by Alexander Tomadakis
Introduction to the idea of the parish
The subject is vast; numerous are its aspects. It is out of the question to take the parish in the exclusive sense of the territorial, geographical or administrative subdivision. It is above all a gathering, a bringing together of men, the faithful; it is at the same time, through its existence alone and its canonical activity, the means that unites the faithful to the most vast ensemble that we call the Church, that same one that Saint Paul and all the teaching of Orthodox Theology calls the "Body of Christ."
The parish is, consequently, the fundamental element, we will say the unity, of a very large, human ensemble. It express, moreover, simultaneously, the universal and diachronic sense of this ensemble; it does it even in a perfect manner since its activity is canonical. The parish expresses, in other words, the gathering of a group of Christians in one point of space and time as well as the universal character of the Church, which is found to be as much in the world as out of the world.
1. Interesting analogy.
There exists an analogy, extremely interest and rich with teaching, among the constitution of the first Christian churches, the constitution also of the Greek colonies and parishes throughout the world, and the foundation of the parishes of our Metropolitanate.
2. The founding of the parishes in France and their evolution.
In the same manner that everywhere in the world where, since Antiquity, the presence of a Hellenic element is attested, whether it is numerous or less numerous, the first parishes in France were founded by the gathering of a Greek colony around a place of worship. The gathering has become as a general rule stable, and the colony finds its definitive organization with the building of a church. The building of a church, or, being a question of an important colony, a first church, is usually synonymous with the definitive organization of the colony. The regular frequenting of the church, which finds itself in this way inaugurated, constitutes the principal, and most permanent, bond among the members of the colony.
II. Judicial statute
1. In general.
Even the diversity of denominations, judicial titles or statutes, demonstrates in itself that the parish is, by nature, the same life of a colony. That it is called a community, colony, association (notably a cultural association) or even otherwise, the parish constitutes in every case a living organism and a living member of a vaster, living organism that is the Church.
2. According to French legislation.
Our parishes are governed by French legislation and more precisely by the law of 1901 on associations as well as the one of 1905, called separation of Church and State; this law treats the maintenance of the places of worship in general; it entrusts the care of them to the associations of the law of 1901, called "cultural associations," that which signifies charged with the organization and the maintenance of the places of worship.
3. Legal obligations of our parishes.
We recall in this remark that since the initial deposit of the statutes of the Metropolitanate through the first Metropolitan, His Eminence Meletios of eternal memory, had been proposed a harmonization of the statutes of all the parishes with the help of the status-type to adopt by each parish that must then to deposit it under the auspices of the territorially competent Prefecture.
III. Ecclesial statute
1. Human laws and witness in Christ.
Through the Church, whether it is taken in its entirety to the universal level or whether it is taken as a simple parish, is expressed the Incarnate Word of God; the breath that enlivens it is no other than the Holy Spirit Itself.
2. Ecclesial statute in general.
That parish, that is the indissociable member of the Church, would not know how to perceive itself without this bond that makes its cohesion throughout time and space, Apostolic succession. The parish cannot perceive itself with dependence, spiritual as much as administrative, on a bishop.
3. The Ecumenical Patriarchate.
During the setting up of the first parishes, in the course of the preceding century and at the end of the century ending, there were no Orthodox bishops in Western Europe at all. It was, therefore, put into application, in an automatic, immediate manner and with the full law, Canon 28 of the Fourth Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon, which stipulates that every region not depending on another Patriarchate nor another autocephalous Church, depends on the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
4. Ecclesiastical organization of western Europe.
In 1919, the Ecumenical Patriarchate established the Holy Metropolitanate of Thyateiria, transformed later into an archdiocese, under the authority of which was placed all the parishes of Western Europe.
In 1963, the Holy Metropolitanate of France was created by a patriarchal and synodal act, and in 1964 Bishop Meletios was elected Metropolitan of France by the Holy Synod. When, in 1988 he resigned for reasons of health, the current Metropolitan of France, our very respected and beloved spiritual father, Jeremy, was elected by the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. We know that for seventeen years, that is to say since 1971, he had already been the auxiliary bishop of Metropolitan Meletios.
5. The metropolitical system.
In this system, all the parishes depend on a Metropolitan that can have one or several auxiliary bishops. This direct relation with the Metropolitan, in an order above all spiritual, but also administrative, expresses the unity and cohesion of the Church that we defined a little earlier. Through this direct and continuous relationship with the Metropolitan, each parish is an indissociable member of the Metropolitanate, but also of the Church in general. The parishes form the Metropolitanate; the Metropolitanates and Archdioceses form the Great Church of Christ, that is to say the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople; and all the Orthdox Churches are members of the same and unique Church of Christ.
This metropolitical system expresses, moreover, the only conceivable meaning of the ecclesiastical point of view of the expression "local church" that they mean and that they read that it always has a precisely defined meaning. By "local church," they must mean the whole of the parishes placed under the authority of a canonical Metropolitan without any discrimination among them, that this discrimination bears on the place, language, origin of the faithful, number of bishops placed under the authority of the Metropolitan or on any other factor.
IV. Obligations of the Parishes
From everything that proceeds follows that our parishes, being the members of this body, which has the name Metropolitanate, have, by nature and necessity, the imperative obligation to provide for the financial maintenance of the above-mentioned Metropolitanate.
We must not at all, no longer, forget that, everyone, we are ourselves the Holy Metropolitanate of France, in so much as parishes as well as in so much as individuals. Let's also say that besides its mission towards its flocks, as the recent Patriarchal visit showed it, the recent reorganization of the Episcopal Conference of Orthodox Bishops under the presidency of His Eminence our Metropolitan and a series of other events that we follow and which should fill us with joy and pride, the Holy Metropolitanate of France still has another, considerable mission in the domain of relations between Christians and the representation of Orthodoxy in general.
To define an efficient means of action in order to aid financially our Metropolitanate is, therefore, an urgency. Every offer is welcome, and every idea can be discussed!
V. Other institutions of the Holy Metropolitanate of France
The other institutions of the Metropolitanate are essentially the foundations and holy Monasteries: it is necessary, regarding these latter ones, to underline two points, which, both of them, constitute for our Metropolitanate an object of great pride in Christ. The first is that it is one of the rare Metropolitanates, outside of the countries of Orthodox tradition, to establish holy Monasteries; the other point is that Monasticism constitutes precisely an ancient and important tradition of Orthodoxy.
According to this tradition of the Orthodox Church and in conformance with the spirit and the mode of functioning of the metropolitical system such as we have exposed it, the Monasteries situated in the territorial competence of the Metropolitanate are placed under its authority.
One thing alone matters, always very precisely the same: the life and action of our Metropolitanate. This live — we have seen — is, for everyone without exception, our witness of Christ. That we presented in an individual chapter, as parishes, holy monasteries or under some other quality, we are all — in our Holy Metropolitanate of France and through it — members of the Church … The urgency impresses on us today in simple and clear measures, proper to assuring the participation of every, regular, effective and efficient, in proportion to the possibilities of each person, in the work of our Metropolitanate, which is of the highest importance.
Translated from the French by Daryle Lamoureux
Taken from Témoignage et Pensée Orthodoxes
(Bulletin of the Greek Orthodox Metropolitanate of France) No. 2, Paris, 2nd quarter, 1997.