10.14.10 New Reflection
The Episcopal Assembly, the OCA, and the future Orthodox Church of the USA
by Fr Thomas Hopko
It’s not clear what is now happening for the establishment of an autocephalous Orthodox Church of the United States made up of the member churches of the former SCOBA. These are my questions:
What concrete steps are now being taken to establish an autocephalous Orthodox Church of the United States that would be recognized as a “sister church” by all the autocephalous Orthodox churches in the world?
What can Orthodox Christians in North America and around the world expect the Patriarchates of Constantinople, Antioch, Moscow, Romania, Serbia and Bulgaria to do with their North American “jurisdictions” to establish this self-governing Orthodox Church of the USA?
How will the future Orthodox Church of the USA relate to the dioceses and parishes in Canada and south of the US border that are now in North American “jurisdictions”?
And why should there be any problems regarding the OCA and its place in the US Episcopal Assembly and in the future Orthodox Church of the United States if the relationship between the Russian Orthodox Church and its North American missionary diocese was settled in 1970 and the OCA was always included in SCOBA?
It seems clear, at least to me, that the only real challenge in establishing an autocephalous Orthodox Church of the USA is the resolution of the current relationship between the old world patriarchates and their new world “jurisdictions”. There are no other problems. The Patriarchates of Constantinople, Antioch, Moscow, Romania, Serbia and Bulgaria have to bless their North American “jurisdictions” to interact with each other in establishing the autocephalous Orthodox Church of the United States, and the North American “jurisdictions” have to be willing to accomplish this task. That is all that is necessary.
The place of the OCA in establishing the self-governing Orthodox Church of the United States from members of the former SCOBA is irrelevant at this stage of the process. The OCA has already been blessed by its historical “mother church” to carry on its life as a self-governing “sister church.” One wonders, then, why the patriarchates with “jurisdictions” in North America (and why these “jurisdictions” themselves) are at all interested in the OCA at this point in the process of forming one Orthodox Church of the USA for all Orthodox Christians. “The ball”, as the saying goes, is solely “in the court” of the old world patriarchates and their new world “jurisdictions”. Discussion about the OCA at this point in the process is a meaningless distraction.
Let me offer a few more thoughts about the OCA in the present process.
Since its “pre-existence” as the Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church of America, (popularly known as the “North American Mission” or the “North American Metropolia,”), and since it was declared “autocephalous” by the Russian Orthodox Church in 1970, the OCA has sustained a clear and consistent position in all of its formal documents and statements. Since the Detroit Council of 1924 and at all subsequent “All-American Councils” it firmly stated that it cannot be a part, and still less a dependency, of the Moscow Patriarchate in any way. It defended its position as a “metropolia” with sufficient bishops, presbyters and people to carry on its life in its unique conditions under its own direction on the basis of an “ukaz” of St. Tikhon the Patriarch of Moscow that decreed that the ecclesiastical conditions of the Russian Church at that time required such action. (In fact, St. Tikhon advocated for the autonomy and eventual autocephaly of the North American archdiocese when he served as its archbishop from 1898 to 1907.) This position was formally recognized by the Russian Orthodox Church in 1970 when the Moscow Patriarchate granted autocephalous status to its multi-national missionary diocese and it became the Orthodox Church in (and not of) America.
Since becoming self-governing, the OCA never claimed to be the sole “canonical” church in America (whatever some misguided OCA zealots may say). It rather always contended that all the North American “jurisdictions” were “uncanonical” as long as they were not united in one church that would take its place among the world’s autocephalous Orthodox churches. Until that would happen, and by whatever arrangement (even, perhaps, through the leadership of the Ecumenical Patriarchate according to its interpretation of the Church’s canonical tradition, especially the debated Canon 28 of the Council of Chalcedon), the OCA was always ready to be in Eucharistic communion and practical cooperation with all Orthodox churches in the world, first of all those in North America. And it was always ready to be included in the one fully united self-governing American church, however it would be established. And it consistently demonstrated this position when some of the “old world churches” and their North American “jurisdictions” at various times, for various reasons, refused to be in sacramental and practical communion with it.
The OCA position from its very beginning was stated in 1971 in a small booklet entitled Answers on Autocephaly. This OCA publication answered 20 questions concerning OCA autocephaly. Those desiring an accurate understanding of the OCA position from its founding should feel obliged to study this little booklet which is now posted on the OCA website. (Fr. Ted Bobosh’s “blog” recently referred to this little booklet as a personal publication of mine, which it was not. It was an official publication of the OCA.)
The clear and consistent OCA position has been as clearly and consistently rejected by the Ecumenical Patriarchate and other Greek-led Orthodox churches from the beginning until the present day. Other Orthodox churches remained silent about it; and still do. And others offered their official recognition. But even in this strange and anomalous situation produced by a plethora of tragic historical events, all Orthodox churches in the world (except the old ROCOR and some sectarian “Old Calendarists” and “Traditionalists”) consistently offered the OCA de facto recognition while denying its status de jure. They did this just as they offered such recognition to the pre-existing “American Metropolia” known as the Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church of America. They did so by continuing in Eucharistic communion with this ecclesial body, and by inter-acting and cooperating with it in practical matters in countless ways.
Thus, in 1960 the “American Metropolia” was a founding member of the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in America. Before and after becoming the OCA it participated fully in all pan-Orthodox and inter-Orthodox projects and organizations such as CEOYLA, OCEC, OCF, OTSA, IOCC and OCMC, as well as international organizations such as SYNDESMOS and international meetings of Orthodox theological schools. And it continues in this same relationship with virtually all the Orthodox Churches in North America and around the world until now.
The OCA also provided extraordinary services to all Orthodox churches in North America and throughout the world. It did so in the areas of theological education, publication of books, production of educational resources, and translation and printing of liturgical texts and music. It also provided countless leaders and participants in countless retreats, conferences, missions and charities, as well as in countless official and unofficial social, philanthropic, ecumenical and inter-faith activities in North America, and internationally. OCA seminaries also trained hundreds of bishops, priests and church workers for Orthodox churches in North America and around the world. And patriarchs, bishops, scholars and church leaders of all Orthodox churches gladly accepted honorary degrees from its theological faculties. These include Patriarchs of Constantinople, Moscow, Antioch, Serbia and Georgia, and Orthodox luminaries like St. Justin Popovich of Serbia, Fr. Dimitru Staniloae of Romania and priests and theologians of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, Moscow Patriarchate, Antiochian Patriarchate, Romanian Patriarchate, the Churches of Greece and Poland, and the Church of Finland. They also include Archbishop Anastasios of Albania and Archbishop Demetrios of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.
Thus the only thing that matters today in the process of forming an autocephalous Orthodox Church of the United States is for the Patriarchates of Constantinople, Antioch, Moscow, Romania, Serbia and Bulgaria to work things out with their North American “jurisdictions” so that they, with the OCA, may all join together in the one autocephalous Orthodox Church of the United States which will take its place in world Orthodoxy with the other self-governing Orthodox churches of the world.
May God grant that the resolution of the relationships between the “old world patriarchates” and “new world jurisdictions” be the foremost task and goal of the newly established US Episcopal Assembly. And may the OCA be rightly and wisely included in this process according to its unique conditions as it always has been, for God’s glory, the edification of Christ’s Church, and the salvation of many souls.
Protopresbyter Thomas Hopko
St.Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary