For a quarter of a century the Orthodox Church in America has been blessed by the leadership, the vision and the prayer of Metropolitan Theodosius. From seminary commencements, to All-American Councils, to Ground Zero and beyond, he has represented and articulated the concerns, aspirations and supplications of our faithful in ways that honor both his office and his Lord. In this joyful Paschal season we give thanks for his long years of dedicated service to the Holy Church. But we also express our sadness at his retirement, as we pray God’s blessings upon him for good health and needed rest. We shall miss him.
As His Beatitude’s tenure draws to a close, we are preparing for an upcoming Council that will have special significance for the Church as a whole, in North America and throughout the world. The major task of the Council will be to elect a new Metropolitan, who can take up the mantle so ably worn by his predecessor and lead us all in the direction of a unified and united autocephalous Orthodox Church on this continent.
Quite naturally in circumstances like these, there is a great deal of speculation about possible candidates who can assume the role of Primate of our Church. It is also quite natural that concerned voices speak out with the intention of swaying delegates’ opinion in one direction or another. Some people will criticize this as “playing politics”; and to a degree it is. Nevertheless, it is also part of a process that we may think of as “democratic,” but which at a deeper level represents a quest to determine “the mind of the Church.” As such, it is a necessary and laudable expression of Living Tradition.
Many of us remember the circumstances of the Primate’s election held in 1977. Out of a field of candidates, the people chose two, whose names were submitted to the Holy Synod of Bishops. We were blessed with two exceptional candidates, in the persons of Bishops Dmitri and Theodosius. When the Holy Synod chose the latter, supporters of Bishop Dmitri were predictably disappointed. Yet the choice that was made was one few could deny was inspired by the Holy Spirit. Since that election, the Primate’s functions have been fulfilled with grace and wisdom by Metropolitan Theodosius, while the Southern Diocese has flourished under the pastoral guidance and exceptional dedication of Archbishop Dmitri. The people selected their candidates and voiced their preference; the Spirit determined the outcome, expressed by the gathered episcopacy, and opened the way for a quarter century of spiritual and material growth that has benefited the entire Church.
The coming election represents for all of us a challenge of faith. It is easy to get caught up in partisan debates that focus on issues that are petty or at best secondary. Human passions in such times can include doubt, anxiety, judgment and the desire to control. If we can put those passions aside, this occasion offers the opportunity to reflect seriously and deeply on basic questions concerning not only possible candidates, but the very nature and shape of episcopal service within the Church. It can send us back to our biblical and patristic sources, to reexamine ministry as a whole, lay as well as clerical. It can, in other words, be a privileged time of prayer, reflection and debate that will serve not only the immediate needs of selecting our new Primate, but of giving voice to real needs and concerns that are vital to the life and ministry of the Orthodox Church in this land that is no longer a diaspora, but our home and God-given field of mission.
Reflection and debate of this kind, though, need to be undergirded and nourished by fervent and ceaseless prayer, offered by each of us individually and by our parish communities. Whatever our vision for the future, however much we may feel committed to one potential candidate or another, in the coming election we need above all to seek God’s will and His alone. This requires of us that we have sufficient faith—in the biblical sense of “trust”—to allow the Holy Spirit to guide this solemn process from beginning to end.
“Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.” May we earnestly pray that the Lord continue to build His Orthodox Church through the work of our hands. May we beseech Him unceasingly that He guide our reflection and our debate over the coming weeks so that our voice, together with that of our hierarchs, accords fully with the voice of the Spirit, and that the “mind of the Church” remains one with the “mind of Christ.”