This is the 2nd blog in this series in which I am reflecting on the Keynote Address of Metropolitan Jonah to the 2010 Canadian Archdiocesan Assembly regarding the Episcopal Assembly. The first blog is Reflections on the OCA, Autocephaly & the Future (1). I’m not going to repeat the Metropolitan’s entire address, but I will quote the specific portions of his speech which on which I’m offering my own reflections. You can read the entire speech at the above mentioned link.
In the previous blog I puzzled over what conciliarity means in the church today. The Metropolitan has pointed it out as a special trait of the OCA’s tradition, and yet his recent announcement of his intent to move the OCA headquarters to Washington, DC, seems to have been a unilarteral decision on his part, with no consultation with the Metropolitan Council, the Chancery Staff, the Diocese of Washington, or perhaps even with his fellow bishops on the Synod. If conciliarity implies some type of open discussion, discernment and then decision, it is hard to see this happening in these recent events.
I’ll turn to some other comments Metropolitan Jonah made in his Canadian speech.
[MJ}: However, the autocephaly itself causes many problems as it saw in the reactions of the other churches.
These words make me ask: Was the church in America without problems before the OCA was created? The autocephaly was NEEDED at the time it was given. It has in fact stood as a challenge to all Orthodox jurisdictions in America to think about Orthodoxy, unity, and the Church as Church and not simply as an extension of foreign ethnic interests in America. The OCA has led all Orthodox to have to think about what being ORTHODOX in America means. These are good problems and good questions which we need to answer.
Even if there were no autocephalous Church in America, would the other dioceses be any closer to unity or even discussing unity? I venture the opinion that it is the existence of the OCA which has kept unity a topic of discussion among the Orthodox jurisdictions in Amnerica. No jurisdiction has made Orthodox unity a priority as the OCA has.
Autocephaly may have caused problems, but not all of them were bad, and some of them were needed for Orthodoxy in America to embrace its own mission to this continent and in the present time.
As the Synod of Bishops in its recent, Pastoral Letter to the Clergy, Monastics and Faithful of the Orthodox Church in America on Autocephaly (Nativity Fast, 2010):
“As envisioned in the Tomos, we believe that the autocephaly given to us will be fully realized when the promise of Orthodox unity in North America is fulfilled, and the OCA together with all the Orthodox faithful in North America become one united Autocephalous Church of America, recognized by all other Orthodox Churches.”
Autocephaly has not just caused problems, it has also opened hearts and minds to the real mission of Orthodoxy in America.
[MJ}: Autocephaly is a status within this system that prescribes a set of relationships with the other churches that, of necessity, must be entirely mutual. By unilaterally granting autocephaly to the OCA in 1970, those relationships were only partially established.
In the recent histories of granting autocephalous status to the various churches of Europe, each autocephaly caused and problem and was not immediately accepted by all the other Orthodox churches (just read Bogolepov’s TOWARD AN AMERICAN ORTHODOX CHURCH). The OCA’s experience is not even unique in this. And certainly, once we get beyond the “foreign” interests of the Mother Churches, we have to begin to ask ourselves about having an indigenous church. There are a sizable number of converts who are interested in learning how to be Orthodox in America, not how to become ethnically reoriented. They are most interested in knowing how to be Christian in an Orthodox manner; it is our task to discern how to live this out in America as Americans.
[MJ}: By some in the Greek world, they were categorically rejected and some of the churches are ambivalent. This played itself out in the exclusion of the OCA from the Executive Committee of the Episcopal Assembly in its non-recognition by Constantinople of having the right to vote as an Autocephalous Church.
The exclusion of the OCA from the Executive Committee of the EA is not the OCA’s biggest problem. The EA is an attempt to deal with the non-canonical situation in America, it is an attempt by the Mother Churches to deal with each other and with their dioceses in America. The OCA is not in the same category as these other churches. We are an autocephalous church, not some diocesan extension of a Mother Church. So we are not hurt at the moment by being excluded from the EA’s Executive Committee. They have to work out their problems with each other and then they can look at us. We ought to sit there as a reminder that we exist, but we don’t face the same problems as all of the other jurisdictions who are tied to Mother Churches. We should actively cooperate with the EA process, even if only to the level that they will allow us. We still exist, we are not going away and they will still have to figure out their relationship to us, once they figure out their relationships to each other.