The Church at a Crossroads

This week, canonical Orthodox bishops across North America are meeting in New York to begin conversations towards greater Orthodox unity. Many Orthodox hope for an eventual, single autocephalous Orthodox jurisdiction on the American continent. This may yet be years away. For myself, I rejoice that the conversation has moved to this next level. In light of the meeting, I offer these few thoughts on “ecclesiology” – the doctrine of the Church. It is not the way the ecclesiology of the Church is formally stated – but it seems a worthwhile way to think about the subject.


Writing to the young Timothy (first letter) St. Paul gives this homey admonition:

These things write I unto thee, hoping to come unto thee shortly: But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.

Paul does not then go on to give us several chapters’ explanation of ecclesiology, expounding and unpacking the phrase, “pillar and ground of the truth.” The phrase simply hovers as a statement of fact beckoning the brave to “come up higher.”

Some have done so over the years: most famously in modern times Paul Florensky’s book by that very title – a massive tome of writing by the mathematician/mystic/theologian who is himself often as enigmatic as he is interesting.

Being Orthodox means living with words like “pillar and ground of truth.” Or singing gleefully in a liturgy, “We have seen the True Light, we have found the true faith.” In the wrong hands such words can be dangerous indeed. They are true enough, but such truth can be uttered well only as praise to the Living God, rarely as apologetics or as “war words” in our confused scene of Christianity. Uttered in “battle” (if the little dust-ups that occur hither and yon can be called such) these words take on the fearful character of “that by which we will be judged” (Matthew 12:36).

The insanity of modern American Christianity is the product of sola scriptura, poor or no ecclesiology, and the entrepreneurship of the American spirit. Thus almost every Christian group that exists has something excellent to say about itself (like so many car dealerships). The perfect ratiocination of Reform theology, an Infallible Pope with a Magisterium, or the perfections of an invisible Church (really, how can you discuss an invisible Church?) Even Anglicans, born of divorce and compromise (I know they don’t like to say it like that in Anglican seminaries, but it’s history), can brag about Via Media, or today, “Inclusivity.”

Into this playing field of discussion come the Orthodox. We are familiar with Pillar and Ground of Truth, True Light, True Faith, Fullness, etc., words of excellence and perfection. Of course, as soon as they are uttered, gainsayers will point to everything about us that appears less – and there is so much at which to point (our messy jurisdictionalism, internal arguments, etc.) People who have mastered cut-and-paste functions on their computer can quote concatenations of the fathers proving that our Pillar and Ground of Truth was always sitting in Rome. What’s an Orthodox boy (or girl) to do?

I do not think we give up conversation, but we have to be aware of the nature of our conversation. We utter “Pillar and Ground of Truth,” etc. “in a sacred mystery.” Pulled out of its context (that is the living Church) and placed in argument, the phrase becomes words weakened by every other word we have ever spoken, and particularly the actions we have performed or failed to perform. Such phrases are no less true, but they were never meant as offensive weapons (except perhaps in spiritual warfare).

I would start, as an Orthodox boy, with the fact that everyone who is Orthodox has agreed to “deny himself, take up his cross and follow Christ.” The ecclesiology of the Orthodox Church, the Pillar and Ground of Truth, is found precisely in its weakness and is found there because God wants it that way.  If salvation means loving my enemies like God loves His enemies, then I am far better served by my weakness than my excellence. If humility draws the Holy Spirit, then my weakness is far more useful than any excellence I may possess.

The Orthodox Church has perhaps the weakest ecclesiology of all, because it depends, moment by moment, on the love and forgiveness of each by all and of all by each. Either the Bishops of the Church love and forgive each other or the whole thing falls apart. “Brethren, let us love one another, that with one mind we may confess: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” These are the words that introduce the Creed each Sunday, and they are the words that are the bedrock of our ecclesiology.

We live in a wondrous age of the Church. Having suffered terrible blows at the hands of the Bolsheviks, we were smashed into jurisdictions (they don’t really start until the 1920’s), and often turned on one another in our rage. Today, the Bolshevik has been consigned “to the dustbin of history.” Moscow and the Russian Church Outside of Russia are actually reunited. We still have the spectre of a powerful Patriarch of Constantinople bumping into a powerful Patriarch of Moscow here and there, although this week Patriarch Bartholomew is meeting in Moscow with Patriarch Kyrill. We live in interesting times.

But in each and every case the only ecclesiology that will work, that will reveal the Church to be the Pillar and Ground of the Truth will be an ecclesiology of the Cross: mutual forgiveness and abiding in the truth in love. This will be the Church’s boast: that it became like Christ in all ways; or it will have no boast at all.

I rejoice that I am alive in such a time as this. We stand at the edge of an abyss. We can embrace each other in joy and forgiveness or fall into the abyss itself (I trust Christ’s promise to keep us from such a misstep – though He has pulled us out of such places more than once). I rejoice because I don’t want anything other than to be conformed to the image of the crucified Christ. Let everybody else be excellent if they need to be. I need to die.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.





71 responses to “The Church at a Crossroads”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Veronica du Bruyn and Ζωντανό Ιστολόγιο, Fabio Leite. Fabio Leite said: The Church at a Crossroads: This week, canonical Orthodox bishops across North America are meeting in New York to … […]

  2. St. Susanna the Martyr Avatar
    St. Susanna the Martyr

    Thank you, Father. Excellent post. I especially appreciated that you personalized it. “I rejoice because I don’t want anything other than to be conformed to the image of the crucified Christ. Let everybody else be excellent if they need to be. I need to die.”

    I tire of people talking abstractly about the politics of jurisdictional unity. It’s easier to focus on unity as an “issue” than to see it as ultimately a matter of the heart. And not just the hearts of the bishops. But of our own hearts. It seems to me that true unity is thwarted every time we arrogantly insist on only our own language being used or resist learning the style of hymns of another jurisdiction or look askance at a slightly different custom for a feast day or make fun of someone else’s ethnic food or are only willing to attend services in a church of our own jurisdiction or in any other way, large or small, fail to perceive others in the Church as our full brothers and sisters in Christ. It seems to me that cultivating a spirit of unity is not just the job of bishops but is the responsibility of each of us. And, as your last post with one of the eloquent Prayers by the Lake reflects, we need personally to seek forgiveness for the presence of any disunity. “For all the sins of men I repent before You, Most Merciful Lord. Indeed, the seed of all sins flows in my blood!”

  3. fatherstephen Avatar

    Indeed. This is the only true way forward. Orthodox Christians must resist the temptation to speak about others rather than to accuse themselves. With such repentance we can be pleasing to God. Any atheist is capable of arguing and defending his own case. Why should an Orthodox Christian have anything in common with them. I have been delivered from the depths of hell. Why should I echo hell in any of my statements? The gracious God stands poised to help us in our infirmities. May He forgive us if we refuse to confess just how infirm we are!

  4. David Dickens Avatar

    I am going to echo those words in my head until they cover the walls of my mind black. “I need to die.”

  5. Patrick Avatar

    Great post. I have been very fortunate over the past several months to participate in a local pan-Orthodox choir that would do hymns from just about every Orthodox “flavor” you could imagine. Russian, Kievan, Romanian, Serbian, Greek, Arabic, Russyn, etc., etc. What joyous occasions those were.

  6. Ioannis Avatar

    When not “pulled out of its context” of the living Church, the words of St. Paul to Timothy–“pillar and ground of truth”–provide Church members of that they are home, safely sheltered beneath the wings of the Almighty. The Holy Scriptures make sense to the Church’s collective experience of “right praise.”

    Without the experience inside the Church, contradictions and variance between Scriptural texts and competing claims to authority can turn otherwise innocuous personality conflcts into denominational divisions. However, even with the experience of Church that we share as the pillar and ground of truth, there is a gossamer ecclisiology that depends entirely on a mystical interplay between Christ and the Church.

    Are we willing to leave our gifts before the altar to first make things right with others in conflict with us? It is a race to the finish, and there is no end to the race, as I see it, as long as there are more occasions to forgive.

    We run the race of forgiving as we have been forgiven, and there is plenty of living water as long as we stay in the race of forgiving one another.

  7. Seraphim Avatar

    Well said Ioannis. The road to Paradise is one of constantly seeking and receiving forgiveness.

  8. MichaelPatrick Avatar

    Thank you Father Stephen.

  9. Don Bradley Avatar
    Don Bradley

    I’m not trying to rain on the parade, as nobody would be more ecstatic than myself about such a realignnment. But we at least have to be open about what the problems are.
    The first big issue is xenophobia. It’s not really anybody’s fault; it’s just the way Orthodoxy migrated here. Ethnic groups arrived here separately with their own clergy, language, and customs; and then each developed separately. Let’s use the Greeks as an example; many of them revolt against the idea of having a non-Greek run a diocese with an ethnically Greek parish in it (they even have trouble implementing English in their services). My own priest, who is a great guy, simply isn’t that fluent in English. Love and understanding simply isn’t enough; there are customs and language barriers along with a myriad of other things that would need resoved.
    The second big issue is cash. The Greeks have money (goo-gobs of it), and the OCA has a bunch of small and cash-poor parishes with priests who have to bag groceries or cut lawns to not starve to death. Any agreement would have to include a cash redistribution, and there are foreign Patriarchs whose incomes depend upon checks from America, and they’re not going to be real keen on any agreement cutting down their cash flow. Each jurisdiction also has their own seminaries with their own methods of financing clergy education, as well as different academic programs.
    IOW, it won’t happen. I really hope I’m wrong. I think all the SCOBA Bishops love and respect each other, there are just issues that are beyond their control. It will take a crisis to get them to bind together, and that crisis simply hasn’t happened yet.

  10. leonard nugent Avatar
    leonard nugent

    I suppose that the excellence of the orthodox church is that it has nothing excellent to say about itself.

  11. fatherstephen Avatar

    As St. Paul said, “We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power might be of God…”

  12. leonard nugent Avatar
    leonard nugent

    I truly love the orthodox church, but I feel that the place where I’m meant to be is in the western church. It’s the church that I am the least naturally suited but I’m learning that where I’m naturally suited to be could very well be the worst place for me.

  13. stephen Avatar

    It should be a long road to administrative unity. I believe that there will be a time for it but we are not there yet. The Orthodox Church in America (not meaning the OCA) is young, converts are coming in everyday. The lack of administrative unity I believe is the thing that keeps the Church stable at this time. If one notices who is leading the cry for “unity” it usually is the converts and smacks too much of western ideals being forced on the Church for their own scholastic comfort. We already have unity at the chalice, which is the important thing. America hasn’t even canonized a homegrown saint as of yet or developed hymnographers (which we will need homegrown saints there too!) so the hurry to be unified administratively is not yet required. If one wants to quote the canons, lets remember that the Ecumenical Patriarch is suppose to be the head of the diaspora, this includes the USA. Only the Russian and the Greeks have canonical rights to the Western Hemisphere, so who is going to decide? Let’s get a few home raised Saints under our belts, some holy hymnographers and iconographers, and then think about uniting administratively.

  14. Henry Avatar

    On the way to work yesterday morning I was reflecting on our last exchange. I remembered thinking about a comment by my Greek Orthodox coworker. When I first introduced your site to this man, he wanted to be certain I understood you were Russian not Greek, apparently an important distinction in his mind. Of course he enthusiastically endorsed your work and has since passed it on to others including several priests.

    I wondered if there would ever be a truly American Orthodox Church and what practices might develop in such a church. In the past I have observed and commented on changes to Buddhism as it takes root in America. The role of monks as teachers is becoming less important as talented American lay teachers are becoming the norm. Women have a much greater role as leadership than in Asia. Liberal American politics are becoming a normal part of American Buddhism. I could go on but I think you get the idea.

    What would an American Orthodox church become, as its roots go down into and absorb its nutrition from a cultural matrix of strip malls, entrepreneurial spirit, and rugged (dare I say Protestant) individualism?

  15. dean Arnold Avatar
    dean Arnold

    Fr. Stephen is neither Greek nor Russian. He may be best described as Appalachian.

  16. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Don and Stephan, there are obvious problems even more numerous than the combined sum you mention. They have been and will be rehersed ad nauseum until they become their own self-justification, a kind of idol actually. If we insist on solving all of the problems as a pre-condition to genuine unity, nothing will ever happen. To every hurdle each of you rasied I can easily say, yes, but the solution rests in the unity of the Holy Spirit–in approaching ourselves and our culture from the same foundation (and don’t kid yourself, our ‘spiritual unity’ is not what you might think). Unity under one Synod is the pre-condition to actually addressing the difficulties, the separations, the sinfulness and our painful addiction to ideology rather than faith and communion.

    All of the ways in which we, in the vanity of our own mind, think up to ‘solve the problems’ or refuse to even address them are the excellence of which Fr. Stephan speaks.

    Each of us has to die so to the Greeks, the Antiochians, the Russians, etc, etc, etc, have to die–voluntarily—so that God may raise us up again in our resurected body. So far only Met. Jonah on behalf of the OCA has indicated any willingness to do so.

  17. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Opps, sorry for miss spelling Stephen.

  18. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Stephen, one factual error in your post which I must correct. The Church recognizes two saints born in our lands, St. Jacob Netsvetov who was born on Atka Island Alaska in the year of our Lord, 1802 and St. Peter the Aleut.

    Another, Matushka Olga, reposed 1936, is on track to be offically recognized.

    I don’t mean to be contentious in any way, but let me ask a question: what makes someone ‘home raised’? I would argue that St. Raphael of Brooklyn, Shepard of the Lost Sheep of America qualifies. He was consecrated as a bishop in this land and poured out his life for the Orthodox in this land. He remains a principal intercessor for we lost sheep here.

    St Herman of Alaska is part of the soil of Alaska and a part of the family of almost every native Orthodox Alaskan family.

    Neither of these two illustrious saints belongs anywhere else but to America.

    When we die enough, there will be many more.

  19. yeamlak fitur Avatar
    yeamlak fitur

    I would like to comment as a raised Ethiopian Orthodox. Okay I ended up here, the city I am in at the time did not have an Ethiopian Orthodox Church. But I found Greek Orthodox church (service was in English). The priest there is someone who has done what this.. canonical Orthodox bishops across North America are meeting about.
    All I found stepping in that church is incense, icons filled all corners same as I have back home and then all love from this priest. His first question was if we were okay, if we have jobs, then that we are so welcome there. Ever since then we had our kids born and raised here, and this is with all his wonderful stands and his teachings and all with love, his message to pick up our cross everytime as the Lord wants us to do.
    I was back and forth on the cannons myself which I am raised on, like the old calendar to follow for fast, or the way I take communion, or people here and there saying it is not exactly the same, or if just one nation only has the correct Mystery of the Faith and not the other. I tried to educate myself what the differences were, and I still am. Except for language interpretation it is all the same. What matters is we overcome these differences and be one like we once had both Constantinople and Antioch Bishops with a Crown put upon their heads and both going on one stick (crown), this meeting will bring unity to all Orthodox in one stick under one church. I saw this icon with two headed eagles on the crown in the center of my church here, and I saw the same Icon in a 1000 years old Ethiopian church in Lalibela. So how did it get there. That tells us the message.
    This is a start. If all are brought and shown we are one under the Lord we can overcome anything and love tops all. My priest is an example of that. He has brought in all Americans, Greeks, Serbians, Ethiopians, Indians, Russians, Lebanese, Syrians, French, German, Ukrainians, …. together and we are so blessed with what he has done. When someone asks him he gladly invites them to serve and worship the Lord together. Like St. Paul’s letter quoted by Father here…..that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.
    There will be issues whenever you start something and questions like some are asking here, all that can be tried if we are one under the Lord. We need prayers in good heart to avoid heretics like Arianism. The Lord will show us the way as He always does.
    I also rejoice that I am alive in such a time as this, Father. Thank you for your post.

  20. easton Avatar

    father stephen, this may be off-topic, forgive, but with the talks of saints, thought i would ask. my husband and i watched a special not long ago about how the catholic church recognizes saints, the process and such. i don’t watch much tv, not much worth watching, but the special was disheartnening, to say the least! the bottom line was money, politics and who you knew, the road to sainthood…. no different than anything else in this broken world–very discouraging.

  21. Seraphim Avatar

    Father, I really didn’t understand what you were trying to say in this post. Is lack of a consistent ecclesialogy actually something you are not ashamed of? God gave us reason because He is the Logos, and however much you may sneer at “ratiocination”, you can’t think rationally without using logic – like it or not. God is the Logos as well as Love; you can’t worship one without despising the other. Nor is humility incompatible with truth; Catholicism does say many excellent things about itself, but they all boil down to one thing – it is true. Orthodoxy, let me point out, makes the same truth for itself, and over the past few years reading many polemics from the Orthodox viewpoint against Catholicism, Orthodoxy has said many other excellent things about itself other than simply its truth; making sneers about Catholic teaching seems to be the staple of Orthodox polemic.

    For this reason, I would like again in charity to correct your blatant misrepresentation of Catholic dogma. The Pope alone is not the “pillar and ground of the Truth”; the Church is, and the Pope only infallible because he is the rock upon which the Church is built. Even when speaking alone, he only repeats what is taught by the ordinary Magisterium – that is to say, what has been taught by the entire college of bishops since the beginning of the Church. Whenever there is dispute, it is handled by an ecumenical council; the two times in history that the Pope defined a dogma he only ratified doctrines found in private piety which had never been disputed.

  22. Seraphim Avatar

    (Also, two clarifications: 1) I am a different “Seraphim” than the one who posted earlier. 2) I am not a Roman Catholic, despite the impression I may have left; I am a member of the Eastern Church in communion with Rome, as were St. John Chrysostom, St. Basil the Great, and all the holy fathers.)

  23. Darlene Avatar

    Perhaps, and I stress perhaps because I am one fallible human being, the only thing that will unite us Orthodox is…dare I say it?…persecution. And what I mean by that is such that the option is laid before us to deny Christ and live, or to confess Christ and be put to death.

    “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” And may it be that I would not love my life so much in this world that I would deny Christ, my Lord and Savior!

    Have mercy on us sinners, Lord Jesus Christ.

  24. Marc Deneau Avatar
    Marc Deneau

    Dear Father Stephen,

    I am a French Canadian, convert from Roman Catholicism, I have been Orthodox 4 years. Even though I understand why there are many different Orthodox jurisdictions on the same soil (America/Canada), due for the most part I imagine to past immigration waves and Church politics, I think this historical setting is now behind us and we have to move forward with the promptings of the Holy Spirit. The time has now come for a new vision of Orthodoxy in America, where unity and ecclesiology have to be a main concern. I am following with great interest the present synod and will be much interested in the actions that will derive from it. Have a blessed day,


  25. Bill an anxious Anglican Avatar
    Bill an anxious Anglican

    Thank you for your post, Father. I am intrigued by your description of Orthodox ecclesiology as weak, and it called to mind Michael Ramsey’s similar description of Anglican ecclesiology. How do you distinguish Orthodoxy’s weak ecclesiology from that of Anglicanism?

    “For while the Anglican church is vindicated by its place in history, with a strikingly balanced witness to the Gospel and Church and sound learning, its greater vindication lies in its pointing through its own history to something of which it is a fragment. Its credentials are its incompleteness, with the tension and the travail in its soul. It is clumsy and untidy, it baffles neatness and logic. For it is sent not to commend itself as ‘the best type of Christianity,’ but by its very brokenness to point to the universal Church wherein all have died. Hence its story can never differ from the story of the Corinth to which the Apostle wrote. Like Corinth, it has those of Paul, of Peter, of Apollos; like Corinth, it has nothing that it has not received; like Corinth, it learns of unity through its nothingness before the Cross of Christ; and, like Corinth, it sees in the Apostolate its dependence upon the one people of God, and the death by which every member and every Church bears witness to the Body which is one.”

    ~ Arthur Michael Ramsey, The Gospel and the Catholic Church

  26. Karen Avatar

    yeamlak fitur, what a blessing and encouragement your Priest and parish are to us all! Thank God for him and all like him. I, too, attend a very welcoming and diverse parish (OCA) for which I thank God. May we all support such with our prayers.

    Seraphim (of the “Eastern Church in Communion with Rome”), I think the heart of what Fr. Stephen’s post has to say is found in the excerpt below:

    “I would start, as an Orthodox boy, with the fact that everyone who is Orthodox has agreed to “deny himself, take up his cross and follow Christ.” The ecclesiology of the Orthodox Church, the Pillar and Ground of Truth, is found precisely in its weakness and is found there because God wants it that way. If salvation means loving my enemies like God loves His enemies, then I am far better served by my weakness than my excellence. If humility draws the Holy Spirit, then my weakness is far more useful than any excellence I may possess.

    “The Orthodox Church has perhaps the weakest ecclesiology of all, because it depends, moment by moment, on the love and forgiveness of each by all and of all by each. Either the Bishops of the Church love and forgive each other or the whole thing falls apart. “Brethren, let us love one another, that with one mind we may confess: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” These are the words that introduce the Creed each Sunday, and they are the words that are the bedrock of our ecclesiology.”

    As I’m sure you realize, from an Orthodox perspective–based on your self-description above (of being in communion with Rome and your belief that the modern day Roman Catholic Church is in communion with the Faith that has existed from the beginning)–you are a Roman Catholic in a parish that uses an Eastern rite liturgy. Respectfully, these beliefs in the face of the history and faith of each of these groups respectively, especially post 1054 A.D., are why Eastern rite Roman Catholics and the Pope are not in Communion with the Eastern Orthodox Church. In so saying, I hope it will be understood that I would like to differentiate between the virtue of an individual person, be it the Pope, a layperson (or atheist for that matter) and the virtue of his beliefs. There are many Roman Catholics (and believers from other traditions) I greatly respect, and I think this is true of most Orthodox I know. As concerns myself, I think the unity of the Church is a better subject for prayer than for debate.

    As a convert to Orthodoxy having been raised in a western Christian tradition, and still having to struggle mightily with the Scholasticism, Nominalism, Rationalism, and Legalism that in reality threaten to separate me from Christ and His Church and place me in a fantasy world of my own imagination, I can sympathize with your feelings, Seraphim. But I come to appreciate a bit more all the time the way that Orthodox identification is ultimately rooted in historical events and actual sacramental Communion and participation on the ground rather than on theories based on a philosophical framework in which our imagination categorizes and unites bodies of professing Christians based not of the facts of a completely mutually held consensus of Dogma and real hierarchical and sacramental unity on the ground (that in turn reflect a real inner spiritual consensus and experience of Christ Himself and the leading of the Holy Spirit), but on labels affixed and surface similarities. Having said that, I believe that Christ is working in the hearts of people of goodwill everywhere to bring them to full repentance and faith and my desire would be to recognize where repentance is present and affirm that regardless of my brother or sister’s present church (or no-church) affiliation.

  27. Darlene Avatar


    Good points. I, too, believe Christ is working “in the hearts of people of goodwill everywhere.” I cannot deny that Christ was working within my heart long before I became Orthodox. Nor can I deny the same of my husband who is an Evangelical.

    I have friends and family that are Reformed Calvinists, Pentecostals, Episcopalians, Evangelicals w/o any church affiliation, non-denominational Christians, Roman Catholic, agnostics, atheists, and Clairol Christians (only God knows for sure, :)). I do not judge their eternal salvation. I would say that I belonged to most of the aforementioned categories at one time in my life. The goal, however, is to “be changed into His likeness” and that happens “from one degree of glory to another.” IOW, it takes TIME.

    He’s still workin’ on me, to make me what I ought to be.
    It took six days to make the moon and the stars
    The sun and the earth, Jupiter and Mars.
    How loving and patient He must be
    Cuz He’s still workin’ on me

    Gotta love those Sunday school songs! 🙂

  28. Brendan Avatar

    The biggest obstacle to formal unity in North America, and the other diasporas, is fear, really. What kinds of fears? There are many …

    The fear of what an autocephalous diaspora church in a non-Orthodox culture would do and how it would develop. The fear of some (many?) in the diaspora that formal unity would mean the dissolution of their own ethnic tradition (very much a part of themselves) into some kind of pan-Orthodox melting pot. The fear of some (many?) in the mother churches that losing oversight over the diaspora churches could be costly both to themselves as well as to the diaspora. The fear between members of different “jurisdictions” that they will be “forced” into hierarchical arrangements “under someone else’s bishop” and so on. The divisions in North American Orthodoxy are not terribly old, but they have been in place long enough to harden enough to the point where they can create fears of all sorts about what the actual impact of an autocephalous diaspora church (in the various diasporas) would be.

    In my mind, this is the biggest single obstacle that the assemblies will need to deal with. And it will take time. The good news is that this is the first time that it is happening at the request (demand) of the mother churches — that makes this rather different than the previous, somewhat less than fully successful, attempts to achieve some level of formal unity — at least in North America. But we have to realize that these very real fears will need to be overcome in order for this process to bear fruit.

    In many ways, this relates very much to what you mention about death to self, Father. A very real part of that — and of course not only in this context, but in the broader context of each of our lives as well — involves a death to our fears, trusting in Christ. That seems quite central and relevant to understanding one of the main aspects of this process, for all of us as Orthodox Christians living in North America.

  29. Mrs. Mutton Avatar
    Mrs. Mutton

    Just curious how everyone sees the way to unity clear around the calendar issue. Or are only New Calendarists considered to be canonical??

  30. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Brendon, from what or whom are we dispersed? Is not that word emblematic of a great deal of what keeps us apart?

    Until we recognize that the Church here, in this unique place and time is our home, not some romanticized ‘mother country’, we are crippling ourselves. Until we realize and act upon the fact that we are here, not to defend and promote fictionalized relics of the past, but to proclaim the Living Word of Jesus Christ as revealed through the Church, we are not doing what we should be doing.

    The Orthodox Church is not some invisible, universal construct. She has to be incarnate. She simply cannot be ‘dispersed’ and be true to herself.

    The penchant for defining ourselves as not Catholic that Seraphim mentions is quite real. That is done, in part, because we are not anything really except in historical terms. Those terms mean little to the lame, the halt and the maimed. Typically, the only mean something to the highly motivated, i.e, unhappy former (fill in the blank).

    Unless we can say with confidence, here is the American version of the one, holy Apostolic Church in whom you will meet and commune with the person of Jesus Christ, we obsfucate our message. The ethinc adjectives get in the way.

    People fear when we don’t love. America and her people are feared by many in the Church because the love for America and her people is simply not there. What is not loved, cannot be evangelized.

    Instead of the Church we have our own idols. Simply serving communion to each other is not sufficient. That is, in practice, a restatement of the ‘invisible Church’ fallacy. It allow complacency far too much sway.

    True, the Church has no experience in dealing with a such a diverse, contentious culture but we are awash in a miasmic avalanche of debauchery and rebellion against our very own humanity and we are still squabling with each other. We are constantly being told to wait, just wait. People are loosing their souls.

    No, I’ll return to what I said in an earlier–until we die to the false divisions, in our own hearts first, we will not grow in Christ. Do we have to wait to do that? Is two hundred years not enough?

  31. Romanós Avatar

    I don’t have a problem with the administrative divisions of Orthodoxy in America. The basic grass roots unity of all of us is my experience here in Portland, Oregon, where we routinely visit and worship in each other’s churches. We’ll just have to hope that what goes on at the top won’t end up disturbing what goes on at the bottom.

  32. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Mrs. Mutton: The OCA has both Old Calendar and New Calendar parishes.

    The real issues lie elsewhere. Pray for the unity of the Holy Spirit to be in the hearts and minds of our bishops.

  33. Darlene Avatar

    I must admit I’m put off by this whole idea of unity. And by unity I do not speak of that which our Lord Jesus prayed in Jn 17. But, I’m concerned that the word, the very concept of unity can be cloaked in terms which have nothing of the sort to do with the unity of Jn 17. Vatican II comes to mind. And, I’ve seen little to no good come out of such a venture.

    I was, and continue to be resolved that the Orthodox Church is the last and final stop for me. There are no other churches, traditions, etc. that are vying for my attention. However, I’m more concerned about correcting problems at the ground level. What exactly, I wonder, will trickle down from such an event as this pan-orthodox gathering?

    So, I am skeptical of such things. It seems that when the heads of any particular Church/church/Tradition/tradition get together to promote change, the major thing being changed is the Faith itself. Just look at the Anglicans, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Methodists, Roman Catholics, etc. Their pan projects resulted in the dissolution of the Christian faith, making it palatable for the current culture to embrace.

  34. fatherstephen Avatar

    Lord Ramsey, whom I had the pleasure to know, actually believed in a doctrinal unity, a unity in truth. At present, among many Anglicans, such a unity is not part of their ecclesiology. Lord Ramsey also believed that it was the vocation of Anglicanism to become Orthodox. He was a very interesting character and a remarkable individual.

  35. fatherstephen Avatar

    Canonization in the Orthodox Church is nothing at all about money. Very different situation.

  36. fatherstephen Avatar

    Mrs. Mutton,
    There are Old Calendar bishops present at the meeting. ROCOR, for instance, is represented as are the Serbian Orthodox bishops in America. Of course they are canonical, as is Moscow, who is on the Old Calendar. It is an important issue, which, in time, will have to be addressed by the whole Church, in a manner that does not cause more harm than good, I would think. There are even some parishes within the OCA that are on the Old Calendar. All of the OCA parishes in Alaska are on the Old Calendar, for instance.

    I expect some small (baby steps) to be made at this first meeting, mostly the organizing of working committees and their agendas established. It matters (jurisdictional stuff) because our present situation is contrary to the canons (for all of the Orthodox). But it will take time, patience, love, forgiveness, and the grace of our good God for good things to come of this. Thus I pray for their success, according to God’s will, and save my judgments.

  37. Steve Avatar

    Hi, I think I really agree with Fr. Stephens post. It seems like all the worldly stuff outside our communion is insignificant.

    It seems like there are two pet topics many people interested in “Orthodox Administration” speak about: unity in North America, and regaining Rome’s communion with Orthodoxy.

    Please don’t be insulted by my silly visualization:

    The Vatican finally decides to remove the filioque and changes its doctrine to meet the standards of Orthodox communion. “Wait” then says the patriarchate in Constantinople “All the churches you’ve built in North and South America now belong to us”

    Rome says “Ok – here you go!” and Constantinople administers them for a few years. After a couple years, in my silly reflection, Constantinople grants the USA Autocephaly. We’d have a combined, unified church: Every Catholic and Orthodox Church under a single autocephalous administration. I can just imagine how pleased the Greek and Italian and Mexican parishes will be!

    To me this is just something silly to obsess about. I enjoy musing about it. However, I really need to learn how to pray better. I watch the old man in my church cross himself, and really hope that someday I can cross myself that well. I like standing through service, and watching and listening and feeling everything. Church smells wonderful. I want to be in communion with our lord Jesus Christ.

    Let’s just keep our churches in communion, and work towards salvation, and let God take care of the rest. We can trust him.

  38. Bill an Anxious Anglican Avatar
    Bill an Anxious Anglican

    Fr. Stephen: I agree re: Lord Ramsey, and you may have helped me answer my own question. A “weak” ecclesiology as you have posited for Orthodoxy is possible (only?) where there is doctrinal unity; otherwise it may be a recipe for disaster, as various factions compete for control and/or autonomy. Thank you for your understanding (and for your efforts with this blog – it is hard to overstate its effect on my – dare I say – theosis).

  39. Mrs. Mutton Avatar
    Mrs. Mutton

    Father Stephen, bless! Thank you for your reply to my question. The Russian and Serbian Churches were *exactly* who I had in mind (I had forgotten about the Old Calendar parishes in the OCA). There has been a tendency among some New-Calendar jurisdictions to marginalize Old Calendarists, and I would hate to see a real schism develop over a matter of 13 days, especially when you consider that the move to the modified Julian (“New”) Calendar was motivated by politics, to begin with; a situation that has nothing to do with modern ecumenist goals.

    My other, more serious, concern is: Is American *ready* for this step? Are American Orthodox of a sufficiently Orthodox mindset to be able to witness effectively to Orthodoxy? Considering the number of Catholic converts to Orthodoxy whom I know who are still struggling to overcome the indoctrination of childhood — some after decades in the Orthodox Church — I’m not sure that 200 years is *enough.* I believe that the Moscow Patriarchate was established only after Russia had been an Orthodox nation for 500 years, and their situation was similar to ours — i.e., not a truly homogeneous culture, like the Greeks or Romanians or Serbs.

    Also — who gets to be “in charge” of American Orthodoxy? I can see a real battle developing between Archbishop Demetrios and Metropolitan Philip, for example, both of whom are promoting this idea, both of whom are the leaders of their respective jurisdictions, and both of whom can claim a historical “right” to leadership (which actually belongs to the OCA or the Moscow Patriarchate, if you think the thing through!). And supposing the leadership went to the OCA, which Constantinople still doesn’t recognize?

    As an American, I like the idea. But as an Orthodox, I think it’s opening a can of worms.

  40. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Historically, autocephally has rarely been granted, it has been taken. Hundreds of years later, belatedly and grudgingly recognized. Truth be told, there are still some in the Patriarchate of Constantinople who are unhappy with the Russian decision to set up their own bishops.

    We will be ready for it when we are ready for it. If we follow the historical model that will be when we say, collectively, to the Greeks, Russians, and Antiochians—thanks mom(s) for all that you’ve done for us, but we are moving out on our own now. I’d love to come home occasionally and you are always welcome to visit, but I can handle my own affairs now.

    We will make mistakes, they may even be bad mistakes, but they will be our mistakes and they will be corrected by the grace of God. We will grow stronger.

    If we wait until all is ready, we’ll be living in our mother’s basement until we molder away.

  41. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Mrs. Mutton: you say, “Considering the number of Catholic converts to Orthodoxy whom I know who are still struggling to overcome the indoctrination of childhood — some after decades in the Orthodox Church….”

    That is a concern, but one that can be dealt with pastorally with far more consistency and success if we were gathered around our bishops who were in turn meeting in a synods to work out the proper approach to such things in our time and culture. Only when we are allowed to elect, assign and gather our own bishops together can we effectively address all of the pastoral and ecclesial differrences that we now suffer under.

    Only when we are allowed to form our own local church in accord with the canons can we efffectively evangelize this country and speak prophetically to the spiritual and moral needs here.

    Only when we are allowed to be the Church, will the “home grown” saints be raised up.

    Only when we are allowed to be the Church, will be we able to withstand any persecution that comes.

  42. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Old Calendar and New. Any new calendarist who marginalizes Old Calendarists simply on the calendar issue is acting in either ignorance or arrogance. The Old Calendar is more canonnical than the new especially when one considers the manner in which the new calendar was imposed.

    I asked by bishop about it once. He said if it became a block to unity, we should go back to the Old Calendar because we were the ones who changed.

  43. Mrs. Mutton Avatar
    Mrs. Mutton

    Michael — that was an example. I’m far more concerned about the vast numbers of Protestants who have come into Orthodoxy who still have not relinquished their Protestant mindset, and who cannot be directed pastorally because their parish priests are also Protestant converts who have not relinquished *their* Protestant mindset. I do truly believe that this needs at least two more generations to work itself out and through, before American Orthodoxy can come into its own and think about autocephaly.

  44. Darlene Avatar

    Mrs. Mutton,

    When you speak of a “Protestant mindset,” what exactly do you mean? Could you give several specific examples?

    Do you think Protestants can bring anything good with them from their tradition/culture?

  45. Mrs. Mutton Avatar
    Mrs. Mutton

    Darlene — I don’t think it would be a good idea to get into specifics, but for example, I know some folks who still think that you become Orthodox in order to “get saved,” and that once you’re Orthodox, salvation is a done deal. There are other things that have set my teeth on edge over the years, but that one seems to keep cropping up. The notion of going forth and evangelizing the immediate world is another, as if standing on street corners and asking people if they’re Saved ever did anything but turn people off Christianity altogether.

    And yes, I think that Protestant enthusiasm is something that people born into Orthodox families can learn from, but there’s a certain stillness and moderation of thought and behavior that are part and parcel of being Orthodox that are really alien to the Protestant culture, and it takes *forever* to grasp the idea that (for a different example, from a different spectrum of Protestantism) social activism can be a very quiet, very personal, very apolitical thing. Now — how’s that for a run-on sentence?? 😉

  46. Brendan Avatar

    I think it’s unlikely that the Church in North America will simply “take” autocephaly — at least not anytime soon. In order for that to happen, the various jurisdictions here (or at least most of them) would have to agree to do so, and that seems very unlikely. The GOA, for example, is not simply going to split off from the EP unilaterally (i.e., without the EP’s consent). That wouldn’t be supported by most of the GOA. And the GOA are our largest jurisdiction. So I think we have to be very careful. Unlike other regional/national Churches who “took” autocephaly, such as the national Churches in the Balkans or even the MP, we have numerous jurisdictions here, and some of them very much treasure their ties to the mother churches. Whatever we do in this area needs to be done carefully and in a way that reflects the aspirations and identities of the various jurisdictions here. That will take time to achieve. It’s good that the assemblies are being set up to begin to address this issue, and that the mother churches are supportive of the process as well. But simply acting to “take” autocephaly will not work in North America and would merely lead to more splits.

    Mrs. Mutton, I think that it’s quite true what you have said about the need for an Orthodox mindset to develop over time. I don’t think, though, that what the assemblies are up to will be rushed. We’re at the very early stages — it will likely take a lot of consultation and hard work by the hierarchs here, and then coordination and consultation with the hierarchs in the mother churches, before anything comes to fruition. And that may very well take two or more generations.

    It’s interesting to note, though, that some interesting ideas are being thrown out on the table already. Metr. Philip, in his address to the assembly, strongly encouraged the EP to move to North America as the solution to our jurisdictional problems. Probably not a practical proposal, for various reasons, but an example of the kinds of things some of our hierarchs are thinking about in terms of how the issues facing our organizational unity in North America can be addressed.

  47. Karen Avatar

    Darlene, “Clairol Christians”–now that made me chuckle!

    With Mrs. Mutton’s indulgence, I think I can offer an example of what is meant by “Protestant mindset,” (even though this mindset is not limited to Protestants, but originated in western philosophical movements embraced initially in the Roman Catholic Church), Seraphim who is an Eastern rite Roman Catholic above in his categorization of himself as “Eastern Orthodox” though he is not actually in communion with the Orthodox Bishops is one such. He is sincere in his perception, but not Orthodox.

    Another example is perhaps a conversion that is the result of a drive to find the “perfect Church,” thinking that I can discern that better than the consensus of canonical Bishops and wider world of Orthodox Christians can! I.e, I expect to be able to discern a parish that is perfect in praxis–at least my idea of perfect praxis!–not just one upholding Orthodox Dogma and Liturgy and in communion with other canonical jurisdictions), such that as soon as I detect what I feel to be a defect, I start parish hopping (sometimes even right out of canonical Orthodoxy into fringe “Orthodox” groups in schism from the canonical Church!). I have also seen that take place in converts from Roman Catholicism, though. The thought that I require a perfect priest or parish in order to genuinely commune with Christ or progress in my own repentance is a delusion. I’m not talking about changes in parish affiliation due to practical concerns and blessed by one’s spiritual father, however. There can be good reasons for making a switch, and it seems to me it is not a proper Orthodox mindset to seek to bind someone where they are not truly willing to stay.

    As for something good from Protestantism, from my own Evangelical experience I can say one is understanding the importance of a genuine personal commitment to and personal experience of Christ and another is often a familiarity with and love of the Scriptures. One can also be in a position to appreciate the distinctives of Orthodox fullness that comes from real personal experience of what is less than its fullness and to understand this difference in an experiential way that many cradle-born Orthodox perhaps cannot. IOW, we don’t take the fullness in Orthodoxy for granted, but treasure it! Then there is also the fact that in the same way that a recovering alcoholic can sympathize with and understand the needs of other alcoholics seeking to recover better than someone who has never struggled with that particular temptation, the experience of former Protestants or Roman Catholics can be helpful for those undertaking similar journeys as well.

  48. Karen Avatar

    Mrs. Mutton, very good and helpful observations well articulated. Thanks!

  49. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Mrs. Mutton, the problem of which you speak in adequately bringing converts into the Church is real. It is one of the reasons that mass reception of converts is usually discouraged. However, that will go on for awhile and is likely to increase in the near future rather than decrease since the Anglican communion seems to be fragmenting.

    Without more bishops who understand the situation here in America and actually care about it, without a local synod, how do we go about acquiring an Orthodox mind and transmitting that. Way too much ‘bishop shopping’ going on.

    Brendon, you are correct of course, but the underlying attitude of asserting ourselves and our willingness to take on our responsibilities for ourselves has to be there. We will have to stand up at some point or it will never happen. I don’t expect everybody to be on the boat at the same time. It is likely to be a fragmentary process if simply because not everyone is willing to wait while the voice of the Church is being muted by our continued intransigence, greed, lust of power and lack of care for the parishes and people in America.

    We have to develop our own voice in spite of the difficulties. Fortunately, that is happening, but we need to be more consistent and build on what we have rather than waiting for a gift that will likely never come.

    So far, Met. Jonah is the only bishop who has publically said he would be willing to dissolve the OCA into a greater entity. The rest are still trying to assert varying claims to primacy and control. God can make the mess into a tasty meal, but the willingness to be form by Him has to be there.

    Unity is not a panacea and it will initially create more problems than it solves. There are vast issues of practice between various jurisdictions.

    The protestant mind-set does not exist just in the protestant converts. The protestant way of thinking is endemic to our culture. Part of our inability to come together is an effect of that in-born resistence to hierarchical authority we Americans have. The “I’m-more-Orthodox-than-you” mentality is effectively protestant. The wide spread unwillingess to really submit to the authority of bishops another.

    I’m just as guilty of it as anyone else, probably more so. Sorry, but some of the concerns raised here seem to be to be merely a touchy-feely excuse to remain in disobedience to the canons of the Church–a way to maintain the status quo because of the discomfort of change.

    There will be a massive amount of pastoral direction, care and problems when unity comes, no matter when it comes. What about the number of un-Churched folks who will never consider the Orthodox because we look and act like an ethnic social club is so many places? The ‘protestant’ parishes are not different in ethos frankly. What of the Orthodox people who are so discouraged and even cynical about the current state of affairs that their faith is shaken. How are we to attended to their wounds?

    Passivity is not the same thing as patience. I see way too much passivity–way too much desire for a ‘perfect’ timing. The Holy Spirit is bringing to our attention the need to stop playing the old games. Much of the unpleasantness we have seen lately in so many jurisdictions is part of that.

    Yes, time will be involved, genuine patience is necessary, but the two generation thing is not acceptable.

  50. Darlene Avatar

    Thank you Karen, for your input. I appreciate that you answered my question because frankly, I hear often about the “Western” mindset, and the “Protestant” mindset without much elaboration or else an answer that is vague and unclear. Thus, a specific definition needs to be given and expounded upon in terms of HOW that mindset manifests itself.

    As far as my experience (yeah, anecdotal I know :(), the Orthodox I’ve met are as diverse as the Protestants in various churches I’ve met. Mind you, I’m speaking of particular people, not the FAITH itself. I’ve met Orthodox who practice their religion, but are aloof otherwise. I’ve met cradle Orthodox fromt the old country who are very pious and friendly. I’ve met cradle Orthodox who have been raised in America and yet, seem to have lost the piety of the old country Orthodox. I’ve met convert Orthodox from Protestant Evangelicalism who are very expressive and personal and, might I add, very happy to be part of the One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic Church. Come to think of it, I’ve met Orthodox of various stripes – IOW, there doesn’t seem to be one defining characteristic. Quite unlike Prot. Evangelicalism where certain trademarks are literally stamped into the very psyche.

    One thing that I have found difficult, well….actually two as regards the human side of Orthodox life, (hope you know what I mean here). I have found overall, that it is difficult to converse with many Orthodox about our common faith. In Evangelical Land that would be called = FELLOWSHIP. There is a personalness (for lack of a better word) that seems to be lacking. I’m not talking here about a surface friendliness. What I mean is a common sharing of our faith within the body of Christ. That would include personally lifting up one another in prayer, sharing our struggles with one another, bearing our burdens as the Scriptures say, being there for each other OUTSIDE of the church building. There is a lonliness in Orthodoxy for me in which I find myself learning about the faith, sharing the faith, living the faith, loving the faith on my own. I have often said, “I need Jesus with skin on.” Truth is, I think eveyone does whether they realize it or not. It was much easier to connect with others in the church body when I was a Protestant. A sad truth for me, but none the less, sad.

    Secondly, I have a deep love and honor for the Holy Scriptures. They should not be something read during Divine Liturgy alone. Rather, they are to be read and meditated upon at home as well. Further, they are to be laid up in one’s heart, as David said. “I will lay up Thy word in my heart that I might not sin against Thee.” I haven’t yet found an Orthodox Christian with whom I can share my love of the Scriptures. I’m not even talking about sharing in the Protestant sense. Rather, sharing with an attitude of submitting Scripture to Holy Tradition.

    I do think the Orthodox need to be able to understand the religious culture in which they live and be able to clearly articulate and present that faith. And I’m not speaking of being obnoxious on street corners. However, evangelism must take place with REAL people and go to where the REAL people are. As I heard one priest say, it isn’t enough to say “builld it and they will come.” IOW, just building churches and expecting people to be changed by coming to the Divine Liturgy is not enough.

    Please understand, I am coming to love and appreciate the Orthodox faith with each new day. I love and appreciate the Holy Mysteries, the Blessed Martyrs, the worship in Divine Liturgy, the Prayers, the intercession of the Saints, the Church Fathers, the list goes on and on. But, the beauty of Orthodoxy needs to be shared with the rest of the world in which we live in a hands on way. My priest has often said, “Orthodoxy is the best kept secret.” This, my brothers and sisters, should NOT be so.

    Just my two cents from an unworthy convert. Anyway, I suppose I ought to shut up now.

  51. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Darlene, you packed a lot into your observation, alot to think about. Thank you.

  52. James, the Brother Avatar
    James, the Brother

    Darlene, you did say a lot well. As a convert from Prot. of about one year I must say you nailed much of my experience. I am currently in a mission setting that previously enjoyed parish status. This church is in one of the fasting growing counties in America, with a thriving economy in a diverse demographic, yet it is crashing. I have been disappointed with hierarchal authority as from my perspective it’s gotten weaker and thinner the higher up the “chain of command” (bad term I know) you go. I do see missing a familiarity and love of the sacred writings that I experienced in my Prot. years. I don’t mean a love just for knowledge but for a standard for real live Christ-likeness in action. So foreign to this group are what most protestants learned before they were ten years old. “Love your neighbor as yourself”. Treat others like you want to be treated”. “If you say you love God, and hate your brother you are a liar”.

    I feel like I need to extricate myself from this situation and don’t feel like I’m “church hopping”.

    Like you, I love the Orthodox Church, the theology, the call to personal accountability, the whole sacramental life and can’t wait to get to the DL even though I am an hour away from the closest church and like you my spouse doesn’t attend.

    I am venting a bit and hopefully not ranting, but I just had to echo your sentiments and the challenge one experiences as a protestant convert.

  53. Mrs. Mutton Avatar
    Mrs. Mutton

    Just wanted to thank all who used my comments as a springboard, and articulated far better than I could where I was coming from (!). 😉 I do feel bad about having “hijacked” Father Stephen’s blog, but maybe, if he has any input into this “meeting of the minds” that’s taking place in NY, he can forward this whole thread as an example of what’s being said among the laity on this topic.

    I hadn’t known about Metropolitan Jonah’s remarks, about being willing to dissolve the OCA into a greater entity — that just proves to me that of all the likely leaders of an American Orthodox Church, he’s probably the most worthy. It takes real humility and discernment to say something like that.

    Thanks, all!

  54. Brendan Avatar

    Lots of interesting points there, Darlene.

    My own experience in my ten years as an Orthodox has been that the variation between parish communities can be quite stark. I have attended parishes where the community was rather more aloof, and others where the community was extremely close (too close for some people’s comfort levels, probably) and others in-between. This, in itself, can be a difficult thing, especially for people who live in a place where there isn’t that much choice in terms of parishes. Luckily, I live in a metro area where there are 10+ Orthodox parishes of various jurisdictions … and they each have a different personality, that’s for sure, even within the same jurisdiction. One thing I stress to newcomers to Orthodoxy is the importance of finding a community where you feel you “fit” — at least at first. Jurisdiction is much less important, I think, than the parish community (provided you’re not in one of the small schismatic jurisdictions).

    It’s true that there are quite a few Orthodox who do not read the scriptures that much. John Chrysostom used to rail on the Orthodox of his day for the same thing, so perhaps it’s a long-standing issue. It certainly isn’t the case that the Church discourages this. Most jurisdictions and many parishes as well encourage their members to read the daily scripture readings, and post these on their websites and so on, to get people in the habit of reading regularly. Perhaps it has something to do with the kind of personal piety that is more common in Orthodoxy — whether using the prayer rule(s) found in prayer books, or praying the Jesus Prayer or things like that which people are doing instead of reading the scripture per se. I do think it’s something that the leadership wants people to do more, but it’s probably true that more should be done to encourage that as well, in addition to the other aspects of daily Orthodox life.

  55. Gordon Atkinson Avatar

    thank you from a little Southern Baptist boy who was a minister and now is not and was sticken by the beauty of Orthodox worship months ago but has not been back.

    I’m strangely drawn to what I have seen and read. And yet some things scare me. The Theotokos, mostly the wild claims made about her. Eternal virginity? I have to believe that? And the fact that I only saw men running the services. And yet, I know there is an honor to keeping ancient things int their ways. I have not heard Orthodox women unhappy with their church. That is a mystery to me. Perhaps my modern mind needs to be humbled.

    I don’t know. Still, I love the spirit behind these words. I’m always seeking and wondering and searching. May God bless us all as we seek truth.

  56. Ed Avatar


    Maybe this will not help, but in my mind as I closed the chapter on the “little Methodist boy” phase of my life, one thought that I found quite helpful was the idea of keeping all things in their place.

    In other words, if after study and prayer you find Orthodoxy trustworthy on the big things, then perhaps you can accept what it teaches on the little things as well. In any case, those things which concern the Holy Theotokos are only important because of the Truth of that which concerns her Son.

  57. Mrs. Mutton Avatar
    Mrs. Mutton

    Gordon: It took me 16 years *after* I became Orthodox to get comfortable with the Theotokos — and I was brought up Catholic, and lived as a Catholic for 30 years. (And as a Lutheran for 13 years after that.)

    As for the lack of Bible reading among Orthodox, it helps to remember that the Greeks and the Balkans were under the Turkish Yoke for hundreds of years, and Bibles simply weren’t available; whereas Russian spirituality took a serious hit under Peter the First and Catherine the Second (“Peter the Not-So-Great and Catherine the Second-Rate”), both of whom were strong Westernizing influences — and Catherine was further influenced by the so-called “Enlightenment.” So just ’cause the Orthodox cultures aren’t Into the Bible the way Protestants are, doesn’t mean they are unfamiliar with it, just that they haven’t had the same opportunities. I should have mentioned earlier that that’s one *huge* contribution Protestantism can make to Orthodoxy, provided they don’t take the approach of Enlightening the Heathen — as you get deeper into Orthodox spirituality, you find that it’s a much more organic, much more authentic spirituality that comes from the heart, not the head. Only an Orthodox person could possibly refer to the Savior of Mankind as “my little Christ,” and mean it in terms of deepest affection!!

  58. James, the Brother Avatar
    James, the Brother

    Mrs. Mutton,

    “Love your neighbor as yourself”. “Treat others like you want to be treated”. “If you say you love God, and hate your brother you are a liar”.

    Does not having bibles allow anyone professing believer not to get these basics? I understand lack of available information/knowledge, but I can’t understand this seeming disconnect between behavior and practice.

  59. Lina Avatar

    To Mrs. Mutton and others. Concerning the Theotokis and new converts to Orthodoxy: In one of my first basic Orthodoxy classes, Father was explaining salvation history via the icons above the iconostasis. I had never heard some of the stories about Mary. I was caught between a kind of astonishment and at the same time, trying very hard to put into practice the instructions which had been given me in my previous life, so to speak, as a missionary preparing to leave the USA in order to enter a new culture. “Keep your mouth shut for at least six months and observe.”

    After class that night, when I was leaving the church building and descending the steps, I swear I heard a voice say, “Don’t worry. It is all in the family.”

  60. Mrs. Mutton Avatar
    Mrs. Mutton

    Lina — somebody told me once that a convert to Orthodox shouldn’t say anything for *ten years,* ’cause it takes that long to absorb just the basics.

    James the Brother — I’ve seen puh-lenty of that kind of behavior in Protestant churches, too. It’s not a matter of believing or not believing in the Bible. It’s human nature, and it’s what prompts Orthodox to confess themselves as chief of sinners — ’cause, even if you actually got through a day without once thinking or speaking ill of *somebody* (even the President), you’d think, “Oh, wow, I did pretty good today!” and thereby commit the sin of pride. As I told my husband, “Failure is not only an option — it’s a given, and it’s OK.”

  61. fatherstephen Avatar

    To Mrs. Mutton, et al.
    At present, the bishops are simply meeting to begin work on situations that have long needed attention. A single jurisdiction in a single geographical area is the canonical norm. That America’s Orthodox Christians have much to learn is not an argument against the canonical norms (indeed, the lack of canonical norms teaches a somewhat false mindset that is not Orthodox either). In many places across the Orthodox world there is a great need for the nurture of an Orthodox mind. Russia has many, many recent converts and has itself spoken about its own spiritual needs within this group. The same can be true elsewhere.

    But Christ is the head of the Church. If the Church remains in proper communion and seeks God – in time all things will be well. If you carefully read the history of the Russian Church over the period following Peter the Great, then you’ll understand that despite even governmental onslaught, the faith can be maintained. But those last few centuries were extremely troubled. Nor can we ignore the great difficulties caused by the Turkokratia and Westernization that afflicted the Church in other areas. The Church has been under enormous cultural and religious pressures everywhere it exists. And in every place that it exists, the struggle continues. America has its own unique struggles, but these are the struggles that God has set in place for us. So we pray, fast, give, repent, forgiving everyone for everything. And with care, seek to follow the Orthodox way of life as given us through the ages.

  62. Mrs. Mutton Avatar
    Mrs. Mutton

    But the Turkokratia and the Westernization of Russia took place in countries that already had a solid Orthodox mindset, something you cannot say about America. I understand that the situation in this country is a canonical anomaly and needs to be remedied. I just think it should take place in an Orthodox manner, which is to say, over centuries. Americans are always in a rush to make things happen, and you can’t rush this process.

  63. Lina Avatar

    Mrs. Mutton, someone told me shortly before my chrismation this year that it took them ten years to adjust to Orthodoxy, I replied, “Oh my, at my age (72) I might not make ten years.” But at least I have started on The Way! And am loving it.

    I somehow managed to send my last message without finishing it up. After the message I received, “Don’t worry, it is all in the family.” I totally relaxed about the situation and am slowly getting to know Mary. I am sure the rest will fall in place.

  64. stephen Avatar

    Michael, by “homegrown” I am talking about having native born (of the lower 48) saints. It will take decades to properly prepare the American Soil for one. Yes I know of the saints from Alaska, of those such as St Raphael of Brooklyn, St John of San Francisco, and perhaps someday the canonization of Fr Seraphim Rose (native born). We are a long way from America being made up of “ethnic” churches to becoming truly American. There is much work to do to prepare the fields for administrative unity, for now we need to recognize that we do meet the important requirement, unity at the chalice. To force administrative unity before we are ready for it will dilute the Church here. With the constant influx of converts into the Church, problems have already been seen (the Ben Loman Tragedy for one example), where priests and deacons were chrismated without a good understanding of the faith, fasting, and many other doctrinal issues. Slow and sure is how the Church has been. American culture is too impatient, does one really think that Holy Russia came around within the first 100 years of Orthodoxy coming to it’s soil? And other than the Alaskan territory by the Russians, the lower 48 has not been a missionary endeavor at all, but a immigrant church, with American’s slowly finding it’s way into the communities. Let the Church rise up to proper maturity, it will become unified administratively when it is ready.

  65. fatherstephen Avatar

    Mrs. Mutton,
    This situation has already gone on for nearly a century. The current meetings were not called for by the American jurisdictions, but by all the Patriarchs and Metropolitans of the Autocephalous Churches, assembled by invitation of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople. The meeting in NY is far from being in a hurry, but it is acting in obedience and we should be praying for God’s good blessing. I think the process will likely be slow, arduous and occasionally painful.

  66. fatherstephen Avatar

    The bishops are meeting in discussion as summoned by the collective patriarchs, et al, of the Orthodox across the world. I’ll pray for them and let them do their work. My task is to be about becoming more fully conformed to Christ in the faith. The meetings are not theoretical, but an action of the hierarchy of the Orthodox across the world. Doubtless, the work will be slow.

    For a good and accurate description of the meeting, as well as links to the official statement released go to Orthodox History’s Blog.

  67. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Stephen I agree with you that there is a direct connection between recognition of local saints and Orthodox unity. I just don’t think the cupbord is a bare as you do. The Alaskan saints, particularly St. Herman and the nascent Matuska Olga are our saints, they take a real interest in us. So does St. Raphael of Brooklyn (how much more American can one get).

    You really are taking a long view on Fr. Seraphim Rose. Probably, if he is canonized at all it will be quite a while after all the folks whose toes he stepped on have reposed. However, his life does rather make my point about the need to not just sit back and wait. He pushed the hierarchy all the time. So if he is a ‘home grown’ saint and we are to emulate him, we need to do our best to keep the focus on the things that make for the maturity that leads to growth.

    Our hierarchs leading on the issue rather than following would be a good first step. Promoting the reading of Holy Scripture and adherence to its behavioral norms, which is happening. Spending more time on preaching the Gospel rather than political photo-ops. Cutting through the Byzantine Gordian knots rather than waiting for them to unravel. We don’t need to rush but there are immediate steps that we can all take that will move us more quickly to the tipping point.

    I agree that it takes time to even begin to acquire an Orthodox mind when coming from a hetrodox or heretical belief system. All the more reason we ought to start sooner than later. Being slow is not a virtue when the house is burning down and their are people caught in the building not knowing how to get out.

  68. Darlene Avatar


    You made some very interesting points such as, “Promoting the reading of Holy Scripture and adherence to its behavioral norms”

    I couldn’t agree more. It seems as though there is a fear among some that if the laity actually start reading the Scriptures, they might become like Protestants. But, avoiding the Protestant mindset could be accomplished if there were parishes that began reading the Scriptures together in the context of Holy Tradition with someone leading who understands HT.

    There really are no acceptable excuses for not reading the Scriptures, either individually or in a group setting. To think that Protestants do not, or will not look at Orthodox as easy pickin’s because of their unfamiliarity with Scripture is not an exaggeration. As soon as the Communist wall fell, numerous Protestant groups went to Orthodox countries and began evangelizing.

    You said, “I agree that it takes time to even begin to acquire an Orthodox mind when coming from a heterodox or heretical belief system. All the more reason we ought to start sooner than later.”

    Excellent point. How does/can a convert learn an Orthodox mindset if there are not those who are willing to teach them on a ground level? I don’t think such things happen by osmosis alone. Yes, I have benefitted greatly from the Divine Liturgy. Yes, I have benefitted greatly from the prayers. I’m even beginning to be more practiced in the rule of prayer. Yes, I have benefitted greatly from Confession. But, these things I do because of reading about the Orthodox faith ON MY OWN and putting forth the effort to learn about the Orthodox faith through reliable sources, such as this blog. 🙂

    Nonetheless, there needs to be an involvement on the PARISH LEVEL to help converts grasp and put the faith into practice. We should not feel that for the most part we are left to our own devices to sink or swim, or that the priest is the only one that is able to teach us. The LAITY need to get involved. This should not just be a Protestant idea.

    What I’m saying here is that the hierarchy and laity, Patriarchs down to ordinary folk, need to acknowledge that in these United States, more and more converts will be coming into the Church. They need to understand the culture and mindset of these converts. Furthermore, if they want to have retention among those converts, they must reach out to them and teach them the Orthodox faith. How that will be accomplished will more than likely take on different characteristics. But it needs to be done.

    The Church cannot just expect to grow among cradle Orthodox alone. Those cradle Orthodox born in the US also need to learn how to live the Orthodox faith. Otherwise, the Orthodox Church will dwindle down to a handful of immigrants and cradle O. without adopting and embracing homegrown Americans into the fold.

  69. Tawni Avatar

    We converted a year ago at a very strong, ethnically pan-orthodox parish. (I won’t mention it by name, but Bishop Mark visits there frequently and speaks very highly of it.) Then my husband was blessed with a new job, which forced us to move almost immediately to an area with only one small mission church. This church is mostly converts, with a convert priest, and there are many frustrations and struggles, especially for those of us who have tasted the richness of orthodoxy elsewhere.
    I am very new at Orthodoxy, and I don’t understand all the political ins and outs, but I believe that this unification can only help us. We need a shepherd. Not at all to say that our current bishop is unworthy, but we are at the furthest edge of his large jurisdiction, and he simply cannot visit us often enough to give us the kind of guidance and oversight we desperately need.
    We don’t want to protestantize Orthodoxy, we want to learn it from our Bishop as we should, and the jurisdictional problems need to be fixed in order for that to happen.

  70. Brendan Avatar

    In terms of sinking or swimming, one of the main issues American Orthodox face is the relative lack of spiritual fathers — probably due to the still relatively small and scattered nature of Orthodox monasticism here. The kind of spiritual/life direction (how to live an Orthodox life at our personal level and so on) is really the work of a spiritual father. Some parish priests can play this role very well and some cannot as well — and even for those who can, it is often hard or impossible to play that role for the entire parish, or even for those in the parish community who are seeking out that kind of guidance. This is even moreso the case where most of the parish from the clergy on down is a fairly recent convert to the faith.

  71. fatherstephen Avatar

    If I might offer an observation – it would be very helpful in the American Church (and elsewhere) if people did not idealize Orthodoxy. The needs are great everywhere – and this has been the case many times in history. Our need is to pray, fast, seek Christ above all, forgive all for everything, be generous in our alms, etc. God is taking care of things. There are 50 monasteries in America where a generation ago there were only two or three. Converts are not a problem, they are the will of God (since the very founding of the Church). But there is no ideal age or period of the Church – that concept is a Protestant idea. There is the age you live in and the problems God has seen fit to allow us to endure. Compared to many – ours is an easy age.

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