Petition by the Laity for ONE American Orthodox Church

With all due respect to our bishops, we laity find the present divisions within our beloved Orthodox Church to be intolerable. Saint Paul admonished the early Church, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). Contrary to our Lord’s will (e.g., Mark 9:50; John 17:22-23), it seems that some of our hierarchs fail to make progress toward the oneness of the Church a sufficiently high priority. Therefore, it falls upon us laity, as well as the clergy who wish to join their voices with ours, to make our heartfelt concerns heard. It is our hope that if the sheep bleat loudly enough, then they they will get our shepherds’ attention and care (John 21:16). For the sake of our Christian witness to the world, we humbly but urgently request that the following actions be taken with all due expediency in order to restore unity to the Orthodox Church in our nation and around the world:

World Orthodox Unity

1. The patriarchates of Moscow and Constantinople must overcome their differences and be reconciled to each other. This requires a swift resolution to the non-canonical and contentious situation in Ukraine, where there are two national Orthodox Churches: the traditional Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) and the new Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU). If this devastating state of affairs and the consequent rift in the Orthodox Church cannot be resolved in a timely manner through diplomatic channels between the two patriarchates, then it should be resolved by the decision of a pan-orthodox council.

2. A pan-orthodox council should be convened as soon as possible with participation by all Orthodox jurisdictions without exception. The purpose of this council would be to resolve all of the following longstanding issues that contribute to disharmony within the Orthodox Church:

(a) It must be clarified as to what extent the Patriarchate of Constantinople has authority to make decisions that affect the worldwide Orthodox Church.

(b) The confusing division within the Orthodox Church caused by disparate observance of the two ecclesiastical calendars must be resolved.

(c) In consideration of the fact that the Oriental Orthodox Churches and the Orthodox Churches have come to a mutually agreeable resolution of their past theological differences, the Oriental Orthodox should be welcomed into full eucharistic communion with the Orthodox Church.

(d) It must be resolved what are, and what are not, appropriate ecumenical relationships with non-Orthodox Christian institutions and with organizations of other creeds. Ecumenical overtures should be made first to the ecclesial bodies which have the closest theological and practical affinity with the Orthodox.

American Orthodox Unity

3. The Assembly of Orthodox Canonical Bishops should formulate a concrete plan with an approximate timeline that specifies steps that will be taken toward establishing a unified American Orthodox Church. This plan should contain the following resolutions regarding longstanding issues that have caused disharmony between the Orthodox jurisdictions in America:

(a) There must be an end to the current non-canonical situation in which more than one ruling bishop presides over a specific municipal area and its environs. There should no longer be any overlapping jurisdictions.

(b) All parish and monastery worship services (including sermons, Bible readings, and hymns) must be served in English alone, or in the vernacular tongue of the local community. Services may be provided in a foreign language only as a rare exception.

(c) There should be uniform and official service books published in English for every Orthodox parish and monastery in America, according to the rite used.

(d) The Western Rite should be a fully-accepted alternative to the Byzantine Rite.

(e) Ethnic designations (e.g., “Greek,” “Russian,” “Antiochian,” etc.) must be removed from the names of Orthodox parishes and monasteries operating in America. Ethnic designations may be retained on legal documents if deemed unavoidable.

(f) Parochial and diocesan budgets should no longer have line-item expenses for ethnic cultural activities and language instruction. Parishioners may contribute separately to those activities, if they so desire.

(g) Western European saints from before the time of the 1054 schism, and American saints should and be given the same consideration for commemoration as are the saints from traditionally Orthodox lands.

The Editors

(All readers who would like to sign the petition are urged to “like” and comment below.)

St. Bart’s Redux

 

GOARCH’s Abp. Elpidophoros with St. Bart’s rector, Bp. Dean E. Wolfe

As if to add insult to injury, Abp. Elpidophoros returned on July 3 to St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church on Park Avenue. This is the same “St. Bart’s” where the archbishop and his entourage had served the Divine Liturgy to commemorate the thirtieth anniversary of Patriarch Bartholomew’s reign from Istanbul…err…Constantinople. At that occasion on June 11, the archbishop in his non-homily lavished obsequious praise upon his boss saying, “He is a living Apostle of love, peace and reconciliation”. Yeah, tell that to Metropolitan Onuphry and the faithful in the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, who have endured ecclesiastical schism, theft of church properties and sometimes even physical violence. That mayhem has been caused indirectly by Pat. Bartholomew’s meddling in Ukrainian politics. Auwe!, as the Hawaiians say. “No!”

This time, Abp. Elpidophoros was at St. Bart’s in a more personal capacity to visit with their rector, Bp. Dean E. Wolfe. The purple shirt you see is the indication of episcopal ordination. Wolfe used to be the bishop ordinary of the Episcopal Diocese of Kansas for the thirteen years from 2004 to 2017. Like many TEC dioceses around the country, it is a little liberal oasis in a conservative state. Bp. Wolfe cut a notch in his belt when “he officiated (at) the first authorized Episcopal same-sex marriage in the diocese.” (St. Bart’s website) Of course, there is no such thing. St. Bart’s is a large congregation fully a quarter the size of the whole rural Diocese of Kansas. Wolfe must feel quite at home at that megachurch, where they are actively queering midtown Manhattan.

Regarding the tete a tete, the archbishop said “Ecumenical dialogue and collaborations are vital witnesses to Christ’s teaching and ministry.” We all want unity amongst Christians, but true ecumenism will never compromise the Truth of the Faith in order to make nice with heretics. The stricter kind will seek the return of schismatics to the Orthodox Church. It almost sounds unAmerican to say that, but it’s the inconvenient truth. By revisiting St. Bart’s, the archbishop emphasized his desire to grow closer to the Episcopal Church despite the repugnance of TEC’s promotion of the LGBTQ+ whatever-in-hell-turns-you-on agenda. That is the impression that one is left with.

Certainly a seasoned politician like Abp. Elpidophoros knows well that repeat association with heretics like Bp. Wolfe telegraphs a tacit agreement with their teachings. That, in turn, implies an abandonment of the Orthodox teaching that stands in stark contrast to the heresy. God forbid. We cannot but conclude that the archbishop is sending the wrong message to his faithful followers. Please, we don’t need this, Your Eminence – not after the unprecedented destabilization caused by the events of the last year and a half. Not now.

This author is – used to be – a cradle Episcopalian and Anglican priest who felt the need to leave his beloved denomination because it had abandoned Christian morality. It was not without having first made sacrifices that I renounced my ordination and submitted to (re)baptism as a layman in the Orthodox Church. Imagine my disappointment to see our venerable archbishop flirting in his official capacity with the very Episcopalian heretics with whom I felt the need to part company. Auwe!

The Archbishop’s Exhortation for the Fourth of July

518864345

His Eminence Abp. Elpidophoros had his priests read an encyclical (see below) from their ambos this Independence Day morning. Our hierarch said that we should “pause and give thanks for our American democracy.” Okay, it’s more precisely a republic, but he’s right; we should give thanks for our nation, especially to our Founding Fathers who gave birth to it 245 years ago.

But then the archbishop goes negative in the third sentence, suggesting we should be ashamed of our country for which we were just giving thanks.

“Like every form of governing the πόλις (polis) it will always be less than perfect, for the human beings who conduct the affairs of state and the rule of law are imperfect as well. But let us rejoice that what we have witnessed in our land – from coast to coast – is a willingness to confront the injustices of past and present, and to find common ground to address them.”

That’s intentionally vague wording that couches a subtle implication. Judging from the archbishop’s participation in the Black Lives Matter march in New York last summer, and his congenitally liberal way of thinking, one must assume that he is talking about the past injustices of chattel slavery and the oppression of African Americans after their emancipation. Are the actions that the bishop says have shown a “willingness to confront the injustices” the protests and riots and general mayhem that “we have witnessed” in our major cities after the murder of George Floyd? Although his wording is ambiguous, I’m suspicious. I hope I’m wrong, but that’s what it sounds like to me. Does the venerable archbishop then support the instruction of Critical Race Theory in our children’s schools to undo past wrongs committed? Will anti-racist racism solve the problem that the archbishop cites obliquely? God forbid. If that happens, we will have indoctrinated the next generation and the country will never recover from that.

Back to the encyclical:

“Grateful for the religious freedom guaranteed by the Bill of Rights…” Stop right there. I don’t know whether it was the archbishop or who it was who was responsible for shutting down the churches last year, but everything has changed from the easy-going days of 2019. At the beginning of the pandemic, no one knew how bad the number and degree of sicknesses might become. The churches may have been justified at first to take all the precautions mandated by the various levels of government and the health organizations.

However, from our perspective a year and half later, knowing as we now do that Covid-19 isn’t nearly as deadly as Ebola, and suspecting that the case numbers have been inflated for political reasons, it’s not difficult to see that the net effect of our obedience to the secular governments has been abject capitulation. “Religious freedom”, you say? If the rest of the parishes behaved as my parish did, then the Greek Archdiocese followed the protocols to a “T” and lost a good portion of their religious freedom while they were at it. Our parish is open again, and many communicants have come back, but many others still have not returned to worship in person. Are they happy to forgo communion, to stay at home and watch the Divine Liturgy from their living room sofas? Don’t they know that they who do not eat His flesh and drink His blood have no life in them? (John 6:53) God forbid again.

A year and a half ago, we got spooked and gave up our freedom as Americans to gather and worship without hardly a fight. We have retreated to a position of submission from which it may take another crisis and the will to fight in order to advance. I am left wondering whether the Church will have the fortitude to stand up for Christ when Caesar puts the screws to us again. This is our God-given religious freedom that we are talking about, and we have handed over a significant portion of it to the government. That does not bode well for the Church, particularly the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese.

“There must be the same rights for all Americans, or there is no safety of rights for any American.” Well put. May every American who studies and works to support himself, to be a good citizen and contribute to the greater good of our society enjoy those rights. But, may every American who fails to do those things, but rather willfully contributes in his small way to the downfall of our Church or our society contemplate whether he deserves those rights at all. As the archbishop says, this is “‘the land of the free and the home of the brave’, which has been defended by the sacrifice of so many.” This perilous time is our time to struggle to protect our American nation and our Orthodox Church from any forces that would tear them down.

The body of the encyclical:

My Beloved Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Αἰνεῖτε τὸν Κύριον πάντα τὰ ἔθνη, ἐπαινέσατε Αὐτὸν πάντες οἱ λαοί! (Ψαλμός 116:1)
Praise the Lord, all Nations; laud Him, all peoples! (Psalm 116:1, LXX)
As we gather with family and friends to celebrate our National holiday of the
Fourth of July, let us all pause to give thanks for our American democracy. Like every form of governing the πόλις, it will always be less than perfect, for the human beings who conduct the affairs of state and the rule of law are imperfect as well. But let us rejoice that what we have witnessed in our land – from coast to coast – is a willingness to confront the injustices of past and present, and to find common ground to address them. This is the genius of a democracy. This is the genius of a people seeking a “more perfect union.” This is the genius of America. Our national blessings do not come without responsibilities. We have a civic vocation to participate in public life, regardless of our personal political views. The Church has its own moral and ethical ground, but we recognize the civil rights of others to disagree with us. Grateful for the religious freedom guaranteed by the Bill of Rights, we must make our case in a spirit of love and acceptance of others, even those whose opinions – minority or majority – strike us as wrong. There must be the same rights for all Americans, or there is no safety of rights for any American. Beloved Faithful, we are so very blessed to live in this ‘land of the free and home of the brave,’ which has been defended by the sacrifice of so many. We Orthodox Christians are relatively few in America, but we should have an outsize influence – for justice, for equality – to speak for the voiceless and advocate the downtrodden. This is our way of giving back and of giving thanks. Together, let us help to make of our Nation a place that does, indeed, praise the Lord in word and deed. Thus, all citizens shall be happy and blessed; for, as it says in the Psalms: “Blessed are the people who know
jubilation” (Psalm 88:15, LXX).
A happy Fourth of July to all!
With paternal love in Christ Jesus, + Elpidophoros

The Centenary of a Brutal Regime

July has come. It was one century ago this month, July 1921, when the brutal Bolshevik movement of Mao Tse Tung (Mao Zedong) came to birth in China. Let this be a month of reflection – even one of prayerful mourning – for the millions upon millions of Chinese souls that would fall victim to Mao’s bloodthirsty regime over the course of the ensuing century. Never in the annals of history has there been more blood spilt nor lives destroyed as have been sacrificed in China for the sake a ruthless and godless ideology. Communism, especially that of the Chinese variety, has been the worst scourge that mankind has suffered since the dawn of mankind’s tentative existence here on Earth. Regardless of the fact that few of those countless victims were Orthodox Christians, may God the Almighty have mercy upon their souls and may their memories be eternal.

It was this month in 1776 that our forefathers brought forth our own American nation. The signatures that they bravely put to parchment on the fourth day of that month 245 years ago would cost them all dearly, but their sacrifice was our gain. Let us not relinquish our liberty to ignorance or lassitude because we would be fools to not recognize that that very communist Chinese regime has become the single greatest threat by a nation state to our existence.

61% of Americans have lost their trust in the media.

Only three out of ten Americans trust the media. What does that say about the other seven, many of them conservatives? It may mean that they have turned away from the mainstream media and turned to sources of news in which they have a greater level of trust. It may also mean that they have turned off altogether in despair of finding news sources they can trust. Perhaps they have become alienated from the greater society, locked in a state of anger or apathy.