What Would an Indigenous Synod Look Like? 

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INSIGHTS DR ADRAHTAS 3

A fundamental feature of Indigenous Australian lifeworlds is the fact that they are very much practiced-based and rather minimalist in terms of theory. This means that in the case of adopting Orthodoxy Indigenous peoples would most likely be orthopraxy-oriented instead of orthodoxy-oriented. In other words, what would appeal to them would be not so much the dogmas or the lex credendi (the rule of faith), but the lex orandi (the rule of worship) and how the latter informs the ethos of everyday practice or the lex vivendi (the rule of life), as we say.  

In this respect, their Orthodoxy would exemplify itself, first and foremost, at the practical level of Church organisation and administration. But it is here that the challenges would present themselves, since Indigenous peoples are either foreign to or, to put it less sharply, not particularly inclined towards hierarchical modes of organisation such as the synodical system we are familiar with from Church history – at least, in the way that the latter has predominantly been understood and implemented. 

Although the synodical system is democratic, so to speak, at a certain level, let’s say locally, it becomes hierarchical when we move to another level, let’s say regionally or globally. To be precise, on all levels it is actually made up of a certain dialectics between the two; a kind of hierarchical democracy, if I may say. However, what is more important to note in this connection is the fact that the hierarchical side of things is dependent on what we usually call primacy, that is, the special position and role of a certain Church see amongst other local Churches.  

This position and role are basically determined on political grounds or grounds that were once important but might have become traditional or customary in the meantime. The potential problem of all this for an Orthodox Indigeneity lies in the fact that Indigenous lifeworlds are neither hierarchical nor democratic; their managing and organising criterion is one and only, i.e., knowledge. And it is absolutely clear that they know of no locality that is better than others in any possible way…

 

Autonomy and Interdependence 

Anyone who has had even a cursory look at the map of Indigenous Australia, is aware of the fact that before the invasion this Great Land of the South consisted of hundreds of dreamings/peoples/places that were more or less clearcut and stable. Each one knew its limits, sustained itself, and constituted a distinctive as well as irreducible mode of being/becoming. In this respect, Indigenous Australia was – and to an extent still is – the most conspicuous case of the sameness, abidingness or immanence type of worldview that we know of. One’s place was, literally speaking, everything!  

This is true both in terms of experience and in terms of meaning: beyond one’s place reality was unfamiliar and precarious, while what was valued in one’s life lied within the limits of one’s dreaming/place. This doesn’t mean that Indigenous peoples were not aware of the plurality of the dreamings-reality so characteristic of Australia – which, by the way, constituted the whole raison d’être of their existence – but that they profoundly respected it by abiding to their (only possible) place within it.    

If the above paragraph describes adequately the aspect of autonomy within the organisational structure of Indigenous lifeworlds, there is another aspect that should not skip our attention: the aspect of interdependence. To be sure, each and every dreaming/people/place is and becomes itself – which means that all of them are on the same page in doing so – but what is extremely interesting and important is the fact that ultimately this being/becoming cannot take place by any dreaming/people/place in isolation. The reason – that is, the systemically embedded reason – relates to the nature and function of Indigenous knowledge. The latter, being as I said before the fundamental criterion, exceeds the limits of the given dreamings/peoples/places.  

In other words, the ontological realisation of the latter does not only entail that they are established as distinct and distinctive entities, but also that they come to be so in an emanation-like manner – as if they were different drops of one and the same water dripping all over the place. Thus, if knowledge is the water that sustains the places-cum-drops, then there is a residue of knowledge prior to and out of any given dreaming/people/place; a knowledge that must be utilised on special ritual or ceremonial occasions so that autonomy may be operative. This is precisely what the interdependence of Indigenous Australia is all about: all are equal, and all are required so that all may remain equal!   

 

All for All or One for All: An Indigenous Model of Synodality  

The traditional model of synodality in Orthodoxy is captured eloquently in the famous dictum primus inter pares, i.e., first among equals. This primacy of the one, virtually the one, for it’s always the same one, is a primacy of honour that allows its holder to exercise certain powers and have certain prerogatives – always for the sake of others, of course, that is, for the sake of all. This is a hierarchical model and as such, although it allows for the autonomy of the particular Churches and their interdependence – the latter through the very act of coming together, of convening – it includes also a third factor which is the key factor, namely, a dialectical principle of unity. However, the presence of this factor betrays that there is an underlying tension within this model, a tension that has to be checked and controlled, and if possible neutralised… a sort of an enemy within… And perhaps this is why in the Christian world in general there is still a tug-of-war going on as to the pros and cons between primacy and synodality…  

Nevertheless, this model does not seem either suitable or viable within an Indigenous framework. Firstly, the latter is intrinsically against hierarchies, even when such structures appear and try to consolidate themselves. Secondly, no knowledge by any of the dreaming-parts in Australia is deemed better or more important than others. And thirdly, between the dreamings/peoples/places in Australia one sees not dialectical tension that needs to be overcome, but the dynamics of a life-flow that must be facilitated and secured.  

Thus, it seems that if ever Indigenous Australians were to become Orthodox and express themselves through synodality, the latter would not be devoid of primacy. By no means! On the contrary, it would thrive on the acceleration of primacy, that is, on the embodiment of primacy not by the one, but by all, on different occasions, successively or alternately or by some other means. And who knows, perhaps we could learn something ourselves out of that, something that might replace the one with all – each and every one at a time – for the sake of all!


ABOUT | INSIGHTS INTO GLOBAL ORTHODOXY with Dr Vassilis Adrahtas

"Insights into Global Orthodoxy" is a weekly column that features opinion articles that on the one hand capture the pulse of global Orthodoxy from the perspective of local sensitivities, needs and/or limitations, and on the other hand delve into the local pragmatics and significance of Orthodoxy in light of global trends and prerogatives.

Dr Vassilis Adrahtas holds a PhD in Studies in Religion (USyd) and a PhD in the Sociology of Religion (Panteion). He has taught at several universities in Australia and overseas. Since 2015 he has been teaching ancient Greek Religion and Myth at the University of New South Wales and Islamic Studies at Western Sydney University. He has published ten books. He has extensive experience in the print media as editor-in-chief, and columnist, and for a while he worked as a radio producer. He lives in Sydney, Australia, his birthplace.

Dr Vassilis Adrahtas

Dr Vassilis Adrahtas holds a PhD in Studies in Religion (USyd) and a PhD in the Sociology of Religion (Panteion. He has taught at several universities in Australia and overseas. Since 2015 he has been teaching ancient Greek Religion and Myth at the University of New South Wales and Islamic Studies at Western Sydney University. He has published ten books. He has extensive experience in the print media as editor-in-chief, and columnist, and for a while he worked as a radio producer. He lives in Sydney, Australia, his birthplace.

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