LOOKING BACK ON AMERCAN ORTHODOXY 2008
One Man’s Opinion
by George Matsoukas, Executive Director
Orthodox Christian Laity
Reflecting back on the events in our Orthodox Church over the past year is hampered by the fact that our Church is jurisdictionally fragmented. Much good and dynamic work is being accomplished in all jurisdictions. At the same time, that work is not always easy to spot because they are buried in duplicated efforts, not supported by other jurisdictions, under-funded, and all the other problems our fragmentation fosters.
Nevertheless, bright spots exist, much of it involving communications. Excellent books on all aspects of the faith have been published this year, both by the seminary presses and independents. Ancient Faith Radio and Again magazine merged. This promises that their already fine work will get better. Orthodox Christian Fellowship, the organization that reaches out to our college students, set up new administrative offices in Indiana in late October; a move that will better serve the needs of our Orthodox youth.
Clearly the awareness is growing that we must meet the informational and program needs of the faithful in a more efficient and responsible manner. These are good developments.
The two most important events from my perspective however, are
1) The Synaxis (meeting) of the Autocephalous Patriarchs and Hierarchs in Istanbul in October; and
2) the elevation of Metropolitan Jonah in the Orthodox Church of America (OCA).
The Synaxis (meeting) of Autocephalous Patriarchs/Hierarchs
The Synaxis met on October 10, 2008 and two days later issued a call for a Great and Holy Council. The hierarchs agreed to reconvene the pre-conciliar planning meetings that were stopped in 1995 after the canonists who met at Chambesy, Switzerland wanted to draw up detailed plans for Episcopal assemblies of the diaspora. “Disapora” is a troubling term because it defines the American Orthodox as exiles from their homeland when it is clear that America is their home.
Orthodox Christian Laity (OCL) has consistently advocated for a Great and Holy Council since 1990. The OCL board members expressed their view that a council should be called as soon as practically possible in a private meeting with the Ecumenical Patriarch as far back as 1993. Further, OCL has hosted 19 annual meetings dealing with Orthodox unity since its founding in 1987. Our most recent publication “Orthodox Christianity at the Crossroad: A Great Council for the Church -When and Why,” features talks delivered by passionate and informed hierarchs, clergy, and laity, and will be available by Lent, 2009.
The Elevation of Metropolitan Jonah
Closer to home, the most significant event was the elevation of Metropolitan Jonah as Primate of the OCA. Metropolitan Jonah has a view on Episcopal leadership that is rooted in the teachings and practices of the Church Fathers that portends a new era of leadership; one that many of our hierarchs have forgotten.
His talks reveal a remarkably open view of church administration involving clergy and laity working together in synergia (cooperation); a definition of the hierarch as doulos (“servant” or even “slave” in the classical sense of the term) to his flock; and an insistence on complete financial transparency. He may become a very important figure in the move from a medieval model of Church governance to practices more appropriate for our age and culture that is also more in line with the patristic model.
The election of Metropolitan Jonah is significant because it arose out of decades of discord and corruption in the OCA. Many people who labored for years were involved in the work that led to his selection. The election process in particular was exemplary. All delegates to the All American Council, the chief governing assembly of the OCA, cast a vote. The Constitution of the OCA requires the participation of the laity in the selection of their First Hierarch. While the OCA Synod of Bishops has the right to reverse the choice of the people, it was clear that in this case they listened to the voice of the laity and chose a man untainted by the corruption that plagued previous administrations. As he gets ready for his enthronement December 28 at St. Nicholas Cathedral Washington D.C., we pray that he remains worthy and that God grant him many years.
Lessons for the Church in America
It must be noted that election of Metropolitan Jonah would not have been possible without the faithful endurance of many lay people who love Christ and His Church. The OCA is undergoing a culture change, led in large part by the lay people themselves. One significant contribution was made by Mark Stokoe, who in 2006 established the website “Orthodox Christians for Accountability” known by its moniker as OCA News.
OCA News helped make the People of God accountable to each other. Mark Stokoe’s work was a labor of love. His commitment to truth and integrity kept the important issues in view (despite many efforts to discredit him). Mr. Stokoe’s dogged insistence that the OCA must confront the corruption compelled the Metropolitan Council and the Synod to act in ways that affirmed the value of accountability and transparency.
Mark Stokoe and his supporters have taught us an important lesson: we can use the tools of modern communications for the good of the Church. Thousands of hours of hard work caused the restoration of balance that Metropolitan Jonah’s selection represents. OCA News proved that when all members of the Church – clergy and laity alike –work together in truth and love as vigilant defenders of the truth, the Church is better for it.
St. Paul wrote when defining the different functions of the Body of Christ that, “The eye cannot say to the hand (that) I have no need of you.” OCA News set a high standard and met it and thereby revitalized a discouraged jurisdiction. It’s a model of the equilibrium that can be created when the hierarchy, clergy, and laity work together.