Monday, October 13, 2014

Carol Saba on Ecclesiology and Church Governance in Antioch

This is lengthy but well worth the read. Arabic original, published before the Holy Synod of Antioch's meeting last week, here.

The Church's Direction and the Opposite Direction
In the East, the Holy Synod of Antioch will meet next week under the leadership of Patriarch John X. We hope-- and this appears to be the case-- that a follow-up on the important Antiochian Conference that was held last June and an examination of its recommendations will be on the agenda. Our hope is great and greater still are the challenges besetting us. In the West, tomorrow Pope Francis is inaugurating the general synod of the Catholic Church about marriage and the family. This synod is the first of its kind of Francis' papacy and the most comprehensive one to treat this critical social-ecclesial issue. More than two hundred bishops from all over the world will participate in its activities and discussions which will last from the 5th to the 10th of October. For the first time, lay men and women, representatives of Catholic organizations, and centers of public opinion will also be participating. The synod will treat all aspects of the problems, challenges, pressures and changes that affect marriage and the family in today's world. The hallmark of this synod is not its form or the fact that it is being held, although this is important in itself as it is a significant attempt on the part of the Catholic Church to closely, methodically and realistically approach the concerns of Christian families and to understand the social transformations that are affecting them today and their repercussions for Christian families as a whole, childbearing and marriage. Its hallmark lies in the way it is  comprehensive, consultative and participatory, between the leadership and base of the church, as the Pope insisted that it be during the preparation for the synod, which took over a year, and its preparatory papers. Observers noted that it is the largest and most expansive in the history of the Catholic Church in terms of bringing together Church leadership, the Church's "base" and all segments of the people of God-- its organizations, representatives, elites, talented laypeople and clergy and the centers of public opinion in motion within them. The path being followed by the Pope to arrive at statements and suggestions that might be inspired by the Holy Spirit and which will be examined by the synod is a bottom-up and participatory path from the base to the synod, via elites, talented individuals and organizations up to the synod of bishops, cardinals and the Pope. Things have not proceeded in the inverse, top-down direction or by declaring things from above, as had happened in the past. That is, Church leadership issuing decisions from above without consultation, dialogue, or prior discussion with the base and with talented individuals in the Church and without allowing them to participate in the Church's decision-making process and the formulation of future ecclesial and pastoral decisions.

The Concept of Ecclesial Revolution, A Revolution against the Self, A Corrective Revolution in Direction and Mode of Action
This comprehensive bottom-up, participatory and consultative path that Pope Francis has followed since his election to the See of Rome-- not only in matters pertaining to the preparation of the Synod on the Family, but also in many other critical ecclesial matters-- is precisely what I meant in some of my previous writings by what I called an "ecclesial revolution" or "an evangelical revolution". By this I did not mean a revolution against anyone or a "turning of the tables", but rather a peaceful revolution, a revolution of love against the self, a revolution in the way of doing work, against the traditional methods that have been followed in the Church until now, but which are no longer appropriate for today's world. These methods have established a rift in the Church between the leadership and the base such that the leadership has come to be distant from its people and does not allow them to participate in making ecclesial and pastoral decisions, while the base, along with the elites and people with talent are forced to watch on in frustration at those "above" and wait to see what they will decide without their communicating with them, as though they were on another planet. Yes, the traditional way of doing things has hurt the Church and the ecclesiology of communion within her, as it has made the Church into a centralized church, which the Church should be expanding out to and into the world. It has made the Church into an institution with hierarchical decision-making, without consultation or participation, while the Church is constituted by spheres of communion and an evangelistic impetus and motion. It is not possible for the Church to be a church unless she is based first of all on consultation and communion and because she moves by this evangelistic spirit. It is after this that she can produce from her evangelistic womb a hierarchy of decision-making that is inspired by God. This path being taken by Pope Francis, which represents a complete change of direction, is thus a "revolution against the self" in the fullest sense. The same holds true for all the churches today, including for glimpses of hope within the Antiochian Church. This is the evangelistic revolution that I called upon our beloved Patriarch John to lead on the level of all of Antioch, along with our Holy Synod and its bishops whom we honor and revere for their undertaking the initiative for this right now and no later, to ward off dangers and to restore the connection between the base and the leadership and put the Church's impetus in the right direction. The recent Antiochian Conference was only a first step and a good beginning along this path. It may bear fruit if we know how to fertilize it quickly and follow up on it. Or it might fall like the seeds that fell by the roadside, if we do not rise to the essence of the God-inspired formula that has set the immobile into motion, thanks to Patriarch John and his boldness, toward the call to the recent Antiochian Unity Conference, despite all the difficult situations facing the region and the Church.

Is the General Antiochian Conference something accidental and unnecessary in the life and governance of the See of Antioch, or is it a pivotal event in the life of ecclesial communion within her?
There is a common saying and formula that has become law in Antioch during the 20th century that says, "The Holy Synod is the highest authority in the Church." This formula may be true in the Church and compatible with the ecclesiology of communion in the Orthodox Church if the life of communion gradually progresses upwards in the Church, in word and deed, within spheres of communion that expand and move forward from the local church (from the smallest to the largest congregation), gradually step-by-step and stage by stage, like the ascent of Moses up the holy mountain to arrive at the spiritual vision described by Saint Gregory of Nyssa in his Life of Moses. This formula may be true if ecclesial life is based on conciliarity in the broad sense-- that is, in constant and continuous participation and consultation. At that point, it will produce a hierarchy of decision-making inspired by the Holy Spirit and expressing the Church's experience in her journey towards the Kingdom. I will not enter here into the debate about the word "authority" and whether this word expresses the essence of the Church as serving. Metropolitan Anthony Bloom, the famous Russian bishop of London of thrice-blessed memory and one of the most important theological and patristic figures of the 20th century, did not consider the bishop of a diocese (or the priest in his parish or the patriarch in his church) as "chief" but rather as "foremost father". He did not consider him to be the "director", but rather the "motivator". He did not consider him to be the "decision-maker" in everything, but rather "the final reference" in critical matters. He did not consider him to be the "holder  of authority", but rather "like a responsible servant" who does not hold a monopoly of authority, but rather holds a right to veto in critical matters that if they drifted away from the Church's course, would threaten the Church's unity. Is this not the most soundly Orthodox ecclesial expression of what is meant in the liturgy when we say that the bishop is "rightly-dividing the word of truth"? That is, that he is the sword of truth that divides between two positions, one that is upright and one that has deviated from it, and so the bishop divides them? Talk of authority might cause murmurs in the minds of the faithful, and cause them to believe that in the Church there are those who hold authority and those who do not hold authority, while all of us in the Church are responsible in communion and participation for building her up. When Antioch says that the Synod is the highest authority, it does not mean, in my ecclesiological reading, that it is the only authority in the Antiochian Church. The See of Antioch's statute of councils talks of a hierarchy in the composition of authority in the dioceses and cumulatively in the See of Antioch. So the diocesan conference and community council in each diocese are a necessary part of constituting the governance of the Patriarchate of Antioch as a whole. But where are the dioceses at in terms of implementing this canon? Who is applying this canon today? The statute of councils also speaks, albeit quickly and incidentally, about the "General Orthodox Conference of the See of Antioch and places it on the level of necessity ("when necessary, the patriarch calls for a general Orthodox conference for the See of Antioch..."). It does not establish mechanisms for its activity or whether its nature is advisory or  to some extent mandatory, but rather says that it brings recommendations to the Synod. In our opinion, this conference is a fundamental and pivotal sphere for the governance of the Antiochian Church as a whole and for the life of communion at the level of the See and its governance, today more than at any time in the past.

The Blowing of the Holy Spirit and Conciliarity in the Church
The Holy Synod is the place where Antiochian unity is manifest. It is the final reference for the organs of the Church that make positive conclusions effective and possible in the life of the Antiochian Church. Today there is a lot of talk about the patriarch's relationship to the synod, where the patriarch stands with regard to the synod, and what the limits there are to the patriarch's activity outside the synodal framework, etc. Then, are we a conciliar church, a patriarchal church or a church that is at once conciliar and patriarchal? The picture cannot be limited in this way. We do not want blocs in the synod, whether with or against the patriarch, with or against this metropolitan or that, or blocs of metropolitans supporting the line of this or that metropolitan. The synod is not a place of competition, but of complementarity. It is not a place for positioning-- the positioning of synodal blocs against each other-- but the place of harmony. It is the place where positive ecclesial conclusions are made, with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The blowing of the Holy Spirit in the Orthodox Church is not an instantaneous or automatic process that happens merely through the calling down the Holy Spirit. Humans cannot force the presence of the Holy Spirit and the All-Holy Spirit does not submit to the inevitability of our demands and supplicatory prayers for His presence. The Holy Spirit does not blow if this blowing is not translated as a grace that builds up the Church and supports her efforts to perfect the Church's structure here and now. The Holy Spirit's blowing is not limited to a single place (the synod's meeting place) or a single time (the time of the synod's meeting). Rather, it is a constant process of accompaniment and consciousness-raising that never tires and of warning that does not cease. It is a cumulative, bottom-up process in which graces develop and strengthen to the degree that the people of God and their leadership interact with these graces, positively or negatively. To the degree that the soil is prepared, grace grows, develops and bears fruit in the synod. If the soil is not prepared in the body of the Church, then grace falls on the roadside and on ground that is not fertile for the Church. The only thing that reaches the synod is worldly, human division about decision-making, which at that point cannot be anything more than an expression of conflicting worldly concerns, not the result inspired by God. The activity of the Holy Spirit's continuous blowing in the Church is thus before, during and after the meeting of the Holy Synod, as part of the Church's forward march. This blowing does not stop. Its fruits are many and numerous when the Church is allowed to live in an ecclesial state that permits synergy among all spheres of the Church, from the base to the summit, including all the gifts that are found in between. The process of producing positive conclusions inspired by the Holy Spirit is an unceasing, continuous, systematic process in all spheres of the Church to successively raise ideas, recommendations, studies and experiences from the bottom to the top, in which they are scrutinized, studied, shaped and purified before reaching the synod as dough kneaded with the Church's local experiences. The leaders and wise men of the Church-- that is, our bishops-- then study them according to their expertise, wisdom, knowledge and prudence. They correct what needs correcting, praise what needs to be praised, and announce the positive conclusion inspired by the Holy Spirit. This upward path that resembles Moses' ascent up the mountain is the Church's proper path. It permits leavening the ascent toward spiritual vision. This is a process of rising, not a process of announcing from above. This path does not stop with one issue, but rather includes everything-- including the election of bishops in the synod, so that the God-loving people may have a word in the election of their pastors. This is the issue. The choice is not the synod's issue only. The question being raised today to the conscience of the Antiochian Church is: if we continue along the traditional manner that fragments the life of communion in the Church, are we facilitating the Holy Spirit's blowing in the synod or are we impeding it?

Reform or renewal? The logic of centralization, the logic of the network or both? Challenges of the Church's governance in today's world.
The problem in the Church today is not reform or renewal. I believe in the idea of renewal instead of reform in the Church. Renewal does not start off on the basis of reforming that which is corrupt or changing that which must be changed. Rather, it starts off on the basis of the idea of renewal from within. That is, establishing a formula for discussion and outreach between traditionalist actors (those who resist on the basis of what they know or don't know of renewal) and non-traditionalist actors who work for renewal with patience and constancy without "combating" traditionalist actors but rather just the opposite, working to form bonds of trust and cooperation with them in order to achieve results. The first way, the way of confrontation through change and reform, quickly results in burning bridges and then at an impasse, while the way of renewal, which requires building bonds of trust and cooperation in which there is a give-and-take, may take time, but it may also bring results because it does not reject other actors, but rather tries to approach them and build rapprochement between separated elements. In the Church, only the second way is close to the Gospel's formula which does not seek the death of a sinner, but rather to save him and reform his sin. The problem posed in all the churches today, including the Antiochian Church, is the problem of renewing and modernizing church governance so that it will be appropriate to an ecclesiology of communion and to the transformations of today's world so that we will not find ourselves in a state of constant disconnect. The Catholic model of church governance is based on the idea of a pyramid and the absolute centralization of leadership around the Pope, while the Orthodox Church has historically been based on conciliar spheres and on the idea of the patriarch as first among equals. The first model has resulted in a dead end, in the monopolization of everything in the hands of the Pope. It has even resulted in ecclesiological deviation, in its removing the bishop of Rome from the normal structure of the Church and, at the First Vatican Council, granting him infalliability. Here Pope Francis is calling for a return to conciliar roots and a widening of the framework for consultation in the decision-making process. On the other hand, the Orthodox Church, whose tradition is based on conciliarity, the correct tradition ecclesiologically speaking, has for ages been confronted with a problem that in today's globalized world has become manifestly obvious: a problem in managing this conciliarity, in structure, and in the hierarchy of decision-making. There was also a deviation toward a nominally conciliar form of governance, which in fact tended toward one form or another of Caesaro-Papism through patriarchs' efforts to produce loyal majorities in their holy synods that would help them to implement their policies, and so the selection of bishops has been on that basis. The Catholic model has reached a dead end, but so has the Orthodox model in general. Continuing today with absolute centralization (as in Catholicism through infallibility and the institution of the Vatican) or relative (as in Orthodoxy as with the patriarch through a synod of one mind with him that never raises opposition) in the time of all the activities in today's world based on the idea of the network is not only a factor for schizophrenia within the institution of the Church, but also a cause for serious crises. With Pope Francis, the Catholic Church today is working to escape from this crisis-ridden formula. The Church is not entirely found in the center, nor is it entirely found in the network. It is in a model that gives centralization its proper place within the network. That is, in comprehensive conciliarity at all levels along with a hierarchy of decision-making that submits to it. Today there must be a renewed form of governance based on the principle of conciliarity and on the principle of hierarchical decision-making and follow-up on its implementation. The Holy Synod of Antioch must develop its activity and propose these correctives, so that we can bring the Church out of the  sterile contradictions that make her lethargic and unable to move to meet the modernity of today's world. As for the role of the patriarch, it is critical to this equation, especially in a world that demands the image of a leader. Thus there is the idea of the office of leadership that the patriarch must have within, through and in agreement with the synod. The synod must have a new mechanism for action. Faced with tremendous and rapid changes, the Holy Synod of Antioch cannot continue to only hold two meetings a year. It must consider a lesser synod that meets regularly or monthly and an expanded synod. The expanded synod can agree upon the list of matters where the patriarch can act through the lesser synod. In today's world and what it requires in terms of representation, communication, rapid mobility from one place to another and from one continent to another, rapid follow-up with authorities, leaders and churches, the patriarch cannot be limited to specific competencies such as we may want to limit them. If we do so, we will wind up paralyzing the Church. In today's moving, globalized world, leadership is something very important. That which guarantees the Church against any deviation of its leadership toward papal or authoritarian methods lies in the proper structuring of the Church as an institution and in the application of the ecclesiology of communion at every level of the Church.  The participation of all in consultation and the decision-making process, transparency, being systematic, and accountability all ensure that it will not deviate toward authoritarianism or papism.

The Recommendations and the Mechanism for Following up on the Antiochian Conference
Beyond the recommendations, it is necessary to move from a state of non-participation and involving others to a state of systematic and continuous involvement. The Antiochian Conference was a promising beginning, an unexpected grace and a valuable gift from the Lord in these turbulent times. However, if it remains an "orphan" and we return to traditional methodologies within the synod and outside it (even if the synod approves of some of the recommendations brought to it), then we will have eliminated the elements and engines of renewal in the Church. In effect, we will have brought people to the well of living water and then cut the rope. The problem is not one of momentary recommendations that were made at a specific time and were studied by a committee that made a report to the Holy Synod and not to those at the conference. Who ever said that in all their number the recommendations at the recent conference express all the expectations, issues and concerns of the body of the Antiochian Church? A large proportion of the organizations, prominent figures and lovers of the Church were not represented and active at the conference. The conference did not touch on all the sensitive issues and other things that are impeding the work of the Church. Even if the coming synod decides on some of the recommendations, who will debate with the synod and ask by what standard some recommendations are accepted and others not and why some of them are rejected but not others? The recommendations always need to be renewed, brought up to date, developed and revised along with the development of life and new approaches. How do we approach the changes going on in our societies, for example? The same is true for the concerns of the youth, their expectations and ways of moving forward in the world and in the Church today, transformations in the family, new standards of diakonia and renewed pastoral care, the Church and solidarity during the economic crisis and the role of Balamand in all of this. It is a necessary question to ask about a re-evaluation and a total and comprehensive re-formulation of Balamand's role and its renewal in order to be suited to today's challenges, etc. All of these are sensitive issues that were not touched upon by the conference. Thus, we need to move from the idea of the ephemeral conference to a state of "constant conferencing" through a follow-up mechanism that lays the foundation in word and deed, with all the necessary transparency and deliberateness, for a participatory and collaborative state of open dialogue between the leadership and the base.

Finally, Some Proposals:
1. Appointing a permanent secretary-general for the General Antiochian Conference (from the Mother Church and the diaspora), to follow up and expand on its work and to make a dossier of its terms and goals in order to follow up on the work and the collective effort that was made at the conference and to cause it to bear fruit on numerous fronts.
2. Creating a special website for the Antiochian Conference for interaction and communication. All the contributions that were presented at the conference should be posted on it. There should be an electronic forum for expanding on the contributions and an invitation to all to extend the site with recommendations and contributions.
3. An expanded advisory body must be appointed for the Antiochian Church whose responsibilities would be 1) making a total and comprehensive inventory of the place of renewal in the Antiochian Church today on the basis of the recommendations presented by those attending the recent conference, along with the possibility of expanding the spheres of consultation to new actors who did not participate in the conference but whom the committee could listen to and 2) putting together a scientific and churchly methodology for following up on implementing a comprehensive plan  for renewal, with the agreement of the patriarch and the Holy Synod.
4. In sensitive issues such as social changes, the family and public affairs, use should be made of the idea of a "special synod", which would study these issues deeply in all their aspects alongside specialists and all those concerned. It could begin by forming committees specialized in these issues so as to start work on them before the launching of these special synods.

No comments: