The Orthodox Church - July/August 1997

Needed: Good will, common sense

Orthodoxy in America is confronted by a crisis. This crisis is clear and it is real. In the past, progress towards unity of purpose, mission, and witness was painfully slow, yet progress there was. Sometimes, we were surprised by joyful signs of breakthrough towards unity. Times of difficulty in the building of a united Orthodoxy during the past twenty or twenty-five years were, at worst, times of stalemate, when forward movement was temporarily blocked. Today, there is regression. Many are expressing the agonizing insight that we are "going back" to jurisdictional and ethnic particularism and isolation.

One of the elements of the present inter-Orthodox situation in America is the stand-off in the Standing Conference of Orthodox Canonical Bishops in the Americas [SCOBA]. Two perspectives are in confrontation, with the result that there have been two meetings of SCOBA, called by different conveners and attended by different groups of SCOBA hierarchs. One perspective represents the view that the chairman of SCOBA is ex officio the archbishop and exarch appointed in America by the Patriarchate of Constantinople. The other view is that the chairman of SCOBA is elected, or affirmed, by the consensus of the member hierarchs of SCOBA. While there appears to be a slight chance that a formula might be devised and a consensus reached to overcome this stalemate and maintain the framework of unity represented by SCOBA, there are no reasons for optimism.

Another element in the present situation is the emerging dissolution of the Orthodox Christian Mission Center [OCMC] as an inter-Orthodox mission agency. The foundation of the successful work of OCMC was the very serious and solid work of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese's Mission Department. For several decades, Greek Orthodox clergy and laity labored diligently and competently in the field of foreign missions, building up a track record or professionalism and integrity. Other Orthodox jurisdictions, including the Orthodox Church in America and the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese, also dedicated increasing attention to the missionary vocation of the Orthodox Church, with special attention to mission in America.

In the early 1990s the several mission efforts were brought together in the framework of OCMC. A sign of considerable success for OCMC was the steady increase in financial support from jurisdictions other than the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese. During approximately three years, support for OCMC from other jurisdictions, including the OCA and the Antiochian Archdiocese, rose from zero to a little more than fifteen percent.

During a recent meeting of the Board of Directors of OCMC the wishes of the new Primate of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, Archbishop Spyridon, were made known: OCMC is to revert to the status of a department or agency of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese. It appears that this decision was motivated by the desire to provide the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese with the capacity to make decisions on its own archdiocesan mission priorities. Given that the other participating jurisdictions both supported OCMC and at the same time maintained their own necessary minimum capacity to carry through on their own mission priorities, we see that there is no insurmountable contradiction between working in the mission field together in most ways, while leaving room for specific jurisdictional activities.

It would seem that large doses of good will and common sense, together with urgent consultation and focused inter-Orthodox action, could still reverse the slide into jurisdictional and ethnic particularism, mutual distrust and mutual acrimony. The task will not be easy, since trust is difficult to restore once trust has been diminished or lost. Yet a change of course so that movement towards Orthodox unity and cooperation in America could resume is possible, it is necessary, it is urgent.

One of the immediate reasons for urgency is the forthcoming visit to America of His All-Holiness, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. Orthodox Christians have been looking forward to this visit, which is planned for the autumn. We have awaited the Ecumenical Patriarch's visit as a welcome, needed, unambiguous sign of Orthodox unity and common witness at the threshold of the third Christian millennium.

If we fail to change course, and thus fail to improve inter-Orthodox relations in America prior to the Ecumenical Patriarch's arrival, the positive influence and image of his patriarchal journey risks being greatly diminished. If we succeed in changing course, restoring the right conditions and a positive spirit among Orthodox in America, the patriarchal journey in our midst will be enhanced and strengthened, to the benefit of all Orthodox Christians in America and around the world.

Father Leonid Kishkovsky

[ The Orthodox Church - July/August 1997 - p. 2 ]





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