Archive | October, 2014

A broader, enlightened outlook

by Archpriest Thomas Mueller

My own special experience has involved working out one scenario for regenerating an old urban parish. In the Orthodox Church in America, our pattern for the past 50 years has generally been to establish new missions or to transplant parishes in suburban settings, or more recently in localities that never had any Orthodox presence before. I’m not criticizing this. But it has not expanded our mission and witness broadly enough because almost invariably our outreach has been to upwardly mobile or comfortably settled white Americans. In many cases, we have just given up on the city or left aging parishes in the inner city to decline and wither away. (Saints Peter and Paul in Detroit is prime example of this.)

Saints Cyril and Methodius Church in Milwaukee was just such an aging parish considering flight to minority-free suburbs in 1984. Proponents of this move explicitly referred to getting away from “Hispanics.” But we chose to stay where we were, three miles southwest of downtown in a blue collar, largely Mexican-American neighborhood, with some mixture of Puerto Ricans, whites, and African-Americans.

We got involved with the neighborhood, determined not just to “exist” here as an “island,” but to interact positively with and to enhance the quality of life in the neighborhood. We offered a weekly free After School Arts program for 15 years, sponsored neighborhood clean-up and block watch, provided a free summer Block Party for over 15 years, conducted free ESL classes for the last couple of years, worked on urban issues like public education and immigration, and made and served meals at a women’s homeless shelter for 20 years. These activities have not drawn many Latino parishioners into what is an Anglophone church. But they have put us on the map in the city and among people who care about the city. We have presented ourselves as good neighbors, like the Samaritan of the Gospel. And the outreach activities have provided our parishioners with opportunities to serve Christ in His people. This positive, proactive mindset has bolstered parish morale and vitality, and this in turn has made the parish attractive to newcomers, particularly young singles and families, and to seekers who value positive engagement with humanity. A side effect: no one has time for or interest in parish politics. The size of the parish has doubled since 1984.

Another way we have expanded our mission here has been to reach out to Orthodox ethnic groups that do not have a parish here – particularly Ethiopians and Romanians. This has meant fostering an atmosphere of acceptance and equality, where people of every ethnic group are treated as peers in every way, and there is no ethic in-group (including that of ethnic Americans), and where we are open to diverse customs and even modes of liturgical music. The diversity of the parish acts as a magnet and builds on itself, because it is rich and exciting and a sign of Pentecost. Some 35-40% of the parish is comprised of immigrant families, who tend to be younger, with children, thus attracting younger American families with kids. The multiracial character of the parish affords an easier entrée for American blacks as well.

Other Midwest Diocese parishes are hosting FOCUS programs in their facilities — Archangel Michael in St. Louis, MO; Saints Peter and Paul in Detroit, MI; Holy Trinity in Saint Paul, MN; and probably others. Saint Gregory of Nyssa in Columbus has set the standard for urban engagement with its own parish meal program and neighborhood enhancement programs over the past four decades. Saint Joseph in Wheaton, IL, has had phenomenal growth, at least in part by welcoming underserved ethnic groups into the heart of its community.

Finally, we all need to have a more positive outlook toward the people of our cities. We cannot look down on them, despise them, fear them, ghettoize them. We need to care about them as a Church. We need to care about urban problems — unemployment, poverty, racism, homelessness, human trafficking, violence. We can’t regard cities as alien, pagan territory, from which we can only flee. In a country that is fast becoming minority-majority and ever more urban, our outlook and our outreach must be broader and more enlightened.


Archpriest Thomas Mueller is Rector of SS. Cyril and Methodius Church, Milwaukee, WI.

Help delegates from Alaska, Mexico attend the 18th All-American Council

2014-1029-alaska1Crucial to the success of the 18th All-American Council, slated to convene in Atlanta, GA July 20-24, 2015, is a full complement of delegates representing parishes of every diocese of the Orthodox Church in America.

In an effort to assist delegates from the Dioceses of Alaska and Mexico, for whom travel costs can be beyond reach, a special appeal has been issued with the blessing of the Holy Synod of Bishops with the concurrence of the Metropolitan Council to help offset their expenses.

“As we prepare to come together for the All-American Council in Atlanta next July, our thoughts turn to the idea of mission for the Orthodox Church in America,” said His Grace, Bishop David of Anchorage and Alaska. “What is more important to the idea of mission than the presence of delegates from our first missionary diocese in Alaska — and our newest missionary diocese in Mexico — on the North American continent?

2014-1029-mexico“However, this is unlikely to happen without help,” Bishop David continued. “Clergy and faithful in Alaska still live very much as they have lived for the last 200 years, a subsistence lifestyle that involves very little cash and a great deal of hard work to provide food and fuel for their existence. For Alaskan residents, a ticket from the Anchorage hub to Atlanta can be well over $1,000.00, if not substantially more. And Mexico is in a similar position, especially with the peso-to-dollar exchange rate.”

Clergy, faithful and parishes who wish to assist their “northernmost” and “southernmost” brothers and sisters to participate in the 18th All-American Council are invited to send donations to the Orthodox Church in America, PO Box 675, Syosset, NY 11791. Please make checks payable to the “Orthodox Church in America” and include “18th AAC Travel Fund” in the memo line. All donations will be used exclusively for their intended purpose, and accounted for accordingly. Specific questions or suggestions may be directed to Melanie Ringa, OCA Treasurer, at mringa@oca.org.

“We hope that there will be many faithful willing to take the responsibility of helping to fund delegates from our oldest and youngest dioceses,” Bishop David concluded. “Please think of this opportunity as a way to help the Orthodox Church in America fulfill its mission to be a light to all peoples as we move forward for the glory of God!”

Our Mission Today

by Dr. Paul Meyendorff

As we prepare for the 18th All-American Council, more than one century after the 1907 Sobor in Mayfield, PA, we are once more given the opportunity to reflect on where we have been and, more importantly, where we are going

At first glance, the situation confronting us today could not be more different than that faced in 1907. Then, we were an immigrant church, still speaking in a foreign tongue, struggling to acclimate ourselves to a western, American culture that was both ignorant of Orthodoxy and generally hostile to it. Yet we persevered, both in making North America our home, and in maintaining the Orthodox faith of our ancestors despite countless challenges, material and spiritual. We have made the transition from being an immigrant Church to being a local Church, at home – but not too much at home! – within American society.

A recent survey has shown that converts now represent a majority of members in the OCA! Our autocephaly, granted in 1970, stands as a powerful symbol of our mission to be the Church in North America, to the continued dismay of some who would prefer to keep Orthodoxy as an ethnic or colonial enclave. This is our vision.

What, then, is our mission today? It is nothing less than to live out this vision, to be the Church at this time and in this place. That task needs to be realized at every level.

  • By the individual parishioner whose life should a shining example to others at home, in the workplace, and in society.
  • By the parish through its liturgical and social ministry, as well as in its cooperation with other parishes and outreach to the local community.
  • By the diocese, led by its bishop, which coordinates and supervises the work of the parishes.
  • By the Holy Synod and the central Church administration, which coordinate the work of the dioceses, maintain good relations with other Orthodox jurisdictions and Churches, and witness to Orthodoxy in the public and ecumenical arenas, both nationally and internationally.

Each is equally important, and our mission will succeed only if we place an appropriate emphasis on each level. At the upcoming All-American Council, the business sessions will focus on revising and updating the Statute of the Orthodox Church in America and on securing the financial stability of the central Church administration. While this may not seem particularly inspiring, it touches on the very nature of how we understand ourselves and the Church. All of us – bishops, clergy, and laity – will pray together, share in the Eucharist, deliberate, and make the decisions necessary for the well-being of the Church in America. This is no different than what our ancestors in the faith, led by Saint Archbishop Tikhon, did more than a century ago at that first American Sobor in Mayfield. And in doing this, we are doing nothing less than fulfilling the vision held by Saint Tikhon, in which everyone — clergy and laity alike — share responsibility for the governance of the Church.


Dr. Paul Meyendorff is the Father Alexander Schmemann Professor of Liturgical Theology and Director of Continuing Education at Saint Vladimir’s Seminary, Yonkers, NY. He also serves as a member of the OCA’s Metropolitan Council and as a consultant to the OCA’s Office of External Affairs and Interchurch Relations.

Holy Synod concludes fall session

DSC_2014-1023-liturgy29The fall session of the Holy Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America was held at the Chancery here October 21-23, 2014.

On its opening day, the Holy Synod elected His Grace, Bishop Irénée to the vacant Episcopal See of Ottawa and Canada and Igumen Paul [Gassios] to the vacant See of Chicago and the Midwest. Igumen Daniel [Brum] was elected Bishop of Santa Rosa and Auxiliary for the Diocese of the West. [See related story.]

Bishop Irénée will be enthroned in Ottawa on November 28-29, 2014, while Bishop-elect Paul’s consecration and enthronement will take place in Chicago on December 26-27 and Bishop-elect Daniel’s consecration and enthronement will be celebrated on January 23-24, 2015 in San Francisco and Santa Rosa.

In his opening address, His Beatitude, Metropolitan Tikhon addressed the newly elected and reviewed the current status of the Church.

“We offer our expressions of ‘Axios’ to the newly elected members of the Holy Synod and welcome them to our fall session,” Metropolitan Tikhon said. “I think that I speak for all the brothers and for the entire Church in expressing our great joy. I offer our prayers and hopes for fruitful ministries in your dioceses and in pastoral and administrative work. In addition, we also know that, at least in the cases of Canada and the Midwest, each of your flocks has been waiting patiently for a shepherd to guide them, and I would exhort each of you to approach your new responsibilities with sobriety, humility and above all, love for your flock.

“I am also very pleased that, with today’s elections, there remains only one vacant diocese in the Orthodox Church in America — the Diocese of the South — and it is our hope that the nomination of a new bishop for that diocese will take place next February,” Metropolitan Tikhon continued. “In any case, it has been a long time since we have had so few vacancies, and I believe that this gives expression to the continuing establishment of stability in the Orthodox Church in America and offers the foundation for all of us to fulfill the Apostolic work of Christ.”

After offering congratulations to His Eminence, Archbishop Nathaniel on the 35th Anniversary of his Episcopacy, Metropolitan Tikhon reviewed his work since the Holy Synod’s spring 2014 session, highlighting the contacts he has had with the retired bishops. He spoke of the recent work of the Holy Synod, Chancery staff, and ORSMA, and addressed a number of legal and pastoral issues and matters of external affairs. He also reviewed ongoing projects, including drafts of the Holy Synod handbook and the Instructions and Procedures for the Selection, Nomination and Election of Bishops.

According to Archpriest Eric G. Tosi, OCA Secretary, the members of the Holy Synod

  • appointed to the Lesser Synod, chaired by Metropolitan Tikhon, were His Eminence, Archbishop Melchisedek of Pittsburgh; His Grace, Bishop Mark of Philadelphia; and His Grace, Bishop Michael of New York.
  • heard updates from Ms. Cindy Davis of the Office of Review of Sexual Misconduct Allegations [ORSMA] and Dr. Albert Rossi of the Sexual Misconduct Policy Advisory Committee [SMPAC].
  • heard a review of the work of the Department of External Affairs and Interchurch Relations by Archpriest Leonid Kishkovsky, Director, and Priest Nazarii Polataiko.
  • reviewed the report of Archpriest John Jillions, Chancellor, in which a plan for the renewal of the Department of Pastoral Life was presented. It was agreed that each bishop will appoint a priest to attend a consultation, convened by the Department, in 2015. He also spoke of the ongoing work and meetings of the diocesan chancellors.
  • heard the report of Father Eric Tosi, Secretary, who updated the hierarchs on plans for the 18th All-American Council and sought guidance on a number of matters, including speakers, agenda items, and special events. He presented a plan to reestablish the OCA mailing list, which the hierarchs approved, and sought input on the reprinting of new metric books, in which parish sacramental celebrations are recorded. He also offered an update on the work of the Archive Committee.
  • received the proposed 2015 budget, which was presented by Ms. Melanie Ringa, Treasurer, who reviewed the current budget in detail and presented the positive results of the most recent internal and external audits.
  • heard reports from Prof. Dr. David Drillock of the Department of Liturgical Music an Translations and Archpriests Theodore Boback and Joseph Gallick of the Office of Military Chaplains.
  • directed the Legal committee to search for and retain a lawyer licensed in the State of New York as General Counsel for the OCA in response to the report of Judge E. R. Lanier, Chair of the Legal Committee.
  • unanimously approved Church Plant Grants for five mission communities. [See related story.]
  • approved Father Tosi’s recommendations on the OCA’s departments and instructed the Chancery office to contact the Reorganization Task Force of the Metropolitan Council to continue its work.
  • heard the reports of Archpriest Dr. John Behr and Archpriest Dr. Chad Hatfield, Dean and Chancellor respectively of Saint Vladimir’s Seminary, and Archpriest Dr. Steven Voytovich, Dean of Saint Tikhon’s Seminary. His Grace, Bishop David of Sitka delivered a report on Saint Herman’s Seminary. The hierarchs heard the report of the Board of Theological Education and approved several candidates who had completed Diaconal Vocation programs for ordination.

The members of the Holy Synod will address a letter to all seminaries and formation programs restating their insistence that all candidates must be members of the OCA for three years prior to their acceptance into programs leading to ordination. The hierarchs conveyed their gratitude to Archdeacon Kirill Sokolov, Director of the Diaconal Vocations Program, for his work in preparation for the Board of Theological Education’s meetings.

Bishop Mark presided at the celebration of Thursday’s Divine Liturgy for the Feast of the Apostle James, after which Bishop-elect Paul and Bishop-elect Daniel were elevated to the dignity of Archimandrite. Prayers were also offered for the late Mr. Gregory Sulich, a long-time Chancery employee, on the first anniversary of his repose.

Minutes, reports and related resources will be posted as they become available.

A photo gallery may be viewed on the OCA web site and Facebook page.

Holy Synod of Bishops meets for fall session

2013-1122-holy-synod-logoThe fall session of the Holy Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America opened on Tuesday, October 21, 2014, and will conclude on Thursday, October 23.

The session will open with the canonical elections of the candidates nominated to fill the vacant Episcopal See of Ottawa and Canada and the vacant Episcopal See of Chicago and the Midwest. His Grace, Bishop Irénée of Québec City and Administrator of the Archdiocese of Canada, was nominated by delegates to the Extraordinary Archdiocese Assembly held in Gatineau, QC on October 2, 2014, while Archpriest Paul Gassios — who was tonsured to monastic rank on Monday, October 20, with the name Paul, in honor of Saint Paul the Confessor, Patriarch of Constantinople — was nominated by delegates to the Special Midwest Diocesan Assembly held in Broadview Heights, OH, on October 7. [See related stories here and here.]

Other items on the Holy Synod’s agenda include

  • full reports by the Chancellor, Archpriest John Jillions; Secretary, Archpriest Eric G. Tosi; and Treasurer, Ms. Melanie Ringa — as well as updates on the work of SMPAC/ORSMA.
  • a detailed review of plans-to-date for the 18th All-American Council, slated to convene in Atlanta, GA July 20-24, 2015.
  • a presentation of the 2015 budget for approval.
  • an interim report of the ongoing work of the Statute Revision Committee, chaired by His Eminence, Archbishop Nathanial.

According to Father Eric, reports will also be given on the OCA’s 2015 Plant Grants, legal matters, canonical issues, and plans for the upcoming year. There will also be a session on clergy matters as well recommendations from the Board of Theological Education.

As part of the ongoing rotation of OCA Department reports, Archpriest Theodore Boback will speak on on the work of the Military Chaplains, while Prof. Dr. David Drillock will update the hierarchs on the work of the Department of Liturgical Music and Translations.

Putting Saint Tikhon’s words and vision into action

by Father Daniel Hubiak

In 1907, the First All-American Sobor was convened at Saint John the Baptist Church, Mayfield, PA in conjunction with the Russian Orthodox Mutual Aid Society’s Convention. Because of this dual gathering, the Sobor was limited to one morning and three evening sessions primarily dedicated to establishing legal and financial structures. Therefore, the theme of the gathering found expression not in the working sessions, but in Archbishop Tikhon’s talks at the sessions and at the farewell meal with the clergy. *

As the gathering was ending, the Archbishop said, “We are strong… only in one thing – in possessing the True Orthodox Faith… the gift of God… Strengthen your brethren in the Faith and the love of Orthodoxy.”

In his last sermon before departing for Russia, Archbishop Tikhon stated, “Guarding the Orthodox Faith sacredly and loving it is not enough. Christ the Savior said that lighting the candle, one does not put it ‘under a bushel, but on a candlestick’ (Matthew 5:15), and the light of Orthodoxy is lighted not for a small circle of people. No, the Orthodox Church is catholic; she remembers the will of her Founder: ‘Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature, teach all nations.’ (Matthew 28:19; Mark 16:15). We ought to share our spiritual wealth, truth, and light with others…. Thus, each of us should consider this task of propagating the faith as his own task, dear to his heart.”

The Archbishop indicated that, in order to expand the mission, a three-pronged approach was needed.

  1. Thank God daily for the gift of Orthodoxy.
  2. Strengthen each other in the Faith and in the love of Orthodoxy.
  3. Propagate the Faith by living it.

In his talks, Archbishop Tikhon encouraged the convening of more gatherings to share and offer initiatives. He said, “From the beginning, I gave my colleagues wide room for initiative. As long as the work got done, it was not important to me whether it began with me or others. And the consequences of this were not slow in being told: parishes began to multiply, new churches were built, the number of parishioners grew, new institutions were established.”

The Archbishop understood that time brings change. “I think that those things in which I was useful here for a while – for which I was perhaps even sent here – have now passed and are no longer needed, that you need something different, a different worker with a different approach and character.”

Things are different today. We have instant contact and the means for instant information sharing. We must be careful not to use these means for conflict and tearing down unity. Instead, we should be working to Expand the Mission by augmenting the modern techniques for information sharing with the three points proposed by the Archbishop: Thanking God daily, strengthening each other in faith and love, and Living our faith.

In addition to instant information sharing, personal contact is of vital importance. We strengthen each other in the Faith and in the love of Orthodox Christianity by personal contact and by seeing each other as images of Christ. The kiss of peace cannot be accomplished via the internet. It is accomplished person to person, and by greeting one’s fellow parishioner or parish visitor.

The need to Expand the Mission of the Orthodox Church in America continues to be the sacred task and duty of each of us. By all means, let us use modern techniques of sharing and disseminating information and promoting programs, but let us really SEE each other, STRENGTHEN each other, LOVE each other and TALK to each other, that those around us might say, “Look how they love one another” (Apology of Tertullian).

* Saint Tikhon, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, Enlightener of North America. For quotes, see Orthodox America 1794-1976, pp. 97-101, and www.antiochian.org/Bishops/tikhon.htm.


Protopresbyter Daniel Hubiak served as Chancellor of the Orthodox Church in America for 15 years. In 1970, he was a member of the official delegation sent to Moscow to receive the Tomos of Autocephaly. For several years in the 1990s, he served as the OCA’s first representative in Moscow and Dean of the OCA Representation Church of the Great Martyr Catherine. Now retired, but still very much active in serving the Church, he and Matushka Dunia reside in Ocean Pines, MD.

Reflections on 18th AAC theme to appear weekly

AllAmLOGOThe theme of the 18th All-American Council — “How to Expand the Mission” — will be explored in a new series of reflections slated to be posted on the 18th All-American Council web site every Thursday.

The 18th All-American Council will be convened July 20-24, 2015 in Atlanta, GA.

In the series’ first installment, Protopresbyter Daniel Hubiak, retired Chancellor of the Orthodox Church in America and first OCA Representative to the Moscow Patriarchate, reflects on the words and wisdom of Saint Tikhon shared at the First All-American Sobor, held in Mayfield, PA in 1907. He shares Saint Tikhon’s three-point approach to “expanding the Mission” by thanking God daily for the gift of Orthodoxy, strengthening each other in the Faith and the love of Orthodoxy, and propagating the Faith by living it.

Future reflections will be offered by Archpriests Robert Arida, John Dunlop, Lawrence Farley, and Daniel Rentel; Priest David Rucker; Dr. Paul Meyendorff; and numerous others.

For updates on the 18th All-American Council visit http://18aac.oca.org..

All-American Council Local Committee reviews final AAC logistics, agenda

Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Alexios of Atlanta [center] with [from left] Ms. Ringa, Fr. Tosi, Fr. Manzuk, Fr. Jillions and Mr. Ilchuk.

Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Alexios of Atlanta [center] with [from left] Ms. Ringa, Fr. Tosi, Fr. Manzuk, Fr. Jillions and Mr. Ilchuk.

Members of the Chancery staff met with the 18th All-American Council Local Planning Committee here October 6-7, 2014 to finalize logistics and the AAC’s agenda.

The four-day gathering, the theme of which will be “How to Expand the Mission,” will open July 20, 2015.

Participating in the meeting were Archpriest John Jillions, Chancellor; Archpriest Eric G. Tosi, Secretary and Council Administrator; Melanie Ringa, Treasurer; Archpriest Myron Manzuk, Council Manager; Peter Ilchuk, Logistics Manager; Michaela Staskiewicz and Barbara Massoudi, AAC Lay Vice-Chairpersons; members of the hotel staff; and chairs of the local sub-committees.

Participants reviewed the proposed agenda in conjunction with logistical support and final contract negotiations were completed. According to Father Eric, the local committee reported on its work and “everything is on schedule.”

Members of the Executive Committee met with His Eminence, Metropolitan Alexios of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Atlanta, who graciously offered the use of the Metropolis’ faculties for the celebration of a Pan-Orthodox Vespers and reception on Saturday, July 18. Transportation will be provided to and from this pre-AAC event.

Additional information on the 18th AAC will be released in the coming weeks.

Visit the AAC web site for ongoing updates and other Council-related resources.

To Love is to Remember

By Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann

“To Love is to Remember” was published in 1975 as an introduction to the Orthodox Church in America’s bicentennial volume Orthodox America: 1794-1976, celebrating the U.S. Bicentennial. It is a reflection upon the establishment and growth of Orthodox Christianity throughout all of North America that continues to provide an appropriate and challenging word for our Orthodox mission today.

To love is to remember. And to remember with love is truly to understand that which one loves and remembers, to appropriate it as God’s gift. Thus with Orthodoxy in America. It was planted here only eighteen years after American independence, whose Bicentennial we are about to celebrate. Yet many are those who still affirm that the Orthodox have nothing to remember, nothing to love here except their numerous “abroads,” those for whom America, from an Orthodox point of view, remains a meaningless no man’s land. As if the Church here had no past, no common destiny forged by generations of faithful, who by their sacrifices and humble commitment have preserved our faith for us; as if God has not acted here, revealed His will, bestowed His gifts; as if all this did not constitute a spiritual reality which every Orthodox, whether he was born here or has come here and regardless of his background must humbly accept.

Our only true participation in this country’s Bicentennial ought to be the rediscovery, in love and gratitude, of our past, the one given to us by God as our common treasure, our common path, which by determining our present reveals the way into the future. In these days of national remembrance and celebration, the questions aimed at us Orthodox is this: is our faith, which we claim to be true and universal, to remain a ceremonial and marginal accident in the texture of America, or is it, by the will of God, an essential event which is happening not only in America but also to America?

Perhaps the time has not yet come for a detailed and dispassionate study of this, our common past. Such study, however, will never be possible if we do not begin by discerning and deciphering the signs by which God has been revealing His will and His design to us. Simply to enumerate some of these signs is the purpose of this introduction.

The Sign of Mission

The first sign is contained in the initial fact which both inaugurates and determines the history of Orthodoxy in America. It is its appearance here as mission, the missionary origin and foundation of American Orthodoxy. We must never forget that long before successive waves of immigration brought to these shores sons and daughters of virtually every Orthodox nation, the Orthodox faith was implanted here by the basic imperative of that faith itself: the desire to bring the Gospel to those who, not knowing Christ, “sat in darkness and the shadow of death.”

If, less than five years after his ecclesiastical canonization (in 1970), St. Herman of Alaska has generated so much love, such truly all-American veneration (already six new parishes have placed themselves under his holy patronage), if this veneration unites people of different backgrounds, is it not because the humble Alaskan elder, his life, his total and unconditional commitment to the land and the people to whom God sent him, have been spontaneously accepted by the Orthodox in America as the personal focus of their spiritual identity, of their reality under God? It was a Russian mission, we are told, sent to a Russian territory. True. But then is it not even more significant that the aim of that Russian mission was not to make Alaskans into Russians but to make Orthodoxy native, i.e., Alaskan? That it began not by teaching natives Russian, but by translating Russian liturgical books into Aleutian? What is eternally important, what makes that mission the permanent foundation and inspiration of American Orthodoxy, is that its spirit and motivation were those of Christian mission everywhere: the total identification of the church with the people and with their real needs, spiritual as well as material.

We know that this identification, the defense by missionaries of the natives against foreign exploitation, resulted in persecutions, sufferings, in what — from a human point of view — could seem a failure and a defeat. That defeat, however, was transformed into a spiritual victory. Not only did Orthodoxy remain in Alaska when the latter ceased to be Russian, but the Alaskan Orthodox mission became the source of American Orthodoxy, its ultimate spiritual criterion. No external achievement and success, no numerical growth will ultimately have any meaning if they betray and obscure the pure light forever shining from the humble grave of St. Herman, truly the “wonderworker of all America.”

The Sign of a Local Church

The mission growing into, fulfilling itself as the local Church: such is the second fundamental fact and essential sign in the history of American Orthodoxy.

When we say “local Church” we mean much more than a permanent ecclesiastical unit and administrative structure. We mean a Church with her own and unique identity distinguishing her from other Churches. For if the Orthodox Church is one and indivisible — in faith, in tradition, in hierarchical order, in sacramental communion — this unity not only does not exclude, but on the contrary, implies a diversity among Churches in the way in which each of them “incarnates” the same divine gift. The one and same Orthodoxy fulfilled itself in different ways and “incarnations” — in Africa and Syria, Egypt, Greece, Russia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania, etc. And to deny the possibility of such incarnations — in the past, present or future — is to deny that the Church “never grows old but always rejuvenates….”

Now the unique particularity of American Orthodox — in the past, present or future — is that it became a living encounter, after centuries of mutual isolation and even alienation, of virtually all Orthodox traditions, of all treasures accumulated throughout centuries. Land of immigrants, America is therefore the land where the heritage of some can become the heritage of all, where, in other words, a living synthesis is the very form of life. Hence a permanent tension between two tendencies: that towards an acute “ethnicism,” the self-defense of each immigrant group against the loss of “roots” and “identity,” and that towards “openness,” the desire to transcend the “ghetto” by discovering the universality of the cultural values preserved by it. It is obvious that Orthodoxy here could not escape this tension. But the significant fact of its history is that the local Church established here more than a hundred years ago was meant from the very beginning to resolve that tension, to be not the extension of a “national” or “ethnic” Orthodox identity, but the fulfillment of Orthodoxy as a common “identity” of all Orthodox.

When today, almost two hundred years after the implanting of Orthodoxy on the American continent, one hears endless debates about the future Orthodox unification in America as a remote and not too realistic ideal, to which one ritually pays lip service while in fact opposing its realization, one is amazed by the conscious or unconscious denial of a simple fact: that this unity did exist, was a reality, that the first “epiphany” of Orthodoxy here was not as a jungle of ethnic ecclesiastical colonies, serving primarily if not exclusively the interests of their various “nationalisms” and “mother churches,” but precisely as a local Church meant to transcend all “natural” divisions and to share all spiritual values; that this unity was broken and then arbitrarily replaced with the unheard of principle of “jurisdictional multiplicity” which denies and transgresses every single norm of Orthodox Tradition; that the situation which exists today is thus truly a sin and a tragedy.

For this reason we should always remember that not only the ideal but also the very reality of one Orthodox Church in America is an integral part of our heritage, a Church which truly unites in herself all the treasures of Orthodoxy, presenting all of them as one treasure to the West, a Church whose proper vocation and “identity” is to transcend and to heal the sad nationalistic fragmentation and isolationism in which the Orthodox Churches lived, alas, for many centuries.

When one reads the report presented in 1906 by Tikhon, Archbishop of the Aleutian Islands and North America, to the Holy Synod of the Russian Church, a report dealing with the future of American Orthodoxy, one realizes the depth of his vision, one hears the prophecy that should guide us in our ecclesiastical efforts. One realizes that there is no other way for American Orthodoxy than to return to that prophecy and to that vision, to fulfill today that which was given from the very beginning.

The Sign of Suffering — The Cross

A common past, a common destiny is made up not only of victories and achievements but also of failures and defeats experienced together and understood in the light of God’s will. Of such failures and defeats our Church has had a full share and even today she hardly can claim to have solved all problems, overcome all obstacles, reached all goals. And yet nowhere is her way under God and towards God clearer than in the successive storms that challenged and are still challenging her. It is as if with each crisis a new dimension, a new depth has been added to her life, a lesson taught and ultimately understood.

So it was at the time of the Russian Revolution when, suddenly and without any preparation, our Church was deprived of the guidance, help and support of her Mother Church and had to meet the challenge of choosing her own way of finding — in darkness and chaos, among divisions and rivalries — the permanent foundations for her life. Yet that storm, whose aftermath we still feel sometimes, strengthened her unity, inspired clergy and laity alike with a new sense of responsibility for the Church, and resulted — without any exaggeration — in a new awakening to the Orthodox understanding of the Church.

So it was with the difficult and painful adjustment to a totally new situation of the parish, with the need to reconcile within a truly Orthodox framework the respective rights and obligations of the clergy and the laity, to transform a “conflict” into “synergy” and a deeper experience of the Church as truly the People of God.

So it was with education and seminaries, publications and press and virtually every aspect of Church life. The fiery debates at our Sobors and Councils, the conflicts and clashes which at times seemed so deep as to exclude any solution, may have appeared sometimes as a sign of weakness and decay. In reality those were the signs of strength and growth. Little by little we learned how to listen to one another, how — together— to work for the Church and not for “our” particular interests in her. And now, in retrospect, one can say that if not all problems were solved, all were faced and taken seriously, not dissolved in escapist rhetoric.

Thus these conflicts and difficulties constitute the third “sign” of our past and present, the clearest announcement of our future. There is no Christian life — personal or corporate — without a Cross. If together we have gone through darkness and difficulties, if we have survived and grown, it means that the Church has truly permeated our lives, that she has become a reality for us. There are many around us who do not share this vision, who ignore this common past, who refuse to read in it God’s will. Our answer to them can come only from our life itself. The future of our Church depends on us, not just on our strength and ability, but above all on our obedience to Christ and to the wonderful heritage He has bestowed on us.

Alexander Schmemann, Vice Chairman
Department of History and Archives
Orthodox Church in America

Preconciliar Commission reviews proposed AAC agenda, evolving plans

18thAACMembers of the Preconciliar Commission [PCC], charged with overseeing the organization of the 18th All-American Council [AAC], met here under the chairmanship of His Grace, Bishop Mark of Philadelphia and Eastern Pennsylvania September 30 – October 1, 2014.

The AAC will be held in Atlanta July 20-24, 2015. The Council theme will be “How To Expand The Mission.”

According to Archpriest Eric G. Tosi, OCA Secretary, PCC members “reviewed the proposed agenda, which includes the plenary sessions, workshops, liturgical services, and social events that will take place during the Council. The agenda will be presented to the Holy Synod of Bishops for approval.”

Related matters reviewed by the PCC included

  • the program for the AAC’s youth component. An initial call for adult volunteers will be issued shortly.
  • plans for the Fellowship of Orthodox Christians in America’s annual national convention, which will meet concurrently during the first two days of the AAC.
  • the AAC web site and Facebook page. Also highlighted is the new AAC hashtag feed — #expandthemissionoca — by which parishes may share ideas on how to “expand the mission” of the Church.
  • plans for AAC vendors and exhibitors.
  • an update on the electronic registration process, slated to be available during the first week of January 2015.
  • the list of invited AAC speakers and guests.

PCC members also reviewed plans for a joint seminary reception sponsored by the OCA to enable delegates to learn more about the work of the OCA’s three seminaries and a reception for potential and current members of the Stewards of the OCA. Two breakfasts with the members of the Holy Synod — one for clergy wives, the other for youth delegates — also have been scheduled.

“In line with the AAC theme, significant historical items from the museum at Saint Tikhon’s Monastery will be on display, as will the Sitka Icon of the Mother of God and the Icon of Saint Anne,” Father Eric noted. “A number of workshops will focus on the practical application of the AAC theme.”

AAC assessments will be sent to parishes in the immediate future, thereby assisting them in budgeting for the Council.

“The assessment level has been set at $12.50 per parishioner and will be due in early 2015,” Father Eric added. “The cost for the youth program will be $150.00 per participant.”

The call for reports also will be issued in the coming weeks, while the work of the Statute Revision and Finance Committees continues, with an anticipated release for comments in January 2015.

In addition to Bishop Mark and Father Eric, PCC members approved by the Holy Synod include Archpriest John Jillions, Chancellor; Archpriest Leonid Kishkovsky, Director of External Affairs; Archpriest Myron Manzuk, Council Manager; Archpriest Alexander Fecanin, Local Clergy Chair; Priest Benjamin Tucci, Youth Events Coordinator; Peter Ilchuk, Logistics Manager; Melanie Ringa, Treasurer; Carol Deerson, FOCA representative; and Elizabeth Mikhailevsky, Metropolitan Council.