The Orthodox Church - September 1994

The moment of truth

Editorial / Fr. Leonid Kishkovsky

My Greek Orthodox friends who were present at the event tell me that it was an electrifying and inspiring moment. The setting was the concluding banquet at the 32nd Clergy-Laity Congress of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America in Chicago on July 7, 1994. Metropolitan Spyridon of Italy, representative of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, spoke on behalf of His All-Holiness, the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. Metropolitan Theodosius, invited to the Clergy-Laity Congress as a guest by Archbishop Iakovos; primate of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, addressed the assembled people as primate of the Orthodox Church in America. The messages of the two hierarchs (see pages 3 and 4) brought the assembled clergy ad laity to their feet in a standing ovation.

Metropolitan Spyridon, in speaking about Orthodox unity, showed a real understanding of America and of Orthodoxy in America. It is true that America is a microcosm of the rest of the world. The word microcosm describes not only America as a society, but also the Orthodox Church in North America. In this context, the richness of the ethnic variety was properly acknowledged and affirmed. "There is nothing wrong in preserving our cultural identity," Metropolitan Spyridon said. Yet nationalism, as a "destructive politics of identity," was named as a "terrible disease."

Thus, the affirmation of Orthodox Unity contained in Metropolitan Spyridon's message was not the customary and comfortable "rhetoric of unity." The message did not shrink from naming the deformation of nationalism which is a key obstacle to unity. Not only was the "terrible disease of nationalism" identified, but its practical results were also described. "This disease fragments our Church, wastes our resources, and weakens our voice in the international community."

Metropolitan Spyridon went on to affirm the key elements in the journey to unity. First, the sharing of the chalice of Holy Communion. Second, the building up of episcopal unity and cooperation through the Standing Conference of the Canonical Bishops in the Americas. Third, gathering and working in the name of the Church in organizations such as International Orthodox Christian Charities. In such ways, ecumenical, united Orthodoxy takes a step forward.

In his address, which followed that of Metropolitan Spyridon, Metropolitan Theodosius noted with sadness that Orthodoxy in North America, even as its two hundredth anniversary is being observed, is often "filled with division and manifested in weakness." he stated that we are now compelled to stop using "worn out cliches which attempt to disguise our malady." he asserted that we are commanded by God to "ensure that word and theory are grounded and expressed in a concrete, canonical, and therefore incarnated reality, over faithful to the Gospel of Christ". He called on Patriarch Bartholomew to "lead us in meeting together to address the challenge of Orthodox unity in North America." He offered his energy to his "older brother," Archbishop Iakovos, to the Orthodox hierarchs in America, and to all the faithful towards the "realization of one local canonical Orthodox Church which will reveal that we are truly one body having one mind and one heart.

The clergy and laity at the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese's Congress in Chicago were ready for the messages from the Ecumenical Patriarch and from the primate of the Orthodox Church in America. For example, the report of the Inter-Church Committee to the Congress strongly urged steps towards Orthodox unity. "The Committee is convinced that we must double the efforts and resources devoted to bringing about the administrative unity of Orthodoxy, to unite our jurisdictions in one voice and a single witness in America, while acknowledging and encouraging the preservation of the particular traditions and culture of every parish." The report then takes a detailed look at the specific ways in which Orthodox unity and cooperation is being manifested already, and should be manifested in the future.

Thus the clergy and laity who heard the addresses of Metropolitan Spyridon and Metropolitan Theodosius heard at once the congruence, the mutual affirmation, the common vision in what was said on behalf of the Ecumenical Patriarch and what was said on behalf of the Orthodox Church in America. They arose spontaneously to say their "amen" by means of a standing ovation.

We are coming to the moment of truth for Orthodoxy in America. We are not a diaspora looking to the day when we return to a "holy land." We are entering into a time of mature Orthodox life and witness in North America. As Orthodoxy in America comes into its maturity, it will come also into unity. Orthodoxy in the Americas, as Metropolitan Spyridon said, can indeed play a key role in the renewal of the Holy Orthodox Church worldwide. As Metropolitan Theodosius said, "No agenda, no plan, no teaching, no desire can be carried out without the maturity this moment calls us to have."

[ The Orthodox Church - September 1994 - p. 2 ]