That’s “Jonah

So, I was going to post something about my bewilderment to the negative reactions I had read to the announcement of a pan-Orthodox synod. I was going to rant and rave that we’re treating bishops, particularly foreign bishops, as enemies and as antichrists, that we seem to be assuming the worst about certain figures by default, that it seems sometimes that our communion is very tenuous and fragile and can only be preserved by not talking about or trying to solve our issues. I was going to point out that it is the family that won’t discuss its problems that is dysfunctional, and that it is the fear of this synod happening that is the clearest demonstration of its necessity. I was maybe even going to let slip that I was investigating scholarly avenues to perhaps attend one of the planning sessions as a lay observer.

Then this hit. From an address given at Holy Cross Seminary by the Very Reverend Archimandrite Dr. Elpidophoros (“Hope-bearer”) Lambriniadis, Chief Secretary of the Holy and Sacred Synod of the Patriarchate of Constantiople:

With regards to the United States, the submission to the First Throne of the Church, that is, to the Ecumenical Patriarchate is not only fitting with the American society and mentality but also it opens up the horizons of possibilities for this much-promising region, which is capable of becoming an example of Pan-Orthodox unity and witness.

The Mother Church of Constantinople safeguards for the Orthodox Church in America those provisions that are needed for further progress and maturity in Christ.

Go read the whole thing. I’ll wait.

Here’s the thing — on some very big things, he’s not wrong. Ecclesial administration problems at the local level brought on by “how Americans do things”? Check. Orthodox Christianity being brought to America by people here to make money, not serve as missionaries? Check. How monasticism tends to work in this country? Check. Imbalance, demographic and otherwise, to say nothing of other issues with respect to priestly formation, among convert seminarians? Check. Lack of a decent pool of candidates to be monk-priests? Check.

Most important — thirst for an authentic faith in the United States? Check.

If he had left it at that, and then related those points to the possible function of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in the United States, that would have been fine.

But he didn’t.

Instead, he took some potshots (granted, not in a vacuum), strongly implied that the OCA is essentially a vagante group towards whom everybody else has just been magnanimous enough to not break communion, and made some assertions that it would take serious nerve on the part of anybody in any jurisdiction to make. I’ll leave it to my commenters to discuss what I might mean.

That there is disagreement over how the Church should exist in America is no surprise. The United States is a very strong center of gravity when it comes to political and economic influence, so everybody wants their own little piece of it, and nobody wants to give up the possibility of having a piece of it. The irony is, it’s everybody not wanting to give up their little piece of it that means Orthodox Christianity is unlikely to be more than a very minor blip on anybody’s radar.

I heard a story once about a Roman Catholic hierarch saying, “The trouble with the Orthodox Church is that it doesn’t exist.” Well, we exist, but sometimes it sure looks like we’re a communion of people who don’t like each other too much. We can appear as the family who keeps track of who isn’t talking to whom this week, and will only go to family reunions if we can each sit at our own table, alone.


12 Responses to “That’s “Jona<i><b>h</b></i>“”

  1. 1 AMM 19 March 2009 at 12:13 pm

    The hierarch was right.

  2. 2 James 19 March 2009 at 2:01 pm

    This attitude from a GOArch priest towards the so-called “Russian Orthodox” in America is not at all surprising. I’ve certainly heard it expressed in my own multiethnic GOArch parish. Multiethnicity is good only as long as it’s Greek culture, and the Greek primate that binds us together. A parish of five major ethnic groups should have its liturgy in Greek and English only and should consider itself Hellenic.

    Believe it or not, the attitudes expressed in this essay are far more conciliatory towards us barbarians than are the attitudes of many GOArch laity.

  3. 3 Matthew Finke 19 March 2009 at 6:00 pm

    “Peter speaks, and Plato falls silent; Paul teaches, and Pythagoras is heard no more. The company of the apostles, preaching the mysteries of God, has buried the dead voice of the pagan Greeks and called the world to the worship of Christ.”

    Canticle Nine, Second Canon
    Thursday in the Third Week
    The Lenten Triodion Supplement

  4. 4 Joe 19 March 2009 at 6:55 pm

    The OCA was vagante for a quarter century (1946-1970), NOT in communion with the Moscow Patriarchate and NOT in communion with the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad.

    During an earlier stage of its troubles, many of its vocal lay leaders (who actually have a great impact given how small of a jurisdiction it is: 27000 members) were crying out for a break with the old OCA hierarchy and a start of a new OCA (a “Truly American” church) complete with married bishops.

    “So what if these innovations broke communion with the rest of the Orthodox Church? Who needs Old Word ethnics,anyway? Not us real Americans in America! We were vagante before, we can be vagante again!”

    Okay, so I am exaggerating a little bit, but not much. The American Exceptionalists in the OCA will not go away soon and are working even now to remake the OCA in their image despite the vision of Metropolitan Jonah. If MJ gets in their way look for the “Metropolitan Jonah, Please Resign” Petition to start up!

    The OCA was “essentially a vagante group towards whom everybody else has just been magnanimous enough to not break communion” and can be so again. That’s the wisdom and warning that we should take from Archimandrite Elpidophoros.

    BTW, that’s Jonas too. Jonas is just Greek for “Jonah.” No need to get your knickers in a twist.

    • 5 Richard Barrett 19 March 2009 at 8:39 pm

      Yes, I know Jonas is Greek for Jonah. I was being somewhat ironic.

      And I am also aware of much of what you’re saying. I read OCANews from time to time. Those points of view don’t exactly keep to themselves. Nonetheless, I think Met. Jonah has the potential to do some real good, and I hardly think communion with ROCOR, or Moscow, given the circumstances, was exactly a measuring stick of canonical vs. vagante status.

  5. 6 Greg 21 March 2009 at 2:11 pm

    As I was learning about Orthodoxy (over the past six months or so) I read the June 2008 paper “Episcopacy, Primacy and the Mother Churches” written by then Abbot Jonah. I believe this is the same paper that Dr. Lambriniadis’ is referencing in the above speech.

    I too found now Metropolitan Jonah’s remarks to be disrespectful. Even though the Orthodox ideal seems to be that the (human) center of the Church is the local bishop – and that the Metropolitan and the Patriarch are still bishops, and are expected to rule in consultation with the local bishops – a certain level of respect should be observed and Jonah’s remarks were disrespectful.

    Yes, there may be “no effective overarching primacy in the Orthodox Church,” but I found it odd that +Jonah (is a + appropriate next to his name?) did not offer some ways that the Orthodox in the U.S. could help the Ecumenical Patriarch be more effective. Instead, what he said was “it (the idea of the Ecumenical Patriarchate) has long since become unrealistic,” and few “recognize the Ecumenical Patriarchate to be what it claims to be… it has no real institutional role, much less a role of actual leadership.” Met. Jonah seems to have no use for an office that has been around for a thousand years or more; so much for Orthodox respect for history. (I dare say that the Greeks still respect the Ecumenical Patriarch. And the Russians, at least in their desire to be the Third Rome, respect the office.)

    Although +Jonah talks about the office of the “Ecumenical Patriarchate,” that office is always held by a flesh and blood person. It is only reasonable for Patriarch Bartholomew to read +Jonah’s words as directed specifically at him. Whatever suggestions for improvement +Jonah may have offered would be lost on the Ecumenical Patriarch because of the insulting tone of the paper. Even if what he says is true, is there not a gentle and constructive way to say it? (After all, +Jonah knows he is talking to a person, not an office.) And, again, I saw no offers to actually help the Ecumenical Patriarch.

    What is one reason that the Ecumenical Patriarch has lost his institutional and leadership role? According to +Jonah it is “partially due to the lack of cooperation and consensus as to its role among the other Orthodox Churches.” Would that be a lack of cooperation and consensus from people like now Metropolitan Jonah?

    According to +Jonah, “The only way an ecumenical primacy could work is if there is a functional and active ecumenical synod.” That sounds good. What has the OCA done over the past 30+ years to help make that happen?

    + Jonah’s desire is that the Church lead in a “call to repentance, to membership in the Church, and hence to a share in the vision and mission of the Kingdom of God.” A noble sentiment and an ecumenical synod can assist in this call. “Now,” +Jonah said, “more than at any time in history is this (ecumenical synod) feasible, given available means of communication and transportation.”

    That may be true from a technology standpoint, but – as long as Metropolitan Jonah and other people in positions of responsibility treat the Ecumenical Patriarch like a doddering old grandpa who should just accept his “primacy of honor” and move out of the way – “a functional and active ecumenical synod” will be a long, long, long way off. And Orthodoxy as a force in the U.S. and other western nations “to call one another, including our leaders, to repentance” will continue to suffer.

    (I’m not Orthodox… but I still find it interesting.)

    Click to access MJ.Episcopacy_Primacy_Mother%20Churches.pdf

    • 7 Richard Barrett 22 March 2009 at 4:28 pm

      Hi Greg,

      That’s an interesting take, and I can understand why you might see things that way. The question is, what does primacy mean with respect to Orthodox Christianity, and how is it exercised? Then-abbot Jonah’s comments were made at a conference last summer exploring exactly that question.

      You bring up the history and tradition of the Ecumenical Patriarchate; of course, it was Constantinople that maintained the following about Rome:

      For if the Roman pontiff, taking his seat on the lofty throne of his glory, should wish to thunder at us, and, as it were, hurl down his mandates from on high, and without taking counsel with us but relying on his own discretion should wish at his own arbitrary pleasure to judge matters concerning us and our churches, or rather, to rule over us, what kind of brotherhood, or even what kind of fatherhood could this be? Who could ever bear this with equanimity? (Nicetas of Nicomedia, 12th Century Debate with Anselm of Havelberg, PL 188 col. 1219C)

      The EP, may God grant him many years, is not an Orthodox pope — particularly not as far as the Russians are concerned. For a Russian perspective on the position of the EP see here. Met. Jonah comes directly out of that tradition; I think he would disagree that he was being disrespectful, or intended to be disrespectful, in that context.

      I will say this regarding the EP; I tend to have a fair amount of sympathy for his position, and think it is unfortunate that many Americans who run in Orthodox circles appear to regard him as a pseudo-Orthodox vagante with delusions of papal grandeur who is not to be trusted. That said, he has, at least publicly, espoused a very different point of view on how the Church in America (and in other mission fields) is to function than how, say, I’ve heard people like Met. Jonah and Bp. MARK express it. “We’re trying to build an indigenous, local church,” goes the latter point of view — but how to reconcile that with Pat. Bartholomew’s definition of “mission”, where churches are only established “wherever there are Orthodox Christians immigrants or natives” already there (Patriarch Bartholomew, Encountering the Mystery, p.xli) ? I think Ss. Cyril and Methodius would be quite confused by this understanding.

  6. 8 Greg 22 March 2009 at 6:11 pm


    My perspective is that of an outsider, so I don’t always understand some of the finer points in the distinctions that the Orthodox like to make. For example primacy vs. supremacy in regards to the Pope (and now as applied to the EP). Another example is unity of faith and Eucharistic unity vs. administrative unity.

    To me, as an outsider, this begins to look like sophistry. I am relatively certain that the Orthodox don’t mean it that way – and I know that there can be a significant amount of nuanced meaning to theological terms – but, sometimes it would be nice if the Patriarchs and the Bishops all had the same definition of hierarchy, and if unity just meant unity.

    Thanks for the reply.


    • 9 Richard Barrett 22 March 2009 at 6:50 pm

      It is less sophistry and more the case that the reality is messy. Conciliarity with a primacy of honor, not administrative supremacy, looks great on paper until you get into the kind of historical situation which has led to what we look like in the United States.

      The thing is — the Patriarchs and Bishops do all have the same definition of hierarchy, and unity does just mean unity. Met. Kallistos, The Orthodox Church:

      The Orthodox Church is…a family of self-governing Churches. It is held together, not by a centralized organization, not by a single prelate wielding absolute power over the whole body, but by the double bond of unity in the faith and communion in the sacraments. Each Church, while independent, is in full agreement with the rest on all matters of doctrine, and between them all there is full sacramental communion. […] There is in Orthodoxy no one with an equivalent position to the Pope in the Roman Catholic Church. The Patriarch of Constantinople is known as the ‘Ecumenical’ (or universal) Patriarch, and since the schism between east and west he has enjoyed a position of special honour among all the Orthodox communities; but he does not have the right to interfere in the internal affairs of other Churches. His place resembles that of the Archbishop of Canterbury in the worldwide Anglican communion.

      This decentralized system of independent local Churches has the advantage of being highly flexible, and is easily adapted to changing conditions. Local Churches can be created, suppressed, and then restored again, with very little disturbance to the life of the Church as a whole. Many of the these local Churches are also national Churches, for during the past in Orthodox countries Church and State have usually been closely linked. But while an independent State often possesses its own autocephalous Church, ecclesiastical divisions do not necessarily coincide with State boundaries… The Orthodox Church is a federation of local, but not in every case national, Churches. It does not have as its basis the political principle of the State Church. (2nd edition, 1964, pp15-6)

      The trouble is, the Western world is a situation nobody ever anticipated. The Russians came to Alaska and moved down the West coast, so they claim to have been here first, but then you have Greeks, Arabs, and everybody else who arrived via the East Coast and didn’t really care, for the most part, that there were Russians here — they sent home for their own priests when they started to need to have weddings and so on. In theory, Chalcedon 28 gives jurisdiction of “barbarian lands” to Constantinople, but the Russians counter that by saying that as the original mission here, jurisdictional prerogatives belong to them to do with as they see fit. In addition, other local/national Churches with a presence here certainly wish to retain control over, as well as the flow of money from, their own people.

      The OCA was intended to try to solve the problem; trouble is, it was only going to do so if it got everybody on board, and they didn’t. They were able to consolidate some Russians (by no means all) and other Slavic/Balkan communities under one umbrella, but in some ways they made matters more complicated, not less.

      And then you have Americans who want to know why some old guy in Turkey gets to call them a “diaspora”. Why does he get a say, again? We’re Americans, aren’t we? Why shouldn’t we have our own visible, united Orthodox Church and get rid of all of these silly, backward ethnic groups who either won’t assimilate or are assimilating too much?

      The American situation, in short, is a test of what Met. Kallistos calls the “flexibility” of Orthodox administrative structure, as well as the humility of American converts.

      I have a friend who believes that it is no coincidence that what has happened with the Antiochian Archdiocese was rapidly followed by rather firm developments regarding the Pan-Orthodox Synod as well as highly public comments from Fr. Elpidophoros about the American needing to be under the EP, period. He thinks that it is likely that there are behind-the-scenes negotiations to consolidate everybody in the United States under Constantinople.

      It’s possible; perhaps even likely.

      On principle, I don’t run information here that isn’t public knowledge, for various reasons. This means there are things I get correspondence about that I don’t discuss. Without going into a ton of detail, therefore, in the last year, I’ve had indications from people who should know what they’re talking about that there are agitations within certain key areas of influence to get all canonical American Orthodox under the EP. If true, it would be consistent with Fr. Elpidophoros’ remarks, as well as with other, more anecdotal, observations I could make (and have made here and there).

      Would it be a bad thing? I really can’t say, but I’d like to think not. God knows.

  7. 10 Greg 22 March 2009 at 8:49 pm

    RE Met. Kallistos: This decentralized system of independent local Churches has the advantage of being highly flexible, and is easily adapted to changing conditions.

    I agree with you that, “The American situation, in short, is a test of what Met. Kallistos calls the “flexibility” of Orthodox administrative structure, as well as the humility of American converts.”

    In addition, I wonder – because of the long standing uncanonical (non-canonical?) situation of the Orthodox Church in the Americas – if given the opportunity, would Met. Kallistos pick a word other than “easily?” Just a thought.

    RE there are agitations within certain key areas of influence to get all canonical American Orthodox under the EP.

    Perhaps this will come to light at the June or December Pan-Orthodox meetings. I’ll stay tuned.

    I appreciate your candor.


  8. 11 Greg 23 March 2009 at 10:06 pm


    RE The Canonical Status of the Patriarch of Constantinople in the Orthodox Church by Archbishop Gregory (Afonsky)

    A very interesting article. I had never heard of the idea that the five Patriarch were akin to the five senses. (Interesting as it may be, however, I can see how it could limit the spread of Orthodoxy.)

    RE Professor Troitsky concludes… 2. In disputes arising from the jurisdiction of two or more Churches, existing on the same territory of the diaspora the decisive principle must not be the significance or seniority of one or another Church in relation to others but simply the right of long-standing.

    Can you clarify what Professor Troitsky is saying here? I assume that this statement could relate to the situation in the U.S.? If no, what does it mean? If yes, how does it apply?



    • 12 Richard Barrett 24 March 2009 at 8:18 am

      I’m not altogether sure that the “five senses” idea has any particular relevance today. None of the four remaining major Orthodox patriarchates in the pentarchy (Alexandria, Jerusalem, Constantinople, and Antioch) have anywhere near the political importance they once did, and that was pretty much the core of that idea.

      “Right of long-standing” essentially means that the first Orthodox Church to “missionize” a given territory has jurisdiction over that territory. Russia claims to have been here first by virtue of their activity in Alaska and subsequently down the West Coast. Ironically enough, this very principle was part of why German missionaries intercepted and waylaid Ss. Cyril and Methodius on their way to evanglize the Slavs.

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