Decision of the ROC Synod on Hellas: akribeia or oikonomia? Part I
Did the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church do the right thing choosing not to break Eucharistic communion with the entire Greek Church?
On October 17, 2019, the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church resolved to break off the Eucharistic communion with representatives of the Greek Orthodox Church, who would concelebrate with the schismatics from the OCU or liturgically commemorate the name of the head of this organization, Epiphany Dumenko, during divine services.
On October 19, a liturgy was held in Thessaloniki with the participation of Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, Archbishop Ieronymos, the Primate of the Greek Orthodox Church, and several Greek and Phanar metropolitans. During the service, Patriarch Bartholomew read out the name of Dumenko among the names of the Primates of other Orthodox Churches. After the service, he thanked Archbishop Ieronymos for his position on the newly established Ukrainian “Church”. Some media outlets even wrote that the name of the head of the OCU was included in the diptychs of the Greek Church, thus the OCU not only de jure but de facto secured the recognition of the Church of Greece.
However, Dumenko himself and his organization did not make any announcements concerning the recognition from the Greek Orthodox Church. Moreover, the head of the OCU said on his Facebook page that he hoped to visit Athens on an official visit soon. And later, during his stay in the United States, he expressed the hope that the Greek Church would accomplish the process of recognizing the OCU.
In this context, among the Orthodox, both on the part of the clergy and the laity, statements are increasingly being voiced that the decisions of the Russian Synod are too soft, half-hearted and ultimately lead to the consolidation of the existing situation. In their opinion, it was necessary to terminate the Eucharistic communion with the GOC once the document appeared confirming the right of the Patriarchate of Constantinople to grant autocephaly. We call this position as akribeia.
On the other hand, there is an enormous number of Orthodox Christians who are confident that the Synod made the only right decision and it is too early to break the Eucharistic communion with the whole Church of Greece. This position can conventionally be called oikonomia.
In this article we will try to understand the decision of the ROC Synod in terms of oikonomia.
Oikonomia means usefulness
Translated from Greek, oikonomia (οἰκονομία) or dispensation means actions that help to better organize household chores.
In the first centuries of Christianity, this word was applied to all areas of theology, except for the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. The doctrine of the creation of the world, the message of the Incarnation and the atoning sacrifice of Christ, the doctrine of the Church and the ultimate destinies of the world – all this was oikonomia or "economy of our salvation".
Later they began to use this term when trying to solve the issues when instead of canonical rigor it was necessary to apply leniency, while literal observance of the canons gave way to practical use. The famous scientist, historian and theologian Vasily Bolotov noted that “whatever is useful for the Church should be considered canonical” (S. Troitsky “Disengagement or Schism,” Paris, 1932, p. 33).
In Lectures on the History of the Ancient Church, Mr. Bolotov cites several cases when, for the benefit of the cause, the hierarchs made certain concessions to those who disagree. For example, Bishop John of Antioch, realizing that “Theodoretos sets the pacification of the Church as his final goal, granted him the right to “oikonomia” in the broadest sense, i.e. authorized Theodoretos (in a confidential letter) to even campaign against him (against the bishop of Antioch – Ed.), if this can be prospected as beneficial for the cause.”
Oikonomia does not mean to be in sympathy with a sin
On the other hand, oikonomia should not concern the field of internal convictions. A person acting by the principle of oikonomia cannot be forced to think in the same way. In other words, if a priest condescends to a sinner, it is not because he justifies the sin or considers it to be something normal, but only because he wants to benefit the sinner, give him/her the opportunity to change his/her mind, stop him/her and change his/her life.
Consequently, the principle of oikonomia is dictated solely by the benefits to the Church and the desire to save a sinner. This is an approach in which the human soul is more important than external rules. In this sense, it is enough to recall the conversation between Christ and the harlot, who was caught in the act of adultery: “Has no one blamed you? I do not blame you either. Go and sin no more.” This is the principle of oikonomia in its most perfect form.
From this point of view, we will consider the arguments that could be used to justify the insufficient rigor of the decisions of the Russian Orthodox Church.
1. There are hierarchs in the Church of Greece who do not recognize OCU and will not do so
This is the first argument, which the Synod was apparently guided by. In Greece there are a huge number of hierarchs, priests and laity who consider the actions of Phanar in Ukraine to be anti-canonical. A particularly implacable position is taken by such respected hierarchs as Metropolitans Seraphim of Piraeus, Seraphim of Kythira, Nektarios of Corfu, Simeon of New Smyrna and others.
A complete rupture of the Eucharistic communion with the Greek Church involves a break off with these worthy shepherds of the Church of Christ, as well as with millions of ordinary believers who object to the actions of the Phanar head. Breaking off with them means moving away from their brothers and losing support within the Church of Greece.
2. In the Church of Greece there are those who have not made up their mind on the OCU
In Greece, there is a fairly large number of believers who still have not decided what the OCU is. These people view an erupted ecclesiastic crisis through the prism of the struggle for influence in the Orthodox world between the Patriarchate of Constantinople and the Russian Orthodox Church, i.e. as Phanar tries to present this problem.
For them, the whole issue of OCU is, in the worst case, the issue of violating jurisdictional boundaries between the Churches. They are reluctant to figure out canonical subtleties in the matter of granting autocephaly or accepting an appeal; the doctrine of primacy of the Patriarch of Constantinople is absolutely alien to them; they do not want to understand the reality of schismatic consecrations and preservation of apostolic succession. Moreover, Ukraine is far away to them, while Phanar is close. So is it worth having spolit relations with those who are close and familiar to them for the sake of someone who is far and alien?
The position of such people was best expressed by Metropolitan Ignatios of Demetrias: "We do not need problems with Phanar."
Hence an absolute rupture with the Greek Church means a complete loss of these people to the Church of Christ. Indeed, breaking off relations with them, we leave them no choice but to be with Phanar and the schismatics.
3. Ethnic phyletism is very powerful in the Church of Greece
When we watched the press conference of the three Greek hierarchs following the results of the Council of Bishops, I couldn’t help thinking about one thing – how could Metropolitan Hierotheos (Vlachos) be among Phanar's supporters? A well-known theologian, a spiritual writer beloved by many Orthodox believers, the author of beautiful books about Athonite ascetics and Jesus prayer suddenly turned out to be among the most committed advocates of Phanar. How come?
The point is that among Orthodox Greeks (and among Greeks in general), the dream of the revival of the Byzantine Empire, Great Hellas, is still alive. For people like Metropolitan Hierotheos (Vlachos), this is not just a dream but a goal of life. In their eyes, the Patriarch of Constantinople is a visible symbol of the anticipated greatness of Hellenism. They are really sure that Istanbul will become Greek Constantinople, whereas the patriarch will become the head of the Orthodox Church.
A complete break with the Greek Church will only make these people reinforced in their view that Phanar is right, and there is no point discussing this topic, because it is about the survival of the Greek-Hellenic world in the face of the Slavic-Russian expansion.
Among the Greeks, the dream of the revival of the Byzantine Empire, Great Hellas, is still alive. This is not just a dream for them but the goal of life.
For example, during meetings of the Bishops' Council of the GOC, Metropolitan of Corinth referred to the expansion of Russians, who "build churches everywhere for Russian rubles" which compelled Protopresbyter Nikolaos Savvopoulos to ask the following question: “What kind of churches are we talking about? Maybe the ones built and donated by the Russian businessmen to the Metropolis of Argolis and Tamassos?”
In other words, there are no specific examples of “expansion”, only a keen sense of belonging to the Hellenic world which can have unpredictable consequences for the Church.
Remember the words of Metropolitan Simeon of New Smyrna, who warned that the issue of recognition or non-recognition of the OCU could eventually land one in the ethnic plane and cause a pan-Orthodox schism: “Ethnophyletic criteria threaten to occupy a dominant position in the Church, which can lead to the emergence of two ‘blocs’: Greek and Slavic. This state of affairs violates our Orthodox-church relations, which can be seen even with the naked eye.”
The break off with the schismatics, in turn, will reaffirm that this is not about the desire of the Russian Orthodox Church to assert itself but exclusively about the desire to rectify the situation.
4. There was a “synodal revolution” at the Council of Bishops
During the sensational Council of Bishops, the Church of Greece, which recognized the right of Patriarch Bartholomew to grant autocephaly, did not observe the voting procedure. The decision of the Council was not taken by all the metropolitans but by a small circle of people who defend the interests of Phanar within the Church of Greece.
According to Protopresbyter Nikolaos Savvopoulos, at the Council “some hierarchs fell into a trap because a group of conspirators managed to convince them. And when this group found the majority unwilling to make a decision right now (as it was written in the press) and when it saw that only a small part of the episcopate had gathered, it completely refused to vote in any form and announced the imaginary rather than valid decisions of the Council.”
That is why breaking the Eucharistic communion with the entire Greek Church will only play to the advantage of Phanar and several metropolitans who share its views. Moreover, after the Council a number of Hellenic hierarchs stated they did not agree with the final document published.
5. The decision to break the relationship must be made in light of the current circumstances and the ecclesiological situation.
Another argument in favor of the decision of the Russian Orthodox Church was expressed by the Metropolitan Luke (Kovalenko) of Zaporozhye: "In the hard time, the life of the Church will also change." His Eminence quoted St. Ignatius the God-bearer who said: “Where there is a bishop, there is a Church.”
According to Metropolitan Luke, this means that “the plentitude of the Church is embedded in the community, which consists of the bishop as a successor to the apostles, a collegium of presbyters and deacons and the faithful people united in the Eucharistic assembly. This fullness is self-sufficient and offers its members everything they need in order to assimilate the redemption given to us from God. It is important for us to understand this truth in order to maintain the purity of Orthodoxy in the new conditions of human society. <...>
Based on the ecclesiology of the holy martyr Ignatius the God-bearer and the ancient church tradition, Eucharistic communion should be maintained in inter-church unity with those Eucharistic communities that did not follow the path of betraying their faith. <...>
The faithfulness to the Mother Church will be sacredly observed at the level of an individual being of each eucharistic fullness, led by those bishops who will not follow the path of perjury. Therefore, the Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church resolved to maintain the Eucharistic communion with those hierarchs who rejected the non-canonical and predatory decision of the Synod of the Hierarchy of the Greek Orthodox Church. It was a right, well-thought and sensible resolution."
These are the arguments in favor of oikonomia, i.e. those decisions that were made by the hierarchs of the Russian Orthodox Church regarding the position of the Church of Greece on the OCU. Are there any arguments in favor of akribeia, i.e. a complete rupture with the Church which actually supported the schismatics? There are. We will speak about them in the second part of the article.