Saturday, August 28, 2010

The OCA: Is it time to rethink autocephaly?

Given the recent agreement (almost certain to be ratified at the anticipated Great & Holy Synod) by the representatives of the universally recognized autocephalous churches on standards for the granting and recognition of autocepahaly and further, given that these standards require recognition from the Ecumenical Patriarchate and further, that there is less chance of the EP granting the OCA said recognition than of your humble blogger being elected Pope...

Has the time come for the OCA to reconsider its claims to being an autocephalous church? And if so, what course of action should the OCA pursue?



John (Ad Orientem) said...

For the record, I think the OCA's claims to being an autocephalous church are untenable. Our claims have been recognized by only a handful of the other 14 churches and all of them have signed off on the standards mentioned in the post. It seems to me that the most realistic and least disruptive course of action is to petition the Holy Synod of the Russian Church to receive the OCA under the omiphorion of the Patriarch of Moscow as an autonomous church (autocephaly light), which would not require any recognition or confirmation from Constantinople.

Anonymous said...

From what I understand, such autonomy is precisely what's being negotiated with Metr. Hilarion right now, essentially to clear the way for the work of the EA. The OCA is an anomaly in the process, and bringing them back under Moscow would engage them fully and make the whole thing go more smoothly.

Steve Hayes said...

Autonomy under Moscow sounds like a good idea to me, though being under another jurisdiction, in another continent, it has nowt to do with me.

Forty years ago autocephaly must have seemed the only solution to an intractable problem, but circumstances have changed, and maybe it is necessary to take one step back in order to take three steps forward, and seek autocephaly as part of a larger body.

mjl said...

I am not Orthodox, but am pretty familiar with this ongoing situation. That being said, I will merely say that I am praying for the OCA and all who worship under her wing as OCA priests and authors have been a great source of help to me in the past. I know if, on the unlikely chance of myself ever formally being received into the Orthodox (even less likely than John being Pope) I would attend OCA almost immediately. For us quite American folks who tend to nationalism it is hard to even imagine coming in under a nationally based jurisdiction, and perhaps that is pride on our part but it is also reality.

Thanks so much, dear sir, for keeping us up to date.

Mark AC said...

I'm not in the OCA, but I would approach this step with some caution.

I know that the the OCA's autocephaly is not widely accepted in the Orthodox world, and at this point it is hard to see how it ever would be. Nor does the OCA include all Orthodox Christians in its territory. Thus it does not have fully operative, "real" autocephaly in that sense. Even granting that, however, there is one undeniable fact: the OCA is the only Orthodox jurisdiction on this continent that is fully self governing, and free from interference from anyone overseas. Whether anyone thinks it should be or not is immaterial; that's just the fact. As a member of the Antiochian Archdiocese that's looking darn good to me right at the moment and it is not something I'd give up lightly.

Moreover, what if the EA process ends up going nowhere? We all ought to hope it produces substantive results, but what if that doesn't happen? The OCA will have given up its independence for nothing.

I'd look at a decision like this with extreme care.

VSO said...

Well, I'm not holding my breath on this EA thing producing any actual results given the propensity for Orthodox hierachs to stall and filibuster over the most tedious circumstances.

Also given the re-re-demotion of the Antiochian bishops by hook and/or crook vis-a-vis the OCA being the only self-governing body free of all foreign interference (I don't really count ROCOR anymore) that looks pretty darn good to me too at the moment and not something I'd give up with without a fight especially given the Church in Istanbul doesn't meet it's own definitions of autocephaly and its hierarch position in his speeches at the WCC would've gotten him anathematized in any other century.

At the end of the day it doesn't affect my personal life one way or the other, but it doesn't make me want to tell people who ask to run to the nearest Orthodox Church and the fact remains that I have to deal with all this hypocrisy from Orthodox hierarchs frequently endorsing positions contrary to the very canons and scripture they profess to defend and their sycophants. And that doesn't get easier with time.

David said...

If it means Bishop Nikon never, ever being my Bishop again I am all for it!!!! No more Albanian parishes on the West Coast, over 3,000 miles away from him. Especially if no one in his office can respond to an e-mail or phone call. I would never have entered Orthodoxy in an irregular parish if I had known it was irregular. I figured I was safe in the OCA. Boy was I wrong.

Anonymous said...

The OCA was built, structurally, on the concept of conciliarity. Thus, as soon as the majority of Orthodox churches made clear their permanent refusal to acknowledge its autocephaly, the OCA was doomed for lack of conciliar acceptance. Unfortunately, conciliarity is often understood as a demand for acceptance in anything an Orthodox Christian (especially one with a fancy degree and/or title) says is Orthodox. The defense that autocephaly was usually taken undermines, again, the OCA's founding concept of conciliarity as anything more than the demand to 'let me do what I want'.

In reality, the Metropolia only wanted two things: independence from a Soviet-dominated Church in Moscow together with canonical grounding and cultural ties to that same Church. The OCA did not accept the more radical, anti-Soviet stance of ROCOR, especially in the immediate, post-WWII years when the Metropolia first appealed to Moscow and broke with ROCOR (only to be double crossed by Moscow). What they wanted was extreme autonomy since the Soviets couldn't be trusted not to meddle. Unfortunately, the MP grant of autocephaly was and will always be tainted by Soviet coercion; this may have been different if the EP and others would have accepted the Tomos, but they didn't and won't.

The good part of the OCA has always been its self-understanding as a missionary diocese of the Russian Church to all Orthodox and non-Orthodox in America absent a drive to homogenize or to force a new American-style Orthodoxy on all - there is still a great deal of diversity within the OCA - from ROCOR to New Skete style to the various ethnic dioceses.

The bad part of the OCA was its totemic attachment to autocephaly, which often bordered on phyletism, and its innovationism born of an independence easily manipulated by an academic elite without established counterbalances in either monasticism or deeply rooted parish cultures and local tradition (cf. the Church of Finland). ROCOR was always the counterbalance, especially after the Synod moved to NYC after WWII; this worked fine until ROCOR ran afoul of World Orthodoxy over ecumenism and the OCA could simply write it off as 'un-canonical'.

Jonah's trips to Moscow last year were likely all about this. I, too, see the OCA's hand as being played too early. However, they may have little choice depending on how Moscow is playing the game. I don't expect the OCA to request revocation of its autonomy. It will likely be couched more in terms accepting of the draft procedures for autonomy and autocephaly to be discussed at the next Chambesy meeting - since the EP will refuse to accept the OCA on either score, the Tomos will thus be revoked/moot and the OCA and the 'fault' will lie with Chambesy. This is probably in conjuntion with a refusal of Ukrainian and Finnish autonomy/autocephaly thus securing Russia's satellite regions. I doubt whether the agreement is going as far as unifying North America under the EP, just taking some pieces off of the table for a future agreement. The EA or something much like it will likely be the outcome for decades to come in NA.

I would actually view Philip's actions over the past two years as part of the multi-jurisdictional endgame of Chambesy and the Great Council.

Anonymous said...

A comment on also noted that the recent meeting between Met Jonah, advisors and Hilarion of Volokolamsk included the entire Synod except Nathaniel and Seraphim.

What that says to me (assuming he wasn't ill) is that Nathaniel is already set to join with the Romanians (and the whole process so far has been to 'choose' to do what is already a fait accompli) on the dissolution of the OCA, and Seraphim is either up for retirement (again) or it's already set that he will simply joining with a new Canadian EA (which I think is stupid given the size of Orthodoxy there). Nathaniel had been the one promoting what essentially turned out to be the EA - a single Synod where each bishop retains their ties to the Mother Churches. I would imagine something like that being the answer for regions with no dominant Mother Church presence - it's apartheid Orthodox, separate but equal Orthodoxy, but it seems to be the only answer as long as the faithful here have significant cultural/ethnic/mental ties to their Mother Churches and those Churches have need of America, western Europe and Australia.

I was thinking that an OCA recognized only by Moscow makes us a lot like an ecclesiastical South Ossetia, Abkhazia or Transdniestria.

Anonymous said...

Re Och's news of Moscow's offer and the OCA's response:

In reality, I don't see how the Synod could say anything other than what it did. It's one thing to lose independence, it's another to give it away - even if you know you're going to lose it in the end. Chambesy can take make the Tomos null and void or 'force' Moscow to rescind it, but canon law (and internal church politics) would not allow the Synod to simply give it up. If Moscow made such an overture, Met Jonah and others would, of course,for have to seriously consider it and bring it to the full Synod for a response and show good faith in doing so (even if only to through Moscow a bone to show the EP) - and the Synod would have to say no along with the Met and his advisors, at the end of the day. To do anything but would weaken not only the OCA's hand but the hand Moscow can play using the OCA in the North American EA process. The big difference between the OCA and the Russian Church after Florence is that there isn't a single, united Church here; most Orthodox in North America don't want to declare autocephaly from anyone; and they definitely don't want to declare such as a part of the OCA. That sort of endgame isn't possible without a major reorganizing of things in NA, broad, deep distrust of all the major Mother Churches, and some sort of geopolitical movement that would force the US government to support US jurisdictions breaking off from their overseas Mother Churches without losing property rights (as happened everywhere in the Metropolia, except in New York City, after 1921).

The only way the EA process would unfold quickly into a governing Super Synod would be if Chambesy and/or a Great Council simply decreed it - meaning all the Mother Churches agreed it was what they wanted to happen. Not sure those cats are ever going to get herded for that anytime soon. Even then, you'd likely have various slices of the various jurisdictions refusing to accept it - even to the point of passive schism (simply not accepting it) to more active schism (joining the Old Calendarists or going wholly independent a la SSPX or the various splinter-ROCORs). This would be as likely or more in the ethnic jurisdictions as in the liberal, proto-American Orthodox jurisdictions. US laws concerning property in episcopal churches would likely dampen this, except insofar as law suits defining the rights of bishops moving their dioceses are concerned (a parish can't unilaterally leave its bishop, but there is some question as to whether a bishop can do so with his whole diocese).