I have a quick question about the Eastern Orthodox concept of ‘Oikonomia’ or ‘economia’ (I hope I am spelling this correctly). Basically, my questions are these: what in the world is this concept? I know we have dispensations in the Latin Rite (for example, a bishop will grant all of his diocese a dispensation from Sunday obligations in the event of inclement weather). Is this the same concept? If so, I am confused. I have seen examples of Orthodox using this concept to justify things such as divorce and remarriage, birth control, etc.
Eastern Church law has traditionally followed the principle of “economy,” whereby the Church does not always follow the very letter of the law, but attempts to follow its spirit. This is a particular approach to the entire question of canon law. Applying the principle of oikonomia, the canons of ecclesiastical law are not always necessarily binding, and can be ignored by the Church if it is for the benefit of souls. Therefore, bishops can choose to be more lenient or possibly stricter than the canons prescribe in dealing with matters of discipline.
Eastern Christianity has traditionally seen canon law as being a general guide to be followed, but not as a binding juridical force.