The Greatest Need
by Archbishop Lazar (Puhalo)
Former Bishop of Ottawa
It would be difficult to catalogue all the problems in the Orthodox Church in North America, let alone in the rest of the world. We are not expected to reconcile the Church with the world or with the moral standards of worldly societies. We do, however, have to adapt ourselves to the realities of the cultures in which we live and hope to evangelise.
The 'Imperial Church' was itself an adaptation (some would say a corruption) to an era and culture that prevailed in a long past time. That time has long since vanished. We can no longer tell the laity to simply pay and obey, and not pay attention to the public life and financial matters of the Church.
We must, as Orthodox Christians, however, observe that the hierarchical nature of the Church is ordained and must be respected. The Church cannot be treated like a corporation. Attacking the hierarchs is not acceptable. This does not mean 'autocracy'. nor does it mean that the laity are there only to finance the operations of the Church, in silence. Indeed, many of the best developments in the Orthodox Church in North America in recent years have been the work of the laity.
It occurs to me more and more that the greatest need for the Orthodox Church today is to be finally liberated from the Byzantine Empire and from the antique Byzantine way of conducting the affairs of the Church. I cannot see how we can possibly have any sort of unity or witness the Orthodox faith in 21st century North America while we are still breathing the musty air of Byzantium. It is time to put away the mythologies and admit that the Empire destroyed itself from within, and the destruction came about from a long accumulation of pettiness. So long as we are infected with that self-defeating virus, we can hardly expect to have a different fate.
Our task is certainly not to Hellenize or Russify America, Mexico and Canada, nor can we expect to be taken seriously so long as we continue to base our polity and methodology on 13th century Byzantium. Our first duty as hierarchs is to teach the faithful and give them spiritual leadership (even those of us who are retired). None of us can claim anything like perfection; we are all humans with our human frailties and failings. We need the compassion and prayers of the faithful like everyone else. The burdens of administrative duties are realities that hierarchs must face, and the faithful must accept that these are heavy burdens for the hierarchs to bear.
Nevertheless, without the careful concern of the bishops about what is being taught in the parishes and how the Divine Services are being fulfilled, without the teaching role of the hierarchy and the spiritual leadership that we are supposed to be giving (even those of us who are retired), we do not have the fulness of Orthodox Church life. The 21st century presents us with unparalleled challenges to the faith. New questions are raised that must be responded to. Mere statements of concern are not sufficient. Hierarchs and priests must work much more closely with the laity in this present era. We have to be cognizant of the fact that the laity are less and less able to give the financial support than they once were, and this situation will become more difficult with each passing year. The price of oil, and the price of everything else that it effects is not going to become more manageable, but less so. There are enormous economic problems arising very quickly, and all these are having huge humanitarian consequences.
Fiscal prudence is not the only issue, but it is significant. Responding to the spiritual pressures and giving answers to the issues of the 21st century are of vital importance. Nineteenth century answers and superstitions will not sustain the faith and spiritual lives of the faithful in our century. We need to find the strength and presence of mind to make the great issues facing humanity, and facing the faith itself, outweigh the petty issues of Church politics and even the more significant matters of inter-jurisdictional relationships.
Just a thought for discussion, outraged remonstrances and, hopefully, some honest contemplation.
Your brother in Christ,
(His Eminence, the Most Reverend Lazar (Puhalo) of Ottawa, is a retired hierarch of the OCA and is the founding abbot of the Monastery of All Saints of North America in British Columbia, Canada.)