Ecumenical News International - October 14, 1996

American Orthodoxy still needs bonds to 'Mother Church'

By Tracy Early

New York, 14 October (ENI)--The new leader of the USA's 1.5 million Greek Orthodox Christians hopes to see greater unity among the various Orthodox jurisdictions of the United States, now generally divided along ethnic lines.

But Archbishop Spyridon, head of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, interviewed by ENI following his enthronement last month in New York, said that he did not think American Orthodoxy was yet mature enough for total independence, known as autocephaly.

"I still see that we are going through a diaspora phase," he said. "This is a young new church, and it still needs to be nourished by its bonds with the mother church.

"Autocephaly is usually given to churches formed by very large Orthodox populations in Orthodox lands," he said. "It is not given to diaspora churches."

Some American Orthodox have long been wanting to see an end to the multiple jurisdictions, and the formation of one church with the same independence as the Orthodox churches in Russia, Romania, Bulgaria, the Middle East and other areas.

Americans in this group have contended that Orthodoxy could not fully develop and play its potential role in American life until it was able to set its own course without vetoes from Old World authorities which they feel do not adequately understand the US situation.

The situation is particularly sensitive because the main Russian Orthodox body in the USA received autocephaly from the Moscow Patriarchate in 1970, becoming the Orthodox Church in America.

However, that action has not yet been recognised by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople whose headquarters are in Phanar, Istanbul. The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America is under the direct jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and numerically constitutes the patriarchate's biggest diocese. Similary, Bulgarian, Serbian and Romanian Orthodox in the United States are under the jurisdiction of patriarchs in their countries of origin.

The enthronement of Archbishop Spyridon, held at the archdiocesan cathedral in New York on 21 September, stressed the closeness and permanence of ties between the Greek Archdiocese and the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

A booklet produced for the service included a tribute paid by Patriarch Bartholomeos to Archbishop Spyridon on his election on 30 July. The patriarch told him he had been chosen primarily because of his "unlimited fidelity and devotion to this venerable Ecumenical Throne." The patriarch said a "hierarch" was "nothing" without "blind loyalty and lifelong gratitude".

In his interview with ENI, Archbishop Spyridon said he understood "blind loyalty" to mean full loyalty. "We are subject to our mother church and should respect whatever canonical decisions are taken," he said. "I would never go against decisions of my synod." As for the unalterable relationship, he said that no one knew God's plans, but a unity in daily life must first be constructed, and then the American Orthodox would be "free to develop further thoughts".

Although saying that American Orthodoxy lacked sufficient maturity for autocephaly, Archbishop Spyridon also said the Greek Archdiocese was capable of providing a special service to world Orthodoxy.

"Like His All Holiness, Patriarch Bartholomeos, I believe that the Archdiocese of America can play a pivotal role in the renewal of the Holy Orthodox Church," he said in his enthronement address.

In the interview, he said the American archdiocese could use its organisational skills to help world Orthodoxy coordinate efforts in such areas as charitable work, missions and communications. The archdiocese had this capacity in part because, he said, the laity were involved in its life to an extent unmatched anywhere else in the Orthodox world.

Commenting on relations with the US National Council of Churches (NCC), whose liberal Protestant majority have sometimes acted in ways that made the Orthodox uncomfortable, Archbishop Spyridon said he thought the archdiocese should stay in the NCC, and he hoped to see the divisive issues resolved.

He added that churches should speak out on public issues, but that the NCC should not make statements unless all members agreed. The ideal should be to operate by consensus rather than majority vote, he said. The council should be "an expression of Christian fellowship" where "all actions reflect the positions of everyone", he said.

Spyridon indicated that although his archdiocese faced problems, it did not have some of those currently troubling Protestantism and Catholicism. He said there was no significant group of Orthodox trying to change the church's stance regarding the role of women in the church or on the issues of abortion and homosexuality.

[ Ecumenical News International
  ENI Bulletin - Number 21 - BULLETIN-96-0590
  October 14, 1996 ]