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)

Episcopal Assemblies: New Wine, New Garment, New Wineskins

The Lord Jesus told this parable: “No one tears a piece from a new garment and sews it on an old garment; otherwise the new will be torn, and the piece from the new will not match the old.   And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the new wine will burst the skins and will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed.   But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins.  And no one after drinking old wine desires new wine, but says, ‘The old is good.’”   (Luke 5:36-39)

1st North American Episcopal Assembly

Recently all of the canonical Orthodox bishops of North America met in the first ever Episcopal Assembly called together by the Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew.  They established some committees and offices to carry on the work which they have begun.

Though the original meeting of the Orthodox bishops in Chambesy which established the Episcopal Assemblies said that one of the goals was to deal with the problem of the “diaspora,” the North American bishops, at least in their communiqués, were careful to avoid using “diaspora” in reference to what they are doing.

I have written elsewhere that it is time for all the bishops to recognize that we North American Orthodox are disciples not diaspora.  The Church was commissioned by Christ to go into all the world and make disciples of all nations.  Christ didn’t say that we to become diaspora in all nations.   We need to take up the Great Commission in how we see ourselves.

The purpose of my writing today is to ask the bishops who serve on the committees that will continue the work of the Episcopal Assemblies between their official meetings to keep in mind the parable of Jesus mentioned above (Luke 5:36-39, and parallel passages in Matthew 9 and Mark 2).

Attendant bearing Wineskin (Persepolis, 480BC)

We cannot deal with the canonical problems of North America by simply taking “old world” (traditional lands) ideas and sewing a piece of the new cloth of new world Orthodoxy to it.   Those holy fathers who adopted the canons and ecclesiology of our Church never envisioned a new world when they spoke.  The ecumenical notion they had is that they knew the entire world, and yet God had kept the truth about the earth hidden from their eyes.  So their ecclesial partitions proved to be inadequate for the real world.  They thought they were ecumenical and yet they did not envision the whole world  for their knowledge was limited by their time and place.

Orthodoxy in the world beyond traditional Orthodox lands, represents a new garment, new wineskins and new wine.   Christ said, no one puts new wine into old wineskins, not even Orthodox bishops should do that.   The issue that the Orthodox Church has to address is wrongly understood if it is put in terms of diaspora for that is old thinking – putting new wine into old wineskins which leads to the loss of both wineskins and wine.  When the problem is defined as a diasporal problem, the effort is made to force the new wine into the old wineskins (where the old wineskins are the partitioning of the known world based in the Patriarchical Pentarchy).    When the Orthodox who live in lands beyond the division of the old world are seen as disciples not diaspora, then we begin to deal with the new wine and the new wineskins about which Christ spoke to us.     We cannot sew new world Orthodoxy like a patch to the old garments of Orthodoxy.

Jesus concluded his words saying those who drunk the old wine will say “it is good” and have no desire for new wine.  The canonical partitioning of the old world has satisfied the thirst of the leadership of the Church living in traditional Orthodox lands.  They have no desire for new wine, and thus see no need for new wineskins.

The Episcopal Assembly however is able to look at the situation from a new point of view.  The appropriateness and implications of Christ’s parable for our situation are much more obvious when we realize we have had to drink of the new wine, and so we need new wineskins as well  (and note in the photo how large the wineskin is!). 

We who live in North America are the ones who have to reconcile our situation to the teachings of Christ in the new world.  We have to understand how the new garment, the new wine and the new wineskins parables are to guide us into maintaining our unity with each other as well as with the mother churches and with the Church’s canonical thinking throughout history.

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 Decisions

chambesyIn this series of blogs I am commenting on what is emerging in the Orthodox world as a result of  the Fourth Pre-Conciliar Pan-Orthodox Conference in Chambesy (June 6-13, 2009).  These blogs are my own opinions and do not represent those of anyone else.  The first blog was Considering Chambesy: The Mother Churches, then Considering Chambesy: The Diaspora, and third Considering Chambesy: The Issues.   All of the ideas expressed here are my own, as one Orthodox Christian living in America and do not reflect the opinion of any other person or organization.

According to the Chambesy document THE ORTHODOX DIASPORA Decision the goal of the bishops was

that the problem of the Orthodox Diaspora be resolved as quickly as possible, and that it be organized in accordance with Orthodox ecclesiology, and the canonical tradition and practice of the Orthodox Church.    b) Likewise, it is affirmed that during the present phase it is not possible, for historical and pastoral reasons, for an immediate transition to the strictly canonical order of the Church on this issue, that is, the existence of only one bishop in the same place.  For this reason, the Conference came to the decision to propose the creation of a temporary situation that will prepare the ground for a strictly canonical solution of the problem… 

chambesy2As stated in a previous blog the definition of “the problem of the Orthodox Diaspora” is for me a key issue.  What is “the problem” which they are trying to resolve “quickly”?   And by quickly do they mean expediently or expeditiously?  The question is important because one has to consider whose agenda is being served?   Were the bishops interested in what we in America think our problems are as Church or had they decided they knew what the problem was and are intent on imposing their solution on us?

No compelling reason is offered as to why it is not currently possible to solve the canonical problem immediately.   Was it an unwillingness of the bishops to sit together and deal with painful and difficult issues?   It is possible they themselves don’t really understand what the problem of the Orthodox in the so-called Diaspora really are and so they are trying to offer “proper” solutions even though they don’t understand the problem?

Interestingly the very terms in which they define “the problem” – canonical order – is exactly what they say is not for a variety of reasons possible to attain at the present time.  So they decided to create “a temporary situation” to replace the current temporary situation.  However the “temporary situation” which they are creating is not the solution but only “prepares the ground” for a strict canonical solution.    Do they have the authority to create even temporarily a non-canonical situation?  If they can create a non-canonical situation temporarily then why not consider the possibility that the canons are inadequate for the current world order and admit maybe we need a solution not envisioned by the canons because Byzantium has long disappeared from the face of the earth and the canons and the Holy Fathers who wrote them were not so prescient as to create a canonical church structure for the 21st Century world which they could not even imagine.   The canons make no provision for the Orthodox Church being in territories in which there exists a total political and religious separation of church and state.  The canons give power and honor to the Patriarch of Constantinople over the Patriarchs of Antioch and Alexandria because Constantinople was the Byzantine Emperor’s city and for no other reason.  Constantinople is no longer the capital of that empire and there is no Byzantine emperor residing there.   So maybe we need a far more creative solution to “the problem” of our canonical power structure.   We need not just a temporary “acanonical” solution but one that actually accepts current reality and does not try to impose ancient ideas which do not resonate with current realities.

The work and the responsibility of these Episcopal Assemblies will be the concern for manifesting the unity of Orthodoxy, the development of common action of all the Orthodox of each region to address the pastoral needs of Orthodox living in the region, a common representation of all Orthodox vis-à-vis other faiths and the wider society in the region  THE ORTHODOX DIASPORA Decision

The Episcopal Assemblies are the “acanonical” temporary situation which Chembasy created to deal with “the problem.”   Orthodox unity and common action in North America would be a good thing.  SCOBA did bring this about somewhat.   What the “pastoral needs” of a region are received no definition in the document.   Here again it seems to me that it is precisely the local churches in a region who could best define their pastoral needs rather than have imposed upon them the notion that the problem is they are Diaspora.

5.  The Episcopal Assemblies do not deprive the Member Bishops of their administrative competencies and canonical character, nor do they restrict their rights in the Diaspora.  The Episcopal Assemblies aim to form a common position of the Orthodox Church on various issues.   THE ORTHODOX DIASPORA Decision

Saints of the 20th Century
Saints of the 20th Century

The temporary situation created by Chambesy  does not change each existing bishops role in relationship to their current flock – “nor do they restrict their rights in the Diaspora.”   I am curious as to exactly what “the rights” of the existing bishops are which are not being changed or curtailed by Chambesy.  The “rights” language is even interesting because it is not traditional Orthodox language but emerges from liberal Enlightenment ideology.  Do the members of the local churches also have “rights” which they must assert and defend so that they can remain faithful to Jesus Christ and the Gospel?  Does the laity have “the right” to require the leadership of the Church to live up to the commands of Christ including the Great Commission of Matthew 28?     Do parishes and parishioners have “the right” to demand that the church leadership live and work in the 21st Century rather than trying to recreate the past?  Is it possible that the Holy Spirit which blows where it will might work outside the framework of ancients canons which represent past history rather than current realities?

The very issue which is the problem in the regions beyond the world imagined by the Byzantine Canons is that each bishop is seen as holding universal jurisdiction throughout America – the overlapping diocesan boundaries, having more than one ruling bishop in a city – are at the heart of the problem of canonical order.  But this situation Chambesy leaves in place even if it claims the new order of Episcopal Assemblies is temporary.

Next:  Considering Chambesy: The Articles Governing the Assemblies

Considering Chambesy: The Issues

chambesyIn 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).  These blogs are my own opinions and do not represent those of anyone else.  The first blog was Considering Chambesy: The Mother Churches followed by Considering Chambesy: The Diaspora

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.”   Two observations:

1)     I would like to know clearly what the bishops who met at Chambesy think the problem is that they are setting about to fix.  Is the problem that the mother churches have all embraced Phyletism and are pushing for universal jurisdiction over their “ethnic” descendents throughout the world?   Is it canonical confusion for the Diaspora?  Is it the lack of true missionary effort and instead an effort to simply keep one’s ethnic compatriots as part of the ethnic church?  Is it the tendency to behave like sectarians rather than like the Christian Church?  Is it the tendency to hate all things “Western” and all people who aren’t of a traditional Orthodox ethnicism?  Is the problem the fact that the ancient patriarchates have not entered the 21st Century but rather continue to pretend Byzantium exists?   Is the problem that by freezing our thinking in the 4th-8th Century Byzantine political boundaries we have chained ourselves to a world that no longer exists which has led to our inability to deal with the reality of the modern world which the holy Fathers of Byzantium never even imagined?

2)    I also am curious  –  in the “traditionally” Orthodox countries is Constantinople considered to be the mother church of Antioch, Alexandria and Jerusalem?  What exactly is meant by “mother Church.”  Is this idea in itself Orthodox?   Are not all churches sisters and all bishops brothers?   The mother church idea combined with the despotic patriarchs leads to the notion of a Diaspora in which the membership are forever immature children.   However the original use of church as mother was combined with the idea of God as father, not hierarchs.   The church as mother imagery is not true to what the church is supposed to be doing – making disciples not children.

The Chambesy bishops listed among their goals:

The Conference expressed the common desire of all Orthodox Churches for a solution to the problem of the canonical organization of the Orthodox Diaspora, in accordance with the ecclesiology, canonical tradition and practice of the Orthodox Church.   Chambesy Communique

chambesy3The bishops assembled at Chambesy express their primary goal as dealing with the problem of “the canonical organization of the Orthodox Diaspora.”   This places the entire problem into a canonical framework.  The problem however is also a lack of vision and missionary zeal – seeing certain people in the world as being “ Diaspora” – children of the Church – while having a xenophobic view of all others as at best strangers and foreigners, but worse as infidels, heretics and enemies.   Seeing some people in the world as “Diaspora” is a problem in itself and not consistent with the Scriptures.   We like Abraham are children of God through faith not because of the flesh (Romans 8:4; Galatians 4:29-30).  We are in fact children born of the Spirit of God, not merely descendents according to the flesh.

The mission of the Bishops Assemblies is the proclamation and promotion of the unity of the Orthodox Church, the common pastoral ministry to the Orthodox faithful of the region, as well as their common witness to the world.   Chambesy Communique

While the unity of the Church is indeed taught and even commanded by Christ our Lord, the main proclamation of the Church is Jesus Christ, not unity.  Unity results from making disciples of all nations, not just claiming rights over one’s Diaspora.  The focus of the Church must be on Christ and our relationship to Him, for in Him we will find unity.

Next:  Considering Chambesy: Decisions

Considering Chambesy: The Diaspora

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).  These blogs are my own opinions and do not represent those of anyone else.  The first blog was Considering Chambesy: The Mother Churches

chambesyAncient 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 number myself among those who do not feel part of any Orthodox Diaspora.   I have embraced Orthodoxy as an American Christian and so am approaching the issue of Orthodoxy in America not from the old world mother churches perspective but from the point of view of the new world.

Whatever the old world Mother Churches may be thinking about (though their stated concern is the canons, their de facto concern seems to be universal jurisdiction over their specific ethnic Diasporas), I would call attention to the 2nd Century EPISTLE TO DIOGNETUS in which the author claims for Christians that, “Every foreign land is their fatherland, yet for them every fatherland is a foreign land.” 

“Christians are not different because of their country or the language they speak or the way they dress. They do not isolate themselves in their cities nor use a private language; even the life they lead has nothing strange.  …  They live in Greek or in barbarian (foreign) cities, as the case may be, and adapt themselves to local traditions in dress, food and all usage. Yet they testify to a way which, in the opinion of the many, has something extraordinary about it.  They live in their own countries and are strangers. They loyally fulfill their duties as citizens, but are treated as foreigners. … They dwell on earth, but are citizens of heaven.”

Orthodoxy in America is being dealt with by treating it as Diaspora rather than as the local church.   I fear that by viewing the entire issue only in the canonical framework, the Church’s mission to the world is lost in some Byzantine territorial turf war.   The past is no longer simply guiding the current work but constraining and confining it.    The Church survived the Byzantine Empire’s collapse but its current ancient-oriented leadership promulgates the Byzantine territorial imperative.   In seeing the Orthodox Church through the eyes of  Byzantium we fail to see the work of the Holy Spirit active and alive today in the ongoing Christian mission.  Rather there is an effort to contain the work of the Holy Spirit within ancient structures and understanding which may have nothing to do with current realities.

I view my life in the Orthodox Church not as a result of an Old World Diaspora being scattered by the winds of history, but rather as the Holy Spirit intentionally planting seed in America.    The vine which God has planted in America and blessed is not the accidental blowing of seeds; rather we in America were a prepared soil upon which God has planted His seed and allowed the Church to come into existence.   The Mother Church’s attitude seems to me to be anti-missionary reducing Orthodox Christianity in America to a mere accident, an unexpected pregnancy that resulted in an unwanted baby whom the Mother Churches don’t want to grow up and to whom they certainly don’t want to listen.  

chambesy3Think about the Acts of the Apostles – in the first 7 chapters most of what happens occurs with the apostles in Jerusalem.  There indeed is miraculous growth, but the Apostles are not taking the Gospel to all the world as Christ commanded them (Matthew 28:19-20).   Rather it is the persecution of Christians, not the work of the apostles which “scatters” (diaspora!) the faithful into the world (Acts 8:1-4).    In Acts 8:14, the apostles “hear” that the people in Samaria had received the word of God.  Only after learning that the people of Samaria have already received the word do the apostles send missionaries to them (8:14) to lay hands upon the new believers so that they might receive the Holy Spirit.   The apostles are following the spread of the Gospel not leading it.    In Acts 10 Peter is trying to catch up to God who has already prepared Cornelius for the reception of the Holy Spirit.    God continues to move way ahead of the apostles in Acts 11 where the apostles learn about Christianity already existing in Antioch and the apostles decide to send Barnabus to investigate.     My contention is that the Orthodoxy in America certainly has received some seed from a diaspora, but like in Acts 8 and 11, the church existed and is growing in these new lands before the apostles even knew about it.   The apostles send missionaries not to establish the church in Samaria or Antioch but to recognize it as legitimate.   This is the situation to which I think Orthodoxy in America is comparable.  Rather than the apostolic mother churches trying to create the Church in America, they are behind the times and now need to give legitimizing recognition to it.   The apostles empowered the local church to continue its work, they did not endeavor to control the spread of the faith to serve their own interests.   The Holy Spirit moves where it will and it cannot be contained by canons.  The mother churches need to send us Chrism and lay hands on locals to ordain them as bishops.  But we have to continue the apostolic ministry ourselves.

The attitude of the mother churches seems to ignore St. Paul calling the Church the Body of Christ.   The Church is not a temple in a fixed location rather it is the Body of Christ a living “edifice” (see my The Christian Temple:   A People Not a Place).  For those of us not feeling ourselves to be Diaspora, the Church in America is much more analogous to Israel sojourning in the desert than it is to Israel the nation-state which claims particular real estate.  In fact the New Testament upholding the criticism of the prophets rejects the notion that the people of God can be Diaspora because we can only be people of faith  (see also my  Embracing the Sojourner ).  Christians are always sojourners on earth – in exile not only from the heavenly homeland (1 Peter 1:17), but also in exile from any form of empire on this earth (“Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles… 1 Peter 2:11).   I will fully admit that many American Christians fail to see that the interests of Christianity are not coterminous with the interests of America; I only contend that this is the same mistake that the Byzantine and Russian Orthodox made about themselves.   As someone not feeling part of any Diaspora, the only “jurisdiction” that can truly represent my interest in Orthodoxy is the OCA which is the local church and not an extension of a foreign patriarchate.

Personally I do not think the idea of a Diaspora is a Christian idea but it is a very ethnocentric one.   The Orthodox Church’s claims to almost “owning” certain ethnic people may have a basis in imperial history, but I think it mixes Christian thought with nationalism and is still an end result of the Byzantine “symphonic” merger of church and state.

Next: Considering Chambesy:  The Issues