You may know me from postings and essays on the American Orthodox Institute website. Thanks to the good offices of Fr. Hans Jacobse, people like me have been able to engage in an open and forthright discussion on matters of importance to the world of religion, culture, and politics.
I’d like to continue that work in a somewhat different vein.
Why? Because if it’s one thing that the AOI has taught me, it’s that American Orthodoxy today stands at a crossroads. Two paths lie before us. One is missionary, territorial, and local; the other is colonialist and based on defunct Ottoman models of governance. The former is based on collaboration, the latter on subjugation. The missionary one is Scriptural as well, that’s as it should be. We’re talking about the Church of Christ after all.
Their missologies are different as well: a local Church engages the culture while a colonialist eparchy makes excuses for ethnic stagnation. His Beatitude Metropolitan +Jonah recently stated as much in a speech before the Canadian Archdiocesan Assembly. As an American native and lifelong monastic who was elected to the metropolitan see of All-America and Canada in an open election –by laymen as well as clergymen—he exemplifies what is best about American Orthodoxy.
+Jonah’s election is in many ways a culmination of the missionary narrative that first alighted upon our continent over two hundred years ago. It is unheard of in a colonial eparchy. It is also a terrifying prospect to bishops who are unaccountable to the people who actually make up their churches. We don’t need to name names, but you know the type: ecclesial careerists and foreign academics who through no fault of their own remain committed to balkanized models of ethnic segregation. Due to an accident of history, both paradigms exist on this continent. And try as these foreign academics might, there’s no way that they can cause us to forget our history.
So which way are we going to go? It would be unconscionable if we allowed them to lead us down this path. I won’t allow it. You shouldn’t either.
The AOI believes (as do I) that the missionary narrative is the only one possible for the Church if it is to be the Church in any meaningful sense of the word. As such, I wish to provide an open forum for robust and honest debate. The party line must be questioned. This demands free inquiry. Not coincidentally, these are also the qualities that are essential for a transparent and accountable Church, one that is sure of its kerygmatic mission. Indeed, without them, we will never be able to realize the union of the various Orthodox jurisdictions in the United States into united, accountable, and autocephalous Church here in the New World.
Why are we so intent on providing this forum? Because otherwise we’ll be stuck with more of the same: Old World models of colonial, ethnocentric eparchies beholden to dysfunctional administrative models and offering nothing of value to a world hungry for the Gospel. It’s too late in the day for that. Thanks to a libertine secularism our civilization is crumbling before us. A resurgent Islam seeks to step into this vacuum. Rather than proclaim the Gospel, too many of our bishops and intellectuals appear confused or accommodating to the prevailing ethos. Many have accepted modernist assumptions (among them homosexual “marriage,” Anthropogenic Global Warming, and indifference to abortion) while at the same time settling into a comfortable dhimmi existence provided by the familiar balkanized ghettos. We’ve literally lost generations of Orthodox here in America. It’s quite possible that there are fewer Orthodox in America today than there were in 1920. Any honest look at the census records of the various jurisdictions will attest to that. All of us, not just the bishops, will have to give an account of our complacency before the dread judgment seat of Christ.
You may ask: Why is a local Church important? Can’t a church be both local and governed from abroad? No, it can’t. That’s why the canons provide for no office beyond that of bishop. To believe otherwise, one would have to subscribe to papalism. For the Church to survive in America it must be accountable and its methods transparent. This cannot happen so long as our administrative leadership is not local. Indeed, any “unity” that would exist under such conditions would be the same type of unity that exists under a tyrant’s yoke. Submission is not unity because it is not based on love. True Christian unity can only exist where there is love.
Why is this important to us? Because there is no mechanism in Orthodoxy which mandates that only the Ecumenical Patriarchate is the only see tasked with the missionary imperative. It is not the default mother church no matter how much its devotees may otherwise claim. Contrary to popular belief, it never has been and never viewed itself as such even during its apogee. Even its apologists understand the speciousness of this argument, hence their reliance on a spurious canon (28 of Chalcedon) and subtle and non-so-subtle attempts to denigrate the authenticity of the Russian Mission in North America.
It doesn’t have to be this way. We are called to go forth to all nations. One way to do that is with the Internet. The fear of some of our bishops and their functionaries about the alternative media is misplaced. They would do well instead to welcome the access that the Internet affords them. Quite simply, the defunct Byzantine model of obfuscation and obscurantism is obsolete. We have nothing to hide, neither should they.
We are called to contend for the faith by engaging the broader culture. That means moral questions have to be addressed. To do anything less would be a serious abrogation of our Christian witness. If we make a mistake, call us out on it. But don’t engage in ad hominem attacks or moral posturing. This type of argumentation is puerile and immature. It is certainly not indicative of a mature Christian witness. I won’t shrink from robust and honest debate. However, I won’t tolerate vacuous bromides or empty platitudes, nor accept the settled pieties of the secular culture. The Apostles did not hesitate to go to the farthest reaches s of the Roman Empire—and beyond—to proclaim the Gospel. St Paul did not flinch from going to Mars Hill to argue with the greatest minds in ancient Athens. We don’t shy from such confrontations and those who disagree with us shouldn’t either. In short, if you make an argument, state it with courage and expect to be able to defend it. Otherwise, if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. There’s work to be done, “for the day is short, and night approaches.”
One final note: although this is an Orthodox blog, I am a devoted to the high culture of the West, something which we used to call Christendom. I have no patience with certain Orthodox obscurantists who feel that Orthodoxy is not part of the West and as such we should avoid it. I cherish Christian preachers such as Pope Benedict XVI and Billy Graham as much as I do Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. The Doctors of the Latin Church are as precious to me as are those of the East. Indeed, the entire Christian intellectual ethos was best distilled by St Bernard of Clairvaux, who in his rebuttal to the Scholastics said: “One knows God to the extent that one loves Him.” Trinitarian Christians of the Western confessions are my brothers. We welcome their contributions and our task is made easier because we stand on the shoulders of giants.