This past weekend, Metropolitan Jonah, the primate of the Orthodox Church in America (O.C.A.), resigned at the request of his brother bishops. One may read the oddly worded resignation letter on the O.C.A. web site. George Michalopulos and his associates at Monomakhos have been extensively discussing the recent events for the past several days (see “Ineptocracy,” “Jonah the Prophet,” “This Is Far from Over: The Chicago Tribune Weighs in,” “This Is Far from Over: Catholic Online Weighs in,” and “This Is Far from Over: Get Religion Weighs in” and their hundreds of comments so far). Indeed, Michalopulos’ site has been my main source of O.C.A. church political gossip for the last twenty months as the central administration of the O.C.A. has continued to fall apart. While I am not a member of the O.C.A., I feel for my fellow Christians who try to live out the gospel as modern Americans in its jurisdiction. I do not know how much this nonsense will affect the parochial level where the faithful worship and commune, but it is a scandal nonetheless.
I first mentioned Metropolitan Jonah in “Bad Children in Church” when I learnt of his election from my friend Andrew in November, A.D. 2008. That followed a post about the forced resignation of the previous O.C.A. primate, where I thanked God for the boringness of our Church’s politics. In the greater scheme of things, I was correct; the Orthodox Church will not alter its course depending upon its hierarchical elections. On the personal level of the faithful, however, the melodrama of incompetent and ethically dubious actions by religious officials has placed stumbling blocks before God’s people. I do not wish to air my coreligionists’ dirty laundry, but the O.C.A. has had a difficult decade—or two, or three. “Syosset” has a lot to do to put the house back in order. Many people in the O.C.A. hoped that a pious and affable monk like Metropolitan Jonah would manage to do so. It appears that he failed. His detractors blame him for administrative incompetence and worse, while his supporters claim that Metropolitan Jonah’s enemies opposed the reforms that he championed to enliven orthodoxy and orthopraxis in the O.C.A., especially regarding the Church’s moral witness in our society’s “culture war.”
I have praised and criticized Metropolitan Jonah in several posts (“Of Patriarchs and Bishops,” “Christianity’s Odd Place in the World,” “The Human Person Yada Yada Yada,” “The March, A.D. 2010,” and “Thirty-ninth March”). I claim no special insider knowledge of the last three years’ events. However, I am suspicious of the Metropolitan’s critics when they cite his involvement in the prolife movement, his signing the Manhattan Declaration, and his attempt to open monasteries in Washington, D.C. as evidence of his recklessness. Moreover, I have long harbored ill thoughts about the institutional leadership and culture of the O.C.A., as I have noted in “An Illness in Orthodox America,” “O.C.A. Left,” and “R.O.C.O.R. Hosts O.C.A.” The predecessor to the Orthodox Church in America—the Metropolia—was largely constituted of disaffected uniates who rejoined the Church of their ancestors but brought along Latin baggage, and it has been shaped by modernists throughout its independent life, from the Americanist and Anglican sympathizing Metropolitan Platon to the Parisian school theologians that established the intellectual culture of Saint Vladimir’s Seminary to the current renovationists within the O.C.A. who wish for Orthodoxy in America to imitate the Roman Church’s “move into the modern world” after the Second Vatican Council. Partisans within R.O.C.O.R. even claim that the O.C.A. was born in inquity; they hold that the Metropolia’s grant of autocephaly in A.D. 1970 by the then Soviet dominated Moscow Patriarchate was a deal with the Communist devil. Indeed, the financial and leadership crises of the O.C.A. have revealed much institutional rot, regardless of the health and spiritual progress at the local level in parishes and monasteries, where thousands of earnest priests, deacons, monastics, and laymen work out their salvation and manifest the gospel in an age hostile to it. I cast no aspersions on the flock in the O.C.A. Nevertheless, for the reasons mentioned and for personal ones, I do not trust the spiritual maturity or wisdom of that body.
Indeed, the Orthodox Church in America—the experiment in self government among Orthodox Americans—continues to show the folly of those who see jurisdictional independence from the Old World Churches as the most important goal for us in the States. Rebellion and arrogance are in our national character, and it tragically affects our religious sensibilities, as well. Yet, we are clearly not ready, able, or stable enough to rule ourselves. There are too few Orthodox Christians in America, and our religious culture is permeated with alien influences, whether uniate or individual convert baggage or the general Calvinist socio-credal air that we breathe in a decadent, post-Protestant society. Where are our missions, charitable institutions, monasteries, or educational efforts that incarnate the faith in our society and testify to the heterodox? Where are our saints? Of course, they exist, but they remain few, small, limited, or weak. Let us Americans take the holy apostles as our model rather than Thomas Paine. One day, God willing, there will be a truly united, self governing American Church. For now, we require milk, not meat.