Can a Fable of Pan-Orthodoxy in America Become Reality?

Source: The National Herald

My fable begins with four babies being born to four families, all Orthodox. Two live on one block, the others one block over. In fact, two were born on the same day, in the same hospital (this last part is true).

Yet all four will be baptized in separate parishes and live their whole lives without ever taking Holy Communion together. Strangers at the Chalice.

They will attend each other’s birthday parties; the same schools, sports teams, videogame groups, and school bands. They’ll double-date (or triple or quadruple date) and attend Homecoming and Prom dances together. The same fraternities, clubs, social causes (maybe different political parties!) We are so segregated that Greeks often attend Presbyterian Summer Bible School rather than the Serbian one nearby – but I thought Christ is not to be divided. If you do not see this as crying out for correction, it will remain as it is now.

Each with our own priest, bishop and diocese, ignorant of widely-varying practices; different Calendars and Liturgies. We live our Orthodox lives divorced from our joys, troubles, anniversaries, careers, illnesses, and tragedies. From our youth forward we hear little whispers about our classmates: where Orthodoxy is concerned, “they’re not quite like us.” Deny it if you dare.

This is considered the most normal, Canonical situation in the world: that your Life in Christ depends more on who your great-grandparents were before radio was invented than who you are today, or anything that’s happened since the Vietnam War. And if you move from Pittsburgh to Portland or Fort Worth, The Rule will apply anew. And converts to Orthodoxy will need to choose a flavor of Orthodoxy – Greek, Russian, Carpatho-Russian, Serbian, Ukrainian, Antiochian, Georgian, and Albanian. And any of those babies who intermarry, they have to choose.

Anyone who questions why our Orthodox lives are segregated unlike Greece, Syria, or Serbia will pull down on their heads a closet full of baggage. If they start militating to live lives in common – Neighborhood Orthodoxy – be prepared to see them blasted as impatient armchair quarterbacks, meeting without a blessing.

They must remain lifelong Strangers at the Chalice. One Orthodox group standing by as others struggle; hobbled from working hand-in-hand as Orthodox Americans.

But no one will answer my Top Question, the one I say exposes The Big Fiction that none of the Ancient Mother Churches will face head-on:

Why aren’t the Greeks of Greece under the omophorion of His All-Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople – on which Holy Canon does Greece’s independent Church stand?

It is because the Greeks won’t go under His All-Holiness. Much as they love & admire his courage for Orthodoxy, it would mean passing under foreign influence.

Yet, His All-Holiness maintains that every Greek who emigrates from Athens to Atlantic City (or Adelaide) belongs to him. But if they make the round-trip, they revert to Athens. Why the difference from the other Churches? Romania insists that if your grandparents came from Romania you belong to Bucharest; the Serbs to Belgrade, etc. In the past few years a new explanation is being floated, that “only Orthodox countries can be Autocephalous,” but neither Syria nor Albania are majority Orthodox countries. We have to dig deeper to find the common rule, The Reality Check.

It wasn’t the Holy Canons that changed – just the Ecumenical Patriarch’s mind did – between 1821 and 1850, when the Phanar “came around” and conceded autocephaly to the Church of the Hellenes. And between 1866 and 1887 (Church of Romania). And between 1870 & 1945 (Bulgaria). He did it kicking and screaming, but he came around every time.

I say, Orthodox independence (autocephaly in Church terms) is co-extensive with national life. Four, five, and six generations of Orthodox have been baptized, married, and buried in the U.S.A. – for 100 years we have fought wars and died as such: our bishops need to feel the urge to baptize our Orthodox life here, as an independent, Autocephalous Local Church & Synod.

It takes time for Patriarchs to come to terms with their daughter Churches’ coming-of-age. Just like it takes some mothers years to come to grips with their sons marrying, leaving the family home as masters of their own households.

Bishops of The Assembly, stop to ask yourselves whether Orthodoxy in America can stand another 20 years of slow-walking, as though we are living down the last 60, or why it must!

Autocephaly may not be an end-all solution, but it is a Begin-All. After that Big Step, we can finally stop thinking in terms of “we Russians” and “those Ukrainians” and can start facing up to our common problems, our common joys. Our future.

Please! Unify now so we can spend the next 20 years Getting It Right; not one more generation as strangers!

Stand together, prepared to suffer 15-60 years of disapprobation/ schism. My Romanian forebears showed that courage, just like yours did in Russia, Greece, Serbia, Bulgaria, Albania – and Ukraine. God is with us!

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