Friday, May 1. 2009
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"Those who may be interested in his conversion can soon read either my dissertation or the forthcoming book version (though there will be some lag time with the latter)." Where might we obtain copies of your dissertation? I would have a great interest in reading it.
#1 Fr. Matthew on 2009-05-01 06:54
What I find most disconcerting in Fr. Oliver's findings is how innate and ingrained phyletism is in Orthodoxy. Not just run of the mill xenophobia, ethnic chauvinism or even the typical ethnic preference of a new immigrant, but the ecclesiastical blessing of the Church, her bishops, dioceses and parishes being divided on cultural lines that was clearly argued against in the spat between Constantinople and the Bulgarian church in the 19th Century. Fr. Oliver has called attention to important exceptions to this tendency (IRvine, Morgan, Bjerring) in addition to the Russian Mission's work among the Native Alaskans. However, it is hard not to assume - and perhaps uncharitably so - that the 'evangelism' that many Orthodox were referring to was the 're-evangelism' of immigrants of Orthodox background and not anything else. Practically, this makes perfect sense, but in a Church that has separately organized itself along ethnic and cultural lines cannot then easily transition from its focus on new immigrant evangelism to being The Church in this place for all Orthodox and to all non-Orthodox - one's bylaws don't allow it, one's mindset of who 'our people' are won't allow it, and perhaps one's church 'back home' won't allow it for various reasons (good, bad, and based on misunderstanding).
In fact, it is a great scandal to ethnically non-Orthodox Orthodox Christians and their families. How can a Church that claims to be the Church outside of which there is no (or no sure) salvation purposely wall itself off from the people of the country they find themselves? How can they follow the wishes of its current membership over the command of Christ to enlarge that membership with all peoples? How can each jurisdiction decided that the lost sheep are primarily those of their ethnicity and not the 98% of the US that is outside of the Church? Perhaps the bishops and people believe the Orthodox Church is really only an ethnic, tribal church; a sort of synagogue for the Chosen People of Greece, Russia, etc. that is open to proselytes that wish to become became a part of that nation and not just its Church. Unfortunately, these actions and their underlying, implicit values are as common in those favoring a 'branch theory' of Christianity as it is in those claiming Orthodoxy alone as the One, True Church. It is a shame that the examples of the great missionary saints of Greece and Russia are so ignored; Sts Cyril and Methodius, Innocent and Herman could all evangelize without hellenizing and russifying.
May the Lord help us all to see each parish's responsibility and call to be The Church for all Orthodox, to all non-Orthodox, and not as either living museums of foreign culture or halls for the religious whims of its members. Each parish is Christ's, not ours, for all regardless of our separate, local traditions.
I would consider Fr. Herbel a friend, so it is important I make clear my likely bias.
I basically wrote a long response and then didn't submit it before because I know zero about Orthodox history and really couldn't offer a qualified opinion.
What I did originally say was basically that it was the start of a good dialogue, and that it was a true blessing for Orthodoxy that we had more than only Russian speaking missions for a country full of many non-Russians. And my family would be considered part of the Russians, to a degree, but even within the Russians are variations in dialects, so my bias is pretty much not an issue in this opinion.
I also suggested that the history, while it paints a picture of the past and can help us minimize future mistakes, does not a picture of the future create.
This can only be done with dialogue and a focus on the future, not the past.
If people are truly concerned about Orthodoxy, they would understand that changing to English is a requirement. While we still have immigration, it is not to the degree of past movements of people. In changing to English, I'm not certain men cannot move beyond territorial disputes.
In fact, it is my hope that Orthodoxy can be a shining example of a societal group that exists across simple land boundaries and focuses on the needs of people like it did before. If the Canons don't allow it, then perhaps the canons never realized the melting pot of America and perhaps, just perhaps, those parts of the Canons are wrong.
Now, for those of you that are aghast, the alternative is an English speaking church only, so think about that before you call me a fool for saying there is probably something wrong with the Canons.
And recall, dogs are highly territorial, some men can think.
#3 Daniel E. Fall on 2009-05-01 10:40
"Tikhon’s proposal assumed a breakdown along ethnic lines, not geographical lines."
It's delightful to think of the current garden of American Orthodoxy (untamed as it is) as a fulfillment of Bp Tikhon's original vision, rather than the uncanonical disaster that we so often proclaim it to be...
Hear! Hear! Well said!
I'd pick an untamed garden Orthodox American Church over a homogenized Wonder Bread American Orthodox Church any day of the week.
Through the prayers of St. Tikhon, may we work to become Orthodox Americans rather than American Orthodox.
#5 Anonymous on 2009-05-01 17:42
That's just sick. The current "untamed" status of American Orthodoxy in no way, shape, or form resembles St. Tikhon's original vision of American Orthodoxy. St. Tikhon envisioned a single, local Holy Synod of bishops, administratively united, not the current chaotic mix of overlapping jurisdictions controlled from overseas for the sole purpose of shoveling money back to the respective "old countries."
Sic semper tyrannis,
#6 Nemo on 2009-05-01 17:48
To be honest, I'm not sure that the saint's vision wasn't a recipe for uncanonical disaster. The fractures even within the subset of American Orthodox covered by the Russian archdiocese were beginning to show before and during St. Tikhon's time. We must remember that just because someone is a saint does not mean that every idea he has is a good one.
At the very least, it represented a major departure from the (then) 19 centuries of Church history which preceded it, in which ecclesiastical territory is delineated along geographic lines, which are not necessarily identical with secular boundaries, by the way (all of the ancient patriarchates, for instance, are multi-national and multi-state entities).
#7 Fr. Andrew on 2009-05-01 20:20
It seems to me that, whether St. Tikhon's original missionary vision was one of ethnic boundaries or of a more normal Orthodox ecclesiology is irrelevant at this point in the life of the Church in America. Just because he implemented the use of hierarchs from various Mother Churches to reach out to the Americans of these ethnic backgrounds does not prove that this was the sum total or the "end" of his vision. Perhaps he considered this a necessary beginning, a means to an eventual end.
Surely such a visionary and holy man did not view the missionary work of America as being completed once all old country Orthodox were corralled into a parish established to cater to their culture and language. However, no truly compassionate missionary would ignore these needs either but would create a pastoral situation in which they could thrive and grow in their Faith and pass it on to their children who would assimilate the language and culture of this country.
Is this discussion premised on the idea that St. Tikhon (or anyone for that matter) was so one-dimensional? Certainly he could have two things in mind simultaneously -- the pastoral care of the ethnic flocks AND the eventual preaching of the true Faith to the more "indigenous" Americans.
Furthermore, if his vision was as short-sighted as to consider only the recapture of Orthodox Christians, and not the bringing of the Gospel to the westerners of this country, he would have to be considered misguided or unable to break out of a mold formed by his preconceptions.
My guess is that while his long term vision was the evangelization of America with an eventual autonomy or even Patriarchate, he reacted to the facts "on the ground" as almost any pastor would have done. Even today when we Orthodox plant a mission, we gather together the Orthodox who are already living in a particular place and use that as our nucleus. Trouble is, depending on the cultural, spiritual, and other issues, that very nucleus becomes a drag on the goal itself which is to convert non-Orthodox.
Since the vast majority of the lay people within the American mission most likely lacked any missionary zeal (outside of their own ethnic group) or true theological vision, those "missionary" outposts became a distraction to the true mission and an end in themselves.
We don't know what would have happened or not happened had the Russian revolution not taken place. What we do know is that the situation in America (envisioned or not) is not in conformity with Orthodox ecclesiology.
#8 Fr. Michael Shanbour, Spokane, WA on 2009-05-02 20:50
If we can only guess what St Tikhon's vision might have been, isn't it a bit presumptuous to make a case for how the Church in America should be structured? We have no precise idea of his vision, either in terms of documents are actions. He seemed to be pretty much occupied with the existing Orthodox immigrants and their existing ethnic divides.
Based on the many years I lived in America, and in many areas, I must agree with you that the most common form of "mission" was a ministry to existing Orthodox Christians. And I would also agree that most of these missions would become so involved in creating a parish, complete with facilities, that little energy was left for real evangelizing. And, if more existing Orthodox came out of the woodwork while building the "mission", the increase in membership and financial wherewithal overshadowed a "need" for evangelizing.
And, it is totally irrelevant to the health of the Church in America to speculate about what would have happened or not happened had the Russian revolution not taken place. The Revolution did take place, and whether or not it was the cause of the current mess in North America is not only impossible to determine, but it is immaterial. You cannot pretend it is 1917 and apply a 1917 corrective action.
Fr Herbel's work deserves serious contemplation. For whatever reason, the "mind and spirit" of the Orthodox in America has never been truly evangelical or focused on "making disciples of this nation". I am not saying that converts are not made. There is just no vision of "nation". Jurisdictional issues aside, would it not be worthwhile to understand why, and begin to correct that general failing? You have alluded to one reason. How can that be cured?
Both the ecclesiology and the execution of the "Great Commission" are substandard.
#9 Overseas Observer on 2009-05-03 11:47
I see where my first sentence above was not quite what I meant to say. It should read:
If we can only guess what St Tikhon's vision might have been, isn't it a bit presumptuous to use this "guess" to make a case for how the Church in America should be structured?
#10 Overseas Observer on 2009-05-03 22:40
I would very much like to know more about what, if any, active or informed involvement there was in setting up Orthodox churches in North America (and, relatedly, around the world). The fact that parishes were set up with antimensia simply meant there were priests with antimensia - but for what purpose and blessed by who? Were there, in fact, antimensia, or were these provided after the fact? Were they 'missionary' antimensia meant for traveling priests serving on ships, or were they intended as antimensia in the establishment of parishes and permanent jurisdiction? It should also be remembered that there are any number of 'schismatic' priests today that have antimensia from their days as 'canonical' priests. Were there parishes established by schismatic groups stemming from the Bolshevik Revolution and the Old Calendarist schism(s) - can their later incorporation into 'canonical' Orthodoxy serve as the basis for another, canonical church's standing in the New World? Even the categories 'schismatic' and 'canonical' can be fuzzy in times past. These basic facts may tell us something about the level of informed involvement there was on the part of bishops and of the Holy Synods of the various autocephalous churches that established parishes in the New World. Did they know there were already Orthodox parishes, dioceses and bishops in the New World? If they did, did they see no problem in setting up overlapping, parallel organizations to serve 'their' people? While this may be the reality, is it canonical?
I don't expect these questions to provide a clear answer as to which is the 'rightful' jurisdiction in America, but I do think it is an important, canonical part of the story of American Orthodoxy that should not simply be glossed over as unimportant.
I wonder, too, what the vision was regarding a transition from ethnic parishes with these new immigrants' needs to communities for all Orthodox and to all non-Orthodox? Did anyone think that far ahead? Did anyone think of the canonical requirements after the economia of ethnic jurisdictionalism? Did anyone think of the second-, third- and fourth descendants of these immigrants? Were all these parishes assumed to be little more than temporary chapels until they all went 'back home'? Does this affect our view of the permanence (or not) of these jurisdictions in the New World? Is there a way to ensure respect for ethnic traditions and support for Home Churches without undermining the canons, without overlapping jurisdictions, without either 'homogenizing', 'innovating', 'russifying', 'hellinizing', or 'americanizing' the Church in America while also reaching out to evangelize the non-Orthodox in America? Did anyone how that vision?
I have been in an Orthodox mission community for ten years, we are in a store front. We do not have the same people in our mission from the time we started (with the exception of a few souls and the majority of our people are Orthodox who have come from other religious backgrounds or no religious affiilation)and if were were to count on those who are Orthodox from outside the US (who live in our community) to come to church, we would wait for the second coming. Americans are a mobile society. Instead of creating excuses for why we aren't being successful let's look at the reasons why it is very difficult to build a mission. Orthodox mentality of bishops, clergy are to focus on providing liturgical services to its Orthodox members only. How many Orthodox clergy are involved in community outreach--chaplains at hospitals, visible in the community religious and nonreligious organizations. The first big real problem is each (ethnic) Orthodox jurisdiction present and former ethnic Orthodox jursidiction has separate administration. Do our bishops even talk to one another to solve these "canoncial" problems. How do Orthodox appear to the American public? Have our bishops spoken out on stem cell research, surrogate parentage and other such moral problems as a united voice? It is easy to blame the laity for not having a missionary zeal, where is the missionary zeal of our hierarchs. It doesn't really truly matter what St. Tikhon meant by his vision in the real sense, because not one hierach in the United States has even tried to emulate the missionary approarch. The former uniates -- many felt that they were always Orthodox; it was in their hearts. Their ancestors were baptized by SS Cyril & Methodius. The Union of Brest was done by the hierarchs and the political powers of the government. It is of little value to argue who was and who wasn't canoncial. Its time to stop debating and get down to coming together to be more unified in our Orthodox presence in the United States and work toward one administrative Orthodox church with one bishop in each geographical area. But the majority of our bishops are not actively working towards this end. So we will continue to compete with each other and duplicate programs and continue to financially fund the mother churches.
#12 anonymous on 2009-05-04 09:32
The problem with what you are saying is that you fail to include Americans as part of the problem. Show me one OCA parish where a real cross section of America is represented. Show me one maily convert parish where the people are not predominantly white/middle-upper class/ex-protestants or catholics? Where are the Americans of Asian ancestry, where are the black Americans?, where are the Hispanic Americans? Orthodoxy in America seems indeed to be split along ethnic grounds, even, and maybe even more so in "convert" parishes. This finger pointing is non-sense, we are all part of the problem, "ethnic (really this word explains nothing at all, but generally refers to the Russians, Greeks, Arabs)" and "American" (in reality translates to white/middle-upper-class/ex-catholics or protestants).
I'm NOT saying anybody is racists, but that "converts" need to wake up and realize we, too, participate in the very ethnic country club mentality that we accuse the Russians, Greeks and Arabs of. We need to reach out to Americans who are not white/middle-upper-class/ex-catholics or protestants.
#13 Anonymous on 2009-05-04 09:51
Usually, parishes were started by laypeople, who then petitioned for a priest. Greeks usually dealt directly with the Patriarch of Constantinople or the Archbishop of Athens. A lot of the oldest OCA parishes began as Uniate churches and were received into Orthodoxy at the request of the parish community. Because of proximity, obviously the Russian bishops were more involved int the lives of their parishes than were the EP and Abp of Athens. Even with the Russians, though, it was hard for one bishop to administer an entire continent (or, after 1904, the entire continental United States). Improperly credentialed priests were a problem (moreso among non-Russian churches), but it's not clear to what extent.
Many Orthodox thought that they would unite with the Episcopal Church, and that may be part of the reason why there was little emphasis on evangelism, even among people like St. Tikhon. Of course, Russian evangelism was focused on the Uniates. There are examples of individual missionary efforts (e.g. Irvine and Morgan, as Fr. Oliver mentions), but they were more the exception than the rule. It's very hard to understand this time period without understanding the almost alarmingly warm Orthodox-Episcopal relations that existed. If the Episcopal Church was essentially the same as the Orthodox (which many at the time thought, based disproportionately on good relations with High Church Episcopalians), then why bother converting Americans who could just as easily become (or already be) Episcopalian? That obviously proved to be erroneous, but I gather it's how many Orthodox people thought back then.
#14 Ferris Haddad on 2009-05-04 13:53
One of the first things I noticed when visiting my first Orthodox service was how much less white bread the congregation was, compared to my former Lutheran church. Let's see...in our parish we have East Africans, East Indians, African Americans, a Brazilian or two, an Aleut from Alaska, Egyptians, Jews and quite a few Russians and Ukrainians. Most of us, true, are white Americans, something that might be expected in Oregon, which has relatively small minority populations. (Maybe we should import some, to make you happy?) We are far from being upper-class, either. We even have quite a few poor people. Now, if we're not supposed to gain converts from among Protestants or Catholics, where else, in America, would they come from? News flash, anonymous, the vast majority of religious Americans ARE either Protestant or Catholic; there's not much fishing to be done outside of those two ponds. Also, I have no idea what a "mally" parish is. Could you please enlighten us all with a specific example or two? Or would it bog down a splendid rant to encumber it with a fact or two?
#15 Scott Walker on 2009-05-04 14:55
Fr. John Behr calls this stipulation into question, somewhat, in his "One in Christ: An Historical Look" (AGAIN Vol. 28 No. 2, Summer 2006) available here:
Of course, you are correct that the continuity of tradition that has come down to us is clearly 'one bishop, one city' according to geography. That has enormous weight - we can't arbitrarily pick and choose bits from our past and pretend it is legitimate because it was once, in another context. Still, the fact of these exceptions are as important a set of precedents to be aware of as is the information Fr. Oliver is presenting to the Church. It is no use building arguments on false facts and creation myths.
How many of those people you mentioned come from non-Orthodox backgrounds? Most of those, with the exception of the Brazilian(s) and African American, it is fair to assume come from Orthodox (Chalcedonian and non-Chalcedonian) backgrounds. Again, the problem is not racisim. In my own parish, which I love greatly, of over 400 members, there are a handful of Latinos, one or two African Americans, one Asian American. However, the demographics here are heavily minority. Latinos make up nearly 35% of the population, African American about 25%, Asian Americans about 3%. Why doesn't my parish even come close to reflecting that diversity?
You are right about the two ponds, but why don't we have larger numbers of African Americans (non Ethiopians or Eretrians), Latinos and Asian American (churched and un-churched) converting to Orthodoxy?
Scott, it is understandable that in your Oregon parish, there would be few minorities of non-Orthodox ancestry represented. So, I will concede that my "rant" does not apply to you, or to any other parish where the dominant population is white and there are very few minorities. But, do you think we are doing enough to reach ALL Americans? Surely you can agree with me that there much more we could, and must do to reach Latinos, African Americans and Asian American.
Sadly, however, it has been my experience as I travel across this fine country that minorities are grossly underrepresented in our parishes, even in areas where minorities are the majority. What I would like us to do is just to ask the question: Why? The question is not "why are there more white people than non-White people". Praise the GOD for all the white people in our parishes. The question is, what is it that we do, or don't do, that does not bring African Americans, Hispanics and Asian Americans to Orthodoxy? "Come and see" may work for some, but not for all. You know, we may just have to "go forth" ourselves and bring Orthodoxy to the people, instead of waiting for them to show up, come in an fall in love with the history, music, liturgy, theology of the Church.
I just want to get a conversation started. Thank you for taking me to task and helping me to clarify the issue. Christ is Risen!
#17 Anonymous on 2009-05-04 21:24
Fr Oliver's comments seem very thought out and scholarly. I have to agree that they merit serious discussion. I wonder at the same time how they would translate into, or support a specific plan for where we can go from here. The OCA, to the best of my knowledge, has not officially maintained that they must be the core of a unified local Orthodox Church. Metropolitan Jonah's comment at one point about the non-canonical status of other jurisdictions is somewhat theoretical - assuming that the autocephaly is an undisputed given, which the overall context of his public writings, sermons, and addresses do not suggest he assumes. On the contrary, he points out the contradiction - that theoretically there should be no other jurisidictions on the canonical territory of the OCA, but the reality not only is different, it is not going to go away by having the OCA try to make it go away. I am saying more than I've seen in writing, but I don't think I'm stretching his words too far.
I should be very interested in hearing what, if any, pragmatic ideas Fr Oliver might have about how the problem of Orthodox unity might be achieved.
#18 Southern Californian on 2009-05-04 23:06
I can't argue with you when you put it in those terms, Anonymous. The question of evangelism is tricky, though. Many who have come to Orthodoxy from the various Protestant bodies have been burned out by their experiences in evangelical-style outreach, and the Cradles don't do evangelism at all. About the best I have managed is a few people responding to "Come and see," but there haven't been many of those. I keep trying, though. I think that if more of us were inviting people in, God would see to the increase. Christ is risen, indeed!
#19 Scott Walker on 2009-05-05 11:03
There has to be more than "come and see". This passive evangelism cannot be what CHRIST had in mind when he commanded us and the apostles to go out and preach, make disciples and baptize. There have to be alternatives to the Evangelical methodologies and tactics. With as many Orthodox we have in this country, we should be able to find peole with the vision, clarity of mind, soundness of faith, and creativity to find authentically Orthodox ways of proactively reaching people with the soul and body healing message of the Gospel.
Maybe, just maybe, a small tiney bit of our problems in North America are due to our complacency and inactivity in carrying out the Great Comission. The image of a stagnant body of water comes to mind. I don't know about Oregon, but around here, a stagnant pool of water is a breeding ground for diseases and viruses. Have we, Orthodox Christians, clergy and laity,in North America become a stagnant pool? We have many of the symptoms.
#20 Anonymous on 2009-05-05 13:36
Name a convert parish that's not mostly white converts from Western Christian confessions? St. Mary of Egypt Serbian Orthodox Church, Kansas City, MO.
All Saint, Salina, a parish founded mostly by white (gee, it's in the middle of Kansas) converts from Anglicanism, just baptized two African Americans this past Holy Saturday.
One of my wife's graduate school classmates was a Hispanic convert to Orthodoxy.
And I think I've seen one or two East Asian faces along with the Russians at St. John of San Francisco and Shanghai's old cathedral in San Francsico one of the times I worshipped at Holy Virgin.
Your point is?
#21 Subdeacon David Yetter on 2009-05-05 15:51
There are exceptions, to be sure. I would ask you to read my replies to Scott Walker above to get a feeling for what my "point" is. But to put it succenctly: Our passive evangelism is not the most effective vehicle for reaching all people, especially non-Whites from non-Orthodox backgrounds. Again, this is not a "race" issue, but not doing more to reach minority non-Orthodox.
#22 Anonymous on 2009-05-06 06:19
I agree with what you have said. I do not take American to mean white, middle class, educated, etc. I take American to mean serving all those in America. Perhaps immigrant Orthodox or ethnically Orthodox are better terms.
I agree. The GOA parishes in Spanish Harlem and Washington Heights in NYC should be serving not only in English as a common tongue, but in the Spanish dominant in those neighborhoods. That's one example. In areas with large populations using other languages the services should have smatterings of that language, too, whether they are members or not - though English would be an obvious common tongue they will understand more readily than Slavonic or Old Greek, etc. It's no use deferring to the preferences of the members in such matter, we aren't here just to serve them; each and every parish must see itself as being the Orthodox Church in that place for all Orthodox and all non-Orthodox, all Americans, all immigrants, all students, all regular visitors to that place.
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