May 15, 2013

Metropolitan Philip and Orthodox Unity in America

Metropolitan Tikhon was the guest of His Eminence, Metropolitan Philip at the offices of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America yesterday in Englewood, NJ. Father Leonid Kishkovsky and I accompanied him and joined in the conversations with His Eminence, Bishop Nicholas, Father Thomas Zain and Father George Kevorkian.

Mets Philip &Tikhon, Bp Nicholas
Metropolitan Philip, Metropolitan Tikhon, Bishop Nicholas

We were treated to an excellent lunch and had a wide-ranging conversation. But the most substantive discussion concerned hopes for a united and autocephalous Orthodox Church in North America. This has long been a dream of Metropolitan Philip’s, who knew well two of the architects of the OCA’s autocephaly, Father Alexander Schmemann and Father John Meyendorff. He understands that this vision was never just for the OCA but concerns all the Orthodox churches. Together, we must have autocephaly as the ultimate aim of our current collaboration in the Assembly of Bishops.

Metropolitan Philip’s vision of Orthodox unity is expressed in a 2006 article that appears on the website of the Antiochian Archdiocese (excerpts below).

As the representative in North America of the ancient Patriarchate of Antioch (“where the disciples were first called Christians,” Acts 11:26), and as someone who has served here as a bishop for 47 years, Metropolitan Philip’s thinking on the unity of the Orthodox Church on this continent deserves wide circulation and attention.

Unity in America: An Antiochian Perspective

(From “The Thoughts of Metropolitan Philip on Missiology”)

I believe that the most difficult challenge which the Church will be facing in this new millennium is Orthodox unity in this hemisphere. I would like to state for history’s sake that Antioch was never a stumbling block to Orthodox unity. Two of our illustrious and venerable patriarchs of this century have made crystal-clear statements on behalf of Orthodox unity in North America.

In 1977, the late Patriarch Elias IV, in an interview published in A Man of Love, was asked: “What do you foresee for the future of Orthodoxy in the diaspora, particularly in North America?”

His Beatitude answered:

In preparation for the upcoming Great Council, the Antiochian Holy Synod has studied in depth the situation of Orthodoxy in the diaspora. Our position is clear. There must be established independent churches in Eastern Europe, North America, etc. The possibility for such an autocephalous church is greatest in North America. However, the decision to create such a church must be done with the blessings of all mother churches which have dioceses on this continent.

We are all well aware of the canons of the Church which, among other things, say that there cannot be many bishops in one city. The Antiochian See is ready to do her part to rectify this unfortunate situation of Orthodoxy in North America. We affirm that in North America there should be an autocephalous church with its own patriarch and Holy Synod. However, all mother churches must agree on this point, and more importantly, the faithful in North America must do their part to make independence and unity a reality and not just a written Tomos.
In 1985, the position of Antioch was again stated on the pages of The Word magazine by our beloved Patriarch Ignatius. In anticipation of the Great and Holy Synod, His Beatitude said:

  • The Orthodox diaspora has reached such a maturity that it is necessary to consider it from a new viewpoint in such a way that leads to resolution.
  • We must see it as the vocation of the Orthodox diaspora, not only to preserve the present, but to become a dynamic and creative element in its own environment.
  • It is desirable that the Council should recognize all the Orthodox churches in the diaspora, provided there is no serious cause not to do so.
  • It is desirable that local synods should be created, comprising the bishops of the Orthodox churches of the area in question and their members. This should be realized especially in Western Europe, America, Australia and also elsewhere, as far as necessary.
  • Autocephaly should be granted to all the churches of the countries mentioned above. The local synods of the autocephalous mother churches should decide on it and determine its boundaries.
  • The traditional apostolic and catholic regulations of the Orthodox Church should be followed so that in each city there would be one metropolitan.
  • The relationship between the mother churches and the diaspora churches are to be kept brotherly and cordial, as is natural to the Orthodox spirit and to the extent that all is for one and one is for all.
  • Within the churches, there should be preserved the cultural, linguistic and other national elements, insofar as they do not disrupt the unity of the local church or the wholeness of the local diocese.

I believe that these two explicit statements of our venerable patriarchs speak for themselves.