Members of the Church – the Body of Christ

Ephesians 2:14-22 

“For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity.”

Nicholas Afanasiev writes in  The Church of the Holy Spirit (pg 13):

“And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near.  For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father.

Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.

Peter’s teaching on the Church as a “spiritual house” is just another expression of the teaching of Paul on the Church as the body of Christ.  Both are grounded in the primordial tradition going back to Christ himself:  “He spoke of the temple of his body” (John 2.21).  The idea concerning the royal priesthood of the members of the Church stems from the teaching about the Church.

“So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ…tend the flock of God that is your charge…, not as domineering over possessions [of God] (tôn klêrôn) but by being examples to the flock” (1Peter 5.1-3)  In each local church, the Holy Spirit has set apart the presbyters (or bishops) to tend the flock of God (Acts 20.28).  God’s flock which the presbyters tend is their possession (klêros) which they have received from God.  God’s people is one, God’s flock is one and the klêros is one.  Belonging to God’s flock, each member of the Church belongs to the possession that the presbyters tend and through them to the possession (klêros) of God.  Thus one could say that each laic as a member of the people of God is a cleric.”

Autocephaly, America and an Acceptable Time

When will the autocephalous Orthodox Churches embrace the Orthodox Church in America as a sister autocephalous church?

Some have said, “never.”  But the “Mother Church” of the OCA does recognize the OCA’s autocephaly.  So do several of the other autocephalous Orthodox Churches. So part of the Orthodox world already accepts the reality.  Those that have not recognized the autocephaly, still have for the most part granted a de facto recognition by accepting the clergy and faithful of the OCA in Communion.

As Alexander Bogolepov notes in his book, TOWARD AN AMERICAN ORTHODOX CHURCH: THE ESTABLISHMENT OF AN AUTOCEPHALOUS ORTHODOX CHURCH   (written in 1963, 7 years before the OCA officially received its autocephaly from the Moscow Patrachate): 

“Although not recognized de jure, a new Church may enjoy de facto recognition by other autocephalous Local Churches.”  (p 50)

In fact Bogolepov notes that there have often been lags in time (some quite long) between when a local Church saw itself as autocephalous, and when the rest of the Orthodox world also accepted its status:

 “The Patriarchate of Constantinople, for example, had to recognize the self-proclaimed independence of the following Churches in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries:  the Church of Greece in 1850, 17 after it had proclaimed itself autocephalous; the Romanian Church in 1885, 20 years after; the Albanian Church in 1937, 15 years after; the Bulgarian Church in 1945, 72 years after.  In the fourteenth century the Serbian Church was recognized by the Patriarch of Constantinople 30 years after it had proclaimed itself independent (1346, 1375), and  in the sixteenth century the Russian Church–  140 years after (1448-1589).  In the twentieth century the Patriarch of Moscow recognized the Finnish Church 35 years after it had been granted autonomy by the Ecumenical Patriarchate (1923-1958).”  (pp 47-48)

Bogolepov notes there are many exact parallels between why the Russian Church declared itself autocephalous from Constantinople and the OCA’s own situation in the mid-20th Century.  He writes that even though Constantinople refused to recognize the autocephalous status of Moscow for 140 years after Moscow deemed itself autocephalous,  when in 1948, the Russian Church celebrated its 500th Anniversary of its autocephaly, the Ecumenical Patriarch joined the celebration and congratulated them on their 500th Anniversary.  Constantinople not only accepted Moscow’s autocephaly but also Moscow’s timeline and self-understanding for when this happened.

A major difference for Moscow and the OCA is that Moscow was able to assert its own authority over a certain imperial territory and was not just one jurisdiction competing among many for ecclesiastical recognition in Russia.  The OCA remains one jurisdiction among many working in the Americas, and while the other jurisdictions show varying degrees of interest in having all Orthodox under their ecclesial authority; in fact some Orthodox jurisdictions in the America are not interested in competing at all for authority over all Orthodox in America and are content to be one limited jurisdiction among many limited jurisdictions.

The history of how autocephaly is ultimately recognized in the family of Orthodox Churches shows that it takes time.  Moscow waited 140 years, the OCA has so far waited 40 years.   While the OCA has recognized Orthodox unity in America as a priority, its best course of action is to take the current time to establish a viable jurisdiction, and then at an acceptable time it will be recognized by the family of Orthodox sister autocephalous churches.