Look at the East, look at the West… Not possible in this generation to cut thr right from the left or vice versa… The Church is no more “Western or Oriental”, no more “Catholic” or “Orthodox” and some Bodies claim to be both, one from the right to the left, the others from the left to the right… We all look to the East, Rising Sun, but the altar inside of the Temple of Jerusalem was “oriented” to the North as the people gathered at the West to face the East.
Fifty years ago, this year marks this anniversary, the Church of Rome, the last patriarchate on the Western side, gathered its subgroups for the Ecumenical Council, the Second of the Vatican. Universal? It tended to be and certainly widely paved the way to new envisioning of the the “Kath’olon” “from the open (structure or Body) to the fulfillment, totality of all, i.e. the Body of the Resurrected”. At that time, the Western Church could not really fathom that the East would wake up. Nor was it truly possible to imagine how the Eastern Churches would show again in history and largely participate in the full renewal of spirituality.
Rome could think that “fulfillment corresponds/corresponded to the encompassing development of all human beings into the only See of the last place where the Apostles Peter and Paul had died and witnessed to the Resurrection of the Messiah Jesus of Nazareth. Still, in the early years of the 20th century, Rome was convinced that Russia would be “converted if not brought back” to the Roman faith and at least join the See of Rome. Today, it is possible as some theologians and thinkers did to consider such opinion a bit “restricted”, limited, short-sighted. It is… though it makes no sense to be judgmental in opposition to the Catholic Church or to show unmeasured and irrational respect to the Eastern Churches, in particular the Orthodox patriarchates as a whole. It would be “churlish”: the word is crude, raw, but it is the way we often behave when it comes to appreciate our theological and human convictions toward God. We are often framed whilst Faith requires and expects openness, full breadth and breathing with regards to how we approach the Mystery of life, death, survival and Resurrection, destiny and creation and by all means our connection with God.
Today, live on all television sets and radios, all the media… almost though speak of two events and keep silent on the one that was at the roots of what happens: the Edict of Milan, issued 1700 years ago this year, gave to the Christians the right to be free and “tolerated” faithful”. No word on this on both sides, East and West, though there is only One, the Only One.
Is this a paradox that there is a sort of absence of real ecumenical celebration of the 1700th celebration of the Edict of Milan? The Church was born in Jerusalem from the spiritual backgorund of the Community of Israel. This aspect is also missing in the present dialogue. There is a quest, an interrogation about what the Church means and whether Israel has a place or not. Some scholars and “fans” (the word is correct and is linked to different attitudes in the Churches) are busy with the problem of how to solve what they consider as a strong misunderstanding of the Jewish heritage for the Church and the “Body of Christ”.
What happens these days means how far we escaped and drifted away from the roots. This does not concern the Jewish roots only. It is quite possible that the absence of any Jewish background and reality inside of the Church at the present could lead to some flight from any true ecumenical research and prospect. This is what we can imagine at the present. It may pass. It is quite possible that, after the spiritual disaster that followed World War II and strongly affected the whole of the European Christianity, the Westerners got eager to track back how Europe had been “christened”.
It was thus impossible to ignore or not to notice (at least) that the Kerygm came out of Jerusalem of the jews and spread among the nations because of the existence of the synagogues. Saint Paul as all the disciples (Apostles) could preach because they firstly were welcomed in the usual houses of prayers of the Jews throughout widely scattered diasporas.
From Antioch, Alexandria, Constantinople, Rome, Cyprus and Malta… and Spain so far, the Word could spread because of a tight link to the roots. These cities that became the first “patriarchates” and constitute the cradle of the Early and Modern Church Outside of Jerusalem (I call them that way because it sounds quite familiar to Russian orthodox people inter alia) were founded on the rocks of a melting-pot, multi-cultural spiritual move that had encompassed both Jews and Gentiles (Pagans) in local “cities”. It grew into the progressive and rather slow existence of “Assemblies” that later became “local Churches”, firstly depending on the Elders based in Jerusalem.
Thus, the recognition of the Christian reality and faith, even only at the level of a simple “edict of tolerance” taken in two steps, in Nis in 312 and then in Milan with the Edict issued in this town in 313, appears as a “political and tactical act. it is difficult to state that Constantine had not, to some degree, been convinced of the veracity of the new faith. He had also plans. when he edicted the act of tolerance, he also knew, by no means, that he was imperilling the Christians who were living in Persia.
The Christian faith has been “edicted” as being legal in the midst of pagan societies and state rules.
This has not been the case for the Jewish reality: Jewishness was born from a call to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, then to Moses and the reality of Exodus. It was a flight, not a political decision. The Giving of the Commandments has nothing to do with any regulation though it does include a very legal set of laws and legal penalties. The same as for the “conquest” of the Land of Canaan, though things may seem to be more complicated.
Jesus Christ never succeeded by his own, by himself, by his regulating or speech. In the face of his judges, he kept silent. This means that Divine ways come through all the nations by specific and special whereabouts. They are all quite difficult to accept or to cope with.
It is therefore intriguing to note that while Patriarch Kyrill and the heads of all the Orthodox Churches (also accompanied by some Catholic representatives) celebrate the 1025th anniversary of the Baptism of the Kievan Rus, Pope Francis is back to his native South American continent and gathers millions of youths and others in Brazil.
The Western Pope is highly promoted by the media as “Papa Francis/Franciscus, the Good Papa” while the Orthodox heads of the orthodox Churches travel through the ancient “Rus” and arrived in Kiyv. Most of the secular Russian newspapers and media did not cover or keep rather discreet about the event. On the one hand, the Pope seems to be “a-political” and not depending on any state. On the other hand, the Orthodox Russia is appearing as too linked to the state structure of Russia as the true keeper of the Slavic spiritual and legal canons that have saveguarded the true Faith. They came out from the catacombs only 20 years ago, for most of the Eastern Orthodox Churches. “Time is short” (1 Corinthians 7:29).
This year should be dedicated to the “liberation” of the Christians. The Edict of Milan is the official act of recognition that the Christians do exist and have rights. The Edict of tolerance issued by Emperor Constantine in 313 AD., i.e. 1700 years ago is of great significance. Too much maybe for our generation. Christianity has become “evident”. Of course, most statistics and figures would show that the Christians are duly persecuted because of their faith and creeds in many places around the world. Martyrdom has also become a sort of “common place”. it is not easy to write such a statement, but martyrdom has become the mark, the “sphragis/σφραγης” of how to witness to the Resurrection to the fullest.
Christianity does not rely upon evidences. The Christian faith has nothing to do with whatsoever conviction to explain, describe, depict, clarify. In his birth and in his death, Jesus of Nazareth challenged all the rules of nature, dynamic “physis/φυσης”: “nature – natura” is static and “passive” while “physis” is “on the move, active, dynamic”. It is strange because the West relies upon “acting development and proclamation of the Kerygm” whilst the Oriental Churches have been rather “passive, stable, not likely to move and definitely facing ‘eternity’ “.
1700 years after the Edict, the silence that overshadows the date and even the Edict as such, the patriarchates that belong to the first and initial Pentarchy seem to be either stagnant or on a move to “recovering”. Rome has been overvalued over the centuries and it is quite difficult for the See of saint Peter to reconsider its measurements. Moscow acts like a sort of “bull-dozer”, driven by money and a deep thirst of spiritual power and “conquest”. The West and the other jurisdictions are misled by the fact that the Russian Orthodox Church had been quite dynamic along the past centuries, before the Bolshevik Revolution.
America is basically a Russian Orthodox “territory”: Alaska and the launching of profound evangelical movements toward Asia, Canada. The Russian (along with the Greek, Bulgarian, Romanian) Revolution allowed to bring back the Orthodox tradition to Europe and thus to its “Commonwealth” and colonies: this is the case for Palestine, Jordan, the Arab countries under British rule. It spread till Canada and, after the Russian Revolution till South America.
At the present, while Antioch would seem to try to expand its “rule” over the continents, it is locally embattled in a harsh process of survival in rather Islamized contexts. The Phana/Fener or Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople “maintains” due to rare historic abilities to jump over the tactics of the Turks. The West is hardly aware of the turbulence that affect the former Ottomans and the Fall of the Ottoman Empire is still an aching interrogation on the future of the Turkish regions vis-à-vis the Mashrek and the Maghreb.
The Patriarchate of Alexandria may seem among the most dynamic bodies: it is present everywhere in Africa, all regions, from the French colonial areas down to the English-speaking areas and even the Afrikaans-speaking “states”. There is a process of “Africanization” that is slow but real. Orthodoxy corresponds to the cultural rhythms, the dancing, liturgical intuitions. The inculturation through the local languages will take more time, but the existence of a married clergy copes with the standards of some African life.
The Coptic, Ethiopian and even the Syrian Orthodox Churches exist in Africa as “native” or “natural” entities.
In the meanwhile, the Romanian, Bulgarian Patriarchates reconquer their ancient territories, have “Apostolic envoys” throughout Europe and the old region of the initial Pentarchy as also all over the world. At this point, it does not help to apprehend a correct appreciation of what the unity of the Church as the living Body of the Resurrected Lord can mean in the first decade of the 21st century.
Competition is more perceptible than the authenticity of the “One, Holy, Catholic (Open to the totality-fulfillment of all things and peoples), Apostolic (sent to constantly proclaim and revive the Kerygm of Faith)”. The “formula” is subject to too many diversified and quite contradictory definitions at the present. Opposition between “entities” and Church jurisdictions often drift to stubbornness of rather stiff attitudes. In many regions – thus most parts of the world – Church power or “looks” seem more meaningful than the Articles of Faith. Churches are not in competition and any sort of cometing among “Church segments” do not show the fundamentals of possible unity that drew the initial Pentarchy to consolidate the Pagans in the Living Word of Freedom.
Saint Vladimir and Saint Olav (Olavur) are said to have led the Norse and Russian people to Faith. From July 26 to July 29, the immense territories from Iceland to Kiyv/Kievan Rus commemorate the process of their call to be adopted to faith to the One God in the Risen Lord Jesus of Nazareth by the power of the Holy Spirit. They do not suffice to sketch out the development of the local Churches. Both men and their attitudes do not call to any spirit of tolerance or loving-kindness to lead their flock to faith. The first step is how “ordinary races and nations” are brought to faith: this cannot not be achieved by any sort of power or might. Sadly, most of the first nations that went through the process of baptism were not led to faith through mildness, but rather by murders.
In such a context, it is quite understandable that it maybe difficult to commemorate the Edict of Milan. It relies upon “tolerance”. At the present, the Churches are not aware of a time when they did not exist as stable and expanding “establishment structures”.
Next article: do the Church truly accept and cope with freedom, essential and existential liberation and freedom that allows a free sense of communion and obedience.
av aleksandr (Winogradsky Frenkel)