Archimandrite Meletios Webber's Comments
(Transcribed from opening remarks given to the Diocesan Assembly of Diocese of the West, held 9 October 2008, at the Church of Annunciation in Milwaukee,Oregon.)
"I'm very pleased to be here, to meet you all. It's a little much to see so many new faces, but I hope, by the end of the day at least, I will at least have spoken to each one of you individually, and exchanged a few words.
I want to start off by giving a little insight into something which I think is important for you, because it's important to me in this new position. I've spent most of my adult life as a member of the clergy of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, both in Greece and England, and latterly also in the United States. And I came to the United States in '84, and apart from a three year stint in the Netherlands which I just completed, I've been in the States since then, and so I'm a relatively new American.
And like new Americans, I gain impressions slowly of what this country is all about. At the beginning I was living in Missoula, Montana, so I can't say that it was a particularly universal expression. In fact I used to go in to Malmstrom Air Force Base in Great Falls, Montana from time to time, just to see what America looked like. You crossed that border and it was a different country! There were some black people for example. Very exciting things going on back there -whereas in Missoula and Great Falls are relatively sort of quietly Scandinavian in their approach to life: sort of white and rather dull...
And if I were to say, if I were to ask myself, "What do I find?" - as a European, essentially, someone with deep roots in Europe- "What do I find particularly attractive in America?", and I think its a fair question, but it isn't asked at the moment very often in Europe, I have to say, my answer would be:
America has two things which I regard as very important. One is ingenuity, and the other is - a taste for outright honesty. As some of you may know, I move in some circlesin which rigorous honesty is regarded as the sine qua non of the spiritual life. An alcoholic who doesn't get honest with himself dies. That's been my training for the last few years. As such I don't find that incompatible with my life either as an Orthodox Christian or as a citizen of this country.
I have seen however, even in the short period in which I have been watching America, a sort of paradigm shift, in the direction of more rigorous honesty. If you want to take as a mark of what I mean, if you compare the way that the sort of behavior that John Kennedy got away with, and was expected to be able to get away with as the most powerful man in the world, and then the same behavior, basically, with Bill Clinton a few years later, you'll see that the country has upped its demand of its leaders. There's been a shift. We don't expect personal power to be misused, no matter how high the officer. And I think for our Orthodox Church in America that's also something very, very important.
From a European point of view, there'll be many people over there pointing their finger and saying, "Aha! The Orthodox Church in America, you see, it was never mature enough to get autocephaly". And I want to stand here this morning and say to you: I don't think that's true. I think you have to be aware, each and every one of you, although it's sort of an old topic now, that the autocephaly of The Orthodox Church in America is the most precious commodity that you possess. That it's like a little shoot in the ground, not a full grown tree by any means. And something that needed to happen for that autocephaly to take root - autocephaly, that's the posh Greek word for independence - for that autocephaly to take root was that there should be a jolt somewhere along the line, where the old ways of doing things were left behind and new ways of doing things were discovered. And I think we've just watched that jolt happen. Please God, that was the jolt. Please God, that was the big one.
With reference to ingenuity, my prediction is this, and if I'm wrong, mark it on my grave, any time you like. My prediction is that The Orthodox Church in America is the seed of something way beyond anything we can imagine. I also predict that, in the long term, the ingenuity of the American people will find the way to do something which no Church on Earth has yet done, and that's to balance the sources of power from hierarchy, which tends to go from the top to the bottom, with the sources of power from democracy, where power goes from the bottom to the top, and do both in balance, with the distinct and absolute factor that Christ is at the top of the ladder. We're not here to set up a system, an ecclesiastical system that is safe for us, or for our children. We're here to proclaim the Gospel. And that sometimes will take sacrifices beyond measure.
But I believe that the honesty of the American people, as evidenced, I think, by what's happened with the Special Investigating Commission and so on, the honesty of which this Church is possible, can carry this through. And I ask God that it will be carried through, in due course.
Tha's just someone coming from the outside, a little pat on the back, perhaps. But also a challenge. Now I'll move on to what I was going to say for the rest of the talk.....
(You can read the rest of Fr. Meletios' talk here)
(Fr. Meletios is the new Superior of St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco monastery in Manton CA, replacing Fr. Jonah (Paffhausen), who was recently chosen, and consecrated as the new vicar Bishop of the South.)