It's Time to Walk the Talk
By Lee Kopulos
This is an excerpt from a document written by Lee Kopulos, a member of St. Luke, for the Orthodox Christian Laity (OCL) strategic planning committee. It is a call to action for the entire Orthodox Christian community in the United States.
The Great Commission
The Lord's directive is specific: bring mankind to His Church through discipleship. This is our Christian Mission. It is an awesome responsibility!
The Orthodox Christian Faith was born 2000 years ago. The entire Mediterranean world was evangelized in the early period. The Faith was brought to what is now over 200,000,000 people - the second largest Christian Body in the world. It reached out to the Far East in China and Japan in the 18th Century and finally into the North American Continent in the 19th Century.
What has happened in North America over the past 200 years is, quite frankly, not a very good story. Orthodox Christianity has not "caught on" in America. How can we have only 6,260,000 Orthodox in America after 200 years on this continent? Perhaps the answer is in Saint Paul's letter to the Corinthians:
"Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and same judgment." (1Cor 1:10)
All organizational bodies MUST have a vision or plan with clear-cut goals in order to achieve their purpose. This all implies a unified effort - a oneness of purpose. In America today, the Orthodox Church is not united. It has over 14 separate jurisdictions. How can a house divided accomplish the goal of the Great Commission? We must achieve this goal together. This is the challenge we are faced with today and in the 21st Century for the Orthodox Church in America.
Waking Up in the 1990's
Recently, Orthodoxy has shown some light. Here are three small examples of what vision and cooperation can result in accomplishments. Admittedly, it is a small beginning, but it's a start.
(1) International Orthodox Christian Charities (I.O.C.C.) - the first highly successful Orthodox charity cooperative venture in the USA established in 1992.Since its inception, it has contributed over $80,000,000 in aid to victims of natural disasters and war on the international front. (2) The Orthodox Christian Mission Center (O.C.M.C.) founded in the late 80's is a foreign mission program centering on areas where Orthodoxy is a minority Christian Body. The goal for the O.C.M.C. is 100 long- term missionaries. (3)The Department of Missions & Evangelism of the Antiochian Archdiocese. (D.M.E.) -1990. It is a growing, fully integrated body with a sense of missionary purpose through the dispensing of Orthodox Christian literature by Concilliar Press and Again Magazine, Holy Scripture and the Fathers by St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology and to those incarcerated through its Prison Ministry Program.
More Talk-But No Walk-CIRCA 1994 & 2001
What have been the latest offerings from our Bishops? Here is what they said and signed in Ligonier, PA 1994 - 7 years ago. Statement on Unity Mission & Evangelism (1) In North America millions of people are in spiritual crisis & un-churched. (2) It is our conviction that mission is the very nature of the Church. (3) Orthodox are commanded by the Lord to teach, preach and make disciples of all nations. (4) We believe our task in North America is not limited to serving the immigrant and ethnic communities. Furthermore they commit to (5) Special pastoral attention for "mixed" marriages (6) Evangelizing those Orthodox "distant" from the church (7) Avoiding parallel Churches & Missions (8) A united mission program for North America (9) Endorse a unified OCMC for the World (10) Bring our household into order for the sake of preaching the Good News of JesusChrist!
This is just a taste of what we could do together in a spirit of "oneness." However, the only real cooperative action has been the OCMC cooperation. There's still no movement to a United Orthodox Church.
Back to Square One
The year is 2001 - we started this effort in the 50's, the Church is dying a slow death only to be held up by the large degree of converts received in the last 10 years. Unity is a function of the Church by taking the ball and "running " with it. The history of autocephaly and/ or autonomy is quite clear … Proclaim it!… the Mother Churches will not give it to you unless you demand it!!!
Did you know that Orthodox Christianity in the U.S. was organized under ONE DIOCESE (San Francisco) in 1870. From 1870-1889 many multi-ethnic parishes were established from San Francisco to New York - Greeks, Russians, Serbs and Arabs. They were under Archbishop Tikhon who traveled coast-to-coast encouraging everyone and using English as the official language. In 1907 the first All-American Council met in Mayfield, Ohio. Unfortunately, Russian Communism (1917) and the expulsion of the Greeks from Asia Minor (1922-23) forced a change in the administration of the church in America along ethnic lines. It has remained - against the Canons of the Church ( 2nd Ecumenical Council (381 AD) - 2nd Canon ) into this Third Millennium. Various " tries" at Unity were made at Buffalo,Ny. 1943; Pittsburgh, Pa. 1963; and, Ligonier,Pa. 1994.
As described by Archbishop Nathaniel in his many editorials on this subject, SCOBA (STANDING CONFERENCE of CANONICAL ORTHODOX BISHOPS in the AMERICAS) is a free association of ethnic Bishops. SCOBA has NO AUTHORITY to speak as the Church in America,. It is not a synod. It is not even canonical.
A pitiful example of our disunity was the problem of Kosovo/Serbia. The American Government didn't know whom to contact for an Orthodox perspective. Our Government felt that Orthodoxy is so small, splintered and confused. They were right. Thus, the only organized Orthodox effort to Washington by the Orthodox was able to meet with Government officials well below the Secretary of State level. The resultant tragedy and policy of bombing by a US led group caused many Orthodox historic Churches and Monasteries to get decimated. They even bombed during Holy Pascha!!! Note that during the Gulf war in 1990, America withheld its bombing until after Ramadan!!!
Let's Begin to Walk the Talk
From the Journals of Fr. Alexander Schmemann 1973-1983. Pg.268 & 269… "In America, we often see the reduction of Orthodoxy to icons, to ancient singing, to Mt. Athos books about spiritual life. Byzantium is triumphing without a cosmic dimension. I can't avoid thinking that all is a sort of romanticism - love for the image of Orthodoxy, love because that image is radically different from the images of the contemporary world. Escape, departure, reduction of Orthodoxy." "…wherever this trend is triumphant, the Eucharist, Communion, the meaning of the experience of the Church are lost. This meaning and experience are needed now more that ever…" "We sit in our shell, charmed by the melody, and do not notice that the Church is suffering, and for a long time already has left the battlefield."
Here are some interesting facts to digest: (1)According to the OCL (Orthodox Christian Laity) in its Report on Outreach 1997, we Orthodox have retained less than 20% of our Baptized people. (If your Church is not growing - your Church is dying).(2) 50-80% of Orthodox marry outside their faith-community. (3) Women are 50% if the membership and 70% of the active members. (4) American Orthodoxy lacks uniformity for attracting and evangelizing the American People.
UNITY - HOW TO WALK THE TALK
(1) First and foremost keep in mind that Jesus Christ is Savior, He will help us.
"You are all sons of God through your faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were Baptized into Christ have clothed yourself with Christ. There is neither Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (Gal 3:26-28)
(2). The laity must organize into Regional Pan-Orthodox groups dedicated to unity. The Regional groups must meet regularly to (a) Do charitable works - food shelter and clothing for the needy. (b) Form common prayer and bible study groups for Saturday Vespers or Sunday nights.(3) Our Bishops must meet quarterly and convene a Ligonier II Meeting in November 2003 in order to PROCLAIM Autocephaly of the American Orthodox Church.
Let us get moving. We must organize and plan to meet our Lord's goal. Orthodoxy needs to be re-organized in order to meet its goals here in America. The Bishops have outlined inherent uniqueness of operating in the American scene. Totally different Orthodox operating techniques are necessary to engage this culture and proclaim the Resurrection. The Holy Spirit speaks to us - IT IS TIME TO ACT - TO WALK THE TALK.
I conclude with two bits of wisdom from Father Alexander Schmemann (of blessed memory): "The mission of the Church is to carry to the world the experience of the Kingdom, not to reduce the Kingdom of God to anything in the world." (Journals pg.59) and "To seek in the Church anything besides CHRIST inevitably leads to temptation, to distortion and finally to self-destruction." (Journals Page 75)
We must get on with the business of reorganizing our Church to meet the spiritual needs of this great nation. Orthdoxy in America must gear up and organize itself into one body for survival in the 21st Century. Let us begin with faith, love and great joy. Christ Is Among Us!