Reflections On The Scandal
Fr. Michael Plekon:
On Being the Church
Years ago, in another crisis situation, namely the reaction to the granting of autocephaly, Fr. Alexander Schmemann wrote an essay, now collected in the anthology "Church, World, Mission". "A Meaningful Storm" is well worth rereading, along with a number of other essays in that collection, especially "Towards a Theology of Councils." The "storm" created by the request for, and granting of, autocephaly was for Schmemann disruptive, even divisive – but crucial for the life of the church here in America.
Put differently, the crisis and its messiness were worth the trouble provoked, because in the end they led toward a genuine ecclesial renewal, a "churching" of all the life of the people of God. Much was to be recovered in its wake, the conciliar or sobornal shape of the church in particular. Though not cited, these essays echo the work in recovery of a eucharistic ecclesiology of Fr. Alexander's mentor, Fr. Nicolas Afanasiev.
The church is hierarchical and conciliar, neither a clerocracy not a democracy, but as the Moscow Council of 1917-18 strove to insure, an assembly or communion of all the people of God. The bishops govern only because they have been elected to do so as the presiders at the Eucharist, namely as the servants of the servants of God. There is no division of the church into one part that rules and the other which is subject. Every Christian is by baptism prophet, priest and king. Looking back to this "storm" and to Fr. Schmemann's efforts (and Fr. Afanasiev's, also St. Tikhon of N. America & Moscow's) whatever "storm" there was, was most meaningful and worthwhile.
The more recent "storm" since November in the OCA has been, as St. Maria (Skobtsova) of Paris said of the Russian revolution, truly a "revelation" and an opportunity. Writing of the revolution, St. Maria said despite the great upheaval, the church was once more freed of dependence upon state and culture and free to be the arena of the Spirit, the sign of the Kingdom in this world.
Our present "storm" has provoked much pain, harsh words, denials, accusations. The essential question may be in the process but it has not yet fully been answered: "Are the allegations true or false?"
But the "storm has also evoked a great deal of good--a true ecclesial response from bishops, clergy & people, the whole people of God. It has been a challenge to rethink what we are as the church: what Paul Evdokimov meant but his description "L'etre ecclesial," "ecclesial being," being a true member of the church.
We ought not fear the implosion of the OCA. For if it does, it needed to fall apart or be demolished, if it were that far from being church. In any case, the "fullness" of the church is present in every assembly that gathers around the Gospel and the Eucharist and then celebrates the "liturgy after the liturgy," the works of lovingkindness for the neighbor.
Each local church is the church and constitutes in comunion with each other, the church universal, the "church of God in Christ." There can be as with Christ no separation, division or confusion among those who gather around the Table. The bishops must be present to preside, along with priests and deacon and people. The pastors have no purpose without the flock to shepherd. Bishops lead because the assembly has elected them to preside and serve. All the assembly celebrated the Eucharist, hears the Gospel and seeks to enact the good news in God's world, the place of our everyday lives.
A most difficult and painful time lies ahead.
Some may wish that it would all go away or be stopped or silenced by hierarchical fiat, some kind of "order" thereby being restored. But such would be the greatest dis-order, the most serious dis-placement of our ecclesial being, the most terrible dismissal of the people of God from their community.
Thus far, even without the convocation of a sobor, an AAC, many in the OCA have been given the gift of a renewal of churchly being. One might say we have been given precisely a Lenten springtime, a rebirth, another chance. In time, we will have to learn how to live and act as church again, not only in terms of administration and management of finances, but in mutual trust, in authentic canonical election of chief pastors and interdependent living with them, among many other aspects of church life.
Perhaps this way of the cross must first be walked before we can with St. Seraphim of Sarov, recognize the paschal joy and light in which we always live.