Challenges of Orthodoxy in America
And the Role of the Ecumenical Patriarchate
Very Reverend Archimandrite
Dr. Elpidophoros Lambriniadis
Chief Secretary of the Holy and Sacred Synod
(Chapel of the Holy Cross, March 16, 2009)
Reverend Protopresbyter Nicholas Triantafyllou, President,
Reverend Protopresbyter Thomas Fitzgerald, Dean of the School of Theology,
Reverend and Esteemed Members of the Faculty and staff,
It is an exceptional honor and a great joy for me to be here
today, among you, with the blessing and permission of His All Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch and the consent of His Eminence
the Archbishop of America, in order to share with you some thoughts regarding the present condition of Orthodoxy in America
and our Ecumenical Patriarchate’s position towards it.
You have, my brothers and sisters, the privilege to be citizens
of a country which determines to a great extent the fate of many people on our planet; a country where pioneering technologies
as well as ideas and philosophies have been discovered and disseminated. The cultural peculiarities and characteristics of
the United States find also a reflection in, as it is only natural, and exercise an influence on the religious communities
of this country. It is far from accidental that none of the “traditional” religions (coming either from Europe
or elsewhere), remained the same once they were replanted on American soil.
The same change can be of course observed in the case of Orthodoxy,
whose appearance and development in America was influenced by certain indeterminable factors.
The first and main challenge that American Orthodoxy faces is
that it has been developed in a region which, from an administrative and technical point, is that of diaspora. By the term “diaspora” we indicate that region whose ecclesiastical
jurisdiction is been unfortunately claimed by a variety of “Mother” Churches, which wish to maintain their pastoral
care over their respective flocks, comprised by the people who, over the years, immigrated to the superpower called USA.
In this way, the Orthodox faithful in America became organized
according to their national origin and not according to the canon law of the Orthodox Church—that is, they organized
themselves not in accordance with the principles of Orthodox ecclesiology which dictates that neither national origin, nor
the history of a group’s appearance in a particular region but rather the canonical taxis
and the perennial praxis of the Church, as codified by the Ecumenical
Councils, has the ultimate authority.
According to such ecclesiological principles, in any given region
there can be one and only one bishop who shepherds the Orthodox faithful, regardless of any nationalistic distinction. It
was, however, the very opposite scenario that took place in America and today one observes the challenging deplorable condition
where a number of bishops claim pastoral responsibility for the same geographic region.
A second challenge of the Church in America is that it was brought
here by people who left their homelands at a time that these homelands were economically underdeveloped. Economic immigration
created, from the very first moment, the need for these people to assimilate to their adopted land in order to achieve, as
soon as possible, the high living standards of the privileged Americans and therefore to enjoy the fruits of the American
dream. Towards that goal, they changed their names, they put an emphasis on the English language in every aspect of their
lives, and at last they succeeded in becoming true American citizens, holding ever higher positions in the financial, commercial,
academic, artistic and political life of this country. The negative aspect of this strong emphasis on cultural assimilation
was the consideration of the faithfulness in one’s cultural background as an impediment to the progress and success
in the American society. Thus, the complexes of an alleged inferior nationality or class that, in order to enjoy the fruits
of the American dream, is supposed to eradicate any bond to its distinctive culture.
The third challenge of Orthodoxy in America concerns the manner of its
ecclesiastical organization. The Orthodox faithful organized themselves in communities of lay people, who, in turn, became
identified with the ecclesiastical community in the manner of the traditional organization of Christian communities. Thus, the parish (κοινότητα) being now governed by lay elected members, builds its own Church, school and other such institutions,
and provides the priest’s salary. Such communal organization improves, as it is right and desirable, the role of laity
in Church administration, and increases the sense of responsibility and participation in the life of the Church, offering
thus the change to the Church to profit of its talented and able parishioners. On the other hand, however, four very concrete
dangers lurk behind such a communal organization of the local Church:
a) That the priest might become alienated from his administrative duties,
and from being the spiritual leader of the parish would become a clerk of the parish council,
b) That the parishioners would find it difficult to comprehend the rules
according to which the Church is governed and instead they would follow their own secular reasoning,
c) That the structures of the parish would become influenced by the prevalent
Protestant models and thus they would replicate and imitate practices that are foreign to the Spirit of Orthodoxy, and
d) That the parishes would degenerate into nothing more than membership
clubs, invested with some ecclesiastical resemblance.
As you all know, one of the secrets for the success of the American
miracle in its financial, political and technological aspects was precisely its desire to detach itself from the traditional
models of the old world, its ability to break free from the established norms, its willingness to question whatever was considered
as given or beyond any criticism. As it might have been expected, these tendencies soon found an expression within the life
of the Church, sometimes in more extreme ways, other times in more temperate ways. Thus, soon Orthodox clergymen became indistinguishable
from the clergy of other denominations, choirs in the western style were adopted, the liturgical tradition became more and
more impoverished by being limited only to the bare essentials, etc.
Against that gradual secularization of Orthodoxy in America,
a reaction soon made its appearance in the form of a number of rapidly spreading monasteries of an Athonite influence, characterized
by ultraconservative tendencies, attached to the letter of the law, and reacting to any form of relationship with other Christian
denominations. All of this is nothing but the manifestation of the intense thirst for a lost spirituality and a liturgical
richness of which the Orthodox people of America have been for very long now deprived, forced, as they were, to embrace the
Church only in the form of a sterile social activism.
The traits of the American clergy today also appear to undergo
The secularization of the parish life, as described above, fails to inspire
young men and to cultivate in them the religious vocation, so that tomorrow’s pastors would be part of the very flesh
of today’s parish. That vacuum in clerical vocation is covered by candidates who, being unusually older than what was
perceived the standard age, have already on their shoulders the domestic burden of a family. Thus they struggle to obtain
the necessary degree that would secure for them among others the society’s respect.
Another great number of candidates to the priesthood come from
converts, who possess little, if any, familiarity with the Orthodox experience and they are usually characterized by their
overzealous behavior and mentality. It is of interest that the converts who become ordained into priesthood represent a disproportionally
greater percentage than the converts among the faithful. The result of this disanalogous representation is that, more often
than not, convert priest shepherd flocks who are bearers of some cultural tradition, but because their pastors either lack
the necessary familiarity with that tradition or even consciously oppose it, they succeed in devaluing and gradually eradicating
those cultural elements that have been the expression of the parishes that they serve.
It is particularly saddening that the crisis in priestly vocation
has decreased dramatically the number but also the quality of celibate priests, who one day will be assigned with the responsibility
of governing this Church. Lack of spirituality makes the monastic ideal incomprehensible and unattractive especially among
the youth (with the exception, of course, of the aforementioned monastic communities with their own peculiarities).
Having attempted this general evaluation of the American Orthodoxy,
allow me to consider briefly the Holy Archdiocese of America, this most important eparchy of the Ecumenical Throne.
The image we depicted above in rough brushstrokes holds also
true for the Archdiocese. Thanks to the selfless dedication of our immigrants and under the protection of the first See in
the Orthodox world, a strong Archdiocese was created that, in time, reached a level of maturity and excellence and it is today
the pride of the Church of Constantinople. The Archdiocese took advantage of the possibilities that a deeply democratic, meritocratic
and progressive state, like the United States, was able to offer, in order that the Orthodox faith of our fathers take root
deep in the American land.
To this effect, the active participation of the lay element was,
as we have seen, very important. We believe that the younger generations of the omogeneia
are free of the past’s prejudices and complexes, according to which, if you wish to succeed in America you have to forget
your cultural patrimony and your language in order to be left naked, so to speak, in the thorny desert of the Wild West. Today’s
omogeneia has overcome that denial and has come to understand
that the secret of the American civilization’s success does not lie in the obliteration of one’s cultural background
but rather in the free and harmonious co-existence of people and races who have come to this hospitable land seeking a life
in freedom, in faith and in dignity. Our cultural heritage and our national conscience is not, by any means, an obstacle for
our progress and for the successful witness to our faith, especially insofar as ecumenicity (οἰκουμενικότης) is the heart of Hellenism and by definition alien to any form of nationalism
or cultural chauvinism.
The Holy Archdiocese of America under the Ecumenical Patriarchate
is the most organized, well-structured and successful presence of Orthodoxy today. This is not accidental. This success was
not achieved by foregoing its cultural identity. It was not achieved by ignoring the sacred canons and the decisions of the
Ecumenical Councils. It was not achieved by succumbing to the temptation of secularism. It was not achieved by imprisoning
itself in the darkness of the extreme fundamentalism, nationalism and sterile denial.
Precisely because the Holy Archdiocese of America occupies such
an esteemed position in this country we are obliged to offer a self-criticism but also to defend ourselves against the unjust
accusations that target this jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
Examining, then, ourselves, I believe that we ought to be more
careful towards the easiness with which we are ready to abandon our Hellenism, both as language and as tradition. As we have
already said, it is nothing but a myth the opinion that Hellenism is an obstacle to the creative and successful incorporation
in the American reality. Hellenism is identified with its ecumenical character and for that reason it can never be nationalistic
for both of its manifestations, its culture and its Orthodox faith are concepts that transcend the boundaries of the national.
I do not support the opinion that we can today oblige everyone to speak
Greek, but I think that we have to offer that possibility to those who so desire, to learn Greek in well organized schools,
by talented teachers. I think that we owe our children the possibility of choice. We owe to our culture the obliteration of
contempt for a language that expressed the Gospel and became the vehicle for the most subtle meanings in the articulation
of the dogma by the founders of our faith and Fathers of Christianity.
I do not support the opinion that the services here in America
should be done exclusively in Greek. Simply I do not understand how it is possible that any priest of the Archdiocese might
not be able to serve in both languages. It is not understandable how an institution of higher education cannot manage to teach
its students a language, even in the time span of four years!
My brothers and sisters, I am not one of them who believe that
there is a sacred language (lingua sacra) for the Church. I just
wonder why in every Theological School in the world the students are expected to learn the Biblical languages, and it is only
in our School of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America that such a requirement seems anachronistic, nationalistic or conservative.
Speaking now of your Theological School, do you think that the
Church’s expectation that the graduates of this School know theology, canon law, Byzantine music, be able to celebrate
the service of matins, vespers and the sacraments, be able to preach the Word of God and instruct our youth in the catechism
is unreasonable or excessive?
My dear brothers and sisters, allow me now to return to the problem
of the diaspora and the jurisdictional diversity that one observes
in the USA.
First of all, allow me to remind you that the term “diaspora”
is a technical term denoting those regions that lie beyond the borders of the local autocephalous Churches. It does not mean
that the Orthodox people who dwell in these regions live there temporally, as misleadingly it was argued by His Eminence Phillip
in a recent article (“The Word”). According to the 28th Canon of the 4th Ecumenical Council
one of the prerogatives of the Ecumenical Patriarch is precisely His jurisdiction exactly over these regions, which lie beyond
the pre-described borders of the local Churches. The canon in question uses the technical term “barbaric” in order
to denote these lands, since it was precisely referring to the unknown lands beyond the orbit of the Roman Empire.
On account of this canon, the Ecumenical Patriarchate has suffered the
unfair and unjust criticism of two American Orthodox Hierarchs: Metropolitan Phillip and the newly elected Metropolitan Jonas.
It is my duty to refute the injustice directed against the Mother
Church of Constantinople for the sake of historical truth and for the sake of moral conscience.
Metropolitan Jonas, while he was still an abbot, in one of his
speeches presented what he called “a monastic perspective” on the subject “Episcopacy, Primacy and the Mother
Churches”. In the chapter on autocephaly and primacy he claims that “there is no effective overarching primacy
in the Orthodox Church.” He seems to be in opposition to the institution of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, because he
considers that such an institution “is based on primacy over an empire-wide synod” and that this “has long
become unrealistic.” What surprised me the most in this “monastic perspective” of His Eminence Jonas was
the claim that allegedly “now only the Greek ethnic Churches and few others recognize the Ecumenical Patriarchate to
be what it claims to be.” It is indeed saddening the ignorance of this Hierarch not only on account of History and canonical
order but even on account of the current state of affairs. How is it possible that he ignores that there is no Church that
does not recognize the Ecumenical Patriarchate? Perhaps he is carried away by the fact that the ecclesial schema over which
he presides and which has been claimed as “autocephalous” in rampant violation of every sense of canonicity, is
not recognized but by few Churches and it is not included in the diptychs of the Church.
Please allow me, by way of illustration, to sample a few other
points of the same article that should not remain unanswered.
Metropolitan Jonas claims that in America “there is no
common expression of unity that supersedes ethnic linguistic and cultural divisions.” Does His Eminence ignore the fact
that under the canonical jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in America belong Greeks, Palestinians, Albanians, Ukrainians
and Carpathorussians? Is this not proof enough of a common structure that supersedes ethnic and cultural divisions? Does he
imply perhaps that SCOBA either constitutes a common expression of unity that supersedes such divisions?
The most provocative of his claims is that which asserts that
with the formation of the so-called OCA “the presence of any other jurisdiction on American territory becomes un-canonical,
and membership in the Synod of the Orthodox Church in America becomes the criterion of canonicity of all bishops in America.”
It is perhaps a sign of our times that he who violated the holy canons par excellence, the most un-canonically claimed as
allegedly autocephalous, makes now himself the criterion of canonicity and vitiates the canonical hierarchs as un-canonical.
O tempora, o mores!
Instead of acknowledging the mercifulness of the other Patriarchates
which, in spite the un-canonical status of the so-called OCA, accept it in communion, its representatives choose to subject
them to such an unfair treatment that contributes nothing to the common cause of Orthodox unity. I would be interested to
hear an explanation from His Eminence in response to the question “How will the so-called OCA contribute to our common
Orthodox witness in diaspora by electing bishops holding titles which already exist for the same city”. Especially our
Ecumenical Patriarchate not only is it not “unable to lead” as most unfortunately Metropolitan Jonas claims, but
already since last October (in order to limit myself to the most recent example) has launched under the presidency of His
All Holiness the process for the convocation of the Holy and Great Synod. I am not sure whether His Eminence, upon his ordination
to the episcopacy, refused to put on the vestments of a bishop, which he, in the same article, and while he was still an abbot,
had called as unfitting to the real nature of the arch-pastorship (p.11).
Let me add that the refusal to recognize primacy within
the Orthodox Church, a primacy that necessarily cannot but be embodied by a primus (that is by a bishop who has the prerogative
of being the first among his fellow bishops) constitutes nothing less than heresy. It cannot be accepted, as often it is said,
that the unity among the Orthodox Churches is safeguarded by either a common norm of faith and worship or by the Ecumenical
Council as an institution. Both of these factors are impersonal while in our Orthodox theology the principle of unity is always
a person. Indeed, in the level of the Holy Trinity the principle of unity is not the divine essence but the Person of the
Father (“Monarchy” of the Father), at the ecclesiological level of the local Church the principle of unity is
not the presbyterium or the common worship of the Christians but the person of the Bishop, so to in the Pan-Orthodox level
the principle of unity cannot be an idea nor an institution but it needs to be, if we are to be consistent with our theology,
The second article that I have to mention here is that of His Eminence
the Antiochean Metropolitan Phillip under the title “Canon28 of the 4th Ecumenical Council—Relevant
or Irrelevant Today?”
Metropolitan Phillip begins his argument with an entirely anti-theological
distinction of the holy canons into three categories 1) dogmatic, 2) contextual and, 3) “dead”.
I would like to know in which of these three categories, following
his reasoning, His Eminence would classify the canons of the Ecumenical Councils that demarcate the jurisdictions of the ancient
Patriarchates. Are they “contextual”—subject, as it is, to change? Does His Eminence believe that in this
way he serves the unity among Orthodox, by subjugating the holy and divine canons under the circumstantial judgment of some
Based on the above distinction, and although he accepts that
canon 28 of the 4th Ecumenical Council is not “dead”(since there is so much debate about it), he affirms
that indeed it gives certain prerogatives to the Ecumenical Patriarch, on the other hand, however, he claims that this happened
for secular and political reasons that have nothing to do with today’s state of affairs. Implicitly and yet all too
clearly, Metropolitan Phillip implies that the prerogatives of the Ecumenical Patriarch can be doubted. The question then
is: does His Eminence know of any Church whose status (Patriarchal or Autocephalous) were not decided according to the historical
conditions that they were current at the time? Or, does His Eminence know of any Church that has received its status on the
basis of theological reasons exclusively? Every administrative decision of an Ecumenical Council is equally respected to perpetuity
together with its dogmatic decisions. Imagine the consequences for the Orthodox Church if we begin to re-evaluate the status
of each local Church!
The correct interpretation of canon 28 is considered by His Eminence
as “novelty”, by invoking only sources of the 20thcentury, while it has been scientifically established
already by the late Metropolitan of Sardeis Maximos the uninterrupted application of the canon in question during the history
of the Church of Constantinople.
The question, my brothers and sisters, is rather simple:
If Constantinople was not given that prerogative by canon 28,
how was she able to grant autocephalies and patriarchal dignities to the Churches of Russia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Georgia,
Czech Lands and Slovakia, Poland and Albania? Under the provision of which canon did Constantinople give the right of jurisdiction
over the remaining of Africa to the Patriarchate of Alexandria in 2002?
And if the Ecumenical Patriarchate has not granted the Patriarchate
of Moscow the privilege to bestow autocephaly as it pleases it, then what gives it the right to do so on the expense of the
Summarizing my lecture, I wish to call your attention to the
1. The Ecumenical Patriarchate is a Church that undergoes martyrdom,
a Church that often has received unfair criticism, especially by those Churches which were most richly benefited by it. At
no point, the spirit of nationalism took hold of the Ecumenical Patriarchate because that is incompatible with the concepts
of Hellenism and Ecumenicity (ecumenical character) as well as with the Christian Orthodox faith. The proof of this emerges
in the most decisive manner throughout the 17 centuries of its history, during which it never Hellenized, not even attempted
to Hellenize the nations to which it gave through its apostolic missions the undying light of Christ. What better example
than the Slavic tribes which owe even their alphabet to the Thessalonian brothers Cyril and Methodios. I, who speak to you
tonight, although I am an Antiochean from my maternal side, nevertheless I serve as the Chief-Secretary of the Holy and Sacred
Synod of the Church of Constantinople.
2. The Ecumenical Patriarchate neither had nor has territorial claims
against the sister Orthodox Churches. That truth is testified by the fact that, although the Patriarchates of the East were
virtually destroyed during the difficult times of the 17th and 18thcenturies, nevertheless, the Patriarchate
of Constantinople was taking the care to have a Patriarch elected for those Patriarchates, supporting their primates in every
3. The submission of the diaspora to the Ecumenical Patriarchate does
not mean either Hellenization or violation of the canonical order, because it is only in this way that both the letter and
the spirit of the decisions of the Ecumenical Councils is respected. The Mother Church knows, however, that such a submission
is difficult to be accomplished under the present historical conditions. For this reason, and by employing the principle of
economy, it was suggested and it has now become accepted in Pan-Orthodox level, that there will be local Pan-Orthodox Episcopal
Assemblies in the diaspora (like SCOBA in the US). The principle of presidency is followed, namely the representative of the
Ecumenical Patriarchate presides over these Episcopal Assemblies in order to preserve the necessary element of canonicity.
As you surely know, last October the Ecumenical
Patriarchate summoned in Constantinople a Synaxis of the Primates of the Orthodox Churches. The Primates accepted the proposal
of Patriarch Bartholomew to move ahead with the Pan-Orthodox preparatory meetings, within 2009, so that the Holy and Great
Synod of the Orthodox Church take place as soon as possible. For the record, please note that this decision was reached thanks
to the concession on behalf of the Ecumenical Patriarchate which accepted that the Autonomous Churches will no longer be invited
as to avoid the thorny problem of the Church of Estonia in the relations between Constantinople and Moscow.
4. 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.
Please allow me to conclude with the phrase of His Beatitude
Ignatios, Patriarch of Antioch, during last October’s Synaxis of the Primates at the Phanar: “In the Orthodox
Church we have one primus and he is the Patriarch of Constantinople.”
Thank you for your attention.