The Relationship between Bishops, Synods, and the Metropolitan-Bishop in the Orthodox Canonical Tradition
Beginning with St. Basil the Great, Orthodox canonists maintain an eye both on the canons themselves and the practice of the Church. St. Basil said towards the end of his Third Canon that it is necessary “to know those things according to the strict rule and those things that are customary.” This two-fold task of a canonist reflects the nature of the canons themselves, which are literary expressions of what the Church considers to be normative. Various Church councils and fathers drafted the canons, which now form the corpus canonum, during the first millennium. The canons however are theological responses to particular problems and in no way comprehensively describe all aspects of Church life. The life of the Church was and is much more extensive. Consequently the vast reservoir of experience that the Church has needs to factor into any canonical activity. Since the canons are fixed points of reference through their acceptance, they provide the starting point for canonical work. And, as with any text of late antiquity, they require careful reading and explanation. Additionally, because they emerge from within the Church (fathers, councils, etc.), they take their full meaning for the Church only when considered in a broad ecclesial context. All of the tools, the material, and the methods a canonist has at hand are formed and forged by the Church. In this way, the canons are understood as theological formulations and the canonist finds his work as a theologian.
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Also Published In
- Power and Authority in the Eastern Christian Experience: Papers of the Sophia Institute Academic Conference, New York, December 2010