Transcription of Met. Jonah’s Speech on Orthodoxy Unity in America

Sermon delivered at St. Seraphim Orthodox Cathedral in Dallas, Texas on April 5, 2009.

Met. Jonah

Met. Jonah

It is a great joy to see everybody here this evening from so many different communities, from different traditions. Orthodoxy is a celebration of diversity in unity, and unity in diversity. Our unity is in our one Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and our one Orthodox faith and our one commitment to living the truth, to living as Christians. Not to live according the spirit of the world, not to live according to our passions, not to live according to the desires that flit by through our minds and lead us into all sorts of trouble, but to live the truth, to live Orthodox.

And, our diversity is something we celebrate, not a diversity of lifestyles, but a diversity that reflects the whole spectrum of our community, people of all races, people of all colors, people from a multitude of different ethnic backgrounds.

And yet, there is another thing that unites us here as well: we are all Americans. We are a single community, we are a single community of Orthodox Christians, and we are the local church in Dallas, the local church in Northeast Texas. It doesn’t matter that we have all these various administrative jurisdictions, ultimately, because we gather together as one body, to pray with one mind and one heart, to celebrate the same Eucharist, to come to the same chalice. It doesn’t matter if we are eastern rite or western rite, doesn’t matter the language in the service is, but its all, we are one church, we are one local Church, and I might add, we are one indigenous Church.

Right now in world Orthodoxy there is a solution to our disunity being proposed. But I would propose there are two solutions. There’s one solution being proposed in which we all submit to Constantinople. We all submit to a foreign patriarchate where all decisions will be made there, where we will have no say in the decisions that are made. We will have no say in our own destiny. We surrender the freedom that we have embraced as American Orthodox Christians to a Patriarchate still under Islamic domination. I think we have a better solution.

And this is something of the utmost importance, and it is something imminent. It is not something where we can wait and say “Oh maybe in my grandchildren’s time there will be Orthodox unity.” I’m talking about June. And, if you think I’m kidding, there is a conference being convened in the Phanar in June to discuss exactly this – (actually, it’s in Cypress) – to subject the Diaspora to the single singular control, the so-called Diaspora, to the Patriarchate of Constantinople, and thereby come into unity.

Well, that’s one model for unity. I would submit if we wanted a Pope we’d be under the real one. And I don’t think any of us want a Pope, otherwise we wouldn’t be here.

But who are we really? I think part of this comes from a total and complete ignorance and misperception on the part of the holy fathers who are the leaders of the churches in the Old World. They don’t understand that there are Americans who are Orthodox. There are Americans who have been born and bred in this land who have embraced the Orthodox faith. There are Americans who have come over here – fleeing communism, fleeing Islamic domination, fleeing oppression. Who have come to this land to embrace a new life, a life of self-determination as well as a life that is governed by the Orthodox faith. I don’t think they understand that our church here has this rich diversity but we all share a common identity.

It doesn’t matter what language the services are in, we appreciate them all. We appreciate the Arabic and the Romanian and the Slavonic; we appreciate the Georgian and the Albanian and who knows what else. But we also have to appreciate the English and the Spanish and the French, just as we have to appreciate the Klinkit and the Aleut, and the Upik and the Athabaskian, who are the true indigenous Orthodox Christians of our land.

I don’t think the holy fathers in the Phanar understand that we are a Church, albeit with separate administrations, but that has a common value of determining our own destiny. A church that is dedicated to the conciliar process, which does not ignore the voice of the laity, which does not ignore the voice of the priests, a church which is united in its common commitment. Because we are Orthodox not simply by birth, we are Orthodox not simply by our ethnic heritage. We are Orthodox because we have chosen to be Orthodox. We are Orthodox because we have committed our entire life to Jesus Christ and the Gospel. And, it is that commitment to Jesus Christ and the Gospel and our commitment to bring our brothers and sisters in our land to that same commitment of Jesus Christ and the Gospel, not to some kind of alien ideology, not to some nationalist or imperialist ideology from some forgotten empire, not the imposition of foreign customs and the submission to foreign despots.

But, to a united Church in this country, a Church in which we value the diversity and value the unity equally. A Church in which we appreciate one another and listen to the voice of one another so that no person is devalued. So the traditions that our fathers in the faith have brought to this country are valued. So the efforts and the labor and the sweat and the blood and the tears of all those who have gone before us to establish the Orthodox Faith in America for over 200 years now, 215 years to be precise, to acknowledge their sacrifice. And, it is upon their sacrifice, upon their martyrdoms, upon their sanctity, upon their sacrifice that our Church here is built.

There are those there that say that there was no canonical Orthodox Church in the North American until 1924 until the establishment of the Patriarchate of Constantinople and the Greek archdiocese.

Excuse me. The Russian Orthodox Church established a missionary work here in 1794. It established English-speaking churches where priests were trained to speak, to serve the liturgy, to teach the Gospel, and to bring faithful people into the Orthodox Church, from 1857 in San Francisco. They say our unity in America was a myth at the time of St Tikhon. Well yes, there were a few dozen churches that were not part of it, but what about the 800 that were? What about those 800 churches? Churches that may have had Russian clergy, or had clergy who were trained by the Russians, but were composed of Greeks and Serbs, of Arabs, of Romanians, of Bulgarians, and of converts, who have stood for the integrity of the Orthodox Faith and the integrity of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and the integrity of the witness, the missionary outreach which is essential to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Not to make people Greeks, not to make people Russians, not to make people Arabs, but to simply bring the gospel of Jesus Christ to this land, in its wholeness and its completeness, as it was preached by the holy Apostles, in the fullness of its integrity. There are those there, in the old world, who devalue this, who say that they are the only criteria of Orthodoxy. Who are ignorant of our Saints, who refuse to recognize the sacrifice of so many of those who have come before us, in Christ, to establish the Gospel here.

I think we have a different solution.

It is imperative for us to come together. Not for all the other churches, the Antiochians and the Serbians and the Bulgarians and the Romanians and everyone, to join the OCA, but to come together in a new organization of Orthodoxy in North American that brings us all together as one Church, even just pulling together all our existing organizations so that all the bishops sit on one Synod, so that all the Metropolitans get together on a special Synod or something like that.

So we can continue our relationship with the Mother Churches, a relationship of love and support. Firm in our own identity as Orthodox Christians and making our witness to protect them from whatever evils confront them, whether it be an aggressive Islam, or whether it be Communists who now call themselves democrats (I’m not talking about Washington by the way, not at all.)

It’s very interesting. Seven months ago I was still an abbot in a monastery in northern California. Just a few months ago I was made Metropolitan and I had no idea, really, what the scope of Orthodoxy is in America. And, now I’m beginning to get an idea. Not only did I find myself the Metropolitan of the OCA, but Locum tenens of the Bulgarian diocese. Well, these are people who have fled oppression just as in so many eastern European countries. It’s the same people who were there under the communists; they just changed their titles.

It’s the same thing with the churches in the Middle East. How many hundreds of thousands of faithful Iraqi Orthodox Christians are living as refugees in camps in Jordan and Syria, ignored by the world. We need a united, powerful witness. A witness that will not only bear witness to the unity of the Gospel and our common commitment to one Faith in Jesus Christ the one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism that constitutes the Orthodox Church. We need to bear witness as a united Body, only to those issues that affect the Phanar, not only to the tragic situation in Cypress, but to those issue that affect all Orthodox Christian throughout the world. There is no witness in Congress. There has been no Orthodox voice, save one lone Serbian bishop, during the American aggression in Kosovo. There were so many hundreds and thousands of Orthodox Christians that suffered and died at our hands, and the hands of our government and our voice was muted.

We have to come together as one united Orthodox Church in North America in order to truly show people that the Orthodox Church is the One Holy Catholic Church, in order to show that truly we are the Church constituted by the Apostles of Jesus Christ. And, there is only one way to show that – not by self-righteous proclamations of our Orthodoxy it’s not by self-righteous condemnation of non-Orthodox Christians, it’s by coming together and showing people how we love one another, how we forgive one another. How we bear common witness to the Gospel. Though we have multiple churches and diverse traditions, we affirm that there is One Truth, who is the person of Jesus Christ. The Orthodox way of life is the way of the healing of the soul and the way of salvation.

It is imperative brothers and sisters, imperative on us that, we come together and with one voice, as the Orthodox Church of North America, to say to the holy fathers of the Old World, the Orthodox Church exists in North America. We are grateful for the support you have given us. We love and support your work. We rejoice in your victories and we are sad with your tragedies. But, you have to give us the freedom to take care of our own Church in our own country, in our own culture, and not to be controlled by people who have never heard a word of English much less allow a word of English to be spoken in the liturgy. We can’t allow our Church to be controlled with people who have no appreciation of our culture and have to bow to the Turkish Islamic authorities.

This, my friends, is something truly critical affecting our life and our witness. We hear of all of these scandals, all the stuff that went on in the OCA and all the stuff going on in the Antiochian Archdiocese, and all the petty little stuff that goes on in our parishes. All of that is pettiness. We have to come together. The Lord Jesus Christ is calling us together to be one Church in America, composed of all Americans, no matter where they came from, no matter how long their ancestors, or they themselves, have been in this land. Because the canonical organization of the Church, according to the Holy Apostles and all of the ancient Fathers, is not about some kind of international organization where we look

8000 miles away for some source of canonicity. But it is the local Church, the presbyters and the deacons, and the faithful people gathered around their bishop. This is the fullness of the catholic Church. This is the fullness of the Orthodox Church as it was given to us from the holy Fathers, as it was given to us by the Apostles. And, it is this that we must affirm.

That Church exists now, here, in our midst. It was planted by our Fathers in the faith generations ago, on this continent. It has grown and bears fruit. And, it subsists out of our common sacrificial commitment to Jesus Christ.

Let us give thanks to God for our unity, let us give thanks to God for our diversity. Let us affirm to our bishops that they will tell the bishops of the Old World, “There is an American Orthodox Church. Leave it alone.”

God Bless you.

Transcribed from a sermon given by Metropolitan Jonah of the Orthodox Church of America at St. Seraphim Orthodox Cathedral, April 5, 2009.


  1. With all due respect to His Beatitude, there were not 800 Orthodox churches in America during the time of St. Tikhon. (By 1920 itself, after Tikhon’s departure, there were about 250.) It’s also been pretty clearly established by scholars looking at actual primary sources that there really has never been administrative unity in Orthodox America. Outside of Alaska, Russian Orthodoxy, Greek Orthodoxy, Antiochian Orthodoxy, Serbian Orthodoxy, Bulgarian Orthodoxy, Albanian Orthodoxy, etc., all pretty much arrived here almost simultaneously.

    In 1890, there were only two Orthodox churches in the Lower 48. Thirty years later, there were 250. About half of the people were Greek, who had nothing to do with the Russian administration.

    Look for the paper being published sometime soon in St. Vlad’s Quarterly by Matthew Namee called “The Myth of Unity,” which should put to rest this oft-repeated error that there ever was united jurisdiction in America. (Mind you, this is a different question from what “ought” to have been done, which we must leave to the canonists.)

  2. Meeting in Cypress?

    As far as I know, a cypress is a tree. Cyprus is an island and a country in the eastern Mediterranean, where I live.

  3. Fr. David Hudson :

    Fathers and Brothers,

    I was converted to Orthodoxy and ordained to the priesthood in post-communist Romania. As far as being integrated, I felt as integrated as a foreigner could possibly be. Still, for some, I was suspected as a spy; for some, I was resented as an intruder; for some, I was beloved as an adopted son, brother, and eventually father; for some, I was revered as a gift of grace; for some, perhaps I was even exploited as a trophy.

    For me, Orthodoxy as a way of life, and as an organic and inseparable element of local culture, and as a single administrative unity, was the norm until I returned to this country. That is not to say that it was in any way characterized by UNIFORMITY. Rather, all the things that here in America cause us to cling to the separation and protection of our jurisdictional niches, all of them were (and still are) encompassed within a single local and national Orthodoxy.

    If any kind of unity ever comes to Orthodoxy in America, it will be in spite of our very complex and multi-faceted differences, and in spite of our interests in preserving them. It will certainly not eliminate them. Perhaps it is we ourselves who are the greatest obstacle to unity, not Constantinople or Moscow or Antioch or Bucharest.

    I tend to think that the only way forward is to put on blinders and focus on our mission in America. Although if we could agree on the mission of Orthodoxy in America, we probably would already be united. Perhaps the lines need to be re-drawn, perhaps the problem needs to be re-defined; perhaps a totally new paradigm needs to break through, one that can accommodate all of the above. There is nothing new under the sun, no challenges that have not in principle been successfully overcome in the past.

    Consider the cultural and linguistic fault-lines that threatened the unity of the Church in Acts 6:1, or the conservative versus innovative clash that could have divided the Church in Acts 15.

    Metropolitan Jonah is not calling everyone to join the OCA; he is hinting at new wineskins and perhaps new paradigms. What is defective about the OCA’s autocephaly is that it was granted to one of many jurisdictions existing in parallel at the same time and in the same place. As such, it was perhaps as much a provocation as it was a solution. I’m not suggesting an annulment, as might be granted in an unconsummated marriage, but simply remarking on the obvious; whether we call the OCA autocephalous or autonomous, it has not been an adequate solution to the complex situation of Orthodoxy in America. But if Metropolitan Jonah recognizes that, then we may be well on our way out of this impasse.

    In His Beatitude’s words: “It is imperative for us to come together. Not for all the other churches, the Antiochians and the Serbians and the Bulgarians and the Romanians and everyone, to join the OCA, but to come together in a new organization of Orthodoxy in North American that brings us all together as one Church, even just pulling together all our existing organizations so that all the bishops sit on one Synod, so that all the Metropolitans get together on a special Synod or something like that.”

    Since we do have a very long way to go in terms of an organic, coherent American Orthodoxy that encompasses diversity in unity, thank God that Metropolitan Jonah is calling us to A REALISTIC STEP, as contrasted with the recent call from Constantinople. It is not about prerogatives; it is about mission.

  4. Beautifully said, Father. I deeply appreciate the Metropolitan’s candor and courage – and the humility it takes to honestly address this situation. As in the early Church, such divisions expose us to judgment and are, as it were, a call to a much deeper conversion. Communion – in all its forms – is found only in God. As we grow deeper in the love of God, only then will we – and thousands around us – truly find what we are seeking. If we focus on our true mission, then I expect that the “prerogatives” will take care of themselves. (Of course, it is difficult to claim prerogatives while you are taking up your cross and following Him Who – though He was equal to God – claimed no prerogatives.) We follow a Savior Who was obedient to death and raised up through humility. At times it looks like we have decided to follow a different path.

  5. George Michalopulos :

    Fr Andrew, bless,

    Your numbers are inacurate as well. By 1900 there were at least 12 Serbian parishes alone. I’ll be glad to check the other numbers. As for the Greeks not being part of the Metropolia, that is incorrect if you’re making a categorical statement. Many Greeks (and Greek parishes) were part of the Metropolia and received their articles, vestments, and even stipehds from them. Some of course were not. This however is a sign of schism and trying to call it the “myth of unity” shows how chagrine we of the ethnic jurisdictions are about this fact.

    Even if we said that these parishes were not the product of schism per se, they were the product of an extra-canonical, parallel process which leaves one with a queasy feeling as regards to canonicity. Again: why did not the EP set up parishes in Siberia? Siberia wasn’t a part of Russia for a long time. Why not China? or Japan? These were never part of the Russian state. It’s clear that the EP could have but chose instead to honor Russia’s evangelistic effort which was already undergoing in those lands. So too did Patriarh Joachim III honor Moscow’s claim to North America.

    As for Metropolitan Jonah’s sermon, it was beautiful and truthful. Churches that are more concerned with long-dead empires have forfeited the Gospel. The Holy Spirit will not go where it is not wanted.

  6. George,

    Based on primary sources, only a small handful (not “many”) of Greek parishes received anything at all from the Russian hierarchy.

    In any event, calling it a “schism” is a canonical judgment, one based on the assumption that sending Russian missionaries to Russian Alaska gave the Russian church jurisdiction all the way down to Florida, across the then territory of multiple colonial powers. Of course, this is by no means an agreed-upon evaluation.

    I’m not arguing either way on this question, only commenting on the historical reality, which is that the pre-Bolshevik situation of Orthodoxy in America was far from united. Contrary to Metr. Jonah’s comments, the non-Russian portion was by no means a tiny minority.

    To be honest, every time I look at them or at scholarship based directly on them, I find the support for a pre-Bolshevik Russian hegemony to be more and more, as we say, a “myth.” It’s not even clear that Russia itself regarded America as its exclusive territory. (For example, after 1867, there was a move to close down the Russian vicariate in America, according to a letter from St. Innocent, since in their opinion Alaska was no longer part of Russia’s canonical territory.)

    I have, by the way, read your book that you wrote with Dcn. Ezra, and while I do appreciate what you were trying to accomplish, I hope that you’ll work more with primary sources in your next foray into the field. One of the big problems with historiography in American Orthodoxy has been a constant use of repetition from secondary sources, such that certain ideas — such as the myth of pre-Bolshevik unity — keep getting repeated without anything to back them up. (Ironically enough, it was most likely Fr. Boris Burden, one of Aftimios Ofiesh’s henchmen, who probably invented the myth.)

    There is a move by several historians here in America to form a historical society dedicated to research and publishing in the field. Perhaps you might be interested.

  7. Father Andrew,

    With great respect, I humbly state that I have heard these arguments you present before. If they are true and pre-Bolshevik unity was a myth, why then was it ever necessary for His All Holiness to invoke the infamous Canon 28? If your presentation of history is correct, why would he need to. Couldn’t he simply let history be presented by revealing these true? Couldn’t he reveal these primary sources and abolish this “myth”?

    I too have read Mr. Michalopulos’ book, with disclosure I am proud to know him as a friend, but I have never seen evidence presented ever to the contrary of what is stated in his book. A book I believe to be well researched and objective.

  8. George Michalopulos :

    Fr Andrew, I would most definately be interested. Please count me in! I certainly don’t want to belabor the point, but Demetrius I believe, is correct in his assessment. I for one, never said that the Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Archdiocese was “united” and that people were happy and that things were wonderful. Schisms did arise. My own people treated a living saint (Arb Tikhon) abominably in Chicago, etc.

    Parenthetically, why would St Tikhon think he could go into the Greek parish unless he felt that as America’s hierarch he had the right to do so? I don’t believe it’s the wont of Orthodox bishops to waltz into any church they feel like.

    Regardless, the point of +Jonah’s sermon was spot-on, in all its particulars. I am presently researching the actual number of American Orthodox parishes in the pre-Bolshevik era to see how many there actually were.

    Regardless, a main point of argument you have is that several of the many dozens of non-Metropolia parishes were inaugurated independently and financed independently as such. This is essentially what all parishes in America do and have done since the disestabishment of Church from State. Unless I’m mistaken, none of the Orthodox parishes ever received funding from their respective jurisdictions for the erection of actual churches so simply asserting the fact that Greeks (or Serbs, or Lebanese, etc.) built their churches w/out asking permission of the Metropolia doesn’t add heft to your case.

    This opens up a whole other can of worms however: These Albanians/Greeks/Serbs/etc. built their parishes without the permission of anybody in the Old Country either! And many recruited priests of dubious credentials from said Old Country. Are we then to assume that these same parishes are uncanonical? I dread to go down this road as it opens up whether the mysteries celebrated there were valid. It is equally clear however that had proper canonical order been followed we would not have to ask these questions at all.

    One thing I can be sure of: no jurisdiction was here before the Russian one. Regardless of how small it may have been (again, an open question), it makes absolutely no difference. The original Moravian Mission of Cyril and Methodius was probably no more than 100 people. If the GOAA/EP wants to make the case that there was no Orthodox presence in America, then they should go ahead and make it. They won’t because they can’t.

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