I do not need to go into depth to readdress the issue of general bishops as was stated in that article I posted. As the article mentioned, the Coptic Church uses the general bishop generally (no pun intended) for three functions: auxiliary, secretarial, or social work. I will get to auxiliary in a bit, but touching on the secretarial or social work, these are best delegated to the deacon, especially the social work. It seems a Synodal secretary can be anyone really, even a diocesan bishop or a Metropolitan. I feel that at the very least HH Pope Tawadros seems to have abolished the idea of ordaining secretarial bishops, which I acknowledge is a plus, and should be lauded. Pretty much all those who were previously “secretaries” of the Pope are now assigned social services.
However, a social service does not need a bishop, or even a priest for that matter. Social services are best delegated to the deacon. That was the very primary reason for the establishment of the diaconate (Acts 6). And the diaconate became such an important and established ministry in the Church, part of the three-fold clerical ministry that St. Ignatius points out: bishop, presbyter, and deacon. I have mentioned this in another thread, that nowadays, the Church has neglected the diaconate. The last real popular deacons were those who imitated our most recently canonized saint St. Habib Girgis. What happened to deacons? Why do we not have at least one in each parish? I may get in trouble for saying this, since now you all know where I am, but the impression I am getting is that if you are a retired male who has a good standing in the Church, you can become a deacon. I am sure these are great men, but whatever happened to young and vibrant married deacons of the Church, willing to drive hours to serve youth in colleges and schools, to help the homeless, the prisoners, the sick, the widowed, the orphans, to help find jobs for the jobless, to bring the Eucharist to those who are far or working and unable to attend a Sunday, to visit homes (it seems now people are spoiled enough that it is unacceptable for anyone less than a priest to do home visits). I feel that deacons will become much more efficient for our church than delegating a general bishop for all dioceses around the world. A diocesan bishop can make a deacon (or deacons) for all those social services, and for each parish!
A question one can ask, is a social service a diocese? Based on the canon of choosing a Pope today, the answer is no. HH Pope Shenouda, when he was Bishop Shenouda of education was initially angry at the ordination of Bishop Gregorious as “encroaching into his diocese”. But in accepting the nomination for the Papacy, he pretty much made a statement that “education” is not a diocese. In fact, if we include general bishop as permissible along with the lower clergy to become Pope (or diocesan bishop), that pretty much proves that no matter what titular see or auxiliary work they do, they are essentially “non-diocesan bishops”, which according to canon law, is an oxymoron. Also according to canon law, just like the bishop, a presbyter and a deacon should be assigned a flock as well. Therefore, the deacon does the social service to that geographical area he is assigned, and not outside it, proving that the idea of social service as a titular diocese is not something the Church fathers would have ever agreed to in principle.
So now, we are then left with the last real function of a general bishop, an auxiliary bishop. While there is a practice of a protosynkellos today among the Greeks, the practice of the syncelli seems to have been nothing more than a private witness to the bishop or patriarch, and in most ways, a confessor. The great priest and saintly man Abouna Mikhail Ibrahim can be considered a “protosynkellos” to the Pope, for being Pope Shenouda’s confessor. HH Pope Shenouda also delegated important mission tasks for Abouna Tadros Malaty, and Pope St. Kyrillos did the same for Abouna St. Pishoy Kamel. It seems to have evolved post-RC/EO schism to become a function of the episcopate, although it seems to be more commonly given to the highest ranking priest of a diocese. I find it therefore that if a priest suffices, why a bishop? As the canon concerning the chorepiscopos mentions, that a chorepiscopos is not needed where a presbyter is present. I think the spirit of this rule is if no episcopal power is necessary, no bishop should be ordained for it. However, if there is a diocesan bishop already, I do not mind that this diocesan bishop be a selected protosynkellos of a nearby land (such as HG Bishop Kyrillos of Milan being delegated for all of Europe, but then this would get very close to the role of the Metropolitinate, which I will get to later). So it seems, if a diocesan bishop has the energy and time, why not him? In fact, this leads to the talk about auxiliary bishops.
An auxiliary bishop can be one with a diocese already. Everyone knows of the mutual work and brotherhood of their graces Bishop Serapion and Bishop Youssef. They really are, if anything, auxiliary to each other. I have no doubt in my mind that if HG Bishop Youssef was to leave his diocese unattended for some time, it would seem that HG Bishop Serapion would be entrusted, and vice versa. But if none is available, and diocesan work is getting hectic, I could imagine the use of a chorepiscopos. A chorepiscopos does not need to be of the ranks of monks. In the Syrian Church, it is of the rank of priests. Imagine the most senior priest in your diocese, well entrusted with diocesan work. He would be best suited for the honor of chorepiscopos when needed. I have mentioned privately to many friends, Abouna Tadros Malaty would make a great chorepiscopos (let alone a diocesan bishop!). He already is very close to one functionally, and commands the respect of the people around him, perhaps even more than a bishop. When a diocesan bishop has someone like Abouna Tadros on his side, there is no need to burden the Synod with more functionless, non-diocesan bishops. And chorepiscopos have no voting power in the Synod either, thus making it similar to Pope St. Kyrillos’ intentions of “general bishops”. They are also no different than presbyters (with the added emphasis that they might have been able to ordain subdeacons, but not anything above that), and presbyters have always been seen as “sub-bishop”, and still are, even more so today than before. Now presbyters can do the whole liturgy by themselves, something that only a bishop could do. Only the bishop was allowed to do the prayer of thanksgiving as well as the epiklesis. Then he would distribute the elements to the presbyters and they go to their parishes finishing the liturgy and granting communion. In fact, because we know relatively little about chorepiscopos, compared to other ranks, it seemed like it quickly died down as an unnecessary rank, and very likely, the general bishop, as I will show, is also an unnecessary rank.
There is another option. Instead of a chorepiscopos (which I would think only one or two for a bishop would suffice), if the need becomes that your diocese is so large that one bishop is not enough, then the bishop already there should be raised to a Metropolitanate or Archbishopric system, where it becomes a microcosm of the Papacy. In this sense, the new metropolis or archdiocese will have an area for the archbishop/metropolitan, and the rest of the land is divided up into neighboring dioceses, with full diocesan bishops who answer to the Metropolitan. It becomes an autonomous jurisdiction of bishops, with the Metropolitan as the spiritual head, just as all metropolitans and bishops have the Pope as a spiritual head. A bishop can be consecrated by the Metropolitan and two bishops, and the Metropolitan can be consecrated by the Pope and two other bishops, as the canons ask for two or three bishops to perform the laying of hands for a new bishop. Nowadays, a metropolitan is merely an honorific. HE Metropolitan Bishoy is no different than HG Bishop Youssef really. However, this need not be. At this point, the parishes with the direct leadership of a diocesan bishop and spiritual leadership of the metropolitan would probably have to commemorate three names (bishop, metropolitan, pope) in the liturgies.
St. Gregory the Theologian
The story of St. Gregory the Theologian was shared. St. Gregory was a gifted theologian, and a worthy enemy of the Arians, among other heretics. Because his father, the bishop of Nazianzus was struggling in his age against the Arians, St. Basil, the Archbishop of Caesarea (remember the option of the Archbishop/Metropolitan earlier?) took St. Gregory, consecrated him as bishop of an empty and wasted marshland neighboring Caesarea in Sasima, and had him be an auxiliary to his father. Yes, that is a true and early example of St. Basil abusing the rules of the canons. You could say that is very similar to titular sees, but titular sees seem like a post-RC/EO schism development, maybe even post-Islam, when sees/dioceses no longer had the Christians there used to be. This is a newly created diocese of an existing geographical area split off from St. Basil’s spiritual jurisdiction of Caesarea. One has to challenge this practice and ask, was that the honest point of the canon? (It could be argued however, that St. Basil really did intend for Sasima to be a diocese, and with the father Gregory’s strong insistence, pushed the Theologian into the bishop of Sasima. However, the Theologian did say this place was a marshland with no one living there. And with the desperation of increasing episcopal power to fight the heretics, it makes you wonder.) One of the important canons that this bypassed also was the Apostolic canon about episcopal heirs. A bishop ordaining his son to be his heir was frowned upon, and indeed caused a lot of scandal and corruption. So, now you see that thus far, St. Basil bypassed two canons (bishops should be for dioceses and no heirs) in order for St. Gregory to help his father in Nazianzus (in fact, EOs make the distinction that his father is canonized St. Gregory of Nazianzus, and the son is canonized St. Gregory the Theologian; I had a Greek priest correct me on that one). That does not lessen the fact they are excellent saints, and St. Gregory, being someone who loved St. Basil dearly despite being uneasy with the move, obeyed him lovingly. On top of that, St. Gregory even denied the post for the bishopric of Nazianzus when it was offered to him after his fathers passing, and instead spent most of his time in a monastery nearby, not really making of the bishop of Nazianzus as he is historically inaccurately titled.
Later on, St. Gregory also became quite “auxiliary” for Constantinople, helping fight heretics there on the orders of the emperor, particularly the archbishop of Constantinople, Macedonius the heretic, who attacked the divinity of the Holy Spirit. He was so popular, that he replaced him as the Archbishop of Constantinople, a move that violated the famous canon that we as Copts famously fight to uphold today for our bishops and popes. In fact, it was one of our own popes, St. Timothy I who called for St. Gregory to step down and return to his diocese in Sasima. In a humbling and exemplary move, he did just that, at the very second ecumenical council, and his piety was well known, on top of the fact that he was one of the greatest theologians that ever lived. It is clear he lived the rest of his retired life in Nazianzus (about ten more years), probably as a contemplative monk as he always wanted.
One has to ask the question, if St. Basil did not abuse the canons, would he have been able to fight off the heretics? We asked the same question about the Old Testament patriarch Jacob. If he did not lie to his father, would he have been given the blessing instead of Esau? Or even Abraham? If he trusted in God’s promise, could he have avoided the bearing of Ishmael and the pain of separation from him? The answer is yes! Would Judah and Tamar, Rahab, David and Uriah, and Solomon’s privilege of being the ancestor of Christ justify their shortcomings? The answer is no! A canonical aberration with the greatest saintly bishops does not prove the aberration justified. It proves human weakness, something that teaches us great and holy men have at times lived with desperation. They also suffered for it as well. St. Gregory did a lot of complaining and groaning in his letters apparently, showing how much he suffered with the people and the fellow bishops. Not everything honorable and saintly men do is justified, even if they performed or still perform miracles today.
Pre-Nicene, Ante-Nicene, Post-Nicene and the East/West Divide:
So now a little discussion on Ecclesiological history. Pretty much, all that I advocate is a strictly pre-Nicean, and maybe ante-Nicean ecclesiology. I have shown based on St. Ignatius as well as pre-Nicean canons that a bishop of what is later called a “diocese” after Nicea was actually called the Catholic Church. There is only one bishop for the Catholic Church in a specific area. After Nicea, because the emperor Constantine wanted Christian unity, what was the Catholic Church became a “diocese” along with archdiocesan centers, particularly three: Rome, Alexandria, and Antioch, splitting the empire into three political spheres of influence (later Constantinople was added due to its political importance as the second capital of the empire, along with Rome). Here, I would like to point out that an old Apostolic canon seemed to have been bypassed during this time by many bishops. While not explicitly broken, it certainly seemed in spirit, abused:
We have said that a bishop or presbyter must not give himself to the management of public affairs, but devote himself to ecclesiastical business. Let him then be persuaded to do so, or let him be deposed, for no man can serve two masters, according to the Lord's declaration. (Canon LXXXI of the Apostolic Canons)
Some bishops did in fact act as diocesan vicars of the emperor (the Russian empire later would be complicit in the same practices). Therefore, all these names--dioceses, suffragans, etc--all were part and parcel due to the Christian Roman empire having an effect on the ecclesiological structure. Now, the Apostolic canons reveal to us that bishops of a certain geographical area did seem to already have a spiritual head so that councils can be held. Rome, Alexandria, and Antioch perhaps were the most logical areas that evolved to become the ancient and most respected sees, which became important centers of the empire in a political way. With Rome as the capital, the Catholic Church slowly developed into becoming synonymous with the Universal Church of the empire. This is important to recognize, because it will reveal to us very early on the East/West divide of ecclesiology, and how the imperial ecclesiological structure, along with hyperbolic honorifics, lead to a dogmatic position in the West that the Pope of Rome is the head of the Catholic Church in a universal sense. The East, in keeping with the ancient pre-Nicean ecclesiological structure in spirit, recognized the imperial ecclesiology as an accommodative structure to unite imperial Christianity as a whole, not a dogmatic structure that places Rome as the eternal head of the Church. This ancient pre-Nicene structure still showed the importance of synodality, and was evident in its frequent meetings of “ecumenical” (which really alludes to “imperial”, not really “universal” or “catholic” as some EOs or RCs like to put it) councils to resolve situations that plagued the whole empire.
What is this ancient pre-Nicene structure? It’s a Eucharistic structure. Just as a person who receives a piece of the Orban is not to have said he receives a piece of the body, but the fullness of Christ in His person mingling and dwelling in you, so is the Church the bishop is in charge of (now called diocese after Nicea) is not part of the Church, but the fullness of the Catholic Church itself. In the West, after imperial influence, the fullness of the Catholic Church is “ecumenical”, that is it’s world-wide, and therefore, Rome being the capital of the world-wide Church, which is their re-definition of “Catholic” Church, and being the very see where St. Peter was martyred in (who was leader of the Apostles), a development came in where the Pope of Rome is that very bishop of the “Catholic” Church, where just as the empire cannot exist without Rome, so does the “Catholic” Church.
This is evident in Pope Gregory the Great of Rome who was scolding the archbishop of Constantinople for calling himself the “Ecumenical Patriarch”. Pope Gregory believed that there should be no bishop who should call himself “ecumenical”. However, he did believe that Rome, Alexandria, and Antioch are “one see of St. Peter”, and collectively, it is these three who are ecumenical (notice how he has adopted the imperial view of the three sees rather than the collegiality of the bishops). So it shows that Gregory the Great mistook “Catholic” to mean “ecumenical”, whereas the EO Alexandria and Antioch were not bothered at all with Constantinople’s use of “ecumenical” because they knew very well, it did not mean world-wide, but merely the capital of the empire, Constantinople, was known as the “ecumenical city”, and so anyone who works there is entitled “ecumenical”. (the barber in Constantinople would be called “ecumenical”). Later on, when it was clear that Alexandria and Antioch were siding with the East, the Roman Papacy evolved into seeing itself as the sole protector of the Orthodox faith of the Catholic Church, and that is how we have the Petrine Primacy today as a dogma in the RC Church, condemning anyone who does not confess the Pope of Rome as the head of the “Catholic” Church (notice how I put the word “Catholic” in quotes to show that they define it differently than the traditional ancient manner before Nicea, as well as ante-Nicean).
The Contemporary Situation:
After Islam and after the RC/EO split, we began to lose Christians in dioceses that were ancient. The ancient Johannine bishopric of Ephesus is gone, the bishopric of Constantinople is technically non-existent, but still powerful today in the Phanar and its diaspora (anyone in non-Greek lands who are called “Greek Orthodox” are not under the spiritual leadership of Greece, but of the Phanar). Even Antioch no longer has a bishop; they’re only titular in Damascus. Sasima, Nazianzus, Caesaria, Philadelphia, Pentapolis, all gone. No one left there. The Pope of Rome, being the sole bishop of the “Catholic” Church, is very good at creating titular sees. Their ecclesiology demands it. Any land that has potential, an eparch, vicar, auxiliary, titular, whatever you want to call it, the Pope demands it. And nothing says titular more than the Cardinal system. It is one of the strangest systems we have. If you can go titular on extinct dioceses, you can also go titular on ranks. You can may be the bishop of New York, and cardinal deacon of the Vatican at the same time!!! And now, the choice of the Papacy no longer is from any clergy or laity of notable theological status, but from the number of Cardinals and secretly within the choices of the Cardinals voting on behalf of the Church.
Alexandria, Antioch (Damascus), Constantinople (Phanar), Moscow, Armenia all have super-structures of their patriarchates. The first time in the East it seems that a titular bishop was used much more popularly than before (it’s estimated that East or West, titular bishops seems to be a post-Islam phenomenon, but rarely done nonetheless) was from the Russian Church in the 1700s. I cannot help but wonder that around this time, they were sending missions to Alaska and the US, and they also had representatives in cathedrals in many European countries as part of an imperial honor, the cathedrals functioning as embassies with eparchs or vicar bishops. It seems quite connected to that imperial system. And then other churches seemed to have followed along as they were catering to immigrants in those areas. And then the overlapping of dioceses is occurring, and churches slowly became ethnic divisions, and now you have a conglomerate ecclesiological mess, because we adopted Roman Catholic ecclesiological practices, that is, every patriarchate wants to be a major powerhouse for his missions and emigrants, his flock. It could also mean making himself powerful in a Synod by ordaining more titular and auxiliary bishops loyal to him and tipping the scale to his favor in Synodal meetings, thus functionally becoming like the Roman Pope in power over a magistrate.
If we continue down this road, all this tells me is that the Roman Catholic Church is right. Rome does claim to stand dogmatically as a bulwark and foundation of Catholicity for all churches. It unites all churches that seem so slow and divided in their decisions when they have been spoiled by imperial leadership and subsequently eaten up by Islamic conquests, having forgotten the ancient pre-Nicene Eucharistic model of ecclesiology (consider the Uniates). And what is the Eucharistic model? Each bishop holds Petrine primacy over his own Catholic Church (i.e. diocese), not one bishop of Rome. Peter was the first to receive the keys, but all other Apostles followed, and the Apostles transferred this grace to the bishops and presbyters, thus making all high clerics “Peters”, and not one particular bishop in Rome. And we all know the RC model is not a Pastoral model, but a model of a company, where the Pope is not the Papa, but a CEO of an ecclesiological corporation, managed carefully with the Cardinals, who are in charge of various social services, secretarial work, and auxiliary management (sounds familiar?)
Every patriarchate who has people of his race that he represents in a land of immigration is tempted to adopt this RC model. We need to de-RC-ize our ecclesiology, and need to confess them for what they are, as true aberrant practices. If RC ecclesiology is false, we need to “walk the talk”. No more general bishops, no more titular bishops, no more playing games with the canons, but being honest with the structure of the Church, and bring back the grace and privilege of the diaconate, and the honor of each bishop as the head of the Catholic Church, just as each piece of Orban is the full hypostasis, humanity and divinity, of Christ. The EOs are starting the first step of this, by fixing borders so that there be no overlapping dioceses or dioceses based on ethnicity, for a unified American Orthodoxy (and European). We as Copts prevented the Pope from being selected from one of the diocesan bishops. It may take baby steps, but the sooner everyone realizes what proper ecclesiological, or ideal ecclesiology is, the sooner we can recognize what next steps we need to take to efficiently lead our Church from glory to glory in the image as the Apostles and their successors left it for us, when they had no emperor or central Pope to dictate for them how to organize themselves.
I recommend anyone to really get your hands on the book by Fr. Laurent Cleenewerck who does an excellent job outlining the proper Orthodox ecclesiology as opposed to Roman Catholic ecclesiology. His Broken Body is the name of the book. Fr. Laurent also recommended Metropolitan John Zizioulas’ “Eucharist, Bishop, Church”, which I have not read, but seems to be of the same idea. Also I referred repeatedly to the Apostolic Canons throughout this post, so it’s fair that I include a link for that as well.