The Holy Eucharist: In Remembrance of Christ

The Holy Eucharist is given by the Lord “in remembrance of me(1 Cor. 11:25). First of all, in sensu realissimo, the Eucharist is the power of the Incarnation, the realized and abiding Divine-humanity, including all the faithful: “we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread” (10:17). The Divine Eucharist is the abiding of Christ in the world, His connection with the world, despite the ascension: “I am with you always, even unto the end of the world” (Matt. 28:20) by the Holy Spirit, sent by Him into the world from the Father: “and I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you forever…I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you” (John 14:16, 18).  

Communion with the body and blood is therefore not yet all that the Eucharist signifies as the divine “It is finished” (John 19:30), as the sacrificial and abiding Incarnation. It is the sacrament of sacraments, the foundation of all the sacraments, and its accomplishing power is the Pentecost, the coming into the world of the Holy Spirit, who “shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you“ (14:26). “In remembrance of me [anamnesin]” and “to bring…to your remembrance [hypomnesei]” are closely connected, which is expressed in the fact that the “breaking of the bread” appears in the life of the Church only after the Pentecost, as the accomplishment of Divine humanity.

Thus, originally, in the apostolic age, the Divine Eucharist as the basis of all the sacraments was exclusively that which it is as the realization of the body of the Church as the body of Christ. Its essential character was not hierarchical but koinonic. That is, its character was one of sobornost, but this character was replaced as early as the second century by hierarchism, which, of course, did not completely eliminate it, but was capable of obscuring it. How this happened has to be explained by church history.” (Sergius Bulgakov, The Bride of the Lamb, pp. 286-287).

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Orthodox Conciliarity: Commitment to the Past or Present Reality?

Holy Great Council“The Orthodox Church, in her unity and catholicity, is the Church of Councils, from the Apostolic Council in Jerusalem (Acts 15.5-29) to the present day. The Church in herself is a Council, established by Christ and guided by the Holy Spirit, in accord with the apostolic words: “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us” (Acts 15.28). Through the Ecumenical and Local councils, the Church has proclaimed and continues to proclaim the mystery of the Holy Trinity, revealed through the incarnation of the Son and Word of God.” (ENCYCLICAL OF THE HOLY AND GREAT COUNCIL OF THE ORTHODOX CHURCH, Crete, 2016)

This past June, a Holy and Great Council of Orthodox bishops was held in Crete.  The pre- and post- Council documents emphasized the conciliar nature of the Orthodox Church. This emphasis on the importance of council to the governance of the Church seems to be a way of contrasting Orthodoxy with Roman Catholicism’s pyramidal papacy.

The concept of “conciliar” can be interpreted in different ways.  In the United States, influenced as we are by egalitarian ideals, some tend to hope conciliar implies the interaction and input of every member of the Body of Christ, the Church, whether they be lay (female and male), clergy or episcopal.  In other parts of the Orthodox world, “conciliar” is heard more as “synodal”, meaning the bishops assemble to discuss Church issues and to issue decrees for the rest of the church members to follow.  In this thinking, conciliar is more about the hierarchical nature of the Church and is mostly about bishops assembling together.  Bishops then may meet in some fashion, like at diocesan assemblies, with their constituents, keeping a more “top down” nature to the Church.  In the different Orthodox self-governing churches, the notion of “assembly” connotes different things with assemblies having different amounts of “power” or input into the rest of the Church life.  The degree to which the synods of the various self-governing churches influence or have power over the primates of the churches and over the episcopal members of the synod varies from local church to local church.  Though they can do co-exist, there is a tension between hierarchial and conciliar/synodal in church governance.

What is true about Orthodoxy today, or so it seems to me, especially about the existing self-governing churches, is not so much that Orthodoxy is committed to a conciliar form of church governance and life, but rather Orthodoxy is committed to the memory of past great Councils.  Past councils, ancient ones significantly, are treated as the gold standard for Orthodoxy, even if the self governing churches are not relying on conciliar governance today.   A “conciliar attitutude” is more today a commitment to an ideal about past councils, but not necessarily entrusting the Church today to conciliar governance.  The hierarchs see themselves as the defenders and protectors of the Faith, but not necessarily councils/synods as having that task or being “over” themselves as hierarchs.

The fact that great councils are few and far between even in the “local” self-governing churches is one indication that Orthodox values past councils more than it values conciliarity in current governance.   The Russian Church for example has not done much with the decisions and thinking of its own great council of 1917.  That council’s conciliar attitude and commitment have not been revived in the Russian Orthodox Church today.  Nor does its memory seem to be very influential in the Russian Church.  Yet that 1917 Council was very committed to a conciliar mode of governance.  The current Russian Church is not motivated to revive that.

Some of the most famous ancient councils were rife with conflict and debate, and the church did not shy away from these issues or try to put on a face that everyone was in agreement.  These councils may have hoped for unity of mind but they openly acknowledged there was disagreement.   They did not try to show unity by avoiding the debates going on in the church.  If the past councils are going to be immortalized, we today are going to have to recognize they were held because there was real disagreement in the Church.  The Councils were not always able to bring an end to those disagreements or to bring a unity to all Christians.

The willingness of some Orthodox churches to abstain from this year’s Holy and Great Council shows conciliarity is not completely part of the current view of governance in the Church, especially as a worldwide, i.e. Catholic, community.  The system of autocephalous churches may allow some unity within each “local” church, but it fails to bind all these self-governing churches together.  The notion of council at this greater level becomes threatening as the “local” churches fear losing their independence.  They want to believe all Orthodox agree on all issues, but can maintain that position only by disallowing any real, open discussion.  If they don’t meet, they can pretend there is unity because they avoid discussing the troubling issues which divide them.  But then, maybe avoiding discussing divisive issues, is a strategy for maintaining a desired yet absent real unity.  If they don’t discover there is real disagreement, they avoid dividing the Church.  Yet, if one looks at history, the Ecumenical Councils did not prevent or end divisions in Christianity but resulted in them – note the monophysites and Nestorians.

In terms of governance, the Church today seems more committed to and defensive of its hierarchical nature than its conciliar nature.  Each of the autocephalous churches have hierarchs/ primates who are interested in maintaining their unique power and privileges within their “local” church.  The willingness of the primates to submit their authority to a council’s oversight is not there [Thus some abstained from attending the Holy and Great Council]. The desire to protect “local” episcopal authority seems especially true for the “nationalistic” tendencies in Orthodox self-governing churches today.   These “local” churches fear an “international” Orthodox council/ synod will interfere with their local governance and they don’t want to allow their decisions to then be judged by a higher synodal authority.  They don’t want some “pope” to be over them, but neither do they want to have to answer to a council of international bishops, even if they themselves are part of that council.  The Orthodox see their local autocephalous jurisdictions as the legitimate center for power in the Church and do not want to have to acknowledge a church structure/ power greater than their self-governing (= “local”) church.

In this instance, we can see, perhaps, why it was that Emperors convened the Seven Ecumenical Councils.  The authority of each bishop within their dioceses was left undisputed.  The Emperor however could demand that all the bishops must accept the decisions of the Council.  The Emperor didn’t interfere in each diocese, but all bishops were under his authority.   This helped maintain conformity and unity in the Church without the need for a pope – a super-bishop above all other bishops whose role was to maintain unity.  In the Christian West, the withdrawal of the Roman government to Constantinople, meant the Emperor’s influence was also lessened, and it fell on the bishop of Rome to insist on unity among the bishops.  The papacy developed where the emperor was no longer influential enough to insist on unity among the bishops.  The decline of the Roman Empire led to the disappearance of ecumenical councils.  In Russia after the time of Peter the Great, the Tsar/ government completely dominated the church, enforcing conformity through government power.  Only in 1917 did the Russian Church endeavor to throw off this secular system and try to re-establish the conciliar nature of the Church.

Without an emperor as a independent power over the bishops,  the power of Orthodox hierarchs grew within their dioceses.  And, the power of the primate of the autocephalous churches increased as well, making their office and jurisdictions more independent of the influence of other self-governing churches.  Conciliarity, if it existed at all occurred within the autocephalous church, or within dioceses, but there was no longer a structure to bind all the primates together.  They had a vague sense of sharing an Orthodoxy of faith, but the primates/ autocephalous jurisdictions become increasing alienated from one another.

That Orthodoxy is a hierarchical church is demonstrated constantly in church governance today throughout the world.  Bishops make sure everyone knows the church is hierarchical.  The vestments of the bishops have all of the trappings of the Byzantine emperor and display power and authority over all others.  The role of synods and councils in church governance is not always as obvious, though in some places in Orthodoxy episcopal synods do wield some obvious power over individual hierarchs.

Still, the conciliar nature of the church manifests itself at times in the different Orthodox self-governing churches.  In America, the conciliar nature of the Church is present in most jurisdictions in one form or another and to one degree or another.  It seems to me that all Orthodox jurisdictions in America are more influenced by conciliarity than are the “mother” churches.    The Orthodox Church in America has a strong commitment to the conciliar nature of the Church.  This is shown in its active synod of bishops, the role of diocesan assemblies, the All American Council, the various diocesan and bishop councils, and in parish councils and meetings.  Men and women participate in one form or another at all levels of church councils in the OCA.

It is interesting to note that in the Nicene Creed adopted by the 1st two Ecumenical Councils, hierarchical is not in the description of the true Church; the Church is said to be one, holy, Catholic and apostolic.  In the 4th Century they didn’t include “hierarchical” as a sure description of the Church.  “Catholic” which is clearly in the Creed, is the word that also can imply a conciliar nature to the Church.  The Slavonic version of the creed has that idea in relating “catholic” to sobornost.  It implies conciliarity.  The fullness of the faith exists in every Eucharistic community, and locally the Church does live as the Body of Christ, alive not just in the hierarchy but in every member of the Church.

 

 

Reflecting on the Message of the Holy and Great Council

Holy Great CouncilThe Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church came to an end causing little notice in the world at large.  The Council’s goal seemed to be to have an assembly of bishops which changed nothing, and any event that changes nothing is not very news worthy. Since everything in Orthodoxy seems to be the same as before the Council, I guess it was a success.  Of course if the butterfly effect is true, even the smallest of causes can have effects on major events.  So perhaps in time to come we will feel the effect of the Council – just as one butterfly flapping its wings can have an effect on a hurricane.

We Orthodox are known for having an unchanging attitude – not only toward things in the Church, but even in the world at large.  One of the issues the Council mentioned – the so-called diaspora – is created by Orthodoxy’s stalwart inability to come to grips with the passing of the Byzantine world.  Orthodox Church worldwide structures are based on the existence of Byzantium which long ago passed away but the Orthodox continue to cling to territorial claims for that non-existent world.  The existence of the Americas remains unexpected by Orthodox canonical structures.  The Church which doesn’t change struggles with being in the world which does.

One thoughtful non-Orthodox evaluation of the Council can be read at Only the Next Step: Assessing the Pan-Orthodox Council.    I’ve not read much commentary on the Council from an Orthodox point of view – perhaps because the Council accomplished what it set out to do – not to change anything.  Spin doctors are needed for organizations and individuals who constantly change positions.  Nothing is changing in Orthodoxy, so the Church can take time before making comments about the Council.  At the conclusion of the Council they did adopt an official MESSAGE OF THE HOLY AND GREAT COUNCIL, which you can read by clicking on that link.

Holy Great Council Photo

Below are parts of that official message and a few of my own thoughts, as one who has spent most of my 62 years being in the Orthodox Church, and having served as a priest for over 35 years in the New World which Orthodoxy so struggles to deal with.  I’m not connected to Old World Orthodoxy, and so don’t know much about how they perceived the results of the Council.  Some parts of the Message seemed to me to be so standard to Orthodoxy that I won’t comment on them, even if they have pressing, contemporary importance.  The Council Message says:

The foundation of our theological discussions was the certainty that the Church does not live for herself. She transmits the witness of the Gospel of grace and truth and offers to the whole world the gifts of God: love, peace, justice, reconciliation, the power of the Cross and of the Resurrection and the expectation of eternal life.

The Church does not live for herself, but exists for the world.  Our current world however, and certainly the media, was not much taken by the Council.  The world was not waiting with bated breath for what the Council might say.  But then, frankly, neither was much of the Orthodox world.  The Council really was an internal Orthodox event as revealed in the very first point of the Message:

1) The key priority of the Council was to proclaim the unity of the Orthodox Church.  Founded on the Eucharist and the Apostolic Succession of her Bishops, the existing unity needs to be strengthened and to bear new fruits.

Who were we proclaiming “the unity” to?  Not the world, which has no vested interest in a united Orthodox Church.  The Council was hoping to show our hierarchs that they are united.  Since unity is treated as a prerogative of episcopacy, they needed to witness the unity and strengthen it.  That is purely an internal Orthodox issue.  The world may have been mildly impressed if that unity was publicly obvious, but the Orthodox bishops were hoping to show themselves the unity existed.  The Council really was more for the Orthodox Church than for the world.

The Orthodox Church expresses her unity and catholicity “in Council”. Conciliarity pervades her organization, the way decisions are taken and determines her path. 

Conciliarity does not mean democracy – not every Orthodox can assemble, not everyone gets a vote.  Those who assemble in Council – for the Orthodox, the hierarchs – aren’t necessarily representative of the people.  However, in the modern world, Orthodoxy really does need to consider whether conciliarity applies in any way to the entire membership of the Church.  Today, conciliarity seems mostly to be used about the hierarchs.  If “council” really pervades the all levels of the Church, that should be made obvious even at the level of Holy and Great Councils.   The bishops have responsibility for governance, but they certainly could meet with more of membership present, and even allow other members of the Church to be the voice and face of the Church in council.   Some might say such conciliarity never existed in Orthodoxy since the time of Constantine.  It is a conciliarity and unity which might better reflect the oneness of the Church.

The Orthodox Autocephalous Churches do not constitute a federation of Churches, but the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. Each local Church as she offers the holy Eucharist is the local presence and manifestation of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.

I thought this image of unity – that the Church is not a “federation” of autocephalous churches, but has an ontological unity is really important.  Every local Eucharistic community is the “local presence and manifestation” of the One Church.   I think this is an idea that needs to be fleshed out much more in Orthodoxy today so that conciliarity can attain the fullness of its meaning.

Met Tikhon AAC

During the deliberations of the Holy and Great Council the importance of the Synaxes of the Primates which had taken place was emphasized and the proposal was made for the Holy and Great Council to become a regular Institution to be convened every seven or ten years.

This statement may be one of the few practical outcomes of the Council – they hope to now meet regularly every 7-10 years.   That may also give us some sense of how long they thought it would take to work out the implication of this Council!

3) In response to her obligation to witness to the truth and her apostolic faith, our Church attaches great importance to dialogue, primarily with non Orthodox Christians. In this way the remainder of the Christian world comes to know more precisely the authenticity of the Orthodox Tradition, the value of patristic teaching and the liturgical life and faith of the Orthodox. The dialogues conducted by the Orthodox Church never imply a compromise in matters of faith.

For those who have even a faint hope of the unity of all Christians, the above statement is so important.  Those hierarchs assembled committed themselves to continuing dialogue with the non-Orthodox.

4) The explosions of fundamentalism observed within various religions represent an expression of morbid religiosity. Sober inter-religious dialogue helps significantly to promote mutual trust, peace and reconciliation. The oil of religious experience must be used to heal wounds and not to rekindle the fire of military conflicts.

I remember our dogmatics professor at seminary, Serge Verhovskoy, saying that rigidity in thinking and liturgical practice always appears when the Church is in a period of decline.  He claimed in periods when the Orthodox Church was vibrant, it was also creative, and freely changed its liturgical practices to meet the changing needs of the time.  When the Church drifted into periods of decay, on the other hand, it became petrified and ossified.  Fundamentalism occurs in Orthodoxy too.  It is just as morbid and moribund in us as it is in other religions.

The Church has always emphasized the value of self-restraint. Christian asceticism, however, differs radically from every dualistic asceticism which severs man from life and from his fellow man. 

What is tricky in Orthodoxy is that a neo-Platonic dualism is sometimes intertwined in some Orthodox spiritual writings.  The Church at times has tried correctives against this tendency, but one sees evidence of it in the writings of Church fathers and monastics.  Christian asceticism is not based in dualism, but as Yannaras points out the dualism is at times obvious in church monastic writings which downplay the sacraments and focus almost exclusively on asceticism.   Where asceticism has a practical and contemporary application is certainly in offering a spiritual approach to ecology, as noted in 8) below.

7) In regard to the matter of the relations between Christian faith and the natural sciences, the Orthodox Church avoids placing scientific investigation under tutelage and does not adopt a position on every scientific question. She thanks God who gives to scientists the gift of uncovering unknown dimensions of divine creation. . . .  Along with her respect for the freedom of scientific investigation, the Orthodox Church at the same time points out the dangers concealed in certain scientific achievements and emphasises man’s dignity and his divine destiny.

The Council in taking the above position does not think religion and science must of necessity be in opposition to each other.   Science cannot determine morality.  They can tell us what things are possible for us to do, but not whether or not we should do them (for example: nuclear weapons or genetic engineering).  In this the Council seems to embrace that there really are realms of thinking which the Church does not directly enter.  The Church does not have to have a position on every scientific theory or investigation, but it can speak in the realm of ethics about the real dangers that certain science might represent for humanity.  The Church can also weigh in favor of the morality of some science (immunization for example, or other efforts to eliminate disease or improve efforts to feed the world).

8) It is clear that the present-day ecological crisis is due to spiritual and moral causes. Its roots are connected with greed, avarice and egoism, which lead to the thoughtless use of natural resources, the filling of the atmosphere with damaging pollutants, and to climate change. The Christian response to the problem demands repentance for the abuses, an ascetic frame of mind as an antidote to overconsumption, and at the same time a cultivation of the consciousness that man is a “steward ” and not a possessor of creation. The Church never ceases to emphasise that future generations also have a right to the the natural resources that the Creator has given us. For this reason, the Orthodox Church takes an active part in the various international ecological initiatives and has ordained the 1st September as a day of prayer for the protection of the natural environment.

As mentioned above, the Orthodox Church’s emphasis on asceticism can play a role here.  Ecology does not have to be viewed only as politically conservative or liberal, or whether it helps or hurts economics.   There is a spiritual dimension which is both personal and affects us all.

10) The Orthodox Church does not involve herself in politics. Her voice remains distinct, but also prophetic, as a beneficial intervention for the sake of man. Human rights today are at the center of politics as a response to the social and political crises and upheavals, and seek to protect the citizen from the arbitrary power of the state. Our Church also adds to this the obligations and responsibilities of the citizens and the need for constant self-criticism on the part of both politicians and citizens for the improvement of society. And above all she emphasises that the Orthodox ideal in respect of man transcends the horizon of established human rights and that ” greatest of all is love”, as Christ revealed and as all the faithful who follow him have experienced.

It is the case that our Lord Jesus did not Himself speak much about politics or government in general.  Christians have wrestled with the relationship between themselves and the state through the centuries.  Christians have lived in places where they are a minority and where they are persecuted as well as in places where they held imperial power.  The ultimate power of Christianity is God’s love for us, for His world.  We are to love others as Christ loves us.  This is a power far different from what any political system or party has to offer.  And we Christians have realized how hard it is  to live by that power.

Bishops: Ordained for the Ministry of Governance

Holy Great Council Photo

Last week the Orthodox churches throughout the world gathered at the Holy and Great Council in Crete, or were at least aware of the gathering and had participated in the preparation for the Council.  The Council had been discussed among Orthodox hierarchs for at least half a century. Being a hierarchical church, bishops in Orthodoxy have a responsibility for making such councils happen and succeed.  Bishop alone however do not constitute the Church, even though sometimes one gets the impression that even conciliarity in the Church is the prerogative of bishops and doesn’t necessarily extend to other clergy let alone the laity which constitutes the vast majority of Church membership.   Fr. Nicholas Afanasiev writes about the essential interdependency of laity and bishops in the church – without which the Body of Christ is dead.  The Holy Spirit differently gifts laity and hierarchy in the Church.

“Not having the gift of administration, the ‘people of the Lord’ have a gift of discernment and examination which is a special kind of ministry not entrusted to particular members of the Church but rather to all the people of God, i.e., to all the members of the Church in their common action. ‘Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others discern what is said’ (1 Cor. 14:29).  ‘Test everything; hold fast what is good’ (1 Thess. 5:21). The people have discernment and examination concerning everything being done in the Church. The bishop together with presbyters does not govern the people of God in his own name. Neither does he govern them on the basis of law as the one who received his power from the people or through the people. Rather he governs the people in God’s name, as the one ordained by God for the ministry of governance.

2016 Holy Synod

Having the charism of discernment and examination the people witness that everything done in the Church under the guidance of the pastors is done in accordance with the will of God revealed by the Holy Spirit. In the early church all ecclesial acts, such as the celebration of the mysteries, the reception of the catechumens and penitents into the Church, excommunication, and so forth, involved the people’s participation. In the early church the people’s testimony concerning the the revelation of God’s will had the character of ‘consensus’ with what was about to happen in the Church and their reception of what was accomplished as corresponding to God’s will. It would be a mistake to suppose that the people gave their consent as a result of a vote, just as it is custom in the popular assemblies of the Greek cities or in the representative institutions nowadays. The consent and reception by the people did not mean that the people expressed their own private opinion or wish concerning one or another ecclesial act. The ecclesial authority in the person of the bishops were not bound by the will of the laics, just as the people were not bound by the will of their presiders. Neither the will of laics nor the will of bishops is per se sufficient for the action in the Church. The Church lives and acts not by the will of man, but by the will of God. Consent and reception were the witness of the Church through the witness of the people that the presiders act and govern in agreement with the will of God.” (Nicholas Afanasiev, The Church of the Holy Spirit, pp 60-61)

 

Evangelism: Bringing Joy Not Imposing a Yoke

On those mornings when we do Matins in my parish, we read the prescribed daily Epistle and Gospel readings.   This morning, as we are in the Post-Paschal period the Apostolos reading was  Acts 15:5-34.  Portions of the lesson struck me for various reasons as being very apropos to life in the Church today.

 [5] But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up, and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them, and to charge them to keep the law of Moses.”

Pharisees to this day continue to rise up and make such demands that religion be treated as law and the law be exactly followed.  Pharisaism is alive and well in the Church.  Issues like these continue despite the fact that the Apostles once ruled on such thinking, rejecting it.  As wearisome as this is, one has to acknowledge it is biblical, even New Testamental.

[6] The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter.

How many hours have been consumed and how many miles traveled by clergy to debate such issues?  Yet, the matter is never resolved, there will always be some new issues for people to get upset over and “point the finger” of accusation against others (Isaiah 58:9).  “Others” never live up to those aspects of religious law we think important.   But think St. Ephrem:  Grant me to see my own sins and not to judge my brother, or sister.

[7] And after there had been much debate, Peter rose and said to them, “Brethren, you know that in the early days God made choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. [8] And God who knows the heart bore witness to them, giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us; [9] and he made no distinction between us and them, but cleansed their hearts by faith.

And to this day, some in the church love to make distinctions between people, separating and dividing.  In St. Peter’s day it was Jew and Gentile.  Now, despite the fact that we are each baptized and have received the Holy Spirit, and that all of us in the Church have heard the Gospel and had our hearts cleansed by faith, some continue to want to make similar distinctions between bishops and believing members, between clergy and laity, between men and women.  Yet like Peter’s Gentiles whom he defended as having been blessed by God, all Orthodox – clergy and laity, men and women – have heard the Gospel, received the Holy Spirit and been cleansed through repentance and faith in and through the Sacraments of the one Church.

[10] Now therefore why do you make trial of God by putting a yoke upon the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? [11] But we believe that we shall be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”

Imposing burdens and “a yoke upon the neck of the disciples” is still being done today.  The yoke may change, but some see a need to burden others with rules and regulations which have been and are hard to bear.  St. Peter said not to do this.  His successors don’t always pay attention to that particular teaching of his.

[12] And all the assembly kept silence; and they listened to Barnabas and Paul as they related what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles.

Many new believers come into the Church – it is a miracle that people hear the Gospel and embrace the faith.  It happens all the time.  People who experience the joy of the Gospel and believe, receive the Holy Spirit, and they don’t have to know all of the rules and regulations of past generations.  This was a mystery for those first Torah-bound Christians.  How is it possible that God can act in people who don’t know or follow the Law of God?  And note that the assembly of apostles and elders is silent as they think about the growth God is giving the nascent Church.  They marvel at what God is doing rather than machinate about how to impose rules on those newly being born into Christ.

[13] After they finished speaking, James replied, “Brethren, listen to me. [14] Simeon has related how God first visited the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name. [15] And with this the words of the prophets agree, as it is written, [16] ‘After this I will return, and I will rebuild the dwelling of David, which has fallen; I will rebuild its ruins, and I will set it up, [17] that the rest of men may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who are called by my name, [18] says the Lord, who has made these things known from of old.’ [19] Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, [20] but should write to them to abstain from the pollutions of idols and from unchastity and from what is strangled and from blood. [21] For from early generations Moses has had in every city those who preach him, for he is read every sabbath in the synagogues.”

St. James many scholars believe was even more Torah-bound than St. Peter.  Yet, he recognizes that God works through the Gospel to change the hearts of non-believers.  St. James advised that we not trouble the new converts with all manners of laws, rules and regulations, even if we believe they are from God.

[22] Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They sent Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men among the brethren, [23] with the following letter: “The brethren, both the apostles and the elders, to the brethren who are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia, greeting. [24] Since we have heard that some persons from us have troubled you with words, unsettling your minds, although we gave them no instructions, [25] it has seemed good to us, having come to one accord, to choose men and send them to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, [26] men who have risked their lives for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ. [27] We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will tell you the same things by word of mouth. [28] For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: [29] that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from unchastity. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.”

So few rules.  Amazing.  Not 613 laws of Torah, not years of Tradition of the elders.  Four simple rules is all that was required of those new converts to Christianity.  And the Apostles believed this was in agreement with the Holy Spirit!  Just these few things and you do well.  What a blessing!

[30] So when they were sent off, they went down to Antioch; and having gathered the congregation together, they delivered the letter. [31] And when they read it, they rejoiced at the exhortation. [32] And Judas and Silas, who were themselves prophets, exhorted the brethren with many words and strengthened them. [33] And after they had spent some time, they were sent off in peace by the brethren to those who had sent them.

And such a simple demand from the Apostles is met with rejoicing, not with dejection and despondency.   So little is required, so much is given.  And even with so few requirements, these new Christians are embraced as full members of the Body of Christ.

It is wisely said that there is nothing new under the sun.  Pharisees still rise up to this day to trouble the Church.  The Apostolic wisdom is still needed to recognize that though some of us may have accepted and lived by many religious rules, they are not mandatory for every generation.  They can in fact be a yoke and burden that makes discipleship and salvation impossible.  The Apostles did not drive out of the Church those newly believing members whom God had chosen and inspired with the Gospel and the Holy Spirit.  They did not impose upon the new converts any heavy yoke, but they brought joy to the new faithful.

The Apostles rejected the concerns and fears of the Pharisaical members of the Church, and offered the hand of fellowship to those upon whom they as Christ’s chosen leaders chose not to yoke with Pharisaism.  It is the wisdom of the Apostolic Tradition as recorded in our Scriptures.

Viewing the AAC from Where I Sit

Podcasts and some reports from the OCA’s  16th All American Council are now available online.  You can also read about the AAC and some developments at other webpages.

Thanks to the technology of podcasts you can hear what various speakers said and don’t have to rely on the filters of reporters.  So in this blog I don’t intend to simply report what was said, but admittedly I’m running what was said through the filter of what I heard and how I understood what was being said.  That is also the nature of blogging.

Metropolitan Jonah’s opening speech mentioned some of the very difficult problems created by his administration through the past three years, as well described some of the ongoing work of the church, and offered a few goals for the future.  The fact that his speech is available online both in written form and as a pod cast is important because there have been at times notable gaps in the past between what he said and  what he did or said later.  Technology is allowing for some accountability.

The Metropolitan acknowledged that the past three years have been an administrative disaster.  From where I sit on the Metropolitan Council, on the MC’s Ethics Committee and on the Sexual Misconduct Policy Advisory Committee his words are certainly an accurate assessment of what has happened under his administration.   He did own up to being the source of the problem but also blamed his critics for creating a difficult atmosphere – for me the truth is that much of that poisoned atmosphere was created by himself. He came into office at a moment in the OCA’s history with high expectations that we would be able to put behind us all our past problems, scandals and failures.  There was an overwhelming sense at his election that now finally the OCA would move into its manifest destiny to be the Church in America.  All of that good will and hope was quickly evaporated among those who had to work most closely with him.

Everyone in leadership manages to offend some, disappoint others, and make enemies of some.  One learns that this is a reality in the world of the Fall.  We can have all the intention in the world of doing out best and assuming this will please everyone, but as the old adage says, “you can please some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time”, but if you decide your goal is to please everyone so that they will like you, you have set yourself up for failure and for the ruination of the organization you lead.

The Metropolitan acknowledged there had been a complete breakdown in trust and raised a serious question as to whether at this point that breakdown could in fact be reversed or repaired.  As a step to see whether or not repair and restoration of trust in him as a leader is possible, he mentioned entering into a program of evaluation for clergy beginning November 14.   A lot rides on his willingness to co-operate with this program of evaluation because it will certainly be a test (and not the first one either) of his real acknowledgement that he is responsible for many of the problems which now exist in the OCA’s administration.

For me, again from where I sit, much of what happens next in the OCA is riding on the Metropolitan’s own willingness to cooperate with the process and the willingness of the Synod to not only hold him accountable but upon their willingness to deal with what is learned especially if some of the evaluation provides ambiguous results.  Then the members of the Synod are going to have to deal directly with issues that the Metropolitan and they have been either wrestling with, dancing around or hoping to avoid.

The Metropolitan outlined some of his priorities for the future which are both notable and noble and you can read them in his speech.   Giving speeches as he himself has oft said is something he likes to do, and has often earned him lauds from his listeners.  However, as he also acknowledged his years as bishop have been an administrative disaster, and so there is a huge gap between his articulated vision and the reality he works to create.

I will comment on one detail of his vision for the OCA, you can read his speech or listen to it and make your own judgments about what he says (and how that matches with what he actually accomplishes).  Funding is a perennial discussion in OCA administration and a triennial discussion at AACs!  Various ideas have been proffered through time, some merely name change dressings to the core issue that the central church believes if it had more money it would accomplish more things.  Whatever the truth in that logic, in the midst of his appeal to the funding issue, the Metropolitan advocated moving away from whatever current system we are following to a tithing system of giving to support the church.  Now I have been committed to tithing all of my adult life as a Christian, so I’m a practicing believer in tithing.  But when the Metropolitan says in his pitch for tithing that we must “conform ourselves to Christ through obedience to the Gospel and commitment to living according to the teachings of the Apostles and of the Holy Fathers”, I can’t help but wonder how many quotes could he come up with from Apostolic and Patristic writers in which they actually make tithing the norm for Christians.   Even the Apostolic Council in Acts 15 does not set tithing as a requirement for Christians.

But that issue may be nitpicking when compared to the very serious issues the Metropolitan raised related to his administrative failures and the complete breakdown in trust between himself, the chancery staff, the Metropolitan Council and the Synod of Bishops.

Following the Metropolitan’s report several bishops offered “responses” which weren’t so much directed at the Metropolitan’s speech but actually allowed them to reflect on their life in the church.  Personally I thought their comments were worth listening to because in my mind for the first time ever we heard our bishops in the AAC share anecdotes and thoughts related to their own sojourn as Christians and members of the OCA.   There was something warm and alive in their sharing their thoughts.  Certainly they all expressed a desire for the Metropolitan to fully and faithfully deal with the issues which have crippled his ability to lead and have damaged his relationship with other church leaders both in and out of the OCA.  And there was at least “veiled” acknowledgement that there are some serious problems waiting to be tackled and resolved.

The bishops did take a few shots at the Internet as contributing to making solutions to the internal problems of the OCA difficult.   The Internet however has not created the real problems that exist with the personalities involved.  Leadership has to lead despite the circumstances in which they are in.  The Internet is simply part of the daily lives of Americans.  It can be used for both good and evil.  Certainly there are professionals who can help willing and receptive leaders learn how to navigate through the information/Internet Age.  Leaders can lead even with the Internet attracting and creating attention to itself.  Rather than bemoaning the technology of communications which is now part of the landscape and infrastructure of daily life, we can learn how to deal with it.  Certainly most early Christians viewed the Roman Empire as the greatest threat to their existence and felt there was no possible connection between Rome and Jerusalem.  Yet the Church overcame that Empire and used that Empire for evangelism.  The Internet is not a greater threat to us than the Roman Empire.  We cannot escape the Internet and certainly we will learn even more about its risks, but we can also bring our use of it under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

See also my Parting Thoughts from the 16th All American Council

Continuing the Wilderness Sojourn: Reaching the Destination

This is the conclusion to the blog  Metropolitan Council: What Were You Discussing?

The Metropolitan Council meetings are a sojourn, sometimes in the wilderness of Sin, at other times crossing the Jordan to the promised destination.  Lately, much of the meeting time is spent in Executive Session, which allows open discussion within the meeting but then limits what can be publicly expressed.   It is the dilemma:  how can we tell the church what we spent hours discussing in confidentiality?  How can we as good stewards not tell them?

I was elected as an at-large delegate to the Metropolitan Council at the 2008 All American Council.   I must give an account of the stewardship which was entrusted to me.

A story from the desert fathers:

Some brothers set out to visit the brothers of another monastery.  A young monk was appointed to lead them to the monastery.  Because they lived in the desert, they traveled at night when it was cooler.  They walked virtually all night not arriving at their destination.  Finally the young monk said, “Brothers, I am lost.”

“We know,” replied his brethren.  “You knew and yet you did not complain?” asked the young monk.  “We didn’t want to offend you,” said his brethren.

I’ve seen several versions of this story from the desert fathers each with some variation in the story and also in the conclusion of the story.  It certainly is a  non-rational Christian koan which defies the preference of American Christians for pragmatism.  “Just correct his error and get to your destination,” would be a more American reading of the story.

The story however has many and varied lessons. Not the least of which is the relationship between the people of God and the desert wilderness.   There are valuable lessons to be learned when lost in the desert.   And being there and wandering in apparent aimlessness doesn’t mean God has abandoned you.  It may be a time of testing.  Just ask the Hebrew children.

In our story, the brothers prefer to preserve unity amongst themselves then to prove themselves right against a brother.  The brothers are willing to recognize the young monk has been given a task to lead them, and they voluntarily live obedience because of love.   But take note as well, the young monk’s error is in finding the physical destination, had he led the monks into heresy, you can bet this story would have had a very different outcome and they would not have followed him.

But the story’s lesson is not about something as critical as theological truth.   It is about unity, love, community and reconciliation.  In the end the brothers are reconciled to the errant monk who has exhausted them by wandering lost in the desert.   And the young monk himself is astonished at his brother’s love and reconciled to them despite his error which has wasted their time and exhausted them.  He realizes he was in error, and his brothers know it!  And is astonished at their forgiving love – they knew he was lost, but they waited for him to become reconciled to them – to admit he was not up to the task of being their leader.   In a way,  it is a quirky retelling of the Prodigal Son story:  the son who comes to his senses and seeks his father’s forgiveness.

The young monk had an assignment to accomplish and he wanted to obey.  But he was not up to the task.  He failed.  But though he failed in his assigned task, and though the story ends at this point, one assumes that the brothers get to their destination.  Being lost in the desert, come daylight, might have tragic consequences.   That isn’t in the story.  The lesson learned is that I must be humble enough to admit that I may not be qualified to lead.

They don’t keep following the failed brother, but in the midst of dealing with their problems, they help him learn about humility, love, unity, patience, community.  Many lessons are there to be learned.   And we assume from the story the young monk was capable of learning these spiritual lessons so that he could abide in community.  The lessons were a spiritual gift to one who was able to recognize his own failings, to recognize the pain his actions had afflicted on his fellow monks, to recognize the need for reconciliation with them,  to humble himself before his brothers, and to recognize what love demanded of him if he would live the lessons learned.

The story would be very different if the young monk proved incorrigible, or if he failed to repent, apologize and seek reconciliation with his brothers.  Or if he repeated the same wrongful behavior over and over again even after apologizing.   And indeed the story probably would never made it into the collection of desert fathers’ wisdom, if in the end they weren’t all reconciled in love and capable of heading in the correct direction to attain their goal.  All Lessons to be sorted out for the Metropolitan Council as well.

The brothers did not have the goal of being led astray, nor were they allowing themselves to be led to destruction or disaster.  They were moving toward the lessons about love, brotherhood, unity and community.  Was there a time for the brothers to speak up?  No doubt there would have been, but that lesson is beyond the immediate purpose of the story.

Wisdom says there is a time to be silent but also a time to speak; there is a time to build up as well as the time to break down; there is a time to seek and a time to lose (Ecclesiastes 3).   Discerning the time is the way of Holy Wisdom.  God promises to forgive our sins in that time when we repent, He doesn’t promise us a tomorrow on which to do it.

See also my blogs Adventure’s in Wonderland  and  To Be Ruled Well is Typical of the Wise Person

Metropolitan Council: What Were You Discussing?

Over the past 3 years I have served on the OCA’s Metropolitan Council.  I have been impressed with the expertise of so many of the members – the gifts, wisdom, knowledge, talents and energy which they bring to each meeting.  I served a couple of times over the past 30 years in various capacities on the MC, and do believe that the Metropolitan Council has grown and improved through the years.

The Council has a responsibility to deal with some very hard issues in the life of the OCA, and consequently and unfortunately frequently has to go into Executive Session for its long discussions.   This of course also means that some of what the MC does is not minuted nor made public.  The amount of time spent in executive session is troubling for a church which is working to be transparent.  The current way of doing business is in some ways more open than used to be done – when discussions were held only by the elite few, and decisions were presented to the general body only for their approval.  Now in executive session there is passion, disagreement, and problems openly discussed with real debate and decisions being made by the body.

Since much of what we did in the recent meeting was done in Executive session, I cannot offer any more detail than you can find on the OCA’s officieal webpage (http://oca.org/news/headline-news/metropolitan-council-concludes-meeting).  You can read other, unofficial ideas about the MC meeting at OCAnews.org.

I intend in this blog and the next to offer a more enigmatic view of what the MC does and how its meetings in executive session relate to Christ and the Gospel.  Sometimes silence has a meaning.  Elijah heard God in the still small voice, not in the roaring tumult (1 Kings 19).  I beg my readers’ patience for not being able to share more directly what it is to sit in Executive Session.

And when they came to the disciples, they saw a great crowd about them, and scribes arguing with them.  And immediately all the crowd, when they saw Jesus, were greatly amazed, and ran up to him and greeted him.  And he asked them, “What are you discussing with them?”  And one of the crowd answered him, “Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a dumb spirit; and wherever it seizes him, it dashes him down; and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid; and I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able.”  And he answered them, “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me.”   (Mark 9:14-19)

It is the case, sometimes, that the disciples of Christ are in discussion with the world and with each other, and Christ is absent.   He may join these discussions, wanting to know what the discussion and fuss is all about.   Sometimes we have to admit in frustration that we are not able to fix the problem which is confronting the OCA, or maybe we are not willing to do what it takes to fix the problem.   Christ is known to rebuke His disciples for their lack of faith.  He is no doubt troubled that we are not always capable of carrying out His will.  We have to accept His rebuke and seek his help to accomplish the task before us.

 But they did not understand the saying, and they were afraid to ask him. And they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” But they were silent; for on the way they had discussed with one another who was the greatest. And he sat down and called the twelve; and he said to them, “If any one would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” (Mark 9:32-35)

The disciples apparently had their own version of executive session, which they apparently did not want Christ to know about.  They had unminuted discussions which were not for the crowds nor for Christ’s ears.  Christ is patient with His disciples, even if they allowed their discussion to stray off topic.   He tries to turn such moments of human frailty into teachable moments – offering glimpses into the Kingdom of Heaven.    Christ reminds us that our meetings are about service – of others, of the good of the greater church, of the needs of the faithful.  Service is the topic of our meetings: We are to be servants.

That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What is this conversation which you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad. (Luke 24:13-17)

Even on the day of  resurrection they disciples found things to be sad about.  Discussing the events of the day did not uplift them.   They were stuck in dealing with the problems of life, and the resurrection was nothing more than part of the confusion and doubt of the day.  Christ still was with them as the disciples described the events of the day and the news they were wrestling with.  He sees their sadness and lets them discuss it without immediately taking away the sorrow.

Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since this happened.  Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning and did not find his body; and they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb, and found it just as the women had said; but him they did not see.” And he said to them, “O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.  So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He appeared to be going further…     (Luke 24:18-28)

It was necessary for Christ to suffer these things.  It is still necessary for His Body, the Church, to suffer also before entering into His glory.   It is the promise of God, and the warning of Christ.

We sometimes think we have reached out destination, or perhaps just an impasse.  Christ is moving on.   This is not abandonment of His disciples but giving them direction to persevere.  We are on the sojourn to the Kingdom of God.  There may be momentary delays, and trials, and failures.  It happened between Egypt and the Promised land.  Forty years of wandering.  Leadership can fail, but Christ’s mission and salvation do not fail.   We must keep our eyes on Christ, even if for times in this world He vanishes from our sight.

Next:  Continuing the Wilderness Sojourn: Reaching the Destination

Metropolitan Council Meeting Postponed

As the OCA continues to work through its current situation with the Metropolitan on Leave of Absence, the Synod of Bishops has decided reluctantly to postpone the March meeting of the Metropolitan Council.  No date was set for rescheduling the meeting.  The Synod of Bishops apparently feels the canonically correct path is to postpone the meeting as the Metropolitan decided. 

What are we to make of these recent events?   Bishop Benjamin  wrote in a pastoral letter to his Diocese of the West:  “Our polity that rests upon the critical relationship between the primate and his synod is, I believe, what is being challenged but remains unchanged.”

Conciliarity, is part of the spiritual warfare and is a contact sport; passive spectators get in the way of the goal – the upward call of Jesus Christ. 

My reading of his words is that the real struggle which is taking place is between the metropolitan and the Synod of Bishops of which he is one member.    It is on the level of the hierarchs that the battle is to be engaged.   Since Bishop Benjamin especially, but the Synod in general, likes to keep their discussions and disagreements and debates among themselves and away from the ears of the faithful, we may never know exactly what gargantuan struggle, or passive agreement,  takes place.  We may eventually see some results announced to us, but the Synod is often silent not only about their discussions but also about their decisions.   While the Synod did release the Public Minutes of their recent Winter Retreat – and for good reason – I don’t think they ever released any minutes or decisions from their Fall meeting back in September.

Bishop Benjamin did offer a Lenten mea culpa for the goings on in the Synod:  “I ask your prayers for both the Metropolitan and the Holy Synod and I ask your forgiveness for the disturbance that has occurred in the peace of the Church.”

So we are left to consider whether our exclusion as members of the Body of Christ from the deliberations of the Synod is for our benefit or theirs, for our salvation and so they can do the work entrusted to them and which only they as bishops can do or because we are not worthy of engaging in serious discussion about the life and vitality of the Church.  It is of course sometimes difficult to pray for the bishops when we don’t know exactly what we are praying for or how we can be of help to them.  We also have our work to do as members of the Body of Christ, upon whom God has distributed His many gifts of the Holy Spirit.  We can tend to those tasks which only we can do in our parishes and localities.   We do incarnate the Body of Christ wherever we assemble for the Eucharist, and whenever we do the work of Christ in the world.  We must not neglect our responsibilities and ministries because the bishops are wrestling with theirs.

One unintended side effect of postponing the Metropolitan Council Meeting is that Bishop-elect Matthias has announced he will be visiting our parish of St. Paul the Apostle in Dayton, OH, for the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts on Wednesday evening, March 16, 6:30pm.

Reflections on the OCA, Autocephaly & the Future (4)

This is the 4th and final blog in this series in which I am reflecting on  the Keynote Address of Metropolitan Jonah to the 2010 Canadian Archdiocesan Assembly regarding the Episcopal Assembly.  The first blog is Reflections on the OCA, Autocephaly & the Future (1) and the previous blog:  Reflections on the OCA, Autocephaly & the Future (3).  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}:  We will have to decide some key value questions: whether participation in the movement towards Orthodox unity in North America is more important to us, or whether we simply stand fast on our autocephaly, our institutional identity, even to the point of exclusion. We need to evaluate whether unity with the other communities will foster or hinder our missionary task. We have to evaluate what kind of context and direction for the future will best foster that mission.

I would agree that these are issues WE in the OCA must discuss.   The problem occurs when the Metropolitan moves unilaterally without regard for those holding positions of leadership in the conciliar structures of the OCA (the Synod of Bishops, Metropolitan Council, chancery staff, for example).   Not nearly enough has been done regarding this discussion and that is why it is foolhardy to demand that the OCA follow one path.   We need to engage in this discussion before we enter into discussions with the other jurisdictions.   If anything that has been the failure of the OCA, we have not articulated a clear vision for ourselves.   Only now are we in a position to engage in this conciliar discussion.  The time for it has come; so let us not thwart that process by entering into agreements with those Orthodox outside the OCA.  We need to discuss and even debate our vision, our purpose, our mission, and our direction.   This whole process internally has hardly even begun and yet the Metropolitan without regard for the conciliar process engages in discussion on these issues with the greater Orthodox world.

He also posits a false opposition between autocephaly and Orthodox unity in America.  Again the documents of autocephaly and the recent 2010 Statement on Autocephaly by the Synod of Bishops seems clear that autocephaly is meant to be an inclusive process – it is intended to bring about the unity of all Orthodox in American and is intended to include all the Orthodox in America of which the OCA is but a part.   The Metropolitan’s own thinking on this issue seems confused and at odds with the statement of Synod, which he signed.

[MJ}:  Whatever the particularities, we remain steadfast in our vision that the only acceptable solution for North America is a fully inclusive, united autocephalous Church with a single synod of bishops, electing our own bishops and primate, and controlling our own life. We will remain committed to a vision of conciliarity, of catholicity on all levels, affirming that all Orthodox Christians should have a voice in the life of the Church. We are absolutely committed to the vision that our task is missionary, to bring the gospel to Americans, and to incorporate Americans into the communion of the Orthodox Church.

I would agree that these are some of our basic principles and so we need to discuss how to embrace them and to bring them to the EA table.

But I don’t imagine that any of these ideals will be upheld by surrendering the autocephaly.   These are the very ideas we need to bring to the EA.  This is our task to the EA.

My concern would be that these words are not consistent with other things he has said and done regarding conciliarity, catholicity, unity and autocephaly.

[MJ}:  In relation to the task of entering into a deeper unity, there are several points in which we need to repent and be transformed. First, we need to drop the triumphalism and the arrogance that isolate us from our brother Orthodox in this continent. That does not mean that we’re not thankful for the gift of autocephaly given to us. Rather we must see it and ourselves in the larger context of the whole Orthodox community, not only in relation to ourselves.

This all becomes a tricky road to negotiate.   If the OCA exhibited triumphalism and arrogance (one needs only think of the Metropolitan’s own “pan Orthodox” speech), then maybe we need to back off all kinds of rhetoric suggesting we have the key or the solution to the problems of Orthodoxy in America.   If the leadership now imagines that the key is not promoting autocephaly but surrendering it, the leadership still arrogantly imagines it is the key to the solution.  Now suddenly the OCA can fix all the problems of Orthodoxy in America by simply dismantling its central structure, abandoning the mission entrusted to it by the autocephaly and submitting itself and all the small Orthodox jurisdictions to, what will be for them as for us, a foreign power.  As if that magically fixes all of the Orthodox problems in America.   It won’t.  The various overseas Patriarchates still have not agreed among themselves as to what is the solution nor to what they are willing to SUBMIT themselves.

Autocephaly is not the great stumbling block to Orthodox problems in America, over which all jurisdictions have tripped.   The real issue remains: what is the Orthodox mission in America?  We were told to be here as part of the Great Commission of Christ to go into all the world and preach the Gospel and make disciples of all nations.  When we are willing to discuss, “how do we do that in America?”, then we will deal with Orthodox unity.  But if we think we were sent to America to establish unity, then we will never get to our God-given mission and ministry.  When we agree why we are here, then we will cooperate.