“The rainbow shall be in the cloud, and I will look on it to remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” (Genesis 9:16)
The view from my hotel window said it all. There was a beautiful rainbow in the sky over Atlanta. In the photo immediately above you can even detect it was a double rainbow – the 2nd is about 1/3 of the way from the right side of the photo. The rainbow reminds us that God, according to Genesis 9:16, is looking at the same thing that we are at the same time. For us Orthodox, it certainly means that outside the liturgy, in nature, we can focus our attention on something and realize God is gazing at the same thing we are at that moment. We can meet God’s gaze in space and time. Not that God is not paying attention to creation the rest of time, but in the rainbow we have a unique experience of looking at something that also catches the Creator’s attention and God remembers all of humanity and all creation in that experience.
Perhaps a good sign for the Orthodox Church in America which is holding its All American Council in Atlanta. Certainly the infamous “days of trouble” (as they have been frequently dubbed) – scandal and failed episcopal leadership – are part of our past history. And the OCA navigated those turbulent waters without the intervention of government (friendly or hostile) and without the intervention of a mother church in a foreign land. The OCA, not a child anymore, has accomplished what an autocephalous church must do – deal with internal problems, apply appropriate discipline and fix the problems. Other Orthodox jurisdictions may wag their heads as they look at the troubles the OCA has experienced and see us as weakened and on the verge of collapse, but we have gained by our experience. We have been forced to deal with our problems and to overcome them. We exposed our problems rather than denying them. We have survived, which also lays a good foundation for our wrestling with the future.
I am reminded completely of the story form Exodus 14 of the Israelites escaping Egypt with Pharoah’s army in hot pursuit. Trapped by the Red Sea, the people furious with Moses for getting them trapped between the sea and the Egyptians, Moses, confident that God will save them, cries out to his fellow Israelites:
“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.”
God will save us, He will do it all! But, NO, that is not what God does. For in the very next line, God puts salvation on the shoulders of Moses:
The LORD said to Moses, “Why do you cry to me? Tell the people of Israel to go forward. Lift up your rod, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, that the people of Israel may go on dry ground through the sea. And I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they shall go in after them, and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, his chariots, and his horsemen.
What is God going to be doing in this desperate situation?
He is going to be goading the Egyptians to attack!
That’s what He offers. He asks Moses, “Why are you crying to me to save you?” “You lead the people into the sea.”
I find this one of the best stories in the Old Testament. Poor Moses sees the stage is set for God to miraculously save them, only to be told by God, “Why are you crying to me? I appointed you as their leader, so lead them!”
The OCA has gone through a similar experience. We had to rely on our divinely appointed leadership to get us through and out of the trap we had gotten ourselves into. Those were the times of trouble, and leadership has emerged, as has the OCA from the trap it was in. A resurrection like the Israelites experienced in the Exodus. We had to do it not by fleeing one land into another, but by affirming that in this land, we are the autocephalous Church and we have to deal with our problems, no matter how much we have been the cause of them.
The adoption of the revised Statutes as this AAC, the implementation of strict rules of best practices in financial matters – transparency and accountability – and in dealing with clergy misconduct and sexual misconduct in the church, all are signs that the OCA has come through these rough waters in a more healthy fashion and much matured. We have been battered, but we better understand what God’s love demands from us in North America in the 21st Century.
For me personally, there is also some relief and comfort in the sense that I can trust my Metropolitan and my bishop. No longer do I feel the need to play the diocese against the central church, or to have to choose which is the lesser of two evils. Those were feelings that were even cultivated by a former chancellor and seemed so necessary to survive as a priest. I no longer feel hypocritical about asking many years for our episcopal leadership. The raging wars are now in the culture, but in many ways these are outside the Church itself.
“Glory to You, building your church, haven of peace in a tortured world.” (from the Akathist, “Glory to God for All Things”)
For a long time it seemed to me the Church was as tortuous as the world itself. But what I have found at this year’s AAC is that I am at peace in my Church, the OCA. Thanks be to God. May God grant many years to Metropolitan Tikhon and Bishop Paul.