Orthodoxy, Autocephaly and America

Archbishop Job of TelmessosThe Permanent Representative of the Ecumenical Patriarchate to the World Council of Churches, Archbishop Job of Telmessos, in an interview  with the Greek newspaper “Ethnos of Sunday”  said the following about the current dispute  between the Ecumenical Patriarch and the Moscow Patriarch over the autocephaly of  the Orthodox Church in Ukraine:

Autocephaly transcends ethnophylism and regionalism by ensuring the unity of the Church within the local Church as well as between the local Churches. It does not preclude serving the pastoral needs of Russian-speaking, Romanian-speaking, Greek-speaking, English-speaking or any other believers living in Ukraine, and allows for the communion with Constantinople, Moscow and all other local Orthodox Churches.   We must not forget that the Orthodox Church is one, because it is the Body of Christ. Therefore, it is not possible to divide the body of Christ. The Church belongs to Christ and not to Constantinople, Moscow, Kiev or anyone else. For me, it is a little strange that an Orthodox living in Ukraine does not want to be under the jurisdiction of Kiev but under the jurisdiction of Moscow…

OCAFor me this is an interesting comment which I hope the Ecumenical Patriarch actually believes when it comes to Orthodoxy in America.  Archbishop Job thinks it a little strange that an Orthodox living in Ukraine does not want to be under the jurisdiction of Kiev.  Isn’t it equally strange that these same bishops imagine that Orthodox in America should be under these foreign jurisdictions?   Many of us Orthodox in America don’t want to be under Moscow or Constantinople but want to have exactly what Archbishop Job says – a local church administered by bishops in America.  He sees autocepahly as the glue which holds together in unity the local church and the very thing which then unites that local church to all the other Orthodox Churches.  Certainly that is what autocephaly can and should be in America.  I hope these words words and this wisdom will be used to recognize just such an autocephalous Orthodox Church in America.

Autocephaly, America and an Acceptable Time

When will the autocephalous Orthodox Churches embrace the Orthodox Church in America as a sister autocephalous church?

Some have said, “never.”  But the “Mother Church” of the OCA does recognize the OCA’s autocephaly.  So do several of the other autocephalous Orthodox Churches. So part of the Orthodox world already accepts the reality.  Those that have not recognized the autocephaly, still have for the most part granted a de facto recognition by accepting the clergy and faithful of the OCA in Communion.

As Alexander Bogolepov notes in his book, TOWARD AN AMERICAN ORTHODOX CHURCH: THE ESTABLISHMENT OF AN AUTOCEPHALOUS ORTHODOX CHURCH   (written in 1963, 7 years before the OCA officially received its autocephaly from the Moscow Patrachate): 

“Although not recognized de jure, a new Church may enjoy de facto recognition by other autocephalous Local Churches.”  (p 50)

In fact Bogolepov notes that there have often been lags in time (some quite long) between when a local Church saw itself as autocephalous, and when the rest of the Orthodox world also accepted its status:

 “The Patriarchate of Constantinople, for example, had to recognize the self-proclaimed independence of the following Churches in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries:  the Church of Greece in 1850, 17 after it had proclaimed itself autocephalous; the Romanian Church in 1885, 20 years after; the Albanian Church in 1937, 15 years after; the Bulgarian Church in 1945, 72 years after.  In the fourteenth century the Serbian Church was recognized by the Patriarch of Constantinople 30 years after it had proclaimed itself independent (1346, 1375), and  in the sixteenth century the Russian Church–  140 years after (1448-1589).  In the twentieth century the Patriarch of Moscow recognized the Finnish Church 35 years after it had been granted autonomy by the Ecumenical Patriarchate (1923-1958).”  (pp 47-48)

Bogolepov notes there are many exact parallels between why the Russian Church declared itself autocephalous from Constantinople and the OCA’s own situation in the mid-20th Century.  He writes that even though Constantinople refused to recognize the autocephalous status of Moscow for 140 years after Moscow deemed itself autocephalous,  when in 1948, the Russian Church celebrated its 500th Anniversary of its autocephaly, the Ecumenical Patriarch joined the celebration and congratulated them on their 500th Anniversary.  Constantinople not only accepted Moscow’s autocephaly but also Moscow’s timeline and self-understanding for when this happened.

A major difference for Moscow and the OCA is that Moscow was able to assert its own authority over a certain imperial territory and was not just one jurisdiction competing among many for ecclesiastical recognition in Russia.  The OCA remains one jurisdiction among many working in the Americas, and while the other jurisdictions show varying degrees of interest in having all Orthodox under their ecclesial authority; in fact some Orthodox jurisdictions in the America are not interested in competing at all for authority over all Orthodox in America and are content to be one limited jurisdiction among many limited jurisdictions.

The history of how autocephaly is ultimately recognized in the family of Orthodox Churches shows that it takes time.  Moscow waited 140 years, the OCA has so far waited 40 years.   While the OCA has recognized Orthodox unity in America as a priority, its best course of action is to take the current time to establish a viable jurisdiction, and then at an acceptable time it will be recognized by the family of Orthodox sister autocephalous churches.

Mother Churches?

“You cannot have God for your Father unless you have the church for your Mother.”   (St. Cyprian of Carthage, d. 278, On the Unity of the Catholic Church)

“We believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.”  (Nicene Creed)

The Episcopal Assemblies, the new effort to establish hierarchical unity for the Orthodox in America, accepts the assumption that there is a division within the universal Church between “mother” churches and then some form of immature/infant churches.   The immature churches in this thinking apparently do not hold the fullness of the Faith, and are somehow less full or less catholic than the mother churches and so must keep a dependency on the mother churches.

It would seem pretty hard to defend this idea based in the Scriptures or in the idea of the church professed in the Nicene Creed in which there is only one Church – holy, catholic and apostolic – not different kinds of churches – mother, daughter and infant.

Indeed should not Jerusalem rather than Constantinople be considered the mother church of Orthodoxy?

When in the Acts of the Apostles, the Jerusalem Church learns of new Christian communities being formed (especially since they didn’t found these new communities, but only learned about them after they existed), the “mother of all churches” does send apostles to investigate the new communities, but then they are given the full hand of fellowship and not treated as somehow lesser, daughter or infant churches  (see Acts 8:14ff, 11:19ff, 15:22ff).  The Holy Spirit gives each local church the fullness of the faith, not the mother church whose role is to recognize the work of the Holy Spirit and to welcome into the Communion of believers the new congregations.

The Church is our mother, not the Russian Church or the Greek Church, but the Orthodox Church.   The notion of “mother churches” creates an artificial division between churches, as if there is more than one church or more than one kind of church!   We claim to believe in ONE church, not an extended family of churches with mothers and daughters of unequal rank (Ephesians 4:4-5).   If anything, the OCA is a sister church to the Russian Church.  Either the Russian mission brought the fullness of the faith to America or it did not.    For the OCA to accept the idea of the Russian Church being our mother, rather than the Orthodox Church as our mother is to deny what we profess in the Creed about the Church, to deny the Eucharist fullness of each and every local church, to deny that there is any real ecclesial unity among all local churches, and to deny the Catholicity of each local Eucharistic assembly.  When any Orthodox “jurisdiction” acts as if it is a dependency on a “mother” church rather than the fullness of faith incarnate in its locality in North America, then it is denying Orthodox ecclesiology.   Parishes and dioceses and bishops which are in communion with the rest of Orthodoxy are fully Orthodox.

Saints of North America

The working ASSUMPTIONS being made by those who want to emphasize that only the so called mother churches are fully Orthodox and Catholic are not ones that we should readily accept.  Why betray the Creed’s clear belief in ONE church?  The fullness of the faith is found wherever an Orthodox bishop is, and wherever an Orthodox Eucharistic assembly exists.

Questioning the autocephaly given to the Orthodox Church in America by the Russian Church, questions whether any Orthodox bishop or Church in fact is fully or truly Catholic and/or Orthodox; for such questions really are doubting the Orthodoxy and Catholicity not only of the Orthodox Church in America but of the Russian Orthodox Church as well.

In America, we Orthodox must wrestle with what it means that autocephaly has been give to the Church in America (not just to the OCA, but to the Orthodox in America).     Let us wrestle with what the creedal proclamation of ONE church really means for that is the key to understanding autocephaly.

The unity of THE ONE Church lies in mutual love, in the oneness of the Eucharist, in the common mind of the one true faith, not in who was founded by whom, nor in who lords it over whom (Matthew 20:25-28, Mark 10:42-45, Luke 22:25-27).

See also my blog Autocephaly, the OCA, and the Episcopal Assembly

Leadership: Seeing What Doesn’t Exist, But Can Be Realized

As our diocese considers candidates for the office of diocesan bishop, as the OCA continues working on its strategic plan, as the Orthodox bishops in North America meet in the newly created Episcopal Assembly, the exact nature of Christian leadership looms important  (see for example  John 13:1-16, Mark 10:41-45, Matthew 23:1-12). 

I heard on the Mars Hill Audio Journal 101 a discussion with Dr. Steven Loomis, Professor of Education at Wheaton College, in which he clearly distinguishes between leadership and management:

“The difference is that the leader has the ability to have strategic vision, the ability to see a world that does not yet exist, but can be realized; whereas a manager is merely concerned about the means of lining up productive activities with the existing rules.” 

The question remains whether our bishops will exhibit such leadership so as to have strategic vision, the ability to see a world that does not yet exist, but can be realized, or will they prove themselves just managers keeping within existing structures and rules in order to maintain what we currently have.  (And let’s be honest, some doubt they can collectively even rise to the level of managers).

Loomis says leaders can envision a world that does not yet exist but can be realized.  Our North American bishops are already in a hole as they are told to see the situation in America not even in terms of what exists, but as the patriarchates of the old world believe it is: Diasporas.   The bishops are being assembled to see the past, not even the present, so what leaders might see – what does not YET exist — is a very distant idea.    The Episcopal Assembly imposes a problem and a framework on the Orthodox of North America:  the problem of the Diaspora

What is being termed the Diasporal problem exists because some choose Pre-15th Century thinking as the only way to see the world.   It is said that Christopher Columbus continued to believe in his lifetime that he had in fact reached Asia since he could not believe that there was such a thing as the new world – lands not specifically mentioned in the Bible.   The ancient Orthodox Patriarchates face the same problem, only now in the 21st Century:  the Byzantines divided the known world, the ecumeni, into a pentarchy assuming they had authority over the entire earth.  The real PROBLEM results from the ancients not knowing the whole world, and the discovery of new worlds and the migration of peoples throughout the earth has revealed the incompleteness of Pentarchical canons and ecclesiology.   The view that the Byzantine Pentarchy controlled and ruled the worldwide church was shown its limits with the rise of Islam, but our Patriarchs have not allowed reality to alter their view of the known world, nor that certain Orthodox empires no longer exist, swept away by God’s movement through history.

So now the bishops of North America, living in lands not even imagined by antiquated Byzantine thinking and canons, are being told that they must see the world through the lens of what existed prior to the 8th Century.   They must become Diaspora, whether or not in reality they are such a thing, or that such an idea could even exist within Christianity, with a membership born in faith not resulting from genetics or ethnicity. 

It makes me mull over the words with which St. Matthew concludes the entire Sermon on the Mount:  

Christ Pantocrator: Not Confined by or to Canons, Countries, or Human Conventions

“Now when Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes”

(Matthew 7:28-29).

The astonishing thing about Jesus was exactly that He didn’t hold to the tradition of the elders, but revealed what new things God was doing.   He sent the Holy Spirit upon His followers to continue this work.

Will we be astounded by our bishops’ deliberations and decisions because they have the mind of Christ, and speak with the authority of the Holy Spirit? 


Will instead Jesus compassionately see us as He saw the crowds in Matthew 9:36 –

“When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”

The harvest is indeed plentiful.   Dear bishops, open your eyes to see North America not merely as the place whereupon seeds of ethnic groups have been scattered, but rather the plentiful harvest which God has provided, even if you did not labor for it.   

“I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor; others have labored, and you have entered into their labor”  (John 4:38).

Considering Chambesy: The Chairmanship of the Ecumenical Patriarch

In this series of blogs I will be commenting on issues dealt with and created by the Fourth Pre-Conciliar Pan-Orthodox Conference in Chambesy (June 6-13, 2009).  The first blog was Considering Chambesy: The Mother Churches, then Considering Chambesy: The Diaspora, third Considering Chambesy: The Issues, 4th Considering Chambesy: The Decisions, and then Considering Chambesy: The Articles Governing the Assemblies.   All of the ideas expressed and questions raised are my own, as one Orthodox Christian living in the USA,  and do not reflect the opinion of any other person or organization.   I am commenting here on the Chambesy document   RULES OF OPERATION  OF EPISCOPAL ASSEMBLIES IN THE ORTHODOX DIASPORA. 

 Article 4.    The Chairman is ex officio the first among the Bishops of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and, in the absence thereof, in the order of Diptychs. The Chairman of the Episcopal Assembly convenes the meetings thereof, directs its work and presides over its colleagues.

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew

The bishops at Chambesy re-affirmed the basic canonical order of the Orthodox Church in placing the chairmanship of the Episcopal Assemblies in the hands of the bishops of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.  In as much as granting of autocephaly by the Moscow Patriarchate and the creation of the OCA had not brought about the unity of the Orthodox jurisdictions in America (neither had the formation of SCOBA for that matter), what Chambesy proposed for all situations in the world like what exists in North America is a new, even if temporary, organization to attempt to deal with the anomalies which exist in the Orthodox Churches which exist beyond the ancient borders of the Byzantine and Russian Empires.  It remains to be seen whether this newly created temporary, and “extra-canonical” organization will succeed where other efforts have not.   Additionally in America the OCA at this point still has its autocephaly and thus the relationship of the OCA bishops to the other jurisdictions will still have to be worked out by the proposed Great Council of the Orthodox Bishops of the world which promises to take up the issue of who can grant autocephaly.

The chairmanship of the Episcopal Assemblies is key because it is the chairman who basically set the agenda for the work of the Assemblies.  In other words the Ecumenical Patriarchate will be deciding what can and cannot be discussed and what direction discussions may take.

The bishops of Chambesy while allowing the bishops in a region to discuss Orthodox unity, are not leaving it solely to the discretion of the local bishops how to inact or implement that unity.   Here the Ecumenical Patriarch has reserved the right of final say for himself and apparently he will have veto power over the decisions of the Episcopal Assemblies.

Article 5.   1. The competencies of the Episcopal Assembly are:

a.     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.

Safeguarding and contributing to the unity of the Orthodox is the stated goal of the Episcopal Assemblies and it is a noble one.  I assume that the unity includes administrative unity, though that is not specifically mentioned unless it comes under the ecclesiological and canonical topics.   The document speaks specifically about obligations of the regional Church:  “theological, ecclesiological, canonical, spiritual, philanthropic, educational and missionary.”   I much appreciate the word obligation because to me it implies the church cannot treat these topics as ideals or good ideas but rather as the mandated work of the Orthodox Church.  It implies the Regional Church does not exist merely to take care of the mother church’s “Diasporal” interests; rather the Church in any region is obliged to undertake outreach and missionary work to native and regional populations who are not Diaspora.  Orthodoxy does not belong to any one people or ethnicity including a Hellenic one.  The Gospel is apostolic, evangelical and catholic, like the Church is supposed to be according to the Creed we profess.

5.1.c.  Relations with other Christian Churches and other religions.

5.1.d. Anything that entails obligations of the Orthodox Church in Her relations with society and government.

The relationship of the Orthodox Church to other Christian Churches is a key issue for those of us Orthodox living in “the West.”   We live as tiny minorities not only in the countries of which we are citizens but even among the Christian populations in our home countries.   Intermarriage between Orthodox and non-Orthodox not only happens but must be considered normative for us.  Our voice is one of a tiny minority in a sea of other Christians – Protestant and Catholic.  The Orthodox leadership have behaved in ways which are contrary to a “one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church” understanding, instead behaving like sectarians and even that of (nationalistic) ethnic minorities.   To encourage all of our bishops and parishes to behave as Orthodox in relationship to church and state would be a good thing.

U.S. Bill of Rights
U.S. Bill of Rights

Additionally, Orthodoxy has not officially worked out its relationship to the modern Western world in which there exists a separation of church and state.  Most Western nations consider themselves officially “secular” even if they have strong Christian roots.  No Western nation embraces the ancient Byzantine imperial idea of a symphony between church and state.  It is the Orthodox leaders who now have to understand what their relationship to nations and governments really is.  For example in Orthodoxy there still exists strong assumptions that the church and state will co-operate, that the Church has the authority to influence the state and that the state will legally support the interests of the church.  Orthodox bishops wear the garb of imperial Byzantium obvious in the miter they wear.  Yet in America bishops do not represent the interest of the state, the state is forbidden from influencing the election of bishops or the policies of a religion.   Orthodox bishops however have often acted like national ambassadors to the American government, and seem to love having photo opportunities with American presidents as if they as bishops were in fact government representatives rather than Christian bishops.  

Orthodoxy must embrace a totally new attitude toward the new world.  Of course one would think at this point in its own history the Ecumenical Patriarch might be willing to consider giving up any imperial pretentions as well as imperial dress and insignias considering their own existence in an officially secular, but de facto Muslim state, in favor of other dress that might be more appropriate to our being disciples of Christ in the non-Byzantine world.  Perhaps the Turkish state would not allow such a change in the Orthodox leadership in Turkey and prefers to remind the Orthodox bishops through their dress that they in fact are the last representatives of a defeated empire.

The real question for all Orthodox is whether we will work through the Episcopal Assemblies to assure that Christ is the head of our Church and not just limit headship to men even if canonically correct. 

Next:  Chambesy:  The Beginning of the End or the End of the Beginning?

Considering Chambesy: the Mother Churches

In this series of blogs I will be commenting on issues dealt with and created by the Fourth Pre-Conciliar Pan-Orthodox Conference in Chambesy (June 6-13, 2009).  I am commenting as an Orthodox Christian who lives in the United States and not as a person who has any official capacity in the discussions being held about Orthodoxy in America.   My comments are my own and do not reflect the thoughts or opinions or official policies of any bishop, diocese, jurisdiction or autocephalous church.  

chambesyI listened to Ancient Faith Radio’s Unraveling Chambesy – Administrative Unity In Our Time (Part 2) which included an interview with Fr. Mark Arey who was said to be the Secretary of SCOBA but who was speaking as an official representative of the Ecumenical Patriarch.  I found that interesting.  He wasn’t speaking as a representative of SCOBA.  In fact SCOBA is probably now irrelevant since it was created by the initiative of local bishops in America to deal with common issues among the various Orthodox jurisdictions.  It is now supplanted by an organization created by the so called “mother churches of Orthodoxy” and more controlled by, aligned with and beholden to the Patriarch of Constantinople.   It also is to me interesting that the official Chambesy Documents are not listed on the SCOBA webpage but rather are on the webpage of the Greek Archdiocese.  This too would be indicative of the position Constantinople is claiming in dealing with Orthodoxy in the world beyond the borders of ancient Byzantium.

The Episcopal Assemblies created by the Chambesy agreement orient the bishops toward the mother churches rather than toward each other.  SCOBA has no place at the Episcopal Assembly table since it would be seen as a para-church organization.  The local hierarchs have been re-divided along “ethnic” (patriarchal) lines.   If SCOBA had created any sense of commonality among the “competing” jurisdictional bishops, the deck is being reshuffled and relationships reconsidered.

 This is completely redefining the efforts toward inter-Orthodox co-operation in America.    What remains to be seen is whether the OCA has any place at the Episcopal Assembly table.  In any case the OCA (and the issue of its autocephaly) will now be subsumed in the Episcopal Assembly format chaired by the Ecumenical Patriarch.  This is all being done with the agreement of the Moscow Patriarchate.   Additionally all of the recent hubbub in the Antiochian Archdiocese  about autonomy and the role of the Metropolitan also will eventually  be recast  by the Episcopal Assembly to be dealt with canonically by worldwide Orthodoxy under the leadership of Constantinople, not locally by Englewood or even by Antioch.    

Could Chambesy thus be seen as creating a “supra-patriarchal” structure in the Episcopal Assemblies to deal with the current non-canonical situation of the Church in the so-called Diaspora?   The documents do say immediately each bishop will continue to function within and answer to his own current canonical structure – but the goal is to regularize the situation within the canons.   It will be interesting to see how these multiple Patriarchal claims and interests will be dealt with.   Does the Patriarch of Constantinople without an Emperor to back him have the influence or power to claim universal/ecumenical primacy (or even supremacy) over all other Orthodox patriarchates and bishops?

chambesy2The venue for dealing with Orthodox unity in America has been shifted away from a discussion in and about the autocephaly of the OCA to a much bigger frame of reference:  that of worldwide (and specifically old world) Orthodoxy.   The issue of unity in America is not being treated as a local problem to be solved by the Orthodox in America but rather is being put into the canonical framework of Orthodoxy to be dealt with by the mother churches not by the local church.

Ancient Faith Radio characterized the work of Chambesy in this way:  “To address and fix the problem of the so called Diaspora – the scattering of Orthodox faithful into countries away from the mother churches”   because  “Time has come and in fact is overdue to unify the administration of all jurisdictions.”

I have problems with the way in which the whole issue is being framed.  For the perspective being taken in this is that all the Orthodox in America for example are in fact “Diaspora.”    It is true that some Orthodox here in North America may have been scattered from the Old World, but many of us (I do include myself in this group) were not scattered here at all from the mother churches.  Many of us like our parents and grandparents spent our entire lives here in America; not only have we no feel for being “Diaspora” but also we have no “ethnic” connection to old world Orthodoxy.    We have embraced Orthodoxy here in America as Americans.   We weren’t scattered here from the old world.  We are coming at this entire issue from a completely different direction.  We are here and seeking out Orthodoxy.  We were not scattered here from the old world carrying Orthodoxy with us.    We have chosen to follow Christ in an Orthodox manner (though accepting Christ’s words, that we have not chosen Him, but He chose us – John 15:16 – to carry out His mission here).  We are here to be His people as Christians, not to preserve or advance Greek, Russian, Arab or some other so-called mother church ethnicity.

Next:  Considering Chambesy: the Diaspora