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February 17, 2021

The Orthodox: Arrival and Dialogue (Fr. John Romanides) - Part 2 of 5

...continued from part one.


For several decades Protestants and Roman Catholics (particularly the latter) have emphasized the jurisdictional alignments along ethnic lines of Orthodoxy in America and elsewhere in order to point a finger at what they consider disunity and "nationalism." Limited by their own understanding of unity as involving merger (Protestant) or centralization (Roman Catholic), they fail to discern how the Orthodox themselves view unity, and to appreciate how oneness of the Orthodox in faith and worship constitutes a union which transcends such cultural diversities as exist, sometimes even within a single or ethnic group.

Since immigration laws are highy prejudicial toward those countries from which Orthodox Christians are likely to come (Greece's annual quota, for instance, is only 317), the number of foreign-born Orthodox in this country will be reduced to insignificance within the next decade or two. American-born Orthodox already constitute about 80 percent of the total membership. That this trend will accelerate the disappearance of the jurisdictional alignments based on ethnic distinctions is realized even by those who would prefer not to see such a development.

Several years ago the fifty or so immigrant bishops in the United States formed a Standing Conference of Orthodox Bishops; the youth organizations followed, forming the Conference of Eastern Orthodox Youth Leaders of America. For many years local inter-jurisdictional and inter-ethnic clerical associations have been in existence. Since in general the Orthodox have deep respect and admiration for each other's cultural traditions, such associations are concerned not so much with cultural homogeneity as with ecclesiastical cooperation within the framework of cultural diversity.


For some time Orthodox leaders have been expounding or suggesting various ideas in regard to the future jurisdictional and linguistic form of the American Orthodox churches. At present the situation is complicated by the fact that many of the countries of origin are under communist rule. Some 1.5 million of such Orthodox have assumed de facto independence. Another 1.7 million Greeks, Ukrainians, Carpathorussians and Albanians are under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. The Syrian, Bulgarian, Serbian and Romanian churches are under the jurisdiction of the patriarchates in the countries of their origin.

Recently the Patriarchate of Moscow sought to restore relations with the Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church in America. As an inducement it offered a form of de facto autonomy such as that church has already assumed, thus insuring it against political involvement with the Soviet government. Nevertheless, the offer was turned down. Orthodox Americans who are under the jurisdiction of patriarchates under the Islamic rule are not interested in any jurisdictional scheme which would tend to weaken Orthodoxy in those areas. It is to be hoped that the Patriarchate of Moscow will avoid involving the American Orthodox in what is (perhaps erroneously) reported to be an attempt on its part to assert leadership in the Orthodox world.

Nevertheless, determination of continuing Orthodox coordination in America will remain with the already established Standing Conference of Orthodox Bishops, which in time may evolve into a Synod of the Orthodox Catholic Church in the U.S.A., under the spiritual leadership of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople but with each group continuing the ties which it now enjoys or wishes to enjoy with its mother church.

Many Orthodox leaders in America believe that English should be used as the primary medium of worship, in keeping with Orthodoxy's tradition which calls for the use of native languages. Others would like to see preservation in worship of the language of the New Testament, or the ancient language of their respective churches, or simply the language brought to America by their fathers and grandfathers. English has become the primary language for preaching, Sunday School teaching and administration in all Orthodox churches, and the secondary language for worship in all but one. It has become the primary, and in many cases the only, liturgical language in the Syrian Orthodox churches, and the only one in those churches comprised entirely of converts - some of which have preserved their Western liturgical traditions and whose members are referred to as Western Rite Orthodox.


The administrative form which Orthodox Christianity will assume in America will be determined by her commitment to her own history, which she traces in unbroken succession to the primitive Church. Since this history guides her in her relations with both Roman Catholics and Protestants, it would be helpful to discuss certain aspects of Orthodox unity and administration which have a direct bearing on Orthodox attitudes toward the future in America and toward prospects of Christian unity.

Perhaps a fruitful approach would be to begin with the Orthodox definition of the Church which was adopted by the Fourth World Conference On Faith And Order in Montreal. According to this definition one should not think of local congregations as part of the One Church. Rather the Universal Church is "the Body of Christ, including the saints of all ages and Christians of all places, which is both present in and one with the local congregation gathered for the hearing of the Word and the celebration of the Eucharist...." Thus, St. Ignatius of Antioch (d. 117 A.D.) declared that "Wherever Jesus Christ is there is the Catholic Church." This means that "each church or congregation participating in Christ is related to others not by participation in some higher structure or organization but rather by an identity of existence in Christ. In this sense each congregation gathered for the proclamation of the Word and the celebration of the Eucharist is a manifestation of the whole Catholic Church in the very process of becoming what she is in service and witness to the world."

This identity of existence in Christ of all congregations eating of the One Bread and drinking of the One Cup means that there can be no sacramental subordination of one congregation to another. The fullness of Christ and his Body, the Universal Church of all ages and all places, is one with each local congregation, which in turn is one with the Universal Church. That the total Christ is present in each congregation in this way is vividly pointed to by the Greek Patristic tradition which applies the Pauline image of the Church as the Body of Christ and Christ as the Head of the Body to the local congregation. The local gathering of the faithful is a manifestation of the total Christ, Body and Head. The head of the Eucharistic Assembly is the image of Christ as the Head, and his spiritual children are the image of Christ as the Body. According to the Old Testament and St. Paul, Christ the Lord of Glory, the Head, is the Bridegroom and his Body, Israel, is his Bride. Thus Orthodox ordinations are likened to marriage between clergy and the congregation, as between Christ and the Church, and the transfer of clergy is strictly forbidden by the canons and likened to acts of adultery.

It is in the light of this understanding of the Church that Orthodox architecture and icons of Christ, the Virgin, and the saints must be understood. The icons and the architecture of the Church make visually manifest, and constantly remind the faithful of, the presence of Christ and his Body, the universal Church of all ages and all places. This total Christ is included in the call to love one another. Orthodox Christians are scandalized by Protestant indifference to love for the mother of Christ and the saints, and many feel that this lack alone makes doubtful their salvation, since without love of neighbor (which includes the saints of all ages), there can be no salvation.