Fr. Andrew attends the Summer Conference at St. Vladimir’s Seminary June 18-21
By Father Andrew Harrison
Each year St. Vladimir’s Seminary holds a Summer conference open to everyone who is interested in the selected topic. This year the topic was the about the All Russian Council held in 1917-18 and its effect on the formation of the Orthodox Church in America. The conference began with a presentation by OCA Chancellor Fr. Alexander Garklas, on the formation of the council, made up of bishops, priests and laity. The fact that laity attended this council made it very progressive.
Their first item of business was the election of a new Patriarch. The Russian Church did not have a Patriarch since Czar Peter the Great abolished it. Patriarch Tikhon was elected. His election was accepted with skepticism as to his effectiveness. He had been the Bishop of Russian Orthodox Mission in America.
The council also discussed liturgical reform, such as using modern Russian language, consolidation of the structure of services, revised standards for monks and monasteries and the organizations of the local parish. Up until this time, parishes in Russia did not have parish councils composed of clergy and laity. The material needs of the parishes were supplied by village government officials who were not necessarily concerned about the church or religion in general. The newly adopted parish organization was modeled after the way parishes were set up in America The local parish had a council of elected laity who were communicants, presided over by the priest, who was appointed by the Bishop.
The Bolshevik Revolution in Russia put an end to the Council which never completed its agenda. Many of the decisions were never adopted in Russia, however, The Orthodox Church in America was the main beneficiary of the All Russian Council of 1917-1918. This is seen in the theological development, the liturgical reforms, and the organization of both the Orthodox Church in America and local parish organization.
The conference continued with a historical snapshot of the Orthodox mission in America up to 1920. Myths of Orthodox unity were debunked. Bishop Tikhon was the only Orthodox Bishop in America. He attempted to bring all the Orthodox immigrant parishes under his leadership but was met with resistance. He assigned the newly consecrated Bishop Raphael to handle all Middle Eastern parishes. A Serbian Priest, Fr. Dabovich, administered all Serbian parishes. The Greek parishes had concerns about Russian intentions. Some parishes cooperated while others received priests and holy Chrism from both Athens and Constantinople, but no Greek Orthodox Bishop resided in America until 1921.
The conference continued with presentations on Canon 28 of Calcedon which was used by the Patriarch of Constantinople to justify establishing jurisdiction in North America in 1921. This interpretation of the canon was contested by the other Orthodox Patriarchs which led to the multijurisdictional situation which we find ourselves in today. One presenter made the controversial remark that if there was unity with the Roman Catholic Church, all Orthodox Churches in the new world would be under them.
The conference concluded with Metropolitan Jonah’s presentation entitled a “Vision for Now.” He said the vocation of the OCA, calling himself "the least among equals," would joyfully meld itself into "a fully autocephalous united Church in North America, embracing all Orthodox, and freely electing its own hierarchy and, in time, its own patriarch." As an interim step, he offered the practical suggestion of inviting all jurisdictional Orthodox bishops in America to become full voting members of the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church in America.
After his presentation there was a lively question and answer period. One comment was made by a participant, “We have heard all this before. What are we going to do about it? Has there been any progress?”
Another person said, “What do we call ourselves? We look like a Protestant denomination. We don’t know what to tell people. This problem has a direct effect on our mission in America.”
There was an obvious sense of frustration that nothing is being done. Metropolitan Jonah did mention an upcoming meeting of Jurisdictional Bishops at Ligonier, Pennsylvania in October, which would address some of the issues.
I enjoy going to these conferences and have been going for a good number of years. I always learn something new and have a chance to pray, re-establish relationships with old friends, and meet new Orthodox Christians committed to the witness of the Orthodox faith in America.