please check out this article by my professor, who is an eminent canonist and a God-fearing Christian: http://goarch.org/en/ourfaith/articles/article7071.asp
Thank you. This article was very informative and a cause of much hope. Here are some notes I made on a few points:
1. Contrary to what some have believed, the Church's law differs essentially from secular law. Its difference lies mainly in the premise that the original source of canon law is found in the will of God to establish His Church on earth.
purpose (humanity's salvation), time (extending beyond this life into the next life), scope (including one's conscience), and place (the universal Church).The cannons can only be true to the will of God, in the measure that the hearts of the men who created them are pure.
2. The Main Goal of Canon Law
When our Lord entrusted the work of salvation to the Church, which is a society of mortal men and women, He obliged her to provide herself with the necessary means of survival. This was to assist her in organizing herself, in overseeing the orthodoxy of her members, and in guarding against factions. In the present time, the proliferation of factions, is strong evidence that a revision in the existing canons is needed.
3. The law which emerged from the earliest times developed in response to the needs of the ecclesiastical community. During both good and bad periods of the Church's history, her law has adapted itself constantly to the circumstances of the time, up to the present day.The needs of the ecclesiastical community have changed.
There are authentic signs of salvation and sanctification by Christ, in non-Orthodox churches.
Despite the fact that they are lacking all the sacraments, there are certain gifts and charisms producing authentic fruit of the Spirit, that are meritorious and highly developed.
This is a posting on the sharing of authentic gifts between churches.
With the advent of electronic media, the world has been united in dialogue, which is bringing into sharp contrast the divisions among Christians, creating a disparity that calls into question our authenticity as Believers.
"All men will know you are my disciples if you love one another."
There is a need for redefining the norms for intercommunion so that all Christians not possessing the fullness of the true faith, may without any inference of condemnation or inferiority, be drawn into the fullness of orthodoxy, and nurtured in His family on His Body.
4. The collections of laws......they reflect a certain imperfection; however, this imperfection lies not in the institution of the Church but in those individuals of whom it is composed. As an institution of divine origin composed of human beings, the Church is at the same time both a human and a divine institution.
5. Finally, it must not be forgotten that the Church is not to be identified with her rules. The Church indeed has rules, but she has much else besides.
She has within her treasures of another order and another value besides her canons.
She has her theology, her spirituality, her mysticism, her liturgy, her morality.
And it is most important not to confuse the Gospel and the Pedalion (collection of canons), theology and legislation, morality and jurisprudence.
Each is on a different level and to identify them completely would be to fall into a kind of heresy. The canons are at the service of the Church; their function is to guide her members on the way to salvation and to make following that way easier.
The Church's legislation is only one aspect of her life, and above all does not represent her essence.
The Church is the Mystical Body of Christ.I see much of Mother Theresa's life as an expression of the essence of the Mystical Body of Christ, and yet she would be denied communion.
"Each is on a different level and to identify them completely would be to fall into a kind of heresy."
6. The overriding consideration in the acceptance of a local Church's custom as law is the spiritual well-being of the members of Christ's Mystical Body. What is of importance is how people in any age or place may best serve and worship God.
7. It is obvious that what is well intentioned for the Church as a whole may not be so well suited to some particular local conditions. Similarly, what is good for one age or place may under different conditions constitute a hindrance. Thus it is that the Church's canonical tradition has such regard for local custom. Having evolved within the context of local conditions, it best expresses the mind of the local Church on how the cause of God may be served in her special conditions.We have be criticized by some for our Celtic worship before Mass and for worshiping in tongues before Mass. And yet this is how the Holy Spirit has established our order of worship for this community of Taos, New Mexico, which is a culturally diverse and unique community.
8. 3. The Characteristics of the Church's Law
Applicability of Canon Law
Any discussion of the characteristics of the Church's law must necessarily address the question of the applicability of the holy canons to today's realities.As I listed above, there are gaping holes that are multiplying factions even as we speak. This is not an immutable reality, with God's grace it can in some cases be prevented.
Viewpoints expressed on this vital issue range from one extreme to the other, and are mutually exclusive.
On the one hand, there are those who revere the letter of the canons. But as has already been remarked,
"no one seems to absolutize all of them"
John Meyendorff, "Contemporary Problems of Orthodox Canon Law," The Greek Orthodox Theological Review 17 (1972): 41.)
Then there are those who deny the relevancy of the entire body of canons in its present state. Obviously, both views leave little room for a conciliatory approach but rather tend to polarize.We cannot please all, but we can please God by creating canons in union with His will, to establish His Church on earth, and maintain her vitality.
9. How were the holy canons meant to be understood? Nicholas Afanasiev, in his article entitled "The Canons of the Church: Changeable or Unchangeable?" offers a formula which might be acceptable to all factions, (St. Vladimir's Theological Quarterly 11(1967) 54-68.):
"Canons are a kind of canonical interpretation of the dogmas for a particular moment of the Church's historical existence...
They express the truth about the order of Church life,
but rather than expressing this truth in absolute forms, they conform to historical existence" (Ibid., p. 60).
Such a formula recognizes the absolute validity of all the canons as practical aids which gave expression to doctrinal truths at some point in history. Some of these aids, however, it sees as having outlived the purpose for which they were originally intended, i.e., they are conditioned by time. Consequently, they cannot give expression to doctrine without causing distortion, simply because they were intended for another era.
10. The Concept of "Economy."
Unlike secular law, or Mosaic law, the purpose of the Church's law is the spiritual perfection of her members.
Mere application of the letter of the law is replaced by a sense for the spirit of the law, and adherence to its principles.
This purpose is the determining factor when authority is granted to apply the law when circumstances warrant according to each individual case. The spirit of love, understood as commitment to the spiritual perfection of the individual, must always prevail in the application of the law.
The abolition of the letter of the law by the spirit of the law has led to the institution of "economy," exercised in nonessential matters. Through "economy," which is always an exception to the general rule, the legal consequences following the violation of a law are lifted.The "nonessential matters" needs to be revised to make room for the authentic movement of the Holy Spirit.
11. "Economy" is granted by the competent ecclesiastical authority and has not so much the character of urgency as it does the character of compassion for human frailty. The character of compassion is justified by the Church's ardent desire to prevent any adverse effects from the strict observance of the law in exceptional circumstances.
The premise upon which an exception is granted is the general welfare of all concerned. This premise exists in all systems of law but it finds its fullest expression in the Church's law. As the law of grace, it is characterized primarily by the spiritual attributes of compassion, pastoral sensitivity, and forgiveness.
12. In conclusion, it is the Church's canons and canonical tradition which assure the external means of security within which the life of the spirit is nurtured and preserved.
If the Church's canons and canonical tradition are going to secure the means within which the life of the spirit is nurtured and preserved, they must be relevant to the times we live in, and protect the movement of the Spirit of God which is what animates and gives life to the Body.
These are just a few observations from my limited perspective, please forgive and correct anything I have taken out of context. Thank you.