Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The OCA Is Being Lead Astray: A Brief Response to Metropolitan Jonah


On March 16, 2009 I had the pleasure to attend a timely lecture at Holy Cross Chapel in Brookline, MA given by Archimandrite Elpidophoros Lambriniadis, Chief Secretary of the Holy and Sacred Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople. The lecture was titled Challenges of Orthodoxy in America and the Role of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Little did I know that from this brief lecture there would arise such a reaction of deep seated hostility against the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

I will not summarize the lecture, since it can be read in full at the link provided below, but the controversy lay in the proposal for the submission of the diaspora to the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople as prescribed by the Holy Fathers of the Ecumenical Synods in order to bring unity among all Orthodox abroad. This proposal comes at this time in response to two hierarchs in America, Metropolitan Jonah of the Orthodox Church In America and Metropolitan Phillip of the Antiochian Archdiocese in America, who seek unity in the diaspora not according to the Holy Canons of the Ecumenical Synods which provide the true formula of unity, but according to relative quack principles formulated in their own minds as to how the Orthodox diaspora should govern themselves. In his lecture, Fr. Elpidophoros gave very precise answers to previous statements of these two Metropolitans that were beginning to undermine the authority of the Ecumenical Patriarchate with some surprisingly ignorant misrepresentations and misunderstandings of even the most basic form of Orthodox History and Ecclesiology.

On April 5, 2009 Metropolitan Jonah gave a sermon after a Pan-Orthodox Vespers at St. Seraphim Orthodox Cathedral in Dallas, Texas to respond to the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Immediately video of this sermon leaked onto the internet and it also can be seen in a link below with the transcript. A response to this sermon is hardly necessary for anyone with a knowledge of Orthodox teaching and history since it is so badly articulated to the point where he is on the verge of ecclesiological heresy. But what further struck me was the utter disrespect and immaturity displayed by this newly-enthroned hierarch.

One heresy that I would like to point out was his interpretation of the hierarchical structure in the Orthodox Church. According to Metropolitan Jonah, who seems to be relishing in his uncanonical "autocephalous" status in the OCA (which I may add fails to even unite the Russians in America), since America has bishops in all its jurisdictions there is no need for these bishops to submit to a higher bishop in a far away land. Such a statement can only be a display of willful ignorance of the canons which clearly speak of certain bishops being under the authority of other bishops as "first among equals", just as he himself is a bishop with authority over other bishops as a "first among equals". Let alone the fact that he ignores Canon 28 of the Fourth Ecumenical Synod which clearly unites the diaspora under the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople (as was the tradition throughout the period of the Roman Empire and even during Ottoman times as attested by the granting of autocephaly to the Russians in 1589). The Metropolitans statement is an uncanonical proclamation for autocephaly which only can be granted with the approval of the Ecumenical Patriarchate as well as the other Ancient Patriarchates. His carelessness in such statements is obviously the result of speaking without thinking to rally a revolution against, his oft quoted, the "Old World" hierarchs of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and other Ancient Sees.

The main appeal of the Metropolitan is to Convert sentimentalities. In his lecture he constantly derides the Ecumenical Patriarchate as being "Old World", "foreign", "controlling", "a pope", "nationalist", "imperialist", and "ignorant" among other things. He says that because we are Americans the Phanar "doesn't understand" the concept of freedom that we love as well as our rich diversity, and that we can "determine our own destiny" without their guidance because they do not "appreciate our culture". He accuses the Phanar of not listening to its priests and laity, of being Orthodox Christians because they were born into it as opposed to Americans (his Convert audience) who chose it, of following ideologies of a "forgotten Empire", of not allowing "a word of English" in services and have "never heard English" themselves. The Metropolitan expressed his fears of America being imposed with "foreign customs" and "foreign despots" where "all decisions will be made by a patriarchate still under Islamic domination." And he goes so far as to say: "If we wanted a pope, we'd be under the real one."

Metropolitan Jonah's proposition for America is to be independent of foreign influence and be a "unity in diversity" here in America as we seem fit. He offers no plan on how this can be done of course, and offers no authority or example to follow. Basically he knows what he doesn't want, but doesn't know what he does want hoping that in the end his rebelliousness is endorsed by the Holy Spirit.

In his sermon the Metropolitan also expresses some historical beliefs that are common inaccuracies among the OCA as a whole. For example, that the OCA is the direct inheritor of the first Orthodox mission to the natives in Alaska by such luminaries as Sts. Herman and Innocent of Alaska, as well as the founder of the first established church in the New World in San Francisco, and by such a default they should have sole authority in the New World. Also he says that before the establishment of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese in 1922 all parishes were under the Russian Patriarchate.

The truth is that the great majority of the OCA, then known as the Metropolia, have their origins in the conversions of the Uniates lead by St. Alexy Toth and were only one of three representatives of the Russian community in America of that time (including ROCOR and the Moscow Patriarchate) and have no direct episcopal line to St. Herman (who was not even a bishop or priest). Furthermore, Greeks were the first to establish a presence on American soil in New Smyrna, Florida in 1767, 26 years before St. Herman arrived in Alaska in 1794, which was not American at the time (being part of the Russian Empire). Also the first Orthodox parish established on American soil was by Greeks in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1864, three years before Alaska became American and four years before the first Russian parish was established in American territory (in San Francisco). And many of the Greek parishes before 1922, as well as other jurisdictions, because of their remote locations, often pledged their allegiance to either the Church of Greece or Constantinople or any other Mother See. In fact, the Ecumenical Patriarchate held jurisdiction over the Greek parishes until 1908 when authority was transferred to the Church of Greece for a short time until Patriarch Meletios Metaxakis restored the original status of the Greek churches under the Ecumenical Patriarchate in 1922. For further enlightenment on the non-canonicity of the OCA, which is rejected by all the Ancient Patriarchates today though is graciously allowed to be in communion with them, one can refer to the 1972 book Russian Autocephaly and Orthodoxy in America: An Appraisal with Decisions and Formal Opinions by the Greek Archdiocese.

If one were to honestly compare the talks given by Fr. Elpidophoros and Metropolitan Jonah, it would be surmised why the Ecumenical Patriarchate correctly sees the Orthodox of America as too immature for true autocephaly. The first maturely tackles the issues and gives appropriate proofs from Synodal decrees and has a firm understanding of our situation here in America with an authentic concern to see spiritual growth and prosperity. The other comes off as embarrasingly ignorant, shallow in its spirituality, and vitriolic as summarized in his last words hoping to stir another American Revolution: "Let us affirm to our bishops that they might tell the churches of the Old World, 'There is an American Orthodox Church! Leave it alone!'"

Americans would be wise to sweep their patriotic pride under the rug when it comes to ecclesiastical matters. Pride is the source of the divide among American Orthodox on this issue. Humility is the source of stability and we should all have faith that when the "fullness of time" comes for our autocephaly, the Lord will make sure it happens without our passions getting involved.

Lecture by Archimandrite Elpidophoros Lambriniadis:

http://www.ecclesia.gr/englishnews/default.asp?id=3986

Sermon by Metropolitan Jonah:

Video - http://video.yahoo.com/watch/4812572/12841013

Transcript - http://www.dosoca.org/files/Pan-orthodox-talk-4_7_09.pdf


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