The Very Reverend Josiah Trenham, Ph.D.
Diocesan Parish Life Conference in El Paso, TX - June 15th, 2006
Diocese of Wichita and Mid-America
Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of America
Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen. Your Grace, Basil, Bishop of the Diocese of Wichita and Mid-America; my dear brothers in the sacred priesthood; pious and Christ-loving Deacons; brothers and sisters in Christ:
I greet you with sincere affection in our common Savior, and bring the greetings of His Grace, Joseph, Bishop of Los Angeles and the West to all of you. I am greatly honored to be here in El Paso at the 2nd Parish Life Conference of the Diocese of Wichita and Mid-America. I have the opportunity to speak to you on a subject most dear to my heart, and I believe to yours also: the unity of the Orthodox Church in America. I have entitled my presentation, "Orthodox Reunion: Overcoming the Curse of Jurisdictionalism in America", but before I begin please allow me to ask your forgiveness ahead of time for my mistakes and inadequacies, and to beg your indulgence. I do not speak from any position of expertise or authority on this subject, but as a concerned priest of the Church grasping for a way forward.
"Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious oil upon the head, coming down upon the beard, even Aaron's beard, coming down upon the edge of his robes. It is like the dew of Hermon, coming down upon the mountains of Zion; for there the Lord commanded the blessing- life forevermore." Psalm 132:1-3
Brothers are meant to dwell together in unity. That is the good life. That is the pleasant life. When men dwell in unity, they are invigorated with strength, and find their union producing immense fruits, exponentially greater collectively than the sum of what they could have produced as separated individuals. The union of all men, for which we pray in every divine service, is the will of God. All men united in Jesus Christ is the desire of the Lord. All earthly races united in the one heavenly race- which is the race of the New Adam, Jesus Christ, the Christian race, in which there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female. This union of all men in the Holy Church is the will of God from all eternity and the purpose of the Almighty, which animates all of His redemptive acts. As a witness and demonstrable expression of the life of the renewed humans, who are Christians, is the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. The Church is a miracle of unity for it is the New Man, and as such is the only miracle of unity in the cosmos. In confronting the Church all men are to witness a living organism that defies and transcends human divisions. Sadly today, when most outsiders encounter the Church and hear we are Orthodox Christians, a question immediately follows, "Are you Greek? Are you Russian?" and so by our divisions we have fostered an earthly identification of ethnicity and nationalism that leads the observer to conclude our Church is designed only for particular groups of people, and not for them.
When the holy Church is divided the prescriptive will of God is negated, the light of the holy Gospel itself is eclipsed, and the truth of the Lord is suppressed by man's unrighteousness. Misdirected men, in their lack of proper priorities, hold down the unity of the Church only with great effort, like compressing a great and mighty spring. The unity of the Church, like a powerful spring, is always ready to leap forth, and even when compressed and smothered by men's sins and indifference, this unity resists its suppressors. This is why division cannot last in the Church. It is like a cankerous sore to which the Body dispatches antibodies, and will not ignore until it is healed. Against this power of self-correction lie those who, at least by their actions, would like to make cankerous sores permanent fixtures of the body.
"Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity!" Unity is life. Division is death. We might recite the antithesis of Ps. 132 in these words,
Behold how evil and miserable it is for brothers to dwell in division! It is like a sulphuric stench in the nostrils, coming down upon the eyes. It is like the odor of Babylon, coming down upon the parched plains of Sodom; for there the Lord commanded the curse- everlasting death.
Such is the glory of unity, and such is the horror of division. Sadly today such Davidic opinions of the value of brotherly unity appear to be shared by too few. Brotherly unity is esteemed little, and placed beneath many other pseudo-priorities such as the status quo, power, property, ethnic affinities, and national loyalties.
Psalm 132 is one of fifteen Psalms of Ascent, chanted by the people of God as they made their way to the central sanctuary in Jerusalem to celebrate the feasts of the Lord. The chanting was of a tangible unity expressed not just in faith, but also in the deeds of a common worship and a common pilgrimage. Can you imagine this hymn being chanted by the pilgrims in any meaningful way if when the pilgrims arrived in Jerusalem they were divided by their 12 tribes, and each tribe was made to go its own different way, to its own different temple, presided over by its own different high priest, sitting in different places for the feast and never experiencing tangible unity?
The thought is ludicrous and grotesque, but has many parallels to contemporary Orthodox Christian life in America. Allow me, dear brothers and sisters, to apply Psalm 132 to our present ecclesiastical miseries in America. We do not presently know the blessings of the unity described by Psalm 132. We do not enjoy the unity for which our Savior shed His precious blood. We do not experience the unity inspired by His Holy Spirit, established by His Holy Apostles, required by the Sacred Canons, and defended by the Holy Fathers. We have a measure of unity- for sure, but incomplete, mangled, and intolerable. We call the unity we possess by various names - a unity of faith sometimes we say, or a eucharistic unity. Some clergy even suggest that the only unity that matters is that various Orthodox in America can commune together. But this compromised and deficient unity does not satisfy our Savior, and is positively dangerous, threatening by its very inconstancy and instability to shatter the unity of faith and chalice that we do have. Orthodox Christians have never imagined historically that a unity of faith or communion could co-exist with a disunity of synod, praxis, and interchange. Two Sundays past we celebrated the Sunday of the Holy and God-bearing Fathers of the First Ecumenical Synod in Nicea. We celebrated a common Orthodox faith defended and confessed by a common Orthodox synod. In our present experience we have only half of the equation. We share a common Orthodox faith with our fellow Orthodox Christians throughout America, but we have no common synod. As a result nothing is defended or confessed as it should be, and we are weaklings in the face of encroaching secularism and heresy. Without a common synod we are sitting ducks to lose even our unity of faith.
We trivialize our disunity but calling it simply a disunity of jurisdictions or an administrative division -- as though the division we sustain is not a matter of the heart or essence or faith of the Orthodox Church. Jurisdiction and administration ring in our ears as merely external and relatively unimportant divisions, and so the tragedy of our division is belittled. As though our present divisions are merely the unfortunate turns of history, which we must benignly endure until they naturally go away. I beg to differ from such an appraisal. Such tamed and pacified descriptions of Orthodox disunity in America are untrue, inconsistent with Orthodox theology, mask the very serious nature and consequences of our present division, and steal the sense of urgency that the Spirit of God births in the hearts of the faithful in the face of disunity.
And make no mistake. The Spirit of the Living God does not tolerate disunity, which is the un-doer of His divine work and the spoiler of His mighty wonders. He is not going to passively stand aside when the unity He effects has a stake driven into it. The Holy Spirit has always inspired and guided the saints to rail against disunity. King David himself, the inspired author of Ps. 132, was exceedingly zealous to preserve and enhance the unity of the Old Testament Church. While King Saul was reigning and persecuting David, David was exceedingly careful to preserve an attitude of reverence for Saul and not to divide the people. Despite the danger to his very life, let alone the material losses he constantly suffered, David refused to set himself up as a rival monarch and thus effect schism in Israel. He refused to establish his jurisdiction against Saul's jurisdiction. After Saul's death David was received as King only by southern portion of the Kingdom, the tribes of Judah and Benjamin. Far from being content shepherding just his tribe, David gave himself for seven years and six months to reconciling all the twelve tribes and reunifying the Kingdom. He considered himself weak, though King, as long as the Kingdom was divided. And as long as there is division we will always be weak. For thirty-three more years King David ruled the entire nation, and eventually passed the throne to his son, Solomon.
If King David was so zealous to preserve and deepen the unity of the Church in the Old Covenant, how much more ought the pastors of the Church in the New Covenant be zealous to preserve and deepen the unity of the Church when the Holy Spirit has been poured out and our union with Christ and each other is no longer a union of shadows but of reality?! Since we live after Holy Pentecost, on which day the Spirit was poured out calling all men into unity, as we say in the Festal Kontakion, how can we not be zealous for unity? Where was the spirit of King David in 1921 when competing jurisdictions were first sinfully established in this nation? I am afraid the spirit of unity left our land with the departure from this life of St. Raphael (Hawaweeny), Bishop of Brooklyn, who labored in and for a united American Orthodox Church, and fell asleep in the Lord in 1915. St. Raphael ought to serve as the heavenly patron of American Orthodox unity. His spirit is profoundly expressed in his duly famous words, "I am an Arab by birth, a Greek by primary education, an American by residence, a Russian at heart, and a Slav in soul." Such hierarchic sensitivity to the unity of the Church is desperately lacking at the current time. Where was the spirit of King David in the aftermath of the Ligonier meeting of 1994? How grieved we were when our holy hierarchs, having been so attracted to each other when face to face by a divine magnetism that they could not but declare themselves to be an episcopal assembly -- a forerunner to a common American synod -- and unanimously issued two magnificent common statements: On the Church in North America and On Mission and Evangelism, and then when they encountered opposition from various quarters walked away from the quest for unity at Ligonier, some even renouncing their signatures and one his mere presence? Forgive me, but the immediate aftermath of Ligonier and the days since have been shameful days in which disunity has been tragically increased and expanded, days of sorrowful memory that we wish to consign to oblivion. We look for better days, days of unity and refreshment.
Under King Solomon the unity of Israel was preserved, and deepened and as a unified nation Israel bore witness to the unbelieving peoples throughout the world. Pagan kings and great sages and the whole earth itself journeyed to Israel in those days to behold the Servant of the Lord, Solomon, who ruled a united kingdom in unsurpassed wisdom. Unity is the key to successful witness. Even heretics when united have great strength.
The Mormons may have a theology worthy of disdain, but their unity has made them a powerful force in the world and they increase mightily. American Muslims, Shia and Sunni, have forged a unity in this country that has brought them great strength. American Muslims, by their desire for unity, have overcome far greater obstacles than any two Orthodox jurisdictions have with each other, and have established significant cooperative ventures such as ACCESS (Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services), ISNA (Islamic Society of North America), AMC (American Muslim Council), the Muslim Public Affairs Council, the American Muslim Alliance, the Islamic Circle of North America, IMANA Islamic Medical Association of North America), the Muslim Student Association, some 1000 Islamic academies to insure their Muslim children remain Muslim, and a host of Islamic journals and magazines. By their unity these non-Christians without the Holy Spirit have accomplished much. We Orthodox Christians ought to compare our respective numbers closely with American Muslims. There are approximately 1,600 mosques in America, just as there are approximately 1,600 Orthodox church temples in America. They are fairly united. We are significantly divided. Let us see who does the growing in the next decade. And why is it that the Roman Catholics in the United States have been able to care for the pastoral needs of its multiple ethnicities in this country, while on the whole maintaining episcopal and synodal unity? In the face of these examples we are without excuse.
After Solomon's death the throne passed to his son, Rehoboam. It was during King Rehoboam's reign that the rupture and division of the Kingdom took place. It was this disunity which led to Israel's eventual collapse and utter exile. By Rehoboam's sinful disregard of unity the ten northern tribes rejected his rule, and enthroned Jeroboam as King. The fruit of such disunity was immediate and tragic, leading to internal sin, strife, and cultic deviations, and within slightly more than 200 years the 10 northern tribes were taken into exile by the Assyrians -- an exile from which the vast majority would never return. Can you just hear the Israelites in the north saying during these years under Jeroboam and his successors- "when God wills we will be reunited with the southern tribes" or "unity will happen but not in my lifetime" or "we are not mature enough for unity with Jerusalem yet"? I can see King Jeroboam aggressively publicizing these nonsensical quips and propaganda throughout his schismatic kingdom, all the while fearing that he may lose power if reunion with Jerusalem were effected. If any Israelites were saying such things as I suggest during those days they were idiots, and they probably knew themselves to be such as they walked with hooks in their noses into Assyrian lands in A. D. 722, consigned for all time to utter exile and oblivion.
The division of American Orthodox Christians in what we call jurisdictionalism is not just unfortunate, or an unenviable quirk of modern church history. It is a heinous sin, and a lamentable grieving of the Holy Spirit, Who is the divine cement of our unity. Listen to the words written in 1976 by Father Alexander Schmemann of blessed memory, former Dean of St. Vladimir Seminary and one-time member of SCOBA's Commission on Unity in America,
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." (emphases his).
A sin and a tragedy. These are his words, and the divisions are worse today in 2006 than they were thirty years ago in 1976. Far worse. We are not moving forwards. For at least 12 years, since the failure following Ligonier, we have been moving backwards. Maybe you consider Fr. Schmemann's statements extreme. If you do, perhaps you have been poisoned by the indifference of persons who are fond of pontificating on the theme of Orthodox unity by saying things like, "It will happen, but not in my lifetime" or "When God wills" or "We are not mature enough for it yet." Fooey and ix-nay on all those statements. Let us examine these quips a bit more closely.
Quip #1. "It will happen, but not in my lifetime."
Really? Says who? Where is it written that the Church will prevail apart from the fidelity of its clergy and laity? Is such faithfulness promised? Did God inspire someone with a prophecy assuring that the American Orthodox Church would overcome its pettiness and triumph over its divisions? I know of no such prophecy. Certainly the Church of Jesus Christ is indefectible and indestructible and will triumph over the world. There is no question about that. But such victory is not promised to every Orthodox person, every Orthodox clergyman, every Orthodox parish, or every Orthodox national church, irrespective of will. God honors our freedom by allowing us to ruin ourselves if we so desire. If a particular Orthodox Christian wishes to jump into the arms of the devil and ruin his life he is free to do so. If an Orthodox parish wants to grieve the Holy Spirit by pride and infighting to the point of dissolving and no longer existing as a parish it is free to do so, as we can see by how many parishes are dying throughout our land. If an Orthodox priest or bishop wants to dance with the demons and embrace heresy and find himself severed from the Body of Christ and defrocked from the holy priesthood he is free to do so. And if a national Church wants to perpetrate division and turn a blind eye to grievous family disunity to the point of rendering itself irrelevant and eventually non-existent it is free to do so. And don't think this has never happened. Read the letters of our Lord Jesus Christ to the particular 1st century churches of Asia Minor found in the Revelation of St. John, chapters two and three. The message of our Lord was clear. Pull yourselves together or I will remove your candlestick. He was telling them to live their faith or be snuffed out. Some of them were.
Orthodox reunion in America (and I choose the word "reunion" carefully since we are striving for the re-establishment of a unity we already had not the creation of something completely new) ... The unity of the Orthodox Church in America will take place in our land when the Church in America wants it to take place in our land. If we repent our divisions and recover ourselves and apply the antidote of humility to the bitter unfolding of recent local church history our disunity will be healed. And we ought stop blaming others for our ills, and accept responsibility for our divisions. If we continue to walk stubbornly according to our own jurisdictional drummers, studiously indifferent to the greater unity of the Church in our land there will never be one American Orthodox Church. God does not force His will upon unwilling children. If we want to continue in sin, He will let us, unless His judgment falls first. But there will be no proper Orthodox unity in our land apart from our commitment to such unity. And frankly, such commitment is seriously lacking at the present. This should greatly concern us, and the voice of faithful clergy and laity should be raised, and the trumpets should be sounding- but, of course, those who somehow have a mystical assurance that "it will happen but not in their lifetime" are not very concerned. Why should they be? They have their bogus assurance.
This improper perspective on church unity in America is also detrimental to our efforts at Orthodox reunion because of the assumption that the divisions we sustain presently are so great that no significant change is possible "within my lifetime." Such notions insure that no great efforts will be taken toward unity by such believers. Tell me- who sacrifices his life for a cause he believes is doomed to failure throughout his lifetime? Who will shed his blood for a cause that he believes will not be very helped by his blood? St. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, in his treatise On the Trinity, says it this way, "When anyone entertains no hope of attaining his end, then he either loves lukewarmly or does not love at all, howsoever he may see the excellence of it." As long as we continue to think that the unity of the American Orthodox Church cannot be established in a generation we will continue to love our unity lukewarmly or not at all.
Quip #2. "When God wills."
Now normally such a statement is most beautiful. But in this context it is simply an awful distortion of reality. Is there really any question at all what God wills in this matter? We know His will very clearly. He wills what He commands, and He commands the unity of the Church -- one bishop in one city, one synod in one nation, one local brotherhood of priests, one body of the faithful, and no overlapping jurisdictions. To say "When God wills" in this context of division is to imply that God has something to do with our divisions. It is at best meaningless and at worse a sinful backhanded reproach of the Almighty. A more accurate statement would be "When we will." No one is arguing over what God wills in the matter. Everyone basically agrees. We may not agree on who exactly is to be the head of the American Orthodox Church, but no one is suggesting that we are not to have one synod of bishops in our land. We know this is God's will. That we find ourselves broken into more than 10 different jurisdictions is a commentary on human fallenness not God's will. Can you imagine if someone you know fell into the heinous sin of adultery? For years he refused to stop, and in response to your loving and firm entreaties that he repent he answered you that he would, "When God wills." How ridiculous. God does not will adultery, nor does He will division.
Quip #3. "We are not mature enough yet for church unity."
The unity of the Church is not the reward of maturity, but the expression of it! Mature people do God's will. They do not get mature and then start doing it. The doing of God's will is the maturity. If a Church exists it is by definition as a Church mature enough. If it were not it would not be a Church. And on top of that, disunity is not immaturity -- it is sin. A young national church may not have as many saints, or as many parishes, or as many monasteries, or as many universities, charities, or social influence as an old and more mature Church- but if it is a Church it must be united according to the requirements of our Savior. If it is not, it is deficient in its very churchliness. Besides that, as Father Schmemann so poignantly mentioned, it is a historical fact the Church in America used to have unity. We used to have an ethnically diverse but united synod of bishops. Our unity was lost at a definite moment in time, and our task is to recover it. Orthodox reunion, not Orthodox union, is the call of the hour.
While virtually every American Orthodox Christian has some story or other to relate how our divisions have wounded them personally and caused grief it is important I think to face something of a substantial enumeration of the sad fruits of our division. Our division manifests itself in many practical and pastoral ways:
These divisions of pastoral practice, which are so confusing to our people and to outsiders, are sustained only because our bishops do not meet together in a common synod. And these are simply some of the pastoral anomalies engendered by our divisions that are detrimental to the health of the Orthodox flock. Besides the pastoral pains of division, there are also the very serious theological issues at stake in the elongation and tolerance of our disunity. Is it just my nose, or do others smell the foul stench of the heresy of phyletism lying behind the present indifference to unity? When phyletism was condemned as a heresy by the Patriarchate of Constantinople in A. D. 1872 in the face of Bulgarian attempts to set up an ethnic Bulgarian jurisdiction with the Patriarchate of Constantinople was not just this sort of staking of ethnic divisions within one nation categorically forbidden and castigated as heresy?
Are parallel ethnic dioceses intolerable heresy in the Ottoman Empire, but in America parallel ethnic dioceses are Orthodox, or at least tolerable? I do not understand. Such a perversion of Orthodox ecclesiology was not tolerated for one moment at that time by the Ecumenical Patriarch, and was definitively ruled against within two years while under Ottoman domination. We have been suffering in our canonical chaos already for eighty years. It does not take a neurosurgeon to see that some, evidently, do not care much about our tragic disunity. It is in this light that we should listen carefully to the counsel of His Eminence, Metropolitan Philip: "Nothing will happen unless we make it happen." And, indeed, for a long time nothing has happened, for we have not made it happen. Do we not see the love of ethnic tradition rising above love of the pan-ethnic and transnational Church of Jesus Christ, in which particular nationalisms and ethnic make-ups are but minor matters?
Today, as a result of the long exile from canonical fidelity in which we have been walking, most American Orthodox Christians, when they speak of their "church", sadly, most often mean their jurisdiction in America, not the corporate American Orthodox Church. Jurisdiction has replaced Church in our distorted phronema and divided state of existence. As a result we really have no idea what is going on in American Orthodoxy. If we are Antiochians we may speak about the Church "growing" for instance. But what we really mean is our "jurisdiction" is growing. We are not privy to the fact that some Orthodox jurisdictions are significantly shrinking, and so our missionary optimism is skewed. We may think our Church is prospering financially and taking good care of her clergy, but in reality, overall, the Church in our land may be mired in debt. We simply do not know because we are isolated in our jurisdictions.
In this deformed type of spiritual life we are not able to fully live as members of the Body of Christ. How are we to weep with those who weep, and rejoice with those who rejoice, when the joys and sorrows of the majority of our Orthodox brothers and sisters in our nation, and even in our own cities and towns, remain beyond our knowledge since we are insulated and isolated from the true corporate body by our jurisdictional lines of communication? How many Orthodox failed to pray for the repose of Archbishop Iakovos simply because he was a bishop of another jurisdiction? In our divisions we live apart from the fullness of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, since the New Testament makes no promises of a catholicity to jurisdictions, but to a united Church. Our spiritual life is hampered.
What about the massive loss of resources due to our divisions? I have a recurring nightmare at our bi-annual Archdiocesan conventions. In the nightmare our hierarchs are in a terrible accident while they are in a limousine or plane in route to the convention. All are killed, and the Archdiocese is doomed since, as a result of jurisdictionalism, we do not have sufficient celibate candidates to replace our hierarchs. Since our Archdiocese has none of "its own" monasteries in America many of our young people with celibate callings have become monks in the monasteries of other jurisdictions. I have two talented young people from my parish alone that have become monastics of OCA monasteries. Such young people become ineligible to serve our jurisdiction as future bishops because they are in the monasteries of other jurisdictions. This is a fine example of how the fullness of spiritual gifts promised by our Savior to the corporate Church may be lacking to a jurisdiction. Our very catholicity is imperiled by jurisdictionalism.
What are the consequences of willful negligence and disregard of the sacred canons? Since the holy canons make up a portion of Holy Tradition, of the common life in the Holy Spirit which Tradition is, how is the fullness of our Christian life being compromised? Who can live a full spiritual life at all in this sustained compromised ecclesiastical ethos? And then we have the awful abuse of the word diaspora to apply to the American Orthodox faithful as though we are sojourning here in America and hoping to return to some other land on this earth. And what of the appearance in the last 80 years of a completely novel interpretation of Canon 28 of the Holy Fourth Ecumenical Synod about the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Constantinople and the appearance of papal theories of ecclesiology? These are matters of Orthodox faith and practice, not simply crusty matters of church polity. And ought we not draw some conclusions from the fact that our jurisdictional multiplicity in our land was inaugurated by an ecclesiastical personality of the likes of Patriarch Meletios IV (Metaxakis) of Constantinople? Though he was a man of immense energy and made many positive contributions to the Church, by his actions he shattered the unity of Orthodoxy in our land by establishing the Greek Archdiocese, "the first ecclesiastical body to be organized in America on a purely ethnic basis and independently from the canonically established territorial North American Diocese."
There is also the serious crimping of our evangelical witness. We have our lamp under a bushel. Let me give you an example of the bitter fruit of our divisions and how it kills our missionary endeavors. Many Americans are coming face to face with Orthodoxy for the first time. Many of our parishes have significant classes of catechumens each year, despite the fact that we have no formal evangelistic programs. Yet we are not receiving into the Church all that we should be. For example, my parish began to catechize a wonderful family two years ago. Husband, wife, and four children. Very sincere and devoted. Unfortunately, this family has not become Orthodox and now only occasionally visits the parish. When I asked why this was the case the husband said, "I simply find it hard to believe that you are the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church and are so divided." Brothers and sisters, the souls of human beings are in the balance because of our divisions. Before you say, "This family is nuts. They should have gotten over it and not made such a big deal," listen to the statement of SCOBA's Ad Hoc Commission on Unity as reported in the Minutes of the SCOBA Meeting XI in 1970, presented by such lights as Frs. Alexander Schmemann and John Meyendorff, in which just such a hampered missionary witness is predicted,
The Orthodox Church cannot claim to be the true, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church if she is actually divided into a plurality of mutually independent, competing, and overlapping jurisdictions. This division has long ago ceased to be justified by the peculiarities of Orthodox immigration in America, and has become an open scandal to the faithful, a source of demoralization and dissatisfaction in the laity, and an obstacle to any effort or progress.
And who can blame someone for not wanting to join a divided family? A family where all the uncles almost never meet together, and rarely speak? Imagine the "Smith" family for a moment. Would you not consider it a tragic state of affairs if a family made up of parents, children and grandchildren, while all living in the same city, routinely met together only in select and separated groups? If certain members of the family studiously drove right by the homes of their brothers and sisters and never stopped in, communicated, or regularly gathered? Who would want anything to do with such a family? In many ways this is how a good portion of our Orthodox family is in America. We are a broken family, out of touch, uninterested in each other's lives, and happy to go about our own isolated jurisdictional business. Like two people who are unjustifiably and sinfully divorced- the only solution is reconciliation and remarriage. Time alone simply will not heal the schism, as 85 years have demonstrated.
As Galadriel said to Frodo I now suggest to you, brothers and sisters: "The quest stands upon the edge of a knife. One misstep and all may be lost." We have seen in recent church history that the pursuit of unity is more sensitive than anyone really imagined, and fraught with danger on many sides. What will the Mother Churches say? What will the other bishops do? What will the American faithful say? What will the recent immigrants say? Every one has a task to fulfill in the quest for unity, and the Lord God expects every Orthodox man and woman to do his duty in this regard. The Mother Churches have an important role to play; the bishops of the various jurisdictions that constitute SCOBA have an important role. The clergy have their own task, and the faithful a unique calling in this quest.
But if I may be so bold, I suggest that the solution lies primarily and fundamentally in the hands of the bishops in America. On many occasions, when I have suggested unity lies within the will and purview of the bishops I have been countered with comments to the effect that the bishops are often bound by their people's desires. That has not been my experience or observation. If that were true then probably we would have unity already since the people appear to be more committed and desirous of unity than the hierarchs. If the will of the people was so powerful as to hinder the bishops, then why has it not hindered their inactivity in the cause of unity? I suggest that the truth is more simple- that Orthodox bishops, who are to be by definition the very symbols of the unity of the Church, have, in fact, in a most contorted reversal, become the very symbols of disunity in the Church ... and don't seem to be too concerned about it. Where are the initiatives coming from the various synods? Where are the nursing of cross-jurisdictional episcopal unity? Forgive me, but the shepherds are responsible, not the sheep. If the sheep are responsible, it is perhaps that they have not bleated often or loudly enough as to secure the attention of their shepherds.
Towards a practical accomplishment of unity I would like to offer the following suggestions, as ways to move forward. I have designed the following recommendations to be basically unobjectionable from the standpoint of the Mother Churches, that is, I have designed these recommendations in such a way that they do not require anyone's official approval.
I have not intended to overwhelm you, my dear brothers and sisters. Please forgive me for my mistakes, my ignorance, or my poor judgments. I am not offering any last word on the subject of unity or even anything inspiring or definitive that has not been articulated by those who love the unity of the Church more than I and know the path to reunion better. I have simply made an effort to articulate as best as I can what I believe to be the mind of Christ, which is the mind of the Church, on this pressing subject of the divisions we are sustaining. I know the days are dark, the clouds are overhead, and it looks bleak. But we are not without hope. There is no word sufficient to hymn the Lord's wonders, and He is not a God who turns a deaf ear to the humble petitions of His children, at least not yet I am trusting. The unity, which we can hardly foresee, may simply be hiding close behind the dark clouds, which obscure our vision. No one desires the unity of the Church in our land more than the Lord God Himself.
I leave you with this encouraging story. It comes from the pioneers of our nation, the pilgrims of Plymouth Plantation. The story concerns one indentured servant name John Howland, who was traveling on the Mayflower with his master, the soon-to-be first governor of Plymouth, R. Carver. The journey across the Atlantic Ocean was frightful, and one day the Mayflower encountered a huge gale. Being in danger of sinking, the captain turned the boat against the wind, lowered the sails, and attempted to ride out the storm. All the 102 pilgrims and strangers were sent below deck, and ordered to remain there for their safety's sake. Young John Howland, however, grew restless and so he ventured upstairs and wandered out on the deck. No sooner had he stepped out but a large wave struck him and he was hurled in the wind right off the side of the Mayflower into the stormy sea. The sailors considered him certainly lost, and in truth John was fast being driven by the wind away from the ship and under water. As he was flailing for his life his hand passed over a rope from the mast, which was unfurled and also flailing in the water. With all his strength he grasped on to the rope and help on for dear life. In that position he was suppressed more than 10 feet under water by the storm, when the sailors noticed that the rope was taught and began to hurriedly attempt to pull John Howland out of the deeps up on to the deck. They were successful at getting him above water and then using a fishhook on the end of a long pole they pulled him up on to the deck safe and sound. That John Howland endured, and he went on to outlive all the other pilgrims, to marry a beautiful wife named Elizabeth, to raise ten children of his own, and eighty-eight grandchildren and to contribute significantly to the initial establishment of what would become our dear nation!
Brothers and Sisters! We too are pilgrims seeking to live in the promised land of the Church, and we are in the midst of a great storm, the Tempest Disunity. In many ways it seems that we will never reach the shore, and frankly, at times it appears that we are holding on for dear life to a very thin rope. Do not let go my dear brothers and sisters. It may be that we are on the cusp of being pulled up and out of our distress and of obtaining the very thing we seek, and that soon, as it was in John Howland's case, fruitfulness, the fruitfulness of unity, may be upon us to the true up building of our Church in America. May it be, by the grace of our God, by the prayers of your holy Bishop, and for the salvation of our people.
Fr. Josiah Trenham is pastor of St. Andrew Church in Riverside, California.