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Ligonier Fears and Future

Christopher Orr

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"Ligonier" refers to the place where a recent attempt was made to administratively unite the Orthodox Churches in America.

When speaking about the overlapping jurisdictional status of the Orthodox Church in the New World the various sides often speak past each other. Much as in the recent Presidential election in the US, and as in the much ballyhooed "culture war" we find ourselves in, differing groups have different issues ranked in different degress of importance. Parallels could also be drawn to the Calendar issue and the forced change that caused so much ill-will in the Body of Christ.

Some who support the "uncanonical status quo" in the jurisdictional overlapping in the New World do so, oftentimes, because they see what has happened in Americanized Orthodox parishes and jurisdictions. There seems, to them, to be a change in the faith and practice of the Church without a real consultation with, and sensitivity to, the rest of the Orthodox world. Many newer immigrants wonder how this can be the same unchanging Orthodoxy they knew back home, and many new converts wonder why the Orthodox have not learned the bitter lessons of Vatican II and the "modernization" of a declining mainline Protestantism.

Metropolitan Nicholas of the American Carpatho-Russian Diocese stated, "America needs Orthodoxy, without Orthodoxy becoming Americanized." This sentiment reflects well what many people fear when they compare their experience of Church life in the Old World to that in their New World jurisdiction, or for converts, what Fr. Seraphim Rose spoke of as "Eastern Rite Protestantism".

Others who support the "uncanonical status quo" are of a more modernizing mind and seek to protect themselves from those who are (privately) derided as "backwards": the Athonite fathers, the Great Russians, Whites, and traditionalists of all stripes. After all, it is easier to big a big fish in a small pond.

When, however, Metropolitan Herman of the Orthodox Church in America speaks of the "uncanonical status quo" he refers only to the fact that we have multiple bishops overseeing parishes and monasteries in the same geographical territory. One bishop allows the remarriage of a priest on one block, and another bishop on the next block does not. Church A fasts, Church B does not.

The hierarchs at Ligonier were not speaking of a mandatory Americanization and homogenization of all Orthodox practice, though this is exactly what many fear will happen. Serbs do not want to lose their Orthodox way of being Orthodox, and the same is true of Greeks, Russians, Bulgarians, Romanians, etc. A "Russian" bishop would not Russify Greek parishes; and, the Ecumenical Patriarch would not ban the Romanian Typikon, or the use of Slavonic, Arabic, or Georgian.

Ligonier was not calling for a new, uniform, and Western style of Orthodox worship, practice, and theology. Ligonier called for the unity demanded by the earliest practice of the Church whereby one Bishop stood in the place of the one Christ in each city, or territory. This unity is a witness to our monotheism. This unity is especially needed today given the "identity politics" of modern society that tends to fragment and divide us from each other into ever smaller demographic groups with unique doctrines.

At the same time, our unity in hierarchy is needed to proclaim to the world our belief in God as Three Persons. A unity in our differing, and yet still Orthodox, traditions preaches to the world that what makes us distinct does not separate us in being Orthodox. This respect is desperately needed in a world where many peoples feel their cultures are being overrun in the process of globalization. In addition, non Slavic, Greek, or Arab converts can often feel that they must give up their culture and language to be Orthodox in faith.

It must also be admitted that simple greed for influence and money underlies the positions held by various people. Who will gain the upper hand in jurisdiction? Who will protect their share in the churches in America and the West? For churches in hostile environments the question of whether they should keep their life jacket on or just tread water seems obvious. Americans need to take a lesson from the Apostle Paul who gathered alms out of thanks to the "saints in Jerusalem"; we, too, must not be stingy in our guarantees of support to our Mother Churches.

But through all of this, we must not succumb to the temptation to find what is "minimally required" to be Orthodox. Ours is the "fullness of the faith once delivered to the saints". We do not need to create an American Orthodox Church, with American Orthodox services and practices. When we are fully Orthodox, and since we are Americans, we cannot help but do things in an "American" way. Since we are Christ's Body, the Church, and have never separated ourselves from the Tradition of the Apostles we do not need Reformers. Rather, we need Prophets calling us back to the Traditions of our Fathers such as were Sts. Kosmas Aetolos, Alexis of Wilkes-Barre, and Raphael of Brooklyn.

Our situation in the New World is an anomaly within Orthodoxy and has more in common with Protestantism. Overlapping jurisdictions are an innovation without precedent, need, or canonical justification; so, too, would be the inorganic remanufacturing of the Church's services and disciplines into an "American Orthodoxy".

Christopher Orr divides his time between Cathedral of the Holy Virgin Protection (OCA) in New York City where is a Reader and Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Church (GOA) in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania.

Posted: 11/23/04

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