Source: Orthodox Christian Laity
A DECLARATION OF AMERICAN ORTHODOX UNITY NOW
[A Case Study that was discussed at the Annual Meeting of the Orthodox Christian Laity in San Diego, CA on November 7, 2015 – We invite your comments.]
Amidst great spiritual and practical need, this declaration has been written to send out a clarion call for unity – unity in practice and unity within hearts – among American Orthodox Christian believers. Such unity is inevitable, it is the right thing, and it is based on the historic precedents of the Orthodox Church throughout the ages. It is also urgent, for the world is changing ever more rapidly, with dire consequences to traditional faith and Christian virtues, consequences that we can see on a daily basis. The opportunity to do the right thing, the consequential thing, is often fleeting, and once it passes without courageous and principled action, it can be gone forever.
“We are a new nationality. We require a new nation.” This call for independence, from Britain by its thirteen American colonies, is attributed dramatically to Benjamin Franklin. The date was 1776. In the debates in the 2nd Continental Congress that ensued, there were strong voices against this revolutionary notion of independence. Our country’s Founding Fathers were certain that America was ready for the creation of a new republic; other equally accomplished colonial leaders were not so sure. The revolutionary nature of the whole enterprise was decried by the whole world as foolhardy and a fatal error by everyone other than its leaders and its believers among the People. It seemed miraculous to almost everyone that, seven years after the Declaration of Independence announced the independence of the United States of America, such independence had been achieved by a treaty with Great Britain ending the American Revolution. This new country, against all odds and predictions, survived and thrived, and still does. That is because it reflected an idea whose time had come.
We in America are a new Orthodox Christian nationality. We require a new American Orthodox Church. In a very similar way to the events of 1776, the creation by its People of a unified Orthodox Church in the United States is an idea whose time has come. It is not too early, and, for a combination of reasons, it may soon be too late. The churches are in place, both at the parish and at the ethnic-diaspora level. The independent governing bodies of those churches are well-established, and they have been working together in matters of mutual interest for decades. The leadership of those bodies is aware of the need for unity and capable of achieving it. The willingness to undertake this call, a call that was made by Christ when he was with us on earth, will not be immediately unanimous among all American Orthodox Christians. It will, however, will surely happen once it is examined openly and with good will and good faith in the full light of day.
Sincere voices will cry “Wait, wait, we are not ready for unity.” To the contrary, we are diminishing every day for want of it. The declaration of unity – and concrete steps transforming this desire into reality – must be now, because a combination of events, both positive and negative, has ordained its immediacy.
The positive developments that contribute to a growing wave towards unity are many. Mostly, and encouragingly, they are actions by Orthodox Christian Bishops and Patriarchs. The actions taken in the past three decades by Patriarchs and Archbishops of the Orthodox Churches in the Old World – the four ancient Patriarchates as well as the autocephalous and autonomous national churches – show that they understand the pressing need to address the health and organization of the Orthodox churches founded by their emigrants to the New World. Correspondingly, the actions of the bishops in these “diaspora” lands have increasingly showed that they understand the need for and value of Orthodox unity in their respective locations, most notably the United States.
While it is encouraging that such actions by Orthodox bishops exist, it is discouraging that most Orthodox faithful are unaware of them. This lack of knowledge contributes to an unfortunate and erroneous general belief that such actions are not occurring; that our Bishops are mostly against unity; that we who advocate American unity are disobedient malcontents; and finally, that this is a distant dream that we are far away from ever achieving. All these notions are untrue. We must articulate the positive developments, so that the faithful in America understand the issues and what is at stake.
The framework to achieve American Orthodox unity exists and has been in operation for many years, first as SCOBA (The Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas) from 1960 to 2010, and currently as the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the United States of America. The Assembly of Bishops has met regularly from 2010 until now, most recently in Chicago in September 2015. Under the aegis of SCOBA and the Assembly of Bishops, numerous examples of cooperation among the various Orthodox jurisdictions in the United States have developed. Among them are the IOCC, the OCMC, the OCF on college campuses, and local initiatives such as unified pro-life efforts and Pan-Orthodox worship services. The unifying truth of all these combined efforts is that they are heartwarming, Christ-centered, and inspiring, both in their instant reality and in the hopefulness they engender among the faithful as we envision ever-increasing Orthodox cooperation going forward. Everyone walks away from such activities feeling uplifted, knowing in their hearts that this is the way it should be, that Orthodox unity is what we should be creating, fostering, and experiencing. This reality has not escaped our leaders, the various Orthodox bishops, assigned here by all the ethnic and Old-World based jurisdictions, in the United States. (Surprisingly to most people, there are 54 such bishops!).
Indeed, there have been clear pledges from the Old-World mother churches to address the needs of the churches in the New World lands – the need to create order, harmony, singularity of purpose, and to remove confusion, fragmentation, overlapping efforts, and inevitable diminution of numbers in ever-smaller ethnic-based communities and parishes. The clearest directive in this area emerged from a 2009 meeting in Chambésy, Switzerland. All 14 Orthodox Patriarchs were present. The meeting was called and presided over by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. It followed 20 years of work by these mother churches , encompassing three prior meetings and much contemplation and activity in parallel committees. These Patriarchs at Chambésy signed protocols establishing Assemblies of Bishops across the globe to bring canonical order, that is in its very essence unifying, to the administrative structure in the New World. The largest of these Assemblies of Bishops was ours, the United States.
Corresponding to this reality and need, the U.S. Assembly of Bishops’ clear central focus in recent years has been to articulate a vision and framework for establishing unity and canonical order among the 12 (largely) ethnic jurisdictions that comprise the Assembly. The convener of the Assembly in the United States has been Archbishop Demetrios of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese. Archbishop Demetrios is the Exarch and presiding bishop in the United States of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople in Istanbul; more than that, Archbishop Demetrios has been the driving force towards unity, reflecting the vision of his own spiritual father. This was made clear when Ecumenical Patriarchate Bartholomew addressed the Assembly of Bishops, meeting in Dallas in 2014, in a video address that unmistakably sounded the call for unity among this American Assembly:
…move beyond words to actions. We know much better than what we actually do. We are called to put our theory and theology into policy and practice. We are called to move beyond what is “mine” and what is “yours” to what is “ours.” From now on, this is how we should conceive and conduct all of our ministries and resources, all of our departments and initiative. Otherwise, we do not practice what we preach. It is really up to us to accept the challenge or to refuse the call.
This statement by the “First among Equals” of all Orthodox bishops is made more resonant by the knowledge that we are on the verge of a seminal event in Orthodox history, the meeting of the first-ever Great and Holy Council of Orthodox Christian Bishops, to be held in the ancient Church of Saint Irene in the old precincts of Constantinople during the week of Pentecost, 2016.
In order to put the historic strength of this event in context, we must understand that there has never been such a meeting before. All seven Ecumenical Councils were meetings of the bishops of a single, unified Christian Church, hundreds of years before the Great Schism. After the crucial dates and tragic events of 1054, 1204, and 1453, the Orthodox world was increasingly under the captivity of Islamic rule. And as that ended, Communist rule enslaved the Church in Russia and its captive nations of Eastern Europe. Only in the last three decades have some Orthodox lands in the Old World been politically and spiritually free, while others continue to struggle to survive under Islamist rule. It is no coincidence that, as the Patriarchates and national churches in the Old World have found themselves freer to resume the growth interrupted by over a millennium of Islamic and Communist oppression, the communities in the New World that are now entering fifth and sixth generations of assimilation in their new homes, are also looking for a road to sustainable growth. Never in all its history has the Orthodox Church held a Great Council of its Patriarchates and national churches like the one just six months away.
Unfortunately, based on things happening in Syria, Russia, Bulgaria, and elsewhere in the Old World, it is unlikely that this Great and Holy Council will address, let alone resolve, the organization of the churches in the diaspora, including our part of it. For the Orthodox faithful of the United States of America, there can be only one imperative, an immediate commitment to real, operational and spiritual unity among all Orthodox Christians in this country. Since there is great doubt that the Great and Holy Council will countenance even discussing this issue, the surest way to put it on the Council’s agenda is to create this unity as a reality that cannot be ignored, now, among ourselves. Our American bishops have been discussing it for years. There are known to be several blueprints. We call our 54 to bishops declare independence, to choose the best blueprint they have as an initial governing document, and bravely to plough ahead.
Not everyone will follow them, nor indeed will all the bishops agree to this courageous action. Already, in recent years and even months, voices of restraint have been heard among the Assembly of Bishops or the mother churches in the Old World; that is, the mother churches of Assembly of Bishops members. Leaders of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church in the United States, the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, and the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese have indicated they support the continuation in the United States of churches of separate ethnicities, supervised by foreign patriarchates. And even last month, during the September meeting of the American Assembly of Bishops in Chicago, during a panel discussion by four of our bishops at a youth event, one of those bishops told a youthful questioner that he doubted unity being achieved in this century. As discouraging as such reluctance is, these examples of hesitance are outliers. The Ecumenical Patriarch’s statement quoted above is eloquent proof of his position. Archbishop Demetrios has energetically asserted his leadership and influence in favor of American unity. There is little doubt that the majority of our 54 American bishops are for unity. Yet they may be reluctant to buck their mother churches. And many would rightly ask to what end would they be traveling?
Once again, the history of this country is instructive. In 1776, the adoption of the resolution for independence in the 2nd Continental Congress was not automatic, and was energetically debated. Not every member of the Congress ever agreed, but ultimately, the delegations of all thirteen colonies did agree, and became the thirteen United States. In order to govern themselves, they quickly wrote the Articles of Confederation in 1777, which were not approved or enacted until 1781; somehow they muddled through until then. Yet the Articles proved to be unworkable, so in 1787, a brand-new Constitution was written in the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, and enacted in 1788. It took, then, twelve years after independence was declared by the new United States of America, for this fledgling country to have a workable governing blueprint. In those twelve years, the United States managed to survive both war and peace. And ever since the Constitution took force, it has lasted us all these years with very little change.
We have it in our power to do a comparable thing now, a thing no less important to people of faith:
- We can and must declare American Orthodox unity, enlisting our People and our Bishops now;
- We must do everything we can to make this idea a reality now, and present this reality to the Great and Holy Council when it meets in 2016 so that it can address it; and
- We must work to perfect our blueprint for unity as we go.
We have it in our power to change our world, and we should do it now.
It is fair to ask why we should do these things. Indeed, such strong actions cannot lightly be taken, nor can they rightly be taken if they are merely discretionary. We believe that American Orthodox unity is essential to our continued Orthodox Christian witness in the United States. It is our duty to the critical task of preserving our Church for our children’s children; it is an essential part of our task of working together to create God’s kingdom on earth.
Yet these opinions are not currently uniformly held across our nation. It is more the case that this position has not really been considered, than that it is disagreed with. To enlist our fellow Orthodox to this accord and this cause, we must persuade them of the rightness of this purpose. We must state clearly the causes that impel us to such beliefs and such actions. We believe they are compelling.
Some truths are self-evident.
We who live in the United States are Americans. The Orthodox Church, in its several jurisdictions, has lived in the United States for many generations. It is, correspondingly, American.
It has been a great glory of Orthodoxy through the centuries that it is a unified church of great diversity, so different from the homogeneous Roman Catholic West. It has been a cardinal principle of Orthodox growth and witness that, as it expanded to lands outside of its first home in the Roman Empire of Christ’s time, it adapted to the culture of the local people; adopted elements of that culture including the local language within Orthodox liturgy and tradition; and created a local church that was nevertheless consistent in the essence of Orthodoxy. That essence included local cultural variation. Hence, over the centuries, national churches evolved or were created in Orthodox lands.
Hence also, while the same Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom is celebrated everywhere, besides the mere fact of different languages used in different places, the sights of iconography and architecture and sounds of music and singing can be different as well, yet no less Orthodox.
The reality of the ethnic diversity of Orthodoxy in the United States is that it reflects Orthodoxy in a microcosm. Rather than being a reason for maintaining the various ethnic jurisdictions of the Old World, this diversity in America defines the very essence of, and necessity for, Orthodox unity. That Orthodox unity is the same as American national unity – E Pluribus Unum – from many, one. It has been said here already: we are a new Orthodox Christian nationality. We require a new American Orthodox Church.
Other truths are based on Christ’s teaching and example, and Christian understanding.
Christ’s last instruction to his People was to go out and “make disciples of all the nations;” to bring them into His Church. As twelve jurisdictions in the United States, it is infinitely more difficult to bring converts into Orthodoxy in anything but the most scattered, piecemeal ways, than if we were one. Where we have acted as one Church: in the Orthodox Christian Missions Center; in the International Orthodox Christian Charities; in our unified and unifying efforts at things like campus ministry, pro-life consensus, and defense of Orthodox under persecution, we have been markedly more successful. Yet even these initial efforts are only a small fraction of what we could and should be doing. Can anyone doubt the power of a unified Orthodox Church in the United States in internal and world-wide evangelism; in unified rather than competing parishes in small towns and cities; or in raising a single strong voice at the highest levels of government and media to decry the persecution, slaughter, and extinction of our Orthodox brethren in Asian and African lands, something tragically happening right now at levels unprecedented in world history?
Christ has called us to be His single Church. At least, can we not be a single Orthodox Church, in a single country, while we work for and aspire to greater Christian unity before His Second Coming?
Still other truths are based on experience.
No one can doubt that our current organization – or lack thereof – ill-suits the needs of our People. It is impractical, disorganized, and counterproductive. We have 54 Orthodox bishops in America, in twelve jurisdictions. The great majority of these bishops are located in a small number of big cities. At least one jurisdiction has only one bishop for all 50 states; several others have just three or four, while bishops in some cities live and work just a few city blocks apart, yet with little interaction.
Our Orthodox tradition is for one bishop in each location. In the United States, once Orthodox unity is achieved and episcopal assignments reorganized to meet the needs of the People, no member of the faith need be more than one state away from his or her hierarch. The practical and especially pastoral advantages of this are enormous.
The current overlapping violates all traditional Orthodox canonical order, and creates and fosters duplication, confusion, and fragmentation. Moreover, such an inchoate mixture is the least welcoming atmosphere for converts and evangelization that you could ever imagine. Ultimately, it creates an atmosphere that diminishes rather than builds devotion to the Church. It causes doubt as to what the authentic Orthodox Church is. Partly as a result of this – though there are other causes to be sure – our own children walk away, and new seekers of God’s truth do not recognize it in our disunified and unwelcoming climate. The falling numbers of Orthodox faithful, as reflected in official church statistics of sacraments and stewardship, are compelling. What we are doing now cannot be left unchanged for very long. Our very future as a growing and vibrant faith among the American commonwealth is in doubt.
Yet no one is asking for a wholesale or even eventual abandonment of ethnic identity by recent immigrants, or those to whom ethnic identity remains important. In towns and small cities where there is just one church, whether Greek or Antiochian or Russian, it is Orthodoxy itself that provides the identifying and unifying value. Wonderful things such dance and language follow the particular demographics present in each location. In the large cities, there will continue to be self-selection, as people choose their parish. Even today, to walk into some Roman Catholic parishes in America’s cities is essentially to walk into Poland or Mexico. That kind of thing will continue to be true for our People as long as Orthodox ethnic demographics support it. But to state one of the great, undeniable truths of this whole subject, it is the presence of a healthy Orthodox Church that guarantees the possibility for continued ethnic traditions in the United States, not the other way around. Where immigrants from Orthodox lands have abandoned the Orthodox Church, in almost all cases, the ethnic identity of that person and that family is much more quickly extinguished.
Finally, Orthodox Unity carries with it the unequivocal ring of truth. That ring of truth resounds when a thousand people of a dozen ethnicities gather in Pittsburgh for the Vespers of the Sunday of Orthodoxy. It resounds when Orthodox students gather from around the United States to build a church in Kenya, speaking to the Kenyans in English, the only language they all understand. It resounds when Orthodox clergy and laity from all jurisdictions march together against abortion at the Supreme Court in Washington. This resounding, this inspirational and transcendent sense of God’s truth in His unified Church, is a magnificent thing to experience. We must bend our efforts towards making it happen more and more often.
The first step on the path to that truth is American Orthodox unity. This declaration constitutes our devotion to that cause. With God’s help, we pledge ourselves to achieving it now.
Please be in touch with OCL with your comments. Thank you.
I am an Antiochian Orthodox convert- raised in the Church from a very young age and having no ties to Syria or any other Orthodox country. I am as American as apple pie and I am very excited at the prospect of a unified American Orthodoxy. It is the canonical and right thing to do, and I pray for a speedy and peaceful transition to a single Orthodox Church in America. However, one comment I offer on this declaration is that I feel we should offer honest and extreme gratitude to our mother jurisdictions. I am not so naive as to ignore dysfunction in our relationships with the jurisdictions that founded our Churches. However, I also believe God calls us to respect and honor the saints and countries that founded us. Had St. Herman not crossed the Bering Strait or St. Raphael not traveled the country planting churches, where would we be? Had droves of faithful not raised their families in faith in the “New World”, bringing priests and dedicating resources to build church communities, would we have Orthodoxy in America at all? Is it not the prayers of monastics and faithful worldwide that sustain us even now? Just as we should honor our parents, we honor our parent jurisdictions even as we respectfully leave our fathers and mothers to build a new American Orthodoxy. God willing, we will continue to look to them as faithful examples and to support and praise God in union with them even once we obtain unity within our country.
In the draft above, I don’t see anything I object to, but I would like to also see clear and sincere gratitude expressed. Not just because “honey catches more flies than vinegar”, but because I genuinely want an American Orthodox unity that honors and keeps those aspects of our heritage we should preserve.
As an Orthodox Christian of 67 years who was reared in the Russian Orthodox Church, I want to say that I agree with and endorse this Declaration. I have had to struggle my whole life attempting to witness to the Truth the Orthodox Church bears only to have that witness impugned by the ethnic vestments of traditions that its leaders decidedly considered to be more important. Now before those who disagree get the idea that I am opposed to different cultures, I want to say that would be false. Like the variations of flowers, fish, birds and animals of the earth that fall under one umbrella of Truth, we Orthodox in America need to recognize we must do the same to be a witness to the Truth we collectively bear in and to The United States of America. We cannot be an effective witness to this country nor to the world if we continue to remain fragmented along nationalistic and ethnic lines of jurisdictions. The resultant of that practice, to date, has born little fruit in the United States of America and will continue to bear little fruit to and in this country that has grown to one of the most powerful in the world. We live in a country today that needs, more than ever, the guidance and the Truth that Orthodoxy bears and professes. I will, as I have over the last 57 years, continue to pray that someday, before my death, I will see a strong American Orthodox Church in America where the Glory of that Truth in Jesus Christ (Orthodoxy) rises above the selfishness, and vanity of ecclesiastical ethnic jurisdictional glory beholden to a foreign pontiff who is himself politically and financially beholden to a foreign political power.
In the Truth and Peace of Jesus Christ,
Harrison J Krenitsky
Sub deacon and Retired US Naval Officer and US Airways Airline Captain
Nice article, but basing everything on what happened in 1776 is not the correct view. The correct view is Orthodox Canon Law itself. Orthodox Canon Law states clearly again & again that foreign bishops have no authority outside their own territory. Many canons of the major 7 Ecumenical Councils can be quoted. The Bishop of Istanbul is just that, the Bishop responsible for Istanbul and possible surrounding areas; that’s it. Same with the Bishop of Moscow, Damascus, etc. Even the title of “Ecumenical Patriarch” is wrong and a misnomer. It may have been more accurate during the Byzantine Empire when the Bishop of Constantinople was the Emperor’s bishop and pushed the will of the Emperor over the “known world,” the Byzantine Empire, but not accurate today. There is no Emperor and there is no Byzantine Empire. In fact, if there are 2,000 Christians left in Istanbul, this would be reaching. Furthermore, there is NO DIASPORA. People of Greek descent, Russian, Arab, etc. living in the United States as citizens do not BELONG to any other country. These Orthodox Christians aren’t going back and foreign bishops have no claim over these people. So, since Orthodox Canon Law calls for “LOCAL CHURCHES” in every territory to have their own bishops operating without foreign influence, WHY ARE ALL THE PATRIARCHS FIGHTING THIS? Money? Power? Also, the DIPTYCHS of the Orthodox Church were never meant for any form of Church Organization; where is this found in Canon Law? Church organization is based on TERRITORY and an ESTABLISHED LOCAL CHURCH. We have this in the United States. Therefore, the call for the Ass. of Bishops to become an INDEPENDENT, AUTOCEPHALOUS, Synod of Bishops to run their own American Churches is canonically proper and should have happened in 1970. The efforts in the past for the American Church to rule itself and operate in unity has been opposed and stopped at every attempt by the Bishop of Istanbul himself. His latest attempt to hold a Great Orthodox Council on the grounds of Agia Sophia on Pentecost 2016 is a sham. It is nothing more than a Greek power grab not unlike what the Roman Catholic Church did to consolidate power & authority. This council should be rejected and highly questioned by all Orthodox Christians. LOCAL CHURCHES ARE RULED INDEPENDENTLY BY LOCAL BISHOPS WITHOUT FOREIGN INTERVENTION – this is Orthodox Canon Law. In the words of the late Protopresbyter John Meyendorff, expert on Orthodox Church History, Theology and Byzantium, “All the first among equals meant was that this was the bishops who chaired the meetings when the other Patriarchs met; that’s it. He did settle disputes among his brothers and kept the official records.” The titles of “First Among Equals” and “Ecumenical Patriarch” have been blown way out of proportion and no longer have their original meaning; exactly the same ploy as what the Latin Church did with the Bishop of Rome.
I disagree with Thomas Paine regarding the 2016 Orthodox Council. The Orthodox is well over-due for such a council. Hopefully, issues concerning the so-called diaspora will be resolved along with a canonical recognition of the Oriental Orthodox Churches, many of whom are experiencing persecution in the Middle East.
The United States is unique. It is a nation founded on the principle of a separation of church and state. consequently it is unlike other nations that recognize a state church or religion. The Anglican Church is the state church of England, the Lutheran Church is the state church of Norway and Finland, the Greek Orthodox Church is the state supported church of Greece and the Russian Orthodox Church is the state supported church of Russia. The two-headed eagle displayed throughout Orthodoxy is a symbol of church and state, two heads on one body. So, we as Orthodox Christians in the U.S. cannot claim that kind of relationship of church and state. This is why a Pan-Orthodox (not Ecumenical) Council is a welcomed necessity for the Orthodox Church in this new Millennium.
First off, we must stop using wrong terminology. There is no “Orthodox Diaspora.” Do you belong to another country or somewhere else? Orthodox Christians in America do not belong to Moscow, Istanbul, Damascus, etc. None of us are going back to countries where our ancestors came from. So, there is an “American Orthodox Church” with it’s own nuances and particularities; we aren’t escapees from foreign countries. Also, “Ecumenical Patriarch” is totally wrong. There is no such thing. Each Bishop or Patriarch is elected to a particular area or territory and not a “Patriarch of the entire World.” This is assuming authority like that of the Pope (Bishop) of Rome that is non-canonical. Furthermore, the term “First Among Equals” has been totally blown out of proportion. This title does not add some special powers or authority; just the leader of the parade or chair at meetings with equals.
An Orthodox Council indicates that decisions will come out of this council for all to abide by. Orthodox theologians have pretty much agreed that the Oriental Orthodox aren’t really monophysites and inter-communion should be re-established. A council isn’t needed for this; just a letter signed by all the Orthodox leaders for all to see and read. One decision that the Greek contingent will try to impose on all Orthodox in all countries is that the “Diptychs” must be adhered to for church organization and operation; such as, America. This is not only non-canonical, but non-Apostolic. You are correct in stating that a “symbiosis” does not exist between Church & State in America; thank God. The idea of a “symphonia” of Church & State as reflected in the double-headed eagle of Byzantium or now Russia doesn’t really work. The Emperor imposed his will on the Church; Iconoclasm was one result. Putin using the ROC as his own political arm is more apparent.
A sham of an “Universal” Orthodox Council in Istanbul on Pentecost will just be a Greek show with + Bart trying to usurp authority & power; a non-canonical power grab. There is no dogmatic clarification needed regarding our beliefs; this has been done. A council isn’t necessary to clarify of how to receive converts or how homosexuals should be treated. What is truly necessary is a Synod of Bishops in each “territory,” to rule and operate independently as an autocephalous church making its own decisions in its own local territory without any foreign intervention; as Orthodox Canon Law clearly outlines.
I am a 77 year old Orthodox, born and raised in America of Greek immigrant parents. A “cradle” member of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese: acolyte, choir member; parish council member (and former president); delegate to several Diocesan and ten Biennial Clergy-Laity Congresses. I agree that we should always be mindful of, and grateful for, the many sacrifices of our “mother” churches for preserving the Church over the centuries. As an autocephalous, canonical, local church in the territory of the United States we can show that gratitude more effectively both materially and politically than we have so far been able to as a collection of “colonial” outposts. We must also be mindful of the fact that, aside from the Russian missionaries who came to Alaska to bring Christianity to the Aleuts, our mother churches were in no position, nor did they build the Orthodox churches we worship in today. Our parents, grandparents and even great-grandparents, established the churches in a church-state separated environment. We are, indeed, a new reality.. anew new nationality.
If the 54 bishops of the Assembly of Bishops who have been meeting for six years cannot reach the only decision that serves the Orthodox faithful in America, either because of constraints placed upon them directly or indirectly by Old World synods who appointed them, or because they have handcuffed themselves by agreeing that all decisions have to be unanimous, then it is time for those bishops who understand the stakes to come together in a “coalition of the willing” and answer the call of the Declaration of American Orthodox Unity Now.
The Orthodox Church in America is already autocephalous. Is it willing accept brother bishops, clergy and parishes who are willing to become a part of the Orthodox Church of America? It is not realistic to expect that this coalition will bring us all together quickly and painlessly. But it must start now.. otherwise the decline we already see may be irreversible.
Brothers and Sisters,
This is a difficult discussion to enter into, but I’ll try. My comment is this: I’m now 77 years old, have lived through the Golden Era of Mammon in the US, ‘am an Orthodox convert of nearly 28 years, and I cannot see how anyone could think that there is an American Orthodox Culture. There is not even an American Culture, as such; we are devolving into a bunch of tribes, as a country.
Pew Research recently reported that no fewer than 39% of professed Orthodox do not believe in the Personhood of God! We have a crisis on our hands, indeed, because as I see it, the chips are down and persecution is coming our way. Will these Brothers and Sisters be able to declare Christ under duress?
Political and ecclesiastical conditions do not augur well for this idea of Canonical Unity at this point in time, and I for one do not want it. To force this unity on the all the Orthodox Churches would only create enormous disruption at the parish level: Greeks bishops over Russians, and vice versa, and all else entailed in such an effort. I wonder if the Prohibitionists would have pushed through their agenda if they had realized that the net result of their efforts was a permanent, vicious organized crime underworld. Desirable as unity may be, I believe it to be extremely premature. As they say, the devil is in the details: can we realistically believe that anyone knows “how” to build a ‘New American Orthodoxy’? The Church is built on the blood of the Martyrs, and not on the work of numerous committees. It appears to me that that time may soon be upon us.
I agree with you. The time is not ripe for an Autocephalus Church in the United States. Unlike the nationalist Orthodox churches in Europe, this country is firmly based on the separation of religion and state. And, there is no definable and identifiable American culture.
For example, the Orthodox Church “IN” America has already established ties with its parent–the Russian Orthdox Church in Moscow. In some of its urban parishes two liturgy are celebrated, one in English and the other in Church Slavonik. Dn. Samuel, you make a very good point when you say that there would be conflict, of sorts, if an ethnic Greek bishop is given jurisdiction over Romanian, Bulgarian, Macedonian and Albanian parishes. What a scandalous mess that would create for Orthodoxy in the United States!
Many of you here just don’t understand how Orthodox Church organization works. After the Russian Revolution, Russia did not supply priests, money or direction for the American Church. Each ethnic Orthodox Church turned to their mother churches for priests, money & direction. This was OK as a “temporary stop measure.” However, now after 100 years, everyone thinks this “temporary” situation is normal. All the ethnic bishops still want to be in control with their foreign Synods directing everything. Well, as mentioned, foreign bishops have no authority outside their own territory. Only bishops consecrated for cities and territory in the U.S. have authority here. This is why the Ass. of Bishops in the U.S. should start acting as an independent or autocephalous synod of any foreign bishops. The Diptychs ARE NOT proper for church organization. The Greeks do not rule. The Russians nor Syrian/Lebanese do not rule. An independent Synod rules and elects it’s own leader. Let’s get back to following Orthodox Canon Law and what the Holy Apostles taught!
With all due respects, the Orthodox Church “is what it is”! So, we need to live with it. Apparently we are surviving.