As we prepare for the 18th All-American Council, more than one century after the 1907 Sobor in Mayfield, PA, we are once more given the opportunity to reflect on where we have been and, more importantly, where we are going
At first glance, the situation confronting us today could not be more different than that faced in 1907. Then, we were an immigrant church, still speaking in a foreign tongue, struggling to acclimate ourselves to a western, American culture that was both ignorant of Orthodoxy and generally hostile to it. Yet we persevered, both in making North America our home, and in maintaining the Orthodox faith of our ancestors despite countless challenges, material and spiritual. We have made the transition from being an immigrant Church to being a local Church, at home – but not too much at home! – within American society.
A recent survey has shown that converts now represent a majority of members in the OCA! Our autocephaly, granted in 1970, stands as a powerful symbol of our mission to be the Church in North America, to the continued dismay of some who would prefer to keep Orthodoxy as an ethnic or colonial enclave. This is our vision.
What, then, is our mission today? It is nothing less than to live out this vision, to be the Church at this time and in this place. That task needs to be realized at every level.
- By the individual parishioner whose life should a shining example to others at home, in the workplace, and in society.
- By the parish through its liturgical and social ministry, as well as in its cooperation with other parishes and outreach to the local community.
- By the diocese, led by its bishop, which coordinates and supervises the work of the parishes.
- By the Holy Synod and the central Church administration, which coordinate the work of the dioceses, maintain good relations with other Orthodox jurisdictions and Churches, and witness to Orthodoxy in the public and ecumenical arenas, both nationally and internationally.
Each is equally important, and our mission will succeed only if we place an appropriate emphasis on each level. At the upcoming All-American Council, the business sessions will focus on revising and updating the Statute of the Orthodox Church in America and on securing the financial stability of the central Church administration. While this may not seem particularly inspiring, it touches on the very nature of how we understand ourselves and the Church. All of us – bishops, clergy, and laity – will pray together, share in the Eucharist, deliberate, and make the decisions necessary for the well-being of the Church in America. This is no different than what our ancestors in the faith, led by Saint Archbishop Tikhon, did more than a century ago at that first American Sobor in Mayfield. And in doing this, we are doing nothing less than fulfilling the vision held by Saint Tikhon, in which everyone — clergy and laity alike — share responsibility for the governance of the Church.
Dr. Paul Meyendorff is the Father Alexander Schmemann Professor of Liturgical Theology and Director of Continuing Education at Saint Vladimir’s Seminary, Yonkers, NY. He also serves as a member of the OCA’s Metropolitan Council and as a consultant to the OCA’s Office of External Affairs and Interchurch Relations.