The Orthodox Church in America, the jurisdiction I call home within the global Orthodox Communion, has recently released a statement concerning the restructuring of the Orthodox Church here in the United States. It came at the end, and as a result of, the fourth gathering of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in North America, which concluded several days ago.
In the United States, the Orthodox Church is currently fragmented into eight jurisdictions. Each jurisdiction has a “Mother Church” abroad, who originally established their presence in this Country to serve and pastor their ethnic flock, who came by way of immigration. Now that several generations have come and gone, each jurisdiction finds themselves tending to more than immigrates, but also citizens, although still largely according to national lines. The only exception to this is The Orthodox Church in America, which begun as a Russian Missionary Church, who then received autocephaly from Moscow in 1970 and became Self-Governing. While each jurisdiction constitutes the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, insomuch as they have the very same faith and are in full sacramental communion with one another, they operate as separate entities, administratively. The Assembly exists to rectify this, uniting every Orthodox jurisdiction under one common, American Church.
I very much agree with the OCA’s vision for unity on several levels.
First, concerning the way we understand our autocephaly as highlighted in point seven, and articulated by Archbishop Dimitri: “not as masters or Orthodox Unity, but as servants of it.” What a humble way to understand this gift which Christ has given us. The perspective was new to me, and when I read that, it made me proud of my OCA hierarchs. Personally, I couldn’t agree more!
Secondly, that we should work to exist as an autocephalous, self-governing Church, and not underneath a patriarchate in another part of the world, far removed from us and our culture. The US has had Orthodoxy in this land for three centuries, from which has come Saints who are venerated throughout the world, as well as top-notch seminaries to train and ordain clergy. The faithful in this land constitute almost one million believers, and there is a growing monastic community. While by no means mature, we have the maturity needed to exist in this way, particularly after the period of supervision that the plan specifies. In my private opinion, at least.
Since the conclusion of last week’s Assembly meeting, I have had more hope than ever that one day, we will exist in a canonically unified American Orthodox Church in my lifetime.
So be it! So be it!