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

This is the 2nd 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).  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. 

In the previous blog I puzzled over what conciliarity means in the church today.  The Metropolitan has pointed it out as a special trait of the OCA’s tradition, and yet his recent announcement of his intent to move the OCA headquarters to Washington, DC, seems to have been a unilarteral decision on his part, with no consultation with the Metropolitan Council, the Chancery Staff, the Diocese of Washington, or perhaps even with his fellow bishops on the Synod.  If conciliarity implies some type of open discussion, discernment and then decision, it is hard to see this happening in these recent events.

I’ll turn to some other comments Metropolitan Jonah made in his Canadian speech.

[MJ}:  However, the autocephaly itself causes many problems as it saw in the reactions of the other churches.

These words make me ask:   Was the church in America without problems before the OCA was created?  The autocephaly was NEEDED at the time it was given.  It has in fact stood as a challenge to all Orthodox jurisdictions in America to think about Orthodoxy, unity, and the Church as Church and not simply as an extension of foreign ethnic interests in America.  The OCA has led all Orthodox to have to think about what being ORTHODOX in America means.  These are good problems and good questions which we need to answer.  

Even if there were no autocephalous Church in America, would the other dioceses be any closer to unity or even discussing unity?   I venture the opinion that it is the existence of the OCA which has kept unity a topic of discussion among the Orthodox jurisdictions in Amnerica.  No jurisdiction has made Orthodox unity a priority as the OCA has.

Autocephaly may have caused problems, but not all of them were bad, and some of them were needed for Orthodoxy in America to embrace its own mission to this continent and in the present time.

As the Synod of Bishops in its recent,    Pastoral Letter to the Clergy, Monastics and Faithful of the Orthodox Church in America on Autocephaly (Nativity Fast, 2010):

“As envisioned in the Tomos, we believe that the autocephaly given to us will be fully realized when the promise of Orthodox unity in North America is fulfilled, and the OCA together with all the Orthodox faithful in North America become one united Autocephalous Church of America, recognized by all other Orthodox Churches.”

Autocephaly has not just caused problems, it has also opened hearts and minds to the real mission of Orthodoxy in America.

[MJ}:  Autocephaly is a status within this system that prescribes a set of relationships with the other churches that, of necessity, must be entirely mutual. By unilaterally granting autocephaly to the OCA in 1970, those relationships were only partially established.

In the recent histories of granting autocephalous status to the various churches of Europe, each autocephaly caused and problem and was not immediately accepted by all the other Orthodox churches (just read Bogolepov’s TOWARD AN AMERICAN ORTHODOX CHURCH).  The OCA’s experience is not even unique in this.  And certainly, once we get beyond the “foreign” interests of the Mother Churches, we have to begin to ask ourselves about having an indigenous church.  There are a sizable number of converts who are interested in learning how to be Orthodox in America, not how to become ethnically reoriented.   They are most interested in knowing how to be Christian in an Orthodox manner; it is our task to discern how to live this out in America as Americans.

[MJ}:  By some in the Greek world, they were categorically rejected and some of the churches are ambivalent. This played itself out in the exclusion of the OCA from the Executive Committee of the Episcopal Assembly in its non-recognition by Constantinople of having the right to vote as an Autocephalous Church.

The exclusion of the OCA from the Executive Committee of the EA is not the OCA’s biggest problem.  The EA is an attempt to deal with the non-canonical situation in America, it is an attempt by the Mother Churches to deal with each other and with their dioceses in America.   The OCA is not in the same category as these other churches.  We are an autocephalous church, not some diocesan extension of a  Mother Church.   So we are not hurt at the moment by being excluded from the EA’s Executive Committee.   They have to work out their problems with each other and then they can look at us.  We ought to sit there as a reminder that we exist, but we don’t face the same problems as all of the other jurisdictions who are tied to Mother Churches.    We should actively cooperate with the EA process, even if only to the level that they will allow us.  We still exist, we are not going away and they will still have to figure out their relationship to us, once they figure out their relationships to each other.

Next:  Reflections on the OCA, Autocephaly & the Future (3)

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