As part of the preparation process we are painting the interior of the nave.
The photo is looking straight up into the cupola from the center of the nave showing the new painting which now has a cross in it. The cupola interior previously was all blue, but because of its construction there was a clear pattern of a cross visible in the triangular ceiling sections. All that we have done is paint the alternating sections blue and gold which reveals the cross which was always there. Like at the Transfiguration, it is more that our eyes are now more clearly open to see what already existed, rather than something new being created.
There is some discussion among Orthodox in America about the conciliar nature of the Church, and what it means in a Church which also claims to be hierarchical.
The work of the OCA’s Metropolitan Council has become a veritable clinic in conciliar Christianity for Orthodox. Conciliarity is not the most efficient method for accomplishing the ministry of the Church for it requires a tremendous amount of patience, love and active listening. Conciliarity is decision making which rejects the unchristian method of leadership by lording over subordinates (which Christ Himself rejected in Mark 10:42-45), and invites leadership through brotherly interaction. Brotherly love also proves to be hard work for we have to wrestle with and at times overcome our pride, passions, temptations and our own sins to enable conciliarity to happen.
Facing difficult administrative issues, the Metropolitan Council sat together with members of the Synod of Bishops to set the direction for the church as we move into the future, to deal with problems that inevitably face us in this fallen world, and to listen to the concerns and wisdom which each Council member brings to the table. We considered the problems of the Church seen through the faith filter of each member as they expressed their thoughts, offered their opinions regarding decisions to be made, and shared their own wrestling with applying the Gospel to real Church issues.
Conciliarity is not unanimity. Neither is it democracy, for it respects hierarchy and is not merely ruled by the majority. Conciliarity does not guarantee that all will be happy; rather it guarantees each person must take up their cross to follow Christ.
Conciliarity encourages members to do soul searching, and encourages learning how to apply the Gospel to decision making. It also promotes listening and discernment as one considers what one has learned from a fellow Christian. In conciliar decision making, the Metropolitan Council sat with the Synod of Bishops to discuss administrative issues, strategic planning, church discipline, Chambesy, legal issues, the St. Tikhon’s Investigating Committee, church finances, clergy conduct, administrative plans and failings, the All American Council, the good of the church, and the Gospel of Christ.
Neither do I intend to give the impression that the Council in following conciliar principles was a love fest in which everyone was made to feel good about themselves. For what I saw in the most difficult of decisions were Christians searching their souls, their faith, and their Church for guidance in how to decide what actions the Church should take. It was also moments of realizing we are called at times to the cross, to martyrdom as the way to the kingdom. It was hard work, and at times each of us like Israel was engaged in a spiritual wrestling match with God. We were seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit to help us keep the Church on that narrow path to the Kingdom of God. Each person was called upon to take up their cross to follow Christ.
At times people were also bored, found the goings on not to their liking, and tempers flared. But overall, we were doing the work of the Church in a conciliar fashion. And while it is true that some other Orthodox jurisdictions in America also lay claim to conciliarity, I have to wonder whether they experience what we have brought to the table – an absolute willingness to speak openly and transparently with one another – bishops, priests, chancery staff, lay delegates, and the editor of OCAnews.org. This is a spirit which the OCA has to offer to the upcoming Episcopal Assemblies which will be setting the agenda for future Orthodox co-operation and integration in North America.
The work of the individuals in the committees was truly impressive, and this will become obvious through time in the work of the OCA and through the OCA’s official and independent media outlets. The Metropolitan’s office staff also must be commended for the job they do despite the lack of full time staff – yes the OCA is learning to live within its budget! This too is part of conciliarity for it means accepting the limits imposed on us by the resources of our membership.
I know some will be disappointed that I am not writing about the “juicy” details of the problems of the OCA. But at least in this blog I wanted to write about the experience of using conciliarity to administer the Church. Conciliarity is not opposed to hierarchy. Rather, I would say conciliarity is the experience of the entire Body of Christ in all its parts and members working together to accomplish the mission of the Church. The mind of Christ is expressed through all the members of His Body. Conciliarity is not opposed to hierarchy, but is a real learning for all members of the Church in how to work with, in and through hierarchy. The Holy Spirit works in and through the Body of Christ, in and through each and all of its members who work together to build up the Church.