His Eminence, Metropolitan PHILIP: On the Hope for Orthodox Unity in America

From the OCF’s most recent issue of The Basil Leaf:

After thirty-nine years in the Episcopacy, I have become convinced that Orthodox unity in America must begin on the grass roots level. You, the laity, and in particular the young adult laity, are the conscience of the Church and the defenders of the faith. Consequently, I would like to see a
strong Pan-Orthodox lay movement, totally dedicated to the cause of
Orthodox unity. Insist that the unity of our Faith must transcend all other
interests. Insist that we silence those forces that would divide us. Insist that
we witness our Faith to North America without boundaries. Without the laity,
our churches would be empty and our liturgical and sacramental services
would be in vain. The clergy and laity, working together, are the “LAOS TOU
THEOU,” the “People of God” and together we constitute the Holy Orthodox Church.

We bring to mind the visionary words of the late Fr. Alexander Schmemann. One can almost visualize the glorious and blessed day when all Orthodox bishops of America will open their first Synod in New York, or Chicago or Pittsburgh with the hymn, ‘Today the grace of the Holy Spirit assembled us together,’ and will appear to us not as ‘representatives’ of Greek, Russian or any other jurisdictions,’ and interests but as the very icon, the very ‘Epiphany’ of our unity within the Body of Christ; when each of them and all together will think and deliberate only in terms of the whole, putting aside all particular and national problems, real and important as they may be. On that day, we shall ‘taste and see’ the oneness of the North American Orthodox Church.”

Finally, let us always remember to ask our Lord for His guidance and strength: “Be mindful, O Lord, of Thy Holy Orthodox, Catholic and Apostolic Church; confirm and strengthen it, increase it and keep it in peace, and preserve it unconquerable forever.” (from Morning Prayers)

8 thoughts on “His Eminence, Metropolitan PHILIP: On the Hope for Orthodox Unity in America

  1. I have tremendous respect for Metr. Philip, but here I must disagree with him:

    “Orthodox unity in America must begin on the grass roots level. You, the laity, and in particular the young adult laity, are the conscience of the Church and the defenders of the faith.”

    It is true that the laity are the defenders of the faith, and that the whole Church shares the responsibility to guard the deposit and hand on the Tradition, whole and undefiled. But it is the bishops who have the charism and responsibility to teach the faith and to rule the Church. It is they who stand in the person of Christ, not only in the altar but in the pulpit. To suggest that the laity must take the lead in returning American Orthodoxy to canonical polity, and in cleansing her of the heresy of phyletism, is to admit that the hierarchs have failed, because these things are their job.

    There have, of course, been times in Church history when the hierarchy failed to teach the orthodox faith, and the laity had to call the hierarchy to account (the iconoclastic crisis and the aftermath of Florence come to mind). Is Metr. Philip really admitting that the bishops have gone astray to the extent that the iconoclastic bishops did? If they need the laity to force the issue of phyletism and canonical polity, it would seem that they have. This would be a grave charge of dereliction of duty; but that is what is implicit when Metr. Philip says that it is now the responsibility of the laity.

  2. Chris:

    Admitting up front my basic canonical and traditional ignorance on most of these sorts of things (insofar as they deal with ecumenism), let me suggest that you perhaps present a dichotomy that is too hardened.

    I don’t disagree with your assertions regarding the respective charisms of the bishops and the laity. But I don’t think that the lack of juridictional unity in America is simply the result of either phyletism or episcopal dereliction of duty. I think a more charitable historical read is to simply take it as an unfortunate set of historic accidents (Bolshevik Revolution, ethnic immigration and survival, and so forth). Is it true that some of this has been fueled by phyletism? Of course. And in that hierarchs have either passively let such heresy go undisciplined or actively supported it, there is surely a dereliction of duty.

    But I rather suppose it’s much less sinister than that: homogenous units congregating around the living Tradition and trying to survive in a strange land.

    At least that’s the basis and foundation of the jurisdictional chaos.

    Should Orthodox be much more mature now after, in some cases, more than a century in the U. S.? Of course. But ingrained habits–otherwise innocent–of entire communities are hard to undo. And when you add in less other motivations from overseas hierarchs, that only adds to it.

    I think His Eminence is only trying to exhort the laity to take up the role that is theirs in this state of affairs. Certainly Metr. PHILIP has upheld his role as hierarch to work for unity.

    But this is merely the reflections of an Orthodox wannabe and perhaps not-enough informed.

  3. Clifton

    I would be less than honest not to admit that there is a degree of personal bitterness energizing my views on this matter. But it is phyletism that led to me no longer being Orthodox. I understand from experience why it is a heresy, in the full sense of being a betrayal of the Gospel.

    I understand the historical roots of the situation. But the historical circumstances which gave rise to it are no more. Bolshevism is dead; the immigrant groups from traditionally Orthodox lands have in most respects fully assimilated; and the Orthodox have been in this country not for “more than a century”, but for more than two centuries. It’s long past time for Orthodoxy to grow up and start being the Apostolic and Catholic Church that she claims to be. At a certain point one can no longer make excuses, but one must admit that the Orthodox remain as they are (that is, a canonical mess and rife with phyletism) because they are perfectly content with it and have no real desire to change.

    Of course you are right that Metr. Philip has done all that he could to correct the situation. He’s definitely chief among the good guys. But let’s face it, he’s been a voice crying in the wilderness for decades. Everything that he’s done for unity and mission (taking in the EOC, Western rite, etc.) has been scorned by the other jurisdictions.

  4. Chris:

    “Canoncial mess”? Assuredly. “Rife with phyletism”? It’s not been my experience or the experience of many I know. Does that mean phyletism doesn’t exist? Oh, I know it does. I just don’t think the characterization of “rife” rings quite true. Still, once again, I admit my limited experience.

    I’m not so sure that His Eminence’s activities have been “scorned by the other jurisdictions.” Scorned by elements within those jurisdictions? Sure. I think of the influential Orthodox hierarchs and clergy and lay leaders in from other jurisdictions (the Greek hierarch of Pittsburgh, whose name escapes me just now; Metropolitan Herman of OCA; Fr. Christopher Metropoulos of “Come Receive the Light”; and so forth) who not only speak well of efforts for pan-Orthodox unity, but are shoulder-to-shoulder with Metr. Philip.

    I visit some of the message boards, so I know all the Metr. Philip bashing that goes on. But I hardly think the message boards are reflective of general Orthodoxy in the U. S.

    Once again: my experience is limited. But coming from my experience, this is what I think.

  5. “It’s not been my experience or the experience of many I know.”

    Nor mine and many other converts since the late 90’s. Things have really changed since you left the Church, Chris. While pockets of pure phyletism still exist, things have been and are quickly improving on that issue.

  6. “Things have really changed since you left the Church”

    I’m glad that my departure has led to such great things 😉

    Seriously, if that’s true then I’m delighted. It’s true that I haven’t been in an Orthodox Church for a long time, but I’ve never been a first-time visitor to any parish where the reaction was anything other than “what are you (an outsider) doing in OUR Church”. Sadly, that includes the Western-rite parish I belonged to in the early 90s (because even though I, like them, was a former Anglo-Catholic, I wasn’t part of the parish before they were Orthodox).

    Actually, I take it back: I have had experiences other than “what are you doing here”. Every time I’ve been to a Greek Church (first time or otherwise) no one has ever said a word to me. It’s as if I were invisible.

    I’d love to experience the new, non-phyletistic Orthodox Church. Does anybody know any parishes in New England where I could see it first-hand?

  7. “Rife with phyletism”? It’s not been my experience or the experience of many I know. Does that mean phyletism doesn’t exist? Oh, I know it does. I just don’t think the characterization of “rife” rings quite true. Still, once again, I admit my limited experience.

    How else to explain the Onion Dome? 😉

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