September 23, 2014

Met. Jonah: Episcopacy, Primacy, and the Mother Churches

In June, Metropolitan Jonah of the Orthodox Church in America delivered a talk on “Episcopacy, Primacy, and the Mother Churches: A Monastic Perspective” at the Conference of the Fellowship of St. Alban and St. Sergius at St. Vladimir’s Theological Seminary. The audio of the talk is available on Ancient Faith Radio along with the other presentations from the conference. The PDF version of Metropolitan Jonah’s presentation is available on the OCA site, where the Church is also archiving his articles and speeches.

On the subject of the Mother Churches and the “Diaspora,” Metropolitan Jonah has this to say:

… almost all national Churches have extended their jurisdictions beyond their geographic and political boundaries to the so-called diaspora. But Orthodox Christians who are faithful to the Gospel and the Fathers cannot admit of any such thing as a diaspora of Christians. Only ethnic groups can be dispersed among other ethnic groups. Yet the essential principle of geographic canonical boundaries of episcopal and synodal jurisdiction has been abrogated, and every patriarchate, every mother Church, now effectively claims universal jurisdiction to serve “its” people in “diaspora.” Given this fact, on what basis do we object to the Roman Papacy?

This situation arose in reaction to the mass emigration of Orthodox from their home countries, and is continued as a means of serving the needs of these immigrant communities. It is perpetuated as a means of maintaining ethnic, cultural and political identity for those away from their home country; but also as a means of financial support for the mother churches from their children abroad.

The confusion of ethnic identity and Orthodox Christian identity, expressed by competing ecclesiastical jurisdictions, is the incarnation of phyletism. Due to this confusion of the Gospel with ethnic or political identities, multiple parallel communities, each with its own allegiance to a foreign mother church, divide the Orthodox Church in North America and elsewhere into ethnic and political denominations. This distorts the Apostolic vision, and has severely compromised the catholicity of the Orthodox Churches, in which all Christians in a given territory are called to submit to a local synod of bishops.

The problem is not so much the multiple overlapping jurisdictions, each ministering to diverse elements of the population. This could be adapted as a means of dealing with the legitimate diversity of ministries within a local or national Church. The problem is that there is no common expression of unity that supersedes ethnic, linguistic and cultural divisions: there is no synod of bishops responsible for all the churches in America, and no primacy or point of accountability in the Orthodox world with the authority to correct such a situation.

Comments

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    George Michalopulos says:

    John,

    I had the extreme pleasure of meeting and speaking w/ Met Jonah just 2 months ago, when he was still bishop-elect of Ft Worth. He assisted Arb Dmitri in the consecration of our church in Tulsa. What a wonderful, down-to-earth man this is. I pray that he will unite the Orthodox jurisdictions into the Orthodox Church in America, thereby transforming it as the Orthodox Church OF America. Lte us pray for him.

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    Wesley J. Smith says:

    Having now read His Beatitude’s entire presentation, I am filled with great hope for the OCA and, hopefully, the eventual coming together of an American Orthodox Church in the USA

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    Michael Bauman says:

    Met. Jonah says:

    The problem is not so much the multiple overlapping jurisdictions, each ministering to diverse elements of the population. This could be adapted as a means of dealing with the legitimate diversity of ministries within a local or national Church. The problem is that there is no common expression of unity that supersedes ethnic, linguistic and cultural divisions: there is no synod of bishops responsible for all the churches in America, and no primacy or point of accountability in the Orthodox world with the authority to correct such a situation</strong>(emphasis mine).

    I beg to differ with the last assertion. The primacy in the Orthdox Church, as I understand it, is with Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit as expressed throughout the entire Church. No question such a primacy is not efficient in a worldly sense. At best it is messy and it may seem, most of the time, not to exist at all. However, the election of Met. Jonah seems to indicate that it is still extant.

    My study of Orthodox history shows me that autocephaly has rarely, if ever, been granted on the initiative of the ‘Mother’ Church. It has been demanded, proclaimed, and taken on. Eventually, reluctantly, acceeded to by the ‘Mother’ Church.

    If we, the Orthodox people in North America really want our own synod, we can have it. If we want to take the step into adulthood that such a move requires, we can. That should not mean that we sever all ties with our various parents. It means we want to grow up. We can choose to be the 30 year old living in our parent’s basement if we want, but I fail to see what good that does for either of us. That way leads to a sort of demented triumphalism of phyletism without substance or reality. As an adult church, we can actually do what we are supposed to do here and now which includes raising the visibility of the Patriarchal Churches.

    It won’t be easy but it need not take generations of time. We don’t have to mindlessly follow the Byzantine model that sooner or later everybody dies and when they do we can change then. Sorry, I don’t by that type of fatalism. That is the attitude of dimminutude.

    It has to be a concerted effort of the members of the Church in this land. It has to be done with love and respect, but it can be done. Of course, it has to be by the Will of God, however, we won’t know what that Will is unless we act.

    One statement of Met. Jonah’s that keeps ringing in my ears is that the OCA is the only Orthodox Church not under the thumb of a foreign government. With the increasing descent into madness that those governments are experiencing, we may have autocephally forced upon us. If we move that direction first, we’ll be in a much better position to help if the worst happens.

    As the situation in Russia proves, the tyranny of communism is not dead. Neither, I fear, is Sergianism. If the Jihadists gain power in Europe as they appear to be doing, the remaining Christians will be hard pressed to resist especially with the dimmi attitude still alive.

    So, I believe, with fear and trembling it is time that we work our our own salvation together with love, humility and persistence.

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    Greg says:

    RE Yet the essential principle of geographic canonical boundaries of episcopal and synodal jurisdiction has been abrogated, and every patriarchate, every mother Church, now effectively claims universal jurisdiction to serve “its” people in “diaspora.” Given this fact, on what basis do we object to the Roman Papacy?

    What does he mean by “Given this fact, on what basis do we object to the Roman Papacy?”

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    Fr. Johannes Jacobse says:

    He means that the rationale Orthdox patriarchs use to justify extending their authority beyond their canonical boundaries (the “diaspora” logic) is no different than the claims of universal supremacy that the Roman patriarch (the Pope) makes over the universal church.

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    George Michalopulos says:

    Michael, Greg, Fr,

    All excellent points. The danger with not acting autocephalous IMHO is adopting the dhimmi attitude that is so prevalent among many Old World churches. I know that many in the GOAA have looked upon the OCA in it recent time of troubles as proof that we’re not ready for prime time, but the reality is, that at the end of the day, this cancerous boil was excised. More, it could only have been excised by a native people holding the feet of their independent Holy Synod to the fire. As Abbott Meletios Webber said in another context the gift of autocephaly is the best attribute of the OCA. No matter how bad things get, we don’t have to run crying to Mama overseas. We can –and we did–take care of it on our own.

    p.s. I just read that His Holiness Alexii II of Russia reposed in the lord. May his memory be eternal.

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    Joseph says:

    For what it is worth (probably not much), I comment on Metropolitan Jonah’s speech on my Arimathea site in “Of Patriarchs and Bishops” (towards the end of the entry, after His Beatitude’s text).

    As George wrote concerning Patriarch Alexy, memory eternal!

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    Jeff Beranek says:

    My study of Orthodox history shows me that autocephaly has rarely, if ever, been granted on the initiative of the ‘Mother’ Church. It has been demanded, proclaimed, and taken on. Eventually, reluctantly, acceeded to by the ‘Mother’ Church.

    Indeed. IIRC the autocephaly of the Russian Church was not recognized by Constantinople for something like 150 years, and then only by dint of placing the Patriarch Jeremias II, then visiting Moscow, under virtual house arrest until he agreed.

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    Joe says:

    Only a true Orthodox American (not “American Orthodox”) Saint will truly unite the Orthodox Christians in America. All others are political figures and poseurs.

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    Joe says:

    Why is the OCA always on the cusp of greatness, always ready to step up and take the lead in uniting all Orthodox Christians in America in the minds of its laity, clergy and hierarchs, when no Orthodox outside of the OCA has ever even remotely expressed an interest in this kind of leadership?

    It’s just plane plani/prelest.

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    George Michalopulos says:

    Joe,

    I believe that it is only with persecution that the Orthodox
    Christians in America will demand unification. So, I guess you’re right in a way, after all most martyrs are saints.

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