Wednesday, July 11, 2018

The FOGCPJA... or something

Archbishop Athenagoras, The Living Church, Dec. 12, 1943
(Orthodox History) - Back in the early 1940s, several of the Orthodox jurisdictions briefly came together to form an organization with the unwieldy name, “The Federated Orthodox Greek Catholic Primary Jurisdictions in America.” That’s ridiculous, so we’ll just call it “the Federation.” Anyway, the Federation was a precursor to SCOBA, which morphed into the present-day Assembly of Bishops.

The Federation was active for only a couple years, 1942 to 1944. Its biggest achievement was getting the Orthodox recognized by the Selective Service, which in turn meant that clergy were exempt from the draft and could serve as military chaplains. The Federation was also instrumental in the incorporation of several Orthodox jurisdictions, including the Antiochian Archdiocese, under New York law. (Click here to read a timeline of the Federation.)

What I didn’t know until recently was that the Federation apparently planned to create an English-speaking seminary. I learned this thanks to Lou Milicich, who sent me a link to the December 12, 1943 issue of The Living Church, a publication of the Episcopal Church in America.

The Living Church reported that Archbishop Athenagoras, head of the Greek Archdiocese (and future Ecumenical Patriarch), announced plans for the seminary — but, somewhat oddly, the seminary’s main purpose seems to have been training priests for service in Europe, not the United States. Athenagoras noted that there were already a number of Orthodox seminaries in America, with 155 students between them.

The primary motivation behind this new seminary seems to have been political, more so than pastoral. Here’s what Athenagoras said:

When priests trained at the seminary return to their countries they will help further good will and understanding between the Church in America and the Orthodox Church in Europe. Generally speaking, Americans interested in post-war problems do not realize that the Orthodox Churches in Russia, Greece, Syria, and other countries will have a great influence in rehabilitation efforts after the war. Our purpose is not only to train future priests in democratic precepts, but to convince them that real democracy consists of much more than mere lip service.

It’s easy to see why Athenagoras was the U.S. government’s first choice for the position of Ecumenical Patriarch after World War II, just as the Cold War was getting started. He was a church politician who was ardently pro-American (and anti-Communist).

Archbishop Athenagoras announced plans for other initiatives, including “a central bureau of publicity for Orthodox affairs” and a pan-Orthodox English-language magazine. And also this (reported by The Living Church):

Arrangements have already been made for a census of all Orthodox Churches in the United States, which will provide up-to-date statistics on the number of priests, communicants, churches, and schools in each of the jurisdictions. There are at present, the Archbishop estimated, over 5,000,000 Orthodox believers in this country, served by 25 bishops and 1,500 priests.

This was over 65 years before Alexei Krindatch came on the scene, and more than 75 years before the first really comprehensive census of Orthodox parishes, in 2010. Unfortunately, the proposed census in the 1940s didn’t happen, because the Federation unraveled shortly after this article was published. There was some sort of population data published in 1947, in a periodical called the Christian Herald. (For more on that census, and previous Orthodox censuses, click here.)

As I said, the Federation didn’t last very long, failing mostly due to leadership issues. (One of the driving forces behind the Federation was a Greek lawyer named George Phillies, who for some reason took communion both in the Orthodox Church and the Episcopal Church. Once that got out, the Federation quickly fell apart.) That said, the idea of the Federation did live on, and thanks in part to the efforts of the Antiochian Metropolitan Antony Bashir (click here for more on that), from the ashes of the Federation arose SCOBA, which, for all its faults, served as a critical platform for pan-Orthodox cooperation for many decades.


  1. A cultured, well-educated Greek woman in NYC once insisted to me that ECUSA and GOA were in full communion, and there was no issue with her communing regularly in her local ECUSA parish and also in Greek churches. It wasn't just a confusion in the Arab/Slavic side of Orthodoxy related to St. Raphael's pastoral letter, and it wasn't so far in the past.

    FWIW, if one looks at Orthodoxy as it is rather than as how many would like it to be, then seeing the ECUSA as the "American jurisdiction" alongside the Greek, Russian, Arab, etc. jurisdictions makes a certain amount of sense. I think many have seen the separation between the two in much the same way as many view the separation between the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox. Yes, there are theological reasons we are separate (even though we have more in common theologically with Rome, i.e., ECs 4-7), but our separation is primarily cultural and historical and doesn't have much to do with us unless we are clergy or in a monastery.

  2. Did ROCOR have a role in this Federation, or did their headquarters arrive from Germany after the Federation imploded? I'm curious, because ROCOR back then was very different from the traditional but open, multi-ethnic jurisdiction that it is today (it was dedicated to ensuring that Russians outside Russia could still worship). For the record, the seminary in Jordanville was only founded in 1948, so ROCOR may have been able to benefit from the proposed English-language seminary, if the Federation did not fall through.

  3. "There are at present, the Archbishop estimated, over 5,000,000 Orthodox believers in this country"

    I am not familiar with the dynamics of the number of Orthodox Christians in North America, but isn't 5,000,000 far higher than it should be?

    1. i believe that alexei krindatch says 800,000 and declining rapidly

      circa 2000 canonical churches with an average of 150 per church yields 300,000

      if 800,000 at 2000 churches it is 400 per church which is not a believable number --- sanity test here,, if the church has 400 members, then the priest would not need a second job, as is the case in many parishes -- at least 25 out of 50 in connecticut alone

  4. If we are at 1 million today and have lost so many immigrant Orthodox over the generations, it's possible there could have been 5 million citizens and residents that "should" have been Orthodox. Perhaps if immigration hadn't been effectively criminalized in the early 20th century there would have been enough critical mass among Orthodox immigrants to increase retention. Of course, keeping Eastern Europeans (among others) out and increasing what we would call apostasy and acculturation was a primary reason for those laws, using much the same language heard today regarding those from what some think of as "less desirable" countries and cultures.

    1. "If we are at 1 million today and have lost so many immigrant Orthodox over the generations, it's possible there could have been 5 million citizens and residents that "should" have been Orthodox. "

      Important topic 123. There "should" be more Orthodox but there is not. Why? Because Orthodox people, or at least Orthodox immigrants to NA and western Europe, have proved no more resilient to the forces of secularization than Protestants or Roman Catholics.

      So even if we had an "open borders" political environment, the outcome is the same. More immigration is not a survival strategy for the Church-as-organization. Figuring out how to be Orthodox and pass the Faith on to our children in the most successful anti-Christian culture the devil has ever come up with is the solution...

  5. ROCOR was not officially settled here until 1950

  6. rocor has a significant presence here under archbishop appolinary in the late 20' early 30's - they published their own yearbook and quasi independent bishop adam philopovsky the carpatho-russain bishop affilited with them in the early 30's

    they did not recognize the territory of, accomplishments of, and hard work of the russian metroopolia of america and thought they were the only ones who could do it correctly

    so much for christian love, cooperation, and charity

    it does not and did not pass the sanity test to have the patriarchial diocese,,rocor, and the metropolia (oca) on parallel paths ==ethno-centricity and politics trumps christianity i guess

  7. Greater numbers allow for greater retention, but point taken.

    The real issue is Christianity's inability to recraft its narrative regarding what Christ achieved following Darwin, which in turn called into question the reliability and inspiration of Scripture and Tradition. Note that isn't simply a science v religion or a creationism issue. That's why self-styled liberal and co servative, traditional churches are losing membership in the scientifically literate world. It's seeing succes only in the developing world, in emotionalist, mystical, and "culture" focused denominations where historical and theological facts are less important.

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  8. Excellent line of thought 123!

    You are indeed correct about the scientific mind, more accurately called "scientism" being in fundamental conflict with the Christian narrative and really all narrative. In other words scientism "covers" a basic fact of being human, which is that the truth of our existence can NOT be explained by scientific atomism.

    Where I disagree is with your assertion that the narrative part of human (and God - existence itself) needs to be "recrafted" towards the scientific mind. Simply because Christendom and secularism is successful in evangelizing the majority does not mean that Christianity needs to be "recrafted". We could do alot better at understanding and speaking to the scientific and secular mind yes, however the scientific mind is but a specie of error and sin.

    We should also take a lesson from the RCism, who have done much work on this nexus of science and Faith. Despite it's depth and sophistication (you should check it out if you have not already), it is at the end of the day a failure because for the great mass of secularized people, "historical and theological facts" are not what moves them, rather "emotionalist" scientism is what does. The facts of the limits and poverty of science and its secular outcomes are impotent against mystical/emotionalist scientism.

    In other words, we as evangelists should do a much better job of contrasting accurately the faith of Darwin against the Truth of God...

  9. There is no clear narrative connection any longer between a readily understandable version of the Fall and what Christ did to counteract that. Death was around before humans were, so we can redefine death. It's not clear what exactly "spiritual death" would have been following an historical Adam and Eve. And it's not clear how a physical resurrection "answers" a "spiritual death" earned by Adam and Eve. It's also not clear what being saved from death or sin means post-Resurrection when everyone still dies physically and sins, and there's no clear view that spiritual enlivening is taking place among most Orthodox or Christians. The metanarrative has broken down, so to speak. Simply dismissing science as "scientism" when the only real issue seems to be it disagreeing with Christianity is a cop out. Yes, there's more than can be explained by measurement and atoms, but that doesn't address the core problem. The argument for Christianity is no longer clearly connected.

  10. Excellent 123! Your exactly right: when you try to "reconcile" or "sum" or "synthesis" two metanarratives you get an incoherent thing that nobody can rightly believe - and that's just it, nobody does. People how try to hold together the metanarrative of historic and physical creation as understood by methodological materialism (Darwin - which I agree is "true") with a "spiritual death" of an arbitrary Adam and Eve inserted into the timeline as it were, who suddenly became not only "spiritual" creatures (as opposed to merely rational or irrational beasts) and then at some point "fell" such that they were both responsible for their sin and fall, AND the consequence was a "spiritual death"....well, the whole artifice falls apart very quickly.

    Also, what of the conflicts of creation between Darwin and Genesis in not only timeline but also order? What of causation, in that we are clearly atoms and molecules and cells and organs - how is the spiritual "added" upon, on top of, in this determinitive schema?

    So what do you think? If a person can not hold the two metanarratives in this way, what is the alternative option or options? Is it possible, in your view, that their is a missing "frame of perspective"? In other words, could it be nothing *inherent* in the metanarritives themselves that is the problem but the very act of trying to reconcile them and how one goes about doing that that is the source of the dilemma?

  11. Orthodoxy has tools at its disposal to address this issue given its pedigreed use of allegorical and typological reading applied to the entirety of the Old Testament, including Genesis. This is the quick cop out favored by most Orthodox when questions arise regarding Genesis and evolution. However, the challenge is the fact that St Paul seems to assume a historical Adam and Fall in his soteriology, and the literal entrance of death into the world cured by Christ. Add to this the fact that the consensus Patrum regarding Adam, Eve, and the Fall were as much "literal" as allegorical and typological, and Orthodoxy faces as much of a problem as your typical fundamentalist/creationist Protestant - the issue is more about the reliability (authority) of the Fathers and Tradition in understanding the nature of the world and our place in it rather than a crisis of authority regarding Scripture alone, as it is for a certain kind of Protestant. We can read Genesis literarily and spiritually, and given Paul the benefit of the doubt he is doing the same when it's pretty likely that's not all he's doing, but the Fathers become progressively more "literal" on this topic the further from Origen and the Cappadocians one gets - until after Darwin.

    Now, the average lay Orthodox and the average Westerner with Christian roots isn't getting into the details, but any attempt to spiritually re-interpret the texts and pretend that most of Christian history and authority didn't assume something simply wrong at the root of its theology seems quite the stretch. The question points to the acceptance of a great deal more contingency and historical conditioning in both Scripture and Tradition, but that would likely open the floodgates of renovationism and undermine the idea of Tradition as a rock solid set of facts and practices that must simply be handed on rather than a way of approaching questions with the best tools at hand. The more I read the Cappadocians, in particular, the more I see them doing their best with what they know and with the most sophisticated intellectual tools available to them, i.e., philosophy, logic, rhetoric, rudimentary scientific knowledge of the world. Traditionalist Orthodoxy doesn't seem to approach the world and these real problems in the same way; it is more focused on simply repeating the answers provided by past thinkers with access to far less information who were simply doing the best they could. Perhaps "real Orthodoxy" is more about the way we think about and approach these questions rather than in repeating inherited answers. Unfortunately, that doesn't look like "real Orthodoxy" to the self-appointed defenders of "Orthodoxy as inherited answers".

  12. 123,

    A suggestion: What happens when you treat both metanarratives the same? Instead of treating the narrative of Christianity as something to which applied first is a hermenutic (allegorical, historical, etc.), what happens if you treat it as a *narrative* - something for which you can not apply a presupposition(s) (rather consciously or unconsciously) but which contains it's own presupposition(s)? Likewise what happens if you do the same for methodological materialism/historicism rather it be pre-Darwin,Darwin, or post-Darwin?

    In other words, what is *your* narrative of the world and God before you get to interpretation, hermeneutic, "issues", theology (of the Fathers, Protestants, etc.)?