Source: Religion Unplugged
Despite coming to a conclusion just a month ago, the Synod on Synodality of the Catholic church continues to make headlines. Recently, Bishop Robert Barron expressed his “frank disagreement” with the synod’s report, which asserts that advances in the sciences require an evolution in the church’s moral teaching on human sexuality.
Although the concept of a synod is new within the Roman Catholic church, it has a long-standing tradition in Orthodox Christianity. Metropolitan Job of Pisidia was invited to participate in the synod in Rome. On Oct. 9, he delivered a reflection on the experience of synodality in the Orthodox church.
Metropolitan Job of Pisidia is an Orthodox bishop of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. He is the Permanent Representative of the Ecumenical Patriarchate to the World Council of Churches and co-President of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic church and the Orthodox church. These significant posts make him a top diplomat of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.
Metropolitan Job is an expert on the dialogue between the Catholic and Orthodox churches, as well as issues related to Ukraine. His busy schedule and diplomatic nature of his activities don’t leave a lot of room for media interviews. The most recent extensive conversation with Metropolitan Job was published by the BBC Russian Service in 2018.
Despite this, Metropolitan Job spoke to Jovan Tripkovic, an editorial fellow at ReligionUnplugged.com about his experience at the Synod on Synodality, Orthodox idea of synodality and historical parallels between the Roman Catholic and Orthodox concepts of synodality. Metropolitan Job also discussed the dialogue between Constantinople and Rome, recent developments in Ukraine (calendar change) and the Orthodox rift.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity. The interview took place in October during the Synod on Synodality in Rome.
Jovan Tripkovic: You have been an active participant in the Synod on Synodality in Rome. As an Orthodox Christian, what are your general impressions of the Synod?
Metropolitan Job of Pisidia: For the Roman Catholic church, it is a new experience to try to involve the clergy, the laity, the religious people into the process of management of the church. This is something that our Roman Catholic brothers are still not very well familiar with. There are some reserves. Some are a little bit cautious, others have doubts about this way of doing things. There are movements for more influence on the governing body of the church. This is something new.
There is a lot of mutual respect and active listening, which is commendable. Overall, the spirit is very positive. It is done in a spirit of prayer. Every 15-20 minutes, there is a brief interruption for three, four minutes of silence for prayer. This is a very positive experience for the Roman Catholic church. The definition of synodality as it has been defined by this synod, comes from the vision of Pope Francis, it’s the vision of walking all together towards the kingdom of God.
This is the whole understanding of synodality at this meeting. How can we walk all together? This implies that we have to walk at the same rhythm, caring about not leaving people behind us, to have them with us and how we can work together to give a testimony to the world. The mission of the Church, our common mission is to evangelize the world. There is a very close connection to synodality with mission, as it is understood at this meeting. There are three key themes: listening to one another, the communion of the church — church being a communion — and the mission of our common witness to the world.
Tripkovic: Is the concept of synodality in Rome similar to the Eastern Orthodox idea of synodality?
Metropolitan Job: There is a first difference, which is a major difference! The Catholic Synod on Synodality is a consultative body, while in Orthodoxy we have a decision-making body. Currently in Rome, we have a gathering of bishops, clergy, religious people, and laity, in order to discuss and produce reports. They will be presented to Pope Francis. He will decide what to do with all of this. This is not a decision-making assembly.
Orthodox synods gather to make a decision. In the Orthodox church, we do not have a Pope above the synod. We have a primate, a protos — a first bishop — who presides over the synod and who is within the synod. The synod as a body takes decisions about governance of the church.
Second, in the Orthodox church the decision-making body which is known as the synod is exclusively comprised of bishops. The bishops are in the Orthodox synod representing their local church, their dioceses. In order to represent their dioceses in the synod, bishops listen to their local church, all people of God, by making pastoral visits to parishes, having clergy hold meetings, where they discuss their issues and the pastoral problems of their diocese.
In some dioceses we have clergy-laity conferences, assemblies to discuss these matters related to their diocese. What is now happening in the Roman Catholic church, with Synodality corresponds more with what we call in the Orthodox church, clergy-laity assemblies, which are consultative bodies, from which the Synod takes into consideration the issues discussed in order to make a decision.
Tripkovic: Do you see any historical parallel between the Synod in Rome and Orthodox concept of synodality?
Metropolitan Job: We also had a similar movement in Russia at the end of the 19th century, beginning of the 20th century, with the idea of sobornost. The idea of sobornost (developed by the Slavophiles) is pretty similar to the idea of synodality which is being presented right now in the Roman Catholic church, that tries to incorporate different constituencies of the church (clergy, laity, religious people, episcopate) into the administration of the church.
However, sobornost wanted to include these constituencies into the decision making process, while the Synod on Synodality has a more consultative structure. One of the differences goes back to the Constitution of the church by the Second Vatican Council. Lumen gentium has spoken about the collegiality of bishops and created episcopal assemblies. These assemblies do not have the authority to take major decisions, they are rather consultative. In the Orthodox church the synods are the actual governance body of the church.
Tripkovic: What can we learn from each other?
Metropolitan Job: It’s very interesting to attend this Synod and see that we are facing exactly the same questions.All the questions being raised in the Synod are very similar to the questions that the Orthodoxy is confronted with. We have different ways of dealing with these questions. We can learn from each other’s experience and how each church faces these questions. This can inspire both churches.
Tripkovic: What direction is the Synod moving to? Where do you think Pope Francis and Cardinal Hollerich are headed?
Metropolitan Job: This is only the first part of the Synod on Synodality. Round two will be next year. My impression is that we are conducting a scan of the state of the church, to identify questions that truly matter among the people of God, the entire church. What are the preoccupations? This is a first step to assess where we stand now and what the expectations are. There will likely be one year of reflection, not only in the Vatican but also in the dioceses. During round two next year, some recommendations will be made.
Tripkovic: The Instrumentum Laboris covers some hot-button topics, including women deacons, priestly celibacy and LGBTQ outreach. Some Catholics fear this may sow confusion on these moral matters. What are your thoughts on this?
Metropolitan Job: The Synod is in the process of listening to these global issues. In my opinion, these are questions that come from outside the church. These are questions with which the church is being confronted while dealing with society. The church exists within society and is confronted with various questions.. There are various positions, various opinions on these issues, sometimes even opposite directions and opinions. At the moment the Synod is engaged in an exercise of listening. Listening to the various opinions, but it is not in a position at the moment to make any decisions.
Tripkovic: Pope Francis has opened the door to the possibility of Catholic priests blessing same-sex unions. What might be the implications of this for Catholic-Orthodox relations?
Metropolitan Job: As far as I know, Pope Francis has initiated a reflection on that topic. He hasn’t made any decisions yet. It’s a question for reflection.
We had a similar experience with the dialogue with the old Catholics. The dialogue between the Orthodox church and Old Catholics was very positive. It was a dialogue that was almost achieved, in the sense that came to the conclusion that we share the same fate and that we could consider restoration of the full communion between our churches. Then came the question of ordination of women.
Not only the question, the Old Catholics began ordaining women to the priesthood. They also, introduced same sex marriage. This stopped everything! The positive dialogue couldn’t lead to the restoration of full communion because these practices are considered unacceptable in the Orthodox church.
The dialogue ended on a positive note. But the restoration of the communion between churches became impossible because of this issue. We face similar problems with the Anglican church, the Reform church, and the Lutheran church. The theological dialogue continues but serves merely as a dialogue for a better understanding of each other and to consider what we can do together as Christians in the world. However, the dialogue is not focused on the restoration of communion because these practices are not acceptable for the Orthodox church.
Tripkovic: What is the present status of the ecumenical dialogue between the Roman Catholic church and the Orthodox church?
Metropolitan Job: The dialogue between the Roman Catholic church and the Orthodox church up until now has been very positive. This year in Alexandria, we concluded with a document on the topic of primacy and synodality.
There is a triptych: The document of Ravenna, the document of Chieti, and now the document of Alexandria, which addresses the whole issue of primacy and synodality. The document of Ravenna focuses more on the general concept. The document of Chieti deals historically with the first millennium. And the document of Alexandria deals with the second millennium and raises the questions how could this be lived today?
Now we feel that we have addressed the question of primacy and synodality. The issue of the primacy of the pope has been a thorny one. The exercise of the primacy of the pope of Rome caused the rupture of communion between East and West. We believe that by rebalancing the notion of primacy with synodality, we have dealt with that question.
Now we are entering a new phase in the dialogue The next document, which will be prepared in the upcoming years, will precisely address the issues or questions, whether theological or canonical (including those related to the fate, the doctrine and church order) that still impede the restoration of full communion between our churches. In other words, in the next few years we will be trying to make a catalog of what really prevents us from restoring the communion and identifying the questions that need to be resolved.
Tripkovic: Earlier this year, Pope Francis expressed his desire for the Roman Catholic church to reach an agreement with the Orthodox church to celebrate Easter on the same date by the first Council of Nicaea’s jubilee in 2025. Do you share Pope Francis’ optimism that the two sides could potentially reach this agreement?”
Metropolitan Job: This depends a lot on achieving consensus on both sides. Both Roman Catholics and Orthodox adhere to the same definition to determine the date of Easter. It’s the decision of the first Ecumenical Council of Nicaea, which specifies that Easter should be on the first Sunday after the first full moon of spring.
The only problem lies in the instruments we use to determine the dates of the full moon and spring. The Roman Catholic church uses the Gregorian calendar (established in the 16th century), which is for the moment the most accurate according to astronomical data. The Orthodox church still adheres to the Julian calendar for the date of spring and relies on older astronomical tables for the determination of the full moon. The Julian calendar and the tables no longer correspond with astronomic reality.
This is why, in 1977, the Orthodox church organized a meeting of Orthodox astronomers in order to make new calculations and establish more precise dates. There was a proposal for revising the tables based on contemporary astronomic data. These proposals were expected to be confirmed by the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox church, which took place in 2016 on the Greek Island of Crete. Some churches stated that they weren’t prepared and that their believers are not ready for a revision of the calendar. That’s the reason why this question was postponed.
Tripkovic: The Orthodox church of Ukraine adopted a new liturgical calendar, which means it will celebrate Christmas on Dec. 25, instead of Jan. 7. How do you see this development?
Metropolitan Job: This is a psychological reaction. The Ukrainian people want to be part of Europe. They want to celebrate feasts with Europeans and not be a part of the Russian world. At the moment, the Julian calendar is being interpreted as the calendar of the Russian church, which is not true.
The same thing happened in the past. Many people didn’t want to change the calendar and to accept a new calendar because this was identified as accepting a Roman Catholic calendar. These are psychological reactions that aren’t directly related to the calendars themselves. It’s more about aiming to celebrate Christmas with the West rather than with Russia.
Tripkovic: By granting autocephaly to the Orthodox church in Ukraine, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has been accused of papism. Hierarchs from other Orthodox churches are also concerned about the Ecumenical Patriarchate accepting priests without canonical releases from their churches. What is your response to this?
Metropolitan Job: Firstly, I invite people to read history and to see who granted autocephaly to all the existing churches. From the time of the ecumenical councils, consider who granted autocephaly (independence) to the church of Russia, church of Serbia or the church of Romania. Why, in 1990, did the church of Georgia (which claims to be one of the most ancient autocephalous churches), came to the Ecumenical Patriarchate asking to receive a tomos (decree) of autocephaly?
We need to be clear. The modern statues of autocephaly and patriarchates were all granted by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. In Orthodox Christianity, in the times when there is no ecumenical council, the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, as the first see of Orthodoxy, holds the authority to grant autocephaly.
The Ecumenical Patriarchate adheres to church canons and canonical traditions regarding the acceptance of clergy. Within the canonical tradition, the Ecumenical Patriarchate holds the right to consider appeals from clergy of other churches. This is prescribed by the canons of the church.
The Ecumenical Patriarchate, as the first see, also has the authority to receive clergy seeking entry into the church of Constantinople. These decisions are rooted in canonical tradition, which clearly defines the role of the church of Constantinople.
Tripkovic: Hierarchs of the Ecumenical Patriarchate insist on calling the Serbian Orthodox church the “Church of Serbia,” the Romanian Orthodox church the “Church of Romania” and the Bulgarian Church the “Church of Bulgaria.” Language is very important, and in this case, we see linguistic discrepancies between Constantinople and other Orthodox churches. Could you clarify this for our readers?
Metropolitan Job: Since the apostolic times, the church has been founded based on geography. In the New Testament the Apostle Paul sent letters to churches in Thessalonica, Rome and Ephesus. The defining criterion of the church has always been geographical. The church is always local. The church is always gathered in a specific place.
It’s not an ethnic issue. The church that gathers in one city: Rome, Ephesus, Constantinople, or any other represents the church of Christ, not the church of one nation. It doesn’t exclude people of other nations, but unites all the people in one body within Christ. This is why the religious nationalism — Ethnophyletism was condemned as heresy by the Synod of 1872.
Tripkovic: By calling the Serbian Orthodox church the “church of Serbia” or the Bulgarian Orthodox Church the “Church of Bulgaria,” does the Ecumenical Patriarchate imply a claim of canonical jurisdiction over the diasporas of these Orthodox churches?
Metropolitan Job: According to the canonical tradition the diaspora belongs to the Ecumenical Patriarchate, this is stipulated by the canon.
The Ecumenical Patriarchate by economy (ecclesiastical economia) acknowledges the temporary right of each autocephalous church to exercise jurisdiction over their faithful in the diaspora until the diaspora question is resolved. This approach is based on economy rather than canonical activia (strict application of canon law).
Tripkovic: With the developments in Ukraine and Africa, it is evident that the division between Constantinople and Moscow will further intensify in the future. What impact could this have on the dialogue between the Catholic and Orthodox churches?
Metropolitan Job: This is not a division between Moscow and Constantinople. It is a division between a theological, ecclesiological vision and a political vision of the church. The creation of a so-called Russian Exarchate of Africa is anti-canonical and anti-ecclesiological. This is a political decision. It’s a political decision, disconnected from theology and ecclesiology. The dialogue between the Orthodox church and the Roman Catholic church is a theological dialogue.
The Roman Catholic church aims to restore full communion. The Orthodox churches who participate in the theological dialogue are working towards the restoration of ecclesiastical communion. We are at the service of theology and ecclesiology. We are not at the service of political interests. Those people who are only interested in politics are problematic.