Monday, January 07, 2008

praying for bishops

There's a good interview with Fr. Josiah Trenham on the Illumined Heart, about Orthodox disunity in America. He makes some suggestions about what we can do as individuals, the first of which is to pray daily. He also brings up the issue of canonical territory and multiple bishops, which got me thinking about "my" bishops. Of course, Bp. THOMAS is my bishop in the strictest and most important sense of that term. It is his parish where I was made a catechumen, where I attend regularly, and his priest who is bringing me through this process.

But as I've said before, it's almost impossible to define "canonical territory" in any way that puts me more in his than in that of at least half a dozen other bishops. My earliest visit to an Orthodox parish was to the closest geographically, which happened to be in the OCA. Another early visit was to a Ukrainian parish that's also closer than where I currently attend. I used to visit with some regularity a small ROCOR parish that could just about as easily have ended up my permanent home. And once we move to Elkridge, I'll be closest geographically to a parish of the Moscow Patriarchate. Any number of different circumstances could have put me under a different bishop.

So if I'm going to pray for unity, it makes sense to pray for all the bishops in my territory. Here's the list:
  • His Grace, Bp. THOMAS (Antiochian)
  • His Grace, Bp. JOB (Russian)
  • His Beatitude, Met. JONAH (OCA)
  • His Eminence, Met. HILARION (ROCOR)
  • His Eminence, Abp. ANTONY (Ukrainian)
  • His Eminence, Met. EVANGELOS (Greek)
  • His Eminence, Met. NICHOLAS (Carpatho-Russian)
  • His Grace, Bp. MITROPHAN (Serbian)
I suppose I could have included a few others, since there are more jurisdictions in the U. S. But some of them have no presence in the immediate area (and as far as I can tell, not much prospect of a future presence either), so I think it's a fairly safe omission.

I should say something about the order. I list Bp. THOMAS first, because--as I said--he's most precisely my bishop. Holy Cross uses part of Holy Trinity's cemetery and holds picnics there; I'll live so close that I suspect I'll end up visiting services now and then, so it will become something of a second parish home. St. Matthew's is currently the closest parish and will continue to be near the top of the list; there are other OCA parishes close by, and Met. JONAH's position as abbot of St. Tikhon's monastery makes it likely that I will participate in his services with some regularity. I used to visit a ROCOR parish, and there will still be parishes close by; if Holy Trinity takes second place, I ought to be prepared for developing ties between the Moscow and ROCOR parishes. There will continue to be Ukrainian parishes in reasonable proximity, and it seems like visits between Holy Cross and Four Evangelists in Bel Air are common. Greeks are, of course, ubiquitous; and although I haven't had much interaction with Greek parishes so far, I I expect that closer proximity to Baltimore will start to change that. As for the Carpatho-Russian and Serbian bishops, I'm going mostly by location.

I've commented already on my general thoughts about Orthodox unity in America. Although I have no clear sense of how we should get there, or what it should look like, I do think it should be a high priority. As a lowly catechumen, it doesn't seem like there's much I can contribute at this point, but I do plan to pray--for Orthodox Americans as a whole and especially for these bishops.

And on a vaguely related note, I wish those following the Old Calendar a Merry Christmas! May Lent come quickly, when we shall all be together again, and may we one day put this two-calendars nonsense behind us. In the meantime, you enjoy your feast (Christmas), and we'll enjoy ours (Theophany).


Justin said...

Interesting post. It seems like we Christians sometimes get to choose our desired flavor of dysfunction. Or rather, most of us have it chosen for us by virtue of birth, whether ethnicity or denomination.

A long way to get to a related story --- The denomination I grew up in (Nazarene) traces back through the Methodist line; the Nazarenes like many (not all, by any means) of the other Protestant denominations split from the Methodists not as much by original intention, but because they felt like the Methodists at the time had become social gospel extreme-- and neglected the poor. Oh, the irony.

The Nazarenes organize themselves in a sort of pseudo-federalism. Each local church is in a district (up to about 90 churches), districts in regions, regions in the world. Local churches elect their own boards and issue calls to pastors under the advisement/direction of district superintendents, who are in turn elected at district conventions by delegates from local churches. District conventions elect delegates to 4-year worldwide conventions where the 'general superintendents' are elected to four-year terms. Very much a product of 19th century American sensibility.

When I was in high school our district basically gave a 'cease and desist' reprimand to a church from another district and region (southern Michigan) that was planting a church in northern Toledo. The church plant wasn't authorized by the district it was geographically located in, so they told them to stop. I gave my father more than a little grief about it; especially since he was on the (elected, of course) district advisory board. He assured me on more than one occasion that there was much more to the story than what was known. I got the impression there were some theological concerns on the Ohio side with the mother church, but nothing so obvious as to warrant some sort of escalation. But, clearly a mess that did no one any good.

In a Baptist confederation, this might have been a non-issue, since they tend to be very local-body oriented, bottom-up and relatively independent in their approach. The Michigan church would have done whatever it chose to do. That's not to say that the bottom-up approach leads to greater diversity in philosophy or theology (in case of disagreement); in fact the totally decentralized approach it can lend itself to abuse and lack of accountability at the individual church level.

Anyway, my real point here is that human organizational boundaries have an undefined relationship with the Spiritual Church. We try to match our human organizations with what we believe is set out in scripture, but we fall short. It's not clear to me whether I should be more concerned when we admit we don't know (and give up on the whole matter?), or when we think we do know what the Church looks like. It seems clear to me that either way we're not quite measuring up.

For sake of discussion, I'll (ignorantly) assert that the Orthodox churches have chosen a philosophical viewpoint that has no more chance of becoming practical reality than the Protestant/Evangelical philosophy. Orthodoxy and Catholicism have approached it as if the social and human structures and organizations of the church are a reflection of the organization of the spiritual Church. Or at least that's the goal-- to have a cohesive human structure that represents the Church. The traditional Protestant/Evangelical viewpoint is a nod to the brokenness of mankind, even in the redeemed and being redeemed Church.

I think I disagree with your argument in the original post that the Evangelical church's
"ecclesiology of invisible unity in an invisible Church, defined by an abstraction of those who are 'saved,' i.e., spiritually baptized, can never produce real-life cohesion." The real-life, in-practice cohesion you refer to comes only by the power of the Spirit, and no amount of stricture or structure (or lack of it) will create it or bind its people together.

Your observation about what happens in Protestantism "if the cohesion breaks down..." is dead-on. From my limited experience outside of the U.S., and a lifetime of observation, I think the lack of cohesion comes not from wrong philosophy about what to do then, but from a life almost devoid of the action of the Spirit. The leadership in the growing, Spirit-filled churches I visited in Brazil didn't care a bit for organizational rivalries. Pastors of two large churches in Rio (both of whom are also Nazarene district superintendents) planted churches just blocks from each others' main church-- they worked together to do it. They told me, "People who might never come to this church will go to the new plant; who cares which one they end up at?" Nazarenes ran clinics together with Baptist and Pentecostal churches. It was refreshing.

Of course, there were other people who saw things along dividing lines. The Roman Catholic church has not historically been kind to Protestants in Brazil, so there were definitely people who viewed other churches with suspicion. But I've been told that in the Sudan the theological and organizational distinctions between Christians make little difference.

But as I was mentioning in the beginning, I don't think Luther wanted to form a new church, nor did Wesley, nor the founders of the Nazarene church. But when you are convinced that the human organization has become so corrupted that its leaders defiantly refuse to follow the Word of God, what happens next? There have been lots of stakes burnt throughout history when cohesion broke down.

Minus burnt stakes, I don't have a strong preference for one approach over the other. Whichever way you look at it, unity in the Body will take a miracle.

Come, Lord Jesus.

Trevor said...

I'm going to respond to this rather lengthy comment with a similarly lengthy follow-up post :-)

Anonymous said...

Orthodox church has much apology to make in Western World: protocommunist massacres by Palamite Zealotes under Hesychast hyperventilatory halucinations, Cantacuzene taxation driving farmers to embrace Turks, Komyakoviac Obshchina giving birth to soviet communism as reactionary casuistry opposing Napoleon's defeudalization, Cosmus Aitalius being patron originator of of modern genocide as seen by the massacre of Turks in Crete by Venizelos. And their hypnotic brainwashing incantations are designed to make theirf locks into terrorists. Is all masochistic because reject Original Sin.

Trevor said...

Well, this clears up one mystery. I wondered when I saw an almost identical comment to one of my posts back in May, what it had to do with what I'd written. Now it's clear that it doesn't have to have anything to do with anything. It's just the same stock accusation regurgitated whenever the mood strikes. I'm leaving it here so I can comment on the phenomenon. If it shows up again, I'm deleting it.

Justin said...

And I thought my comment was rambling.