This is the 3rd 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) and the previous blog: Reflections on the OCA, Autocephaly & the Future (2). 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.
[MJ}: Our church, in a sense, if you want to put it into the context of those protocols, is in process. It was proposed. Some of the churches have accepted it, some of the churches are thinking about it, some of the churches have not accepted it. So it’s a process. We’re in process.
The OCA was given a status – autocephaly – in a manner that was consistent with how it was granted by Orthodox Mother Churches at that time (1970). So if 40 years later in 2010 a new process for granting and accepting autocephaly is adopted is called into existence by Orthodox churches, does this mean these new rules are grandfathered to cover past decisions of Orthodox Patriarchs? Just how far back are we to go with this? Can now all past decisions granting autocephaly be revisited? So each time one Orthodox autocephalous church doesn’t like what another is doing can it withdraw its recognition of its self-rule and ask that the whole issue of autocephaly be revisited? Maybe Constantinople would like to revisit the autocephalous status of all the various national churches of Europe? Is this OK with all of these autocephalous churches? I don’t imagine it would be. The OCA’s autocephaly was granted in a legitimate manner consistent with how it had been done in the years following the collapse of the Turkish empire.
[MJ}: The implication of autocephaly is that the universally recognized autocephalous church in a particular region becomes the criterion of canonicity and any other bodies within that region must submit to it. This has obviously not happened, and the other churches have reacted variously to our autocephaly.
Maybe the imagery is simply wrong. Maybe what happens (or should happen) in a region such as the United States where there are many Orthodox jurisdictions is that because of brotherly love, Orthodox local churches/parishes/diocese band together recognizing the need to cooperate, recognizing the ethics of brotherly peace in accepting authority. The image of submitting to a power is exactly the non Christ-like problem which bedevils the Church at times. Once you start talking about groups of Christians living in submission to power, you have lost love, fraternity and Christianity. Matthew 23:1-12 or any of Jesus’ discussions about which disciple is greatest, tell us that brotherly love is the only way for Christians or Orthodox jurisdictions to approach one another. If we can’t do that, then no external authority is going to make that happen either. The OCA and each archdiocese must approach each other in brotherly concern, not expecting or fearing submission, but looking for mutual love and concern. The issue is not who submits to whom, but how do we cooperate in brotherly love. Autocephaly is part of the Orthodox equation in America, surely the Orthodox can figure out in fraternal love how to deal with that reality even if it takes another 40 years.
Personally I do not see the Mother Churches working any faster on Orthodox unity in America if autocephaly is off the table.
In America there is no secular power forcing us or even encouraging us to work through our issues of disunity and multi-jurisdictionalism. This is an internal Church issue which we should resolve as Christians, not using the civil images of power, authority and submission to the powerful, but rather relying on Christian notions of fraternity, and mutual submission to one another in love.
[MJ}: The autocephaly was right for its time, but the times have changed, and there are new demands on us.
And was the Patriarchate of Constantinople wrong for its time when the Turks conquered Byzantium? Was the Patriarchate of Moscow wrong for its times when Peter the Great demolished it or when the communists overthrew the Russian Orthodox empire? Times are always changing, which is why autocephaly is so important for Orthodoxy in America. We need the autocephaly so that our hands are not tied by past problems.
Autocephaly was right when it was proposed and it is right today because it continues to challenge us as Orthodox to live up to our Orthodox ideals as Church.
Autocephaly challenges us to think as Christians about what our mission in America really is.
I think it is fair to contend that in fact even the EA process is a response to the challenge of autocephaly. So if the EA is the new process, it means that autocephaly is as relevant as ever to the discussion. By bringing autocephaly to the table, the OCA enriches the EA process and discussion, for autocephaly is a reality for many Orthodox in America and a potential reality for the rest.
The 2010 Statement of the Synod of Bishops on Autocephaly affirms that the bishops of OCA remain committed to an autocephalous church for America. Presumably since Metropolitan Jonah signed that statement, he is committed to it. Autocephaly is being affirmed as right for America at this time. It hopefully will not be limited to the current OCA, but rather will encompass all Orthodox in America, but it is still a goal for Orthodoxy in America to which our Synod has expressed its commitment. Any talk by the Metropolitan of autocephaly being somehow an outdated idea is inconsistent with the vision of the Synod to which he belongs. If anything the OCA is not trying to limit autocephaly to itself but rather is saying it was given to us for all Orthodox in America. Autocephaly as conceived by the OCA’s Synod of Bishops is inclusive not exclusive.