The Episcopal Assembly’s Odd Man Out: The OCA?

This blog is a belated follow-up to the blogs Autocephaly, the OCA and the Episcopal Assembly and Mother Churches?

1st North American Episcopal Assembly

While the Episcopal Assembly is working toward uniting the various Orthodox jurisdictions in North America, it also has to deal with the issue of the relationship of the various jurisdictions in America, not just to each other, but also with their respective “mother” churches.  Any attempt to bring an ecclesiastical/hierchical unity has to deal with the relationship of all jurisdictions and parishes in America to their mother churches overseas.   All the parishes will have to decide whether they can relate to each other as parishes in America or whether they can only relate to each other as their mother churches permit; unless, of course, the mother churches agree on jurisdictional unity and order their diaspora parishes to embrace the leadership and vision of a proposed unity.   

For the OCA,  our relationship to our “mother” church has already been resolved and is not a problem.  The Russian Orthodox Church granted autocephaly to the OCA in 1970, and so our bishops have no mother church to which they have to answer and so don’t have this additional layer of complexity to deal with in resolving jurisdictinoal separation (read some answers to questions on autocephaly by Fr. Thomas Hopko).   

So, the OCA’s sitting at the Episcopal Assembly table with a lesser status than the other jurisdictions is actually appropriate.   We are watching to see how the other jurisdictions are going to deal with their relationships to their mother churches in order to make unity in America possible.    In some sense we do sit apart from the rest. The other jurisdictions’ bishops most still represent the interests and positions of their mother churches.  We in the OCA have no overseas interest that we represent.  The Episcopal Assembly (apparently in the mind of the mother churches who created them) is to help the jurisdictions sort through their own loyalties and dependencies.   The OCA’s  loyalty is to the Orthodox Christians in America and to the Orthodox mission to be an indigenous church.   Unlike the bishops of the other jurisdictions, OCA bishops don’t have to figure out what a “mother church” wants or expects us to accomplish.  We are free to work out church unity ourselves because we have autocephaly.  That is the gift the Russian Orthodox Church gave to us, and ultimately to all Orthodox in America.

The other jurisdictions have to sort out whether they are diaspora and dependencies of a mother church or whether their focus is to be Orthodox Christians living in North America. They have to whether they are to remain loyal to their old world patriarch or to the wishes of a different old world patriach in their effort (if they are sincere) to attain Orthodox Church unity in America.  There is going to be for the other jurisdictions a real issue of choosing between Orthodox unity and loyalty to the plans and will of their mother churches.  For the OCA, this decision has already been made back in 1970.

These issues of discerning the will of the mother churches and what they want for their parishes in America simply are not the challenge facing the OCA. We can offer advice to the other jurisdictions and parishes based on our own 40 years of experience, but we cannot resolve the challenges they face based on their loyalties to their mother churches.   Our challenge as the Orthodox Church in America is not to discern or enact the wishes and plans of the mother churches but rather to incarnate our loyalty to Jesus Christ and to His Church in America. We are not going back anywhere, we are not diaspora but rather if we have any homeland on earth we live as Christians in North America.   We have a Synod in this country and stand ready to help any other jurisdiction to become also the Orthodox Church in America, in whatever form that is to take as an autocephalous church.

St. Innocent

We have been struggling really hard with being an autocephalous church including dealing ourselves with our recent scandals, weaknesses, and failures,  as well as in dealing with an American mindset and American values.   We, like every Orthodox jurisdiction in America, are figuring out relating to the American ideal enshrined in the separation of church and state and in the extreme importance placed  on the individual over and against any social institution.  But, then, unlike all of the other jurisdictions we do not have to also determine our relationship to an overseas patriarchate or another government or a different culture.    This is what autocephaly means for us.  This is what the OCA brings to the table of the Episcopal Assembly.

23 thoughts on “The Episcopal Assembly’s Odd Man Out: The OCA?

  1. Marc Trolinger

    It could very well be that the OCA’s recent house cleaning, and the agreed upon search for a unification solution by the various old world jurisdictions, are creating a real positive opportunity for unity and an enhanced outreach mission. Even if the EA fails to come to an agreement, the OCA’s current structure of ethnic and geographical diocese offers a viable alternative. If the OCA takes the lessons of past failures to heart and strives to follow the Holy Spirit’s guidance, the Orthodox Church of Christ here in North America will be blessed.

    1. Fr. Ted

      I agree. To some extent the OCA has to wait and see what the other jurisdictions are willing to do to achieve unity and then join in bringing the autocephaly to the table.

  2. Ioann

    Are there anyone else like me, a former American-First Orthodox (OCA) who has since converted to Orthodox-First-Then-American, who is thankful for the Russian Orthodox Church especially the ROCOR who will always(God willing and through the prayers of Panagia) hold the line and stand apart and on its own when the while the American-First-Eastern Rite Protestantizers minimalize and revise versions of Orthodoxy into irrelevance in order to be “truly American?”

    1. Gregory

      Pray hard, Ioann: “Yes, Lord and King! Let me see my own faults and not judge my brothers and sisters…” (Lenten Prayer of Saint Ephraim the Syrian). That is truly the way of Jesus the Christ, and thus the Orthodox Christian tradition. Grandstanding just leads to a greater height from which one suffers a harder fall.

  3. Ioann


    The irony here is that the American Firsters hiding behind the cover of “jurisdictional unity” as a means to break away from the Orthodox Church in the “Old World” are the ones who are grandstanding. The AF’s talk AS IF “jurisdictional unity” was the one thing needful, the one thing that is impeding the mission of sharing the Gospel with the rest of the country. Thankfully for the wider Orthodox Church, the AFs are just a legend in their own mind.

    Anecdotally, this is true from my experience in meeting “non-ethnic” converts in jurisdictions outside the primary AF parishes, the ones who share with their “ethnic” brethren a puzzled “Who?” or “Wha?” when the names of the primary AF jurisdictions are mentioned or when their arguments for a “truly American” Orthodox Church are brought forth. The response I share with them is, “Who needs it?” Who indeed?

  4. Ioann

    American Firsters have yet to propose any framework for the resolving the many ecclesial differences among the Orthodox Church in America (meaning all of the Orthodox in America including the OCA) like the Church Calendar, mysteriological/sacramental issues especially the reception of converts or the issue of marriage in the church of the”married in the world” converts, fasting, confession before communion. And then their are the liturgical anomalies like one jurisdiction’s practice of “general confession” that has largely replaced personal confession.

    How would a “truly American” Patriarch flatten all of these differences? To each their own? Well that’s how the Orthodox Church in America (including the OCA) is already doing it. Should all the jurisdictions agree to the the least common denominators in these areas? Would the formerly-Russian/ROCOR parishes be forced to give up their tradition of confesssion before communion? Would the OCA be forced to give up “general confession” or would this truly American Patriarch force “general confession” on all of the other jurisdictions?

    So there are a lot more issues involved here beyond “let’s break up with the Mother Churches” that give members of the Orthodox Church in America (including the OCA) pause about “jurisidictional unity.” Where some Orthodox would see market-driven innovation (“This will really bring the converts in!”) others might see compromise and the watering down of the faith. Where some Orthodox would see a return to tradition (“This will really bring us closer to God!”), others might see legalism and cry, “Pharisee!”

    American Firsters, please give us a plan on how you plan to iron out these differences.

    1. Fr. Ted

      Once the apostles rejected sectarianism by embracing the Gentiles and embracing God’s revelation of universal resurrection and salvation, they invited diversity into the Church. The struggle for how this diversity is to be lived out in our local Eucharistic communities as well as in the relationships between communities is the subject of much of the New Testament as well as the history of Orthodoxy.

      Sectarianism, the position you seem to advocate, was rejected by the Church from the beginning. The Nicene Creed proclaims a faith in one, holy, catholic and apostolic church. It doesn’t define that oneness in sectarian terms but in catholic terms. The church is all encompassing, not because of its narrowness but because it is the eternal Son of God who unites us in His Body. The Church is not now nor was it ever a monolith. The diversity of ideas is clear from the beginning in their being 12 apostles, not one pope, in their being four accounts of the Gospel not one homogenized version, in the disagreements between Sts. Peter and Paul and James.

      No monolithic or sectarian solution is required for the church to find its oneness and affirm its catholicity in America.

      In Star Trekian terms, we are not Borg, as you seem to desire.

      We are a community based in love, and in love we are to embrace each other, the strong and the weak as St. Paul described it.

  5. Ioann

    In others words, American Orthodox sectarianism is wide and broad.

    Sorry, still not a selling point for those of us in the Orthodox Church in America (including the OCA) who treasure our connection to the Mother Churches.

    They are our anchor and our inspiration in these evil times. Think on the Holy New Martyrs of Russia, Elders of Optina, Mount Athos, Elder Paisios, Elder Joseph the Hesychast, Elder Cleopa of Romania, etc. Until the Orthodox Christians in America (including the OCA) produces such anchors, then most of us will stick with the Old School.

    1. Fr. Ted

      Your ideas are simply part of the church, but the church is not limited by or to your ideas. You can look to the past and hope in some glorious age. That is what some Christians do in the Church. But it is not the entire story of the Church.

      “Brethren, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,  I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14).

      We are not trying to move toward the past, we are straining ahead into the eschaton, toward the Kingdom. That is where we meet Christ. Everything in this world including the past still belongs to the fallen world and is not yet the Kingdom.

      In the Creed we profess our hope: “I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.” Our hope is not in the past, no matter how glorious it may have appeared to be. The form of this world is passing away (1 Cor 7:31).

      There were saints in every generation and still are. The Holy Spirit continues to live in the Church.

    2. Dean Calvert

      Dear Ioan,

      I’ve read thru your comments. You raise some interesting questions about consistency of practices here in America – none of which could not be resolved by locally elected bishops, sitting in synod. And to those, I would simply add that if we do NOT solve the problems (ie, your “flatten”), then 30 years from now we are not going to have 15 different “jurisdictions”, but rather 15 different “denominations”…each with their own quaint Eastern looking traditions…a reason for unity if there ever was one!

      However, when you start referring to your treasured links with the Old World patriarchates, I really had to laugh. My family has been Orthodox for 33 generations, and was in Constantinople at the time of the Fall.

      All I can say is “Thank God” the Russians did not take your advice (keep our treasured links with Constantinople) in the 1450’s, or the following letter would never have been sent:

      “We beseech your Sacred Majesty not to think that what we have done we did out of arrogance, nor to blame us for not writing to our Sovereignty beforehand; we did this from dire necessity, not from pride or arrogance. In all things we hold to the ancient Orthodox faith transmitted to us, and so we shall continue to do until the end of time. And our Russian Church, the holy metropolitanate of Russia, requests and seeks the blessing of the holy, oecumenical, catholic, and apostolic church of St. Sophia, the Wisdom of God, and is obedient to her in all things according to the ancient faith; and our father, the Lord Iona, metropolitan of Kiev and all Russia, likewise requests from her all manner of blessing and union, except for the present recently appeared disagreements.”

      …and the Old World patriarchate which spawned the ROCOR and the OCA, links to which you treasure, would not exist.

      Go read your history books….local churches are the uncontested tradition, and secret weapon of, the Orthodox. Our faith was never intended to remain fossilized in the 10th century – and St. Photios would be spinning in his grave at the thought of globe girdling jurisdictions (which you seem to favor).

      Our Church Fathers were geniuses…they prescribed governance according to a geographic franchise system.

      Only in America have we bastardized this tradition….and the result is that after 200 years of being on this continent – when you mention the word, “Orthodox,” most people think you are referring to Jews.

      We have two choices in America – either we unite under a single local church, or we choose to die. The declining membership rates of ALL of the ethnic churches prove that beyond a shadow of a doubt.

      Best Regards,
      Dean Calvert

  6. Ioann

    Re: “There were saints in every generation and still are. The Holy Spirit continues to live in the Church.”

    Who are these saints in America and are they also pushing for “jurisdictional unity?”

    The living saints (or the Church Militant variety) that I am aware of are shining brightly “over there” in the Old Country for all of the Orthodox in the world (including the Orthodox Church in America which of course includes the OCA) to see.

    I want to be closer to them, not farther away. Why should I distance myself where they reside in the Mother Churches just to satisfy the egos of the few American Firsters?

    1. Fr. Ted

      I would recommend reading Luke 6:32-36 (and Matthew 5:43-46):

      “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.  And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.  And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again.  But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish.  Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”

      Rather than engage in derisive name calling, better to think about the words of our Lord. He did command us to love our neighbors and our enemies, but He didn’t say much about loving holy men. It is easy to love those who love us – even sinners do that. We are called to love those who we don’t much love. Loving the saints who are far away and remote or off in heaven, well even sinners can love like that. Loving neighbor, fellow Ameircans, “American firsters” as you call them, well that requires the love of Christ.

      I ‘ll stick with the sinners, for Christ came to seek and call them (Mark 2:17, Luke 5:31-32). The righteous don’t need Christ or his love.

  7. Ioann

    I’m happy that you as a who will stick with sinners like myself, but as a sinner I’d still like to know who are the saints in the Orthodox Church in America (including the OCA) who are calling for “jurisdictional unity?”

  8. Ioann

    Sorry for the mistyping:

    I’m happy that you as a priest will stick with sinners like myself, but as a sinner I’d still like to know who are the saints in the Orthodox Church in America (including the OCA) who are calling for “jurisdictional unity?”

    1. Fr. Ted

      I would think all of them. We all read the same Gospel and understand from John 17 that Christ intended for us to be one.

      Does it make a difference to you which saints call for it? Do you prefer to follow some saints rather than others?

  9. Ioann

    You “would think” but I don’t really know who you might be would-thinking about, so I’d like to know specifically. Who is calling for “jurisdictional unity?” Who are these saints? Can you name them specifically?

  10. Ioann

    From the Gospel of St. John: “And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we.”

    Is it your contention that these words of the Lord Jesus Christ are about “jurisdictional unity” in America?

    1. Fr. Ted

      Christ envisioned some form of unity for His entire Church. We also express that belief in the Nicene Creed: in one Church.

      So it it imperative for Orthodox leaders to be working on this unity, in America and throughout the world.

      Christ didn’t tell us exactly of what this unity consists or how we would obtain it or maintain it. But that is what the appointed leadership is supposed to be working on. The bishops for one have the responsibility to maintain the unity of the Church. While saints and prophets may call the church to this divine oneness, it is the responsibility of the bishops to establish it and maintain it. This is somewhat the issue which St. Cyprian of Carthage dealt with in his day – the bishops have this gift and responsibility to maintain the unity of the church. This is a responsibility that even confessors don’t have, as holy as they may be.

  11. Yianni

    Re: “some form of unity”

    If not “jurisdictional unity” then what?

    Unity in faith. Unity in love. Unity in purpose.

    Can these types of unity exist within the Orthodox Church in America (including the OCA) without “jurisdictional unity”?

    Since the beginning of the Church, there have been leavings. Groups of believers leaving the Church for one reason or another to:

    – Either go back to their old ways: “From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.” – John 6:66

    – Or to go out to do their own thing: “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.” – 1 John 2:19

    It would be naive to believe that these types of going-out are still not occurring within the Orthodox Church in America (including the OCA) and are at least part of the reason for the lack of unity in not just jurisdiction, but in faith and praxis.

    If there is to be jurisdictional unity in the future, it will surely be jurisdictions who will ally themselves like unto like. In other words, there will still be jurisidictions in the Orthodox Church in America (including the OCA) in the future but less of them.

    The line that will separate these jurisdictions will probably be one of praxis, the working out of our common Faith.

    To put it crudely, it will be the Traditionalists (ones who will be derided by the other side as Old Country/Ethnic/Traditionalist) on one side and on the other side, the American-style Renovationists (who will be derided by the other side as Anti-Traditionalist/Eastern Rite Protestant/Renovationist).

    Which side will be the ones who kept the Faith? Which side will be the ones who left it?

    The truth will out.

  12. Diogenes

    What you are missing is that all of those in control of the Ep. Assembly are trying to marginalize the OCA and treat it as a non-entity. SCOBA with + Ireney & Fr. Schmemann began SCOBA of which The Ep. Assembly is the daughter. It’s pretty clear that the Greeks wish to pretend that they, and only they, are the originators of Orthodox unity under their own rules. Yes, the OCA no longer has it’s problems with the “old country patriarchs,” but to ignore the only indigenous, canonical, autocephalous Orthodox Church in North America is unconscionable. It is another revelation of how those who made the rules of the Ep. Assembly for N. Am. have no clue. As Met. Philip said, “There was no reason to eliminate SCOBA; at least SCOBA had a constitution!”

    1. Fr. Ted

      If you read Bogolepov’s TOWARD AN AMERICAN ORTHODOX CHURCH, you realize the granting of self governing status has a very twisted history, heavily influenced by vicissitudes of life. The Russian Church and Constantinople have been engaged in Byzantine politics over these issues for centuries. Bogolepov’s history would make me say that the Episcopal Assemblies have less to do with Orthodox unity than they do with Orthodox power as manifested in the ability to grant and recognize autonomy and autocephaly to emerging territorial church entities. To a large extent, the OCA would be best suited by not playing the game of trying to be on the winning side, and just grow the church in America. Even if there are periods of non-recognition (whatever that means and however it is manifested – again see Bogolepov’s history of the various experiences of the self governing Orthodox churches in Russia and central & Eastern Europe), the Orthodox world cannot for long ignore a self governing Orthodox church that is growing.
      The OCA should embrace its own vision and work to incarnate that Church in America.

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