|The All-Russian Council of 1917–1918, presided by St. Tikhon of Moscow|
This is the first in a new blog post series called “Today in Class,” which will be an overview of what I learned today in class. This is a way for me to reorganize my class notes into a coherent form to share with the world.
Today in Canon Law class, we briefly went over our assigned readings, which was about what a canon was, various different collections of church canons, and important canonists.
A canon (Gk. κανών) is not like a civil law, but is more like a rule or standard which is interpreted and applied by the bishops of the Orthodox Church. There are canons applicable to only one local church (Russian, Greek, Antiochian, etc.) and canons applicable to the entire Church. These canons are basically those which have been accepted by the Seven Ecumenical Councils, both the canons formulated at the councils, and those canons of local councils which were accepted by the Council Fathers, thus granting them ecumenical status. All of these canons were put together in various compilations. The earliest we know of is the Nomocanon in 14 Chapters attributed to St. Photius the Great (9th c.). A Nomocanon is a collection of both canons and (Byzantine) civil law (nomoi). In the English-speaking world, the most famous collection of canons is The Rudder or Pedalion of St. Nicodemus the Hagiorite (18th c.).
In the second hour of the class, a visiting scholar from Finland discussed the change in divorce law in the Russian Orthodox Church as a result of the very important All-Russian Church Council of 1917–1918. Before, divorce was only allowed in both civil and church law under four specific cases. The Council expanded these guidelines, which are followed in our own Church Abroad. Although it was a local council which decided marriage laws, the same guidelines are generally followed in other churches.
Conservative Roman Catholics, who believe that a valid sacramental marriage cannot be dissolved in any way, would be scandalized by the Orthodox view on divorce and remarriage. However, the Orthodox view has always been that there are legitimate reasons for the dissolution of a marriage. As our Pastoral Theology instructor put it, “the Church is not giving a divorce, but acknowledging that the marriage has dissolved.” Nonetheless, the Church by no means supports divorce and remarriage, seeing them as deviations from the Gospel ideal which are only allowed out of condescension. The Church “blesses the first marriage, performs the second, tolerates the third, and forbids the fourth.”
Also discussed at the All-Russian Council was the question of the remarriage of priests. In the Russian Church at the time, there were many widowed young priests who wanted to remarry. Normally a priest who is widowed has to either leave the priesthood if he wanted to remarry or else become a monk. The vast majority of the widowed priests at the time were in favor of changing the laws. The canonists were also divided on the issue. The Serbian bishop Nikodim Milaš supported a more liberal view, whereas the Russian canonist S. Troitsky favored the strict view. Ultimately, priests were not allowed to remarry based on the scriptures (I Tim. 3:2, 12; Titus 1:6) and precedence of the canons. However, the council made provisions to try to help widowed priests in difficult situations because of their status.