By St. Andrew House, Center for Orthodox Christian Studies
Board of Directors: Steve Lionas, Dean Calvert, Myke Jacobs, Warren David
Visit the St. Andrew House "Orthodox Episcopal Assembly" on Facebook
Sixteen years ago the bishops of the various jurisdictions of the Orthodox Churches in America met in Ligonier, Pennsylvania, to map out the road to a unified American Orthodox Church. Call it the “Ligonier Council” — the First Council of Orthodox Bishops in America.
The air was electric. Called by the two towering leaders of Orthodoxy in America — Archbishop Iakovos of the Greek Orthodox Church (GOA) and Metropolitan Philip of the Antiochian Church (AOCA) and courageously supported by representatives of Romanian, Serbian and Bulgarian jurisdictions, the bishops resolved to tackle head-on the vexing problems of Orthodox jurisdictional disunity in America. The Church in America had turned a corner.
It was not to last. The news upset many of the Old World patriarchates. Perhaps they saw the attempt at unity as moving too fast. Or maybe they didn't understand the American “can-do” spirit and our native impatience with progress that moves too slowly.
Reaction against Ligonier was swift and the Ecumenical Patriarch took the lead in reversing it. The message was unequivocal: There will be no independent and autocephalous American Orthodox Church. Since then, however, much has changed. Constantinople, once the sole and prominent voice of global Orthodoxy now competes with the resurgent Orthodox Churches in lands formerly under Communist oppression. The rebirth of these Churches is remarkable and they are quickly occupying their places of prominence in global Orthodoxy that they held before the oppression.
Their influence is growing. They understood that this disunity was not only in stark opposition to Orthodox Tradition, but also could prove fatal to Orthodoxy’s growth in America and other lands. In June 2009, they met in Chambesy, Switzerland, near Geneva, to map a strategy that would resolve this primarily New World problem. They scheduled Episcopal Assemblies that would bring the bishops of every jurisdiction together to chart the way toward unity. The Episcopal Assembly in the United States begins May 26 in New York City.
In 1994, it looked like the Ligonier Council had derailed. Archbishop Iakovos of blessed memory died believing he had failed. Sixteen years later, it looks like the train of Orthodox unity may have left the station after all. Ligonier is the benchmark, the bar, the high water mark of American Orthodox cooperation. It gave Orthodox Christians in America the goal to which we must aspire and the protocols to guide us along the way.
The Episcopal Assembly offers only three possible outcomes:
- The American Orthodox Church moves toward the unity started at Ligonier;
- The status quo remains;
- The administration of an American Orthodox Church is handed over to Old World patriarchs.
Of the three, unity of the American Orthodox Church is the best option because it establishes a local autocephalous Church, in accord with ancient Orthodox practice.
If forced to choose between maintaining the status quo or administration by an Old World Patriarchate, however, choosing the status quo is clearly the better choice. That’s because the pressure to align the American Church to the interests of foreign states would be too great a temptation for the Old World patriarchates to resist, many of whom are already subject to the dictates of foreign governments. Given the dynamics of American culture, domination by any foreign Patriarch would cause conflict in the Church and may eventually reduce it to a historical or ethnic oddity.
Unifying the Orthodox Church in America, on the other hand, will unleash its nascent creativity and dynamism so that the Gospel commission can be fulfilled. New ministries that cut across jurisdictional lines are already flourishing (Ancient Faith Radio, FOCUS, IOCC, and others). What future could these organizations possibly have under the influence of a Patriarchate in service to foreign interests?
Our bishops, priests, and laity must stand strong — but especially so for our bishops. Are they up to the challenge? Can they renew the vision that was so clear at Ligonier sixteen years ago?
It is time to finish what began at Ligonier!REFERENCES
Facebook, Orthodox Episcopal Assembly Page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Orthodox-Episcopal-Assembly/121636711191739#!/pages/Orthodox-Episcopal-Assembly/121636711191739
1994 Ligonier Video Part 1, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fBqQt-imq9Q
1994 Ligonier Video Part 2, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uu4BZdJJj4w
1994 Ligonier Video Part 3, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mVaejIop1Bo&feature=related
1994 Ligonier Video Part 4, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2bjKK0CA5Pc
Chambesy Documents, http://www.goarch.org/archdiocese/documents/chambesy
Sir Steven Runciman, Nationalism in Greek Orthodoxy, http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles4/RuncimanGreatChurch.php
George M. Matsoukas, Don't Call Us...We'll Call You, http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/OT/view/dont-call-us...well-call-you-the-pentecost-experience-of-evangelical-orthod
Essays on Canon 28, http://www.aoiusa.org/category/issues/canon-28/
Ligonier Reference documents http://www.standrewhouse.com/ligonierreferenceinfo.htm
About St. Andrew House: The Center for Orthodox Christian Studies
St. Andrew House is an independent Pan Orthodox institution located in Detroit Michigan. The mission of the Center for Orthodox Christian Studies is to promote the Orthodox Christian faith by word and example, through formal instruction, worship and good works. The Center exists to serve the Orthodox clergy and faithful of the metro Detroit area, and to be a symbol of the unity of the faith.
For more information about St. Andrew House, visit www.standrewhouse.com.