Saturday, September 19, 2015

Orthodox unity in America now in extreme jeopardy

The below is a huge blow to the idea of a united, canonical Orthodox Church in America. When ROCOR declared that they didn't want to be a part of the Chamb├ęsy process (see here) because they believed that their faithful needed strong Russian (or at least Slavic patrimony) oversight the popular reaction was "Oh, those crazy Russians and their extremism. Too bad for them that they'll be shunted to the hinterlands of American Orthodoxy just like the pre-reunion Old Days™." People thought we'd move on without them and maybe eventually they'd come back to the table.

The below declaration from the Antiochian Archdiocese, on the other hand, is a complete surprise to everyone I have spoken to.

Today we see that Antioch has made a similar declaration and a table set for the whole family is now half empty. "Why?" you might ask. The answer seems to be a combination of factors. First, and some would say foremost, is the amazing lack of primus inter pares-like action from the Ecumenical Patriarchate on the matter of Jerusalem's incursion into Qatar. Antioch was exceedingly clear on her dismay at the Orthodox world's lack of action on this topic and Constantinople's unwillingness to lead the charge for a correction to this territorial violation. Antioch responded by breaking communion with Jerusalem and the patriarchates of the world were silent.

Second, the Middle East is in a state of chaos not seen since Mohammedan scimitars cut a swath across the known world. We know that the so-called "Arab Spring" combined with ham-handed American interference has proved disastrous to the lives of our people in the Levant. A tie to the money, influence, and stability of her American parishes is a lifeline for a patriarchate seeing her people driven out of their homes when not sold into slavery or killed outright.

Third, there seems to be some reluctance to be under the "subjugation or domination of any." The Internet is rife with people decrying the perceived hegemony of the Greek Archdiocese in this Assembly of Bishops unification process. This does not now seem to be isolated to the vocal cyber-laity. This is apparently a very real impediment.

What the below appears to be saying is that the Antiochian Archdiocese is all for getting together and talking as "a voluntary Assembly" that can speak together with the other jurisdictions on topics and iron out difficulties. She simply doesn't want this body to cut the ties of Antioch with her parishes in the New World. That transformation into a single body is exactly what is supposed to happen and without fidelity to this charter, the process is essentially dead.

This doesn't mean things won't improve in the lives of Orthodox in America. If everyone is on the same page about in vitro, divorces, baptisms, crownings, clergy incardinations, excommunications, etc. we'll at least look like a single Church even if we continue on as a loose coalition. We seem to be happy under the equivalent of the Articles of Confederation with no Constitutional integration in sight.

For the many, many faithful hopeful for an Orthodox Church in America this is a very sad day.


(Antiochian.org) - Statement of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America to the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the United States Regarding the Draft Proposal of the Committee on Canonical Regional Planning

Presented at the Meeting of the Assembly of Bishops Convened in Chicago, IL

September 15-17, 2015

The Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America has always prayed for and been committed to unity and cooperation of all of the Orthodox Christians in North America. The unity that we seek is true Orthodox unity based on mutual respect, love and cooperation with all of the Orthodox in America without subjugation or domination of any. Unity must allow for the continued work and support of each of the jurisdictions for their people and continued unity with the respective mother churches.

There is no doubt that the Christian Fellowship and work of the Standing Conference of Orthodox Bishops in America as well as that of the Assembly of Bishops has been very valuable. We have come to know each other and have discovered how we can even better cooperate and support each other. We can enhance the ministries of each other as well as promulgate corporate ministries. Our relationships provide even more effective ministries. We are grateful for the candid and honest exchanges of the bishops at the meetings. We are committed to continuing this process of building up our relationships and working together in every area possible.

The Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America continues to be committed to the unity of the Antiochian Archdiocese and the Antiochian Patriarchate. The Church of Antioch, even while under persecution, stands firm as a witness to the incarnation of Christ and the history of the Savior in this world. By maintaining our unity with Antioch we provide a subtle witness to the world that Jesus Christ is the incarnate God who lived in the Holy Lands among us and is one with us.

Each of our bishops at our first confession of faith committed “myself to the preservation of the peace of the Church and …(to) obey and follow the directives of His Beatitude, the Patriarch of Antioch and all the East; and (to) uphold and protect the honor of the Patriarch of Antioch all the days of my life.” The Holy Synod of the Patriarchate of Antioch and her Patriarch JOHN X remains committed to the unity of the Patriarchate with all of Antiochian faithful wherever they are. The Antiochian Metropolitan and bishops of North America remain committed to our consecration pledge.

We suggest that the Assembly of Bishops in the United States work as a voluntary Assembly of all the Canonical Bishops in the United States to accomplish the mission of the Assembly as articulated in the founding documents: “The mission of the Bishops’ Assemblies is the proclamation and promotion of the unity of the Orthodox Church, the common pastoral ministry of the Orthodox faithful of the region, as well as their common witness to the world.” We also agree that decisions should be made on the basis of the principle of unanimity of the Orthodox which are represented therein by bishops. In order to show filial love and respect, we would like all of the officers to be elected by the local assembly and to sit by order of the diptychs. We encourage the bishops in each geographical area to meet regularly and cooperate in ministry. We also support the continued work with inter-jurisdictional agencies and Orthodox theological groups. In this day of easy travel and communication, bishops can effectively serve their parishes in America without restructuring present geographical boundaries. Our churches are not yet homogeneous and there are jurisdictional needs within our parishes.

37 comments:

  1. Metropolitan Joseph has said essentially this same message from clear back when he was an Auxiliary, so I can't see how anyone would be surprised. This is the byproduct of consistency of message, which is the only real new element. Metropolitan Philip used 'unity' to mean whatever he wanted it to mean at the time, which gave many people the impression he supported 'unity' to mean all jurisdictions together, yet at other times he used it to mean solidarity with Antioch.
    The fact is that when it became clear early on that an 'autocephalous' church would not be part of the 'game,' then the 'football' became which Mother Church would get to rule America alone. I don't see any advantage to trading one for another, whereas there are plenty of disadvantages to putting a single overseas Synod in charge of the US and Canada. Patriarch John and Metropolitan Joseph are trying to implement a lot of much-needed improvements to their respective sees, which will naturally compliment one another.
    The Georgians have just put a bishop in charge of their North American holdings, and I'm waiting for the Czech Lands to do much the same once their situation has settled down. Frankly, most of us who have paid attention knew that eventually the question would be asked, "Who do you want to see in charge?"
    I think this statement goes a long way toward answering that question. Keep your eyes on the ball.

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    1. "The Georgians have just put a bishop in charge of their North American holdings, I'm waiting for the Czech Lands to do much the same once their situation has settled down."

      The Czechs have holdings in America? Do tell!

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    2. "Metropolitan Philip used 'unity' to mean whatever he wanted it to mean at the time, which gave many people the impression he supported 'unity' to mean all jurisdictions together, yet at other times he used it to mean solidarity with Antioch."

      I'm not sure I agree. I've never seen him contradict the statements he made unequivocally a couple years ago in this interview:

      http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/illuminedheart/metropolitan_philip_saliba_-_on_the_record

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  2. Replies
    1. StMichael, you failed to recognize that RC bishops are, despite over a century of being told that bishops aren't just lieutenants of the pope, more or less insignificant in the scheme of things from the perspective of the Catholic layman. He needn't worry at or question the fact that, as I am right now, in a town with a Ukranian Catholic mission, a Melkite Greek Catholic mission, and a handful of Latin Rite chapels... that's at least three bishops sharing territory. And all three of those bishops, even the Eastern ones, are chosen by the Bishop of Rome.

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    2. StMichael, how many Patriarchs of Antioch does the Roman communion have again?

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    3. Three: Maronite, Melkite, and Syrian.

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    4. @alienus
      This is why I believe that Orthodoxy and Rome are two extremes. Also, Rome picks the bishops only if they are in "Roman territory" (unfortunately, that entail most of the world).

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    5. Fascinating. The Papacy provides structure through which problems that arise between autonomous particular churches can be settled without full administrative integration of those churches, and thus without the feared loss of their diverse characters. In this context especially it should not be dismissed so glibly.

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  3. This is why the Hierarchs have called for an Ecumenical Council in 2016. Hopefully, God will grant the Hierarchs the wisdom to lead the Church in the right direction during these turbulent times.

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    1. It is been made clear repeatedly that there will NOT be "an Ecumenical Council in 2016;" merely a world-wide synod - and in any case, according to Orthodox ecclesiology in recent centuries no council can be reckoned as "ecumenical" until it has been "received" (and retrospectively reckoned as "ecumenical") by the whole (Orthodox) Church.

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  4. I'm not disappointed because I never had any expectations of the Assembly to begin with. Administrative unity was and is a long way off. Life in Christ goes on.

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  5. The EP is all for Orthodox unity in North America, as long as that means that they are calling all the shots. Some way forward will have to be found in which that ceases to be the case, otherwise things will remain as they are, despite all the happy talk. The other big issue is that all Orthodox jurisdictions in America will need to be on the same page when it comes to issues like homosexuality, and that is unfortunately not the case at present.

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    1. What disagreement is there on homosexuality? I've been involved in OCA and Antiochian parishes, and they've been pretty unanimous about it, from what I can tell. Have I missed someone?

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    2. By "calling all the shots" I presume you mean "being the ruling primate of American Orthodoxy." Why in the world should should unity depend on this not being the case?

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    3. Father bless,

      I am in complete agreement. Furthermore, the EP (like the Pope) is more concerned with "climate change," than the destruction of the family through homosexual "marriage" and the murder and dismemberment (for profit) of the child in the womb. I am very pleased that the Antiochians have shut this down.

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    4. CountGrasshooper: see this blog post which address the issue brought up by Fr. John.

      http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/blog/2015/03/deeply-disturbing-concerns-homosexual-militancy-threatening-the-orthodox-church/

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  6. I think a Schism is coming in World Orthodoxy, and we will see the proverbial feces hit the fan at this World council next year. I see it splitting right along ethnic lines. I see the Greeks (Contstantinople, Alexandira, Jerusalem, Church of Greece, Church of Cyprus) staying unified, and the rest forming a separate communion. If that does happen, God help the monks on the Holy Mountain, for I do see the EP using the secular authorities to evict them from their Monasteries. I think come the end of 2016 no one who is in the Greek Archdioceses will be able to commune in any of the Currently connoncial Jurisdictions in America. The only way I do not see that happening, is if the Mother Churches has sold out their daughter Churches, and have yet to inform their daughter Churches Bishops yet. If that happens, that will only make things worse here in America. ROCOR already knows how to go it alone, and I think even the Antiochian Bishops here in America would be willing to Go forward with out their Patriarch if the Patriarch sells them out to the Greeks.

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    1. Maybe it needs to happen. Let the chips fall where they may. The stubbornness and intransigence of the Russian bloc has held the Church back for too long.

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  7. For a church emerging from Dminitude, Communism and (perhaps) Secularism... it seems (to me) a tad premature to declare "Doom..." or "Schism.." or what have you because a meeting (or proposed meeting) of our hierarchs uncovers a few bumps. I mean seriously... expectations of love an kisses just don't jive with the reality that we're part of the group where Santa Claus punched out Arias to the point of almost getting himself banned for life. Shades of Mark Twain's famed response to reports of his death would seem appropriate. "If ye have so little trust in small things... who will appoint you to be trusted in larger?"

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  8. The primary problem of Orthodox unity in the diaspora (up until very recently) was the Ecumenical Patriarchate's delusion that is was the watered-down equivalent of the Roman pope in Orthodoxy, simply because it was accorded a place of honor in the early church due to its location in the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire. That is completely irrelevant today. Given that it is a virtual captive to the hostile Turkish government with a tiny fraction of the Orthodox faithful under it's true canonical jurisdiction, it would be spiritually and pragmatically commendable if it chose to set aside its grandiose and fanciful (and largely imaginary) claims and let others lead the way into finding Orthodox unity in the 21st century.

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  9. @Josephus Flavius

    I wrote a letter to His Eminence after this statement came out. If you'd like to post the details of his reply let me know.

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  10. I must have missed something. You mean we were this close to a single American (North? South?) Orthodox jurisdiction when all of a sudden the Antiochians derailed everything over the weekend?

    First, get a real Country; then maybe we can begin thinking about an autocephalous American Church. But I digress.

    I have thought since January 2014 that the"Great Council" seemed rather ...contrived. Did we really need a patriarchal Synod to declare that marriage is good, abortion is bad, and we should be stewards of the environment? +Philip of blessed memory clearly suspected something was up all the way back in 2010 when a group of bishops meeting in Geneva decided that SCOBA needed to be replaced. And now it turns out this was all just deflection from a Hail Mary by the EP. Antioch and Moscow were just supposed to go along wth this?

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  11. I'm not really surprised. The Assembly has been a joke, just like SCOBA was before it. So far, we keep hearing the same thing "We met. We're still interested. Nothing new. See you next year."

    While it's disappointing, it's not surprising. As someone else stated, the EP is only interested in something under its control. Well, good luck with that. The fact is the Orthodox in America are not ready for autocephaly. Orthodoxy here is way too young and extremely immature. And while the multiple jurisdictions is an issue, as long as pride runs the people in charge, it will remain an issue.

    While it's disappointing that this attempt has failed, it can't be seen as surprising. As was stated in the original post, nobody cares about Antioch. And that's all there is too it. Lip service, at best, is all that's played. The powers that be that have some sort of say about Jerusalem and about the missing metropolitan are silent. Antioch has enough issues without the false pretense of "unity."

    It's sad, but the Church will stand up. While jurisdictional issues are uncanoncial and troubling, they don't take away from the dogma of the Church. They don't take from the True Faith and that is the important thing.

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    1. "The fact is the Orthodox in America are not ready for autocephaly. Orthodoxy here is way too young and extremely immature. And while the multiple jurisdictions is an issue, as long as pride runs the people in charge, it will remain an issue."
      LOL.
      Have you seen the "Mother Churches"?
      No shortage of pride there.

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    2. Right. There is an idea that the mother churches are way ahead of us in organizational maturity. That has not been my experience.

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    3. @Isa and JF:

      An autocephalous Church is one that is wedded to her people thru many generations of baptisms, weddings and funerals. There is no question of the gravitas and authenticity of such an institution.

      The US is not a serious country, and as such cannot support a serious Local Church. Take away the immigrants, and the Church in the US is mostly middle-aged converts whose children rarely stick around. Let us please not humiliate ourselves again with another OCA. This is a process that takes centuries.

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    4. "Get a real country..." "The US is not a serious country..." What is that suppose to mean? Not old? Not majority Orthodox? Can't do much about not being old, but somehow the even younger Church of Japan with under 1% of the national population manages to exhibit the classical Orthodox ecclesiological structure of "one city, one bishop", while with about 1.7% of the population, here in the U.S. we don't.

      The Church did very nicely in the multi-ethnic, pagan, infanticide-practicing, militarily expansionist, not-that-old Roman Empire (recall that Christ was born during the reign of the first Emperor), and managed to establish the norm of "one city, one bishop" in the face of persecution from the surrounding society, when pretty much all Christians were middle-aged converts (or the children of middle-aged converts). Is the U.S. really that much worse as a country or society than the pre-Constantinian Empire so that we can't support a serious local Church, when Antioch, Alexandria, Jerusalem, Cyprus, and (the now lapsed) Rome all got their start as expressions of a minority religion in a hostile society?

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    5. "The US is not a serious country, and as such cannot support a serious Local Church."
      Which "serious country" supports the Phanar-the chaotic Hellenic Republic or the Islamist Turkish Republic?

      In North America, it has been centuries.

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    6. "The US is not a serious country, and as such cannot support a serious Local Church."
      Which "serious country" supports the Phanar-the chaotic Hellenic Republic or the Islamist Turkish Republic?

      In North America, it has been centuries.

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  12. Having seen Demetrios at Ground Zero read the Gospel in Greek to a world audience that understands zero % of what he said I believe we must celebrate administrative disunity. I'm grateful the Greek council of bishops with the funny "American" name has failed. Keep your mind on the parish where serious Christianity is lived out if at all.

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  13. DNY - if the US Orthodox establish such a Church, it would have to be an American national Church. This would offend a great many parishioners clinging to their heritage, not to mention the overseas hierarchs who depend heavily on US remittances. But fundamentally, US citizens do not see themselves as part of a nation, much less with a national Church. This is what Fr. Stephen is getting at in his "Un-Ecumenism" article. Where the Orthodox faith is just another option in the secular buffet, you don't really have an authentic Church. Let us see if American Orthodox can keep their children in the pews for several generations of baptisms, marriages and burials and picnics on family members' tombstones. Only then would we qualify as an organic and spiritually mature institution. Again, please no more OCA's.

    I have commented frequently on how we might go about keeping our children, children's children, et seriatim with us in the Church but those ideas are repugnant to rootless Americans who view religious faith as more of an ideological, intellectual choice.

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    1. " Where the Orthodox faith is just another option in the secular buffet, you don't really have an authentic Church."

      This statement requires more subtlety but I'm not writing a book. Rather, where the Orthodox faith is just another option in the secular buffet, it would be difficult to justify an august, sovereign institution like an autocephalous, Patriarchal Church. America is a modernist political construct, not an actual nation, so a Church Local wedded to her people by cultural and generational ties over centuries is difficult to see, and that would seem to be the minimum requirement for an august and sovereign autocephalous Church. This is why nobody treats the OCA as an autocephalous Church among equals.

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    2. The ethnics are even worse about keeping their kids in the church. Just sayin'. And I have read that very few attend church in Russia. Christmas and Easter don't count. Everybody's churches are full for the holidays.

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  14. The ethnics are even worse about keeping their kids in the church. Just sayin'.

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