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


9 Responses to “Some Go Postal, I’m Going Editorial”

  1. David Bryan Says:

    Father, I think you’re being unfair.  
    As I’ve said on my blog, “people in this country from ACROD, from the GOA, from the Ukrainians under the EP, with whom I have spoken have all told me that their being under the omophorion of the EP has not resulted in their losing their ethnic customs in the slightest. They have not been thoroughly hellenized, they have not been made to speak Greek (the secretary of the EP stated in his talk that he himself did not consider this necessary, though the option should be open, he thought). Local languages — Arabic, Ukrainian, Russain, etc — have been preserved under the EP, not obliterated. Do we really believe Patriarch BARTHOLOMEW so obtuse as to automatically assume that he will do this with English, especially given his track record elsewhere? Does the fact that Holy Cross Seminary — the very place the EP’s archdiocese trains its clergy — conducts services in at least 50% English (according to my contacts there) serve to show us that he is not obsessed with ‘All Greek, all the time’?”  
    Forgive me.  I think you’re correct that the OCA is, in fact, a reality that needs to be acknowledged.  I do not, however, think it is the sole, canonical presence on this continent under which everyone else must come to be canonical (as your comments regarding the EP’s possible “illegitimacy” would imply).  
    I think the EP is out of touch with American culture(s).  This is a detriment to his leading us.  Yet, Metropolitan JONAH himself stated (while still an abbot that “[the] only way an ecumenical primacy could work is if there is a functional and active ecumenical synod, which meets at regular intervals and is composed of the heads of all the autocephalous Churches. Such a permanent synod, provided for by the canons as a permanent synod presided  
    over by the ecumenical primate, would create a context for the up-building  
    of the sense of unity of the Orthodox Churches, and for the resolution of particular issues as they arise. Its primate would be a point of accountability,  
    responsible for preserving the unity and vision of the Orthodox Church.” (  He seems to think, after all, or did, that a synod presided over by the authority of the EP (perhaps, in our case, the archbishop of the GOA, as is currently the case with SCOBA anyway) could work.  
    Food for thought.

  2. Chrys Says:

    David, I think your first paragraph actually makes Father’s point.  It is NOT that the EP will impose all Greek all the time; it is that it does preserve the various ethnic-focused groups that you have identified – to the detriment of focusing on the gospel.   For if we focus on the gospel, we must speak in the language of the folks we are addressing.  The relatively insular focus of the various ethnic enclaves represents a difference of priority.  If you focus on missions and evangelism – if you take seriously the need to speak to America and Americans – then you will bring in a lot of people who will eventually displace or at least challenge the focus on the ethnically-defined concerns of different jurisdictions.  (To be clear, I am NOT saying that that is their only concern; only that it is a defining priority.  The people in these jursidictions must certainly be served, but if we make it a priority to maintain ethnic distinctions, we must limit our ministry.)  Conversely, if you choose to serve the gospel – as St. Paul makes clear – the ethnic concerns must eventually die. As I have noted elsewhere, St. Paul’s clear condemnation of such divisions is based on the cross itself: in it, Christ over came the divisions in and between human caused by sin. 
    Father’s point, as I read it, is directed at their priorities and focus, not a particular language or culture. 
    Along those lines, if the EP is as concerned with the canonical anomalies as the HC/HC document claims, then I am hard-pressed to understand how he would fail to urge each of the jurisdictions you mention to gradually merge their efforts – in some form or fashion – in order to begin to build a more unified American Church.

  3. Fr Gregory Says:

    Your words are inappropriate and unacceptable.  While you are welcome to disagree with the OCA or me, the charges of schism and heresy are not yours to make and undermine your credibility. 
    In Christ,
    +Fr Gregory

  4. angela damianakis m.s.w. Says:

    <span style="">Fr. Gregory, My sins are many but <span>omission</span> and silence is not numbered among them.
    <div>"<span style="color: #aa77aa;">The word schism (IPA: </span><span style="color: #99bbdd;">/ˈsɪzəm/</span><span style="color: #aa77aa;"> or /ˈ<span>sk</span>ɪzəm/), from the </span><span style="color: #99bbdd;">Greek</span> σχίσμα, <span>skhísma</span> (from σχίζω, <span>skhízō</span>, "to tear, to split"), means a split or a division, usually in an organization or a movement. A schismatic is a person who creates or incites schism in an organization or who is a member of a splinter group. The word is most frequently and usefully used about a religious division that occur with a religious body with a defined organisation and hierarchy."
    "A "heretic" is simply one who maintains a "heretical doctrine." In this instance regarding <span>autocelphaly</span>. The sincerity and good will of the "heretic" is not in question. Nevertheless, "attacks made by Met. Jonah attacking the Ecumenical Patriarchate and against the Mother Church will not go unanswered.
    As Archbishop <span>Chrysostomos</span> points out: [W]e must realize that the Orthodox Church is "catholic." It is meant for everyone. When, therefore, we seek to protect those within the Church from the bacterium of non-Orthodox belief..[In this case that of rebellion against the Ecumenical Patriarchate.]we must be constantly aware that this is for the purpose also of preserving Orthodoxy as a pure standard for all those who confess…</div>
    <div>Furthermore, to lovingly help a Christian see the errors in the teachings that they hold especially those in the unique position of leadership is necessary. It is an act of love. If i fail to speak the truth i merely confirms the error. (<span>Excerpts</span> taken from the writings of St. <span>Maximus</span> the Confessor).</div>

  5. Fr Gregory Says:

    Thank you for the brief etymology of schism and heresy.  As for your application of these terms to the OCA, I would remind you that this is not for either of us to say.  If you could please direct me to the conciliar, or at least episcopal, support for the idea that the OCA is some how in heresy or schism I would be appreciative.
    Absent such support, however, I must for a second time, ask you to not propogate such views on my blog.  Accusing a sitting bishop of heresy and schism is a very serious matter and requires more evidence then you have presented.
    In Christ,

  6. orrologion Says:

    David, as to your last point that Met. Jonah “seems to think, after all, or did, that a synod presided over by the authority of the EP (perhaps, in our case, the archbishop of the GOA, as is currently the case with SCOBA anyway) could work.” 
    This is exactly what the highly misunderstood impromptu sermon of Met. Jonah in Dallas suggested.  Met. Jonah specifically stated that the OCA not necessarily need be the structure upon which a unified Orthodoxy in North America be established, and he specifically stated that he need not be the ‘first’ in that ‘super Synod’ of ruling hierarchs.
    I am at a loss to understand how those that have so passionately complained of the Metropolitan’s sermon focus on minor things such as whether we’d all be forced to worship in Greek (which is a language not understood by the majority of the GOA faithful today, so…) and missed the big news: the OCA has put its own autocephaly on the table for the sake of canonical unity in North America.  What has the EP put on the table but its offense taking and the digging in of heels on an interpretation of Canon 28 of Chalcedon that only itself accepts (much like Rome’s only basis for its own interpretation of Patriarchal primacy is itself).

  7. Chrys Says:

    orrologion: very well said!  +Jonah’s willingness to humble himself and his office for the sake of the Church in America speak volumes about his faith and love.  This has, for some reason, been completely ignored in subequent conversation.  It also stands in (unfortunately) stark contrast to the positions take by the EP’s defenders.  While their positions – whether expressed with caution or vigor – seem more concerned about power and prerogatives, +Jonah’s offer strikes me as remarkably grace-filled.  This is yet another reminder that judgment is often present with grace, and that sometimes grace divides even as it heals.  Trusting that grace always brings manifold blessings, I continue to hope that, in the end, healing will abound.

  8. Guest Says:

    <span style="color: #333333; font-family: Georgia; line-height: 20px;">Re: "As with the Metropolia, the Ecumenical Patriarchate WAS approached by Peter Gillguist et. al., only to be rebuffed."</span>
    Peter Gillquist et. al. also approached the OCA.   They found the OCA's conditions to be too onerous (a year in seminary for PG et. al. to learn how to properly liturgize) so then they made their way to Antioch.  
    PG's book, 'Becoming Orthodox' does not mention this for some reason.

  9. Fr Gregory Says:

    Thanks for the comment.
    Re: P. Gillguist et. al., I wasn’t aware they approached the OCA–but the requirement of a year in seminary doesn’t seem (especially in retrospect) to be a bad idea.  I spoke recently with a friend in the  Antiochian Archdiocese who tells me the policy now is to have converts wait five years  before going to seminary and/or ordination.  Not sure how accurately he summarizeed the policy but it donesn’t sound like a bad idea.
    Again, thanks for the comment.
    In Christ,

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