Monday, May 11, 2009

Some Go Postal, I'm Going Editorial

As a rule, I avoid posting editorials on my blog. This doesn't mean I don't have my own views about things, but do I try especially hard to avoid intra-Orthodox controversies. However, events since the election of Metropolitan Jonah have caused me to rethink my approach. While still I think polemics should be avoided, I also think there are times when a more forceful word is need.
This all came to mind when I read John Couretas' post “ Holy Cross Faculty Weighs in on 'Distinctive Prerogatives' of Ecumenical Patriarch,” on the American Orthodox Institute blog, AOI Observer. John writes that,
The Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Brookline, Mass., released a "Faculty Statement on the Ecumenical Patriarchate" on April 30 and posted it on the school's Web site on May 8.
The text of that statement beings as following (my emphasis):
The Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople is the preeminent Church in the communion of the fourteen Autocephalous Orthodox Churches. Reflecting the witness of St. Andrew, the First Called Apostle, the enduring mission of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople is to proclaim the salutary Gospel of Jesus Christ in accordance with the Apostolic and Orthodox Faith.
The Ecumenical Patriarchate has a particular responsibility to strengthen the unity of the Orthodox Churches and to coordinate their common witness. At the same time, the Ecumenical Patriarchate has a specific responsibility to care for the faithful in lands beyond the borders of the other Autocephalous Churches. This is a ministry of service to the entire Church which the Ecumenical Patriarchate undertakes in accordance with the canons and often under difficult circumstances.
The Faculty of Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology profoundly regrets that statements recently have been made which misinterpret the canonical prerogatives and distort historical facts related to the distinctive ministry of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Indeed, s ome injudicious remarks have insulted the person of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and have attempted to diminish the significance of his ministry.
While more restrained in tone then recent statements, nevertheless the faculty's statement is a defense of the Ecumenical Throne and reflects no serious criticism of the failures of the Ecumenical Patriarchate to provide effective leadership either in the United States much less world wide.
What I find most irritating is the condescending tone the faculty take to the Orthodox Church in America (OCA). Referring to the development of the Church in America, they write:
it must be recognized that the proper development of the Church in this country has not always followed the principles of ecclesiastical organization reflected in the canons of the Councils which have already been mentioned. The presence of multiple jurisdictions from various Autocephalous Churches in the same territory and the presence of multiple bishops in the same territory are clearly contrary to the canonical tradition. The good order of the Church has been shaken by acts which have gone contrary to ecclesiological principles and historical praxis.
With admirable lack of subtlety, the faculty's only example of improper ecclesiastical organization is the grant of autocephaly “to the Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church (the Metropolia) by the Church of Russia in 1970” that created the Orthodox Church in America. (This is not to say, I should add, that there are not substantive arguments against the autocephaly of the OCA. While I don't agree with these arguments, I do think these arguments are often overlooked by apologists for the OCA.)
They write that
This action had no canonical basis. From that time, the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the majority of other Autocephalous Churches have refused to recognize the "autocephalous" status of this jurisdiction. As a result, this jurisdiction has not been accorded a place in global Pan-Orthodox discussions in accordance with the agreement of the Autocephalous Churches.
Nevertheless in their view “the Ecumenical Patriarchate has exercised restraint and has not broken communion with this jurisdiction. Indeed, in the 1990s the Ecumenical Patriarchate frequently received representatives of this jurisdiction to discuss its irregular status. While recognizing the historical road of this jurisdiction, the Ecumenical Patriarchate has affirmed that the canonical irregularities have not been resolved.”
In my view, I think that the leadership of the Ecumenical Throne and the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America has been mixed at best. The events leading up to the autocephaly of the OCA is illustrative of this.
When the old Metropolia approached the Ecumenical Patriarchate ASKING for assistance in regularizing its relationship with the rest of the Orthodox Church, it was told that it had to address its concerns to the Moscow Patriarchate. It did and the result was the creation in 1970 of the OCA. Far from being a rejection of the Ecumenical Patriarchate the OCA was the fruit of the Ecumenical Throne's unwillingness to involve herself in the life of the Church in America.
Another failure to take a leadership role in America is how the Ecumenical Throne responded to the group of Protestant Evangelical Christians who would go on to join the Church as the Antiochian Evangelical Orthodox Mission. As with the Metropolia, the Ecumenical Patriarchate WAS approached by Peter Gillguist et. al., only to be rebuffed. Is it any wonder then that not simply Metropolitan Philip of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of American, but many Orthodox Christians in America are skeptical about the ability of Ecumenical Patriarchate to lead the whole Church and especially the Church here in the States? 
In both cases I must ask where was the leadership of the Ecumenical Patriarchate when leadership was need?
The letter also references the 1994 meeting of Orthodox bishops in America—Greek, OCA, Antiochian, Ukrainian, Carpatho-Russian, and Serbian—in Ligonier PA. That meeting represented a concrete move toward a united Orthodox Church  most likely under the presidency of then Primate of the Greek Orthodox Church of North and South America, Archbishop Iakovos of blessed memory. These plans were derailed by the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

History to one side, I would take exception to what seems to me to be the faculty's condescending tone toward the OCA.  This tone is much in evidence when they say that the Ecumenical Patriarchate has "exercised restraint and has not broken communion with this jurisdiction” (i.e., the OCA). These words and the use of scare quotes when referring to the OCA and its autocephaly does not suggest, to me at least, restraint but provocative spirit.

In the first place, whether a majority of the autocephalous Church do or do not accept the autocephaly of the OCA is not the point. Truth is not subject to a majority vote! 

Further, and at the risk of generating more heat then light, it seems that the Churches that do not accept the autocephaly of the OCA have a vested interest in not doing so. If the OCA's status is accepted, then they have find themselves with parishes and dioceses on the canonical territory of another Church. Put another way, if the OCA is canonical, then by their presence here Ecumenical Patriarchate et. al. are themselves up to charges that they have violated the canons and that it is the OCA that has "exercised restraint" by not breaking communion with these jurisdictions.

Stepping back a bit, and as I posted this on AOI, as long as the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese (with the consent and encouragement of the Ecumenical Throne) sees its primary mission as caring for the Greek community it is not fit for leadership here in America and pretending otherwise is a waste of resources and detrimental to our wtiness to the Gospel. I don't fault the Holy Cross faculty for defending the Ecumenical Patriarchate.  Nor do I fault the clergy and faithful of the GOA for wanting to care for their own.  Both of these are certainly worthy goals.

But I'm not Greek and to be painfully honest about the matter I have no particular interesting in focusing my ministry as a priest around caring for the Greek community. There's nothing wrong with what the GOA wants to do, but if this is their primary mission let them take a secondary role in the life of the Church in America. And the same, I am sorry to say, must be said for the Ecumenical Patriarchate on the universal level.

If they want to take a leadership role, what should they do?  A good start would be for the Ecumenical Throne to demonstrate the desire and the ability to care for the whole Church in America and not simply the Greek community. 

The let them demonstrate do so by doing what thousands of American who have joined the Orthodox Church have done, subordinate their own language and culture to the Gospel.  Let the GOA lead by demonstrating through the use of their time, talent and treasure that they are will and able to promote the well being of those who are not Greek. One way to do this would be to commit themselves here in America to do what they have done in overseas missions: Create indigenious English language, non-Greek, Orthodox Christian communities.

After 12 years in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese I simply have not seen from Archdiocese (or Ecumenical Patriarchate) provide effective leadership in America.  While I do not call into question the faith and commitment to Christ of the bishops, clergy and laity of the Greek community here and abroad, as long as the primary concern for the GOA the needs of the Greek community (which include the preservation of Greek cultural identity and language), the needs of those of us who are not Greek will simply take a backseat.

Put another way, as long the primary mission of the GOA is caring for the Greek community, then non-Greeks and their pastoral and cultural needs will remain secondary.  If caring for the Greek community is primary, pastoral care for non-Greek Orthodox Christians, to say nothing of philanthropic outreach, evangelism and home missions will always come second. Having been a missionary I got to tell you, you cannot be effective in bring people to Christ and His Church under these circumstances.
You can read the rest of the faculty's response either on the AOI blog ( here) or on the Hellenic College/Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of the Theology web page ( here).

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

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