The Economy of the Church from a Pastoral Theology point of view

by Bekari Abuladze

– ‘Economy’ (οικονομία) is a Greek word which cannot be translated into other European languages; it is merely transcribed with Latin characters and is pronounced according to each language, for instance in English it is ‘economy’, French ‘economie’, German ‘Ökonomie’ etc. The word economy derives from two words, the noun οίκος (i.e. house) and the verb νέμω (i.e. share, distribute, regulate etc.).

The literal meaning of the word ‘economy’ is a settlement, adjustment of everything relating to the house, our things, money and our issues in general. The verb ‘economise’ indicates the arrangement of topics in accordance with our interests and efficiency in order to run our private life and our household, or our public life, city, state, the globalised world etc. The word ‘economy’, however, is now commonly used exclusively in the financial and market fields, so we refer to the political economy, ministry of finance, the science of economy, economists etc.

The Church uses the term ‘economy’ with a variety of concepts in two particular cases. In the first instance, in doctrinal theology, ‘economy’ is believed to be an expansion of theology. By referring to theology we understand the Holy Trinity, i.e. the three persons within God’s essence, explaining thus the relationship between God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. However, the term ‘economy’ refers also to the outer relationship of the Triune God, the relationship of the Uncreated Triune God to the created, man and the world, body and soul, matter and spirit, speaking of the divine economy which actually means the divine providence of God for mankind and the world (the divine economy). The Holy Trinity ontologically (theologically) is unknown to mankind, incommunicable, ineffable and incomprehensible; on the other hand what is known in Its relationship with man and the world is the divine providence, which is communicable, understandable in the cataphatic theology as well as teachable (economically).

Secondly, the term economy as opposed to accuracy is widely and most commonly used in canon law. The sacred canons are applied by the church with the responsibility of the bishop in two different ways. One is accuracy and the other is economy. The accurate application of the sacred canons is the strict, literal, with no exceptions or waivers, observance, of all which in any case the canons provide. The application of the church’s canons in a divine economic sense results in the elastic compliance of the rules, according to the spirit of the meaning and not a literal one, i.e. taking the exceptional paradigm in numerous instances for a short period of time, having as criterion the salvation of the Church’s members.

One example is the baptism of a Christian. Precise application is the three immersions of the baptised preferably into flowing water, with the invocation of the Holy Trinity, in the name of The Father and of The Son and of The Holy Spirit, by a clergyman, bishop or presbyter, never by a deacon or a member of the lower class of the clergy (sub-deacon, reader etc.). An ‘economic baptism’ (according to the economy of the Church) is the so called ‘air baptism’, relating to infants who are in imminent danger of death, which a clergyman or a lay person raises three times as high in the air, invoking the Holy Trinity in order for the dying infant to have a Christian burial and hence be remembered within the Church. The air baptism is the economy of the Church in celebrating the sacrament of baptism.

According to the sacred canons the economy is realised by the Holy Spirit “by divine grace” (LXXX Rule of the Holy Apostles). Responsible for the ecclesiastical economy is the bishop and his agent the presbyter, according to the opinion of the late Amilka Alivizatos, professor of Canon Law at the School of Theology of the University of Athens, as was published in his book “The Economy according to the Canon Law of the Orthodox Church”, Athens 1949, p. 68. According to the professor of Canon Law from the School of Theology of the University of Thessaloniki and then Archbishop of Athens (1967-1973), Ieronimos Kotsonis, in his book “Problems of Church Economy”, Athens 1957, p. 134, even a lay person can apply the ecclesiastical economy at the request or with the permission of the local bishop.

The implementation of the economy must be applied very carefully, in some cases of absolute necessity, since the salvation of the member of the Church might be endangered. As stated by Theodore Studite, the ecclesiastical economy is exercised “κατά καιρόν και λόγον”, “in time and by reason” (Epistle XXI, PG 99, 981). It should be noted that the ecclesiastical economy is limited to the administration, operation and order of the Church, i.e. the good standing order instead of disorder. The economy does not extend to the doctrine of the Church and in no circumstances does it apply to the doctrinal teaching or the texts of doctrinal theology (terms, decisions of councils), as claimed by the professor emeritus of Canon Law from the Faculty of Social Theology of the University of Athens, Panayiotis Boumis, in his article “Economy” in the Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics (vol. 9, cols. 678-9).

Clearly it is identified by all the aforementioned canon law specialists that the economy is the freedom in Christ, which the Church keeps in order to manage the divine grace and to resolve, settle and regulate its own affairs, i.e. whatever interests its own household, the home of the faithful members, in order to ensure their salvation and guarantee the unity of the Church. This is exactly how canon law and pastoral theology perceive economy. Pastoral theology economises, i.e. handles, manages, regulates, arranges and ensures the salvation of the members of the Church. It is perhaps not a coincidence that the issue of ‘economy’ was addressed in especially valuable treatises by the two leading academics of the then chairs, under the name the Chair of Canon Law and Pastoral Theology in the two Schools of Theology of Greece, Amilkas Alivizatos in Athens (1949) and Ieronimos Kotsonis in Thessaloniki (1957).

Economy is a fundamental concept of pastoral theology, which deals with the theological foundation of the pastoral ministry of our Church, based on the Bible and the Church Fathers. The ecclesiastical economy is an application and extension of the divine economy in which Christ “became man, in order for us to reach theosis” (Athanasius the Great) “and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1, 14). The ecclesiastical economy operates in the most decisive way within the daily pastoral ministry of the Church, by applying the Incarnation of the Son of God and the Manifestation of the Word for the salvation of man. The criterion of pastoral theology in the Orthodox Church is the economy that we find in the tradition of our Church from the Bible and the Church Fathers up to the Holy Canons; the Orthodox ecclesiastical life is incomprehensible and impossible without the economy. Besides, the salvation of man is economised by the unique event of the Incarnation of the Word of God and is realised by the Body of Christ, i.e. the Church, on a daily basis through the centuries until the end of this world, on a global level.

When we describe the Church as “a novel eschatological body” that enters the world, growing and fulfilling spiritually by the sanctifying grace of the Holy Spirit, we summarise the whole of her (the Church’s) Economy in a pastoral eschatological way of life and existence. With the Incarnation and Pentecost, the Church is revealed as a new creation which brings a new way of being and life, a new message of a sacred and spiritual concurrence of man and God.

The Economy of God is realised in practice within the spiritual and pastoral context of the Church. This Church is the incorruptible life of man, more real and more esoteric than the man himself. The man becomes alive be his integration and abidance within her mystical body. The Church is the ontological infinite possibility and grace, which was given once with Christ and is continually offered to us with the Holy Spirit, in order for us to undertake the return path to God, to return to the loving communion and union with Him; to achieve our transformation and theosis. However, this is a tedious task that is expressed and in our concurrent procession towards mankind, in discovering the love for man and everything human, in our responsibility for the salvation and deification of the whole world. This is truly the meaning of life and its ultimate purpose, as embodied within the Church.

The late Fr. Michael Kardamakis notes, “The Church’s destination, which has room for everything but does not fit anywhere, is to recruit and recap everything, to unite all with God, to make everything share in the Trinitarian life and glory. The Church, which perfects the destination and aim of creation, is the dynamic place and method where both man and the world are deified; it is mankind and the cosmos on the way to the transformation and deification in Christ with the breadth of the Holy Spirit”.[1]

The Economy of God in other words, as expressed through loving and in a sanctifying manner within the Church “through the Holy Spirit and by the Holy Spirit”[2] is the Economy of the Church, having as the ultimate recipient the entire creation and the world. It is the openness of grace and of illumination towards the people of Christ; it is the fulfilment of every intimate desire “in Christ and through Christ”; it is the conclusive expression of the loving offering and sacrifice of the God-man to the world.

Pastoral Theology has as its ultimate objective to transform, in a sanctifying manner, the human being as a communicant towards the catholic truth, the fullness of being and of life, the universality of the Divine-human reality, in its vertical and horizontal dimensions. Because in it exists the grace, the transformative power, the dynamic divine presence that makes everything possible to man, that opens the door, through ascesis, for the catholic vision of man, of life and the world. Inside the charismatic wealth of the Church, i.e. within the light of Economy, man reverses the effects of the fall and communicates the mystery of the universality of salvation, meaning that he tastes the fruits of the spirituality of the Church, because spirituality is the fruit of salvation.

“Man outside of the communion of the Church, still remains captured, alone, weak and desperate in the human or demonic will, within the autonomy or heteronomy. He is namely uninvolved in the Spirit’s gifts, which activate the gift of salvation, being outside the life of transfiguration and theosis, the life of theonomy, which is a life of communion and of free love of God in Christ”[3].

The unutterable love of Christ is expressed through the Economy of the Church as a sanctifying present, as a possibility of communion and relationship and concurrence of Heaven and Earth, God and man.

His Eminence Metropolitan of Nafpaktos Ierotheos Vlahos writes: “Actually by living within the Church, It is possible to experience heaven within our hearts and then the space of the heart will become a ‘heaven of heart’, for which so much has been written and particularly experienced by the Holy Fathers. We need to understand that this spiritual ascension “πάθος εστί του αναλαμβανομένου, ενέργεια δε του αναλαμβάνοντος” according to St. Maximus. Mankind does not carry out theosis and ascension, but he undergoes it, meaning that it is realised by the energy of God. And actually this ascension of man to the heavens, as St. Maximus says, it is ‘η εν τω Θεώ γενομένη αυτώ μετά ταύτα μονή τε και ίδρυσις’”[4].

Man cannot understand that he is a sinner, before starting to believe in God. Without God, each new error that he commits doesn’t inevitably result in the breaking of the already cracked mirror of God in him? Where will he see his reflection? Each and every new error creates to the person an intolerable sense of final expulsion from Paradise, a final conviction that man assigns to himself. It is only the recognition and the acceptance of his sinfulness that leads ‘the prodigal son’ in the bosom of the Father, who tirelessly and patiently waits for him for years or even for a whole lifetime to return as a repented man. However, repentance must precede the experience. So this experience is brought today by the Economy of the Church. An experience of the resurrection and redemption, an experience of joy and sanctification, life ‘in freedom and love’, an experience that makes anew and recreates spiritually, i.e. transforms and makes man to testify as right praxis the Pauline view: “Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong”[5].

The Economy of the Church is expressed pastorally in the unconditional acceptance of our fellow man. The other, the different, the alien, gradually is familiarised and it becomes known personally and substantially as far as the faithful is in communion with the body of the Church and participates in her life-giving sacraments.

Professor Marios Begzos writes: “The other is the criterion of my-self to the extent that it provokes my ego in order to be liberated from my-self, to become the ‘other’ him, i.e. to be ‘changed’ in order to not be alienated. Our own self becomes “αλλοίος”, another, a different kind, it undergoes a ‘good alteration’, it is altered and it changes, meaning that it is improved, upgraded. Thus, this prevents our alienation, our fall to the “αλλότριο”, to the strange, to the opposite to us, to the state of nothingness. The antidote against the alienation is the alteration, the precedence of the whole and the other against our ego with the subsequent finding of our own self”[6].

The Church of Christ is following on a pastoral course the way of the Cross and the Resurrection of our Lord. As a mystery of mysteries, as an ontological and divine-human mystery it emphasises her eschatological dimension and perspective and transforms mankind in a spiritual and sacred way, because her Economy is the expression of the Incarnation of our Lord and even more of the embodied love. That is why the Economy of the Church includes the universality and the tomorrow in the daily experience and life of the selfless and Christian love, which is accomplished mysteriously and charismatically through the liturgical and devotional ecumenicity and grace.

“The Church is God’s work on earth; it is the image of His sacred presence, His indwelling in the world”[7]. It is this image, as the provision and gift of God, which brings and ministers, in a sacrificial manner, the Pastoral Theology; an icon which ministers and will minister mankind in a loving way, as divine Economy from now and unto the ages of ages. Amen!

Translated by Dimitris Salapatas


Bekari Abuladze is a Bachelor of Theology from the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, School of Theology. He completed his first degree in 2010 and then started his Postgraduate studies in the Department of Systematic Theology of Pastoral Psychology. He is the first student from Georgia who was appointed as President of the Faculty’s Student Union. He is currently studying under the supervision of the Head of the Department, Prof. Marios Begzos. He is also a representative of the Patriarchate of Georgia to Greece.

Dimitris Salapatas has studied Theology at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, School of Theology, as well as Byzantine Music at the National College of Music in Athens. He then studied International Relations on a Postgraduate level at the University of London. He is currently undertaking a research on the “Fellowship of St. Alban and St. Sergius and its contribution towards Anglican – Orthodox Relations”, at the University of Winchester.

[1] «Προορισμός της Εκκλησίας, που χωρεί τα πάντα ενώ δεν χωρείται από τίποτα, είναι να προσλαμβάνει και να ανακεφαλαιώνει τα πάντα, να ενώνει τα πάντα με τον Θεό, να κάνει τα πάντα μέτοχα της τριαδικής ζωής και δόξας. Η Εκκλησία, που τελειώνει τον προορισμό της δημιουργίας, είναι ο δυναμικός τόπος και τρόπος της θεώσεως του ανθρώπου και του κόσμου, είναι η ανθρωπότητα και το σύμπαν στην πορεία τους προς τη μεταμόρφωση και τη θέωση εν Χριστώ με την πνοή του Αγίου Πνεύματος».

Fr. Kardamakis Mihail, “Orthodox Spirituality, The authenticity of human ethos”, Akritas Publication, Athens 1980, p. 130.

[2] «δια του Αγίου Πνεύματος και εν Αγίω Πνεύματι» Ιωάννου δ’, 23, 24, Εβρ. θ’, 14.

[3] «Ο άνθρωπος έξω από την κοινωνία της Εκκλησίας, εξακολουθεί να βρίσκεται αιχμαλωτισμένος, μόνος, αδύνατος και απεγνωσμένος στο ανθρώπινο ή και δαιμονικό θέλημα, στην αυτονομία ή στην ετερονομία. Να είναι δηλαδή αμέτοχος στις δωρεές του Πνεύματος, που ενεργοποιούν τη δωρεά της σωτηρίας, να βρίσκεται έξω από τη ζωή της μεταμορφώσεως και της θέωσεως, τη ζωή της θεονομίας, που είναι ζωή κοινωνίας και ελεύθερης αγάπης του Θεού εν Χριστώ».

Fr. Kardamakis Mihail, “Orthodox Spirituality, The authenticity of human ethos”, Akritas Publication, Athens 1980, p. 134

[4] Vlahou, Ierotheou, Archimandrite (currently Metropolitan of Nafpaktos), “The Constitution of the Cross”, Holy Monastery of the Birth of the Virgin Mary (Pelagias), Livadia 1990, p. 185-186.

[5] 2 Corinthians, 12, 10

[6] «Ο άλλος είναι το κριτήριο του εαυτού μου στο βαθμό που προκαλεί το εγώ μου να αποδεσμευθεί από τον εαυτό του, να γίνει το ‘άλλο’ του, δηλαδή να ‘αλλοιωθεί’ για να μην αλλοτριωθεί. Ο εαυτός μας γίνεται ‘αλλοίος’, άλλος, αλλιώτικος, υφίσταται την ‘καλήν αλλοίωσιν’, αλλοιώνεται, αλλάζει, δηλαδή βελτιώνεται, αναβαθμίζεται. Έτσι αποτρέπεται η αλλοτρίωσή μας, η έκπτωσή μας στο ‘αλλότριο’, στο ξένο, στο αντίθετό μας, στο κενό της ανυπαρξίας. Το αντίδοτο κατά της αλλοτρίωσης είναι η αλλοίωση ̇ η πρόταξη του όλου και του άλλου έναντι του εγώ μας με τη συνακόλουθη εύρεση του εαυτού μας».

Mpegzos Marios, “Psychology of Religion”, Ellinika Grammata Publishers, Athens, 1996, p. 149

[7] «Η Εκκλησία είναι το έργο του Θεού επάνω στη γη ̇ είναι η εικόνα της ευλογημένης Του παρουσίας, η ενοίκησή Του μέσα στον κόσμο».

Fr. Kardamakis Mihail, “Orthodox Spirituality, The authenticity of human ethos”, Akritas Publication, Athens 1980, p. 130