9.16.10 Two Reflections
Autocephaly, the OCA, and the Episcopal Assembly
by Fr. Ted Bobosh
The new effort to bring about Orthodox ecclesial (hierarchical) unity through the Ecumenical Patriarch’s plan of regional Episcopal Assemblies, has presented a challenge to the Orthodox Church in America. The OCA (even if only in its own “self mythology”) saw the autocephaly created by the Russian Church as a means to eventual Orthodox jurisdictional unity in America. That dream has yet to materialize and so some see the autocephaly as a dead issue.
I think this may be a premature....
For what I think should become clear to all Orthodox in America is that autocephaly was given not just to the OCA, but to all of us – all Orthodox Christians living in North America: converts, Russians, Canadians, Greeks, Romanians, Serbs, Antiochians, Bulgarians, Americans, Albanians, etc. Autocephaly is part of the mix of Orthodoxy in America which should be used to the glory of God. It is the gift from God that the OCA received and thus has the responsibility to bring to the North American Episcopal Assembly because autocephaly is part of the Tradition of Orthodoxy in America.
The re-visioning that has to be done (a paradigm shift if you want) is one very similar to what I think Christ called the Jews to consider about themselves. The Jews believed they were given Torah to make them the chosen people, elect by God and separated from all the nations of the world. They came to see their mission as maintaining their separateness as proof of their election. Jesus revealed a new vision for Israel – actually an ancient one: Israel was to be a light to the world, not separated from it to judge it, but a light to attract all people to God.
The OCA often acted as if autocephaly was given to it, and it alone. What is being revealed, I think, is that though the OCA received autocephaly, it didn’t receive this gift to separate itself from all the other Orthodox jurisdictions. Instead it received the gift of autocephaly, like the Jews received the oracles of God, on behalf of all Orthodox jurisdictions, missions and people in America.
The OCA may not have done much with the autocephaly, but that doesn’t mean it is invaluable. For what the OCA did was to preserve this gift from God and now it realizes its calling by faithfully bringing autocephaly to the table at which all Orthodox bishops in America sit in assembly.
Autocephaly is part of the mix that God has given us to establish His Church in America. The OCA must faithfully bring the autocephaly to the Episcopal Assembly table and never allow others to dismiss it for it is part of the God guided history of the Orthodox Church. Autocephaly is to be used by the Church in America (currently we have to admit “churches” since the Orthodox do accept jurisdictional divisions) to help it grow and be the Church, not the Russian Church in America, or the Greek Church in America, but to be THE Church in America, the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church of the Holy Trinity. Autocephaly may have been originally gifted to the OCA, but it is for all Orthodox Christians who reside in North America. All Orthodox, in whatever jurisdiction they find themselves, should realize the gift as part of our history in America, and come to value it as much as they value their own current jurisdictional attributes.
The oracles of God were given to the Jews long before they could understand their importance. When the Christ came, the Jews did not recognize Him, despite their having the Torah and the prophecies which pointed to the Christ and whose meaning was revealed in Christ. The oracles were nevertheless essential for salvation. Thanks be to God the Jews didn’t discard the words given to them because they made no sense or because they didn’t think they were being fulfilled or because they were suffering in the desert or in exile. Neither should we Orthodox discard the autocephaly given to all Orthodox in America. However little we understand it, however little we imagine it being a key gift to the Church as a whole, we like the Jews must preserve it until we see its treasure revealed to us. It is a birthright granted to Orthodoxy in America by the grace of God.
by Fr. Ted Bobosh
“You cannot have God for your Father unless you have the church for your Mother.” (St. Cyprian of Carthage, d. 278, On the Unity of the Catholic Church)
“We believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.” (Nicene Creed)
The Episcopal Assemblies, the new effort to establish hierarchical unity for the Orthodox in America, accepts the assumption that there is a division within the universal Church between “mother” churches and then some form of immature/infant churches. The immature churches in this thinking apparently do not hold the fullness of the Faith, and are somehow less full or less catholic than the mother churches and so must keep a dependency on the mother churches.
It would seem pretty hard to defend this idea based in the Scriptures or in the idea of the church professed in the Nicene Creed in which there is only one Church – holy, catholic and apostolic – not different kinds of churches – mother, daughter and infant.
Indeed should not Jerusalem rather than Constantinople be considered the mother church of Orthodoxy?
When in the Acts of the Apostles, the Jerusalem Church learns of new Christian communities being formed (especially since they didn’t found these new communities, but only learned about them after they existed), the “mother of all churches” does send apostles to investigate the new communities, but then they are given the full hand of fellowship and not treated as somehow lesser, daughter or infant churches (see Acts 8:14ff, 11:19ff, 15:22ff). The Holy Spirit gives each local church the fullness of the faith, not the mother church whose role is to recognize the work of the Holy Spirit and to welcome into the Communion of believers the new congregations.
The Church is our mother, not the Russian Church or the Greek Church, but the Orthodox Church. The notion of “mother churches” creates an artificial division between churches, as if there is more than one church or more than one kind of church! We claim to believe in ONE church, not an extended family of churches with mothers and daughters of unequal rank (Ephesians 4:4-5). If anything, the OCA is a sister church to the Russian Church. Either the Russian mission brought the fullness of the faith to America or it did not. For the OCA to accept the idea of the Russian Church being our mother, rather than the Orthodox Church as our mother is to deny what we profess in the Creed about the Church, to deny the Eucharist fullness of each and every local church, to deny that there is any real ecclesial unity among all local churches, and to deny the Catholicity of each local Eucharistic assembly. When any Orthodox “jurisdiction” acts as if it is a dependency on a “mother” church rather than the fullness of faith incarnate in its locality in North America, then it is denying Orthodox ecclesiology. Parishes and dioceses and bishops which are in communion with the rest of Orthodoxy are fully Orthodox.
The working ASSUMPTIONS being made by those who want to emphasize that only the so called mother churches are fully Orthodox and Catholic are not ones that we should readily accept. Why betray the Creed’s clear belief in ONE church? The fullness of the faith is found wherever an Orthodox bishop is, and wherever an Orthodox Eucharistic assembly exists.
Questioning the autocephaly given to the Orthodox Church in America by the Russian Church, questions whether any Orthodox bishop or Church in fact is fully or truly Catholic and/or Orthodox; for such questions really are doubting the Orthodoxy and Catholicity not only of the Orthodox Church in America but of the Russian Orthodox Church as well.
In America, we Orthodox must wrestle with what it means that autocephaly has been give to the Church in America (not just to the OCA, but to the Orthodox in America). Let us wrestle with what the creedal proclamation of ONE church really means for that is the key to understanding autocephaly.
The unity of THE ONE Church lies in mutual love, in the oneness of the Eucharist, in the common mind of the one true faith, not in who was founded by whom, nor in who lords it over whom (Matthew 20:25-28, Mark 10:42-45, Luke 22:25-27).
(Editor's note: The following are reprinted from Fr. Ted's blog. The originals may be found here.)