When the history of the American Orthodox Church is written, it is my fervent belief that the jurisdiction which will prove to be the bulwark which made unity possible (if it is ever to come to fruition) will be the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR).
There are many reasons for this, one of them being that for a long time it was not viewed as a “canonical” jurisdiction and thus was protected from the internecine squabbling that plagued those jurisdictions that comprised the Standing Council of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of America (SCOBA), now the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops. Another reason was its fidelity to liturgical and theological rigor. Modernism, ecumenism, and sexual-liberationist “dialogue” was never a threat in the precincts of ROCOR. The example of ROCOR was such that it informed others who looked wistfully to the piety and ecclesiology of its members. Finally, it was true to its word. When the first synod of exiled bishops from Russia met in Karlovtsy, Serbia in 1923, they stated that the rupture within the Russian Orthodox Church would be healed when the godless Bolshevik regime was ended. Then, and only then, would it rejoin the Patriarchate of Moscow. It did so on Ascension Day, 2007 when Metropolitan +Laurus and Patriarch +Alekseii II signed the instrument of reunification in the Cathedral of the Holy Savior in Moscow. This honesty and integrity are a breath of fresh air in an otherwise dank Orthodox milieu known for incessant and unnecessary byzantine intrigues.
This is not to say that the other jurisdictions in North America are not without their gifts and bring little to the table. Far from it. The Antiochians pioneered the universal application of English in their services. They also brought in the Evangelical Orthodox and as a result experienced explosive growth in their archdiocese. For the first time in North America, Orthodoxy became evangelical. The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese under the late Archbishop +Iakovos made significant inroads into making contact with the American nation; the photograph of +Iakovos with Martin Luther King at Selma will be forever emblazoned in the American consciousness. They also pioneered SCOBA, the first serious attempt at trans-jurisdictional cooperation and subsidized many of its ministries. Both Metropolitan +Philip and Archbishop +Iakovos took the bold step at authentic Orthodox unity at Ligonier in 1994 to wide acclaim (if to no avail). The Orthodox Church in America (at least under the auspices of St Vladimir’s Seminary) pioneered the concept of autocephaly and serious engagement with America.
Of course, things have not always been easy. The OCA suffered greatly during the past year and all jurisdictions continue to lose membership. Scandals have erupted here and there. Paradoxically, these may be the growing pains of American Orthodoxy rather than its death rattle. Nevertheless, somehow, in some way (and certainly not in conscious fashion) we have been able to strengthen each other in certain subtle ways that have allowed us to arrive at this point.
Let me offer few examples. More than a few priests in the various jurisdictions have told me that if it were not for the OCA and its autocephaly, the other jurisdictions would have been swallowed up by one or the other of the foreign patriarchates. Since now-Metropolitan Elpidophorous Lambrianides gave his startling speech at Holy Cross some three years ago (in which he demanded “submission” to Istanbul), it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out which of the foreign patriarchates we are talking about (read the response I wrote for Orthodox Christian Laity). Others however continue to press their claims. If nothing else, the OCA is the wild card that continues to constrain the foreign patriarchates from pressing their claims too aggressively. After all, American Orthodox from various ethnic jurisdictions have found their way into the OCA in some way, shape, or form for several decades now. And of course the Anglification that proceeded in both the OCA and the Antiochian archdiocese has served to loosen the grip of Ecclesiastical Greek in the GOA for precisely the same reason. And since the GOA allowed the Athonites to pursue an aggressive form of monasticism here in the US, the stigma against monasticism that has existed in the OCA and Antioch has loosened considerably.
Which brings us back to ROCOR. Because ROCOR has been the most rigorous of the jurisdictions, it has served as a type of gold standard. On a more immediate level however, they have literally saved the day on more than one occasion. Rather than recount the unfortunate saga of the past year in detail, I will instead draw your attention to a sisterhood which came to America for the express purpose of establishing one or more monasteries. Some of His Beatitude’s antagonists tried to deport them back to Greece. For awhile, it looked like they almost succeeded. Thanks to ROCOR however, they were granted a canonical release and were able to remain in America. (Their story will be told in more detail in a following essay, for the moment, if you want more information on this sisterhood, please go to their website Entrance of the Theotokos.)
Other examples of such stalwart actions abound in the recent history of ROCOR. Hopefully in time, more will come out. No one can forget the solicitude and respect they showed His Beatitude during some recent concelebrations. It is very possible that they not only saved his ministry, but the ministry of the OCA itself. Their existence certainly strengthened the traditionalist wing within our Church. For this and other countless favors, we should all be grateful to them.
Against this backdrop, it is with great sadness that ROCOR recently announced that their central headquarters in New York City is dangerously indebted. Although the multiplicity of jurisdictions within North America make such occurrences inevitable (especially in the light of the continuing economic downturn), this is no time for forcing administrative unification under these circumstances. Indeed, it would be churlish for any of the other jurisdictions to demand such an action. Instead, we here at Monomakhos would ask that our readers seriously consider contacting the central administration of ROCOR and pledging money of whatever amount in order to help stabilize their immediate financial situation. I myself will do so.
Remember, they were here for us, it’s the least we could do for them.