It would not be fair to suggest an “analogy,” an equality of ratio or circumstance, between the theoretical legal system of justice in our society to regulate and maintain order, and the “guidance” afforded by the Canons of the Orthodox Church, or the “mind” of the Patristic Fathers. And I would emphasize that this is no fault of the Church or its teachings, but clearly our failure to grasp the fullness of the intention of the Fathers in description and definition. At best, we may attempt to extrapolate our current system to appreciate the fundamental differences in “tendencies.”
Because of current “events” in the life of the Orthodox Church, some have turned to seek “justice” in a fashion consistent with a modern “science & philosophy” of law – a system of jurisprudence – that weighs actions against established rules; interpretations of the rules in a given context; and appeals of these interpretations to greater and greater “authority,” ALL with transparency and evidence. The current thought has become to seek out “canon lawyers,” experts who scour the Codex of the historical canons of the historical Church like it were Penal Code or statutory regulation. And, of course, in the period extending through the life and history of the Church, every aspect of jurisdictional dispute, policing, clergy life, foundational matter, heresy, and every form of human depravity has been addressed many times, independently, en masse, and in complete contradiction to previous decisions and compiled. And God help the poor “trier of law,” not fact, the American judges, forced to rule in these disputes who have consistently ruled that the civil courts have no standing, and have upheld the Orthodox Church sufficient to govern itself.
It likewise seems no one is able to impress on these “modernists” who believe they are “traditionalists,” that their thinking is so far removed from the Patristic Fathers as to be, on the one hand, shockingly misguided and missing the mark, but, on the other hand, divisive. We do not hold “canonical courts,” we do not “rule according to Canon Law,” we do not entertain the notion that the Son of God sacrificed Himself to “set us free,” only to enslave us to Canon Law! This is truly a sad and distorted theology:
This would seem to adequately explain why the “practice” of jurisprudence under the Canons would appear lax, ignored, “cheapened,” and, in fact, contrary and in defiance of the intention of the Fathers. To most every Canon, or “law” regarding the conduct and behavior of Christians is attached what appears to be a corresponding “penalty,” often in remarkable detail, of the “prescribed” consequence. And if applied pursuant to the Canons as written, no one – and, please, read this again – no one in our modern age could even enter the Church building because of a penitential state, frequently years in duration. As Fr. Meyendorff points out, it is not that the Patristic Fathers ignored the impact of sin as far reaching beyond one person, as rather a cosmic event for the Church, by Whom we are saved together, but they certainly recognized the danger in generalizing strength and forbearance.
Oikonomia [οἰκονομία] is a word that refers to “management” or “administration,” not in a legal or governmental sense, but specifically referring to the “plan of salvation”:
Most important to St. Paul is the fact that both the knowledge and the management are given to those who would direct the Church: “Whereof I am made a minister, according to the [κατὰ τὴν οἰκονομίαν] management of God which is given to me for you, to fulfill the word of God,” (Col.1:25) and “For a bishop must be blameless, as the [ὡς θεοῦ οἰκονόμον] steward of God.” (Titus 1:7):
It is truly a great disservice to imagine that our God, the Just Judge, indeed, in “rendering to each man according to his deeds” will consult the Codex of the Canons, questioning each in a manner similar to Job the Righteous. Such a disservice, in fact, that our Father Gregory of Nyssa could not entertain the thought. Relying on the words of St Peter, “Whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution [ἀποκατάστασις] of all things” (Acts 3:21), he wrote:
This, of course, the Later Fathers declared as heresy. He does, however, remain among the Fathers. I hold him close to my heart. All of this is to say is that the Church harbors no Sheriffs and no cowboys.
- Meyendorff, J. Ecclesiology: canonical sources. Byzantine Theology: Historical trends and doctrinal themes.” Fordham University Press: New York, NY. 1999. ↩
- Ibid. ↩
- St. Gregory of Nyssa. On the soul and the resurrection. Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. 5. Edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1893.) ↩