January 9, 2013

Russian Christmas

For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. (James 3:16-17)

I hope you will indulge me in some dreaming.

I am a member of the OCA because I believe in the vision of an Orthodox Church in and for North America. A church that looks at its surrounding neighborhoods, sees the needs and the people, and adapts itself as far as the Tradition permits to meet these people where they are to bring the Gospel of Christ. A church that is accessible, where anyone who is seeking a spiritual home can feel welcome and at home.  My very simple dream is that every county in the US, Canada and Mexico would have at least one such parish church (and whether it is OCA or another jurisdiction doesn’t much matter to me.) Right now, 90% do not. That will mean establishing many more missions in the decades ahead, English, French, Spanish and Native American.

But we still have immigrant communities that are just as much a part of the North American scene, and they need to be served as well, at least until the time when their children and grandchildren fold in organically with multicultural mainstream parishes. The OCA historically has had ethnic dioceses to focus on several specific immigrant communities: Romanian, Bulgarian, Albanian. The OCA’s roots are with the Russian Church, but autocephaly came at a time (1970) when no one envisioned the collapse of the Soviet Union and a flood of Russian-speaking immigrants into North America. We never had a “Russian Diocese.” Since then, hundreds of thousands of Russians have settled here, and if we are the Orthodox Church in America, then we need to take some responsibility for Russian mission, perhaps in collaboration with the Moscow Patriarchate and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia. Wouldn’t this be a way to put aside self-seeking and produce good fruit?

Tonight will be the annual Russian Christmas celebration at the Russian consulate in New York City, jointly sponsored by the Russian consul and Archbishop Justinian, the representative of the Moscow Patriarchate in the United States. Metropolitan Tikhon, Father Leonid Kishkovsky and I will be representing the OCA. I grew up in a decidedly Russian Orthodox environment and have spent much of my life getting away from it to be “North American.” But maybe now, as part of the OCA’s mission in and for North America, I (we) should think more about serving the spiritual and pastoral needs of the Russian-speakers who are making their home here as well.