Dr Miodrag Petrović

Teaching of the nomocanons on the care of the socially oppressed

pages: 78-88

Abstract

The problem of the socially oppressed is a complex one which has always been with us. The reality of that problem tis clearly illustrated in both the Old and New Testament, in Patristic literature, and especially in the prescriptions of the Nomocanons of the Byzantine period. The teachings of these primary sources are essentially the same. The difference becomes evident in the canons of the Church and related civil laws in Byzantium only as concerns the ways and means to more effectively aid the poor. Such differences weire determined by the economic and sociopolitical factors of the times when the basic principles of the nomocanons were being established. Therefore, each period is characterized by a particular set of social laws.

The Orthodox Church has always attempted to maximally insure that the ministry of the Bishop not be reduced only to teaching and administration, but rather that it encompass as well the defending of the weak from injustice and poverty. The Bishops enjoyed the full support of the Byzantine emperors and civil authorities (in general, and thereby attained even greater results in the social realm. As early as the beginning of the fifth century, imperial decrees provided that the defensores ecclesiactici were responsible to support the Bishops in their efforts to aid the poor.

Strict care was taken that the Bishops, while seeking this aid, not abuse the liberty they enjoyed before the Emperor, using it for their own personal gain. Due to the abuses which resulted in such cases, the personal contact between the Bishops and the Emperors was gradually limited and even forbidden. Episcopal messages were taken to the Emperor by servants, since a servant could not provoke malice and jealousy. Through such measures, not only were the abuses curtailed, but also care was especially taken that the Church reduce to a minimum the contact of the Bishop with the State and in that way preserve her independence.

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