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Facing Criticism,

+Jonah Offers Great Friday Apology 

The public debate among Orthodox leaders regarding power and position in North America took an interesting turn on Great Friday, when Metropolitan Jonah used the opportunity of the most solemn day on the Orthodox calendar to publicly “repent” of  recent “uncharitable” and  “insensitive” remarks.  In a posting on the OCA website the Primate of the Orthodox Church in America wrote: 

“I greet you in a spirit of repentance and forgiveness as we celebrate the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ. Certain comments that were made in the course of my sermon have provoked a reaction from my Orthodox brothers that I did not intend or foresee. I regret making those comments. In particular, I realize that some characterizations regarding the Ecumenical Patriarch and the Patriarchate of Constantinople were insensitive. ...It is now clear that I made statements that were uncharitable. I do apologize to His All-Holiness as well as to others who were offended.”

The Metropolitan did justify his words, but he did offer an explanation for them: 

“As the Primate of the Orthodox Church in America,

I am motivated only by the desire to underscore our fervent hope that future discussion about the so-called Orthodox Diaspora will include the Orthodox Church in America and other Orthodox jurisdictions in North America. It is also my purpose to affirm our Church in the face of those who would question our presence as a local Orthodox Church in North America.”

Jonah then  offered the Old World a way forward, beyond claims of primacy and power, stating: 

“I also hope that through personal contact and acquaintance we might be able to overcome any misunderstandings that might arise or have clouded the relationship between our Churches in the past. My hope is that we might cooperate in an attitude of mutual support in our common mission, to spread the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.  In the spirit of this Great and Holy Friday, I sincerely pray that as we contemplate Our Lord, Who ascended the Cross to “bring all men to Himself,” we will see in His patience and long-suffering the way to continue our work together for the witness and mission of Orthodoxy in the world and for Orthodox unity in North America.”

The Debate

The current debate among the three leading Orthodox jurisdictions in North America heated up this past winter  with comments by Metropolitan Philip  of the Antiochian Archdiocese  and Metropolitan Jonah,  each raising questions about the validity of the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s role in North America.  In  March Constantinople, in the person of  Archimandrite Elpidophoros Lambriniadis, the Chief Secretary of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, answered. In a widely-publicized speech given at Holy Cross Seminary in Brookline, Lambriniadis called the two American hierarchs out by name. (Read his comments here.) Two weeks later, in  an energetic homily at a Pan-Orthodox Vespers at St. Seraphim Cathedral in Dallas, Metropolitan Jonah told the Ecumenical Patriarchate:

“There is a North American Church. Leave it alone.”  (Read his homily here, or watch the video). This, in turn, occasioned a public rebuttal in the form of a “Statement” from the  Order of St. Andrew The Apostle, the organization of the Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarch in America. (An "Archon" is a title awarded by the Patriarchate to those in  the Greek Orthodox community who have demonstrated to “a greater than average degree (their) commitment toward the stewardship of time, talent, and treasure, for the betterment of the Church; Parish-Diocese; Archdiocese; and the community as a whole.") (Read that statement here.)  

Metropolitan Philip has not been silent either. In an interview published in the Word Magazine this month, the senior American Orthodox hierarch (having been primate of his jurisdiction  for more than 40 years)  had added this pointed comment on the debate: “If certain ancient quarters leave us alone, we could do many things here.” The Metropolitan then continued by complaining about the failure of the Greek-led SCOBA

(The Standing Conference of Orthodox Bishops in the Americas) to achieve its goals, and the overall lack of Orthodox unity in America. (Read the Word magazine interview here

The Apology

Will Jonah’s apology quiet the growing war of words?  Certainly, the Metropolitan, who is planning to visit Constantinople in May, hopes so. It is also likely that Metropolitan Philip, confronted with growing unrest in his Archdiocese because of its recent degradation of dioceses and attempted reduction of its diocesan bishops to auxiliary status, may be focused on internal issues of unity, rather than on external ones. 

Fortunately, the recent war of words seems to have spurred a renewed interest in  American Orthodox history. In his reflection published today on OCANews.org, Fr. Oliver Herbel, an OCA priest serving in the Antiochian Archdiocese, argues that the OCA “myth” of a golden age of Orthodoxy unity in America before the revolution, and Constantinople’s interpretation of Canon 28, are both misleading. Rather, the priest argues for a missionary perspective for the story of the Church in America, one that sees unity as a goal, not as a fact; and primacy, not as a right, but as a means of working towards unity. (Read that here.)

But perhaps the most important  development to emerge from the debate, regardless of how the struggle for power and primacy in the American Church turns out, is the attitudinal change the apology demonstrates at the top of the Orthodox Church in America. After two Metropolitans who to this day refuse to apologize for misusing and misdirecting millions in Church funds, to have a Metropolitan who publicly apologizes for “uncharitable” remarks is a profound change indeed. 

- Mark Stokoe



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