Please Note: This is something I wrote over a year and a half ago, which I never published online. I am posting it now for posterity. – Anastasios
Dear Friends in Christ,
I am happy to inform you that our Church in America continues to grow, paralleling our parish in Greenville’s growth over the past four years! Recently, we accepted a new bishop and several clergy members from a different Orthodox jurisdiction, along with several parishes in Massachusetts, Virginia, Georgia, and Guatemala, among other places! This follows on the heels of our accepting two bishops, nine priests, and eight or so parishes last year.
Church administrative processes are rarely covered in bulletin messages, but I think it is important to touch on this subject, because in Orthodoxy, the administrative function of the Church is linked with the spiritual function of the Church. Administrative processes and procedures are in place in order to facilitate good order, because within a well-ordered Church, Christians are free to focus on the salvation of their souls and the growth of their spiritual life, and disruptions in the administrative order can have a negative impact on the same.
There should only be one Orthodox Church in each given area, with all of the parishes in that area reporting to the bishop. Each bishop oversees his region, and all of the bishops in a common territory such as the modern nation-state come together in what are called Synods to pray together and discuss matters that affect the Church as a whole. Presiding over the Synod is a senior bishop, who is accorded a title such as Archbishop or Patriarch. In our Church, our local bishop is His Eminence Metropolitan Pavlos, and the Archbishop is His Beatitude Archbishop Kallinikos of Athens and All Greece.
In America, Orthodoxy is not yet well-established, and as a result, there is some administrative irregularity. This stems from the fact that when immigrants came to America from their various homelands, they arranged for priests from their area to minister to them. Hence, there were priests from Russia, Greece, the Ottoman Empire, etc. These priests reported back to bishops in the homeland, until eventually bishops started taking up residence in the New World.
Because there was no agreed-upon plan for how to organize America in an Orthodox sense, there appeared various overlapping Orthodox Churches, which are often referred to as “jurisdictions.” In the beginning, most of these Churches were united in Holy Communion, with parishioners being able to attend and receive communion at the other parishes.
Beginning in 1924, however, changes began to be introduced back in the Old Country, such as the adoption of the so-called “New” Calendar, and moves to have Orthodox clergy join in prayer with non-Orthodox clergy and sign joint agreements in a misguided attempt to foster Church unity. Everyone wants people to be united, but the problem is that the Truth was often compromised in these gatherings, which over time have become more and more comprehensive.
To sum up a complex issue, when people see Orthodox and non-Orthodox clergy together on a stage or podium, the clear distinction between Orthodoxy and other Churches is watered down; if it is watered down, people are less likely to become Orthodox; and thus, people lose access to the saving tools of our faith, such as fasting, the Holy Mysteries (sacraments), spiritual guidance from holy priests and monks, etc. We call this movement for unity at any cost, regardless of Truth, “Ecumenism.”
When these changes were introduced, there were groups of faithful who stood up to the changes, and this is how the Old Calendar Orthodox Church was formed. Many parishes in America refused to change to the New Calendar as well, and as a result, there were now jurisdictions formed for the purpose of not participating in any innovation of the Orthodox faith. This is how our Metropolis in America was formed, back in 1954 in Astoria, New York.
Over time, there has been a move to reduce the number of overlapping jurisdictions based on ethnic origins, because as mentioned before, it is irregular and was meant to be temporary, and because it is confusing to both the faithful and to the American public at large. People often ask me if an “Orthodox Christian” is the same thing as a “Greek Orthodox” and if this is in term the same as “Russian Orthodox.” These things are all the same, of course! They are just different ways of saying the same thing. Differences in language and music style do not affect the essence of our faith. In our Church in America, we now have five bishops; all are American-born, with three being of Greek descent baptized as children, and two being non-Greek converts. We have priests of American, Greek, Russian, and other backgrounds, all united in one Church.
Because of a desire to resist innovations and other canonical problems, sometimes groups of clergy leave a jurisdiction for another. In the case of those who have joined us in 2011 and 2012, they had previously encouraged the Church they belonged to to merge with us completely, as part of this move to reduce overlapping jurisdictions. Unfortunately, there were also two theological controversies brewing in that Church (which some have noted served as a convenient excuse to remain separate on the part of those who did not want to unite with us, perhaps fearing change). A large number of clergy attempted to bring their former Church into full unity with ours, but when that did not happen, they proceeded in two waves. It is a great boon to our Church in America, and we pray that those who remained separate from us will follow their brothers and sisters into communion with us shortly, as there is no reason for them to remain independent.
As we can see, both the difficult reality of a New World and concerns over faith led to a confusing administrative situation for Orthodox Christians in the last century in America, but over time, there has been a drive to unite administratively and clear this up. Paradoxically, though, at times questions of faith arise which make it necessary for Orthodox Christians to resist communing with those who have begun to teach new things. There is no conflict though in these two principles, and the reason for it becomes apparent, however, when by holding firm to the correct confession of faith and to our principles, we see other clergy and people come to our Church because of our witness.
Those who have come over to our Church are now free from the distractions which were keeping them from their spiritual growth, just like many of us who converted to Orthodoxy from other religions and Churches felt liberated when we were baptized, put on Christ, and began our new lives as Orthodox. Administrative questions are not the focus of our faith, but they do play a part in the way the Church runs, and that affects our individual spiritual lives. We should all therefore remain aware of what goes on. We are thankful to God that He has blessed our Church to grow so much in the past several years, and we invite all who are not currently members, both in Greenville and elsewhere, to come and see the good things going on here.