Who has the authority in the Orthodox Churches? Can someone explain how that works. Is it at the bishop level only or is there a hierarchy above that? If a serious question or problem arises in the Church, who has the final say? Thanks in advance!
Depends on what you’re talking about:
In matters pertaining to individual parishioners and parish practices, extending eikonomia, issuing penances, giving spiritual guidance, that would be the parish priest.
In governing and directing a monastery it would be the Abbot or Abbess.
Over both of these would be the bishop, who controls how the Liturgy is performed, whether or not someone is allowed to get re-married, who can be baptized, Chrismated, married, or recieve any of the other Sacraments, who is ordained, who serves in his parishes, what is preached, etc.
If something happens within a local church their bishops would meet together and come to a conclusion. If there’s a tie the patriarch gets tie breaking vote.
If something affecting the entire Church happens then a council would be convened, The bishops of the world would meet together, come to an agreement, take the agreement back to their people, the people would agree, disagree, or depose their bishop. The Ultimate Authority is The Faith, or what has always been believed. What the Fathers have said - we cannot disagree with them. Doing so is what results in bishops being thrown out of their thrones.
Interesting. In the Oriental Orthodox and Catholic Churches, it is only bishops who can depose other bishops. If I’m understanding you correctly, the EO have a very unique, almost democratic ecclesiology. From what you say, how is the principle of governing authority in the EOC different from that of the magisterial Protestant groups?
Very, very interesting. Thank you for explaining it. Do large councils ever occur in the way you described above?
That is an interesting question.
I would also be interested to know if this system of bishops coming together and making decisions is really any different from, say, the Anglican Communion or the Church of England, or any other group doing the same thing.
Also, it was mentioned that the Orthodox Churches are abound to tradition, but honestly, there doesn’t seem like anything is stopping them from all agreeing that the “tradition” is very different than it actually was.
The 7 Ecumenical Councils would be examples, but it’s rare that they’re needed. The local councils happen all the time (they’re scheduled yearly at least), and if an issue arises in one local church and their council answers it, and then the same issue arises in another local church, it’s very likely that the first local council will be used as a sort of ‘precedence’ and followed in the second local church. There’s not really been something since the 7th Great Council that required another one, but there are talks that another Great Council may happen within the next few years, but that rumor has been around for years and it’s always “just around the corner.”
Just to clear something up then, what does “local” mean? City, country?
Mardukm is on my ignore list, so I didn’t see his post until now.
The Anglican Church is somewhat similar to Orthodoxy - it’s one of the reasons why Western Orthodoxy comes so prevalently from former Anglicans. The closest western church to Orthodoxy is traditional Anglicans generally. They have the same mindset, which is one of the most important things.
As to your second paragraph, it sounds good in theory but in actuality it’s completely impossible. Imagine a group spread across the entire world that is held together by belief that they believe is Divine and sacred. Then imagine one person in one area starts preaching something different. Say he even got a following in his area. The other areas are going to correct him or cut him out, or his bishop is going to publicly excommunicate him. When everyone is a guardian of The Faith nobody wants to be the guy who betrays it. Even if the whole church fell, Mt. Athos wouldn’t. Our monks are very serious about protecting the faith. Finally you forget that the Holy Spirit protects His Church. This was uncomfortable to me when I was converting from Roman Catholicism, but ultimately I had to trust that God would protect, divide, and defend His Church. I had to have faith that He would fulfill His promises.
In Orthodox eyes the Roman Catholic system is more likely to be so abused: One man can say that “Doctrine A” has been believed always and everywhere, and everyone is required to believe it. People can say “Well the pope can’t disagree with history” but imagine what would actually happen if the pope did declare something like that today - everyone would show how what he was saying really didn’t contradict the historic faith, even if it did, because it’s impossible, in your church, for him to be wrong when preaching on faith and morals, ex cathedra, etc. etc. Immediately your theologians would rationalize it, and anyone who didn’t agree would be marked as schismatic or heretics - look at the SSPX.
Sorry, I should’ve been more clear: a “Local Church” in Orthodoxy refers to, basically, a national church: The Russian Church is a local church, as is the Greek, Serbian, Bulgarian, Japanese, etc.
Very good response. I actually agree with your assessment of the Catholic Church.
How does this work then when, for instance, the Russian Orthodox Church is operating in America? Do bishops in America report to a higher authority within the Orthodox Church in Russia?
Which local church you are part of is decided by which local council your bishop sits on. Thus in America I go to a Serbian parish. That means my bishops sits on the Serbian Council of Bishops. Here in America there is also a pan-jurisdictional assembly of Orthodox Bishops who meet together sometimes. That’s the starting point for eventually have an American Orthodox Church. Eventually our bishops will sit on one council in America, just as the Russians and everyone does.
We do not have “rites” as Roman Catholicism does. So I am an Orthodox Christian, not a Serbian Orthodox Christian. If I started going to St. George’s down the street (which is Greek) I wouldn’t have to tell anyone, I’d just start going to St. George’s. This is sometimes a cause of confusion between Romans and Orthodox as well.
Well, at least you’re still indirectly reading my posts.
Even if the whole church fell, Mt. Athos wouldn’t. Our monks are very serious about protecting the faith. Finally you forget that the Holy Spirit protects His Church.] This was uncomfortable to me when I was converting from Roman Catholicism, but ultimately I had to trust that God would protect, divide, and defend His Church. I had to have faith that He would fulfill His promises.
Those are the same reaosns have that Catholics give for believing in the teaching office of the episcopal Magisterium with the Pope as its head - because it is God who protects the Church. I’ve never had the bias when I was in the Coptic Orthodox Church that “my bishops are protected, but the Catholic bishops aren’t.” I just focused on what was being taught, and when I was convinced that the Catholic Church did not teach heterodoxy, I joined her (though not right away though).
In Orthodox eyes the Roman Catholic system is more likely to be so abused: One man can say that “Doctrine A” has been believed always and everywhere, and everyone is required to believe it.
That’s the usual misunderstanding. Actually, the Pope has to determine the consensus of the Church BEFORE he makes his ex cathedra decree - it’s not the other way around (that is, it’s not that the ex cathedra decree is what will determine the consensus of the Church).
People can say “Well the pope can’t disagree with history” but imagine what would actually happen if the pope did declare something like that today - everyone would show how what he was saying really didn’t contradict the historic faith, even if it did, because it’s impossible, in your church, for him to be wrong when preaching on faith and morals, ex cathedra, etc. etc. Immediately your theologians would rationalize it, and anyone who didn’t agree would be marked as schismatic or heretics - look at the SSPX.
Sounds like the same argument could be made for the monks of Athos. I’ve read such rationalizations about the monks of Athos regarding their refusal to admit the othodoxy of miaphysites (i.e., “it’s impossible for them to be wrong…etc.”). I guess it’s a matter of perspective on what is orthodox.
Wow, I really had no idea that is how it works. Thanks so much for all of your help.
The United States and Canada are a bit different than the rest of the world. It is unique in that it doesn’t have a single dominant church. Even non-Orthodox countries tend to have a single dominant church (usually branches of the Ecumenical Patriarchy). The situation in North America was caused by the fall of the Russian Empire and the rise of the Bolsheviks - prior to these events the continent had been generally regarded as part of the Russian Church.
The Orthodox Church of America, which was separate from the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, was granted autocephaly by Patriarch of Moscow Alexy I in 1970. It’s in full communion with the Russian Orthodox Church, Polish Orthodox and other Churches of the former Soviet Bloc. However, its auocephaly status is not recognized by other Orthodox Churches, such as Constantinople.
Church-wide Councils, called All-American Councils, are held every 2-3 years by the Holy Synod unless circumstances necessitate one. The last one last week, November 13, 2012, was such a one, in which the new Primate, Most Blessed Tikhon (Mollard) of Washington, was elected.
Again, I am really learning a lot from all of this and I appreciate the help. In a lot of ways, the Orthodox Church is theologically more in line with my views than the Catholic Church, but in other ways, it sadly is not. Very interested in understanding more about it though!