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The Benefits of Unity
By Lee Kopulos

In my early morning ride on the train I often read through the General Epistles of James, Peter, John or Jude. This Holy Scripture is to say the least warm, thought provoking and significant to an understanding of Christ's message as given in the synoptic Gospels. These General Epistles say a lot about faith and works, rejoicing in the sharing of Christ and the teaching of love for your fellow man as opposed to hatred and darkness which spells death, and finally, to watch for false teachers who jeopardize the salvation of God's people.

In John's General Epistle, I read this week:
"Do not marvel, my brethren, if the world hates you. We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love his brother abides in death." (1John 3: 13-14)

A little later I read:
"And this is His commandment: that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as He gave us commandment. (1John 3:23)

As far as I can discern, the word "love" must appear more than any other word in the Gospel except maybe "Lord." This all stems from the new commandment,

"that you love one another; as I have loved you......by this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13: 34-36)

Much has been said about unity over the years, and very little has been done about it in this country. In the early 1900's the Church was unified in America. However, due to the communist revolution and the expulsion of the Greeks from Turkey, the Church reformulated itself under ethnic jurisdictions in the 1930's. This unorthodox chaos continues to exist in the Americas, going against what the Lord teaches about love and the teachings of the early Church. More recently, attempts were made to come together as one Church here in 1943 (Buffalo), 1961 (Pittsburgh) and 1994 (Ligonier). Even SCOBA, a product of the 60's, has not proven to be a step in the right direction for we Orthodox to come together as the one true Church. While we must give SCOBA credit for initiating some good cooperative effort in the 90's with the establishment of the IOCC and OCMC, these are just "band-aids" covering up the crux of the problem. How long can we Orthodox afford to go on like this? How can the Ancient Church of Christ stay splintered into at least 14 separate ethnic bodies claiming the "fullness of the Christian faith?" We are the Apostolic Church of the world, but do we act like it? In America, we have been here since 1794 (over 200 years) and yet count a total of maybe over 2,000,000 Orthodox or about ½ of 1% of the US population. I remember the words of Fr. Gordon Walker writing me letter after letter encouraging me to keep working for unity because in his direct field experience of establishing mission Churches he found:

"In our Apostolic Mission of evangelizing America, Lee, I have come across many missed opportunities for Orthodoxy as a number of groups, after study, concluded that we could not be the Ancient Church for there are so many different divisions among you. We didn't look any different than the mixed up Protestant world that they came from!"

As you all know, the OCL is the only national group working towards unity of all Orthodox on this continent. We are pulling-out all stops in order to gain a consensus among all Orthodox Christians - hierarchs, clergy and laity- that it is urgent to establish a self-governing united Orthodox Church in North America. This independent Church would have the authority to elect its own Primate by a vote of the hierarchy, clergy and laity together.

You may ask, give me some real good reasons for unity.

1) Unity means Strength. The collective effort of all Orthodox under one umbrella means more can be accomplished by thinking together, planning together and working together. SCOBA only blesses cooperative action it does not fund new ministries. All ministries need financial seeding and capital support for full time personnel to become successful. Since mission is the very nature of the Church, it needs to be organized for success with a qualified group of specialists working full time in the special pastoral ministries like Youth, Campus (OCF), Prison, Adult Education, Nursing the Aged, Domestic Charity and the all important Evangelism and Church Growth Ministry. These special ministry groups must be coupled and supported from staff-type ministries of Communications ( Radio/Internet), Public Relations, Government Lobby, Clergy Pension & Insurance, Sacred Music, Translations of Services just to name a few. Can you name an Archdiocese who is effective in all these areas? Unity means strength.

2) God does not divide He Unifies. St. Paul pleads with the Corinthians:

"that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and same judgment." (1Cor. 1:10).

Obviously, multiple jurisdictions goes against the Gospel and hinders the effectiveness, productivity and progress of the Church to perform according to Christ's Great Commission (Matt; 28:19-20). As each group duplicates the same effort it causes confusion, wastes money and limits program success. Many Priests are assigned special ministries while working as full time Parish Priests. Effective performance can only be accomplished by seed money for full time professional personnel. We know of very few jurisdictional ministries that have full time specialized employees.

3) Unity means committing ourselves to special pastoral attention. The American problems of drug/alcohol abuse, child abuse, marriage counseling and divorce, pregnancy assistance, problems of the aged & assisted living, and the so-called mixed marriages are big problems in America. These problems require individuals with specialized education and a complete understanding of the Orthodox Christian Faith. Our Priests can't possibly be effective in all these areas without help from a staff of specially trained professionals.

4) Unity means keeping your children and future generations in the Church. America has a wide variety of Christian and non-Christian beliefs and practices. Many are inconsistent with our Ancient Church of Christ. Do our people really understand these differences? Surely they can easily be led astray. We must nurture, guide and re-evangelize our children and adults throughout all phases of life.

5) Church Growth through Evangelism requires Unity of the Church. The Christian Church in America is splintered into many denominations. The Orthodox Church in America is falsely perceived as being composed of many denominations.

The newcomer to Orthodoxy wants to see the oneness of the Church. They want to see the working together (syndakonia) of the bishop, clergy and laity. Each has its responsibility toward the building up of the body of Christ. We must offer the seeker a clear and concise view of the Orthodox Church. Founding new Churches under a National Strategic Plan will keep us from the creation of parallel and competitive Orthodox parishes and new mission programs.

How can we do all this without the oneness of a unified Church? Christ said, "you will know my disciples by the way they love one another." All the ethnic jurisdictions in America need to shed their ethnic mindsets and understand that we are in our 4th and even 5th generations in America which requires well planned, organized and funded efforts to plant firmly the Orthodox Way of loving God in its people.

In his official report to the Antiochian Convention, His Eminence, Metropolitan Philip declared that "nothing will happen unless we make it happen." At the OCA Convention in Toronto we met hundreds of bishops, clergy and laity that agreed "the hour has come to make unity happen between them for God's glory and the good of God's people."

The OCL Board Members are completely dedicated toward accomplishing this task none too soon. Our plan centering on increased membership of all jurisdictions, our OCL Unity Foundation for seeding cooperative local Orthodox Ministries and planning special meetings for our hierarchs to meet and know one another will accomplish this goal for good of Christ's Church in America.

The most important part of the puzzle is for every Orthodox parishioner to become a member of the OCL for this movement to have success. The Bishops feel strongly that this message must come loud and clear from the laity. The greater the OCL membership the faster unity will happen. Please See our web-site at www.ocl.org and sign up today!

Meanwhile, please continue to pray to the Good Lord for this to happen.

Lee Kopulos
President
Orthodox Christian Laity
October 2005

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