Сatholicity of the Church of Christ and its substitution
Disputes about various subjects of Christian life arose even in apostolic times. Is it so important to maintain a unified opinion in the Church and its catholicity?
The Church of Christ is Jesus Christ, Her Head, and those in communion with Him. This community of believers, according to the Apostle Paul, “is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way the Body of Christ” (Eph. 1:23). The Holy Spirit ensures the union of Christ with His Church.
Communities of Christians all over the world, small and large, headed by bishops, metropolitans and patriarchs, maintain unity with Christ through presbyters on the basis of the Orthodox faith, right spiritual experience and participation in the Eucharist.
In order to keep the life of Christians in compliance with the Gospel teaching and to abide in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Church determined the laws or canons by which this life is regulated and which aim to bring the salvation to those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.
The presence of Christians in the bosom of the Church, which, according to the word of John Chrysostom, create these canons, makes the Church one, holy, catholic and apostolic, in communion with Christ.
A very important feature of the Holy Church is Her catholicity.
Saint Cyril of Jerusalem wrote that “the Church is called Catholic (conciliar – Trans.) because it embraces the universe from end to end, which everywhere and in fullness professes all the teaching that people should know, the teaching about things visible and invisible, heavenly and earthly."
“The body is not made up of one member, but of many. If the leg says: I do not belong to the body, because I am not the hand, then does it really not belong to the body,” says the Apostle Paul (1 Cor. 12:14-15).
It should be noted that the catholicity of the Church is manifested not only in the activities of hierarchs and clergy, but also in the life of each member of the Body of Christ: “The body is not made up of one member, but of many. If the leg says: I do not belong to the body, because I am not the hand, then does it really not belong to the body?” says the Apostle Paul (1 Cor. 12:14-15).
Therefore, keeping the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace (Eph. 4:3) characterizes the truth of the Church and the fullness of the spiritual life of Her members.
Considering the history of the Holy Church, it’s noteworthy that the problems of Christian life in many cases are due to the violation of the principle of catholicity of the Church.
As early as apostolic times, disputes arose about various subjects of the religious life of Christians.
Despite the special authority of individual apostles, the Apostolic Council sets an example of a conciliar solution of questions and problems of Christian life. That is why the hierarchical management of the Church is based on the principle expressed by the 34th Apostolic Canon: “The bishops of every nation must acknowledge him who is first among them and account him as their head, and do nothing of consequence without his consent; but each may do those things only which concern his own parish, and the country places which belong to it. But neither let him [who is the first] do anything without the consent of all; for so there will be unanimity, and God will be glorified through the Lord in the Holy Spirit.”
The catholicity of the Holy Church is not parliamentarism, where all decisions are made by majority vote. Catholicity (conciliarity or sobornost) is a principle where decision-making is based on fidelity to the Holy Tradition and the ancient teachings of the Church. Sobornost is not possible without the ambience of love and peace, in which the sacred assembly takes place, nor is it possible without the consent of the Orthodox people.
Over time, when the Holy Church was recognized as a secular society and entered into relations with the state, the conciliar decisions of the Fathers were needed to regulate the interaction between the Local Churches and the existing authorities in the evangelical spirit.
Sobornost is impossible without the ambience of love and peace, in which the sacred assembly takes place, and without the consent of the Orthodox people.
It has to be admitted that this interaction with the authorities was not always ideal. Moreover, the authorities interfered in the internal affairs of the Church and harmed Her, as evidenced by numerous historical facts, when the Byzantine emperors patronized the spread of heresies and the creation of criminal unions.
Unfortunately, this negative impact of the authorities took place not only in Byzantium, but also in the history of the Russian Orthodox Church. Take, for example, the Synodal period of the life of our Holy Church or the history of the domination of the Gentiles in Ukraine.
The history of the Church after the revolution of 1917 was particularly complicated against the restoration of patriarchy, which was actually abolished with the death of Patriarch Tikhon, and was restored again in 1943. Everyone knows perfectly well how powerless our Church was during the period of Soviet power.
In modern times, carrying out a salvific mission among its people, our Church was gradually returning to the fullness of the life inherent in it, as well as to the principle of catholicity, without which it cannot function properly.
The events in our country have shown that even today politicians and authorities are trying to influence the life of the Church in their own way, as they did before, causing problems for the Church. Therefore, the Church again faces the same challenges as in previous times. Such is the nature of the Church of Christ to have to constantly defend Her path, Her mission and ministry, indicated by Christ, which often contradict the orders and laws of this world. “If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you,” says the Savior (John 15:19).
In its striving to remain united, holy, catholic and apostolic, the Church of Christ must remain committed to Divine Revelation, contrary to the laws of "this world."
In addition to “external” challenges, the Church, unfortunately, has internal problems associated with a weakened understanding of the principle of catholicity by its members.
In the inter-Orthodox relations of the Local Churches, this is manifested in the assertion of the power of the Patriarch of Constantinople, who claims papism in Orthodoxy. According to Phanariot theologians, external unity should be expressed in the primacy of power, vested in the first hierarch of the Patriarchate of Constantinople. Such a distortion of Orthodox ecclesiology leads to the fact that the head of the Phanar forgets about unity in Christ and declares that “if we do not have the First, then we are a federation of local administrative church groups, without unity, as required by our ecclesiology of Local Churches led by the First”. Then he continues: “I want to ask: isn't there a first diocese in every diocese? Isn't there a First in every church? Then why shouldn’t he (the First – Ed.) be in the Local Churches? Since there is the First starting from the smallest structure, which is a parish, to the Local Church as a whole, how is it possible that the Local Churches do not have their First?”
Some Constantinople hierarchs literally say the following: “There is an opinion that the Head of the Orthodox Church is Jesus Christ. But in reality, the Ecumenical Patriarch is the head of the Church.”
The whole point is that the Local Churches have the First – this is the Lord Jesus Christ. However, the perverted ecclesiology of the Patriarchate of Constantinople leads to the fact that some of its hierarchs say literally the following: “There is an opinion that the Head of the Orthodox Church is Jesus Christ. But in reality, the Ecumenical Patriarch is the head of the Church.”
In the life of the Local Church, the absence of catholicity can be revealed in the authoritarianism of the head of the Local Church or the hierarch of a separate diocese, who affirm their personal vision and understanding of church life, which is not always justified by the teachings of the Holy Fathers and the Tradition of the Church. In this case, decisions are forced under the pretext of the good of the Church, made without taking into account the opinions of other hierarchs and the people of God, thereby the principle of catholicity is violated. This violation of harmony in fraternal love results in opposition and schism within the Church itself.
For example, when, contrary to the decision of the Synod of the Cypriot Orthodox Church to maintain neutrality with respect to the OCU, Archbishop Chrysostomos single-handedly decided to recognize the head of this structure as a canonical bishop, this caused serious problems within the Cypriot Church. Thus, a number of hierarchs refused to concelebrate with their primate, and Metropolitan Isaiah of Tamassos stated that the decision to recognize Epifaniy Dumenko, taken by Archbishop Chrysostomos without the consent of the Holy Synod, violates the synodal structure of the Church and destroys its ecclesiology.
A similar situation developed in the Alexandrian Orthodox Church, when its head, Patriarch Theodore, without the participation and decision of the Holy Synod, recognized the validity of the Tomos of the OCU. Several bishops at once declared their disagreement with this position, and several dozen priests of the Patriarchate of Alexandria addressed their primate with an open letter, in which they asked to reconsider the decision to recognize the “Ukrainian schismatics”, since this decision brings confusion to the ranks of ordinary believers.
The position of the Archbishop Ieronymos of Greece, who included the name of Epifaniy Dumenko in liturgical diptychs, raised no less questions. Metropolitan Seraphim of Piraeus declared that he could not join this decision, his statement having been supported by a number of Greek hierarchs. In addition, later information appeared that the allegedly “synodal resolution”, which granted Archbishop Ieronymos the right to independently decide the issue of recognition of the OCU, was adopted contrary to the traditional procedure, and was actually “pushed through” by a group of bishops who sympathize with the Phanar.
Unfortunately, the practice of making individual decisions is also the case with the Russian Orthodox Church to the effect that it approves resolutions, rejected by the majority of congregations due to the inconsistency of its decisions with the canonical rules of the Church.
For example, at the Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church, while considering the agenda of the future Council of Crete in 2016, all draft documents of this council were adopted without discussion. The same thing happened when it came to the position of the Russian Orthodox Church regarding the ecumenical movement and its participation in the WCC.
Thus, at the Moscow Pan-Orthodox Conference in 1948, the Antiochian, Alexandrian, Georgian, Serbian, Romanian, Bulgarian, Albanian, Polish and Russian Local Orthodox Churches declared their refusal to participate in the ecumenical movement. However, soon in 1958, Metropolitan Nikolay (Yarushevich) of Krutitsy and Kolomna urged the Russian Church to accede more to the development of the ecumenical movement. Eventually, with the appointment of Metropolitan Nikodim (Rotov) to the post of chairman of the DECR ROC in 1960, the Moscow Patriarchate abandoned its former position and became an active participant in the ecumenical movement.
In this regard, a completely logical question arises – at what particular historical moment was there more conciliarity: when criticism of ecumenism was expressed by the majority of the Local Orthodox Churches, or when the decision to participate in the ecumenical movement was actually taken on the initiative of individuals, without any regard for the opinion of others? The answer to this question is obvious.
It seems that whenever the Church faces certain challenges of Her time, Her strength and ability to carry out Her salvific ministry is possible only within the canonical field of the Holy Church. According to the definitions of Canon 2 of the Sixth Ecumenical Council and Canon 1 of the Seventh Ecumenical Council, any revision of the canons of the Holy Apostles, Ecumenical and Local Councils, Holy Fathers is prohibited. Such a revision of the Holy Canons of the Church of Christ will only cater to the current moment and foster the advancement of reformist ideas in the life of the Orthodox Church, destroying Her unity and catholicity.