The Election of Metropolitan Tikhon as Primate of the OCA

Metropolitan Tikhon under the watchful eye of St. James the 1st Bishop of Jerusalem

I just got home from the 17th All American Council  which was held earlier today in Cleveland, OH.  As is now well known the Synod of Bishops elected Archbishop Tikhon to be our new Metrop0litan.  Metropolitan Tikhon served for many years at St. Tikhon’s Seminary and in the Diocese of Eastern Pennsylvania.   There were no stunning surprises at the Council.  There was only one agenda item – the election of the Metropolitan.  So after the hierarchical Divine Liturgy in the morning, the Council was opened and a vote was taken.  The candidates getting the most votes are all current bishops in the OCA:  Bishops Michael, and Archbishops Tikhon and Melchisedek.  Bishop Michael received the most votes of any one candidate, about 35% of the 590 votes cast.  On the second ballot in which each delegate votes for two candidates, Bishop Michael and Archbishop Tikhon received the most votes and so both of their names were submitted as the candidates of the 17th All American Council for the Synod of Bishops consideration.  The members of the Synod then cast their votes for Metropolitan and Tikhon was elected.   As is true in every generation for the Church, the OCA faces many challenges and problems in dealing with issues in a rapidly changing world.  I certainly think Metropolitan Tikhon is in need of our prayers to help him face the current problems of the OCA, to build the bridges that need to be built or repaired between the OCA and other Orthodox jurisdictions and patriarchates, to see clearly the issues we face in order to bring the wisdom of Church Tradition to contemporary topics.

There was some speculation that perhaps the supporters of retired Metropolitan Jonah might arouse popular support for the former metropolitan to return him to office or to in some other way disrupt the Council.  But popular support for +Jonah was minimal: he receive only 17 votes on both the first and second ballot – suggesting only a tiny minority were interested in him as a candidate and that number did not grow on the 2nd ballot, suggesting that there was no ground swell for the return of the former Metropolitan.

Read the biography of Metropolitan Tikhon

17th All American Council at Holy Trinity Church, Parma, Ohio


Bishops and Metropolitans

As we in the Orthodox Church in America prepare to elect a new Metropolitan, we can contemplate the words of St. Augustine (d. 430AD):

“When you hear the words: ‘Peter do you love me?’ (John 21:15) imagine you are in front of a mirror and looking at yourself.  Peter, surely, was a symbol of the Church. Therefore the Lord in asking Peter is asking us too. To show that Peter was a symbol of the Church remember the passage in the Gospel: ‘You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. (Matt. 16:18) Has only one man received those keys? Christ himself explains what they are for: ‘Whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’ (Matt. 18:18) If these words had been said only to Peter, now that he is dead who would ever be able to bind or loose? I make bold to say that all of us have received the keys. We bind and loose. And you also bind and loose. Whoever is bound is separated from your community: he is bound by you. When he is reconciled, however, he is loosed, thanks to you because you are praying for him. We all in fact love our Lord, we are all his members. And when the Lord entrusts his flock to shepherds, the whole number of shepherds is reduced to one individual body, that of the one Shepherd. (cf. John 10:16) Peter is undeniably a shepherd, but without doubt Paul is also is a shepherd. John is a shepherd, Andrews is a shepherd, each Apostle is a shepherd. All the holy bishops are shepherds, without a shadow of a doubt.” (Drinking from the Hidden Fountain, pgs. 320-321)

Seeking the Episcopacy: Salvation not Reputation

In as much as the OCA is in the process of electing a new Metropolitan, we can consider the words of St. Gregory the Great (d. 604AD) about those who seek to become bishops.  Some according to St. Gregory seek the office of bishop for wrong reasons, looking not for their salvation but to enhance their reputation:

“Moreover, it should be noted that he said this at a time when whoever supervised the laity was the first to be led to the torments of martyrdom. Therefore, it was laudable in that era to seek the episcopate, when whoever held it would suffer severely. It is for this reason, then, that the office of the episcopate is defined as a ‘good work’ when it is said: ‘If one desires the episcopate, he desires a good work.’ Therefore, he who seeks not the good work of the ministry, but only the glory of honor, testifies against himself that he does not desire the office of a bishop. For a man does not love the sacred office, nor does he even understand it, if by craving a position of spiritual leadership he is nourished by the thought of subordinating others, rejoices at being praised, elates his heart by honor, or exalts in the abundance of his affluence.” (The Book of Pastoral Rule, pg. 41)

Discerning God’s Will: Electing Bishops

On November 13, the OCA will assemble at the All American Council to elect a new metropolitan.

Theologian Nicholas Afanasiev says that it is not the church nor the bishops who pass on or give the gifts of the Holy Spirit to its members and leaders. All the church or bishops can do is recognize that a person possesses the gifts of the Spirit and then they (the bishops) ask God to bless or confirm this person. What the church prays is that God will show that the person elected for office indeed possesses the gifts of the Spirit and that we have discerned correctly. Obviously, sometimes the discerning process fails, but that is our fault, not the fault of the Holy Spirit.   Afanasiev writes:

“The divine will cannot depend on the human will or be subject to it. God sends the gifts of the Holy Spirit not upon those chosen by the bishops or the people of the Church but upon those whom He himself chooses. The bishop has the grace to celebrate the sacrament of ordination, but this does not mean he manages the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Even to a lesser extent does it mean, as scholastic theology claims, that at the ordination of the presbyters and other clerics the bishop passes on to them the gifts of the Holy Spirit… Grace is not something to be passed from one to another and the bishop is not the one who has a depository of grace in order to distribute it to anyone he wills. Grace is a living gift of the Spirit who dwells in the Church…

In the Church God himself ordains people for particular ministries just as God ordains everyone called into the Church to his ministry of king and priest. ‘And God has appointed (etheto) in the church’… (1Cor. 12:28), ‘and he ordained some to be apostles…’ (Eph. 4:11). Neither a bishop nor a council of bishops nor the people of the Church, but God himself, ordains apostles, prophets, teachers, and pastors. God ordains these individuals for the ministry in and not outside of the Church, and for this reason the ordination which is from God is accomplished within the Church and with the participation of the Church…

God chooses every one of his ministers in the Church. The ancient church testifies to this its conviction through the words of the ordination prayer: ‘You who know our hearts, Father, grant that your servant, whom you have chosen for oversight, should shepherd your holy flock and should serve before you as your high priest…’ The Epitome uses the expression hon exelexô, ‘ whom you have chosen’ – just as in Acts 1:24: ‘and they prayed and said, “Lord, who knowest the hearts of all men, show which one of these two thou hast chosen (hon exelexô)…

The election by God, manifest through the ordination of the bishop, presbyter, and deacon, does not exclude a possibility of their election by the Church itself. ‘Let the bishop be ordained, having been elected by all the people.’ Election by the local church is one of the ways to discover God’s will, for it is not the one who is pleasing to the people that is elected but the one who was already appointed by God for ministry. The election was the people’s testimony concerning the will of God revealed in the Church and at the same time the expression of their consent to the ordination of this particular person who was elected, in fulfillment of God’s will, for this ministry.”

(Nicholas Afanasiev in The Church of the Holy Spirit, pgs. 94-96)

Tolkien: The Time Given to Us

I do sense in many people’s lives that come our presidential election year, a lot of people are edgy, irritated, angry and dis-eased (and this is made worse in a political swing state such as Ohio where I live where we suffer political advertisement and robo-call saturation bombardment).   Passions are raised and fear mongers are out in force on the airwaves warning of dire consequences if “the other guy” wins the election.  This is on top of the many actual news stories that tell of an unsettled and unsettling world.

Some wish they lived in different times and others wish the times were different.   Maybe we long for that more pastoral and care free time which we believe is the way things are supposed to be . . . but in all actuality have seldom been in the history of the world.  We can consider wisdom offered to us by novelist JRR Tolkien in his classic novel, The Fellowship of the Ring.

In that Lord of the Rings trilogy and in his other related works, Tolkien presented the Hobbits, the little people of the Shire, as basically good folk who enjoyed life.  They were not much concerned with the world beyond the Shire; literally, they were seldom concerned with anything beyond their next meal!  They were no threat to the rest of the world and of little importance to world powers.  They simply enjoyed their idyllic, prosperous lives and were rather innocent regarding the problems brewing in the rest of the world.  Yet troubles came upon them just as they do upon everyone.   They were not to blame for these troubles, but they could not escape them either for they lived in the same world as everyone else in Middle-earth.  One of the Hobbits, named Frodo, a hero of the story, has his good life totally disrupted by the evil and war which were consuming the rest of  Middle-earth.   He laments:

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.

“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

Even Gandalf the Wise, a wizard with amazing powers, longevity of life and knowledge of the world and its powers good and evil, also wishes that problems would occur  in some other time and place.  Every generation,however, has to deal with the reality of their contemporary situation.

The reality for each of us is that we cannot determine the times we live in, nor the dramas that engulf our world.  But within those major events, we can shape our lives at the personal level – how we respond to events and how we relate to those around us.  We do have power at that level.

We don’t create the times we are born into, but each decides what to do with the time given to them on earth.  And even the most insignificant of us, as was true of Frodo of the Shire, are capable of contributing in a most significant way to the times in which we find ourselves.

It may be that we don’t have to do some great thing, but what is required of us is that we are faithful and true in the little things which are in our power to effect.

November AAC to Elect New Metropolitan

The 17th All-American Council of the Orthodox Church in America will be held at Holy Trinity Church in Parma, Ohio on November 13 (which also is the feast day of St. John Chrysostom).  This AAC will be a one day Council with the sole purpose of electing a new metropolitan.

According to Fr. Eric Tosi, OCA Secretary:

“The bishops expressed their desire to hold a low key and penitential gathering, keeping costs as low as possible for parishes, dioceses, and the OCA inasmuch as it constitutes an unbudgeted expense.”

The OCA’s webpage reports:   The Council will open with the celebration of the Divine Liturgy, followed by brunch. An electoral plenary session will follow, after which the newly elected Primate will be installed prior to the closing session.

The Dormition Fast (2012)

On August 1 of each calendar year, the Orthodox Church proclaims a lenten season in preparation for the Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos.  This year the faithful of the Orthodox Church in America have been asked to use the Dormition Lent as a special time of prayer and fasting, asking God to guide us in the election of a new metropolitan.

On July 26 the OCA published on their webpage Archbishop Nathaniel’s Pastoral Letter on the Dormition Fast in which His Eminence, the OCA’s Locum Tenens, says:

Dearly Beloved in Christ, we are at the outset of the Fast of the Falling-Asleep of the Holy Birthgiver of God. At the end of the prescribed time of fasting and reflection, we shall joyfully celebrate the translation of the Theotokos to the heights of heaven. She is our constant intercessor with her Divine Son, our Lord and God and Savior, Jesus Christ. Our Orthodox tradition is: first the fast and then the feast! So, the Church in North America is also in a time of fasting and reflection in anticipation of the Descent of the Holy Spirit on our special All-American Electoral Council.

Archbishop Nathaniel also says:

Each clergyman, each lay person, each monastic is exhorted to continue “to serve the Lord in fear and trembling” during this opportune period of fasting in anticipation of the joy which will come at the celebration of the Most Holy Virgin, and in due time, the resolution of the office of Metropolitan.

So we are not only following the discipline of the Orthodox Church, but also being called upon by our OCA to use this fasting season to petition God for His guidance on our church.  The Chancery staff has already begun making preparations for the special electoral council:  Planning for 17th All American Council Begins.

A thought from St. John Cassian on how to keep a fast:

“A clear rule for self-control handed down by the Fathers is this: stop eating while still hungry and do not continue until you are satisfied. When the Apostle said, ‘Make no provision to fulfil the desires of the flesh’ (Rom. 13:14), he was not forbidding us to provide for the needs of life; he was warning against self-indulgence. Moreover, by itself abstinence from food does not contribute to perfect purity of soul unless the other virtues are active as well.” (The Philokalia: Volume 1,  pg. 74)

Archbishop Nathaniel’s Letter and the Future of the OCA

His Eminence, Nathaniel, Archbishop of Detroit and the OCA’s Locum Tenens issued a Pastoral Letter for the Dormition Fast offering at least a glimpse into what the future holds for the OCA.

Archbishop Nathaniel states that the Synod of Bishops is beginning to make preparations for a Special All American Electoral Council at which a new metropolitan will be elected for the Orthodox Church in America.  He is calling upon all members of the OCA to use the upcoming Dormition Fast as a time for prayer and fasting to ask the Holy Spirit to guide our church in preparation for the Electoral Council.

The Holy Synod is in constant contact among members, acting according to the Statute to prepare for the election. In addition to daily communications, the Holy Synod will meet in a special session on August 13, just before the conclusion of the Fast and in anticipation of the celebration of the Feast of the Holy Virgin. Our agenda is to decide on what is necessary to move forward with a decision on the time and place of the Council. For this, we ask your prayers. Other matters, of course, will be taken up.

See also my blog The OCA and Spiritual Maturity

The Faithful Choose the Bishop Who God Ordained

afanasievThis is the second blog in which I am commenting on the book, THE CHURCH OF THE HOLY SPIRIT by Russian Orthodox priest and scholar Nicholas Afanasiev .   The first blog is Baptism –  Consecration to  the Royal Priesthood.

Regarding the ordination of priests and bishops, Afanasiev says that neither the bishop nor the Church passes on the gifts of the Spirit to the ordinand.   Rather, the Church through the bishop only recognizes that the ordinand already possesses the gifts of the Spirit.   What the bishop/church does is to petition God asking Him to bless or confirm the ordinand in the position to which the Church is recognizing them as a minister.  The prayer of the church is, according to Afanasiev that God will show that the candidate indeed possesses the gifts that the Church community believes it has recognized in him.   Thus the prayer of ordination to the diaconate or priesthood or the consecration of a bishop is really asking God to show us that we discerned correctly; that we did recognized correctly the gifts of the Spirit active in this person.  The bishop when ordaining a deacon says, “The divine grace…. ordains, N., …”.  The divine grace or the Holy Spirit ordains, not the bishop. (See Acts 20:28 – it is the Holy Spirit who makes bishops, not other bishops).    The bishop also says, “God… by Your foreknowledge send the gift of Your Holy Spirit on them that are foreordained…”  Finally the bishop says, “for it is not by the laying-on of hands, but by the visitation of Your rich compassions, that grace is given unto them that are worthy of You.”    The texts indicate it is God who does the choosing, the gifting and the ordaining.  The Church is recognizing what God has already done. In the Acts of the Apostles, chapter 6:2-3, the Apostles instruct the people “to choose” (Greek:  episkepsasthe) men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom – these traits are already to be obvious in the candidates to all believers.  The Apostles are implying that the seven men who already have these traits are the ones chosen by God for this task.  The people’s duty is not to train the men, nor to pray that they be given these characteristics, but rather to recognize/discern which men already possess these particular traits/gifts.  The traits/gifts are the sign that they are chosen by God for the ministry.   We are not approving of what God has revealed; we simply are ourselves ritually recognizing or disclosing God’s choice and will.

MetJonahelectionThe divine will cannot depend on the human will or be subject to it.  God sends the gifts of the Holy Spirit not upon those chosen by the bishops or the people of the Church but upon those whom He himself chooses.  The bishop has the grace to celebrate the sacrament of ordination, but this does not mean that he manages the gifts of the Holy Spirit.   …  the bishop is not the one who has a depository of grace in order to distribute it to anyone he wills.

Just as God Himself appointed Saul to be an Apostle (Acts 26:16), so it is God, not bishop or council or people who appoints apostles, prophets, teachers, pastors and bishops in and for the Church.  The Church for its part recognizes God’s choice of the person chosen for ministry within the local community.  Ordination thus originally was the Church recognizing or showing who God had chosen for leadership within the community.  The election of the person for episcopal ordination “by the local church is one of the ways to discover God’s will, for it is not the one who is pleasing to the people that is elected but the one who was already appointed by God for ministry.”   However both the election by the community and the ordination itself both have the goal of seeking God’s will – who is it that God has chosen and ordained for ministry in the community? 

It is not the human community who can make a man be a pastor or a bishop – this is God’s doing.   The community’s role is to recognize what God is doing in the community and through whom.  In the early church it was the entire community who endeavored to discern God’s will through the election of the bishop.

For the thinking of the primitive Church, the election by the Church meant the election by all the people.  Clement himself spoke about  this, pointing out that the bishops are ordained ‘with the consent of the whole church’ …     Cyprian tells us … ‘And the bishop should be chosen (episcopus deligatur) in the presence of the people who have most fully known the life of each one, and have looked into the doings of each one as respects his habitual conduct.’

PaulConver2Thus discerning God’s will, determining who was ordained by God to be the bishop in the primitive church, was an act of the entire people of God.  The bishops were to be chosen by the people not from strangers or distant holy men, but from their own midst – from the men they communally familiar with; men who by their own lives and example showed that they had been ordained by God for leadership in the Church.

Beginning in the Nicean era, the people are gradually deprived of the right to elect their own pastors. … At the time when juridical principles penetrated the Church and effected the deprivation of election by the people, the third aspect of ordination – the witness of the people—lost its meaning.

The Church says Afanasiev began following exactly its decreed canons for selecting bishops but no longer relied on the example of the candidate’s life as known by the local community to discern God’s will.  Those who lacked any canonical impediments became the candidates of choice rather than those whose lives exemplified being chosen by God.

Prayers for the Election

The Orthodox Church in America announced that there are four petitions to be added to the Fervent Supplication during liturgical services which call upon the faithful of the OCA to pray for God’s guidance and intervention as we elect a new metropolitan at this critical juncture in OCA history.     Though in Orthodox style they are a bit wordy, they are still powerful prayers.  I encourage my parishioners to add these petitions (or the sentiments expressed in them) to your own personal prayers and devotions.

It would be good if the OCA as THE autocephalous church in this country, as THE Orthodox Church in America, would also send out to the U.S. parishes some petitions to pray for the presidential election as well.  Instead of ignoring the presidential election we should be offering up prayers for the nation we live in and for our political leaders and candidates.  I encourage my own parishioners to pray for our country during this presidential election, to pray for the candidates running for office, and for those who get elected to office.

It would also be good if we would get rid of the monarchical prayer for the president of our country, and replace it with a petition that better reflects the reality of the American democracy and the tripartite government :  “for the president of our country, for the congress and for the supreme court…”   The president is not the equivalent of a king or emperor and our prayers should reflect the political reality of the country and the century in which we live. (and in Canada and Mexico the petition ought to reflect their political realities) 

Here are the Prayers for the 15th All-American Council and Election of the New Metropolitan of All American and Canada            to be inserted in the Litany of Fervent Supplication

Furthermore we pray that the Lord our Almighty and Eternal God, the Source of all wisdom and understanding, will be present with us as we prepare to gather in Council; and that in our striving to serve and glorify Him He will enlighten us with right judgment and godly purpose to His glory and the building up of His Holy Church.

Again we pray that the Lord our God, the Giver of every good gift, will look with favor upon His Church and bless and guide the minds and hearts of His people being gathered by the grace of the Holy Spirit; and that He will increase in us holy conversation, vigilance, fervent prayer, and trust in Him, guiding our plans and deliberations with faith and knowledge of His will for us.

Furthermore we pray that the Lord our God, Who raises up servants in every time and in every place as leaders for His people, will send His Holy Spirit upon us and so guide our minds and hearts that, inspired by His gifts of discernment and understanding, we may know and do His will as we prepare to elect a new Metropolitan.

Again we pray that the Lord our God, in His mercy and providential care for us, will call forth for His flock a true shepherd of wisdom and strength, blessing us with a Metropolitan to care for the well-being of our Church, and to unite His faithful people in a zealous confession of the Orthodox faith, in loving service to one another, and a bright witness to the glory of His Holy Name.