More Thoughts on American Orthodox Church Unity

I have gone back and edited the most recent podcast (20090405_Mary.mp3) to take out the commentary on His Beatitude Mp Jonah’s talk. Unfortunately, I should have edited it beforehand. I was trying to make the point that many Ukrainians would be tempted to schism by the possibility of unification with the OCA, but I fear that it sounds like I am attacking the OCA (e.g. by pointing out that the Communists were probably involved in the granting of autocephaly to her). Please forgive me for offending several of you. It is one of my many failings that I get uncharitable when confronted by something I consider uncharitable (and thus we see firsthand how we remake the world in our fallenness!).

Now let me answer some of the (nicer) questions the podcast generated:

Why do you think unity in the short term would be disastrous?

A move toward full unity now would devastate the Ukrainian diocese (the UOC-USA; the diocese I serve) because there are wolves/non-canonical groups (e.g. the UOC-KP) who use Ukrainian nationalism to tempt our parishes away from the Holy Orthodox Church. Unification now would make their claims seem more credible. Even the ROCOR lost parishes when it went back to Moscow… Our diocese lost a couple when we went under Constantinople in the 90’s (fwiw, while I can think of many good reasons for this move, I think it was done to help bring about Church unification in Ukraine and to give the diocese a stronger voice in America, e.g. through SCOBA) and would lose more under many of the scenarios I have seen proposed.

More generally, I worry that we are not ready for autocephaly (and worried about this when I was part of the OCA, btw). My greatest concern there is that our monasticism is anemic (but growing), leaving very little to counterbalance the huge strength of secular culture here in America.

Don’t you want a Orthodox Church in America? Isn’t that what the canons require?

I want a single church; I just think that being objective/truthful about the current situation will make the move more efficient, loving, and charitable. I also think that Mp. Jonah is right in saying that we already have an American Orthodox Church (albeit one with many different administrations): we are united in the Body and Blood of Christ. This cannot be said often enough.

It drives me crazy when people blame the lack of progress towards unity on bishops. The bishops may be responsible for the slow pace, but it is often for good reasons. There are many canons; a bishop works within these canons to fulfill his primary calling: to shepherd the people Christ has entrusted to his care towards salvation. The individual bishop is closest to his people and knows what is best for them.

We also need to remember that diasporan parishes are a normal part of the Orthodox record (e.g. the OCA parish in Moscow and the Russian patriarchal churches here).

How do you think it should happen?

As a priest/Christian, I think it should happen through love, conciliarity, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. As a social scientist, I think it would be best for it to happen through a gradual process: e.g. OCA and Antiochians merge, then others could join as they were led to do so. The resulting (American? USA?) Church would use a “unity in diversity” model that would continue to institutionalize national modes of worship wherever desired (as do the OCA and EP with their ethnic dioceses now). This would leave a remnant of diasporan dioceses for those who would still need such a thing (and some, no doubt, will). FWIW, I don’t see everyone joining up under the OCA or EP, although these are two other possibilities (the combination of which raises several more).

What about SCOBA?

Using SCOBA as the mechanism of unification forces a “lowest common denominator” solution to unity (and if it moves faster than its slowest members can, then SCOBA itself would probably break-up).

One last point on Church unity in America: I’m afraid that too many have bought into the idea that autocephaly is as natural as children leaving home: has it ever been that way? The granting of autocaphaly to the OCA in 1970 can be spun in that manner, but only if you ignore the Soviet elephant standing in the corner. All of the examples break down under such (worldly) scrutiny.

One last (fun) question: what is up with the intro – why did you do it yourself then thank “Doug”?

That is an inside joke. I asked for and received some great tips on improving the podcast from the folks at Ancient Faith radio. One of the things they suggested was that it would sound more professional if I got someone else to do the introduction. There wasn’t anyone around when I was recording yesterday (Pani and Nick were frying perohi in the Hall kitchen), so I did it myself, then pretended it was someone else (Douglas is my first name). Hey, it’s as close to funny as I get! And no, it’s not me playing the banjo during opening and closing of the show; its Antoni Perkinchuk on the banjodura 🙂 Just kidding: it’s actually one of the apple Garageband thingies. I love banjo music.

FWIW, I wrote about his earlier, as well.