His Beatitude, Metropolitan Jonah of All America and Canada, was elected Primate of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA) in November of 2008. During his visit to Russia in April of 2009 he was interviewed by the editor-in-chief of the Russian-language version of “Orthodoxy and the World” (http://www.pravmir.ru/).
Question: Your Beatitude, today the world is growing increasingly secularized. We see how Christian values constantly lose out to modern secular and politically correct statements; people are reluctant to remember the role of Christianity in Western civilization; and religion is often seen as something dangerous, even hostile. In Europe old churches have increasingly become popular items of property to buy and live in. What could you say about this dynamic? Is secularism going to flourish?
Metropolitan Jonah: I cannot really address Western Europe so much, because I really do not know it. But I can say about the United States that it really is the case that many of the mainline Protestant churches – the Evangelical church, for example – as a movement are collapsing. They are very quickly losing members, and many denominations are closing their churches. This is not about Christianity; this is about the bankruptcy of these movements, which are in schism from the Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church, on the other hand, is growing very rapidly in the USA. Many people from many different backgrounds – Protestant, Catholic, Evangelical, Pentecostal, atheist (we have atheists in the USA, just like there were in the Soviet Union), and many agnostics and unchurched people – are finding in the Orthodox Christianity this fullness of the experience of salvation. They are finding a way to live that makes them happy, and this gives them fulfillment and gives their lives freedom.
All of these other churches for the most part have gotten sidetracked into some kind of social gospel movements, and very sadly the mainline churches have lost all sense of basic Christian morality and are preaching all sorts of immorality. Faithful Christians are scandalized and leave these churches, as well they should. As well they should.
Whereas the Orthodox Church – we stand together – we have a common vision, a common life, we know that it takes personal sacrifice to be an Orthodox Christian. We have to churchify our lifestyle and to bring our life into conformity with Jesus Christ and the Gospel. And this is the great strength of Orthodoxy. This is not about simply believing in the Orthodox manner, it is not about the services. It is about how do we live as Christians, how do we love one another, how do we forgive one another, how do we embrace and raise those who fall, and restore them and share with them salvation, so that their lives are full and happy.
So many people in the secular-material societies are so profoundly lonely, they are isolated, they do not know where to turn; there is incredible pain. And we can reach out to them. The Church as a community has as its fundamental mission to reach out and to offer healing and love to those who are lonely and in pain. When we do this we fulfill the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Question: What is the most important aspect of mission? Personal example, publishing, the Internet…?
Metropolitan Jonah: All of that is very important: the Internet, the publishing. The Russian Orthodox Church has done an incredible job, and in my office we often joke that if only we had the communications budget of the Moscow Patriarchate. We have three websites.
All of that is very good and very useful. But the most important thing is that each individual Christian reaches out to somebody who is lonely and in pain. That is the most powerful witness to Christ and the Gospel, because that will drive them to the community where they can be healed.