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Author Topic: Imperial Origins of Orthodox Church Structure  (Read 1938 times) Average Rating: 0
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ROCORthodox
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« on: July 14, 2007, 06:53:54 PM »

I hope this is allowed but a great post by GiC prompted me to want to discuss this topic a bit further.



Quote
GiC said:

Furthermore, I responded in line with an objective analysis of history, and am by no means the first to suggest that Christianity's growth and expansion was dependent on Imperial support, or even the first to suggest that without such support it is quite likely that Christianity would have suffered the fate of, say, the worship of Deus Sol Invictus. Furthermore, how can one say that the Church is NOT an imperial cult? We have Icons of Saints, who were only Saints because of their service to the Empire, in our Churches, our vestments were the dress of the Late Roman Aristocracy, we pray daily in our services for the victory of the Empire against the Barbarians, though the Barbarians have won long ago and the Empire is no more, our theology has been developed by Emperors who have summoned councils that have been expected to do their bidding...in one example where they did not, at the early sessions of Nicea II when the iconoclasts were strong, Empress Irene simply disbanded the council and resummoned it inviting only the bishops who intended to vote in her favour. Consider Chalcedon, it represented a change in Imperial policy from Ephesus II, they only reason we're not Eutychians today is because of a change in Emperors and a change in Imperial Policy. Bishoprics were long given to influential members of Roman Aristocracy, consider Balsamon, perhaps regarded as the greatest of all canonists in the history of the Church, he was Patriarch of Antioch, a political appointment, though he never actually visited the city throughout his whole life. The use of incense in the Church has been argued to be modeled after it's use in the veneration of the Emperor, they very doors to the altar are today called 'royal doors', not because of some divine royalty, but because by them the Emperor entered into the altar, being the only layman allowed to enter and commune there. There are countless examples of bishops being installed and deposed on account of the Imperial Authority, many heresies are heresies because they were opposed by the Empire, Church unity was a political goal and Church doctrine was a political means...this should hardly be controversial, I don't believe I had a single professor in seminary who would have argued otherwise. Up until Constantine we were a growing but relatively weak and splintered group, with St. Constantine came the Oecumenical Synods, came unity in the Church, and came the development of Christian dogma in ernest. What we believe, how we worship, who we are was defined from the time of the Emperor St. Constantine to the time of the Empress St. Theodora...we were defined during the golden age of the Empire, and were defined in relationship to the Empire. How is the Christian Faith not the greatest and most holy of cults the Empire has known? How is our cult not defined by the Empire?


There is so much to respond to here I want to solicit comments on a few bits I have been taught which seem - maybe - a bit naive when put up against what GiC has layed out above.

Firstly, I was taught that the councils - and their decisions - were all under the direction of the Holy Spirit not politics.  Yet, when I read of some of the tactics you recount above I start to think that, well, maybe I am just "taking the Ortho-propaganda at face value".   Secondly, I was taught that Orthodoxy is the oldest, purest form of Christianity since 33 AD.  GiC, by your statements above, this can't be true as you explain that before Constantine Christianity was various spinters.  Based on your above assesment it seems like Orthodoxy is really the official version of Christianity because it had the power of the State behind it for political purposes.   I was under the assumption that the Orthodox dogma, Theology and even worship was preserved - not developed by the Orthodox Empire.

Don't worry about me jumping ship from Orthodoxy.  God willing - I'm in for life regardless of the real answers to the above assumptions I have!
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« Reply #1 on: July 14, 2007, 07:14:03 PM »

GiC, along with myself and a certain number of Orthodox (usually history buffs) hold these views. That is, the Late Roman "Byzantine" Empire was responsible for almost all of the church's changes and it's continuing growth. In every essence, we are the Imperial Religion.

My godfather, whose family originated in Lebanon, told me that people from his home village still refer to themselves as Romans, and when the last Tzar was killed in Russia, they flew into a rage against the Bolsheviks, claiming, "They have killed the Emperor! How will the Church continue?" The Emperor has always played a large part in Orthodox life, though that veneration has fallen out of favor, as there hasn't been an Emperor figure in almost 100 years.

As for the pre-Nicea splinters...well, that's a fact we all have to face. There were no great churches in 40 A.D. with priests in rich vestaments waving incense. Any public display of Christianity was a death sentence; communication was terrible, and a church service in 200 A.D would look absolutely nothing like ours today. Orthodoxy preserves the traditions that were passed directly from Christ, then grew and developed after the Edict of Milan, making Christianity legal (though not yet official).

Yes, the Councils were under the guidance of the Holy Spirit (aside from Chalcedon, which was, in my personal view, a horrific event). However, politics will always have a say in what goes on in the world.

Hope this helps a little.
« Last Edit: July 14, 2007, 07:14:16 PM by Simayan » Logged

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« Reply #2 on: July 14, 2007, 07:15:43 PM »

Take GiC with a huge grain of salt, because he is here, by his own admission, to stir things up with his contrarian ideas.  He is articulate enough to make his posts sound scholarly, but they really represent nothing more than his own opinions, opinions apparently formed more by ego than by any real study.
« Last Edit: July 14, 2007, 07:16:55 PM by PeterTheAleut » Logged
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« Reply #3 on: July 14, 2007, 07:19:12 PM »

Yeah, the cult part is just GiC trying to make a point. I hardly think he meant it literally.

Nevertheless, I wholeheartedly agree that without the support of the Empire, Christianity, though it may have still existed, would not have flourished as it did. It may have grown into the Barbarians of Germany, but if Constantinople had not stopped countless Islamic invasions, Europe would have fallen.
« Last Edit: July 14, 2007, 07:20:01 PM by Simayan » Logged

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« Reply #4 on: July 14, 2007, 07:50:37 PM »

Well, at the root of all of this is the bottom line.  Can salvation be obtained outside of the Orthodox Church?  Being catechised, baptised and chrismated into Russian Orthodoxy, particularly traditionalist ROCOR - I am taught that anything outside of Canonical Orthodoxy (yeah, I know a whole 'nuther topic)
is graceless and heretical.   If I consider the views presented by GiC and others - and I must say they have immediate appeal to me at face value if they are historically correct - then my current positions
might be major "assumptions". 
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« Reply #5 on: July 14, 2007, 08:10:34 PM »

Apart from the incense usage, and maybe the "royal doors", reference his post is not offensive except that it implies the Church's survival and growth as being dependent on the emperor. That is a fine argument if one is in one of the local churches that remained in the emperor's church, but is hardly conclusive of a unified church. What survived of the imperial church was unified, as also unified in opposition was most of what rejected it. One cannot maintain a 'what if' scenario had Christianity not been made the state religion. We just don't know, do we?
That the Church organization follows the Roman state is a given, even surviving in some degree in Protestant churches, so it's an obvious point.
I often enjoy GiC's spirited defense of the EP as I AM both a 'Roman' and a 'Greek' (real, not adopted in both definitions) and Orthodox. Being Orthodox and Greek-speaking were the de facto requirements for citizenship, not the other way around which I think the thrust of his position will take him.
He extols the very imperial influence which I am glad to see gone (and which we've been charged by the west for centuries).
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« Reply #6 on: July 14, 2007, 08:10:44 PM »

Nevertheless, I wholeheartedly agree that without the support of the Empire, Christianity, though it may have still existed, would not have flourished as it did. It may have grown into the Barbarians of Germany, but if Constantinople had not stopped countless Islamic invasions, Europe would have fallen.

But would Islam have arisen without the Empire? Counterfactual arguments are usually not worth exploring in history, as there are too many variables.

Of course, for us Christians, God's provident will is also involved. It is my belief that the Empire was part of the Lord's grand design. He used the Empire to nuture his fledgling Church. After that point, I don't think the Empire was necessary, which is why God allowed it to be dispatched.
« Last Edit: July 14, 2007, 08:12:49 PM by lubeltri » Logged
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« Reply #7 on: July 14, 2007, 08:13:09 PM »

Nevertheless, I wholeheartedly agree that without the support of the Empire, Christianity, though it may have still existed, would not have flourished as it did. It may have grown into the Barbarians of Germany, but if Constantinople had not stopped countless Islamic invasions, Europe would have fallen.
I agree with the general gist of your statement, though I do try to recognize the Church as something fundamentally detached from any sense of Empire.  The Byzantine Empire played a very central role in protecting the institution, if not also the spirituality, of the Church against hostile outside forces until the fall of Constantinople in 1453.  From here, the Russian Empire continued this work of protecting the life of the Church--well, the majority of the Church worldwide--until the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II in 1917.  So, yes, the Church owes much of her existence and even her current form to the two great Orthodox Christian empires, but I will qualify this by saying that the Byzantine and Russian Empires were chosen by God specifically for this purpose.  Now that both of these empires are no more, we need to look to God to protect Christ's Church in other ways.
« Last Edit: July 14, 2007, 08:15:53 PM by PeterTheAleut » Logged
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« Reply #8 on: July 15, 2007, 02:54:51 AM »

I wrote a whole, rather irate post on the issue of imperial politics into the Church, but then I saved it for myself rather than post it here before I get strong reactions.  I really do want to post it, but I'd rather not get a lot of heat from it.

In the post however, I do repeat over and over again the confusion I have to EO's as to why imperial politics mean a lot to define the Church?  In fact, in the end of my post, I gave a possible solution, that perhaps we should emprace Roman Papal primacy in the end while rejecting the Petrine theology behind it.  The Church of Rome, whether in the East or the West have depended on one sole figure to assemble others because the Fathers could not assemble themselves together apparently.

It is this type of history that if supported can lead someone like myself to utter disbelief in Christianity altogether.  Thank God for one EO, Fr. Meyendorff, who calls all the imperial actions made against OO's a "mistake," and implies that the absence of the Empire gives us freedom to believe in truthfulness and faith without enforcement that is so contradictory that the edict of Milan that was initially made for Christians, but in the end defiled by those same Christians.  In other words, we should in fact thank God there is no Orthodox emperor because there is no other king but our Lord Jesus Christ.  Even the establishment of a king in the Old Testament was made because the people have lost faith in God and want to follow someone of human flesh (1 Samuel 8 ).

God bless.
« Last Edit: July 15, 2007, 02:56:57 AM by minasoliman » Logged

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« Reply #9 on: July 15, 2007, 04:32:15 AM »

Please post it (even if we have to move it to a private board.)
« Last Edit: July 15, 2007, 04:33:04 AM by Αριστοκλής » Logged

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« Reply #10 on: July 15, 2007, 07:15:06 PM »

"Emperor Constantine appeared to him [St Bishoy/Pishoy/Paisios] in a vision, saying, "Had I known how great is the honor of monks, I would have abandoned my kingdom and became a monk." St. Bishoy told him, "You have banished the heathen worship and exalted Christianity, and has not Christ given you anything?" Emperor Constantine answered him, "The Lord has given me many gifts, but none of them is like the honor of the monks."
-Coptic Synaxarium, The Departure of St Anba Bishoy

Canon to the Saints of Africa (OCA)
ODE 3 : verse i
When it was revealed that the Lord Jesus Christ would come to church one day,
your disciples ran ahead,
bypassing a sickly-appearing pilgrim.
Emulating the good samaritan,
O Paisius [Bishoy/Pishoy], you stopped to assist him to the church.
Looking down,
you saw his nail-pierced feet,
realizing that the monks had missed church,
trying to get to church.

The empire legalized, and then adopted the external teachings of christianity.
Plenty of sources from our orthodox tradition in that time period explicitly express no dependence on imperial support and the politics of Rome.  How is it not idolatry to accept any dependence of the church on Empire?  The church rests on the experience of the living Christ through koinonia in the Holy Spirit, which is what the monk represents to Constantine (memory eternal).  And the monks themselves acknowledge the rarity for anyone to successfully watch for and apprehend Christ.

We can be greatful for certain rights and priveledges under the empire, but we can never forget how lacking and dishonorable the empire is. 

Furthermore, we explicitly state that the rule of God is here with us now.  All worldly rulers therefore are illegitimate.

Abba Bishoy/Pishoy/Paisios/Paisius
« Last Edit: July 15, 2007, 07:20:32 PM by Eleos » Logged

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