News From Orthodox America
• Syosset, NY
The Strategic Planning Committee of the Orthodox Church in America, a committee of the Metropolitan Council, together with Metropolitan Jonah, has been meeting regularly under the chairmanship of the Fr. Robert Arida, most recently on December 18th and 19th in Syosset. According to the Committee the strategic plan requires
“... the Church to describe her mission and how it can be implemented in the present time in America including, as necessary, a reexamination of administrative structures and governing Statutes.”
This process “...begins with certain elements of a vision that have so far been articulated by Metropolitan Jonah and the Holy Synod, and will ensure development of this vision through a conciliar process that is intended to engage virtually all members of the Church.” The Planning Committee promises that “...very soon all the faithful of dioceses and parishes will be encouraged to know what concerns the bishops and teachers of the Church have expressed; to respond to these concerns; and to expand upon these concerns and ideas in order to refine and advance the Church’s mission.”
One such “vision” being proposed by several members of the Synod is the elimination of the current parish representation system at All American Councils and its replacement with an All-American Council that would be composed of the Bishops and their Diocesan Councils as the delegates. Parishes would only be represented on the rare ocassions a new Metropolitan was to be chosen. The Metropolitan Council would then be composed of the Synod plus one clergy and lay delegate from each diocese, so as to “better reflect” the diocesan nature” of the Church.
• Indianapolis, IN
According to the late Archbishop Job in comments expressed at recent Deanery meetings before his untimely death last week, the St. Tikhon’s Investigative Committee completed its investigation late last month. According to the Archbishop as few records appear to exist, it has been difficult for the Committee to determine what happened at St. Tikhon’s bookstore and monastery in great detail. It is unclear if formal legal charges will be filed. The Archbishop suggested the financial troubles and woes may, in the end, be attributed to “sloppy bookkeeping”.
• Fargo, ND
The Society for Orthodox Christian History in the Americas (SOCHA) has created a website with articles and commentary exploring the known and little-known history of Orthodoxy on this continent at www.orthodoxhistory.org. Who knew about Orthodox Christians in colonial Virginia? Or that the first black Orthodox priest in America was ordained in 1908? Podcasts are available on Ancient Faith Radio, and there are hopes an annual, peer-review Journal will be ready for publication later this year.
• Dayton, OH
After ten days the comments section of OCANews.org has been restored. The host, Go-Daddy.com migrated to new servers, and in the process deleted the entire databank, and disabled the comments section. It has now been restored. We apologize for the inconvenience, and look forward to your comments again.
• Moscow, Russia
The following interview of Metropolitan Jonah by Miguel Palacio appeared on the website of the Russian Orthodox Church on December 15 under the title of “Indians could become the main ethnic group in the American Orthodox Church”. After giving a brief background on the OCA and the Metropolitan personally, the interviewer begins his Q&A:
"Your Beatitude, in which Latin American countries is the Orthodox Church in America represented?
The jurisdiction of our Church extends to Mexico. Previously, we also had some parishes in Argentina, Brazil, Peru and Venezuela. But some of them left for the Russian Church Abroad, others were closed.
Several communities in Latin America want to join the Orthodox Church in America. We would be happy to take these believers, but there is no one to care for them, because we have very few priests who speak Spanish or Portuguese.
A priest - I hope he will soon become a bishop - began a mission in Ecuador in Guayaquil, where settled major Palestinian colony. Unfortunately, in recent years, his good initiative was dampened. I heard that in Central American countries, particularly in El Salvador, there are many Palestinians. Curiously, they do not go to the parishes of the Antiochian Church, and have been asking to be accepted under our omophorion.
The Ecumenical and Antiochian Patriarchates prefer to care for the Greek and Arab diaspora. We do not understand this. The Church must give pastoral care, first of all to local spiritual children. This is a position of principle in the Orthodox Church in America.
When the Mexican Exarchate was established?
The Mexican Exarchate exists since the early 1970’s. At that time, the bishop of the Mexican National Old Catholic Jose Church, Jose (Cortes and Olmos), got in touch with our Church, and together with his community came to Orthodoxy. Because of his work, hundreds of Mexicans entered the Orthodox faith.
Recently, 5,000 Indians from 23 localities in the State of Veracruz were baptized Orthodox. However, such a huge mass of parishioners have only one priest. In the Mexican Exarchate there are in general very few clerics. All of them are Mexicans, including the ruling bishop - Bishop Alejo (Pacheco-Vera).
Have you ever been in Latin America?
I just visited Mexico. I’m now planning to go to Guatemala. My friend - Abbess Ines (Aiai), also lives there; she is Abbess of Holy Trinity Monastery which is in the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Antioch.
In Guatemala, my attention is drawn to a group of thousands of people wishing to convert to Orthodoxy. Most of them are Mayan people. If we accept these my Guatemalans, as well as representatives of indigenous peoples of other countries in Latin America, Indians could become the main ethnic group in the American Orthodox Church. Personally, I would be glad.
It is clear that you are sympathetic to the original inhabitants of the Americas ...
I feel very warm feelings for the Indians. At university I studied anthropology, and was fond of the Mayan and Aztec cultures. They are great and wonderful civilizations.
I like Latin America as a whole - its art, music, literature, cuisine. Latinos love life, they are open and hospitable people. I grew up in California - one of the most Latinized states in the US. From my Mexican friends I learned a little Spanish (although I speak it badly). The priest who united me to the Orthodox Church, was a Mexican. His name was Father Ramon Merlos.
What are the similarities and differences in the missionary work with the Indians of the United States and Latin America?
Frankly, I do not know. Our church has a missionary experience in Alaska, where a wonderful priest - Archpriest Michael Oleksa serves; he’s an anthropologist by profession. He is Carpatho-Russian, and his wife comes from the indigenous Yupik community. Father Michael wants to hold in Alaska a conference of Orthodox American Indians. It will be an extremely interesting event.
As the rector of the seminary, (St. Herman’s in Kodiak, Alaska) Father Michael recently invited the community from Guatemala, which is hungering for Orthodoxy, to send two of its members to obtain a theological education. The idea is certainly good, but people accustomed to a tropical climate, are unlikely to bear Alaskan cold.
Are there are a Hispanics among your parishioners in the U.S.?
Of course. In California, 35% of the population is Hispanic; in Texas it’s even greater. Latins are present in both the flock and clergy of our Church. St. Tikhon Seminary has a Mexican student with Indian roots; he’s named Abraham. He is a subdeacon. One subdeacon in San Francisco is of Colombian origin. At the end of November of this year, I consecrated a new convent in honor of the Nativity of Our Lord in Dallas -- where the abbess is Brazilian.
What, in your opinion, attracts Hispanics to Orthodoxy?
Latins love our liturgy and icons; they captivated by a deep reverence for the Mother of God, inherent in the Orthodox Church. I must say that the Catholic Church is rapidly losing influence in Latin America because of her close ties with the upper classes of society. Many of the poor, who are the majority of the population of the region, are disappointed in the Catholic pastors and have joined the Protestants, Mormons and other sectarians.
Metropolitan Andres (Giron), the head of the Order of White Clergy of St. Basil the Great in Guatemala, was formerly a Catholic priest. He saw that his leaders were focused on the rich, and in the early 1990’s left the Catholic Church, because he wanted to work for the people. Recently Metropolitan Andres told me: “I’m already old and sick. Please, take my people to your church for their salvation.” His community can hardly be called Orthodox, but gradually it will learn the faith and will be united to the traditions of the Orthodox Church. In addition to Guatemala, Bishop Andres has opened parishes in Los Angeles, San Francisco and other cities in the United States where his countrymen settled.
You are not afraid of a conflict with the Catholic Church? Despite everything, Latin America is still considered the “principal diocese of the Vatican.”
There will be no conflict. .... Moreover, I see great potential for co-operation with the Catholic Church, particularly in opposing sectarianism."
(You can read the full text in Russian at www.pravoslavie.ru/guest/33155.htm)