Today is the celebration of the repose of one of the greatest American saints – Tikhon, Patriarch of Moscow and Enlightener of North America. He served as Archbishop of the entire North American continent at a time when communication and travel were difficult, when no well-organized, central administrative structure governed the church in this country, when there were no seminaries, and the faithful were either new immigrants without churches or had been unpastored for decades in remote areas. His time in America was relatively short – just nine years between 1898 and 1907, but in that time he transformed the Orthodox Church in America and gave it a vision and mission for self-governance and independence.
Ironically, the Orthodox Church in this country has entered a period that, I believe, will test the very limits of what Saint Tikhon envisioned and worked to achieve. A series of events and actions are taking place right now which, if they do not seem divinely guided, at least are the kind of events that may one day be seen as the opening shots in a very strident conflict between the Old World and the New.
1. The election of Metropolitan Jonah to lead the Orthodox Church in America (the only autocephalous Orthodox Church in this country and a grandchild of Saint Tikhon). Metropolitan Jonah is the strongest voice for American Orthodoxy – a hierarch who isn’t mincing words about the urgency for Orthodox administrative unity in America.
2. The reigning in of the Antiochian Bishops of North America and Canada and the re-enforcement of submission to the Patriarch of Antioch, supported wholeheartedly by Metropolitan Philip.
3. The anticipated Pan Orthodox Synod that is being convened by the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Preparatory meetings are already scheduled for this summer. Big topic of discussion – the church in the diaspora.
4. Patriarch Bartholomew I’s strongly worded “suggestion” that American Orthodox fulfillment and unity are best achieved by submitting to the Patriarchate of Constantinople. If you have a strong gag reflex, please be warned when you read the speech given by the EP Holy Synod’s Chief Secretary, Archimandrite Dr. Elpidophoros Lambriniadisthis, to Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Seminary on March 16th.
Let me just make one observation here to the Ecumenical Patriarch’s proposal….. BAAW HAW HAW HAW. Sorry, I don’t know how to write up the corresponding sound of me snorting my morning coffee all over the screen. With all due respect Your Eminence, it seems that the more desperate your situation becomes in the oppressive, hostile, crushing state of Turkey, the more you resort to fancy tap dancing to extend your influence, power and importance over the Orthodox faithful in the diaspora. We all feel for your difficult situation but this is America. At least for us in the OCA, we’ve been handling things on or own for a good long while now – not always successfully, but we ain’t about to turn against the work of Saint Tikhon and go back to the Old Country, to an isolated, besieged patriarchate which, under the “freedom” of the Turkish constitution and the threat of terrorist attack, has zilcho autonomy and self-determination. Let’s be frank – Your Eminence has been overseeing a slow death, 500 years in the making, while Orthodoxy in this country is young, alive and moving forward. And we can go forward as co-workers and co-equals in Christ, but we won’t be doing it holding our Daddy’s hand.
Metropolitan Jonah put this so much more eloquently than I do in his sermon during a Pan Orthodox vespers at St. Seraphim Cathedral in Dallas on April 5th (We had some parishioners attend and I can’t wait to get their impressions.) I absolutely love Metropolitan Jonah! This is the kind of leadership we have not had in the OCA in decades and it seems only by the providence of God that his election coincides with these new attacks on American Orthodox independence.
As Saint Tikhon observed in a speech given in March 1907 during the first All American Sobor (the precursor to the present OCA All American Councils) shortly before he returned to Russia (and you will excuse his use of the word “Russian” Orthodoxy – he was after all preaching to a predominantly Russian audience)
…the more I study the history of the Orthodox Church in this country, the more I am convinced that our work here is God’s work; that God himself is helping us; that when it seems as though everything we do is ready to fail — the work of Russian Orthodoxy — on the contrary, it not only does not die, but grows in new strength and brilliance.