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Sunday, April 22, 2012

Orthodox Unity

Go hear for a very well written and somewhat contrarian perspective on the much debated topic of Orthodox unity in N. America.

HT: Another blogger who asked not to be referenced.

17 comments:

Visibilium said...

The Woodstock spirit is alive and well amongst the titular ethereal types who eschew administrative philistinism.

Stephen said...

One bishop in each city.

Period. There's not reason to be lazy about this. Sloth is also a great sin.

Chris Jones said...

Well, of course I agree with Stephen (see my acerbic (to say the least) comment on the linked post). But to be fair, sloth is not the only thing standing in the way. There are fifty-odd Orthodox bishops in the United States; are there fifty cities where there are enough Orthodox to warrant having a bishop? If not, I would not want to be the one to tell any of the bishops that he had lost at "musical chairs" and is now out of a job.

The Anti-Gnostic said...

Americans are simply not equipped to debate Orthodox unity because for us, history began very recently and concepts like ethnicity and nation-state are not allowed in public discourse. Thus, we resort to corporate-speak like 'administrative unity' when talking about the Bride of Christ.

The overseas Patriarchates, for example, for example, don't have 'administrative unity' because a bunch of bureaucrats looked at everybody's balance sheet and determined that was the best way forward. They were organically 'Russian,' 'Serbian,' etc., already. The Church, being as every bit Local as she is Universal, joined herself to a people of common ancestry in their geographic redoubt.

'America' has no distinct people, no distinct language, no distinct customs and no distinct borders. The Catholic Church and the Protestants do not recognize national borders, and hence thrive in a place like America.

The more I think about it, the more I fear that an American Orthodox Church is doomed--at least spiritually if not existentially--so long as she attempts to yoke herself to an artificial entity like America. It is noteworthy that the Patriarchates linked, in various ways, to empire--Antioch, Jerusalem, Constantinople, Rome-- have practically ceased to exist in a canonical sense.

Chris Jones said...

'America' has no distinct people, no distinct language, no distinct customs and no distinct borders.

I doubt very much that this is how things look from the outside. We tend to be very aware of the "multi-ethnic" and "multi-cultural" character of our society, but when Americans travel abroad they are instantly recognizable as Americans, no matter what color they are or where in the world their immigrant ancestors came from.

In any case, America is nowhere near as "multi-ethnic" as the Empire was in patristic times. Many languages, ethnicities, and cultures were represented in ancient cities such as Rome or Antioch, but that did not prevent the Catholic Church in those cities from being united under a single bishop.

The key point about "Orthodox unity" is not that the Orthodox Church should "yoke herself" to the United States as a nation-state or as a culture. It is that the Church in each locality should be united under one bishop, and be about her business of preaching the Gospel, not maintaining an enclave of a foreign culture. There is no need to "yoke oneself" to America as a nation to do that.

The Anti-Gnostic said...

It is that the Church in each locality should be united under one bishop, and be about her business of preaching the Gospel, not maintaining an enclave of a foreign culture.

This is the typically American way of looking at things: One City, One Bishop, One Mission: Preach the Gospel! For the Children! It's Right There In The Canons! And indeed, who could argue with such a thing? But for the Orthodox in their homelands and in diaspora, the Church Local means the Church which reflects their common ancestry, language and customs. That's how their Churches came about, after all.

What you are proposing is an American Roman Catholic model to steamroll all the jurisdictions into a single, pan-American praxis and administrative (the very word makes me gag) unity. I see a lot of reasons to oppose such a model--not the least being the spiritual aridity of America itself. We see what universalism has done to Roman Catholic praxis and doctrine.

The better course for the Patriarchates may be to wait the revolutionary American experiment out, just as the Russian Church waited out the Soviet Union, and then deal with what remains.

ochlophobist said...

when Americans travel abroad they are instantly recognizable as Americans, no matter what color they are or where in the world their immigrant ancestors came from.

This may not be because of a shared positive culture, but rather a shared anti-culture. We consume alike when overseas. And talk loud, and chew gum everywhere.

Chris Jones said...

This is the typically American way of looking at things: One City, One Bishop, One Mission: Preach the Gospel!

There is nothing particularly "American" about it, and there is also nothing wrong with it. It's the truth, and I see no reason to apologize for it.

And yes, it is right there in the canons, and the last time I checked the canons were considered an authentic witness to the Apostolic Tradition. I'm not going to apologize, either, for expecting the Orthodox Church to be "canonical."

What you are proposing is an American Roman Catholic model ...

Not at all -- and spare me the loaded rhetoric of verbs like "steamroll." What I am proposing is the classic model of the patristic period which is reflected in the ecumenical canons, and is followed (with some variations) in all of the Orthodox world outside of the "diaspora."

the Church Local means the Church which reflects their common ancestry, language and customs

The Church does not exist to "reflect their common ancestry, language, and customs"; if it is to "reflect" anything, it is to reflect the Kingdom of God. If what you want is a Greek, Russian, Serbian (or whatever) Cultural Heritage Society, then go ahead and organize one, and serve your blini, baklava, or kufte at your meetings. But don't hijack the Church of Jesus Christ for that purpose.

Anyway, if we are going to "reflect common ancestry, language, and customs," what about MY "ancestry, language, and customs"? Why can't I have an Orthodox Church that celebrates my heritage? If that is what the Orthodox Church is all about, don't I have as much right as a Serb or a Lebanese to an Orthodox jurisdiction to guard and preserve my cultural patrimony? Or do I have to be a Methodist because my ancestors were Welsh?

Does the word "Catholic" mean absolutely nothing to you folks?

Nathaniel said...

Anti-Gnostic,

"But for the Orthodox in their homelands and in diaspora, the Church Local means the Church which reflects their common ancestry, language and customs. That's how their Churches came about, after all."

Actually, Fr Viscuso, the noted canonist, makes a strong argument that this is a recent phenomena and has nothing to do with the foundation of their Churches.

The Anti-Gnostic said...

Chris - If the Church is local, then it is going to reflect the locality. Historically, the Church has been Russian, Georgian, Greek, Syrian, etc., and proudly so.

"Why can't I have an Orthodox Church that celebrates my heritage?"

I think you are absolutely entitled to one, and the Western Rite may be the way forward. But a big part of the problem is nobody seems to know what an 'American' is at this point.

For those wanting to hold on to their organic Church, America is a Protestant wasteland where cultures go to die. So I can't say I blame them for not wanting an 'American' Church. Given America's ahistorical, apostate existence, one wonders if an organic national Church is even possible here.

Frankly and regretfully, I wouldn't trust an American synod to safeguard the Faith, anymore than I would trust the USCCB.

Chris Jones said...

If the Church is local, then it is going to reflect the locality.

Sure. But it's not supposed to reflect some other locality on the other side of an ocean.

the Western Rite may be the way forward

That is a nice thought, one that I agree with. But realistically I do not believe that it will happen. "Cultural heritage" is the real agenda of the Orthodox jurisdictions and a serious Western Rite does nothing to advance that agenda. I'm sorry to be cynical, but that is how it looks to me.

nobody seems to know what an 'American' is at this point

You may not know, but I have no trouble with it. Rock and Roll is American; barbecue is American; McDonald's is American; rapacious capitalism is American; gunboat diplomacy is American. You (or I) may not like it, but that doesn't mean there is no distinctive culture that is 'American.'

one wonders if an organic national Church is even possible here

What you are calling "an organic national Church" is the result of evangelizing a place that has an existing organic national culture. That existing culture is changed by the Gospel, and the Gospel is expressed and lived through that culture in a new way.

Before you can say that an "organic national Church" is not possible, you have to actually evangelize. If that fails, then I suppose you can say that a national Church is impossible. But evangelizing America is something that the Orthodox Church hasn't tried yet.

I wouldn't trust an American synod to safeguard the Faith

Thankfully the safeguarding of the Faith is not the job of the hierarchy alone. Otherwise the Catholic faith would have fallen victim to the Blasphemy of Sirmium, the robber council of Ephesus, the falling-away of Pope Honorius, or the Council of Hieria.

ochlophobist said...

What I am proposing is the classic model of the patristic period

There is something very particularly American about the impulse to return to or to restore "biblical Christianity" and/or "apostolic Christianity" and/or "patristic" Christianity. Certain sectors within American Orthodoxy, including those convert sectors most committed to pan-Orthodoxy administrative unity, are those most vocal about American Orthodoxy potentially correcting what they see as canonical errors and the dross of more 'recent' traditions in world Orthodoxy - thus they view the American Orthodox experiment as a potential means of purifying Orthodoxy. This impulse is through and through an American one, and analogous to other quintessentially American religious movements. One might call it, if one were keen on being coy, the Mormonization of American Orthodoxy.

Visibilium said...

I fear that an American Orthodox Church is doomed

The uncertainty surrounding the disposition of American-sourced revenues to old-country Patriarchates under American unity dooms the concept unless fortuitous circumstances conspire to secure the Patriarchates' consent. Aren't impelling circumstances responsible for Moscow's independence, or do you believe the charmingly retrospective Third Rome vision?

The Anti-Gnostic said...

Brother Vis:

American converts are enthusiastic, but broke. I prefer to see us concentrate on things like making sure there's decent coffee in the social hall.

Chris Jones said...

Owen,

I'm certainly not proposing a "return" to a purer Orthodox polity, after centuries of desuetude; in quoting me you clipped off the part about the classic model ... followed (with some variations) in all of the Orthodox world outside of the "diaspora". If there is a "golden age" I want to return to, it's not the fourth century, it's anytime before 1917, anywhere in the traditional Orthodox world.

That said, I won't deny that there is an impulse towards "purity" and its restoration in the American character, that spills over into an idea that we can know the past better than the past knew itself, and can therefore "restore" not just the past, but the past as it ought to have been. And I'm not immune to that impulse. But my stubborn insistence on "one bishop in one city" is not an instance of that impulse. That's not an artifact of antiquity to be restored, but a real principle of Orthodox ecclesiology that has been borne out by consistent Orthodox practice until very recently.

ochlophobist said...

Chris,

Fair enough.

Visibilium said...

A-G, I found out how important coffee can be. One sweet old lady announced to everyone in the room that my coffee tasted like weak flea piss.