On Canonicity - whatever that may be

I came to Orthodoxy through the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia in 2005. At the time, ROCOR was in communion with the Serbian Orthodox Church, the Orthodox Church of Jerusalem, and the Orthodox Church of Sinai. To the rest of the Eastern Orthodox churches, ROCOR was considered "uncanonical". At the time there were many articles published on ROCOR clergy blogs and elsewhere expressing the view that this was a bizarre use of the word canonical.
The thrust of their arguments was that referring to ROCOR as uncanonical seemed to have little to do with the degree to which ROCOR adhered to the canonical tradition of the Church and more to do with the fact that it wasn't in communion with the churches using the term in this partisan way.

In 2007 ROCOR entered into full communion with the Patricarchate of Moscow and was subsequently recognised as canonical by the other Eastern Orthodox churches. The language used by ROCOR shifted at this point, and we, too began to refer to certain other churches as uncanonical, despite us having been in communion with many of these very same churches only months earlier.  In fact, in some cases, it was members of our very own Holy Synod that had consecrated the bishops of these churches which were now suddenly deemed uncanonical. This was very difficult to understand for many of us who had been taught that canonicity is not about being in communion with one group or another, but rather about faithful adherence to the canonical tradition of the Church.

How could we look at these churches that adhered faithfully to the canons of the Church and tell them that they were uncanonical, meanwhile entering into communion with churches whose practice on a number of fronts seemed not to be in keeping with canonical tradition?
I am now a member of the Orthodox Church of the Gauls, which is not an Eastern Orthodox church and makes no claim to be such.  We are part of a different communion of Orthodox Churches.  Our faith, our teachings, as well as our spiritual and liturgical life, are Orthodox.  Our bishops have their apostolic heritage in the same succession and lineage as the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox churches, and we are in communion with other churches with similar roots.  Yet, many within the Eastern Orthodox church refer to us as "uncanonical".  Indeed, the OrthodoxWiki article refers to us as "independent".
This latter term is particularly interesting.  In a sense, I can understand one communion referring to another as uncanonical.  When there is any kind of disagreement, human weakness will nurture a desire to demarcate others as somehow "not like us" and perpetuate that demarcation, even if the differences are imagined rather than real.  Such a label is an effective way to do this.  However, it is more difficult to understand the reference to us being independent.

By what defintion is the Orthodox Church of the Gauls independent?  We do not stand alone: we are part of a wider communion of Orthodox churches, sharing the same Orthodox faith and practice.  If we are "indepedent", then so is the Greek Orthodox Church, the Armenian Apostolic Church, or any of the other member churches of the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox communions of churches, but this seems a very counter-intuitive use of the word independent, as it would be if a police constable operating under orders, as part of a police force, were said to be functioning as an independent agent.  The word simply cannot be legitimately applied to that situation according to any common understanding of the word in the English language.

Regarding canonicity, I suppose that this just isn't something that we feel we must demonstrate to others.  We merely seek as best we can to order our life on the Apostolic Orthodox-Catholic Faith.  Are there canons of the ancient councils that we do not apply rigorously?  Yes, there undoubtedly are.  Yet has the Phanar not hosted services in which the Pope of Rome has been commemorated in the litanies alongside the ruling bishop?  Does the Greek Orthodox church not permit subdeacons to marry?  Do the Antiochian and Russian Orthodox Churches not permit the offering of the Eucharist on the weekdays of Lent?  Was Metropolitan Nicolae (Corneanu)'s reception of communion in a Catholic church not greeted with nothing more than a "Please don't do that" from the Holy Synod of Romania?  All of these actions contravene at least one canon or another, and I'm sure that a little research could generate a plethora of further examples.  Yet nobody (perhaps apart from our Old Calendarist sisters and brothers) condemns these churches as being "uncanonical" on the basis of these examples of apparent disobedience of the Church's canons.  So I must wonder how my church is any less "canonical" than those listed above?

Some might say that we are uncanonical because our foundation as a distinct church did not arise from a decree of autocephaly from our mother church.  Yet, did what is now the Russian Orthodox Church have such a decree or did it claim autocephanlous status for itself?  Anybody with a passing knowledge of Orthodox history will confirm that the latter is true.  Yet nobody today challenges the canonicity of the ROC on this basis.  And despite the Orthodox Church in America having been founded by precisely such a decree, has its autocephalous status not gone largely unrecognised because the remaining Eastern Orthodox churches cannot seem to agree among themselves who has the canonical authority to issue such a decree?
Neither an Ecumenical Council, nor the Patriarchate of Constantinople or of Moscow, nor any other Mother Church can create a new local Church. The most that they can do is to recognise such a Church. But the act of creation must be carried out in situ, locally, by the living Eucharistic cells which are called to gradually make up the body of a new local Church. 
- Metropolitan Kallistos of Diokleia. 
My purpose here is not to disparage the good and holy people in any of these churches, but rather to highlight that the entire modern discussion of whether a particular church is canonical is filled with so much contradiction and misdirection as to be of very little value, if any at all, and seems to my inexperienced and uneducated mind to serve little purpose other than as a weapon to perpetuate segregation.

It is my opinion that, when assessing the Orthodoxy or otherwise of any ecclesiastical body, the questions asked should simply be these:
  • Is this church's faith and practice an expression of Orthodox doctrinal, spiritual, and liturgical Tradtition?
  • Is this church's episcopate part of the lineage of the apostles through sustained Orthodox succession?
  • Does the ethos of this church reveal the salvific love of Christ towards his creation?
If the answer to these questions is yes, then perhaps we ought to consider whether we can embrace them as sisters and brothers in the life in Christ, and greet them with a kiss.

ROCOR Western Rite Developments

I awoke in the early hours of Saturday morning to be greeted with the news of this decree of the Synod of Bishops.

After the initial shock had waned somewhat, my first thought was for those who have become my friends who are directly affected by this.  Among those with whom I corresponded, there was a very clear sense of hurt, loss, and bewilderment. It must be understood that, for many, this came out of thin air.  I checked the Occidentalis Yahoo group to see if there was any further news. At the time, there was no discussion of the matter at all, likely because the news had broken less than 24 hours previously and the people directly affected were busy looking after each other and prayerfully assessing their own situations. What was most striking, though, was that the discussions of the preceding few days suggested business as usual.  This highlighted for me the suddenness of all of this.

Please pray for those in the thick of this and those charged with their pastoral care.

In the days since the decree was published, the internet has been host to much public speculation, innuendo, and misdirection.  There has been insensitive and really quite unseemly gloating from opponents of the Western Rite over their perception of its death in ROCOR, as well as an almost delusional "ostriching" by those who seem to think that life will continue in the Vicariate as before. I think that charity and everybody's spiritual wellbeing would be well served by some prayerful and patient awaiting of further clarification.

The decree mentions a forthcoming letter to be addressed to the Vicariate clergy, as well as a commission set up to look after them and their proper integration into ROCOR life - something that has been lacking until now, for various and complex reasons. At least one member of that commission has since indicated publicly that the picture is emphatically not as bleak as the WR opponents might perhaps like to think, and that the Western Rite shall continue in ROCOR, while making clear that things will certainly be different.

Perhaps we should just wait and see.

Render unto Caeser...

No, I don't particularly like the King James Bible either but it's the only translation that has the desired effect in a blog post title, so there it is.

My attention has recently been drawn to this article by a Konstantin Matsan.
My initial reaction was that de Nile is not just a river in Egypt, it seems. However, after further consideration, I think that Mr Matsan is right in that too often all manner of assertions are made about the supposedly deepening relationship between church and state in Russia without any effort being made to show the premise to be true, (I believe that "begging the question" is the expression that he is struggling to find), but he falls into the trap of another logical fallacy in that this itself does not render the premise untrue.

Are the Russian state and the Church in Russia getting closer? Finding an answer to this would require a detailed historical comparison, which I am not qualified to make, and indeed we are presented in the article with evidence that seems to suggest that there is no real deepening relationship here. Perhaps a more manageable question, then, would be whether they are already too close. This only requires an examination of present circumstances.

The All-Night Vigil

Be very diligent in coming here early in the morning to bring prayers and praises to the God of all, and to give thanks for the benefits already received... and so pass the time of day as one obliged to return here in the evening to give the master an account of the entire day and to ask pardon for failures... Then we must pass the time of the night in sobriety and thus be ready to present ourselves again at the morning praise.
- St John Chrysostom

Until recently, I used to dread the All-Night Vigil.  This may seem a strange thing for a Christian to say.  In fact, it was last year during Lent that I was serving for my bishop in the cathedral one Saturday, and had been in church all day.  There had been the Divine Liturgy in the morning, a brief repast, then the service of the Great Anointing.  Having started at 9 a.m. and it now being 5 p.m. and mindful of being back the following morning, I made my apologies and made good my escape.  My bishop asked me, 'Are you a Christian?'  I understand his question - indeed how better for a Christian to spend his Saturday night than in prayerful greeting of the Resurrection of the Lord? Yet, I think that people who are very well accustomed to things sometimes just don't realise what it can be like for people who do not know them and find them a trial when presented in a completely inaccessible form.

Pedantry: "Fast", please; not "Lent"

What is this strangeness to be found in use among English-speaking Orthodox people, and now seemingly found in calendars, of referring to all fasting periods as "lent"?

The word lent is from an Old English word meaning springtime.  Among Christians, it probably came to be used as a sort of shorthand for the lenten fast - literally, the great fast prior to Easter which, in the northern hemisphere where the terminology was coined, always takes place during the spring.

There are other fasting seasons throughout the year, of course, but some Orthodox Christians also call these by the name "lent", as though the word is some sort of synonym for fast, which, of course, it isn't.  It is not unusual to hear such expressions as Dormition lent, Apostles' lent, and so forth.  This makes no sense.  They are fasts, not lents.

I would be interested to learn what terminology is used in Russian or Greek, for example, to refer to the fasting seasons.  I assume that it is some word for "fast" and not a time of year.

Just saying.

Orthodox Android - part 4

Just a quick update: It seems that within the past fortnight, an Android version of the Ancient Faith Radio app has been released.  It has taken them far too long to get their act together but I'm grateful that they have finally come up with the goods.

Orthodox Android - part 3

Well, here it is:

Orthodox Android - part 2

Having got my shiny new Android phone, I had to learn how to find my way around a new operating system but found this very easy due to the intuitive design of Android, which is fairly typical of Google's products.  It is more easily customisable both in terms of its layout/appearance and of its functionality, which means the phone works the way I want it to work, according to what is easiest for me.  Unlike the iPhone, there are no permanent apps that cannot be removed from the screen.  If I don't want something there, I get rid of it.

Orthodox Android - part 1

Last year I posted this collection of reviews of my favourite apps for my iPhone.  Now that I have an Android phone, I have promised people a similar review for Orthodox Android apps.  This will come but, having previously endorsed the iPhone I feel that I bear some moral responsibility to point out what its flaws are to prevent others from falling into the trap that I did, of getting caught up in the Apple hype.

My Mother

Today is a Soul Sabbath, when we pray for our dead.  Yesterday would have been my mother's birthday and the 13th of this month will be her anniversary.

Of your charity, please pray for the repose of Stella.  She was not an Orthodox woman but she loved the Lord.


Are you familiar with the experience of a word, or person, or song, or some other thought that hasn't entered your consciousness for some time suddenly surrounding you, seemingly with no connection between the sources?

This happened to me yesterday with the name Gargamel.  I heard it on the television while I was at the computer and recognised it as a name from childhood, but couldn't remember from where.  As I looked up, I realised that it was an advert for the 2011 film The Smurfs.  Gargamel was the villain in The Smurfs cartoon, which was a staple of my childhood.  Later on that evening, reference was made to Gargamel in a programme aimed at people of my generation, who would be expected to remember The Smurfs.  It brought back fond memories of the various children's programmes that I used to watch, followed quickly by my usual lament that children today are subjected to nonsense that simply doesn't compare to the treasures that my generation had.

Another recent - but less felicitous - example is something that is usually just a minor annoyance to me but by no fewer than six examples of which I have been bombarded over the course of the past week.  While my writing is by no means from free of errors of spelling, punctuation, grammar, syntax, and vocabulary, I feel that I must address this one because it really grates on me more than most.  I do not know why: it just does.

When speaking of any collective body or other subject made of constituent parts, it is proper to refer to those parts as together composing the whole.  It is also proper to speak of this in the passive voice, by saying that the whole is composed of those constituent parts.

The problem comes when people replace the word compose with comprise, which has the effect of turning the sentence into nonsense due to the reverse meanings of these words.  To compose is for individual elements to come together to form a complete article, which can be said to be "composed of" those elements.  To comprise is for a body or other article to embrace or include within its make-up its various constituent elements.

Therefore, it is correct to say:
My science class is composed of students from around the world.

However, it makes no sense to say:
My science class is comprised of students from around the world.

The intended meaning is properly expressed by:
My science class comprises students from around the world.

That is to say, the science class includes in its make-up students from around the world.  It comprises them: it is not comprised of them.  In fact, it is difficult to imagine what the expression "comprise of" could possibly mean.

That's all.

Orthodox Enthusiasts

The title of this post was originally going to be "Orthodox Hobbyists".  However, there is something of a value judgement implicit in that wording that might suggest a strength of feeling that I don't have.

However, I would welcome help in understanding a phenomenon that I have heard of and in some cases witnessed, but never actually experienced myself, and it is what appears to this outsider to be a fascination of some non-Orthodox with many of the accoutrements of Orthodoxy, and incorporation of them into their lives, and an almost fanatical obsession with the goings-on in the Orthodox Church, all unaccompanied by any desire whatsoever to actually become Orthodox.

What is that?


When I was an Anglican, I used to make an annual personal retreat of a few days to the House of the Resurrection.  As many will know, this is the mother house of the Anglican monastic Community of the Resurrection.  I would go each year for four or five days surrounding the feast of the Conception of the Mother of God.

For a suburb-dweller from South Manchester, accustomed to 20-hours-a-day public transportation, meals available at all hours of the day or night, and the hustle and bustle of city life, a Yorkshire village in December was an entirely different world.  It was a very easy journey.  I lived near to Manchester Airport at the time so only needed to walk to the airport to get the train to Huddersfield.  From there, it was a short walk to Huddersfield bus station, and this is where there was the first sign that I was about to enter something entirely alien to my experience:

The Paschal Zadostoinik

I just came across this.  Christ is risen!

New Converts, Beware!

I begin to compose this post with a few disparate ideas floating around in my mind. Perhaps by the end they will have bounced off each other and arranged themselves into some sort of coherent structure.

As I have said in the past, before I first made contact with an Orthodox priest and began worshipping at an Orthodox parish, I learnt much about Orthodoxy through books and the internet. For all of the good such learning brings, the method can have its disadvantages, one of which, in my case at least, was that when I arose from the font a new creature I did so with all sorts of ideas of what the Church ought to be, how She ought to look and conduct Herself, how She could do things better.

©2009 All of Creation Rejoices | by TNB