On behalf of the Holy Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America, His Grace, Bishop Tikhon of Philadelphia and Eastern Pennsylvania, sent a letter dated March 22, 2011 to Julia Duin of the Washington Post, in response to an article about His Beatitude, Metropolitan Jonah, that appeared in print two days earlier. The article can be read here.
As of this writing, the Washington Post had neither printed nor responded to the letter, the text of which reads as follows.
“I am writing as the secretary of the Holy Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA) to offer a response to your recent article entitled “Metropolitan Jonah Goes to Washington” (Washington Post, Sunday, March 20, 2011). The article fairly presents the reality of tensions that exist within the administration of the Church, but these tensions are portrayed in ways that distort their factual basis. In order to clear up any confusion, the Synod of Bishops has asked me to offer the following clarifications.
“While Metropolitan Jonah, since his election, has indeed taken a strong stand on issues such as abortion and homosexuality, it is misleading to portray these positions as somehow radically innovative or as standing in contradiction to the positions of other hierarchs within the Orthodox Church in America.
“As an example, your reporting on the recent March for Life in Washington, DC, could leave the impression that it is only since Metropolitan Jonah’s election that bishops and seminarians have participated in this event. In fact, it was in 1987 that Metropolitan Jonah’s predecessor, Metropolitan Herman (then Bishop of Philadelphia), began attending the annual March and became one of the regular speakers thereafter. Since that time, many hierarchs from the OCA, and from other Orthodox jurisdictions, have participated in the March for Life and have encouraged their clergy and faithful to participate.
“In addition, the Holy Synod has annually designated the Sunday prior to the March as ‘Sanctity of Life Sunday’ and has published special prayers to be used at liturgical services in every parish of the OCA. This year, when Metropolitan Jonah issued his annual pastoral letter on the sanctity of life, he was following the example of Metropolitan Herman and Metropolitan Theodosius. There also has been a consistent presence of seminarians, clergy and faithful from throughout this country at the March since 1988.
“In your article, you write that ‘Jonah’s insistence that his church address the pressing issues of the day is a gauntlet thrown down before the feet of his fellow Orthodox leaders.’ While it is true that, as the president of the Holy Synod, the Metropolitan has the responsibility of encouraging and uniting his brother bishops, his relationship with them is never one of opposition. All the bishops, including the Metropolitan, are in obedience to the teachings of Christ and the Holy Gospel, to the canons of the Church, to the unchanging theology of Orthodoxy and to each other.
“Each hierarch, including the Metropolitan, is free to discern the manner in which he should pastorally or publicly address specific issues within his own diocese, but this can never be in isolation from the other bishops on the local Holy Synod or from the universal Church. This unity is expressed in the issuing, when pastorally necessary, of public statements, such as the OCA Holy Synod’s 1992 encyclical on ‘Marriage, Family, Sexuality and the Sanctity of Life’ (which can be accessed HERE). Documents such as these represent the consensus of the Synod and no one bishop can contradict them.
“It is therefore misleading to state, for example, that ‘no other Orthodox leaders spoke up alongside’ Metropolitan Jonah on the issue of the repealing of the military’s ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy. The fundamental principles and teachings of the Church, expressed in both ancient documents and more recent ones, such as the above, would serve as the foundation for any response to current issues. In addition, such a response would require the careful evaluation and discussion of the matters at hand within the Holy Synod. It is not a matter of ‘speaking up alongside’ but rather of speaking in unity.
“In another place, you state that ‘Jonah’s move to Washington strikes at the core of the traditional Eastern Orthodox reluctance to be on the front line of the culture wars, much less political conflict.’ I will not go into the matter of the geographical move, which has not, in fact, been approved, but is under consideration by the Holy Synod and other administrative bodies, which are carefully evaluating the historical, financial and practical aspects of such a move.
“Rather, I would like to address the broader implication of the above statement. While it might be true that Orthodox in North America have not been on the front lines of the culture wars and political conflict, this is not necessarily out of reluctance or hesitation. In countries like the United States, all citizens are blessed with the possibility of engaging in culture wars and political conflict. We also have the freedom to express our views in a multitude of ways, which, while something that we should be grateful for, is nevertheless a gift that carries with it the obligation to speak and act in a responsible and prudent manner.
“Historically, Orthodoxy has lived under conditions where engagement in the culture and politics was necessary but it has also flourished in more oppressive conditions such as the persecution in the early Church, the Ottoman domination and the more recent communist oppression. Whether in fair weather or foul, Orthodox Christians have struggled to live out their faith in whatever circumstances they find themselves. Sometimes they speak out, other times they remain silent. At all times, including our times, they strive to be faithful to the teachings of Christ and the Holy Gospel and to speak and act accordingly.
“It is just as untrue to label the entire Eastern Orthodox Church as reluctant to engage the culture and society as it is to portray Metropolitan Jonah as a lone proponent of such engagement. All of the members of the Holy Synod, together with the Metropolitan, would agree that, while tensions are to be expected within any group, including the Synod of Bishops, these tensions are never properly resolved through political posturing or expressions of power. Rather, they are resolved by the grace of the Holy Spirit and through mutual love and honest discussion. This is the process that is presently taking place within our Synod and the purpose of this letter was to give some expression to this process and to provide some balance to the complex issues addressed in your article.”