Considering Chambesy: The Diaspora

In this series of blogs I will be commenting on issues dealt with and created by the Fourth Pre-Conciliar Pan-Orthodox Conference in Chambesy (June 6-13, 2009).  These blogs are my own opinions and do not represent those of anyone else.  The first blog was Considering Chambesy: The Mother Churches

chambesyAncient Faith Radio characterized the work of Chambesy in this way:  “To address and fix the problem of the so called Diaspora – the scattering of Orthodox faithful into countries away from the mother churches”   because  “Time has come and in fact is overdue to unify the administration of all jurisdictions.”   I number myself among those who do not feel part of any Orthodox Diaspora.   I have embraced Orthodoxy as an American Christian and so am approaching the issue of Orthodoxy in America not from the old world mother churches perspective but from the point of view of the new world.

Whatever the old world Mother Churches may be thinking about (though their stated concern is the canons, their de facto concern seems to be universal jurisdiction over their specific ethnic Diasporas), I would call attention to the 2nd Century EPISTLE TO DIOGNETUS in which the author claims for Christians that, “Every foreign land is their fatherland, yet for them every fatherland is a foreign land.” 

“Christians are not different because of their country or the language they speak or the way they dress. They do not isolate themselves in their cities nor use a private language; even the life they lead has nothing strange.  …  They live in Greek or in barbarian (foreign) cities, as the case may be, and adapt themselves to local traditions in dress, food and all usage. Yet they testify to a way which, in the opinion of the many, has something extraordinary about it.  They live in their own countries and are strangers. They loyally fulfill their duties as citizens, but are treated as foreigners. … They dwell on earth, but are citizens of heaven.”

Orthodoxy in America is being dealt with by treating it as Diaspora rather than as the local church.   I fear that by viewing the entire issue only in the canonical framework, the Church’s mission to the world is lost in some Byzantine territorial turf war.   The past is no longer simply guiding the current work but constraining and confining it.    The Church survived the Byzantine Empire’s collapse but its current ancient-oriented leadership promulgates the Byzantine territorial imperative.   In seeing the Orthodox Church through the eyes of  Byzantium we fail to see the work of the Holy Spirit active and alive today in the ongoing Christian mission.  Rather there is an effort to contain the work of the Holy Spirit within ancient structures and understanding which may have nothing to do with current realities.

I view my life in the Orthodox Church not as a result of an Old World Diaspora being scattered by the winds of history, but rather as the Holy Spirit intentionally planting seed in America.    The vine which God has planted in America and blessed is not the accidental blowing of seeds; rather we in America were a prepared soil upon which God has planted His seed and allowed the Church to come into existence.   The Mother Church’s attitude seems to me to be anti-missionary reducing Orthodox Christianity in America to a mere accident, an unexpected pregnancy that resulted in an unwanted baby whom the Mother Churches don’t want to grow up and to whom they certainly don’t want to listen.  

chambesy3Think about the Acts of the Apostles – in the first 7 chapters most of what happens occurs with the apostles in Jerusalem.  There indeed is miraculous growth, but the Apostles are not taking the Gospel to all the world as Christ commanded them (Matthew 28:19-20).   Rather it is the persecution of Christians, not the work of the apostles which “scatters” (diaspora!) the faithful into the world (Acts 8:1-4).    In Acts 8:14, the apostles “hear” that the people in Samaria had received the word of God.  Only after learning that the people of Samaria have already received the word do the apostles send missionaries to them (8:14) to lay hands upon the new believers so that they might receive the Holy Spirit.   The apostles are following the spread of the Gospel not leading it.    In Acts 10 Peter is trying to catch up to God who has already prepared Cornelius for the reception of the Holy Spirit.    God continues to move way ahead of the apostles in Acts 11 where the apostles learn about Christianity already existing in Antioch and the apostles decide to send Barnabus to investigate.     My contention is that the Orthodoxy in America certainly has received some seed from a diaspora, but like in Acts 8 and 11, the church existed and is growing in these new lands before the apostles even knew about it.   The apostles send missionaries not to establish the church in Samaria or Antioch but to recognize it as legitimate.   This is the situation to which I think Orthodoxy in America is comparable.  Rather than the apostolic mother churches trying to create the Church in America, they are behind the times and now need to give legitimizing recognition to it.   The apostles empowered the local church to continue its work, they did not endeavor to control the spread of the faith to serve their own interests.   The Holy Spirit moves where it will and it cannot be contained by canons.  The mother churches need to send us Chrism and lay hands on locals to ordain them as bishops.  But we have to continue the apostolic ministry ourselves.

The attitude of the mother churches seems to ignore St. Paul calling the Church the Body of Christ.   The Church is not a temple in a fixed location rather it is the Body of Christ a living “edifice” (see my The Christian Temple:   A People Not a Place).  For those of us not feeling ourselves to be Diaspora, the Church in America is much more analogous to Israel sojourning in the desert than it is to Israel the nation-state which claims particular real estate.  In fact the New Testament upholding the criticism of the prophets rejects the notion that the people of God can be Diaspora because we can only be people of faith  (see also my  Embracing the Sojourner ).  Christians are always sojourners on earth – in exile not only from the heavenly homeland (1 Peter 1:17), but also in exile from any form of empire on this earth (“Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles… 1 Peter 2:11).   I will fully admit that many American Christians fail to see that the interests of Christianity are not coterminous with the interests of America; I only contend that this is the same mistake that the Byzantine and Russian Orthodox made about themselves.   As someone not feeling part of any Diaspora, the only “jurisdiction” that can truly represent my interest in Orthodoxy is the OCA which is the local church and not an extension of a foreign patriarchate.

Personally I do not think the idea of a Diaspora is a Christian idea but it is a very ethnocentric one.   The Orthodox Church’s claims to almost “owning” certain ethnic people may have a basis in imperial history, but I think it mixes Christian thought with nationalism and is still an end result of the Byzantine “symphonic” merger of church and state.

Next: Considering Chambesy:  The Issues