Racism and the Church

I was at the Cincinnati Art Museum and saw their exhibit Women Breaking Boundaries.  In the exhibit I saw a sculpture of Phillis Wheatley  (1753-1784) who was the first Black poet published in America.  She was captured as a young girl in Africa and brought to America as a slave.  She eventually attained her manumission.   I do not remember ever learning about her, so decided to read her poetry.  It amazes me that someone can master a foreign language so well as to become a poet in that language  – and she really did excel in the King’s English.  More amazing she was able to do this despite spending much of her life as a slave and then dying at age 31.  She must have had great language skills.   She does not excessively focus on her experience as a slave, but did become a fierce defender of Christian Trinitarian theology, even though it was Christian people who enslaved her.  She had to remind her white Christian fellow believers that Blacks are humans, that Christ died for them as well because Black lives matter to the Savior.  In Christ God became human so that humans might become god – that is a Christian truth for every human being.

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Here is a poem she wrote at about age 16:

“On Being Brought from Africa to America”

‘Twas mercy brought me from my Pagan land,

Taught my benighted soul to understand

That there’s a God, that there’s a Savior too:

Once I redemption neither sought nor knew.

Some view our sable race with scornful eye,

“Their color is a diabolic die.”

Remember, Christians, Negros, black as Cain,

May be refin’d, and join the angelic train.

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A good reminder to all of us to see beyond the color of the skin to see the image of God in each person.

I was struck in her poetry how little she identified herself as a slave or African and how she did identify herself as a member of His Majesty’s colonies – she was a loyalist who became an American as our country was born and she embraced the ideals of freedom.  She lived through 1776 and the American revolution.

Some might feel that she somehow fails to take up the Black cause.  But I think what is true of her is that she saw herself first and foremost as a human being, not as an African or African American or Negro or Black or slave or former slave.  She was human forcibly brought to an English colony which became the United States of America.  Her identity was not the color of her skin or place of origin but her humanity.  She  was African, British or American – it was of no matter because it was her humanity which she shared with those around her which was her self understanding.   That is how she was able to so readily identify with her fellow humans and was not separated from them by slavery, by race or nationality.

Each of us is created in God’s image and likeness.  She was able to see beyond the externals right to the heart of the matter.  One needs eyes to see what was obvious to her, despite how other treated her.

Laying Aside our Ideological Weapons

Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has also rejected you … (1 Samuel 15:23)

The political polarity and party spirit which so divides America is becoming so deeply ingrained in the minds of some as to cause them even to judge the Scriptures as being too liberal or too conservative. When Christians view Christianity or the Scriptures through a political lens they lose sight of God’s Word as being literally above partisan politics.  God’s word is meant to challenge us in our thinking so that we consider things not just from an earthly or human point of view but to also take God’s own viewpoint into consideration.

From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once regarded Christ from a human point of view, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself … (2 Corinthians 5:16-18)

And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.  (1 Thessalonians 2:13)

Today even Orthodox Christians can be heard commenting on and judging the Scriptures or a prayer of the Church or a message from Church leadership not from the point of view of God but from that of a political party. We begin to hear people say that scripture sounds liberal or conservative acting as if the American political viewpoint is the standard for measuring God’s word. When we “hear” the Scripture as sounding liberal or conservative, we have already adopted a worldly mind about the Word of God.


We may not like what we read in Scriptures. We may not agree with it. We may not want to do it, but it still remains as God’s word to us. We have to wrestle with what God revealed.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the LORD.  (Isaiah 55:8)

We have to listen to God’s word and allow it to come deep into our hearts and minds in order to either live it or wrestle with it. Otherwise we are at risk to do and to become exactly what the people were in the days when Jesus walked on earth and He warned them that they had ears but could not hear and eyes but could not see.
When we come into the church, we need to lay aside our political prejudices and allow God to speak to us so that we hear God’s word and do it or begin to wrestle with it. But if we accept as a filter for reading the scriptures a political party’s point of view then we have stopped our ears with partisan politics and we will never hear God’s word.
Roman Emperor Theodosius issued an edict in 431AD at the Church Council in Ephesus. Emperor Theodosius was an Orthodox Christian, an Orthodox emperor and is even listed as an Orthodox saint. The Emperor said:

Although we are always surrounded by the lawful imperial weaponry, and it is not fitting for us to be without weapon-bearers and guards; when, however, entering the churches of God, we shall leave our weapons outside and take off the very diadem, emblem of our imperial dignity.

The Emperor said he and his entourage were to leave their weapons and emblems of the imperial dignity outside the church. They entered the church just like everyone else – as sinners in need of salvation. The only way they could truly hear God was to lay aside all their political thinking, their earthly status and even the signs of their political power.

Today we need to do this by laying aside our ideological weapons when we enter the church, so that we can hear the Gospel. We should Leave our ideological attacks and political grenades and partisan weapons outside the church so that we don’t look at God’s word from an earthly point of view, but rather we enter the church with open hearts and minds to hear God fully.

Whether we are on the political left or on the political right, whether we are politically right or wrong, we need to hear the Word of God and to take it home with us and to judge ourselves based on God’s word. We need to pull the liberal and conservative plugs from our ears and remove the conservative and liberal lens from our eyes so that we can see the world as God proclaims it.

For this people’s heart has grown dull, and their ears are heavy of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should perceive with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and turn for me to heal them.  (Matthew 13:15)

Jesus told us that we cannot serve God and mammon. We cannot serve God if we come to the Scriptures or to the Church to judge God by a political ideological point of view. Listen to God first. Don’t react to what God says until you understand His teachings and comandments.

St. Paul said: For though we live in the world we are not carrying on a worldly war, for the weapons of our warfare are not worldly but have divine power to destroy strongholds. (2 Corinthians 10:3-4)

In Acts 4:15-31, the Apostles were arrested by the temple authorities and told not to speak about Jesus any more. They replied: “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge; for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.”  Political parties love it if we take their point of view in order to measure and judge the Scriptures and the Church.  We however are not to see the world from that human point of view but rather are to view every human point of view from the perspective of God’s own will.

In the Church we must speak the word of God and hear it whether we like it or not. Listen to what God says and allow it to enter into your mind and willful choices. Obey it if that is in your heart, and if not, then wrestle with it and ask God why He says things that you find so difficult to do. Carry His Word in your heart so you can take it into your life and home to become a doer of God’s word.

Orthodoxy Celebrating American Religious Freedom

Wishing all my fellow Americans a safe and blessed Independence Day holiday.

“The theory that America is a melting pot no longer seems to be in vogue. Sociologists are pointing more and more to the pluralistic character of American society. Yet, while America is indeed a nation of many people of diverse racial, ethnic, religious, and social backgrounds, who are free to hold and cultivate their customs and languages, no cultural tradition is able to remain completely autonomous or unaffected by the lure of the American Way. The process of Americanization is inevitable and inexorable. Indeed, acculturation becomes easier with each succeeding generation.

There are those, however, who believe that the American Way is suspect and even corrupt. They maintain that to survive Orthodox people are obliged to live as a remnant in artificial islands, isolated from the mainstream of American life. This attitude is not simply myopic but also inherently wrong, because it constitues a betrayal of the Church’s self-understanding and mission. In fact, it is a prescription for the transformation of the Church into a sect and a sure way to erode her internal vitality and to dimish her role as a spiritual force in our society. In response to the moral and spiritual imperatives of the Gospel, we are obliged to rise above every fear, surmount every obstacle, and transcend every prejedice, which would deny the catholicity of the Church, seek to restrict her vision, limit her outreach and mission and seal her doors.

The Church is God’s eternal witness and the sacrament of his love for everyone. The Church is the sign and herald of God’s Kingdom in the midst of the contradictions and anomalies of the fallen world. The Church has no borders and knows no fences. She is the house of all, the universal community. As Orthodox Christians in America we need not abandon our roots nor be apologetic about the fact that we carry with us cultural values that have been hammered out in places and times other than our own. Indeed, this very fact acts to remind us of our responsibility and mission to be active and creative participants in the historical process. We have every right to hope and work for an American Orthodoxy because there are grounds for it in our collective histories.” (Alkiviadis C. Calivas, Essays in Theology and Liturgy: Vol. 2, pp 52-53)

 

Orthodoxy in America

“The Church is in the world, in order to convert and redirect all the realms of natural, personal and social life. Her task is to make people aware of their true destiny and to make history constantly eschatological by illuminating, renewing and transforming the culture of people. This mission obligates every local Church to take root in the nation in which she enacts her life of faith.” (Alkiviadas C. Calivas, Essays in Theology and Liturgy Volume Two: Challenges and Opportunities – The Church in Her Mission to the World, pg.60)

26 June 2011, the 2nd Sunday after Pentecost, is recognized by the Orthodox Church in America and the Antiochian Archdiocese as the Sunday of All Saints of North America.   Most of the canonized Orthodox Saints in America were involved in mission work – helping to establish Orthodoxy in America so that it could be a viable witness to following Christ in the Orthodox way.  Today, we Orthodox enjoy the benefits of the missionary work and accomplishment of our saintly fore-bearers.  It is our turn to take up the cross of Christ and help root this life-giving tree in America.  We are to bear witness to all Americans about Christ, and we are to create a church which welcomes visitors and converts into our communities.  We are to become the saints who are fishers of men.

Reflections on the OCA, Autocephaly & the Future (1)

Ancient Faith Radio has made available for us all to contemplate, the Keynote Address of Metropolitan Jonah to the 2010 Canadian Archdiocesan Assembly regarding the Episcopal Assembly.  It is the beauty of the Internet that it can make available for all, speeches and documents which we then can engage in terms of our blogs and web pages as we continue to take an interest in the well being of the churches of God and the unity of all.  Public discourse on issues of significance in the Church is a healthy thing for the Church, and thankfully their is now a forum – the internet – through which even more members can participate in the decision making process.

Reflecting on the words of Metropolitan Jonah (MJ in the text below), brought to mind some thoughts, questions and comments, which I’ll offer up in this blog series.  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}:  “….the tradition and the particular contributions that the OCA has for the whole American, North American, experience. Particularly, this has to do with a vision of conciliarity on a broad level that is an essential element of our experience of the Church. Conciliarity refers to the Church meeting in Council, initially with the Synods of Bishops. It has come to mean a broader participation by clergy and laity in the decision-making processes of the Church and their inclusion in various levels of councils.”

I  agree with the Metropolitan that  the OCA has consciously in its STATUTES and in its practice worked to be a conciliar church, and this has become part of the very way we in the OCA see ourselves.  We have and continue to wrestle with what conciliarity means in the Church.   What is less clear to me is what this conciliar element means to him in practice.      

I am not clear what he imagines by “broader participation by the clergy and laity in the decision-making processes of the church.”    What exactly does that look like to him?  I would like to see him spell out the details of  how this practically works.    How is he actively promoting this?  What specific actions is he taking to make it happen? 

I ask those questions because I’ve heard him say publicly (but also been attributed to him privately)  pointed criticisms of the Metropolitan Council and the All American Council, including ideas to do away with both as they are currently constituted.    If he were to enact his vision, there certainly would be less participation by the church as a whole in the leadership of the church – parishes and parish members would have far less role in decision making processes on the level of the OCA.  Though he seems to advocate an ideal of working at the level of the local church – whether diocese or parish – I’ve not heard him spell out in any great detail what all he sees the laity doing in the church.     He has also criticized the chancery staff and expressed ideas of favoring a monastic control of the administration of the church which would in fact further exclude married clergy and laity  (and thus the majority of church members) from decision making processes.    If these changes were enacted, the laity and the parish clergy would have far less role in participating in the administration of the church, and their input would be further distanced from the decision makers.

So though I hear our Metropolitan speak in some glowing idealistic terms about conciliarity, on the other hand, I’ve not really seen in his words any practical detail of what his vision would look like for the OCA in the end.   I would like to see him give a better explanation of how he envisions the Church functioning administratively and  to provide some clear ideas as to how the lay membership of the church and the parish clergy are to actively function in the decision-making processes of the church.  In actual practice what does conciliarity look like?

Does “conciliarity” mean that the bishop’s vision is to be realized by the membership who are to be passive when it comes to ideas but active only in actualizing what the bishop wants, or does it mean an actual discourse, dialogue and even debate about vision, goals, policy and procedure?   What happens when the membership of the church has a direction or vision for the Church which is in conflict with the bishop’s (I’m not speaking about a conflict in doctrine, but more of what we commonly think of as ‘vision’)?   What happens when the membership does not share the bishop’s vision or lacks confidence in the bishop’s plans?  What happens if the membership is more inspired or energized than the bishop?   What does conciliarity look like in these circumstances?

These are aspects of conciliarity that have not yet been fully articulated.  Even what does conciliarity imply about the Synod of Bishops’ own decision making?  How do they as synod (a body within the Church) model conciliarity in their own deliberations for the rest of the church?

Next:  Reflections on the OCA, Autocephaly & the Future (2)

Orthodoxy in the World: The Present Future

This is the final blog in this introductory series to the Orthodox Faith.  The First blog is Orthodoxy in the World & Light to the World. The previous blog is Orthodoxy in Dialogue with America.

In general Orthodox throughout the world have viewed the West’s embrace of Enlightenment Ideals  with suspicion.   Orthodoxy does not believe that the rights of the individual should always trump the rights of a nation, society, family or religion.    Because Orthodoxy views the human as a being always in relationship to others, Orthodoxy would want to see individual rights discussions balanced with an emphasis on the right and need to love others which means taking into account the value of society itself.  When it comes to fundamental human rights, Orthodoxy would want to say the most fundamental human right is to be able to love and to be loved (which includes forgiving, asking for forgiveness, repenting, granting mercy, stopping all cycles of revenge).

            As a minority religion in America, and one that has suffered some prejudice and rejection, the Orthodox tried to protect their people by encouraging in the case of inter-marriages that the non-Orthodox person join the Orthodox Church.   Orthodoxy’s own sacramental thinking discourages its clergy and members from any form of interfaith sharing of sacraments and in some case participating in other forms of worship.   In America, because the Orthodox were often perceived as ethnic and therefore different, the refusal of Orthodox to actively participate in ecumenical events often has gone unnoticed.  Orthodoxy believes that Christianity itself was meant to be one church, and has seen the divisions in Christianity and the diversification of Christian liturgies and theology as a negative evil further rupturing human unity.

            Because Orthodoxy does not have a single worldwide leader, but rather is organized along the lines of national churches, it often does not speak with one voice on many social issues.  However, and perhaps somewhat surprisingly, there is a fair amount of agreement among the Orthodox on many contemporary issues, and almost totally agreement on theological issues.   To date the various Orthodox groups in America do not have a unified church leadership, but rather are organized along ethnic lines.  The Orthodox therefore do not have one person or source to which to turn when seeking an Orthodox viewpoint on current issues.    Orthodox Christian leadership has generally taken a “conservative” stance on social issues:  pro-life being opposed to both the death penalty and abortion; opposed to genetic engineering, human cloning and stem cell research; opposed to same sex unions; and supporting family issues and the importance of motherhood in society.   Orthodox Church leaders when addressing the issue have also tended to be in favor of many forms of ecology and question the rapacious effect of consumerism on the environment.

The role of leadership in the church has been hotly debated throughout Orthodox America.   Some Orthodox newly arriving in America find allowing women leadership roles or voting roles in the church to be totally new and questionable.    Even the notion of voting (democracy) in deciding church policies (doctrine has not been debated much anywhere in the modern Orthodox world)  has met serious objections, especially from the hierarchy.    The role of the laity (whether male or female) has been disputed as the church becomes increasingly Americanized.   Bishops and priests sometimes express a fear of losing control of parishes as a result of democratization which they feel has no place in the church and which they sometimes interpret as anti-clerical.  On the other hand, as more of the membership is Americanized and educated, the laity demand more openness, transparency and accountability from their clergy and hierarchs.     Because the country is pluralistic religiously, Orthodox leadership has found it difficult to maintain absolute “denominational” loyalty.   This has caused some church leaders in America to encourage further withdrawal from non-Orthodox gatherings.   Conservative and fundamentalist thinkers are sometimes attracted to Orthodoxy,  pulling the church into that direction as they bring with them their disdain for the “liberalism” of their former denominations.    Many of these converts see the unique dress of Orthodox clergy as signs of the different and thus right ways of the Church.    This has caused numerous other Orthodox to wonder whether Orthodoxy is in fact bringing the faith to America or whether these new converts are in fact reshaping the Church to more closely resemble what they imagine Orthodoxy to mean. 

The challenges for Orthodoxy in America are many – cultural conflicts, as well as trying to discern the difference between Tradition and custom.  There is also the difficult issue of how to bring about Orthodox unity in America when its parishes are organized along ethnic lines or have loyalties to old world politics and patriarchs.  The issue is how does Orthodoxy incarnate the Church in America – what will it look like?  How can it be faithful to its past and tradition and yet able to witness to the Gospel in the 21st Century?

Orthodoxy in Dialogue with America

This is the 18th blog in this introductory series to the Orthodox Faith.  The First blog is Orthodoxy in the World & Light to the World. The previous blog is Orthodoxy in Relationship to Christianity Worldwide.

Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church, Dayton, OH

Orthodoxy entered into America as a true minority religion in an already Christian country.   Technologically the Orthodox came from inferior cultures as they came to North America.   Politically they often arrived  as almost powerless with their fellow Orthodox living in countries dominated by Islam or atheistic communism.    Their initial reaction was often to try to preserve their customs and practices in their small ethnic enclaves to protect themselves from the American culture, which they often experienced as hostile to them.

            During the height of the cold war, many Orthodox coming from communist dominated countries often felt themselves under suspicion of being spies and un-American, despite their frequently ferociously anti-communist stance.    The issues which occupied the Orthodox were often not the contemporary issues of modern America.    Feminism and the ordination of women which have been prominent in religious debates in America have played a very minor role in Orthodox discussions.  Part of this is the result of the fact that American Orthodoxy tends to take its cues on issues from the “old world” and there feminism is still a minor issue.   Orthodox  being very conservative and traditionalist in custom often brought to their meetings and discussions the structures and thinking that dominate in the old world –  not only were the questions “foreign” to Orthodox thinking, but they were calling upon Orthodoxy to make changes it was in no way prepared to make as it struggled (by trying to preserve its past, its tradition) to adapt to and to survive in the new world.

Protection of the Theotokos, Dayton

Orthodoxy in relationship to the American scene has struggled with:

–         America’s extreme individualism (as versus the Orthodox understanding of a human as a being always in relationship to others) – including notions that morality is basically determined by each individual not by society;

–         America’s unconstrained consumerism (as versus a spirituality which emphasizes self denial as the way to love) – including the sense that a constitutionally guaranteed pursuit of happiness means you should consume as much as you want and can afford;  

–         America’s love of things new (versus Orthodoxy’s constantly looking to tradition and the past to understand all things new) – including new ideas about God, morality, and truth;

–         America’s distrust of authority (versus a church which emphasizes hierarchy and tradition) – including a distrust of ancient or traditional ways of doing things;

–         America’s “meritocracy” (versus the Orthodox reliance on entitlement for those in positions of authority) – especially in relationship to bishops who traditionally commanded respect, not because of accomplishments but because of the office they held;  

–         America’s clear separation of church and state (as versus the Orthodox sense that there should exist cooperation, a symphony, between government and religion which are two branches of authority both given by God); and

–         America’s love of democracy and deciding most things by majority rule (as versus the historical Orthodox alignment with empires and kings in which there was not voting, but obedience to decisions handed down from on high) – including a modern tendency in American churches to vote on everything  from morality, to liturgy, to theology and thus to truth.

Next: Orthodoxy in the World: The Present Future

Autocephaly, the OCA, and the Episcopal Assembly

1st Episcopal Assembly

The new effort to bring about Orthodox ecclesial (hierarchical) unity through the Ecumenical Patriarch’s plan of regional Episcopal Assemblies, has presented a challenge to the Orthodox Church in America.  The OCA  (even if only in its own “self mythology”)  saw the autocephaly created by the Russian Church as a means to eventual Orthodox jurisdictional unity in America.  That dream has yet to  materialize and so some see the autocephaly as a dead issue.

I think this may be a premature obituary for the autocephaly. 

For what I think should become clear to all Orthodox in America is that autocephaly was given not just to the OCA, but to all of us – all Orthodox Christians living in North America:  converts, Russians, Canadians, Greeks, Romanians, Serbs, Antiochians, Bulgarians, Americans, Albanians, etc.  Autocephaly is part of the mix of Orthodoxy in America which should be used to the glory of God.    It is the gift from God that the OCA received and thus has the responsibility to bring to the North American Episcopal Assembly because autocephaly is part of the Tradition of Orthodoxy in America.  

The re-visioning that has to be done (a paradigm shift if you want) is one very similar to what I think Christ called the Jews to consider about themselves.  The Jews believed they were given Torah to make them the chosen people, elect by God and separated from all the nations of the world.  They came to see their mission as maintaining their separateness as proof of their election.  Jesus revealed a new vision for Israel – actually an ancient one:  Israel was to be a light to the world, not separated from it to judge it, but a light to attract all people to God. 

The OCA often acted as if autocephaly was given to it, and it alone.  What is being revealed, I think, is that though the OCA received autocephaly, it didn’t receive this gift to separate itself from all the other Orthodox jurisdictions.  Instead it received the gift of autocephaly, like the Jews received the oracles of God, on behalf of all Orthodox jurisdictions, missions and people in America.

The OCA may not have done much with the autocephaly, but that doesn’t mean it is invaluable.   For what the OCA did was to preserve this gift from God and now it realizes its calling by faithfully bringing autocephaly to the table at which all Orthodox bishops in America sit in assembly. 

Autocephaly is part of the mix that God has given us to establish His Church in America.  The OCA must faithfully bring the autocephaly to the Episcopal Assembly table and never allow others to dismiss it for it is part of the God guided history of the Orthodox Church.  Autocephaly is to be used by the Church in America  (currently we have to admit “churches” since the Orthodox do accept jurisdictional divisions) to help it grow and be the Church, not the Russian Church in America, or the Greek Church in America, but to be THE Church in America, the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church of the Holy Trinity.   Autocephaly may have been originally gifted to the OCA, but it is for all Orthodox Christians who reside in North America.  All Orthodox, in whatever jurisdiction they find themselves, should realize the gift as part of our history in America, and come to value it as much as they value their own current jurisdictional attributes.

The oracles of God were given to the Jews long before they could understand their importance.  When the Christ came, the Jews did not recognize Him, despite their having the Torah and the prophecies which pointed to the Christ and whose meaning was revealed in Christ.  The oracles were nevertheless essential for salvation.   Thanks be to God the Jews didn’t discard the words given to them because they made no sense or because they didn’t think they were being fulfilled or because they were suffering in the desert or in exile.   Neither should we Orthodox discard the autocephaly given to all Orthodox in America.   However little we understand it, however little we imagine it being a key gift to the Church as a whole, we like the Jews must preserve it until we see its treasure revealed to us.  It is a birthright granted to Orthodoxy in America by the grace of God.

See also my blog  Mother Churches?

Bishop Michael: What the OCA brings to Orthodoxy in America Today

 The OCA’s Diocese of New York/New Jersey Office of Communications offered an interview with their new bishop, +Michael, who in commenting on the recently held Episcopal Assembly spoke about how he sees the OCA in the bigger picture of Orthodoxy in America.  Bishop Michael said:

At least as I see the story of the Orthodox Church in America, there was a time when … the Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church of North America had a primary concern for people of Russian and Carpatho-Russian and Slavic ancestry … to care for those people. Certainly, the Orthodox Church in America has broadened its horizon, without neglecting those people to reach out and to bring Orthodoxy to everyone regardless of their ethnic ancestry, regardless of their denominational background, regardless of the faith taught to them by their parents, and regardless of the fact that they may come from no faith-base at all. We have this vision to follow the Great Commission and to make America Orthodox, and I think that is what we really have to focus on, and make our parishes stronger … to be strong examples of that vision and that mission. In the OCA, our dioceses nominate their own bishops who are elected and consecrated by the Holy Synod, and those bishops, in turn, elect our own Metropolitan … without any guidance or interference from anywhere else. The Metropolitan and the bishops consecrate our own Holy Chrism. I think those are examples that it can be done here. It is certainly a prelude to what can happen on a larger, fuller, and more complete scale of Orthodox unity in America … for all of us in this country. I think this is the hope, and the role that the OCA has to play. The OCA has functioned as an autocephalous Church for forty years now. Many of our faithful — the young of age and converts — have never been under the authority of a “Mother Church” and only know the authority of an autocephalous OCA.

The 1st Episcopal Assembly: An End for the Beginning?

The inaugural Episcopal Assembly of the canonical Orthodox bishops in North America met this past week in New York.  This is a new effort initiated by the Patriarch of Constantinople to bring canonical order and unity to North America (and other regions of the world where no canonical unity has been established). 

The Episcopal Assembly issued an end statement which you can read.    It gives a brief summary of what they believed they accomplished. 

The opening address was given by Archbiship Demetrios of the Greek Archdiocese, and outlined what the official hope and opinion of the Constantinople Patriarchate was regarding the Episcopal Assembly.  Archbishop Demetrios was the Chair of the Episcopal Assembly.

A rousing speech defending the legitimacy in America of the Orthodox Church was given by Metropolitan Philip of the Antiochian Archdiocese, and one of two Vice Chairs of the event.  Metropolitan Philip rejected the notion that the Orthodox in America are “diaspora” from the old world and defended the Church in America as legitimate and established and asked the old world patriarchates to recognize this as fact.

The Episcopal Assembly acknowledged that there is doctrinal and liturgical unity among the Orthodox, but what is lacking is Episcopal unity (thus ecclesiaastical unity) in the geographical region of North America.  It is the lack of Episcopal unity that the Assembly was most directly addressing.  The bishops acknowledged that there has existed some inter-jurisdictional cooperation especially on the local level and through SCOBA (the Standing Conference of Orthodox Bishops in America).  They are trying to solve the canonical issue of Episcopal unity.

Their first work is going to be to create a registry of the canonical bishops, priests and local communities.  They also plan to form committees to work on the issues of concern of the Episcopal Assembly including liturgical, pastoral, financial, educational, ecumenical and legal.   The Episcopal Assembly did acknowledge the work of SCOBA for the past 50 years and sees themselves as the successors to this work.  The bishops decided that Canada should be treated as a separate Episcopal Assembly from the United States, and Mexico will be moved to join the Episcopal Assembly of South America for cultural and linguistic reasons. 

Finally the bishops wrote:

We call upon our clergy and faithful to join us in these efforts “to safeguard and contribute to the unity of the Orthodox Church of the region in its theological, ecclesiological, canonical, spiritual, philanthropic, educational and missionary obligations” (Article 5.1) …

This invitation to join the bishops in this important work of the church should be considered seriously by clergy and laity alike.  The Church as the Body of Christ consists of all of its members, and inspired by the Holy Spirit, we can work together to accomplish the Great Commission which our Lord Jesus Christ has laid upon us (Matthew 28:19-20). 

Christ, the true Head of the Church

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.

The spread of Orthodoxy to America is supposed to be part of the work of the Orthodox Church, not just the result of the blowing winds of history which have scattered seeds to our continent.   We are not diaspora but disciples.  Let us hope that the Episcopal Assembly takes up that truth as they move forward.   Perhaps this will represent the end of the beginning of Orthodoxy in America, and now we will be able to behave as Church, not as diaspora or daughter Church, but as the fullness of the faith which the local church always is in Orthodoxy.