Divine Compassion and Christ in the Everyday
An SCV Pan-Orthodox Outreach Ministry via Teleconferencing
Orthodox Christian and Inter-Christian Marriages
Cultivating Koinonia in the Home Church and Beyond
Beginning in the late eighteenth century, Orthodox Christians have been establishing and nurturing parish communities throughout North America. Sociologically and psychologically speaking, as the faithful through the course of time began to self-identify more closely as American rather than being citizens from the foreign homelands through which their communities were established, it was inevitable that some of the descendants of parish founders would marry persons who were not Orthodox; especially marrying Christians from non-Orthodox communities. For example, since 1978, most marriages in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America are comprised of Orthodox Christians marrying Christians from other faith communities (i.e., Roman Catholic, as well as Protestant). To some degree or other during this same period of time, the impact of this phenomenon has now begun to be experienced in every established, canonical Orthodox Christian jurisdiction. Over the decades, this development has raised many new questions regarding the practical application of Orthodox life (or orthopraxia) under these circumstances. From participation in and reception of the sacraments to the on-going minutia of everyday family life, Orthodox Inter Christian Marriages (or OICM) have raised simultaneous, numerous challenges. This situation is further complicated because the Orthodox view various groups which self-identify as Christian, as not being such through the perspective of Orthodox ecclesiology.
As an initial and exploratory response to this challenge, Saint Catherine’s Vision (SCV) has been developing a two-part, ground-breaking public service ministry or diakonima. The first part consists of a survey designed to invite members of the ordained clergy and faithful to relate their practical experience concerning OICM. The second part involves the creation of a time-limited pilot-program intended to offer an initial, yet direct, pastoral, and educational response to these concerns.
The survey is designed to give a qualitative Orthodox Christian overview of fundamental pastoral observations regarding OICM as acknowledged by members of the clergy and the faithful across the jurisdictions. The instrument is constructed to identify the most evident concerns, topics, challenges, potential solutions, and wisdom that may be commonly experienced in many OICM contexts. The findings will be used to complete the preparations for a 6 to 8-week teleconferencing seminar curriculum for enhancing the spiritual lives of couples and family members who immediately comprise the “home church” of an OICM. The results of this pilot-program will be assessed after the completion of the teleconferencing seminar. SCV will share the general lessons learned and resulting recommendations with the public. A more detailed Special Report subsequently will be submitted to the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the United States.
We have invited Rev. Dr. Philip Halikias, the author of the newly released, The Home Church: Healing the Schism and Enhancing Attachment, to collaborate with us as we move forward with this pioneering, Pan-Orthodox initiative. Father Philip is the pastor of Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Manchester, NH. He also serves as Special Assistant to the COO of Hellenic College-Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology.
Overseeing the development of the Survey process and the groundbreaking seminar curriculum are the Rev. Dr. Thomas FitzGerald and Presvytera Kyriaki FitzGerald. Father Thomas is the former dean and current Professor of Church History and Historical Theology at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology. He has been serving as the long-time Executive Secretary of the Orthodox-Catholic Consultation of North America. Presvytera Kyriaki FitzGerald, M.Div., Ph.D., Co-Founder and Executive Director of Saint Catherine’s Vision, is a former member of the graduate theological faculty at Holy Cross. She is currently serving as a licensed clinical psychologist & pastoral psychotherapist at Pastoral Counseling Services of the South Shore in Hanover, Massachusetts. For many years, she has served as an Orthodox delegate on the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches representing the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.
This new 2021 Survey follows in the steps of SCV’s groundbreaking Pan-Orthodox Survey of Orthodox Faithful conducted in 2017-18. The findings of this earlier effort were widely disseminated (e.g.,“Discerning the Ministries of Women” in The Ecumenical Review, July 2020). Lessons learned through the original survey, together with the unprecedented needs of the time, and through the prayers, advice, and blessing of our spiritual fathers, have mysteriously worked together to propel us forward. During these many months of the Covid-19 shutdown, we have offered to date, three 8-to-10-week Pan-Orthodox teleconference seminar-style courses for adults. The seminars engaged: The Beatitudes (spring-summer 2020), The Psalms (pre-Pascha 2021) and The Lord’s Prayer (pre-Pascha 2021). And, as God blesses, more seminars are now being designed! Furthermore, we look forward to developing new publications, in-person and hybrid teleconference educational opportunities, and retreats.
With God’s help and the insights gained through this new Survey, we look forward to completing the curriculum for SCV’s upcoming OICM pilot, teleconferencing seminar series. We sincerely hope and pray this upcoming diakonima helps educate, cultivate awareness of Orthodox Christian “phronema”, offer spiritual support, and facilitate healthy, growing relationships “in the ‘home church’ and beyond”, particularly among those persons directly impacted by Orthodox Inter-Christian marriage.
Most fervently, we pray this small offering, may bear much good fruit within the life of the Orthodox Church, for “the building up of the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12).