Metropolitan Jonah on Orthodox unity
Metropolitan Jonah, St Seraphim Orthodox Cathedral, April 5, 2009
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 unityis in our one Lord and savior Jesus Christ, and our one Orthodox faithand our one commitment to living the truth, to living as Christians.Not to live according the spirit of the world, not to live accordingto our passions, not to live according to the desires that flit bythrough our minds and lead us into all sorts of trouble, but to livethe truth, to live Orthodox. And, our diversity is something wecelebrate, not a diversity of lifestyles, but a diversity thatreflects the whole spectrum of our community, people of all races,people of all colors, people from a multitude of different ethnicbackgrounds.
And yet, there is another thing that unites us here as well: we areall Americans. We are a single community, we are a single community ofOrthodox Christians, and we are the local church in Dallas, the localchurch in Northeast Texas. It doesn't matter that we have all thesevarious administrative jurisdictions, ultimately, because we gathertogether as one body, to pray with one mind and one heart, tocelebrate the same Eucharist, to come to the same chalice. It doesn'tmatter if we are eastern rite or western rite, doesn't matter thelanguage in the service is, but its all, we are one church, we are onelocal Church, and I might add, we are one indigenous Church.
Right now in world Orthodoxy there is a solution to our disunity beingproposed. But I would propose there are two solutions. There's onesolution being proposed in which we all submit to Constantinople. Weall submit to a foreign patriarchate where all decisions will be madethere, where we will have no say in the decisions that are made. Wewill have no say in our own destiny. We surrender the freedom that wehave embraced as American Orthodox Christians to a Patriarchate stillunder Islamic domination. I think we have a better solution.
And this is something of the utmost importance, and it is somethingimminent. It is not something where we can wait and say "Oh maybe inmy grandchildren's time there will be Orthodox unity." I'm talkingabout June. And, if you think I'm kidding, there is a conference beingconvened in the Phanar in June to discuss exactly this -- (actually,it's in Cypress) -- to subject the Diaspora to the single singularcontrol, the so-called Diaspora, to the Patriarchate ofConstantinople, and thereby come into unity.
Well, that's one model for unity. I would submit if we wanted a Popewe'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 ofthis comes from a total and complete ignorance and misperception onthe 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 areOrthodox.
There are Americans who have been born and bred in this land who haveembraced the Orthodox faith. There are Americans who have come overhere -- fleeing communism, fleeing Islamic domination, fleeingoppression. Who have come to this land to embrace a new life, a lifeof self-determination as well as a life that is governed by theOrthodox faith. I don't think they understand that our church here hasthis rich diversity but we all share a common identity.
It doesn't matter what language the services are in, we appreciatethem 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 theFrench, just as we have to appreciate the Klinkit and the Aleut, andthe Upik and the Athabaskian, who are the true indigenous OrthodoxChristians of our land.
I don't think the holy fathers in the Phanar understand that we are aChurch, albeit with separate administrations, but that has a commonvalue of determining our own destiny. A church that is dedicated tothe conciliar process, which does not ignore the voice of the laity,which does not ignore the voice of the priests, a church which isunited in its common commitment. Because we are Orthodox not simply bybirth, we are Orthodox not simply by our ethnic heritage. We areOrthodox because we have chosen to be Orthodox. We are Orthodoxbecause we have committed our entire life to Jesus Christ and theGospel. And, it is that commitment to Jesus Christ and the Gospel andour commitment to bring our brothers and sisters in our land to thatsame commitment of Jesus Christ and the Gospel, not to some kind ofalien ideology, not to some nationalist or imperialist ideology fromsome forgotten empire, not the imposition of foreign customs and thesubmission to foreign despots.
But, to a united Church in this country, a Church in which we valuethe diversity and value the unity equally. A Church in which weappreciate one another and listen to the voice of one another so thatno person is devalued. So the traditions that our fathers in the faithhave brought to this country are valued. So the efforts and the laborand the sweat and the blood and the tears of all those who have gonebefore us to establish the Orthodox Faith in America for over 200years now, 215 years to be precise, to acknowledge their sacrifice.And, it is upon their sacrifice, upon their martyrdoms, upon theirsanctity, upon their sacrifice that our Church here is built.
There are those there that say that there was no canonical OrthodoxChurch in the North American until 1924 until the establishment of thePatriarchate of Constantinople and the Greek archdiocese.
Excuse me. The Russian Orthodox Church established a missionary workhere in 1794. It established English-speaking churches where priestswere trained to speak, to serve the liturgy, to teach the Gospel, andto bring faithful people into the Orthodox Church, from 1857 in SanFrancisco. 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 partof it, but what about the 800 that were? What about those 800churches? Churches that may have had Russian clergy, or had clergy whowere trained by the Russians, but were composed of Greeks and Serbs,of Arabs, of Romanians, of Bulgarians, and of converts, who have stoodfor the integrity of the Orthodox Faith and the integrity of theGospel of Jesus Christ, and the integrity of the witness, themissionary outreach which is essential to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.Not to make people Greeks, not to make people Russians, not to makepeople Arabs, but to simply bring the gospel of Jesus Christ to thisland, in its wholeness and its completeness, as it was preached by theholy Apostles, in the fullness of its integrity. There are thosethere, in the old world, who devalue this, who say that they are theonly criteria of Orthodoxy. Who are ignorant of our Saints, who refuse to recognize the sacrifice of so many of those who have come beforeus, in Christ, to establish the Gospel here.
I think we have a different solution. It is imperative for us to cometogether. Not for all the other churches, the Antiochians and theSerbians and the Bulgarians and the Romanians and everyone, to jointhe OCA, but to come together in a new organization of Orthodoxy inNorth American that brings us all together as one Church, even justpulling together all our existing organizations so that all thebishops sit on one Synod, so that all the Metropolitans get togetheron a special Synod or something like that. So we can continue ourrelationship with the Mother Churches, a relationship of love andsupport. Firm in our own identity as Orthodox Christians and makingour witness to protect them from whatever evils confront them, whetherit be an aggressive Islam, or whether it be Communists who now callthemselves democrats (I'm not talking about Washington by the way, notat all.)
It's very interesting. Seven months ago I was still an abbot in amonastery in northern California. Just a few months ago I was madeMetropolitan and I had no idea, really, what the scope of Orthodoxy isin America. And, now I'm beginning to get an idea. Not only did I findmyself the Metropolitan of the OCA, but Locum tenens of the Bulgariandiocese. Well, these are people who have fled oppression just as in somany eastern European countries. It's the same people who were thereunder the communists; they just changed their titles.
It's the same thing with the churches in the Middle East. How manyhundreds of thousands of faithful Iraqi Orthodox Christians are livingas refugees in camps in Jordan and Syria, ignored by the world. Weneed a united, powerful witness. A witness that will not only bearwitness to the unity of the Gospel and our common commitment to oneFaith in Jesus Christ the one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism thatconstitutes the Orthodox Church. We need to bear witness as a unitedBody, only to those issues that affect the Phanar, not only to thetragic situation in Cypress, but to those issue that affect allOrthodox Christian throughout the world. There is no witness inCongress. There has been no Orthodox voice, save one lone Serbianbishop, during the American aggression in Kosovo. There were so manyhundreds and thousands of Orthodox Christians that suffered and diedat our hands, and the hands of our government and our voice was muted.
We have to come together as one united Orthodox Church in NorthAmerica in order to truly show people that the Orthodox Church is theOne Holy Catholic Church, in order to show that truly we are theChurch constituted by the Apostles of Jesus Christ. And, there is onlyone way to show that -- not by self-righteous proclamations of ourOrthodoxy it's not by self-righteous condemnation of non-OrthodoxChristians, it's by coming together and showing people how we love oneanother, how we forgive one another. How we bear common witness to theGospel. Though we have multiple churches and diverse traditions, weaffirm that there is One Truth, who is the person of Jesus Christ. TheOrthodox way of life is the way of the healing of the soul and the wayof salvation.
It is imperative brothers and sisters, imperative on us that, we cometogether and with one voice, as the Orthodox Church of North America,to say to the holy fathers of the Old World, the Orthodox Churchexists in North America. We are grateful for the support you havegiven us. We love and support your work. We rejoice in your victoriesand we are sad with your tragedies. But, you have to give us thefreedom to take care of our own Church in our own country, in our ownculture, and not to be controlled by people who have never heard aword of English much less allow a word of English to be spoken in theliturgy. We can't allow our Church to be controlled with people whohave no appreciation of our culture and have to bow to the TurkishIslamic authorities.
This, my friends, is something truly critical affecting our life andour witness. We hear of all of these scandals, all the stuff that wenton in the OCA and all the stuff going on in the AntiochianArchdiocese, and all the petty little stuff that goes on in ourparishes. All of that is pettiness. We have to come together. The LordJesus Christ is calling us together to be one Church in America,composed of all Americans, no matter where they came from, no matterhow long their ancestors, or they themselves, have been in this land.
Because the canonical organization of the Church, according to theHoly Apostles and all of the ancient Fathers, is not about some kindof international organization where we look 8000 miles away for somesource of canonicity. But it is the local Church, the presbyters andthe deacons, and the faithful people gathered around their bishop.This is the fullness of the catholic Church. This is the fullness ofthe Orthodox Church as it was given to us from the holy Fathers, as itwas 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 ourFathers in the faith generations ago, on this continent. It has grownand bears fruit. And, it subsists out of our common sacrificialcommitment 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 ourbishops that they will tell the bishops of the Old World,
"There is an American Orthodox Church. Leave it alone."
God Bless you.
(transcribed from Sermon, April 5, 2009)