The recent resignation of Metropolitan Jonah has again caused some to claim the OCA is too immature to have autocephaly. As proof of the OCA’s immaturity they point out that once again a problem has occurred with a metropolitan that required the Synod of Bishops to take action and request the metropolitan to step down.
Yet, maturity by definition means to have attained some fully developed state, and it seems as if the Synod of Bishops is acting in a mature way by seeing a(nother) serious problem and addressing it as is in their power to do. There is accountability in the Church, and the Synod has a responsibility to deal with problems that exist at the episcopal level in the Church. However much the OCA may be struggling with its stability and the office of the Primate, it is dealing with its problems in a mature way. The Synod is not being governed by fatalistic determinism which would say “there is a problem with the Primate but there is nothing that can be done about it, we will just have to suffer.” Rather they are taking an active role in guiding the OCA through difficult times. And they are doing it with a certain degree of transparency. They are not pretending there are no problems.
The situation reminds me again of the experience of Moses in the Old Testament which I wrote about in a February 2008 blog, Why Do You Cry to Me? (the context for that blog than as now was the OCA dealing with its internal problems). I’ll quote the blog here:
In Exodus 14:15, the fleeing Israelites find themselves in dire straits – trapped by a sea on one side and the pursuing Egyptian army on the other; they have nowhere to go and bitterly criticize their “liberator” Moses for having led them to their scandalous and inescapable situation. Moses boldly tells the tremulous people, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will work for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be still” (Exodus 14:13-14).No doubt, Moses believed every word he spoke, and he too intended to sit back and watch what God would do for them. But the LORD, who has a habit of demanding synergy at the darndest times, “said to Moses, ‘Why do you cry to me? Tell the people of Israel to go forward’” (14:15). The ball was in Moses’ court, not God’s. It was Moses’ move, not God’s. God is not going to do for His people what they have to do for themselves.
The Synod may have been looking for a clear sign from God, but they had to do what Moses had to do: move ahead as the leaders of God’s people. We have to act in concert with God. From the same 2008 blog, the Noah story is edifying as well:
God warned Noah of the impending flood with which He was going to destroy the earth. God informs Noah of this cataclysm, but does the LORD build Noah an ark? NO. God tells Noah to build the ark. Salvation is not a spectator sport – you either participate or you lose.
So the OCA Synod of Bishops did what it had to do and what it is supposed to do when there are problems at the episcopal level of the Church. That is maturity, for indeed it was a difficult decision to make considering our recent history. No one, especially not the bishops, wanted to have to ask another metropolitan to step down.
“But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their faculties trained by practice to distinguish good from evil.” (Hebrews 5:14)
The bishops were called upon to discern, to distinguish between good and evil, which is a sign of maturation according to the Epistle to the Hebrews. I do see the decision made as being quite mature for the OCA, and it does for me call to mind two other passages from St. Paul that mention maturity.
“And his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ; so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the cunning of men, by their craftiness in deceitful wiles. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every joint with which it is supplied, when each part is working properly, makes bodily growth and upbuilds itself in love.” (Ephesians 4:11-16)
There was a need to speak “the truth in love” so that we can continue to grow into Christ. The bishops exercised their gifts and their office to build up the Body of Christ and bring us to that mature manhood.
“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. Let those of us who are mature be thus minded; and if in anything you are otherwise minded, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained.” (Philippians 3:13-16)
The OCA was gifted with autocephaly and the bishops have demonstrated that they are holding onto that autocephaly which we have attained. Like St. Paul the OCA continues to strain forward to what lies ahead.
See Archbishop Nathaniel’s Letter and the Future of the OCA