Thanksgiving 2017

A prayer for Thanksgiving Day

O Lord Jesus Christ, our God, the God of all mercies and compassion,
Whose mercy cannot be measured and Whose love for mankind is without limit: As unprofitable servants we bow down in reverence and fear before Your gracious majesty, and we humbly offer You this Thanksgiving for all the benefits You have bestowed upon our nation and our Church.

We glorify, praise, hymn and magnify You as our Lord, Master and Benefactor.  We bow down before You in Thanksgiving for Your immeasurable and priceless loving-kindness.

We pray that in the same way that You already blessed us, heard our prayers and fulfilled them, so also in the time to come as we flourish in love and virtue as a result of Your blessings grant always to accept our thanksgiving supplications and grant that we may bring glory to Your Holy Name each day that we walk on this earth.

Deliver our Church and our nation from every evil circumstance, and continue to accept, bless and prosper the work of our hands.
O Lord, grant us peace and tranquility so that we may live in godliness all the days of our lives. Count us always worthy to offer you thanksgiving, to tell about your wonderful blessings, and to sing praise to You for all the benefits you bestow upon us.

In humble gratitude we praise Your Name together with Your Father who is from everlasting and You Most Holy, good and consubstantial Spirit.  Amen.

Thanksgiving morning, 23 November 2017, there was a rainbow in the sky just at day break. A beautiful sight for Thanksgiving morning.

 And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant which I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant which is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the clouds, I will look upon it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is upon the earth.”    (Genesis 9:12-16)

A Separation of Church and State

The state is, to be sure, wholly  of “this world.” It belongs to the level of the reality which in the light of the Kingdom “fades away.” This does not mean, however, that it is either evil or neutral, an enemy to be fought or an entity to be ignored for the sake of “spiritual values.” On the contrary, it is precisely the experience of the Kingdom that for Christians gives the state its real meaning and value. The fall consisted primarily in the disconnection of “this world” from God and in its acquiring therefore a pseudo-meaning and a pseudo-value which is the very essence of the demonic, the Devil being “the liar and the father of lies.” To redeem the world, or anything in the world, is then to place it in the perspective of the Kingdom of God as its end and ultimate term of reference, to make it transparent to the Kingdom as its sign, means and “instrument.”

…The essence of all that exists is good, for it is God’s creation. It is only its divorce from God and its transformation into an idol, i.e. an “end in itself,” that makes anything in this world evil and demonic. Thus, as everything else in “this world,” the state may be under the power of “the prince of this world.” It may become a vehicle of demonic lies and distortions, yet, as everything else, by “accepting” the Kingdom of God as its ultimate value or “eschaton,” it may fulfill a positive function. As an integral part of “this world,” it exists under the sign of the end and will not “inherit the Kingdom of God.” But its positive and indeed “Christian” function lies in this very recognition of its limit, in this very refusal to be an “end in itself,” an absolute value, an idol, in its subordination, in short, to the only absolute value, that of God’s Kingdom.

It is well known that from a purely legal point of view the crime for which Christians were condemned and denied the right to exists (“non licet vos esse”) was their refusal to honor the emperor with the title of Kyrios, Lord. They did not denounce, reject or fight any other “defect” of the Roman Empire be it, to use our modern “fixations,” injustice (slavery), colonialism (the regime of imperial versus the senatorial provinces), or imperialism (expansion at the expense of other states and nations). Yet what they denounced and fought by denying the emperor the divine title of Kyrios implied in fact much more than all this, for it challenged once and for all the self-proclaimed divinity of the state, its claim to be an absolute value, a divine “end in itself.” And it implied therefore not only a negation, but also an affirmation. (Alexander Schmemman, Church World Mission, pp. 30-32)

The AAC of the OCA

18thAACFrom my perspective, the 18th All American Council of the Orthodox Church in America is remarkable.  This is not because any new or groundbreaking ideas have been presented, adopted or accomplished.  On the contrary, the Assembly is doing little more than what it is expected to do administratively for the OCA.

What stands out in my mind is the irenic spirit exhibited in the plenary sessions in which the OCA Statute revisions were almost unanimously adopted (97% voted in favor) and the proposed budget and funding plan were so overwhelmingly adopted (92% voting in favor).  The spirit of the council is exhibited in the gentle spirit of Metropolitan Tikhon, whose opening address captured the tone of the Council, and I hope, the future direction of the OCA.

Met Tikhon AACThe Council, under the shepherding of Metropolitan Tikhon, shows every sign that the OCA is ready to move beyond the years of turmoil that marked the past decade.  Council delegates showed a willingness to trust and follow leadership that was in fact working with the Holy Spirit.  Metropolitan Tikhon gave a long opening address in which he skillfully wove in the story of the religious sojourn of his own ancestors into the history and current situation of religion in America today.  His talk was a vision of hope that Orthodoxy in America, which contributed richly to the melting pot which is America, now living in a country of even greater social diversity and heterogeneity, can in fact thrive.   The Orthodox ethnic experience was one in which the ethnic groups tried to maintain their cultural and linguistic distinctiveness in the midst of the melting pot.  The OCA is realizing a new experience – that we as Americans can also be Orthodox, and we as Orthodox can be Americans.  While there are some who feel this is purely accommodation – allowing American values to replace Orthodox values – others see that Orthodoxy has functioned as the salt of the earth in every culture into which Orthodoxy has moved.  Orthodoxy has functioned in many different cultures, even those completely hostile to its existence.  I’m reminded at least of the anonymous early 3rd Century Christian document, “The Letter to Diognetus” which among other things says:

For Christians cannot be distinguished from the rest of the human race by country or language or customs. They do not live in cities of their own; they do not use a peculiar form of speech; they do not follow an eccentric manner of life. This doctrine of theirs has not been discovered by the ingenuity or deep thought of inquisitive men, nor do they put forward a merely human teaching, as some people do. Yet, although they live in Greek and barbarian cities alike, as each man’s lot has been cast, and follow the customs of the country in clothing and food and other matters of daily living, at the same time they give proof of the remarkable and admittedly extraordinary constitution of their own commonwealth. They live in their own countries, but only as aliens. They have a share in everything as citizens, and endure everything as foreigners. Every foreign land is their peopleagapefatherland, and yet for them every fatherland is a foreign land. They marry, like everyone else, and they beget children, but they do not cast out their offspring. They share their board with each other, but not their marriage bed. It is true that they are “in the flesh,” but they do not live “according to the flesh.” They busy themselves on earth, but their citizenship is in heaven. They obey the established laws, but in their own lives they go far beyond what the laws require. They love all men, and by all men are persecuted. They are unknown, and still they are condemned; they are put to death, and yet they are brought to life. They are poor, and yet they make many rich; they are completely destitute, and yet they enjoy complete abundance. They are dishonored, and in their very dishonor are glorified; they are defamed, and are vindicated. They are reviled, and yet they bless; when they are affronted, they still pay due respect. When they do good, they are punished as evildoers; undergoing punishment, they rejoice because they are brought to life. To put it simply: What the soul is in the body, that Christians are in the world.

This seems much closer to Metropolitan Tikhon’s vision than any sectarian withdrawal from the world.  He is a monk, and though having withdrawn from worldly pursuits, he understands the words of Christ:

“Now I am no longer in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are. … But now I come to You, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have My joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.” (John 17:11-21)

Our goal as Church in America is to be a witness to the love, compassion and Good News of Jesus Christ.  We are to give opportunity to others that they might themselves come to repentance (we can’t compel or legislate repentance – it must come from the person’s heart).  We can’t force others to repent, but can invite them to repentance, to offer them good reason to choose a godly way of life.  Our message though is challenging – we invite people to know the love of God, not through self love but through loving others.  On the one hand our underlying assumption of free will resonates to independently  minded Americans.  On the other hand the call to love others is at odds with the self-centered and selfish ideals of total individualism.

My own sense of things is this vision is again being offered and proclaimed in the OCA in a time of uncertainty and in a constantly changing religious and moral landscape.  Our message doesn’t change, but the people to whom we speak are constantly changing.  We have to be steadfast in our love toward them.

 

St. Herman of Alaska and the Future of the OCA (II)

We sang Matins this morning as is our parish custom on Friday mornings.  Today we had the additional blessing of celebrating the life of St. Herman of Alaska, the first canonized saint of Orthodoxy in America.  The Orthodox Church in America has recognized the missionary zeal of her early saints as being the basis for the vision and ministry of Orthodoxy in America.  And while the OCA has struggled in recent years administratively, it has not forgotten the Light of Christ that was brought to our shores by these Orthodox missionary saints.   The OCA shares the responsibility for carrying forth through the 21st Century the mission and ministry of the canonized Saints who lived, witnessed and ministered in North America.  (see my blog: St. Herman and the Future of the OCA)

Certain of the verses from the Canon for St. Herman of Alaska stood out in my mind this morning.

THE ETERNAL LIGHT OF CHRIST OUR SAVIOR
GUIDED YOU, BLESSED FATHER HERMAN, ON YOUR EVANGELICAL JOURNEY TO AMERICA,
PROCLAIMING THE GOSPEL OF PEACE.
NOW YOU STAND BEFORE THE THRONE OF GLORY;
INTERCEDE FOR YOUR LAND AND ITS PEOPLE://
PEACE FOR THE WORLD, AND SALVATION FOR OUR SOULS!

It is the light of Christ which guides the Saints of the Orthodox Church, and which is to guide Orthodoxy in America.  If we lose sight of the only purpose of the Church, to be a light to the world, we will become just another human institution in our country.  We are to stand before God and to pray with the saints for the salvation of the world.  If we do that faithfully, others will notice God too.

You were a good shepherd and loving father, Saint,
a help and healing for the afflicted, needy and infirm,
a refuge and teacher to orphans.
Do not take away the protection of your prayer
from us whom you have left orphaned.

St. Herman was what the Church should always be: “a help and a healing for the afflicted, needy and infirm.”   That is what Orthodoxy in America should strive for.  Our goal and purpose is not mainly to imitate rubrics from the Mother Churches, but more importantly we are to incarnate Christ in whom we are and wherever we are.   We happen to be in America in the 21st Century.  This is where we belong and this is where we are to experience Christ, to witness to Christ, and to make Christ present to the world.

The people were amazed and wondered, Saint Herman,
that you lived alone in the forest.
I am not alone, you said, But God is with me:
He who is everywhere, and His holy angels!
How can one be cast down, having such company!
And now as you dwell in the heavens,
do not abandon us who dwell on earth.

God is with us.  This is a simple truth which we sing and celebrate in our liturgical services.  When we forget that our purpose is to worship God here and now, we lose sight of the presence of God all around us.  If we are unaware of God’s presence in our lives, how can we witness to God’s love and presence to the rest of the world?  Our parishes and our parishioners are to be lights to the world: to make everyone aware of God’s presence by being totally attuned to this truth in our daily lives.

You laid up treasure in heaven, zealot of divine things,
leaving nothing behind in your cell
to be found for those who sought treasures on this earth.
Teach us now, unmercenary Father,
to treasure up heavenly things,
and offer our hearts to the Only Priceless One.

Our treasures as Orthodox Christians are not really in the past, but rather are present and revealed in the liturgical life of the church, and in the communal lives of our parishes and in the lives of our parishioners.  The treasures of Orthodox Christians are in heaven, in that world and kingdom which is to come.   Our treasures are not in some past century or in some other nation or empire or in some other language.   The treasures of Orthodoxy are available to everyone in every generation and in every nation on earth, including our own.  The fullness of the Church is found in every Orthodox parish and can be experienced today.  It is an experience we can strive for and encounter every day of our lives. That is what it is to be Orthodox.

Old age, infirmity and even blindness
did not stop at all your intercession for the people before authorities.
You begged them to prefer mercy to sacrifice,
that they themselves might find mercy from the Lord.
Now as you stand in heaven, do not cease to intercede for us
before the Lord.

St. Herman’s ministry and mission was not crippled by aging or by any infirmities or handicaps.   That is something we in the OCA or in any Orthodox jurisdiction in America should remember.  Yes we have stumbled and suffered setbacks and at times seem weak and ineffective.  Yet our mission and purpose remains the same.  We are to be faithful to God just like those Three Youths who were thrown into the fiery furnace by an evil king who thought he could destroy them and their faith.  They sang a hymn of praise to God even in the midst of the fiery furnace.  Even oppression and the threat of death could not change their faithfulness to God and witness to His greatness.

And today is not only the commemoration of the repose of St. Herman of Alaska, it is also the anniversary of the repose of Fr. Alexander Schmemann, who I at least consider a great teacher of Orthodoxy in America.   His writings inspired me to stay in the Orthodox Church and to work to buildup Orthodoxy in America.  You can read one article honoring this great teacher of Orthodoxy in America at An Essay on the 30th Anniversary of the Repose of Fr. Alexander Schmemann.

LOGOIn honor of St. Herman and Fr. Schmemann, I join my fellow Orthodox in inviting all of our OCA members to offer this Christmas season, extra financial support to the ministries, mission and vision of the Orthodox Church in America:  Become a Steward.  I have this month for the first time in many years renewed my own support of the mission of St. Herman and the vision of Fr. Schmemann for Orthodoxy in America.

You too can support the work and vision of an Orthodox Church in America at :  Support the Vision and Mission of Orthodoxy in America.  

Parting Thoughts from the 16th AAC

As I mentioned before you can find links to Podcasts and some reports from the OCA’s  16th All American Council  now available online.  So I don’t intend to report what you can read for yourself.

I will comment on two aspects of this year’s AAC.  First just a thought about the big picture:   trying to avoid listing what was or was not accomplished in our days assembled together (since that can be found on the official OCA.org webpage) but rather offering a few thoughts on what could have tied things together.  Second just a few notes on the very short demographic presentation by Alex Krindatch on Thursday.

I think the bishops set a very interesting tone to the AAC in the responses they offered after the Metropolitan’s opening remarks.  fascinatingly there was even a question by one woman about why the bishops had scheduled in the agenda a time of response to the metropolitan: a question born no doubt in the paranoia of those who cannot understand the frustrations of those who have had to work with the Metropolitan.   The Metropolitan made his own public admission that there has been a complete breakdown in trust or an ability to work with him.  So the bishops exercising their own fraternal concern for him stood with him in an effort to show they have a oneness of mind.

On some level there has been an amazing degree of cooperation and unity between the Synod, chancery staff and the Metropolitan Council in recognizing a problem.  Even if we haven’t all been at the same point at the same time in what to do, that there is a problem has been clear, and the Metropolitan has acknowledged this.  This recognition by all is not some plot as some falsely accuse, but a sad recognition f the reality before us all.   That recognition is the only way to healing and/or change, and/or a way forward.  Some  few don’t want the church leadership to deal with truth.  Ideology does cause institutional blindness and dysfunctional enabling.  It is neither easy or pleasant for the rest of us to have to wrestle with what we face, but it is the way in which we follow Christ who claimed to be the Truth.  We cannot pretend what we want to be true, we each have to bear our cross as well as one another’s burdens.   This is the way to the Kingdom in which the truth sets us free.

The bishops in their responses did not attack or blame or accuse, but rather offered some interesting anecdotal accounts of their own experience in Orthodoxy.   It was to me a rare moment of the bishops showing a glimpse into their personal lives as members in and bishops of the Body of Christ.  Some felt the comments were enigmatic, I thought they helped put “flesh” on men we often experience only as caricatures in Byzantine imperial vestments.  They really did seem at peace with each other as if they had reached a common mind on where they were and where they were going even if that goal is not yet clear to the rest of us.

What we lacked though throughout the AAC was an articulated vision of what the OCA is or should be.   What does the autocephaly mean to Orthodoxy in the 21st Century with the realities we face in our civil culture as well as with the episcopal assemblies and the condition of world Orthodoxy?   What special and unique gift has God bestowed upon us that we bring to American Orthodoxy?  How can we contribute this gift to the condition of Orthodoxy in America?    At the moment we seem to lack the person, persons or leaders who can articulate this in a way to inspire us.  So we struggle along, sometimes only muddling along, and occasionally doing something well.  Autocephaly means something, and for many of us it means something essential.  We at this moment however lack the person or persons who can embody that vision and lead us to it.  Perhaps the reason is present realities won’t allow it.

My last three years on the Metropolitan Council left me with a rather positive view of the men and women serving us on this Council.  Same is true of my impressions of the chancery staff.   All of these folk are working with the hard issues that easily can grind a person down, and yet the work is done.  And there is no doubt that lines of communication between the members of the synod, staff and committees are often there and better than have existed in the past.  And to be honest there still are frustrations.  The bishops want our trust, but that is an earned commodity and it still is slow to materialize.

I also will positively comment on those plenary sessions which dealt with the very emotionally charged issues of budget and funding.  For despite the energy, the disagreements and probably personal animosities, I thought people presented themselves very well.  The arguments were not ad hominem attacks as so often happens on the Internet, but rather people made their points on all sides of the issues and spoke passionately but well.

Finally, just a few words on the Krindatch statistics which represent the most comprehensive statistical study of the Orthodox in America to date.      You can read more details about Krindatch’s  work on line.   His studies do show that we Orthodox are a tiny minority in America (and in world Orthodoxy for that matter).  Krindatch says there are about 1,043,800 Orthodox in America which includes all jurisdictions as well as the Oriental Orthodox.  Of that total only about 294,300 participate in the Church on a frequent basis.  Of the total of Orthodox, only about 84,200 belong to the OCA, with about 33,300 of those being regular participants in their parishes.  So on the whole members of the OCA show a higher rate of regular participation in their parishes than do the Orthodox as a whole.   So while we are small, we have about 40% of our members who regularly participate in their parishes.  This shows at least some positive interest of the OCA faithful in their parishes and in the Church.   It may be a small amount of good news but it is a zeal which can lead to more vibrant parish life and further mission and outreach in America.

See also my blog  Viewing the AAC from Where I Sit

Orthodoxy in America

“The Church is in the world, in order to convert and redirect all the realms of natural, personal and social life. Her task is to make people aware of their true destiny and to make history constantly eschatological by illuminating, renewing and transforming the culture of people. This mission obligates every local Church to take root in the nation in which she enacts her life of faith.” (Alkiviadas C. Calivas, Essays in Theology and Liturgy Volume Two: Challenges and Opportunities – The Church in Her Mission to the World, pg.60)

26 June 2011, the 2nd Sunday after Pentecost, is recognized by the Orthodox Church in America and the Antiochian Archdiocese as the Sunday of All Saints of North America.   Most of the canonized Orthodox Saints in America were involved in mission work – helping to establish Orthodoxy in America so that it could be a viable witness to following Christ in the Orthodox way.  Today, we Orthodox enjoy the benefits of the missionary work and accomplishment of our saintly fore-bearers.  It is our turn to take up the cross of Christ and help root this life-giving tree in America.  We are to bear witness to all Americans about Christ, and we are to create a church which welcomes visitors and converts into our communities.  We are to become the saints who are fishers of men.

Reflections on the OCA, Autocephaly & the Future (1)

Ancient Faith Radio has made available for us all to contemplate, the Keynote Address of Metropolitan Jonah to the 2010 Canadian Archdiocesan Assembly regarding the Episcopal Assembly.  It is the beauty of the Internet that it can make available for all, speeches and documents which we then can engage in terms of our blogs and web pages as we continue to take an interest in the well being of the churches of God and the unity of all.  Public discourse on issues of significance in the Church is a healthy thing for the Church, and thankfully their is now a forum – the internet – through which even more members can participate in the decision making process.

Reflecting on the words of Metropolitan Jonah (MJ in the text below), brought to mind some thoughts, questions and comments, which I’ll offer up in this blog series.  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}:  “….the tradition and the particular contributions that the OCA has for the whole American, North American, experience. Particularly, this has to do with a vision of conciliarity on a broad level that is an essential element of our experience of the Church. Conciliarity refers to the Church meeting in Council, initially with the Synods of Bishops. It has come to mean a broader participation by clergy and laity in the decision-making processes of the Church and their inclusion in various levels of councils.”

I  agree with the Metropolitan that  the OCA has consciously in its STATUTES and in its practice worked to be a conciliar church, and this has become part of the very way we in the OCA see ourselves.  We have and continue to wrestle with what conciliarity means in the Church.   What is less clear to me is what this conciliar element means to him in practice.      

I am not clear what he imagines by “broader participation by the clergy and laity in the decision-making processes of the church.”    What exactly does that look like to him?  I would like to see him spell out the details of  how this practically works.    How is he actively promoting this?  What specific actions is he taking to make it happen? 

I ask those questions because I’ve heard him say publicly (but also been attributed to him privately)  pointed criticisms of the Metropolitan Council and the All American Council, including ideas to do away with both as they are currently constituted.    If he were to enact his vision, there certainly would be less participation by the church as a whole in the leadership of the church – parishes and parish members would have far less role in decision making processes on the level of the OCA.  Though he seems to advocate an ideal of working at the level of the local church – whether diocese or parish – I’ve not heard him spell out in any great detail what all he sees the laity doing in the church.     He has also criticized the chancery staff and expressed ideas of favoring a monastic control of the administration of the church which would in fact further exclude married clergy and laity  (and thus the majority of church members) from decision making processes.    If these changes were enacted, the laity and the parish clergy would have far less role in participating in the administration of the church, and their input would be further distanced from the decision makers.

So though I hear our Metropolitan speak in some glowing idealistic terms about conciliarity, on the other hand, I’ve not really seen in his words any practical detail of what his vision would look like for the OCA in the end.   I would like to see him give a better explanation of how he envisions the Church functioning administratively and  to provide some clear ideas as to how the lay membership of the church and the parish clergy are to actively function in the decision-making processes of the church.  In actual practice what does conciliarity look like?

Does “conciliarity” mean that the bishop’s vision is to be realized by the membership who are to be passive when it comes to ideas but active only in actualizing what the bishop wants, or does it mean an actual discourse, dialogue and even debate about vision, goals, policy and procedure?   What happens when the membership of the church has a direction or vision for the Church which is in conflict with the bishop’s (I’m not speaking about a conflict in doctrine, but more of what we commonly think of as ‘vision’)?   What happens when the membership does not share the bishop’s vision or lacks confidence in the bishop’s plans?  What happens if the membership is more inspired or energized than the bishop?   What does conciliarity look like in these circumstances?

These are aspects of conciliarity that have not yet been fully articulated.  Even what does conciliarity imply about the Synod of Bishops’ own decision making?  How do they as synod (a body within the Church) model conciliarity in their own deliberations for the rest of the church?

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

Autocephaly, America and an Acceptable Time

When will the autocephalous Orthodox Churches embrace the Orthodox Church in America as a sister autocephalous church?

Some have said, “never.”  But the “Mother Church” of the OCA does recognize the OCA’s autocephaly.  So do several of the other autocephalous Orthodox Churches. So part of the Orthodox world already accepts the reality.  Those that have not recognized the autocephaly, still have for the most part granted a de facto recognition by accepting the clergy and faithful of the OCA in Communion.

As Alexander Bogolepov notes in his book, TOWARD AN AMERICAN ORTHODOX CHURCH: THE ESTABLISHMENT OF AN AUTOCEPHALOUS ORTHODOX CHURCH   (written in 1963, 7 years before the OCA officially received its autocephaly from the Moscow Patrachate): 

“Although not recognized de jure, a new Church may enjoy de facto recognition by other autocephalous Local Churches.”  (p 50)

In fact Bogolepov notes that there have often been lags in time (some quite long) between when a local Church saw itself as autocephalous, and when the rest of the Orthodox world also accepted its status:

 “The Patriarchate of Constantinople, for example, had to recognize the self-proclaimed independence of the following Churches in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries:  the Church of Greece in 1850, 17 after it had proclaimed itself autocephalous; the Romanian Church in 1885, 20 years after; the Albanian Church in 1937, 15 years after; the Bulgarian Church in 1945, 72 years after.  In the fourteenth century the Serbian Church was recognized by the Patriarch of Constantinople 30 years after it had proclaimed itself independent (1346, 1375), and  in the sixteenth century the Russian Church–  140 years after (1448-1589).  In the twentieth century the Patriarch of Moscow recognized the Finnish Church 35 years after it had been granted autonomy by the Ecumenical Patriarchate (1923-1958).”  (pp 47-48)

Bogolepov notes there are many exact parallels between why the Russian Church declared itself autocephalous from Constantinople and the OCA’s own situation in the mid-20th Century.  He writes that even though Constantinople refused to recognize the autocephalous status of Moscow for 140 years after Moscow deemed itself autocephalous,  when in 1948, the Russian Church celebrated its 500th Anniversary of its autocephaly, the Ecumenical Patriarch joined the celebration and congratulated them on their 500th Anniversary.  Constantinople not only accepted Moscow’s autocephaly but also Moscow’s timeline and self-understanding for when this happened.

A major difference for Moscow and the OCA is that Moscow was able to assert its own authority over a certain imperial territory and was not just one jurisdiction competing among many for ecclesiastical recognition in Russia.  The OCA remains one jurisdiction among many working in the Americas, and while the other jurisdictions show varying degrees of interest in having all Orthodox under their ecclesial authority; in fact some Orthodox jurisdictions in the America are not interested in competing at all for authority over all Orthodox in America and are content to be one limited jurisdiction among many limited jurisdictions.

The history of how autocephaly is ultimately recognized in the family of Orthodox Churches shows that it takes time.  Moscow waited 140 years, the OCA has so far waited 40 years.   While the OCA has recognized Orthodox unity in America as a priority, its best course of action is to take the current time to establish a viable jurisdiction, and then at an acceptable time it will be recognized by the family of Orthodox sister autocephalous churches.

Orthodoxy in the World: The Present Future

This is the final blog in this introductory series to the Orthodox Faith.  The First blog is Orthodoxy in the World & Light to the World. The previous blog is Orthodoxy in Dialogue with America.

In general Orthodox throughout the world have viewed the West’s embrace of Enlightenment Ideals  with suspicion.   Orthodoxy does not believe that the rights of the individual should always trump the rights of a nation, society, family or religion.    Because Orthodoxy views the human as a being always in relationship to others, Orthodoxy would want to see individual rights discussions balanced with an emphasis on the right and need to love others which means taking into account the value of society itself.  When it comes to fundamental human rights, Orthodoxy would want to say the most fundamental human right is to be able to love and to be loved (which includes forgiving, asking for forgiveness, repenting, granting mercy, stopping all cycles of revenge).

            As a minority religion in America, and one that has suffered some prejudice and rejection, the Orthodox tried to protect their people by encouraging in the case of inter-marriages that the non-Orthodox person join the Orthodox Church.   Orthodoxy’s own sacramental thinking discourages its clergy and members from any form of interfaith sharing of sacraments and in some case participating in other forms of worship.   In America, because the Orthodox were often perceived as ethnic and therefore different, the refusal of Orthodox to actively participate in ecumenical events often has gone unnoticed.  Orthodoxy believes that Christianity itself was meant to be one church, and has seen the divisions in Christianity and the diversification of Christian liturgies and theology as a negative evil further rupturing human unity.

            Because Orthodoxy does not have a single worldwide leader, but rather is organized along the lines of national churches, it often does not speak with one voice on many social issues.  However, and perhaps somewhat surprisingly, there is a fair amount of agreement among the Orthodox on many contemporary issues, and almost totally agreement on theological issues.   To date the various Orthodox groups in America do not have a unified church leadership, but rather are organized along ethnic lines.  The Orthodox therefore do not have one person or source to which to turn when seeking an Orthodox viewpoint on current issues.    Orthodox Christian leadership has generally taken a “conservative” stance on social issues:  pro-life being opposed to both the death penalty and abortion; opposed to genetic engineering, human cloning and stem cell research; opposed to same sex unions; and supporting family issues and the importance of motherhood in society.   Orthodox Church leaders when addressing the issue have also tended to be in favor of many forms of ecology and question the rapacious effect of consumerism on the environment.

The role of leadership in the church has been hotly debated throughout Orthodox America.   Some Orthodox newly arriving in America find allowing women leadership roles or voting roles in the church to be totally new and questionable.    Even the notion of voting (democracy) in deciding church policies (doctrine has not been debated much anywhere in the modern Orthodox world)  has met serious objections, especially from the hierarchy.    The role of the laity (whether male or female) has been disputed as the church becomes increasingly Americanized.   Bishops and priests sometimes express a fear of losing control of parishes as a result of democratization which they feel has no place in the church and which they sometimes interpret as anti-clerical.  On the other hand, as more of the membership is Americanized and educated, the laity demand more openness, transparency and accountability from their clergy and hierarchs.     Because the country is pluralistic religiously, Orthodox leadership has found it difficult to maintain absolute “denominational” loyalty.   This has caused some church leaders in America to encourage further withdrawal from non-Orthodox gatherings.   Conservative and fundamentalist thinkers are sometimes attracted to Orthodoxy,  pulling the church into that direction as they bring with them their disdain for the “liberalism” of their former denominations.    Many of these converts see the unique dress of Orthodox clergy as signs of the different and thus right ways of the Church.    This has caused numerous other Orthodox to wonder whether Orthodoxy is in fact bringing the faith to America or whether these new converts are in fact reshaping the Church to more closely resemble what they imagine Orthodoxy to mean. 

The challenges for Orthodoxy in America are many – cultural conflicts, as well as trying to discern the difference between Tradition and custom.  There is also the difficult issue of how to bring about Orthodox unity in America when its parishes are organized along ethnic lines or have loyalties to old world politics and patriarchs.  The issue is how does Orthodoxy incarnate the Church in America – what will it look like?  How can it be faithful to its past and tradition and yet able to witness to the Gospel in the 21st Century?

Orthodoxy in Dialogue with America

This is the 18th blog in this introductory series to the Orthodox Faith.  The First blog is Orthodoxy in the World & Light to the World. The previous blog is Orthodoxy in Relationship to Christianity Worldwide.

Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church, Dayton, OH

Orthodoxy entered into America as a true minority religion in an already Christian country.   Technologically the Orthodox came from inferior cultures as they came to North America.   Politically they often arrived  as almost powerless with their fellow Orthodox living in countries dominated by Islam or atheistic communism.    Their initial reaction was often to try to preserve their customs and practices in their small ethnic enclaves to protect themselves from the American culture, which they often experienced as hostile to them.

            During the height of the cold war, many Orthodox coming from communist dominated countries often felt themselves under suspicion of being spies and un-American, despite their frequently ferociously anti-communist stance.    The issues which occupied the Orthodox were often not the contemporary issues of modern America.    Feminism and the ordination of women which have been prominent in religious debates in America have played a very minor role in Orthodox discussions.  Part of this is the result of the fact that American Orthodoxy tends to take its cues on issues from the “old world” and there feminism is still a minor issue.   Orthodox  being very conservative and traditionalist in custom often brought to their meetings and discussions the structures and thinking that dominate in the old world –  not only were the questions “foreign” to Orthodox thinking, but they were calling upon Orthodoxy to make changes it was in no way prepared to make as it struggled (by trying to preserve its past, its tradition) to adapt to and to survive in the new world.

Protection of the Theotokos, Dayton

Orthodoxy in relationship to the American scene has struggled with:

–         America’s extreme individualism (as versus the Orthodox understanding of a human as a being always in relationship to others) – including notions that morality is basically determined by each individual not by society;

–         America’s unconstrained consumerism (as versus a spirituality which emphasizes self denial as the way to love) – including the sense that a constitutionally guaranteed pursuit of happiness means you should consume as much as you want and can afford;  

–         America’s love of things new (versus Orthodoxy’s constantly looking to tradition and the past to understand all things new) – including new ideas about God, morality, and truth;

–         America’s distrust of authority (versus a church which emphasizes hierarchy and tradition) – including a distrust of ancient or traditional ways of doing things;

–         America’s “meritocracy” (versus the Orthodox reliance on entitlement for those in positions of authority) – especially in relationship to bishops who traditionally commanded respect, not because of accomplishments but because of the office they held;  

–         America’s clear separation of church and state (as versus the Orthodox sense that there should exist cooperation, a symphony, between government and religion which are two branches of authority both given by God); and

–         America’s love of democracy and deciding most things by majority rule (as versus the historical Orthodox alignment with empires and kings in which there was not voting, but obedience to decisions handed down from on high) – including a modern tendency in American churches to vote on everything  from morality, to liturgy, to theology and thus to truth.

Next: Orthodoxy in the World: The Present Future