12th All-American Council
8th Sunday after Pentecost
July 25, 1999
In the context of this eucharistic assembly I would like all of us to reflect on the “blessing” we share in being able to convene as an All American Council.
This is the twelfth All American Council since the granting of autocephaly in 1970. Prior to our autocephaly there had been thirteen councils which convened for the good order and building up of Christ’s Church. In all there will have been twenty five councils which gathered during this century. Each, with its own character and faces, help to provide insight to the problems, challenges and accomplishments of the Church over the past hundred years. Each Council bears witness to the fact that in spite of the many difficulties the Church has faced in twentieth century America—and will continue to face in the twenty first century—there have always been outstanding personalities who sought to put the Gospel above every other consideration. One such personality is Saint Tikhon, the Patriarch of Moscow and first Orthodox bishop in New York.
It is Saint Tikhon who can be considered as one of the key architects of the All American Council. It is he who can and should be credited for acknowledging the uniqueness of North American and the need for the Church to create a governing structure which, while new, was not in conflict with the canonical conciliar structures of its past. Returning to Russia, Saint Tikhon was later elected Patriarch of Moscow and utilized, even if only briefly, the structure of the All American Council for governing the largest local Orthodox Church in the world.
By helping to draw the blueprint for governing the Church in North America, Saint Tikhon is to be considered one of our greatest visionaries. He saw North America as a new opportunity for the Orthodox Church. He was able to see America for what it is—he saw the potential it possesses for proclaiming the Gospel. For Saint Tikhon, America was not an abnormal context for the Orthodox Church. And therefore, unlike those who could identify the Church only in the context of Byzantium or Imperial Russia, Saint Tikhon appreciated America’s vibrancy. In retrospect we can see how this vibrancy causes the Church to look inwardly so as to better preach the Gospel of new and eternal life.
For Saint Tikhon and those associated with him the Church in America could not be expected to mimic the Churches of the Old World, especially those Churches which had been living in captivity for centuries. As a true missionary he was wise enough to see that the American culture and its system of government did not have to be viewed as being necessarily antithetical to the hierarchical and conciliar structure of the Church. On the contrary, American culture and government was seen as providing an openness for freely proclaiming the Gospel in a pluralistic context. Here we must remember to never cease offering thanks to God for this freedom—this freedom which will not allow the Church to rest in the tomb of formalism, ethnicism and ignorance. Indeed, the governing structure of our Church, which includes the All American Council, is to be acknowledged as a creative response initiated and sustained by the Holy Spirit. For it is the Holy Spirit who enables the Church to continue the ministry of Christ on behalf of all and for all.
To appreciate the wisdom and courage of Saint Tikhon and to continue preparing the Church in America to carry out the missionary mandate of the Gospel we cannot allow ourselves to succumb to the rumors and arguments that pervert our precious blessings. We must not allow ourselves to fall prey to the temptations that perceive anything new or innovative in our administrative activities as an attempt to undermine and ignore history. Nor should we engage ourselves in those unedifying arguments that seek to prove that any change in the Church’s governing structure immediately compromises the integrity of ecclesial life. Here I want to emphasize that our All American Councils have not frayed the hierarchical and conciliar fabric of the Church. Our Councils are expansions of the hierarchical and conciliar nature of the Church which carries out its apostolic witness in an environment that has very few, if any, historical precedents.
As we inaugurate the twelfth All American Council we must not be afraid or hesitate to discover and accept the blessings offered to us. At the same time we must also recognize that receiving these blessings requires us to have the Gospel of Life as the foundation of every facet of this Council. For unless we know the Gospel and therefore Jesus Christ—unless we love the Gospel and yearn to abide here and now in God’s Kingdom—the blessings we have received will be withdrawn.
Like Saint Tikhon and all the true visionaries of the Church we are now called to trust the Holy Spirit who vivifies the Body of Christ. Personally and corporately as the Church we are to be the abode of the Spirit and therefore true servants of the living God. Together we are to discern His will so that the Word of life may continue to grow in this land of new challenges, new opportunities and new blessings. Amen.