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25758TERRY MATTINGLY: Seeking Orthodox unity

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  • arbible
    Nov 10, 2005
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      TERRY MATTINGLY: Seeking Orthodox unity

      Scripps Howard News Service
      Wednesday, November 9th, 2005 10:58 AM (PST)


      (SH) - The rites were quiet, yet elaborate, and drew small clusters
      of dedicated worshippers out of their homes on a Saturday morning
      and into Byzantine sanctuaries across the nation.
      Somewhere in each church stood an icon of a dignified Arab wearing
      the rich liturgical vestments of an Eastern Orthodox bishop. The
      worshippers took turns kissing the icon and chanters gave thanks to
      God for the work of the new saint whose name still causes smiles -
      St. Raphael of Brooklyn.

      "It isn't every day that you hear the word 'Brooklyn' used in a
      Divine Liturgy," said the Rev. Gregory Mathewes-Green, the priest in
      my own parish near Baltimore. "St. Raphael is important not only
      because he lived a remarkable life, but because of where he came
      from and who he was. He is a wonderful symbol for Orthodox unity in
      America. ... Our church was unified in his day and we pray it can be
      unified again."

      Raphael Hawaweeny came to the United States in 1895 and became the
      first Eastern Orthodox bishop consecrated in this land. He was known
      as the "Good Shepherd of the Lost Sheep in America." Raphael was
      canonized in 2000 by the Orthodox Church in America (OCA), which has
      Russian roots, in cooperation with the Antiochian Orthodox Christian
      Archdiocese of North America, with its ancient ties to the Middle
      East. The OCA celebrates St. Raphael's feast day on Feb. 27, the
      anniversary of his death.

      This monk, priest, diplomat, scholar, missionary and bishop traveled
      a risky and complicated road on the way to Brooklyn, a fact noted by
      chanters during the rites last weekend. One of the prayers
      said: "Arab by birth, Greek by education, American by residence,
      Russian at heart and Slav in soul, thou didst minister to all,
      teaching the Orthodox in the New World to proclaim with one voice:
      Alleluia."

      In other words, each Orthodox flock can lay some claim to this
      particular saint. There are about 5 million Eastern Orthodox
      Christians in the United States and 250 million worldwide. While the
      church has grown in America, primarily through converts from
      evangelical and mainline Protestant pews, the Orthodox map here
      remains a crazy quilt of overlapping ethnic jurisdictions.

      But there are signs of unity in combined programs for foreign
      missions, relief efforts and education. And last month, the Rev.
      Thomas Hopko, one of America's most respected Orthodox scholars,
      dared to produce a rough draft of a plan for unity. While Hopko is
      an OCA priest, his essay was published by the Antiochian archdiocese.

      Both of these churches now worship in English and include large
      numbers of converts at their altars and in their sanctuaries. Their
      most vital parishes are becoming more and more alike, he noted.

      "The seven Antiochian bishops include three born in America, one of
      whom is a convert to Orthodoxy," wrote Hopko, dean emeritus of St.
      Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary in Crestwood, N.Y. The OCA
      offers "nine bishops born in the USA, one born in Canada, one in
      Mexico, one in Bulgaria and one in Romania. Eight of the 13 OCA
      bishops are converts to Orthodoxy. ...

      "What an impressive synod these bishops could form to govern a
      unified Orthodox Church in North America!"

      Any attempt to accomplish this would lead to an outbreak of
      Byzantine politics, especially in Greece, Turkey and Syria. Hopko
      admitted that it would take years to handle issues of assets,
      property, diocesan borders and lines of authority.

      What would the Greeks do? Who would make the first move? How would a
      united synod select a patriarch? On this question, Hopko suggested
      that each church select one candidate and the primate would
      be "chosen by lot," with a senior priest picking "his name from a
      chalice after an All-night Vigil, Divine Liturgy and Service of
      Prayer."

      The key is to regain the vision briefly seen in the work of the
      first Orthodox missionaries to North America - like St. Raphael.

      "All Orthodox churches in the United States, Canada and Mexico would
      be invited to join in the common work of the new church," wrote
      Hopko. "No Orthodox would be excluded. All Orthodox would be
      welcome."

      This could take place by 2008, according to Hopko.

      It would take sacrifice and cooperation and a shepherd who can
      command the trust of the Arabs, Greeks, Russians, Slavs and the
      Americans.

      Terry Mattingly (www.tmatt.net) is senior fellow for journalism at
      the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities.