EDITOR’S NOTE: The following article was published in the official website of the Orthodox Church in America (oca.org)
Troubling Times in the Church
How are we, as the OCA, supposed to react to the troubling times and problems in the Greek Archdiocese, especially when there are rumors of their Metropolitans wanting an Autocephalous Church? Is that merely a threat to Ecumenical Patriarch because of their displeasure with their current Archbishop?
Simply, what are we to do in order to remain respectful of another Orthodox Church, even if its actions end up hurting us?
It is only my opinion that we, as the OCA, should act in the following manner in the face of any and every situation with which we are confronted:
We must be examples of love in every instance, even when we are attacked. Without a loving foundation to our spiritual lives—after all, love is the singular commandment given to us by Jesus Christ—nothing we do will be of spiritual profit.
We must “be about our Father’s business,” as the 12-year-old Christ said when discovered teaching the teachers in the Temple, of bringing souls to salvation, of preaching and teaching, of healing, of proclaiming good news to the poor, and of using any and every forum to bring others to Jesus Christ.
We must remain faithful to the vision of those who brought Orthodox Christianity to North America 205 years ago. The trials and tribulations faced by the early Orthodox missionaries were legion—and much greater than any we face today. Even our beloved Saint Herman of Alaska had been placed under house arrest for defending the rights of the Alaskan natives. The Church survived, not because someone set out to “preserve the Church” but, rather, because the faithful humbly allowed the Church to save them. Jesus Christ promises: “The gates of hell shall not prevail against [the Church].”
We must, as His Beatitude, Metropolitan THEODOSIUS pointed out in his stellar address on Orthodox unity during the grand banquet at the 12th All-American Council in July 1999, not think that administrative unity is a goal or an end in itself. The goal of our lives, as Metropolitan THEODOSIUS, is to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ—nothing less, and nothing else.
We must offer our love and support to our brothers and sisters of other jurisdictions, not as a “gimmick” for “pulling them in” but, rather, as a means of “reaching out” as we would to Our Lord Himself and as an expression of our belief that they are indeed an important part of the very Body of Christ, the Church, to which we belong. In the situation to which you specifically refer, namely the controversy within the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North America, we are being called to pray especially fervently—for Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, for Archbishop Spyridon, for all the hierarchs and dedicated clergy and faithful laity—that Our Lord will reveal His will and that it will be discerned. We cannot objectively judge what is genuinely a complex situation, in many ways beyond our experience and understanding. And certainly we must not rejoice over the difficulties being faced by others or, worse still, be puffed up with triumphalism. For Scripture teaches us that if one part of the body suffers, the whole body suffers, and if one part of the body rejoices, the whole body rejoices.
We must avoid every temptation to speculate, to make assumptions and accusations, to presume that we, individually or collectively, know how to solve the world’s problems with one, swift stroke. Even more so, we must avoid every temptation to gossip, condemn, jump to conclusions, or gloat over the difficulties of others. Again, we are called to pray, to be silent, and to listen to the “small, still voice of the Lord,” as the Prophet Elijah did.
Every Sunday I and the other clergy of our parish look into the faces of hundreds of faithful parishioners who bring to the Liturgy their joys, their sorrows, their fears, their sins, their worries, and their hopes. We see the attention they give to singing the hymns together, to listening to the scriptures and sermons, to partaking of the Holy Mysteries, to welcoming newcomers, to helping each other with their children, and to enjoying one another’s company at the fellowship hour.
During the week, we watch them give of themselves in countless ministries to one another, to the poor and needy in our neighborhood, to new immigrants to whom they teach English and offer friendship and love, and even to ministering to us and our families.
To us, they are the Church—and in their faces we not only see our own joys and sorrows and fears and sins and worries and hopes, but we also see the image of Jesus Christ. Often we wonder if we should preach about the need for Orthodox unity, something for which they, as members of a 10-year-old pan-Orthodox parish, ardently seek and, in many ways, already experience. Something always reminds us, however, that joyous as words extolling unity may be, how much more joyous are the words of Our Lord: “Well done, good and faithful servant! Enter into the joy of your Lord” and “Come unto me, you who are heavy burdened, and I will give you rest.” And we are reminded that it is the Good News we must preach and proclaim—the Good News which we are all called to proclaim.
Finally, how should we react to the present situation—or any time of difficulty in our Church, our personal lives, or our families, for that matter? By accepting the challenge placed before us by Jesus Christ Himself, the same challenge which 2000 years later Metropolitan THEODOSIUS urges us to accept with utmost seriousness: to focus all of our energy and attention on the one thing we are called to do—to proclaim the Gospel of salvation to all who would hear it! If we fail to do this, we cease to be the Church.