The OCA and Spiritual Maturity

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.

St. Paul

“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

14 thoughts on “The OCA and Spiritual Maturity

  1. Pingback: An Explanation for Metropolitan Jonah’s Resignation | Fr. Ted's Blog

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  3. dshortimon

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and wisdom on this. It always amazes me how many times that those who disagree with a decision made by leaders resort to calling them names or in this case immature. I agree with you that it take true maturity to risk being disliked or challenged and make the right decision. I do not have all of the details of the decision, but I trust that God has place the men in our Synod there for His purpose. Can we then call God immature in His decision? May it not be so!

    1. Fr. Ted

      Some are saying that if the Holy Spirit guided the election of Metropolitan Jonah as so many thought when it happened, then what is to be claimed now, that the Holy Spirit made a mistake?

      No, if there was a mistake, it was ours. An ordination of a priest or a consecration of a bishop or an election of a metropolitan is supposed to also be our discerning the Lord’s will. We are working with the Holy Spirit (synergy) or at least are supposed to be. So we bear responsibility if we didn’t discern correctly. But it is also possible that the election was indeed God’s will and God has been leading us through these trying times to correct and teach us.

      St. John of Karpathos wrote: “Peter was first given the keys, but then he was allowed to fall into the sin of denying Christ; and so his pride was humbled by his fall. Do not be surprised, then, if after receiving the keys of spiritual knowledge you fall into various evil thoughts. Glorify our Lord, for He alone is wise: through setbacks of this kind He restrains the presumption that we tend to feel because of our advance in the knowledge of God. Trials and temptations are the reins whereby God in His providence restrains our human arrogance.”

  4. Appreciate your post Fr Ted. Looking from afar I do see much maturity in the recent handling of the resignation. That distance also causes confusion in seeing much outward of Met Jonah’s leadership that brought great promise.

    The item that most confuses me is the regularity that the autochephaly is promoted. Again my distance from the OCA geographically may provide some of that but watching many sermons and reading much inter-waffle I cannot fathom the stress placed on it’s importance.

    Hopefully with many others I am praying for the Synod and the Met Jonah for continuing maturity as this story continues.

    1. Fr. Ted

      Regarding autocephaly, all I can say is that it was given to the OCA and understood by the OCA as a potential way to solve the uncanonical situation of Orthodoxy in America by giving the Orthodox a chance to organize themselves and deal with the problems here. It meant we wouldn’t have to wait for the “Mother”Churches to impose their solution on us, but we would have the responsibility to deal with particularly American problems facing the Orthodox Church here.

      I think for many in the OCA the promise was great, but has not yet been realized.

      1. Marc

        To facilitate a greater Orthodox unitiy here in North America, perhaps the OCA should consider using its autocephaly to restructure the office of Metropolitan to be for a limited period of time. This would create a framework that would offer possible appeal to other jurisdictions. As the autocephalous Church grows, it elects a new Metropolitan at each All American Council to serve three years. This would assure that no one group has dominance in the Church.

  5. J. E. Bryant

    What a load of BS. Mature indeed. More like irresponsible. It seems that there is a “governing” faction in the OCA that would be more suited as an “autocephalis” part of the Episcopal Church. It would be appropriate if the Moscow Patriarchate withdrew autocephaly. Three “retired” living Metropolitans? You guys have made the OCA a mess, not entitled to leadership of anything, let alone North America.

    1. A.P.

      I find your comments on maturity a bit ironic. Why the hostility against Fr. Ted? I see nothing Christian in your response. Just because you disagree doesn’t mean you have to respond with the immature response of “BS.”

      1. John Parmagian

        A.P., I think that J.E. is just trying to call it like it is. So he uses the B.S. term – you’ve used it I am sure many a time – as I have in its full expression. Probably Father Ted has too. It is immature to not call a spade a spade – and sometimes the B.S. terminology has to be used. I want to point out that Father Ted, in his response to a response blog, has been very wise to write about how it could be in God’s will and direction for all this to happen – that there is a reason why Bishop Jonah was elected to be Metropolitan and later subsequently resigned. Here is what Fr. Ted wrote: “But it is also possible that the election was indeed God’s will and God has been leading us through these trying times TO CORRECT AND TEACH US .” I capitalized his last five words – because this is exactly what this is all about! Correction and teaching! It is an excellent observation that this event (the forced resignation that Father Ted believes is a sign of the OCA’s maturity) was indeed what the Lord wanted to happen.

        [Fr. Ted’s note: Obviously “John Parmagian” didn’t read what I wrote but reacted to what he wanted to. The sign of maturity in the OCA is not Metropolitan Jonah’s resignation but rather that the bishops encountered a problem which only they as bishops could deal with canonically. They did what they needed to do. They exercised the authority given to them by the canons of the church. That the Metropolitan had to resign is tragic, that his brother bishops realized he needed to resign is institutional maturity. Since “John” so missed my point I will have to say the rest of his analysis is possibly equally flawed and dubious.]

        But here’s the twist. It happened to show that the OCA (as governed by the Synod that ousted Metropolitan Jonah) is incapable of discerning what the Lord’s Holy Spirit wants to do towards its purification. The OCA obviously had a Metropolitan (in Jonah) who was and is a jewel of an Orthodox Christian – the Lord gave him to the OCA to correct the OCA’s faulty direction – away from the previous serious errors related to the scandal of the two previous metropolitans – and what was the result? The “mature” OCA, represented by the Holy Synod (or at least the vocal part of that Synod whose agenda is dictates the agreement of the others) ousted the very person that the Lord sent to put it back on the proper track. The OCA was given the chance to be a respected autocephalous church and they proved themselves incapable. Now the OCA (and it’s claim to autocephaly that will bring unity to America) is seriously being questioned by the Church that made this autocephaly possible – the Russian Orthodox Patriarchate of Moscow. They see the shenanigans, they see the wrong treatment of a very good man, they see the folly that is behind this – and they don’t accept it. I don’t accept it. J.E. above doesn’t accept it – and thousands of others in the OCA – and outside the OCA don’t accept it. Mark the words of this first time blogger (who resisted joining the fray until he saw this laughable writing of Father Ted about how this action against a God-chosen Metropolitan is a clear sign of the OCA’s maturity) that the OCA will soon, by their own actions, be reduced to just an experiment in Orthodox unity in America that failed. The wonderful Fr. Alexander Schmemann and Fr. John Meyendorff, very fine men, had a great idea that they had hoped would bring unity to America – but the people who put themselves in charge of carrying out this vision failed – especially after these luminaries passed on to the next life. Nobody carried the ball toward the end zone – Metropolitan Jonah, who respected and still respects these two men deeply, had the ball but it was batted away from him as he was running the sidelines to the end zone (with nobody from his own team cheering him on). Only the fans in the stands were cheering. And now they are booing. Now the ball is bouncing in an uncontrolled way – and the bounce is getting lesser, on its way to a rolling stop. But there now will be little time on the clock (and the chance of an OCA touchdown is becoming slimmer). Father Ted, at the end of his opening piece, “The OCA and Spiritual Maturity” wrote that: “The OCA was gifted with autocephaly and the bishops have demonstrated that they are holding onto that autocephaly which we have attained.” The fact is that the pristine vision that happened that one fine day in 1970 has been tainted time and time again. When Lord gifted the OCA with autocephaly in 1970 (if indeed it was the Lord’s gift ) it was gifted for a reason – and maybe not with permanence – and perhaps the reason is to show that the way the OCA has developed (with its Synod and Metropolitan Council structure ) is NOT the true model of how unity is to be achieved in America– and that there is a better way. As you have no doubt heard in your lifetime at least once: “THE LORD GIVETH AND THE LORD TAKETH AWAY” (Job 1:21) which is followed by “Blessed be the Name of the Lord.” The vision that the OCA once had is still there – but it is now in the wrong hands, and those leading the OCA now (after the ousting of Metropolitan Jonah) are taking the church into a downward spiral that most anyone can see. The OCA is now being propped up by people who fail to see the writing on the wall – and prefer to call a spade a rose.

      2. Fr. Ted

        While the ultimate judgement of the recent events belongs to God, we will see what happens in the near-term and also what else is revealed about the facts of the case. My analysis is still the OCA is on more secure footing as a result of what the bishops thought necessary to do.

        We can look at what the nascent Christian movement was like 40 years into its existence – what existed of the Church in 70AD? It didn’t have even all of its Scriptures yet. It was only slowly moving into the world as a result of the destruction of Jerusalem. St. Paul was struggling for recognition as an apostle.

        The judgement of history doesn’t occur within weeks of an event. Is the right foundation being put down? That is what the bishops are still working on, and unlike “John” I think the bishops are dealing with the obstacles to our having a sound edifice. But we really are still in our nascent stage, just as the Christian movement was 40 years into its existence. We all wish things were more developed 40 years into the OCA’s existence because we are impatient Americans, but it is worth our taking our time to get the basics right.

  6. Christopher Engel

    “Speaking the truth in love” is the hardest thing we are called to do. It is always difficult to tell certain truths, and even harder to hear them. I for one applaud the Synod on what must have been a heart breaking decision. Mature indeed.

  7. fr. Evangelos Pepps

    May our good bishops always make decisions according to God’s Word as interpreted in the sacred tradition of the Holy Spirit. And may Metropolitan Jonah be rewarded for the much good His Beatitude did for the Church

  8. Pingback: Archbishop Nathaniel’s Letter and the Future of the OCA | Fr. Ted's Blog

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