacity of the Russian claims to become clear, and not just about the events of 1946, but also about the events from 1989 onward. Thus Arjakovsky notes that Russian claims—whether in 1946, 1991, or 2011—that Ukraine (especially Galicia) is somehow part of its Orthodox “canonical territory” is simply nonsense:
la difficulté ici n’est pas seulement que la justification historique présentée est loin de pouvoir convaincre. Le principal problème est que le patriarcat de Moscou ná eu à aucun moment de son histoire de juridiction en Galicie ! L’Église de Kiev-Halitch a toujours relevé du patriarcat de Constantinople (499). 
This chapter is especially useful in updating the discussion with all the documentation issued in 2006 on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the pseudo-synod. Thus we read the letter from Pope Benedict XVI on the anniversary, the letter from then-president Victor Yuschenko, and a handful of rather reluctant acknowledgements from some Orthodox, including Nicolas Lossky. In the end, though, as Arjakovsky notes, memories of 1946 remain an enormous wound (“une blessure profonde”) that, in truth and justice, must be acknowledged and then healed.

Let us finish by attending briefly to his epilogue, where Arjakovsky turns autobiographical. Here, reflecting on his marriage and love for his wife Laure, who is Roman Catholic, he notes that it is precisely love that makes all Christians one: “dans l’amour, nous formons un seul corps.” This love, they both fervently believe, can, as Saint Paul says in I Cor. 13:7, overcome all. Arjakovsky’s life is a witness of that: his love for Ukrainian Catholics, and ours for him, is a wonderful model. Let all of us, Catholics and Orthodox alike, be inspired by the courageous and gracious example of Laure and especially Antoine Arjakovsky to ask the Lord for this love—in our marriages and families, our communities, and between our Churches—that overcomes division so that the world might believe.  

1 comment:

  1. I'm not an expert in this area, but aren't the claims of Moscow over Ukraine and Kiev based in the fact that the Kieven Metropolitan fled Kiev and Ukraine for Moscow (via Vladimir and other places, briefly) due to the Mongol invastion? It's not as if the claim of jurisdiction is made up out of nothing. It's similar to the claims the Norman English Kings had over their territories back in Normandy and in other areas of what we now call France - over and against the claims of the Kings of France.

    Also, it just seems disingenuous to complain about 1946 while simply dismissing complaints about 1595-1596 as essentially too far past to to get all worked up about. "Long lost history" - and the "telescoping" of that history into the present - is in the eye of the beholder.


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