Category Archives: Preparing for the 15th All-American Council

St. Tikhon of Moscow’s Recommendations for Church Reform

Submitted to the Holy Synod of the Church of Russia in 1905, 
in Preparation for the Great Council of Moscow
Eventually held in 1917-1918


English translation from the Russian by Alex Maximov,
with editing by Dr. David C. Ford 
St. Tikhon’s Seminary and Monastery Church
S. Canaan, PA


This translation is of the text as it appears in the Russian-American Messenger.



Opinions on the Issues Proposed for Discussion  at the Pomestni Council of the All-Russia Church 

(November 24, 1905)

On the issue of the division of the Russian Church into metropolitan provinces.

By the decision of the Holy Synod as of March 18-25, 1905, it was suggested that the office of the Patriarch be reinstated in Russia.  This would not only reflect the significance and grandeur of the Russian Church, but it would also move its governance closer to the order outlined in the Canons.

The desire to follow that order calls for another reform in our Church – its division into metropolitan provinces. As is known, we already have metropolitans at the present time – but they only differ from other bishops by titles and not by rights.  However, according to the canons the metropolitan is the “the head of the area,” and the bishops in each region must treat him as the head and do nothing that exceeds their authority without his consideration.  

Aside from canonical reasons, practical considerations speak for the division into metropolitan provinces. The Russian Church is too vast, and the highest Church authority is burdened with an abundance of matters many of which may be transferred to the provinces.  It is quite reasonable to agree with the thought expressed in the suggestion of Mr. Ober-Prokuror as of June 28, 1905, # 100, that “it is impossible to deny the existence of unique tasks in various territories of the Empire which require Church administration and which serve as a vital reason for the establishment of regional and  district self-governing bodies (as for example in the western region, in the eastern provinces, and in the Caucasus).”  

There are no valid reasons at the same time to fear that the division into metropolitan provinces would contradict the principle of state unity.  These provinces are only parts of one and the same Church, whose highest administrative body is located in the capital of the Empire.  In spite of some local peculiarities, the common Faith nevertheless remains in the provinces, and its unity already in itself is the solid moral cement that bonds the multinational population into a single family.

As far as the division itself of Russia into metropolitan provinces is concerned, it is of course unfeasible to base it upon one single principle – such as, for example, geography or ethnography.  In some cases it would be necessary and quite natural to use the first of these two as the basis for the division, and in other cases, the second, and in yet some other cases to take into consideration the prior history of the Orthodox nationalities that make up the Empire.  

In accordance with that, the division of Russia into the following metropolitan provinces might not seem unreasonable: 

  • Novgorod Province, which would include all the northern provinces with the exception of Petersburg, where the Archbishop of Petrograd, the Patriarch of all Russia, would reside; 
  • Vilno Province for the Western region (the former Uniate diocese); 
  • Kiev Province for the South-Eastern region;
  • Moscow Province for central Russia; 
  • Kazan Province for the eastern provinces and the Volga region; 
  • Tbilisi Province for the Caucasus (the Exarch of Georgia ought to be called Catholicos); 
  • Tomsk (or Tobolsk) Province for Western Siberia, along with the Turkestan region; and
  • Irkutsk Province for Eastern Siberia, where it might be possible to include the Chinese and the Japanese Orthodox Churches. 
  • And the North American Diocese should be reorganized into the Exarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church in North America.  The fact is that its members include not only different nationalities but also different Orthodox Churches, each of which, within the unity of the Faith, has its own peculiarities in canonical structure, in liturgical order, and in parish life.  These peculiarities are dear to them and are quite tolerable from the common Orthodox point of view. 

Therefore, we do not believe we have the right to encroach upon the national character of the local Churches.  On the contrary, we are trying to preserve it in them, giving them an opportunity to be under the direct authority of a superior of their very own nationality.  Thus last year the Syrian Church here received her own bishop (the Most Reverend Raphael of Brooklyn), who is considered to be the second vicar to the bishop of the Aleutian Diocese, but is almost independent within his area – and the Most Reverend bishop of Alaska is in the same position.  The Serbian parishes now are subject directly to a special superior who still remains in the rank of archimandrite, but he might be elevated to the order of a bishop in the near future.  And the local Greeks would like to have their own bishop, regarding whom they are petitioning the Athens Synod. 

In one word, an entire exarchate of Orthodox national Churches might form in North America, with their own bishops headed by an Exarch – a Russian archbishop. Each one of them would be independent in his own area, but matters common for the entire American Church would be dealt with by way of sobor under the chairmanship of the Russian archbishop.  Through him the connection of the American Church to the All-Russia Church is preserved, along with a certain dependency on her. 

At the same time, one should not lose sight of the fact that life in the New World compared to the Old has its own peculiarities, which have to be taken into consideration by the local Church as well.  Therefore a greater degree of autonomy (autocephaly) should be granted to the American Church than to the other Russian metropolitan provinces. 

Within the structure of the proposed North American Exarchate, the following might be included:

  • The Archdiocese of New York, which would have all the Russian parishes in the United States and Canada under its authority; 
  • The Diocese of Alaska, which would include the churches of the Orthodox inhabitants of Alaska (Russians, Aleuts, Indians, Eskimos); 
  • The Diocese of Brooklyn (Syrian); 
  • The Diocese of Chicago (Serbian); and
  • The Greek diocese (?).

In order to resolve the issue of the division of Russia into metropolitan provinces, we do not consider it excessive to say that the bishops of prominent cities, although subject to the metropolitan, might bear the title of archbishop, especially those who have vicars.  Regarding these vicars, however, it is preferable that they be aides to the bishop and be independent in those cities and areas that they bear the title of and reside in in as many cases as possible.  In general, it is necessary to define the position of vicar bishops and give them more rights than they have presently.

Regarding the reform of the diocesan administration and court.

The diocesan administration also requires reform.  At the present time the main organ of this administration is the chancery, which draws many reproaches from the laypersons as well as from the clergy itself.  The Statutes of the chancery are outdated and are imbued with extreme formalism, which extinguishes the “spirit of life.”  There is a need in the revision of these Statutes that the chancery in its spirit be brought closer to the “council of elders” (presbyters) which existed under the bishops in ancient times.  It should not serve as a “divider” separating the bishop from the clergy along with the flock.  The Right Reverend Bishop of Volyn writes in his review,

“The fewer matters that the bishop refers to the chancery, the better it would be for the Church.  Thus, assignments to places of duty, transfer of clergy, and various decisions concerning liturgical matters must be dealt with outside of the chancery and be referred to it after such matters have been decided upon.  The bishop must use the existing administrative bodies as little as possible and must himself deal directly with those appealing to him.”


Rather, the chancery should deal with “household” and financial matters, as well as be a judicial body.  We do not find it necessary and agreeable with the canons of the Church to separate the Church court from the chancery, and making it into a separate organization, regarding which many wrote in the ’70s of the last century.  

But this does not mean that the chancery court is not at all in need of reforms.  On the contrary, they are necessary regarding its composition and in the scope of the judicial matters it is to deal with, and in the order of legal procedures.  The staff of the “court table” in the chancery, aside from a person appointed by the bishop, should include two clergymen, elected from the clergy at the diocesan convention.  

In regard to the electoral principle we have to deal with two extreme opinions.  Some are ready to see salvation from every kind of evil in the electoral principle, and so they promote it in places where there is no particular need for it.  And those who hold the second of these opinions reject the electoral principle as being completely defective, seeing in it an expression of “parliamentarianism,” the spirit of the republic. 

But in the true Church of Christ, where there should not be any possessiveness and  dominance of one group, with another group struggling in opposition, as we see so often in the world – and where, on the contrary, all should be seeking the common good, uniting in amicable, harmonious work, the electoral principle might be applied not without benefit in many areas.  Thus it can be allowed in the selection of spiritual judges, and in the selection of a dean (if he is regarded not only as an organ of the archpastoral power but also as the one who expresses and tends to the needs of the clergy and the churches of his area in front of the diocesan authorities – needs that a bishop cannot personally identify in many dioceses). 

As far as the issues for the chancery court are concerned, divorce cases should be excluded from it in favor of the civil court, while preserving for the Church the right to acknowledge or disagree with the decisions of the civil authorities in these cases, and to determine herself who might be allowed to enter into a second marriage after a divorce.  Clergy accused of disturbing the public peace and order, of insulting someone, of disorderly conduct, etc., must be tried by the civil court as well.  Often when the guilty one is tried for these types of offenses by the spiritual court, he becomes subject to punishment that is less severe than it would have been had he been tried in the civil court.  This in turn results in criticism, and the clergy itself becoming less disciplined.

Disapproval of the procedures of the chancery court is expressed as well.  They should be reformed also, according to the latest methods of legal proceedings.  In particular, improvements in conducting the so-called “investigations” of the clergy are much to be desired, since even if they end in an acquittal of the accused clergyman, they undermine his authority in the eyes of his parish.  Here, more rights should be given to the bishop to replace such investigations with a private probe. 

Speaking of reforms and improvements in the diocesan administration, one might also wish for changes and improvements in the way the diocesan councils of the clergy are organized.  They first appeared for the purpose of identifying the means to satisfy the material needs of the spiritual-educational, missionary, and charitable organizations in the diocese.  But should the clergy always “leave the word of God and serve the tables” (Acts 6:2)?  Why should their right to gather and have discussion about service to the Word of God – about issues of the spiritual life, of pastoral guidance, of missionary work, of the struggle against heresies, and so on – not be recognized?  Nowadays in some dioceses these matters are discussed at the “flock meetings.”

The scope of the work and the issues under the authority of the diocesan councils ought to be expanded everywhere by putting on their agenda all matters that concern all aspects of the church-parochial life: matters of faith, education, deaneries, and almsgiving.  And as far as material, financial, and “household” issues are concerned, for their discussion, the representatives of lay folk must be invited without fail, especially the parish presidents [starosta] and the members of the parish councils.  Indeed, the parishes pay all sorts of dues, and it is not surprising that the parish presidents do not want to pay the dues established by the [diocesan] council since nobody consulted them at the time the dues were imposed.  

With the participation of laymen in the diocesan councils, the councils themselves might be conducted in the manner of church conventions that are practiced in America – by Episcopalians, for example.  They have joint sessions of clergy and laymen, as well as private sessions of clergy only that concern purely spiritual matters.  This type of lay participation would bring into Church life a more pronounced “churchly” character, and would promote its rejuvenation.

Regarding improvements in the parish.

Along with the diocesan administration, the life of the parish needs improvement. It is undeniable that in many places in Russia the life of the parish is very stagnant.  The connection between the parish and the Church [as a whole] is weak.  In some parishes the people only turn to the church to satisfy immediate needs; they attend church only on feast days.  Educational and charitable institutions in places like that are absent; the voice of the priest is rarely heard, and few take it into account.  

Very much has been written about all of this recently.  Loud voices are heard regarding the revival of the life of the parish, and the rebirth of the ancient significance of the parish – regarding not only allowing the parochial community to take care of the material needs of the church building, helping the needy, and providing education, but also the very selection of the candidates for priesthood.  It is hard to object to the recognition of the parish as a legal entity which has the right to private property (this has not taken place yet and therefore it is necessary to make changes in our legislation in this respect, as well as on the issue of the acquisition of property by the churches, monasteries, and the clergy in general).  It is also hard to object to the parochial community, with its priest at the head along with the elected council members, being able itself to manage and be in charge of its administration.  Of course, none of this would be done without the knowledge and control of the diocesan authority.  

This is exactly how things are dealt with in most of the parishes of North America.  Here the churches constitute the property of the congregation (parish); and even where the deed is in the name of the bishop, they are maintained by the parish itself.  Usually there is an annual meeting of parishioners (rochny meeting), where the church uryad is elected – the parish administration (the parish president, treasurer, and parish council); at this meeting a report is presented on the income and expenses for the whole year.  In some parishes the report is done semi-annually, or even monthly.  The parish council has the responsibility to collect from the parishioners rochnoe (an annual contribution of five dollars or more), and to do collecta (collect donations).  The parish not only maintains the church building but also pays the salary of its priest and its diakouchitel (the amount varies in different places), according to a mutual agreement between the priest and the parishioners.  Also at the meeting, fees are agreed upon for ceremonial services.  All of this is recorded in statuti, which are approved by the bishop.    

If there is no parish house, then the parish rents an apartment (with furniture, light, and heat) for the priest, and accommodation for the school – and in some places for the reading hall.  There is a brotherhood in each parish (and in the populous parishes there are several brotherhoods).  The brotherhood always has a religious character – it selects some saint (or feast) as a protector (patron); from its income it makes contributions for the upkeep of the church, for the priest, for the school, for refurbishing and beautifying the temple.  Aside from that, it also pursues charitable goals – it gives zapomogi to its members in cases of sickness, injury, and unemployment.  And within the brotherhood there is sometimes a benevolent court for the members.  

In general the brotherhoods here are very popular.  Together with the “Orthodox Mutual Aid Society,” with which they unite, and which also by itself helps with the construction of churches and the education of the people, the brotherhoods contribute much to the enlivening of the church-parochial life.

But even here in America there is no election of priests, and thus far we consider it untimely to institute it.  This should be said about Russia even more so.  In itself, the principle of election of clergy is legal, its introduction is desirable, and it is necessary to strive to implement it.  But to set out to introduce it everywhere and right away would mean, according to the vivid expression of The Right Reverend Bishop of Volyn, “to offer a severely sick patient lardy, coarse food, which would be useful for a workman, but mortal for an ill person.”  In his notes, The Right Reverend Bishop reveals the disease of the contemporary parish community in detail, which renders it not ready to have the right to elect a worthy pastor.  Our spiritual schools [i.e., seminaries], which have almost monopolized the right to produce candidates for the priesthood, also present difficulties for the introduction of the elective principle.  Here we approach this issue.

On improving the theological-educational schools.

The foremost shortcoming of our theological schools is that they pursue two goals which in themselves are quite respectable, but in practice they do not always agree with each other.  The theological schools exist, firstly, for the purpose of educating the children of the clergy, and secondly, to prepare candidates for the priesthood.  But not only the children of clergy might become these candidates, but also from other social groups.  Meanwhile, people from other social groups, although they are accepted into the theological schools, it is in very limited numbers, which in effect restricts the flow of fresh forces from the lay folk into the clergy.  

On the other hand, not all children of the clergy wish to join the priestly rank, and they are forced to do so against their will, since there is almost no other option available for them upon graduation from the seminary.  And this is where the constant dissatisfaction, grumbling, and insurgencies of the seminarians start from.  Wishing to calm them with something, the faculty introduces various leniencies into the order of the seminary life, trying to bring a civil character to the seminaries, which causes direct damage to the achievement of their other goal – that of preparing candidates for the priesthood, servants of the Holy Church.  As a result, the ranks of clergy are joined not only by those who do not wish to do this but also by those who are most undesirable for this.  Who and what benefits from this order of things – or to say it better, disorder of things?

It seems that the most natural way out of this situation is that the diocese should have special theological schools (the issue is not how they are named; it is possible to preserve the old name of “seminary”) which would accept without distinction children of all social groups who have finished the courses of secondary educational establishments and who feel the inclination towards the spiritual rank.  The subjects taught at these schools would be theological, their mode of life would be strictly religious, and the passage from them would be to one thing – service to the Church.  The present theological schools may be converted into the secondary educational establishments of the Spiritual Authority, in which the clergy would bring up their children, but the curriculum of these schools must be general.  In this way, those who graduate from them could go, if they wish, to higher educational establishments, and those who feel a calling for spiritual service after graduating from them would enter a theological school.

This is the way candidates for priesthood are prepared not only in the non-Orthodox churches, but also in Austria by the Orthodox and the Uniates.  The question is, however, who would maintain these schools of the Spiritual Authority?  Using Church money?  But this money would go for the upkeep of the theological schools.  And the Church would hardly give money for the education of those who might not serve it in the future.  The government?  But it already supports the secondary educational establishments for all without exception, where children of clergy might enter as well. This means that there is no reason to maintain special schools for them.  And the clergy itself would hardly be able to support such special schools.

On the other hand, no matter how unsatisfactory the theological schools of our day are, nevertheless one might not want to challenge their existence.  Some of them have been in existence for over a hundred and fifty years, and they have produced a significant number of outstanding, prolific figures in all fields of religious, government, and public service.  Therefore, would it not be better and fairer to establish the schools proposed above at the existing seminaries?  

In other words, the curriculum of the general secondary school must be introduced at the theological schools and seminaries where the children of the clergy study, while at the same time preserving the character, the religious order of life that is native to the clergy since childhood.  The seminary would have theological courses (lasting three years) taken by those who wish, who have finished the secondary educational program at the seminary or at another civil educational establishment.  These courses would provide an educational program and training of a strictly religious character, one which is necessary for future pastors.  With this sort of arrangement of things, the question of financing the theological schools is naturally taken off the agenda. The Church and the government and the clergy would take part in it as before. We only have the following left to say.

On the issue of participation of the clergy in public organizations and other matters that might be discussed at the future All-Russia council.

Some are against the participation of the clergy in public institutions because pastors thereby join the stir of worldly events and the bustle of life which is contrary to their direct duties and the eternal principles of pastoral service.  To that, however, one might object that since a pastor is the guide of the conscience of a Christian, his spiritual life, and spiritual, purely Christian principles, must be reflected and implemented in the area of worldly affairs especially in a Christian state.  And who better than clergy can remind the public institutions about these principles?  And is this the time for the clergy to show inactivity and indifference when the government willingly is inviting elected persons into collaboration?  And is this the time to give up the influence of the Church over the government, when circumstances are turning in such a way that the Orthodox Faith is turning from the dominant one in the State to one that is only tolerable – and in some places even intolerable? It is only necessary that the spiritual participants in the public institutions think of themselves specifically as representatives of the Church, advancing Her views there and not their own, even if they might be humane and liberal.

As far as other issues are concerned which might be discussed at the council, there would be quite a few of them.  And it would be better for the representatives of the Church authorities to put them on the agenda themselves and discuss them than to be forced to do so by Mr. Rozanov and other followers of the “new way.” 

From among these other issues, in light of the decree on tolerance in faith, the issue of the relations of the Orthodox Church with the Old Believers and other confessions is highlighted in the recommendations of the Ober-Prokuror.  In accordance with this, a question might be raised regarding “unity of faith” (about a bishop who would be in charge of the common faith issues and who would take part in the sessions of the Holy Synod), and about the oaths of the Moscow Council of 1666 which until this day confuse some of those who adhere to the old rites.  

For the American mission it is necessary to receive a resolution of the issue of relations with the Anglicans and their hierarchy; and for all the churches abroad, the resolution of the issue of the calendar.  It is necessary also for the representatives of the various Orthodox churches living abroad to coordinate practical matters in liturgical and canonical areas so that other confessions see that we indeed have “one faith.”  For the Russian Church it is necessary to have a new Slavic translation of the liturgical books (the present one is out of date and is incorrect in many places) by which the demands of some to serve in the everyday Russian language might be forestalled.  It would not be excessive, it seems, to make certain changes in the liturgical services – for example, to shorten ektenias which are repeated often, and to read aloud some secret prayers. The fasts also could be discussed, as well as the issue of the relinquishment of one’s spiritual rank and the possibility of getting reinstated, etc.

Many of these issues are common to the entire Church.  Therefore, when these matters are discussed it is necessary to hear the voices of representatives of all the eastern and Slavic churches.  It is most desirable to invite them to the All-Russia Council (the rectors of the representation churches in Moscow could serve as the representatives).  And it is even more desirable, after the local Church council is held in Moscow, to have a council of all the Orthodox Churches.  A great need is felt to have it, and its summoning would bring unquestionable benefit for the [entire] Holy Orthodox Church.


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St. Tikhon of Moscow’s Last Sermon

During His Years of Ministry  as the Archbishop  of the American Missionary Diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church (1898 to 1907)

Given on the Sunday of Orthodoxy (the First Sunday of Great Lent) in 1907

English translation from the Russian by Alex Maximov, 
with editing by Dr. David C. Ford 
St. Tikhon’s Seminary and Monastery Church
S. Canaan, PA


This translation is of the text as it appears in the Russian-American Messenger.


Farewell Sermon
Preached on the Sunday of Orthodoxy 
at the New York City Cathedral 

This Sunday is called “The Sunday of Orthodoxy” or “The Triumph of Orthodoxy,” since on this day the Holy Church solemnly commemorates her victory over Iconoclasm and other heresies.  And this triumph of Orthodoxy took place not just a thousand years ago.  No – for due to the mercy of God, the Church up to this day, now here and now there, gains victory and is triumphant over her enemies – and She has many of them.  

It is not a coincidence that the Church is likened to a ship, sailing amidst a ferocious, stormy sea which is ready to drown it in its waves.  And the further the ship sails, the harder the waves slam against it, the fiercer they attack it!  But the harder the waves hit the ship, the further they are thrown away and rejoin the abyss and disappear in it, and the ship continues its triumphant sailing as before.  For “the foundation of God standeth sure” (2 Tim. 2:19), since the Church of Christ is built on an immovable rock, and “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18).  

The Church of Christ is the kingdom not of this world.  It does not possess any of the attractions of the earthly world.  It is persecuted and slandered.  Yet it not only avoids perishing in the world, but grows and defeats the world!  This happens everywhere, and here in our land as well.  “We cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard” (Act 4:20).  

It is true that our Church here cannot boast of the quantity of its members, neither of their erudition.  Just like the “preaching of Christ crucified” (1 Cor. 1:23), for some it seems lowly and contemptible, and for others it seems simple and foolish, but in reality “God’s power and wisdom” [1 Cor. 1:24] are concealed in it.  It is strong and rich with the authenticity of the doctrine which has been preserved unaltered, with full adherence to the guiding regulations of the Church, a deep sense of liturgical service, and a plenitude of grace.  And with all of this it is gradually attracting the hearts of people, and it is growing and getting stronger more and more in this country.  

You brethren have witnessed and seen for yourselves the growth and strengthening of Orthodoxy here.  Just a mere twelve to fifteen years ago, we, aside from faraway Alaska, barely had any churches here.  There were no priests, and the Orthodox people numbered only in a few dozens and maybe a few hundreds.  And even they lived dispersed, far from one another.  

And now?  “The Orthodox are seen this day in this country.”  Our temples appear not only in big cities but in obscure places as well.  We have a multitude of clergy, and tens of thousands of faithful – and not only those who have been Orthodox for a while, but those who have converted from among the Uniates.  Schools are opened, the brotherhoods are established.  Even strangers acknowledge the success of Orthodoxy here.  So how can we ourselves not celebrate “The Triumph of Orthodoxy,” and not thank the Lord who helps His Church!

But it is not enough, brethren, to only celebrate “The Triumph of Orthodoxy.”  It is necessary for us personally to promote and contribute to this triumph.  And for this we must reverently preserve the Orthodox Faith, standing firm in it in spite of the fact that we live in a non-Orthodox country, and not pleading as an excuse for our apostasy that “it is not the old land here but America, a free country, and therefore it is impossible to follow everything that the Church requires.”  As if the word of Christ is only suitable for the old land and not for the entire world!  As if the Church of Christ is not “catholic”!  As if the Orthodox Faith did not “establish the universe”!  

Furthermore, while faithfully preserving the Orthodox Faith, everyone must also take care to spread it among the non-Orthodox.  Christ the Savior said that having lit the candle, men do not put it under a bushel but on a candlestick so that it gives light to all (Matt. 5:15).  The light of the Orthodox Faith has not been lit to shine only for a small circle of people.  No, the Orthodox Church is catholic; she remembers the commandment of her Founder, “Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature and teach all nations” (Mark 16:15, Matt. 28:19).  

We must share our spiritual richness, truth, light, and joy with others who do not have these blessings.  And this duty does not only lay upon the pastors and the missionaries but on the lay persons as well, since the Church of Christ, according to the wise comparison of the Holy Apostle Paul, is the body, and every member takes part in the life of the body.  By means of all sorts of mutually binding bonds which are formed and strengthened through the action of every member according to his capacity, the great Church body receives an increase unto the edifying of itself (Eph. 4:16).  

In the first centuries it was not only the pastors who were tortured, but lay persons as well – men, women, and even children.  And it was lay people likewise who enlightened the heathen and fought heresies.  And now in the same way, the spreading of the Faith should be a matter that is personal, heartfelt, and dear to each one of us.  Every member of the Church must take an active part in it – some by personal podvig spreading the Good News, some by material donations and service to “the needs of the holy persons,” and some by profuse prayer to the Lord that He “keep His Church firm and multiply it” – and concerning those unaware of Christ, that He would “proclaim the word of truth to them, open to them the Gospel of Truth, and join them to the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.”  I have told this numerous times to my flock.  And today, upon my departing from this land, I once more command all of you to preserve and act upon this, and especially you brethren of this holy temple.  

You witnessed yourself last Sunday that “The foreknowledge of God drew you closer to the bishop’s cathedra, and that the awareness of this closeness elevates your Christian spirit and edifies the nature of your undertakings, inspiring you for everything good.”  Your temple is a Cathedral.  It is preeminent in the diocese.  And being its parishioners, you brethren must give others an example in everything good that concerns the life of the Church, including caring for the Orthodox Faith.  

Furthermore, your parish is Russian, almost entirely consisting of people who came from Russia.  And to this very day Russia has been famous as a holy Christian land, whose adornment is the Orthodox Faith, the piousness of her people, and her temples of God.  So brethren, uphold here in a foreign land the glory of your motherland.  Manifest yourselves before the non-Orthodox as the Russian Orthodox people.  

I can say with comfort that in these days, with your zealous attendance at our temple, you’ve made a good impression on the local residents.  And you have especially gladdened my heart and expelled the sadness and grief which was felt not only by me in other places at the sight of empty temples during the feastday Church services.  

May the Lord strengthen you to excel in the Orthodox Faith more and more – my last prayer is about this . . . Today I depart from you.  And so, farewell, fathers and brethren of this holy temple, who are close to me not only in spirit but in our joint prayers, labors, and residence!  Farewell to you, the rest of my flock scattered across the wide horizon of this land!  Farewell, all those of you wandering in the deserts, working in the mountains and in the depths of the earth, and those on the islands far out in the sea!

Farewell to you, my Cathedral temple!  You are dear and close to me.  It has been during the time of my service that you were opened, you were adorned during my time as well, and you were made a cathedral during my time.  Perhaps for some who have seen the large, magnificent temples in Russia, you might seem small and modest, and you do not shine with gold and silver and precious gemstones like those temples do.  But for Russian Orthodox people, who suffered here for a long time without a temple, you represent a precious treasure, and they rejoice that they have you – like the Jews who returned from the Babylonian captivity rejoiced at the time of the construction of the second temple, even though it was not as splendid as that of Solomon.  So:

“Oh Lord, the God of Israel!  May Thine eyes be open toward this house night and day, that Thou mayest hearken unto the prayer of Thy people when they shall pray in this place! . . . Moreover, concerning a stranger that is not of Thy people, when he shall come and pray in this house, hear Thou him from Heaven, Thy dwelling place!” (3 Kingdoms 8:26-27, 39-41).

Farewell to you, this country!  For some you are the motherland, the place of birth; for others you gave shelter, work, and well-being.  Some received the freedom to profess the right Faith in your liberal land. God spoke in ancient times through the prophet, “And seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captives, and pray unto the Lord for it: for in the peace thereof shall you have peace” (Jer. 29:7; Hebrew text).

And so, let us pray to the Lord that He send this country “a plenitude of the earthly fruits, fair weather, timely rain and wind, and preserve it from the cowardly, flood, fire, sword, invasion of foreigners, and civil strife.”

Let God’s blessing be upon this country, this city, and this temple.  And let “the blessing of the Lord, with grace and love for man,” rest upon you all, “now and ever and unto the ages of ages.  Amen.”

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Filed under Orthodox Church in America 15th AAC, Preparing for the 15th All-American Council

A Spiritual Springtime for American Orthodoxy: Reflections on the last 40 Years

— Protopresbyter Thomas Hopko
Orthodox Monastery of the Transfiguration
Ellwood City, Pennsylvania
September 27, 2008

Membership in the Orthodox churches in North America in the past forty years has radically decreased. There are probably about half as many people in the churches today as there were four decades ago.   It also seems that most adults who attend services in Orthodox churches today are “holding the form” of Orthodox Christianity while “denying the power of it” (2 Tim 3.5) as they ‘pursue happiness” according to “the American dream” as devotees of “the American way of life.”   

Concerning the churches’ clergy during the past forty years, I believe that the task of finding, educating, appointing and supporting suitable candidates for the clergy, especially the episcopate, remains the greatest challenge in all Orthodox churches in North America today just as it was four decades ago when (as my friend, the late Fr. John Psinka would say), “few were called and all were chosen.”

Having stated the “negatives” —  greatly reduced membership, inept leadership, nominal participation and widespread use of the church for secular purposes – the spiritual achievements in North American Orthodoxy during the past forty years  are amazingly many and spectacularly significant.  They were accomplished by a relatively small number of people, mostly converts to the Faith, people born abroad and clergy children.  They are so remarkable that I am persuaded to call the past forty years a “spiritual springtime” for Orthodoxy in the United States and Canada.  

I will comment on the accomplishments as I see them.  They are not yet a bountiful “blossoming.”  But they are a promising “planting” capable of producing, in due time, a rich harvest of spiritual fruits, including, we may hope, a company of committed and competent bishops, priests, deacons, monastics, church workers and lay leaders for the coming generations.

Eucharist Communion & Inter-Orthodox Cooperation

We are delighted first of all to note that although divisions among the Orthodox of North America in separate ecclesiastical “jurisdictions” still persist, no ethnic groups have warring church parties within themselves anymore, and none is at war with any other. With the exception of a few tiny “old calendarist” and “traditionalist” groups, Eucharistic Communion now exists among all of the Orthodox churches in North America. This is a marvelous blessing, for which we must be boundlessly grateful.     

Though structural and administrative divisions continue to exist among the Orthodox in North America, cooperation and interaction for educational, spiritual, missionary and philanthropic purposes has never been greater and more effective among a relatively small number of fervently committed faithful in all the churches.  There is still much to do in this regard.  We have just begun.  But what has already been achieved, thanks to the infusion of zealous converts into the Church, the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe, and the possibilities that now exist for communication and interaction among committed Orthodox Christians in all parts of the world, is truly amazing.  The hopes that this engenders among us, with the challenges that it presents, are overwhelmingly positive.  

Liturgical Reform & Renewal

The past forty years has witnessed an amazing liturgical renewal in all Orthodox churches in North America.   This renewal has been so deep and extensive that I am moved to call it a “revolution,” and not merely a “renewal.”  

Four decades ago, the practice in most Orthodox churches in America was to have a Sunday and Feast Day Divine Liturgy with choirs and cantors singing in old country languages, and to have baptisms, weddings and funerals performed as “private services” for the “customers” who ordered them from their priests who were often considered as parochial “employees.”  

Lenten services were not those prescribed in the Lenten Triodion.  The Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts was virtually unknown.  Holy Week for the great  majority consisted of the Great Friday Matins with the Twelve Gospel readings on Thursday evening, one service on Great Friday itself, and the Paschal Procession and Matins, with the Sunday morning Divine Liturgy on Holy Pascha.  A good number of faithful people attended these services.  But few understood much of what was going on, except in an pietistic and emotional way. 

Lay people received Holy Communion but once or twice, or at most four times, a year, either with Confession required before every act of Communion, or no Confession at all. This situation still exists in more places that it ought today, but virtually every Orthodox “jurisdiction” in North America now has a growing number of committed members demanding and experiencing a much fuller and deeper liturgical life, including regular participation, with proper preparation, in the Holy Mysteries.  And almost all of the new mission churches, with plenty of the old established ones, are “liturgical wonders” compared to what existed in almost all churches forty years ago.

Preaching and teaching, especially Sunday and Festal sermons and parish educational programs, are generally better prepared and more effective than they were forty years ago.  There are more educated preachers and teachers nowadays who work at their craft, virtually all of whom can function with some measure of competence in English.  But, sad to say, it seems to me that the majority of preachers and teachers are still poorly prepared and do not work very hard, if at all, to improve their products.  This is tragically sad since the resources to produce first rate sermons and classes are virtually boundless today compared to what was available four decades ago.

The past forty years has witnessed an explosion of liturgical resources and materials.  Competent translations of virtually all liturgical services and offices are now readily accessible.  (You just have to know how and where to “go on line” to get them.)  Excellent liturgical books are available, with texts and rubrics.  Music from all the various Orthodox traditions is also readily available, with many excellent renderings in English.  Iconography has also come into its own.  Excellently crafted reproductions and excellent originals done by truly talented artists now abound.  Beautiful new church buildings are being constructed.  Many societies and organizations now exist, such as PSALM and HEXAMERON, where those involved in liturgical matters meet, discuss, work together and also, of course, disagree and argue a bit, for their professional improvement and the spiritual benefit of the faithful people who profit from their labors.   Time will tell how all this works itself out, and what lasting spiritual fruit it will bear.  But the amount of people and the number of activities and projects in this critical liturgical area of church life is truly significant and gratifying.

Publications & Resources

When I entered the seminary fifty-one years ago one could count all the books about Orthodoxy in English on one’s fingers.  Forty years ago there were a bit more educational resources.  Today there are more publishers and publications, books, journals, educational materials and audio and video recordings in English than can possibly be counted, let alone carefully read and listened to.   The quality and content of these publications, of course, varies greatly – as do that of the music and icons and architecture already noted, but products of highest quality are available to inform, instruct and inspire their users in the truth, goodness, beauty and power of God.

In recent years we also have radio and television programs in many parts of North America with serious and relevant content and quality.  We think of Ancient Faith Radio and Come Receive the Light and Orthodoxy Now, and other such programs and projects. 

Theological & Spiritual Education 

Theological education in North American has never been better organized, presented and accomplished, with more and better qualified teachers and students, than it is today.  And there has never been more effective cooperation among those engaged in this crucial work.  Competition and mutual criticism still exist, as is to be expected.  This is not surprising, and is even quite beneficial when done with love and respect.  

The competence and cooperation among the greatly increasing number of Orthodox scholars in North American theological schools and institutes, and, more and more, in colleges and universities, has never been greater and richer.  The Orthodox Theological Society in America, now more than thirty years old, is a splendid witness to this wonderful achievement, as are other gatherings of scholars in various areas and disciplines.  

It may also be noted that among the most marvelous facts of the last seventy years of American Orthodox history (the one dearest to my heart) is that no major disagreement or animosity ever occurred during this whole time between the faculties of Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Brookline, MA and St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, in Crestwood, NY, our first graduate theological schools in America.  And today harmony and good will exists among all of our Orthodox theological seminaries in the US and Canada, without exception.

Virtually every Orthodox church in North America today has some sort of educational program to instruct people of all ages in the Orthodox Faith, and not simply to introduce them to a language and cultural heritage of an old world country.  Plentiful and dependable materials and resources exist for these programs produced by the Orthodox Christian Education Commission and the various jurisdictional and diocesan educational departments, as well as our Orthodox theological schools and publishing houses.  This work was just beginning forty years ago.

In addition to parochial and diocesan educational programs, a number of full-time Orthodox schools (such as our Three Hierarchs Eastern Orthodox School in Pittsburgh) have been established.  This work, once again, is largely being done by small groups of extraordinarily courageous and gifted people in a fully cooperative “inter-Orthodox” way.  Forty years ago no such schools existed.

Until just a few years ago there were virtually no supra-parochial or supra-diocesan activities for American Orthodox high school students that were not of a solely social, cultural or athletic character.  Now there are such programs, almost all of an inter-Orthodox nature, whose purpose is to deal directly with the spiritual lives of teen-agers in order to assist them in seeing themselves, their studies, their vocations and their relationships in the light of Christ and the Gospel.  Foremost among such activities is the CrossRoad program located at Hellenic College/Holy Cross in Brookline, MA in which qualified Orthodox students from all over the country, from all Orthodox “jurisdictions,” are brought together for strictly spiritual reasons (though they also have a very good social time while they’re at it) under the leadership of well trained and carefully selected teachers and counselors.  Other programs on more modest (and less well-organized and well-funded) levels also exist for this purpose at our seminaries, and at places like Project Mexico.  There are sure to be more of them as time goes by.

The greatly increased number of church camps and summer programs for children and young people, first among which is the oldest, largest and best organized camp at Antiochian Village in Ligonier, PA must also be noted.  Leaders of these camps, most of which are operated in the highest professional manner, regularly meet to share their knowledge and experience.  The fruits of these camping efforts are already visible in the relatively large number of church leaders that they have already produced.

Mentioning Antiochian Village, one must also mention the rather large number of retreat houses and conference centers that now exist in virtually all of the Orthodox “jurisdictions” in North America.  Forty years ago there were almost none.

The wonderful work of the Orthodox Christian Fellowship (OCF) must also be noted at this point.   The OCF exists to serve Orthodox students and young adults in all aspects of their spiritual lives.  The Fellowship was extremely strong and influential on American campuses forty years ago under the leadership of Jim Couchell, later Bishop Dimitrios of Xanthas (now retired) who as a priest edited the Orthodox Observer newspaper and directed the Orthodox Christian Mission Center.   The OCF movement all but disappeared in the 1980’s and 90’s when huge numbers of my generation’s college age children were lost to the Church.  It has now reemerged, renewed and reorganized, to do marvelous work among the Orthodox young people of my grandchildren’s generation.

Mission & Evangelism

Mission and evangelism are now a normal part of Orthodox Church life in North America, at least rhetorically and theoretically.  All committed church members speak about mission and evangelism, support it and do what they can to promote and enact it.  

The Orthodox Christian Missionary Center (OCMC) now exists as a central and essential part of American Orthodoxy.  It grew out of the missions department in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese that originally resulted from the vision and labors of Fr. Alexander Veronis in Lancaster, PA.  This effort then merged with efforts in other churches, particularly the Orthodox Church in America and the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese, especially after the entrance of large numbers of missionary-minded Evangelical Christians into the Church.  Indeed, the “becoming Orthodox” of the majority of members of the “Evangelical Orthodox Church” (EOC) led by its small band of courageous “bishops” is among the highest points in North American Orthodoxy in the past twenty years.  Indeed, the entrance of the “Evangelicals” into Orthodoxy and the coming of monastic life to North America (which we will soon mention) may be the most important events of this time when one observes the impact that they have had on the Church as a whole.  All honor and glory are due to those who made it happen.

The remarkable work of St. Herman’s Brotherhood in Platina, CA must also be mentioned at this point.  In addition to its extraordinary achievements in translating and publishing marvelous books on Orthodox spirituality in English, the Brotherhood’s hard work resulted in many converts to the Orthodox Faith, including a company of zealous men and women from the Order of MANS whose impact on church life in all “jurisdictions” greatly exceeds its relatively small number.

Social & Charitable Work 

In addition to the OCMC and the OCF that function under the Standing Conference of Orthodox Bishops in America (the consultative body known popularly as SCOBA that was formed more than forty years ago) the amazing work of International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) must be noted.  IOCC provides millions of dollars in various kinds of material aid to millions of needy and suffering peoples of all religions and cultures in all parts of the world.  Forty years ago such an organization could hardly be imagined.  God bless the faithful Orthodox Christians who founded and continue to sustain this work until today.  

May God also bless the large number of charitable and philanthropic works that are sponsored and conducted in virtually all Orthodox dioceses and parishes today.  Most of these good works are done quietly and modestly, again by relatively small groups of highly committed people; but they are being done.  And there are also many more organized and extensive philanthropic and charitable activities as well.  We are delighted to note just a few of the more prominent ones.

The largest shelter for homeless people in San Francisco, for example, is run by Orthodox Christians, several of whose leaders were once in the Order of MANS.  Raphael House is located in two large apartment buildings in the heart of the city.  It has impressive quarters and facilities, and carries on many projects.  Over the years it has served tens of thousands of people in need of housing, guidance, inspiration and direction in countless ways.  

St. John the Merciful House in Toronto, Canada that does similar work on a more modest level, with greatly fewer resources, must also be mentioned for its heroic labors on behalf of the poor and needy.

Project Mexico founded by Greg and Margaret Yova, with its offices in San Diego, has already built close to 200 houses for families without adequate places to live in Mexico.  The Project also operates an orphanage for homeless boys on a beautiful ranch in Rosarito, with a beautiful chapel and full-time Spanish-speaking priest, Fr. Michael Nassir.  The Project’s most powerful and far-reaching service for North American Orthodoxy as a whole is the opportunities that it provides for thousands of Orthodox Christians, mostly younger people, from all over the United States and Canada (and other countries as well) to engage in “hands on” work among the poor and needy.  Those of all ages who have availed themselves of these opportunities testify with one voice that their lives have been radically changed by the experience.   

Short term missionary and philanthropic work is also sponsored by the OCF and OCMC and other organizations providing opportunities for American and Canadian Orthodox people to engage personally in a great variety of missionary and philanthropic activities at home and abroad, in Latin America, Europe, Africa and Asia.  

Special attention should also be given to the various ministries outside the church in which Orthodox people are engaged.  Orthodox priests have served with distinction for decades in the military, several attaining to very high rank and standing.  Priests and deacons, as well as qualified lay people, have served, and are still serving, as full-time and part-time chaplains, spiritual counselors and social workers in hospitals, schools and mental institutions.  

Particular mention must be made of clergy and laity involved in the several prison ministries that now exist in the United States and Canada.  An organization of Orthodox Prison Ministries composed of experienced leaders in this delicate work provides direction, resources and coordination for the efforts of the volunteers who dedicate themselves to this demanding ministry that includes regular visits to prisons, care for families with members in prison, and assistance to prisoners who have completed their time of incarceration.    

Orthodox priests and lay people are also now found in directing and supporting roles in such Christian social agencies as Covenant House and Catholic Worker and Church World Service.  Orthodox Christians are now also deeply involved in various “pro-life” and “anti-abortion” organizations and movements such as Orthodox Christians for Life.  Diocesan and parish groups and local organizations that provide food for the hungry, shelter for the homeless and care for unborn and new-born babies and their parents, especially women who resist the evil of abortion, must also be noted. 

Mention must also be made of organizations such as Orthodox Women in Healing Ministries and the Orthodox Christian Association of Medicine, Psychiatry and Religion that serve to facilitate continuing education, inspiration and inter-action among Orthodox people engaged in various kinds of healing services.

Attention must also be given to the international Orthodox Peace Fellowship led by Jim and Nancy Forest who were well-known forces in North American spiritual and moral life long before they joined the Orthodox Church with their children. The OPF has an office and a significant number of active members in the US and Canada who work for peace among human beings in a variety of ways through a variety of activities.

And surely the organization for inter-Orthodox unity and collaboration on all levels of church life and work, Orthodox People Together, led by Demetra Jacquet and Phil Tamoush, deserves our grateful remembrance for what it has accomplished in so many different ways in past decades.

Forty years ago virtually no philanthropic organizations existed in North America, not even in informal fashion in parishes for the churches’ “own people.”   It is tragically true that many Orthodox in the United States and Canada remain ignorant, indifferent or plainly opposed to philanthropic and charitable activities, especially when they are done for the benefit of people who are not members of the Orthodox Church.   But a wonderful beginning has been made which, by God’s grace, will produce an abundant blossoming in coming years not only for “our own people” but for all of God’s people, without qualification or discrimination.  

We must remember at this point that though an unconditional commitment to Orthodox Christian doctrine and morals, with total responsibility for Orthodox Church teaching and practice, is obligatory for participation in Holy Communion in the Orthodox Church (and, indeed, in all of the Church’s sacramental mysteries), the Church’s charitable and philanthropic services must be available to everyone – whoever, whatever and however they are – without condition or qualification of any kind whatsoever.  For when it comes to the “love for humanity” upon which our “good answer at the dread judgment seat of Christ” will depend, no human being can be excluded from our acts of love in Christ’s Name.   

Presence in American Life

Orthodox clergy and laity have always been involved in formal and informal organizations and activities dedicated to overcoming misunderstandings and divisions among Christians and non-Christians, and to fostering cooperation among people where such is possible and desirable for the good of everyone, believers and unbelievers alike.   Among the too many to name who served with great distinction and responsibility, and much pain and little praise, in this challenging and gravely misunderstood work is certainly Fr. Leonid Kishkovsky.  This remarkably courageous and dedicated man labored in many different functions and positions in this thankless work, even holding, for a time, the presidency of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA.

Note must also be taken of the modest, yet not insignificant, presence of Orthodox people in public life outside church circles.  

While a sprinkling of Orthodox believers were known in academic circles over the last half century — scholars like Archbishop Demetrios of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, and Fathers Florovsky, Schmemann, Meyendorff  and Harakas,  and Professors Arseniev, Fedotov and Geanokopoulos, and in the sciences, physicist Fr. John Turkevich (Metropolitan Leonty’s son) and geneticist Dr. Theodosius Dobzhansky — the impact of committed Orthodox Christians in American public life has been virtually non-existent.  Except for Archbishop Iakovos of the Greek Orthodox Church (whose photo on the cover of LIFE magazine with Martin Luther King Jr. and other leaders of the civil rights movement in the 1960’s some people my age still deeply cherish), hardly any other practicing Orthodox Christian has been publicly recognizable in American society in the past forty years.   

Things are not much different today.  But there are some notable exceptions.  

For example, the late Dr. Jaroslav Pelikan of Yale University, whose becoming Orthodox was widely noted in intellectual circles, served as President of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and was voted one of the 200 foremost Americans on the occasion of the 200th Anniversary of the Library of Congress.  

The poet Scott Cairns, a convert to Orthodoxy, has been called “one of the best poets alive” (by Annie Dillard) and “perhaps the most important and promising religious poet of his generation.”   Nicholas Gage (a priest’s grandson), author of the best-selling Eleni, and other writings about Greek and Greek-American life, has also achievement prominence in the American literary world.  Fredericka Matthews-Green, also a convert to the Church, has received numerous honors and awards as one of the best popular spiritual writers in America. David Bentley Hart, who joined the Orthodox Church as a college student, is now hailed in the scholarly community as among the best, if not, indeed, the very best, of contemporary Christian metaphysical thinkers and writers.  

Serge Schmemann (Fr. Alexander’s son), among his other honors, was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for his journalistic achievements as an international correspondent for the New York Times.   And George Stephanopoulos (Fr. Robert’s son) who served in the Clinton White House is now a distinguished TV newscaster, talk show host and political commentator.  Thus we see a few faithful Orthodox Christians in America becoming publicly known for their professional accomplishments.  

We can also be deeply grateful and gratified that such talented converts to Orthodoxy as Peter Gillquist, James Bernstein, John Anderson, Matthew Gallatin and Fredericka Matthews-Green have written books about their “very American” journeys into the Church, while countless others have shared their stories in various books, journals and magazines.  Such autobiographical literature aimed primarily at a readership outside Orthodoxy did not exist even twenty-five years ago.

And we may, of course, also recall that the most famous Orthodox Christian in the world in the last forty years, who was perhaps also the world’s greatest literary figure of his time, lived in Cavendish, Vermont from 1977 to 1994  —  the late Alexander Solzhenitsyn.

Monastic Life

Among the most spectacular achievements in North American Orthodoxy during the past four decades is the establishment of an extraordinarily vibrant monastic life.  Forty years ago there were very few monasteries with extremely few members.  Today well over a hundred monastic communities of men and women exist in the US and Canada.  Most are not large in numbers.  But many, even of the smaller ones, have dedicated monks and nuns who provide full monastic liturgical worship (for the most part in English) in beautiful settings, with opportunities for silence and personal prayer, and for spiritual instruction and counsel.  The members of these monasteries are mostly foreign-born men and women and converts to the Faith.  Only a very small number are “cradle Orthodox.”  

(Indeed, if we would take away the converts, the foreign-born and the children of clergy from among our clergymen, seminarians, monastics, missionaries, cantors, musicians, iconographers and philanthropic church workers, there would hardly be anyone left!)

Time will tell how deeply rooted the many new monasteries are in genuine Christian ascetical life, and what “fruits worthy of repentance” (to use St. John the Baptist’s expression, Lk 3.8) will blossom from them over time. But one thing is for sure:  Orthodox monasteries for men and women with differing numbers, styles, facilities, properties and traditions are here to stay in North America for the foreseeable future.  We rejoice in them, and thank God for their presence, witness and good work among us such as we are experiencing here today at the Orthodox Monastery of the Transfiguration in Ellwood City.

Sacrificial Giving & Philanthropy

All the good things we have noted (and those we have overlooked by fault of mind and perception, and not heart or intention) have happened in North American Orthodoxy because people – still relatively few in number — have made them happen, not only the people engaged in the various services and actions, but those who have contributed to them financially.  None of the things mentioned above could have been done without money and material support.  And so we rejoice finally to note, with deepest gratitude, that in recent years almost all Orthodox parishes and dioceses in America have vibrant stewardship programs, with planned giving, reasonable budgets and careful reporting.  And we note as well, when this has failed to be the case, even on the highest levels of ecclesiastical life, God’s faithful people have stood firm in their opposition to mismanagement and misbehavior, and have demanded transparency, accountability and reparation for immoral actions, with therapeutic (and not punitive) treatment for those guilty of wrong-doing.  

In addition to these good and gratifying achievements, one more point must be noted in regard to money.  In recent years a number of the wealthiest and most generous supporters of Orthodox Christian life and work in North America have meet in carefully prepared meetings to consider how best to distribute their resources for the greatest spiritual benefit of the greatest number of people.  This relatively recent happening may, in some sense, be the most marvelous miracle of all in the last forty years of North American Orthodoxy:  wealthy Orthodox Christians sacrificially sharing their wealth for the glory of God and the good of God’s people in a directed and organized manner!  As the saying goes, it “doesn’t get better than that,” especially when we remember the Lord’s teaching about the danger of riches.  

And so, in this regard, and in general, our very last word concerning the past forty years of North American Orthodoxy is that it has proven without a doubt that “with God all things are possible” (Matt 19:26) for those who strive to keep God’s commandments and to do His will according to their respective callings, means and abilities.  

To our Lord, and to all His faithful co-workers, be unending gratitude and glory!  

We look to the future of Orthodoxy in North America with confidence and hope, even as our societal and ecclesiastical conditions continue to sadden us and tempt us to despair.  The spiritual achievements of the past forty years that have been accomplished in the most difficult circumstances, fragile and humble though they be, afford us every good reason to do so.


— This address was given at the 40th Anniversary of the Consecration of the Chapel at the Orthodox Monastery of the Transfiguration, a monastery for women in Ellwood City, Pennsylvania, September 27, 2008.


Filed under Orthodox Church in America 15th AAC, Preparing for the 15th All-American Council

“And then what?” A reflection on the proposed resolution to reduce the central Church assessment to $50.00

— Archpriest Andrew Jarmus, OCA Director of Ministries and Communications

One of the hot topics of discussion in the OCA as we approach our 15th All-American Council is the proposed resolution submitted by the Diocese of Western Pennsylvania that would “fix the fair share amount of each of the participating dioceses at an amount not to exceed $50.00 per capita of the 2009 census of the participating dioceses for the next triennium.” The principle that motivates this proposed assessment reduction is a simple one: “less central Church and more diocesan Church.” At least the first part of this principle would certainly be fulfilled if the resolution passes since a reduction in diocesan assessments this radical would effectively shut down the OCA chancery, leaving a skeleton staff working on only the most basic of tasks required of a Church’s central administrative office.

“Less central Church and more diocesan Church.” After one of the Town Hall meetings this past summer a priest said to me, “Think of how much more our diocese could do if our financial obligation to the central administration was not so high.” Reduce the amount you fund the central Church so that you can better fund the diocese. Sounds good so far, but there is an important implication here that we need to recognize as we consider the above resolution.

The other day, I asked a priest this hypothetical question: “If the AAC reduced the assessment to the central Church by $30.00 what would the result be on the assessment invoice that your parish received from the diocese in 2009?” His response was that the invoice would be $30.00 less than 2008. I pointed out to him that this is not necessarily correct.

Remember, the premise behind the $50.00 assessment resolution is to support the central Church less so that you can support the diocese more: “less central Church and more diocesan Church.” Yes, a reduction in the fair share assessment to the central Church would mean that the dioceses would have more income for their own initiatives. However, it would still be up to the parishes in the dioceses to provide that income. When you take work away from the central Church so that the dioceses can do it you are also handing the diocese the expenses associated with getting that work done. Regardless of who is paying those expenses, the central administration or the dioceses, the source of the money to cover them is the same — the parishes.

To cut the assessment to the central administration to $50.00 per person would mean a reduction of about $52.00 from its current level. I wonder what the reaction of parishes would be when they discovered that their central Church assessment had been reduced by $52.00… and their diocesan assessment had increased by $52.00. A diocese could opt not to ask for the full $52.00 from its parishes. But the less income that the diocese has, the less work it can get done. If a diocese were to choose to leave the full $52.00 with the parishes, the premise that drives the resolution, “less central Church and more diocesan Church” is lost — if the diocese does not have the resources to do the work that the central Church can no longer do you are left with less central Church and no more diocesan Church than you started off with.

Another issue would be whether or not a diocesan chancery had the authority to ask for more money in the first place. Have any diocesan assemblies this year passed a 2009 diocesan assessment with a provision allowing the diocese’s administration to raise it if the above resolution passes, in order to cover the extra costs that would result? If not, I wonder how long it would be before a parish informed its diocesan chancery that it refused to pay anything extra because this increase had not been approved by a diocesan assembly.

The question of reducing assessments to the OCA chancery is not about parishes paying out less money; it is about reallocating where that money would go: “less central church and more diocesan church.” This has to be made clear. With this proposed assessment reduction there is no change in the parish’s “bottom line” and if there is it would be at the expense of ministry and support services. This is a very important point to consider because it has a bearing on how this resolution would play out if it passed. And it is better to understand possible outcomes and implications now than to get blind-sided later.

Obviously I am not impartial in this discussion, but that does not mean that what I am saying isn’t worthy of consideration. It is easy to come up with an idea to change something. But with the proposed change we also have to ask the question, “And then what?” To make an informed decision, one needs to understand as many aspects of that decision as possible… especially potential consequences. That’s the difference between looking back and recognizing that we have chosen a well-thought-out course of action, and looking back only to find that we’ve painted ourselves into a corner.


Filed under Orthodox Church in America 15th AAC, Preparing for the 15th All-American Council

“The Church is Hierarchal,” Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann


Nearly 50 years ago Fr. Alexander Schmemann wrote an essay with the title “The Church is Hierarchal.” The text speaks for itself. It should be read by every person who is concerned about the current condition of the Orthodox Church in America and who is thinking about the vision and mission of our Church. The purpose of this brief introduction is to identify the context of Fr. Alexander’s impassioned plea for the proper understanding of the nature of the Church.

The history of the Orthodox Church in America (formerly the Russian Orthodox Church in North America, or the Metropolia) contains vivid and persistent debates about “who is in charge,” the laity or the clergy. Fr. Alexander’s constant concern was to affirm the integrity of the Church’s life as the Body of Christ. To this end, he eloquently resisted false dichotomies – clergy versus laity, spiritual versus material. The essay “The Church is Hierarchal” needs to be read as an antidote to these false dichotomies and as the affirmation of the Church as an organism founded by God and not by human initiative. Thus, for Fr. Alexander, hierarchy and conciliarity (sobornost) are not opposed to one another, but rather complement and complete one another. In other words, hierarchy is needed for conciliarity, and conciliarity is needed for hierarchy.

Today’s efforts to articulate a clear vision of the mission of our Church need to have as their starting point a clear understanding of the nature of the Church. Through his writings Fr. Alexander helps us to gain the vision “without which the people perish.”


The Church is Hierarchal
An Answer to Ralph Montgomery Arkush, Esq.

— Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann,
St. Vladimir’s Seminary Quarterly, Vol. 3, No. 4, Fall 1959, pp. 36-41

As a follow up of the storm he raised at the Tenth All American Sober of the Russian Church by declaring that our Church is not hierarchal, Mr. Ralph M. Arkush has issued now a mimeographed pamphlet entitled Is Our Church Hierarchal? “This question, – he says in conclusion, – must be answered in the negative. The form of our Church is sobornal”. This conclusion is based on: a) Webster’s definition of the term “hierarchal” (pp. 1-2); b) a brief analysts of the various forms of church government since the Apostolic Council in Jerusalem (pp. 2-3); c) references to the Moscow Council of 1917-18 and the Detroit Sobor of 1924.

Were the conclusion of Mr. Arkush a mere ‘private opinion’, or rather his own peculiar interpretation of Church history, ecclesiology and canon law, we could, in spite of our total disagreement with him, pay no attention to his pamphlet. But Mr. Arkush has been for a number of years a leading layman in our Church, the official Jurisconsult of the Metropolia, the Orthodox delegate to the National Council of Churches, a lawyer, who by the very nature of his profession is constantly confronted with the meaning of Orthodox tradition. All this makes his case a very serious one. And since his views are shared by many of our lay people, those especially who play an active part in the life of the Church, we seem to face a really unprecedented situation: a segment of the Church simply refuses to accept and confess a doctrine that has never been questioned. One thing is made clear by this pamphlet: the time has come for an unambiguous clarification of the whole issue.

Before we come to the pamphlet, one preliminary remark of basic importance must be made. When in the “clergy-laity controversy” the terms “government”, “administration”, “controlling authority” are used, are all those who use them aware that when applied to the Church, they must of necessity mean something different from what they mean in a purely secular context. The Church is not a secular society and, therefore, all definitions and descriptions of its life and functioning to be adequate must necessarily be transposed and adjusted to its nature. Any type of government must be adequate to the nature and the purpose of what it governs. We live in a Democracy which is a high and noble doctrine of government. But we know that the principle of Democracy (“government of the people, by the people, for the people”) is not applicable everywhere even in the secular society. It is not applicable to the Armed forces, to the school, to the family. Is it difficult to understand the simple and trivial truth, that for much more serious reasons it is not applicable to the Church? The Church is not and has never been a democracy because the Church is not a human institution with human goals and purposes. The Church is a Divine Institution, founded not by men, but by Christ, receiving her life from God and having one specific goal: to save people by introducing them into the life of grace, forgiveness, love and truth, by uniting them to the life of Christ Himself. To be sure, the Church has a human aspect, a human dimension of her life – yet this “humanity” of the Church is not independent from her spiritual essence, from her Divine root, but embodies it, expresses it, is totally and absolutely subordinated to it. To speak of two spheres in the Church – one spiritual and the other material – as being independent from one another is to completely misunderstand the real nature of the Church, whose “Pattern” is Christ Himself, God made Man, in whom the human nature was entirely accorded to the Divine, totally expressive of the Divinity. The whole Church, in all her aspects and activities, in the totality of her life is governed primarily by Christ, who is the Head of the Church, and this is why we must emphatically reject the very idea of a “democratic Church”, however highly we value the democratic ideal for a secular society. But, for the same reason, the idea of an “autocratic” Church is equally wrong. If in the secular context “autocratic” is the only alternative to “democratic, this alternative simple does not apply to the Church – yet, this is precisely what Mr. Arkush and those who agree with him, are apparently unable to understand. The Church is hierarchal – which means, that power and authority in the Church are always related to, and proceed from, the ultimate source of its Iife – Christ Himself. Those who, by Divine appointment and consecration (Sacrament of Order) exercise this authority are not “autocrats” because they themselves must be totally and unconditionally subordinated to Christ and to His Church, to her Tradition, canons, to the whole of her Truth and Spirit. And the unique goal of their government is to keep the Church within this Truth and to assure her growth into the “full stature of Christ”. They “govern” the Church not by people’s consent, but by Divine appointment and the Church believes that in the Sacrament of Order they are granted necessary “charisms” or gifts for this government.

It is impossible to exclude anything in the Church from the sphere of this government, to say, for example, that the hierarchy is responsible for the “spiritual”, and the laity for the “material”, aspects of the Church life. As said above the Church has no other goal but salvation and spiritual edification of her members. All her activities, from the most spiritual to the most practical and material, are therefore internally shaped by this goal and ordered towards it. A “parish activity” that would not be in some degree related to the spiritual task of the Church would ipso facto be alien to the Church and to the parish, would contradict the very principle of the Church. Let us take, for example, the whole aspect of fund-raising and financial welfare of the parish, an area where the controversy on the “rights” and “responsibilities” is especially heated. Is it possible to say, as it is said so often, that this is a “material” problem and must be handled by the laity without the interference of the clergy? The very fact that money is being raised by the Church and for the Church makes this activity spiritual, for this money must be spent in accordance with the spiritual goal of the Church. But “it is our money” and “we don’t want any one to have control of it” is the usual answer. Another tragical misunderstanding, showing how radical is our misconception of our Church. The money that we gave to the Church has ceased to be our money and has become God’s money. It is neither ours, nor priest’s – it belongs to the Church and the Church does not belong to us, for we belong to the Church. The possibility of giving to the Church is not our merit, it is the greatest privilege, it makes us coworkers in Christ’s work of salvation, ministers of His purpose. Therefore the Priest who by definition is the keeper and the guide of the religious life of the Parish must necessary give the sanction to every decision concerning the use of the Church’s funds. The fear that he will use “our” money for “his” interests reveals the moral level of Orthodoxy in this country and is a shameful one. One of two things: either the Priest is the Priest, knowing who he is, trained to fulfill his ministry, sincere, enlightened and “pastoral” – the fear in this case is superfluous and must be replaced by trust. Or he is a bad Priest (and there have always been bad priests in the Church!) using his position to enrich himself, stealing the parish’s funds, lazy, ignorant, selfish. Then he betrays his function, and the Church has all possible means to depose such a Priest and to deprive him of the function which he has betrayed and falsified. But to erect the distrust into a legal system, to establish the whole life of the Church, as if it had to be “defended” against the Priests is to make the Church a mockery and to disregard her real nature… There can be no doubt that the “controlling authority” in the Orthodox Church belongs to the hierarchy. And it should be the common goal and task of all Orthodox to assure its clergy such training and spiritual preparation that would make them capable of exercising their authority with the wisdom, the experience and the spiritual insight which are the characteristics of a good Pastor.

It is this misunderstanding of the spiritual nature of the Church (spiritual which is not opposed to, but includes, the material) that constitutes the root of the monumental distortions in Mr. Arkush’s pamphlet. It is too bad Mr. Arkush does not see them. It is too bad that he is blind to the fact that his secular terminology, when applied to the Church is entirely “out of key”, false, inadequate. It is the terminology and the language of someone who can see all the “legal points”, and yet fails completely to see the religious essence of the Church.

The first of these errors is the opposition between “hierarchal” and “sobornal.” Mr. Arkush presents these terms as mutually exclusive. “Hierarchal” means “government administered in the Church by patriarchs, archbishops, bishops etc . . .” (Webster) and since in our Church “the supreme legislative, administrative and judicial authority within the Church is the Sobor” with the participation of the laity – our Church is not “hierarchal” – so runs Mr. Arkush’s argument. But it is based on a purely legal concept of the Sobor, a concept which is simply incompatible with the concept of the Church. The Sobor being the expression of the Church is itself a hierarchal organ, i. e. reflects and expresses the structure of the Church. All members of the Sobor take part in it according to their order and status in the Church: Bishops as Bishops, Priests as Priests and Laymen as Laymen. It would be absurd to think that from the moment the Sobor is convened, all its members loose their “status” in the Church and become equal “units” of an abstract government, with the majority rule as the only principle of decision.

It is obvious that the participation of the laity in the Sobor is given a false interpretation based on a false application of the “democratic” principles to the Church. Their participation means primarily the privilege given then to express their concern for the Church, to discuss together the needs of the Church, to devise better solutions for her actual problems and to take decisions Insofar as they are in agreement with the Tradition and the Faith of the Church. This privilege is based on the Orthodox belief that no one in the Church is deprived of the Holy Spirit, and that to every one is given the spirit of responsibility and concern for the Church, the spirit of active membership. It is not based, however, on any juridical right that would make laity “co-governors” and “co-administrators” of the Church. The authority to decide whether this or that decision of the Sobor is in agreement with Tradition remains with the Hierarchy and it is in this sense that the Sobor is hierarchal.

The Sobor is thus the expression of the common concern for the Church of all her members and the expression also of her hierarchal structure, and this is what “sobornost” and “sobornal” mean in Orthodoxy. It is a cooperation, in which each member of the Church is given full possibility to express his views, to enrich other with his experience, to teach and to be taught, to give and to receive. The hierarchy can profit immensely from this cooperation with the laity, just as the laity can be enlightened on the various dimensions of the Church life. But all this does not mean “egalitarianism”, a transformation of hierarchy into laity and vice-versa. It is a sad fact, a tragedy indeed, that under the influence of secularism and legalism, the whole emphasis in our understanding of the Sobor activities has shifted to “decisions” and “motions” which are being considered as the main task of the Sober, whereas its real value is in the wonderful opportunity to clarify the mind of the Church by a common discussion, by sharing the concern for the Church, by deepening the unity of all members of the Church. It is a sad fact, that instead of pervading our “secular” life with the spirit of the Church, we can think of nothing better than to transform the Church into a secular corporation with “balance of powers”, “fight for rights” and pseudo-democratic “egalitarianism.” Once more, the Sober is an hierarchal organ of the Church, submitted as such to the basic structure of the Church and valid inasmuch only as it is hierarchal.

Equally wrong is Mr. Arkush’s analysis of the lay participation in the Sobors of the past. In his opinion, the Church of the Ecumenical Councils not only changed the practice of the early Church (which was that of accepting the laity into the “synod”) but legislated in exactly the opposite direction: laity was canonically excluded from the election of Bishops and participation in Church Councils. The “early” practice was restored by the Moscow Sobor of 1917-18, and constitutes the basis for the Church in America. First, on the election of bishops: It is true that the bishops were elected by the local church. The consecration, however, which alone made them bishops was performed by the bishops – and this order expresses the ontological order of the Church. Election, i.e. suggestion, proposal, etc., comes from the people of the Church, the Sanction comes from the hierarchy, and this principle is to be applied to the whole life of the Church, in which, according to St. Ignatius of Antioch, “nothing can be done without the bishop” (i.e. without the hierarchal sanction). No canon ever condemned or forbade the election of the bishop by the people and if this was not done for a long time, the reason is purely historical and accidental, not “canonical.” It is highly desirable to restore it wherever and whenever possible, but let it be clear, that election as such is not the condition of validity for a bishop. The Apostles were not “elected” by anyone, and it is at least doubtful that St. Paul when appointing Timothy or Titus was basing his choice on a popular election. It is true that many forms and the very spirit of secular government pervaded the Church after her alliance with the Roman Empire, transforming the bishops into high officials (hence the uncanonical transfers of bishops, the idea of a “cursus honorum”, the weakening of the ties between the bishop and his church etc.), but it is also true that the best bishops and the real canonical tradition were always fighting this transformation as a distortion and called for the restoration of a true Orthodox ecclesiology.

“The canons of the Ecumenical Councils, – writes Mr. Arkush, – make no mention of the laity as sharing in Church government. On the contrary they indicate that the Bishop solely governed the Church”. I am glad that Mr. Arkush makes this clear statement and, although he tries immediately to question its relevance for us and our time, there remains the fact that our Church knows of no other canonical tradition but precisely that of the Ecumenical Councils period. The Church was governed by the Bishops because the Bishops are the ministers of Church government, and to ask whether this principle or “canon” is still binding is to ask whether the Church is still the Church. What Mr. Arkush overlooks, however, is the fact that the lay participation in shaping the life and the activities of the Church, its voice – was fully recognized, even though they took no official part in the Church councils. The great monastic movement was at its beginning a lay movement, yet it had a great impact on the whole life of the Church. Eusebius of Dorylea was a simple layman when he protested against the heretical teaching of his bishop Nestrorius. Theologians were not necessarily bishops and the tradition of “lay theology” has remained a living one even today. Participation, activity, concern for the Church, thinking, discussion – all this was never denied to the laity, on the contrary, belongs to it as its right and duty.

It was indeed a wonderful achievement of the Moscow Sobor of 1917-18 that it restored this lay participation to its full capacity and gave the laity new possibilities of cooperation with the hierarchy and creative activity in the Church, and this at a moment when the common defense of the Church became an urgent need. It brought to an end a false “clericalism”, a situation in which clergy alone constitute the active element in the Church. It clearly proclaimed the principle that all Christians are living and active members of the Church. But the Moscow Sobor did not and could not change the basic structure of the Church, as Mr. Arkush seems to interpret its decisions. By introducing the laity into the Sobor – “the supreme authority of the Church”, it did not change the status of the laity in the Church, it did not give them “rights of government”. The final sanction within the Sobor belongs to the Bishops, and this principle according to Prof. Kartashoff was the “corner stone of the whole activity of the Sohor” (A. Kartashoff, The Revolution and the Sobor of 1917-18, in “The Theological Thought”, Paris, 1942, pp. 88) – “All decisions of the plenary sessions, – writes Prof. Kartashoff, – were revised at special sessions of the Bishop’s Council; if rejected by three-fourths of the Episcopate, they were sent back to the plenary session. If not accepted by the Bishops after revisions by the Sobor, they were not to become official acts of the Sobor”. Thus, at this point Mr. Arkush’s interpretation is false. The Sobor created two organs of the Church government: the Synod of Bishops and the Supreme Church Council, and it was clearly stated that to the competence of the Synod of Bishops belong the questions concerning Doctrine, Worship, Theological Education, Ecclesiastical Government and Discipline (Decision of December 8, 1917). Finally, in the Parish statute (April 20, 1918) the government of the parish is defined as follows: “It is the duty of the Rector to have a concern for all the activities of the Parish” (Ch. V. 29). To oppose the Moscow Sobor to the earlier tradition of the Church, to see in it the beginning of a “sobornal as opposed to the hierarchal Church” is therefore a pure distortion.

Mr. Arkush’s pamphlet has one notorious merit: it crystallizes the issue of our present ecclesiastical trouble. He formulates the question and answers it in the negative. It is our absolute conviction that the Orthodox faith and the Orthodox tradition put us under obligation to answer it in the positive. The Church is hierarchal. To let these two mutually exclusive answers coexist any longer would endanger the very foundation of Orthodoxy in this country. All men, who put the Church, her Life and her Truth, above their own private and individual options, likes and dislikes, must understand the ultimate scope of this controversy, make their choice and act accordingly.


Filed under Orthodox Church in America 15th AAC, Preparing for the 15th All-American Council

Lessons from the Council of 1917: A response to Professor Meyendorff’s proposal…

I decided to write this letter as a response to some suggestions that were recently made as to how our Orthodox Church in America should handle the recent scandal that engulfed us.  We all know that many faithful of our Church are concerned with the current state of affairs in the OCA and would like to see resolution to the ongoing scandal in the way that is in the best correspondence with the Gospel.  Yet, considering the very young age of our Church, influence from pluralistic society and non-Orthodox Christian movements that our faithful find themselves under (whether they realize it or not) and general confusion that resulted from obvious lack of clear understanding of Orthodox Ecclesiology, I am afraid that the ongoing discussion can lead our Church to the path of self-destruction.  The only way our Church in America can be preserved as an Orthodox Church is if we follow the traditional way of governing our Church, the same way that we find in all other local Autocephalous Churches.  To look for a unique “American way” of understanding the hierarchical nature of the Church at this time of total chaos of opinions would simply mean a dissolution of our Church which will be torn apart by different fractions that believe that their “solution” is better than the “solutions” suggested by others.

To put it simply, we don’t have a luxury of trying to reinvent a more efficient wheel.  I think what is the most important for us is to have firm trust in that not only the doctrinal statements of the Orthodox Church, her liturgical worship, but also the Canons and the established tradition of governing the Church by a Sobor of Bishops, is  all part of what makes our Church Orthodox.  By departing from a TRADITIONAL understanding of the relationship between bishops, priests and laity we are in danger of damaging the Orthodoxy of our Church, even though it will look like we serve the same services and proclaim the same Creed.

I think it is in this light that we should look at the proposal made by Dr. Paul Meyendorff and which seems to be getting endorsement even from some of the Hierarchs.  The relevant question is: do we really have a precedent in the Church history when ALL the bishops of a local Church made a decision to step down and to be replaced with those elected by the people?

Dr. Meyendorff, refers to the precedent that took place before (not during) the All-Russian Sobor of 1917.  As with everything, any event has to be understood in its proper context and then it has to be considered whether the solution for that context can be applied to our situation right now.

To begin with, it is important for us to remember that when we refer to the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Church it cannot be properly compared to the Holy Synod of the OCA.  While in the OCA every ruling hierarch of a diocese is automatically a member of the Holy Synod, in the Russian Church the Holy Synod represents only a small fraction of the total number of bishops.  While there are over two hundred bishops in the whole of the Russian Church, the Synod consists of less than 20 hierarchs.  They are presided by a Patriarch and are charged with overseeing the life of the Church between the gatherings of All-Russian Sobor of Bishops.

Here I have to correct Dr. Meyendorff’s statement that the Russian Sobor of 1917 adopted a process in which “each diocese was given the right to elect its own bishop, and sitting bishops had to stand for re-election.” In reality there were no definitions of the Sobor itself that specified this as a way of how the Sobor should begin.  There were cases of reelection of bishops in many dioceses throughout the Russian Church, but it was all done prior to the Sobor and after the results of each election became known it was still up to the Holy Synod of Bishops, that was current at the time, to decide whether or not a particular bishop stays as a ruling hierarch of his diocese.  The very fact that the final decision was resting with the Holy Synod of Bishops is crucial since the integrity of the local Church always rests on the integrity of the local Synod of Bishops and in that case this integrity was preserved.

It is also important for us to remember that the year 1917, when the Sobor started its work, was a time of great disturbance of political and social life of Russian people.  There were many cases of direct or indirect influence of the political upheaval in Russia on the Synod of the Russian Church at that time.  For some of the examples one just have to read in more detail about what transpired in Russia during the year 1917 and how all this was affecting the Orthodox Church there.  Can we consider the decisions of the Synod that was acting in those circumstances as a precedent for us?  I believe that the age, size and the position of our Orthodox Church in America in relation to other Orthodox Churches in this land make it unreasonable for us to use this as a precedent for guiding us out of our current problems.

So what can be done?  Can all the members of the Synod resign and be replaced with new ones or be reelected?  I would say theoretically it is possible, but only in one case: if our Church is not Autocephalous.  If we depended on our Mother-Church for our hierarchs then we could request that the hierarchs be replaced with new ones that will be taught, consecrated and supervised by a Mother – Church where the tradition of hierarchical governance of the Church has been preserved in the unbroken succession from the apostolic times.  But if we consider ourselves an Autocephalous Church, we cannot do it.  At the very moment when all our bishops resign, our Church will proclaim to the whole Orthodox world that we could not hold to the gift of Autocephaly that was given to us in 1970.  We will admit to ourselves and everyone else that we could not govern our Church in America through traditional Orthodox way of hierarchical leadership.  And we will lose the apostolic succession and the right to be called a Canonical Church.

So the solution to our current problem, I believe, is not in re-electing all the ruling bishops fast enough before other Churches could realize what has happened.  Like everything in the Church, the Episcopal governance can only be properly maintained when the previous generation of bishops teaches a new generation of bishops how to “rightly divide the word of truth”.  It is impossible to learn how to be an Orthodox Christian or how to serve services by just reading a book.  I am sure that the same applies to the episcopate: it is impossible to learn how to be a bishop unless you see how previous generation of bishops fulfills their work in the Church, even though they might have many shortcomings.

Ultimately the question that lies before us: do we trust the Tradition of the Church?  Do we trust that the Church is a living organism that is nourished by the Holy Spirit and lives by laws different from the laws of the world?  Do we have faith that the Holy Spirit will be able to lead us out of this crisis without changing the Traditional way of Church governance?  And lastly, do we want our will to be done, or do we want the will of our Lord who is the Head of the Church to be done in His Body?

I hope that our Church will consider the implications of what will happen if we will go down the path that was suggested in Dr. Meyendorff’s proposal.  I also hope that the members of our Orthodox Church in America will be able to clearly see what ways of dealing with the current problems are acceptable in the context of Orthodox Tradition.  I pray that we will be able to have a real and honest discussion on the questions of Church life that are so urgent this day, but most importantly, that our Holy Synod of Bishops will be able to effectively lead us from the current time of great turmoil to the time of peace in our Orthodox Church in America.

– Fr. Victor Gorodenchuk, St. Stephen’s Cathedral, Philadelphia, PA


Filed under Orthodox Church in America 15th AAC, Preparing for the 15th All-American Council

Lessons from the Council of 1917: A proposal from Professor Paul Meyendorff…

As a member of the last six pre-conciliar commissions, I sympathize with your current dilemma – you face the nearly impossible task of restoring peace and order within the Church. Trust on all levels has broken down, and restoring trust must be at the top of the church’s agenda at the present time.

I have been following the OCA situation for some time, keeping in touch with large numbers of concerned clergy and laity on all sides. I have up until now avoided making any public statements or internet postings. But I have come to believe strongly in the following solution which, although it may sound radical, has clear historical precedent, and may now be the only way to restore integrity and trust.

The Metropolitan and the entire Synod of Bishops need to submit their resignation, in humility acknowledging their individual and corporate responsibility and guilt for what has happened on their watch. These resignations are to be effective at the AAC, at which each bishop will stand for (re-)election by the clergy and lay representatives of his diocese. If the bishop is not re-elected in a straight up-or-down vote by secret ballot, he will immediately retire. If elected, he will immediately assume his post and a new Synod will be constituted. The senior bishop will assume the presidency of the Synod, and the election of a new Metropolitan will follow immediately. These steps will give us the opportunity to start with a clean slate.

Such was the process adopted by the 1917 Council of the Russian Orthodox Church in its effort to restore trust in the Church at a critical juncture in its history. Each diocese was given the right to elect its own bishop, and sitting bishops had to stand for re-election. A number of bishops, including, for example, Metropolitan Antonii Khrapovitskii of Petrograd (modern-day St Petersburg), were voted out.

The second task of the AAC will be to begin discussion of a new statute for the OCA, one that will contain appropriate checks and balances and restore true conciliarity to the Church. There is not sufficient time to do much before November 2008, and the atmosphere is currently too polluted for significant progress to be made. But the AAC could certainly elect a representative body of bishops, clergy, and laity to address this task over the next few years.

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Filed under Orthodox Church in America 15th AAC, Preparing for the 15th All-American Council