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

This is the 4th and final blog in this series in which I am reflecting on  the Keynote Address of Metropolitan Jonah to the 2010 Canadian Archdiocesan Assembly regarding the Episcopal Assembly.  The first blog is Reflections on the OCA, Autocephaly & the Future (1) and the previous blog:  Reflections on the OCA, Autocephaly & the Future (3).  I’m not going to repeat the Metropolitan’s entire address, but I will quote the specific portions of his speech which on which I’m offering my own reflections.  You can read the entire speech at the above mentioned link. 

[MJ}:  We will have to decide some key value questions: whether participation in the movement towards Orthodox unity in North America is more important to us, or whether we simply stand fast on our autocephaly, our institutional identity, even to the point of exclusion. We need to evaluate whether unity with the other communities will foster or hinder our missionary task. We have to evaluate what kind of context and direction for the future will best foster that mission.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is the 3rd blog in this series in which I am reflecting on  the Keynote Address of Metropolitan Jonah to the 2010 Canadian Archdiocesan Assembly regarding the Episcopal Assembly.  The first blog is Reflections on the OCA, Autocephaly & the Future (1) and the previous blog:  Reflections on the OCA, Autocephaly & the Future (2).  I’m not going to repeat the Metropolitan’s entire address, but I will quote the specific portions of his speech which on which I’m offering my own reflections.  You can read the entire speech at the above mentioned link. 

[MJ}:  Our church, in a sense, if you want to put it into the context of those protocols, is in process. It was proposed. Some of the churches have accepted it, some of the churches are thinking about it, some of the churches have not accepted it. So it’s a process. We’re in process.

The OCA was given a status – autocephaly – in a manner that was consistent with how it was granted by Orthodox Mother Churches at that time (1970).  So if 40 years later in 2010 a new process for granting and accepting autocephaly is adopted is called into existence by Orthodox churches,  does this mean these new rules are grandfathered to cover past decisions of Orthodox Patriarchs?  Just how far back are we to go with this?  Can now all past decisions granting autocephaly be revisited?  So each time one Orthodox autocephalous church doesn’t like what another is doing can it withdraw its recognition of its self-rule and ask that the whole issue of autocephaly be revisited?   Maybe Constantinople would like to revisit the autocephalous status of all the various national churches of Europe?  Is this OK with all of these autocephalous churches?   I don’t imagine it would be.  The OCA’s autocephaly was granted in a legitimate manner consistent with how it had been done in the years following the collapse of the Turkish empire.

[MJ}:  The implication of autocephaly is that the universally recognized autocephalous church in a particular region becomes the criterion of canonicity and any other bodies within that region must submit to it. This has obviously not happened, and the other churches have reacted variously to our autocephaly.

The Apostles: Who is the Greatest?

Maybe the imagery is simply wrong.  Maybe what happens (or should happen) in a region such as the United States where there are many Orthodox jurisdictions is that because of brotherly love, Orthodox local churches/parishes/diocese band together recognizing the need to cooperate, recognizing the ethics of brotherly peace in accepting authority.  The image of submitting to a power is exactly the non Christ-like problem which bedevils the Church at times.  Once you start talking about groups of Christians living in submission to power, you have lost love, fraternity and Christianity.   Matthew 23:1-12 or any of Jesus’ discussions about which disciple is greatest, tell us that brotherly love is the only way for Christians or Orthodox jurisdictions to approach one another.  If we can’t do that, then no external authority is going to make that happen either.  The OCA and each archdiocese must approach each other in brotherly concern, not expecting or fearing submission, but looking for mutual love and concern.   The issue is not who submits to whom, but how do we cooperate in brotherly love.  Autocephaly is part of the Orthodox equation in America, surely the Orthodox can figure out in fraternal love how to deal with that reality even if it takes another 40 years.

Personally I do not see the Mother Churches working any faster on Orthodox unity in America if autocephaly is off the table.

In America there is no secular power forcing us or even encouraging us to work through our issues of disunity and multi-jurisdictionalism.  This is an internal Church issue which we should resolve as Christians, not using the civil images of power, authority and submission to the powerful, but rather relying on Christian notions of fraternity, and mutual submission to one another in love.

[MJ}:  The autocephaly was right for its time, but the times have changed, and there are new demands on us.

And was the Patriarchate of Constantinople wrong for its time when the Turks conquered Byzantium?   Was the Patriarchate of Moscow wrong for its times when Peter the Great demolished it or when the communists overthrew the Russian Orthodox empire?  Times are always changing, which is why autocephaly is so important for Orthodoxy in America.   We need the autocephaly so that our hands are not tied by past problems.

Autocephaly was right when it was proposed and it is right today because it continues to challenge us as Orthodox to live up to our Orthodox ideals as Church.

Autocephaly challenges us to think as Christians about what our mission in America really is.

I think it is fair to contend that in fact even the EA process is a response to the challenge of autocephaly.  So if the EA is the new process, it means that autocephaly is as relevant as ever to the discussion.  By bringing autocephaly to the table, the OCA enriches the EA process and discussion, for autocephaly is a reality for many Orthodox in America and a potential reality for the rest.

The 2010 Statement of the Synod of Bishops on Autocephaly affirms that the bishops of OCA remain committed to an autocephalous church for America.  Presumably since Metropolitan Jonah signed that statement, he is committed to it.  Autocephaly is being affirmed as right for America at this time.  It hopefully will not be limited to the current OCA, but rather will encompass all Orthodox in America, but it is still a goal for Orthodoxy in America to which our Synod has expressed its commitment.  Any talk by the Metropolitan of autocephaly being somehow an outdated idea is inconsistent with the vision of the Synod to which he belongs.  If anything the OCA is not trying to limit autocephaly to itself but rather is saying it was given to us for all Orthodox in America.   Autocephaly as conceived by the OCA’s Synod of Bishops is inclusive not exclusive.

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

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)

Christian Unity: Being of One Mind

Philippians 2:1-2

“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any incentive of love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.”

“As  Christ in the flesh was visible, so the unity of the church is to be visible to all.   The unity of the church is manifest in Christians praying together, professing the same faith, and in the Eucharistic celebration, together with the bishop, who is the celebrant, the leader, and the teacher.    He is the local point of unity, the guardian and the charismatic teacher of apostolic tradition.”      (Veselin Kesich, Formation and Struggles, THE CHURCH IN HISTORY. Vol. 1,  pg. 131)

The Episcopal Assembly’s Odd Man Out: The OCA?

This blog is a belated follow-up to the blogs Autocephaly, the OCA and the Episcopal Assembly and Mother Churches?

1st North American Episcopal Assembly

While the Episcopal Assembly is working toward uniting the various Orthodox jurisdictions in North America, it also has to deal with the issue of the relationship of the various jurisdictions in America, not just to each other, but also with their respective “mother” churches.  Any attempt to bring an ecclesiastical/hierchical unity has to deal with the relationship of all jurisdictions and parishes in America to their mother churches overseas.   All the parishes will have to decide whether they can relate to each other as parishes in America or whether they can only relate to each other as their mother churches permit; unless, of course, the mother churches agree on jurisdictional unity and order their diaspora parishes to embrace the leadership and vision of a proposed unity.   

For the OCA,  our relationship to our “mother” church has already been resolved and is not a problem.  The Russian Orthodox Church granted autocephaly to the OCA in 1970, and so our bishops have no mother church to which they have to answer and so don’t have this additional layer of complexity to deal with in resolving jurisdictinoal separation (read some answers to questions on autocephaly by Fr. Thomas Hopko).   

So, the OCA’s sitting at the Episcopal Assembly table with a lesser status than the other jurisdictions is actually appropriate.   We are watching to see how the other jurisdictions are going to deal with their relationships to their mother churches in order to make unity in America possible.    In some sense we do sit apart from the rest. The other jurisdictions’ bishops most still represent the interests and positions of their mother churches.  We in the OCA have no overseas interest that we represent.  The Episcopal Assembly (apparently in the mind of the mother churches who created them) is to help the jurisdictions sort through their own loyalties and dependencies.   The OCA’s  loyalty is to the Orthodox Christians in America and to the Orthodox mission to be an indigenous church.   Unlike the bishops of the other jurisdictions, OCA bishops don’t have to figure out what a “mother church” wants or expects us to accomplish.  We are free to work out church unity ourselves because we have autocephaly.  That is the gift the Russian Orthodox Church gave to us, and ultimately to all Orthodox in America.

The other jurisdictions have to sort out whether they are diaspora and dependencies of a mother church or whether their focus is to be Orthodox Christians living in North America. They have to whether they are to remain loyal to their old world patriarch or to the wishes of a different old world patriach in their effort (if they are sincere) to attain Orthodox Church unity in America.  There is going to be for the other jurisdictions a real issue of choosing between Orthodox unity and loyalty to the plans and will of their mother churches.  For the OCA, this decision has already been made back in 1970.

These issues of discerning the will of the mother churches and what they want for their parishes in America simply are not the challenge facing the OCA. We can offer advice to the other jurisdictions and parishes based on our own 40 years of experience, but we cannot resolve the challenges they face based on their loyalties to their mother churches.   Our challenge as the Orthodox Church in America is not to discern or enact the wishes and plans of the mother churches but rather to incarnate our loyalty to Jesus Christ and to His Church in America. We are not going back anywhere, we are not diaspora but rather if we have any homeland on earth we live as Christians in North America.   We have a Synod in this country and stand ready to help any other jurisdiction to become also the Orthodox Church in America, in whatever form that is to take as an autocephalous church.

St. Innocent

We have been struggling really hard with being an autocephalous church including dealing ourselves with our recent scandals, weaknesses, and failures,  as well as in dealing with an American mindset and American values.   We, like every Orthodox jurisdiction in America, are figuring out relating to the American ideal enshrined in the separation of church and state and in the extreme importance placed  on the individual over and against any social institution.  But, then, unlike all of the other jurisdictions we do not have to also determine our relationship to an overseas patriarchate or another government or a different culture.    This is what autocephaly means for us.  This is what the OCA brings to the table of the Episcopal Assembly.

Autocephaly, the OCA, and the Episcopal Assembly

1st Episcopal Assembly

The new effort to bring about Orthodox ecclesial (hierarchical) unity through the Ecumenical Patriarch’s plan of regional Episcopal Assemblies, has presented a challenge to the Orthodox Church in America.  The OCA  (even if only in its own “self mythology”)  saw the autocephaly created by the Russian Church as a means to eventual Orthodox jurisdictional unity in America.  That dream has yet to  materialize and so some see the autocephaly as a dead issue.

I think this may be a premature obituary for the autocephaly. 

For what I think should become clear to all Orthodox in America is that autocephaly was given not just to the OCA, but to all of us – all Orthodox Christians living in North America:  converts, Russians, Canadians, Greeks, Romanians, Serbs, Antiochians, Bulgarians, Americans, Albanians, etc.  Autocephaly is part of the mix of Orthodoxy in America which should be used to the glory of God.    It is the gift from God that the OCA received and thus has the responsibility to bring to the North American Episcopal Assembly because autocephaly is part of the Tradition of Orthodoxy in America.  

The re-visioning that has to be done (a paradigm shift if you want) is one very similar to what I think Christ called the Jews to consider about themselves.  The Jews believed they were given Torah to make them the chosen people, elect by God and separated from all the nations of the world.  They came to see their mission as maintaining their separateness as proof of their election.  Jesus revealed a new vision for Israel – actually an ancient one:  Israel was to be a light to the world, not separated from it to judge it, but a light to attract all people to God. 

The OCA often acted as if autocephaly was given to it, and it alone.  What is being revealed, I think, is that though the OCA received autocephaly, it didn’t receive this gift to separate itself from all the other Orthodox jurisdictions.  Instead it received the gift of autocephaly, like the Jews received the oracles of God, on behalf of all Orthodox jurisdictions, missions and people in America.

The OCA may not have done much with the autocephaly, but that doesn’t mean it is invaluable.   For what the OCA did was to preserve this gift from God and now it realizes its calling by faithfully bringing autocephaly to the table at which all Orthodox bishops in America sit in assembly. 

Autocephaly is part of the mix that God has given us to establish His Church in America.  The OCA must faithfully bring the autocephaly to the Episcopal Assembly table and never allow others to dismiss it for it is part of the God guided history of the Orthodox Church.  Autocephaly is to be used by the Church in America  (currently we have to admit “churches” since the Orthodox do accept jurisdictional divisions) to help it grow and be the Church, not the Russian Church in America, or the Greek Church in America, but to be THE Church in America, the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church of the Holy Trinity.   Autocephaly may have been originally gifted to the OCA, but it is for all Orthodox Christians who reside in North America.  All Orthodox, in whatever jurisdiction they find themselves, should realize the gift as part of our history in America, and come to value it as much as they value their own current jurisdictional attributes.

The oracles of God were given to the Jews long before they could understand their importance.  When the Christ came, the Jews did not recognize Him, despite their having the Torah and the prophecies which pointed to the Christ and whose meaning was revealed in Christ.  The oracles were nevertheless essential for salvation.   Thanks be to God the Jews didn’t discard the words given to them because they made no sense or because they didn’t think they were being fulfilled or because they were suffering in the desert or in exile.   Neither should we Orthodox discard the autocephaly given to all Orthodox in America.   However little we understand it, however little we imagine it being a key gift to the Church as a whole, we like the Jews must preserve it until we see its treasure revealed to us.  It is a birthright granted to Orthodoxy in America by the grace of God.

See also my blog  Mother Churches?

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).

The Metropolitan Council: Considering Chambesy

The Orthodox Church in America exists as one part of the Orthodox “movement” on the North American continent.  I intentionally use the word “movement” rather than “Church” because Orthodoxy has not attained an administrative unity as one Church in North America.  One can hardly speak of “THE Orthodox Church” in its North American expression for administratively “the one Church” exists in the fragmented form of jurisdictionalism on our continent.  Granted Orthodoxy does share a common faith and so is united in doctrine.  Ecclesiologically however Orthodoxy has remained jurisdictionally, thus administratively and so uncanonically, separated.

Some claim that the OCA was born as an effort to establish Orthodox unity in America.  Certainly if one reads Fr. Alexander Schmemann writing in 1964 in the ST. VLADIMIR’S SEMINARY QUARTERLY (Vol. 8, No. 2), “Problems of Orthodoxy in America: The Canonical Problem,” one has the impression that the canonical problem was clear to all Orthodox, and a solution to the problem was needed if not self evident.

The establishment of the OCA however never solved the problem as the situation remained unchanged for the years to come, even with autocephaly being granted to the OCA by the Moscow Patriarchate.  Unity for the Orthodox in America did not follow.  The OCA existed as one of several parallel jurisdictions in America, and could fairly be criticized at times for even promoting such an idea  as it positioned itself in the crowd of jurisdictions to ensure its place in an ecclesial pecking order.

Bishops at Chambesy, June, 2009

Now for the Orthodox in America a new, and perhaps more serious, effort is being made to deal with the non-canonical situation of what one could term as the “Orthodoxies” in America or the Orthodox churches in America.  The meeting of the Orthodox bishops of the “mother churches” at Chambesy in June, 2009, produced a new forum, the Episcopal Assemblies,  to oversee studying the problems of the non-canonical jurisdictionalism among Orthodox living in territories beyond the ancient boundaries of the mother churches.   So far, the process appears to be taken seriously by all the canonical Orthodox churches as a more comprehensive and encompassing effort to deal with the administrative problems Orthodox in “new lands” have created for the mother churches.

The OCA’s Metropolitan Council in its March 1-4 meeting heard a report by Fr. Leonid Kishkovsky, the OCA’s Director of External Affairs and Interchurch Relations, regarding the Chambesy process which will hold its first North American Episcopal assemblies after Pascha this year. 

I would characterize the news he presented as both interesting and hopeful.  If the OCA was in fact established with the intention of helping to resolve the canonical problem of the Orthodox churches in America, Chambesy represents a possible means to a solution.  In fact the Chambesy process might offer to the Orthodox in America solutions to several issues which the OCA always claimed to be THE issues of Orthodoxy in America.  Of course, the solutions are not quite what the founders of the OCA’s autocephaly might have envisioned, for if Chambesy works out, the OCA will be part of the process toward a solution, but not the solution itself.  The OCA will be able to bring to the table its own vision for Orthodoxy in America and its unique experience on this continent, but it will be working out a vision in a conciliar fashion with other jurisdictions, rather than continually arguing over power and subordination of one jurisdiction to another.

For some in the OCA this will be a test – for the issue will be, has the OCA been serious about what it claimed were the problems and solutions for Orthodoxy in America, or will it be shown that the OCA leadership was only trying to frame the issues in such a way as to make themselves the invaluable or only possible solution to the problem?

Of course only once the process starts will the pitfalls and problems of this process become apparent.  It does represent an opportunity to restate the problems and reframe the solutions rather than creating just another Rugby match in which the various Orthodox try to push each other around.

What unique things might the OCA bring to the Episcopal Assembly table?

I think autocephaly has allowed some members of the OCA to “rethink” what being Orthodox means in America.  Fr. Schmemann in his article writes:

St. Paul Parish: Under Construction & Growing

“It is not the task or the purpose of Orthodoxy to perpetuate and ‘preserve’ the Russian or the Greek national identity, but the function of Greek and Russian ‘expressions’ of Orthodoxy is to perpetuate the ‘catholic’ values of Orthodoxy which otherwise would be lost.”

For some, autocephaly has meant the opportunity to create an indigenous church in North America – not to make Orthodoxy “American” but to incarnate Orthodoxy in America as it has done in so many other cultures.  This in no way negates the need or the goodness of some Orthodox holding to the forms, rituals, rubrics, traditions of the mother churches.  It is however a call to fulfill the Great Commission in a particular way:  

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  (Matthew 28:19-20)  

A Cloud of Witnesses: Orthodox Missionary Saints

This is a call to reach out to the non-Orthodox  and go beyond simply implanting old cultures in a new land.   It is outreach to new people, not just ministering to immigrants of the Diaspora.  Orthodoxy began with people of Jewish culture who held to the universal vision of Jesus Christ to take the Gospel to all nations.  They spread the faith to the cultures/nations of the ancient world including the Hellenic and Roman cultures.  In turn these faithful spread the faith beyond the Roman Empire to Slavs and the Rus’.  These people in their turn brought this same Tradition to North America and handed it over to us.

Christ is with us in this mission always and to the close of the age!   We are to make disciples of all nations, not just to bring ethnic traditions to new cultures, but to baptize and teach every nation to follow Christ, including the nations of the New World.  We are not just to carve out ethnic enclaves practicing the traditions of “mother” cultures, but we are to engage the culture we live in bringing forward to our nation the Tradition we have received and are to pass on to the next generation.    Our task is to incarnate the Tradition in language and images which the peoples of North America can understand.  We are to witness to the Gospel, not to our ethnic customs, through our lives as Orthodox Christians.  Our mission is to enable the citizens of the North American nations who believe through our witness to themselves incarnate this Gospel thus making them to be members together with all the saints of the Kingdom of God as well.

For other comments on the recent Metropolitan Council meeting see my Conciliarity: The Mind of Christ Expressed Through His Body

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

This is the final blog In a series in which I am 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, followed by 6 other blogs with the  Considering Chambesy: The Chairmanship of the Ecumenical Patriarch being the predecessor to this the last blog in the series.  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.

chambesy3The bishops at Chambesy decreed that the Competency of the Episcopal Assemblies includes:

Article 5.1.e.      The preparation of a plan to organize the Orthodox of the Region on a canonical basis.

Basically this means that any current plan or existing agency is being shelved while the new Episcopal Assembly revisits the entire issue.  Nothing precludes the Bishops of the North American region from bringing the OCA, SCOBA or Ligonier (watch You Tube videos of Ligonier)  into the discussion, but obviously no past work is being considered binding on the new Assembly.  The emphasis on being canonically correct is an appropriate ecclesiastical concern, but we must also never lose sight of the fact that it is our Lord Jesus Christ who is the head of the Church, not any one bishop.   We all answer to Christ and will be judged by Him for what we decide and do.   It is Christ who must be the sole Lord and Master of our Church, it is Christ not just canons which the Church must incarnate, and it is Christ we must each bring to the Church as the priesthood of all believers.  In our effort to be canonically exact, we will do well to remember the warning of our Lord to the Jews in John 5:39-40 : “You search the scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness to me;  yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.”

Article 5.2.a.  The definition of the scope of these competencies should in no way interfere with the responsibility of each Bishop for his eparchial jurisdiction, or restrict the rights of his Church, including its relations with international agencies, governments, civil society, mass media, other legal undertakings, national and treaty organizations, as well as other religions.

AntiochianThe above point in some ways seems to back track from any serious effort to deal with the problems caused by multiple and competing jurisdictions.  Basically it says that the Episcopal Assemblies have no authority to change anything about what any one bishop may be doing or refusing to do.  The Episcopal Assemblies not only are temporary and “acanonical” but they also have no authority to challenge the “responsibility” of “each bishop for his eparchial jurisdiction.”  No bishop can apparently be asked to change what he is doing within his eparchy, at least not at the Episcopal Assembly stage, which would seem to undermine the effort for attaining Orthodox unity in relationship to other religions, the state and the media.  Each bishop can attend the Episcopal Assemblies without fear that the Assemblies will interfere with how they currently do things and what they currently do.  This may be a necessary limitation put on the Episcopal Assemblies to help insure that all bishops will participate by guaranteeing them that no risk is being posed to their claimed powers, prerogatives and privileges.  At this stage, no bishop is being asked to practice self denial in order to attain Orthodox unity.

Article 6.     It must record every decision relating to clerics promulgated by their bishops, in order that this decision is applied among all the Orthodox Churches in the Region.

OCAArticle 6 will have an interesting effect on all jurisdictions specifically as related to clergy.  It is making uniform and thus mandatory that all bishops will respect decisions promulgated by all other bishops.   The jumping of jurisdictions by clergy should come to an end among the canonical jurisdictions at least.  In this one instance bishops are being required to honor the decisions of the other bishops not of their eparchy.

Article 10.1.  The decisions of the Episcopal Assembly are taken by consensus.

2.     In matters of more general concern which require, by the decision of the Assembly of Bishops, a Pan-Orthodox approach, the Assembly’s chairman refers it to the Ecumenical Patriarch for further Pan-Orthodox actions.

GreekArchI mentioned earlier that Article 10.1 uses the word “consensus.”   I do not know what exactly this means to the bishops – that no votes will be taken?  Or that only unanimous decisions will be promulgated?    What happens if on critical issues consensus cannot be reached – does the discussion end?  Can one stubborn or irrational bishop by refusing to agree on some critical issue bring the entire process to a halt?  If so every bishop has a veto in his back pocket – don’t agree on an issue and nothing can be done about it.   What happens if a bishop after leaving the Assembly renounces the Assembly’s decision or says he was pressured into agreeing?  What happens if the consensus of one region’s bishops are different than or even contrary to the consensus reached by the Episcopal Assembly in a different region?

SCOBAA “Pan-Orthodox approach” is another phrase for which I do not know its meaning.    In common American parlance it seems to mean “multi-ethnic” but I do not know how this applies to what the Chambesy bishops were thinking.  The article says when an Episcopal Assembly has decided that a matter requires a pan-Orthodox decision – the solution is referred to the Ecumenical Patriarch for “Pan-Orthodox actions.”   Does this imply that the EP is thus generally Pan-Orthodox in his thinking and decisions and always takes into account the interests of every different ethnic Orthodox (mother church)?  (It seems to me many non-Greek Orthodox do not see him in this role at all but see him as mostly representing the interests of Greek/Hellenic Orthodoxy).   Does he get to define what Pan-Orthodox means?    This is where I begin to suspect the EP is keeping a veto on all decisions.   

I am not sure that “Pan-Orthodox” is always the right decision.  If this means nothing more than different ethnic traditions will be tolerated, well and good.  If this means that in the territories of the so-called “Diaspora” that every parish will now have to use the panoply of mother church languages for every service, then I would object.   Just like in Acts 15 where the Apostles decided it is not necessary to become a Jew In order to become a Christian, so too I hope Orthodoxy will not try to impose on all the nations of the world that its citizens must become mother church ethnics in order to be Orthodox.   This is one of my fears of the Chambesy approach – the mother churches are not only laying universal jurisdictional claims over their “Diasporas” but they are also intending to make all converts not into disciples but into Diaspora.    We are commanded to make disciples of all nations, not to make Hellenes of them  nor to Russify all peoples.  We do not need to embrace some mother church ethnicity to become members of the true church.

Orthodox Evangelist & Missionary Saints
Orthodox Evangelist & Missionary Saints

So are the Episcopal Assemblies, the fruit of Chambesy, the beginning of the end or the end of the beginning?   They are by definition a temporary step, and not a traditionally canonical one at that.  They are not the canonical solution to “the problem.”   They do however mark a concerted effort to actually try to do something about the current state of affairs of the Church in the territories beyond Byzantium and Holy Russia.  They realistically acknowledge there is a problem in need of a solution.  They acknowledge there is a viable Orthodoxy which exists beyond the boundaries of the ancient mother churches.  They propose working toward a way to normalize within the canonical tradition the status of this Orthodox Church which lies beyond the boundaries of the mother churches.   It does mean for me that Orthodoxy is acknowledging the existence of the new world and the realities of the 21st Century – which means we are not purely looking to the past, but are facing our present and thinking about the future.  The temptation for the mother churches will be to try to force the new world Church into the past and into ancient boundaries rather than connecting themselves to present realities.  The Lord said to go into all the world and make disciples of all nations.   He did not command us to force all nations into imperial Byzantine territorial structures and administrative divisions.   He told us to make disciples not Diaspora.   To do that the Orthodox leadership will have to be apostolic – like the apostles in Acts 8 and 11.  For the apostles followed where the Spirit led them.   They heard about the spread of Christianity into Samaria and Antioch, and they recognized that the Church already existed among new people – not Diaspora but converts.   They didn’t try to control the Spirit but rather they empowered these new Christians to carry on the apostolic ministry of the Church wherever it spread.  They could not pretend that they were leading the Spirit, but they followed the Spirit and gave apostolic recognition to what the Spirit was doing and gave apostolic authority to these new Christians.