The 20th Congress of the Society for the Law of the Eastern Churches. Athens, September 13-17, 2011
There are few experts in canon law in the Orthodox world, comprised of only a few people in each Local Church. The Greek Church is the exception. It is easy to come up with ten names of important experts in Canon law. That is why it is no surprise that the two-year Conference of the Society for the Law of the Eastern Churches at the University of Vienna in Austria, was held at the Inter-Orthodox Center of the Church of Greece at Pendeli Monastery in the outskirts of Athens. This conference was dedicated to the Orthodox diaspora and organized with the participation of the Inter-Orthodox Center and Athens University.
The conference opened with the greetings to the participants. Among them, of note, were the words
of encouragement from His Holiness Ecumencial Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople and His Beatitude Archbishop Hieronymos-II of Athens, Dr Marios Begzos, Dean of the Theology Department and Director of the the Inter-Orthodox Center.
In his lecture, Metropolitan John (Zezoulas) of the Constantinople Patriarchate, Chairman of the Pre-Synodal Pan-Orthodox Conference on the Organization of the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church (Chambesy, Switzerland), presented the position of the Constantinople Patriarchate and some other churches on the matter of introducing order to the canonical status of the Orthodox diaspora. This position is based on the interpretation of the 28th canon of the Fourth Ecumenical Council as granting of special privileges to the See of Constantinople, and also on canonical principles (e.g., Canon 8, First Ecumenical Council) that there may be only one Orthodox hierarch in each city.
On Wednesday, September 14, after matins and Divine Liturgy on the feast day of the Elevation of the Cross (according to the Gregorian Calendar), the conference opened with a lecture by the President of the Society for the Law of the Eastern Churches, Professor Richard Potz of the University of Vienna, who studied the concept of the term diaspora beginning from Old-Testament times. Dr Eva Synek of the University of Vienna presented her paper devoted to the state of the diaspora today, which does not conform to old norms and understandings. She noted in particular that the problem of parallel jurisdictions exists not only in Orthodoxy, but among Eastern Catholics and non-Chalcedonian Christians.
The morning session of September 16 opened with a lecture by Dr Lewis Patsavos, Professor Emeritus of Canon Law at Holy Cross School of Theology in Brookline, MA. Analyzing the ecclesio-canonical status of the diaspora in North America, Prof Patsavos proposed that a solution to the canonical status problem may be to redraw jurisdictional lines, through the mediation of a representative of the Ecumenical Patriarch, in order that each region is headed by a single bishop. Pointing to the particularities of today’s megalopolises, he voiced his opinion that the concept of cities and territories should be viewed more broadly.
Protopriest Vladislav Tsypin, Professor at Moscow Theological Academies and Seminaries, Vice President of the Academic Committee and President of the Commission on the History and Canon Law of the Russian Orthodox Church, spoke on the various ecclesio-canonical precedents in relation
to the concept of the diaspora in the history of the Orthodox Church. Fr Vladislav agreed with the condemnation of the ethnophiletism by the Church of Constantinople, but noted that Canon 28 of the Fourth Ecumenical Council was conditioned by the appearance of concrete historical circumstances and cannot be understood in an expanded form, as it is being interpreted by the Constantinople Patriarchate. The existing problems must be resolved through inter-Orthodox dialog,
a positive example of which is seen in the Assembly of Orthodox Churches in Germany.
Dr. Radu Predu, Adjunct Professor of Social Theology at University Babeş-Bolyai, Cluj-Napoca , Romania, emphasized the need to pay attention to socio-historical context of the appearance and existence of various diasporas, since it is dangerous to lead a discussion on a topic without taking into account its human aspect. By way of example, the speaker pointed to Moldova, which as a result of the appearance of two jurisdictions became a sort of diaspora for two Orthodox churches. A lively discussion then ensued and presenters themselves participated.
Archimandrite Grigorios (Papathomas),Professor of Church Law at Athens University and St Sergius Theological Institute in Paris, gave a critique of ecclesiological consciousness of our times. Taking France as an example, he said that in his opinion, assemblies of bishops in the countries of the diaspora do not reflect the conciliar principle of the ancient Church.
Vicar Bishop Kyrillos of Abidos of the Constantinople Patriarchate in Germany, Dean of the Department of Dogmatic Theology at Athens University dealt with the situation in Germany. In historical portion of his paper he harshly condemned the establishment of a jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia there. He accused the ROCOR of creating jurisdictional chaos on this territory. In a detailed analysis of the Orthodox diaspora in the German-speaking countries of our time, he noted the similarity in the problems with those of the diaspora in America and Australia, positively noting the work in more than ten directions conducted by the Assembly of Orthodox Churches in Germany.
In his speech, Dr Apostolos Nikolaidis, Dean of the Social Theology Department of Athens University, examined what viewpoints and ideologies make up the Orthodox diaspora, and noted that thirst for power in the thoughts and actions of church leaders leads to schism.
Metropolitan Chrysostomos of Messina of the Greek Church presented a paper on the problems of inter-confessional cooperation. In his speech, he noted problems of terminology in the World Council of Churches, as well as joint prayer with non-Orthodox.
Deacon Andrei Psarev, instructor of canon law at Holy Trinity Orthodox Seminary of the Russian Church Abroad, talked about the research he has begun on the understanding by the Byzantines of the Canon 15 of the First and Second Council of Constantinople (861). This canon is constantly referred to by those who cease ecclesiascticl communion with their hierarchy.
The congress finished it’s work on Saturday, September 17, with a lecture by a Greek-Catholic priest from Lvov, Ukraine. Protopriest Mikhailo Dymyd gave a detailed account of Ukrainian communities scattered throughout the globe, including those within the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate.
Since the Society for the Law of the Eastern Churches encompasses those who study church law of the Eastern Churches in communion with Rome and several representatives of Protestant denominations, lectures were also read on the internal ecclesiastical laws of these denominations as well. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the establishment of this Society, which includes 263 members. Its work was been remarkably well organized thanks to the efforts of canonists Drs: Irene Christinaki, Constantine Pitsakis and SpyrosTroianos.