Thursday, March 19, 2009

Guest Post: Comments on the Archimandrite's talk

His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholo...Image via Wikipedia
Below are Chrys' comments in response to John Couretas's post on the American Orthodox Institute's blog "Ecumenical Patriarchate: American 'Diaspora' must submit to Mother Church."  As my own re-post of the original speech would suggest, I agree with John's observation: "The battle is joined."

As Chrys, and other Orthodox respondents have pointed out, the Archimandrite's arguments for the primacy of the Ecumenical Patriarch are at least as applicable to Rome as to Constantinople. Given the rather lukewarm response of the EP to the great moral challenges of our age in favor of a rather poorly thought out participation in the environmental movement, I have to agree with Chrys, "he demonstrates NO effort to understand the arguments of those whom he believes are critics of the claims of the Patriarch."  As I've said before, it is not enough to simply argue that your opponents are wrong--you must actually respond to the concerns that motivate their arguments.  In his talk Fr Elpidophoros has not done this--he has not engaged his critics even as the EP has not engaged those (both outside and inside the Orthodox Church) who reject traditional Christian moral teaching.

So with that, let me now give the stage over to Chrys and your comments.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

The Archimandrite makes a provocative if unconvincing argument. Many of his observations about American culture ring true, which makes for a good beginning and builds some good will.

He argues that ethnic separatism is wrong.  Agreed: philetism is a heresy.  He then makes the potentially contradictory claim that we should maintain - or at least not be detached from - our culture of origin.  He gives particular weight to what he claims is a broadly understood Hellenism, but in fact serves to demand deference to a very particular culture.  He claims to value the American experience but then criticizes both the local parish and the "corrective" Athonite monastic movement in the US.  (I wonder how the monks on Mt. Athos would respond to these comments.)  He demonstrates an appreciation for the contributions of the laity in the US but then asserts a very high view of primacy.  It is a view of primacy that would seem to erase or at least significantly diminish any notion of conciliarity.  (So much for the wonderful work of Zizioulas and others.) In fact, so far as I can see, there is no good reason given in his argument to stop at Constantinople; the logic chain leads as well - if not better - to Rome.  At the end of his address, he quotes the Patriarch of Antioch as something of a proof.  Unfortunately it is not a proof, merely an illustration.  Quoting St. Ignatios of Antioch would have been much more compelling - but, as I understand the saint's comments about the (local) bishop would have much better served those with whom the Archimandrite disagrees than his own position.

That said, he demonstrates NO effort to understand the arguments of those whom he believes are critics of the claims of the Patriarch.  And here we come to the purpose of his talk.  The intensity of his disagreement with critics frequently substitutes a zealous demeanor and unyielding demands for carefully considered data.  His tone exceeds the quality of his argument and suggests some desperation.
As a result, his attacks rarely addresses the central claims of "the critics."  He seems to simply dismiss them for not subscribing to his quasi-papal view.  His claim that his view is the traditional and essential view begs the question; no real evidence is offered.  Worse, he often resorts to ad hominem attacks that do no credit to his arguments and unfortunately contradict the Christian character that he should, in his official role at least, embody. 

He makes some claims that don't square with my understanding of history - but I may be wrong.  It is my understanding that most of the autocephalous Churches often "took" their status without the blessing of Constantinople.  Either way, the notion that the Patriach finally granted Alexandria such status in 2002 only serves to undermine his purpose further.  That it took 1900+ years surely serves his critics' purposes, not his.  (Either that, of the Church in the US can look forward to official blessing for self-rule sometime in the year 3800.)

He argument ultimately seeks to establish that the health of the Church here depends upon its deference to the Patriarch.  Obedience is often a great source of blessing, but that argument is not offered.  In the end, the "patrimony" that he claims is intrinsic to the Patriarch of Constantinople alone is not demonstrated - at least in his presentation.  He claims that it is essential to the life of the American parish, but does not convincingly demonstrate how.  The purpose, however, is clear enough: America should not consider self-governance.  (Which is ironic since this is what America is known for and, as the "empire" of the current age, would seem to be have the standing upon which both Old Rome and New Rome asserted their preeminence.)  Indeed, he seems so intent on defending the idea of the value of the Patriarch that he fails to address the seemingly transparent reason for his urgency -- which is that the opposite is actually true.  It is rather the Patriarch who is desperately dependent on the US for political and financial support. 

In the end, his effort to assert the claims of Constantinople and (uncharitably) silence the growing American Church's desire for increasing self-governance are more urgent than considered, more demanded than demonstrated.  And for that, he may have done his cause far more harm than good.
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