This interview was given before the start of the Episcopal Assembly but was only recently made available.
HT: Orthodox News
The National HeraldBOSTON – There’s no religious or political war or even battling bishops, but an assembly of church leaders in New York for the Autocephalous Church in America (OCA) has highlighted a little-talked about division between those who want a greater role for Pan-Orthodoxy and those who want the church under one umbrella.
OCA head Metropolitan Jonah, said he welcomed his role at the Assembly of Orthodox Bishops of the United States, Canada and Central America in New York, noting: “What I want to do is to approach this with all humility.”
As The National Herald has reported, the initial directive of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to Archbishop Demetrios was not to invite Metropolitan Jonah, because the Ecumenical Patriarchate does not recognize the autocephaly of the OCA, which was granted unilaterally in 1970 by the Patriarchate of Moscow, overstepping the historic and ecclesiastical privileges of the Ecumenical Patriarchate to its then-called Russian Metropolia.
Archbishop Demetrios disobeyed Patriarch Bartholomew and invited Metropolitan Jonah, to the disappointment of Bartholomew. Archbishop Demetrios discussed the issue during his last visit to Constantinople at the end of April and a compromise was accepted to allow Metropolitan Jonah to participate, but only as a bishop.
Archbishop Demetrios, as well as other Metropolitans of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, many times disregard Bartholomew’s directives and orders, leading to the dissolution of communities and undercutting the Patriarch’s authority. Metropolitan Jonah, in an interview with The National Herald, emphasized that the autocephaly of the OCA is recognized by all local Orthodox Churches, contrary to the statements of Fr. Mark Arey Director of the Interchurch Relations of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, and Metropolitan Philip Primate of the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese of America, who both said that OCA’S autocephaly is not recognized by anyone other than Moscow.
According to Metropolitan Jonah, the Orthodox Church in America is comprised of 700 parishes in the U.S., Canada and Mexico, nine ruling bishops and archbishops, 1,000 priests, three theological schools and one theological academy in Canada. He had a lot to say in his interview about the church:
TNH: What are your thoughts about the upcoming Assembly of Bishops in New York?
JONAH: I think it is something that gives me great hope – that is the real essence of this. There are trials and temptations because [whatever we do to] embark upon a good and holy thing, the devil is going to play with us. But I know I have great hope and I know many thousands of Orthodox throughout the country have great hope in this meeting and many prayers.
TNH: Is it possible to be more specific as to what are you hoping for?
JONAH: The most important thing is simply to get together, to come to know one another, to be able to dispense of all of the kinds of scars and insecurities that come from not knowing one another and lack of communication and to overcome any kind of barriers that exist between us.”
TNH: I understand that you have been meeting in assemblies with SCOBA. So what is going to be the similarity or the difference between the SCOBA’S Conferences and this Assembly?
JONAH: Certainly SCOBA has done a lot of good work during the past 60 years and it needs to be recognized. On the other hand, SCOBA was not an assembly and it did not have the blessing to be such from the mother churches.
TNH: It is not a matter of interpersonal relations here; we are talking here about ecclesial relations. How do you feel about the initial directive of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to Archbishop Demetrios not to invite you?
JONAH: Well, I understand the question of our autocephaly and I understand from both sides the questions and the issues and I think certainly that is the main issue. I have affirmed to Archbishop Demetrios that I do not want that to be any kind of an obstacle to our participation in the Assembly and we wish to work with the Ecumenical Patriarch to resolve any issue.
TNH: Do you have any solution to propose about the OCA autocephaly?
JONAH: I think that is something that has to come out of discussion.
TNH: What, in terms of substance, do you anticipate will come out of this assembly, above and beyond getting together, embracing and kissing each other?
JONAH: I think the selection of the committees, what the agenda really is.
TNH: Are you going to discuss the so-called problem of the Orthodox Diaspora?
JONAH: I do not believe so. I think something like that will be reserved for much later discussion.
TNH: Do you think that you will be laying the foundations at the assembly for the creation of an American Orthodox Autocephalous Church, all jurisdiction united?
JONAH: Of course that is always part of the hope, but I think it is too early to discuss anything like that. What we need first to do is to discover the reality of our brotherhood and our unity.
TNH: Speaking about the autocephaly of the OCA, how do you feel? Alienated? Cut off from the rest of the Church, because Metropolitan Philip of the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese told The National Herald in his interview the that you are not in communion with any other autocephalous church, except for Moscow.
JONAH: I am afraid he is mistaken. We are in full communion with all of the local autocephalous churches, including the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
TNH: Can you liturgize with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew?
JONAH: Our bishops do.
TNH: What about you?
JONAH: Right now, because of the question of the autocephaly, I do not believe that it is possible right now. We hope it will become possible in the future.
TNH: Do you see any hypocrisy here? Your bishops can co-celebrate the liturgy with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew but not you, who are their archbishop?
JONAH: I’d rather not comment on that.
TNH: Can you co-celebrate the liturgy with the Archbishop of Greece or Cyprus?
JONAH: If they were to invite me to come, yes I would and, if they were here, I would certainly invite them.
TNH: What is your relationship with the rest of bishops and metropolitans in the various Orthodox jurisdictions here in the U.S.?
JONAH: It is a very strong positive relationship with full co-celebration and full communion.
TNH: What possible solution would you propose for the issue of the Orthodox Diaspora?
JONAH: That is a very complicated question and I think there are many different possibilities. I think what we need to do is to use our creativity and look at the canonical traditions of the church to see how the people can best be served and how we can respect the beautiful diversity and yet also achieve a unity and I think this is not going to be quickly achieved, it is going to be a long process.
TNH: If Ecumenical Patriarch decides to move tomorrow from Constantinople to the U.S., would you submit under him to create a united Orthodox presence here in the United States?
JONAH:We would welcome him.
TNH: But would you submit to his ‘omophorion’?
JONAH: If he were to come to North America and establish a patriarchate here, probably, because we are not of ill will of any kind.
TNH: Do you have any comment on the issue of pederasty in the Church?
JONAH: It is a great sin. It is something that must be dealt with not only as a sin but also according to the civil law. It is not something that can be tolerated at all.
TNH: What about the issue of homosexuality? Would you tolerate priests and bishops to be ordained?
JONAH: No, I have no tolerance for any kind of sexual misconduct especially for those who are into monasticism and have taken vows of chastity or in marriage to a single spouse.