Fr. Michael Plekon, New York City
For those who know Fr Nicolas Afanasiev's great ecclesiological study, The Church of the Holy Spirit, its relevance to our situation is great. (This would be an understatement.)
As serious as the financial mismanagement has been, the actual changes to the conciliar nature of the OCA over the past decade or more are equally profound and destructive. When St Tikhon of Moscow was the archbishop in north America in the early years of the 20th c., he implemented sobors to which in addition to the hierarchs, the clergy and lay members were invited & participated. Later this was the model for ecclesiastical reform promulgated at the Moscow Council of 1917-18 but never actually implemented there in Russia. It was, however, implemented in the former Metropolia here, as well as in the Exarchate of Paris and in the UK diocese of Sourozh.
In the last years of the former diocese of NY/NJ,the conciliar shape of the OCA was regularly attacked by the then ruling hierarch of that diocese, at its yearly assemblies. He said on one occasion he needed neither the assembly nor the diocesan council. When pressed, he said the so called "conciliar" shape, through Statute, of the OCA was "uncanonical," and the cause for the OCA's rejection by international Orthodoxy. (But what of churches such as that of Finland, the exarchate of Paris, the diocese of Sourozh, the American Antiochian Archdocese even the GOA all of whom have or have had assemblies of the hierarchs, clergy and laity?) His sometime chancellor referred, despite protests, to the "synodal administration" of the OCA, even quoting an ancient canon that claims the hierarch owned & controlled everything in his church including olive trees, domestic animals, etc.
While they should not be regarded as informed ecclesiological opinion, several recent posts on other lists appear to support a virtually absolute authority of the hierarchs in the OCA, with no mention of the AAC, the metropolitan council, the diocesan assemblies and councils. Or Christ. Recently Bp Kallistos Ware published a formidable series of essays on authority in the church in historical perspective, arguing that (as Afanasiev also does) the bishops of the apostolic and patristic eras never acted independently of...I think St Cyprian of Carthage is cited.."my presbyters, deacons, and the people."
The quotation below, from the very forceful concluding chapter of The Church of the Holy Spirit by Fr Afanasiev is worth pondering:
Authority is part of the life of the Church which has this ministry of administration. But the ecclesial authority ought to conform to the nature of the Church and not be in conflict with her. If such authority claims to be superior to the Church then it must also be superior to Christ. This is why the Church can never be founded, nor her authority based upon a juridical principle, for the law is external to, outside of Love. Such authority cannot belong to the vicars of Christ on earth, since God has not delegated his power to anyone, but has put all people in submission to Christ, "put all things under his feet." In the Church, which is Love, there is only the power of love. God gives the pastors not the charism of power but that of love and, by his mediation, the power of love. The bishops who exercise the ministry of administration are the representatives of the power of love. The submission of all to the bishop takes place in love, and it is by love that the bishop submits to the faithful. Every submission of one to another is realized through the mediation of the love we have for Christ. The submission of all to the bishop is actualized by the love he has for all and by the reciprocal love of the faithful for him. There can be no other foundation of power in the Church, for Christ is the only foundation of power in her. The pastors are able to have only that which Christ gives to the Church. Law cannot be the foundation of power in the Church because Christ has not given it as a charismatic gift but rather he has rejected it. "Shoulder my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart." (Matt. 11, 29) The power of Christ in the Church is the power of Love, acquired by the love which he has for us.
- Nicolas Afanasiev, The Church of the Holy Spirit, chapter 8, "The Authority/Power of Love." [Vlast lyubvi]