Two Tennessee Orthodox Churches of Different Jurisdictions Unite

Fr Stephen Mathewes

Fr Stephen Mathewes

Source: Holy Resurrection Orthodox Church

The following is the statement made by Fr. Stephen Mathewes to the parish on Sunday, June 9th:

To my most beloved brothers and sisters in Christ,

Christ is risen!

Holy Resurrection has had a long history. A convoluted one, shall we say. For 15 years, faithful and tremendously dedicated people have labored in this humble little vineyard to make it a true Orthodox community—a part of the great worldwide Church. There have been many struggles, many crises, many ups and downs. More than once, the end was thought to be near, only for this plucky little parish to resurrected again, by the grace and power of our Lord. It may be a modest church, but truly Holy Resurrection has beheld the work of the Holy Spirit.

It is with measured joy that we now enter into the next chapter of the story of Holy Resurrection Church. It has been noted several times in the past, among various hierarchs, clergy and laypeople, that perhaps there need not be more than one Orthodox church serving Johnson City and the greater Tri-Cities area, and that perhaps greater work can be accomplished through unity. It is with this bold vision that, through the guidance and direction of our hierarchs, Holy Resurrection Antiochian Orthodox Church of Johnson City, and Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church of Bluff City will be combined into one, united and truly pan-Orthodox church community.

His Grace, Bishop ANTOUN has met with and discussed this major undertaking with His Eminence, Metropolitan ALEXIOS (bishop of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Atlanta), and together have seen the great benefit that unity can be to our respective parishes, and to the mission of Orthodoxy here in northeast Tennessee. The new, united parish family will have as its home the building currently used by Holy Trinity Church. I, Father Stephen, will be the pastor. Furthermore, we have been encouraged to join together first in our worship and Sacraments, then work out the other details as time goes on. Therefore, two weeks from today, quite appropriately on the Great Feast of Pentecost, will be the first official Divine Liturgy of our new, united Orthodox parish.

While this is of course very surprising, even shocking news (let me assure you that it has been for me as well), we should keep in mind something very important. What we have been tasked with—combining two parishes from different Orthodox jurisdictions—is a new frontier here in America. This has never been done before. For us, this means two things: first, that there is no “guidebook” for us to follow, and that as such it will be especially difficult work; second, that we have the incredible opportunity to be pioneers. All the Orthodox here in America wish to see true unity. Here, we the faithful living in northeast Tennessee, are being asked to lead the way.

What will this united church look like? First and foremost, it will comprise the faithful of both Holy Resurrection and Holy Trinity. It will represent, in equal measure, the customs and traditions of each parish, and will be led by a Parish Council combined equally from the two. In such cases where we simply cannot combine or “split the difference”, a great amount of humility and sacrifice will be needed so that we can move towards a greater common goal. For instance, as per the hierarch’s decision, the new church will convene under the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, under His Eminence, Metropolitan ALEXIOS of Atlanta, a wise, pastoral and deeply spiritual man who shares a great passion for a truly American Orthodox Church. I will remain a priest of the Antiochian Archdiocese, on loan to the Greek Archdiocese to serve this parish. It will maintain the identity and vision that has been so important to us: to be pan-Orthodox, mission-minded, and welcoming to outsiders and inquirers. We will be, as we always have been, intentional in our Orthodox faith.

As surprising as this news may be, some of you may also find it sad or even distressing.  You may feel disappointed, hurt or frustrated. These are all feelings you are entitled to. We all love Holy Resurrection very much, we have poured so much of our own blood, sweat and tears into this church, and none of us want to see it go. But it is not going. I want to make it absolutely clear that Holy Resurrection is not shutting down, and Holy Resurrection is not being absorbed by another church. This truly is the next chapter in our story, and all the hard work we have done is not for naught, for it has brought us to this point. We are entering into a marriage—albeit perhaps an arranged marriage—, and all the fearful joys that come with it. So while it is OK to grieve, let us also keep in mind all that we will be gaining.

If there is one thing I have learned in the ten blessed months that I have served as your pastor, it is this: you are all resilient, hardworking people. There will be very difficult work ahead for us, many months of careful planning, of fervent prayer, and, as I said before, heaping doses of sacrifice and humility as we grow together with our brothers and sisters of Holy Trinity. But I have seen you at work, and you have already proven yourselves up to the task. I believe that, through your continued dedication and faithfulness, combined with the dedication and faithfulness of our brothers and sisters at Holy Trinity, we can do the unprecedented, and create a new, truly pan-Orthodox church to give witness to the One, True Faith here in our mission field of northeast Tennessee.

I am humbled to be shepherding you on this journey, and ask that each of you pray for peace and success as we together build our new church.

Christ is risen!


 

Comments

  1. Andrew Kartalis says:

    Could other mergers follow where they make sense? The National Herald published the following article on January 22, 2005.

    Small Parishes Should Form Pan-Orthodox Alliances

    I was pleased to see the opinion piece by Theodore Kalmoukos in your December 11 issue (“Church Leadership Should Modify its Policies” or view here), which zeroes-in on one of the real problems facing the Greek Orthodox Church in America: namely, recognizing that there are a large number of small parishes in America and offering his ideas for their preservation. The number of parishes in peril keeps growing as populations move from one part of the country to another, as well as from other causes. I agree with his lament that the Church leadership is not spending time on this and other very real problems of the Church.

    To realize the extent of the problem, one only has to look at the Pittsburgh Metropolis, the heart of the Rust Belt (so named as a result of losses in the steel industry). Our parishes have atrophied, along with the flight of the businesses and jobs from the area. I am sure that the names of these cities and towns are familiar to many of your readers: Scranton, Wilkes-Barre, Altoona, Johnstown, New Kensington, Oakmont, McKeesport, Erie, New Castle, Morgantown, Youngstown (two churches), Canton (two churches), Massillon, Lorain and Mansfield.

    What do they all have in common? They all have a parish which was once large and vibrant, but which today is small, getting smaller, and is financially on-edge. Out of 52 parishes in the Pittsburgh Metropolis in 2000, when I was on the then-Diocesan Council, 22 of these parishes, which include the ones I just mentioned (40 percent) paid less than $5,000 as their Archdiocese commitment, and ten of these parishes (17 percent) gave nothing, zero. Imagine trying to run a parish which has only 20 or 30 families, as some of these parishes are trying to do in order to survive.

    Mr. Kalmoukos lists four excellent recommendations for righting the problem. I do not know how viable they are, however, judging from past history. Let me offer a fifth recommendation, one which is viable and possible to accomplish. Your newspaper alludes to the solution on page 2 of the same December 11 issue. In the article of how a faith-based school was established in Portland, Oregon by a joint effort of several Orthodox parishes of different jurisdictions. Because one parish by itself could not afford to build and operate such a school, several parishes did it together. I applaud this success and those individuals who made it possible. For those who would criticize this Pan-Orthodox school, my response is, “Is this not better than not having an Orthodox school, at all?”

    I grew up in a little town (Farrell, Pennsylvania), one of those once-vibrant communities which is now struggling to survive. There are three other Orthodox parishes in this town of 10,000, all struggling to make it. Would it not make sense to combine these parishes into one large and financially stable Orthodox parish which can survive?

    I think so, and I believe it will eventually happen naturally, in spite of the unfortunate lack of leadership from our Archdiocese. But just think how much better it would be for all concerned if our leaders pointed the way and helped make it happen. I suggest that the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in America should consider this matter and develop a plan for its implementation. But even if SCOBA fails to do so, the laos’ need for the Church to help establish places to worship in these small towns will make it happen in the end, regardless.

    Andrew Kartalis
    Cleveland, Ohio

  2. Fr.Philip Gathari says:

    this is the most beautiful event that has occurred in Orthodox fold for many years.Thumbs up for the two parishes.My sincere congratulations to fr.Stephen and the dual parishes.
    God bless Pan Orthodoxy.

  3. Patrick J. Teague says:

    AXIOS! My wife, Madeline and I have been to Johnson City twice with Father Michael Keiser. You all are in our hearts and prayers.

    Pat Teague,
    Sub-Deacon

  4. ‘Murrrrica!

    Sorry, couldn’t resist :)

    In Christ,

    Alex

  5. Fr. John says:

    Canonically, a parish may only belong to one Bishop and a priest may only serve under one Bishop’s omophore. So this is not really a merger, unless you are speaking of the folding of one congregation into another – because there is no inter-jurisdictionality within Orthodoxy. The only way unity can be achieved is through one jurisdiction taking over from another. So the real picture here is that the AOCNA Bishop Antoun amicably, handed over his parish to the GOA Metr. Alexios. The latter now owns the ‘combined’ parish and the former has given it up for good. Likewise, his priest serves solely under the omophore of Alexios and Antoun cannot interfere however amicably in his work. The best outcome of the situation, on a structural level, is that a modus vivendi characterized by trust and cooperation between bishops of different jurisdictions be built up thereby. It’s hard to say how well this is achieved, lacking fuller description of the parishes involved.
    Jurisdictional unity can only be achieved by the formation of a Holy Synod of Bishops who work as real equals, and they will have to elect a head. If manipulation from abroad is exerted, the results will be disastrous. The problem is that it’s unimaginable that such manipulation will not occur.

    Fr John
    California

  6. It is healthy that we save our small parishes, but more importantly, we must try to understand the meaning of what Jesus tried to transmit to the world. Not Orthodoxy alone is having difficulties. All of Christianity is losing followers and diminishing its influence throughout the world while Islam and other religions are gaining. Sadly, we who call ourselves Christians have failed to understand the message Jesus was trying to transmit. His “Good News” was that there is a higher state of mind that can be attained by each of us. He called it the kingdom of heaven. The way to that kingdom was through the Holy Spirit. Today, the Holy Spirit is known by several names including mystical insight, ultimate reality, higher consciousness and in Buddhism, nirvana. This is what Jesus tried to teach and sadly, all Christendom has always ignored. We maintain another kind of Judaism by simply taking God and adding a Christ and the Holy Trinity. The very important factor is completely overlooked: it is to analyze that which can trigger the insight that can be ours. We certainly know we have consciousness — our ordinary consciousness — but we do not know higher consciousness which is what Jesus called, the kingdom of heaven. It was Whitehead who said, “Familiar things happenand mankind does not bother about them. It requires a very unusual mind to undertake the analysis of the obvious.” We must, must analyze what we know superficially so the insight we seek can be triggered. We must analyze our thoughts so intuitively we can see them for what they truly are — interferences to peace of mind and freedom of thought.. It was James Harvey Robinson who said, “We do not think enough about thinking.” Poetically, Goerhe wrote, “My boy, I’ll say that I’ve been clever. I think, but think of thinking never.” These people, like Jesus, knew the importance of looking within the self, but they did not know why. Today, we know why. It is because we may know something on the surface — consciousness for example — but we do not know it … intuitively! It must be intuitively reallzed. How can this happen? Thought the analysis of the obvious which is our thoughts. We must, must see thoughts for what they are! The Jewish people did not follow Jesus because he did not have a basis for what he proposed. Now, we know! It is simply because we know consciousness only on the surface. Conscousness must become fully, realized — intuitively realized! The key once again is that we know consciousness, but do not know it intuitively. It can be realized throught that which is already obvious to us: it is our ordinary consciousness.

  7. Jim Rentas says:

    The All Orthodox Church in America will come to pass when the majority of Knucklehead Ethnic Orthodox, both cleric and laic, are dead. The hierarchs in the Johnson City/Bluff City decision should be commemorated as modern day saints because they surely will be castigated regardless of the success or failure of the jurisdiction combine.
    Just imagine the wrath of the “Glendi/Picnic” Orthodox! Kyrie Eleison!

  8. Marc Deneau says:

    Way to go! A unified Church is a stronger Church, from all points of view. A stronger witnessing for the world surrounding us, a visible communion in the love of Christ!

  9. Neil Latanzi says:

    This is a beautiful thing and exciting ! May it be the first of many ! And may our Bishops achieve jurisdictional unity in our lifetimes as well !

  10. Sdn Moses Anthony says:

    The comment, that the merging of two parishes and jurisdictions into one, has never been done is wrong. Years ago in Wichita Falls,Texas, there was such a parish named Holy Transfiguration. On the English side was the Antiochian Jurisdiction, and on the other was the GOA under Metropolitan Isaiah of Denver, Colorado. The services were in English and Greek, English being predominant.

    • Under whose omophore did the Wichita Falls church eventually fall?
      When a Pan-Orthodox school was established, did it remain outside of any bishop’s jurisdiction or did they choose to submit to one?
      I see no point in cheering about the folding of demographically shrinking parishes, though I am glad they have faced necessity and seen each other as mutual help – it’s not the case in my neck of the woods where accommodation between two Eastern European ethnic parishes of the SAME JURISDICTION (!) was rejected due to fears of change.

  11. Fr. Michael Molloy says:

    Glory be to God for all things!
    May this be one example of how unity in America is possible.
    All that stands in the way is our ego.

  12. Keep dreaming…. This as well as the assembly trying to make everyone submit to the Ecumenical Patriarchate and give him sole rights to churches in North America will never work and for good reason. North America is not part of the former Byzantine Empire… Why should the Ecumenical Patriarch have the rights to all ethnic parishes in North America? it makes no sense. Do Greeks want Russian traditions in thEir parishes… Do Serbs want Greek traditions???? No, of course not. the beauty of Orthodoxy is that, they are equals and yet each have a distinct identity…. This is nothing more than an attempt to consolidate power and holdings. Do you believe the parishes under the Moscow Patriarchate will eventually be under the Ecumenical Patriarchate? Somebody has sucked in too much incense.

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