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On Loyalty

by Fr. . Bartholomew Wojcik, Pella, IA

Glory to IC XC!

Something in the ecclesiastical controversies these last years and the Episcopal Assemblies points to question that needs to be asked: How important is jurisdictional loyalty?

No, I am not suggesting we should flee our bishops or parishes every time there is a scandal. Instead, I am asking: why do we have jurisdictional loyalty at all? Many commentators agree, as I do, with the pan-Orthodox vision of the OCA as a united, trans-ethnic, autocephalous Church for America. (But some of this site’s more obnoxious comments by OCA zealots have an overbearing air superiority. They are less compelling than repelling, potentially alienating their non-OCA brothers and sisters in Christ.) For the moment, let’s put aside the component of ethnic-based jurisdictional loyalty. Let’s even put aside the philosophical appeal of the OCA vision. Why does jurisdictional loyalty exist?

As I read the Scriptures, the Desert Fathers, and think about what the Church teaches on this matter, loyalty is always personal and it is both grounded in and motivated by love. Thus, can a jurisdiction command loyalty? Or do we confuse loyalty to a jurisdiction with loving Christ and His Church? Shouldn’t we be more clear that our loyalty ought not be to a jurisdiction at all, but only to Christ and His Church? And once it is, shouldn’t each jurisdiction be willing to die so that the Church may produce more abundantly both in terms of ministering Christ to its members and recovering and intensifying its missionary zeal for the rest of America?

Metropolitan JONAH has indicated that this is his view. Just as each person must die to himself so that Christ may be born in Him, so too must the OCA eventually pass away, being folded into a new, fully united, autocephalous all-American Church. This makes him the right man at the right time in this stage of our history. We have yet to see however, if this view will be accepted by the Orthodox of other jurisdictions, particularly their Bishops and foreign patriarchs.

This death can bring new life. Yet it can only occur if we recognize that our loyalties ought not be given to a jurisdiction, but only to persons, among the first, our own spiritual father— at least to the measure that we have one. (The term is overused, commonly applied to the parish priest or bishop, regardless of the depth of personal spiritual relationship to, dependence upon, or obedience to him, or lack thereof.) Likewise, a spiritual father should be loyal to his spiritual children. Second, loyalty lies with members of our own parish, the people with whom we pray and worship, whose joys and trials we share and with whom we share ours (if indeed we are the Christians we claim to be). Third, especially if we are priests, our loyalty ought to lie with our own bishop; a personal bond, of which jurisdictional affiliation is simply a technical necessity.

Archbishop JOB of thrice blessed memory was a true OCA loyalist - yet back in the OCA’s Time of Troubles, he appealed not to the OCA’s philosophical ideals but to fidelity to Christ. When it looked as if Metropolitan HERMAN was going to thwart the investigation into hierarchical malfeasance, +JOB pleaded that we “not turn our backs on the Cross.” He added, “I do not know if my conscience would allow me to remain in such a Church.”
Clearly in this simple and heartfelt appeal, +JOB revealed that his deepest loyalty rested in Christ and His Church. It was this personal, rather than institutional, loyalty that formed the considerable respect +JOB received from priests and laity alike. His episcopal integrity earned him a following that saw him as a genuine archpastor who loved his flock because He was first loyal to Christ. Correspondingly, +JOB’s flock loved him because he loved Christ, and in Christ, them.

As a result, + JOB’s confession during the Time of Troubles was received in the same spirit of honesty and sobriety in which it was given. There was no bravado, false modesty, selfishness, or pretense. Christ was raised above jurisdictional loyalty, and as a result, the Metropolitan Council, priests, laity, and others found courage to continue forward thereby saving the OCA from probable collapse.
God was merciful to us. He saw fit to bring about a cathartic conclusion to that Time of Troubles. But that mercy came through the courage of a man who showed us that Christ must be above all things.

Our loyalty ought to be given only to those whom we know love us in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We need to be loyal to Christ, and if we are loyal to Him we will be loyal to the Church, which is His body. But we must be careful not to confuse this loyalty with loyalty to a jurisdiction. They are not the same thing. The time will come when each jurisdiction must fail so that Christ can be glorified.

Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus!


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