Episcopal Assemblies: New Wine, New Garment, New Wineskins

The Lord Jesus told this parable: “No one tears a piece from a new garment and sews it on an old garment; otherwise the new will be torn, and the piece from the new will not match the old.   And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the new wine will burst the skins and will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed.   But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins.  And no one after drinking old wine desires new wine, but says, ‘The old is good.’”   (Luke 5:36-39)

1st North American Episcopal Assembly

Recently all of the canonical Orthodox bishops of North America met in the first ever Episcopal Assembly called together by the Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew.  They established some committees and offices to carry on the work which they have begun.

Though the original meeting of the Orthodox bishops in Chambesy which established the Episcopal Assemblies said that one of the goals was to deal with the problem of the “diaspora,” the North American bishops, at least in their communiqués, were careful to avoid using “diaspora” in reference to what they are doing.

I have written elsewhere that it is time for all the bishops to recognize that we North American Orthodox are disciples not diaspora.  The Church was commissioned by Christ to go into all the world and make disciples of all nations.  Christ didn’t say that we to become diaspora in all nations.   We need to take up the Great Commission in how we see ourselves.

The purpose of my writing today is to ask the bishops who serve on the committees that will continue the work of the Episcopal Assemblies between their official meetings to keep in mind the parable of Jesus mentioned above (Luke 5:36-39, and parallel passages in Matthew 9 and Mark 2).

Attendant bearing Wineskin (Persepolis, 480BC)

We cannot deal with the canonical problems of North America by simply taking “old world” (traditional lands) ideas and sewing a piece of the new cloth of new world Orthodoxy to it.   Those holy fathers who adopted the canons and ecclesiology of our Church never envisioned a new world when they spoke.  The ecumenical notion they had is that they knew the entire world, and yet God had kept the truth about the earth hidden from their eyes.  So their ecclesial partitions proved to be inadequate for the real world.  They thought they were ecumenical and yet they did not envision the whole world  for their knowledge was limited by their time and place.

Orthodoxy in the world beyond traditional Orthodox lands, represents a new garment, new wineskins and new wine.   Christ said, no one puts new wine into old wineskins, not even Orthodox bishops should do that.   The issue that the Orthodox Church has to address is wrongly understood if it is put in terms of diaspora for that is old thinking – putting new wine into old wineskins which leads to the loss of both wineskins and wine.  When the problem is defined as a diasporal problem, the effort is made to force the new wine into the old wineskins (where the old wineskins are the partitioning of the known world based in the Patriarchical Pentarchy).    When the Orthodox who live in lands beyond the division of the old world are seen as disciples not diaspora, then we begin to deal with the new wine and the new wineskins about which Christ spoke to us.     We cannot sew new world Orthodoxy like a patch to the old garments of Orthodoxy.

Jesus concluded his words saying those who drunk the old wine will say “it is good” and have no desire for new wine.  The canonical partitioning of the old world has satisfied the thirst of the leadership of the Church living in traditional Orthodox lands.  They have no desire for new wine, and thus see no need for new wineskins.

The Episcopal Assembly however is able to look at the situation from a new point of view.  The appropriateness and implications of Christ’s parable for our situation are much more obvious when we realize we have had to drink of the new wine, and so we need new wineskins as well  (and note in the photo how large the wineskin is!). 

We who live in North America are the ones who have to reconcile our situation to the teachings of Christ in the new world.  We have to understand how the new garment, the new wine and the new wineskins parables are to guide us into maintaining our unity with each other as well as with the mother churches and with the Church’s canonical thinking throughout history.

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