St Tikhon Enlightener of North America 


Today in the Church we honor the memory of St Tikhon Enlightener of North America. He was a visionary for the future of Orthodoxy in America which in his day was still a missionary diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church. 

… [St Tikhon] noted that the missionary diocese 

‘Is composed not only of different nationalities… which though one in faith, have their peculiarities in canonical order, the office ritual, and in parish life. These peculiarities are dear to each, and altogether tolerable from a general orthodox point of view. This is why we do not consider that we have the right to interfere; On the contrary, [we should] try to preserve them, giving each a chance to be governed directly by chiefs of the same nationality.’

[While St Tikhon did envision unity for all Orthodox in America, he did not insist on uniformity in practice. He accepted that each of the ethnic Orthodox parishes in America were proud of their ethnic heritage and their unique practices were dear to them, so he saw no need to demand uniform liturgical practices but rather welcomed the diversity which existed in Orthodoxy worldwide, especially between the various Orthodox patriarchates but also often within them.] 


In addition to the already existing ‘Russian’ diocese of New York and ‘Arab’ diocese of Brooklyn, Tikhon proposed adding a Serbian ‘diocese of Chicago’ as well as a ‘Greek’ diocese. In effect, Tikhon was the first to recognize that orthodoxy in America had grown beyond a single missionary diocese, but was, in fact, an emerging immigrant church.”  (ORTHODOX CHRISTIANS IN NORTH AMERICA 1794-1994, p 37) 


Today, calls for Orthodox unity in America might do well to distinguish between administrative unity and liturgical diversity. The worldwide Orthodox Church is not a monolith when it comes to liturgical practice or governance. The plethora of practices actually contributes to the fullness of the Church. Unfortunately, some seem to really want uniformity and conformity for all Orthodox in America rather than the unity which Christ prayed for His followers in John 17. As I noted in my post Why Do Christ’s Disciples Not Fast?, it has sometimes been the demand for absolute uniformity in practice which has broken the unity of the Church. St Tikhon seems to have understood this and favored embracing the diversity which is and always has been in Orthodoxy to maintain the unity of the Church. To paraphrase St Irenaeus whom I quoted in that post, our disagreement in practice confirms our agreement in the faith. The Church is one in Christ, even though there are a variety of liturgical practices. 

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