Cattle Drive, Fort Worth Stockyards, April 2010

Monday, July 5, 2010

Is God at Work Again?

I returned Saturday evening from the Parish Life Conference (for those of you who are not Antiochian Orthodox, it is our rough equivalent of a Diocesan Conference). At the clergy meeting on Wednesday evening I heard something that I wasn't sure that I had actually heard. I was startled, stunned, and paradoxically thrilled and filled with angst at the same time. His Grace was speaking about the recent National Assembly of Bishops (Orthodox) and their work. Much of this I had already heard, but had not spoken of much because I continued to hear things that are better not the discussion of large groups. After all, the questions that the bishops are discussing really stand solely within the purview of the bishops.
   On Saturday, before I left Perrysburg (the suburb of Toledo, Ohio where the event was hosted), I asked one of my brother priests who seemed to be more "in the know" than myself. He has always been much more active in these areas than myself. Following our conversation I was utterly floored. So what was it that I had heard, first on Wednesday and then reiterated on Saturday? I heard that it is thought within five years there will be only one jurisdiction of Orthodox in the United States. There will no longer be a Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, and an Antiochian Archdiocese, and an Orthodox Church in America... There will only be the Orthodox Church. But this is not simply an American concern alone. In truth it will be a world-wide action effecting Australia, Central America, South America, England, Europe and so on.
   The details will prove to be some of the great hiccups I am sure. Diocesan borders will be redrawn and restructured. There will be a singular guideline for all the priests in the country rather than seeing it vary in every jurisdiction. Admittedly there will be a period of transition that will naturally cause no little tension. What of the calendar? Will that be a source of unity, or will there be old calendar (Julian) and new calendar parishes still? Just the selection of a revised Julian calendar has caused a terrible schism within the Orthodox Church since the 1920s. Only time will be able to tell exactly what will happen, but five years is a very short time indeed.
   One of my personal difficulties, and I have to be frank about this, is that it appears that everything will be under Constantinople. There is some logic to this. After all a recent study states that 80% of the Orthodox in the United States are already in the Greek Archdiocese. If they have those numbers, then naturally they should have the lion's share of say. Of course, it is being handled with a different sense. The natural presvia (or order given clergy and local churches) is being followed. Therefore the Greeks as representing the Ecumenical Patriarch -- who anciently second only to Rome -- is given the seat of honor, followed by Antioch (since Alexandria has no churches here), and on down the line. I said I had personal difficulties with this, and I do, but I'll save those thoughts for another post.
   Having a singular jurisdiction would be a very healthy development in Orthodoxy here and elsewhere. Yet I can't help to think that this is only part of something that is much larger. We are tempted to look only at our own countries, or only at the Orthodox Church in isolation to what seems to be happening in the larger scene. When I view the scene of Christianity on the largest possible scale, I get the distinct intuition that God the Holy Spirit is incredibly active right now. Of course, God is always active, but there are moments that his activity seems more perceptible.
   Consider these things a components or signs of something profound happening:

  1. The Orthodox Church is working on getting her house in order (trying to reconcile the scandal of multiple jurisdictions in many countries).
  2. Both Moscow and Constantinople have had very positive and warm meetings with Rome.
  3. Moscow has publicly given support to Pope Benedict XIV recently in Rome, and has called for greater work together with Rome on commonly held concerns.
  4. The recent agreed statement produced at Ravena (and that which has been leaked from Cyprus) between the Orthodox and Catholics is incredible.
  5. Pope Benedict XVI issue the motu proprio, Summorum Pontificum, which gave very liberal and broad license to priests to celebrate the 1962 Latin Mass. This is a very significant item because it helps to show the Orthodox that the Catholic Church is officially holding in a line of "continuity" rather than of "disruption". Perhaps it doesn't need to be stated that this was one of the things that Archbishop Hilarion Alfeyev brought up as important when he met with the Pope.
  6. Pope Benedict XVI's stunning Apostolic Constitution, Anglicanorum Coetibus, which makes it possible in the very near future for Anglicans to enter into communion with the Catholic Church whilst keeping the great treasure of their patrimony shows the genuine sense that the Holy Father has of being the pivot of unity for the universal Church. He seems quite content to allow diversity in unity and is completely unthreatened by it -- provided there is theological unity (recall again the agreements of Ravena and Cyprus here).
  7. The Western world is dying because of many spiritual and moral diseases, but perhaps more than anything else because of the loss of the organic and sacramental unity of the Church: Eastern and Western. The desire to work together would seem to be a hint that maybe we understand this.
  8. The Roman Catholic Church has a nascent recovery of some of her tradition and liturgical beauty at the moment. Although this is still small, one leading priest in this area continually reminds the faithful that this will be brought back together "brick by brick." Deo volunte!
  9. Finally there is the continual disintegration of non-historic Christianity into mere entertainment, leaving many of their faithful looking for something that is stabile, substantial, historic and real.
   Fr. John Richard Neuhaus wrote a marvelous book in the 1980s called "The Catholic Moment." It was, like so much of what he wrote, incredibly insightful. However, I think that the moment that we might be seeing is not simply a moment for the Church of Rome, but for the entire Church Catholic (East and West). I have a suspicion that Orthodox unity is being pressed forward, perhaps unconsciously, to make ready for a reunification of the Church.
   There will be many who would not be able to make a journey to unity and union. Some are liberal Roman Catholics (I'd prefer to say heterodox, or even heretical rather than liberal) who are ably represented by the likes of the Tablet, or the National Catholic Review. Some are the extreme views taken by some monastics referred to by the Archbishop of Cyprus as the Orthodox taliban. Old Calendarists would not enter into reconciliation. Perhaps the inclusion of the Orthodox would make certain of the Society of Saint Pius X refrain from unity.
   Nevertheless, I think that God might well be at work to bring us back together. The reunion would bring more joy to my heart than I could possibly express. I pray for this every day. I hope for it every hour. I dream of it every minute.


  1. Father, bless!

    Father, may I ask, with all sincerity, what do you mean by "Orthodox taliban"? How would you describe the group that meets this description? The reason I ask is because I personally cannot think of any large contigent in canonical Orthodox that would warrant such a description, but perhaps I'm wrong. I've been known to live under a rock.

    Also, what is your view of the Roman church? Do you consider it part of the Church of Christ?

    I ask these questions because I'm curious. I'm not asking to trap you or to labast you with polemics, as some are apt to do. I have been reading your blog for the past two months (I think) now and will continue to do so.

    Thanks in advance!

  2. The blessing of the Lord!

    The phrase Orthodox taliban was not my own, it was the Archbishop of Cyprus' term. He used it to refer to some of the more radically "conservative" monastics. For example, there are those who insist not only that converts should be baptized, but even those who are already Orthodox since birth and join their monastery should be baptized there at the monastery. Were they not already Christian? Are the Sacraments of the Church only effective at that monastery? On the one hand, that is sacrilege, and on the other a perverted ecclesiology which would imply that one must be a monastic to be saved. That was formally condemned in the Ecumenical Councils (in relation to marriage). I wouldn't draw out any particular group as a member of such a description, but rather it is a pervasive spirituality and ethos that is not truly Christian--though it would claim the contrary.

    My view of the Roman Catholic Church is perhaps unique and is certainly colored by my experience and relationships. But when one looks at the Orthodox Church's expression as found in her liturgical life one finds a very confused and contradictory thing. There are some Orthodox who receive Roman Catholics by complete baptism. These are very few in the United States, but they exist. There are some who receive them by chrismation, and again others who receive them by a profession of faith with no sacramental initiation. The same is true of priests who have become Orthodox who were formerly Roman Catholic. Some insist on re-ordaining them whilst others only have them concelebrate with the bishop who vests the priest. Orthodoxy seems divided in our estimation of the Roman Catholics. On the one hand it might seem as though they are not thought of as Christian and on the other it seems they are thought of as priests who only need to be reconciled.

    So what do I think? I tend to think the latter. I accept that the Catholic Church has bishops, priests and deacons and the sacraments. But I would say that we have become separated from a common altar which is a scandal.

    I hope that helps. I'm glad you're a reader, it's nice to know that some one out there is reading this.

  3. Fr. John:

    I just want to add my warm agreement to everything you said. Especially the final sentences.

  4. Thank you Father for clarifying your understanding of the term "Orthodox taliban". I understand what groups you are referring to when you use that term. While I wouldn't use the term "taliban", I would certainly agree that their theology is perverted.

    Also, I appreciate the way that you defined the two positions within Orthodoxy in regards to the Roman church. I feel like you were fair, which unforunately, I don't find very often on either side. Too often you have one side lambasting the other side as "modernists" and the other lmabasting the other as "angry zealots." While I think there are modernists and angry zealots, I think they are the exceptions. While we disagree on our understanding of sacraments outside of the Orthodox Church, I readily admit that your view has a history in the Church

    Anyway, I was pleasantly surprised with your response. It was very balanced. A breath of fresh air. Thank you!


    P.S. As a former anglo-catholic, I was deeply moved by your post "I've been in a nostalgic mood lately." The English tradition is hauntingly beautiful. There is something about it that reaches down into the very soul and settles there.