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 Articles Governing the Assemblies

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, then Considering Chambesy: The Diaspora, third Considering Chambesy: The Issues, then Considering Chambesy: The Decisions.   All of the ideas expressed here are my own, as one Orthodox Christian living in the USA  and do not reflect the opinion of any other person or organization.

In this blog I will be offering comments on the document   RULES OF OPERATION  OF EPISCOPAL ASSEMBLIES IN THE ORTHODOX DIASPORA  which outlined what Chambesy is proposing for dealing with “the problem” – dealing with what they term “the Diaspora”:  Orthodox Christians living in places in the world not envisioned by the traditional, canonical structure of the Church.  The very fact that the canons did not envision a Christian world beyond Byzantine territories or a history for the Church after the Byzantine Emperor disappeared should tell us something about the limited scope of those who wrote the canons.  Something “greater than the canons” (think about the Lord’s comments in Matthew 12:6,41-42) has occurred in the world and Orthodoxy is being prompted by God to think about the entire world not the limited world as envisioned by the Byzantine Fathers in their notion of “ecumenical” which was equated with the Byzantine Empire.     God wants us to view the entire world which He loved (John 3:16), and not limit our thinking to equating “the world” with the Byzantine territories.  The Christian faith and Christian faithful are not limited in time or space to Byzantine or Russian Empires and their “Diasporas” any more than God’s people are limited to those who are Jews according to the flesh (Romans 9:6-8; Galatians 3:6).

chambesy3Article 2.    The purpose of the Episcopal Assembly is to manifest the unity of the Orthodox Church, to promote collaboration between the churches in all areas of pastoral ministry, and to maintain, preserve and develop the interests of the communities that belong to the canonical Orthodox Bishops of the Region.  

The “Episcopal Assemblies” are the main temporary “fix” Chambesy created to deal with “the problem” (at least as the Chambesy participants understood the problem, though it is not totally delineated).   It is true that in America at least there is not Orthodox unity in administration or in “voice” to the world.  There is however a surprising level of similarity in some of the jurisdictions in America despite the lack of administrative unity (see for example the Patriarch Athenagoras Orthodox Institute Report “The Orthodox Church Today” which compares attitudes and issues of parishes and priests in the Orthodox Church in America and the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese). 

What will be interesting to see is how these Episcopal Assemblies “maintain, preserve and develop the interests of the communities” in America.  Will this turn out to be simply a way to maintain and develop “ethnic” identity, interests and culture in the Diaspora and to keep the Diaspora loyal to the mother church?     Or, for me as an Orthodox in the OCA, will my interest in Orthodox mission, ministry and evangelism to America be what the Episcopal Assembly will endeavor to preserve and develop?     Of course it is possible that the Episcopal Assemblies will realize that they have to deal with both interests.  A real question here is to what extent the Orthodox Church is mostly about preserving ancient cultures as versus having as its main focus bringing the Gospel to all people, times and places (in which case the Diaspora is but a subset within the interests of the Orthodox Church in every region of the world, but not its only or even main concern).

For myself, the autocephaly of the OCA means that at least one jurisdiction has been enabled and empowered by a mother church to fully deal with its own issues and problems and not have to see itself as only or mostly Diaspora with a need to preserve a “foreign” culture in a new land.   The autocephaly of the OCA represents for me a chance for some Orthodox to fully embrace Orthodox mission and evangelism to this “new” world and not merely to preserve the interests of the old world in America.   The OCA has been given the opportunity to see itself not merely as a Diaspora but rather to act  fully as the local Church in America: like the Seed of the Gospel intentionally and firmly planted in this land.

Article 9.    The work of the Episcopal Assembly is conducted in accordance with the principles of the Orthodox conciliar tradition

Article 10.        The decisions of the Episcopal Assembly are taken by consensus.

Articles 9 and 10 introduce two terms which I do not know how the bishops of the mother churches interpret:  conciliar and consensus.   I am most happy to see both of these words in The Rules of Operation document.  I think both of those terms contain ideas which are particularly of significance and importance to Orthodox who live in America or in any place in the world which has embraced the ideas of freedom and democracy which stem from the ideals of the 18th Century Enlightenment.   Old World Orthodoxy in general has raised some concerns about these ideals and has not fully endorsed them (see for example  The Basis of the Social Concept of the Russian Church).  I think in this sense Orthodoxy has something positive to offer Christians in America:  a chance critically to consider serious social and political issues as Christians from a non-American viewpoint.   However, American ideals also offer a crucial opportunity for the Orthodox critically to consider what conciliarity and hierarchy mean for the Church in the 21st Century in which church and state have been separated and in which despotic rule has been rejected. 

OCAnewsOf what does consensus consist in Orthodoxy?  How is it attained?  What does transparency and accountability mean for Orthodox leadership?  What is the Church’s relationship to a free press?   How does the Church function in a world in which the internet instantly circulates everything that happens to everyone in the world?   What is conciliarity?   How is it engaged in a hierarchical church?  What does hierarchy mean in the church when the world no longer endorses or favors ideas of despotic rule?   What does conciliarity and hierarchy mean in a democratically ruled society?  To what extent does Orthodoxy claim that Byzantine ideas of hierarchy are mandatory and normative for the Christian Church?  To what extent can Christians in the so-called Diaspora use their own understanding of consensus and conciliarity to shape the local Orthodox Church?

There are many questions to be answered, if the Episcopal Assemblies are permitted to deal with the real local concerns of the church membership.

Next:  Considering Chambesy:  the Chairmanship of the Ecumenical Patriarch

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 Mother Churches

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next:  Considering Chambesy: the Diaspora

The Unity of the Church

EvangelistsThe recent discussions regarding the Church in America and Canon 28 of the 451AD Council of Chalcedon are no doubt essential to the eventual normalization in organizing the Orthodox jurisdictions in America.  I have not yet had the chance to completely read the comments of historian and canonical interpreter Fr. John Erickson, Chalcedon Canon 28: Yesterday and Today, former dean of St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Seminary.   I did read Nick Katich’s insightful “Chalcedon Canon 28: Historic Truth or Greek Mythology?”   which also made me realize how far we need yet to travel to bring about “normalcy” to Orthodoxy in America in terms of ecclesiological structure.

This morning as I was doing my daily devotions and scripture reading I read Joshua 22 which contains the story of Joshua finally giving the tribes of Reuben, Gad and Manasseh permission to occupy the territories east of the Jordan River which they had requested at the beginning of the Jewish invasion of Palestine, but which they had to delay until all the tribes had secured for themselves a homeland in the territories west of the River Jordan.  Joshua recognizes that the River Jordan which forms a natural boundary also represents a potential permanent division between the tribes.  He instructs those minority 2 and 1/2 tribes living east of the Jordan to maintain unity with the rest of the Israelites by carefully following the rule of faith: “to love the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways, to keep His commandments, to adhere to Him, and to serve Him with all your mind and with all your soul” (22:5, OSB). 

Tribalism like jurisdictionalism or ethnicism always poses a threat to the unity of God’s people.   Human conventions are strong enough to break apart the unity which God wishes His people would choose, maintain and build up.

What transpires in Joshua 22 is that the 2 and 1/2 Eastern tribes proceed to build an altar to God on their side of the River Jordan.  Immediately an alarm is set off among the other 10 tribes that the Eastern tribes have broken unity with the Western tribes by setting up their own altar.  A call to arms goes out and the 10 tribes prepare for war against their brethren.  The 2 and 1/2 tribes then explain themselves:  they are not setting up an altar in opposition to the altar of the tabernacle, but rather they want to have an altar to remind future generations that they worship the one true God of Israel and as a witness to their unity with the other tribes.   Their fear is that in the future the majority tribes on the Eastern side of the Jordan will eventually declare that they are not really part of Israel.   Each “side” in the conflict had a different need and a different fear – they were separated by tribe, by geography, and now by altar and custom.  Despite all these differences they were still able to see and reaffirm their unity.   They didn’t need monolithic administration and thought about every custom or practice, they didn’t need conformity and uniformity in practice to preserve their basic unity in faith.  What binds them together was “that the Lord is their God” (22:34).

Such too will have to be the nature of unity for the Orthodox in America when it comes.  It will not be external law and afanasievcanons that will bind us together, for Orthodoxy in America is multicutural and abounds in diverse practice and customs.   The true unifying principle must be the Spirit of God working within us.   As Nicholas Afanasiev wrote in THE CHURCH OF THE HOLY SPIRIT, in primitive Christianity the increase in the number of local communities did not disturb the unity of the faith for each community could not separate itself from Christ – the only foundation they had.  The unifying principle – one Lord and one Spirit – were central to each community, were at the heart of each community, were internal to each community long before there were any hierarchs or canons to impose unity on the Church.    It was and is the Holy Spirit and not human law or convention that serves as both the organizing and unifying principle of the Church.

While the canons, and Chalcedon 28, are part of the Tradition of the Church, their purpose is to help maintain the unity of the Spirit which resides in all Christians because of their having received the seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit in Chrismation.   The main purpose of the Church is not to promulgate and uphold canons, but rather to use the canons when necessary as a tool to maintain the God-given unity of the Holy Spirit among all Christians.

American Orthodox Embrace the Apostolic Debate – Who is the Greatest?

This blog is a follow up to my blog THE ORTHODOX CHURCHES IN AMERICA – E PLURIBUS UNUM.

We Orthodox are approaching Pascha, the Feast of the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Feast of Feast which unites all Orthodox Christians in a common faith.   As we have approached Pascha, there has been an exchange of ideas which has heated up a bit in the past couple of weeks which has exposed the raw nerve of different ideas which Orthodox in America hold regarding exactly what the shape of Orthodox unity in America might look like.  It is a much needed discussion, specifically because of the hope that conciliarity is both part of the method and the goal of establishing Orthodoxy on this continent.

Some think the debate is inappropriate during Holy Week, but it actually is a very apostolic debate.  Just consider the Gospel reading from Holy Thursday Matins, Luke 22:1-39, which contains this apostolic exchange:

A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest.  And he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors.   But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves. (22:24-28)

A couple of weeks ago on the 5th Sunday of Great Lent we heard the Gospel lesson in which James and John asked Christ that they be granted to sit at His right and left sides in the Kingdom, a request that stirred resentment among the rest of the disciples, and drew a rebuke from Jesus that power and lordship are not part of the Kingdom of God (Mark 10:32-45).   So the disagreements among Orthodox leaders in America concerning power and authority are very much “apostolic” discussions, even though our Lord Jesus Himself rebuked His disciples for having such misunderstanding of the Kingdom of Heaven.

If you want to follow a bit about the current debate among Orthodox leaders regarding power and position, here are a few links:

First (though he was responding to comments made by Metropolitans Philip and Jonah last summer) are the comments of Archimandrite Elpidophoros Lambriniadis representing the Ecumenical Patriarchate, “Challenges of Orthodoxy in America and the Role of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.”   (Scroll down past the Greek comments and you will get to the English version of his comments).

Second is the  homily given by Metropolitan Jonah at Pan-Orthodox Vespers at St. Seraphim Cathedral in Dallas during this Lent.   There is a video of him delivering the comments   or you can read the text of his comments.

Third is the Statement of the Order of St. Andrew, Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarch in America which criticizes the Sunday of Orthodoxy comments of Metropolitan Jonah. 

Finally, not directly related to the above controversy debate, but part of the ongoing issues facing all Orthodox Christians in “America is the Open Letter to Orthodox Christians Throughout North America”  which brings into the debate some other issues which we Orthodox will have to consider as we work out our salvation on the North American continent.

As Orthodox in America – if we are to be ORTHODOX in America – we each will have to confront our ethnocentric way of seeing one another and of viewing the issues of the Church in America.  So we have to discuss and disagree and debate.  We have to go through these very disagreements in order to become the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church in America.   Of course each jurisdiction can rightfully say it already is the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.  What we need to have though is the ability to speak as one Church in America; something  we cannot yet do.   The disagreements facing us and the problems facing each jurisdiction are not bad in themselves; they do not mean we are moving backwards or away from unity.  They mean we are putting our issues on the table, out in the open, and just beginning the discussion.  These are the very issues we must resolve in order for the oneness of the Orthodox Church in America to emerge, so that we can move with a unity of heart and mind in dealing with all of the pastoral, evangelical, ministry and mission issues confronting us.

We are finally coming to deal with the issues we have to deal with and have avoided and not wanted to confront.

In the OCA through the years of confronting our own scandal we looked at certain forms of leadership and ways of doing things and we have recognized they were wrong for the OCA and wrong for Orthodoxy in America.   We had to rid the OCA of those leaders and that vision in order to take on a new vision and direction for the OCA.  In doing so we are also beginning to realize how our problems are related to all of the issues facing all Orthodox in America no matter what jurisdiction they are in.   This doesn’t mean that the solutions we come to are necessarily right for solving the division between jurisdictions, but we can bring our thinking, our methods, and our solutions to the table when dialoguing with the other jurisdictions as they deal with the issues most pressing to them.

Our current situation as Orthodox in America is not unlike the thirteen American colonies in the 18th Century trying to organize themselves against overseas rulers.  There were many issues which separated the 13 states –  what would a federal government uniting them look like?  What powers would be reserved to the states?  How could large and small states work together?  Should America be more pro-British or pro-French?  What about slavery?  Could industrial and agricultural states co-operate with each other?  Could regional differences be overcome? 

And we know from history, that America cobbled together the Union by avoiding any real decision on slavery which led to a civil war some 70 years after the founding of the United States.

judaskiss2We have many issues separating us.  There are many concerns unique to each jurisdiction and concerns of power sharing and relationships to overseas rulers and national loyalties that cannot be ignored and are part of what separate us into jurisdictions.  It is trying to capture the big picture vision of what it means to be Orthodox in America which can unite us.  All of these issues in as much as they are issues Orthodox face in America, need a solution which incorporates the breadth and depth of Orthodox wisdom.  That is what concilarity will demand frustratingly from us to take into consideration.  

Conciliarity is not identical with compromise, though it might involve compromise.  Conciliarity also is not identical with finding the most efficient solutions or even the “best” solutions.  Conciliarity involves catholicity – wholeness, the fullness of the truth.  It is discovering the depth and breadth of the Church, for it involves revealing the mind of Christ.

Of Paul, of Apollos, of Cephas? Remaining in Christ

 Sermon Notes 2008   for Epistle for the 8th Sunday after Pentecost    (1 Corinthians 1:10-18) 

“I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe’s household, that there are contentions among you. Now I say this, that each of you says, “I am of Paul,” or”I am of Apollos,” or “I am of Cephas,” or “I am of Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul  crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?”

What would be the modern Orthodox version of St. Paul’s argument?

Let’s see:

I belong to the Greek Archdiocese.  I am for Constantinople.  I belong to the Antiochians.  I belong to the OCA.  I am for Moscow.

Or how about:

I am a follower of Fr. Ephrem.   I am of Fr. Seraphim Rose.  I am of Fr. Schmemann.  I follow Bishop Kallistos.  A follow Archbishop Lazar.


I am for Kondratick.  I am for Metropolitan Herman.   I am for Archbishop Job.  I am for

The problems of the church are the same for the past 2000 years.  They are human problems, resulting from human sin, hubris, desire for power, jealousy, greed, control, lust.

St. Paul disagreed vehemently with St. Peter (Cephas).  He disagreed with St. Peter’s understanding of what it meant to follow Christ.  He disagreed with Cephas over how to interpret Christ’s teachings.   But St. Paul was still clear that each of them belonged to Christ and were trying to follow Christ.  

And St. Paul understood that it was not his goal or Peter’s goal to draw people away from Christ to follow them personally or them alone.

St. Paul spoke about being a father to his disciples, and he understood that the followers of Christ would be naturally attracted to those leaders who taught them the faith.    And he thought that was natural and good.

But St. Paul would not accept that Christians would make their leaders and teachers into different or divided religions.  If someone you want to follow as a Christian is demanding that you follow them alone, and if they say they alone have the only right interpretation of Christ, then be on your guard.  St. Paul would warn you away from such people.

For each Christian teacher should be leading you to Christ, uniting you to Christ, keeping you with Christ.  But if all they are doing is dividing Christ and pitting Christian against Christian, then they are not doing what St. Paul taught and you should have nothing to do with them. 

If any one Orthodox teacher or priest or bishop draws you away from the fellowship of other Orthodox and from the entire Body of Christ, then he or she is doing what St. Paul condemned.

Each of us should be working to unite all others to Christ and to the fullness of Christ’s Church – to the one, universal and catholic church we profess in the Creed.  That Church is not limited to Paul or Peter or Constantinople or Moscow or Ephrem or Schmemann or Herman or Job.  It is the responsibility of all church leaders and all Christians to unite all to one another and to Christ.

And as can be seen in the life of St. Paul who was willing to argue with his fellow apostles, union in Christ does not always mean compromise or avoidance.  Sometimes we need to deal with our disagreements and to argue with one another to discern the truth.