Greeting from His Eminence, Leo,
Archbishop of Karelia and All Finland
To His Beatitude, Metropolitan Jonah
on the occasion of his Enthronement
Your Beatitude, Your Eminences, Your Graces, Distinguished Guests, my brothers and sisters in Christ:
A thousand years ago monks from Valaam monastery set out to bring the Gospel to Finland. Two hundred years ago monks from Valaam monastery set out to bring the Gospel to North America. Our two Churches, children of the same tradition, now celebrate together as yet another spiritual child of Valaam, His Beatitude, Metropolitan Jonah, begins this same missionary task of bringing the Gospel to North America as the head of the Orthodox Church in America.
And what is this Gospel? As His Beatitude wrote: “It is the Good News that the Kingdom of God is present, here and now, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, and you can be baptized into it, commune of its grace, and be filled with new life. And what does this do for us? It heals our souls, raises us up from despair, and enables us to deal with any obstacles that comes in our way.”
Two thousand years of tradition in two sentences! Only an American could do this. Only an American would want to do this. The words are simple, direct, pragmatic. And yet, what hope is in these words – the Hope of the God Who became Man for our sake, the Hope of a suffering world, the hope of old words when spoken by a young, vital speaker.
Hope, too, for the Orthodox Church. The OCA has a vocation not only to bring hope to the world, and to North America specifically, but to bring hope to the Orthodox world as well. Hope that things do not always have to be done in the same, old, no-longer productive ways; Hope that as things change, they can change for the better; Hope that the future can be as exciting as a glorious past. Among many Orthodox Churches such notions are almost unthinkable – and certainly not easy to do. But if the two hundred year history of the OCA shows anything, in its growth from a group of monks from Valaam, through missionary diocese, to diocese, archdiocese, independent Metropolia and finally autocephalous Church – it is that much that is not possible elsewhere is possible in North America. The Orthodox Church is a State Church – but not in America. The Orthodox Church is ethnically homogeneous – but not in America. The Orthodox Church worships in ancient languages few understand – but not in America. (And not in Finland, either!)
But important as such changes are, it is equally important that the OCA’s vocation has been to keep safe vital Orthodox traditions from the past. It is in the OCA that the legacy of St. Patriarch Tikhon’s conciliar approach to church life endures – even if he himself could not keep it alive in Russia during the Communist era. It is in the OCA that Fr. Florovsky and Fr. Meyendoff continued to develop the highest traditions of orthodox theological education – when so much of the Orthodox world was forced into silence. It was in the OCA that Fr. Schmemann carried out his work – a legacy that is still helping a whole Church recover its Eucharistic identity and a deeper understanding of its liturgical traditions.