The Orthodox Church in America and Ligonier
Orthodox Christianity in America has been a totally new experience relative to the 2,000 year history of the Church. It was the first time that Orthodoxy was planted within a pluralistic society by immigrants who came from a plurality of Orthodox countries. It was planted among multiple ethnicities, cultures, and religions. Initially due to this unique experience the Orthodox tended to focus in among themselves, using their traditions and languages from their home countries as an insulation from all adversities. There is still a residue of this attitude in existence among earlier immigrants, which is now being reinforced by the new immigrants.
In the face of this reality, the attempt in Ligonier ten years ago to bring all canonical Orthodox jurisdictions under one umbrella was truly commendable for many reasons. One reason, both then and now, is that Orthodox Christianity is an unknown commodity in our country, even though there are now Orthodox Christians of the fifth and sixth generations from their forbearers in the 1800's, and more so those who arrived this past century. Unfortunately, the gathering of all the Orthodox hierarchs in Ligonier was misinterpreted by the heads of some jurisdictions as being an attempt to break away from the mother churches. Bold statements were made on the part of some of our church representatives here in America which created a kind of panic, if not anger, by some leaders of our mother churches in Europe and the Near East.
Nevertheless, the question arises: "Are the Orthodox Christians in America mature enough ecclesiastically and administratively to come together as one, and to work together accepting, as one option, the general oversight of the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Churches in America?" Even now Orthodox Christianity is not well known in our country. Our jurisdictions did not come together as one in 1999 in order to protest the seventy-eight day and night bombing campaign against Serbia by our country's armed forces. Serbian Orthodox Christians are still being demonized by the American media. The annual working budgets of our various jurisdictions are virtually the same, year in and year out, always with deficits. Where is the maturity of our people in sharing our blessings with the Church more generously, blessings which come to us from God? How do non-Orthodox churches and denominations do it, and we cannot? When we continue to argue over rules and regulations for over eighty years on how to govern ourselves, yet virtually ignore the Canons of the Church which have been the guideposts of the Church for 2,000 years, why do we feel we can govern the Church better than those who presented the Church to us? Can Orthodox Christians in America really feel that we need no one to guide us but our own limited experience, when virtually every one of our institutions is operating in the red?
Yet it is necessary for all Orthodox Christians to come together as one entity more often, other than solely on the Sunday of Orthodoxy. Look at what is now happening. Hierarchs are blessing the most recent immigrants to establish their own parishes in order to retain the language and customs of their land of origin. Even though there are parishes whose membership comes from Orthodox Christians of Greek, Russian, Arab, Albanian, Serbian, Bulgarian, Syrian, Romanian, and Ukrainian backgrounds, including many converts, and are trying to be viable financially, we witness new immigrants attempting to establish new parishes in the same general areas in order to preserve their particular language and traditions. This is unity?
There is no doubt that the day is coming when all the Orthodox jurisdictions in America will come together for the glory of Christ and His Church. This may not happen until the majority of the hierarchy in America is American-born. They will be the ones to convince their mother churches that they should become one entity under the spiritual leadership of the most senior patriarchate of the universal Church, as has happened in the past in most cases. Having become one, they will be in a more stable and advantageous position to give combined support to each and every mother church as needs may arise. This canonical process will guarantee a God-blessed autonomy for the Church in America, as well as stronger support for all the mother churches of our holy faith. In unity there is strength; and our combined strength will give assurance to all the heads of Orthodoxy throughout the world that there will be constant support for one another.