Professor Dr. Vlassios Pheidas|
Τhe limits of the church in an orthodox perspective
Ιn this spirit, it is possible to interpret the established differences between the Churches with reference to the ecclesiological presuppositions of their practice of mutually accepting the validity of one another's Baptism, or their practice of Intercommunion, or even their acceptance of a unilateral practice of Eucharistic hospitality, etc. It is indeed quite characteristic that the above-mentioned practices refer to the restoration of sacramental communion, the absence of which manifests the rift in the unity of the Church. This inner relationship between Ecclesiology and Sacraments is an indissoluble one, because, according to the patristic tradition, the sacraments manifest and indicate the whole ecclesial body. Hence, any differentiation whatsoever in ecclesiology is fully expressed in the specific sacramental praxis of the Church, which, in its turn, expresses the corresponding awareness of the Church's limits.
Thus, the main issues concerning; the contemporary ecumenical dialogue, i.e. mutual recognition of Baptism, Intercommunion, Eucharistic hospitality, etc. are approached with good reason by the theologians of the various Churches in a variety of ways, depending upon the various ecclesiological presuppositions of their respective Churches. Ιn this case, the whole question of the validity of the sacraments performed outside the Orthodox Church is a broader theological issue and is deeply connected, not only with the inner relationship between the Sacraments and the Church, but also with the indissoluble unity between the Paschal mystery and the mystery of Pentecost. The ecclesiological differentiations precisely spring from the different interpretations of the relationship of the Paschal mystery to that of Pentecost, especially with regard to the variety of ways in which the saving grace of God is related to these two mysteries.
During the period prior to the great Schism (1054), the common patristic tradition teaches that Christ, through His overall redeeming work, is the Source (πηγή) of divine grace and the Holy Spirit is the Bestower (χορηγός) and the Operator (ο ενεργών) of divine grace in the faithful. Scholastic theology developed S. Augustin's view concerning the relationship between the Paschal and Pentecostal mysteries. Τhus, it put forth Christ as both Source and Bestower of the divine grace, while ascribing to the Holy Spirit only the mere role of the Operator of the already granted divine grace, thereby emphasising the strong christomonistic tendencies which already existed in western theology Τhe ecclesiological consequences of such a theological differentiation were decisive for the process which led to the Schism between the Churches of the East and the West, as well as to the two divergent tendencies within the western Christianity (Roman-Catholicism and Protestantism). Eucharistic debate was in the center of all those historical fermentations.
So, if Christ, through His overall redeeming work, is not only the Source but also the Bestower of the divine grace, then it stands to reason that, because of the
universality of the work of Christ, the divine grace is automatically granted to all, irrespective of their relationship to the Church, within which the already bestowed divine grace is active through the Holy Spirit. If, however, this divine grace is granted to all, because of the universality of Christ's redeeming work, then it stands to reason that it is bestowed also in those believers outside the Roman-Catholic Church, even if such persons belong to a heresy of schism. Thus, the sacraments performed outside the Church are not only real (υποστατά), but also valid (έγκυρα), because they only lack the efficacy (ενέργεια) of the bestowed divine grace, which is operative through the Holy Spirit only within the Roman-Catholic Church.
The Orthodox Church, accepting Jesus Christ only as the Source and the Holy Spirit as the Bestower and Operator of the divine grace, in no way denies the universality of Christ's redeeming work. It simply holds that this divine grace is perpetuated in the historical Body of Christ, which is the Church, and is granted to the faithful by the Holy Spirit, which also effects the divine grace in the Church for the continuous realisation of the Body of Christ in time and space. The ecclesiological consequences of such a theological tradition is also decisive for the question of the canonical boundaries of the Church. On the basis of this Christocentric ecclesiology of the Church's limits are exhausted only within the orthodox ecclesial body. It is only within this ecclesial body that the Holy Spirit bestows and effects the divine grace, which flows from Christ's redemptive work.
Through such a teaching concerning the Church's nature, essence and mission in the world, one finds himself face to face with the well-known soteriological and ecclesiological principle of «extra Ecclesia nulla salus», which strictly determines the canonical limits of the Church. Thus, the Orthodox Church, while accepting the canonical possibility of recognising the existence (υποστατόν) of sacraments performed outside herself, it questions their validity (έγκυρον) and certainly rejects their efficacy (ενεργόν). It is already well-known that in the ecclesial praxis, the Orthodox Church moves, according to the specific circumstances, between canonical «acribeia» and ecclesial economy, recognising by economy the validity (κύρος) of the sacraments of those ecclesiastical bodies. Yet, such a practice of economy does not overthrow the canonical «acribeia», which also remains in force and expresses the exclusive character of orthodox ecclesiology.
This observation is really important, because it reveals that the canonical recognition (aνaγνώρισις) of the validity of sacraments performed outside the Orthodox Church: (a) is done by econorny, (b) covers only specific cases in certain given instances, and (c) refers to the valiιtity of the sacraments only of those who join the Orthodox Church, and not of the ecclesiastical bodies to which belong those who join the Orthodox Church. There is, of course, a variety of opinions or reservations concerning this question. Νo one, however, could propose or support the view that the mutual recognition of the validity of sacraments among the Churches is an ecclesiastical act consistent with orthodox ecclesiology, or an act which is not rejected by the orthodox canonical tradition. Therefore, we can say that orthodox ecclesiology, being an «exclusive» one, lays special emphasis on the inner- unity of the Paschal and Pentecostal mysteries.
Ιn this light, we can also say that the definition of a given Church's canonical limits varies as well as by the peculiarity of its interpretation of the inner relationship between the Paschal and the Pentecostal mysteries. Roman-Catholic ecclesiology, not being openly an «exclusive» one, lays special emphasis on the Paschal mystery of Christ. Protestant ecclesiology, being a very loose one, lays special emphasis on the Pentecostal mystery.
It is obvious that these different ecclesiological positions spring from different understandings concerning the Bestower of the divine grace and the work of the Holy Spirit within the Church. This variety also indicates the related ecclesiological difficulties concerning mutual recognition of the validity of sacraments. Protestant Churches have no ecclesiological problem for proposing or supporting any kind of mutual recognition of the validity of sacraments performed outside their respective ecclesiastical bodies. Roman-Catholic Church, even though it identifies the canonical limits of the Church with her own ecclesiastical body, is able to proceed to a kind of mutual recognition of the validity of sacraments, without abrogating her fundamental ecclesiological principles. Orthodox Church cannot proceed to any kind of mutual recognition of the validity of sacraments without a further development of her fundamental ecclesiological teaching on the canonical boundaries of the Church.
However, it is quite clear that in the ecumenical dialogue the absolute ease of Protestant theologians, the relative ease of Roman-Catholics and the limited ease of the Orthodox flow from their respective ecclesiological presuppositions, which are not the result of their personal theological preferences. Thus, the mutual recognition of the validity of certain sacraments, which for a Protestant or a Roman-Catholic theologian could be considered as an ecclesiologically consistent position, it is for an Orthodox an act of inconsistency, when it is assessed with orthodox ecclesiological principles. These ecclesiological principles manifest in a strict fashion the organic unity of the orthodox ecclesial body and differentiate those who do not belong to its body as either schismatics or heretics.
The relation of schismatics or heretics to the body of the Orthodox Church is strictly defined by the canonical tradition. However, orthodox canonical tradition and praxis appraises and classifies these ecclesiastical bodies into various categories, analogous to their distance from the Orthodox Church or to their deviation from the traditional true faith. This classification concerns only those beyond the boundaries of the Orthodox Church and is clearly expressed by the differentiation in the ecclesiastical praxis for their entrance into its bosom. If, for example, the Orthodox Church stands for a particular circle which determines the boundaries of the Church, then those found outside the boundaries are said to belong to external circles, in which some form of ecclesiality is recognised. This type of ecclesiality is not easily determined, because the orthodox traditίon by accepting the Holy Spirit as the Bestower of the divine grace, which flows from the saving work of Christ, does not recognise the efficacy of the divine grace outside the canonical boundaries of the Orthodox Church.