Metropolitan Jonah: “There is an American Orthodox church. Leave it alone.”

Pan Orthodox Sermon by His Beatitude Metropolitan Jonah at St. Seraphim Orthodox Cathedral

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Well. Right or wrong, God bless Metropolitan Jonah, who has the saint’s utter lack of fear when it comes to saying what he believes God has called him to say.
So, is he right? Is he wrong? Hard to say. I suspect some people are going to find these remarks disrespectful, and I am not unsympathetic to that point of view, but I also think the reality is that prophetic words which need to be said tend to rub somebody the wrong way no matter what. That’s not to say the people who feel disrespected are wrong.
All I can say is, whether he is right or wrong, I hope people are listening. Not just the “right people,” whomever we might imagine them to be — I hope everybody is listening. Only if everybody is listening will these prophetic words have the value they need to have.
(Among the people I hope are listening is His Grace Bishop MARK. I think he and Metropolitan Jonah would be an utterly devastating team.)
(Second tip of the hat of the day to Rod Dreher.)

7 Responses to “Metropolitan Jonah: “There is an American Orthodox church. Leave it alone.””

  1. 1 Chris Jones 6 April 2009 at 11:00 pm

    So, is he right? Is he wrong? Hard to say.

    I don’t think it is “hard to say” at all: Metr Jonah is absolutely right. THE problem with American Orthodoxy is phyletism and the jurisdictionalism that is the result of phyletism. It compromises Orthodoxy’s confession of the Catholic faith, and puts her claim to be the Apostolic Church into considerable doubt.

    And, of course, the engine of phyletism in American Orthodoxy is the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Greek Archdiocese. The Greek Archdiocese is all about the “diaspora,” not about being the local Apostolic Church. It has never done anything to evangelize this country nor to serve as the true local, territorial Church here.

    If the Ecumenical Patriarchate wants “jurisdiction” over America, then let them start “being the Church” in America. Let them start missions that are for Americans, not just for Greeks. Let them welcome converts as the OCA and the Antiochians have done. When they start acting like an Apostolic Church in the mission field, then they will have earned “jurisdiction” here.

    Anything else is baloney and Metr Jonah is absolutely right to call them on it.

  2. 2 Richard Barrett 7 April 2009 at 4:19 am

    Well, let me clarify what I mean.

    First of all, the Greeks have started missions such as you describe, at least on the West Coast. Holy Apostles in the Seattle area is a parish which grew out of one such mission.

    Second of all, I have no doubt that in absolute terms, Met. Jonah is unambiguously 100% right. My concern is that it is a stance which will be interpreted as “The Greeks are the bad guys”, when I think that’s exactly the mindset that won’t be helpful a) for him/the OCA/American converts in general to have b) for the Greeks to think they have. In that sense, he could be absolutely right while still being quite wrong. There are touchy, sensitive issues at play here towards which I think we converts are better served to have humility and compassion rather than demanding our “rights” as Americans. Let’s be clear that I don’t think he’s advocating a “the Greeks are the bad guys” mentality, but I also think that it would be possible to read him that way nonetheless.

    I don’t consider myself a Hellenophile by any means, but I am learning Greek (ancient and modern), my academic interests tend to involve the Greek language and Greek-speaking people, I have a lot of very dear friends who are Greek, and I’ve had some wonderful experiences at Greek churches. I am really, really, really hesitant to completely endorse something which could be read as “Dogpile on the Greeks” or “This is all the Greeks’ fault,” which is rhetoric I see with unsettling frequency. The way some Greeks, at the institutional level and otherwise, can behave towards the creature known as the American convert can be frustrating for the American convert, yes, but there are reasons those people tend to think the way they do, and the bottom line is that we’re not going to solve it by pointing fingers and chest-bumping. We will solve it by behaving towards them as brothers and sisters in Christ with love and respect. Met. Jonah may not be part of the crowd which is pointing fingers, exactly, but my hope is that what he says won’t add the wrong kind of fuel to the wrong fire.

    Forgive me.


  3. 3 Chris Jones 7 April 2009 at 8:29 am

    My first comment certainly reads like “the Greeks are the bad guys,” and I am willing to admit that that is an over-simplification. But is there anything that I wrote that is not true? I know that there are some in the GOA who are more outward-directed, and I have heard about the more convert-oriented Greek parishes on the West Coast (and I rejoice in it). But you can perhaps forgive me; I live in New England where the Greek subculture is thriving. They are the immigrants and relative newcomers to our country, but they are the ones who call us “ξένοι”.

    Anyway, the point of my comment (despite the harsh rhetoric) was not “the Greeks are the bad guys,” but what I said in the first paragraph, that the heart of the problem is phyletism. I’m not Orthodox anymore, and that is why. (When I said that it “puts her claim to be the Apostolic Church into considerable doubt,” that was autobiographical.) And the GOA is not the only jurisdiction infected with phyletism. I was a member of an English-speaking OCA parish with a convert priest for a decade; but despite the English liturgy it was Russian through and through. My family and I were never fully accepted there because we were not Russian. My father confessor was an Antiochian convert priest who was constantly at odds with the “pillars” of his parish (i.e. the ones who could write the big checks) who wanted Melkite and even Muslim Palestinians to be accepted as members of the parish, sit on the parish council, be communed, etc. (He used to say, “I have to be careful not to get too enthusiastic when I preach. My parishioners don’t like to have a white boy yelling at them.”)

    So no, it is not just the Greeks. There is phyletism all over. I used to think the Antiochians were the good guys. And actually, I still think so; but you do the math about how phyletism plays its role in the current dust-up in the Archdiocese. But even though “the Greeks are the bad guys” is a serious over-simplification, it is also true that putting the EP in charge (based on their cockamamie interpretation of Chalcedon 28) is not the answer. As can be seen from their (attempted?) takeover of the JP’s parishes, their idea of Orthodox unity is to set up a “vicariate” for each ethnic group. If the Greeks have their way, the Orthodox will be united under one Patriarch, but will still be divided internally along ethnic lines. A vicariate for the Arabs, a vicariate for the Serbs, a vicariate for the Russians, and so on. (Maybe the Western Rite (dear to my heart) can survive as the “Vicariate for English/Celtic Communities in the USA”.)

    Perhaps you are right in thinking that while Metr Jonah may have been speaking the truth, it may not have been prudent to say it at this time and in that way. But it was certainly no more harsh for Metr Jonah to say what he said than it was for the EP’s representative to suggest that the OCA is little better than a group of vagantes who remain in communion with canonical Orthodoxy only through an attitude of extreme generosity and condescension on the part of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. That was ecclesiological nonsense, and I think that “if we wanted a Pope, we would be under the real one” was the precisely correct rejoinder. If the Ecumenical Patriarch is going to put forward extravagant and baseless claims using harsh rhetoric, it will not do to be too polite in resisting those claims.

    • 4 Richard Barrett 7 April 2009 at 2:26 pm

      Well, you use words which very closely resemble the ones I used to describe Fr. Elpidophoros’ characterization of the OCA (“strongly implied that the OCA is essentially a vagante group towards whom everybody else has just been magnanimous enough to not break communion”), so you don’t need to convince me on that point.

      I deeply regret your experience, and I do not deny that what you have faced is something I’ve heard expressed as a stumbling block for number of people. The trouble, as I see it, is that Orthodoxy came to this country in a way that had nothing to do with evangelism, and as a result this whole idea of American converts is something most Orthodox who came here never anticipated. You have, on the one hand, a group of people who brought the Faith here purely incidentally while they came here to assimilate and make money, coming into contact with a group of people who want to choose something they never had to choose, and being very, ah, exuberantly American about that choice. I feel ill-equipped to judge those people or their discomfort. Heck, I’m the whitest of white boys, and I feel uncomfortable when white boys yell at me during a sermon, too. I also feel ill-equipped to judge the discomfort of the “average American” (whatever that means) when faced with what they see as ethnic baggage and tribalism, but I’ve never felt that discomfort myself.

      As a small child, I was taught to approach every dog I ever met with an outstretched, upward-facing palm held low enough that the dog would be able to sniff it (or, inevitably, lick it once they smelled the salt). This supposedly communicated to the dog that you weren’t aggressive or hostile, and allowed the dog to get to know you so that they knew they didn’t have to be afraid of you. As a result, I’ve never been bitten by a dog. I bring this up, not to compare anybody to a dog, God forbid, but because I think it is important to approach people, to say nothing of institutions, on their own terms as much as possible — that is, to come to them rather than make them come to you. Sometimes even that doesn’t work, I know. I also know that it can’t be the solution for everybody. I don’t pretend to know what the solution for everybody is.

      My hope is that those with ears to hear are able to understand Metropolitan Jonah as he intends to be understood, and that this is a positive step forward. I am cautious about that hope, however. Sometimes how certain people talk strikes me as suggesting that an American Orthodox Church would consist of nothing but the pure Apostolic faith, nothing but “Big-T Traditions,” purified of all the superstitious ethnic customs that infect the Orthodoxy we have now. I believe that is, charitably, naive in the extreme, and there is much we can learn from “all the superstitious ethnic customs” about how a living Orthodox Christian faith works itself out in a living culture over centuries of shared, remembered experience. This may be outside the scope of what you intend to address, in which case I apologize, but it’s a point I’ve wanted to make for awhile.

      Forgive me.


  4. 5 Chris Jones 7 April 2009 at 5:23 pm


    I knew I had stolen that vagante language from somebody, but I honestly forgot that it was from you! But I stole it precisely because I thought it was such an accurate characterization of what the archimandrite said.

    Orthodoxy came to this country in a way that had nothing to do with evangelism

    That is true of the nineteenth and twentieth century immigration, but it is not true of SS Herman, Innocent, and Tikhon. Orthodoxy may have been “incidental” to the reasons that Orthodox people came here, but it is sad if, once here, being Christian was entirely “incidental” to their lives. And that, frankly is how some Orthodox parishes come across: that their real business is being an ethnic/cultural outpost, and their Christianity is “incidental.”

    I’ve never felt that discomfort myself.

    Then you’ve never been made to feel that you, your wife, and your children are not welcome in “our Church.”

    • 6 Richard Barrett 7 April 2009 at 5:47 pm

      That’s true — I’ve never been made to feel that way, and I’m thankful for that, because I know many have. The closest I’ve come has been at a Greek parish in Krefeld, Germany, but it was less a sense of not being welcome (the priest, in fact, was wonderfully welcoming) and more a sense that they had no idea what to do with us. It was clear that non-Greeks rarely, if ever, came knocking at their door. My wife, who was spending a couple of months over there, brought a gift to them her last Sunday there — an icon of St. Varnava, a recently-glorified Serbian saint who was born in Indiana. The priest was moved to make something of a speech to the congregation about it after the Divine Liturgy, and while it was in Greek and thus she didn’t understand it, my wife said that afterwards people interacted with her much differently than they had previously, like suddenly they finally got why she was there.

      I think that for some parishes, it’s probably true that they exist primarily as places where, for a group of people who have otherwise assimilated to American culture, their heritage may nonetheless be honored and preserved in some way. I am thankful that my own parish is not like that; we’re the only Orthodox church for at least an hour in any direction (more like 3 or 4 hours, depending on the direction), and we’re in a very cosmopolitan college town, so we’ve got a little bit of everybody. We’re Antiochian, but we’re neither an ethnic Antiochian parish or one of the old EOC parishes — the mission was planted a few years after the EOC mass conversion by a group of people who were, ironically enough, predominantly Greek but who felt that they would get the most bang for their buck starting the mission under the Antiochians. (Not altogether certain I understand all the mechanics of that, but there we are.) There are, unfortunately, a decent number of both Greeks and Serbians in town who don’t come, either commuting to Indianapolis or just not bothering (I am told that some Serbians have reported being explicitly told to not go to any church other than a Serbian church). I sometimes feel it wouldn’t hurt us to be a little less self-consciously “pan-Orthodox”, but we make it work.

  5. 7 Em 14 August 2009 at 7:19 pm

    This thread’s pretty old, but I happened upon it and was struck by your wife’s gift to the GO church in Germany. Maybe that’s the key to the some of the ethnic bruhaha,finding a way to help the parish get why you’re there.
    I think the key was your wife giving something to the church,rather than just taking.

    I’m a minority and know that I’m also a bit suspicious when an outsider takes an inordinate interest in one of our ehtnic/racial gatherings.Unfortunately,most times we’re just an exoticism for amusement,or in this day and age in which most young whites hate being white, and hate the western world, they flock to ‘others’ for what they think their culture doesn’t have. Those puffed up with pride will indulge them,whereas the wiser of us know that a person with disdain for themselves and their culture has come as a taker,not a giver.Who wants to be friends with a taker?!

    Clearly this is a little different,but besides history (which plays a major part in how groups respond to outsiders) I suspect that the same dynamic is at work-we’ve come to take and not give to these parishes.Why should they welcome us? Also, there’s always the fear of too many outsiders showing up and wanting to ‘improve’ things.

    Ultimately, it’s about respect.People want to know that you respect the heritage that is so deeply a part of them and that they love.It would help to examine and find the good things about western christianity and culture and be grateful for them.

    When people know you’re happy with at least something of your own culture and respect it and yourself -this is important because for most minorities,no self respecting member would hate their own culture or people.They may have gripes,but then,don’t all families? Also, for minorities you are your culture and their is little seperation.It’s hard to understand self-hating westerners and whites unless you’re on an ego trip and feel superior to everyone. aperson who hates his heritage has no respect for it and therefore,can’t really respect anyone else’s heritage or culture,and that is a very scary person for ‘others.’

    Sorry for the redundancies and length.Thanks for bringing up such an important and little known point in the american orthodox vs. ‘others’ debate.


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