The Orthodox Christian journey

The Orthodox Church News Magazine

Editorial of Pascha-Pentecost 2007

Volume 43

“The Orthodox Church” News Magazine

Editorial of Pascha-Pentecost 2007

Volume 43

Our life in the Orthodox Church is best described as a journey. One of the most significant and interesting contemporary books about the Orthodox faith is titled The Orthodox Way. As Bishop Kallistos Ware, the book’s author, points out, one of the most ancient names for Christianity is “the Way.” This implies that to be Christian is to be on a journey. Bishop Kallistos writes: “Christianity is more than a theory about the universe, more than teachings written down on paper; it is a path along which we journey—in the deepest and richest sense, the way of life.”

Our Christian journey has again brought us through Great Lent to Pascha, the Resurrection of Christ. We now continue our journey through Pascha to the Ascension of our Lord and to Pentecost, the descent of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes the Christian journey is understood as the private and individual story of my relationship with God. Yet in truth the journey of Christians is never solitary. As we follow Christ, we journey with one another, we walk as the People of God. The journey is practical and not theoretical. The journey involves each Orthodox Christian, each Orthodox parish and diocese, and the Orthodox Church as a whole.

What is the Orthodox Church “as a whole” in America? We know that there is diversity as well as unity in American Orthodoxy. There are a variety of Orthodox Churches or “jurisdictions” in the United States and Canada. At the same time there is a unity of faith, expressed in the sharing of the same sacraments.

There are some who are content with the experience of diversity in unity, and unity in diversity in the context of the present “jurisdictional” distinctions. There are others who yearn for a deeper expression of Orthodox unity, for a fuller affirmation of the essential oneness of the Orthodox Church in North America. There are those who believe that a fully united self-governing Orthodox Church in North America is demanded by the Orthodox understanding of the Church.

The conference of Orthodox bishops convened in Chicago by the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas [SCOBA] in October 2006 offered an opportunity to see Orthodoxy in America as a whole.

The program of the conference was simple in concept. The assembled bishops heard reports from each of the agencies and commissions established and endorsed by the Standing Conference of Bishops. None of the information was a secret—probably each of the hierarchs had seen much of the information before. Yet the presentation of the reports in the context of one meeting offered an opportunity to see the “whole picture.”

It became stunningly clear that much more was being accomplished on behalf of Orthodoxy as a whole in America than most people—even most hierarchs—realized. While we have jurisdictional distinctions and differences, while we have the reality of different and parallel and overlapping Orthodox ecclesial structures—we also have agencies and commissions working on behalf of Orthodoxy as a whole.

One way to characterize this common Orthodox mission and witness is to point out that the agencies and commissions of the Standing Conference of Bishops accomplish their work “as though” Orthodoxy in America is already fully united. And this common witness and mission is not only theory, it is not only written down on paper—it is also experienced daily, it is also manifested in real life and in real programs of charity and humanitarian aid, mission outreach and witness.

Thus the journey of Orthodoxy in North America is not at all at a dead end. We may well be moving too slowly for some, and too fast for others. Yet the movement forward is real. If we are faithful to the Gospel and to the will of Christ for the Church, we will be among the builders of Orthodox unity in North America, and our Church in America will be faithful and effective in its apostolic mission on this continent.

The conference of bishops last October in Chicago did not have Orthodox unity on its agenda. Its quiet testimony to Orthodoxy’s common witness and mission was therefore all the more miraculous and powerful.