Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The All-Purpose Orthodox Excuse

In the comments section of a recent post, our friend (and a great blogger himself) Eric Jobe asked if our Orthodox outreach to others isn't largely dependent upon first creating Orthodox Church unity.

I appreciate what he is saying, and visible unity would enable us to speak with one voice at certain times.

However, I honestly question whether "disunity" hasn't become our all-purpose Orthodox excuse.

It seems lack of canonical unity is invoked whenever we've failed to do something, as in the case of our immense failure to reach out to Episcopalians shaking off the heretical trappings of their lifelong denomination. The Western Rite is not bound up by issues of "unity": some Western Rite Orthodox could have easily written a letter supporting this babystep and longing for the day of full communion between our churches. St. Tikhon would have known how to respond! For whatever reason, easy as this would have been to do, nothing of the sort occurred.

I am not naïve enough to believe a single letter would have resulted in a new Pentecost, with hundreds of parishes becoming Orthodox en masse. (Then again, maybe it would have. On Pentecost, the Apostle Peter converted thousands with only a sermon.) However, I am realistic enough to know that offers never extended are never accepted.

It's not just this, though. It seems any discussion of concrete action meets the equal-and-opposite reaction: "First, we really need Orthodox unity in this country." Want to promote knowledge of the Western Rite? "First, we need unity." Want to increase awareness among Christians of the Orthodox Church? "First, unity." Want to evangelize others (meaning non-Christians) into Orthodox Christianity? "It would really help if we had administrative unity."

Eric is, of course, right that unity would be a desirable goal. In the first place, it would be of tremendous benefit to eliminate the use of certain unhelpful modifiers currently in front of the word "Orthodox" in many of our jurisdictions, with these adjectives' connotations of ethnic exclusivity. That alone would make the inquirer's approach easier.

At the risk of being called heretical, let me ask: what if we don't achieve administrative unity in our lifetimes? Or, perish the thought, ever? If a nation as historically Orthodox as Ukraine does not have unity, what makes us think North America and the entire diaspora will?

And to voice another never-mentioned truth, one can imagine potentially negative effects of unity, as well. Without exploring these, several possibilities present themselves to those with fruitful and pessimistic imaginations (or long historical memories).

Even at its best, I'm not certain unity will result in people "beating down our door" for admission. Many are already beating down our gates, and we are not responding. Others are looking for our gates, and we are failing to direct them, mired in visions of our own inadequacy.

It is easier to blame the intransigent (fill-in-the-jurisdiction) than to confront our own inertia.

To forge any unity worth having, we must begin by caring for the talents God has already given us. If we are faithful in little, He may entrust us with much. We must begin to make of our own churches what we would desire in a unified church. We must make our own churches more hospitable, more welcoming, more joyful, more sacramental, more Christocentric, and more Christlike. We must make our churches less ethnocentric and less egocentric. Then we will have a number of component jurisdictions that recognize themselves in one another and wonder why we're reduplicating the other's efforts. Now, that is certainly not the case.

Until it is, we must not be afraid to invite others to the light that we can shine, administrative unity or no.



Blogger Abu Daoud said...

As an Anglican who often questions his own church and sometimes seeks for something deeper and more historically adequate, I think this objection is quite valid.

I was there in Dallas when the note from then-cardinal Ratzinger was read. It meant a lot, as someone who had read some of his writings before.

Why should we be attracted to Orthodoxy when there are about a dozen different ethnic conclaves with overlapping jurisdictions? In my texas city there were three different Orthodox church and three different bishops.

I love Orthodoxy. I live here in the Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem and I worship at the Orthodox church on a regular basis. But the dilemma for me is when I go back to the States.

5:42 AM  

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